Peering in to the Palantir

A few thoughts on what the near future has in store for Lord of the Rings the LCG…

 

I haven’t managed to get quite where I wanted to with any of the next few articles I have in the works, but I didn’t want to fall off of the wagon already for the promised “at least 1 thing per fortnight” so I decided that this would be a good moment to take a little while to think about some of the things we’ve seen spoiled and teased for the coming months.

The Prince of Dol Amroth

prince-imrahilPrince Imrahil is one of the most important book characters not to make it into Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation, but he has long had an important place in the card-game. His simple, yet effective ability to ready when a character leaves play means that he pairs brilliantly with his son-in-law (Eomer), but can also offer you great action advantage in conjunction with Silvans, chump-blockers, or anyone using sneak-attack Gandalf a lot.

As well as the Hero version, we were recently treated to an ally version – who becomes a Hero when you have another hero in your discard pile, making him an instant favourite with Caldara players who are desperately trying to muster the resources for Fortune or Fate.

The biggest disappointment with Imrahil was the utter lack of synergy with the Outlands trait. Outlands wants to stay in play and build an army, but their Captain relies on people bouncing around, and is traited as simply “Gondor.” A long time back, I created some alternative versions of Imrahil and his Outlanders (which I thought I’d posted on here, but now can’t find…) but until now, there was nothing official.

As the Dreamchaser Cycle draws to a close though, we are about to get the opportunity to form the dream-team, with a 3-cost unique attachment that makes Imrahil an outlands character.

dol-amrothAlthough I’ve not seen it used in action yet, Prince of Dol Amroth already feels like a great choice – alongside Hirluin and possibly one other, you can run that mono-leadership build that you want to trigger Lord of Morthond and Strength of Arms, but you can now also give those stat-boosts to someone who has worthwhile stats to begin with. In a heavy Outlands deck, the 3-cost is probably worthwhile anyway, but the extra ability to accelerate your resources suggest that once Imrahil gets going, his Outlands army should be truly unstoppable.

The attachment comes in the same pack as a new Hero version of Imrahil as well, a Tactics character with a sort of pseudo sneak-attack, allowing him to put an ally into play if it shares a trait with Imrahil. This looks like it could have some serious potential for janky combos that have got my inner Pippin very excited (I want to pair it with Elf-Friend so that he can bounce Silvans) but I’ll leave that for the future.

 

Pack your Trunks!

mumakilNot long after Prince Imrahil, things are going to heat up as we head way, way, down south, to the hot sand of Far Harad. Detail is still fairly sparse at this stage, but we do know that alongside battling desert wildlife and searing heat, we can also expect to see Mumaks, and plenty of them. More Mumak enemies isn’t what anyone needs to see, and there’s a card fan which suggests the defeating them may be dependent on some kind of random shuffle and discard mechanic which I’m never that big a fan of, but at least this might be the impetus I need to finally get that Rivendell Blade /Tactics Aragon / Hama/ Straight-shot deck put together.

The thing that makes the march of the Mumaks bearable is the news that came in the spoiler article for the second pack in the upcoming cycle: after however many years it’s been of being trampled by Mumaks, we finally get to ride them!

tamed-mumakSo far, we’ve only had objective Mumaks spoiled, and it’s unclear whether we’ll get a proper player-card Mount attachment that’s a Mumak, but we can hope.

Not being all that taken with Ships, and not a big fan of Uncharted Locations, I had strongly been considering calling it quits after the Dreamchaser cycle, aside from picking up the final Saga box when it lands. Lord of the Rings doesn’t get played as reliably as it used to, and I’m a bit behind with quests (I haven’t attempted any from Flame of the West or Drowned Ruins, and our brief maulings at the hand of Thing in the Depths were so 1-sided I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry). The Harad announcement was enough of a bomb to get my attention again though, and all the spoilers so far have managed to whet my appetite.

 

Mixed Traits

In the past, I have lamented, loud and often, the lack of incentive/ability that the game has given us to build “tribal” decks –Dwarves have been a thing for a long time, but too few of the others have really felt powerful historically.

That’s certainly been shifted in recent cycles – Dunedain and Silvans are definitely viable builds now, probably Noldor too, although it’s not my favourite play-style. Gondor and Rohan I’m still not quite convinced on.

Harad looks like it will be shifting things up again, by giving us cards that actively encourage you to run characters with different traits. Part of me feels like I should be angry about this, but actually I quite like it, and it’s because I feel like it’s coming from a strong place thematically.

leggim

The Heroes for the Harad Deluxe expansion are new versions of Legolas and Gimli, each of them with an ability that is decent in isolation and becomes really powerful when couple with the other. This is reinforced with the event Unlikely Friendship, a card that requires you to have a Silvan and a Dwarf together, and features art with Legolas and Gimli on it.

As tribal-deck haters have been pointing out to us for years, a lot of Lord of the Rings is about unlikely allies, people coming together because of greater threats. That has always been true, but now it feels like it’s being done consciously rather than just lumping together cards with no thematic link because they synergise well, and for me that makes a world of difference. So long as they don’t print a card which rewards me for having Haldir (or worse, Arwen) at Helm’s Deep, then I’m happy to see where they take this.

 

Final Thoughts

I still haven’t got all that much LotR gaming done lately – a nightmare day at work last week meant I missed the monthly game night at the store, and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, followed yesterday by Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu have been doing a lot to attract my attention. That said, there are things here that look like they will be worth some time, and I look forward to getting the cards in hand. The Harad cycle looks like it will support various existing mechanics like Side-Quests as well as its new combination cards, so stick around to see what they ultimately bring.

Doom

And he passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol, even as she had foretold; for a great Doom lay upon hm. – The Silmarillion

Doom5Particularly in his tales of the first Age, Tolkien seems to have held a fascination with Doom – great yet dark fates which awaited some of the mightiest figures of his Lore, and which could not be prevented by human hands.

The LotR LCG does not buy in to fated outcomes quite so readily – there is nothing your characters can do to change the fate of Lord Alcaron or of Iarion, but success or failure in a quest (well failure, at least) remains in your hand.

Doom in the card game is, rather, a question of threat. A card with the “Doomed” Keyword increases the threat of every player at the table – an untimely dose of Doom from the Encounter deck could see your threat rise in sudden and unexpected ways – that enemy you thought you could leave in the staging area might be coming to get you, that benefit you were getting from something have an engagement level higher than your threat could vanish, or you might find that secrecy card suddenly far too expensive to play. In a worst-case scenario, it could take you beyond 50 and see you eliminated from the game altogether. It often sits as a stinger on treachery cards, so that even if the particular “When Revealed” effect doesn’t trigger on that occasion, there is still punishment to be faced.

 

There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then let him beware! – Aragorn, Fellowship of the Ring

The Doom we carry inside

Gandalf Doom on Encounter cards has been with us since the days of the Core set, and has never really gone away. Everybody hates it, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Player card Doom is rather different.

There was one card way back in the days of the Core Set which could put people’s threat up – the Wandering Took, and there were a few Heroes early on that could boost it, specifically Tactics Boromir and Spirit Glorfindel. However, aside from the Wandering Took, these cards only ever raised the threat of the player controlling them, and given that they are probably the two heroes most often accused of being broken/over-powered, it clearly wasn’t a major issue, provided you knew how to build around things. The Gandalf from the Hobbit box was another example of a high-impact card, but with an added threat-cost to the controlling player.

Grima Then, in the Voice of Isengard, we started to get player cards which actually had the Doomed keyword printed on them. Effects much more powerful that you would normally expect to see on a player card of that cost, but which pushed players’ threat way up. I played around with this for a bit –there was a deck I built using Theodred, Lore-Aragorn and Grima, which could regularly get Hobbit Gandalf out on turn 1, and hit things hard from the get-go, before resetting threat on about turn 3 as it had already hit the high forties. It was fun enough in solo, but very-much a 1-trick pony which made all quests feel very similar if you survived, and which would die to certain quests that it just didn’t have the tools to deal with (i.e. anything which it couldn’t just hit in a high-aggro fashion.) It was an interesting diversion, but not really something which was going to keep its place in my decks.

That was it for a long time – I never really thought about Doomed player cards that much again. Until the rise of Rings DB. Judging by the cards I run into there, a lot of people are still using Doom, particularly for resource acceleration and card-draw (not so much love for Grima).

DeepLegacy Back just before Easter, when I was still playing the game quite a bit, but growing very frustrated in the process, I turned up at a game night at the FLGS with Seastan’s 2-handed Boromir deck. I had read the assertions that this could not only beat any current quest in 2-player, but also handle it with a 3rd player’s worth of cards coming off the Encounter deck, and built it. What I hadn’t done, I realised, was play-test it, or think at all about how it would go down at the table.

When we meet up for games at the FLGS, there’s a good chance someone will be playing Hobbits. Back then, I think it was mostly the Black Riders 3, although these days it’s more likely to be Spirit Merry.

Either way, however much I might want 2 extra cards, and a resource for every hero, it turns out that the Hobbit player doesn’t generally want you raising his threat by 5 on turn 1, especially if you do that before he gets a chance to play his resourceful.

That particular evening was a disaster on any number of levels (as a consolation, we did manage to escape from Tharbad), and I soon dismantled those decks for big-group play, but it left me with this lingering question: when is it ok to play Doomed?

 

Friends don’t let Friends do Doom

God_doom

Lots of decks I’ve looked at on RingsDB have had Doomed cards in them – Deep Knowledge seems to be the most common, followed by Legacy of Numenor, with a smattering of the other options. In real life, I’ve only ever really seen cards of this ilk hit the table in the form of allies that carry optional Doom.

HobbitTroll

Yes, that IS a lot of money, but it’s not going to make up for Sam getting killed on turn 1…

Broadly speaking, games of LotR I play fall into 2 categories – the ones where I build all the decks, and the ones where a variety of people turn up to play. For the first category, it’s not too bad – if I’m putting in Doom, I just need to make sure that the other decks can handle it, as well as paying attention to the quest: If everyone’s carefully balanced their deck for a starting threat of 28 on Journey Along the Anduin, then nudging everyone up into Hill Troll territory is probably a bad idea.

 

For “public” games though, it’s trickier. Is it ever ok to just turn up with Doomed? If you do, then you need to ask the question of what happens if you do have a player reliant upon low-threat, and your deck has been built so that it only really functions with those extra effects. I’m fairly certain that there’s absolutely nothing another player can do to stop you, if you insist on playing the card, but it could still very easily come back to bite you later on – for example when you need them to optionally engage an enemy, or do a spot of sentinel defending for you…

 

Final Thoughts

I think for me, the final position has to be that I just won’t play Doomed out in public – and by extension, I’m unlikely to play it at home, unless I’m custom building for true solo. All things considered, not doing it in public just feels like the most civil option, the one in keeping with the spirit of Fellowship (not doing it at home is just a matter of being too lazy to re-build decks all the time). That said, it feels a shame to have an entire sub-section of player cards, even if it is only a small one, out-of-bounds, simply because it might cause issues.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think on this? What approach do you take to using Doomed cards, particularly in decks that might be for pick-up games – do you tend to steer well clear? Or throw them in anyway? Have you encountered much resistance, or are people generally happy to get the cards/resources?

Lord of the Zombies

During the period where I was struggling to come up with interesting LotR LCG things to say, I remembered that this blog was originally set up to report on all Lord of the Rings-based games, and with only a small amount of creative improvising, decided there was something I could produce that might be of interest to one or two folk at least.

Our big new discovery this year has been Zombicide: it’s fairly light, very thematic and, above all – fun! It’s miniatures based, so your hero(es) will always be represented by a figure that you move around the board.

FrodoMiniIt doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination from there to the set of figures I’ve had sitting around the painting room for a while representing the 9 Walkers, the Fellowship of the Ring.

As a bit of a creative exercise then, I sat down and put together some survivor cards for them. Here are the results:

If you’re not familiar with Zombicide Black Plague, at lot of these abilities probably won’t make a lot of sense. In terms of possible suggestions, I’d recommend:

  • Get Zombicide: Black Plague, it’s great,
  • Check out this link for what the skills do (this will make slightly more sense, although still be a bit hazy if you don’t know how the game works.)
  • Check back in a week or two for an LCG-related article.

 

The Fellowship

Frodo ZBP

Frodo needs to be hard to destroy, but realistically, he doesn’t do all that much. I wanted to make him a survivor, without giving him combat abilities which he never really gets to.

Every character has a body slot, typically for holding armour, and a special ability to put something else there. In Frodo’s case this is a shield, not because of any thematic connection, but simply because I can’t figure out how to remove it from the Photoshop template.

My plan had been to present full character card for the fellowship. However, after spending about 2 hours cobbling together a less-than-pristine Frodo, I’ve given up, and will present the rest in text format:

(NB every survivor released so far has “+1 Action” as their Yellow-level action. It seemed pointless to write that again for everybody…)

Gandalf

Spellbook
Spellcaster/+1 to dice roll: Magic
Mana Rain/Regeneration/+1 damage: Magic

AraGandTolkien isn’t all that big on Magic in the way people are used to in Fantasy games, so I didn’t want Gandalf destroying everything from the outset. That said, he IS one of the most powerful folk in Middle Earth, so I started with a lore-y ability, and gave him the big-hitters at red level. Oh, and regeneration for fighting Balrogs.

Aragorn

Tactician
+1 to dice roll: combat/+1 Combat Action
Hit and Run/ Born leader/Reaper: Combat

As I realised a while ago, Aragorn is a difficult character to capture for most games, because he is so over-powered. He needs to be good at combat of all kinds, and movement. He is a great leader of men – a King, and also the hardiest of wilderness survivors. Tactician allows him a lot of flexibility, from the outset, and the combat boost at orange is deliberately very powerful. At red level, you have to specialise a bit more, either making him a killing machine, or more of a general.

 

Boromir

BoromirLoud
Frenzy: Melee/+1 damage: Melee
+1 Melee action/ Iron Hide /+ 1 to dice roll: combat

Boromir is the man who sets out on a secret mission with a loud blast on his horn, so it seemed only fitting to give him the “loud” ability. Beyond that, he’s also a fierce fighter, and I’ve given him some powerful combat boosts as he goes along, so that he can deal with all the attention he’s drawn his way. There wasn’t really any space for the “Captain of Gondor” aspect of Boromir here, but I think this captures the man who was part of the fellowship.

Legolas and Gimli

LeGimliLegolas:
Marksman
Jump/Trick Shot
+1 to dice roll: ranged/ +1 ranged action/ Iron Rain

Gimli:
Bloodlust: Melee
Tough/Shove,
+1 to dice roll: Melee/ +1 Melee Action/ Barbarian

I wanted Legolas and Gimli to be parallel, having abilities that would allow them to play out their ongoing rivalry. There was a big question-mark over where to put the +1 to dice roll abilities, as these always feel to me like the real key to unlocking a character’s combat ability. I didn’t want to make them over-powered, but that said, they are meant to be highly skilled combatants. I also didn’t want any ability to be so powerful it was an obvious choice, with no decision to be made.

Merry & Pippin

Merry:
Low profile
Scavenger/+1 Move action
Slippery/Roll 6: +1 Damage Combat/Lucky

MerryPippThe last 3 Hobbits were the trickiest to create, as support characters are really playable in this game. For Merry, I mostly went with the Hobbit who wanders in to the Battle of the Pelennor without really having a clue what he’s doing, yet somehow comes out unscathed. Of course there’s always the chance that he gets REALLY lucky and brings down a Nazgul (/Abomination?)

Pippin:
Slippery
Search: +1 card/Taunt
Roll 6+1 Die combat/Lifesaver/Steady Hand

Pippin is a bit more of a mixed bag. He shouts at Orcs to lure them away from his friend, but he’s also a born survivor, finding mushrooms in the road. Last, but by no means least, he’s there to get Merry out of trouble – a lifesaver who finds his friend on the Battlefield, and pulls him to safety.

Sam:
Hold Your Nose
Lifesaver/Ambidextrous
Born leader/Bloodlust: Combat/Frenzy: Combat

Sam is also a survivor: He can find things in the wilds, and there’s no way Frodo would have got far without him, reflected by the extra action he give through “Born Leader.” That said, you shouldn’t underestimate his combat prowess- get him riled enough, and he’ll smash his way through every orc in Mordor if he has to, to get back to Frodo.

Next?

I don’t know whether we’ll actually get round to playing these characters through Zombicide – it would be nice to, but given the awkwardness of creating the character cards, it may prove a step too far logistically. There’s also the question of whether I’d just use the normal rules for zombies, or try to work out a way to incorporate Goblins etc into the game.

Overall, this is probably a little distraction that’s reached the end of its road, but I thought it was an interesting enough thought exercise that I’d share it with you anyway.

SpiritFighters

Sphere Bleed? What Sphere Bleed?

Back when the game was first launched, there was a brief explanation included on the website, and then in the rules, of what the 4 different spheres of influence in the game were supposed to represent.

Where it Began

Even without the official descriptions to hand, after half a cycle or so, there was a fairly clear picture of what the different spheres were all about.

SpiritStaplesSpirit was good at questing, and hard cancellation: Eowyn is still the queen of willpower 5 years in to the game’s life, and Test of Will is always one of the first cards I put into a deck featuring a Spirit hero. Spirit was also the home of Threat reduction, and had most of the limited location control that existed (i.e. Northern Tracker). Despite its strengths, Spirit couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag, and ignoring the strange things going on around Dunhere, it stayed as far away from a fight as it could.

Tactics was the fighting sphere. More attack, bigger fighters, weapons and armour, direct damage. That was Tactics’ stock in trade. It gradually acquired more and more cards to manipulate combat, although Feint and Quick Strike are Core set staples that never really go away. In direction contrast to Spirit, Tactics was the sphere that couldn’t Quest to save its life – some of the heroes might get up to 2 willpower, but it was highly unlikely that the allies would. If you wanted to place progress in Tactics, you were going to need to do it with Legolas or a Blade of Gondolin.

Lore was the knowing stuff sphere. Specifically knowing how to get more cards, and how to fix things that were broken, although with a bit of knowing what the encounter deck was up to thrown in (Incidentally, the 3 Core Set Lore Heroes each fit one of these patterns). As time went on, the card-draw and healing aspects probably got the most development, and we started to see movement towards shadow protection and location management.

Leadership was, in many respects, the Jack-of-all-trades, Master-of-none sphere. It lacked the obvious identity of the other spheres, and dabbled slightly, with good all-round stats, a little bit of card draw, and some great toolbox cards like Sneak Attack. The only area where Leadership was the clear master was in resource acceleration – to this day, there isn’t really a card better than Steward of Gondor for making money.

 

Moving to the Present

Fast-forward 5 years, and it’s a very different landscape we see now.

SpiritFighters

This lot look like they could handle themselves in a fight

Spirit has 3 heroes with 3 printed Attack – Glorfindel, Idraen, and Lanwyn. Lanwyn has the ranged keyword as well, allowing her to snipe enemies engaged with others. They also (with the most recent release, of Flame of the West), have a character with 4 printed defence. This doesn’t suddenly, or magically make Spirit the most powerful combat sphere in the game, but it seriously calls into question the idea that they can’t handle their own share of Combat.

Likewise, Tactics has acquired willpower. The average tactics ally is still not going to contribute much to the quest, but you can run a mono-tactics deck with Theoden, Eowyn, and Merry (quite thematic, really), and quest for 11 on turn 1 with just your heroes (and a starting threat of 24).

Spirit can still bring a big stack of willpower, but if you want to rack up the biggest total, you might want to look to Leadership – chuck out a swarm of cheap Gondor allies, and chain them together with ally Faramir, Aragorn wielding the Sword that was Broken, and Visionary Leadership on a hero with a spare resource, and you’re looking at totals that Spirit will be hard-pressed to keep in touch with.

AntiDamageHealing remains mostly in Lore, but other spheres have damage cancellation, which looks a lot like the same thing a lot of the time. Shadow cancellation can be found dotted around the place, with tactics getting the most recent boost in this regard. Tactics is still the go-to for killing things, but you’d be a fool to underestimate the smashing power an assembled field of Ents (mostly lore) or Dwarves (anywhere, although most numerous in Leadership or Lore).

 

Does it Matter?

One possible, and obvious response to this, is “who cares?” does it particularly matter if a given sphere’s ability is now being replicated by another – it means that when you need to go really heavy on something, you can load up on the main-sphere staples AND throw in some auxiliary support from another sphere. It also makes it more viable to play without certain spheres, which is particularly helpful in games with low player-counts.

Theodens

Convoluted, overpowered, confusing. My Theoden (r) may be many things, but I still think he makes more sense thematically…

More than that though, I think the sphere-bleed we have seen represents a fairly fundamental shift in the game, away from sphere-based deck-building, to faction-based deck-building. In the early days I mostly built mono-sphere decks, and even a two-sphere construction would require considerable thought, and multiple songs. These days, the in-faction synergy tends to be good enough that it’s worth suffering the resource curve issues to make sure that your deck has a coherent theme to it. Dwarves were the first faction to really do this, and we’ll probably never get another card on a comparable level with Dain Ironfoot, but Leadership Boromir, Celeborn and others have shown alternate takes on ways to encourage building around a trait rather than just a sphere.

For me, the rise of trait-based decks is undoubtedly a good thing. With all the other things that have been going on, if I was still having to chuck together random heroes united by nothing more than a common “sphere” then I think I’d probably have packed the game in by now. The hope of actually being able to assemble the horse lords of Edoras, the returning Sons of Gondor, or the watchful Dunedain of the North gives the game that added bit of flavour I need to tie back into the theme which drew me to the game in the first place.

 

Multi-cards

Arrows Without necessarily pushing the sphere bleed itself (although that has definitely been happening), the current cycle (Dreamchaser) has been doing something else to push you in the direction of multiple spheres with the new cards that get played out of one sphere, and can then have a bonus effect from another.

These cards are certainly an interesting new direction, and they can be used to great effect – in our 3-player game of Wastes of Eriador, the Hobbit player (with Black Riders Pippin) was able to prevent any of the large pack of wolves from engaging us, allowing my Lore Rangers to play Arrows from the Trees, and the tacticians of Rohan to add a further 3 resources to leave some seriously battered and bloodied wargs in the staging area.

As a concept, these cards are fun, although the utility feels very varied. Having to evaluate them both as an initial effect and if you manage to trigger the second stage makes life complicated. Of course, you also need to factor in the fact that the allies can be triggered over multiple rounds, so you only need the initial cost now, and can save up for the bonus ability in later turns. Events by contrast are 1-and-done, so if it’s not going to go off all at once, it’s probably not going to happen at all.

Knife-work As already mentioned, Arrows from the Trees, is a card we’ve already managed to use to good effect, and I plan to keep running it for a while. Tides of Fate, starts out as simply a more-limited version of test of will: instead of cancelling a shadow effect for 1 resource, it can boost your defence in response to an attack-boosting shadow. However, if you can find the 2 tactics resources, readying that defender and giving them +3 attack could mean a dead enemy rather than a live one. The spoiled, upcoming “Knife Work” also looks like a good deal, with 1 resource to give every enemy engaged with a player -1 defence looking like a good deal straightaway, even if you can’t afford the 2 lore resources to let that person draw a card for each enemy they destroy this phase.

In terms of the characters, Deorwine as a 3-defence, 3 hit-point character is a really solid defending ally, and the ability to cancel shadow effects removes a lot of the danger that ally-defence is typically fraught with. Others, like Eldahir or Ceorl feel far more marginal, their ability too dependent on a fortunate series of events, or just not that powerful.

Final thoughts

I think that that the shift in emphasis away from spheres, generally, has been a good thing and, as I’ve noted above, being able to build viable, trait-based decks has been vital in keeping my interest.

There is a part of me that worries the sphere-bleed may be going too far: as soon as every sphere can do everything, decks lose coherence, and you end up with too many things not being dealt with.

The multi-sphere cards this cycle have been good, and I hope we see more of them in the second-half of the cycle. I look forward to seeing what’s left to come.

 

Late Game Deckbuilding

Then…

glorfindel

Remember this guy?

When you first picked up your Core Set of the Lord of the Rings LCG, your options were… limited.

If you wanted to stick with a mono-sphere deck, you couldn’t even make it to 50 cards – not unless you bought multiple boxes. You also had only 3 heroes to choose from, and there was no good reason to run fewer than 3 heroes (the threat reduction couldn’t make up for the loss in resources or actions).

Moving into multisphere, your options grew, but they were still limited. Most of the time, it was a 2:1 ratio of one sphere for another, which meant all the cards for your main sphere, and a selection of the best and the cheapest from your minor sphere. You also had a certain amount of decision-making to do regarding your heroes, but it was still a case of picking 1 or 2 from 3.

…and Now

Fast-forward 5 years, and deck-building could scarcely be more different. For heroes alone, the total is staggering, well over 70, meaning that even for a mono-sphere deck, your options are somewhere in the high teens (that’s just the number of heroes, let alone the different possible combinations). It means that when I come to building a new deck, I quickly find myself wanting to put together a Fellowship of 2, or even 3 partnered decks, just in a vain attempt to cover all the bases.

We’ve also reached the point where there simply isn’t room to just put all the “good” cards from a sphere into a deck. In some ways, this is nice, because it adds options, and variety to deck-building, but it can also make life more challenging: In a tri-sphere deck, you probably won’t have room for all of the “must-have” cards from each of the 3 spheres, even before you start adding the cards that tie-in to your particular theme. For me, this has generally led to fat decks (my first attempt generally lands somewhere in the mid-seventies, which I have to prune aggressively even to get down to the sixties. As I looked at in some detail a while back, any time you start adding cards beyond the lower-limit of 50, you significantly reduce the chances of seeing any given card, so my decks tend to be wildly inconsistent, as well as bloated.

 

A New Challenge

Bearing all these things in mind, I thought it was time to build some brand-new decks. I have been trying to follow advice from others and make use of the resource that is RingsDB as a source of ideas, but even if I’m not very good at it, I still feel like building decks is an important aspect of being invested in this game. Today I’m going to briefly introduce a couple of ideas, and the early thoughts about how I’m going to deck-build, then I’ll report back in a few weeks, once I’ve done some actual testing. There were 2 decks I wanted to try, and I’ll give a brief overview of each.

Customs

Between my own creations, the 1st Age expansion, and assorted things I’ve spied on the internet, I’ve amassed quite the collection of custom cards

Aside: whose cards?

I’ve always been a big fan of custom cards in this game – they offer ways to explore the possibilities of both the game, and of Middle Earth in varied ways. The trouble is, with a card-pool that’s getting larger and larger, and new card archetypes that push the boundaries of what we think is possible, it’s becoming harder and harder to find the right place for those cards. That’s why – after a fair amount of deliberation – I decided that before I started deck-building, I was going to remove all the custom cards from my box, and build with only the official card-pool (although still keeping numerous proxies for extra copies, allowing me to put the same card in multiple decks). It was a strange experience – I was quite surprised by just how many cards I removed, but it also made me notice real cards I’d forgotten about for ages.

Ride of the Rohirrim

Eowyn

It’s impossible to get too much of this card

My first deck was the latest chapter in my ongoing quest to find a viable Rohan deck for true Solo. In the past, I’ve always struggled, largely with defence and resource acceleration, but we’ve had new cards recently, and I hoped that there might be possibilities, particularly around Tactics Eowyn, who combines a low starting threat, good questing willpower out-of-the-gate, and access to the sphere needed for more powerful combat-cards. That said, I don’t want to be naïve, either about my own deck-building capabilities, or about the difficulty of modern-day quests, so once I had this together, I was looking to try it out against an old cycle (probably Mirkwood – Journey and Escape are still plenty hard enough) and maybe some newer Easy Mode quests. I’m expecting to have a fair amount of solo gaming time this month, so this seemed the most likely direction to take.

I was fairly certain that I wanted Eowyn in this deck, and the Tactics version seemed to offer a lot more than her spirit incarnation – I knew I’d struggle to get the cards to fuel her willpower boost, and being able to smash a boss enemy seemed a much better option.

theoden-tosIn solo, you need to be able to get your allies out, to take some of the weight off of your heroes: Santa Theoden is the ideal choice here, giving you access to lots of cheap Spirit allies, and the 1 per-round cost reduction.

The third hero is definitely the trickiest. I’m already fairly happy about my questing power, but combat is an issue in either direction: Theoden’s “sentinel” keyword does little to disguise the fact that he is only a 2 defence, 4 hit-point character, and with no chance of healing in this deck, that make we want to look for someone like Erkenbrand. However, at that point, you’re left with a 3-sphere deck that’s going to struggle for resources, and only really has the Eowyn bomb to deal with big-hitters – it might manage the core box, but I can’t set her getting through the Carrock. Eomer is the obvious choice for smashing things, and brings you more tactics resources, but you can’t really fit them both in the deck, and losing Leadership means no Dunedain Warnings for Theoden.

I decided to start by building a Theoden (Sp), Eowyn (T), Eomer, deck, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try again with Erkenbrand. Dunhere, Theodred, Hama and Elfhelm are all off the menu for now.

 

The Line of Ecthelion

The other deck I wanted to build was one for the House of Stewards – Denethor and his sons, Boromir and Faramir.

There are plenty of decks out there already that use these guys together. However, things are a little bit more complicated than they seem.

For each of the three characters we have 2 different hero versions (plus an ally apiece, and some Faramir Objectives, but let’s ignore them for now). That’s 8 combinations of hero-versions on offer. A heavy focus on Leadership, with an occasional smattering of Tactics seems to be the way of choice for most deck-builders, but I value healing fairly highly, so really want to make sure that I use the Lore version of one or the other – helpfully cutting the options to 6!

DenSons.png

The 3 cards I know WON’T be appearing in this deck…

This deck definitely feels like the trickier task of the two – I don’t have as clear of a sense of where it’s starting from or going to. Tactics Boromir brings a lot of good tools, but without reliable/repeatable threat reduction (none of the heroes are available in Spirit), he can be a double-edged sword. For both Faramir and Denethor, most people seem to rate the Leadership version more highly, so the question is whether I want to sacrifice the resource-smoothing of Denethor, or the ally-reading of Faramir.

I decided that my first draft would be Leadership Denethor, Lore Faramir, and Tactics Boromir. I wanted to go fairly heavily on the Tactics and Lore cards, as I feel they both offer a lot more utility, and will just have Denethor there to bolster the resource-options available to the others – the fact that he can pass all his resources to others really helps out with smoothing, although this is probably going to land quite tactics-heavy, so that’s where Steward will probably be going.

I’m expecting a few difficulties with this deck, not least of which is the question of how to get the best out of Faramir who has high threat for stats that often can’t bring to bear. Hopefully some of these will be answered during play-testing.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed an article that actually talks about some of the cards in the game for once, however loosely. I don’t know exactly how long it’ll take me to get these decks into shape, but I’ll try to post back here around the end of the month with an update.

Back for good?

It’s been …a while, since I last posted an article on here. When I did, I said I would try to post at least once a month: that was May and it’s now already mid-August: but the lull certainly isn’t what I had in mind.

Good intentions and excitement about the upcoming Eowyn aside, the simple reason for not posting anything in the intervening time period, was that I hadn’t played the game. There have been a few reasons for this: busy-ness (or stress) from work, life generally falling victim to other distractions: TV, family, unexciting odd jobs, and even some particularly shiny bits for other games that I was keen to try out.

Mostly though, it was the issue of the game not really grabbing me: I’d be at the point where I couldn’t quite remember what decks I had built right now, just a lingering assumption that they’re probably not ‘right’ for whatever task I need to set before them.

Belegost

I don’t think we even made it this far…

I did make it to the FLGS to play in July, and again in August (June completely passed us by) – we conquered Temple of the Deceived, and got absolutely smashed by Ruins of Belegost in the first session, (weirdly, The Thing in the Depths never reached our FLGS and was out-of-stock with the distributor, so I only got it from Amazon yesterday). For the August session we eventually ground out a 3-player victory over Wastes of Erebor.

The two visit to the shop certainly didn’t translate into an avalanche of home play, and every game we did play was fraught with frustrations (mostly along the lines of “how on earth are we supposed to deal with X?”) but the game is finding its place again.

Beregond-spirit

Spirit now has a hero with 4 defence, as well as all the 3 attack options.

The news and new releases in recent times has certainly been interesting: over the coming weeks, I’ll doubtless have plenty to say about Spirit Beregond (sphere bleed? what sphere bleed?) upcoming adventures with the Haradrim, and whatever else comes our way. Despite all that though, I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I’m blogging without playing, which is why I’ve waited so long to put this article out – waited until I was confident of being able to produce an ongoing wave of content, and of play-experience to base things upon.

 

I’m going to post a little flurry of articles over the coming weeks, in an attempt to make up for lost time, before settling back down to (hopefully) 1-2 per month as before. As always, my remit is the games of Middle Earth at large and, whilst there will probably be a heavy preponderance of LCG content, I’ll try to make sure I include some variation too.

As a final aside for today, I watched with great interest in recent weeks, as I saw Fantasy Flight announce the upcoming Arkham Horror LCG – a new Co-op game. Whilst I don’t necessarily see this as something that will kill off LotR, I think it marks quite definitely the fact that this is no longer a young game, and I think it will be interesting to see how picking up a brand-new LCG, with all the excitement and freshness, along with all the frustrations of a tiny card-pool impacts the way I look at a mature LCG like this one. Hopefully, it will give me a fresh appreciation for the range of options we have in this game.

Thanks to all of you who keep reading, and apologies for the recent dearth of content. Hopefully I can make visiting this site worthwhile again.

Eowyn

Hope Rekindled

I didn’t play Lord of the Rings at all in April. In light of everything I talked about last time out, it felt like it would do me some good to take a break.

Having had a bit of a chance to recharge my batteries, I’m ready to return though – we played for the first time in a while on Monday night. Moreover, the internet has brought a couple of things that have caught my interest: A new website, and a new spoiler – of possibly the most significant Hero this game has seen in years.

Rings DB

RingsDBFirst of all, the website. RingsDB has attracted quite a bit of buzz on the Podcasts: Cardboard of the Rings and The Grey Company have both been enthusing about it – essentially it’s a place to share deck-lists.

Whilst the functionality of the site is undoubtedly good, I have to confess to being a little bit underwhelmed: whilst it does what it does very well, it doesn’t do all that much. However, once I’d allowed the hype and the resultant anti-climax to pass, I started thinking a bit more about the value of the site.

There are often times in this game when I feel like I’m head-butting a brick wall with certain quests (BoCD again…) and it’s always irksome (to say the least) when people are confidently proclaiming how easily they beat it. Simply having access to deck-lists in a user-friendly format goes a long way towards fixing this: I can build the deck, run it against the quest, and hopefully get a sense that a.) the quest is beatable after all, b.) I’m much worse at playing this game than I thought, or c.) that the person who posted it is either lying or insane [I’m not expecting much recourse to option c, but I wanted to make sure I had a comprehensive list of possibilities.]

An extension of the bonuses of RingsDB comes in the form of “Fellowships”. A fellowship is a set of decks that has been designed to work together. Obviously there are issues with this, not least the question of what happens when you take a deck out a fellowship, or combine a 2-deck fellowship with a third, but again it offers a logical companion to some of the power decks out there, allows you to run up against some of the particularly hideous quests, feeling like you have a fighting chance.

As I get back into the swing of playing this game, I’m sure I’ll make good use of RingsDB. I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a site I’m massively excited about, but I can recognise its use, and would advise people to go and have a look.

Back at the FLGS

ArwensWhilst being able to see successful decks – and sets of decks – built by others is useful, it still isn’t a magic bullet – I printed off Seastan’s 2-handed “these decks can beat any quest” build, and took it along to the FLGS: One person hadn’t seen my Facebook message and was running hero Arwen whilst our decks were basically reliant on the Ally version to function. Another player was running secrecy Hobbits, which meant that the pile of Doomed cards in my deck were essentially useless (technically, I could have just played them regardless of the objections of others, but it felt like poor form).

We died quickly and horribly at the hands of The Antlered Crown (one player had requested we do Ringmaker cycle, then couldn’t make it: we suspect that he may have been stitching us for death by Dunlending), before having a fun game, playing Trouble in Tharbad: a quest that is often derided for being too easy, but allowed us to enjoy playing the game rather than just getting our heads smashed in.

DoomThe highlight of the game was the ongoing battle between tactics Boromir and Sam Gamgee, to see who could get the most attachments – Sam eventually triumphed 8-7, although (as Boromir’s controller) I blame this on the bias of the Elf player who gave Sam, Loragorn and finally Merry copies of Elf-Friend, whilst shunning Boromir. The in-quest mechanic for threat lowering allowed me to play Deep Knowledge and Legacy of Numenor without starting a riot, and Ranged/Sentinel Boromir with Gondorian Fire, Blood of Numenor, Song of Wisdom for Burning Brand and a stack of cash (he was the Steward) allowed him to block and/or kill pretty-much anything he liked. All-in-all, the only downside about the game was that it was a scenario I’d already completed with 4 players previously…

 

Flame of the West

Moving from the real-world of gameplay, back to the interwebs, the other thing which has really caught my attention this past week or so has been the announcement article for Flame of the West, the 5th Saga box for the Lord of the Rings story.

In a lot of respects, this looks like it will be more of the same – highly complex board states, a million and one things to keep track of, and a series of enemies and encounter card effects that are on a ridiculously punishing scale.

However, the announcement article also came with a Player-Card Spoiler (I’m ignoring the new Fellowship Aragorn for the moment) and, as mentioned above, this is a big deal. Without having complete visibility of every game of LotR played, It’s hard to say really, how much impact heroes have, but anyone who’s active on the forums etc can get a vague impression, and I think we could be looking at a shift comparable with the rise of Dain Ironfoot or Spirit Glorfindel.

The new hero is Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan and, as many people had long expected, she has been transplanted to the tactics sphere, ready to kill the Witch King.

Eowyn

When a character has multiple hero incarnations in the game (ignoring Fellowship or Baggins spheres) they have tended to keep the same stats, and we’ve known for a long time that a tactics hero with 4 Willpower would be a big deal. Sure enough, this is what we have received – as in her Core set Spirit version, Eowyn is a 4 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defence, 3 hit-point hero. Flimsy stats for a combatant, but in the sphere that is best suited to cover the shortfall. To add to the fun, her ability lowers your starting threat by 3, giving her an effective cost of 6.

A blank tactics hero with a threat-cost of 6 and 4 willpower would almost certainly be a game-changer – suddenly a mono-tactics deck in true solo looks like it might be worth considering, at least for some quests. If you have the tactics version of her uncle in play, she quests for 5. (as people have already noted, a tidily thematic mono-tactics deck of Merry, Theoden and Eowyn can put down 11 willpower out of the gate).

Eowyn has two traits – Rohan and Noble, both of which are positives to have – as a noble, she can be the target of some beneficial card effects, and as Rohan, there are various willpower boosts or non-exhausting tricks available.

All of this suggests that Eowyn is a good choice to include in your party – true, you lose access to the discard-a-card-for-willpower-boost that the Spirit version offered, but it feels like a price worth paying – the crazy thing is, that we haven’t (really) got to her ability yet.

Once per game (and it really is once per game, no Desperate Alliance shenanigans going on here), you can raise your threat by 3 to ready Eowyn and give her +9 attack. Obviously, the thematic reference here is to striking down the Witch King, but this has potential against any number of big boss enemies – or even to be combined with a bit of action advantage (Rohan Warhorse?) to pick off a string of medium-sized foes. Give her Firefoot and engage a suitably tiddly orc, and she could even get rid of the oh-so-irritating turn 1 Hill Troll in Journey Down the Anduin.

Obviously, much more (digital) ink will be spilled on the subject of Eowyn over the coming months – single-handedly, she makes new deck options viable, and if there is decent player-card support to go with her (there’s a card fan which pictures her once again on the zero-cost “sterner than steel” but we have no idea what it does…) she could be truly awesome to play.

Flame of the West isn’t expected to land until “the third quarter of 2016” which could mean July, but is more likely to mean September [or, more probably, a limited run at Gen Con, only properly surfacing for the masses in November], but it looks like it should be worth the wait.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to play, and to write: I can’t promise the most prolific spell ever, but I’ll try to keep up a minimum of an article a month. Hopefully people will enjoy reading enough to make it worthwhile.