Voices at the Door: Time to Build a Ranged/Sentinel Deck

Every few weeks I head over to the Fantasy Flight Game Center for this weekly LOTR:LCG meetup. It’s a great chance to meet other players in the area, play quests together, and see how other folks are building decks. Because of the large group size, we are playing 3-4 player games, which is a new experience for me. Luckily, the gentlemen over at the Grey Company have prepared me for these larger games, which led to the creation of my Swift and Strong Steeds deck. I always pack this deck (or something like it) so I can be “location control guy,” which is usually appreciated.

However, last weekend I was reminded that I need to build a good Ranged/Sentinel deck and pack that as well. I played alongside paired Dwarf decks last weekend, while I ran Arwen, Graima, and Cirdan in a location control deck. We gelled pretty well together, but it became apparent throughout the afternoon that my deck’s inability to deal with stronger enemies, when combined with the Dwarf decks’ lack of Ranged and Sentinel, meant that my allies were being wiped off the board quite often. Right now I’m thinking of a Beregond/Legolas/Erestor lineup, so I can quickly dig for lots of strong Tactics attachments while still dishing out healing, but I’m not sure if that will work. Stay tuned for a decklist, which I’ll bring to next week’s event.

Very short post this week as I contemplate what that deck might look like…Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

The Seeing-Stone: Voyage Across Belegaer

Departure at the Grey Havens, by Ted Nasmith

Departure at the Grey Havens, by Ted Nasmith

(Note: I am creating the “Seeing-Stone” category to indicate articles that focus primarily on encounter deck design.)

Warning, spoilers ahoy! (See what I did there?) Friday I finally got to sit down and break out the first quest in the Grey Havens box, Voyage Across Belegaer. Over the course of the evening, I played it three times with my buddy M, beating it on the final attempt. And can I just say…I cannot remember the last time I had this much fun with a quest out of the box. There has been a bit of grumbling on various forums in recent years that the average board state is getting more complicated, and I was worried that adding ships to the mix was going to be trouble for my poor brain, but I am happy to report that this is not the case.

Ships fit rather elegantly into the design-space of the game, acting as objective-allies with only a few simple rules about how they interact with heroes, allies, and other ships. This quest also features the Boarding X keyword. When an enemy ship engages you, you check its boarding number, and then put that many pirates from the Corsair deck into play engaged with you too. These boarding parties introduce another element of surprise in the game, since you never know exactly which pirates are going to jump into your staging area. Sometimes you get weeny pirates, and sometimes an Umbar Captain leaps aboard your ship.

While each pirate functions a little differently, these scurvy sea dogs are never in the staging area, which helps each player track their effects, since they are right in front of your face. There’s a real thrill as you engage in combat with a Corsair boarding party and try to sink their ship at the same time.

The other element introduced in the quest is the Sailing test. Simply put, before you even commit characters to the quest, you move the Heading card (which shows an “on-course” symbol and three worsening “off-course” symbols) one step off-course, then exhaust a number of characters, who are dedicating their efforts to manning the tiller, sails, etc. You then discard that number of cards from the top of the encounter deck, hunting for a Sailing symbol in the bottom left corner. For each symbol you find, you can adjust your Heading one step closer to on-course. Since the strength of your sailing is not based on a stat, but on the number of characters committed, Voyage Across Belegaer rewards you for bringing a large “crew,” that is, a deck with a number of low-cost allies who can just sail the darn ship while other allies and heroes focus on questing, attack, defense.

When laid out all together, ships, Boarding, and Sailing seems like a lot to remember, but the ships are merely new allies, Boarding only happens during engagement, and Sailing is a simple check resolved before questing. There’s a simplicity and elegance to these new elements which doesn’t tax the brain (unlike Time counters, which always felt to me like balancing your checkbook at the end of a round!). Most importantly to me, these three new wrinkles give you a real sense of story. When M and I spotted a Corsair Scout Ship in the staging area, the “Boarding 1” keyword let us know that there were only a few pirates aboard (but which one? we wondered). When the Corsair War Ship arrived on the horizon, we trembled, since it was full of bad guys (“Boarding 3”!). Rather than engage it, we ducked into a Fog Bank and tried to lose it.

Maybe the best moment of the night, however, was when Amarthuil, charged up with Steward of Gondor and Gondorian Fire, sunk an enemy light cruiser with one mighty blow. How did that happen, you wonder? Look at the card art for Gondorian Fire; he lit that sucker on fire. Yeah, that’s right, Corsairs. Flee or burn!

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My final verdict: Voyage Across Belegaer introduces three new elements to the game, and they jive in such a way that my enjoyment of the game grew immensely. Sailing checks, boarding parties, locations that represent storms, waterspouts, and dense banks of fog…I could not be happier with where this cycle is headed. Cheers to the design team, especially Matt Newman, who is listed as the lead designer. Our voyage through the cycle has only begun, but it promises to be an exciting adventure.

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voices at the Door: January 2016 FAQ, Horn of Gondor Change

The+Horn+of+Boromir

In less than 24 hours, I should have my hands on the Grey Havens; the cards have already been spoiled over at Hall of Beorn. But before we set sail into the West with the latest deluxe expansion, I wanted to touch briefly on the January 2016 FAQ, specifically the change to Horn of Gondor. Since our beloved game’s release in 2011, the Core Set has gone through multiple printings, with only minor changes made to card text. The change to Horn of Gondor represents the most fundamental shift in a card’s playability. Here are the out-of-date and updated effects, one after the other, with the relevant text underlined:

Old Text (2011-2015)
Response: After a character leaves play, add 1 resource to attached hero’s pool.”

New Text (2016)
Response: After a character is destroyed, add 1 resource to attached hero’s pool.”

According to co-developer Caleb Grace, the change is to preserve the original intent of Horn of Gondor, which was to help the Tactics player generate resources when allies are destroyed in the act of defending. While I agree with this in principle, in reality the pool of Tactics allies goes directly against this. If anything, Tactics is not chump-blocking on a regular basis, instead using beefy defenders such as Defender of Rammas, Derndingle Warrior, and Winged Guardian to block attacks…and survive. At the very least, then, the change to Horn of Gondor means that Tactics players will only be gaining resources when a bad shadow effect destroys such defenders. Since this is now the case, the Horn has gone from a utility card to a card that only triggers when the Tactics player’s defense strategy fails. This makes Horn into an “emergency” or “contingency” card.

What is a bit more disconcerting to me, however, is the effect the change has on decks that rely on allies leaving play. Both the Rohan and Silvan archetypes take a huge hit from this rules change. It is fair to argue that since both have a card that reduces the cost of related allies (Spirit Theoden and O Lorien! respectively), they don’t also need Horn of Gondor. That may be true, but even if this is the case, what happens to the Eagle trait? At this point in the game, the Eagles have no cost-reducing card available to them, and I would go so far as to say that the change to Horn of Gondor makes Eagle decks non-viable. It’s still a good idea to splash cheap Eagles into Tactics decks, but no longer are swooping Descendants of Thorondor, Vassals of the Windlord, or Winged Guardians going to net you resource gains.

At the end of the day, I’m a bit disappointed in the ruling. From my perspective, limiting the Horn’s effect to once or twice a round would have still destroyed the infinite loops we all most of us despise without harming three key Traits. As time goes on, I’ll be curious to chat with other players and see how they feel about the change.

In the meantime…very excited to board ship at the Grey Havens. Noldor decks, here we come. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!