Where do I even start?

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Welcome to the Lord of the Rings TCG!

Whether you're discovering this gem of a game for the first time, or returning to our ranks after a long break, mae govannen! Welcome! This page aims to be a summary of all the things you might need to know (or be reminded of) to be able to play the game.

The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game is a collectible card game where players would purchase randomized packs of cards, grow their collection, and construct 60+ card decks to compete head-to-head with one another. At least, that was how it worked while the game was still alive; while some people still enjoy the rush and challenge of seeking out ever-rarer booster packs, various digital avenues have cropped up that permit anyone to play with all cards without a collection (and without grinding).

The goal of the game is to guide Frodo (or another Ring-bearer) closer to Mount Doom by traversing 9 sites. If you can make it to the last site without losing the Ring, then you win! There's a twist, however: you will be playing as both the Free Peoples aiding Frodo and the forces of Shadow out to kill (or corrupt) him. Your deck will be split 50/50 between cards of each side, and you and your opponent will alternate back and forth between helping and harming the Fellowship.

This push/pull dynamic of needing to play and execute both Good and Evil in the same match is the centerpiece of what makes this a unique game. Your deck will need to be both effective against the stratagems of your opponent and in balance between the two sides you selected.

Learning (or Re-Learning) the Game

The best way to learn how to play is almost always to sit down with an experienced player and play a match or three using a pair of basic starter decks, which are pre-packaged decks designed to be simple to execute as you stumble your way through the rules.

These first games can be played a number of ways, but the best way (for learning) is still to play the physical game. The ability to hand a card over from your hand to ask a question of your mentor, and the ability to undo actions if a mistake is made, and the ability for your mentor to show theoretical actions all make physical play the most flexible learning experience.

If you can't get your hands on physical starters (or can't get your hands on a physical mentor), then the two digital options are Tabletop Simulator (TTS) and Gemp (both explained in detail in later sections). TTS costs money, but aims to simulate physical cards and so can permit much of the same flexibility of learning at the cost of, well, money, as well as being a very finicky experience in general. Gemp is simpler to navigate, at the expense of enforcing all rules at all times, so you can't easily ask questions of cards you have or undo any mistakes.

In either case, a good mentor can still walk you through the game enough times for you to get the hang of it. Reach out on the Player's Council Discord where there are always people willing to schedule a time to sit down and play a first match.

A Word On Eras

Expansions for the game originally followed the release schedule of the Peter Jackson film trilogy, three sets per year. Once the movies were complete, Decipher had to decide what to do moving forward, and ultimately decided to make some changes to some major elements of the game. Thus, sets 1-10 belong to "the Movie era" and sets 11+ are referred to as "post-Shadows" (which was the name of set 11).

Both of these eras have pros and cons, but while cards produced in each era are technically compatible with one another, there are some differences to how cultures are divided and how sites are used which can be confusing if you mix'n'match without knowing the differences.

Thus, it is recommended that as you start out you pick one side or the other of the era divide and stick with it until you've got your feet underneath you. Players will of course be willing to tell you which era is the "correct" one to play in their opinion, but for the purposes of learning the game the only important factor is that you don't get unnecessarily confused trying to get incompatible cards to work with each other.

If you can't decide, stick with Fellowship of the Ring.

Self-teaching Resources

Once you've gotten your bearings (or even before then, if you prefer to learn on your own), here are some resources you can use to further your understanding of the game:

  • Official rulebooks. <- at this link you will find PDF files of each of the (known) rulebooks. Read through a starter rulebook to gain a basic understanding of the rules. You may as well start with the Fellowship of the Ring starter, but none of the starters are a bad starting point, they will just include a different set of mechanical explanations depending on what's in the deck.

    Once you've got the basics down, get the Comprehensive Rules 4.0 from the link above. This will go into more exhaustive detail and also doubles as an index to look up unknown words or mechanics.

  • The LotR-TCG Wiki. The wiki contains explanations of many mechanics in more depth than the Comprehensive Guide, but suffers from being incompletely filled. It will however also double as a card database, where you can look up any individual cards and see what other players have written about them, including rulings and errata (official changes) to the card's text.

  • Video tutorials. There is no all-in-one newbie-friendly tutorial video (yet), but there are several overlapping ones that will get you what you need to know if that's your favorite way of learning:

    There is an in-depth combination game tutorial and Gemp tutorial by the PC which can be found here:

    • Official Lord of the Rings TCG Tutorial. While the game was still alive, Decipher produced a CD-ROM which included a program that would walk you through how to play the game interactively, with voiceover guidance. ~36 minutes.

    • Gemp Tutorial. Walks the viewer through how to use the Gemp interface, without much if any gameplay. ~17 minutes.

    • Webcam Play Tutorial. The Player's Council shows how to set up your webcam and demonstrates how to play a game physically over the internet. This method is only really recommended for first-time players if none of the other methods are feasible for some reason; there's a lot of relying on knowing cards at a glance. ~1.5 hours.

    • NLOA - How To Play LOTR TCG. Northern Lights Over Arkham breaks down the basic rules of the game, including going over card types, card layouts, and basic play. ~45 minutes

    • NLOA - LOTR-TCG FOTR Gameplay. Northern Lights Over Arkham plays both sides of a Stealthy Hobbits/Uruk-Hai vs. Elf Archers/Nazgul matchup, to demonstrate a game in full. ~1 hour.

    • WMT - How to Play: Lord of the Rings TCG. West Michigan Transformers demonstrates how to play the game in full. ~2 hours.

    • Team Covenant dead CCG stream. Several games are played back to back in a casual environment. ~6 hours.

    • Tabletop Royale Card Game Necromancy stream. 2 hours of playing.

Digital Platforms

Harnessing the power of the Internet

For detailed information on playing digitally, please see the How Do I Play Digitally? page.

Joining Communities

One of us, one of us!

Below are some of the communities we recommend you join. A full list (including dead communities) is available on the Communities page, but these should get you started.

Lord of the Rings TCG Facebook Group

The Facebook group is the current most active international hub of LOTR-TCG activity; its numbers swelled from 600 members to 1200 over the course of 2020. Requires a Facebook account, naturally, but if you're looking for trades, buying/selling cards, or the most active discussions, this is the first place to go.

Player's Council Discord

The PC Discord server is also active and available for general LotR-TCG discussion, as well as the central hub for discussion around the PC's plans and activities.

The Last Homely House

The TLHH forums is home to one of the last remaining holdouts of communities that have managed to survive from the game's inception. The forums host literal decades of archives, and is the best place to search for deck ideas.

Purchasing Cards

For when you just need them in your hands.

If you've decided you must get your hands on physical product, then see the How Do I Buy Cards? guide. Alternatively, if you want to get rid of the cards you have, see the How Do I Sell Cards? guide.