Sunday, November 21, 2010

Enter The Quest To Save Middle Earth With The Fellowship Of The Ring Trading Card Game!

The Good: Easy to learn, Good image quality, Fun to play
The Bad: Ridiculous collectibility issues (foils), Impossible to make complete set from boosters/starter decks
The Basics: A great start to an intriguing trading card game, The Fellowship Of The Ring booster packs represents the easiest way to get rares for the game.

There are very few gaming card sets I enjoy the way I enjoy the Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game. The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game was produced by Decipher, Inc. and coincided with the release of The Fellowship Of The Ring and continued to be a flagship product of Decipher until it let the license go in late 2007.

Quite naturally, the The Fellowship Of The Ring booster boxes that kicked off the Lord Of The Rings TCG followed the plot of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship Of The Ring, but one of the nicest things about this first set was that it provided some of the earliest images of scenes that were in the Extended Edition of Fellowship Of The Ring (click here for my review of that film!), like on card 1R314 Stone Trolls.

The Fellowship Of The Ring gaming set establishes the Lord Of The Rings TCG as a platform that is easy to learn and fun to play in, but from the booster boxes, it is hit or miss as to whether one will be able to play. The Starter Decks come with rulebooks and they are pretty much essential to getting started, as well as completing one's set.

Basics/Set Composition

The Fellowship Of The Ring set was the first set of Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game cards created by Decipher to introduce the new gaming platform to fans of The Lord Of The Rings. Envisioned as a game played by two to four people, players created decks of cards utilizing their own version of the Fellowship and prepared to seed the adventure path with obstacles to thwart other players' Fellowship. For those unfamiliar with the concept, CCGs (or TCGs) are basically a late-teen oriented product designed to capitalize on the youthful desire to play with the acknowledged maturity of the target audience. The initial idea of the customizable card game was to allow young adults and adults to play in a way that was as free and imaginative as playing with action figures, but without the stigma of being a twenty-five year-old zapping a friend's toys with mouth-created sound effects. The result is something that is a midpoint between the freedom and creativity of action-figure free play and the structured rules and rigidity of a board game.

Players might prefer that I describe the game instead as a strategy game that is like a Role-playing game with cards. The break here is that the characters, artifacts, and scenarios are all already conceived by others. The original concept was to find a way to make play socially acceptable for an older audience and it generally worked.

The Fellowship Of The Ring is a 365-card set focusing on characters, location, artifacts, villains and scenarios presented in the first Lord Of The Rings film. Released following the premiere of The Fellowship Of The Ring, this card set utilizes material from the film, presenting a well-rounded playing environment from Middle Earth. The set consists of 121 common cards, 121 uncommon cards, 121 rare cards and 2 starter deck exclusive cards, with the most popular characters being presented as rare cards in addition to uncommon and common cards. This provides a sense of balance and allows different character traits to be exploited among the various versions. So, for example, the Uncommon Legolas whose strength is increased by 3 when confronting Nazgul, while the Rare Legolas allows Legolas to be exerted during the Archery phase to wound a minion without being factored into the archery total. This gives that Legolas the equivalent of first strike and with some enemies, that can be quite useful.

The 365 card set features 2 One Ring (cards featuring the necessary artifact of the game), 26 Dwarven, 40 Elven, 20 Gandalf, 33 Gondor, 43 Isengard, 40 Moria, 36 Ringwraith, 45 Sauron, and 35 Shire Affiliation cards, and 45 Site cards. These are generally broken down evenly between Fellowship (your cards you play with) and Minion (cards you set upon your opponent) cards. Within the various affiliations, there are: 2 One Ring (cards depicting The One Ring, which must be kept by the Current Player's Fellowship Bearer), 20 Ally (cards depicting supporting characters, like Farmer Maggot and Elrond), 26 Companion (cards depicting primary characters and those who may join your customized Fellowship, like Legolas and a Dwarf Guard) 72 Condition (cards illustrating long-term changes to Middle Earth that remain in play more than one turn, like Stone Trolls or The Last Alliance Of Elves And Men), 108 Event (cards depicting temporary effects on players, like a dwarf dealing a Cleaving Blow or Gandalf deciding to Risk A Little Light), 52 Minion (cards depicting villains used to obstruct your opponent, like the Witch King or a Troop Of Uruk-hai), 40 Possession (cards depicting objects used to enhance the natural strength or endurance of a character, like the Cave Troll's Hammer or Old Toby), and 45 Site (cards depicting locations in Middle Earth, they form the "board" for the game).

This set establishes a very basic and broad sense of the Middle Earth universe as characterized by The Fellowship Of The Ring. The booster pack boxes are comprised of thirty-six packs per box with eleven cards per pack. The eleven cards are portioned out with seven common (six in packs that have a foil card), three uncommon, and one rare cards. A foil card replaces a single common in approximately six packs. The foils are simply reprints of the standard cards; there are no cards that are uniquely foils in this set.


At its most basic level, this is a board game where one constructs the board and pieces out of a selection of cards. The purpose of the game is to survive to the end of the ninth site in the Adventure Path, which (theoretically) indicates the end of the Ring Bearer's quest. The basic idea is to assemble a sixty card deck, lay out the board (Adventure Path) and play against an opponent. The deck is evenly split between Fellowship and Shadow cards, so players ought to have a hand that allows them to play and attempt to thwart their opponent at any given time.

This game uses a "payment" system where cards have a cost. The rulebook recommends something like poker chips or glass beads to establish the twilight pool and wound indicators and I've found small poker chips (not included) work very well for this.

Sites form the board for the game, known as the Adventure Path. Sites are seeded in accordance to the rules of bidding (all of this is clearly established in the rulebook, which is available in the starter decks). The rulebook clearly defines what each deck must possess in terms of numbers of the card types. But basically, one starts by laying out a board, determining which player goes first, then setting them off through a Fellowship Phase (wherein the current player adds any characters they can and moves to the next site), Shadow Phase (Shadow players seed Minions to set against the current player's Fellowship), Maneuver Phase, Archery Phase (archers fire and it becomes the first chance to try to take out enemies), Assignment Phase (villains target Fellowship Companions), Skirmish (they actually battle) and then Regroup.

This is a fairly complex trading card game, but it represents a level of gaming sophistication designed to appeal to younger adults and actually challenge them, which is a decent idea given the complexity of Middle Earth. The problem, of course, is that most people who would be most stimulated by this game do not have the time or effort/interest to learn to play it. As a result, the mid-teens that basically run the CCG players world seem to have had mixed impressions about this game. Many players seem to enjoy that cards have a "cost" to them, adding a sense of risk to playing many of the better cards.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to learn the game, but once one has played a few hands of it, it is a pretty easy concept for an adult to master and the challenge becomes assembling a strong fellowship and accompanying minion deck and being creative (and lucky) about how the cards from one's hand are used.

Rules/Rule Changes

The rulebook for this game is forty pages long; it's not so much the function of a review to rehash all that as it is to evaluate it. The rules are exceptionally clear; in fact, the rulebook in The Fellowship Of The Rings starter decks is the clearest for any trading card game I have ever tried to play; it is a shame there is no rulebook in the booster packs!

The rulebook clearly establishes the rules of the game, especially as far as deck size and the creation of the game mechanics. It is also clever enough to attempt to appeal to an adult audience by establishing rule extensions, like suggesting that as players become more advanced, they may increase their deck size (it establishes the essential proportion needed) and how to play with multiple players.

The rules are fairly clearly laid out in the rulebook and most adults will not have difficulty understanding and applying them. As well, each card contains text that informs the player what the card is intended to do, so there is not a lot that players need to memorize. The rulebook also has a full color spread in the middle illustrating how to lay out a playing field for the game. This is very handy and makes it exceedingly easy to start the game.


Players, collectors and fans of The Lord Of The Rings franchise will appreciate the image quality of the characters and scenarios from The Fellowship Of The Ring. The Fellowship Of The Ring set features the entire Fellowship, including Aragorn and Gandalf. The set also features the Black Riders and the Cave Troll Of Moria! This set powerfully establishes most of the biggest characters and scenarios in Middle Earth and it does so with larger images than many other trading card game cards have.

But to pick a highlight, I would have to go with The Pale Blade. Yup, my choice for most valuable card for players is the 1R221, which makes the Witchking 3 on strength with a 1 damage modifier for the low cost of two from the Twilight Pool. More than that, using this blade allows the Witchking (who is discarded by Fellowship players who survive anyway) to eliminate a Condition card. This is a real steal and tactically one of the most potentially devastating cards a player can use in the game.


Rares are evenly distributed in the booster packs, making only two starter decks necessary for those collecting a master set, as the Aragorn and Gandalf decks each have a single card that cannot be found in the booster packs.

Beyond that, die-hard, obsessive collectors who want to spend a lifetime going from dealer to dealer on a vain search to complete something will thrill over the foil cards. All 365 cards are reprinted as foil cards and the foil sets are near impossible to complete and seem to be disproportionately less valuable than the master sets of non-foil cards. In other words, while the foil sets might take hundreds to thousands of dollars to complete, dealers seem to only be able to get in the low hundreds of dollars for them, probably because many collectors didn't go for this gimmick from Decipher.


This is the logical staring point for players, and collectors seemed to leap on this set, knowing it was only the beginning of the franchise. The concepts are interesting and well-executed, making for a decent start and a fun game. This is also an easy game to learn and come back to, making it ideal for those who might not have a ton of time in one sitting.

This was the first set in the Fellowship block and it was followed by "Mines Of Moria" (reviewed here!).

This is a set of cards I proudly sell in my on-line store! To check out my current inventory of these cards, please click here to visit my store!

For other The Lord Of The Rings products, please check out my reviews of:
Lord Of The Rings RISK
The Two Towers Eowyn action figure
The Fellowship Of The Ring By J.R.R. Tolkien


For other trading card games, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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