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Places We’ve Been – Voice of the Ringmaker

after a slightly longer pause than intended (I blame starting a new job), it’s time for the next installment in the Locations review.


In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you all know that The Ringmaker cycle is probably my least favourite so far – I never really liked the time mechanic, the Dunlendings felt thematically off, and it failed to deliver on early promise of finally fleshing out the Rohan trait.

For this article though, I’ll do my best to put as many of those personal gripes as I can aside (I can’t promise 100% success), and focus on the locations of the cycle: how they worked, when they were hideously convoluted, and the positive aspects.


Taking the Hobbits to Isengard (gard, gard, gard…)

The Deluxe itself- Voice of Isengard – laid the foundation for 3 fairly distinct settings in the campaign: the plains around Isengard itself, the wild hills of Dunland, and dark and ominous forests. Interestingly, comparatively few of the locations from this box actually found their way into the later adventures, with the enemies and treacheries being the cards more commonly carried over.

broken-lands-locationOne of the few encounter sets which did show up repeatedly, was Broken Lands. First appearing in the Second Scenario, To Catch an Orc, it had 3 copies of 1 hideous location, the eponymous Broken Lands themselves. Whilst they only had 2 threat, they were a chunky 6 progress to explore, and has a passive effect which prevented progress being placed on locations in the staging area whilst they were in the staging area. The rest of the locations in that scenario were, actually, not that huge (average threat/progress of 3), but there was one – Methedras – which boosted the threat of all the others, and things could swiftly get out of control. Essentially, once you drew Broken Lands, you had to travel and clear it, before you drew another copy – in high-player counts, an early one of these basically meant instant location-lock.

The Woodland setting for into Fangorn kept threat on locations moderate, but required high numbers of progress to get anywhere.

The Ringmaker

Moving on into the cycle proper, the non-unique locations were generally not the central focus of the quests – although some, like The Three Trials, still hit you hard with the 3 non-unique, but only copy each Barrow locations, with an average threat of 3, and 8 progress required. Others like the Dunland Trap or The Antlered Crown spun on a quest-card mechanic that somewhat dwarfed the impact of individual cards in the staging area.

Trouble in Tharbad

decrepit-rooftopsEasily my favourite scenario of this cycle was Trouble in Tharbad – it got a bit of stick when it came out (especially from some of the power-gamers) for being too easy, but in my book, that was a significant part of its charm: this was a scenario that allowed enough scope for players to try different things out, rather than just charging full-tilt with an aggro deck at everything. (it’s worth remembering that this is around the time that the One-Boromir-to-rule-them-all deck first came to prominence).

Tharbad also had some brilliantly simple and thematic locations. The Decrepit Rooftops sent all the enemies back to the staging area (you are hiding on the roof), whilst the Streets of Tharbad gave all the enemies -20 engagement cost (what do you expect walking down the road in broad daylight?)

Bogged Down

finger-of-glanduinThe trouble with Tharbad is that it was followed up immediately with the absolute slog that is Nin-in-Eilph. The positive about this quest, is that it captured very well the feeling of trudging around in a swamp whilst hopelessly lost. The problem is that trudging around in a swamp whilst hopelessly lost is a fairly miserable experience – it isn’t really one which you want to recapture accurately! Finger of Glanduin acted like a reverse Northern Tracker, eating away the progress on locations, whilst Sinking Bog gave characters -1 to all their stats for each Item they had.

By the end of the cycle, the complexity was really starting to stack up. Celebrimbor’s Secret saw locations destroyed, which got them out of the staging area, but powered up some really nasty quest effects. The Antlered Crown was a fairly early experiment with separating the locations and (some of) the enemies into separate decks, it was a constant nightmare for attempting to keep track of all the different passive effects and triggers. Amongst all that, you had a pile of locations with time counters on, whose power to hurt you far outweighed their modest stats. As always, credit to the designers for their innovation, but by-and-large, these quests felt like a bit of a miss to me.

Number-crunching the Ringmaker cycle is slightly difficult. For one thing, the classic strategy of just about keeping your head above water until you can get a couple of Northern Trackers out and watch the locations go away was rarely viable in a quest that featured time, or in one which featured the Broken Lands. This was a cycle where you had to power quest every turn, take the big attacks on the chin, and be ready to hit back twice as hard. As such, the actual difficulty posed by the locations was probably greater than in a quest pre-time-mechanics where the average threat and progress values were the same. For that reason, the numbers generally look fairly reasonable: average threats around 3, with progress requirements probably nudging a bit closer to 4, it doesn’t look like a major step up from Against the Shadow, but it certainly had the potential to feel that way.

Giving hope to Men

idraenAt least the Ringmaker cycle did give some scope to allow the players to tech against all these nasty locations. A new hero, Idraen was probably the first to interact directly with locations, and her ability to ready after a location was explored allowed long-neglected cards like Strength of Will to make a come-back: if you can travel to a location which only needs 2 more progress, this card essentially allows her to explore it for free.

Along with Idraen, the first of the scouts, we got some early support for the scout trait, in the form of the Warden of Arnor attachement. Once attached to a questing scout Hero, this placed a progress token on the first location revealed every round.

StriderThis card always felt a bit lacklustre to me: it draws my mind back to a “Strider” custom hero I made several years ago, a Spirit version of Aragorn who acted as a Thalin for locations, placing 1 progress on each location revealed whilst he was questing. Given the size of modern locations, I really don’t think that the card would have been overpowered if it had done this, and my lack of enthusiasm is unlikely to change, but it is at least cheap enough that if you’ve got a scout who’s going to be questing every round, there’s little reason not to slap it on her.

Aside from these two, there wasn’t really a lot more on offer for dealing with locations: Ringmaker saw the rise of the Silvans, talented multi-taskers, and sneaky little blighters, but with little in the way of direction location control. It did lead to a bit of a revival for the Lorien Guide, who was good at whittling away active locations, but did little for the staging area.

Final Thoughts

Ringmaker is still the cycle I look back on with the least fondness, and was the point at which I first let slip my ongoing aim of beating all new quests at least once with 1, 2, 3 and 4 players. The locations are more irritating than intriguing, and apart from Tharbad, they didn’t particularly interest me.

However, the Scout trait got its start there, and this was probably the first time we really got focused location-control decks (3 Spirit Heroes + 3 Northern Trackers doesn’t count), and those can still be used 2 or 3 cycles later, with the hills of Dunland far behind us, so it wasn’t a dead loss.

That’s about all for today, but I’ll be back in a week or 2 to take a look at the locations in the Saga boxes which represented The Two Towers.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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


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.



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.


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…


What is Dead May Never Die


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

Who’s That Girl?

The most recent release for Lord of the Rings the Card game, was Escape from Mount Gram, which comes complete with a new Lore hero, the Silvan elf Rossiel.

rossielRossiel is the 7th Hero in the game to exist only in world of Fantasy Flight – Thalin, Beravor and Eleanor are shared with their earlier release, Middle Earth Quest, but Mirlonde, Caldara, Idraen and now Rossiel are purely creations for the LCG.

In terms of why the designers have created these characters, there are a few major possibilities. An obvious point to note at the outset, is that all four LCG only characters and (at least) 2 of the core-set figures are female. Contrast this with the characters drawn directly from Tolkien’s canon, where Eowyn and Galadriel are the only female heroes we’ve seen, and it’s understandable that the designers might be looking to redress the balance.

A Man’s world?

In terms of whether the designers need to create their own characters in order to have more female heroes, I thought I’d do a quick consideration of some of the other possibilities out there for hero status in the card game.

"If you want him, come and claim him!" is actually directed to Glorfindel, and talking about the horse...

“If you want him, come and claim him!” is actually directed to Glorfindel, and talking about the horse…

Arwen is an obvious choice, and is probably only being held back by the quality of the Ally version (although I like to think it’s an angry Glorfindel fan who still hasn’t forgiven Liv Tyler for stealing Asfaloth.)

Beyond that, things get murky – there’s definitely potential to add someone like Ioreth (healer/wise woman in Gondor, spends most of Aragorn’s coronation talking) and given the slightly vague chronology of this game, you could probably stretch in either direction for Gilraen (Aragorn’s mum) or Lothiriel (Imrahil’s daughter and, after the War, Eomer’s wife), but beyond that you’re starting to scrape the barrel with geographically dubious figures like Goldberry or Rosie Cotton, figures from too long ago like Celebrian or Dis, or figures we just don’t know that much about about, like Theodwyn (sister to Theoden, mother of Eomer and Eowyn) or Morwen (mother of Theoden and Theodwyn).

In sum, there’s definitely potential for the designers if they really wanted to create another female hero based on a canon character, but I certainly don’t think there’s a blindingly obvious candidate whose omission seems strange, in the way that there was before the arrival of Galadriel. Aside from Arwen (who does exist in the game, just not in hero form) none of the names above stand out nearly as much as a figure like Thranduil, whose continuing absence is a bit odd, to say the least.


In terms of chronology, the game is somewhat guilty of breaking its own rules – it was originally stated as being set during the 17 years between Bilbo’s Eleventy-First Birthday in TA3001 and Frodo’s departure from the shire in 3018. However, we have since seen Saga expansions which take us a long way back before this to the events of Bilbo’s Unexpected Journey in the 2940s, and forward into the events of the War of the Ring itself (you’d have to imagine we’ll eventually reach the end of the Third Age)

Taking these wider time-frames, most of these figures are reasonable – Gilraen and Morwen would be getting fairly old by 3001 and Theodwyn died not long after, but 60 years earlier is a different matter. Chronology for Dis is fairly sketchy, but she was younger than her brother Thorin, so should be around at least as long as him. Celebrian sailed into the West about 500 years earlier though, so she’s probably out. To sum up:

Too early:

  • Celebrian (sailed west in 2510),
  • Ivorwen – (2857 – 2929)

Ok for this time period

  • Dis (2760 -?)
  • Gilraen (2907 – 3007)
  • Morwen (2922 – 3005)
  • Theodwyn (2963-3002),
  • Lothiriel

[Just for reference, the Battle of Five Armies was in 2941, Biblo’s birthday in 3001 and The Ring leaves The Shire in 3018]


Putting aside any desire the designers may have to offer a broader range of female heroes for the players, there is another reason for them to create their own heroes, and that is simply greater creative scope.

The Fantasy-Flight-created heroes of the earlier cycles were fairly generic, cardboard cut-out figures, with little known about them beyond their race and traits. We can make our own assumptions about Beravor the Ranger vs Eleanor the Gondorian Noble, but it’s essentially guesswork.

Over time, Fantasy Flight seem to have been getting more adventurous in this regard though. Last year, Idraen came with a short-story of how she rescued a young girl from Bree who had lost her way whilst out berry-picking, although the emphasis remained on the strange, unknown nature of these Dunedain.

What's he really up to?

What’s he really up to?

Rossiel also comes complete with a biography, this time giving us more of an account of her childhood and upbringing: her studies under the lady Galadriel, the violent death of her sister at the hand of some orcs, and how she came to be wandering the wilds on these adventures. As the designers have developed the overarching story-arc which links the quests, this is an area they can explore in a way which just wouldn’t be as plausible if they were dealing with a figure well-established in Lord of the Rings canon.

Over the past few cycles, the narrative behind the quests has taken a bigger and bigger role.  Instead of a string of scenarios connected in only the loosest fashion (Dwarrowdelf) we find ourselves part of a wider 9-part narrative. I’ve no idea yet what plans the designers have for Iarion or Amarthiul, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them appear as a hero – assuming they don’t end up going all Lord Alcaron on us.


It’s also worth noting, of course, that a newly-imagined FFG character can be sent questing with anybody, whereas a second or third (or fourth) version of one of Tolkien’s existing creations could only be fielded at the expense of one of the current iterations. I ran a pair of decks through Black Riders and The Road Darkens, using core set Aragorn, only to reach Treason of Saruman and discover that he had to give way to his Fellowship iteration. (On the plus side, if you’ve given him one of the “permanent” attachments, it does carry over to Fellowship Aragorn).

Whilst there’s plenty of scope for the designers to weave their own tales for home-grown heroes, the proposition for fan-creations is slightly different – obviously, we can carve out our own little corner of the Mythos, and create a character, but it’s harder for us to put a paper insert in everyone’s next adventure pack. Rather than creating a new character (or two) from scratch I decided to make hero cards for some of the Ladies of Middle Earth mentioned above – it had been a while since I did any custom-cards. I also wanted to share a bit of insight on my thought-process in creating them. I have no idea whether the designers approach things in a way at all similar to me, but thought you might be interested in my approach.



The main thing that we know about Dis is that she was the mother of Fili and Kili, as well as the sister or Thorin. As the only named female dwarf in Tolkien’s lore, she has been the subject of much speculation and fan-fic, but I wanted to keep things fairly simple. At the most basic level, she needs to be able to bring her sons along, hence the ability to pay for dwarves from any sphere. This more-or-less dictated that she needed to be within Leadership, which is a bit of a shame, as it’s already the sphere where we have the greatest excess of Dwarf heroes. However, tactics – the sphere lacking a third hero seemed the worst fit.

Stats wise, it seemed reasonable to assume that any sibling of Thorin’s would have a reasonable amount of willpower, but as she never crops up in any of the adventures, a high attack stat didn’t seem right. I decided to carry across being a reasonable defender too. Fili and Kili are already a powerful combo, so I deliberated for a while over whether it would be too much to give them an additional boost when she was in play – so far this is something we’ve only really seen with Elladan and Elrohir, and it’s definitely a mechanic I’d like to see more of, but I decided to leave it, at least for now.



Gilraen, the mother of Aragorn was one of the Dunedain, although not herself a direct member of the royal line. She was the one who took the young Aragorn to Rivendell where she hoped he would be safe.

There were a few possibilities in terms of her ability – relating to hiding in Rivdenell, I thought that something secrecy-related would be nice, but I also wanted to create some kind of Dunedain synergy – for example an ability which benefitted from engaging enemies, although it was tricky to balance this with the theme of a non-combat-focused character. Lowering the threat of others by drawing enemies away from them seemed the best bet. The fact that her ability can only benefit others, not herself seemed to tie in well with the flavour-text.

I’m not aware of anything to suggest that Gilraen ever spent much time adventuring, so have made her fairly flimsy in combat, to allow a low threat level, but she can still quest reasonably, and is less likely to get taken out unexpectedly than a hobbit. 



Lothiriel was a tricky one – it’s irked me ever since The Steward’s Fear that Imrahil doesn’t have the Outlands trait, although his power-level would be insane if he did (not much effort at all for a character who could quest and attack/defend on a power-level to match anyone in the game). Lothiriel is also the wife of Eomer, so the future Queen of Rohan. I initially had her keying off her father and husband to gain their traits, but this felt both dull and overpowered. Making the traits conditional seemed to lower the power level significantly and add an interesting element of choice, but I wanted something else to make the character feel worthwhile. Clearly, it had to key off of characters leaving play, and I decided that threat was the way to go (or was it card-draw) – I initially had the limit at once per phase, but felt that this was potentially just too powerful, with easily two, and potentially far more per round, especially if someone’s playing Silvans…

Stat-wise I decided to go for the generic 2/2/2 for a good all-round utility, but to dial back the hit-points slightly, to make her threat more manageable.

I hope people have found the custom-creations interesting. I’d be interested to know your thoughts generally on heroes being drawn from Tolkien’s works directly, or being created purely for the game.

The Fatty Project

Not a name possibility rejected very early on by Weight Watchers, the Fatty project is an interesting new twist in the Lord of the Rings LCG.

prison-cellThe most recent adventure pack, escape from Mount Gram, is a fun one, and also one that presents a unique challenge: you start with only a single hero who just broken out of a goblin’s prison: all they have with which to face the perils of the quest are a 3-card hand, and no items, mounts or allies in their deck (these go in a separate “capture” deck). As you break out of prison, you gradually have the chance to liberate the remainder of your deck, including the other two heroes, before making a last, late, charge for freedom.

To help you in your bid to take on the dungeons solo, the locations and enemies in this quest are noticeably less brutal than many we’ve seen – although this is balanced by the need to have a single character deal with questing, attack and defence, at least to begin with.

Secrecy-decks are good for this, as is anything which gives you action advantage. I’ve managed this one starting out With Rossiel and with Spirit Glorfindel (Light of Valinor is a must) but Core Set Aragorn would be another good option, due to his built-in readying.

Some folk out there though, has decided that this quest is a bit on the easy side, and this has prompted Ian of Tales From the Cards to set a challenge- to escape from Mount Gram using Fatty Bolger as your starting hero!

Fatty-BolgerFor those who have forgotten him (probably most of you) Fatty Bolger is a Hobbit hero in the spirit sphere, who came in Black Riders. He has the thematically brilliant, yet mechanically useless ability to raise your threat by the threat of an enemy in the staging area, in order to ignore that enemy’s threat for resolving questing this round. He has a highish number of hits points for a Hobbit (3) but his stats are otherwise underwhelming. He can only quest for 1, attack for 1, and defend for 2: this means that he is exceedingly unlikely to be making much quest progress unless you can get some assistance out for him.

There are essentially 2 ways to approach the Fatty challenge –either build a deck that has him in it, but relies on swiftly rescuing one of the other heroes and dies repeatedly until it does so, or else go for a deck that actually keys in to some of Fatty’s abilities.

In regard to the first option, there are a fair number of options out there – but it does make Fatty nothing more than a placeholder, and avoids the spirit of the challenge, even if it meets the technical requirement.

The other option- a deck in which Fatty actually has a meaningful role to play – is far trickier. When building a tri-sphere Hobbit Deck, Spirit has typically been the sphere I neglected, as the most vital cards for the deck all appear in the other three spheres: Lore for Fast-Hitch (Hobbit-Readying), Leadership for Bill the Pony and Hobbit Cloak (hit points and defence), and Tactics for Halfling Determination and Dagger of Westernesse (general stat boosts, and extra attack). The hobbit-specific cards in Spirit are limited to the pony (late questing), and the pipe/smoke rings combination which can lower your threat (surely the least of the problems faced by a deck that starts with only Fatty.)

It is possible, of course, to get round issues of sphere matching with cards like Songs or Good Harvest, but with only 3 cards in your starting hand, the chances of having both this AND a card to play with it are low.

Courage-AwakenedA couple of cards for this deck pick themselves – 3 copies of Resourceful (for ANY deck with a starting threat in single figures) and Courage Awakened, a card I re-discovered when doing this scenario with Glorfindel, which can provide a powerful willpower acceleration in secrecy mode, especially if you can get a Leaf Brooch out. Favour of the Lady is expensive, but when you’re dependent upon a 1-willpower character for all your questing, something more ongoing is valuable.

From there, it was trickier – a tri-sphere deck in this quest is very vulnerable to rescuing heroes in a particular order. Mono-spirit would guarantee that I could play all the cards I drew (eventually) but would be unlikely to do a lot besides questing, cancellation, and threat management. Lore seemed like the best bet, offering me action advantage for the hobbits, plenty of card draw, and a few tricks up my sleeve for dealing with enemies – I was quite pleased to discover that Traps were immune to this quest’s deck-stripping (although not sure thematically of the logic of being able to carry a spiked pit into a prison with you…)

My wife refuses to play with Disco Bilbo, the hair is just too off-putting...

My wife refuses to play with Disco Bilbo, the hair is just too off-putting…

In the end, I decided to go full-hobbit – Bilbo and Pippin. This ensures plenty of card draw, and reduces the likelihood of having to engage things, whilst Ranger Spikes will hopefully allow me to continue making quest progress whilst leaving those enemies in the staging area, although I’ll be adding Noiseless Movement as well in case there’s anything out I can’t handle this round. I’ll throw in high-willpower allies, like the Ethir Swordsman, and some chunkier characters like the Northern Tracker, who are still amongst the best fighters in Spirit, as well as being good at dealing with location-lock. If I can rescue enough cards from my capture deck, questing should be ok, but combat is going to be the challenge, especially on stage 3, when I shuffle in the extra encounter set of orcs, so I’ll bring Ride Them Down as well. Gandalf basically goes into every deck, so he makes the list 3 times. With Lore and Card-Draw, Protector of Lorien is an obvious choice, boosting questing, or even making Fatty into a passable defender.

GandalfA possible twist on this deck which I didn’t get round to trying is to add Under Hill and Over Hill Gandalf – obviously, he is a powerful figure, but he does put your threat up rapidly, even from a starting-point of 7 – So any deck with him in would need to be much more aggressive to balance that out. I considered add some copies of Elrond’s Counsel to go with Arwen and Elrond, but decided it was too many working pieces to put together.

Final Decklist:

Fatty Bolger (starting hero)
Pippin (Black Riders)
Bilbo Baggins

Arwen Undomiel x2
Bofur (Redhorn Gate)
Defender of the Naith x2
Gandalf (Core)
Haldir of Lorien
Hennamarth Riversong
Northern Tracker x2

Elf Stone
Fast Hitch x3
Favour of the Lady x2
Protector of Lorien x2
Resourceful x2
Unexpected Courage

A Test of Will x3
Courage Awakened x3
Hasty Stroke x2
Noiseless Movement x2
Ride them Down x2
Stand and Fight

That "Forced" effect is just hideous

That “Forced” effect is just hideous

Overall this worked well – I managed to beat the quest on 2 out of 4 attempts. I think killing Jailor Gornakh the round he arrives is key to this quest, which meant stalling on stage 2 for as long as possible, until you’ve got all your heroes, and a good spread of allies into play – Courage Awakened was brilliant for this as, when your threat is less than 20, and you’ve got a leaf-brooch on Fatty, it becomes a free +2 willpower that you can add after staging each round.

I never actually used Fatty’s ability, but there were points in the game when he had 2 damage on him, so at least his hit-points/defence came in handy, putting him above Spirit Pippin in the utility stakes. Frodo might have been a safer option, but even starting on 7, there’s enough forced threat gain in this scenario that it might have been a problem.

Overall, whilst I don’t buy the initial suggestion that this quest is too easy, this was a fun activity to do as something a bit different. Will anyone else take on the Fatty Challenge?

The Wizard’s Surge

The most recent adventure cycle which we have seen in its entirety (at least the standard packs, no Nightmare yet for most of it) is the Ringmaker cycle, which began with the Voice of Isengard, and saw the players unite the Dunlendings under Saruman’s rule, enable him to forge a ring of power, and prove instrumental in the creation of the Uruk-hai. Not altogether a great week at the office…

Dunlending-AmbushAside from what the players got up to thematically, mechanically, this was one of the most frenetic cycles. I’ve posted previously my thoughts on the Time mechanic, and its impact on the game, but even without the extra cards that get hurled at you by “time” this was a cycle very heavy on surge.

In terms of printed surge, the count was high, if not crippling, with a peak of 1 in about 4.5 cards surging in The Dunland Trap and the Nin-in-Eilph, dropping down to a more sedate 2 cards out of 26 for the 3 trials. Easy mode did little to change this, simply squashing the outliers towards the mean, with a high of 1 in 5 and a low of 1 in 11.

Raising-the-CryAs in the previous cycle, the point where things get really punishing are in the cards with conditional surge, or surge-like effects. The Antlered Crown for example, boasts 15 out of 24 cards likely to find some way of throwing another card out at you, and 1 in 2 or 3 is common across the cycle. Nin-in-Eilph becomes the gentle options, with only 1 in around 4.5. Once again, Easy Mode offers less respite than the name might suggest, with multiple quests still finding an effect similar to surge on around half of cards.

Average surge likelihood:

Highest:                 1 in 4.5 (21%)       The Dunland Trap, Nin-in-Eilph

Lowest:                  1 in 13 (7.6%)       The 3 Trials.

Cycle overall:         15% standard,      13% Easy,

Surge-type effect Likelihood:

Highest:                 1 in 1.5 (62.5%)    The Antlered Crown

Lowest:                  1 in 4.5 (22%)       The Nin-in-Eilph

Cycle Overall:        40% standard,      34% Easy,

Overall Verdict – just plain silly

A Fistful of Meeples

Just a quick note, to tell you all about a new project I’ve been working on.

Those who know me personally / on Facebook, will probably already have seen, but I just wanted to make people aware of my new blog – Fistful of Meeples.

BlueMeepleWhereas this blog focuses more-or-less exclusively on the games of Middle Earth (and mostly the LotR LCG), Fistful of Meeples will be taking a broader look at the world of board and card-gaming, focusing in now and then on some games of particular interest, as well as trying to provide a bit of a broader sweep.

I’ll still be posting here, and the next installment of the Surge review should be this weekend, but if you need some fresh reading material in the meantime, why not head over to Fistful of Meeples and check it out.

Surging Against the Shadow

In many respects, the Heirs of Numenor box was where difficulty in this game first went crazy. The sudden introduction of battle and siege turned a lot of received wisdom on its head about how your decks needed to be built, and some of the difficulty ratings were frankly comic (just remember that into Ithilien is officially a 4/10 difficulty!) the specific concern here though, is with Surge, and how frequent it is.Blocking-Wargs

In terms of straightforward, printed surge, there is a marked increase. Gone are the days of quests with no printed surge, with every quest featuring it somewhere, even the notoriously pedestrian Encounter at Amon Din, which features it on 1 card in 17. Whilst this figure of around 6% may seem low, it’s worth noticing that this is the first cycle where we haven’t had multiple quests where it was missing entirely. Surge can be found at its most concentrated in the Steward’s Fear, which has it one card in 6 in the main encounter deck, a figure which only rises in Nightmare mode, or in easy!

Lieutenant-of-MordorAcross the board, the occurrence of surge is higher, and that’s before you start to consider the peculiarities of these quests. For example, a “surge-like effect” includes the Lieutenant of Mordor who, when revealed, triggers the top treachery of the discard pile and cannot be cancelled. In the past I’ve been lucky enough to get him turn 1 or 2 when there is no treachery to trigger, which is why he only counts as “surge-like2 but certainly not a card to be dismissed lightly. Again, quests which seem a t the lighter end of the surge spectrum include Blood of Gondor, where the stats – 1 in 11 surge, 1 in 7 surge-like, don’t include the scenario-specific “hidden cards” which can spring an additional swarm of enemies at you. Likewise, The Steward’s Fear is the most surging quest even before you consider the underworld mechanic which makes almost any location a potential minefield, ready to fling armies of enemies at you, most of whom come with some kind of hideous “when engaged” effect.

Average surge likelihood:

Highest:                 1 in 6 (17%)           The Steward’s Fear

Lowest:                  1 in 17 (6%)           Encounter at Amon Din

Cycle overall:         10% standard,       11.4% Easy,         11.8% Nightmare*

Surge-type effect Likelihood:

Highest:                   1 in 3 (34%)           The Steward’s Fear, Assault on Osgiliath

Lowest:                    1 in 7 (10%)           Blood of Gondor

Cycle Overall:          24.6% standard,    23.4% Easy,         25% Nightmare*

*Nightmare figures are for Against the Shadow Cycle only, excluding the Heirs of Numenor deluxe, as I don’t own those Nightmare Decks.

Overall Verdict – Decidedly Surging.