Tag Archives: Fantasy Flight Games

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.

the-voice-of-isengard-matt-stewart-watermarked

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.

Places we’ve been – part 3

Heirs of Numenor was the second Deluxe expansion for Lord of the Rings, and the starting point for the third cycle of the game’s life.

Heris.jpgOstensibly the biggest change in this cycle came with the new mechanics: Battle and Siege, which turned the game on its head as characters were required to quest using their Attack or Defence respectively, rather than their traditional Willpower. It was also, perhaps a last hurrah for the idea that this game was primarily based around Spheres of Influence, rather than the “Tribal” themes which drew together decks of mostly Dwarves, Elves, Rohirrim, or Gondor, as the player-card pool received a series of cards which supported players running Mono-sphere decks.

However, in keeping with our ongoing series, I wanted to focus more today on the locations of the Against the Shadow, to trace the commonalities which remained and the subtle changes which came in.

Heirs

Heirs of Numenor itself contained several punishing quests: a brawl in the streets of Pelargir, a chance encounter with a Haradrim Army on the road through Ithilien, and finally the Siege of Cair Andros: each of these quests plagued us with new, brutal enemies and ghastly treacheries (Infinite Loop of Blocking Wargs anyone?) but the locations were also a significant part.

market-square

The art looks so innocuous

The urban locations of Peril in Pelargir look fairly innocuous at first glance, but they had a few nasty tricks up their sleeves – for example, the 1-progress location with the highish threat, a resource cost to travel, and an immunity to player-card effects. Having this kind of immunity on a non-unique location which just came out of the deck at random was a new and disturbing twist. It was combo-ed with the City Street, essentially a modern-day version of the East Bight – it only required 2 progress to explore, but it had double the threat, and that same requirement which meant you had to travel to it.

ithilien-roadStarting Active Locations with unpleasant effects were also a big thing in this cycle. Whereas earlier in the game’s life we had tended to see these locations start in the staging area, now it became more common for their effect to be in play from the word go – whether that be the Leaping Fish churning out enemies turn after turn, or the Ithilien Road ensuring that if you couldn’t win the quest by at least 4 on turn 1, all of those Haradrim enemies were coming to get you.

In terms of the overall stats, the locations in Heirs weren’t all that different from earlier cycles: average threat and progress values, at least for the non-uniques continued to hover around the same level. What had changed though, was the tricksyness. Instead of bringing Asfaloth and co and completely nullifying the issue, you now needed all those tools just to keep on top of things.

Against the Shadow

the-fourth-starThe Against the Shadow cycle itself saw a wide variety of locations, any many of them reflected that quest’s unique: Underworld in the Steward’s Fear, Villagers in Encounter at Amon Din, Hidden Cards in The Blood of Gondor. Even when the keyword itself was not directly carried across, there was a stronger sense of thematic tie-in in this cycle: for example all of the resource denial in Druadan Forest to complement the Prowl Mechanic, or the wat that locations in The Morgul Vale tried to add progress to To The Tower, or else simply flung things back to the staging area in order to slow the players down.

garden-of-poisonsThe overall effect of this was to make locations something that was much more of an issue than in earlier cycles – you certainly could just track away most of the places you went in the Steward’s Fear, but if you did so, there was a very real danger of getting suddenly ambushed by a large number of enemies from the Underworld deck. If you didn’t come with ways of dealing with the Druadan Forest, the Woses and their accompanying treacheries suddenly took on a rather fearsome aspect, with Threats of X and high archery totals. Encounter at Amon Din was largely an exercise in exploring as many locations as possible as fast as possible: Mostly low-threat, high progress, they look like ideal targets for the Northern Tracker, were it not for the Villagers burning alive round-by-round.

the-old-bridgeProbably the most notable Quest of the Cycle from a location perspective though, was Assault on Osgiliath. This was ostensibly a street-fight, a back-and-forth tussle to take the city, street by street, location by location. When a location was explored, the players took control of it, potentially bringing a benefit, but more commonly just another condition they needed to watch out for which could see that control lost if they left an attack undefended or a character was destroyed.

The lone quest card prevented progress from being placed on locations in the staging area, meaning that players needed to find lots of tricks to juggle locations around if they were to have any hope of exploring more than 1 per round, although some flat-out banned you from travelling there, instead having their own built-in mechanics to acquire progress.

retake-the-city-1bThe overall objective for Assault on Osgiliath was to control all the Osgiliath locations at the end of the round and, as originally printed, it was rather broken – you could choose the starting location which had the action “exhaust a hero to place a progress here” and then use Boromir to take control of it in a single turn. This got “fixed” in the Nightmare version and, even before the official changes, most people only used this trick once then got bored, and looked for other ways to beat it.

Overall, the locations of this cycle posed more challenges than those in the Dwarrowdelf – it wasn’t necessarily that the numbers were much higher: average progress requirements were up to averages of 3 or 4, only a little higher than Dwarrowdelf, and threats, for the most part, were no higher. The big difference this cycle was the greater synergy to the encounter decks overall, a different emphasis on punishing the players for things that seemed like they should be positives.

This One’s For the Players

As the problems caused by locations slowly ramped up in difficulty, the Player Card pool began to lag behind, with almost nothing appearing in this cycle to help the players out with location control.

a-watchful-peaceThe Heirs deluxe box probably contained the most direct attempt at location control, A Watchful Peace – this was a spirit event which allowed players to return innocuous locations to the top of the encounter deck after they left play – interesting, but hardly powerful.

Of course, with the advantage of a few year’s hindsight, the power of a Caldara deck has become fairly clear, and being able to jump multiple Northern Trackers or Lorien Guides into play in a single turn certainly shouldn’t be underestimated as a way of dealing with locations, but really, it was just accelerating the arrival of existing tools, rather than really giving us new ones.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Against the Shadow cycle felt like it offered a sharper set of locations – locations that really felt like integral parts of the quests they came in- the difficulty certainly increased, and the proliferation of new in this quest, never seen again mechanics could be a bit frustrating, but overall the part played by locations in these quests was good.

 

Join me next time for a hurried, panicked dash through the locations of the Ringmaker cycle

Sailing Away

It won’t have escaped your attention that the Grey Havens box and the Dream Chaser cycle that followed it, featured boats. Perhaps not as many boats as we first expected, but sailing has certainly been a feature of the most recent cycle and, having completed City of Corsairs a couple of days ago and seen the final bit of sailing we will have to do, I thought it might be a good time to take a bit of a look back, and see how the sailing had been overall.

thesea

To The Sea?

To be honest, there haven’t been as many sailing quests as I first expected: there was the first quest of the Deluxe, Voyage Across Belegaer, the first AP of the cycle, Flight of the Storm Caller, then a prolonged period where we were either on a ship but not sailing it (Thing in the Depths) or simply back on dry land (Temple of the Deceived, Drowned Ruins). A Storm on Coba’s Haven returned us to the waves, and the first part of City of Corsairs saw the Dreamchaser off for one last hurrah – only 3 1/4 Sailing quests all-told! When the cycle was first announced, I certainly had the impression that there would have been far more of these, but given the need for the ships that came in the Deluxe (not to mention that the next cycle involves a desert), I’m not holding my breath for any more (any chance of a camel with the “ship-of-the-desert-objective card type? …)

Having reached the end (presumably) of new shipping content, I want to look at how it changed the game: with our ships, the encounter deck ships, and other things which came along into the bargain.

Friendly Ships

There are 4 ships included in the Grey Havens box – one, the Dreamchaser is always part of your fleet when you are sailing, and is the compulsory first pick. Once one player has taken the Dreamchaser, each other player chooses one of the remaining ships to take, and in solo you get a second ship for yourself – at best, this means picking 1 or 2 out of 3 possibilities to use (once you’re using all of them, it no longer really feels like a “pick”) and more often than not assembling your fleet just becomes an argument about who gets lumbered with the Dreamchaser.

There are certainly a selection of interesting effects available from the ships, but as I say, the choice does feel limited – I’d assumed we would get additional ships during the cycle, to give us an incentive to go back and re-play earlier quests again, but the original list was never expanded upon.

narelenyaAs we’ve played this cycle mostly 2-player with a little bit of solo, it’s generally been about choosing a single escort for the Dreamchaser, and  the choice has almost always been Narelenya. The once-per-round cost reduction of an ally is a really powerful effect in almost any deck, and it’s particularly true of my wife’s current Gondor deck, and of course, my tried-and-tested solo deck: Play as many Dwarves as you can.

Of the remaining two ships, the extra card-draw of the Dawn Star is obviously very useful, but +3 starting threat is a heavy penalty: most decks I build either have too high a threat already for this to be safe, or else have a particular reliance on their low threat (secrecy, reliance on non-engagement of enemies etc), and can’t afford the bump.

silverstarOn the flip side, threat reduction is nice, as offered by Silver Wing, but is the +1 attack per hero worth it? Potentially with the difficulty of Corsair bashing this is one we should investigated in more detail but I can’t recall ever using this solo or 2-player. Perhaps a Lorgaron deck might be able to get better mileage out of, but for us it never felt worthwhile. It would actually be quite nice if you could leave out the Dreamchaser, and have Dawn Star and Silver Wing balance each other out in solo, but sadly this is never an option.

Enemy Ships

As well as the player-controlled ships there were, of course, also the enemy ships, and typically these were fairly big, nasty, beasts.

light-cruiserMost Ship enemies had a few things in common – big stats, the “Boarding” Keyword, and limited interaction with other player-card types.

The big stats make sense. A ship is a significant thing, and it wouldn’t make any sense for it to be only hitting as hard as an orc. Likewise, the limited interaction with player cards: only a ship you control can defend against a Ship enemy.

The squire of the citadel might be able to stand in the path of horde of Dunlendings, or even a few Undead (and by “stand in the path” I mean “occupy them for a round whilst they brutally slaughter him”) but the idea that he’s going to hold up a ship for a noticeable amount of time is a bit more of a stretch: he’ll either be dragged under, or smashed by the timbers, either way, the Squire is ending up dead and the crew of the boat probably doesn’t even notice.

The biggest problem I had with ships though (generally), was the Boarding Keyword: essentially, a requirement to engage a Corsair Enemy whenever you engage a ship. Again, this makes a lot of sense thematically: when your boat tries to fight another boat, you’ll probably find that there’s a crew to tangle with, so I can’t fault them on that front. The execution though, was rather different.

For one thing, I’m never a great fan of anything that requires me to divide the encounter deck into two different decks: the card-backs are all the same, and it’s all-too easy to get the cards mixed up, or put something in the wrong discard pile, and find them getting shuffled into the wrong deck. “Extra decks” have been an ever-more-common feature of the game as its life has gone on, and they always feel fiddly.

umbar-raiderBeyond that though, it just made the burden of combat feel too uneven. We’ve played quite a few quests this cycle combining a fight-y Gondor deck and a Spirit Questing deck – once the Spirit deck has properly got set up, it has some decent combat potential (Idraen and Lanwyn are amongst heroes, and it also runs ally Glorfindel, Northern Trackers and Rhovanion Outriders) – against a normal enemy or two, it can handle a fight. What it can’t deal with is a massive boat AND a few random pirate enemies thrown in on top, especially when many of those pirates have resource-stealing mechanics which make them more and more powerful if you can’t kill them in a single round. Even for the Gondor deck, defending a ship with their ship, defending a handful of Corsairs and being expected to strike back again, is a major problem – if you don’t have Boromir the Steward of Gondorian Fire set up, along with a bucketload of threat-reduction, it’s just not feasible, and that’s coming from a deck that’s designed to be able to handle combat.

cunning-pirate

Not too bad if he only discards Cram, but otherwise can get pretty nasty.

As well as being uneven, the Boarding mechanic also increases the sheer number of cards you have to deal with each round: It feels like a particularly cruel trick on the part of the designers to finally give us some limited consolation against surge, in the form of Lanwyn, then bring in a mechanic that does all the nasty aspects of surge without actually bearing the keyword (and therefore not triggering her ability.)

In a lot of ways the Corsairs felt a bit like the Dunlendings – they’ve taken a really interesting idea, tying together a group of enemies with a particular theme/mechanic, but then putting it on top of base stats that are simply too high: someone like the Cunning Pirate is likely to be starting at 4 attack, 4 defence, 4 hit-points, and the Umbar Raider only needs to survive a round or two before he’s going to be smashing clean through anything and everything that comes along to stand in his way: not a nice prospect for someone who always arrives as part of a crowd.

Sailing

Whilst you’re dealing with all these million enemies, it’s worth remembering that you also need to sail: it’s easy enough to forget with only that little keyword tucked in to the side. If you only learn one thing about sailing quests, make sure it’s this.

Make sure you always pass the sailing test.

If you’re on-course, a lot of the location / treachery effects in these quests really aren’t that bad- some of them won’t do anything at all. On the other hand, if you’re even slightly off-course, you can expect to be battered, bruised and broken as the waves toss you in all directions.

As sailing is one of those rather frustrating “reveal X cards from the encounter deck and hope you do / don’t find a random symbol printed in the corner” type checks, you regularly have to over-commit in order to ensure you stay on course (even scrying is of fairly limited use unless you happen to hit a success on the very first card), leaving you without the excess hands you’d need to deal with all the other things going on. In some quests, the proportion of cards in the deck which actually counted as a pass in the sailing test was so low that once I got knocked off course (for example to avoid a ship returning to the staging area and re-boarding me next turn), it was almost impossible to pull it back.

moreships

The fact that the Dream Chaser can commit to sailing tests even when not controlled by the first player does help a little with smoothing, but I’m still not sure I can see the logic thematically – given that each player is notionally on their own ship, Sailing Tests feel like they should be done by the whole party, rather than player-by-player, and it certainly feels galling later on in the game having to put in a 5 willpower ship to the sailing test when a player who isn’t doing the check has a couple of 1 or 0 willpower guys sat around twiddling their thumbs.

Final Thoughts

For all my curmudgeonly thoughts, I’m glad that the designers are still trying to be innovative with how they approach the game. For me, sailing was an area where they didn’t quite hit the mark, but things could certainly have been a lot worse. As I’ve already mentioned, it seems fairly certain that the Sands of Harad will be fairly light on oceangoing vessel, but I look forward to seeing what new perils they have in store for us instead.

Decks of Autumn: The Old and the New

Denethor and Sons Revisited

Back in August, I shared that I had been attempting a tri-sphere Gondor deck that would make use of the talents of Denethor and his sons.

After a few early attempts, and a little bit of tweaking, this became my first ever deck to be posted onto Rings DB.

I only got 1 response to it, but it was a response that at least offered some good thoughts: the original version (which can be found here), was trying to do too many things, with a kitted-out Boromir comfortably able to take care of combat, alongside a good number of tactics allies that were duplicating the same job.

visionaryIt also struggled with questing, and threat –as I had Lore in there, there was the suggestion to just take a load of Ents, but I was trying to keep things thematic, so I opted instead for a string of cheap allies (Errand Riders, Squires of the Citadel, Envoys of Pelagir) and upping the quantity of Visionary Leadership in the deck.

This does still feel like a deck where Faramir has little chance to show his quality – threat control is a big part of that: you start at 30, and Boromir crashing around making noise leaves little opportunity for little brother to surprise enemies from the shadows. I did decide to add a copy of Wingfoot to the deck, which would allow Faramir to quest and aid in combat, and obviously action advantage is key to getting value out of a hero with such rounded stats. If this deck is still around when Race Across Harad is released, then a Steed of the North for Faramir feels like another good option.

healersI still think that this deck needs to be paired with something relatively heavy on Threat reduction (ideally a Galadriel deck that can use Elrond’s counsel to keep its own threat in line, and play Galadhrim’s Greetings / just use Galdriel’s power on the Gondorians.)

Getting this back to the table for more testing and then back again to Rings DB for feedback was a little challenging (all whilst trying to keep up the fortnightly publication rate). The current version on Rings DB has already been superseded with the release of Storm on Coba’s Haven, as I add in a couple of copies of Knife-Work, and one of The Houses of Healing (I still can’t decide on Ioreth), but I’m fairly happy with it, even if it has flown under the radar there.

 

Damage, Directly

I also built a direct damage deck. Direct damage has been around since the very dawn of the game, thanks to cards like Thalin and the Gondorian Spearman, and it’s often been something I’ve tried to make work, albeit with mixed levels of success. The inspiration for this particular deck was listening to the guys on Cardboard of the Rings raving about Argalad – he was a hero who I’d not paid that much attention to when he was first released, but the sheer level of enthusiasm they had made me take another look.

For those not familiar with him, Argalad is an elf who first appeared in FFG’s Middle Earth Quest, the game which brought us Thalin, Eleanor and Beravor. He entered the LCG mid-way through the Dreamchaser cycle, a Lore Hero with the Silvan, and Scout traits, 2 willpower, 2 attack, 1 defence, 4 hit-points, the Ranged Keyword, and the following rather unusual ability:

Action: exhaust Argalad to choose an enemy in the staging area. Until the end of the phase, that enemy gets –X Threat, where X is Argalad’s current attack. If this effect reduces the enemy’s Threat to 0, deal 1 damage to it (limit once per round).

argaladThis is pretty impressive: with 2 attack and 2 willpower, his enemy threat-reduction is just as powerful as his questing (provided you have an enemy in the staging area to target), and with low-threat enemies, he and Thalin together mean that you’re dealing 2 damage to an enemy the round it’s revealed. Given how many enemies there are these days with stupidly high defence values, being able to bypass that and go straight to hit-points is a big deal.

Obviously, to make full use of Argalad’s ability, you’ll need to find ways of boosting his attack, and it is disappointing to realise just how few attack boosts are out there that give you an unconditional increase in your stat: Rivendell Bow, Blade of Gondolin, Bow of the Galadhrim, and Dagger of Westernesse are all at their most powerful during an attack, which means that they have reduced effectiveness for this kind of ability.

spearsTo build a direct-damage deck, I started with Thalin and Argalad. A lot of the cards which followed were fairly self-selecting: Expecting Mischief, Goblin-Cleaver, 3 Spears of the Citadel, 3 Gondorian Spearmen, a few other tricks like Hail of Stones and Rain of Arrows.

To round things out, I added some quick strikes for those enemies which were close to death but wouldn’t quite be destroyed in defence, and some Ents to make up for a woeful shortfall in the questing department.

 

Quests of Christmas Past

For a first run-out, I took this into Khazad-Dum: Goblin-busting is definitely an ideal task for this deck, and I managed to fairly comfortably deal with all the enemies, although questing was a real pain (you know there’s something wrong when the new guy who only owns the Mirkwood cycle and has brought a mono-tactics deck is carrying the brunt of the questing).

gondoriansAs a note on the 3rd hero, this deck tends to go two ways, depending on the number of players and the quest. I started with Beregond, who can take a Spear of the Citadel for Free, and if you manage to give him a Gondorian Shield as well, can comfortably tank attacks from most enemies. Sadly, Beregond is a bit of a 1-trick pony, and in a quest without those big hitters, a more rounded option like Mablung is probably better: he still blocks for 4 with a shield on him, and provides some resource acceleration (making him a good target for a song of wisdom), and a questing option once your allies are set-up (the Mablung iteration also includes Wingfoot to try and find some action advantage.

For future runs, I was keen to explore other uses for this deck. At our FLGS meet-up the other day, my wife was using my Denethor and Sons deck, and ran into the sad situation of having Boromir’s attack and defence reduced to zero by a tentacle, which was something of a problem.

The direct damage deck generally tries to avoid having to do too much attacking, or having too many enemy attacks finish resolving, so it’s a nice way round forced effects. Watcher in the water in particular sees all those 3 hit-point tentacles turned into Calamari by a deck like this.

And Now…

As much fun as it is to go back to the Dwarrowdelf cycle and stomp all over the quests, there comes a point where you need to question the ability of a deck to hold its own in a more modern environment: what works on a Goblin may not be so effective against a massive Uruk-Hai Warband.

That said, as I noted above, defence has grown as well as hit-points, so I felt that there was still a place for this deck. Knowing that there are a decent number of Corsairs who only have 2 or 3 hit-points (as well as those which have 4 or 5), I decided that they would be the first ‘modern’ challenge for this.

tentaclesWe managed to beat Thing in the Depths using this deck (Beregond version) alongside the Denethor and Sons deck – the second half of Thing in the Depths feels a lot like an updated version of Watcher in the Water, and Argalad and co performed admirably. I’m still a little way behind on the Dreamchaser cycle more generally, so I may carry on with these two as we try to catch-up.

Once again, I’ve posted the deck to Rings DB. It seems to have passed unnoticed by the community there (I’m sure there are better Direct Damage decks out there), but it’s a nice way of recording it for posterity.

The Future?

I had somehow gotten into my head that Prince Imrahil would be arriving in Storm on Coba’s Haven, so was slightly surprised when I picked it up yesterday, and found Na’asiyah instead. I still haven’t quite figured out the best use for her, but overall, I’m just happy to be back building plenty of decks and actually testing them out against quests.

The Enemy of My Enemy is my Objective Ally

Warning this article contains spoilers for the Lord of the Rings novels (throughout), and some of the over-arching plot arcs created for Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game (later on, with further warning).

“The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home. If he would not rather have stayed there in peace. War will make corpses of us all.” (Faramir, plagiarised from Sam Gamgee, via Peter Jackson)

Apart from those who dislike “excessive” description of what an individual mountain/tree/house looks like, one of the most frequent criticisms I see levelled at Tolkien’s writing, is that his characters are too black-and-white.

Aragorn, of course, is the pinnacle of nobility, strong, calm, and selfless. Despite what Peter Jackson would have you believe, he is not the reluctant hero, but a man who has spent his entire life preparing to take the Throne of Gondor, and is ready to do so – he will allow no selfish or dark thoughts to threaten his progress towards his goal, and only puts it aside temporarily in a quest to protect the Ringbearer who holds in his hands the fate of all the free peoples.

fallenBeyond that though, it’s a lot more complex. Boromir may have fallen into evil for a while, but he clearly rallied at the last moment, sentinel defended a number of attacks, and then discarded himself to deal 2 damage to each enemy in play.

For those who still find the towering figures of the third age insufficiently 3-dimensional, a wander back into the times of the Silmarillion reveals any number of troubled and complex figures, driven by powerful forces and great pain. Try telling Turin Turambar that Tolkien doesn’t know how to write a hero filled with conflict, flaws, or darkness.

Whatever your feelings on the characters that Tolkien created, the designers of Lord of the Rings the card game have a slightly different challenge – first of all, they have to find a way to portray the complexities of character that do exist in a game context, and secondly they have to create their own characters and tales that feel true to Tolkien’s world. Those are the two things I want to talk about today.

Doom

saruman Saruman the White, head of the order of the Istarii, and a mighty Maiar sent to Middle Earth for the aid of the free peoples. Of course, we all know that he went bad in the end, but for a long time, he at least seemed to be working on the side of good (although from watching the White Council scenes in the Hobbit films, you would have to wonder how everyone else missed what he was up to…)

FFG depicted Saruman’s ‘assistance’ through a Doomed player-card. An ally with powerful stats and a fairly low cost, but offset by a steady ramp in everyone’s threat every time you play him. Personally, I don’t find Saruman’s abilities quite worth the trade-off (my decks either have too much threat already, or they care too much about keeping it down), but it’s certainly an interesting approach. At least the ally version doesn’t mess you up as much as when he reappears as an enemy in Treason of Saruman (the title was a warning!)

Grima

grimaGrima Wormtongue is another figure who fans of the books or the films will struggle to see as anything much besides a villain. However, he has appeared in 3 very different guises in the card-game: As a hero, an enemy, and an objective ally.

In Hero form, Grima takes the Isengard trait alongside the Rohan one and, given the lack of other Rohan cards in Lore (just Gleowine iirc), and his focus on the Doomed Mechanic, he definitely leans more towards the Isengard side of things than towards synergy with his homeland.

His Enemy version is one of those annoying cards that looks feeble in turns of his printed stats, but has a nasty effect that’s remarkably hard to nullify, simply because of his ability to slink off back to the encounter deck, and throw some other pain your way.

The card I find most interesting for Grima though, is his objective ally form. As an objective ally, he can quest, attack, or defend like any other player card, albeit with meagre stats. He also has an ability, providing you with card-draw, which everyone knows is one of the most powerful effects in the game, right?

Well, it depends. As much as we normally love card-draw, Objective Ally Grima appears in the Voice of Isengard, perfectly timed to synchronise with the arrival of the Dunlendings, who punish you for having lots of cards in hand, and for drawing cards. Is Grima really helping you? Or is he already doing his best to undermine you?

The Flip

gollum1The concept of this card that might be working for you, and might be working against you was taken to another level with the rise of the double-sided card. The most obvious character from Tolkien’s lore to be given this treatment is Gollum/Smeagol.

Gollum has appeared several times in the life of the game – the original Mirkwood cycle began with “The Hunt For Gollum” and by the time the Heroes reached the Dead Marshes, they had tracked him down, earning themselves a burden to drag around for the last two scenarios.

gollsmeag It was only when Gollum re-appeared for Land of Shadow, the second of the two Saga boxes to cover The Two Towers, that this was really taken to the next level. Land of Shadow Gollum starts out as a remarkably resilient enemy (the quest card gives him randomised defence boosts which really get in the way of trying to take him down) who can – ultimately – be defeated, and flipped over to the objective-ally Smeagol. Smeagol is now an objective ally, someone who will help the players, guiding them through the Dead Marshes. Even then though, you need to be careful, as an unfortunately-timed treachery, or a poor quest phase, can flip him back to Gollum again at a moment’s notice.

My first instinct is to dislike double-sided cards as excessively fiddly. However, what the designers have done here just seems to fit really well from a narrative perspective: I felt like this scenario really captured the sense of the Hobbits having to trust this creature for direction, despite knowing that he probably wanted nothing more than to rob and murder them.

The Expanded Universe

alcaronally[This is where the Spoilers start] Of course, whilst much of what we see in Lord of the Rings LCG is drawn from Tolkien’s Lore, the designers have also, particularly in recent cycles, put a lot of effort into creating their own characters, to develop new stories. This, of course, gives them more space to explore the idea of characters whose motives may be more complex than they appear.

Lord Alcaron was introduced to us off-stage in the Heirs of Numenor box, as a vaguely-described yet benevolent figure who had entrusted us with the delivery of an important scroll. Over the next few adventures, he appeared in person, and helped us rescue villagers from the burning settlement of Amon Dim, and defend against the ambush at the Crossroads.

alcaronenemy For some people, there was always something about Alcaron that felt a bit off- his uncanny knack of turning up just as things were falling apart – it all seemed rather suspicious. Personally I had missed the hints we were given, but once we entered The Morgul Vale, all doubt was removed, as he was revealed- a Black Numenorian who had been plotting against us all along, and who was behind the kidnap of Faramir.

Alcaron’s enemy version was not particularly tied in to his objective-ally version mechanically: he was just one of the scenarios 3 “Captain” enemies, depicted on a new card for that set. Evidently, the whole narrative arc of the cycle would have been ruined if he had appeared in Heirs as a double-sided card. Still, it showed the willingness of the designers to push the envelope of what was possible in this game, and who we could trust.

The Corsairs

sahirnasenemyFast forward a couple of years to the present and, early in 2016, we got two new enemies – Captain Sahir and Na’asiyah. As prominent Corsairs, these FFG-created characters seemed like logical inclusions for ship-to-ship fighting, but they had the interesting additional feature of being double-sided, capable of becoming allies at a later point in time. We didn’t know what this meant for the future, but we had to assume the cards had been printed like that for a reason.

sahirnasally Intrigued but uninformed, we continued into the Dreamchaser cycle, still hunting pirates, all the way up until Thing in the Depths, at which point the sudden assault from a giant sea monster made us all re-think our priorities, and Sahir and Na’asiyah became our allies as we fought for mutual survival.

The shaky alliance held, and we made our first forays onto the lost island still accompanied by these enemies of our enemy. Like the mercenaries Corsairs and Pirates are generally assumed to be, you needed to spend resources to really get the best out of them, but they could definitely prove valuable in a fight.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about what happens at the end of The Drowned Ruins, but as Assault on Coba’s Haven lands in the next week or so, one thing will become clear as we see Na-asiyah, our first Corsair Hero!

nashero Na-asiyah’s Hero ability mirrors the text on both her Enemy and Objective Ally cards, with resources being turned into attack and defence. It is clear that she is still not trusted by everyone, as her resources cannot be used to pay for allies, but for now at least, she is fighting alongside us.

I haven’t had a chance to do any deck-building with her yet (I’ll wait until I have the card in hand), but it feels like there is some serious potential here, perhaps in combination with Elrond (who can pay for allies of any sphere to help smooth the resource curve), with Hama (who can recycle events she can pay for), or simply as a self-buffing defender each round. Either way, a nice new direction to take hero cards in.

The Future

southronWe already know from the various spoiler articles we have seen, that the next cycle will see our heroes finding themselves in Far Harad, and that there will be at least one Haradrim ally. It looks like the designers will continue to explore the question of who t is truly “evil” and who can be redeemed. I look forward to seeing where it takes us.

Peering in to the Palantir

A few thoughts on what the near future has in store for Lord of the Rings the LCG…

 

I haven’t managed to get quite where I wanted to with any of the next few articles I have in the works, but I didn’t want to fall off of the wagon already for the promised “at least 1 thing per fortnight” so I decided that this would be a good moment to take a little while to think about some of the things we’ve seen spoiled and teased for the coming months.

The Prince of Dol Amroth

prince-imrahilPrince Imrahil is one of the most important book characters not to make it into Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation, but he has long had an important place in the card-game. His simple, yet effective ability to ready when a character leaves play means that he pairs brilliantly with his son-in-law (Eomer), but can also offer you great action advantage in conjunction with Silvans, chump-blockers, or anyone using sneak-attack Gandalf a lot.

As well as the Hero version, we were recently treated to an ally version – who becomes a Hero when you have another hero in your discard pile, making him an instant favourite with Caldara players who are desperately trying to muster the resources for Fortune or Fate.

The biggest disappointment with Imrahil was the utter lack of synergy with the Outlands trait. Outlands wants to stay in play and build an army, but their Captain relies on people bouncing around, and is traited as simply “Gondor.” A long time back, I created some alternative versions of Imrahil and his Outlanders (which I thought I’d posted on here, but now can’t find…) but until now, there was nothing official.

As the Dreamchaser Cycle draws to a close though, we are about to get the opportunity to form the dream-team, with a 3-cost unique attachment that makes Imrahil an outlands character.

dol-amrothAlthough I’ve not seen it used in action yet, Prince of Dol Amroth already feels like a great choice – alongside Hirluin and possibly one other, you can run that mono-leadership build that you want to trigger Lord of Morthond and Strength of Arms, but you can now also give those stat-boosts to someone who has worthwhile stats to begin with. In a heavy Outlands deck, the 3-cost is probably worthwhile anyway, but the extra ability to accelerate your resources suggest that once Imrahil gets going, his Outlands army should be truly unstoppable.

The attachment comes in the same pack as a new Hero version of Imrahil as well, a Tactics character with a sort of pseudo sneak-attack, allowing him to put an ally into play if it shares a trait with Imrahil. This looks like it could have some serious potential for janky combos that have got my inner Pippin very excited (I want to pair it with Elf-Friend so that he can bounce Silvans) but I’ll leave that for the future.

 

Pack your Trunks!

mumakilNot long after Prince Imrahil, things are going to heat up as we head way, way, down south, to the hot sand of Far Harad. Detail is still fairly sparse at this stage, but we do know that alongside battling desert wildlife and searing heat, we can also expect to see Mumaks, and plenty of them. More Mumak enemies isn’t what anyone needs to see, and there’s a card fan which suggests the defeating them may be dependent on some kind of random shuffle and discard mechanic which I’m never that big a fan of, but at least this might be the impetus I need to finally get that Rivendell Blade /Tactics Aragon / Hama/ Straight-shot deck put together.

The thing that makes the march of the Mumaks bearable is the news that came in the spoiler article for the second pack in the upcoming cycle: after however many years it’s been of being trampled by Mumaks, we finally get to ride them!

tamed-mumakSo far, we’ve only had objective Mumaks spoiled, and it’s unclear whether we’ll get a proper player-card Mount attachment that’s a Mumak, but we can hope.

Not being all that taken with Ships, and not a big fan of Uncharted Locations, I had strongly been considering calling it quits after the Dreamchaser cycle, aside from picking up the final Saga box when it lands. Lord of the Rings doesn’t get played as reliably as it used to, and I’m a bit behind with quests (I haven’t attempted any from Flame of the West or Drowned Ruins, and our brief maulings at the hand of Thing in the Depths were so 1-sided I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry). The Harad announcement was enough of a bomb to get my attention again though, and all the spoilers so far have managed to whet my appetite.

 

Mixed Traits

In the past, I have lamented, loud and often, the lack of incentive/ability that the game has given us to build “tribal” decks –Dwarves have been a thing for a long time, but too few of the others have really felt powerful historically.

That’s certainly been shifted in recent cycles – Dunedain and Silvans are definitely viable builds now, probably Noldor too, although it’s not my favourite play-style. Gondor and Rohan I’m still not quite convinced on.

Harad looks like it will be shifting things up again, by giving us cards that actively encourage you to run characters with different traits. Part of me feels like I should be angry about this, but actually I quite like it, and it’s because I feel like it’s coming from a strong place thematically.

leggim

The Heroes for the Harad Deluxe expansion are new versions of Legolas and Gimli, each of them with an ability that is decent in isolation and becomes really powerful when couple with the other. This is reinforced with the event Unlikely Friendship, a card that requires you to have a Silvan and a Dwarf together, and features art with Legolas and Gimli on it.

As tribal-deck haters have been pointing out to us for years, a lot of Lord of the Rings is about unlikely allies, people coming together because of greater threats. That has always been true, but now it feels like it’s being done consciously rather than just lumping together cards with no thematic link because they synergise well, and for me that makes a world of difference. So long as they don’t print a card which rewards me for having Haldir (or worse, Arwen) at Helm’s Deep, then I’m happy to see where they take this.

 

Final Thoughts

I still haven’t got all that much LotR gaming done lately – a nightmare day at work last week meant I missed the monthly game night at the store, and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, followed yesterday by Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu have been doing a lot to attract my attention. That said, there are things here that look like they will be worth some time, and I look forward to getting the cards in hand. The Harad cycle looks like it will support various existing mechanics like Side-Quests as well as its new combination cards, so stick around to see what they ultimately bring.

Doom

And he passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol, even as she had foretold; for a great Doom lay upon hm. – The Silmarillion

Doom5Particularly in his tales of the first Age, Tolkien seems to have held a fascination with Doom – great yet dark fates which awaited some of the mightiest figures of his Lore, and which could not be prevented by human hands.

The LotR LCG does not buy in to fated outcomes quite so readily – there is nothing your characters can do to change the fate of Lord Alcaron or of Iarion, but success or failure in a quest (well failure, at least) remains in your hand.

Doom in the card game is, rather, a question of threat. A card with the “Doomed” Keyword increases the threat of every player at the table – an untimely dose of Doom from the Encounter deck could see your threat rise in sudden and unexpected ways – that enemy you thought you could leave in the staging area might be coming to get you, that benefit you were getting from something have an engagement level higher than your threat could vanish, or you might find that secrecy card suddenly far too expensive to play. In a worst-case scenario, it could take you beyond 50 and see you eliminated from the game altogether. It often sits as a stinger on treachery cards, so that even if the particular “When Revealed” effect doesn’t trigger on that occasion, there is still punishment to be faced.

 

There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then let him beware! – Aragorn, Fellowship of the Ring

The Doom we carry inside

Gandalf Doom on Encounter cards has been with us since the days of the Core set, and has never really gone away. Everybody hates it, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Player card Doom is rather different.

There was one card way back in the days of the Core Set which could put people’s threat up – the Wandering Took, and there were a few Heroes early on that could boost it, specifically Tactics Boromir and Spirit Glorfindel. However, aside from the Wandering Took, these cards only ever raised the threat of the player controlling them, and given that they are probably the two heroes most often accused of being broken/over-powered, it clearly wasn’t a major issue, provided you knew how to build around things. The Gandalf from the Hobbit box was another example of a high-impact card, but with an added threat-cost to the controlling player.

Grima Then, in the Voice of Isengard, we started to get player cards which actually had the Doomed keyword printed on them. Effects much more powerful that you would normally expect to see on a player card of that cost, but which pushed players’ threat way up. I played around with this for a bit –there was a deck I built using Theodred, Lore-Aragorn and Grima, which could regularly get Hobbit Gandalf out on turn 1, and hit things hard from the get-go, before resetting threat on about turn 3 as it had already hit the high forties. It was fun enough in solo, but very-much a 1-trick pony which made all quests feel very similar if you survived, and which would die to certain quests that it just didn’t have the tools to deal with (i.e. anything which it couldn’t just hit in a high-aggro fashion.) It was an interesting diversion, but not really something which was going to keep its place in my decks.

That was it for a long time – I never really thought about Doomed player cards that much again. Until the rise of Rings DB. Judging by the cards I run into there, a lot of people are still using Doom, particularly for resource acceleration and card-draw (not so much love for Grima).

DeepLegacy Back just before Easter, when I was still playing the game quite a bit, but growing very frustrated in the process, I turned up at a game night at the FLGS with Seastan’s 2-handed Boromir deck. I had read the assertions that this could not only beat any current quest in 2-player, but also handle it with a 3rd player’s worth of cards coming off the Encounter deck, and built it. What I hadn’t done, I realised, was play-test it, or think at all about how it would go down at the table.

When we meet up for games at the FLGS, there’s a good chance someone will be playing Hobbits. Back then, I think it was mostly the Black Riders 3, although these days it’s more likely to be Spirit Merry.

Either way, however much I might want 2 extra cards, and a resource for every hero, it turns out that the Hobbit player doesn’t generally want you raising his threat by 5 on turn 1, especially if you do that before he gets a chance to play his resourceful.

That particular evening was a disaster on any number of levels (as a consolation, we did manage to escape from Tharbad), and I soon dismantled those decks for big-group play, but it left me with this lingering question: when is it ok to play Doomed?

 

Friends don’t let Friends do Doom

God_doom

Lots of decks I’ve looked at on RingsDB have had Doomed cards in them – Deep Knowledge seems to be the most common, followed by Legacy of Numenor, with a smattering of the other options. In real life, I’ve only ever really seen cards of this ilk hit the table in the form of allies that carry optional Doom.

HobbitTroll

Yes, that IS a lot of money, but it’s not going to make up for Sam getting killed on turn 1…

Broadly speaking, games of LotR I play fall into 2 categories – the ones where I build all the decks, and the ones where a variety of people turn up to play. For the first category, it’s not too bad – if I’m putting in Doom, I just need to make sure that the other decks can handle it, as well as paying attention to the quest: If everyone’s carefully balanced their deck for a starting threat of 28 on Journey Along the Anduin, then nudging everyone up into Hill Troll territory is probably a bad idea.

 

For “public” games though, it’s trickier. Is it ever ok to just turn up with Doomed? If you do, then you need to ask the question of what happens if you do have a player reliant upon low-threat, and your deck has been built so that it only really functions with those extra effects. I’m fairly certain that there’s absolutely nothing another player can do to stop you, if you insist on playing the card, but it could still very easily come back to bite you later on – for example when you need them to optionally engage an enemy, or do a spot of sentinel defending for you…

 

Final Thoughts

I think for me, the final position has to be that I just won’t play Doomed out in public – and by extension, I’m unlikely to play it at home, unless I’m custom building for true solo. All things considered, not doing it in public just feels like the most civil option, the one in keeping with the spirit of Fellowship (not doing it at home is just a matter of being too lazy to re-build decks all the time). That said, it feels a shame to have an entire sub-section of player cards, even if it is only a small one, out-of-bounds, simply because it might cause issues.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think on this? What approach do you take to using Doomed cards, particularly in decks that might be for pick-up games – do you tend to steer well clear? Or throw them in anyway? Have you encountered much resistance, or are people generally happy to get the cards/resources?