Collectible card games

The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game

Players 2 or more
Age range 13 and up
Playing time < 60 minutes
Random chance Some
Skill(s) required Card playing

The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game (a.k.a. LOTR TCG) is a collectible card game produced by Decipher, Inc. Released November 2001, it is based on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the J. R. R. Tolkien novel on which the films were based. Decipher also had the rights to The Hobbit novel but did not release any cards based on it. In addition to images taken from the films, in 2004 Weta Workshop produced artwork depicting characters and items from the novel absent from the films for use on cards.

The game also has an online version that maintains identical gameplay as well as a market economy. However, since the game's print run has ended, sales for online cards have been stopped and the servers closed in June 2010.

In 2002, LOTR TCG won the Origins Awards for Best Trading Card Game of 2001 and Best Graphic Presentation of a Card Game 2001.

Game concept

The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game is a game for two or more players, each of who uses his or her own deck consisting of equal numbers of Free Peoples and Shadow cards, with a minimum of 30 of each. On a player's turn they are considered to be the Free Peoples player and their Fellowship and Free Peoples cards both in their Support Area and on their characters are active. A player uses his Free Peoples cards to attempt to traverse the site-path and destroy the One Ring by reaching the ninth site. Each of his or her opponents, the Shadow Players, use their Shadow cards to prevent this by attempting to kill or corrupt the ring-bearer, or by forcing the Fellowship to slow down long enough for their Fellowship to race to victory. At the end of each turn the position of Free Peoples player rotates to the next player in turn. The game is won by the first Free Peoples player to survive to the ninth, and final, site or the last player whose Fellowship is left alive or when you corrupt the opposing fellowships ring-bearer.

An innovative mechanic called the twilight pool is used as a costing mechanism for cards. Each card has a numerical cost (which can be zero). When the Free Peoples player plays a card, tokens are added to the twilight pool equal to the cost of that card. The Shadow players, however, remove twilight tokens equal to the twilight cost of their cards in order to play their cards. Thus the more powerful cards the Fellowship the Free Peoples player plays, the greater the threat from the Shadow players.

Throughout a game, a player will play companions (or Free People characters) to help defend the ring-bearer. When it is his turn to play as the Shadow player, he then can play minions (or Shadow characters) to attack the opponents companions. The Free People's player (the defender) has the opportunity to choose which of his companions will fight in one-to-one duels, called skirmishes, with the opponents minions. This is called assignment. Since the Free Peoples player wants to defend his ring-bearer, the only way a Shadow player can attack the Free Peoples player is by playing more minions than the Free Peoples player has companions, thus allowing the Shadow player to assign extra minions to any companion he chooses, including the ring-bearer, or by using minions whose game text allows the Shadow player to assign them to the ring-bearer.

However, the Ring-bearer does not only face minions on his journey to destroy the Ring. The Ring-bearer has to resist the temptation of the Ring. In the trading card game, when the ring-bearer succumbs to the temptation of the Ring, burdens are added. Each companion has a given resistance stat, and whenever a burden is added, each companion's resistance is lowered by one. Once the ring-bearer's resistance reaches zero, he is corrupted by the power of the ring and the player is eliminated from the game.

Pro Tour Events

In July of 2002, the first pro tour event was held at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio and it was won by John Lolli. 212 players participated in the event, and first place was $2,500. Christopher Schaut finished in 2nd place winning $1,000. Lolli used a unique deck designed to pass the ring from Frodo to Sam, and deny twilight to its opponent. Almost all of the top players were using later banned card called The Mirror of Galadriel, and Lolli used that strategy against his opponents designing a Minion half of the deck to counteract it.

Deck strategies

As the game expanded, several basic deck strategies were identified and developed. As decks are separated into Shadow and Free People sides, the two sides are to some extent interchangeable, but the best decks usually contain some synergy between both types of cards.

For the Free Peoples side, the most common strategies are tank, choke, minion wounding and mass healing.

Tank decks try to play as much as possible and build up as many companions to combat the opponents Shadow side with force.
Choke decks, the opposite of tank decks, try to put out as little twilight as possible, denying the opponent resources to play their minions, and clogging their hand with unplayable Shadow cards, thus hampering set up of their Fellowship.
Archery/Minion Wounding
Minion wounding decks try to use "archery fire" and direct wounding to destroy the minions (Shadow characters) before they even have a chance to attack.
Mass Healing
Mass healing decks rely on cards that heal companions, under the theory that if the Free People's removal of wounds can out-pace the Shadow player's placement of wounds, the Fellowship will be unkillable. 'Refuge', a card from the set Black Rider is critical to most of these decktypes, as it allows the player to cycle his Free Peoples side while healing his or her companions in order to set up the Shadow side.

For the Shadow side, the most common strategies are beat-down, swarm, bomb, archery/wounding and corruption.

Beat down decks focus on making one or two minions very powerful, with the intention of killing all of the companions one by one; eventually killing the ring-bearer.
Swarm decks have an opposite strategy of a beat-down: their goal is to play as many minions as possible as cheaply as possible. While one swarm minion might not be very powerful by itself, each minion is very cheap which allows many to be played, easily outnumbering the companions and assigning themselves to the Ring-bearer.
A bomb deck combines the strategies of both beat-down decks and swarm decks. Instead of focusing on one or two powerful minions, they play several minions of medium strength. The goal of a bomb deck is to destroy the weaker companions, and then swarm the Free Peoples player.
Archery and wounding decks rely on wounding companions outside of the skirmish so much that they die from their wounds. A variation of this strategy focuses on wounding the ring-bearer and killing him.
Corruption decks focus on adding enough burdens to corrupt the ring-bearer, or playing cards that require certain conditions to be met to corrupt the ring-bearer outright.
Mill decks focus on playing minions that will discard cards from either your opponent's hand or their draw deck.

The movie years

For the first three years the game's releases followed the movies. A 365 "base set" was released each November containing material from the upcoming movie. These were followed by two 122 card expansions at four-month intervals. Each base set and the following two expansions formed a "block" named for that base set.

Cards were sold in eleven card booster packs consisting of one rare, three uncommon and seven common cards. In approximately one in six packs a common was replaced by a foiled version of a random card from that set. Each set also had two sixty-three card starter decks containing two copies of a promotional face card, three random rares and sixty fixed commons/uncommons (sets 5 and 6 had sixty card starters with three alternate image rares in place of the random rares).

Between the second and third expansions of The Return of the King block an extra set, Reflections, was released. This consisted of 52 new cards, all foiled, half of which were designated rare plus and half rare. The new cards took material from all three films and material produced by Weta specifically for the game and did not belong to any block. Reflections boosters contained three of the new cards (with one R+ every 2.4 packs) and sixteen repackaged random cards from the first six sets. One of these old cards was always non-English.

Shadows and beyond

In November 2004 the new base set, Shadows, marked an overhaul to the game. All sets would contain sixty rare, uncommon and common cards each. Instead of foiling every card, each expansion would only have eighteen pre-selected rare foil cards that would be randomly inserted now into one in every seven booster packs. Shadows also had four, rather than two, different starter decks. The material used for the cards would also now cover the entire trilogy instead of being tied to the films' releases.

Additionally, a system of rotation was announced to be introduced to the game. Starting in March 2005 the entire Fellowship block ceased to be legal for use in the Standard tournament format. Then, each November the oldest block remaining will also be "rotated out". Decipher claimed this helped keep the card pool down to a manageable size and would keep established players buying new cards. Detractors claimed it was a money grab and didn't like being forced to purchase what they felt were inferior cards.

The seven-month delay of The Hunters expansion release (from November 2005 to June 2006) made the game suffer a significant drop in popularity amongst its players as well as eventually force Decipher Inc. to remove the expansions The Great Eye and Shelob's Lair from its intended expansion since Decipher's license for Lord of the Rings related material was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2007. Following the release of the final expansion Age's End in June 2007 the game was discontinued and Decipher was forced to stop all production, distribution, and advertising.

Lord of the Rings Online TCG

In 2003 Worlds Apart partnered with Decipher to produce an online version of the Lord of the Rings TCG. The online game's rules matched the physical games rules, but utilized tradeable virtual cards that could be purchased through the system via starter decks, booster packs, or in draft. In addition to casual play, the online LOTR TCG system supported tournament play, league play, and sealed play including draft. The online system introduced a number of cards and formats that were online-only (for example, King-block draft packs), and offered players exclusive physical promotional cards and online avatars and movement tokens for participating in online events.

The LOTR Online TCG software included collection management and robust deckbuilding features. For this reason alone many players have used the software to construct decks and print decklists.

In 2005 Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) bought Worlds Apart, but continued to support LOTR Online TCG.

On May 22, 2007 SOE-Decipher announced the closure of all support for the Online gaming system. The LOTR Online TCG software was available and the SOE servers ran until June 30, 2010 when they were shut down for good, though no new cards could be purchased after May, 2007.


Though not sanctioned or approved by Decipher, the free software SDA has been developed to work with LOTR TCG card databases and supports most necessary game mechanics. Availability of SDA is limited, as Decipher has sought to eliminate it from distribution.


When the game's run had ended in mid-2007 nineteen sets had been released. Three of expansions (Expanded Middle-earth Deluxe Draft Box, The Wraith Collection, and Age's End) were not available in booster packs. Where two dates are listed, the first date refers to starter decks and the second to booster packs):

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring (November 6, 2001)
  2. Mines of Moria (March 6 & 13, 2002)
  3. Realms of the Elf-lords (June 19 & July 3, 2002)
  4. The Two Towers (November 6, 2002)
  5. Battle of Helm's Deep (March 12, 2003)
  6. Ents of Fangorn (July 2, 2003)
  7. The Return of the King (November 5, 2003)
  8. Siege of Gondor (March 10, 2004)
  9. Reflections (May 12, 2004)
  10. Mount Doom (July 14, 2004)
  11. Shadows (November 3, 2004)
  12. Black Rider (March 18, 2005)
  13. Bloodlines (August 12, 2005)
  14. Expanded Middle-earth Deluxe Draft Box (February 17, 2006)
  15. The Hunters (June 9, 2006)
  16. The Wraith Collection (August 26, 2006)
  17. Rise of Saruman (March 1, 2007)
  18. Treachery and Deceit (May 2007)
  19. Age's End (June 2007)

Decipher Inc., dropped the following two expansions from their release schedule:

  1. The Great Eye
  2. Shelob's Lair

In addition a number of boutique products have been released:

Organized play

Year Champion Runner Up
2002 Mathieu Brochu Alex Tennet
2003 Michael Dalton Robert Schiermeyer
2004 Emir Delic Josh Cornwell-Mott
2005 Kyle George Lee Clarke
2006 Christian Kriesel Seth Maser
2007 Vince Accetturo & Chris Thompson
2008 Łukasz Wojtyca Dino Lajka

2007 World Championship Controversy

There has been much of a debate as to the legitimacy of the 2007 World Champions (Vince Accetturo & Chris Thompson). Since the rights to produce the Lord of the Rings TCG was not renewed by Decipher, there was no legal way for the company to promote a World Championship, but they did still hold an unofficial event where the 2007 World Champions were crowned. The event was still held in Indianapolis, IN at GenCon on Friday, August 17, 2007 at 11:00 AM. The field was bested by Vince Accetturo and Chris Thompson, both members of the player group Team Bison Bucks. They decided to split the championship in the finals.

2010 World Championship

With no official governing body for the game existing after 2007, no official World Championships could be held. No group stepped up to attempt an unofficial World Championship event until 2010 when the Star Wars CCG Players Committee decided to run a de facto World Championship for Lord of the Rings at their annual Worlds Weekend event. Brian Fred was crowned champion as the only undefeated player at the event, in which close to 20 players participated.