I have played this game through and collected most of the content that was released from its launch through 2015, so I feel like at this point, I can look back at the core set with some clarity. The Core Set include 3 quests, all the counters and in-game tokens you need to play a 2 player game (more on this below), and 4 premade player decks.
The game has absolutely stunning art. Some of the best I've seen in the industry. All art is unique, and none of it ripped from the Peter Jackson movies. Likewise, the lore is book specific, and this game does not draw upon the film's lore. This is a huge plus for Tolkien purists.
The game play is great. This game is 100% cooperative, and players play on the same team against a sort of "artificial intelligent" enemy deck. The mechanics help paint really vivid scene for the imagination. The game designers are great. The game can even be played single player.
While the Core set is required for all expansions that have been released after it, it is limited in a few ways as a stand alone product. I docked 1 start from value for this, despite feeling that the price set by Miniature Market is a great deal for what you're getting. The problem I see with the core set are:
1. It only comes with 2 threat dials. Each player needs a threat dial to play, and this game is for up to 4 players. With this box set, you could only have 1 or 2 players play by the rules, despite coming with 4 premade decks to allow for a 4 player game. This is really easy to work around- just have the other 2 players track their threat on paper. Still, it would have been nice to include the 2 extra threat dials.
2. Their are 3 Quests in this box. Each quest is a single "episode" that the players must work together to beat. However, the 3rd quest, "Escape from Dol Guldur" is nearly impossible to beat with just the core set due to its high difficulty level. It really requires quite a few expansions for extra player cards of greater power to be able to defeat without being heavily luck dependent.
That's pretty much my gripes. I think the game is amazing. I also think that its best if you approach it as something you you can keep building upon as a hobby. I think its worth collecting if you're a fan of Tolkien, card games, or any combination of the two. As a casual game and stand alone product, I think this core set falls a little flat due to it's high difficulty and limited number of quests. Most of the replayability will come from constructing new decks from the premade decks included.