I’ve mentioned a few times in recent posts the idea of a “characters not leaving play” mechanic – whereas the Rohirrim or the Silvan have various effects which key off of characters bouncing in and out of your deck or hand, I wanted to see something which would reward you for leaving characters in play.
Obviously, to an extent the game inherently rewards you for keeping any character in play, because you still have the character. If you’re paying 2 or 3 resources for a single use, that’s a fairly steep price. If you get to use them repeatedly, it’s a much better return on your money.
However, I wanted to go beyond that, to find effects that would actively reward you for keeping all of your characters in play. In order to make this balance, it would need to be combined with things that punished you when characters leave play.
The first question – posed by Master of Lore last time, was which faction would be best suited to this. Whilst Silvan seemed to have a fair amount of logic behind it thematically, this flies directly in the face of the existing cards. Ents were also a possibility, but I’ve already created Ent cards, and I’m quite happy with the mechanic I’ve got going there.
Ultimately, I decided to opt for the Dunedain. Although small in number, the Dunedain are a highly influential group, both within the events of Lord of the Rings, and in the card game. Without Aragorn and his rangers, the Shire could have been attacked years earlier, and Gollum would never have been captured, most likely leading to Frodo being still at home when the Nazgul arrived. The Grey Company (the original one, not the podcast) provided Aragorn with vital support, as he faced the paths of the dead, and intercepted the Corsairs at Pelargir.
In the game, notable Dunedain characters are Aragorn, Beravor, and the Northern Tracker, without whom most of us would never have survived the Mirkwood cycle. Even today, after errata and changes to the meta-game, they are still vital components of many a quest.
Despite their valour, the Dunedain are the very last survivors in the north of the men of Numenor, and they cannot afford to sacrifice their lives every time a stray orc wanders their way. They are extremely hardy, and have lifespans beyond those of ordinary men. Their woodcraft and survival knowledge allow them to establish strong positions, and they need to be prepared so that they can fight again another day.
Having established the thematic background, I then went to work on a few cards. First of all, characters.
First of all, the archer. Very simple. He’s a powerful attacker, and cheap for his stats. However, you have to get this far into the round without losing a character to be able to take advantage of his ability.
For anything other than attack, I decided as a basic mechanic, to go for something which added resources each round, discarded the resources when characters left play, and gained additional power based on those resources. This was a bit clunkier than I would have liked, but seemed relatively workable, without needing to keep track of too many things.
These are the allies I’ve created. I wanted to make sure that I had some kind of coverage for the spheres which currently lack Dunedain allies, as well as some solid character-based support for this whole theme.
For attachments, I decided that limiting them to particular points in the round was the way forward – obviously they would need to be played in the planning phase, like any other attachment, but I decided to make their power trigger at the end of the round. In the meantime, there would be forced effects to either exhaust or discard them if a character left play. Unfortunately, this produced a bit of a dilemma mechanically. If I made it a refresh action, then the card would always be ready by the time it came to trigger the action. If I made it a combat action, then players would have the option to trigger it before defending attacks (which, evidently is major time for characters to be leaving play).
Sadly, this meant I had to go for something a bit clunky: Combat action: after you have finished resolving attacks, exhaust this to … – it’s not what I’d have liked, but hopefully it will do the job.
I decided to create an attachment in each sphere, and for each one, I wanted to tap into one of the core abilities of the sphere. Resource acceleration for Leadership, Damage for Tactics, Card-Draw for Lore, and Threat control for Spirit.
The next question was around power-level. I wanted to make sure that these cards were powerful enough to be worth having, without being too powerful. Obviously, anyone running these cards is not going to be able to make effective use of the various Rohan effects, The Tree People, Horn of Gondor, Valiant sacrifice etc. On the other hand, they stand a good chance of building up a decent-sized ally force.
In the end, I decided to try the following:
As you all know, I’m more of a stickler for theme than the designers tend to be, so I’m restricting these to Dunedain heroes only. I considered “play only if you control at least 1 Dunedain hero” but that was just too many words on the card.
Overall, these feel fairly well balanced to me- evidently, there’s some very good potential here – repeat damage, threat control, resource acceleration or card-draw. However, it doesn’t have the predictability of the more powerful uniques like Steward of Gondor, and it’s still subject to standard attachment hate. I wondered about giving them traits, but they don’t really fit as “signals” (the existing Dunedain attachment theme) and there was nothing else which seemed like it would have a significant gameplay impact.
Lastly, I considered the idea of events. Events are tricky as they tend to be one-off effects which disappear before they’d have a chance to check whether anyone had left play. I decided to have a go though
All in all, I think there’s enough here to provide for a Dunedain play-style across any or all of the spheres, which feels different from the existing trait-based decks, and which fits reasonably well with the existing cards – Dunedain Watcher is potentially a bit of a jar, but the various other mechanics, including secrecy all mesh fairly well.
The most obvious card I haven’t made a version of here, is Halbarad. There are already a few versions of him out there, and to be honest I really hope that they bring out an official version soon. If I haven’t seen one by the end of the cycle, I might revisit this.
For anyone not familiar with the Dunedain – check out Master of Lore’s Beravor review article for some more background.