Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Darkness Endures With A "Black Rider" Expansion To The Rebooted The Lord Of The Rings TCG!

The Good: Easy to learn, Good image quality, Fun to play
The Bad: Problematic collectibility issues (foils offer nothing new), Impossible to make complete set from boosters packs.
The Basics: Filled with great villains, "Black Rider" makes for a good expansion to The Lord Of The Rings TCG, even if the foils are a bit annoying to try to collect.

Fans of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game found themselves hit with collecting virtually the same cards a second time after the final film's extended DVD cut was released. After an escalating series of rule changes, Decipher, Inc. rebooted the series with "Shadows" (see link below). "Shadows" showed that the game could outlast the film series and that concept continued with "Black Rider," which added more menace to the game and utilized footage from the reintegrated scenes from the films much more prominently!

Die-hard fans of The Lord Of The Rings TCG picked up "Black Rider," the second "War Of The Ring" block set to see if Decipher could maintain the quality of the game while increasing the intrigue. Decipher's gamble paid off and fans of the films and players continued to flock to the game.

Basics/Set Composition

The "Black Rider" set was the twelfth set of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game cards created by Decipher and the first used 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.

"Black Rider" is a 221-card set focusing on characters, location, artifacts, villains and scenarios presented in the The Lord Of The Rings films. Released following the debut of the Extended Edition of The Return Of The King on DVD, this card set utilizes material from all three films, presenting a well-rounded playing environment from Middle Earth. The set consists of 60 common cards, 60 uncommon cards, 60 rare cards and 14 starter deck exclusive cards spread through two different starter decks, with the most popular characters being presented as rare cards. This provides a sense of balance and allows different character traits to be exploited among the various versions. As well, there are twenty-seven foil reprint cards of the most popular rare cards, which receive additional exposure as Legends and Legends Masterworks foil cards.

The 194 card non-foil set features 15 Dwarven, 9 Elven, 12 Gandalf, 5 Gollum, 12 Gondor, 1 Isengard, 24 Men, 2 Moria, 26 Orc, 11 Rohan, 1 Sauron, 15 Shire, 27 Uruk-Hai, and 24 Wraith Affiliation cards, and 10 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: 1 Artifact (unique items found on Middle Earth, like the Balrog's Whip Of Many Thongs), 18 Companion (cards depicting primary characters and those who may join your customized Fellowship, like Elrond and Gandalf), 48 Condition (cards illustrating long-term changes to Middle Earth that remain in play more than one turn, like Wraiths having Unending Life or taking Refuge with the Elves), 32 Event (cards depicting temporary effects on players, like a Hobbits making a Diversion or the Uruk-Hai Broken In Defeat), 61 Minion (cards depicting villains used to obstruct your opponent, like the Witch King or Saruman), 19 Possession (cards depicting objects used to enhance the natural strength or endurance of a character, like a War Trident or The Witch-King's Beast), and 10 Site (cards depicting locations in Middle Earth, they form the "board" for the game).

This set continues the game with a very broad sense of the Middle Earth universe as characterized by The Lord Of The Rings films. 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, three uncommon, and one rare or foil card. A foil card replaces a rare in approximately five packs. The foils are simply reprints of the standard rare 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 fairly clear and the game basically follows the same format at laid out in the rulebooks for "Shadows." However, while there are no new card types, "Black Rider" does introduce new keyword (functions on the cards) with Muster, Lurker, Resistance and Toil added to game play. Unfortunately, there are no rulebooks in the booster boxes, only the starter decks!


Players, collectors and fans of The Lord Of The Rings franchise will appreciate the image quality of the characters and scenarios from the films. The "Black Rider" set features a great deal of the supporting cast of The Lord Of The Rings, like Elrond, Boromir and Faramir. The set also features the Black Riders, the Balrog and Saruman and his army! This set powerfully fleshes out the diverse characters and scenarios in Middle Earth and it does so with larger images than many other trading card game cards have.

The highlight is remarkably easy to pick in "Black Rider," it's 12R118 The Mouth Of Sauron, Lieutenant Of Barad-dur. This is the sole Sauron Affiliation card in this deck and it is a menacing image straight from the reintegrated footage from the final film in the trilogy. For only three twilight tokens, The Mouth Of Sauron can be brought into play, easily a match for an unaided Aragorn and assigned to the highest strength companion, this is a cool-looking card meant to inflict serious damage on the strongest character one's opponent is playing with! The Mouth Of Sauron is inexpensive to play and can be a nice second punch after one has already decimated an opponent's Fellowship with the Balrog!


Rares are evenly distributed in the booster packs, making only one of each of the two starter decks necessary for those collecting a master set, as the starter decks each have a many cards that cannot be found in the booster packs.

Beyond that, die-hard, obsessive collectors who want the thrill of collecting can collect the Legends and Legends Masterworks foils. These are eighteen and then nine foil reprints of the most popular characters. The problem here, though, is that they picked the eighteen and then the nine are foil reprints of the foil reprints with an alternate "O" numbering, so essentially the most valuable foils (Legends Masterwork, which are on average only one per box) are also the most reprinted rares within the "Black Rider" set. As well, it is somewhat disappointing that if Decipher is going to bother to alter its annoying tradition of making foil reprints of each and every single card (yea for that!) that they would not follow a late Star Trek Second Edition model and make a few cards that are unique to the foil set, perhaps previewing the subsequent series.


This is a decent game, though it is fairly complicated, taking a little more time than most board games to learn. It is intended for an adult game-playing audience and it makes for a good game in that regard. "Black Rider" is a dangerous expansion for Fellowship players, but a goldmine for those who want to thwart the heroes of Middle Earth!

This set culls material from the The Lord Of The Rings Extended Edition Trilogy, reviewed here!

This set was preceded by "Shadows" (reviewed here!) and followed by "Bloodlines" (review pending).

This is a set of gaming cards I proudly sell in my online store. For my current inventory, please click here to see what I have available!


For other card reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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