The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game was put out by Cryptozoic Entertainment a few weeks ago. It is thematically based on the first movie of the Lord of the Rings saga, and features some beautiful stills of the film on the box and cards for the game. The game was designed by Ben Stoll and Patrick Sullivan and is based on Cryptozoic's Cerberus Engine. In case you are unfamiliar, the Cerberus Engine is a deck building game engine that Cryptozoic has developed. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game is the second game to use this engine, the first being the DC Comics Deck-Building Game released a few weeks before this game.
If you have played a deck building game before, you can skip the next paragraph - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game is a deck building game. All of the mechanisms are familiar with a few interesting twists thrown in.
If you have not played a deck building game before, here is a quick overview. Deck building as a mechanism was invented by Mr. Donald X. Vaccarino back in 2008 when his game, Dominion, was published. The basic premise is this: players will begin with a few relatively weak cards in a personal deck of cards. A player's turn will consist of drawing a new hand of cards, and then using those cards in order to purchase new cards from a pool of available cards. These purchased cards will be put into the player's discard pile. The really interesting part of deck building games is that when a player has to draw a card from her deck and there are no cards left to draw, she shuffles her discard pile (which should have a few new cards in it that she has purchased in previous turns) to make a brand new deck to draw from. In this way, a player's deck is usually getting stronger - as the cards available for purchase are usually better than the ones she starts off with.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game does not do very much to change this formula up. Players do start the game by choosing or being assigned a character card. This character comes with a unique card that is put into a player's starting deck. The pool of cards available for purchase is always in flux, much like Ascension. In fact, this game is even simpler than Ascension because there is only one resource in the game, Power. Players will begin the game with a deck of 6 Courage cards (+1 Power) and 3 Despair cards (these do nothing). Players will also have a their unique character card in their starting deck. There is a deck of cards, the Main Deck, five of which will be available for purchase at a time. There is also the basic Valor cards, which are +2 of the Power resource that are always available for purchase. The top card of the Archenemy stack is also always available to be defeated.
So on a player's turn, she will replace any cards that were purchased from The Path during the previous player's turn, suffering any Ambush effects that show up,* play any number of them to gain their effects, and (hopefully) purchase a card from The Path or defeat the face up archenemy card. Drawing a new hand of 5 cards completes her turn.
The concept of villain and enemy cards is one of the interesting things The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game brings to the genre. Some enemies have an Ambush effect. When these are drawn off the Main Deck to replace a purchased card from the center row, the Ambush effect will affect the active player. These can be anything from discarding cards to gaining Corruption cards, which are worth negative points at the end of the game and do nothing when players draw them. Similarly, the villains in the villain deck have effects that trigger when they are defeated. Some of these are quite interesting and often pretty thematic!
The game ends when either the final enemy on the Archenemy deck is defeated (Lurtz) or when the Main Deck is depleted. The winner is the player with the most points in her deck!
If none of this sounds very exciting to you, I am not surprised. The things this game brings to the table have mostly been done and seen before. That being said, I've had a wonderful time with this game. Yes, I do have a geek's love for Lord of the Rings (War of the Ring is my all-time favorite board game), so that absolutely helps. But while this game may not bring any exciting new mechanisms to the table, it brings a lot of simple fun that is themed to a popular film franchise. Sure, the fact that the players all play as characters from the fellowship, but only one will win and they can attack each other does not make a lot of sense, but it is so much fun to draw "You Shall Not Pass!" card and be able to avoid an attack.
As a lover of games, I am often looking for something that will challenge me intellectually - a game that will make me analyze my choices, try to foresee my opponents next few moves, and try to choose the option that will most effectively lead me to victory. But sometimes I just want to play around and relax. If War of the Ring is a delicious 7 course Thanksgiving meal, then The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game is a yummy bag of Funyuns. They both satisfy me, but in very different ways - and each is very appropriate in certain circumstances.
Bottom line - if you like Ascension and Lord of the Rings or if you have never played a deck building game and you like Lord of the Rings, this is probably a good purchase for you. If not, I would recommend trying before buying.