This is a long read, but I really enjoy these discussions.
The short answer is they are both good games, and BOTH ARE GRINDS to reach the main prize (wizard mode). I enjoy them both, but they can be brutal to get through.
The wizard mode (Valinor) in LOTR is hard to reach as is Cybertron in TFLE. I own both games, have been to Valinor several times, Sentinel Prime several times as both factions, but not Cybertron, so I cannot comment on Cybertron-but I know what needs to be done.
I'll discuss my observations on the 2 games.
There are a couple of key points in the gameplay; one is the amount of extra balls available to reach the wizard modes and the other is the "no progression" argument.
First off there are many more opportunities to earn an extra ball on LOTR than TFLE. This, to me, makes the goal of the wizard mode a bit more obtainable on LOTR.
Comparing the 2 games: (I think I have them all listed)
LOTR allows you to reach 10 extra balls max and these are the ones I know of:
(2) Extra balls from the tower
Extra ball as a mystery award
Extra ball from the elf gifts
Extra ball from ring frenzy
Extra ball from super ring frenzy
Extra ball from ring multiball
Extra ball getting all gifts done and relighting extra ball
In TFLE, there are 3 ebs on factory-
5 modes played (and only once, not every 5 modes)
Starscream target 3 times during hurry up.
Mystery (I have yet to see it as a mystery)
So, I set Iron Hide Special = Extra Ball which is not factory, but given the difficulty of the pin and lack of extra balls I think this is justified. It still only allows for 4 extra balls MAX w/o resorting to scoring tiers. That is a big difference in the games.
The next issue involves progression.
As much as TFLE is slammed on for "no multiball progression", both games suffer from "lack of progression", but it is presented differently.
In LOTR, if you have not achieved all of the subgoals for Valinor once you reach DTR, you must go back and collect the subgoals which includes qualifying/playing the 3 multiballs all over even if you have won them already. (No need to win them again unless you need more gifts for example).
If you have a miracle game you can DTR just once before Valinor. Tough, but it can be done. So you can get into a long loop of reach DTR w/o having everything done, go back, do it again and so on. Even if you have everything done but DTR, if you fail to win DTR and have balls in play, go back to square one to play the multiballs and they are now more difficult to start except ROTK which becomes easier thanks to the additional souls from the shire. So on your journey to Valinor, you don't leave off from a DTR session with just what you need; you go back and do all the mbs again and collect what you need. Lots of work.
And to add to this, even if you won DTR earlier, you still need to win it as the LAST thing you do. IMO, that ruleset constitutes a grind to reach the wizard mode.
If Valinor is NOT your primary goal, then you can argue you have other things to do in LOTR. This is where TFLE's gameplay is much different.
In TFLE you can get stuck on one multiball over and over and fall one shot short and need to do it all over again forever. Most people struggle with Optimus Prime playing as an Autobot-it is the hardest to win out of the 4 multiballs (2 for each faction depending on how you started). Once you get past that SJP hurdle you are sitting much better, but your journey is not a gimme. The modes are all easy to start, 4 shots and off you go. Finishing the modes is a bit trickier because of the time issue. Most modes will probably require 2 trips through. The Allspark time extension will be handy.
So for the multiballs, playing as a Decepticon is the easier method-experience will prove this to be true for most players. But all in all, most people will fall short on finishing the multiballs regardless of which faction they play. This is where people demand multiball progression. I think it is fine either way. If they could add it, I say go for it. I don't think Sentinel Prime and Cybertron become too easy because of the progression.
Therefore it is clear both games have some variation of "no progression"
While both games have variations of the "go back to square one" rules, the fundamental difference is that in LOTR you can keep playing through the modes and multiballs over and over. In TFLE, you can theoretically run into a case where all that is left to do is the multiball for your side.
Once that is the case in TFLE, there are no other modes to play and you cannot make progress towards SP or Cybertron before earning the SJP for your side. This is what has been referred to as "The Roadblock". However, it has always been my position that if a player is skilled enough to run into that situation of all modes won w/o the SJP over and over, they are skilled enough to win the multiball. So again, I think the roadblock is a complaint not carrying much weight. The player has demonstrated they have the skill, so they should not be perpetually stuck. Just give it time. Same thing with Valinor. It will eventually come.
In summary Valinor and Cybertron are very involved goals and require many shots to finish.
Would I trade LOTR for TFLE-only if I knew I was tired of LOTR since it is not an easily mastered game. In my case, I own both and am keeping both.
Thanks for reading