Monday, February 14, 2011

Harder To Find, "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" Beefs Up The Lord Of The Rings TCG!

The Good: Some very cool cards (especially rares), Compelling theme
The Bad: Serious collectibility issue (foils)
The Basics: Easily one of the best The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Games sets to ever thrill players, collectors and investors, "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" reinvigorates the game!

For those who do not play trading card games, it might be hard to get excited about new expansions when they are released. For me, there are three things to look at when collecting a trading card game: is it fun to play? Is it practical and possible to get a complete (master) set with relative ease? Is it likely to appreciate in value? In other words, I look at trading card games from through the lens of a player, collector and investor. The Lord Of The Rings TCG sets take a while to get up to a perfect set (because of the near-impossible to complete foil card chase sets), but the closest they come in the first salvo is easily "Realms Of The Elf-Lords."

"Realms Of The Elf-Lords," as the title suggests, beefed up the Elven affiliation for players while also providing increased challenges from Isengard and Sauron minion decks. Omitted from such anthologies as "The Lord Of The Rings Reflections," "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" remains one of the most valued The Lord Of The Rings TCG products and it is an all-around winner!

"Realms Of The Elf-Lords" gaming cards continued The Lord Of The Rings TCG game with the "Fellowship" Block (the first three sets of The Lord Of The Rings TCG cards, which focused on the first film). This expansion set fleshed out the time spent by the Fellowship following the disastrous encounter with the Balrog in the Mines Of Moria and beefs up those looking to play with Elf-heavy decks. As well, this set marks the appearance of Sauron in the game, making it a great one for opposing players with. The Starter Decks come with rulebooks and they are pretty much essential to getting started, as well as completing one's set. The booster boxes, though, do not have the Starter Deck exclusive cards, nor the rulebooks. In fact, Starter Decks for "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" are fairly hard to come by.

Basics/Set Composition

"Realms Of The Elf-Lords" was the third set of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game cards created by Decipher to expand the 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. 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.

"Realms Of The Elf-Lords" is a 122-card set focusing on characters, location, artifacts, villains and scenarios presented in the first The Lord Of The Rings film, mostly at the end of the movie. This card set utilizes material from the film - specifically the prequel moments and anything elf-related in the movie - presenting a playing environment that allows players to truly take advantage of the Archery Phase of the game. The set consists of 40 common cards, 40 uncommon cards, 40 rare cards and 2 starter deck exclusive cards, with only Aragorn, Legolas and Boromir being represented from the Fellowship.

The 122 card set features 6 Dwarven, 23 Elven, 8 Gandalf, 13 Gondor, 27 Isengard, 5 Moria, 6 Ringwraith, 19 Sauron, and 9 Shire Affiliation cards, and 6 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: 10 Ally (cards depicting supporting characters, like Galadriel and Meliot Brandybuck), 5 Artifact (cards of rare/unique objects, like the Phial Of Galadriel or the Palantir Of Orthanc), 5 Companion (cards depicting primary characters and those who may join your customized Fellowship, like Arwen or Boromir), 24 Condition (cards illustrating long-term changes to Middle Earth that remain in play more than one turn, like the Betrayal Of Isengard or the way The Ring Draws Them [the Nazgul]), 38 Event (cards depicting temporary effects on players, like visiting a Master Of Healing or Hate And Anger overcoming Isengard), 24 Minion (cards depicting villains used to obstruct your opponent, like Saruman or an Orc Swordsman), 9 Possession (cards depicting objects used to enhance the natural strength or endurance of a character, like Bill The Pony or the Long-knives Of Legolas), and 6 Site (cards depicting locations in Middle Earth, they form the "board" for the game).

This set plays out the act of calling forth the Fellowship, Boromir's temptation by the Ring, and the strength of elves as healers and archers. 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.

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 and the rules are essentially the same as they were when the set was released with The Fellowship Of The Ring (reviewed here!).

There are no rules changes or card type additions in "Realms Of The Elf-Lords."


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 "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" set features the decent ways to enhance the naturally strong Elven decks, whatwith the ability of archers to take out adversaries in the first salvo, eliminating some serious danger from some of the most powerful foes. This set features both a common and rare Saruman and the villain's finally gets his due with some pretty cool powers.

But even better than Saruman is Arwen. Arwen, too, is given two cards in the "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" and it is about time she got some decent coverage. Despite the demur image, the highlight of this set might well be 3R8 Arwen, Lady Undomiel. This card allows Arwen to severely weaken her adversaries simply through the presence of supporting Elves. The advantage here is that there are several Ally Elves in this deck that could easily be played on the table, allowing Arwen to enter a battle - even without an additional weapon - with her adversaries instantly being taken down three points in strength. In this fashion, Arwen can actually hold her own with Ringwraiths!


Rares are evenly distributed in the booster packs, making only two starter decks necessary for those collecting a master set, as the Legolas and Boromir decks each have a single card that cannot be found in the booster packs. Those starter decks remain some of the hardest to find, so Master sets are enhanced easily by being completed with those two cards.

These cards did not pop up in any other products, save The Fellowship Of The Ring Anthology boxed set and a few singles mixed into the The Fellowship Of The Ring Draft Packs. But given how overproduced some of the other sets were, these are still very difficult to find and that bodes well for their investment potential. Moreover, the foil sets seem to still be one of the harder ones to come by!

Given 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 122 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 of dollars to complete, dealers seem to only be able to get in the low hundred dollars for them, probably because many collectors didn't go for this gimmick from Decipher.


Fun and powerful for players, easy (but with a little challenge) to collect, and illustrating fairly strong secondary market strength, "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" is easily the best The Fellowship Of The Ring TCG sets and one of the strongest components of the early block!

This set culls material from The Fellowship Of The Ring, which is reviewed here!

This set was preceded by "Mines Of Moria" (reviewed here!) and followed by The Two Towers (reviewed here!).

"Realms Of The Elf-Lords" is a The Lord Of The Rings TCG product I sell in my online store! Check out my current inventory of it by clicking here!


For other trading card game reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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