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!

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 Here are the out-of-date and updated effects, one after the other, with the relevant text underlined: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!

Voices at the Door: No More Dead Cards!

When I first started playing our beloved game in January 2014, I remember how much I hated having duplicates of unique cards in hand. Everyone who has played LOTR:LCG has known that feeling: you play your Steward of Gondor, and two turns later, you get to the resource phase and you draw…a completely useless second copy. Even back in the Core Set days, though, one could always pitch those dead cards to Eowyn or Protector of Lorien. In the last few months, we’ve had an absolute glut of cards that allow you to turn multiple copies of uniques into useful willpower, progress, attack, defense, and even resources. Just use Hall of Beorn’s advanced search functions to look for “Discard from Hand,” and you get a huge list.

As I built decks through 2015, I found the majority of these cards making their way into my new creations. Perhaps my favorite is Steed of Imladris, a card I have an absurd attachment to for some reason. It reads:

Restricted.
Attach to a Spirit or Noldor hero.
Response: After attached hero commits to a quest, discard a card from your hand to place 2 progress on the active location.

In multiplayer, where there is almost certainly going to be an active location every turn, this is an incredible card. Like Eowyn, it’s essentially a Willpower boost, but at a 2:1 ratio. It’s limited by the fact that only you can trigger it, but there’s more than meets the eye here. Before this card came along, every Spirit deck I built featured Eowyn because her ability is just so good. Now that we have this hardy Steed, however, I feel more free to pass over Eowyn during deckbuilding as long as I include Steed of Imladris for a similar effect.

In a similar vein, Elven Spear is a card that fascinates me. Never before have we been able to discard to boost attack power. At first glance, I wasn’t sure I’d ever play this card, since Tactics is somewhat limited in its card draw, but since the Spear is a Weapon, you can at least trigger Foe-Hammer. Another option is pairing Elven Spear with the new hero, Erestor, and including Songs. Since you’re cruising through your deck more quickly with Erestor’s ability, it’s easy to find that Song of Battle, slap it down, and then play Elven Spear on the same turn.

As I look over these cards which allow players to turn dead multiple copies of uniques into something useful, Leadership is still lacking in this area. To be fair, what this means is that, unless you are playing mono-Leadership, there is always a way to convert dead cards into a stat boost. Just include Eowyn, hero Arwen, Protector of Lorien, Steed of Imladris, or Elven Spear, and you can make the most out of those formerly useless cards. I’m happy to declare it: no more dead cards in LOTR:LCG!

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voice at the Door: Side-by-Side and Cooperative Play

As I’ve continued my journey with our beloved game, I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with other folks and observing how others play. In terms of basic play-style, I have seen two camps emerge: side-by-side players and cooperative players. Neither is better or worse than the other, and at different times, I have been a part of both camps:

Side-by-Side: This kind of player, whether he or she is playing with one, two, or three other players, tends to work within their own play area as much as possible. Other than cooperating in the broadest sense, by which I mean contributing attack, defense, willpower, and cancellation, he or she is primarily focused on playing a particular role. Few cards are played across the table unless it will benefit this player directly (e.g., A Test of Will or a universal boost of some sort).

Cooperative: This kind of player, whether he or she is playing with one, two, or three other players, tends to work across the table with other players. In addition to contributing to attack, defense, willpower, and cancellation, he or she will play key attachments across the table (e.g., Unexpected Courage, Gondorian Shield), utilize resource moving cards like Blue Mountain Trader and Errand Rider to offer other players resources, and both give and receive sentinel and ranged help.

So, dear readers, what camp do you primarily fall into? Answer the poll below!

Voices at the Door: My Favorites of 2015

As we look ahead to the Christmas and New Year holidays, many websites and blogs are doing “year in review” type articles, and I’m no different. In my opinion, 2015 was the best year yet for our beloved card game. The developers have taken the structure of LOTR:LCG to a whole new level. This year alone saw the introduction of side quests, cards that manipulate the victory display, cards that attach to quests, and even cards that interact directly with your physical threat dial. So, without further ado, here’s my personal favorites of 2015.

ChristopherLeeChristmasAlbum

Favorite Quest
This is a challenging one, as we had so many to choose from this year: seven adventure packs, one deluxe expansion, two saga boxes, and two print on demand quests. (That’s eighteen quests, for those of you who are counting.) For me, The Ruins of Belegost, the GenCon quest, really takes the cake. Although very challenging, it is not all that complicated to set up and take down, and I thoroughly enjoy every play of it since, depending on what treasures you find, it plays out very differently. This one is going to see a lot of play at my table for years to come.

Favorite Hero
Once again, there are a lot of choices here, and they are made more difficult by the fact that so many of them are so powerful! However, the nod goes to Spirit Theoden. Rohan was a fun faction to play before he arrived, but it was challenging to get everything working because some of the early Rohan allies were steeply priced. In addition, since most Rohan cards are in the Tactics and Spirit spheres, which are not known for their resource acceleration, it was difficult to get those allies out unless you splashed in Leadership. Spirit Theoden has given us an elegant way to play around these weaknesses, giving a blanket 1-resource discount to one Rohan ally played each round, and that one tweak has sent Rohan into top-tier status.

Favorite Enemy
This one is easy for me: Cursed Dead, first found in the Lost Realm deluxe expansion. Each one is so easy to get rid of, but kill too many, and you’ll soon be swarmed with more spirits that you can shake a sword/bow/axe at. I love all kinds of zombie/undead action, and Cursed Dead is a great way to represent hordes of baddies rising from the grave again…and again…and again! Sure these nasty spirits have caused me to lose many a game, but it always felt right. “Gah! I’ve been swarmed by the souls of the damned! There’s too many of them!”

Favorite Ally
He found his way into many of my decks, and I was always happy to see him. That’s right folks, it’s everybody’s favorite brinksmanship ally: the Dunedain Hunter! Put him into play for free, discard a few cards from the encounter deck, hope you get an enemy, and pray the enemy isn’t too difficult to deal with. He’s introduced a great risk/reward mechanic into our favorite card game, one that was sorely lacking before. And heck, even if you don’t get an enemy, Horn of Gondor goes off. Toot toot! Someone is getting a resource.

Favorite Location
From the Treason of Saruman, the best location of 2015 is Eastemnet. The Uruk-Hai is a brutal quest, and it’s awesome to clear a location, only to find…well, gold, apparently. (Just hidden in the grass?! The Rohirrim don’t seem to think it valuable.) But seriously, one resource on each hero you control is such a relief, especially when you’re down a few heroes already. Thanks for making life easier for us, Eastemnet!

Favorite Attachment
Despite its depressing title, my favorite attachment this year is the 1-cost Lore attachment The Long Defeat. It’s the first player card that can attach to a quest card, and once that quest is cleared, each player can either draw two cards or heal up to five damage. That’s incredibly valuable, and as such, The Long Defeat has made its way into every Lore deck I run, right alongside other Lore staples like Warden of Healing and Daeron’s Runes. In multiplayer games, I like to place this on a player side quest that I think would be really valuable to clear, as it makes it even more likely that the first player will choose it. (My default choice is to place it on Double Back. Then you get to drop your threat by five and choose the best option on the Long Defeat.) Once I play this card, I can see the other players visibly relax, as if to say, “Okay. We’re good. There are option here, and they aren’t all bad.”

Favorite Treachery
This card resulted in more flipped tables for me than I care to admit this year, and maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but the award for Favorite Treachery of 2015 goes to Devilry of Saruman. Not only does it almost always clear the location in the quest (very bad in Helm’s Deep!), but it also blanks each character’s text box until the end of the round. I like to think of this as everyone suffers a concussion from the gunpowder blast, so no one can really do much of anything for the rest of the round. Flavor home run, because…well, who was really expecting gunpowder in Middle Earth on their first read-through of The Two Towers? No one!

Favorite Event
Art aside (it’s incredible, by the way), the strongest event released this year, and my current favorite, is the Lore event The Door is Closed! Though it takes more setup than A Test of Will, it does provide another form of cancellation by banishing your most-hated cards to the victory display. You’ll still have to take your licks while getting the combo set up, either with None Return or Leave No Trace, but it is oh-so-worth-it when a second copy of the same card shows up, everyone groans, but then you wag your finger and in your sassiest voice shout, “Nuh-uh! No sir! THE DOOR IS CLOSED!” High fives all around.

Favorite Expansion 
Hands down, the most bang for my buck this year was The Land of Shadow, the fourth Saga expansion in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which covers the second half of The Two Towers. Not only did the quests rock, but the player cards (check them out!) fleshed out Ents, Rohan, Hobbits, and Trap decks that much further. I’ve never seen a large or small expansion offer so many awesome cards as this one: Snowmane, Damrod, Damrod…I could go on and on.

Favorite LOTR:LCG Experience of 2015
I was fortunate enough to play a lot this year, which I am very thankful for. So I have a lot of options to choose from. And as much as I like sitting down to play with the developers at the Fantasy Flight Games Center, or attending the Fellowship event each year, my favorite LOTR:LCG experience this year was beginning a Saga campaign with my wife. We have enjoyed many nights journeying through The Black Riders, The Old Forest, Fog on the Barrow Downs, and The Road Darkens, and now we are poised to enter the Treason of Saruman together. It’s been an amazing experience, and she has commented that she now feels like she knows the game much better than she did, simply because we’ve played so much. The experience of eight attempts playing Fog on the Barrow Downs cemented her understanding of the rules like nothing else could, and we enjoyed every loss (and our one win!). I cannot wait to continue our journey during the holiday. The Quest must not fail!

Well, there you have it. With such a strong 2015, and with our beloved game in such good hands, I think we are have an amazing 2016 ahead of us. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voices at the Door: Swarms, Utility Belts, and Fellowships

Almost four years ago, Nate French, the designer of the Lord of the Rings: the Living Card Game, wrote a post on the Fantasy Flight Games site about the three kinds of players he saw in our beloved game. French used the character of Bilbo to represent players who love theme over everything else, Boromir to represent the true power gamers, and Pippin to represent those who like exploring card combos and tricks. I think these are interesting categories, but they don’t quite fit together, since one relates to how a player sees the story of the game, and the other two relate to mechanics.

As I’ve played and grown in my understanding of the game, I haven’t seen people fit neatly into those three categories, but I have seen decks fit into three neat categories. These are swarm decksutility belt decks, and Fellowship decks.

  • Swarm Deck: This is probably the most obvious of the three. Simply put, a swarm deck revolves around getting as many smaller minions into play as possible. Whether by paying for them outright or “cheating” them in via an event like A Very Good Tale, these decks simply overwhelm the encounter deck by throwing bodies at the problem. For a swarm deck to be successful, you almost always need some kind of leader card (e.g., Dain Ironfoot, Celeborn, Leadership Boromir, Spirit Theoden) to either provide stat boosts to your weenie allies, or offer a discount when playing them.
  • Utility Belt Deck: Like Batman, who always had the right tool in his utility belt, this archetype revolves around loading your heroes up with as many attachments as possible to boost stats and provide readying effects. I think the best example of this deck is a basic Sam Gamgee, Lore Pippin, Tactics Merry deck, where Fast Hitches, Hobbit Cloaks, and Daggers of Westernese turn these three friends from weaklings into superheroes.
  • Fellowship Deck: This deck is a little harder to define, but it revolves more around getting beefy allies into play and doing whatever it takes to allow them to stay in the game. As with the swarm deck, some “cheating” is likely necessary (e.g., Elf Stone or Timely Aid) to get these folks in play, but once they are, you have a true fellowship: a group of diverse heroes and allies with a host of interesting abilities to defeat the forces of evil.

Of course, a lot could be said about how these three archetypes have rather fuzzy edges, that is, they can be mixed and matched. One of my favorite solo decks of all time was a Hobbit deck featuring the three fat friends mentioned above, but also included ways to cheat expensive allies such as Gildor Inglorien and Haldir of Lorien into play. In that way, it was both a utility belt and a Fellowship deck.

At the same time, I think these three ways of looking at decks are helpful as I sit down to build something new. Before I think about spheres or anything else, I usually ask myself if I want a swarm, three heroes who can accomplish a lot, or a smaller number of unique allies to get the job done. Once I’ve decided that, then I can start to look for specific spheres and cards to build around.

As I play more, I’m also challenging myself to look at recently-played decks and play against type. So if I’ve been playing a lot of trait-based swarm decks for a few weeks, I’ll intentionally break those down and build a utility belt or Fellowship deck. When my wife and I sit down to play our Saga campaign, we specifically try to stay away from building two decks of the same type. This helps protect against treacheries which can stop a particular kind of deck in its tracks. For example, any treachery or shadow that reads, “Discard a non-objective attachment from play” can really harm a Utility Belt deck, which is relying on attachments that boost up heroes.

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voices at the Door: The Trap Deck has Arrived!

Note: Voices at the Door is the title I’ll be using for musings on how our beloved LCG is changing.

On Friday I headed to my favorite local game shop, Level Up Games, in South St. Paul, MN. It’s just a six-minute drive from my house, the staff is friendly, the gaming space is large, and they always have LOTR:LCG in stock. My buddy M and I have been playing there on-and-off for about two years. Over time we’ve developed a simple routine: each of us builds a pair of decks that work well together, and then we play each pair in turn against the same quest. This way, we don’t really have to coordinate much over email about deck-building, we each can explore deck designs that interest us, and each of us gets insight into how the other plays the game. Ideally, this is how I would play all of my games, because it leads to many fun surprises as you’re playing a deck someone else built for you.

Since I’m starting a new work project this week, I only had about fifteen minutes to slap together two new decks. For the first, I settled on a simple lineup: Eowyn, Galadriel, and Legolas with a ton of strong Spirit allies (e.g., Silvan Refugee, Galadriel’s Handmaiden), some cancellation, and a lot of cheap Tactics cards to power up everyone’s favorite Core Set elf (Rivendell Blade, Rohan Warhorse, Arod).

With the second deck, I took a risk: a Gondor trap deck featuring Leadership Faramir, Damrod, and Denethor. The first two heroes are fresh off the boat from the Land of Shadow expansion. I included a number of Gondor allies such as Lore Anborn, Squire of the Citadel, and Ingold, and copies of strong trap cards like Forest Snare, Ambush, and Ranger Spikes. I wasn’t so sure about this deck, since I have never felt that Trap decks were very powerful. But with the inclusion of some of these new Land of Shadow cards, I was blown away at how good the Trap archetype has become.

We played Wastes of Eriador, starting with M’s decks: a powerful Rohan lineup featuring strong questing allies and beefy heroes, and a Ranged/Sentinel lineup boasting mighty Ents. Amazingly, we played a ten turn game and lost due to threating out, despite having a veritable army of Ents on the board. After that playthrough, I was feeling pretty stupid about bringing the decks I outlined above, predicting we’d have a host of dead heroes by turn four or five. But M and I were astounded to beat Wastes of Eriador in a mere five turns.

Though neither the Eowyn, Galadriel, Legolas lineup or the Faramir, Damrod, Denethor lineup featured a lot of combat power, each held its own. By game’s end, each deck had drawn over half of its cards. Here’s the staging area after we killed the pack leader:
IMG_1488

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup, that’s two scary Wargs trapped by Ranger Spikes, and Damrod smiling because he’s awash in Lore resources. Here’s a quick look at the entire board at the end:

IMG_1487

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previous to this game session, I had always assumed that Traps were a sort of “third player” archetype. By this I mean to say that in a typical game, the first player has a strong questing deck, the second has a strong combat deck, and if a third person shows up, the Trap deck sort of fills in some gaps. Previous to Land of Shadow, I would have always said that in a two-player game, there was no way the second player could play a trap deck and pull his or her weight in the game. But Friday’s playthrough showed us the Trap deck is alive and well. Here’s why:

  • Damrod: The 1-resource discount on Traps cannot be overlooked, especially if you play with two Lore heroes. Ranger Spikes, Ambush, and Poisoned Stakes can be played on Turn 1 with a resource to spare on your second hero. Amazingly, Ithilien Pit can come in for free. And the card you get to draw when a Trap attaches to an enemy comes at an interesting time: during staging. This might mean you suddenly end up with a Sneak Attack, Feint, Radagast’s Cunning, or Secret Paths at a critical moment: as you resolve questing and look ahead to combat.
  • Ambush: This brand-new Trap from the Land of Shadow expansion is a bit like Quick Strike, saving you the trouble of defending against an enemy because you can kill it before it attacks. In our game, Legolas with Rohan Warhorse and Rivendell Blade just loved this card. An enemy would reveal during staging, end up in the Ambush, would be optionally engaged and destroyed, and then Legolas would ready up to help destroy another enemy. This also left defenders free to help out elsewhere.
  • Lore Anborn: I’ve always thought Poisoned Stakes was a terrible card, but I’m happy to run the other four Traps (Ithilien Pit, Ranger Spikes, Forest Snare, and Ambush). Now that we have a number of them, and Lore has such good access to card draw, I feel comfortable running two copies of each Trap. Ally Anborn can call these Traps back to hand after they’ve been used. So our four awesome Traps only take up eight slots in the deck, and Anborn only takes up another two (I never run three copies of a unique ally in a lore deck), and–TA-DA!–you’ve got a real Trap deck going with 40 more slots to do other things.

I think the value of a real Trap synergy based on just one hero, two copies of a unique ally, and two copies of four strong Traps cannot be overstated. You’re left with so much room to build that I can honestly say shout from the rooftops that Traps have arrived. In my deck, I used that extra space to build in a bit of Gondor synergy (For Gondor!, Wealth of Gondor, Envoy of Pelargir, Squire of the Citadel) and a bit of Ranger synergy (Wingfoot, Expert Trackers), provide healing to the table (Warden of Healing, The Long Defeat), and get in some ally mustering (A Very Good Tale) without feeling like the deck was pulling in too many directions.

To borrow a term from the Star Wars LCG, I’m now going to consider using Damrod, Lore Anborn, and those two copies of four strong Traps as a pod: a set of ten cards and one hero that can be slotted into several different sorts of decks to provide a lot of value. And never again will I show up to play LOTR: LCG and have the other players roll their eyes and mutter, “Oh brother, JR brought a Trap deck.”

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!