The Light of the Evenstar

 

ffg_arwen-undomiel-twitw Ally Arwen has been around for a while, and is widely regarded as one of the best allies in the game: 2-Cost in Spirit, she not only provides a solid 2 willpower for questing, but also offers a defence boost and sentinel for another character in play (typically her father or her brother). Up until now, if you were running Spirit, unless you were strongly pushing a thematic angle, the only real reason not to run her was if you were playing The Redhorn Gate or Road to Rivendell, where there was an objective-ally version in the way.

As fans of the game speculated on the appearance of a future hero Arwen, one of the biggest questions was: what could the designers bring to the table that would be good enough

Now though, all that has changed, with the arrival of The Dread Realm¸ we have our playable Arwen hero, and I thought I’d take a bit of a look at her today.

Like the rest of her family, Arwen has been stunningly depicted by Magali Villeneuve for the card (she also did the art for the Ally and the Objective Ally). I’m just going to put it here for you all to admire.

ArwenHero

As you’d expect, Arwen is a unique character, with the traits Noldor and Noble. FFG has never really gone into the Half-Elven heritage, and it was unlikely that they would suddenly conjure up a new trait which they hadn’t given to her father or brothers. She is still Spirit, and has a stat-spread of 3 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defence and 3 hit-points, for a total threat cost of 9. She fills the traditional spirit role of being a good quester but a lousy combatant, so don’t expect to kill anything with her, although she can probably survive a single hit from a small enemy, and overall, her stat / cost distribution seems good.

Arwen_Asfaloth

“If you want him, come and claim him!”

As a Noldor, you can give her Light of Valinor, Rivendell Blades or Bows, and even Asfaloth – there are better targets for all of these cards, and the only real reason to do it would be to troll Glorfindel. Despite this, her traits are still useful: as a unique Noldor, she fills the requirement for Elrond’s Counsel, if you do need to attack with her in a pinch, she can be targeted by Fair and Perilous, and of course, she benefits all-round from Lords of the Eldar.

Traits and stats aside, the key element of any hero is the ability text. In this area, Arwen opens up new ground, with the first real resource acceleration in Spirit.

“Action: Discard a card from your hand to add 1 resource to a Noldor hero’s resource pool, or to Aragorn’s resource pool. (Limit once per round.)”

It is worth noting that she can target herself with this ability, or any of her family, and it’s entirely fitting that the restriction is stretched enough to include Aragorn. On the other hand, card-draw is not an area where Spirit is particularly blessed, and the cost looks like a high one. You can, of course, pair her with Lore characters, to power this, and she looks like an obvious choice to go with Elrond (22 threat for these 2 characters means the 3rd will almost inevitably be Glorfindel).

To Help You on the Way

There are a couple of events that have come out at the same time as Arwen which are clearly designed to synergise with her, and deserve a place in this discussion.

A Little Light?

ElvenLight

Eowyn really wants this too, but all my copies are in the Arwen deck…

The first, is Elven Light, a 1-cost Spirit event which, like many of the new Noldor cards, can only be played from the discard pile. For your one resource, you pull it back to hand, and draw a card.

 

The synergy with Arwen is fairly obvious. First of all, you can discard the card for her ability, which solves the “how do you get it into the discard pile?” issue. Furthermore, if you don’t need to target someone else with her ability that round, you can give yourself the resource for discarding, and spend it to play the card. In essence, once you have this card in hand, Arwen’s ability could be re-written as “once per round, draw a card” – there’s no doubt that this is a fantastic power, and it’s particularly strong in Spirit: obviously, even with a Mulligan, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your Elven light (I’ve tried and failed plenty of times), but resource acceleration with the potential to become card-draw is a powerful ability nonetheless.

Blood of Luthien

Tinuviel The next card that I want to look at is Tale of Tinuviel. Thematically, this is another card clearly designer to go with Arwen, although in practice, you may find that Glorfindel or Galadriel are better triggers. For a cost of one, this card allows you to exhaust a Noldor to Ready a Dunedain, or vice-versa. In the core set, we had a card that allowed you to swap one hero for one without the trait benefit, so if this was all it said, you probably wouldn’t give this card much more thought. However, the icing on the cake here is that you get to add the willpower of the character you exhausted to the willpower, attack and defence of the readied character until the end of the phase.

Let’s walk through this in practice, to see just how powerful it can be:

Scenario 1: I have quested with all 3 heroes in my Glorfindel/Arwen/Elrond deck. Glorfindel is still ready thanks to Light of Valinor. The other player in the game is running a Dunedain deck with Tactics Aragorn, Amarthiul and Halbarad. Naturally the enemies are gravitating to the other side of the table, but this round we’re looking a bit swamped.

If I take an enemy, I either need to take it undefended, or block with Glorfindel, neither of which will do me much good: Glorfindel can swing back, but only for 3, which is unlikely to do much damage.

Realising I will not be able to deal with the enemy, the Dunedain player engages it, along with two they were previously fighting: the first 2 are blocked comfortably, but the newcomer has 5 attack, which is going to make a big hole in Aragorn.

After Aragorn is declared as a defender, I Play Tale of Tinuviel: Glorfindel, who would otherwise be sat twiddling his thumbs is exhausted, and Aragorn readies up. With +3 defence, Aragorn is able to resist the onslaught, then swing back for 6 (+ any weapons or other boosts he may already have).

 

Scenario 2: We are hard-pressed questing through the early stages of the game – I have not managed to draw Nenya, and whilst it’s nice being able to manage threat, being a hero light for questing is a struggle.

Add Tale of Tinuviel to the equation, and the picture changes. By exhausting Galadriel to play the card, I can effectively add her willpower to the quest for a +4. Throw in the readying effect and where previously I might have felt the need to hold him back for combat, I can quest with him, knowing he will still be on his feet when the arrows start flying- that’s an overall +6 I’ve added to the quest thanks to this one-cost card.

Glorfindel-Front-Face

I’ve always felt the official version was a bit under-powered…

Scenario 3: When you queue up the multi-card combinations, it’s possible for this to get silly: Core-Set Aragorn, complete with Celebrian’s Stone has quested for 4 and paid his resource to ready up. Galadriel was standing by to boost him if needed, but we cleared the quest, and she wasn’t needed. All that’s left is to smash the end-of-quest monster to win, an enemy that is currently engaged with the player controlling Glorfindel. Unfortunately, Glorfindel was exhausted by a treachery during staging.

 

Galadriel exhausts, and uses Nenya to boost Aragron’s willpower to 8. He then plays Tale of Tinuviel to ready Glorfindel, giving +8 to all his stats, for 11 willpower, 11 attack, 9 defence. The Glorfindel player then plays Fair and Perilous, to give Glorfindel a monstrous 22 attack, smashing aside the enemy for the win…

Ok, so that last one was a bit far-fetched, and may be a case of my inner Pippin getting carried away, but I think it still shows the potential for these cards. Indeed, the only shame is that the song about the fate of the poor Elf-Maid who gave her heart to a mortal doesn’t work better with Arwen.

Harping On

HarpIt’s worth making a passing mention of the Silver Harp, a card which appeared together with Erestor, but also has a place in an Arwen deck. As noted above, Arwen can ditch cards to gain resources, and there are some cards which you want to end up in the discard pile, but if you don’t have Elven Light or Lords of the Eldar to hand, then burning through cards can be a big cost. The Silver Harp allows to “discard” cards to trigger effects, but keep them in hand. The effect isn’t that exciting, but over the course of a longish game, it can make a major difference to the number of cards you have in hand, and give a lot more power to something like Protector of Lorien.

Overall, I think Arwen is a good card, she feels thematic, balanced, and appropriately powered. I’ve already used her in a couple of different decks, including the deck FFG provided on their website with her brothers, and an attempt of my own with Glorfindel and Elrond (like most of my decks, this one currently weighs in at about 63 cards…)

Despite all that though, it’s always fun to think where the card-pool could go next. As it’s been a while since I offered a proper custom-card, I thought this would be a good moment to add in some key elements from the Tale of Arwen and Aragorn. The last one is a bit wordy, but I hope you find the ideas interesting…

 

-A-Mortal-Life-Front-FaceBanner-of-the-King-Front-FacePlighted-Troth-Front-Face

Arise now, Riders of Theoden

Just before Christmas, I finished re-reading the Lord of the Rings book, something I hadn’t done for a few years. As always, I was struck by just how powerfully written the chapters Ride of the Rohirrim and the Battle of the Pelennor are: the descent of those riders onto that field of battle, the glory and sacrifice that so many make: it leaves me feeling thoroughly inadequate as a word-smith, and reminded of just why so many regard Tolkien as a master of his craft.

Ride-to-Ruin It’s been a recurring theme over the past couple of years that I’ve been running this blog, but that is how I want playing a Rohan deck to feel – by all means, it can be costly, difficult, but it should be powerful and glorious. Too often in the past, Rohan has been a utility set of cards for questing and location management, but something which somehow fails to click into a broader archetype. The card “Ride to Ruin” is a well-established example of this: discarding a Rohan ally, and paying a single spirit resource to place 3 progress on a location is a solid effect. If the ally you chose is a Snowbourn Scout, and if someone has the Horn of Gondor, or Eomer and Imrahil are in the party, it can be far more of a gain than a cost as your inner Pippin watches the single stone start a bigger landslide…

But for all of that, it never feels impressive. The card never lives up to the name. It never feels in tune with the flavour text – “DEATH! RIDE! RIDE TO RUIN AND THE WORLD’S ENDING” – this should be the Hail Mary Pass of the card game – and all-or-nothing play.

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I can almost hear the music…

This sense of frustration has been around for a while – as I sit, mourning the fact that I will never have the time, money, or natural ability, to learn to play the Hardanger Fiddle – I have designed countless custom cards to fill the hole, or thought about how an existing card could be re-designed to fit better with the theme.

We all know, if we’re honest with ourselves, that Eomer is far from underpowered – the ability to get 5 attack (at least for a turn) without using a restricted attachment is solid, and once he gets Firefoot, the results can be devastating. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting more. As I re-read the passage where Eomer finds (he believes) the fallen corpse of his dead sister and, seized by the red-mist, single-handedly routs half the army of Harad, part of me thinks his ability should be “after a character leaves play, Eomer gets +2 attack until the end of the round (if the character is a Noble, Rohan character, he gets +4 attack instead, and does not exhaust to attack until the end of the round) (Limit once per round)”

It would be ridiculous – it would be beyond broken, especially with Eomund (actually, scratch that, apparently Eomund isn’t Noble…) but it would be awesome

Eomer-Front-Face

There is probably no deck that is reliably, consistently awesome to play- if it was too powerful, it would become dull, if underpowered, there will always be times when it fails. What I was hoping for though, was that we had now reached the point where it’s possible to build a couple of solid, mostly-Rohan decks that can take on a broad range of quests by themselves and have a good chance.

Santa Theoden, like his Tactics Counterpart, suffers from the fact that his stats are pulling in different directions, and it never really feels like you get your money’s worth – the fact that his threat cost exceeds the sum of his stats is a big negative in this respect, but the real issue is that he has stat points widely spread, and can’t get the action advantage to make use of them all: Sentinel makes you want to defend with him, but 2 defence / 4 hit-points is flimsy for a main-defender. Steed of the Mark does allow him to re-ready, so you can quest and fight, or attack and defend, but the resource each round is a high-cost. Likewise, whilst Theoden allows you to play those allies cheaply, to trigger their discard abilities, or to pay for events, this only really works until about turn 4, where you find that the lack of card-draw has left you with no more allies to play, and the deck stalls out.

Finally though, in the dying weeks of 2015, the Land of Shadow box arrived, and I was able to add what I hoped had been the missing ingredients. Weirdly, despite having waited so long for the box, there were only actually 2 cards that I was waiting for – Snowmane and Gamling. However, they looked like they might provide the tipping point for making the Spirit side of Rohan really click

Snowling For a one-off cost of 1 (rather than a round-by-round cost), and fetchable with a horse-breeder, Snowmane allows you to use Theoden for questing and combat, at which point, he can finally start to be useful – if you can get Herugrim in there it becomes nice and smashy. It does have the extra requirement that you quest successfully every round, but if this deck isn’t questing well, it probably isn’t doing anything.

Gamling on the other hand, provides the recycling you need for your discarded allies: For a significant, but not impossible investment of 3 (more likely 2 if he is the first ally of the round), you can retrieve an ally each round. As an ally, he’s going to contribute very little directly, but giving up that action can allow you to keep cycling someone like the Escort from Edoras for 4 willpower per round.

These are the cards I’d been waiting for all these months, and it was finally time to build a deck with them. I put aside all of the home-brewed cards, to see how an authentic Rohan experience felt in the modern day.

Mustering the Rohirrim

I decided on Theoden (Treason of Sarumann), Eowyn, and Theodred for the first deck.

I sat down for a while, threw some cards together, and found myself with a 75-card deck. I then reminded myself why I was building the deck, and took out all the homebrewed cards (mine and the ones made by the good people of the internet). After another couple of sifts through, I managed to get in down to 51 cards, which was as close as I was likely to get, whilst retaining allies, as much card draw as I could find in-sphere, and a bit of threat/location control.

For the first few outings, I paired the deck with a pre-existing Ent build I had, that used Beravor, Mablung and Beregond: the two decks meshed nicely, and we beat Passage of the Marshes on the second attempt.

Hill-TrollI then branched out solo, and went right back to basics: Passage Through Mirwkood. The draws were not kind to me, with 2 rounds in a row of Dol Guldur Orcs [the “2 damage to a questing character” really stings], at the end of which I limped home from even this rather tame challenge. I certainly didn’t feel ready for Journey Along the Anduin.

The main problem with the mostly spirit deck, is that it just requires too many moving pieces. You need Gamling to recycle your allies, and you need Herugrim to ever stand a chance of killing anything. You need Snowmane to get a decent action economy out of Theoden, and you also need some kind of card-draw to keep all the pieces working, and even when you’re done, you still can’t really fight against modern enemies (no character with more than 3 defence, and your best hero defender is also your only decent attacker).

 

Riding to War

Whilst some amount of solo capability would be nice, most of the time, I’ll be pairing the Spirit-ish deck with a more martial partner: using Eomer, Hama, and Imrahil (as noted in the past, Imrahil is my choice for most thematic non-Rohan hero in a Rohan deck).

Whilst I didn’t want to abandon the Rohan theme altogether, I did allow a broader sprinkling of things from outside the box: some Gondor allies, which allow Imrahil to power up the questing with Visionary Leadership were the main concession here. As Imrahil himself can take a Gondorian Shield to get a reasonably solid 4 defence, you won’t die quite so quickly to normal-sized enemies, whilst Eomer + Firefoot is always a good attacking option.

FoeHamaThe deck still has its struggles, of course. The most powerful, repeatable card-draw in Tactics is the Foe-Hama, but the deck doesn’t naturally lend itself to weapons (Eomer wants at least one of his restricted slots for a horse, we don’t have the staging-area capability to make use of Spear of the Mark, and threat is too high to get much mileage out of Dagger of Westernesse, so getting the initial cards to tee things up can be tricky.

 

Defensive?

I’ve mentioned several times the lack of good defence options in Rohan. I do use the Warden of Helm’s deep, who does a solid job for an ally if you can get him out, and some of the higher-cost unique allies have good stats, but overall the options are not spectacular.

Erkenbrand I’m aware that there is someone I haven’t mentioned up until now, Rohan’s defender in chief, Erkenbrand. 3 Defence, 4 hit-points and Sentinel makes him a more solid blocker than anyone else in Rohan, and the ability to cancel shadow-effects allows you to defend with a lot more confidence. Compared with Theodred, whose stats can probably best be described as “feeble” he seems to make a good case for inclusion.

The trouble with Erkenbrand though, is that his stats come at a cost: his threat is 2 higher than Theodred, which might not seem like a lot, but in a deck with Theoden and Eowyn, it is the difference between the Hill Troll coming to get you on turn 1, or having a few seconds’ breathing-space. Also, whilst Theodred’s statistics are woeful, the extra resource every round that the young prince brings can be vital when churning out allies at a rate of knots. Even the shadow-cancellation Erkenbrand offers is limited in its utility when neither deck has any healing, as it can only be used 3 times at most, with the 4th proving fatal.

There certainly is scope for getting good use out of Erkenbrand, but I don’t think it’s within the context of an all-Rohan set-up.

Still Left behind?

It’s also worth noting that whilst the Rohirrim were being (slowly) mustered, others have not lain idle: Ents are a thing now, as are Dunedain, whilst the Noldor have new tricks to play with your discard pile. All of this means that the newer quests continue to get harder. Battle of Carn Dum is probably the most brutal quest we’ve encountered so far, but even a slightly calmer modern-day offering like Treachery of Rhudaur (allegedly a mere 5) is a real challenge.

Mustering-the-Rohirrim

Why isn’t this card called “here now the horse and the rider?”

I’ll continue to experiment with the Rohan decks – if you can generate the resource acceleration, an Eowyn deck is a reasonable one in which to put Elven-Light for a little bit more card-draw (discard for a will-power boost, then pull it back to draw a card). Currently I’m using Ancient Mathom, which is yet another card that just requires a bit too much setting up (need to draw, have a location to attach it to [i.e. one that isn’t immune] then explore it, all for a one-off boost of 3 cards). Cards like Mustering the Rohirrim feel like they should have a place in this deck, but the fact that you only get 1 ally, not “any” is a bit too restrictive (compare The Eagles are Coming, or Ent Moot)

Ultimately, I expect I’ll end up swapping back in some of the custom cards – between some of the things I’ve brewed myself, and a guy on board-game geek who has re-tooled some of the Core Set / Mirkwood Cycle allies to bring them in line with a more contemporary power-curve, there are some decent options out there. I continue to hope though, for a few official cards to enable a deck that I want to take to Organised Play events…

Now-for-Wrath!-Now-for-Ruin!-Front-Face

What is Dead May Never Die

What-Is-Dead

Loyal bannermen of House Greyjoy may recognise this line borrowed from an entirely different IP, but it seemed a good lead-in for today’s topic, the undead.

Over recent times, we have seen a growing number of undead appearing in Lord of the Rings. They first showed up in the Gen-Con scenario Stone of Erech, represented through the “spectral mechanic” then last autumn in the Fellowship Event Fog on the Barrrow Downs, as the fiendish wights who trapped the hobbits and most recently, they have come back in force in the Lost Realm deluxe and its following cycle, Angmar Awakened, forming the lion’s share of the enemies in the final scenario of the big box, then returning in later scenarios to haunt our heroes.

dwimmerlaik

Aside from these quests, we have also had occasional appearances from undead types in Nightmare scenarios, such as the Nightmare version of The Dead Marshes, where they represent the sinister-looking shades beneath the water, fallen bodies from battles at the end of the Second Age who try to tempt Frodo down to the dark depths beneath the water.

 

The Barrow Wights, the Spirits of the Marshes, and of course, the Ghost Army of Dunharrow are all lifted directly from the pages of Tolkien’s work. The manner in which players are brought in to conflict with them, however, is somewhat different. Neither Frodo nor his companions ever really “fight” the wights, they are simply subdued by them, and would doubtless be lying there still were it not for the timely intervention of Tom Bombadill.

In the Dead Marshes, Sam and Frodo are told not to follow the lights which the spirits set for unwary travellers, but otherwise their interaction is fairly minimal.

Army

The ghost army are a rather more interactive bunch, but there appear to be only 2 real ways of dealing with them.

1.) Be the heir of Isildur, and demand their allegiance.

Or

2.) die.

This latter option was taken by a long-lost lord of the Rohirrim, and probably by other lesser figures in former times, but by and large, everyone else has long since learned to simply give them a wide birth, and only when Aragorn comes with Anduril does that start to change.

Given that the undead are not simply creatures of flesh and blood like an Orc, a Haradrim Soldier, or a Dunlending, the question of how to depict them in the card-game is a difficult one. Something more than simply attack, defence and hit-points seems called for.

 

Who will call them from the Grey Twilight?

In the Stone of Erech scenario, the designers opted for the “Spectral” keyword – instead of using your attack value against enemies with the spectral keyword, you used your willpower, demonstrating your determination to resist the dread emitted by the ghosts.

Regretful-ShadeStone of Erech is a hideously difficult quest, with a time mechanic that simulates the fall of night (powering up the encounter deck as it goes), a boss-enemy who blanks all your text-boxes, getting rid of all the clever willpower boosts you’re incorporated (Eowyn, Dain etc), and then finally the curve-ball of the battle keyword on stage 3, forcing players to quest with their otherwise-useless attack. However, whilst the difficulty is a bit high for my taste, the basic concept of the Spectral Keyword is great- it acknowledges that defeating these enemies is not simply about skill with axe or bow, but depends instead on inner resolve.

 

The Kids are All Wight

(technically, the enemies in this quest do not have the “undead” trait, just “eight” however, they still feel like a fairly obvious thematic fit, so I’ve included them here.)

North-DownsThe Barrow Wights present a more conventional combat experience, albeit with “when-engaged” effects that shut down your card-draw, resource acceleration and threat-reduction. The real headache here is the location within the quest which suddenly shifts your defence from the traditional printed defence stat to willpower. This is a problem: as the location will not start in play, and may not appear at all, you need characters with good, printed defence stats: Beregond with his free shield seems like a good option. However, once the location comes out, Beregond’s defence is suddenly zero, and Eowyn is the star defender.

With low player counts, it may be possible to manage locations sufficiently that this one is largely avoided, but otherwise, you probably need to use characters with more balanced stats like Elrond, who will defend moderately well in either situation.

Fog on the Barrow Downs does a fairly good job of capturing the feel of the books, but it largely does so via quest mechanics and locations which are immune to player-card effects. When all is said and done, the wights themselves are remarkably ordinary.

 

A Dark Doom from Angmar

ThaurdirThe current cycle is probably the point at which the designers have strayed the furthest from the written canon and into their own imagination. I don’t mean for a moment that I think it’s unrealistic for the wider setting: we know that Angmar was the Realm of the Witch King, chief of the Nazgul, and given the dark forces at work behind his actions, it should come as no surprise to find a swarm of undead in the area, even if we aren’t given a lot of detail on the relationship between Thaurdir and Daechnar of the card game and The Witch King himself (and I want to avoid spoiling the information we have been given), it would be no surprise to discover that they all come from a similar source.

As with the Wights, direct combat with these undead is remarkably vanilla. They hit, you him them back. The unique end-boss is indestructible, but otherwise, combat is very normal.

Cursed-Dead

I considered having this image as a recurring pop-up, but decided that that would be REALLY annoying

They do, of course, have their own characteristics: the oh-so-irritating ability to re-spawn from the discard pile of the Cursed Dead is a fittingly “undeadish” aspect, – perhaps a good candidate for Rossiel to chuck into the victory display (especially as these scenarios are typically all undead, so the key-word match is a benefit).

Others that play around with your own cards, penalising you for having duplicates in the discard pile, milling out your deck, or even reanimating them as enemies that will battle against you.

 

Marshes

Marsh-wightThe Undead in the Marshes are a fairly minor element, which have grown with each new sweep of the area. First time out, the players were focused on herding Gollum north and towards Mirkwood, and avoided them altogether, but they made an appearance for the nightmare re-fit. They are nastier than most of the standard enemies in the set, but that is largely just a reflection of the change in emphasis from the Original Mirkwood Cycle to its Nightmare incarnation.

By the time Sam and Frodo reached the Dead Marshes in Land of Shadow, the undead love-fest was in full swing, and these were all the enemies there were. Slightly disappointing then, that their only distinguishing feature was a prohibition on the engaged player lowering their threat (and a bit of hate against chump-blockers, but there’s nothing undead-specific about that). Attack and defence was otherwise completely normal.

 

The Culling

It wouldn’t be right to mention undead in LotR LCG without a reference to Culling at the Barrow Downs, a fan-made quest created early in the life of the game by Foenix, better-known today as Matt Newman who nowadays, along with Caleb Grace, is the game’s lead developer. Back in his days as just another member of this game’s awesome community, he created this quest, which can perhaps be seen as a precursor of the Gen Con wights quest, although with an indestructible end-boss reminiscent of Thaurdir. It’s almost as if Matt has a fondness for the undead. Obviously, you now have many ways of getting your hands on Matt’s later work, but if you’re interested, The Culling can still be found on Board Game Geek.

 

Not all Undead are Created Equal

Overall, the way the undead have been dealt with in the game is interesting, but I do wonder about the consistency. Other games, Like the Pathfinder ACG have a much higher level of consistency in how certain enemy types interact with the players: anything which is a variation on a crab will make you re-roll your successful attack (akin to giving it an armour save), all undead are immune to the mental and poison traits, and all sharks “cannot be evaded.”

I feel like it would be nice to see this kind of consistency in LotR – for example ensuring that all Undead had the spectral keyword, all flying things (bats, crows, etc) could only be fought by ranged or eagle characters or the like.

NoShadowEarly on in the game’s life, it seems that there was a bit of an attempt to do this with Wargs – a definite recurring theme around returning to the staging area after the attack, but otherwise it has been fairly inconsistent. A particular quest or encounter set will operate in a particular way, but enemies of the same type in a different cycle or expansion will operate very differently. Spiders are another major example of this. Very early on, there was a vague idea that spiders exhausted characters, or otherwise entangled them in webs, but that was played out very differently when the Hobbit Saga quests took us back through Mirkwood (ostensibly the same wood, albeit at an earlier point in time) and instead we became focused on venom, and the negative side-effects of being poisoned.

Given the number of different enemies that we deal with over the life of this game, it may well be that keeping this kind of distinguishing trait wouldn’t have been possible – certainly, the distribution model of an LCG isn’t set up to allow them a generic set of Wargs who get shuffled in every time a quest is wolf-y, or similar, and it may well be that the designers would have lost the will to live years ago if every single Warg had to have some variant on “if X, return this enemy to the staging area after it attacks” (that particular one is also a REALLY annoying mechanic if you don’t have some means of attacking the staging area, so the players would probably have been equally dismayed.) It would also mean that particular cycles of the game would likely get very same-y if all the orcs, or all the undead had identical mechanical interactions.

As usual, whilst I’ll happily offer my opinion, which comes with a liberal dose of “I’d like it to be more thematic” I don’t have the wider view of the card game that the designers have, and I don’t have to take the business view that FFG do (I basically buy all the content for this game, aside from the newer Nightmare decks, which just feel a bit needless), so shifting cards between sets is much less of a problem for me than it probably would be for official quest design. Moans aside, I do think that the quests we’ve been given provide an interesting gameplay experience,and the undead of this cycle have made interesting foes – although I think I’ll be glad to go back to fighting flesh and blood in the next Deluxe.

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…

The-Meaning-of-Haste-Front-Face

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.

BoromirHorn

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.

ffg_master-of-lore-hon

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?