The digital version of The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game now has a launch date – it will be available in Early Access on August 28 this year.

Since I heard about this digital version, I have been eagerly following its development, watching the twitch stream of playthroughs and paying attention to the changes and tweaks as hey have evolved. This is more than I would usually commit to the promise of a digital version of a much-loved board or card game – frankly I have been deeply invested (emotionally and financially, frankly) in the Lord of the Rings Card Game for the past four years at least.

The LOTR LCG is easily one of my favourite boardgames of all time. Part of this is due to it solving many of my persistent complaints about Magic the Gathering – by being both co-operative and a Living Card Game.

The Living Card Game (LCG) model, which was pioneered by Fantasy Flight Games, provides a fixed distribution approach in contrast to the traditional Collectible Card Game model. Instead of the blind purchase of randomly arranged ‘booster packs’ that is the norm for games like Magic the Gathering and Pokemon, the expansions for LCGs always contain the same cards, and are always known in advance. Not only do you know what you’re getting, but the fixed format means that every player has equal access – more or less – to every card needed to optimise their deck.

That means no secondary market in expensive or unavailable rares/ultra-rares, no bidding or chasing promos, no ‘pay to win’ game experience. Instead, the LCG model provides a complete and self-contained game experience, with expansion packs that you can purchase at your convenience at an easily affordable price. The depth of your involvement is up to you, and there is enough content available now to ensure the game is immersive and endlessly replayable, while still providing a memorable gaming experience for casual players.

The fact that the LOTR LCG was co-operative also means that it doesn’t present the same barriers to entry that Magic presents. I get all of the stimulation from the analysis that goes into complex deck-building, but knowing that bomb deck is going to increase the chances of people playing with me again, not the reverse.

There’s little surprise that I have been eagerly awaiting the drop of the The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game on Steam, and today we find out that it will enter into Early Access at the end of August, and will arrive with the Adventures in Mirkwood campaign, a core set of starter cards and an set of 21 unlockable cards. Early Access will last about 3 to 5 months, and the game will be released as a free-to-play title after that, with a robust schedule of updates to follow. Co-op play has been identified as a major feature that FFI are scheduled to implement by full release, but the Early Access will only accommodate  single-player.

To be honest, from what I have seen to date, the digital version shares the artwork and basic mechanics of the tabletop version, but little else. It seems to be an entirely distinct product more akin to Hearthstone than to the card game itself. This is coupled with my general skepticism of free-to-play games, which tend to end up costing a lot more to play in the long run. But I’m open-minded here, and ultimately I’m looking forward to testing it out during early access.

I’m pleased that Fantasy Flight Interactive have made so much effort to getting the game right, to responding to feedback and to meet the needs and requests of fans of the LCG. This is the newly launched FFI’s first-ever title, and their commitment to community engagement bodes very well indeed.

You can register for Early Access on Steam here.

If you’re interested in getting into the tabletop card game, you can check out the deals at OzGameShop, including discounted expansions. Delivery is free for orders over $50, and purchases via this link support the House of Nerdery. Just saying.

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