Dark Deeds in Bree

4 bands of strangers approached the Prancing Pony in Bree. The sign creaked in the night as it flapped in the wind, and the rain drove hard into their faces. All the travellers were huddled under their cloaks, seeking what scant protection they could from the rain, but as they passed inside, there was an audible gasp from the common-room, as they cast aside their hoods, and revealed their faces.

PrancingPonyOne party were dwarves, 3 stout and sturdy chaps travelled from far to the east, perhaps even from Erebor itself. Some whispered that their leader was none other than Dain Ironfoot himself, the King Under the Mountain.

Most of the others were elves, that was clear to see. Again, the rumours quickly began to spread as to the identities of these mysterious strangers: the Elf-Lord of Imladris, the Prince of the Woodland Realm, even the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. No-one knew for certain, and it was not long before one drunkard in the corner had confidently proclaimed them Beren and Luthien returned.

The most troubling of the strangers for the folk of Bree stood a little way apart from the others. A huge, dark figure, he said little and moved slowly: indeed those who saw him out of the corner of their eyes seemed to be caught in wonder for a moment, convinced that they had seen a tree.

Fortunately, Barliman Butterbur, proprietor of the Prancing Pony was more accustomed to strange folk visiting his tavern from time to time and, once he had confirmed that they did not require any of his food or ale, he confided in them of the recent murder which had shaken the village. Whoever the incomers were, they were clearly upstanding folk, and they swiftly agreed to investigate the matter for him, and bringing the villain to justice.

DSC01184Yesterday, we had our first Lord of the Rings Fellowship event, convening at our FLGS to investigate a murder at the Prancing Pony. The format is fairly simple: there are 5 “suspect” enemies, and 5 “hideout” locations. At the start of the game, one of each are selected at random, and put to one side, whilst the remaining 8 cards, along with a couple of irksome treacheries, are shuffled into an “investigation deck” – exploring active locations allows the players to view cards from the investigation deck, and hopefully enables them, by process of elimination, to identify the villain, and where they are hiding.

As the distributors had insisted that the event be run on a weekend, and at short-notice, we just had the one 4-player game going, and we may have brought a sledge-hammer to crack a nut, with the decks we had chosen: Treebeard/Rossiel/Haldir for me, and Celeborn/Legolas/Brand son of Bain, Glorfindel/Elrond/Galadriel, and Dain/Ori/Nori for the others. The player of the Noldor deck was wearing Nenya and an Evenstar, but sadly these were adjudged to have no in-game benefit. Instead, armed with our decks, and a box of biscuits, the Fellowship of the Party Rings set out… (on reflection, maybe I should have brought some Brie as well

I've been waiting since Black Riders to do this...

I’ve been waiting since Black Riders to do this…

Stage 1 requires players to either raise their threat at the start of the round, or reveal extra cards, so we ploughed through as quickly as possible, opting for the threat increase very time: Nori was keeping threat under control for the Dwarf-deck, whilst Galadriel patched things up for the other 3 teams. The quest card has a “max 4 progress per round” limit, and needs 12 progress, so it’s three rounds minimum, but we didn’t take any longer. The highlight of the first stage was Haldir hitting Bill Ferny with a Black Arrow to kill him in the staging area, and get rid of his very irritating effect. We also managed to clear an active location each round, and had successfully eliminated 2 suspects and 3 locations by the time we hit stage 2.

Advancing to Stage 2 reveals a location per player and, having revealed 3 locations in round-3 staging, we were now in an awkward position of having 7 locations in the staging area, and nothing else. The biggest problem was the Market Square, which puts your threat up every time you place progress on a location in the staging area: 2 copies of this at once meant that it would have cost us a staggering 14 threat to trigger one of the Northern Trackers. Fortunately, the dwarf player had Thror’s Map and Key, enabling us to gradually remove the Squares, then track away everything else. I added the first square to go to the Victory display, with Leave No Trace, allowing me cancel the next one to appear, with The Door Is Closed.

DSC01187Stage 2 is slightly difficult to hang around on: every time you place progress, you are forced to either advance to stage 3 or reveal extra encounter cards. Fortunately, I had drawn Gather Information early on, and when we explored it, another player was able to fetch her copy, letting us kill some time – it also meant that we could find some of the missing pieces for card combos – the Dwarf deck was now in full-swing, and the Elves had double Northern Tracker, but I was pleased to get my very cheesy and unthematic, but helpfully powerful Elf-Friend Treebeard + Silvan Tracker combo out (he was also the Steward of Gondor).

We had narrowed down both the suspect and the hideout to two possibilities, and it felt like every investigation was leading us back into cards we had seen before, so we decided to bite the bullet and make a guess.

When you advance to Stage 3 of this quest, you have to name a suspect and a hideout – if you have successfully eliminated all the other possibilities by looking through the whole investigation deck, this should correspond directly with the two cards put to one side at the start of the game. If not, you have stumbled onto bigger plots, and suddenly find yourself faced with extra villains and locations. Our first player for the turn guessed at Todd the Troll and Bill Ferny’s house – and she was wrong on both counts!

Suddenly, we found ourselves faced with Todd the Troll and Old Orc-Eyes, as well as Bill Ferny’s House and the Combe Storehouse. The suspect enemies automatically engage the first player at the start of the encounter phase, and cannot be damaged whilst there are any Hideouts in play. The hideouts are, of course, large, with nasty travel effects – including the resurrection of Bill Ferny, and the inevitable immunity to player-card effects.

Fortunately, by this time, we had big enough forces out to withstand the onslaught. Todd the Troll’s 7 attack with threat-trample was probably the biggest concern, but was dealt with by the marvellous combination of Dain Ironfoot, made sentinel by Arwen, and auto-healing each round thanks to being an elf-friend, and sharing the table with a Silvan Tracker and Elrond – it turned out to be very powerful, which was fortunate, as we’d only done it because the idea of “elf-friend Dain” seemed funny.

After two rounds we cleared the second hide-out, killed Bill Ferny again for good measure, and jumped on the villains. The silvan/tactics player had clearly been looking forward to this moment, and was fairly close to being able to kill both suspects outright herself, and Brand readying an extra dwarf when the first suspect bit the dust, was enough to finish off the other.

Card-sleeves: good for protecting your decks, bad for photography under artificial light!

The victorious heroes, and the defeated villain

All-in-all, it was a good evening. Whilst the encounter deck certainly had some nasty tricks up its sleeve, and things could easily have gone a lot worse for us, this quest feels much more like the right sort of level for casual, shop-based games than the nightmare quests did (I still don’t really believe that 4-player Nightmare Battle of Five armies is even possible). The quest also feels like it has good replayability value, and whilst there is some frustration to be had from the randomness of the investigation deck, it’s not like Redhorn Gate where you are actually just stuck in an infinite loop – you always have the option to guess and take the extra cards/threat and press on. I can definitely see this one getting played more than just the once on the event night.

I feel like it has taken a while for this game to find the sweet-spot for Organised Play: there are still issues to be ironed out, including how we would have decided the “winners” of the play-mats and quest decks if we’d had a larger group turn up, and the amount of notice and leeway the distributors give the shops to run their events, but I hope this way of doing things continues, and that we get more quests that are this much fun to play.

I’d love hear tales of other people’s fellowship events: epic moments of triumph or despair, any tales worthy to live on in song. Comment below, or on Facebook.

Rousing the Shire

It’s been a quiet period here in the land of Bow and Helm over the past few months: aside from keeping busy hunting Orcses and other wild creatures, there have been a few reasons for this.

As I noted in last month’s article, there has been a major delay in getting some of the packs which were available to Gen-Con goers 4 months or so ago adding great frustration to deck-building exercises, as I know that the cards I need to make the deck click are out there, but I can’t get my hands on them.

There were other reasons too: I spent a bit of time trying to tidy up the tagging and categorising of this blog, in an attempt to get a handle on what sort of content people actually enjoy reading – doing this statistically failed miserably, so all always, please do let me know of anything you’d like to see more or less of.

I also developed a strange suspicion regarding the direction of the over-arching narrative from the current AP – I had nasty visions of it being a re-hash of the plot-twist from Against the Shadow, and wasn’t a fan of the idea. There were also fresh waves of content for other games with the second edition of Game of Thrones LCG finally landing, the latest Adventure Path for the Pathfinder ACG reaching its conclusion, and my wife picking up Legendary:Villains for her birthday. Busy-ness in day-to-day life meant that I got behind with my pod-casts, completely lost track of Blogs (it turns out that if you only like a Facebook page, and don’t follow the Blog itself, you’re at the mercy of what the Facebots think is worth notifying you of) and generally, LotR found itself gathering dust in the corner.

CarnDumHopefully, that is now all set to change: the 5th AP in the Angmar Awakened cycle has reached us, earning my rather arbitrary approval, and making me want to have another go at the Dunedain deck (although I really want to combine it with the still absent Saga-Faramir), Land of Shadow has finally upgraded to “shipping” which should mean it’s with us in a few weeks, and tonight, we will finally have our first proper Fellowship Event, as we go hunting for the murderer at the Prancing Pony.

Today’s article isn’t going to be a long one, just something to reassure you all that we’re still alive – I’ll do my best to get a Fellowship-Event review up next week, and get back to regular articles in the weeks following that.

For now, I thought I’d just share a few thoughts on the announcement article for the next cycle of Adventure packs, which went up today.

As mentioned in the previews for the Deluxe, there will be a lot in this new cycle around Corsairs and Ships, but the thing which has caught my eye this morning, are the new “pseudo duo-sphere” cards as Mat Newman has described them.

The article spoils 2 of these cards, a Spirit Event and a Leadership ally, and they both have a basic effect or ability in their home-sphere: Tides of fate is a zero-cost event which boosts a defender’s defence after a shadow has increased the attack of the attacking enemy, whilst Eldahir is a 4-cost Leadership ally, with moderate stats and Sentinel.

mec49-tides-of-fateWhere these cards get interesting though, is with their added extras. The defence boost from Tides of Fate can be helpful, but it is a bit passive, and aside from being free, it would look like an all-round worse card than Hasty Stroke, were it not for its unusual second power, which allows the players to spend 2 tactics resources to ready the defender and give them +3 attack for their next attack: aside from the level of multi-player interaction this encourages, it is also a great boost to characters like Aragorn or Theoden who have very high threat costs for a rounded set of stats which they can otherwise struggle to utilise.

mec49-eldahirEldahir’s 2 defence and 3 hit-points would once have been very respectable, but in the modern environment, he risks getting left behind. However, if you through in a bit of scrying, he can become a rather sturdier prospect: pay a Lore resource to look at a facedown shadow card dealt to an enemy engaged with a player, and if that card has a shadow effect, you can give him +2 defence for the rest of the phase. This can either be a way of scouting out the shadow effects before you declare defenders, of boosting his defence because you already know what that shadow card is, or even of deciding what you will use Gandalf’s Staff to discard (or whether to draw a card instead). The flexibility is great, and again, the action can be triggered by any player, which enhances the multi-player interaction.

I’ve said more than once that I think complexity in the game is growing, and this seems another sign that things aren’t going to change in that regard any time soon. However, I think this is really interesting direction for them to take things in, and I’m suddenly a lot more excited for what they tells us will be the “Dream-Chaser cycle.”

I’m hoping it’s going to be fairly active around here for the next few weeks, but in the meantime, if you’re hungry for more content, head over to Tales From the Cards, when Ian has recruited a whole new army of writers, for an absolute mountain of new content, and subscribe here or like the Facebook page to be kept up-to-date with goings on here.

Where now the horse and the rider?

GenCon 2015 ran from July 29th to August 2nd. As always, it was a time for game fans to try out new games, hear news of upcoming releases, and in some lucky cases, get their hands on a product a little way ahead of release.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half-months to late October, and I am sat here in England reviewing my Lord of the Rings collection, trying to put together a new article for the blog. I decided to do a piece on the undead in the LotR LCG, an interesting sub-theme, which has been growing in prominence over recent expansions.

The trouble is though, whilst many of the American bloggers and podcasters have had Land of Shadow in their hands since July, here in England, we still don’t even have a release date.

SnowmaneThis is irritating – there are cards that my Rohan deck has been waiting for for months (Snowmane and Gamling being the most notable)  that are out there, and that many players have using since before the summer, which I simply don’t have access to.

Groping-DeadOn top of the restrictions in deck-building, it also means that when I try to talk about a subject like the undead, I find that there’s a whole new quest full of them which I haven’t had a proper look at.

Obviously, in this day and age, there are card spoilers available all over the internet, but I don’t proxy quests, and don’t want to talk too much about a quest I haven’t played – for all the analysis I can do of stats and mechanics, I don’t know how The Passage of the Marshes, will really play out.

Challenging Convention?

I think it’s good for the game that the company behind it want to do these big events: the increased profile probably helps to boost sales, and good sales figures reduce the likelihood of the game being mothballed, but there needs to be a balance.

I try to get away on holiday somewhere once a year, but it’s certainly not guaranteed: foreign holidays in particular are a challenge for the budget. Given how little my wife would enjoy spending three days at a games convention in Indianapolis, the prospects of making that the family holiday for the year are not good.

It would be nice to see some recognition from Fantasy Flight that there are people who are fans of their games, committed customers who have spent significant sums of money who can’t get to the interior of the USA regularly to get things. I certainly haven’t heard of anyone at Spielfest in Essen managing to get a copy of Land of Shadow, so this looks like an issue affecting entire continents, as well as individuals who aren’t able to make 1000-mile multi-day trips for their latest expansion.

A Lack of Fellowship?

PrancingPonyLast year’s fellowship event posed a similar difficulty: I think that Fog on the Barrow Downs finally landed in the UK in July, with neither sight nor sound of a playmat anywhere. The owner of our FLGS has been assured by the distributor that we are down on the list for this November- we’ll believe it when we see it.

Lord of the Rings falls in a slightly odd place for FFGs Organised Play, in that it doesn’t really have a competitive format (there are the official Against the Shadow and the unofficial Keeping Count versions, but I don’t feel like they make up the majority of organised events). That can make it feel like the Fellowship events are more of an afterthought than in something like Game of Thrones where the store championships are front and centre, and receive some fairly solid prize support. When the swag for our game falls behind the other LCGs to begin with, having to miss out on getting some of it due to an accident of geography really doesn’t feel like fun. We’re already used to waiting 6 months or more for the GenCon quest, but it would be nice to see the standard boxes on general release a bit sooner.

Hold your Horses…

I’m aware that this post has turned into a bit of a moan, and I want to finish on more of a positive note. Perhaps FFG have some genuine logistical difficulties which we, the players can help with. As a small token of our aid, here’s a custom card I created a while back (apologies if I’ve posted this previously, I don’t think I have), that might help with location lock around the shipping depot…


Lord of the Archetypes

Adapted and Lord-of-the-Rings-ified from an original article at Fistful of Meeples

When I’m not dealing with all things Middle Earth, a major area of game-related activity in recent months has been looking forward to the Second edition of the Game of Thrones LCG.

Those who have been following this game will know that it has been much delayed – there were copies at Gen-Con (so full spoilers are freely available) but the retail release has been pushed back to mid-October, with a further delay always likely before it reaches the shores of England.

With that delay in mind, I’ve been keeping my excitement in check, not wanting to undertake the hassle of printing proxies, and not wanting to add the already extensive amounts of commentary out there based more on speculation than on experience.

In the last couple of weeks though, there have been a few pieces of news out of Fantasy Flight that have crossed over from the world of Game of Thrones and into the broader LCG pantheon where LotR operates, and today I’m going to offer a few thoughts on these.

The Archetypes

The first thing I want to think about, is an article that came out earlier this week, considering the 3 player archetypes for Game of Thrones, namely “Ned” “Shagga” and “Jaime” – this is a concept that has been knocking around since the early days of the First Edition of AGoT LCG, and – more relevantly for us – has also been translated into the Lord of the Rings LCG with the designations “Bilbo” “Pippin” and Boromir” respectively.

Slave to Theme

SwordsFor those unfamiliar with the concept, “Ned” or “Bilbo” players are those who play the game because they love the source material and they want their gameplay experience to mirror this. My wife is very much one of these players – with little interest in fantasy Flight’s own hero creations, she keeps a careful eye on the various characters in play, comments on elves with the wrong trait (Sindarin, we’re looking at you) and looks decidedly unimpressed if you try to give Aragorn Anduril and Sword that was Broken at the same time. Long-time readers of this blog are no-doubt fed-up with my perennial lamentations of how difficult it is to build Rohan decks with are thematically coherent but also have enough power to take on anything beyond the simplest of quests – I hope that this will finally be rectified when Land of Shadow gets a retail release, and I can throw Gamling and Snowmane into the mix, but the overall issue still stands: you can build a more powerful deck if you’re not bothered about thematic coherence, and it’s probably only now, 3 years into the game’s life, that we have a variety of trait-based archetypes that can handle the more challenging quests out there.

Is it Tricksy?

The magpie instinct is not always the wisest...

The magpie instinct is not always the wisest…

The “Pippin” player is a dedicated fan of whatever is new, different or shiny. The one who will build the ridiculous deck with the 17-piece combo that will fail miserably nine times out of ten, but it will be worth it on the one occasion it does.

In Lord of the Rings terms, I’m definitely a Pippin. I have long harboured dreams of defeating a Lord of the Rings quest by getting 3 Gondorian Spearmen, and 3 Spears of the Citadel (either attached to the Spearmen, or to heroes such as Beregond) into play, then face the onslaught of a massive end-of-game wave of enemies with Stand Together and Light the Beacons – watching every enemy in play take 6 damage as the defenders assume their positions. With Light The Beacons being a 5-cost Spirit card, and the combo needing 6 2-cost tactics cards, this is at least a 2-deck combo, which may explain why I’ve never quite managed to get it into play. There’s also the issue of how to survive the early-game stages, which is far from being something that can taken as read. The most obvious quest to try this on is Journey along the Anduin, with the well-known turn 1 Hill-Troll to be factored in, requiring players to have good questing, defence, attack and threat control, all from the first instance.

You Win or You Die

The last type of player, the Boromir or Jaime, wants to win – it doesn’t matter how interesting a deck is, or how thematic, so long as it works. This is obviously something which plays out very differently in a Co-op game like LotR to a competitive one like Game of Thrones – I think the more Boromir-ish players tend to focus on combat, and enjoy smashing things, which is definitely a major element of the game, but does tend to ignore little matters like questing or location control. Appropriately, the original Boromoir hero (tactics version from the Dead Marshes) is the poster-boy for this style of play, allowing you to smash things hard repeatedly. It is possible to take a more rounded power-gamer approach to the game, using something like Beorn (the blogger)’s Boromir/Beorn (the hero)/Eowyn deck, although again, this will fare better against some quests than others.


Who cares about the element of surprise?

In Game of Thrones, the win-at-any-cost mentality must of necessity be more diverse in the areas of the game it covers – in melee (i.e. multiplayer) you might be able to persuade an ally to give you some slack in an area of shortfall, but ultimately, you need to be able to take down all of your opponents in order to win.

The article offered some fresh insights into these archetypes – for example the notion that even for Pippin, it’s sometimes necessary to offer more of the same in order to make the next new thing actually feel new. Also acknowledging that a player’s determination to win at all costs is no guarantee that they are any good at the game.

More than that though, it was interesting to reconsider why it is that people play the various games we do. In our house, theme is a major element, and there’s definitely an element for interesting mechanics. Win-at-all-costs is probably the lowest priority on the list.

Outside of the home environment, I also play at the local game shop – for some games, LotR LCG most obviously, this doesn’t really change the overall aim (try something interesting, create a play experience which feels like it fits the theme) something which doesn’t necessarily hold true for non-cooperative games.

LCGs of Christmas Past, Present and Future

News out of Fantasy Flight Games in the past few weeks has provided an interesting overview of the life of a Living Card Game: We’ve seen articles representing 4 very distinct stages of LCGs in recent times – Call of Cthulhu, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Legend of the Five Rings.

Call of Cthulhu

cthulhuCall of Cthulhu is one of Fantasy Flight’s oldest LCGs –it has been around for many years and covered seven cycles, each of six monthly packs along with ten deluxe expansions. In the past few years, the distribution had slowed down significantly – the Deluxe expansions continue, but the monthly boxes had already gone – and now FFG have announced that they will no longer be producing new content for it.

I’ve played Call of Cthulhu a little – I really like the basic mechanic, and found the theme intruiging, but sadly this was a game which never really caught on in our house – we played it a few times but, whilst I like the idea of the whole Mobsters and Monsters theme, very few of my friends have read into the Cthulhu mythos, and without a real investment in the theme, this one tended to get forgotten – certainly not popular enough to make it worthwhile investing in large numbers of expansions.

For fans of LCGs, such as LotR, which are still at an earlier point in their life-span, the retirement of Call of Cthulhu offers a few interesting insights. First of all, the fact that whilst organised play will come to an end, the plan is for the card pool to continue to be available, migrating gradually to print-on-demand, so that it never truly goes out-of-print. Whilst the appeal of the new is obviously going to disappear, it seems that when the sun finally sets on an LCG there should be enough left in the card-pool to keep things playable. Whilst I don’t want to see Lord of the Rings coming to a half any time soon, I think the Co-op model is more sustainable in the long-term, as the different quests provide vast numbers of different challenge combinations with the different decks, and you don’t have the same difficulty of whichever deck was ascendant when printing stopped becoming fossilised as the only viable play-style. As we hear so many times: it’s a co-op, if you don’t like it, don’t play it.

Lord of the Rings

As most of you know, Lord of the Rings has been my primary LCG for the past 3 years. After a disappointingly quiet Gen Con (nothing in the In-Flight Report, and still no sign of a retail release for the Saga Expansion which was available early there), there has been a fresh injection of life with the announcement of the new cycle and a fellowship event coming in the autumn with a newly-designed quest. It may not dominate our table quite as it once did, but it still gets substantial amounts of time deck-building and playing, and I hope it will continue for a long time.

That said, I want to sound a note of caution for this game.

As I’ve noted several times before, I stopped playing Game of Thrones (1st Edition) primarily because I couldn’t find opponents regularly/close enough to make it worth the effort. That said, there were elements of the game I was increasingly unhappy with.

For one thing, I remember Ships were becoming a deal around the time I got out of the game- they’d been around before, but never with quite that much emphasis. The ships coming soon to LotR are very different from the AGoT ships (and to be honest I can’t really remember what it was in AGoT that I didn’t like about them), but it doesn’t stop me feeling uneasy. The ships we’ve seen previewed from the Grey havens look interesting, but I worry that it could end being just a bit too much going on. Presumably they’ll be hard to integrate with existing quests, so they’ll either be something which is just a bit of the quest you can’t really affect – they are immune to player-card affects, or it will be something where the support we get (for example alternative ships in the adventures of the cycle) have no utility with older quests.

I’m certainly prepared to be wrong – I think side-quests are a great addition to the game and, if anything, player side-quests work better in older cycles where you don’t have encounter cards that key off of the number of quests in play, so we shall have to wait and see.


Those were the days…

My departure from AGoT (1) also collided with what felt like trait manipulation – always a feature of the game reaching a point where the game was getting flung from one extreme to the other as people created broken combos which were then swiftly errata-ed, making the original cards useless.

To my knowledge, there has only really been 1 infinite-combo deck in LotR to date, some sort of shenanigans with the Erebor Hammersmith, Master of Lore, Born Aloft and Legacy of Durin (I think – Horn of Gondor may have been involved as well) which allowed you to draw your entire deck. Having personally never bothered piecing the combination together (it required 4 or 5 pieces), I didn’t see the fuss, but the designers clearly did, and Errata-ed the Master of Lore, making him essentially useless.

Up until now, trait manipulation in LotR has been very limited – there was an attachment to give the Rohan trait, which almost never got used, an event which temporarily made all Rohan characters Gondor and vice-versa (in addition to their printed traits) and a card to give a Gondor ally the Outlands trait. There were occasions when you might wheel these cards out, but they were unlikely to be particularly significant.

Elf-friendHowever, a card in the latest pack looks set to change all that. “Elf-Friend” is a neutral attachment and it allows you, for a single, neutral resource, to give any character in the game the Noldor and Silvan traits.

This is massive- and in the short-term, it certainly stirs something Tookish in me as I contemplate all the possible combinations available – Lights of Valinor or Rivendell Blades can now be attached to whoever you like (including Treebeard!), the regeneration from Silvan Tracker can be attached to Beregond or Elrond, and with the ongoing exception of Beorn, the world is basically your Lobster.

Part of me though, is concerned. In the short-term it’s fun, absolutely, but what does it mean for the game long-term. Whilst I am probably more Pippin than Bilbo, there’s a reason I play this game and not others and the Middle Earth theme is a definite part of that. “Elf-Friend” is a title that was not bestowed lightly upon the mortals of Middle Earth, and whilst it may make sense to be able to kit your heroes out with Elven gear, allowing them to see the Light of the West is another issue entirely (although as noted previously, Gandalf would be a perfectly legitimate target for Light of Valinor, whereas most of the elves we have would not – given that Galadriel can’t quest, I think Glorfindel, and possibly Erestor are the only ones to have actually been to the west).

I know there has been a lot of discussion online about the potential for cards like Elf-Friend or Sword-Thain, and I hope that the impact will be positive – it certainly offers us lots of scope for new deck styles. At the same time though, I hope that people don’t find too many game-breaking combinations, and that if they do, the developers pick the right way to fix it, before we end up with another Master of Lore.

Game of Thrones (Second Edition)

If Lord of the Rings is still waxing, then Games of Thrones Second edition is still the slenderest of new moons in the sky of LCGs. From the earliest previews of the core set, there are some obvious changes in the game- from the thematic, such as including Night’s Watch, and Tyrrell as fully-fledged factions in the game (or even the inclusion of Greyjoy and Martell, who previously required their own box to get them jump-started), to the mechanical, such as including a hand-limit which varies with your active plot. Generally speaking, it looks a lot more streamlined and simple (no more moribund state), and I’m hoping that the designers learner from some of the banana-skins of their own devising which caused problems for first edition at times. It’s still early days, but I’m optimistic.

Legend of the Five Rings

Another L of the Rings for Fantasy Flight to get their teeth into, this is a well-established and fairly successful CCG that has been around for a while, but has recently been acquired by FFG and will be re-launched as an LCG, probably in about 2 years’ time.

This was an announcement I’ve been following with interest. I’ve been peripherally aware of this game for a while, as one of the guys from our Lord of the Rings group plays it, but the prospect of getting into a CCG this far into its life wasn’t too appealing.

L5RThe theme of this game intrigues me- it’s a pseudo-samurai setting – which instantly bodes well for some awesome art, but beyond that, the setting seems to be quite a well-developed one, with its own RPG and tie-in novels. In an interesting contrast to the cut-throat world of Game of Thrones, this game involves an honour mechanic, which is part of one of the possible victory conditions.

This game also seems to have a really strong community, and the relationship between the game and the community is particularly appealing – the outcome of major tournaments actually affects the ongoing meta-narrative of the fictional setting, and thereby the development of cards which will be released in the future. At the moment, almost nothing is known about the shape which the L5R LCG will take when it appears (it is 2 years away, after all), and even the number of decks a player has seems to be in doubt. That said, if they can keep some of the things that have made it such a popular game in the past, I think we could have another good game on our hands.

As I’ve said countless times, I like the LCG model – I know exactly which cards I’ll be getting when I buy them, and how much it’s going to cost me, and whilst the excitement of pulling a extremely rare or powerful card is gone, so is the disappointment of opening only duplicate, common, duds. The fact that it is ongoing keeps the whole experience fresh for good measure.

I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say as the content comes and goes. For now though, I’m curious as to what you make of the current state of the game: does it feel healthy, fresh? It seems safe to assume that we’ve got another year of support as we get 2 more boxes to finish of the Saga expansion, what do you think lies beyond that? Is there strength left in this IP, or is it doomed to diminish, living on only in memory?

Something Fishy This Way Comes

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, when I get stuck on a quest, particularly in solo, I have one major default strategy to fall back on: throw many dwarves at it!

Almost useful...

Almost useful…

The dwarf archetype got a lot of love around the Dwarrowdelf Cycle/Hobbit Saga period, to the point where it was possible to generate insane amounts of power – with a ready Dain Ironfoot providing +1 Attack +1 Willpower to all dwarf characters in play, and access to various effects for flooding the tables with allies, it was possible to overwhelm most things with sheer weight of numbers – even Nalir could be almost useful.

Dwarves were probably the most powerful archetype in the game (depending on your feelings on Outlands) and the other factions were given a bit of love for a while. But on the dwarf front, things went quiet.

Really quiet.

Where now the Dwarf and the Miner?

In the Against the Shadow cycle, there was one new dwarf ally, and one neutral event for dwarf-decks. The Ring-Maker cycle, again, had a single ally, and the Lord of the Rings Saga boxes had an ally version of Gimli, but that was basically it. You could still play a dwarf-deck: the power-level had been high enough that they could survive without too much ongoing support, but there was little to keep it fresh.

BofursAlso, once you got into the specifics, your options were actually quite limited. Leadership and Lore were brimming with dwarves, but in Spirit and Tactics, the options were more limited. Tactics had only 2 dwarf heroes: Gimli and Thalin, both from the Core Set, and both showing their age – Thalin particularly is of fairly limited use in a world of bigger hit-points, or even toughness. There was a single unique ally (Bofur – who clashed with another version of the same character in Spirit) and only 3 non-uniques. In Spirit there were three heroes, 3 unique allies (1 of them being the aforementioned Bofur, 1 being Dwalin who was also one of the heroes, and the last being Kili, who is probably happier alongside his brother in a leadership deck) and 3 non-uniques (the last of whom only appeared in the Ring-Maker. That secondary, support, dwarf-deck was rather dubious.

Now though, it looks like the dwarven star may be on the rise once more: whilst not getting the level of support currently being seen by the Ents, dwarves are making an appearance once again, with a new non-unique tactics ally, and a new dwarven tactics hero. It is now finally possibly to run 4-player mono-sphere dwarf decks (although whether you’d want to is another matter entirely).

Longbeard-SentryConsidering the ally first, he is the Longbeard Sentry, and he is decidedly ordinary – neither leaping out as brilliant, or terrible. At 3-cost he’s a little pricy, but 2 defence and 3 hit-points make him a passable blocker. His ability, which allows him to discard cards to make that defence 3 and give him sentinel is certainly an interesting one, although you’re unlikely to get the best use out of it in a mono-tactics deck. I might even consider sticking Ring Mail on this guy, for what suddenly looks like a fairly solid character.

Holding out for a Hero

Dori The real change though, is the fact that we get a new dwarf hero, for the first time in over a year. This hero, unlike the fairly straightforward ally, is an altogether more baffling proposition. Dori comes in at ten threat, 1 higher than Thalin, but 1 lower than Gimli, he has a bland 1 willpower, mediocre 2 attack, and a puzzling blocking ensemble of 2 defence, 5 hit-points and sentinel. Sentinel suggests that you should be using him to cover for your friends, but with two defence, he’s not going to be doing it often.

He then goes from weakness to weakness with his even more confusing ability, which reads: “Response: After another hero is declared as a defender, exhaust Dori to add his Defense to the defending hero’s Defense for this attack”

Confused? Good, me too.

A few things to note: Dori’s effect is a response, and the trigger is when another hero is declared as a defender- that means it’s before shadow cards are revealed. The other defender has to be a hero, and that hero is being targeted by this effect, so it wouldn’t work on Beorn.

Stand-Together Overall then, you’ve got a way of adding a low amount of defence to an existing defence, at the cost of a hero’s action. As people have already noted, this is somewhere between a repeatable Stand Together, and a Gondorian Shield that generates a resource each round (and puts your starting threat up by 10).

By comparison with the ally version of Dori, this is disappointing to say the least: the ally Dori can be exhausted and to absorb damage which would otherwise be dealt to a hero. Given that it targets the damage rather than the character, it can be used to get Beorn out of a jam and with a 3-cost ally, holding him back/wasting the action seems much less of a big deal.

Obviously, you can try to kit Dori out to make him more effective. A single set of ring-mail takes him to 3 defence and six hit-points, which is already starting to look interesting, although you’ll still need healing around to make repeated use of him. Action advantage allows him to buff better defenders repeatedly, but again, you have to question whether it would have been simpler just to give the action advantage to them in the first place.

Currently, Dori exists only as a preview to me – his AP isn’t out in the UK yet, and I probably won’t have a copy for another week or two. I’ll be sure to try him out when he does land, but I can’t say I’m overly optimistic.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with a slight twist on Dori’s ability that seems a bit more useful…


Who’s That Girl?

The most recent release for Lord of the Rings the Card game, was Escape from Mount Gram, which comes complete with a new Lore hero, the Silvan elf Rossiel.

rossielRossiel is the 7th Hero in the game to exist only in world of Fantasy Flight – Thalin, Beravor and Eleanor are shared with their earlier release, Middle Earth Quest, but Mirlonde, Caldara, Idraen and now Rossiel are purely creations for the LCG.

In terms of why the designers have created these characters, there are a few major possibilities. An obvious point to note at the outset, is that all four LCG only characters and (at least) 2 of the core-set figures are female. Contrast this with the characters drawn directly from Tolkien’s canon, where Eowyn and Galadriel are the only female heroes we’ve seen, and it’s understandable that the designers might be looking to redress the balance.

A Man’s world?

In terms of whether the designers need to create their own characters in order to have more female heroes, I thought I’d do a quick consideration of some of the other possibilities out there for hero status in the card game.

"If you want him, come and claim him!" is actually directed to Glorfindel, and talking about the horse...

“If you want him, come and claim him!” is actually directed to Glorfindel, and talking about the horse…

Arwen is an obvious choice, and is probably only being held back by the quality of the Ally version (although I like to think it’s an angry Glorfindel fan who still hasn’t forgiven Liv Tyler for stealing Asfaloth.)

Beyond that, things get murky – there’s definitely potential to add someone like Ioreth (healer/wise woman in Gondor, spends most of Aragorn’s coronation talking) and given the slightly vague chronology of this game, you could probably stretch in either direction for Gilraen (Aragorn’s mum) or Lothiriel (Imrahil’s daughter and, after the War, Eomer’s wife), but beyond that you’re starting to scrape the barrel with geographically dubious figures like Goldberry or Rosie Cotton, figures from too long ago like Celebrian or Dis, or figures we just don’t know that much about about, like Theodwyn (sister to Theoden, mother of Eomer and Eowyn) or Morwen (mother of Theoden and Theodwyn).

In sum, there’s definitely potential for the designers if they really wanted to create another female hero based on a canon character, but I certainly don’t think there’s a blindingly obvious candidate whose omission seems strange, in the way that there was before the arrival of Galadriel. Aside from Arwen (who does exist in the game, just not in hero form) none of the names above stand out nearly as much as a figure like Thranduil, whose continuing absence is a bit odd, to say the least.


In terms of chronology, the game is somewhat guilty of breaking its own rules – it was originally stated as being set during the 17 years between Bilbo’s Eleventy-First Birthday in TA3001 and Frodo’s departure from the shire in 3018. However, we have since seen Saga expansions which take us a long way back before this to the events of Bilbo’s Unexpected Journey in the 2940s, and forward into the events of the War of the Ring itself (you’d have to imagine we’ll eventually reach the end of the Third Age)

Taking these wider time-frames, most of these figures are reasonable – Gilraen and Morwen would be getting fairly old by 3001 and Theodwyn died not long after, but 60 years earlier is a different matter. Chronology for Dis is fairly sketchy, but she was younger than her brother Thorin, so should be around at least as long as him. Celebrian sailed into the West about 500 years earlier though, so she’s probably out. To sum up:

Too early:

  • Celebrian (sailed west in 2510),
  • Ivorwen – (2857 – 2929)

Ok for this time period

  • Dis (2760 -?)
  • Gilraen (2907 – 3007)
  • Morwen (2922 – 3005)
  • Theodwyn (2963-3002),
  • Lothiriel

[Just for reference, the Battle of Five Armies was in 2941, Biblo’s birthday in 3001 and The Ring leaves The Shire in 3018]


Putting aside any desire the designers may have to offer a broader range of female heroes for the players, there is another reason for them to create their own heroes, and that is simply greater creative scope.

The Fantasy-Flight-created heroes of the earlier cycles were fairly generic, cardboard cut-out figures, with little known about them beyond their race and traits. We can make our own assumptions about Beravor the Ranger vs Eleanor the Gondorian Noble, but it’s essentially guesswork.

Over time, Fantasy Flight seem to have been getting more adventurous in this regard though. Last year, Idraen came with a short-story of how she rescued a young girl from Bree who had lost her way whilst out berry-picking, although the emphasis remained on the strange, unknown nature of these Dunedain.

What's he really up to?

What’s he really up to?

Rossiel also comes complete with a biography, this time giving us more of an account of her childhood and upbringing: her studies under the lady Galadriel, the violent death of her sister at the hand of some orcs, and how she came to be wandering the wilds on these adventures. As the designers have developed the overarching story-arc which links the quests, this is an area they can explore in a way which just wouldn’t be as plausible if they were dealing with a figure well-established in Lord of the Rings canon.

Over the past few cycles, the narrative behind the quests has taken a bigger and bigger role.  Instead of a string of scenarios connected in only the loosest fashion (Dwarrowdelf) we find ourselves part of a wider 9-part narrative. I’ve no idea yet what plans the designers have for Iarion or Amarthiul, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them appear as a hero – assuming they don’t end up going all Lord Alcaron on us.


It’s also worth noting, of course, that a newly-imagined FFG character can be sent questing with anybody, whereas a second or third (or fourth) version of one of Tolkien’s existing creations could only be fielded at the expense of one of the current iterations. I ran a pair of decks through Black Riders and The Road Darkens, using core set Aragorn, only to reach Treason of Saruman and discover that he had to give way to his Fellowship iteration. (On the plus side, if you’ve given him one of the “permanent” attachments, it does carry over to Fellowship Aragorn).

Whilst there’s plenty of scope for the designers to weave their own tales for home-grown heroes, the proposition for fan-creations is slightly different – obviously, we can carve out our own little corner of the Mythos, and create a character, but it’s harder for us to put a paper insert in everyone’s next adventure pack. Rather than creating a new character (or two) from scratch I decided to make hero cards for some of the Ladies of Middle Earth mentioned above – it had been a while since I did any custom-cards. I also wanted to share a bit of insight on my thought-process in creating them. I have no idea whether the designers approach things in a way at all similar to me, but thought you might be interested in my approach.



The main thing that we know about Dis is that she was the mother of Fili and Kili, as well as the sister or Thorin. As the only named female dwarf in Tolkien’s lore, she has been the subject of much speculation and fan-fic, but I wanted to keep things fairly simple. At the most basic level, she needs to be able to bring her sons along, hence the ability to pay for dwarves from any sphere. This more-or-less dictated that she needed to be within Leadership, which is a bit of a shame, as it’s already the sphere where we have the greatest excess of Dwarf heroes. However, tactics – the sphere lacking a third hero seemed the worst fit.

Stats wise, it seemed reasonable to assume that any sibling of Thorin’s would have a reasonable amount of willpower, but as she never crops up in any of the adventures, a high attack stat didn’t seem right. I decided to carry across being a reasonable defender too. Fili and Kili are already a powerful combo, so I deliberated for a while over whether it would be too much to give them an additional boost when she was in play – so far this is something we’ve only really seen with Elladan and Elrohir, and it’s definitely a mechanic I’d like to see more of, but I decided to leave it, at least for now.



Gilraen, the mother of Aragorn was one of the Dunedain, although not herself a direct member of the royal line. She was the one who took the young Aragorn to Rivendell where she hoped he would be safe.

There were a few possibilities in terms of her ability – relating to hiding in Rivdenell, I thought that something secrecy-related would be nice, but I also wanted to create some kind of Dunedain synergy – for example an ability which benefitted from engaging enemies, although it was tricky to balance this with the theme of a non-combat-focused character. Lowering the threat of others by drawing enemies away from them seemed the best bet. The fact that her ability can only benefit others, not herself seemed to tie in well with the flavour-text.

I’m not aware of anything to suggest that Gilraen ever spent much time adventuring, so have made her fairly flimsy in combat, to allow a low threat level, but she can still quest reasonably, and is less likely to get taken out unexpectedly than a hobbit. 



Lothiriel was a tricky one – it’s irked me ever since The Steward’s Fear that Imrahil doesn’t have the Outlands trait, although his power-level would be insane if he did (not much effort at all for a character who could quest and attack/defend on a power-level to match anyone in the game). Lothiriel is also the wife of Eomer, so the future Queen of Rohan. I initially had her keying off her father and husband to gain their traits, but this felt both dull and overpowered. Making the traits conditional seemed to lower the power level significantly and add an interesting element of choice, but I wanted something else to make the character feel worthwhile. Clearly, it had to key off of characters leaving play, and I decided that threat was the way to go (or was it card-draw) – I initially had the limit at once per phase, but felt that this was potentially just too powerful, with easily two, and potentially far more per round, especially if someone’s playing Silvans…

Stat-wise I decided to go for the generic 2/2/2 for a good all-round utility, but to dial back the hit-points slightly, to make her threat more manageable.

I hope people have found the custom-creations interesting. I’d be interested to know your thoughts generally on heroes being drawn from Tolkien’s works directly, or being created purely for the game.

The Fatty Project

Not a name possibility rejected very early on by Weight Watchers, the Fatty project is an interesting new twist in the Lord of the Rings LCG.

prison-cellThe most recent adventure pack, escape from Mount Gram, is a fun one, and also one that presents a unique challenge: you start with only a single hero who just broken out of a goblin’s prison: all they have with which to face the perils of the quest are a 3-card hand, and no items, mounts or allies in their deck (these go in a separate “capture” deck). As you break out of prison, you gradually have the chance to liberate the remainder of your deck, including the other two heroes, before making a last, late, charge for freedom.

To help you in your bid to take on the dungeons solo, the locations and enemies in this quest are noticeably less brutal than many we’ve seen – although this is balanced by the need to have a single character deal with questing, attack and defence, at least to begin with.

Secrecy-decks are good for this, as is anything which gives you action advantage. I’ve managed this one starting out With Rossiel and with Spirit Glorfindel (Light of Valinor is a must) but Core Set Aragorn would be another good option, due to his built-in readying.

Some folk out there though, has decided that this quest is a bit on the easy side, and this has prompted Ian of Tales From the Cards to set a challenge- to escape from Mount Gram using Fatty Bolger as your starting hero!

Fatty-BolgerFor those who have forgotten him (probably most of you) Fatty Bolger is a Hobbit hero in the spirit sphere, who came in Black Riders. He has the thematically brilliant, yet mechanically useless ability to raise your threat by the threat of an enemy in the staging area, in order to ignore that enemy’s threat for resolving questing this round. He has a highish number of hits points for a Hobbit (3) but his stats are otherwise underwhelming. He can only quest for 1, attack for 1, and defend for 2: this means that he is exceedingly unlikely to be making much quest progress unless you can get some assistance out for him.

There are essentially 2 ways to approach the Fatty challenge –either build a deck that has him in it, but relies on swiftly rescuing one of the other heroes and dies repeatedly until it does so, or else go for a deck that actually keys in to some of Fatty’s abilities.

In regard to the first option, there are a fair number of options out there – but it does make Fatty nothing more than a placeholder, and avoids the spirit of the challenge, even if it meets the technical requirement.

The other option- a deck in which Fatty actually has a meaningful role to play – is far trickier. When building a tri-sphere Hobbit Deck, Spirit has typically been the sphere I neglected, as the most vital cards for the deck all appear in the other three spheres: Lore for Fast-Hitch (Hobbit-Readying), Leadership for Bill the Pony and Hobbit Cloak (hit points and defence), and Tactics for Halfling Determination and Dagger of Westernesse (general stat boosts, and extra attack). The hobbit-specific cards in Spirit are limited to the pony (late questing), and the pipe/smoke rings combination which can lower your threat (surely the least of the problems faced by a deck that starts with only Fatty.)

It is possible, of course, to get round issues of sphere matching with cards like Songs or Good Harvest, but with only 3 cards in your starting hand, the chances of having both this AND a card to play with it are low.

Courage-AwakenedA couple of cards for this deck pick themselves – 3 copies of Resourceful (for ANY deck with a starting threat in single figures) and Courage Awakened, a card I re-discovered when doing this scenario with Glorfindel, which can provide a powerful willpower acceleration in secrecy mode, especially if you can get a Leaf Brooch out. Favour of the Lady is expensive, but when you’re dependent upon a 1-willpower character for all your questing, something more ongoing is valuable.

From there, it was trickier – a tri-sphere deck in this quest is very vulnerable to rescuing heroes in a particular order. Mono-spirit would guarantee that I could play all the cards I drew (eventually) but would be unlikely to do a lot besides questing, cancellation, and threat management. Lore seemed like the best bet, offering me action advantage for the hobbits, plenty of card draw, and a few tricks up my sleeve for dealing with enemies – I was quite pleased to discover that Traps were immune to this quest’s deck-stripping (although not sure thematically of the logic of being able to carry a spiked pit into a prison with you…)

My wife refuses to play with Disco Bilbo, the hair is just too off-putting...

My wife refuses to play with Disco Bilbo, the hair is just too off-putting…

In the end, I decided to go full-hobbit – Bilbo and Pippin. This ensures plenty of card draw, and reduces the likelihood of having to engage things, whilst Ranger Spikes will hopefully allow me to continue making quest progress whilst leaving those enemies in the staging area, although I’ll be adding Noiseless Movement as well in case there’s anything out I can’t handle this round. I’ll throw in high-willpower allies, like the Ethir Swordsman, and some chunkier characters like the Northern Tracker, who are still amongst the best fighters in Spirit, as well as being good at dealing with location-lock. If I can rescue enough cards from my capture deck, questing should be ok, but combat is going to be the challenge, especially on stage 3, when I shuffle in the extra encounter set of orcs, so I’ll bring Ride Them Down as well. Gandalf basically goes into every deck, so he makes the list 3 times. With Lore and Card-Draw, Protector of Lorien is an obvious choice, boosting questing, or even making Fatty into a passable defender.

GandalfA possible twist on this deck which I didn’t get round to trying is to add Under Hill and Over Hill Gandalf – obviously, he is a powerful figure, but he does put your threat up rapidly, even from a starting-point of 7 – So any deck with him in would need to be much more aggressive to balance that out. I considered add some copies of Elrond’s Counsel to go with Arwen and Elrond, but decided it was too many working pieces to put together.

Final Decklist:

Fatty Bolger (starting hero)
Pippin (Black Riders)
Bilbo Baggins

Arwen Undomiel x2
Bofur (Redhorn Gate)
Defender of the Naith x2
Gandalf (Core)
Haldir of Lorien
Hennamarth Riversong
Northern Tracker x2

Elf Stone
Fast Hitch x3
Favour of the Lady x2
Protector of Lorien x2
Resourceful x2
Unexpected Courage

A Test of Will x3
Courage Awakened x3
Hasty Stroke x2
Noiseless Movement x2
Ride them Down x2
Stand and Fight

That "Forced" effect is just hideous

That “Forced” effect is just hideous

Overall this worked well – I managed to beat the quest on 2 out of 4 attempts. I think killing Jailor Gornakh the round he arrives is key to this quest, which meant stalling on stage 2 for as long as possible, until you’ve got all your heroes, and a good spread of allies into play – Courage Awakened was brilliant for this as, when your threat is less than 20, and you’ve got a leaf-brooch on Fatty, it becomes a free +2 willpower that you can add after staging each round.

I never actually used Fatty’s ability, but there were points in the game when he had 2 damage on him, so at least his hit-points/defence came in handy, putting him above Spirit Pippin in the utility stakes. Frodo might have been a safer option, but even starting on 7, there’s enough forced threat gain in this scenario that it might have been a problem.

Overall, whilst I don’t buy the initial suggestion that this quest is too easy, this was a fun activity to do as something a bit different. Will anyone else take on the Fatty Challenge?