The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game
List Price: $18.00
Your Price: $15.95
(Worth 1,595 Funagain Points!)
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The Lord of the Rings Tarot unites two great traditions: the spiritual, mystical tradition of the tarot, and the world of folklore and fairy tales that is most delightfully depicted in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The added factor of a card game summons you to travel through Middle-Earth to reach Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring!
I originally bought this game on the strength of the designer's name, Mike Fitzgerald, who designed the wonderful 'Mystery Rummy' card game series, as well as 'X-Men' and 'Nitro' for Wizard's of the Coast.
The publisher's description for LOTR would almost suggest to me the game was thought to be more of a 'throw-in' and the real value was the fact it was a tarot deck of good quality art depicting the world of the Lord of the Rings. Well, tarot cards hold no interest for me, and although I do enjoy the quality art here, it's the game that impresses me.
At it's core the game engine is a refined 'Uno' or 'Crazy Eights' which may at first glance not seem too original or interesting. But one of the fascinating aspects of the game is how Fitzgerald has managed to use the peculiar aspects of the tarot deck, with its separate minor and major arcana sub-decks, and create an interesting social/leisure card game with enough strategic options and LOTR atmosphere to ensure it gets played often (at least with my gaming friends). Other than the fact that all the cards have one of three specific game related icons in the upper right corner, there is nothing else on the cards besides the standard tarot rank and suits which are necessary for game play.
True to the game engine on which it is based, the primary objective is to play out all the cards in your hand, by matching the top card of the 'journey pile' with a card from your hand that is equal in suit or rank (or by playing a major arcana card which is wild). However, there are several other scoring objectives, and this is where the game is both clever and interesting. Besides the 'journey pile' there is also a 'ring pile' in which only major arcana cards can be played. Although you are required to always draw another card when you play to the 'ring pile'(thus keeping you from going out), the advantage is you get possession of the ring, which is worth points at the end of the round, and allows you to alter the dark force tokens of one other player on each turn. Considering you also score points at the end of the round for having the most dark points and the least dark points, the ring bearer's special ability can make quite a difference in who will score in these two areas. Dark points/tokens are acquired as players play cards with a dark force icon to either the 'journey pile' (worth two tokens) or the 'ring pile' (worth three tokens). In addition, after one player goes out (plays all his cards) every card in hand which has a dark force icon is worth one token to the player holding it.
As you might expect, if you are unlucky enough to get cards which never seem to match the top card of the 'journey pile' and do not have any higher major arcana cards which would allow you to be the ring bearer, you will not be in control of your destiny in LOTR. However, there are many things going on in each game, and several ways to score (some in conflict with each other), so there is usually some strategic aspect to your play, no matter what cards you draw.
Although innovative and elegant, LOTR is still at the low end of the complexity scale, so don't expect an intense gamers' game. Do expect to be entertained and get your money's worth, and I think you may also find it not too difficult to convince your repressed non-gaming friends to try it out. Try not to be too surprised when they tell you they like it.
The game is a fairly decent game. It's sort of like Crazy Eights Deluxe. You draw a card from the deck on your turn then try to discard a card that matches the one on top of the discard pile by suit or number. However, Eights aren't 'Crazy' anymore, their effect is found in the Major Arcana cards (MAC) which comprise the tarot deck. You capture the ring card by placing a higher MAC on it. When someone is out of cards the round is over and you get points for various things like getting out first, playing the most 'dark' cards, playing the least 'dark' cards, etc.
Pros: fun little game; dark points are a neat concept and you get points for being the 'goodest' or the 'evilist'; very good art on the cards; doubles as a tarot deck.
Cons: I bought it for about $24 Canadian (~US$16) which I found a bit steep for a deck of cards; the box fell apart fairly quickly; sort of stupid two-player problems (you can't be the 'goodest' and the 'evilist', so each of you get 5 points a piece, which doesn't mean anything since they cancel each other out); impossible to get the Ring if the Fool and the World (I think) have both been played on it, which means if one player gets the Fool and the World, nothing can be done.
Overall: decent game, fun every once in a while, few flaws, but definitely worth it if you don't think it's too expensive.