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Exploring CardWarden

by on May 22, 2014


Being obsessed with a game really means constantly thinking about new ways to play it and new accessories to add to the experience. This means that I’m always on the lookout for brave new frontiers for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and I’ve found one that has occupied much of my gaming time lately: CardWarden. For those who aren’t familiar with it, CardWarden is an iPad app that essentially serves as a virtual tabletop. By importing images of cards into the app, you can use them to play almost any game you desire. In my case, this means that it has become a new de facto LOTR LCG app for my iPad!

However, it’s important to understand that all that this app provides you is the tools to set up a game and play it. CardWarden doesn’t come with any games already installed, and you will have to do a fair bit of work to get any particular game functioning. Figuring out where to get started can be a bit daunting at first. There are a few threads out there on the subject in places like the BoardGameGeek forums, so what I will provide here is my particular approach to using CardWarden, and the strategies that have worked for me. Keep in mind that while I bought and downloaded the app as soon as it was released, it is only recently that I’ve gotten over the psychological hurdle of having to import so many cards manually, so there are plenty of users out there who are far more experienced than I am. You can see some of their work on various games here. Hopefully, my brief exploration here will either help fellow newcomers get situated or assist the curious in deciding whether CardWarden is something they want to explore for their LOTR LCG fix.

Upon purchasing and downloading CardWarden, you will come across a screen that looks like this when you open it:

Photo May 22, 7 05 42 AM

The Card Importer is where you will import images into the application. In the case of LOTR LCG, you will be importing images of the player and encounter cards. Deck Editor is where you takes these imported images and assemble them into decks to build both player and encounter decks. Randomizer is a function that lets you quickly shuffle and play with a particular deck. I have yet to explore this function much. Game Table is where you actually play games, which is accomplished by loading the decks you created in the Deck Editor. Now that you’re familiar with the basic functions, how would you go about making CardWarden ready to play LOTR LCG?

There are really two options. One is to go “all in” and take on the task of importing every last player and encounter card currently available in the game. The other option is to take a piecemeal approach and simply add in cards when you need them for a particular player deck or when you want to play a certain quest. Over time, you will gradually expand what is available to you. At first, I was taking the latter approach, and you might want to do this at first to get a feel for whether CardWarden is for you before committing hours of your life to a full import. However, I’ve fallen so in love with the app that I’m in the process of getting everything into the app. If you’re interested in doing this, here’s the approach I’m using. This is what the Card Importer screen looks like:

Photo May 22, 7 05 58 AM

Card Warden gives you 10 different boxes. Each box can hold 1000 different card images. The images that are in one box are not available to the other boxes, so you can’t mix and match images between boxes. So here’s the process I used to deal with this limitation and still get my whole collection to be available:

Step 1: Import all of the player card images. You have two options. You can press on the “Import Cards from Camera” button, which will let you pull up a camera inside the app and take a picture of your cards. This will give you the most control and good quality, but is also the most time intensive. The best method would be to take a picture of 9 or so cards at once, and then the importer provides a zoom function, so that you can focus in on each card at a time. When the card image is properly positioned in the central window, you press the “Capture Image” button to place the image in the box you have selected. Instead of pressing “Capture Image”, you can also tap on one of the images that have already been imported on the bottom to overwrite it. Be careful though, as you can accidentally overwrite an image if you’re not careful where you tap.

The other option is to import images from your iPad photo library. You can do this by pressing on the “Import Cards from Photos” button, which will bring up your photo library and you can simply choose the image you want. Then, all you have to do is press “Capture Image”. This is much faster. However, how do you get LOTR LCG card images into your iPad photo library? You can scan your cards onto your computer and upload them onto Dropbox. Then, use the iPad dropbox app to pull the photos onto your iPad. You can also manually save images from one of the several LOTR LCG card databases that exist. However, this is where I have to spend time on an important caveat. It’s important to only use this method if you own the cards you are saving images for, as the hobby in general and this game in particular doesn’t have a large enough audience to support this kind of piracy. Of course, people will do what they want and your decision here is ultimately between you and your iPad, but I personally only feel comfortable downloading images from the net because I actually physically own every card in the game. <End public service announcement.> Be aware that if you do get images from the net, most of them will probably be of lower quality and come out blurry in CardWarden. For me, this is fine, as they’re readable, but your mileage may vary.

So starting in box 1, I imported all player cards, running through all cards of a particular sphere at a time (first heroes, then allies, then attachments, and finally events). This makes it easier to sort through them when building decks later. Fortunately, I read a suggestion about placing space between the cards of each sphere and type. This is a good idea, as it will allow me to place new cards in when they come out without messing up the organization, as there is no way to move images around once they have been imported. A good rule of thumb is to include 10 blank cards between each card type (so 10 blank cards between Leadership allies and Leadership attachments, for example, as well as 10 blank cards the end of one sphere and the beginning of the next one). Then, once all player cards were imported, I copied the contents of the box, using the “Copy Box” button, and pasted it into every other box using the “Paste Box” button.

Note: The first cards you scan should be the player card back and the encounter card back. You will be able to scroll and choose a back for each card you import on the side of the screen, and having them at the beginning will make it easier to choose them.

Step 2: Now that the player cards are in all 10 boxes, the next step is to bring in the encounter cards. The best method is to assign a certain cycle to each box. I am currently in the process of importing, but I know that box 2 will consist of the Core Set + Shadows of Mirkwood encounter card images, box 3 will include Khazad Dum + Dwarrowdelf, box 4 will include Heirs of Numenor + Against the Shadow, and box 5 will include Voice of Isengard + Ring-maker. I will likely put the two Hobbit expansions in box 6, and Black Riders + The Road Darkens in box 7. Obviously, the issue here is that eventually space will run out as new cycles and Saga Expansions come out. I’m hoping that the number of boxes will eventually be increased. Alternatively, there is a way to quickly backup the contents of a box into a zip folder that can be placed on your computer. This would allow you to backup and delete a particular cycle, if you don’t plan on playing it for awhile, so that you could fit a new expansion in, while still having it available later on without having to import everything again. By having all the player cards in each box, you can use them to play against the quests in that particular box.

Step 3: After importing, it’s time to build the decks. The deck editor screen looks like this:

Photo May 22, 7 06 56 AM

At the bottom of the screen are all the images that have been imported into the box you are currently using. The only way to move between them is by scrolling with arrows, so having them smartly organized is crucial. However, the actual deck building process is a breeze. Simply click on the card you want and it is added to your deck. Click on it multiple times if you want multiple copies in your deck. You can see all the cards in the deck at once, and can clear particular ones out by clicking on the “Clear Card” button and tapping on the cards you want to remove. Keep in mind that the last card added will be at the top of a deck when it comes time to actually play, so I add the heroes last so that they can easily be peeled off the top of the deck at the beginning of a game. Another good tip is that each row consists of 12 cards, so you can easily eyeball how much space you have left in a particular deck as you are building it. 4 fulls rows gets you to 48 cards, so I will generally place the heroes in the 5th row at the 3rd, 4th, and 5th spaces. This leaves 50 spaces before them, so I can easily see how my deck is filling up towards a 50 card size.

You can build player decks at your leisure, but you should build all the encounter decks so that they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. There are different methods for doing this, but the one I prefer is to build separate setup and encounter card decks for each quest. In the setup deck, I will put in all the quest cards and all the cards that begin play in the staging area, as the active location, or put aside. I will generally name this deck something like “PelargirSetup” (you can change the name of a deck by clicking on the name bar at the very top). Then, I add in all other encounter cards in another deck, named after the quest itself. This allows me to quickly setup a quest by adding the setup deck, rather than having to search through one big deck for all the cards I need. Alternatively, you can make sure to add all quest stages and setup cards at the end of an encounter deck, so that you can quickly peel them off as with the heroes in player decks. Choose whichever method works for you. Keep in mind that you need to add the correct number of copies of each encounter card for a quest, including all cards from the appropriate encounter sets.

Step 4: You’re now ready to play. The play screen looks like this:

Photo May 22, 7 08 02 AM

Heroes of Gondor take on Peril in Pelargir

At the top of the screen, you can load and save a game, with each box having 4 save slots available at any given time. For the record, the save function is one of the primary reasons why I love CardWarden so much, and is one major way that it is superior over something like OCTGN for solo play. The yellow arrows at the side of the screen are different trays that open up when you click on them, essentially adding more screen space. You can use these 6 trays to hold your hand, the victory display, out of play cards, decks, or anything else you want. There are two trackers at the bottom that you can use for any purpose. In solo play, I use one to track my threat and the other to track the threat in the staging area. You can also play two-handed and track both decks’ threat levels. To begin a game, all you have to do is add the player deck(s) and the decks for the quest you want to play against.

Here are some important functions:

– Click on a card to add tokens. There is a red token to track damage and a white token to track resources or progress.

– Clicking on a card also lets you exhaust it (you can also double tap to exhaust and ready cards) or remove it from the game completely.

– To create discard piles, when you have 2 cards on top of each other, click on one of them and you will have an option to turn them into a deck (click on the “Make Deck” button). Future cards will simply be added to this deck.

– Tap and hold on a deck to move the entire deck around the board. You can click on a deck to shuffle it or look through it. This is probably completely unfounded, but I’m really pleased with the shuffle function on CardWarden and it feels more random than other programs I’ve used.

– Tap the dice on the bottom of the screen to generate a random number. You can input a particular value range. This is really useful for quests where you have to pick a random stage or card.

– Tap the yellow button at the top to change how the top card comes off of a deck. If it is on “Deal Face Up”, the card will come out face up when you drag the top card off of a deck. This is useful for staging and when drawing cards off your player deck. On the other hand, “Deal Face Down” works great for dealing shadow cards, as it will put cards face down when you drag them off the top. Simply click on this button to switch which option is active.

– You can change the background image by going to the load screen. The image you see above is using a custom background image, as the default is a plain green tabletop. You can also play music if you so desire.


With all this completed, you are ready to play LOTR LCG on  your iPad. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of this method for playing the game? The biggest disadvantage is the initial time investment that is required to import card images and set up decks. I suspect that this is the number one reason that more players aren’t using CardWarden, and it was the main factor that kept me away for so long. However, while there’s no getting around the hours it will likely take to get a good setup going, once this is done, you will have the entire game at your fingertips. I am still in the process of importing encounter cards myself, and I’ll generally import a few quests at a time and then play them. This gives me a reward for my hard work and breaks up the toil. I suggest this approach for anyone who can’t sink 4 or 5 hours in a single sitting into importing. I find the advantages of CardWarden to be substantial, though, and more than make up for the tedious effort. First, the existence of a save function is huge. I can’t emphasize this enough. I can play a few rounds of a game when I have a free moment, save, and then come back to it the next day. This has already dramatically increased the number of games I can play, and is vital for those who struggle to find time to play the game without interruption. Second, this app is fantastic for those who like creating custom cards and quests. After over a year of working on the First Age project, I’ve become quite adept at creating custom sets for OCTGN. That being said, CardWarden provides a quick way to playtest custom cards and quests, as the import process doesn’t require any fiddling other than simply transferring images to your iPad. Third, while I enjoy OCTGN and will continue to use it quite often, there are many who struggle with the interface. CardWarden is quite intuitive once you learn it, as you can simply tap and drag to do anything you need to do in the game, and even complex scenarios are quite easy to run and manage. There is something convenient and satisfying about actually moving cards around. Fourth, obviously having the entire game on your iPad provides a level of portability that is unmatched, especially when combined with the save feature. All told, CardWarden won’t be for every LOTR LCG player and it is unfortunately limited to the iPad, but for those who can get past the hurdle, this app receives my hearty recommendation.

* Price: $1.99

Further Links: 

Getting Started Guide

CardWarden Uses

Video Tutorial

From → News

  1. Well, I’m sold!

  2. I got the core set uploaded over Christmas and quite enjoyed playing! You’re not lying about how daunting it is to do the import though. I found a tutorial online somewhere about how to get the images from the OCTGN file (despite the fact that I’ve still never managed to actually use OCTGN on my Mac — argh!). But to all who can clear that initial hurdle, I add my recommendation to CardWarden!

  3. Alex permalink

    It looks good but what about when you fill up that gap of ten you left? Is it done then in terms of adding player cards?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s a great question. It might be impossible to incorporate even more space between, but I wanted to make sure I left enough space for encounter cards. When that space fills up, I’ll have to probably add the new cards in after the encounter cards. This will admittedly be annoying for deck building purposes, but the alternative is to overwrite everything in order to shift everything over. It would be great if CardWarden added a feature to import a card in between two other cards..

  4. Greg Mahler permalink


    I bought this app after reading this article. I am currently importing cards. It’s easy and works well. My only question is this: why can’t cards in one box be used to play cards from another box? Like if I just have the player cards in box one and make a bunch of decks, and then in box two I start putting some encounter cards…and make some more decks to play against from these (currently mine says you can have 120 total decks), why won’t this work once I go to the play board and import the decks? Does each box support 120 decks that are tied to it alone? That would make sense if this is how it works. But, how do you, then, switch between boxes on the play board? And does this mean, if i want to use the same deck, that I have to make the same deck in every box that I want to play a scenario from?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Each box supports 120 decks, and the decks in that box are associated with only that box. So that is an unfortunate limitation. You will have to create a deck in a box when you want to play a quest in that box. You switch between boxes on the card import screen. When you click on a box in that card import screen, it will switch the box for all other areas, including the deck editor and play table. Hope that helps!

      • Greg Mahler permalink

        It helped! It makes sense why you have the paste over Box 1 to the other boxes now. I currently finished getting all the player cards imported and copied into the boxes. Now on to the encounter cards. Thanks!

      • Greg Mahler permalink

        I have another question that is frustrating me a little. I don’t understand how the card backs work when I am doing a quest card. It keeps switching on me and I can’t figure out how to make a back for just that one specific card. It keeps duplicating the back with the front. And now that I have like, accidentally, three cards ahead that i messed up on, I don’t see how to delete them. This is hard to explain but maybe you get what is happening. Thanks!

        • Greg Mahler permalink

          I couldn’t figure it out but as a workaround, I just placed the general encounter deck backside on the quests and did not add the “side A” unless it had instructions.

          I did just now notice the the card back has a left and right arrow to the side of the card in the app but it appears if you change one back, it changes all of them that you have already done up to a certain point. This is strange.

          Also the app crashes on my iPad1 about every 80 or so card imports like clockwork (I hope the iPad2 would do better with 7.1.1 iOS). You never lose any info though so it is not that annoying. I would get annoyed if it does it in the middle of a game and I lose all progress though. I have not played a full game yet, but almost am at the point where I can now! Woot!

          • TalesfromtheCards permalink

            Hmm, I haven’t encountered those issues, but I’m using an iPad 2, so I’m wondering if it’s specific to iPad1. For cards backs, I tend to scan the encounter and player card back first, so that I can easily scroll between them depending on the cards I’m importing at the moment. For quest cards, I have put both side A and B on the front face, and just used the encounter card back for the back. As for deleting cards you import, you can’t delete, but you can overwrite them. When you import an image, instead of pressing “capture image”, tap the card image on the bottom that you want to overwrite and it will get replaced.

  5. Thank you for reminding me about this _ I’ve downloaded it and have imported a couple of decks and an adventure packs wrth of cards- it’s quite a fiddle to get used to to begin with, after a few false starts I’ve got the hang if it! I can’t see how to make spaces when importing cards though, how is it done? The instructions are minimal to say the least!! It certainly looks a little small on my iPad mini :(( – for that reason – I don’t think this will be the main way I play this game, but portable, for holidays, long train journeys etc, it’ll be great to have LOTR with me :).

    • Greg Mahler permalink

      For my blanks, I just used the card back picture as the front picture too. I put 12 instead of 10.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      There’s definitely a learning curve to overcome (as well as the time outlay), but as you said, having portable LOTR is very welcome! As Greg said, you can use pretty much anything for the blanks, since they’re just placeholders. I just used a black screen image for them.

  6. Thanks – that’s a good idea – I’ve played a couple of games now – I’m hooked! ;))

  7. Spurries permalink

    Can this support 2 player? If so, wanna play?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Hey Spurries. I think it can, but I haven’t tried it yet. Let me give it a test and see if it works, and then we can try to get a game in sometime!

  8. Ralph Montano permalink

    Thanks for this Ian. I must say that after hearing you on the Cardboard of the Rings podcast, I was much more interested in this application for MECCG. Middle Earth CCG is still alive and on the internet, but does not transfer to a Mac very well. If I could find a way to play on my iPad (and others to play with) that would be heavenly. Anyhow, looking forward to 1st Age stuff.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      The great thing about CardWarden is you can load whatever game you want on there (space allowing). Unfortunately, I have so much lotr stuff that it doesn’t leave me much room for anything else, but MECCG is definitely tempting. I did put some old Doomtown cards on there, for example.

  9. Mummi permalink

    I am currently working on scanning in my cards.

    I don’t understand why you copy all player card’s to all boxes?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Hi Mummi. You can only build decks based on the cards that are imported into each box, so I copy all player cards to all boxes so that I can freely build player decks in each box. Hope that makes sense!

  10. Luc Jacobs permalink

    OK, Bought it and will wait for an update. Player cards, Quest and even expansions should all be in separate boxes! They way it is now, it’s a PITA!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Sorry to hear that! I think some f the unwieldiness is related to the fact that this app is meant as a general tool for importing all kinds of games and not just LOTR LCG.

  11. Emilius permalink

    Now Cardewarden has 20 box and the possibility to insert a card beetween others two cards in the Card Importer… 🙂

  12. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    What a cool option! If I didn’t enjoy the tactile nature of the cards, and there wasn’t such a massive workload to get started I’d seriously consider this!

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