Greetings — Quickbeam here.

For all of you attending be sure to check this out! Today at 3:00PM (Central) Decipher will bust out at Gen Con Game Fair with a special promotional event for their new Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game. This is an invitation only kind of deal, so stop by the Decipher booth (#1015) and ask for a pass to the event. They have warned us that space is limited.

At the recent San Diego Comic Con Tookish and I learned how to play…. and frankly we had a blast! This is your exclusive first look at how the game works; and what you can expect later in the year when it is released nationally. This is only a small taste, dear Ringers, for to give away too much would ruin the surprise.

I assume that if you’re sniffing out this kind of news then you must already be familiar with the grand-daddy of all TCGs, Magic: the Gathering. It’s the one that started it all, being both a groundbreaking game design and a revolution in the gaming industry. If you are a non-initiate and have NO IDEA how these card games work, then let me offer a bit of background. It works sorta like this:

(a) decks of cards are used to represent characters and/or creatures,
(b) the table is gradually filled with more cards as players duke it out,
(c) you must strike a balance between card strategy and the luck of the draw,
(d) you can play and also collect, as the cards are all uniquely different.

Decipher’s new game reflects the most familiar parts of Magic but there are some radical new game mechanics, too. If you know your way around any other TCG you’ll find this one easy. But a total newbie will need to wrap his brain around it for a bit. Granted, this report is written with the newbie in mind.

Set up for two or more players, each combatant deals out their hand. You will have both “Good” characters (with folks like Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc.) and a slew of “Evil” minions such as Orcs, Trolls, and Ringwraiths.

On your turn, you have the chance to play out special cards that are members of your Fellowship. Supporting cards like Hobbits and Dwarves will bolster your group. It’s very helpful to get some unique weapons into the hands of your characters: there is a card for Sting and one for Gimli’s Axe, for example.

Your opponent will get the chance to play evil Orcs and Trolls against you. And if your opponent can afford them, the Nazgûl will make an early appearance at his whim! When these deadly cards are dealt, you are in for a fight; which is executed in a series of combat phases. This is where it becomes a game of simple math, a construct of numerical values that determines a winner. If you look at your cards, each has a number determining “Strength.” If your card’s Strength number is greater than the enemy’s then you win the combat. Those certain special weapons I mentioned before will change the numbers to your winning advantage. Protect Frodo at all costs, making sure he is not killed or wounded, by using his Companions for protection.

Yes, there is a card for The One Ring, but you will cause yourself so much trouble if you make the Ringbearer vulnerable by using it!

Different cards represent traveling through the lands of Middle-earth, one for each location. There are many to choose from and each step forward causes different effects in the Fellowship’s journey. Take my word for it, be VERY careful at the Bridge of Kazad-dûm.

The best part of Decipher’s game (and it really is a fascinating twist) is that each player gets to alternate both Good and Evil throughout. This saves you from the boring rut of always playing the same side in your games. You have to switch your brain at every turn: as your Fellowship cards progress your opponent will waylay you with nefarious Orcs. On the next round when HE is advancing Frodo, YOU get to stomp him with Trolls. Very refreshing change to the old Magic formula!

There is also something called a “Twilight Pool.” No, no, I can’t say anything else about it… but it is a remarkable new function I’ve never seen before in all my years of TCGs. Believe me, clever ideas like this are what make gaming fun.

The art and design work is lovely. The folks at Decipher revealed the new cards to myself and Tookish in a private meeting, in advance of ANYONE… but soon we hope to give TORN fans the first chance to see them. Each card features a color still photo from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, and the surrounding designs are intricate and beautiful. Colors and emblems help differentiate cards of Elven, Dwarven, Mortal, or Orcish cultures. The new iconography is what impressed me the most. After we publish the artwork you’ll see what I mean. Watch this space!

And for you lucky fans who are attending Gen Con, don’t miss the preview events, as it is sure to be terrific. I wish I were there to sit down and play a round with you!

Much too hasty,