i have been playing this game from the start of its release….i have every pack to date and over 2000 posts on this forum so consider myself a serious player.
i would say i am very obsessive about this game, mainly for its tolkien element which is why i bought it in the first place….so my first point is that if you love tolkien, more specifically the books (the game's lore friendly) then certainly get this game.
second point, if you are a new gamer (which it doesnt seem you are) or even an experience one, prepare to lose alot in the early game. this game really does need you to have a decent card pool i.e. quite a few packs, so if you are going to buy core set, then you may as well get some packs while youre at it
i would just go in order for the storyline but thats just me
the player scaling is where this game gets worst reviews….its very hard solo, medium 2 player and then (most) quests get easier with 3/4 players though it looks as if ffg are changing this and things have certainly improved since core set
i have managed to beat all quests to date solo apart from the last core set quest (which is almost impossible with core set cards), one of the print on demand sets (again near impossible). i have however beaten the former of those 3 player so you can see how things get easier
if this seems like a problem then i recommend playing solo 2-handed, i do this all the time and prefer it to ordinary solo play
the theme and artwork of this game is where it really shines. amazing artwork to protray an amazing story. the story doesnt of course follow the books but each quest has that authentic tolkien feel about them.
the amount of cards you get in a small pack feels about right. 60 cards in total, im not sure how many are player cards are in each pack (i think about 21, with 3 copies of each card..so basicaly around 7 new types of card per pack) but its about right so things dont go too fast. the other cards are the quest cards which gives you a fully playable quest per pack
the bigger packs are what you need to play the smaller ones which make up a cycle. the first cycle (mirkwood) you do not need a big pack as the core set acts as this, but if yuo want to buy any packs from the dwarrowdelf cycle then you need the big pack- khazad dum
hope this helps
PS- there is no reason to think this game is being phased out- i believe it is doing very well.