The North Rides to War

Inspiration
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.

passing_of_the_grey_company_by_jeiwo

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.

Strategy
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!

A Closer Look at the Armored Destrier

With the recent release of Temple of the Deceived this week, we now have access to the Armored Destrier, a powerful Leadership attachment that is already making its way into  my decks:mec50-armored-destrier

At first glance, the Destrier provides situational readying. For a cost of two Leadership resources, you get a readying attachment that can only be placed on two types of heroes and that requires you to defend two attacks in one turn. My very first thought was, “Why wouldn’t I just use Unexpected Courage?” But let’s consider that second sentence, “Then, discard a shadow card…” Ah ha! Now, we actually have readying and shadow cancellation packed into one card. This was enough to pique my interest for sure.

Although the picture on the card shows us a warhorse of Dol Amroth (note the swan motif on the breastplate), which implies we should be attaching this card to Gondor heroes, I actually like it best in a Dúnedain deck. At the conclusion of the Angmar Awakened, I had a lot of respect for how the trait had been fleshed out, but it could still be incredibly risky to engage multiple enemies in order to trigger the Dúnedain bonuses. This can be mitigated somewhat by splashing Lore and running traps, but that dilutes a pure Dúnedain deck quite a bit. Halbarad, Amarthiúl, and either Leadership or Tactics Aragorn provide a strong lineup. However, I’ve had trouble in the past with Amarthiul. First, if you use him as a defender, you waste his 3 Attack, which is a shame. Also, keeping two enemies engaged to trigger Amarthiúl’s two abilities can be a real challenge:

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The Armored Destrier fixes both of these problems! The readying and shadow cancellation allows you to engage two weaker enemies early in the game and block them with ease. Later in the game, after he has been buffed by Dúnedain Warnings or other defense boosts, he can take on larger enemies. Also, since the Armored Destrier’s response doesn’t require you to block the second enemy’s attack with the hero it’s attached to, you can block the first attack, discard a shadow card from the second enemy, block with someone else, and then put Amarthiúl’s 3 Attack to good use. I was playing around with a Dúnedain deck just a few days ago and was amazed at how the Destrier takes a lot of the pressure off in the early game. Gone was the panic I used to experience in turns 1-3 while I set up Amarthiúl as a defender.

Next week I’ll share a great solo Dúnedain deck that features the Armored Destrier as a key component. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Net-Decking Guilt

Now that I am blogging about Our Beloved Game, albeit infrequently, I feel the pressure to bring my “A game” to every deckbuilding session and quest. It has definitely changed the way I feel about LOTR:LCG, and I’m not yet sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. However, when I’m just too mentally tired to build a deck, I’ll peruse RingsDB for something cool, print out the list, and assemble it while watching television. Then I can save my limited mental energy for actually playing whatever quest I have set up. That leads to net-decking guilt.

Net-decking guilt (n): The feeling a LCG or CCG aficionado gets of having failed in his or her obligation as a player when he or she creates a deck from online sources. Synonyms: net-decking self-reproach, net-decking shame

This week was a study in net-decking guilt. My lovely wife knew I hadn’t been to the Fantasy Flight Games Center in the last few months, so she told me to take Sunday afternoon and head up there. Since I was going to be playing with MD, I did what I usually do: build a pair of decks that work well together and pack the most recent quests. On the night I had set aside to deckbuild, I was mentally fatigued and not ready to create two awesome decks. So I net-decked. And in the one case, I felt terrible about it, and in the other, I felt awesome about it:

Case 1: I threw together Denethor and Sons from the Fantasy Flight Games site. When I piloted it that evening to test it out, I instantly felt net-decking guilt. It was an ally swarm deck that might have been fun to play if I had crafted it myself, but since I had pulled the list off the ‘net, piloting it was boring. There aren’t any interesting tricks, and I felt bad I had put this together.

Case 2: I drifted around on RingsDB until I found Seastan’s Everything Costs Two deck. I also piloted it that evening to test it out, and I loved it. There were interesting choices to be made every turn, and the thing got set up so fast I was giggling with glee. Seriously. My wife asked me what was so funny a few times. There were a lot of fun nuances and so many awesome tricks to be discovered that I felt really good about my choice.

On Sunday I headed to the Games Center with both decks in my backpack, and when MD heard about them, he just ignored the Denethor and Sons deck (probably didn’t sound interesting) and let me play Everything Costs Two while he piloted a Erestor, Haldir, Cirdan deck with a ton of Ent allies. We had a blast. I played Seastan’s deck three times and was still learning new things about it on the last turn of the last quest.

So, why the guilt in the first case, and not in the second? It really does come down to choices. I could have put Denethor and Sons together myself, and I would have been proud of my ability to choose the right cards in order to muster the might of Gondor. However, when I took the easy way out and just built it from someone else’s list, there wasn’t enough depth to the choices to make it fun to pilot. In the second case, I probably never could have put together that deck on my own, and it was full of cards I never play. Because of this, playing it felt like a discovery of sorts. I have a lot of respect for Mithlond Sea-Watcher and The Evening Star now, whereas before I might have just passed them by.

SO. NO MORE NET-DECKING GUILT. That is, as long as I use RingsDB to broad my horizons. Thanks for the awesome deck, Seastan.

Oh, and on my way out of the Games Center, I saw this on the menu. Totally unrelated, but funny all the same:

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Stories Left Untold

As I mentioned in my recent post, A Letter to the Forgotten Heroes, over the past 3.5 years I’ve experienced a lot of life changes that have interrupted my playing time with our beloved game. Welcoming twins, a career change, and traveling for work will definitely cut into the playing time. Here, in the interest of full disclosure, are the quests in the game I have yet to beat (please note that I exclude Nightmare quests, since I do not collect Nightmare yet):

Morgul Vale: Oh, how I long to get to these boss fights!

Celebrimbor’s Secret: I have actually attempted this many, many times, but always in large groups without perfectly tuned decks, and so, alas, I have yet to beat it.

The Antlered Crown: Haven’t even set up the quest yet. Le sigh.

The Battle of Carn Dum: Attempted many times, but never gotten past the first stage.

The Dread Realm: Again, never even set it up.

Flight of the Stormcaller: Set up, but never yet played.

The Thing from the Depths: Never set up.

Just a few months ago, this list was much, much longer, but in April-May I was able to go after some of the Heirs of Numenor/Against the Shadow quests I had yet to beat and really go to it. Some of them were beaten solo, others two-handed, but I can check them off my list. Now my goal is to play both whatever is in the newest cycle and beat one old quest a month. That way, I figure I should catch up pretty quickly.

Okay, just a quick post today. But I’m testing some new decks I hope to share soon. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Deck-Craft: “I will not yield the river and Pelennor unfought!”

Inspiration
In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, there is a moment during Return of the King in which Denethor, aptly played by John Noble, tells Faramir, “I will not yield the river and Pelennor unfought!” before ordering his son to a near-certain death. But Noble delivers the line in such a goofy way (while creepily preparing his meal, in fact) that my Beloved Wife and I have always made fun of it. Take a look/listen:

To this line, we always reply, “Huh? Wassat now? Speak up!” While I am traveling for work, I have lots of layover time to make goofy decks, so this mangled line has become the inspiration for a (mostly) Gondor deck designed to shield those in need of sentinel defenders and/or siege questing. Say it with me now, “IwillnotyieldtheriverandPelennorunfought!” Huh?!

“I will not yield the river and Pelennor unfought!”
Total Cards: 50
Starting Threat: 28

Heroes (3)
Beregond (Heirs of Númenor)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)
Mablung (The Nîn-in-Eilph)

Ally (15)
3x Derndingle Warrior (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
2x Faramir (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)
1x Vassal of the Windlord (The Dead Marshes)

Attachment (26)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Gondorian Fire (Assault on Osgiliath)
3x Gondorian Shield (The Steward’s Fear)
2x Heir of Mardil (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Protector of Lórien (Core Set)
3x Rod of the Steward (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Rohan Warhorse (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Sword of Númenor (The Dread Realm)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
3x Visionary Leadership (The Morgul Vale)

Event (9)
3x A Good Harvest (The Steward’s Fear)
3x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)

Cards up to Flight of the Stormcaller
Deck built on RingsDB.

Strategy
Good starting hands include Steward of Gondor and/or Rod of the Steward, Gondorian Shield, or Gondorian Fire. The goal here is to get as many attachments as possible on Mablung until he becomes a beast of an attacker and defender. Behold, a tapestry of awesome from my first turn planning last week:
FortPelennorYes friends, that was a turn one Steward played on Mablung (thanks, Denethor!), followed by Rod of the Steward, Dagger of Westernesse, and Squire of the Citadel. Oh, and in this early iteration I was using Wingfoot instead of Heir of Mardil, so I Good Harvested into that. Crazy! But wait, it gets crazier. Here’s turn four:
IMG_2509That’s eight amazing attachments on our buddy here. In short, Steward and Rod of the Steward will get you all the resource acceleration and card draw you need to turn Mablung into a Gondorian fire-thrower of doom. DOOM! Meanwhile, Denethor can tank attacks on your side of the table, and Beregond, Winged Guardians, and Derndingle Warriors can block for everyone else. Throw in Visionary Leadership and Faramir and you’re granting a whole lot of people willpower boosts. Sneak attack Gandalf is reserved strictly for emergencies, or for that moment when you need to drop your threat. Lock and load Mablung, point him at the bad guys, and have fun!

Reward
It should be self-evident: blocking all incoming attacks is really fun, and you’re doing everyone at the table a service. But for me personally, the fun is in having three thematic heroes working in tandem and relying on the synergy granted by the Gondor trait, without going whole hog. In fact, this deck started as a mono-leadership Denethor, Boromir, Faramir deck, but it was full of (boring) ally mustering and sort of either worked or flopped based on how quickly Visionary Leadership and A Very Good Tale hit the table. This second iteration, however, gels a lot better.

I want to really tip my hat to community contributor Seastan and a comment he made inf Episode 98 of Cardboard of the Rings. He was talking about card combos and synergy and talked about how A Good Harvest opens up so many options. To that end, I threw Unexpected Courage and Protector of Lorien into this deck and have been very, very happy with the result. Sword of Numenor was a late add because, when paired with Gondorian Fire, it ends up paying for itself very quickly. These sorts of small efficiencies add up over time.

Well, it’s been a while since I felt confident enough to post a deck idea, but I hope you enjoy it. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

A Letter to the Forgotten Heroes

Dear forgotten heroes of Middle Earth:

It’s not you, it’s me. I say that without a hint of irony. When I first began playing LOTR:LCG in December of 2012, it was a more simple time. I had one child. Now I have four. I used to work four miles from my home. Now I regularly travel for work. In the past 3.5 years, these life changes have led to some interruptions in my gaming, and thus some of you have sat, sleeved and yet never utilized. I want to take some space here to apologize to each of you personally:

Elladan and Elrohir: I have twins myself now, and I know I should address you individually because you *are* individuals. But let’s face it; each of you is useless when used alone. I want to apologize for only building around you once. You deserve better. But that one time, when I had to jam every resource-generating card in the game into two decks to try to make you work, I was sorely disappointed in the outcome. Now that we have three more cycles’ worth of cards to work with, I should really try again.

Fatty Bolger: I tried you in one deck with Spirit Frodo and Dunhere. It was a travesty. I apologize, though I will also say this: I will never build around you again. I’m sorry, but you’re just terrible.

Spirit Pippin: See Fatty Bolger entry above.

Mirlonde: I’ve used you in two decks but haven’t looked back since. I don’t carry within my heart the burning hatred that some people do, but your ability is rather boring, and I like flashier heroes. And you don’t seem to help out Silvan decks at all. My apologies for not giving you another try, but I probably won’t change my mind, as I can’t think of a more boring ability than yours.

Brand, Son of Bain: I can safely say I have never built a deck with you in it. Perhaps once the Siege of Minas Tirith is released, because I like the idea of the grandson of Bard the Bowman traveling to Gondor to kill orcs from the walls of Minas Tirith, but not until then. I will say this, though: I have admired you from afar when playing with newbs who only have the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. You’re cool, but other heroes are more interesting to me at the moment. Also, it looks like you smell something stanky in your picture.

Rossiel: You’re beautiful and green and surrounded by weird magic, and your ability is awesome, but I don’t see a lot of use for you in solo or two-player formats, which I play the most frequently. You’re like an exotic foreign exchange student in one of my college classes; you’re amazing, but I’m way too scared to talk to you for fear it won’t work out.

Well, that’s it for now, forgotten heroes of Middle Earth! Consider this a breakup letter of sorts. Again, it’s not you, it’s me. Maybe if cirumstances change we’ll get back together, but for now…let’s just be friends, okay? (And by that, I mean we won’t be spending much, if any time together. Read between the lines, yo.)

Regretfully,
JR

New Deckbuilders Available!

Wow, what a big couple of weeks for deckbuilding in the Lord of the Rings: the Living Card Game! First, Seastan released his Love of Tales deckbuilder, which is based upon the Rivendell Councilroom (now no longer updated). A few things I really like about Love of Tales is the ability to save decks in the cloud, the card suggestion feature by which the builder actually gives you a pretty good list of cards you might put in the deck, and the ability to immediately export to OCTGN.

Right on the heels of that, Sydtrack released RingsDB, which is based upon the ThronesDB and NetRunnerDB sites. I haven’t gotten a chance to play around with this one yet, but it looks very similar to Seastan.

With these two big releases, I think I can officially say that I will not be returning to CardGameDB anytime soon. More easily accessible tools for deckbuilding–thanks Seastan and Sydtrack!

Voices at the Door: “Hard Fun,” Mental Fatigue, and Why I Play

Just a few days ago John Pavlus published an article in Scientific American entitled, “Why We Love the Games that Enrage Us the Most”, which, if you are a gamer, you should definitely read. Pavlus explores the concept of “hard fun,” which is another way of saying that some of us are wired to return to difficult problems again and again in an effort to overcome them. This happens both in games and in real life, but particularly in games. This might be because games often clearly signal to us when we have overcome a challenge, whereas life is not always so clear cut!

As a long-time LOTR:LCG player, I would definitely put our beloved game in the category of “hard fun”. I fondly remember the eight times my wife and I played Fog on the Barrow Downs and the jubilation we experienced when we finally. won. And yet I am not always motivated to sit down and play. My job often involves completing many different tasks throughout the day in a highly-distracting environment. Every few months I contract with a different client, work in their office space where that organization’s staff and their clients are going about their daily business. I, on the other hand, as a consultant, am engaging in an entirely different set of tasks in the midst of their work space. After a busy day, I can be mentally fatigued (specifically, directed attention fatigue sets in), and the absolute last thing I want to do is break out my cards and get my face smashed in by a quest. But on other busy days, I still want to play even though I’ve been doing nothing but making lots of tough choices at work. Why is this?

thinker

The following paragraph in Pavlus’ article helped me understand when and why I want to play:

According to self-determination theory, these principles boil down to three domains in which humans experience universal psychological needs: autonomy (the urge to be the cause of one’s own behavior or choices); relatedness (the urge to connect with others and identify with a group); and competence (the desire to control or influence the outcomes of one’s behavior). The basic interactivity of most video games confers significant autonomy on a player, and the modern integration of many video games with social media easily satisfies the need for relatedness.

This is really astounding. We have all had days  where we don’t feel autonomous, but at the mercy of other people or external circumstances. Latching on to a game for an hour or two gives a gamer a space where he or she can find the autonomy we all crave. Also, playing a game like LOTR:LCG makes me feel competent. Even when I’m losing badly, I’m still building up a body of knowledge about a game I love. And…here is the true revelation for me: since our beloved card game is cooperative, it helps me feel a sense of relatedness. I really enjoy competitive tabletop games, but not in the way that I adore LOTR:LCG. A big factor in that is that it is a way of connecting to fellow players.

This is why, after a hard day at work, when I am weary with mental fatigue, I might still break out my cards. I may want a bit of freedom or feel connected to fellow players. And for that, I’m thankful; this Living Card Game is nothing more than a hobby, and yet it continues to provide me with some really valuable experiences.

It was fun taking the time to reflect on this. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

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!