Game preservation/history is a very important topic that isn’t talked about enough. This is a running log of interviews from FFG representatives about Lord of the Rings LCG.
If you have an interview to add to this page, contact us at hallofheroescontact(at)gmail.com
Key Lord of the Rings LCG staff:
Nate French – Original Game Design | Executive Game Designer
Caleb Grace – Lead Designer
MJ Newman – Lead Designer (2012-2016)
Jeremy Zwirn – Designer (Arkham Horror, LOTR LCG Dreadnaught)
Tyler Parrott – Designer (KeyForge, Ered Mithrin cycle co-designer, revision advisor)
Evan Johnson – Former Marketing Manager
Lukas Litzsinger – Former Lead Designer
Mercedes Opheim – Former Card Game Manager
Andrew Navaro – Former Head of Studio
“And as an LCG, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a constantly expanding game experience. A Living Card Game (LCG) offers an innovative fixed distribution method that breaks away from the traditional Collectible Card Game model. While LCGs still offer the same dynamic, expanding, and constantly evolving game play that makes CCG’s so much fun, they do away with the deterrent of the blind-buy purchase model that has burned out so many players.”
“Yes, it will be for 1-2 players. You can play solo, which is another very attractive thing. So you can build a deck and test it out against yourself and build decks that way. It’s 1-2 players for the core set, but with two core sets, you can play 3-4. Or 1-4.” – Walden
“When I set out to design Heirs of Númenor , I knew I wanted some way to represent the larger struggles taking place in this region of Middle-earth. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my initial ideas involved a new type of token – the ‘soldier’ token. They were part of my early efforts to emphasize the region’s battles and the capture or destruction of key locations. Players would need to defeat all the Soldiers on locations that had the ‘Garrison’ keyword – committing attack strength to clear them out – before they could destroy the location.” – Litzsinger
“That’s the sweet spot for me: If I win every time, then the game loses some of its tension. However, if I lose every game, then I start to get discouraged or frustrated. But if the game is close and the outcome is always in question, then I find myself excited and nervous as each encounter card is drawn.” – Caleb
Caleb Grace talks deckbuilding in the first “Second Breakfast’ article (Second Breakfast)
“During a game, I like every deck I build to be able to accomplish a number of tasks: quest successfully, defend against enemy attacks, destroy enemies, draw additional cards, and reduce threat. This deck can do all of these and frequently finds ways of doing two or more of them at once.” – Caleb
“In competitive card games, you and your deck are tested by the player sitting across from you. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game , you and your deck are tested by a scenario’s encounter deck. Because you won’t know which encounter cards you’ll face at any time, the encounter deck may surprise you like a living opponent would, but it can’t respond to you in the same way. This means you may be able to devise highly specific, highly effective strategies to defeat its challenges. Then, to face new challenges, you need to face new encounter cards, and this generally means playing a new scenario.” – MJ
“There are many reasons why a group of players might choose to play Easy Mode. New players who are fans of Gondor and want to help Boromir and Beregond deliver important news to Faramir can purchase a single copy of the Core Set and Heirs of Númenor , play through Peril in Pelargir , and stand a better chance at victory. Experienced players who are teaching The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game to a group of new players can do so in a more casual environment, without limiting themselves to a handful of easier scenarios.” – MJ
“Each deluxe box & cycle begins with a story outline. We talk about what part of Middle-earth we want to explore next and then we brainstorm some cool adventure ideas in that area. Everyone involved is knowledgeable about the lore, so we try to think of things that evoke the history of each area as much as possible. After we agree on a narrative and we know what part each scenario needs to play in the story, Matt and I start coming up with creative ways to translate those events into playable scenarios. Once we’ve finished the initial design for a scenario, we’ll play-test it internally a few times before making it available to our play-testers.” – Caleb
“Time-wise, I was currently leading the Warhammer: Invasion and Lord of the Rings LCGs, but Nate French was deep into the Star Wars LCG, so eventually Michael stopped by my desk and officially assigned it to me. We ended up hiring another designer to start taking over Lord of the Rings a couple of months later, which allowed me to focus more on Netrunner as we started transitioning the development of Lord of the Rings.” – Litzsinger
MJ Newman muses on the Gondor archetype (Second Breakfast)
Caleb Grace talks theme and gameplay (Second Breakfast)
“My favorite part of working on The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is that it is based on The Lord of the Rings ! Though I’ve expressed my affection for Tolkien’s fantastic books in previous articles, I cannot overstate just how much I really love the world he created. Middle-earth has been a big part of my life since I was a young boy, and having the chance to create a game set within that world is nothing less than a dream come true. It’s also a big responsibility. I know that there are many other die-hard fans who want to see their favorite characters and places faithfully represented in the card game. On the other hand, there are also plenty of players who are more concerned with building super efficient decks and challenging themselves in interesting gameplay.” – Caleb
MJ Newman talks The Antlered Crown (Second Breakfast)
“Where it cuts off from where it says ‘from Caleb,’ fun fact, that’s actually my brother Josh, who writes that stuff on the website, or product descriptions. So he’ll email me like ‘this is coming up on our release schedule, do you want to write a preview article, or…’ so I’ll just agonize over it, you know…what he’ll do is he’ll clean up some of the language a little bit. Marketing wants everything to sound really positive, and…I try to be really positive about the design team.” – Caleb
“Yeah [MJ] and I are both lead on our respective projects. So my official title is associate LCG designer. The way our department works is that everyone has a game or two that we all work on…and it’s such a robust game that we have two of us at a time on it.” – Caleb
“That’s about the point that [MJ] came on board [when the sagas started]. That was clearly going to be a lot of extra work on top of your regular boxes and cycles, and nightmare decks, and Gen Con stuff. So [they’ve] worked on a lot of nightmare stuff, and I’ve worked on nightmare stuff. And [they] helps on saga stuff, and I’ve been helping on cycle stuff. It’s kind of neat, we get to both take lead on certain projects.” – Caleb
“I told Nate in person, that I’m so impressed with him just handing the game over. I don’t know if I could do that. If I created a game, that’s as awesome as LOTR, and I can say that because I was a fan of it before I started working here…and that worked out that a few months later I was working on it…so I mean I love it to death and I’m impressed with its design. He just kind of gave it to me to work on, no real hesitation, no real possessiveness. He does express his opinions…but it’s kind of like ‘you’re the one working on it now.'” – Caleb
“The best thing that [MJ] does for me is point out my blind spots. And that’s incredibly valuable. Every now and then I get an ‘I told you so. Like the Balrog…I was so sure that people would know, indestructible is a keyword, the rest is game text, I don’t want to break that up.'” – Caleb
[When will we see stuff you worked on today?] “That’s not even something I can answer…and I’m not even trying to dodge, it, you know? Because there are so many steps that have to happen, or go wrong, in-between it leaves my desk, until the time it hits the shelves. The Road Darkens…had an incredibly long delay, and I’m not even sure what happened. I mean…I was surprised it was delayed.” – Caleb
“[Content droughts] are something…that’s a balancing act, we’re trying to get all that stuff to line up, in steady, predictable ways. It’s almost like herding cats. Our goal is to get things on a predictable schedule, but so many unpredictable things come up.” – Caleb
“What we call it when a project is done is a gold master. So when a project gold masters there’s a laundry list of things we need to get done. So I made myself a list and we start checking them off. But it seems like that list is always growing and changing. So it seems like something would go through. I need to request an ISBN for the back of the box…can you build me a bar code…can the legal text get updated. There’s so many things. I don’t dread those, but I wish that keeping track of them came more naturally to me.” – Caleb
“I have an irrational affection for the material. I count my blessings every day that I get to work in that world that Tolkien built. So there’s this inner child part of me…I don’t think I would read fan fiction about it…but here I am, I’m kind of doing fan fiction about it. You couldn’t get a better person that is more reverent to the source material. I’m the person who pushes back on some ideas, like that might not be able to happen.” – Caleb
“My favorite part of Gen Con, for the last three years, has been watching people play Lord of the Rings, because for the rest of the year we’re disconnected from our audience.” – Caleb
“So that’s a huge moving target too, like you make too many easy scenarios and you lose the people who want a challenge, and you make too many challenging scenarios and you lose the people who want it easy. And you make too many scenarios for four players and you lose the solo. So I want to make things that are unique…it needs to feel new or fresh. So whatever theme or mechanic you come up with, it has to work for all players, whether they want it to be more thematic or more mathematical.” – Caleb
“He [Christian Petersen] wrote the whole story for the Against the Shadow cycle” – Caleb
“Responding to the meta is something we’re definitely doing. I think that was pretty clear in Voice of Isengard. Card draw hate. It represents the hate the Dunlendings have for the men of the west, a sort of thematic mechanic.” – Caleb
“When Nate sort of passed the baton and handed the game off, his advice was…you’re more than just the designer of the game. You’re like the president of the country. The community is the country and you’re the leader, you need to take the pulse of the country. So I take that very seriously, being aware of what people’s opinions are…” – Caleb
“No I’ve never gotten just shot down [for pitches]. But we get a lot of…conditionally approved. Like we like this idea but we just need a couple of changes. Voice of Isengard was probably the best idea….at the end of the day they said we’re not on board with the player cards you’ve chosen for the box, we want you to go back and do something different. That was probably the most severe change on a project that I’ve worked on. In this case it was a real top down viewpoint I appreciated. I had a knee jerk reaction…like all the time I’ve put into this. But when you step back and see how it’s going to be perceived by the community, it makes sense. It’s the right decision…and Voice of Isengard is a much stronger product as a result.” – Caleb
“This is kind of a cool thing we have at FFG. Like once a month, we have game day. And the work day just gets done a little bit early, and everyone crosses the parking lot over to the game center. And we celebrate everyone’s birthdays that month with a little cake, and we have you know, the overflow part of the game center just to ourselves, until midnight, if we want. It’s a really cool tradition.” – Caleb
“That was a big company-wide announcement. None of us, except for a few executives knew what it was going to be about. So when that bomb dropped, everyone was a bit nervous at first. I’ve never worked at a corporation like Fantasy Flight Games in the first place, but I’ve certainly never been through a merger. It was reassuring for Christian to walk us through the process, and at the end of it we all just left pumped up. Like the long and short of it for me and largely for the customers is we’re going to be able to continue to make the same games we’re making, but we’re going to be able to distribute them to more people.” – Caleb
MJ Newman talks Wastes of Eriador (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman talks Mount Gram (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman talks Across the Ettenmoors (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman talks The Treachery of Rhudaur (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman talks The Battle of Carn Dum (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman muses on The Dread Realm on FFG’s site (Second Breakfast)
MJ Newman deep dive into the Dream-chaser cycle on FFG’s site (Second Breakfast)
“Sam never finds out the name of the fallen Southron in the ferns of Ithilien. In fact, Tolkien never gives us a name for anyone from Harad. But the glimpse he has provided stretches a wide open canvas for brave warriors, intrepid scouts, and noble lords from the Sunlands of the South. It is therefore that we carry our quest into and beyond The Sands of Harad like Frodo Baggins setting out from the Shire, with wonder and dreams. Wild lands and strange visions await. Professor Tolkien has left a most intriguing blank page for us to explore. How will we choose to write our story?” – Kersten
“I love The Lord of the Rings. I have loved it ever since I was a child, and I never get bored of it. I love the characters and the languages. I love the beauty and danger of Middle-earth. I love the story and how it grows with the telling, and I especially love the ending. Sam’s delight after finishing his quest is palpable in The Field of Cormallen. And the completion of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Saga Expansions is also a wish come true.” – Caleb
“The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, these are my favorite books. The Hobbit was the first book I picked up on my own. I was amazed, there were giant spiders that talked, it was terrifying…I look forward to coming to work every day for that reason.” – Caleb
“What you’re designing is not a re-telling of the story, it’s a game. It’s this delicate tightrope walk of bending the lore without breaking it. So we’ve definitely taken liberties. Always, we’re willing trying to stay with the spirit of what at least is possible.” – Caleb
There’s kind of two different things…one as for how we plan a new cycle, it’s linked, but not necessarily the cause that motivates us. We look at the map of Middle-earth and decide where we want to go next. OK, we’re going to go here next, and from there, it goes to the question of what motivates us.” – Caleb
“Whenever I ask my son whatever movie he likes it’s kind of whatever he saw last. That’s kind of how I am with cycles. The Lost Realm was incredibly fun for me to work on. That was only the second regular deluxe box I worked on by myself, the first one being The Voice of Isengard. The Lost Realm was the first one where the vision carried through from start to finish.” – Caleb
“You know Nate French, [MJ Newman], myself…we’ll sit in a room and word by word we will discuss the wording of this effect…and look for any kind of mistakes, and discuss the overall vision of the cycle. From there it goes to a proofreader, and from there it goes before our own FFG Studio Committee.” – Caleb
“We wanted to take the things that players loved most about the tabletop game, and develop them into a digital game that you could enjoy on your computers and tablets. The translation from physical to digital also gave us the unique opportunity to evaluate which game elements were essential to the experience, and which ones could be trimmed in order to create a game that can be played in easily digestible 10-20 minute play-sessions. Our end result is a game that is easier to play than the LCG, but still provides the immersive experience of adventuring through Middle-earth.” – Caleb
“Three years ago, when The Lord of the Rings LCG design team was discussing the future of the game, we made the decision to explore some of the lesser-known parts of the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created. It was a thrilling time to be a part of The Lord of the Rings LCG design team. We were mapping out two years of content that would take players far from the Middle-earth that they were used to and into places most of us had never explored in our imagination.” – Caleb
“Bandwidth is certainly challenging—trying to keep up with the demand for new content and experiences is a nonstop focus. It helps that I’m surrounded by a team of people who are always willing to assist. It’s also challenging trying to space out the characters that people really want to see. Rather than get them all out at once, we’ve had to consciously hold some back, so that there is always something to anticipate and look forward to. It’s not always the easiest thing to navigate—who to include, and more specifically, when to include them.” – Caleb
“Descendant of Thorondor tells us something about The Lord of the Rings setting, as well as the general scale and feel of the game, one in which a giant eagle dropping from the sky to rain terror on your foes is appropriate.” – Andres
“I already knew that The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has a fantastic player base, but this was some next-level kindness. Local players opened their homes for out-of-town visitors to stay for free. They provided transportation to and from the airport. And in the case of one young player, several attendees gave him the gift cards they’d won as prizes that weekend so he could grow his fledgling collection.” – Caleb
“This designer challenge won’t test your deckbuilding prowess, but your ability to make the most of what has been handed to you. Your task is to play the very first scenario of The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions—A Shadow of the Past—and make it out of the Shire with The One Ring in tow, but you are limited to only the tools and skills that Frodo and his companions had available to them in The Fellowship of the Ring.” – MJ
“Often times when you see a player building a ‘thematic’ deck, they do so by including cards that only make sense alongside the other cards in the deck, from a narrative perspective. And often, as designers, we try to make such combos appealing, to appeal to those players who enjoy the source material. For example, if you’re building a Silvan deck in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, you’ll find Galadriel, Celeborn, and Thranduil to be extremely appealing hero options. This is done on purpose, to better serve the narrative.” – MJ
“My favorite cycle…it’s usually what I’ve worked on most recently. So I’ll go with the Vengeance of Mordor cycle.” – Caleb
“A younger me would want to be a ranger like Aragorn. But as I got older I realized I like sleeping in soft beds…so I definitely would be a Hobbit.” – Caleb
“We did at least…five or six different iterations of the sailing mechanic, and the boarding mechanic. Design-wise the Angmar cycle was my favorite to design. We kind of tag-teamed it. He [Caleb] did the Lost Realm box, and I did the cycle that followed it.” – MJ
“Here I was kind of sunsetting one period of the game, and launching another [Marvel]. So I had to ask for help, it was just a lot to juggle at once. That was one of the strengths of the design, asking anyone and everyone for help…”who wants to design a scenario?” What we ended up getting are six very different scenarios with a lot of interesting ideas” – Caleb
“I think he [Chad from Cardboard of the Rings] and I were texting, and all of a sudden his phone blew up. He told me ‘are you watching the AMA? He [Andrew Navaro] just said that the game was going to take a pause after this cycle.’ I said ‘oh OK I knew that, but I didn’t know he was going to tell everyone else that. That was actually my idea…something I wrote into the vision document for the Vengeance of Mordor cycle. You’d rather end on a strong note than have all these ideas you didn’t get to, than have a plug pulled on you before you didn’t know.” – Caleb
“The door is not closed [on the game returning], but we can’t say much more than that.” – MJ
“I used to playtest for the game and it was really cool seeing the card [Thalion] come to fruition.” – Caleb
“I’d be happy to never do that again [make two games at the same time]. As I say that, I secretly having ambitions of doing more stuff.” – Caleb
“They [FFG] make it really easy for us to get ahold of the product. They might not give it to us, but we have a sort of allowance.” – Caleb
“When you’ve touched so many products and designed so many cards, you can’t just remember them all.” – Caleb
“I’m thrilled that it’s nine (cycles)…the game could have ended with the Haradrim cycle. There was a chance that could have happened and that would have broke my heart, because we had things sitting there [for the next cycle]…there was a moment where I was pleading…please don’t cancel the game here, at least let us do the next one, at least let us do Ered Mithrin…and the digital game actually played a role in that. When they decided to do the digital Lord of the Rings game, it’s like oh suddenly we can invest some more money into a couple more cycles, because we’re going to get more mileage out of the art, so go ahead. Christian being such a fan of the game and the IP was another contributing factor. I’m very satisfied, very thrilled that we made it to the Mordor cycle, the one we always knew would close out the initial run of the game.” – Caleb
“Well it has been a long time since I was actively doing design work for Lord of the Rings. I think it’s been two years already?” – Caleb
“We had a deadline that was approaching and a lot of work to get done…we came together as a team…divide and conquer, we each took charge of a different element and put it all together. And that kind of chased us through the first year of the game’s development. But since then, yeah, management…we’ve really learned from that first year and come up with a really good schedule now where things feel a lot more relaxed. It doesn’t always feel like you need to take that first idea you like and just make it work…because there isn’t time to try something else.” – Caleb
“After Lord of the Rings, Marvel is probably my next favorite thing.” – Caleb
“There was…probably a push to…extend a deadline just based on the fact that some products were moving their release schedule. But typically as a studio, we use that time to get ahead. Or maybe catch up. And if you play Marvel…you probably know that the rules reference needs to be updated. And we’re still trying to find time to do that. I don’t want to miscast what my schedule is. I certainly don’t have a lot of free time right now. But it’s not a mad dash.” – Caleb
“FFG sent everyone home in…March [of 2020], ahead of governor orders, and things like that. And I actually, because I didn’t have internet at home at that time, I was the only person going to the office. Which was kind of nice…having the whole place to myself. But eventually there was the order, and I got internet for the first time in forever, and I’ve been working at home ever since. And it’s been pretty good.” – Caleb
“Both Jeremy and MJ had been big into a massive villain…sort of like The Blob that Ate Everything, in Arkham Horror. MJ had that idea when we were working on Lord of the Rings. [They] wanted to do a scenario…I’m like, but we’ve already faced all of those things. It fits so perfectly in Arkham. You know they have ancient beings…and when it turned into the blob thing I was like oh that’s even better.” – Caleb
“That doesn’t surprise me [Dreadnaught being the favorite]. That was MJ’s swan song, you know? I used to play soccer…and you kind of approach the end and just collapse. That’s kind of how MJ approached the Dreamchaser cycle. For [them] that was going to be [their] last Lord of the Rings cycle, and [they] were moving onto Arkham.” – Caleb
“I think the [Card Talk poll] favorite is the Ered Mithrin cycle…which is my favorite.” – Caleb
“The Khazad-dum cycle was the favorite. Dreamchaser was a close second.” – Card Talk Dave
“My favorite experience is the custom scenario kits. It’s truly the only way I can be surprised at what’s in the encounter deck.” – Caleb
“[On the Doorstep]…it was my first project, I designed all of the player cards. But the initial scenario design had been done by a freelancer I believe, Scott Webber [Weber], who came up with a lot of these cool ideas for unique scenarios, and I refined them.” – Caleb
“As a designer my favorite phase is the quest phase, I love to see those encounter cards come up. My least favorite…maybe the refresh phase as I don’t want it to end. My least favorite card because it’s too good…I’d probably say Vilya. I’m not trying to hate on Vilya…it just breaks…and it’s repeatable.” – Caleb
“Thalion is my favorite art, and it’s not for the reason you think. It’s like…I only get one shot, what if I don’t like it? I don’t to be unappreciative but it might end up being one of those things that end up in my garage and I never look at it, you know? But I was able to request that ‘hey, could Aleksander Karcz, maybe do my piece?’ and he was really excited to do it, and he knocked it out of the park.” – Caleb
“I gotta give a shoutout to the art team. You know, when I hear you say that, because they put so much work into that. For the longest time it was Zoe Robinson, who was managing the Lord of the Rings line. Zoe was the person who discovered Magali and brought her over to work with FFG, and cultivated that relationship. After Zoe it was Deb…but she did a fantastic job, she had some big shoes to fill after Zoe moved on.” – Caleb
“So I started thinking about…so we’re taking this hiatus. So the Vengeance of Mordor cycle is the last cycle of the game in its current form. And it’s probably going to be my last cycle…probably ever? I don’t know? But it gets me thinking, what does that mean for the community? What a shame it would be if people…moved on. So I’m still glad that people are talking…people are joining the Facebook group. I hope to see that continue.” – Caleb
“I haven’t really paid attention…we had plans to do things [with LOTR LCG] when I left…but I don’t know, I never really kept up. Yeah over 10 years [people have been playing LOTR LCG].” – Navaro
“Lord of the Rings….they all [LCGs] go back to Lord of the Rings and the design that Nate French did. He essentially…observed people, or he himself, would observe decks…like fake draws off the top…and kind of simulate to see if his deck was working. I was still a graphic designer at the time, and I was working on some other project.
They brought me in at the very end…and I helped out on the rulebook graphics, I think I did a design on a token. After that game came out, we didn’t how, when we released it, how it would be received. Christian was like, oh yeah, this is a thing, this is a big thing.” – Navaro
“Nightmares…those things sold reasonably well at the beginning.” – Navaro
“Kevin Childress, did the bulk of the work [on the core set art design]. I think I did one token…the wound token” – Navaro
“The first cycle of Lord of the Rings…2010? 11? We just formed this gold master committee…I just started as the managing art director at that time. One of the first things we looked at was that cycle. Deciding what pieces to put on those boxes. We comb through the artwork and find things that match with the titles…so much work went into that…to think of the titles and commission artwork for it.
Like [saying] ‘I’m sorry, to Caleb or MJ, we don’t have art for this title, can we move it to the 5th or the 6th pack?’ Like, so many debates…does it matter if the art piece on the cover is on the inside? It’s not always easy to find pieces that frame up well for a pack cover. I developed a really hardheaded stance.” – Navaro
“All that contracting work [art] was done on spreadsheets, while all the filing was done by hand by one person. Which is why they essentially brought me in to form a new department. The ‘fire and forget’ [email to artists] system…it resulted in a lot of rejected art. We’d show it to Chris [Christian], and he’d reject art…sometimes we rejected 20% of the art. When Zoey [Robinson] started, the art becomes more cohesive and thoughtful.” – Navaro
“It kind of went from this gentle trickle to there’s so much [content] all the time. It became this mountain where each year we did four deluxe expansions…and that’s just on the art side, and you can ask Caleb and MJ on the design side. I think on the grand total we commissioned over 2800 art pieces [a year]. But it was fun, I got to work on all the covers…not the core set, after, and up to The Lost Realm, that was my last one.” – Navaro
“That, that’s a cover piece [hero Gandalf], that’s an alternate cover piece we did for the core set, which we never published. It’s a really really cool piece, there’s a lot going on around this. It’s a full panorama…the same basic pose with Glamdring from the Ralph Bakshi movie poster. So I did that and I was like alright I got it, I did it, and I showed it to Chris[tian] and he was like ‘this is terrible!’ So I was like alright we’ll stick with the original. Oh, there it is [the panorama piece]!” – Navaro
“You mean the digital/physical box [Two Player Starter Set]? That’s what we called it forever, when we were working on the thing. It was made specifically for the LOTR online game, collector’s edition. I wish I could remember precisely, everything about this. If you ever get Mercedes on the podcast, she can relate to you…or maybe everyone’s repressed it the same way I have.
Essentially this came out of a conversation, at that Gold Master meetings, and I remember Chris[tian] saying he wanted to have this thing, this special edition of the card game with the release of the digital game. And it kind of just got put on the schedule, and forgotten about. And we were bustin’ our butts to get it done. And I remember talking to him about it later, and he’s like ‘oh you are [working on it]?’…and I was like no one wants to be doing this…it was a very contentious product, I remember talking to Caleb about the product.
At that time I was the vice president of creative development, which is the title I held for about a year and a half before I became head of studio. At FFG there’s a lot of titles to obfuscate what your role is.
I could have sworn we were going to put it [Two Player Starter Set] to retail…I can’t remember why [we didn’t do it]…it was a mess. There’s a lot of things changed…from the release of the collector’s edition and the game…a lot of change at the company at this time…it doesn’t surprise me if it…had fallen through the cracks.” – Navaro
“I had to do a little convincing to make that happen. The thought was these look so much better…let’s make these cards as beautiful as we can [the full art in the Two Player Starter Set]. The first time we did those organized play cards for Netrunner, the card text is so small…the feedback I got from my bosses was the text needs to be bigger, it needs to be a playing piece.” – Navaro
“I don’t…anything I say…is meaningless. There was plans [for LOTR LCG beyond the hiatus]…we had everything planned in development through release in 2022, and you know there was a global pandemic, and things happened, and there were massive layoffs. The best thing I’ve heard is the card team is almost entirely unaffected by that.” – Navaro
“That font is a nightmare. So I’m not sure how it happened but there was this rogue Times New Roman LOTR font that just wouldn’t die. We did a better version of the font…initially, that font wasn’t done that well. We looked for characters that weren’t used that often, and dumped the font into those characters.
That font was rebuilt a long time ago, but somehow the original Times New Roman font keeps showing up, and I’d be like…what the…and maybe the font is referencing someone’s local computer…and essentially being reintroduced to the server…whenever we’d do PDFs, prints of that, almost half the time I’d be like what’s wrong with the font?” – Navaro
“There’s so many pieces…I don’t…necessarily know the cards they’re on. [Second Breakfast] I wouldn’t put that one near the top on Magali pieces. The Black Riders cover is one of my favorites. That was really fun to work on. I really enjoyed The Lost Realm, like a straight up piece of an ancient ruin. I had that one up in my office for a couple of years. The core set elf woman…[Daughter of the Nimrodel].
Yeah. Yes. I picked all those [art for the sleeves], so that’s why [Daughter of the Nimrodel made it on]. We wanted…a good mix of characters and moods that would appeal to people.
So there’s always in a cycle, some art that doesn’t get used. We had this thing called the slush pile…art pieces we paid for, but we didn’t have a home for them yet. The timelines we were working on were so tight, the products weren’t done being developed…we’d kind of over-commission to make sure we had everything we needed.
FFG never paid great, when doing artwork…so people would come to FFG and get coached up. Anything we could do to help artists supplement their income, was a priority to me.” – Navaro
“[How I was introduced to the franchise?] The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings cartoons, were my favorite…and my dad would give me a ring that I would play with and pretend that I was Bilbo. I read the novels for the first time…when I was 22 maybe? And I read The Hobbit for the first time after college as well.” – Navaro
“In that vision document for that last cycle I actually proposed it should be that last cycle. We had kind of done everything we want to at that time…and everyone kind of agreed. And the question naturally came up in different conversations…should we do a second edition. That’s a decision that does not fall on me. People were generous enough to ask me for my opinion…and my opinion was always no, we shouldn’t do a second edition.
The game has shown its quality that it’s lasted for so long…basically we’ll stand to lose more than we gain rebooting it. Instead it was talk to be like what could we do instead to ‘evergreen’ the line. FFG has a few of those, board games like Arkham Horror continue to sell year after year, without necessarily any new product for it.
I was just really excited when the people in charge ultimately made the decision to kind of go more or less in the direction I was encouraging them to go. At that point I was pretty much onto Marvel Champions and it was on to other people…I did asked to get involved some more when other people got real busy. The launch of Marvel Champions was a very hectic time for me…and everyone involved.
But eventually we figured out the correct rhythm and cadence for that line…I said good news, Boggs and I are pretty ahead at this time, so I could take even as long as a month…for Lord of the Rings.” -Caleb
“Jason Walden is… [he’s a ] long time producer at FFG, he’s been at the company longer than me. He was assigned to be the producer for the Lord of the Rings relaunch. As some of the designers come and go…I mentioned Nate French was leading the charge initially, as you pointed out he’s real busy…you already talked to Jeremy, you know Jeremy’s been helping out, Tyler has been helping out…Jason is the one steady person. He’s the glue holding it all together.” – Caleb
“Ian was a playtester in the past…I always valued his feedback. In The Ring Goes South scenario in The Road Darkens…it was Ian’s suggestion that Frodo should be captured. That the Watcher should grab Frodo.” – Caleb
“[The campaign] might have been Nate. I don’t remember who said we should add a campaign mode. But everybody was for it. It was the number one thing…if we could add something it would be a campaign.” – Caleb
“August 2020. For all intents and purposes that’s when [work on the revised core set started].” – Jason Walden
The first thing that needs to happen [to make a product like the revised core] is to create a vision document. Which was a combination of Caleb and Nate…and a couple of other people…and we got that approved, and the real first step after that is the commissioning of the cover art. Because it’s so long…all of our cover art because it’s so much more high definition and large, it’s a very long process.
We create the brief first before the artist is commissioned: if it’s a character heavy piece, we have a certain artist we want to go to. If it’s a terrain heavy piece, there’s another artist we go to.” – Jason Walden
“For the [LOTR LCG Starter Decks], Caleb had some art selected for them that we couldn’t find the art for. Some of that stuff is 10 years old. As much as we try…that’s a lot of art. And not all of it is easy to find. It’s around…the system for actually finding it was harder than it was worth.” – Jason Walden
“When a lot of those old files are created. That was using a system we don’t use anymore. That’s an outdated concept of how we build cards to begin with. This is not a matter of grabbing the card file and shifting it over…every one of those cards is rebuilt from scratch. We have the data.
We have the cards. We have the old files. And we can say this is what it was, and duplicate it…every piece of graphic…art…text…style…we use InDesign and there’s a style feature where every piece of text is styled…so if it’s flavor text it’s going to be italics…that’s a flavor text style.
That process is refined over years. When we’re talking about the original core set none of that existed, that was all manual input. There was a period where everything was built from the ground up.” – Jason Walden
“We had all these competitive games, then we had Lord of the Rings LCG: which was a cooperative or solo game…this was designed by Nate French, and I’ve heard this story…he was inspired by this process…of preparing for competitive games…that would make a deck where you’d simulate your opponent, and make your own deck, and play this pseudo game.
That led him to this idea of making a game where that was the game, and he pitched that to Christian, and he loved the idea, and he wrapped Lord of the Rings around it…Chris loves Lord of the Rings, I’m sure he loved the excuse to do something with Lord of the Rings.
For me, this was a game that I didn’t get to work on much. I did place all the art…all the cards from the core set. I didn’t do a whole lot…I made a token, did the rulebook graphics. I was super excited to play it. One of the biggest challenges of having a family, being an adult, not necessarily having people around that can play games…I could really only play [competitive] games at work…and everyone at work was way better than me…so I was really excited to have this game that scratched that same itch, of that kind of complex card game where you can really get into deckbuilding, but you can just play it by yourself.
To me at the time that felt revolutionary. It may have been. I don’t really know if there was a solo card game out of the box prior to this. I think there was some house rules for other games that you could solo. But I wasn’t aware of any.
I remember when I first got the core set, I remember it very clearly…and I just remember sitting at my kitchen table, laying out the game, I probably had a glass of wine or cup of coffee depending on the day, and just playing through the opening adventure and just how magical it was, for this game to just be doing its own thing and I had to react to it. Eventually the game ended up kicking my ass.
I did an appearance on Cardboard of the Rings, a Lord of the Rings LCG dedicated podcast that’s been around for like a decade plus, I talked about it a little bit there…the old core set was probably one of the worst introductions to the game, because the third scenario in that core set was so brutal ::laughs::.
There’s so much theme that came through…our old graphic designer Kevin Childress, who worked at FFG for a few years, did the graphic design for that game and it’s some of his best work. As time went on and more content was made for it, Caleb and MJ ended up creating essentially a new game with every expansion…just bolt on new ways to interact with the systems.
There would be no Earthborne Rangers without Lord of the Rings The Card Game. A lot of what I wanted to do with Earthborne Rangers is create a game that spoke to the promise that Lord of the Rings held to me…without it being this brutally punishing strategic puzzle that required you to effectively recreate your deck with every scenario. I just want to go on adventures and do cool stuff. Earthborne Rangers owes a lot to this game and to Nate, for creating it. It means a lot to me and it means a lot to Earthborne.” – Navaro
Critical Encounters interviews FFG designer MJ Newman (LOTR is briefly touched upon near the start)
“So I’ve been working at FFG for six or seven months. I joined back in March, so my job is broadly speaking, I offer internal support to the designers, as they build up their rulebooks. Part of that responsibility….is answering rules questions…I meet with our designers probably once a week, to discuss more complicated rules questions, before I answer emails. I’m actually very new to Lord of the Rings LCG.” – Alex
“It’s probably my favorite Lord of the Rings product [the saga Fellowship of the Ring box].” – Jeremy