Power vs. Theme: a Problem of Language?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Grey Company’s most recent podcast episode, entitled “Power vs Theme”. The description pretty much sums it up: “Derek, Dan, and Ian discuss the challenges and possibilities of balancing theme and power when building decks.” This is a difficult to write about because a) it’s complex and b) people often do not agree on terminology.

First, let me say as a lover of words (yes, I’m waving my BA in English over my head at this moment), the word “theme” is problematic for board games. No one really agrees upon what it means. Sometimes it means chrome, or the physical pieces themselves. Sometimes it means how mechanics relate to narrative. Sometimes it means that someone just really likes a game. But if we take the word, in the case of LOTR:LCG, to mean “how well the game represents Middle Earth,” then practically the only deck that wouldn’t be thematic is a deck that shuffles encounter and player cards together in an attempt to get goblins and elves to play nice. Most of Tolkien’s literature is about individuals from different cultures and circumstances banding together to fight off the forces of evil. Mordor is represented as a dreary sameness, while the Free Peoples are a riot of diversity. So I’ve never been bothered by decks that mash together different traits. Maybe the only problematic options to date are Grima and Saruman, and even those two aren’t a problem if most of the quests happen before the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

A lot of this comes down to the focus in the player’s mind when he or she is piloting a deck. Mentally, I’d divide players into (more or less) two camps: those who are focusing on the story told by their deck’s interaction with the encounter deck, and those who are focusing on the mechanics of the interactions themselves. (And some decks will even lend themselves toward one style or another!) I get, deep down, that some people will not allow themselves to play Steward of Gondor on particular heroes because “they aren’t Stewards of Gondor”. Okay, I understand. But in that case, is it a player choosing theme over power, or just a card design that missed the mark somewhat?

I’m still mulling this over, but readers–does this jumble of thoughts spark any follow-up ideas in your own minds? I’d love to hear you.

How I’m Tracking the Game

As LOTR:LCG has matured, quests have gotten quite a bit more fiddly. In the old days of Passage through Mirkwood, you needed a penny to see if you took the more difficult or easy 2B quest stage. Now we’ve got Archery, Time counters, side quests, ships…it can get a little hairy. So, like many players, I’ve developed a system of tracking effects over time, and everything I need is in one handy-dandy Plano box. Behold!


This box holds everything I need for tracking the game. Included are the following:

  • Penny gems to track wounds, resources, and progress
  • Six-sided dice to track any “X” number in the game, time counters, and the like
  • A pair of red ten-sided dice to track total threat in the staging area
  • A pair of white tend-sided dice to track total willpower from the players
  • Red and blue wooden discs, stolen from the game Campaign Manager: red tracks forced effects on bad guys, blue serve as reminders on player cards
  • Two threat trackers and a first player token

This has all developed over time, but it works quite nicely now. When my wife and I play the game, I just plunk this down in between us and we can start the quest.


Let me know how you are sprucing up your game, readers. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

A Brief Foray into Other Games

Though the purpose of this blog is to focus on our beloved game, it’s not the only game that occupies my leisure hours. I thought I’d highlight a few of my other gaming pursuits when I’m resting my LOTR:LCG cards. (You can check out my whole board game collection here.)

With a whole day ahead of me and some equally nerdy board game friends gathered aroundI’ll play Here I Stand, a deep, crunchy card-driven game of politics and religion for six players. Yeah, you’re right–I’ve out-nerded the nerds with this one. The attention to detail in this game is incredible, and the theme is something I’m intensely interested in: the Protestant Reformation.

With a few hours to space and just one nerdy board game friend around, I’ll usually default to one of three war games from GMT. The first is the flawless Twilight Struggle, still rated as one of the best board games of all time years after its release. The second is my favorite iteration of the Commands and Colors series, Napoleonics. The third is the somewhat more abstract Manoeuvre.

With a few hours to spare and my family gathered around, I default to more Euro style games because they avoid direct conflict. Lords of Waterdeep, Power Grid, and 7 Wonders are my top choices.

In short, I’m a card-driven wargamer at heart, one who loves direct competition in games. This runs counter to the personality streak, common in my neck of the woods, to avoid confrontation. However, if I’m not in the mood for direct competition, I’d rather play a co-op game like LOTR:LCG than a game of indirect competition, such as a classic Euro.

Next week I’ll return to the usual fare, but expect sometime in the future a look at my Steam library too. Until next time, dear readers: mára mesta: good journeys!

Sagas: Is Anyone Using Road Darkens or Land of Shadow Frodo?


After torrential downpours this week led to, among other things, a really slow commute today, I was able to listen to all of the Grey Company’s most recent episode. I always enjoy listening to their Book Club episodes, which are second only to their cycle review episodes. For a few moments they batted around the question of Fellowship Frodo and how to build with him. I have three (!) campaigns going at the moment: one with my wife, one with a college buddy, and one two-handed solo. In each case, I’ve used Black Riders Frodo to great success, since the ability to shuffle a bad card away and draw another one is incredibly powerful. This is especially important in Saga mode, when surging burdens can chain together and wreck your day pretty quickly.

I’ve not been so lucky with The Road Darkens Frodo or The Land of Shadow Frodo. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve tried them, but they just don’t work well for me. In the case of the first, the benefit is obvious: “This attack deals no damage.” But consider what must be paid to achieve that affect:

  • Frodo must exhaust
  • You must pay 1 Fellowship resource
  • Each player raises his threat by two
  • You must exhaust the One Ring (!)

Goodness. Stack that up against all the combat control cards on Hall of Beorn. Not a single one of that requires you to pay that must to, in essence, mimic of Feint.

Frodo Baggins from The Land of Shadow is a bit better–pay 1 Fellowship resource and exhaust the One Ring to give him +2 attack and +2 willpower. However, if you want to use both, you’ve got to get some kind of readying on him. Again, it seems a bit too steep a price, especially when you consider Halfling Determination exists.

So, why is Black Riders Frodo so good? It’s because there are so few cards that can outright cancel the effects of a card. Granted, he’s not as powerful as A Test of Will because his ability means you still must shuffle the card back into the encounter deck, but there’s always a chance it will be discarded in some other way, for instance, as a dud shadow effect.

So, readers, what are your feelings on the Fellowship sphere Frodos? Who is a stud, and who is a dud?

Deck Terminology

I played Hearthstone avidly for about one year. In that time, I learned the terminology, originally pulled from Magic: the Gathering, to describe certain types of decks.

Over on Reddit, a thread was started about deck types, and in response to the original poster, WingfootRanger wrote a short essay that adapted these M:tG deck terms to our beloved card game. However, the terms don’t really seem to translate properly in all cases. Decktypes like “handlock” don’t even exist in LOTR:LCG, which begs the question: should we be borrowing from another game’s slang to describe our own? Or should we be using our own sort of shorthand to describe LOTR decks?

What do you think? Are there universal terms that are applicable to all CCGs/LCGs? Or do the wise among us need to put their heads together and create some terminology for LOTR:LCG, and use it in such a way that it will stick?

Nobles in Disguise

As soon as Tactics Eowyn was spoiled, I knew I wanted to build a secrecy deck around her. While Flame of the West was on the boat, I kept constructing this deck in my head, first pairing her with Hobbits, then with Hirluin the Fair. However, the release of Leadership Denethor changed my thinking. His setup ability of +2 resources allows a secrecy deck to get out Resourceful quickly, while still playing cheap allies and attachments on the first turn. After sleeving Flame of the West last week, I built this deck and took it against the Fords of Isen, Dunland Trap, and Three Trials quests. It did admirably in solo play.


Secret Nobles
Total Cards: 52
Starting Threat: 19

Heroes (3)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)
Éowyn (The Flame of the West)
Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)

Allies (20)
2x Azain Silverbeard (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Bofur (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Derndingle Warrior (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x Grimbold (The Flame of the West)
2x Legolas (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)

Attachments (24)
2x Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Gondorian Shield (The Steward’s Fear)
2x Heir of Mardil (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x Herugrim (The Treason of Saruman)
2x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Rivendell Blade (Road to Rivendell)
2x Rod of the Steward (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Snowmane (The Land of Shadow)
1x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)

Events (8)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)


Attachments (4)

2x Dúnedain Cache (The Dead Marshes)
2x In Service of the Steward (Flight of the Stormcaller)

Events (2)
2x Captain’s Wisdom (The Thing in the Depths)

Deck built on RingsDB.
Cards up to The Flame of the West

In this deck, a good starting hand consists of either Steward of Gondor or Resourceful to jumpstart resource generation. The first copy of either needs to go on Eowyn, since this deck leans toward expensive Tactics cards.  Any other resource generation should be played on Glorfindel, to pay for Herugrim and questing allies. If you can find either Steward of Gondor or Resourceful in that starting hand, everything else should fall into place rather quickly. An early Light of Valinor or Snowmane will get you action advantage, while Herugrim, Rivendell Blade, Armored Destrier, or Gondorian Shield will get combat well in hand.

Eowyn quickly becomes the powerhouse of this deck. Charge her up with Snowmane, Herugrim, Steward of Gondor, and Heir of Mardil, and she’s nigh unstoppable. Quest successfully with her for four, ready her up with Snowmane’s response, swing with Herugrim for 5 attack, and then trigger Steward and Heir for a second attack. Combine her with Legolas ally plus Rivendell blade, and you’ll be killing and drawing whatever you need.

Denethor clearly takes a back seat in this deck. He is really only there for a quick first turn start, after which I usually play Rod of the Steward on him and let him help with card draw. Once Eowyn has the Gondor trait through Steward of Gondor, you can also spin extra resources to her, though she will rarely need them.

Regarding allies, a few thoughts: In an original iteration of this deck, I had 3x Errand-riders, but I found that resource-smoothing could be accomplished by playing off of the Noble trait, which all three heroes share. Bofur and Grimbold might seem like slightly odd choices, but since Eowyn will have plenty of Tactics resources through Steward of Gondor and/or Resourceful, they become beefy Willpower allies and give you built in weapon-tutoring and attack cancellation if needed. Azain Silverbeard was thrown in just for fun–with him dealing direct damage and Legolas and Glorfindel wielding Rivendell blades, you can take down many, many enemies.

While this deck was built for solo play, with a few tweaks, it can be adapted to multiplayer use. Consider cutting Steward if some other deck needs it more, substituting Captain’s Wisdom and In Service of the Steward; this allows you to exhaust Denethor to pick up resources and then transfer them to Eowyn when needed. Also, consider packing Dunedain Cache to give Glorfindel and Eowyn ranged without sacrificing a restricted slot.

The Reward
In the end, this deck provides an interesting mix of powered-up and utility heroes. It’s unlikely you’ll end the game with a large army of allies, but rather a mix of allies and attachments that gives more of that “fellowship” feel. The payoff comes when you have Eowyn and Glorfindel questing for seven and still dishing out massive damage to tough allies. I hope you enjoy playing the deck as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Off-Brand Nightmare, or Making the Game Harder

Tonight I ran a variant of Zeromage’s Big Hero Six deck against The Fords of Isen. Hilarious. Two reasons, really:

  • Between Cirdan, BeravorDaeron’s Runes, and Gleowine, there’s a ton of card draw.
  • Like many quests in the Ring-Maker cycle, The Fords of Isen kicks you in the teeth for drawing cards or having too many cards in hand.

And, voila!, I had an off-brand nightmare quest on my hands. To date, I haven’t purchased a single Nightmare expansion (though I did win a set in a drawing at my FLGS). In truth, I’m still a bit behind on beating all the quests, though I’m catching up pretty quickly. This week I decided to return to the Ring-Maker cycle and play it from start to finish. This solo run will include (hopefully!) beating Celebrimbor’s Secret and The Antlered Crown for the first time, which I’m pumped for. But since I’ve played the Voice of Isengard box and the first few quests in the cycle so much, I thought bringing just the plain wrong, no-good deck to it would be funny.

Don’t get me wrong–the Big Hero Six deck I’ve tweaked is plenty powerful, but that power is offset by the quests just dropping bombs all over me for drawing or holding onto too many cards. So even when I have a near perfect set-up, things can go awry:

Near perfect first turn.

Near perfect first turn.

I did win The Fords of Isen, but it was mighty, mighty close. I’ve learned to hate the Dunlending Berserker, in particular.

So, I’m looking back through all the previous quests and thinking, “What deck could I bring to such-and-such a quest to make it a nightmare quest of sorts?” Any thoughts, readers? What’s a challenging pairing I should try in the future? Leave a comment!

We’ve Traversed the Land of Shadow

Though I had a friend pick it up for me at Gen Con last year, it’s taken me nearly a year to complete the Saga quests from The Land of Shadow. My Beloved Wifey and I took our time, knowing that once we head beaten these three quests, there would be a wait until Flame of the West arrived. But last Thursday night Tactics Merry triumphantly put two Daggers of Westernesse through Shelob‘s gullet, and Frodo was captured.

It was a bittersweet victory. My wife returned to her hobbit deck for Land of Shadow, and I tried out Seastan’s “Everything Costs Two” deck. They worked remarkably well together, with Beregond doing yeoman’s work protecting the hobbits until Sam Gamgee could come into his home as a defender. The ranged characters in Seastan’s deck also helped take down the many baddies my wife wanted to engage (to get Pippin’s card draw as frequently as possible). I’m definitely going to save both decks as a Fellowship and possibly return to them again when we get to the last Saga box.

For now, it’s time to wait…wait…wait…until we can battle outside the walls of Minas Tirith.

The Gems of Erebor: Or, I Got New Tokens!

A few weeks ago I met up with MD to play our beloved game at the Fantasy Flight Games Center and he had a little present for me: a lovely set of PennyGem tokens from Improbable Objects Inc. I now have about 20-25 of each of the white, green, and red tokens (see here) to replace my original game tokens. I use white for resources, with the blank side equaling one resource and the side with the dot equaling two resources. Green tokens are (of course) progress, with the blank side equaling one progress and the square side equaling five progress. And the red tokens (oh joy!), have one drop of blood on the heads side, and two drops of blood on the other.

These things, simply put, are amazing. They are pricey enough that I don’t think I would have ever sprung for them myself, but after playing with them for a few weeks, I adore them. They stack and don’t fall over, and they grip a card sleeve just enough so that you can pass a card across the table (say Fellowship Frodo) without a whole stack of them falling over. I know I’m gushing, but the tactile feel of them just gives me such a strange joy I had to share briefly.

So, should you get them? They are expensive, but I think, very worth it if you’re looking to improve the visual appeal of the game.


The North Rides to War

After the Armored Destrier came out in the Temple of the Deceived AP, I finally saw what the solo Dúnedain deck had been needing for so long: a way to make one of fabled northern Rangers a steady defender to keep the hordes of Mordor in check. Last week I promised a solo deck using the Destrier and Amarthiúl, and today I’m ready to deliver! After testing it against several quests old and new (everything from Journey Along the Anduin to The Thing in the Depths), it’s time to reveal the power of two Dúnedain and one Noldor lord and his ring.


The North Rides to War
Total Cards: 50
Starting Threat: 34

Heroes (3)
Amarthiúl (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
Aragorn (The Lost Realm)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)

Allies (20)
2x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Dúnedain Hunter (The Lost Realm)
2x Fornost Bowman (The Dread Realm)
2x Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Ranger of Cardolan (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
3x Weather Hills Watchman (The Lost Realm)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)

Attachment (21)
2x Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)
2x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Narya (The Grey Havens)
2x Rohan Warhorse (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)

Event (9)
3x A Good Harvest (The Steward’s Fear)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)

Deck built on RingsDB.

In this deck, a good starting hand consists of either the Armored Destrier or the Westfold Horse-breeder to go fetch it, and, depending on the quest you’re playing, a few cheap allies to spit out early on. Cirdan is standing by to provide early questing support and access to cheap willpower like Arwen and Silvan Refugee. Engaging one weak enemy early is preferred, since Amarthiúl will need access to Tactics early. Time A Good Harvest so that you can drop out a lot of allies and attachments from either Leadership or Spirit. Contrary to what’s printed on the card, I ignore Aragorn as a target for Celebrian’s Stone and use it instead to boost Cirdan’s willpower to a mighty six.

In the mid-game, getting Gandalf 2.0 out will get you four more questing, plus beefy defense and attack if you ready him with Narya.

Above all, getting that Armored Destrier is key, since with it Amarthiúl can block and discard shadow cards with ease, all while gaining his engagement buffs.

The Reward
This deck is rather straightforward in its approach, but the reward is in finally being able to get good use out of Amarthiúl’s two engagement buffs consistently without being overwhelmed by enemies. Laugh with grim delight as the forces of the North ride roughshod over the forces of the Dark Lord. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!