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.

Are We Having Fun?

I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game since it was release, back in 2011. Aside from some more recent Nightmare packs, and last year’s GenCon Quest (which hasn’t reached the shops here yet) I own every quest released, and I have always considered this to be one of my most-played games.

Going out of Fashion?

Recently, I had a sense that this game wasn’t getting played as much as it used to, so I decided to run the numbers and check:

AveragesIf I want to go all the way back to 2011, I only have figures for how often I won this game. In this context, long-term numbers look healthy. After an initial wave of excitement, gameplay really fell off in 2012 (not coincidentally, 2012 was when I started my first real job), but then rose year-on-year for the next three years. 2015s average was over 9 plays per month. 2016 has been quiet so far: only averaging just over 4.5 wins per month by the end of the first quarter.

Figures for the number of times this has actually hit the table are slightly harder to get at, as I only have these logged from Christmas 2014 onwards. In this light, 2016 doesn’t look so barren: 14.6 last year down to 10.7 this year.  However, if you take out the 17 failed attempts I had at beating Battle of Carn Dum over a single weekend in January (I’m considering getting a new version of Thaurdir printed with a white whale as the artwork), it plummets.

I was also interested to see the shifts in the number of play-counts for games over the years. Again, it fluctuates, but overall, solo is on the rise, whilst big-group games have been in decline for a while now.

At the end of the day, that’s quite a convoluted way of saying that I definitely do still play this game, and whilst I’m not playing it as much currently as I have in the past, the shift isn’t cataclysmic.

Fun?

Despite all of that, the question I’ve been asking myself more recently, is whether I’m still enjoying it? I had a vague sense that whenever a new quest came out, I was more struck by the trial of having to take on a new quest, and figure out how to beat it than I was excited about getting to build with the new player-cards.

I think it’s definitely the case that quests over the past year or so have increasingly presented unique challenges, and that it isn’t possible to beat nearly as many quests with One Deck to Rule them All as it used to be- it’s also the case that quest difficulty generally seems to be getting harder, which is bad news if you’re as bad at deck-building as I am.

War-Pig-Front-Face

Sorry Peter Jackson, no war-pigs in organised play…

Once a month (health and basic organisational competence permitting, and so far in 2016 it hasn’t!) I play LotR LCG at the Friendly Local Gaming Store- I’ll be providing 1 or 2 decks (mine, and my wife’s if she’s around) and playing with a mixture of other folks who turn up with their own decks. The rest of the month, will mostly be playing at home, 2-player or solo games, but with the possibility that occasionally some friends will come round wanting a 4-player game, and I need to work out at short notice whether I have 4 decks which can all play together, and what quest they will be able to beat. In practice, this leads to lots of cards being swapped back and forth between decks, lots of cards then being forgotten about (because they got borrowed by another deck and never returned). At home, I use custom cards, both my own and those created by the good people of the internet, but I do then need to remember to take them out when going to more official events.

IncompleteAs it stands, ignoring Nightmare and as-yet-unavailable Print On Demand quests, there are only 2 quests I have yet to complete in 2-player on standard difficulty, 10 needing a solo run, 16 for 3-player, and 19 for 4-player. The part of me that likes spread-sheets (in fairness, that’s most of me) sees the opportunity for a 4-player game, and really wants to win, so I can tick one off of the list, and keep the “incomplete” record down to a single sheet. However, as most people will be aware, winning a pick-up game in multi-player is by no means guaranteed – as often as not, we’ll reach the end of store game night, without a victory under our belts.

Under Pressure

All of this leads to a general, over-arching sense of pressure.  Playing Lord of the Rings stops being fun, and just becomes a chore, something that needs to be kept on top of.

In a recent episode (not all that recent, I was just several episodes behind) of the Grey Company Podcast, several of the team praised the designers for the innovative decisions they had made in designing recent quests, as they felt it ensured that the game stayed fresh, rather than stagnating. I found myself listening and feeling the exact opposite: In recent times, the only time I can recall being actually excited by new quest mechanics were in Escape From Mount Gram and Murder at the Prancing Pony. The rest of the Angmar Awakened cycle, and all the Grey Havens quests just felt fiddly and annoying:

  • 20 more willpower committed than threat in the staging area? – sorry no progress, as that treachery just made it Night again.
  • That undead enemy you killed? He’s back again.
  • There’s a Safe Location over there… never, mind a troll smashed your head in before you could get to it. (the troll revealed from the encounter deck, not the troll who decided to print the Dori Hero)
  • Sailing was a pain: it felt too random, and the swing in difficulty of effects depending on whether or not you were on course was too big (on course, everything is basically simple, off-course, you might as well just give up now).
  • Double-sided locations! That’s cool right? Well no, it just felt awkward really. Another thing not behaving like it should and making it harder to keep track of what’s actually happening in the game.

Now, I don’t want this to sound like I think the designers are doing a bad job – for one thing, there are clearly plenty of people out there who are getting plenty of enjoyment out of the new content, and even without that, the fact that I’m not appreciating the latest things doesn’t necessarily mean that the content itself is bad.

That said, there’s definitely a problem. I only really feel like I can experiment with new decks for two-player games, and even then, a lot of the time, if I want to try out something new, it feels like we’re being funnelled towards a very narrow set of quests that don’t have lots of awkward mechanics.

Too hard, too fiddly

It seems like there are two distinct elements at play in the game: increased complexity and increased difficulty. I’ll say straight out for anyone who’s not familiar with my overall thoughts: this game is too hard.

thaurdir_captainI’ve long since bowed out of getting new Nightmare decks, but even in standard difficulty, there are just too many quests which are nothing short of stupid – Battle of Carn Dum remains the standout example (in 3 or 4 player, unless I see a video or a card-by-card account of a supposed victory, I don’t believe it happened), but the overall trend seems to be for ALL new quests to incline this way.

The problem with making quests this difficult, is the way it constricts deck-building. It is basically impossible to build thematic decks in this game, if you also want to be able to tackle a decent spread of modern quests – now, I’m not saying that every deck should be able to defeat every quest in every player count, but the ratio should be better than it is.

Obviously, there are some very talented deck-builders out there, both in terms of people who build very efficient “normal” decks, and the people who find broken combos, post them on the internet, and inspire an FAQ which spoils the game for the rest of us. This last seems to be another major issue: it feels like when the designers produce a new set, they’re working on the assumption that the only people playing the game are Seastan and the Grey Company.

What’s the game again?

Many people, perhaps most notably Matthew from The Grey Company, have complained about people who limit themselves by refusing to build non-thematic decks. I certainly agree it’s possible to take this too far: “I won’t have a single dwarf in this elf-deck regardless of how good it would be mechanically” is the kind of restriction which will clearly inhibit your deck’s power-level. However, at the end of the day, a lot of people are playing this game specifically because it’s Lord of the Rings. There’s a reason characters aren’t called “generic defending guy 2” or “leadership questing character 1” if you don’t pay ANY attention to theme when you’re deck building, then why play a game themed around an IP in the first place? Why does it matter whether that card I’m trying to take out is an Orc, a TIE fighter, Cthulhu, or a Traffic Warden? There has to be some sense in which this game remains part of Tolkien’s world, or else there’s no point playing a Lord of the Rings card game.

It’s also worth reiterating the fact that this is the only cooperative LCG out there. When I play Game of Thrones, I expect a level of sharpness and complexity to people’s play – if I turn up to a tournament with a poor deck, or not having practised enough and I get smashed, that’s only to be expected. But that’s also why most of the people I know who play Game of Thrones are fairly hard-core tournament gamers.

Silas-Surrounded-Board-Game

I’d still rather be facing this lot than fighting Thaurdir…

Lord of the Rings used to be a game I could introduce to friends with only a more casual interest in gaming, the sort of people who would never consider getting sufficiently invested in a competitive LCG to play it well, and the nature of the game meant that it didn’t matter if I built all their decks, they could still pilot them fairly autonomously, without my increased knowledge of what they had skewing the game balance. That no longer feels like the case – If I’ve got a group of friends over, we’re more likely to have a game of Zombicide, where we feel we can still do things and have fun before dying horribly, than take a punch to the face from the undead armies of middle earth.

Moving On

So there you are: I’m still playing a fair amount of Lord of the Rings – although not quite as much this year as last. Overall though, the biggest problem is that playing this game increasingly feels like a chore, and I need to do something about that.

I could stop playing this game. Inevitably that would mean that this blog came grinding to a halt, which I don’t want to do, but this optional is unappealing for more reasons than that: I’ve invested a lot of time and money into this game over the years, and simply to walk away would be a shame.

I could stop caring about completion. I say that. I’m not entirely confident that I could – having lists to write, quests to cross off, it all gives structure to the meta-gameplay (in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m quite OCD). This might relieve pressure in a sense, but I don’t know that it would bring back the fun.

One obvious possibility is to play more Easy Mode. Already, this seems to be how we have to play quests first time round, but there’s still a part of me that can’t get over the idea that beating a quest in Easy Mode “doesn’t really count.” Of course, from the completionist angle I’d then need to go back and replay the whole of the first two or three cycles in Easy Mode, as it didn’t exist at the time.

MountGramThe thing I would most like to see, is the one thing I certainly can’t see happening: More fun quests like Escape From Mount Gram or Trouble in Tharbad. Interestingly, both of these quests are very different from the basic “just make x progress per stage” and/or “kill this boss baddie,” but the difficulty is low enough to actually have fun building decks and trying out different styles and strategy: perhaps I wouldn’t hate Hide tests, enemy recursion, hand-size hate or whatever else it might be if the quests they came in weren’t already hammering you with so many other things. They would still be able to cater for the masochists with Nightmare decks, but they could stop punishing the rest of us by making them the target audience for the main product-line.

Where do we go from here?

I said above that I don’t think the designers are doing a bad job- but I do think they’re getting the balance of the game wrong, and I think that may be – at least in part – due to the fact that most of the noise on the internet is from the “Too Easy” crowd. That’s a large part of why I’ve written this rather rambling article, instead of just packing up and disappearing – I want to be sharing my opinion that they’re not hitting the right spots.

I’m not quite sure how I’ll proceed from here – it may go a little quiet on here for a while, although I certainly won’t let this be the last post. If I do decide to shut down, I’ll post something properly. Maybe I just need to take a short break from the game, or find some other way to refresh things, who knows…

How fortunate you are that your job is also your hobby

Some musings on Board Games, Blogging, and Growing old.

Darling

In a few short weeks, I will reach the grand old age of 33, my coming-of-age as a Hobbit. Aside from various annual medical tests, and remembering to change the batteries in the smoke alarm, this felt like a time to take stock of life and reflect. Combined with a recent episode of Cardboard of the Rings where they abandoned their typical Lord of the Rings focus to enthuse about their other favourite games, this put the idea into my head to offer a few musings on my gaming experiences, and life more generally.

Getting Started

TheClassics I don’t really remember how I got into Board Gaming – I owned things like Cluedo and Monopoly as a child, but never played them particularly often. I do remember a fair few afternoons of Scrabble at the pub as a Student, then coming into contact with some of the classic gateway drugs for my generation – Ticket to Ride, Carcassone, Settlers of Catan, probably around the time I got married.

It was also around this time that I got back into miniature wargaming – a lapsed teenage hobby, and fell in with a crowd who were experiencing an angry backlash against rules-lawyers and millimetre measures, venting their frustrations through Richard Borg’s Commands and Colours system, and introducing me to the world of Memoir ’44.

I don’t really remember how I first encountered Board Game Geek (a website I now visit several times a day), or when I first discovered the world of Fantasy Flight Games with their high-quality, high-complexity, highly addictive Living Card Game model, but over time these things all accumulated to the point where I was a fairly obsessive gamer, and anyone looking at my diary, my bookshelf or my Christmas list knew it. With Solo gaming being fairly low on my priority list, I subjected friends and family to a whole range of games with varying degrees of success, before settling down on a reasonably consistent core of regularly-played games, with lots of points being scored for “anything cooperative” and “anything Lord of the Rings”

Franchises

It’s probably fair to say we live in the golden age of Board Gaming. There are more existing games available, and more games being made than at any point I can recall. The sheer range of games available in terms of theme, style, player-count, weight and length is incredible, and there really does seem to be something for everybody. Obviously, this blog has always been focused primarily on Lord of the Rings, but there are also really solid games out there tied to Game of Thrones, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly or any one of a load of others I can’t think of right now.

It might seem like the array of things out there is bewildering – with so many to choose from how can you possibly decide? The great thing is, that this being the age of the internet, there are literally thousands of unqualified interfering folk like me out there, which means that most questions you have about a potential game purchase can probably be answered by the internet.

Going Online

Dor1 I started my first blog about 2 years ago. Dor Cuarthol, named for “The Land of Bow and Helm,” where Turin and Beleg live as outlaws harassing Morgoth’s orcs, was a place where I would talk: notionally about all Lord of the Rings Games, and in practice mostly about the LotR Living Card Game.

There were a few factors leading up to this: Cardboard of the Rings had been looking for new hosts, and I had considered throwing my hat in the ring, but being on the wrong continent made the timings of recordings impossible, so I decided against applying for the post.

Still, I wanted to get more actively involved. Although I never sat down and codified things, Dor Cuarthol was essentially a place for me to

  1. Raise obscure thematic points, hopefully in some depth
  2. Share fun ideas for Custom Cards
  3. Launch ill-conceived projects that I would never have the man-hours to complete.

Of these, the first two were easy- I began with one of many attempts to re-create the Ride of the Rohirrim in card-game form, and followed it up with an extended rant about the misuse of the “Noldor” and “Silvan” traits in the game, and questioning the lack of Sindar or Teleri.

The larger projects side of things, was a bit more hit-and-miss. I took an idea suggested in a throw-away line elsewhere (I think it was a blog, which then got picked up by Cardboard of the Rings) and created an entire custom quest where characters used Hit-Points instead of Willpower, Attack or Defence. I managed to do a reasonable amount of play-testing, and ultimately came out with something I’m fairly happy with.

On the other hand, schemes like the Difficulty Rating project, never really worked out. I still maintain that this was a good concept, but it was never going to become a worthwhile resource as a one-man show: it needed a crowd-source type of approach for the sheer number of ratings received to cancel out the difference between individual preferences on play-style. Coupled with the need to play each quest 12 times (limited card-pool, generic modern deck, and customised deck, with each of the four player-counts, this just never quite got there. I’d like to dust this off again soon, but I can’t promise anything.

 

A Few Blogs More

Fistful1 Time passed, and a year or so later, I realised that LotR LCG wasn’t dominating my game-time in the way it had been: there were other games I was getting into in a lot of detail, and had thoughts about. For these, a standard forum on a publisher’s website, or on BoardGameGeek didn’t feel like the right place to be expounding my thoughts. I did a few comparison pieces on here, looking at LotR LCG side-by-side with the Pathfinder ACG, but it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Hence, last summer, Fistful of Meeples was born.

Running two blogs at once was probably more work than I anticipated. I tend to play a small handful of games a lot, rather than just 1 or 2 plays of a very wide range, and as a result the content I could generate was somewhat sporadic: Fistful of Meeples carried the odd general musing, but often found itself focused on Pathfinder ACG, Dice Masters, Game of Thrones (LCG) or Marvel Legendary. Posting links on specialist Facebook groups and the like, I managed to get some traffic, but most of the responses / discussion stayed on the other sites.

 

Work

When I’m not playing, or writing about BoardGames, I spend most of my weekdays (and soon my evenings and some Saturdays, sadly) in a fairly mundane office-job. Like most jobs, it has occasional flashes of enjoyment as you manage to accomplish something / help someone, interspersed with long periods of tedium.

It’s been quite pleasing then, in the last few months as I’ve started another couple of part-time jobs on the side, which have impacted on my gaming somewhat.

Play-Testing

PlaytestEmail Before the paid work came, I managed to get involved in doing playtesting for one of my favourite games (whilst I haven’t actually had to sign an NDA, I’m still not supposed to reveal details publicly, so I won’t say which game).

This was a very interesting experience for me – obviously the fan-boy side of me was very excited by the sneak-preview aspect of things, and it was fascinating getting to try out new elements and ideas at the conceptual stage, along with the chance to have a limited element of dialogue with the developers.

That said, play-testing comes with a warning: the lead designers telling us loudly not to expect it to be fun. There’s a lot of repetition. A lot of things which don’t work / aren’t enjoyable, and it’s the job of the play-tester to find that out. It’s also an incredible amount of cutting, printing, copying etc, which I definitely didn’t expect.

Playtest On balance, I’m glad I’ve done play-testing. It’s given me a real appreciation of the work that goes on behind the scenes, and hopefully a more realistic sense of the finite nature of a playtest. It’s nice to look at something and be able to think “I helped make that a little bit better” – it also sheds the cold, harsh light of day on the custom content I tend to throw together on here, most of which arrives on screen without any playtesting at all.

On a good run, I’d say that roughly every other article I publish here will contain some kind of custom content, and I also did a bit of work on the original First Age expansion from “Tales from the Cards” – it’s a fairly safe bet that nothing I post on here will ever have been play-tested anywhere near as thoroughly as Ian’s output, and I’d suspect that he doesn’t have the resources to play-test as thoroughly as a company manufacturing games for a living.

Demonstrations

Moving to something that looks like a real job, first up was games-demonstration. I work on a casual contract for a major Games Distributor, demonstrating their games to the general public – I won’t mention their name as, they have no official awareness of these blogs, and they certainly don’t endorse my writing, but if you know much about the Board Games Industry in the UK, you probably know who they are.

DemoGames So far, most of the work I’ve done for them has been “store demos:” taking Dobble and something like Countdown (exactly like the TV show, including the music on the timer, excluding Rachel Riley) or Would I Lie To You (almost nothing like the TV show, this is Call My Bluff with a more current IP pasted over the top) and waving it at passers-by for 8 hours. Far more interesting (I hope) are the upcoming Conference Demos, where they send a team to Game, Comic or Sci-Fi Conventions, or even to Music Festivals, where we get to target audiences with more of a pre-existing interest in games, and play some more substantial offerings – aside from minimum wage and expenses, this job has the advantage of getting you supplied with demo copies of the games (although as noted, so far it’s been a lot of TV-based stuff that wouldn’t be top of my list of things to acquire), as well as getting into the conventions and the like to see games which I might not otherwise have the opportunity to play. It’s also a chance to make people realise that there are some great games out there, and good practice at explaining games to people.

Blogging

Reviewer

I wouldn’t say I was the only candidate for this job, but “Reviewer” is my middle name…

The second, and most recent job was game-blogging. Essentially taking what I was already doing, and doing it for someone else. I got into this by responding to a note on a mailing list, and found myself part of a small team who were being given copies of games by an online retailer, in order to write reviews of them. This seems like a good deal all-round. The retailer can direct undecided shoppers to a detailed explanation and evaluation of the game, the customer can make a more informed decision, and I get a free copy of a game in exchange for a bit of writing. Aside from ensuring that we get enough games played in a short burst of time, the only real challenge is guessing from online descriptions which games are likely to go down well, and resisting the urge to request a game just because it retails for £80!

 

The Gamer at work and play

The practical up-shot of these new jobs comes in a few different ways. First of all, it means I’m playing a bigger variety of games – so far, I’ve only received 3 different games to review, and have played them 4, 10 and 3 times respectively, but it does make an impact. Spending time on the new games, inevitably means spending less time on more established games, which means that some of the in-depth pieces on Dice Masters or Lord of the Rings become harder to write.

Storage On a practical level, I only have 1 set of shelves devoted to BoardGames, plus a nearby bookcase or 2 which are being gradually colonised. If I keep acquiring 2 new games a month, I’m going to have to be a lot stricter with myself in moving along some of the old games which don’t get played as much anymore. I had already started tracking all the games I play (I have a bit of a thing for spreadsheets), and there was already a possibility of selling or trading for games which went too long without being played: that threat grows considerably as the pressure on the shelves increases.

Unfinished Mathoms

As I mentioned at the start, I will shortly be coming of age as a Hobbit. I had long planned to mark the occasion by offering a custom-designed scenario for Lord of the Rings, representing Bilbo’s birthday party.

Some of the concepts have been fairly clearly mapped out for a while: locations around Hobbiton to be explored, whilst looking for the family spoons. With heavy penalties for using non-Hobbit characters (something like +1 threat each time a non-Hobbit enters play, maybe coupled with a Fireworks objective that a player controlling Gandalf can use to bring threat down again), the quest would probably involve some hide tests to avoid the Sackville-Bagginses, and the danger of the quest suddenly acquiring the “Battle” keyword via a Treachery representing happy hour at the Green Dragon. Lastly a show-down with Lobellia, which would probably be a willpower-based combat.

Whilst I’ve done a fair amount at the conceptual level, actual card stats, ratios, or anything approaching play-testing are currently stuck at zero. As a result, the chance of the quest appearing by a week Monday, or even “at all” look ever slimmer.

Whether this constitutes a curtailing of larger projects, or simply a more realistic outlook to projects that would never have been completed is slightly up for debate.

 

I still enjoy gaming. And now that I have both a job that pays me TO play board games, and a job that pays me IN board games, am now indeed in the fortunate position that my job is also my hobby. Sadly British Gas, Severn Trent Water and Sainsbury’s have all responded negatively to my offers to take payment in board games, so I’ll continue to stick at the office-job for now. I’m still waiting for a response from the landlord…

The Ins and Outs of Deck-Building – Part 2

Last week I started taking a look at the issue of deck-building, via my ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a quad-sphere Hobbit deck. Whilst that enterprise was unsuccessful, I’m still looking at the issue of deck-building, this time with a slightly different deck, before going on to look at some more general principles and tips.

In High Spirits

The other deck I’ve been inspired to build recently, is a mono-spirit one. Instantly, the one-spirit limitation puts some useful restrictions on what I can possibly include (unless I start getting carried away with Songs) so I was more optimistic about getting a compact build out of this one.

ArwenCaldaraThain The plan here is for something involving Hero-Arwen, Caldara, and Sword-Thain. Arwen makes it easy to put allies into your discard pile, and generates some money, Sword-Thain gives you a 4th Spirit Hero, so Caldara can return 3 allies instead of 2, and the combination of Arwen’s resource-generation and that extra hero make it easier to pay for Fortune or Fate to bring her back and go round again.

There are 12 unique allies in Spirit, of which one is Arwen, who can’t be in play at the same time as her Hero version. Out of the remaining 11, there are various good candidates for who to make the Hero although as Seastan noted on a recent Episode of Cardboard of the Rings, Dwalin is a good choice as you can use Well-Equipped to put Sword-Thain on him for free – an easy thing to set up if you’re using an Imladris Stargazer.

The first run at this deck then, felt like it should be a lot easier that trying to build a slightly schizophrenic quad-sphere: the deck has a clear idea of what it’s doing, and isn’t pulling in too many directions. Lots of Spirit Allies are the obvious starting point, including high-cost ones to maximise the benefit of Caldara-ing them into play, rather than paying normally. You also need some key glue cards like Sword Thain, Imladris Stargazer and Fortune or Fate, utility cards like Elven Light (Card-Draw), Dwarven Tomb (recycling) and the Spirit Staples such as Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, Elrond’s Counsel. Just sitting down and throwing things together, I came out with a first pass of 65 cards.

Damrod I managed to do some whittling just by leafing through a couple of times, but suddenly it became apparent that the “clear idea” this deck had wasn’t as clear as it might seem. I knew I needed lots of Spirit allies, but how many? As noted above, I put in lots of the high-cost characters to maximise the resource gain from Caldara, but I also needed some low-cost options for early rounds where I was playing normally. I’d chosen Frodo as my third hero, which also raised question-marks about how much threat control I needed. With defence taken care of, there was still the question of attack, which remained a slightly hazy area, depending on whether I was using the deck Solo (in which case it really needs to be able to handle combat) or multi-player, where it could be a question deck opposite a Tactics Aragorn and the Dunedain deck.

The large amount of discard involved in this deck, through cards like Zigil Miner, Well-Equipped, and even a copy of Emery, plus the repeatable draw from Arwen + Elven Light mean that I’m likely to see more cards than usual, and a slightly over-sized deck isn’t necessarily the end of the world. However, every extra card in the deck makes it roughly 1% less likely that I’ll have drawn my key card after Mulligan (with multiple ways to draw/discard, I think the Imladris Stargazer is probably the key card to set-up everything else).

I gave this a couple of runs in Khazad-Dum, 2-player: it managed to pull-off the discard for a Northern Tracker and a Lorien Guide, getting rid of a pair of watchful eyes that were attached to Caldara, before bringing her back for +2. As expected though, combat was a challenge, and the swarmy nature of all those little goblinses meant we were often in danger of getting overrun. I’m fairly confident of getting this into a decent shape with a bit more table-time, and whilst 50 is probably not likely to happen, at-least sub-60 should be doable

Slimming Techniques

BomburGoing back to the decks which bloat then, the question remains: how do you decide what to leave out?

Speaking as the person least equipped to answer this question, I think it’s important now that the card-pool has reached this size, to have a clear idea in mind of what do you want your deck to do? There is no “One Deck to Rule Them All” – you may be able to build a deck which is sufficiently good at something (such as getting allies out) that it manages to cover a lot of aspects of the game, but it will be doing it from a particular direction. The crucial second step of this process, is to recognise what your deck isn’t trying to do! To put all this another way, don’t just include something because it’s a “Good Card” – include it because it’s a Good Card for this deck.

You also need to think about your Resource Curve. Better Men and Bears than me have explained this concept in a lot of detail before, but it’s possible to state fairly simply: If you have one Hero in a particularly sphere, you need to think hard before you put a 4 or 5-cost card in of that sphere. Or before you put in loads and loads of 3-costers.

BeaconsThe next thing is probably the one I struggle most with, but there are times when you need to ask yourself, what is an unaffordable luxury? Something might seem like a really nice effect, but if you can’t really set it up, pay for it, or in other ways trigger it, then it’s probably time to think again. Ally Faramir and Sword That Was Broken on Aragron, are both great cards in a deck focused on spitting out dozens of cheap allies to swarm the quest with. If you’ve got a build which focuses on getting 2 or 3 big allies into play, you’ve potentially just spent a lot of money on a fairly limited effect.

Obviously, there is a certain amount of overlap between all these areas. The Galadhrim’s Greeting is a great card- who doesn’t love -6 threat (or -2 threat each for several of you). However, if you’ve only got a single spirit Hero, who is saving resources for cancellation, and trying to put out some key allies, are you really going to have 3 spare Spirit Resources to play it? It’s not doing what you want your deck to do, it doesn’t match your resource curve, and overall, it may well be an unaffordable luxury.

SpiritStaplesThe last thing I’d add, is that you need to make the hard choices. Despite all I’ve said above, it’s very rare that I build a deck with Spirit in that doesn’t have at least one copy of Galadhrim’s Greeting. And an Unexpected Courage or Two. And some Northern Trackers… Every time I touch on an area, or a sphere, there are a dozen other cards I just instinctively want to drop in alongside it. If you want to build effective decks for this game, you need to avoid my mistakes, and stay sharp.

Theme

RohanEvents As an aside, it’s worth mentioning the possibility of making deck-building decisions based on theme. Obviously there is a mechanical element to this: If you’ve got Celeborn in play, lots of Silvan Allies and lots of bouncing effects will make sense – it helps you maximise that +1/+1/+1 benefit. Equally though, you may choose to leave out the Warden of Healing, and include the Daughter of Nimrodel because she’s a better fit thematically, even if the Warden is more flexible (and in the same game as Hero Elrond, just plain better).

Conclusion

As noted at the start, I’m a terrible deck-builder, and probably the last person you should be taking advice from, but I hope this has been a helpful pair of articles, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else, offering hope to those of us without the skills to build like the masters. I’d be interested to know what strategies anyone else uses when building- how you decide what to leave out, and how you keep that deck trimmed.