Tag Archives: Gondor

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.

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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

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Sacrifice

Over the past few weeks, I’d been thinking about the idea of Sacrifice in Lord of the Rings the Card-Game. Obviously, we already have a card or two that links directly to this theme – something like Valiant Sacrifice on a very literal level, as well as more oblique references, such as in an ability on a hero card like Caldara.

Although some people seem to have found some pretty powerful decks to build around her, Caldara’s ability has always struck me as a bit forced, and slightly too abstract – I’m not quite sure what she’s doing in the discard pile to make the allies appear, nor why the number of allies who respond to the call is so directly linked to the number of other Spirit Heroes you control. I wanted to come up with something, which could bring to the table a direct, discernible link between the sacrifice that was being made by the character, and the benefit being brought to the table.

To my mind, there are two iconic moments in Lord of the Rings which really capture this idea of self-sacrifice. They involve respectively, Mr & Mrs Future-Steward-of-Gondor, Faramir and Eowyn: Eowyn, when she stands between the Witch King and Theoden’s body, and Faramir, when he rides back out of Minas Tirith towards Osgiliath at Denethor’s command. Neither of them are under any illusions as to the harm likely to come to them, but they do it anyway, for love of the Uncle who raised her, or the City that he calls home.

Fan-made versions of Eowyn are fairly common, and always a tricky one to balance. On the one hand, a low will-power Eowyn makes no sense, but at the same time, a Tactics Hero with 4 willpower could easily be seen as breaking the game. Instead, I opted for an attachment. This takes the Lady of Edoras who we first see billowing so finely in the wind, and turns her into the shield-maiden of the Pelennor. On the one hand, she has not suddenly become a master-warrior – she is not about to drive off the entire army of Harad like her brother does when the red mist takes him, but nonetheless, she is able to accomplish deeds worthy of song by sheer force of will.

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The card as designed then, is a tactics attachment. It isn’t meant to be a combat fix for a mono-Spirit deck, nor does it guarantee willpower boosts for Tactics. It’s unique, and only attaches to Eowyn. In the first instance, it gives her +1 attack, taking her up to 2, which is hardly world-beating, but a recognition of the way she has steeled herself to reach this point. Where this card really comes into its own, is with the action: exhaust “Shield-maiden,” until the end of the round, Eowyn uses Willpower instead of attack or defence. At 4 attack (or defence) prior to weapons or armour being dealt out, Eowyn is the equal of almost any hero in the game (Beorn being the obvious exception), but this comes at a price- Forced: after “Shieldmaiden” exhausts, deal 1 damage to Eowyn. For a character with only 3 printed hit-points, this is not an ability to be used lightly- players have to choose carefully the right moment to trigger it.

Faramir’s sacrifice is, in some respects even more heroic. Unlike Eowyn, he is a seasoned fighter, who has fought the enemy before, and has no illusions about where his actions are likely to end. His is not an instinctive leap, but a measured decision taken in the council room. The existing hero version of Faramir gives him stats of 2, 2, 2, making him either a solid all-rounder in earlier quests, (or a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none in the later and more brutal encounters, depending on your perspective). I decided to stick with these – I did briefly consider knocking a hit-point off, in order to lower his threat cost, but decided that Spirit can afford it – a mono-spirit Gondor deck would still only be at 26, and with access to all the standard threat-lowering effects.

For the ability, I started off with something very simple – deal 1 damage to Faramir to deal 1 damage to an enemy in play. However, I decided this was a bit too powerful. For one thing, If the card wasn’t called “Faramir” (and thus ineligible for use in the ‘Morgul Vale’) it would allow you to take down the Nazgul of Minas Morgul in a single round. Additionally, it would allow him to quest for 2+ (The Gondor Trait is always ripe for willpower boosting), and still deal multiple points of damage to even an enemy with the highest defence.

The card below is a somewhat dialled back version of the idea- adding in the “exhaust” requirement knocks out any daft infinite loops, and making it X damage, instead of 1, stops it circumventing any damage cancellation effects. I wasn’t massively happy with the last line (the wording is a bit clunk), but I wanted to avoid anyone trying to deal 20 points of damage to a hero 1 point from death, in order to take down Smaug or a Balrog.

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For the flavour text on Faramir, I initially went for the version from the films – it’s slightly shorter and punchier, just a direct question to Faramir – “Is there a Captain who still has the courage to do his lord’s will. Of course, we know that Faramir does – as he says to Gandalf (films again), “This is the city of the men of Numenor – I would gladly give my life to defend her beauty.”

I know other people might think of other examples of moments of great self-sacrifice for the good of others in the film – Boromir at the end of Fellowship is an obvious one, but already captured brilliantly in the hero-card for The Dead Marshes. For those that like Hobbits, there’s probably something involving Sam they could think of (I usually read a book during the Sam and Frodo bits of the films). For me though, the Battle of the Pelennor was where I wanted to focus my energies, and I hope that these will make a valued addition to the defence of Minas Tirith.