Welcome to what is the fifth post in a semi-planned series of posts outlining some beginner-level strategies to help you get started in the Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game. In a game that already has so much additional content out there, it can feel overwhelming to know how to begin and, even, how to get started with learning the game. Deck construction is a key component to the game, and even the Core Set itself will encourage you to explore this path with the small selection of cards in the pool. Before you even consider purchasing more content for the game, you’ll likely want to get familiar with how the game plays AND how to construct a deck in order to combat the scenarios you’ll encounter.
Why listen to me when I am a beginner, too? Because I love to deckbuild, and I am at a starting level of this game like you. I’m not five years into playing and looking back on things. I don’t know much of the cardpool that is out there in current meta play, I just know the cards in this core set really well after building dozens of decks and running through Journey Down the Anduin more times than I care to share.
So without any more ado, I will dive right into the topic that I have seen repeated so many times in Facebook groups and other places in the past month: I have a Core Set so what should I buy next???
There are, of course, a multitude of approaches to this question. In a fully cooperative game, there is truly no wrong answer to the question. There are some excellent guides already out there dealing with this, but they are far more exhaustive in what they offer. For a shorter answer, looking at things from an overall approach rather than pack-by-pack, this should be a good starting point. I’ll link to the place I turned to down at the bottom. So here are the six choices on where to go after the Core Set:
The Traditional Purchase
The bit of advice that is thrown to the players most often is to start at the beginning: the Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle. That is a set of six adventure packs: The Hunt for Gollum, Conflict at the Carrock, A Journey to Rhosgobel, The Hills of Emyn Muil, The Dead Marshes, and Return to Mirkwood. These make sense as a first purchase because they were the first ones released for the game. They each add a new quest that can be used with the Encounter cards in the Core Set. They add solid Heroes and some staple cards that you’ll want to include in the decks you build. The scenarios are varied in approach, ranging from combat-heavy to quest-heavy. These six scenarios, plus the ones in the Core Set, will challenge your deck building abilities as it will be difficult to find that one deck to tackle everything as a solo player. It will encourage balance, either among your one deck or among the group of players, in order to tackle everything these throw at you. These are the only ones I’ve played outside of the Core Set (although I don’t own them) and they are a lot of fun because of the varied objectives and the varied difficulty. There is a good reason why this is typically the #1 recommendation you’ll receive on where to start.
The Alternative Traditional Purchase
Don’t want to dive into that first set of Adventure Packs? The “other” traditional recommendation is to pick up the first Deluxe expansion: Khazad-Dum and then add in the six Adventure Packs in the Dwarrowdelf Cycle: The Redhorn Gate, Road to Rivendell, The Watcher in the Water, The Long Dark, Foundations of Stone, & Shadow and Flame. The reason why this is a great starting point is because the Dwarves are still a very strong and popular type to build a deck around, and this set it bursting with Dwarves. This cycle is also rumored to have fun, memorable, and thematic scenarios in there which makes it an enjoyable first choice to expand.
The Current Purchase
This is something that isn’t recommended often, yet to me it makes some sense. Rather than collecting and playing through things that are 6 years old, jump in on the current cycle and get a feel for if you like where the game is at now. As a whole, there is no reason why you can’t dive into a new set and enjoy the experience; however, there is a chance that your limited card pool for deck building could raise the difficulty of some of the quests being encountered. If you don’t mind a challenge and want to see the newer keywords and combinations coming out in the game, the Sands of Harad Deluxe Expansion and the Haradrim Cycle Adventure Packs might be the place to start. Those packs would be: The Mumakil, Race Across Harad, Beneath the Sands, The Black Serpent, The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat, and The Crossings of Poros.
The Hobbit Saga
The Saga sets are a fun and interesting place to begin because they will tread among ground familiar to fans of the books and/or movies. The Hobbit Saga is a great starting point because it consists of only two Deluxe Expansions: Over Hill and Under Hill & On the Doorstep. This will introduce you to the Campaign idea, where you can string together a series of adventures with minimal modifications allowed to your deck and some lingering effects occurring based on how you perform. This aspect will resonate with those who have played and enjoyed the Arkham Horror Card Game. The other nice thing about this as a starting point is that it will give you a healthy number of Dwarves, making it a great place to start and then dive into Khazad-Dum and the Dwarrowdelf Cycle (or a great place to go after that set).
The Lord of the Rings Books Saga
This one is the larger Saga Set, spanning six Deluxe Expansions: The Black Riders, The Road Darkens, The Treason of Saruman, The Land of Shadow, The Flame of the West, & The Mountain of Fire. These sets will provide Hobbit heroes, and a lot of strong synergy between them in a deck. This will also provide the same sort of experience as the Hobbit Saga Set, only with the ability to go much longer. These six sets are broken into pairs, so you could run a campaign through a pair (which are centered around one of the three books in the series) or string them all together for one really long experience. If you want to make your own Lord of the Rings adventure, this is one of the best places to start so long as you accept that some parts might be a challenge with a limited card pool. Buying all six before going on the long campaign may be the ideal approach, but each pair should be doable as they come up for the mini-campaigns.
The FLGS Purchase
Ignore everything above and walk into your local game store and see what they have on the shelf. Will it be exhaustive? Nope. But odds are you can find a deluxe expansion or two to choose from at least, and you might luck out and get some Adventure Packs that pair with that set. Unless you plan on purchasing multiple items online, I’ve not found much difference in price because of the inclusion of freight, etc. in ordering from online retailers. Plus you’ll be supporting your local game store which might help encourage them to stock more of the game, host events such as the Fellowship Event, and maybe even make them receptive to having a dedicated night to host players of the game. You might not be able to select your beginning path, and some cycles are going to be much harder to beat as the first step, but even just taking that expanded card pool will help you to be able to experiment with new decks, combinations, etc. to run through beatable scenarios.
My Intended Approach and Closing Thoughts
I have two things I plan to do: pick up the Lord of the Rings Saga Set and to go with what my FLGS has in stock. I picked up the one and only pack one store had, which was an Adventure Pack in the middle of the Dream-Chaser Cycle. So I’ll be picking up the Grey Havens Deluxe Expansion as well, which promises to be really interesting in terms of providing some fun and interesting scenarios and mechanics.
There are a ton of places to dive in and, ultimately, there isn’t a single wrong answer. If a cycle sounds like fun, then pick it up. Who cares if it isn’t the “recommended” place to begin so long as you are enjoying the game and the experience it provides? Just know that there is a chance, the further you remove yourself from those first two cycles, that you might encounter another Dol Goldur scenario in there (which I’ve deemed to be unbeatable solo…at least with the cards I have right now). The great thing about this game is that it is fully cooperative, meaning if you run into trouble you can find a friend to bring a deck and help play through.
For a more extensive analysis of the options out there, check out: https://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/new-playe…
Here are the other posts I’ve made so far in this series, as well as a few other bonus posts that I plan to make later in December regarding this game:
Strategy Post #1: First Steps After Purchasing a Core Set:
Strategy Post #2: Evaluating the Core Set Heroes:
Strategy Post #3: Constructing a Deck without Knowing the Next Quest:
Strategy Post #4: Constructing a Deck to Defeat a Specific Quest:
Bonus Post #5: Where to Go After the Core Set?
Bonus Posts #6 & 7: The Fellowship Event