Driving home from work takes me, depending on traffic, 15 to 20 minutes. For more than half of this route, we were complaining about War of the Ring: The Card Game. We had just finished playing it, and we were airing our grievances. I was complaining about its randomness. Marek agreed that the cards were very situational—powerful in certain combinations, but useless in others. I was whining that the scaling was quite weird, and the variants for 2, 3, and 4 players all had many small different rules. And Marek dared to complain about the balance right after the first playthrough—said it was off, and that the Fellowship of the Ring felt much more powerful in a 3-player game.

I was turning into my street when Marek said he’d love to play it again. I said I couldn’t wait to play again as well.

War of the Ring: The Card Game consists of four decks—two for players who prefer the forces of Good, and two for those who’d root for Sauron. There’s also the Paths deck, with locations through which the Fellowship travels, and the Battleground deck, where all the epic struggles happen In your turn, you add cards to your Path or Battleground, gaining power or special abilities. After everyone has played all the cards they wanted to, you compare your strength. The player who wins the Path or Battleground takes the card to their Victory deck, and then you repeat everything. New Path, new Battleground, you play the cards and compare the strength.

You can’t design a simpler game.

In card games, everything’s obviously about the cards—their abilities, synergy between them, and playing them in a way that makes the most from every card. And that’s the biggest strength but also the curse of War of the Ring: The Card Game. The combos are epic, and you can annihilate an orc party with your Rohan riders arriving on the battlefield. But to make it happen, you have to have these riders in the exact moment you fight for Minas Tirith, not later, not earlier. If you get this card too late, its full strength is just a distant memory. 

Playing War of the Ring: The Card Game, you can either cuss every few minutes, tear your hair out, and curse the author of this game, Ian Brody, or you can sit at the table knowing that destiny is fickle, you will gain cards in the most senseless order, and that nothing will go according to your plans. You can take it as a challenge—this fight is not only against the Shadow, but also the unlucky set of cards. You can rate War of the Ring: The Card Game at 1 or 10, depending on your mindset.

I play it smiling. I play it knowing it’s a card game, and it’s not up to me which cards I draw. I sit down and use whatever fate throws at me to my best advantage. War of the Rings: The Card Game is a fantastic game with splendid artwork and variety of my favorite characters. It will remain in my collection for a long time.