Sep 19, 2016

LotR LCG: What to buy?

We've been playing the Lord of the Rings living card game for a little over a year now, and over that time, we've managed to infect our passion for it to a couple of other people as well. This has led to the subject of what to buy coming up. There are already quite a few expansions, after all! The best single resource for figuring out what to get is still the New Player Buying Guide at Tales from the Cards, and we have no notions of supplanting it. But since we've been asked, here are our thoughts on how to get started collecting the Lord of the Rings LCG.


First of all, we want to briefly go through the various kinds of expansions. We're going to be talking about deluxe expansions, adventure packs and saga expansions, since those are the ones that contain player cards, i.e. cards for your deck. There are also standalone scenarios and Nightmare decks, which we won't get into here.

Deluxe expansions come with two heroes, a pile of player cards and three quests. They're completely independent products; you never need anything except the core game to get everything out of a deluxe expansion. Adventure packs all contain a single quest, one hero and about ten different player cards. Adventure packs come in cycles of six packs; for example, the Redhorn Gate adventure pack is part of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. Each adventure pack cycle is associated with a deluxe expansion, meaning that in order to play the quest, you need both the adventure pack and the associated deluxe expansion. The Dwarrowdelf cycle is associated with the Khazad-dûm deluxe expansion, so to play that quest, you need to own both the Redhorn Gate adventure pack and the Khazad-dûm deluxe expansion. The first six adventure packs ever released, the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, are associated with the core set, so all you need to play those is the basic game box.

Here are the deluxe expansions and their associated adventure pack cycles:

Core set - Shadows of Mirkwood cycle
(The Hunt for Gollum, Conflict at the Carrock, A Journey to Rhosgobel, The Hills of Emyn Muil, The Dead Marshes, Return to Mirkwood)

Khazad-dûm - Dwarrowdelf cycle
(The Redhorn Gate, Road to Rivendell, The Watcher in the Water, The Long Dark, Foundations of Stone, Shadow and Flame)

Heirs of Númenor - Against the Shadow cycle
(The Steward's Fear, The Drúadan Forest, Encounter at Amon Din, Assault on Osgiliath, The Blood of Gondor, The Morgul Vale)

Voice of Isengard - Ring-maker cycle
(The Dunland Trap, The Three Trials, Trouble in Tharbad, The Nin-in-Eilph, Celebrimbor's Secret, The Antlered Crown)

The Lost Realm - Angmar Awakens cycle
(The Wastes of Eriador, Escape from Mount Gram, Across the Ettenmoors, The Treachery of Rhudaur, The Battle of Carn Dûm, The Dread Realm)

The Grey Havens - The Dream-chaser cycle
(Flight of the Storm-caller, The Thing in the Depths, Temple of the Deceived, more upcoming)

The Sands of Harad (upcoming) - Haradrim cycle (upcoming)

So at the time of this writing, there are five complete cycles, one about halfway through, and a seventh coming up. Then there are the saga expansions. Each contains a variable number of heroes, a bunch of player cards, and three quests. The first two saga expansions are Over Hill and Under Hill, and On the Doorstep: they take you through the story of the Hobbit. They're followed by the five Lord of the Rings saga expansions: The Black Riders, The Road Darkens, The Treason of Saruman, The Land of Shadow and The Flame of the West, with the sixth and last saga expansion presumably coming out next year. Each saga expansion can be played on its own, but since they basically form an ongoing plot, it makes sense to play through them in order.

So there: now that you've bought the Core Set, you only have 45 different expansions to choose from! If this all seems a bit bewildering, just remember the basic structure: deluxe expansions, adventure pack cycles, saga expansions.


If you don't have any particularly strong notions of what to buy first, in our opinion, you can't go very far wrong by starting with the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. In other words, if the very first thing you buy is The Hunt for Gollum, you've gotten off to a good start. The Shadows quests are good fun, with the possible exception of The Dead Marshes, they introduce you to different kinds of quests, and each adventure pack comes with some useful player cards that are easy to master and incorporate into your deck. As you play through the Mirkwood cycle, you'll probably also start to develop some notions of what kind of deck you want to start building, and/or what kind of quests you like, and this can guide your further purchases.

A lot of people online will recommend that you buy everything in the order it was originally released, and that's not a bad idea. There are also some other priorities you can have, though. One is theme; after all, this isn't just some generic fantasy world, but Tolkien's Middle-earth! Do the Mines of Moria call to you? Then get Khazad-dûm. If the high seas are more your thing, The Grey Havens. If you really liked the Hobbit, Over Hill and Under Hill is a great expansion; if you're more into the Lord of the Rings, go on straight to The Black Riders. The release order is an easy guideline to follow, but there's no reason you couldn't start somewhere completely different. In fact, it might make for some really interesting decks!

Another possible priority could well be deckbuilding, especially if you've got other people to play with. If, for instance, you want to build a Hobbit deck, the place to start is most definitely The Black Riders. The Lost Realm will get a Dúnedain deck going, while either Voice of Isengard or Treason of Saruman are great choices for a Rohan deck. If playing with someone else's deck or messing around with the core set left you with a definite notion of what kind of deck you're interested in, then go on and build one!

You can use the various card databases to figure out which player cards you want and how to get them. CardgameDB has a very good search function, the only problem being that it still can't handle side quests. Hall of Beorn can, and also has a more comprehensive library of encounter cards. If you're just interested in the player cards, you can simply buy whichever expansions have what you want without worrying about adventure pack cycles or sagas or whatever. For example, an unnamed contributor to this blog decided they liked Beorn, and figured that Honour Guard is a pretty handy ally for him to have around. Therefore, their very first purchases after the core set were Over Hill and Under Hill, and The Wastes of Eriador, because why not?

Solo play is also great fun, and an excellent way to get a perspective on deckbuilding. So another thing you could prioritize is getting the best quests. This is going to be a matter of finding out what you like, but for our money, the best deluxe expansions in this respect are Khazad-dûm and The Grey Havens. Both of them also have some excellent associated adventure packs, like The Watcher in the Water and Flight of the Storm-caller. The first four quests of the Mirkwood cycle are also all pretty good, as are the first two quests in Over Hill and Under Hill. But this is very much a question of taste!


So there are several ways to go about this, and no one true answer. What we did was a combination of all of these: we bought much of the early stuff more or less in release order, but since we both wanted more allies for our decks, we skipped ahead to some expansions that had player cards we liked. We've also not been playing through the quests in any particularly rigorous order; we went from the Mirkwood cycle to Khazad-dûm and the Dwarrowdelf quests, and then straight to The Grey Havens when it came out. It's been fun!

The one piece of advice I would give is that while it's possible, buy either the current deluxe expansion or the next one as it comes out. There's a little community active around the game, and it's fun to get in on the action when it's happening. Right now, for example, you can read the previews for The Sands of Harad and the first adventure pack in the Haradrim cycle, keep your eyes peeled for more news, and follow the Upcoming page for when the new stuff will come out. You can also read the forums, where someone will tell you that this latest AP cycle is a horrible crime against Tolkien and they're never buying anything again, sphere bleed is ruining the game, and also that they're really excited about the new player side quest, and why isn't there a card for Thranduil yet. In all seriousness, it's fun to get in on the excitement of the new stuff, so I do very much recommend that. Personally, I'm really looking forward to the Sands of Harad.

If you have no particular player card desires, we'd strongly recommend starting with either Over Hill and Under Hill, Khazad-dûm or The Grey Havens, because we think those are the best boxes. They all have some quality player cards, and very good quests that aren't overwhelmingly difficult for new players. If you get Khazad-dûm, The Watcher in the Water is one of the best quests in the game; if you choose the Grey Havens, get Flight of the Stormcaller as well. The Hunt for Gollum is also a pretty good scenario to get started with, as is Conflict at the Carrock. On the other hand, if you want a strong deck in one box, get the Black Riders because you're playing hobbits. Our various expansion reviews and other posts on the game can be found here.

All in all, then, our suggestion is to figure out what you like, and go get that. If you're stumped, release order is never a bad idea, but feel free to mix it up as much as you like. Above all: have fun!

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