Heroes IV – Lore

Today we come to the final article in this series, taking a look at the Lore heroes – I had planned to break up the series with something a little bit different, but for reasons which will hopefully become obvious in the course of time, that article has been pushed back a couple of weeks.

Denethor

For people only familiar with the films, Gondor’s jowly steward and unappreciative dad might seem like an odd choice for a hero, but back in the time before his heart was filled with despair by the distorted images he saw in the Palantir, and when his wife Finduilas was still alive, Denethor was a significant figure amongst the wise of Middle Earth.

As the Steward of Gondor who struggled to hold Minas Tirith, and later Osgiliath against the forces of Sauron against all cost, Denethor has a fittingly high defence- 3 was the unequalled highest of any character during the days of the Core Set, although little willpower or attack. He also had a disappointingly small pool of hit-points, a mere 3 making him rather fragile if he was employed in that defender role.

a-burning-brand-catcDenethor’s Gondor trait has ensured that he has grown in utility as the game has progressed – being a lore hero, he was able early on to take a Burning Brand, and act as a reliable defender, and the addition of a Gondorian Shield to take him upto 5 defence produces a solid enough combat option even for some of the more modern quests.

Denethor’s ability is also nicely thematic, with a Palantir-like scrying effect which enables him to view the top card of the encounter deck, and potentially move it to the bottom –in some respects, the benefits of this ability are limited – you don’t know what the next card is if you do decide to move, and the bottom of the encounter deck can potentially become highly destructive, a particular problem with modern encounter decks which tend to be thinner, and make it more likely that you will go all the way through the deck, possibly several times in a game.

Overall, I would say that Denethor is highly thematic, and certainly still playable in the right deck. He’s easily to kit out as a solid defender, and if no enemy appears to block, his ability can give you a handy preview of what’s coming next- interestingly, he can not only spy out encounter cards, but also look at shadow cards, so you know when it’s safe to take an undefended attack.

Beravor

Beravor was another of Fantasy Flight’s in-house heroes, recycled from Middle Earth Quest. She was also the first hero in the game to receive an errata, which gives us a pretty clear indication of the power of her ability. With 2 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defence, and an ability which requires her to exhaust, Beravor is an obvious candidate for any kind of readying ability. Despite these fairly rounded stats, she seems most often to be used for her ability to draw 2 cards for any player – the fact that the card-draw is not limited to the card’s controller allows you to dig through the deck of whichever player is currently struggling to find the card needed to get your party moving.

Beravor has both the Dunedain and Ranger traits (making her a good target for the new ‘wingfoot’ attachment), and has the general broad skill-set you’d expect of someone roaming the wilds of the north. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to say a lot about theme with these doubly-fictional charactersr, but Beravor’s abilities as a card certainly don’t jar with her thematically. Some might considerthe breadth of her stats to be wasteful – you’re paying 10 threat for a character who may not contribute to quest or combat in a given round, but personally I like the utility, and think she’s still a very playable character.

Glorfindel

the perils of not being illustrated by Magali...

Remember me?

It’s hard to consider Glorfindel without making allowances for his Spirit counterpart. As many of you will know, Tolkien’s canon contained two Glorfindels, a captain of Gondolin who died battling a Balrog during the fall of Gondolin and allowing the young Earendil to escape, and another who rescued Frodo and faced down the Nazgul at the Ford of the Bruinen. Given that Tolkien stated elsewhere that Elven names are unique, this strongly suggests that the same elf had in fact returned from the Halls of Mandos to the east (and that whoever named one of the elves in Thranduil’s wine-cellar “Elros”  in the second Hobbit film had no idea what they were on about.)

Returning more specifically to the hero card, Glorfindel has the stats we’ve come to expect: 3 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defence, 5 hit points. The main difference that leaps out about this earlier version is that he has 12 threat cost, instead of 5 – on the flip side, rather than a detrimental forced effect, he actually has an ability- spend 1 resource from Glorfindel to heal a damage from any character.

Glorfindel has a good, solid set of stats, a threat level that’s entirely in keeping with the game at large and a useful ability – in the time of the core set, there was no other repeatable healing for allies unless you were prepared to put self-preservation on them. His threat was a little on the high side, but not impossibly so – if Asfaloth and Light of Valinor had come out in the Mirkwood cycle, I expect that Glorfindel would have received fairly wide use in the game, and easily pulled his weight.

Unfortunately for him, his doppleganger, back from the Halls of Mandos, with the 5 threat is just so much easier to build around – Lorefindel’s healing ability would couple brilliantly with Elrond, to up the power, but that puts you at 25 threat just for 2 heroes, combine Spirit Glorfindel with Elrond, and you’re at a much more comfortable 18.

Moving momentarily to theme, Glorfindel’s stats are perfectly fitting for an Elf-lord of old, the fact that he is styled as a healer, rather than something more befitting a warrior is a little odd, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Writing this bit of the article has inspired me to revisit the original Glorfindel, and I may try to put together something which will take advantage of his powers soon, otherwise though, he’s not a very common sight these days.

Bilbo Baggins

The first ever post-core-set hero was, rather fittingly, Bilbo Baggins. He was also, unusually an early exception to the rule that a hero’s threat cost was the sum of their stats: with 2 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defence, and 2 hit points, his stats totalled a mere 6, whereas his threat was 9 –the fact that this was the same number upside-down even led many to suspect a mis-print for a while.

Bilbo’s ability was a passive effect, allowing the first player to draw additional cards, which invited inevitable comparisons with Beravor. If using them for questing and card-draw, Bilbo can match her on the first, whilst continuing to provide steady card acceleration, whereas Beravor was typically tied to one or the other. However, Bilbo’s ability cannot be targeted, and goes off almost at random, meaning that you cannot chose a particularly needy player to gain the extra cards. Furthermore, his diminutive stats make him essentially useless in combat, and a pool of only two hit-points make even questing a dubious proposition in the Mirkwood world of the Necromancer’s Reach.

As an aside, the artwork on Bilbo makes him look like a cross between the 6th Doctor Who and a 70s disco star – my wife refuses to have the card on the table, and I had to mock-up a version with Martin Freeman’s picture on before he could be used…

Thematically, the somewhat aged, but very well-travelled Mr Baggins fits nicely into Lore, and the fact that he’s learned a thing or two on his travels probably feeds relatively logically into his card-draw boost.

Some people are big fans of Bilbo, but personally I’ve never seen the appeal – at 6 threat I might bother throwing him in, but by 9, he’s up into the range of better heroes who can do far more.

Bifur

Bifur came in the Khazad-Dum expansion, at the very early stages of the dwarven avalanche which was to follow. A smallish chap with unimpressive stats, he benefits from low threat cost, the stat-boosts which Dain gives to all dwarves, and the fact that he can provide some much-needed resource-smoothing in multi-sphere decks, as he takes the excess resources given by another player/hero, and spends them on cards in lore, a sphere often short on cash.

BifurThe fact that he doesn’t really fit the “5 dwarves or more” deck has limited Bifur’s use in recent times, along with the fact that there is now an ally version who does. It’s not particularly that there’s anything wrong with Bifur, simply that others are better. (and that playing the hero prevents you from playing the ally).

Thematically, I struggle to really remember anything much about Bifur (is he the one with the axe in his head?) again, his ability doesn’t jar with me, as being horrifically misplaced, but it’s not a stand-out home-run either.

Aragorn

Lore Aragorn, or Loragorn as he is sometimes known was the first time we had seen a repeat of a hero in the game, and much like Glorfindel, who followed hard on his heels, he was a potential game-changer.

In basic abilities, Loragorn is much like his Leadership predecessor, 2 willpower, 3 attack, 2 defence, 5 hit points and sentinel, but instead of a re-readying effect, Aragorn allows you to reset your threat to its starting level once per game. This has all sorts of possibilities – If you have a Boromir deck, particularly on where his stats have been boosted by support of the eagles, Loragorn allows you a measure of abandon to charge with Boromir, readying him multiple times per turn to destroy all comers. I also built a fun solo doomed deck, using Grima, Theodred and Loragorn to ramp up to insane levels of power in the first couple of rounds, before hastily resetting to a threat that was about to hit 50.Desperate-Alliance

The fact that FFG have ruled that the “limit once per game” is per player opens up even stronger options, using Desperate Alliance to pass Loragorn to someone else who can then reset their threat as well.

Thematically, this is more of a “Strider” persona of Aragorn, hiding in the shadows, taking you on secret paths through the wild. The specific go back to starting threat / once per game is a bit game-y, but it could certainly be worse.

I’m not sure which of the Aragorns gets the most table time- and knowing that we have a Fellowship Aragorn AND a Tactics Aragorn coming in the next 6 months means that there will be even more of a scrap for table time amongst them.

Elrond

Elrond was one of the major big beasts of the Lord of the Rings story who had been notably absent from the game, and he made his appearance at the end of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. As you’d expect from Elrond, he has high stats and a comparably high threat, with a threat cost of 13, at that time the highest we’d seen.

By himself, Elrond is already powerful, being able to pay for allies from any sphere. Add in the fact that he adds 1 to the effectiveness of any healing effect, and he becomes really powerful – Warden of Healing suddenly becomes a lot more useful than a Daughter of the Nimrodel when Elrond is in town.

On top of that, as a Lore hero, Elrond can add a burning brand to his 3 defence to make him a decidedly serious blocker. He can also take Light of Valinor to quest without exhausting (assuming you don’t have Spirit Glorfindel around) for double actions.

VilyaDespite all that, no assessment of Elrond can truly be considered complete without looking at Vilya. Vilya is a unique ring attachment which allows you to exhaust Elrond and put a card into play for free. Whilst the cost of exhausting Elrond seems a big price to pay, realising that you can get a free Gildor, Northern Tracker, Ally Beorn or Galadhrim’s Greeting helps to put things into perspective- a fun combination is to use Vilya to put Unexpected Courage onto Elrond and re-ready him.

Unfortunately, Vilya does require a certain amount of scrying – Imladris Stargazer is good for this, as is Hero Gandalf, allowing you to use Vilya with complete certainty – for a while I shied away from this deck type, as I didn’t want to be minus a hero’s action each round, but once it gets going, this deck is just so powerful, that it seems foolish not to use it.

Thematically, Elrond is the leader of great armies and coalitions, as well as the convener of the council of the ring, so his ability to pay for all allies makes sense. He is also the only able to save Frodo from the wound inflicted by the Morgul blade, so the healing boost makes sense as well.

Such a conspicuous figure as Elrond will inevitably attract the attention of the great eye, and his threat cost appropriately reflects the need to plan carefully, but in the right deck, he’s probably one of the best heroes out there.

Mirlonde

Mirlonde was something of a departure from the standard approach to heroes, in that she was neither a character from Tolkien’s work, nor was she a recycling from a previous FFG game. As a female silvan hero, it would only have taken the slightest stretch of the imagination to name her Tauriel, but whatever the reason (probably legal) they didn’t, and the world is probably a calmer place for it.

Superficially, Mirlonde is a rather uninspiring character, with a fairly meagre pool of stats, and only a passive ability. However, 2 willpower is not insignificant, even if 1 defence and 3 hitpoints make her essentially useless as a defender. Her ability lowers the threat cost of each lore hero by 1, meaning that in a mono-lore deck, she is essentially a no-ability hero costing 5.

There are definitely benefits to Mirlonde – if you’re looking to get benefits out of Lorefindel, she can alleviate his starting threat (An Elrond/Lorefindel/Mirlonde deck would only have a starting threat of 30), and combined with already low-threat characters you can get secrecy, or close enough that most of the bigger enemies will ignore you.

Theme-wise, being silvan ties in fairly logically with staying hidden, and thereby low threat, although it would have been nice to see an additional trait on her: probably ranger or scout. As far as I’m aware, Mirlonde doesn’t exist outside of the Living Card Game, so there’s little else to really say for her.

Faramir

For a long time, many of us had been hoping for a hero version of Faramir, to allow a character much maligned by his father and brother to step up and take his rightful place in the front rank of those facing off against the shadow.

What we got, in the midst of the Third cycle of the game, was this card – an 11-threat hero, with stats of 2, 2, 2, five hit points, the ranged keyword, and an attack that grows commensurately with the number of enemies in the staging area.

In many respects, this is a good card – aside from an additional hit-point, he has an essentially identical starting point to Beravor, who has already been commended for her rounded stats, and the ranged trait adds to his flexibility. However, two and a bit cycles into the game, the difficulty of quests had ramped up to the point where a set of twos no longer really cut the mustard. The attack which is contingent on the staging area is only really useful if you have two things: a low enough threat to leave enemies in the staging area, and a means of attacking the staging area.

med_hands-upon-the-bow-safBoth of these things are available to players, but to a large extent they pull in opposite directions- mono lore allows players to play an event ignoring engagement checks, whilst combining with tactics allows you to play Hands Upon the Bow (attacking the staging area for a minimum of five), or Great Yew Bow for a more repeatable option. Of the two, the tactics options seems the best one, but with a starting threat of 11, avoiding having to engage those enemies is going to be difficult. Potentially a deck with Mablung and Lore Pippin could play take no notice, but that’s cutting against Mablung’s ability.

Thematically, the solid nature of Faramir’s stats makes sense, as does the knowledge of the wild that this ranger has. The release of Wingfoot, long-since spoiled also makes me wonder whether it’s time to give Faramir another try, but outside of Battle Questing, the hero has always felt underpowered, particularly when you consider the potential impact of ally Faramir on a swarm deck.

Grima

One of the most distinctive of the heroes we’ve had, Grima is both a Rohan and an Isengard hero, and one who plays to the “Doomed” keyword.  A passable quester with 2 willpower, but a feeble attacker at 1, and a fragile defender with 2 defence and only 3 hit-points, Grima is not going to be making the greatest contribution to your party, based on stats alone. What he CAN do however, is lower the cost of 1 card each round by raising threat instead- used right, this can allow you to get powerful cards out far more quickly than would otherwise have been possible, allowing you to steamroller the quest in a way that ultimately leads you finishing more quickly.

As I noted earlier, I’ve used Grima to good effect in conjunction with Theodred and Loragorn. Theodred was apparently unaware that Grima would ultimately have a hand in his death, and has happy to pass along extra resources to get solid allies out before we ultimately triggered the threat reset. However, the Loragorn “once per game clarification” notwithstanding, this only really works as a solo deck- that much doom in multi-player is quickly going to kill other players in the game.

Thematically, the doomed cards seem to represent meddling with darker forces to bring more powerful weapons to bear in the fight against the enemy. As these effects are typically associated with Saruman and Isengard, Grima is an obvious hero choice to support this deck archetype. As for his other traits, Grima is  still a man of Rohan, but is suitably depicted as an outsider, by his outlier positioning in the Lore sphere, and his lack of synergy with the other Rohan cards.

I’ve never yet tried putting Grima into anything other than a specialist solo-doomed deck, so I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has.  Otherwise, I’d say that he’s playable, but only in a very narrow, specific deck. At least he’s good thematically.

Haldir of Lorien

Haldir is one of the most recent heroes introduced to the game, and he ties into a number of existing themes. He’s a scout and a ranger (allowing you to make him the Warden of Arnor, or Give him wingfoot), and provided you don’t engage an enemy that round, he can make a lone attack against an enemy not engaged with you, during the contact phase – in essence, this copies dunhere’s staging area attack, or serves as a ranged quick-strike, allowing him to kill an enemy before it attacks.

rivendell-bladeI’ve been using Haldir fairly constantly since he appeared – loaded up with a Rivendell Blade, a Rivendell bow, and now a Bow of the Galadhrim, and he can easily be attacking for 6, whilst neutralising 2 points of defence. Whilst his ability is more conditional than Dunhere’s, the fact that he can use it even when enemies are coming down and engaging players makes him more useful, as does the fact that his base attack of 3 (plus various elven weapons) is more powerful than Dunhere’s 2.

Haldir of course, was the woodsman who managed to creep up on the fellowship as they entered Lorien, and it seems entirely fitting that he should be able to pick off enemies, provided he’s not dealing with a more immediate foe of his own. The silvan deck has been one of the most pleasing developments of the current cycle, and Haldir is a major part of it.

Ori

Going back in time a bit, to the Hobbit saga boxes, we have Ori, a Lore dwarf who ties in to the “5 or more dwarves” archetype. His ability allows you to draw additional cards, which is hardly a weakness of the Leadership/Lore dwarf deck, but still a welcome boost.

Generally with dwarves, I go for Dain / Thorin / Ori deck, which can chuck out lots of dwarves quickly, giving a global boost to all of them, and it tends to work well – any additional dwarf heroes in play tend to be tied in to more nuanced deck strategies, but get to benefit from Dain’s inspiring presence.

Thematically, Ori is another of those dwarves who fade into the general short and bearded background, and I can’t remember a particular thematic thing about him to justify this ability, but as a general “lore ability” it makes a decent amount of sense.

Some people prefer Bombur (see below) to get the dwarf swarm moving more quickly, but I think Ori is probably the more powerful option long-term option, and makes you less dependent upon drawing Legacy of Durin.

Bombur

This guy is really fat. Yep, that’s right, the sole premise behind this card seems to be a fat joke. We’ve already established that having 5 or more dwarves is a good thing, so why not start with a guy who counts as 2?

BomburStats-wise, Bombur is nothing to write home about – he can make a passable defender in a pinch, with 2 defence and 5 hit points, but 1 attack and zero willpower is not going to do a lot, even when boosted by Dain. He can help you to get the dwarf-swarm moving more quickly than might otherwise be possible, as you only need to play one dwarf ally to hit that magic threshold, and if they ever introduce a fellowship sphere Gimli, it will open up all kinds of interesting possibilities.

Thematically, I really can’t make up my mind on how I feel  about Bombur. On the one hand, having a character whose sole characteristic is “being fat” seems a bit cheesy – on the other hand, I really can’t recall any more detailed character development of him in the book, so expecting FFG to do otherwise when already trying to deal with a dozen or more dwarves seems a bit unfair.

Game-wise, he is definitely playable to give you a quick start, but as I noted above, I prefer something that offers a bit more in the long-run.

Pippin

The last Lore hero was Pippin, coming from the Black Riders box, and rounding out the Hobbit deck. If Hobbits are about staying low, and only fighting things with a higher engagement cost than your threat, then Pippin is ideal, adding 1 to each enemy’s engagement cost for each Hobbit hero you control. On top of that, he provides regular card-draw when you do engage an enemy, ensuring that you have the tools in hand to defeat the enemy just engaged. He also boosts Merry, and gives you in-sphere access to Fast Hitch, Take no Notice, and other cards which fit well with an overall Hobbity strategy.

Pippin

Is that flavour text, or game-play advice?

Like most Hobbits, Merry is small, and his stats make him of little use in combat, but with only 6 threat cost, his two willpower makes him a decent quester, allowing Sam and Merry to take the more proactive role in the quest.

Threat-wise, this Pippin is as much a puzzle as the other one – the fool of a Took would be expected to make enemies more likely to engage you rather than less, as he alerts the orcs of Moria to your presence and gazes into the Palantir, but instead he increases your chances of slipping by unnoticed.

I’m hopeful that one day we’ll get a Gondor-traited Pippin, and Rohan-traited Merry. In the meantime though, the undeniable playability of this version is enough for most to overcome any thematic objections they might have.

Heroes III – Spirit

The heroes review continues, and already we’ve made it to Spirit

Eowyn

Eowyn is perhaps the most quintessential Spirit hero there is. Around since the days of the core set, she has a whopping 4 willpower (a number not equalled for any stat until quite a way into the game’s life), a single point of attack, a single point of defence and a rather fragile 3 hit points. Her ability plays further to her strengths, allowing players to discard cards to boost her willpower even further.

In some respects, a review of Eowyn is pretty obvious stuff – she is brilliant at normal willpower questing, and terrible at anything else. She won’t be making a useful contribution to combat, and she certainly won’t be slaying the Witch King any time soon.

CaradhrasAdditional mechanics brought into the quests over the years have increased her utility in specific areas – for escape tests, hide tests, or fighting spectral enemies, she is well worth an unexpected courage, and she proves remarkably sturdy when crossing Caradhras. Another advantage of her power is that it allows players running powerful unique attachments a non- wasteful option for getting rid of duplicates they draw later.

Power-wise, although some people give the impression that they feel the game has moved past her, I still like Eowyn for sheer willpower out of the gate, particularly handy in multi-sphere decks that take a while to get going. Thematically, she makes a lot of sense, as someone whose accomplishments on the battlefield came more from sheer determination than from martial prowess, but I still hope that we see a Tactics Version of Eowyn / a Durnhelm sometime some.

Eleanor

If Questing is the first key strength of Spirit, then Cancellation is probably the second (you could argue a case for Threat management, but the only hero who reduces your threat is in lore…) Eleanor is another core set hero, and her ability allows her to cancel the “when revealed” of a treachery card. The advantage of this is that it allows you to dodge some very nasty bullets. The disadvantage is that you have to reveal another card as a replacement, which has the potential to be as bad, or even worse (or the same card again!)

In some quests, Eleanor is great – If you’re playing Shadow and Flame using the Hama-lock, Eleanor’s job is to stand there and wait for counter-spell. She can also ward off sleeping sentries. Generally though, the fact that the card is replaced really dials down the value of this ability.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Aside from her ability, Eleanor’s uses are limited: her stats are decidedly less than stellar – 1 attack, 2 defence, but only 3 hit-points, makes her of little value in combat, and you’re unlikely to quest with her since she would then be exhausted an unable to cancel when-revealed. The introduction of the Gondorian Shield has made her a more viable defender, able to get 4 defence relatively easily, although the small pool of hit-points counts against her.

Theme is a slightly difficult notion for Eleanor, as she is a doubly-fictional character – she originally appeared in Middle Earth Quest, and the fact that the only other Spirit Gondor hero is also an FFG creation doesn’t help. She fits well within her sphere, fulfilling one of the key roles of spirit, but otherwise there is little for be said for her.

Dunhere

The last Spirit hero of the core set was something of a late bloomer in the life of this game. His ability to attack the staging area can be absolutely vital in some niche situations, such as Hummerhorns which will kill any hero bar Beorn the moment they engage. However, the fact that this needed to be a lone attack, combined with the lack of options for getting his attack up above 3 hampered this ability considerably. Most of the Rohan trait synergy available was for willpower and questing boosts, adding to his single point of willpower to make only a mediocre quester. 1 defence and 4 hit points make him an unlikely option for defending either.

Dagger-of-WesternesseIn recent times however, Dunhere has received a new lease of life with the arrival of the Dagger of Westernesse and the Spear of the Mark. These make it relatively easy for him to reach 5 or 7 attack. Being in Spirit, Dunhere has access to various threat-lowering effects which you need for the enemy to stay in the staging area (and A Light in the Dark if you really feel the need)

Thematically, Dunhere makes a reasonable amount of sense – it feels like it took Fantasy Flight a while to work out exactly how they were going to approach Rohan, but Dunhere is good at capturing the mobile, horseman feeling of the Rohirrim. As a messenger, it’s logical that he’s not at the power-level of some of the epic moments we know, and he fits nicely into his niche.

Frodo

Frodo was the first Spirit hero we had after the core set, and the second Hobbit (after Bilbo), which was a fairly logical choice. He is suitably small to represent his hobbit-ness, good at questing, but a bit light in other departments. His ability represents his use of the one ring, allowing him to turn damage into threat. Obviously, this makes a lot of sense thematically, although it is slightly odd that he doesn’t need to find the ring and comes with the power built-in.

In terms of playability, Frodo is still good, although I haven’t got a lot of use out of him recently, probably because the Hobbit decks I built were for Black Riders, where the Saga version of Frodo came in instead. The fact that his limit is once per phase seems a good balance – once per round would probably make him too underpowered, whereas if there was no limit, he would be overpowered, especially with the range of threat reduction available to us now.

Dwalin

Dwarven-AxeDwalin appeared in Khazad-Dum, the first Deluxe expansion for the game. By the time he appeared, we were already post-Dain, so just by being a dwarf he was often a few points up on his stats. Combat-based threat reduction is a somewhat unusual ability, but he could be quite effective, especially if you loaded him up with a Dwarven Axe or two, and perhaps some action advantage. It is worth noting that, as with an of this type of ability, Dwalin needs to actually kill the enemy himself, not finish him off with damage effects such as the Dwarrowdelf Axe.

The fact that his ability targets specifically on destroying Orcs to lower your threat means that Dwalin is very quest-specific in terms of his utility. In the earlier days of the game when almost every enemy was an orc, his utility was almost universal. However, once you get to Heirs of Numenor and onwards, you often find yourself without an Orc for him to target.

Thematically, there’s a certain amount of logic to his power- if the orc is dead he’s not going to be reporting back any time soon. Threat reduction also fits well into Spirit. Aside from that, there’s not too much to be said about him.

Glorfindel

There is probably no card since the core set which has changed the game more than Spirit Glorfindel. Like core set Glorfindel, he has stats befitting an Elf-Lord of old – 3 Willpower, 3 Attack, one defence, but 5 hit-points. The major difference between the first and second versions of Glorfindel is that whereas core-set Glorfindel has a threat cost of 12, Spirit Glorfindel is a mere 5.

Admittedly, this does need to be weighed against the fact that this version of Glorfindel has no ability, and has a detrimental effect- you raise your threat by 1 every time he exhausts to quest. However, even if you never quest with him, a 5-threat character in Spirit with 3 attack is still incredibly strong.

Light-of-ValinorThe fact that Glorfindel’s threat is so low means that he can fit into almost any deck – want spirit? don’t want a high threat? Glorfindel is your elf. On top of that, comes the fact that he is a unique Noldor, making him an ideal target for Elrond’s Counsel (free threat reduction / willpower boost), and a legitimate target for Light of Valinor (quest without exhausting, so no need to worry about that forced effect), Rivendell Blade (take down enemy defence), and of course his trusty steed Asfaloth, and the result is incredibly powerful.

There is really no need to even question whether Glorfindel is playable. The question of theme is a far more interesting one. When the core set came out, a lot of people were a bit underwhelmed by Glorfindel version 1 – a character who plays an important role in the books, and gets short shrift from Peter Jackson (his scenes being given to Arwen) deserved something better they felt. After all, Ages (literally) before defeating the Nazgul at the Bruinen, during the fall of Gondolin he killed a Balrog. The Balrog may have killed him in the process, but a little thing like that doesn’t stop Glorfindel. Back he came from the halls of Mandos, to prophesy that the Witch King would not be killed by a man, and then to rescue Frodo. In light of all this, the kind of power-level he has does feel thematic. It also makes sense that having a figure of such calibre in your Fellowship is likely to attract unwanted attention from the enemy – but probably no more than it would if Elrond joined in, an elf who does not suffer this penalty. On balance, whilst the impact of Glorfindel on the game may have been greater than the designers first envisaged, I think that from a flavour perspective he is at least passable.

As a final note on Glorfindel, it’s worth remembering that this version also has the by-now-compulsory Magali Villeneuve art.

Glorfindel_MagaliVilleneuve

Caldara

Caldara remains an oddity on a number of levels. Firstly, she came bang in the middle of the Against the Shadow cycle, when FFG was really pushing the mono-sphere theme, and secondly she was another of Fantasy Flight’s invented characters.

In terms of her mono-sphere focus, her power is basically dependent upon you running two other Spirit heroes (it could be done with 1 other, but the effect would be very weak). Caldara can be discarded to put into play 1 spirit ally from your discard pile for each other spirit hero you control (these have to be printed Spirit, so no shenanigans with Song of Travel on a Fellowship Hero). In a best-case scenario, this could net you a pair of 4-cost allies- 2 Northern Trackers for example, which is nothing to be sneezed at. However, that assumes that you have managed to get both of these into your discard pile, in less time than it would have taken to save up and pay for them normally.

EmeryThere is something of a sub-theme in Spirit around discarding cards – Emery (another FFG imagined Spirit character) and Zigil Miner both move cards in this way, and Eowyn’s power also allows a bit of manipulation in this regard. However, this ability really needs to be built for- made the central purpose of the deck.

Stats-wise, 2 willpower is ok, but certainly not stellar in spirit, 1 attack is virtually worthless, and 2 defence / 3 hit-points is very fragile for defending. The “Gondor” trait is useful it provides a chance to boost defence with a Gondorian Shield, or gain willpower bonuses from Visionary Leadership, but generally she is quite uninspiring.

People have  built Caldara decks, and posted that they can be very effective, but personally I feel no inclination to put that much work into a deck structured around a character with no real backstory, or ling with the lore, that does something others can already do (Vilya, Elfstone, Very good Tale etc are more accessible ways of mustering allies). She does not have the “Ranger” trait, yet is depicted in a rural/wilderness setting, making it slightly unclear what her role in Gondorian society really is. For me, this falls flat on both theme and playability.

Pippin

Shortly after Caldara, we received the second of the Against the Shadow cycle’s lacklustre Spirit Heroes, this time Pippin. This version of Pippin has the small pool of stats that you would expect from a Hobbit, combined with an ability that allows you to pay 3 threat to return an enemy to the staging area.

The Hobbit deck which came out with Black Riders relies heavily on keeping your threat low, whilst this version of Pippin raises your threat. The fact that he gets read of an enemy for a round is handy, but if you keep ramping your threat, you’ll soon find every enemy in the quest coming to look for you.

Again, I have seen decks which make use of Pippin – pairing him with heavy threat-reduction effects, and characters like Dunhere who can attack the staging area. However, you have to question whether this is the most effective way of dealing with things- even in a custom-build, triggering this every round is going to be painful.

Thematically, the idea that this fool of a Took raises your threat makes perfect sense. However, his antics with the well seem far more likely to increase  the number of enemies you have to deal with, rather than reduce them.

Thus far in the game, we have 7 Hobbit heroes (excluding Saga-only versions), and Pippin definitely comes seventh on my list- he has no synergy with other Hobbits, and as the only one of the Hobbits to have 2 “normal” versions, he suffers from the fact that a Hobbit deck will probably be quite keen to have the Lore version in play.

Idraen

Continuing the theme in Spirit of in-house creations, Early in the Ringmaker cycle, FFG provided us with Idraen. This time, there was clearly a lot more effort put into (or at least communicated to players about) the character’s background.

Strength-of-WillShe is a Dunedain Ranger, used to roaming the wilds of the North, and has an ability allowing her to ready when a location is explored. Her remarkably high pool of stats for a spirit character makes this action advantage particularly useful, as she is relatively competent in questing or in combat. She also combines well with cards that place direct progress on locations (Strength of Will is a good one, allowing you to travel, and immediately explore that location, handy for locations which have nasty effects whilst active).

Aside from the already notorious Spirit Glorfindel, Idraen was that first Spirit hero with 3 attack, a somewhat controversial decision in some quarters, but one which makes a reason amount of sense when dealing with some used to having to survive in the wilds.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of having location-management in my deck, particularly in a 3 or 4-player game, and Idraen is a good starting point in making the interaction with locations a bit more interesting. The power is thematic – a Ranger, familiar with the wilds, and generally the card feels balanced. The main problem with this character is pronouncing her name. I tend to go for something along the lines of Id-drain, or possibly id-ray-een, but I have heard it pronounced the same as Rocky Balboa’s girlfriend. Given that she’s doubly fictional, I doubt it’s going to cause too many problems.

Nori

Nori and Oin were both released around the same time, in the Hobbit Sag boxes and, to be honest, I regularly forget which is which – they are simply “the other two Spirit Dwarves.”

BofurAs printed, Nori was actually a fairly powerful hero – every time a dwarf entered play under your control, he lowered your threat by 1. With spirit Bofur, the ally who can be added to the quest for a single spirit resource each round, then returns automatically to your hand, this equated to “pay 1, lower your threat by 1 (limit once per round)” – throw in Horn of Gondor, and the combo becomes free (net).

In light of this, it’s not a great surprise that they quickly errata-ed Nori’s power to only trigger if you play the dwarf from your hand. At that point in time, there were only about 4 Spirit dwarf allies – Bofur (who as mentioned above, you probably don’t want to be playing from hand) the blue half of Fili/Kili (I definitely can’t remember which of those is which), Dwalin (who already exists in hero form) and the Zigil Miner. Obviously, you can run multi-sphere decks, but it does drastically limit you options.

At a recent Fellowship Event, I saw Nori being used to quite good effect (Nori’s controller was the only one not to threat-out during Nightmare hobbit) in a Spirit/Lore deck. Personally, I’ve always tended to go Leadership Lore for my Dwarf swarm, and found Spirit/Tactics to be a poor cousin.

Thematically, it’s not entirely obvious what they were going for here. Obviously he fits into the general “the more dwarves the better” archetype, but I’m not quite sure how having a bigger group of allies makes you less conspicuous.

Overall then, I’d say Nori is playable, but far from a must-include. Thematically he’s a bit indifferent.

Oin

The last Spirit Dwarf is Oin, who marked an interesting point in the life of this game, being (arguably) the first hero with multiple spheres built-in. Oin starts life as a Spirit Hero, but if you control 5 or more dwarves, he gains an attack boost and a Tactics icon. As I say, it is arguable as to whether he is the first multi-sphere hero – Elrond can pay for allies of any sphere out of the gate, and Hirluin can pay for Outlanders from all spheres, but none of these can pay for attachments or events. On the other hand, they don’t need to meet a condition (5 dwarves) to trigger the ability.

The limited use I’ve made of Oin has been for resource smoothing in a Spirit/Tactics desk – Either splashing a bit of cancellation in an almost mono-tactics deck, or else in a more 50:50 split. However, you could use him as the sole tactics representation in a deck, paving the way for a true quad-sphere.

Power-wise, Oin is certainly decent- simply being a dwarf is generally to be considered “ok” on this front, and he certainly shines the brighter once you hit the 5 dwarf threshold. Thematically, I’m uncertain regarding a lot of the dwarves- the more of them there are the better, that’s clear. Why Oin particularly has been singled out as growing in martial prowess in a big group, I couldn’t really say – to be honest, I can’t recall a single action performed by Oin in particular, in either the books or the films. (Having done a quick google search, I can now identify him as “the one with the ear trumpet” in film-land). Overall, there’s no massive reason to avoid Oin, but at least for me, I think he suffered a bit from collective dwarf-fatigue. Perhaps writing this article will be the inspiration I need to go and build a new deck with him in.

Fatty Bolger

Last of the Spirit Heroes (in this slightly odd Chronology which places the sagas after all the other expansions) is Fatty Bolger. In some ways, creating a Fatty hero was always going to be a difficult task for FFG. Aside from the inherent difficulty in creating anything serious named “fatty,” they would have to go a long way to top the brilliant fan-made creation which appeared very early on in the life of the game with the very apt text “forced: after characters commit to the quest, remove Fatty from the game.”

Fatty-Bolger

Despite this, FFG actually made a remarkably good job of the hero. Fatty is a Spirit Hobbit, who allows an individual player to raise their threat in order to ignore the threat of an enemy in the staging area. This is actually very thematic- whilst he may be best remembered from the books for disappearing at the start of the quest, Fatty in fact suffers a great deal of personal suffering (threat gain?) in order to ensure that Frodo and his companions can make a clean get-away without being hassled by the Nazgul.

On a gameplay level, used right, Fatty’s ability is actually quite powerful, enabling you to make progress in the early rounds when one threatening enemy would otherwise leave you becalmed. You’ll need threat reduction to avoid things getting out of hand, and he won’t work in the Sam/Merry/Pippin style Hobbit deck, but I’ve grouped him relatively successfully with Bilbo and Loragorn. Assuming that you’re running Lore Pippin, Fatty is also the only Spirit Hobbit on offer to you for Black Riders / The Road Darkens, at least whilst all the Fellowship heroes we have are Frodo.

Ultimately, Fatty doesn’t get all that much game time- the Sam/Merry/Pippin deck is just too obvious a fit, and if you’re looking for a thematic partner deck with spirit in, Glorfindel is too easy a choice. However, his principal set-back is probably just being based on a not-so-interesting character. His card remains both thematic and playable.

So, that rounds up the Spirit heroes. In some respects, Spirit has come along way from the core set – I’m not sure many people would ever have imagined Spirit heroes as competent in combat is Glorfindel or Idraen, but by and large they seem to be staying true to theme. What are you favourite Spirit heroes / strategies?

Heroes 2 – Tactics

This is the second part in a review of all the heroes currently available in the game. Last time we looked at Leadership, today it’s time for tactics.

Gimli

Gimli was one of the first tactics heroes we ever saw, back in the days of the core set, and like all good things in tactics, he’s nice and straightforward. His basis stats are fair- 2 willpower in tactics is still none-too-shabby, and his two attack, 2 defence and 5 hit points make him serviceable in attack or defence. Where Gimli really shines, though is the way that each point of damage he takes increases his attack by one, giving him the potential for 6 attack without resorting to any kind of shenanigans. Once you slap a citadel plate (or two) on him his hit pool, and his corresponding attack, can start to get seriously large and brush aside all but the biggest of enemies.

Whilst other cards have come along since the core set which offer alternatives to Gimli (Dwarven axe is no longer the only weapon offering a guaranteed attack boost), the addition of Dain has made Gimli even more powerful, and he still offers real choices – how much damage do you risk taking, when a little can give you an attack boost, and a nasty shadow card can give you a dead hero.

Thematically, Gimli makes a certain amount of sense –he’s a formidable warrior, and the idea that he gets more powerful as he gets more enraged makes perfect sense. It will be interesting to see whether we get a new version of Gimli any time soon, but for now, this one is doing a decent job.

Legolas

Alongside Gimli, the other obvious choice for a core set tactics hero was, of course, Legolas, ensuring that from the word go, these two members of the fellowship could be competing to kill the most Orcs. Less sturdy in defence than his dwarven comrade, Legolas has fewer hit-points and less willpower, but as a result a noticeably lower threat cost, to allow him to sneak up on enemies. 3 attack and ranged remain respectable today, and with access to Rivendell Bows and Blades, Legolas has the ability to be a potent slayer of foes.rivendell-blade rivendell-bow-twitw

Legolas is also able to make up for one of the greatest weaknesses in tactics, the difficulty of making progress on quests or locations. This often makes him an ideal option to receive not only the weapon attachments, but also readying effects such as Unexpected Courage, which enable you to get multiple attacks out of him in a round. In fact, Legolas is (I believe) the only way to complete Passage through Mirkwood in 2 rounds!

Quite what Legolas’s progress tokens are supposed to represent thematically, I’ve never been entirely certain. The overall shape of his stats certainly feels appropriate, and there’s an element of the skilled tracker/woodsman to the ability. Either way it’s powerful enough that no-one’s complaining too loudly.

Thalin

Thalin belongs to an unusual little sub-group of characters in Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game. Entirely absent from Tolkien’s work, Thalin was originally created for Fantasy Flight’s previous game, Middle Earth Quest, and along with Beravor and Eleanor, made the transition to the LCG.

As a tactics hero, Thalin comes with an ability that helps to kill things, specifically by damaging enemies as they are revealed from the Encounter Deck. This was particularly useful in the days of the Core Set and the Mirkwood Cycle, when those pesky Eastern Crows showed up in every other quest, and surged into another card (and another, and another, if there were enough crows left in the deck) – with Thalin around, the crows die before they can ever surge, and you have much less to deal with.

This far into the game, Thalin’s ability is less spectacular than it used to be. There are very few enemies around with a single hit point, or even with two or three (which would allow him to weaken them enough to be finished off by a Gondorian Spearman or similar) he is also slightly puzzling a character who you primarily want questing, yet has only 1 willpower. Like any dwarf, the very fact that he counts has the “dwarf” trait counts strongly in his favour, as he receives the global stat boosts from Dain, contributes to your “5 or more dwarves” and can benefit from a wide variety of events and attachments. His ability is also still far from useless, although it does require an additional level of thought and deck-building, compared with what you used to be able to get away with.

It’s hard to talk about theme with a doubly-fictional character. Thalin certainly doesn’t feel at odds with dwarves as a whole, and is an interesting hero, if not the most powerful in the game.

Brand son of Bain

Brand, son of Bain, son of Bard, is the grandson of the legendary hero of Laketown who killed Smaug. Brand himself receives a brief mention towards the end of return of the King, fighting alongside Dain in a battle at the gates of Erebor, in a scene which would surely be coming to a screen near you if Peter Jackson were making Lord of the Rings now (doubtless as a 6-film series).

Brand is a ranged hero, which tied in nicely to the Journey to Rhosgobel AP in which he first appeared, allowing him to deal with bats and crows that soar out of the reach of ordinary heroes. It also enables his ability, which is to ready a character controlled by the engaged player after you destroy an enemy in a ranged attack. With 2 willpower for early questing, and a fair 3 attack, this seems like a good deal, especially when you consider some of the fun tricks you can do with this (with enough defenders and a bit of attack boost, the player controlling Merry can engage all the enemies [Hammer Stroke] then Merry and Brand can attack on an infinite loop, readying each other each time they destroy an enemy.

Despite this, Brand is not a massively popular hero in this game, and the question needs to be asked, “why?” – the first, if slightly harsh point, is that the artwork for Brand has come in for some criticism over the years. For people used to the striking beauty of a Magali Villeneuve elf, Brand is certainly pulling a funny face, but this hardly seems like good reason to throw him out in the cold.

A further point against Brand, is his origin. He has the Dale trait, which as most people will know interacts with exactly nothing in the game- it does appear on another card, but that card is in a different sphere and again makes no reference to its trait. Beyond that, there are doubtless people who have picked up this game with the explicit intention of letting Boromir sacrifice himself against hordes or orcs, or having Legolas and Gimli battle for the most kills. It’s hard to imagine many folk being driven by a desire to re-enact the adventures of Brand son of Bain.

Boromir

Boromir, or Tactics Boromir as we should probably call him, since a Leadership version appeared in Heirs of Numenor was the second tactics hero after the core set, and a fitting representation of Gondor’s favourite son. Boromir has a very small amount of Willpower (prone to corruption by the Ring), a powerful three attack, and a solid 2 defence on top of a hit-pool of five. Where he really comes into his own, is with his ability, which allows to you raise your threat by one to ready him. This action is restricted only by the threat threshold, and allows him to attack and defend many times in a turn, which instantly make him an obvious target for any kind of stat boost, such as support of the eagles, which can quite easily make him 6 attack, or a Gondorian shield for 4 defence.

With increased ways to control your threat, and more options for boosting stats, Boromir grows stronger as the card-pool increases. It’s still possible to cause yourself terrible problems by being reckless with his abilities, but the choices you make are both fun and thematic. Finally, Boromir also comes with a single-use ability, allowing you to discard him from play in order to damage every enemy engaged with a player. This beautifully captures Boromir’s valiant sacrifice at the end of Fellowship (or possibly the beginning of Two Towers in the books, I can’t remember off the top of my head), and used right it can be another immensely powerful ability. Although he’s been around a while, Boromir still offers some fun and thematic choices for game play.

Elladan

The other one of the sons of Elrond (see the Leadership Heroes run-down for some general thoughts on his brother), this is ‘the attacking one.’ Whilst it would be odd to run one without the other, for me Elladan is the more useful of the two by far. His 2 willpower is far more useful in a tactics deck, being a sphere that traditionally struggles with questing, and attacks are not subject to the law of diminishing refunds in the way that defences are. 3 Attack, whilst about as good as most heroes get, is not enough to dispatch many enemies in a single turn these days, but it’s a good starting point. Personally, my favourite combo is to give Elladan a Rivendell blade (enemy gets -2 defence) and Orcrist (hero gets +2 attack, gain a resource from killing an orc) throw in Rivendell Bow to make him ranged, and he can attack on an infinite loop, so long as there are goblins to squish [if you’re playing properly, you’ll only have Orcrist in Hobbit Saga quests, so there’s a decent chance of finding Orcs, Over the Misty Mountains Grim and Battle of Five Armies are the most obvious choices.

Hama

Hama was the first Rohan tactics hero in the game, and was seized up on by lots of people for that reason alone, despite there being a general lack of in-sphere trait support. He is also the linchpin of various cheese-decks, which try to break the game by making use of his ability. In essence, every time Hama attacks something, you can return a tactics event to your hand, at the cost of a card. Pre-errata, this enabled players to ensure that the Balrog never attacked, as he could be targeted with a feint each time, and the quest became rather dull.

Aside from not being very interesting, the Hama-Lock deck quickly became bogged down, as you had to discard a card each time you triggered the ability. This meant that whilst it could hold the Balrog / Watcher / etc at bay, the deck couldn’t really do anything else.

ffg_foe-hammer-ohauhThat doesn’t mean that there are no interesting things to do with Hama. Now that there’s a bit more in-sphere support for Rohan, there are cards worth recycling to make game-play a bit more dynamic- Forth Eorlingas! to attack the staging area, is the most obvious thematically, whilst others have tried using him to cycle Prepared for War to ensure a constant Battle-quest. Personally I’m a big fan of the Foe-Hama (kill an enemy, exhaust a weapon to play Foe-Hammer and draw three cards, recycle with Hama and repeat) as it overcomes the generally poor level of card draw in tactics.

Theme-wise, it’s not particularly clear what Hama’s power represents. It certainly doesn’t tie obviously into the other Rohan themes. Also, Hama as Theoden’s door-guard would seem more logically to be a defender rather than an attacker, which his stats and ability both lean towards. There’s some fun to be had with Hama, and he does make it possible to run a mono-tactics Rohan deck, but he’s neither the best nor the most thematic hero out there.

Beregond

Beregond is one of the most prominent book characters who fails to make it into Peter Jackson’s films and, as such, may have been something of a revelation to some when he appeared in the card-game.

Beregond is the classic example of the focused, or 1-dimensional hero, depending on your perspective. He has massive defence, little attack, and no willpower at all. Given that the main thing you want to be doing with Beregond is defending, this is generally a good thing, but it does make him vulnerable to things which target characters with shortfall in other stats (i.e. crossing Caradhras).

Beregond’s ability ties in well to his key strength, in that you can play weapons and armours on him more cheaply – a turn-1 Gondorian shield for free, gives you a 6-defence sentinel character, and is definitely not something to be underestimated. Citadel Plate or Spear of the Citadel are good options for the additional restricted slot, and having access to damage cancellation in Gondorian Discipline covers you against direct damage from Shadow cards.

Thematically, Beregond was a guard of the citadel, and his status in the game as a solid defender is fitting. He would be well-equipped fighting within the walls of Minas Tirith, and doesn’t do anything flashy, but stands firm against the advancing forces of darkness. A welcome beacon of theme in a patch of Rohan confusion.

Theoden

The only tactics hero of the Against the Shadow cycle, Theoden has rather fallen foul of the “mono-sphere” agenda which was being pushed at the time. Probably a significantly younger version of Theoden than we see during the war of the ring, this tactics hero is a battle-hardened figure, with 3 attack, 2 defence and sentinel. He also has 2 willpower, which is none-too-shabby in tactics. The most baffling thing however, is his ability. He gives heroes with the printed tactics icon a willpower boost. I’ve complained about this before, but I feel the need to re-state, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Whilst Theoden is in play, Brand son of Bain and Theoden are inspired by his presence and quest more powerfully. Eowyn and Theodred however remain unimpressed.

There are a few things which help to explain how this happened – after the power of Dain, the designers were probably wary of creating anything with the same level. Also they were pushing the “mono-sphere” agenda fairly hard at the time, and Theoden made some sense in this context. The problem however, is that he doesn’t really work as Theoden. Beyond that, there’s a fairly big “why” element to it all – giving your tactics characters extra willpower can have some niche uses – crossing Caradhras, Stone of Erech etc, but most of the time, you don’t want to be questing with your tactics heroes (Thalin excepted) you want to be fighting with them.

It’s hard to decide whether Theoden is really useless or not. In a 4-player game, with so many tactics heroes around that you’ve got spares for questing, he could certainly have uses. There are certainly particular quests or particular shadow effects which he is useful for overcoming. However, it’s a lot of work to build a good Theoden deck – realistically, you need several players all building for the one aim, and at the end what you get doesn’t feel worth the input.

Eomer

Where Theoden is a thorough disappointment the third, and thus far final, Rohan tactics hero is Eomer. Eomer starts with 3 attack, but can boost this up to five if a character leaves play this round. Given the number of characters you’ll find popping in and out of play, particularly if running a Rohan or Silvan deck, this is a relatively easy effect to trigger, and allows him to hit hard from the word go. Tooled up with spears or daggers, or better still, his trusty steed, Firefoot, he can become monstrous fairly quickly.

Thematically, this is capturing the moment when Eomer found Theoden and Eowyn lying (seemingly) dead on the Pelennor field and went into a frenzy, almost single-handedly defeating the armies of Harad. Personally, I think I might have added a little more flavour to his boost- +2 attack if a character leaves play, +4 if a unique Rohan character leaves play instead perhaps- but this is a very minor quibble. This Eomer is fun to play, fits well with his people (and his father-in-law), and generally works on both a gameplay and a thematic level.

Beorn

Moving to the Saga boxes, the first tactics hero we find is a great big bear. Thematically, Beorn is very straightforward: he doesn’t really have willpower to commit to the quest, but he does have massive attack, and an enormous pool of hit points. He can defend too, for a anyone who needs it although his defence is low, and he relies instead on a large pool of hit-points to see him through.

As befits a bear, Beorn won’t be riding a horse, wielding a dagger or an axe, or generally benefitting from your standard bag of tricks, he both “no attachments” and “immune to player card effects” on his card. This means that whilst his base attack of 5 is mighty, it won’t be getting any higher, and any damage he takes will be sticking around for good.

Thematically, Beorn makes a lot of sense. As already noted, he is a bear, and that’s what this card represents. He also has a high threat, as Bears are not notorious for moving stealthily and undetected. Personally, I would have liked a smaller pool of hit points coupled with “regenerate 1” to allow him to heal himself a little, but again it’s a minor gripe.

The best thing about Beorn is how strong he is out of the gate, and the fact that he does not exhaust to defend makes him ideal in scenarios like Massing at Osgiliath, where you will be swarmed by lots of tiny enemies, and need someone to soak up the damage, then hit back. “Immune to player card effects” is also slightly less restrictive than it might at first appear – Dori and Landroval both work well with Beorn, as Dori’s effect targets the damage, not the character, and Landroval triggers when Beorn is out of play, and his text does not apply. Personally, I find Beorn a bit awkward to play, and he definitely fits better in an agro deck than the more controlled style I prefer, but thematically he’s brilliant, and certainly far from useless.

Bard

Bard the Bowman was the second tactics hero in the Hobbit Saga boxes, and so far the only card in the game with the “Esgaroth” trait. Bard makes for an interesting comparison with his grandson, the previously discussed Brand. Both have a ranged attack of 3, 2 willpower and 2 defence, although Bard has an additional hit point, raising his threat cost by 1.

Their abilities both key into attacking across the table, although whereas Brand re-readies characters, Bard reduces defence, effectively giving him a built-in Rivendell Blade when making a ranged attack. Whilst it may lack some of the repeatability of Brand, Bard’s ability strikes me as better, in that it does not use any of his restricted slots, leaving him free for weapons. The 4th hit-point also makes him feel a lot less fragile when direct damage is being dealt.

Whilst Bard suffers from the lack of trait synergy that Brand does, he somehow feels more playable. The potency of his ranged attacks captures some of the flavour of the arrow that brought down Smaug, and somehow, getting a Black Arrow onto him and 1-shotting a massive enemy just feels more epic. As a final note, the artwork for Bard is another fine creation from Magali Villeneuve.

Bard

Merry

The last tactics hero (so far) is Merry, who came in The Black Riders, the first of a planned series of six Lord of the Rings Saga boxes. For an unprecedentedly low threat cost in tactics (6), Merry can quest for a respectable 2 willpower, which along with providing an additional tactics resource without massively ramping your threat is enough by itself to earn him a place in many tactics decks.

Where Merry really shines though, is in an all-Hobbit deck. He gets +1 attack for each Hobbit hero you control, meaning he can easily swing for 3 (4 in saga mode if you control Fellowship-sphere Frodo). Given how low the starting threat of a Hobbit deck usually is, this goes well with Dagger of Westernesse or Unseen Strike, making it relatively common to take out a Nazgul in a single swing.

On top of his variable attack, Merry has the ability to re-ready a character who joins him in attacking and destroying an enemy. This is clearly an ability with some major potential (as mentioned earlier, there’s a possible infinite loop with Brand), although in Hobbit decks, I’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily get all that much use. I’m tempted to try putting him opposite Legolas, to get extra progress from destroying enemies, but haven’t got round to it yet.

As a general rule, the low-threat / “don’t underestimate us” type mechanic of the Hobbits seems reasonably sensible, but the idea that simply being surrounded by Sam and Pippin can make Merry as powerful an attacker as Legolas or Boromir does seem a bit odd (although not quite as strange as the idea that Pippin makes it easier to sneak past enemies). Overall, I’d say Merry is definitely VERY playable, but not the best thematic result ever.

All in all then, the tactics heroes are generally a fairly solid bunch. They typically excel in attacking, with far fewer solid defenders, and their questing prowess is generally minimal. Tactics probably remains the narrowest of the sphere in terms of the limitations it has (threat, questing etc), and it will be interesting to see what the designers do to keep the sphere interesting without it just bleeding indistinguishably into all the others.

Heroes 1 – Leadership

I currently have a few large projects on the boil, (some of them Lord of the Rings-y, others more focused on just surviving life in general) but they’re all going to take me a while to actually unleash. In the meantime, I thought this might make a good moment to consider the current stock of heroes, both in terms of how they work for gameplay, and how they reflect the character Tolkien created. I’m going to break this down into 4 articles, 1 per sphere. This first instalment is a bit late, but I’ll try to get the others out at the standard once per fortnight pace, by the end of which I should have something a bit different ready to go.

Aragorn

Core-set Aragorn was a powerful hero from the word go, and still remains popular with many players of the game. One of the chief protagonists of the War of the Ring, his card is suitably powerful, with at least 2 for all his stats, and 5 hit-points. As a result his starting threat is high, but Sauron’s attention is something Aragorn has come to expect: as he tells Sauron through the Palantir “long have you hunted me.”

it's hard to hide with 12 threat

This version of Aragorn has great utility – he has good willpower for questing, and can pay a resource to re-ready for combat. In a sphere that can easily generate additional resources, this is a pretty good deal, and when you start boosting his stats, for example with cards like Celebrian’s stone, it becomes an even better deal.

For some heroes, rounded stats can be a disadvantage, as they end up going to waste, but Aragorn generally manages to make good use of his. From core set days he had one attachment designed specifically for him, and has gained more as he went along, allowing him plenty of options for sphere-fixing. This card seems an ideal reflection of Aragorn, a great captain of men, hardy roamer of the wilds, and skilled warrior.

Theodred

Back in the days of the Core Set, Theodred was Aragorn’s almost-constant-companion. Their abilities meshed perfectly as Theodred provided the resource needed for Aragorn to re-ready, allowing him to spend his normal resources on actually getting cards into play. Aside from combining with Aragorn, Theodred can also distribute cash around the table, helping other players with their resource issues.

In more recent times, Theodred has fallen out of favour with many, as there are simply better options out there for Leadership heroes – for one thing, his meagre stats, most notably only a single point of willpower, make him a poor choice for a hero who needs to quest every turn in order to use his power – likewise 2 attack, or a single point of defence with 4 hit points make his combat utility fairly limited as well. Rohan synergy for Leadership is decidedly lacking – there’s only really the Snowborn Scout, and most of the things which could boost his questing or attack come in other spheres (Spirit and Tactics respectively). Essentially, the main reason to have Theodred was as a way to ensure you had 2 Aragorn’s and a few extra leadership resources.

In terms of how Theodred’s card fits Tolkien’s character, we don’t have a great deal to go on. We know that he was Theoden’s son and that he died shortly before the War of the Ring, but that’s about it – the few remaining details we have, such as his age and the manner of his death were changed in the films from the books (Jackson made him younger, and had him die of wounds, due to the interference of Grima, rather than being killed outright at the first battle of the fords of the Isen.) On this basis, it doesn’t seem that Theodred can be accused of being massively unfaithful to his book character, although it does seem a shame that he hails from a different sphere to his father and his cousin, who were apparently his closest friends in life. [HINT, HINT- FANTASY FLIGHT, RELEASE A LEADERSHIP VERSION OF THEODEN!]

Gloin

Gloin was the last of the core-set leadership heroes, a dwarf who generated money every time he took damage. Back in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, I used to run a deck which relied on getting Self-preservation on Gloin, and letting him be bashed for as much damage as possible, to churn out vast amounts of cash. Unfortunately, this was trickier in practice than it might seem – even ignoring the difficulty of getting a 3-cost, out-of-sphere attachment onto him, the combo just had too many working parts to be effective – with only 1 defence and 4 hit-points, he was too fragile to be tanking attacks from trolls, and could easily be brushed aside even by Wargs or Orcs with a nasty shadow-card, so needed something like ring-mail (tactics) to improve his defending capacity, or other out-of-sphere protection, such as citadel plate, or a song wisdom followed by a burning brand.

GlóinWhen the combination finally came together, you had a powerful resource engine… …in the sphere which was already the best at generating resources. For most people, it just wasn’t worth the effort. When you add to the picture the Ally version of Gloin, who has solid stats, far more easily achieved resource acceleration, and who plays in nicely to the powerful “5 dwarves or more” deck, it’s easy to see why he doesn’t get much table time.

Thematically, it’s slightly difficult to pin down what the idea behind Gloin was supposed to be – is he sufficiently rich that every time an enemy strikes him, money comes spilling out of his pockets? Or is he a personal injury lawyer. The first idea does fit nicely with Peter Jackson’s depiction of him as a wealthy miser, trying to get out of paying his share of the boat fee to Bard, but even it weren’t a film-world invention by Jackson, this scene only came out several years AFTER the card was released.

Prince Imrahil

The first leadership hero after the core set was Imrahil. Although he’s not quite as strong all-round as Aragorn, he still has fairly solid stats, and his built-in readying ability allows you to get double use out of him reasonably often. This ability gets particularly powerful if you build for it, and only gets stronger the more players there are in the game.

As a Gondor character he can take advantage of the various Gondor-boosting cards out there, but fittingly for a man of elven heritage, and the father-in-law of the King of Rohan, he works perfectly with the allies-leaving-play archetypes of Rohan and Silvan decks.

Despite being a fairly major figure in Return of the King, Prince Imrahil doesn’t feature in any of the films, making him a slightly unfamiliar figure for many players of the game. He does, technically, hail from the same place as the Outlanders, but came along sufficiently long before that trait was conceived to avoid being given that trait – it is a bit of a shame that he doesn’t have any synergy with his Knights of the Swan, but on the whole, not being part of the Outlands can only really be a good thing.

Dain Ironfoot

Dain was the last hero of the Mirkwood cycle, immediately before Khazad-Dum, and the first real clue that dwarves were going to be something big. His passive ability is one of the most powerful in the game, giving all dwarves in play a boost to attack and willpower whilst he is ready.

This level of power hasn’t really been repeated in the game since Dain, and there’s very little question that he’s an effective hero, provided there are a decent number of dwarves in play. His 3 defence is very solid (at the time it was the equal largest in the game) which at least brings in an element of decision during the combat phase for Dain’s controller – unlike the quest phase, where he will mostly be limited to standing around looking inspiring.

Quick, while you can still imagine him as someone other than Billy Connolly...

Quick, while you can still imagine him as someone other than Billy Connolly…

In the Hobbit, Dain appears at the end leading armies of dwarves from the Iron Hills, and is about to start waging war upon the elves and the men of Laketown when the goblins arrive and the Battle of Five Armies breaks out instead. Obviously, the arrival of Dain’s folk is a great morale-booster for Thorin and Company holed-up in the lonely Mountain, but you’d have to imagine that had more to do with the vast army of dwarves that he brought with him than it did with his own personal charisma.

After the events of the Hobbit, Dain reigns as the King Beneath the Mountain, up until the time of the War of the Ring, where he and everyone’s favourite LotR pin-up Brand son of Bain fight against an army of orcs and goblins at the doors of Erebor. The stated time-period of the LotR Card Game is during this reign, so perhaps the ability is more reflective of the King Under the Mountain stage of Dain’s life.

Elrohir

One of the sons of Elrond, who virtually nobody can tell apart (Aragorn is about the only character who is described as being able to distinguish them, although you’d have to imagine Elrond and Arwen could have a good go)- I even have to check which one’s which when playing (I just remember them as the attacking one and the defending one). Aside from Bilbo, this pair were the first characters whose Threat Cost wasn’t equal to the sum of their stats. By himself, Elrohir has a threat cost of ten and stats totalling 9. However, when his brother is in play, his stats go up to eleven, specifically his defence rising from 1 to 3. This is very important as it meshes nicely with his ability which allows him to defend, then pay a resource to re-ready. With enough cash, he can defend infinitely.

The fact that Elrohir synergises with his brother, producing a whole which is better than the sum of his parts makes good thematic sense, and it would be strange, if not downright foolish to ever run one without the other. They also have good rounded stats, with 2 willpower, and 2 attack for Elrohir 2 defence for Elladan. That said, Elrohir is the less useful of the two in my mind- 3 defence is good, but it’s hardly impregnable, and without in-sphere access to shadow cancellation or healing, there are only so many times you’ll get good use out of him. By contrast, his brother can essentially attack as many times as he has enemies and resources (Elladan + Rivendell blade + Orcrist is a particularly fun combination), as your ability to attack doesn’t diminish in the way that a pool of hit-points does. In Elrohir’s favour, being in leadership he is more likely to be able to generate the resources required to make multiple defences, if you can bolster him sufficiently to survive the attacks.

Boromir

The leadership version of Boromir was the second one we had seen in the game. The first emphasised the valiant yet foolhardy warrior, able to wreak havoc upon his enemies by sacrificing stealth and his own life. This was an earlier iteration, the great leader of men seen in the retaking of Osgiliath. He has the same broad, solid stats as before- light on willpower, but powerful in attack, and provided he has a resource in his pool, he gives all Gondor allies an extra attack point. This works well with the various Gondor-themed cards that can generate extra cash, and I like the touch that only allies receive this bonus – the likes of Aragorn or Dain know their own worth and aren’t going to be dazzled by Boromir.

This version does have some fine art from Magali

This version does have some fine art from Magali

This is definitely a solid hero – it goes particularly well with Visionary Leadership, to provide that swarm of cheap Gondor allies with a boost to their willpower as well as their attack. It’s also not unfaithful to Tolkien’s work in any way. That said, personally, I just don’t find it as interesting as playing Tactics Boromir, where you have major choices to make round after round, as you try to decide how far to push your threat for extra attacks.

Hirluin

Unfortunately, Hirluin is impossible to assess in isolation from the Outlands archetype. The deck that builds itself and plays itself. It’s good that he synergises with his compatriots (aside from poor old Imrahil), but generally, the deck isn’t fun for me, and without the Outlanders, Hirluin is basically useless, with 1 for attack, defence and willpower.

Celeborn

The lord of the Galadhrim was the first sign at the start of the current cycle that the Silvan deck was about to really get going. Celeborn offers an across-the-board bonus on stats for Silvan allies, on the round they enter play. Whilst this effect seems to suffer badly from the law of diminishing returns, the growing number of ways to bounce Silvans in and out of play using Tree-People, Feigned Voices and the like mean that you’re likely to get more than just single use out of the bonus – allies like the Naith guide which have an “enters play” effect benefit doubly from this recycling. You need multiple spheres in play to make use of most of these effects, but at this stage in the game, that’s hardly an impossible obstacle.

Tell-me-where-is-Gandalf-Front-Face

Although a figure of undoubted significance in the Lord of the Rings, Celeborn’s character is hardly the most developed you’ll see. The fact that he boosts Silvans makes sense, although the lack of Sindarin trait is still irksome, if consistent. 11 threat and fairly rounded stats that include a very solid 3 willpower make him a good choice for elves and thematically he’s far from terrible, without being able to be called brilliant – personally I’d have liked some kind of effect that allowed him to search for Gandalf (if the Hobbit III trailers are anything to go by, his first question to our favourite Istari may well be “what have you been doing with my wife?” )

Thorin

There could never really be much doubt that Thorin Oakenshield belongs in the leadership sphere. This hero is clearly a leader or dwarves, and he was one of the earlier cards in the “if you control 5 or more dwarves” vein – in this case, providing extra resources. The effect is powerful and, given that you’ll probably need to be running multiple spheres to get the dwarves properly swarming, he helps to smooth your resource issues, as well as being an obvious target for some sphere-fixing like Narvi’s belt. (Ori has always seemed the best partner for me, with the third slot being up for grabs).

Obviously, the vast majority of our unique dwarves are from the Hobbit ortheir families, but the general feel of Thorin still strikes me more as the leader of a small, close-knit band of followers than as the head of a grand army. If anything, I think Thorin and Dain would be more fitting the other way round- Thorin the inspiration, Dain the leader of hordes.

Balin

The last dwarf-lord of Moria, much referenced in the Lord of the Rings, but only actually appearing in the Hobbit. The Balin hero is the fourth dwarf in the leadership sphere, and is slightly unusual in this respect, in that he is probably worth considering outside out a primarily dwarven deck, given his ability to cancel shadow effects without the need for lore/spirit.

Balin’s aim between The Hobbit and his death was to re-occupy the Mines of Moria, and restore dwarven light to the darks of the Dwarrowdelf. In this respect, his ability seems fairly thematic, as it places him in the vanguard of the fight against the Shadow, yet does not offer the kind of automatic success that comes with a Hasty Stroke or a Burning Brand.

Sam Gamgee

The faithful companion of Frodo, the most famousest of Hobbits is perhaps an unusual choice for the leadership sphere. Admittedly he will one day break the record for the most re-elections as mayor of the Shire, but those days are some way off in the future.

This may not have been the actual pan Sam used, but it was the first picture I found that wasn't something to do with Tangled

This may not have been the actual pan Sam used, but it was the first picture I found that wasn’t something to do with Tangled

Sam was released in the Black Riders box, which was the moment when the Hobbit deck suddenly shot into overdrive. He has some obvious support cards, including Bill the Pony (free when Sam’s around) for extra hit-points, and a Hobbit-cloak. The trick to the deck is keeping your threat low, but so long as you can manage that, the Hobbits are a real power-house. Questing for three with a threat of only 8 would be good enough by itself, (and makes him viable in a non-Hobbity deck / combined with higher-threat heroes) but the potential to then block for 4 on the same round takes him to another level. With attachments like the new version of Sting, he can quickly get crazy – although sadly, still no Frying Pan attachment …

Thematically Sam is a little puzzling. His 3 hit-points presumably come from Peter Jackson’s insistence on having Gollum constantly refer to him as “the fat one” – even after a year walking in the wilderness, with little more than a few slices of Lembas bread to keep him going on (in his fight with Gollum in the pass of Cirith Ungol he is described as “stout” but I think that’s as far as it gets). The idea of finding unknown resources of courage and strength when confronted by sudden adversity is nice and hobbit though, so whilst we’re probably seeing some power-creep compared with a figure like Theodred, it doesn’t feel totally out of left-field.

So that’s it for the Leadership Heroes (at least for now) – I’ve deliberately not gone for specific “ratings” as numbers can be a bit arbitrary. I’d be interested to know what other people think of the various Leadership Heroes.

Organised Nightmares

This past Monday, we had our first Lord of the Rings Organised Play event at our local game shop Chimera, and this week I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts about it, and about organised play generally.

We had 8 people turn up in the end, 2 groups of two, a group of three of us, and a guy by himself – we divided into two tables of four to take on the Nightmare versions of the Hobbit: On the Doorstep Quests.

Our table was the three of us who had gone together (me, my wife, and a friend from work) and the guy who had come by himself. As the game-night kit only comes with a single copy of the Nightmare quests, and the other table had started with Flies and Spiders, we went straight to The Lonely Mountain.

The Lonely Mountain

The-Lonely-Mountain-Location

In its classic format, the Lonely Mountain was a push-your-luck quest: at the start of the game, the mountain itself is contributing only 2 threat, and the two-round set-up allows you to get a good foothold. If you can content yourself with just 1 or 2 Treasures, it’s really quite manageable to push through to stage 3 before things get nasty.

In Nightmare, unsurprisingly, this option is taken away from you- you HAVE to have all five treasures before you can advance, and that means that you are going to find yourself on stage 4, where Smaug comes and attacks you (repeatedly), unless you somehow avoid ever adding a single progress token to him from treacheries or forced effects.

On top of this, our fourth player had never played On The Doorstep before, and came with a tactics deck that relied on Legolas killing lots of things, aided by Rivendell blades and the like, then triggering Foe-Hammer and other similar effects- great for a normal game, but it struggled against a quest with only a single enemy, who was indestructible and immune to player-card effects. I was running a fairly high threat deck, with Boromir (Dead Marshes), Beorn and Eowyn, and with lots of threat-raising effects, we lost fairly quickly.

The Battle of Five Armies

We then turned our attentions to the Battle of Five Armies. In format this hasn’t changed all that much from non-Nightmare mode (at least until you reach stage 5), but the difficulty has been ramped up considerably. Bear in mind that this is already a quest with a 5-card set-up (Bolg + 1 per player) then typically 5 plus cards in round 1 (1 per player, with the first Goblin gaining surge as well as various surging treacheries).

Gundabad-Climber

Gone are the almost friendly little chaps like the Gundabad Climber, and in their place are massive Orc and Wargs ready to tear you limb from limb. Add to that several new locations with high threats, and large numbers of progress needed (5 or 6 apiece) which add threat or damage based on the number of quests with zero progress, and it was virtually impossible.

In our first game, we drew a new treachery in set-up which caused Bolg to attack each player, then drew another copy in turn 1 for almost instant death. In the end I think we tried that quest 4 or 5 times, building decks on the fly in an attempt to deal with one problem, only to get mown down elsewhere. We died from threat, destruction by too many enemies, and even by the elimination of Bilbo (which I had momentarily forgotten was a defeat condition).

Flies and Spiders

We did get a belated look at Flies and Spiders, although not actually a chance to play it – again, this didn’t seem massively changed in structure, just give a fresh burst of nastiness by new treacheries, including one that dealt a poison to each character in play, and some bigger, nastier spiders.

Overall Thoughts

I’m definitely glad that we did the event – it was nice to meet some new people who are interested in the game, even though we only got to play with one of them, and it’s always nice to come away with some swag- in this instance a Bard the Bowman Deck Box.

BardBox

That said, Nightmare just doesn’t seem to me like it’s the best way of doing Organised Play – I bumped into a friend’s brother at the shop, who was down for a Magic event, and was explaining the game to him – as it was we were winding up by then, but if we had had the time to demo a game, I’m not sure the annihilation that we received would have been a great encouragement to come back for more.

On a more general note, there’s the age-old issue of scaling. If people are going to turn up in 2s and 3s and (at least whilst this is a fairly new thing) everyone wants to play with the friends they came with, then most of the time, you’ll be playing large games- probably 4-player. Modern encounter decks just seem too highly tuned to give you that much of a chance in 4-player, unless you’re a.) very good, and b.) have done a lot of advance-planning to ensure your decks are perfectly synced. We could have played 3, 3 and 2 instead, but if we do that, we might as well stay at home.

The co-op format of the game also makes it a bit tricky to decide how you divide up the stuff in the kit –in the end we diced for it, and I think most people went away happy (although I’m now kicking myself for not taking any pictures of the Nightmare deck, which went to someone else), but it’s a very different approach to most OP events, and a bit more thought may be wanted long-term.

I have high hopes for the next game night kit, and hope that Fog on the Barrow Downs will be a bit less crazy (It’d be nice if the old forest was out by then to combine the two, but I’m not over-optimistic). I look forward to getting some more events getting on at the shop, and maybe attracting a bit of passing interest from other people in the shop. It’s certainly given me a new appreciation for the people who organise these sorts of events regularly.

in the meantime, in true Dor Cuarthol tradition, here’s a custom card to help you on your organised play journey:

A bit like Gildor's Counsel, but on the house...

Victory & Defeat

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • The Counsel of Elrond – a loud consensus is reached that The Ring must be destroyed. Gimli rises from his seat and brings his axe crashing down up The Ring. The Ring shatters, and across the vast distance, Barad-Dur comes crashing down, lifting the shadow from the lands of Middle Earth. The Hobbits spend a few weeks longer at Rivendell before returning home with no-one any the worse for the expedition aside from Frodo and his shoulder.

  • Gandalf stands upon the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and issues a booming “you cannot pass!” the Balrog sweeps him contemptuously aside and proceeds to devour the fellowship. The Ring falls into the hands of the Orcs and takes only a matter of weeks to makes its way thence to Mordor, at which point Sauron regains physical form, and begins systematically destroying the free peoples.

I think it’s safe to say that if either of these were an accurate summary of the plot of Lord of the Rings, few of us would bother reading or watching it as we do – it’s possible that you might be able to contrive an ok story out this start, but doubtful that you’d produce something truly great.

Most of the time, most of us want to see our heroes triumph – but we don’t want it to have been so easy that there was never any jeopardy. Obviously we all know enough of Hollywood to expect the general curve, but there should be room for genuine surprises. How many people reading/watching Fellowship for the first time truly expected the loss of Gandalf or Boromir? Or in the first viewing of Two Towers expected Gandalf’s return.

Victory and Defeat in Games

Today I want to think about how that desire for a well-earned victory translates into the world of gaming. Most of us like to win, but we also recognise that it’s not always possible – if you sit down weekly with a group of 3 friends to play an ordinary board game then, assuming equal luck and skill, you’d expect to win about once per month. This is a normal part of life, and we all accept it.

But how about when it becomes a cooperative game? If one of the four of us wins all the time in a competitive game, then perhaps all four of the four of us should win each time in co-op? on the other hand, perhaps it should still be 1 in 4 – most of the time the game defeats us, and we are left to lick our wounds in mournful silence.

When Lord of the Rings LCG came out, there were a limited number of scenarios, and a limited number of deck-building options. Most people were in roughly the same position: multi-player, with a bit of luck, most quests were beatable. A second Hill Troll in Journey Along the Anduin could scupper you, as could the capture of Eowyn in Escape from Dul Guldur, but generally you knew where you were.

Asfaloth Beyond-Expectations

Over time though, the waters have muddied. Quests like Massing at Osgiliath appeared, with the deliberate aim of smashing all player decks before them. Then came Spirit Glorfindel with light of Valinor and Asfaloth, to eat Massing for breakfast. (East Bank? West Bank? Who cares)

More and more quests, more and more decks strategies. All good things, and necessary to keep the game alive.

But the trouble is, with all these cards, there are some incredibly powerful deck-types out there, and that can actually LIMIT the options for players.

When the designers make a new quest, they have to keep in mind the fact that these decks exist – if they make every quest so that it can be beaten with a mono-sphere core set only deck, then it will become boring for the more hardcore players. However, it’s easy to go the other way, so that anyone trying to get into the game late, or anyone without a PhD in deck-building just gets beaten down. More to the point, every quest needs to be especially built for- a quick pick-up game is becoming harder and harder to throw together.

I buy every expansion that comes out for this game (not to mention making my own), and when a new quest comes out, I want to be able to play it with a decent chance of success. At the same time, I deck-build primarily for theme, and tend not to notice the super-combos which seem to power some of the particularly mighty decks. The increased synergy of the encounter decks makes this particularly bad for 4-player, and there have already been a few scenarios where the only real option for us 4-player was to put it back in the box, and give the player-card pool 6 months to catch up.

We also need to realise that different people have different ideas about winning – some groups will probably be happy with a 50/50 win loss ratio, which I think would make most of my group give up. On the other hand, ever since this game began Turin’s Bane, that great fire breathing wyrm of the north has been complaining on a wide variety of forums that the game is too easy, and needs to be made harder- clearly this isn’t an easy situation for the designers to solve.

The Road Darkens

Earlier this week, Fantasy Flight posted an article about the upcoming “road darkens” expansion, which will cover the second half of the events of Fellowship of the Ring – flavour-wise they look brilliant, and you can tell that the designers are definitely real fans of the game. However, the difficulty raises concerns for me.

the-balrog

The Balrog has 5 threat, 8 attack, 9 defence and 25 hit points. He is indestructible and both he and his shadow cards are immune to player card effects. Only a single player can attack him at a time (regardless of ranged or other tricks).

As Caleb points out, the Balrog is indeed meant to be “a foe beyond any of us,” it would be anti-climactic at best if we were able to 1-shot it, but there are effects that we’ve seen on the Nazgul of Minas Morgul or the Mumak that can make enemies harder to kill than just being big, without getting silly.

the-great-bridge

The effect on The Great Bridge will allow us to at least have a chance to defeat the Balrog, but at the cost of a hero, which is a particularly significant loss if you’re playing in campaign mode, where that character – in all forms – will be banned for future use. My current thinking involves bringing in Fatty Bolger, to absorb some of the Balrog’s threat, then discarding him, as he’s unlikely to be needed in the future – I certainly don’t plan on sticking to the story and discarding the brand-new Gandalf hero, at least not unless the Treason of Saruman features a new Gandalf the White card.

 

In the meantime, here’s a completely non-playtested alternative for all your Two Towers needs.

 

Gandalf-the-White-Front-Face

Not all those who wander are lost

This week saw the start of GenCon 2014, typically one of the biggest weekends in the gaming calendar. As thousands gather to demo, play, and buy the newest additions to the board game world, the news for Lord of the Rings fans has been a little bit mixed.

On the one hand, there was remarkably little in terms of actual new content: The Road Darkens, which is the second Saga expansion for the main Lord of the Rings story, and which will allow players to play through the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring, was not only absent, but it now has a 4th quarter of 2014 release date, meaning it will be months at the earliest before anyone can get their hands on the new cards.

In terms of new game announcements, there also seems to have been a bit of a blank – Fantasy Flight, who have historically been one of the big producers of Lord of the Rings games are currently focusing most of their energies on Star Wars, with ever more games and expansions appearing in that sector.

Despite all this, there was still some news for fans of the LCG, the next Saga expansion, and the next deluxe expansion, along with its attendant cycle of adventure packs.

The next Deluxe will be The Lost Realm focusing around Bree, the Shire, and further north, a theme which will be developed in the 2015 AP cycle “Angmar Awakened.” The Third Saga box will be The Treason of Saruman¸ and will focus on the events from the two towers around Rohan and Orthanc.

One of our new Aragorns

One of our new Aragorns

Whilst these are exciting enough as teasers, we know very little about these expansions as yet – The Grey Company and Cardboard of the Rings have posted photos of the box, inside a glass display case, but it’s difficult to make out much from the cards, the one thing we do know is that BOTH these big boxes will feature a new Aragorn hero. One Saga-specific Fellowship hero, and one of an un-confirmed sphere, but probably tactics (based on the combat-themed abilities which can be vaguely made out, and the reddish tinge to the background.)

This will leave us with no less than 4 total versions of Aragorn, putting him level with Bilbo (1 hero, 2 saga hero, 1 ally, forthcoming in The Road Darkens) and ahead of Frodo (1 hero, 2 saga hero), so I thought this might be a good time to provide a bit of a reminder of who exactly Aragorn is, and why he’s so important to the story of Lord of the Rings.

Aragorn II 

After the fall of Sauron at the end of the Second age, the realm of the men of Numenor was divided, with Isildur and his heirs ruling in the North, whilst his brother Anarion, and his heirs ruled the south. In Gondor, the line of Anarion lasted for roughly 2000 years, before it failed, and rule of the kingdom passed to the stewards for the next millennium. In the north Isildur’s heirs ruled the kingdoms of Arnor and Arthedain for only a little less time, before the kingdom fell, and the head of the house was reduced to the status of a chieftain.

It was into this line of chieftains of the northern Dunedain that Aragorn was born. His father Arathorn had just succeeded his father as the chieftain when Aragorn was born, and held the post for roughly 3 years before being slain by orc-arrows whilst riding with Elladan and Elrohir. The young boy Aragorn was given the name “Estel” meaning hope, and fostered in the house of Elrond, where his lineage and true identity were kept hidden from all, even himself, throughout his youth.

At the age of twenty, Aragorn’s true identity was revealed to him by Elrond, and (having briefly tried and failed to win the heart of Arwen) he spent the next thirty years, fighting in Gondor and Rohan, against various forces of the enemy. He was a captain of Gondor during the rule of the steward Ecthelion, father of Denethor, and won a great victory against the Corsairs of Umbar, under the name of Thorongil.

Father-in-LawAfter this time, Aragorn and Arwen met for the second time, and fell in love. As one of the half-elven, Arwen had the choice between elven immortality, eventually sailing west into Valinor, or a mortal life, being parted beyond death and the end of the world from her people. Understandably a bit miffed at this prospect, Elrond told Aragorn that he would allow Arwen to wed no mortal man less than the king of the restored realms of Gondor and Arnor combined, which should provide a bit of perspective for anyone who ever thought their own father-in-law was a bit demanding.

In the years leading up the War of the Ring, Aragorn continued to range, and became ever more instrumental in the plans of the wise, leading Gandalf’s hunt for Gollum, and guarding the Shire and its oblivious residents from those who would seek to do them ill. It was in this guise that he was known, although little understood by the Breelanders who called him “Strider” in recognition of his long legs, and his ability to roam far and wide across the northern country, and this is the man whom the Hobbits first meet in the Prancing Pony.

As the Lord of the Rings unfolds, more is revealed of Aragorn, and by the end of Return of the King, he has been crowned as King Elessar (meaning Elfstone), the triumphant king of Gondor, who shows the truth of his claim by his healing hands as much as by his sword. He marries Arwen, and we are told that he rules fairly and wisely for 120 years, (although as George R. R. Martin notes, we are never told about his tax policy, or what he did about the remaining orcs) before laying down his life “an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.”

So there you have it, a brief summary of the life of Aragorn (read the appendices of Return of the King for more detail) and it is clear why he should be a big part of the Lord of the Rings gaming experience. However, with this new Fellowship hero, it means that for the saga box, you’ll actually have to take Aragorn out of your decks, as the rules prevent us from having two copies of a card with the same title in play at once.

Luckily for you, here at dor Cuarthol, we have dug up some old cards, and come up with just the solution to this problem, enabling you to continue Aragorn-ing to your heart’s content.

Estel Thorongil

Strider Elessar