The variant I played was called Sore Thumbs. Almost all luck and recognizing what you can do with your hand. Not much opportunity to influence the outcome. Also, it takes much longer than Gin Rummy and Rummy 500, games I like better.
The mechanics are screwed up. If you go to an item, there is a strong chance that you won't be able to pick it up. Don't play anything except a melee character because you start without any equipment. The characters are less balanced than the typical game with variable player powers. Do yourself a favor and play HeroScape instead.
You have to do a lot of reading each turn because the cards have long text. In the end, you have almost zero control over the outcome, so all that reading comes to nothing. Winning the game, for me, is joyless.
It's my favorite war game. The scoring system, the map layout, the small number of units, the battle cards, and the three tech trees all create superb balance and dynamism. The components are beautiful.
It seems to have some balance problems. Cards vary a lot in usefulness. Being locked out of something early, like building a structure, can make it hard to catch up. Edit: Grande worker fixes second problem.
Hard to rate. Any fan of both Tolkien and board games should play it at least once. The asymmetrical setup works well, is thematically evocative, and seems balanced. The mechanics could benefit from a lot of streamlining. The production quality of the Collector's Edition is superb.