After many months of silence, and a general lack of new content for Lord of the Rings LCG, everything kicked off in the last few weeks of 2017.
We got an FAQ, which came with major errata to 3 Heroes and a selection of player-cards, the long-awaited release of a rather underwhelming Adventure Pack, the announcement of a new cycle, and the launch announcement for a digital re-invention of the game.
Although this blog has more-or-less shut-up-shop, it felt like this was a time worth offering a thought or two.
I hate errata. I think I need to begin there.
One of the big selling points of the LCG format has always been the predictability, the fact that everyone who buys the pack gets the same thing.
As soon as you change cards, that’s not the case anymore.
We have a couple of new-ish players of LotR coming to our monthly meet-up at the FLGS – they’ve probably been coming along for 9 months (although I’m notoriously bad at time-frames), and are still picking up the cards. A little while back, we noticed that 2 of us have copies of Zigil Miner in play – except that mine comes from when Khazad Dum was originally printed in 2011, his was a reprint 6 years later- now we’ve got 2 copies of the same card, that have different abilities.
I only ever built a dedicated Zigil Miner deck once, it was fun enough to try for a change, but I never felt the need to use it to break every quest. The designers felt differently, and decided that the card needed to be changed.
For a competitive card game, the designers need to be constantly re-balancing the meta, to ensure the game remains fun and playable, to keep the tournament scene viable.
For a co-op game though, that’s not the case. If a card is making the game too easy for you– DON’T USE IT! I’d be amazed if even 1% of LotR time is organised play, these changes just aren’t needed.
Even if you accept the concept of an errata-dealing FAQ, I feel like FFG has a history of breaking entirely the wrong card to deal with a “problem:”
Someone creates a 5-card combo to draw their entire deck? – let’s make Master of Lore completely useless to stop them doing it, and thereby remove pseudo-resource affects from a poor sphere with expensive cards!
With that context laid down, these card-by-card thoughts on someone of the standout changes probably won’t surprise you, but here goes.
Someone is boring enough to spend all their resources every round on Thicket of Spears, constantly recycling with Hama? – let’s put a crushing limit on Hama (who was hardly overrunning the game to begin with) and remove the nearest thing Tactics have to viable card draw!
Boromir certainly had potential to get very powerful. However, you still needed lots of threat reduction to use him much, and the really “game-breaking” effects came from people combo-ing him Steward of Gondor, Blood of Numenor, and Gondorian Fire – that’s right, a three-sphere combo which needs to be left for several rounds (rounds in which you’re spending virtually zero tactics resources) to actually make much difference. In applying the limit to Boromir, they’ve made him unable to fend off 2 or 3 attacks and at least launch 1 counter-attack in a desperate situation – the broken combo players will find another way to abuse the card-pool, but his utility for survival in a pinch is massively curtailed.
Caldara decks could be a bit bonkers at times, but the only reactions I ever had from people playing opposite it was “wow that’s cool” and “now we can finally beat the stupid quest that’s been stomping on our faces and actually enjoy the game again.”
The Caldara deck is dead now, its demise blamed on Ally Imrahil (a 4-cost ally who I was sure I’d previously read didn’t work timing-wise) and Sword-Thain, which is also 4-cost card with a shortage of decent targets to play it on [they’re either too expensive (Jubayr, Sulien) or have appalling stats (Emery)]. Honestly, the amount of set-up the deck required meant that whilst it was powerful, it still wasn’t an auto-win. Whilst the designers seek to reassure us that we can still use her ability once, the whole play-style has been crushed: chucking all your big allies into the discard pile is fine if you think you will get multiple attempts to get them back, but if you’re limited to an absolute max of 4 per game, then all you’re doing is losing most of the best cards in your deck.
The last one which really wound me up was We Are Not Idle – a card which could previously gain you a bit of resource acceleration now only triggers off of dwarf heroes, not dwarf characters. Once again, the logic stinks: yes, you can exhaust a million dwarves, get a million resources, and then ready them all with Lure of Moria, but if you’ve got that many dwarves in play, you’ve probably already got things sussed. Where this card previously had real value was in the early turns for generating the odd resource or two to get things moving. It can’t do that anymore.
As I said above, I don’t like errata, I don’t think it has a place in a cooperative game, unless there’s a card that’s literally broken (Ravens of the Mountains). Even then, it’s something that’s clarifying a common-sense interpretation (i.e. the way most people were playing it anyway). As a whole, I think this FAQ stinks with most, if not all, of the decisions they made being the wrong ones.
I also found the article justifying the FAQ particularly disingenuous – focusing on worst-case examples, and completely trivialising costs – ‘Eleanor with Doughty Ranger and Wingfoot can nullify treacheries as a card-type’ they say, ignoring the need to draw and play a multi-card combo, the impact of surge or doom, or the extra locations and enemies you end up with (remember Eleanor always draws a replacement). They also talk about We Are Not Idle allowing you to play every ally in your deck by turn 2 “when recurring this card” – as if recurring events is now something you can just do for free, by magic.
As a last note on the FAQ, there’s a question of timing. The game has got MUCH harder in recent times, as the designers build quests designed to tax the most powerful of decks. Our enjoyment of Mountain of Fire has been severely curtailed by not being able to get past the first scenario. Probably the way to finally get this to go away would be to throw Caldara at it, but ‘officially’ that’s no longer an option.
I have no intention of implementing any of the changes that this FAQ includes, and for home play that’s fine. It does cause problems for organised play though – sometime soon we’ll be gathering to play Attack on Dol Guldur (we had to cancel the FFG-imposed December date as they hadn’t sent it) – the GenCon quest that nobody beat. If they wanted us to play with these Nerfed decks, they could at least design quests that did something other than punch us in the face.
Once we’d had a chance to get over the shock of the FAQ it was December, and time for news. We’d been promised a “Big Announcement” and were all really hoping that this wasn’t it when they announced… the next Deluxe.
Now obviously, if you’re a fan of the game, and you want ongoing content, a new deluxe is nice, but it’s hardly a bomb announcement to end six months of silence.
Wilds of Rhovanion takes us north from Harad and off into the East. In one sense, this is obvious terrain for the game to go into – it’s sufficiently wild and off-the-beaten-track to accommodate the adventures that minor-league heroes should be having.
That said, the expansion didn’t do a great deal to grab me. For one thing, the first two quests: Journey up the Anduin and Lost in Mirkwood look like fairly thinly-veiled re-hashes of the opening Core Set scenarios, except that by now the enemies have trebled in size, and hit for 5, twice in a round.
Assuming you make it through that slog fest, you can proceed to Dale, where Bard Son of Brand (not to be confused with his great-grandfather) joins Brand Son of Bain to flesh out the “Dale” trait – customise your decks with merchants who ship attachments around the wild lands of the east. Possibly there’s some mechanical interest in attachment manipulation and “Guarded” player cards, but thematically this just bored me.
The Future is Digital
A day later, everything became clear. The Deluxe announcement was just to make sure that people didn’t think the game was dying. Obviously, they do that all the time, but it was probably even more likely in the face of the new announcement for Fantasy Flight’s first Digital LCG.
Rather than just another OCTGN re-hash, this is definitely its own game. Although you still have 3 heroes, decks are only 30-cards and the game is designed to break down into 10-20 minute sessions. There are just 2 phases: Planning and Adventure, and Sauron is an AI, with his own resources to spend on objectives, treacheries and enemies. Staging area and encounter-deck locations have been replaced with simply the place your party currently finds itself.
Combat is simplified – enemies and the hero they fight deal simultaneous damage (defence is no longer a thing). Resource matching is also thing of the past, with resources now being usable wherever – instead Hero spheres turn into deck-building requirements: cards now have “Levels” with level 1, 2 or 3 cards requiring the corresponding number of heroes in that sphere.
All-in-all, it sounded interesting, although I did have a few major concerns. Firstly the platform: it’s Steam only, at least to begin with, which feels odd, as this seems to be a game that’s far more suited to tablet play than sitting down at a PC. The feeling seems to be that Android and iOS will follow, although I’ve not found a concrete source for that (I’ve read all the articles I could find from FFG, but not seen the video of the live-stream where they made the initial announcement).
It’s also unclear how exactly this will break down financially. It’s described as “free-to-play” but it’s unclear how the expanding card/adventure pool will work. There are some noble-sounding statements about “Valour” (points earned through game play) being “the heart of the game’s economy” but the break-down makes it sound like the Valour cards can be purchased with either Valour or real money, whilst the larger Hero packs sound like cash-only acquisitions.
Now obviously, FFG is making this game because they want to turn a profit, so I’m not expecting a completely free experience, but I’ll be watching closely to see just how much scope there is to play without paying through the nose. (assuming there’s an iOS version available…)
A Missed Opportunity?
The more I looked at the announcement information, the more I felt like they had missed an opportunity.
The Physical LCG…
I need to be less casual with my use of names, as there’s now The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (the thing I’ve been referring to as LotR LCG for years) and The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (the new digital thing).
Anyway, the physical game feels increasingly bloated and old – there are too many cards: ancient Core Set cards with no plausible use in the modern day, powerful deck-definers, nerfed errata fodder, recently arrived non-entities that simply drown in the over-sized pool. The quests are increasingly fiddly, and too much of the difficulty feels like “hard for hard’s sake.”
I think this would have been the moment for a re-set. LotR LCG 2.0 – they could have timed it to coincide with the release of the upcoming Amazon series, and even borrowed a leaf out of Mansions of Madness’ book and have it partially app-driven, which would allow them to have the Sauron AI, or to reduce the book-keeping involved.
I’ve said similar things before, but right now, I really can’t see myself buying any more content for this game, beyond the 6th and final AP of the current cycle. I don’t care about Bard-son-of-Brand-son-of-Bain-son-of-Bard, and have no particular desire for yet another slog through Mirkwood with even bigger spiders (especially as Nightmare Passage Through Mirkwood is one of the few Nightmare Quests that actually feels worth playing rather than the original). Maybe they’ll announce that we’re finally getting a Thranduil hero and give him a sufficiently cool ability that they tempt me back in, but right now I’m quite happy playing Arkham and hoping it doesn’t get him with the errata-hammer any time soon. When I do feel the LotR itch again, I’ve plenty of content to wade through.