Key Concepts: Grading

Bear Clapping

Whether it is movies, books, or college professors a simple 1 to 5 star grading system is woefully one-dimensional. The reality is that anything worth grading in the first place, is worth analyzing with a bit more nuance than five choices. With a game like Lord of the Rings, this is most apparent not in the powerful cards, but the ones that exist on the edges. The card pool is large enough that there are now quite a few cards which are situationally useful.

Rather than being defined solely by player decks, as competitive card games are, the meta-game for Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is informed by scenarios. This means that the value of each player card must always be judged within the boundaries of a given scenario, otherwise it lacks the necessary context to have any real meaning. A card that can be a salvation in one game, can end up completely worthless in another scenario. Other cards, the so-called Staples, are universally valuable against almost almost every quest.

Power_of_OrthancTake a card like Power of Orthanc. In scenarios without encounter cards that manifest as Condition attachments, this card is worse than useless. Indeed, to use it in such situations would do nothing but raise every players’ threat with no benefit. Moreover, including it in your deck against the wrong quests would take up precious space that could be used by other, more generally applicable cards.

On the other hand, this card really shines in a multi-player game where the encounter deck is attaching multiple nasty attachments to characters or the current quest (e.g. Fords of Isen from The Voice of Isengard), this card can be amazing. In these situations, even the doomed cost can seem like a small price to pay. This is the very definition of a situational card. To try to give this card a simple 1 to 5 rating would be a disservice to the inherent complexity and variety of this game.

Campfire TalesAnother reason why it is difficult to rate every card on a simple linear scale is that each player has a different play style. While the competitive players are focused on which cards make their own deck stronger, support players will be more interested in cards that make everyone’s deck better. This is how cards like Campfire Tales can either be dead filler in a solo deck, but amazing in a four player game where the other decks don’t have enough card draw.

Love of TalesThematic players are more interested in cards that fit the narrative, or the feel that they are trying to achieve. I’m not personally a fan of Love of Tales, from a strategic point, but my wife loves to attach it to a Hobbit and then use Rivendell Minstrels to sing many songs. There is room in the game for everyone, even those that have a different goals, or a different focus than our own.

For all but Math tests, grading is an inherently subjective act. Everyone will find choices to disagree with here, and I look forward to reading comments from readers about which cards they think are overrated, underrated or just a hidden gem. I see myself as primarily a strategic player, but one who deeply cares about the myth and style of Tolkien’s world. I played and loved The Middle-Earth CCG almost 20 years ago, so my love for Tolkien-themed games is not new. It is important to bear in mind that these grades are based on my own experiences and mindset with the game. So please don’t take it personally if I grade one of your favorite player cards harshly.

One of the great things about a deck building game is that, with the right support, almost any card can be made to shine. If you strongly disagree with one or more of my grades here, I challenge you to create a deck which highlights whichever cards I have maligned. If someone can create a strong deck which prominently features any of the Filler or Coaster cards from this list, I will be happy to write an article about it. At the end of the day, grades are only a tool to help in deck-building, but having fun playing the game is the ultimate goal.

Universal Staples

These are the true power cards. As the name implies, universal staples will fit into almost any deck. However, even with effects as powerful as they provide, there are still reasons not to include these cards in a deck. For one thing, many of these cards are unique. While this does not matter as much for solo play, in a multi-player game it can have a tremendous impact. Two players should not both bring decks that rely on Steward of Gondor to the same game – someone is going to be disappointed.

Theme is another reason why some players will exclude a staple from their deck. As much as it makes strategic sense for a Dwarf deck to include Steward of Gondor, it does make any sense thematically. Besides, many players will find it more fun to use We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria, along with an army of Dwarven allies, to replace the resource acceleration that comes with being the leader of Gondor. In this example, theme and strategy actually work hand-in-hand, because We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria can be a more effective resource engine in a Dwarf deck than Steward of Gondor ever could.

In any case, this grade is not meant to imply that these cards must be in every deck. This grade indicates that a card will make most decks stronger, all else being equal. Those with the desire to be pedantic can certainly pick any card from this list, and make the case for a deck in which that card would not fit. While technically correct, this kind of contrarianism misses the larger point of a grading system. This grade does not mean that a card is automatically better than every card that falls further down this list. It does indicate cards which have the potential to vastly improve a deck that includes too many cards of lesser, or more situational, power.

Sphere-Leadership

Leadership
Allies: Errand-rider, Faramir (Core)
Attachments: Steward of Gondor
Events: A Very Good Tale, Sneak Attack

Errand-rider is quite simply the best utility ally currently available in the game. For 1 resource, you get an ally with a useful trait and an amazing ability. When used correctly, one copy of this card can often make it unnecessary to include other resource smoothing cards like Songs, Narvi’s Belt or Good Harvest. The fact that it has 2 hit points is relevant, particularly with scenarios that include archery and character direct-damage. With unimpressive stats, he may seem underwhelming, the ability to always have a resource where it is needed most should not be ignored.

FaramirIn any other sphere, Faramir would be too expensive, at four resources, to be considered a staple card. However, Leadership has resource acceleration to spare, so a four-cost ally is not at all difficult to pay for. Add ally mustering in abundance, and there are no shortage of ways to get Boromir’s oft-overlooked brother on the board. Once there, his ability is quite simply amazing. He even has two useful traits and can serve as a solid defender in a pinch, if his ability wasn’t enough. For multi-player, it is even worth including Faramir in a deck without many allies, as you can always choose another (probably Spirit or Leadership) player to receive the benefits of his ability.

There is not much to say about Steward of Gondor that has not already been said. It clearly remains the most efficient and repeatable resource acceleration in the game. A Very Good Tale and Sneak Attack both help form one of the pillars of the Leadership sphere – ally mustering. Being able to get allies into play quickly, without having to pay their full cost, makes Leadership a very valuable choice, even if it is just splashed into a deck.

A Very Good TaleSneak Attack in particular, makes a devastating combo with Core Set Gandalf, and can immediately transform an otherwise hopeless situation into winning round. Gandalf is not the only card that works well with Sneak Attack. Any ally with a response that can be triggered after the enter play is a good candidate for some sneaking around. In addition, Sneak attack works well with allies like Core Set Beorn or Escort from Edoras, which often leave play at the end of a given phase.

In contrast to Sneak Attack, A Very Good Tale can take a bit of planning to setup correctly. However, putting allies from any sphere directly into play, without paying their full cost, is essential for many scenarios. The trend is for newer quests to hit hard and not let up, so it is important for most decks to field multiple characters within the critical first few rounds. While one might argue that exhausting two allies is high cost, correctly designed decks can consistently gain two allies (or a single, more powerful, one) from this card. This makes A Very Good Tale action neutral on the turn you play it, but a tremendous action advantage on every subsequent round of the game. The fact that Sneak Attack and A Very Good Tale both work with non-Leadership allies should not be overlooked.

Sphere-Tactics

Tactics
Allies: Vassal of the Windlord, Defender of Rammas, Westfold Outrider
Attachments: Dagger of Westernesse, Gondorian Shield, Horn of Gondor
Events: Feint, Quick Strike

Above all else, the Tactics sphere excels at surviving enemy attacks, and killing enemies. It should come as now surprise then, that all but one of the universal staple cards for this sphere are focused on one of these two parts of the game. For one resource, Vassal of the Windlord is an absolute bargain. An ally with three attack strength, the Eagle trait, and the ranged keyword would be worth it as twice the cost. The fact the the Vassal leaves play after it attacks is honestly not a deal-breaker. This card is just so useful in so many situations – only more so in multi-player games where the extra ranged attack can make all of the difference.

Defender of RammasOn the other side of the combat coin, we have the Defender of Rammas. Still one of the best things to come out of Heirs of Númenor, the defender is amazingly efficient for only 2 resources. Unlike his Eagle equivalent, this Gondorian foot soldier does not automatically leave play after defending. Again, his trait can be useful, in a Gondor deck – though this is a secondary concern. Ironically, given his name, the Defender even has 1 attack, so he can help to finish off an enemy that is on the brink of death. Together, these two allies are an essential part of any deck designed to handle Battle and Siege quests. As for the Westfold Outrider, readers should see my thoughts of the Ring-maker cycle for an in-depth discussion of this card.

There are some very strong weapons and armor in this game, but many of them have trait-based restrictions. As far as weapons are concerned, Dagger of Westernesse is so good, because it lacks such a trait restriction. Granted, you only get the full benefit of this card when attacking enemies with a higher engagement cost than your current threat. While this can be difficult in a mono-Tactics deck, the best use of weapons is often in decks that only mix Tactics. The reason for this is that weapons are quite often overkill in a mono-Tactics deck, where each of the heroes is likely to already have 3 attack strength.

On the other hand, a deck which features only 1 or 2 Tactics heroes will find it much more manageable to ensure the full benefit of the Dagger. Regardless of whether or not it is providing the full bonus, Dagger of Westernesse is the only Tactics weapon without a play restriction which always gives at least +1 attack for only 1 resource. This is important, as weapons are essential for other powerful cards like Foe-hammer, Goblin-cleaver and Straight Shot.

Gondorian Shield (small)Gondorian Shield is less powerful when it is paired with a non-Gondor hero. However, because Steward of Gondor grants the Gondor trait, and is itself a universal staple, this limitation is easily overcome. When attached to a Gondorian hero, this card is game-changing. Go back and look at any early scenario, with larger enemies that attacked for 5 or more. For much of the game, these larger enemies were very difficult to defend against – leaving cards like Feint as the only option.

Without healing, or pairing card draw with Protector of Lorien, or drawing multiple Dunedain Warnings, there were very few ways for a deck to actually defend against these kinds of enemies. Chump blocking was certainly an option, but enemies like the Hill Troll were specifically designed to discourage this strategy. This is why Gondorian Shield is so important to the game. It now makes it viable to design consistent decks around a single super-defender. Beregond and Elrohir are two popular choices (after the elf is given Stewardship), but Tactics Boromir, Denethor and either version of Aragorn all make excellent defenders as well.

The key here is consistency. Whereas older decks would have to dedicate 6 or more cards to creating a super defender, Gondorian Shield immediately transforms these heroes into a strategic wall. Shadow effects can still be an issue, but these heroes can take a serious amount of punishment with the help of this one card. Pair this with healing effects and cards like A Burning Brand or Hasty Stroke, and you have a hero that is all but invincible. Having a dedicated defender becomes all the more valuable, as many recent scenarios punish chump blocking or include enemies which cannot be blocked by allies.

The last attachment here could arguably be considered situational, but I have chosen to grade Horn of Gondor as universally useful because of how rare resource acceleration is in Tactics. As one of the most expensive spheres, this is all the more important to a deck that features many Tactics cards. Moreover, this card is simply amazing in multi-player games. Because it lacks a limit on the number of times the effect can be triggered in a given round, it is not uncommon to gain 3 or 4 resources in a single turn, after other players’ allies leave play for various reasons. Being restricted might seem like a serious downside, but there it is often easy to attach this card to a questing hero, or one who does not often participate in combat and does not need other restricted attachments.

Quick StrikeThe two staple Tactics events are different edges of the same blade. Where Feint stops an attack from ever taking place, Quick Strike takes the initiative to overcome an enemy before they ever act. Both of these cards are amazingly powerful, particularly in decks that are designed to maximize their value. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. While Feint is great for avoiding an attack, and the attendant shadow effect, it doesn’t do anything about the attacking enemy. Feint does however have the advantage that it can be played to protect other players from one of their engaged enemies. Quick Strike can only be played on characters you control.

In a deck which features powerful attackers, Quick Strike can actually be more powerful than Feint. The key is whether or not you have a single character (most often a hero) with enough attack strength to kill an enemy in one attack. In this case, Quick Strike not only prevents that enemy from attacking, it entirely removes that particular threat from play. This effect is even more impactful when paired with a Tactics hero with a response that can be triggered after they defeat an enemy. Legolas and Hama are just two obvious examples, but less notable heroes like Brand and Merry can actually be even better choices.

Quick Strike can be more limited against powerful enemies, those with enough defense and hit points to withstand a single attack. In these situations, Feint is clearly the superior card. These cards work even better together – allowing you to pick and choose which effect you need, depending on the size of the enemy and the circumstances of the moment. There ability to control the flow of combat, makes these events applicable in virtually every deck which features Tactics.

Sphere-Spirit

Spirit
Allies: Arwen Undómiel, Imladris Stargazer
Attachments: Miruvor, Unexpected Courage
Events: A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Each sphere has their premier cards – the ones that embody the strengths of that sphere. In a sense, these cards help to define the true meaning of that sphere. It is one of the strange loops where the Sphere dictates the kind of effects on the card, which in turn helps to define the boundaries of the Sphere. Readers will have to forgive my Zen digressions, but cards like Arwen are powerful on a deep level.

Arwen UndomielTwo resources brings you a unique Noldor ally with two willpower, a defensive-boosting response, the ability to bestow the Sentinel keyword, and two hit points. It is remarkable to think that Spirit didn’t even have any other access to Sentinel until the relatively recent release of ally Dwalin. If that wasn’t enough, Spirit didn’t even get another consistent defense-boosting effect until Blood of Númenor. Put simply, Arwen Undómiel is the quintessential Spirit ally.

Another Noldor ally shares Arwen’s place among universal Spirit staples. The Imladris Stargazer is one of the great “glue” cards, that makes so many other strategies work. Deck scrying is always useful, and the ability to rearrange to top five cards of your deck can be even better than card draw, in the right situation. Whether it is to setup your use of Vilya with Elrond, or dig through a Hidden Cache or two with a Zigil Miner, or draw cards thank to Expert Treasure-Hunter, the Imladris Stargazer is at the heart of many of the games most powerful combos.

MiruvorOne of the core strengths of Spirit is readying effects, and these two staple attachments help support this theme. Miruvor seems to be an often-overlooked card, but its versatility for a 1-cost card is nearly unmatched. Being able to smooth resources, or boost willpower, in addition to a readying effect, means that it is very unlikely for this to ever be a dead card. Decks with multiple sources of card draw can even stick this card back on the top of the deck after use, so that they can draw it again.

One of the only downsides to the super-defender strategy mentioned earlier, is that a deck can be very vulnerable when their super-defender is exhausted. Shadow cards that create multiple attacks, treacheries that cause enemies to attack from the staging area, and enemies which exhaust characters can all ruin a well-planned defensive strategy. Unexpected Courage (or some other repeatable readying effect)  is a vital component of many super-defender decks. Being able to defend with with Beregond for 6 is all well and good, but if he can only do so once each round, you risk being overrun by packs of enemies.

Giving your best hero two actions a round vastly improves the consistency of a deck. Some quests require willpower based “tests” to be performed. In others like The Drúadan Forest, willpower is used instead of attack, to persuade enemies of your cause. In this situations Unexpected Courage on a hero like Éowyn is very helpful. Instead of having to hold other characters back, especially ones who would be best suited for other phases of the game, Unexpected Courage allows you to dedicate one hero to the task for which they are most suited.

A Test of WillOf all the many strengths of the Spirit sphere, there response events are undoubtedly one of the greatest. To this day, there is not other way to completely cancel a treachery effect than A Test of Will. As treacheries continue to grow in power this card only becomes more essential. Many quests will have one or two “must-cancel” treacheries. These cards completely change the board state, and often quickly dash any hopes of a swift victory. While it can be fun to take the risk, and tackle these quests without treachery cancellation, having a Test of Will is often necessary to ensure a consistent chance of success.

Just as treacheries continue to pose a greater threat to decks, shadow effects are likewise getting stronger. Whether it is massive boosts to attack strength, threat raising effects, direct damage to the defender, or punishment for chump blocking, there are a plethora of shadow effects that can disrupt a deck’s defensive strategy. While there are more options for shadow effects, include another staple in the Lore sphere, Hasty Stroke remains an excellent choice, not only for the cost, but also for the fact that it is not limited to a single defender and can be used to help other players.

Threat reduction is another important part of many decks. While there is recent trend of more aggressive decks, some scenarios lend themselves to a more measured, thoughtful approach. For decks that lack access to Spirit, Core Set Gandalf remains the only consistent form of threat reduction. That fact that The Galadhrim’s Greeting can be used to lower another player’s threat makes it just that much more powerful. Unlike some cards which flourish in multi-player deck, it is just as useful in solo play. Three resources to lower your threat by 6 can completely change the tides, especially with decks featuring Rangers, Dunhere, or Haldir – that want to attack the staging without engaging enemies.

Sphere-Lore

Lore
Allies: Henamarth Riversong, Erebor Hammersmith, Gléowine, Warden of Healing
Attachments: Elf-stone, Protector of Lórien, A Burning Brand
Events: Daeron’s Runes

There is an interesting detail about the Lore sphere – it has probably the best overall 2-cost allies in the game. Erebor Hammersmith possesses a great trait, response effect and excellent stats; Gléowine provides super-efficient card drawing – even targeting other players; and Warden of Healing bringing the most efficient repeatable healing effect in the game. This list of staples Even if a deck simply splashes the Lore sphere, it immediately gains access to a plethora of incredibly efficient allies – all of whom possess useful abilities. These allies all represent on of Lore’s greatest strengths: support.

Henamarth RiversongWith Silvan decks in ascendance, another low-cost ally is now even more useful: Henamarth Riversong. His scrying ability has always been useful, especially when paired with Traps and effects like Expecting Mischief and Denethor’s ability. With the Silvan archetype centered around returning allies to your hand to trigger effects, having a 1-cost Silvan ally is very important to maximizing the potential of these cards. Paired with Celeborn, Henamarth now enters play with 2 willpower and 2 attack, for a single resource. Since you can plan on returning him to your hand at least a couple of times, this level of efficiency is not a one-time bonus.

Elf-StoneAlly-mustering is essential, and once you look beyond the 2-cost allies, Lore allies tend to be on the expensive side. In addition, it lacks convenient options for resource acceleration or cost-reduction. Also, a Lore deck will want to save resources to pay for its powerful attachments and events. It can dramatically accelerate a Lore deck to put powerful allies like Haldir, Anborn or Gildor into play, without paying their full cost. For multi-sphere decks, expensive allies from other spheres can also be put into play with the help of Elf-stone. This can also help other players, who may lack Ally mustering effects, in a multi-player game.

Another strength of Lore is defense. With the aid of healing, Lore decks can ensure that a defender survives repeated attacks. Protector of Lórien fits perfectly into this strategy, especially because of the amount of card draw available in the sphere. Protector is another great example of versatility – not only can it be used to boost a hero’s defense, but it can be used to help them with questing as well. This works particularly well with characters that possess a readying effect. The cost of discarding cards might at first seem too high, but Lore has so many ways to draw cards and most decks will run multiple copies of unique cards which can be safely discarded.

A Burning BrandAutomatic cancellation is a rare effect in this game. Anything that allows you to repeatably ignore one entire aspect of the game is incredibly powerful. A Burning Brand does have one limitation, in that it has to be attached to a Lore character. Still, once this card is attached, that defender is totally immune to shadow effects. Given that Lore has the potential for creating strong defenders, this is a perfect pairing.

When you combine the effects of A Burning Brand with the readying effects and staples from other spheres, it becomes possible to completely lock down combat. Newer scenarios have introduced the concept of shadow-chaining, where one shadow card can deal additional shadow cards to an attacking enemy. This can cascade out of control and lead to some truly horrific attacks against your characters. A Burning Brand is thus a natural fit for a super-defender, and life-saving card against these kind of scenarios.

Daeron's RunesThere are a plethora of card drawing effects in Lore, indeed it is the sphere with the most consistent and efficient of these types of effects. Still, many of these effects are dependent on a particular trait or strategy. Daeron’s Runes stands above all of the other card drawing effects in the game, in terms of efficiency and universality. Think  of a single copy of this card as making your deck 3 card smaller. For those unfamiliar with deck-building games, this might seem like a strange statement, and would lead one to ask: “why is that a good thing?”.

The answer is consistency. Having a deck filled with powerful cards is great, but what if you can’t get the cards that you need at the right time. There is nothing more frustrating than having a powerful card in your hand, that is useless for the current situation. Cards are always powerful within a context. A card that is invaluable in one situation, can be useless in another. This is precisely why the need to discard one of the cards that you draw from Daeron’s Runes is not as bad as it seems. The thing to ask, when deciding what to discard from this effect, is what is it that your deck needs most right now. Whatever is not immediately essential, can often be sacrificed. The fact that Daeron’s Runes helps you dig into your deck, to find the essentially card, without any resource cost, makes it a life-saver in many difficult situations.

Neutral
Allies: Envoy of Pelargir, Gandalf (Core)
Attachments: None
Events: None

GandalfOne of the biggest advantages of Neutral cards is that they can be fit into any deck. Even a tri-sphere deck does not need to worry about having the resources to play a Neutral card, as they can be spent from anywhere. While Neutral cards tend to be more expensive than their equivalents in a given sphere, always knowing that you can pay for them is a real benefit.

Core Set Gandalf is the original utility card. At 5 resources, he is not cheap, but there are now numerous ways to get allies into play at a reduced cost. Because Gandalf’s response can be triggered after he enters play, rather than requiring him to be played from your hand, there is incentive for finding creative ways to bring Gandalf to the fight.

Each of his effects are tremendously powerful, especially because they can be used in decks that would otherwise lack that kind of ability. He can provide direct damage for a Spirit deck, card draw for a Leadership deck, or threat reduction for a Tactics deck, making him unrivaled in ability. With such amazing stats, he is a great boon in combat, or for any type of quest.

Envoy of Pelargir improves on the advantage of Neutral allies, by allowing you to effectively move your resources between heroes. To be clear, this effect only works with Gondor or Noble heroes, but most decks will have at least one such hero. Indeed many of the strongest heroes in the game are noble. The stats and versatility of this ally, for a net cost of 1, make the Envoy a good choice for many different kinds of decks.

Trait Staples

Traits are increasingly becoming one of the most important parts of the game. Players who started when only the Core Set was available might not have suspected this outcome, but it is now impossible to ignore. One of the first trait-based decks, and still one of my favorites, is Eagles. Rohan quest decks, with Éowyn leading the charge, have existing since the beginning of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Then came the Dwarves, lead by Dáin Ironfoot, they showed the sheer might of a trait-based strategy and that archetype has only become more powerful and varied with each expansion.

The Noldor received attention in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, championed by one of the most powerful heroes in the game: Spirit Glorfindel. The Gondor trait received similar treatment in the Against the Shadow cycle, with Leadership Boromir being powerful in his own right – though not quite as impressive as Glorfindel. That cycle also brought Hirluin, and with him the Outlands trait. Outlands is something that doesn’t get discussed much here at the Hall of Beorn, as I’m admittedly not much of a fan of that particular strategy. Still, it remains a viable archetype against many scenarios, and it is undeniably an easy way to introduce new players to the game. Throughout the Ring-maker cycle, the Silvan trait has been steadily receiving support, and it brings a new and interesting strategy to the game.

Trait-specific strategies are only going to continue to get stronger – even the Dwarves have been given a new wrinkle with the recent “delving” sub-theme. It is important to remember is that the most effective trait-based decks often include cards outside of that particular trait as well. This is where the universal and situational staples come into play. The idea is to mix and match the powerful cards that fit a deck’s particular style and overall strategy.

Because trait-specific cards are limited to that particular race or faction, they tend to be less expensive, or more powerful than their universal equivalents. A great example of this is Lure of Moria when compared to Grim Resolve. Lure of Moria is the Dwarven-specific version of Grim Resolve, with the advantage that it costs 2 less resources to play. In other cases, there is no universal equivalent to a powerful trait-specific card. Legacy of Durin is probably the most effective card-drawing effect in the game, in a Dwarf deck, and there is obviously no generic equivalent for this card that can be used in other decks.

Leadership
Allies: Bill the Pony, Fili, Glóin (TH:OtD), Longbeard Elder, Naith Guide, Silverlode Archer, Warrior of Lossarnach, Forlong
Attachments: Hardy Leadership, King Under the Mountain, Visionary Leadership, Lord of Morthond, Sword of Morthond, O Lórien!, Hobbit Cloak
Events: Wealth of Gondor, We Are Not Idle, Lure of Moria, For Gondor!, Durin’s Song, Men of the West, Feigned Voices

Tactics
Allies: Veteran Axehand, Winged Guardian, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Erebor Battle Master, Knights of the Swan, Guthlaf
Attachments: Dwarrowdelf Axe, Gondorian Shield, Rivendell Blade, Elven Mail, Firefoot, Rohan Warhorse, Support of the Eagles, Ring Mail
Events: Khazad! Khazad!, Heavy Stroke, Halfling Determination, The Eagles Are Coming!, Behind Strong Walls, Gondorian Discipline

Spirit
Allies: Silvan Refugee, Lorien Guide, Bofur (TRG), Blue Mountain Trader, Kili, Dwalin, Ethir Swordsman
Attachments: Light of Valinor
Events: Elrond’s Counsel, Astonishing Speed, Children of the Sea

Lore
Allies: Longbeard Map Maker, Erebor Record Keeper, Bifur, Dori, Haldir of Lorien, Silvan Tracker, Mirkwood Runner, Anfalas Herdsman, Hunter of Lamedon, Ered Nimrais Prospector, Barliman Butterbur
Attachments: Asfaloth, Fast Hitch, Legacy of Durin, Lembas
Events: The Tree People

Neutral
Allies: Defender of the Naith

Archetype Staples

Personally, Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a plan come together. An archetype gives you a basic plan, a blueprint for creating a powerful deck. Rather than being limited to synergies based on a trait, many archetypes can be more abstract. The idea is to take advantage of a particular strategy or aspect of the game.

A great example of a powerful archetype that has gained prominence recently is the Gondor/Rohan “leaves play” deck. These decks are not dependent on traits, or even one specific card combo, but on the idea of taking advantage of allies leaving play each round. By utilizing heroes like Éomer and Prince Imrahil, and allies like Squire of the Citadel and Westfold Outrider, along with events like Sneak Attack and Valiant Sacrifice, these decks take advantage of different cards that all build to a single basic strategy.

Decks with more general strategies like this tend to be very resilient, as they do not rely on any one trait or ability to be successful. Archetypes are flourishing in an expanding card pool, and can be designed to handle many of the common challenges that a quest will manifest. Because their strengths are not necessarily trait-based, archetypes can mix and match powerful cards, often to dramatic effect.

Leadership
Allies: Snowbourn Scout, Squire of the Citadel, Herald of Anórien
Attachments: Cram, Celebrían’s Stone, Tome of Atanatar, Path of Need, Dúnedain Mark, Dúnedain Warning, Dúnedain Cache, Sword that Was Broken
Events: Strength of Arms, Valiant Sacrifice, Timely Aid, Gaining Strength, Swift and Silent

Tactics
Allies: Gondorian Spearman, Bofur (TH:OHaUH), Trollshaw Scout, Knight of Minas Tirith, Rúmil, Farmer Maggot
Attachments: Black Arrow, Spear of the Citadel, Gondorian Fire, Book of Eldacar, Spear of the Mark, Great Yew Bow
Events: Unseen Strike, Hands Upon the Bow,The Hammer-Stroke, Foe-Hammer, Goblin-Cleaver

Spirit
Allies: Escort from Edoras, West Road Traveler, Northern Tracker, Westfold Horse-breaker, Westfold Horse-breeder, The Riddermark’s Finest, Minas Tirith Lampwright, Pelargir Shipwright, Emery, Greyflood Wanderer
Attachments: Silver Lamp, Blood of Númenor, Ancient Mathom, Warden of Arnor, Thrór’s Key
Events: Dwarven Tomb, Stand and Fight, Lay of Nimrodel, Will of the West, Stand and Fight, A Watchful Peace, Courage Awakened

Lore
Allies: Master of the Forge, Galadhrim Minstrel, Rivendell Minstrel, Miner of the Iron Hills, Anborn, Gildor Inglorion, Ithilien Tracker, Ithilien Archer, Ithilien Lookout
Attachments: Expert Treasure-Hunter, Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Pit, Ranger Bow
Events: Secret Paths, Strider’s Path, Out of the Wild, Word of Command, Mithrandir’s Advice, Noiseless Movement, Take No Notice

Neutral
Allies: White Tower Watchman, Gandalf (TH:OHaUH)
Attachments: Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel, Song of Wisdom
Events: Shadow of the Past, Hidden Cache

Expensive but Powerful

Some of the most power cards in the game cannot be considered staples simply because of their cost. It should be noted that the term expensive is not necessarily referring to resource cost. A card can be expensive if it has a threat cost (Legacy of Númenor), has additional constraints on how it can be played (Thicket of Spears), or some alternate cost (Hail of Stones). Smart decks will work to mitigate these costs, as all of the cards at this grade can be very powerful when used wisely. Still, because of the extra cost, these cards should not be considered automatically applicable to all decks.

Leadership
Allies: Dúnedain Watcher, Erestor, Longbeard Orc-Slayer
Attachments: None
Events: Grim Resolve, Legacy of Numenor

Tactics
Allies: Beorn (Core), Landroval, Gwaihir, Veteran of Nanduhirion
Attachments: Dwarven Axe, Citadel Plate
Events: Thicket of Spears, The Wizard’s Voice, Swift Strike, Hail of Stones, Close Call

Spirit
Allies: Damrod, Elfhelm
Attachments: None
Events: Light the Beacons, We Do Not Sleep, Untroubled by Darkness, Fortune or Fate

Lore
Allies: None
Attachments: Forest Snare, Self Preservation, Scroll of Isildur
Events: Lórien’s Wealth, Gildor’s Counsel, Peace and Thought, Deep Knowledge

Neutral
Allies: Saruman
Attachments: Palantir
Events: The White Council

Limited or Situational

In a competitive game, these cards would often be considered “sideboard” cards. These cards are often very focused, to the point of being useless outside of their intended context. As a cooperative game, the scenarios are our enemies. Although these cards may be limited against many scenarios, they can be invaluable for certain quests.

Leadership
Allies:  Son of Arnor, Denethor
Attachments: Dúnedain Signal
Events: Campfire Tales, Second Breakfast, Parting Gifts, Dawn Take You All, Mutual Accord, Fresh Tracks, To Me! O My Kinsfolk, Taking Initiaitve

Tactics
Allies: Horseback Archer, Beorning Beekeeper, Descendant of Thorondor
Attachments: Blade of Gondolin, Spear of the Citadel, Born Aloft, Song of Mocking, Mighty Prowess
Events: Rain of Arrows, Stand Together, To the Eyrie, Heavy Stroke, Forth Eorlingas, Pursuing the Enemy, Straight Shot

Spirit
Allies: Wandering Took, Éomund, Rider of the Mark
Attachments: Map of Earnil, Nor Am I A Stranger, Song of Eärendil, Ever My Heart Rises, Ring of Barahir, The Fall of Gil-Galad, Hobbit Pipe
Events: Smoke Rings, Small Target, Late Adventurer, Strength of Will, Mustering the Rohirrim, Ride to Ruin, Out of Sight, O Elbereth Gilthonial, Renewed Friendship, Power of Orthanc, Free to Choose, Desperate Alliance

Lore
Allies: Harbor Master, Master of Lore
Attachments: Dark Knowledge, Love of Tales, Healing Herbs, Poisoned Stakes, Thrór’s Map, Infighting
Events: Radagast’s Cunning, Ancestral Knowledge, Needful to Know, Short Cut, Advance Warning, Forest Patrol, Message from Elrond, Expecting Mischief, Ravens of the Mountain

Neutral
Allies: Radagast
Attachments: Leaf Brooch, Keys of Orthanc, Good Meal
Events: Hobbit-Sense, Well-Equiped, A Good Harvest

Filler

These cards are not necessarily bad, they just take up space where other cards could be of greater benefit. In most decks, there would be at least a handful of cards that would be more effective than any of these cards here. They can be useful, but their usefulness has very real limitations. For example, Citadel Custodian is a perfectly useful card in a Gondor deck. Even in such a deck – with global effects from Boromir, Visionary Leadership and For Gondor! – the custodian is still just taking up space. Some Gondor decks will include 25 or more allies, in which case the Custodian makes sense. Still, his stats are so weak, and he has no ability once in play; so, in a sense, he is just taking up space.

Leadership
Allies: Guard of the Citadel, Pelargir Ship Captain, Citadel Custodian, Dúnedain Wanderer, Rivendell Scout
Attachments: Dúnedain Quest
Events: Ever Vigilant

Tactics
Allies: Watcher of the Bruinen
Attachments: None
Events: Blade Mastery, Meneldor’s Flight

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Favor of the Lady, Spare Hood and Cloak, Steed of the Mark
Events: A Light in the Dark

Lore
Allies: Ravenhill Scout
Attachments: None
Events: Rumour from the Earth, Risk Some Light, Gandalf’s Search

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: Boots from Erebor
Events: The Seeing-Stone

Coasters

There is really no nice way to put it – these cards are not worth playing. They are weak, or too situational, or simply don’t fit into their sphere. In all but the most specialized decks, players will find superior alternatives to cards on this list. Even the cards here that have useful effects will take up valuable space in our deck.

This is know as opportunity cost. It is not enough for a card to be useful, in order to warrant inclusion in a deck. A card needs to be worth the opportunity that is lost from not including a different card. This is why I have graded these cards so harshly. In essentially every case, no matter the deck, I would rather draw another card than one of these listed here. As I mentioned earlier, I am open to be proven wrong. If someone has a deck which makes consistent and effective use of one or more of these cards, I would love to hear about it.

Leadership
Allies: Keen Eyed Took, Orthanc Guard, Brok Ironfist
Attachments: None
Events: Common Cause, Rear Guard, Ever Onward, Grave Cairn

Tactics
Allies: None
Attachments: Keeping Count
Events: Trained for War

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Power in the Earth
Events: Strength of Will, Against the Shadow

Lore
Allies: Bombur (RtR), Isengard Messenger
Attachments: None
Events: Beorn’s Hospitality

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: None
Events: The End Comes

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Not Too Much Trouble in Tharbad

Brothers and Sam - Trouble in Tharbad 2 player with Derek

Derek and I just finished an exciting game against Trouble in Tharbad. Despite losing Elladan to some bad luck in the early game, we were able to survive and prevail. Keep an eye on our YouTube page for the video, it should be uploaded shortly.

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Deck: Daughters of Númenor (and Valinor)

Silvan-MagaliVilleneuveOne of the nice things about the less difficult scenarios is that they give us a chance to try out unique decks. While it is fun to play top-tier decks, sometimes it is good to mix things up, and play a more unorthodox deck. This deck is certainly not going to dominate the more troublesome scenarios, but it can be very effective, especially in quests with a large number of locations.

Idraen is an intriguing hero, and combined with other supporting cards, she can form the center of a potent location-control strategy. This deck needs locations to run smoothly. Not only will it allow Idraen to ready, but exploring a location is the key to unlocking the potential of Ancient Mathom and Elf-Stone. Beyond having an impressive level of willpower, this deck has a multitude of options for clearing locations. Asfaloth, Warden of Arnor and Lórien Guide are all ready to clear locations.

A Watchful PeaceFurther, events like Strider’s Path and A Watchful Peace can help control where locations are, and keep them in play. A Watchful Peace is another badly underrated card – a fact that this deck underscores. It is vital to remember that every time we put a location back on the top of the encounter deck, it is buying us a round (in solo play) where we don’t need to worry about the encounter card that is coming. Alternatively, when are engaged with an enemy, we can use this knowledge to ensure that the attacking enemy does not get a troublesome shadow effect. When used correctly, this card couples with A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke to give us a tremendous level of control of the game.

Strider's PathWith the help of these support cards, and a bit of luck, this deck can create an ideal situation where most of the revealed encounter cards are locations. This plays right into our hands, as we have a plethora of options for dealing with, and benefiting from, these locations. Thanks to Idraen – only the second Spirit hero with 3 attack – this deck can manage some combat. To be clear, prolonged conflict against multiple large enemies will bend this deck to the point of breaking. However, we are not without defenses. Arwen and Protector of Lorien can transform one of our heroes into a solid defender, and our allies can collectively mount at least a meager counter-attack.

Still, direct confrontation is not what this deck is designed for. Think of this as more of a scouting deck, with an aim at disabling one key aspect of the scenario’s assault. As a more focused deck, it will need support from another deck in order to handle the more combat-heavy quests. Paired with a deck like Sons of Númenor, this deck can handle the weaker enemies from most scenarios, and cover that deck’s lack of effect cancellation and location-control.

For players that are only interested in power decks, this is probably not the deck for you. On the other hand, anyone interested in a change of pace, or a nice thematic pairing for Sons of Númenor, might just find this to be a pleasant surprise. As someone who has always appreciated the heroic characters in Tolkien’s legendarium, of either gender, it is nice to finally be able to make a viable deck that includes only female characters. It is good to see there card pool reach a size where more unique decks like this are finally possible.

Idraen-smallEowynMirlonde_small

Heroes:
Idraen (TiT)
Éowyn (Core)
Mirlonde (TDF)

Allies: 22
Silvan Refugee (TDF) x3
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x3
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x3
Lórien Guide (Core) x3
Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core) x2
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x2

Attachments: 15
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Warden of Arnor (TTT) x2
Elf-Stone (TBR) x3
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Unexpected Courage (Core) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x2

Events: 13
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
A Watchful Peace (HoN) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
Strider’s Path (THfG) x2

Posted in Deck Lists, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Deck: Sons of Númenor

Numenor-map

Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and it is no different for a Living Card Game. After a couple of cycles worth of experimenting with low threat decks that try to avoid direct confrontation at all costs, a change of pace was most welcome. When I’m not experimenting with the new Secrecy cards, I have really been enjoying taking my decks in the opposite direction in this latest cycle and playing aggressive decks with high starting threat.

This strategy is not new, but it is no longer as risky as it was at the game’s beginning. What a difference a few cycles makes. Where a high-threat deck would struggle to survive the early onslaught of enemies like the Hill Troll, the expanded card pool has provided solutions to many of this scenarios. Among these solutions, Strength of Arms has always been an intriguing option. With the already strong mustering events in Leadership, this card seemed poised to usher in a new top-tier archetype of ally armies.

Herald-of-Anórien-smallSadly, Against the Shadow never quite delivered on the promise of mono-Sphere, and Strength of Arms has remained a tantalizing curiosity. This deck is an attempt to finally take advantage of the sheer efficiency of this event. As with any deck that utilizes numerical superiority, the key here is not the size of the allies we bring to the fight, but the number that we can get in play within the crucial first few rounds.

In this case, the ally mustering has been taken to almost absurd lengths. The new Herald of Anórien is put to great use, allowing us to drop two Gondor allies for the price of one – including useful characters like Minas Tirith Lampwright and Warden of Healing that are not even in the Leadership sphere. Having multiple means of mustering non-Leadership allies is a secret weapon for this deck. The threat raise that comes with triggering the Herald’s ability does not have to be downside as our 34 starting threat means that we want to engage enemies immediately.

Such a high threat will put us in immediate danger, particularly in scenarios like Journey Along the Anduin. Still, if you can survive long enough for the resource acceleration and mustering to take hold, this deck can be amazingly powerful. It also pairs well in multi-player – so long as other decks include ranged characters and can handle some combat on their own. With so many global willpower boosting effects, so long as we can keep a decent number of allies in play, it can be quite easy for this deck to quest for 30+ willpower.

Like any army, the generals can be just as important as the front-line troops. With two consistent forms of readying, we should have sufficient combat strength to defeat most enemies immediately. Once we have at least one form of willpower boosting in play, it should be safe to hold back Boromir for combat. For larger enemies, this deck is not designed to use its heroes for defense. Chump blocking comes with multiple benefits, resources from the Squire, card draw from Valiant Sacrifice and readying for Prince Imrahil.

Tome-of-AtanatarBoromir’s ability can turn our otherwise ineffective foot soldiers into a decent fighting force, but this deck’s real strength will always be the quest phase. Still, with Strength of Arms, the true potential of this strategy is realized. After questing all-out, and even using Faramir’s ability a second time, we can have all of our allies ready for combat. With Tome of Atanatar, it becomes possible to use this power event multiple times in a row, which should be enough to finish off all but the most challenging scenarios.

An aggressive deck like this brings with it many risks – not the least of which is losing to threat if for some reason we fail to quickly muster our army. However, with a potent mix of resource acceleration, mustering and global effects in this deck, it should be possible to completely dominate many scenarios. Like any extreme strategy, this approach works best when it is paired with a counter-balance which covers its weaknesses.

For example, an elf deck featuring threat reduction, cancellation and ranged characters will pair quite well with this deck. Alternatively, hobbits and traps, to keep enemies in the staging area, is a solid strategy given the sheer questing power at our disposal. Even if the particular strategy embodied in this deck does not appeal to you, I encourage everyone to try an aggressive deck, especially if you have traditionally played low-threat control decks. A change of pace can bring a welcome change, even to familiar scenarios.

Aragorn (Core)Boromir (HoN)Prince-Imrahil-small

Heroes:
Aragorn (Core)
Boromir (HoN)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)

Allies: 26
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Squire of the Citadel (TBoG) x3
Minas Tirith Lampwright (EaAD) x2
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x2
Herald of Anórien (TiT) x3
Defender of Rammas (HoN) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
White Tower Watchman (TDF) x2
Faramir (Core) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 12
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x3
Sword that Was Broken (TWitW) x3
Tome of Atanatar (TBoG) x3

Events: 12
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Valiant Sacrifice (Core) x3
Strength of Arms (TDF) x3

Posted in Deck Lists, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Deck: Haldir the Hunter

Haldir-on-the-hunt

GenCon is one of those experiences that is so massive, so overwhelming, that it takes a bit of time to recover and adjust to the day-to-day routine of life. Now that I’ve finally had a chance to settle in and take stock of all of the latest Adventure Pack, the first order of business is to build a deck around our newest hero. Haldir of Lórien has long been one of my favorite allies, so it comes as no surprise that his hero card is also fantastic.

Noiseless-Movement-smallOne of the more interesting, and as of yet, under-utilized themes of the latest cycle is the pseudo-secrecy events. First it was Noiseless Movement, then Trouble in Tharbad brought us Courage Awakened. I refer to these as psuedo-secrecy because they can be used for full effect even when we are not within the 20 threat secrecy threshold. Where they really shine of course, if when we are under the cloak of secrecy. In this case, we can repeatably use this powerful cards. In the case of Noiseless Movement, this card is tailor-made for Haldir.

Lembas (TiT)-smallAs anyone who has ever played a Dúnhere deck well knows, the biggest risk to staging area attack decks are enemies with a low engagement cost. In the case of Haldir, his ability is specifically limited to rounds in which we have not engaged an enemy. This means that even if the enemy we want to attack is still in the staging area, a smaller enemy, with lower engagement, can ruin our carefully-laid plans. In this regard, Haldir is actually more limited than Dúnhere. Still, there are many tricks that the Protector of Lórien can use to help defend his people.

The goal of this deck is to stay in Secrecy range for most if not all of the early rounds. Ideally, we will play Resourceful on Glorfindel to help pay for the more expensive Spirit cards. Master of the Forge and Galadhrim Minstrel provide powerful and focused card-drawing effects. Ultimately the goal is the use Expert Treasure-Hunter and Imladris Stargazer to keep our hand full and sustain our efforts to avoid direct conflict. For as long as we are in secrecy range, or have extra copies to spare, we will use Noiseless Movement when necessary.

Dagger of WesternesseHaldir has Rivendell Blade and Dagger of Westernesse to help slay enemies where they idle in the staging area. With an abundance of threat reduction, we should be able to stay under the engagement cost of most enemies, if not within secrecy itself. This deck is decidedly light on allies – they merely serve to support our powerful heroes. In the rare cases where enemies do engage, do not hesitate to sacrifice an ally to spare a hero the trouble.

With some powerful readying effects, and Glorfindel’s ability to quest without exhausting, our heroes should be often be able to work double-duty. In the cases where willpower is less important, Merry can be held back and serves as a potent combination with his Elven friends. Assuming our other heroes are already suitably equipped, a Dagger of Westernesse can always go to the brave little Hobbit.

There is obviously more to this strategy than I have outlined here, but this type of decks take a deft hand, and are not well suited for all scenario. If used too much, they can become boring, but navigating the more interesting scenarios with this strategy can still be quite challenging, and interesting. When they are effective, you can often defeat a scenario without ever having to see your enemies up close. As a bonus here is a screen shot of an earlier version of this deck defeating Trouble in Tharbad.

Haldir the Hunter - Trouble in Tharbad

The strategy of this deck seems quite appropriate, as Haldir served as a scout for the lady Galadriel. In protecting Lórien, many a foul Orc was slain on the border of the woods, before it ever knew of Haldir’s presence. This is just one way to implement a Haldir deck, I am looking forward to a Spirit Silvan hero, so that I can finally build Elf decks without the Secrecy staple (and crutch), Glorfindel.

Haldir-of-Lórien (TiT) - smallmerry-tbr-smallglorfindel

Heroes:
Haldir of Lórien (TiT)
Merry (TBR)
Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies: 15
Silvan Refugee (TDF) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x2
Master of the Forge (SaF) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 22
Expert Treasure-Hunter (TH:OHaUH) x3
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x2
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Miruvor (SaF) x2
Lembas (TiT) x2
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Resourceful (TWitW) x3

Events: 13
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Courage Awakened (TiT) x2
Noiseless Movement (TTT) x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x3

Posted in Deck Lists, GenCon, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Deck: GenCon 2014 (Updated)

GenCon2014-badgeAnother year has flown by, and it is once again time for my pilgrimage to the far-off kingdom of Indianapolis. The convocation of nerd-wizards always brings some surprises, and an early look at the latest expansions for our fair game. Best of all, it will provide an opportunity to play multi-player games with friends, and without the need for OCTGN and Skype.

Gandalf-TRDThis year, recent talk has focused on the just-announced Gandalf hero, and how dramatically he looks to shake up the meta-game. I for one and very excited about the GenCon exclusive quest. This year we will be traveling to the Barrow Downs. This bear is hoping to run into an old friend, Mr. Tom Bombadil, along the way. As good as my honey cakes are, the only food that I’ve had to better them is the food served by Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. In any case, there will no doubt be lots of nasty undead enemies to slay along the way, which should help to build up a powerful appetite.

We of The Grey Company have decided to coordinate our decks this year, so that we can play four player games using heroes that represent the members of Fellowship of the Ring. The hope is that The Road Darkens will be available at GenCon, so that we can play it together with these decks. With 12 heroes between us, and only nine in the original fellowship, we will obviously have to make some allowances for more minor characters in our decks. Another interesting twist, and one that needs to be accounted for when gauging the relative strength of the new Gandalf hero, is the impact of not being able to use either version of his ally card. Looking at the deck list below, the absence of Sneak Attack and Core Set Gandalf are both notable.

Campfire TalesAside from the omission of the ever-present wizard, this deck has several other features which mark is as a multi-player and support deck. Bill the Pony, while always a worthwhile ally to include in any deck with Sam Gamgee, is also here to boost the other decks which will include Hobbit heroes, as well as the Frodo Baggins fellowship hero. Campfire Tales, often not worth including in a solo deck, is quite strong in four-player games, especially when some of the other decks will lack card draw. Vassal of the Windlord and Rivendell Bow will provide some much-needed Range – always vital in multi-player games. The latter card is an excellent target for another player’s Glorfindel, as that hero will often be ready for combat after the quest phase.

Elven-Mail-smallAs illustrated in one of last year’s GenCon decks, Elrohir can become quite the defensive power with aid from Steward of Gondor and Gondorian Shield. The latest adventure pack brought us Elven Mail, which provides two things our defender has typically lacked: Sentinel and extra hit points. Those extra two hit points are almost as important as the Sentinel, because this deck lacks shadow cancellation. Still, the Sentinel is the biggest advantage of this attachment, with it Elrohir should be able to defend for all players at the table.

the-wizardss-voice-smallIn cases where we lack the Leadership resources for extra defending, or the enemy is simply too large, Feint is a logical inclusion for a support deck. In case of emergency, this deck even features two copies of The Wizard’s Voice. While Doomed 3 might seem like a hefty cost, the idea of being able to use 1 card to prevent 4 attacks in a critical round makes this a worthwhile inclusion. While a player might complain about raising their threat by 3, if it means saving one of their heroes from death, it seems like a fair trade.

This deck also includes an excessive amount of readying effects, if it was to be used for solo play. Given that each of our heroes already has an ability to ready themselves, some might wonder at the choice to include three copies of Cram and Grim Resolve. The idea here is that these cards are for the benefit of the other three players at the table. Grim Resolve, in particular, is an amazingly powerful card in a four player game. Cram will most likely be attached to Legolas, or Aragorn, given their useful keywords.

Errand-rider is a must in any deck which features resource acceleration or heroes from different spheres. In the case where there are fewer enemies, and Elrohir starts to pile up excess resources, we can always send them to other players. It is always a good idea, for example, to ensure that the players who include Spirit in their deck can afford to pay for their cancellation cards. If for some reason other players don’t need extra resources, this deck has a handful of powerful but expensive allies that it can pay for as well.

FaramirThe last card worth mentioning is Faramir. Three copies may seem excessive, but like Grim Resolve, the power of this card is so magnified in a four player game, that we want to make absolutely certain that we can get him on the table at some point. To be clear, it is very unlikely that I will be using Faramir to boost my own characters. This deck is much more designed as a combat and support deck – it’s primary role is not to quest. Other decks at the table however, will be committing many more characters to the quest, at which point Faramir’s ability becomes truly game-changing.

Apart from the as-yet unknown fate of The Road Darkens, it is always fun going into a new GenCon scenario not knowing what you will face. Four player games can be particularly challenging, as a bit of bad luck or an odd mix of locations can mean staging area lock and a quick death for all. This risk is precisely why this deck is so extreme in some of its choices. The main goal of this deck is two-fold: to use Elrohir and combat tricks (Feint, Wizard’s Voice) to ensure that we can safely engage most enemies immediately, and to use global boosting and readying effects to ensure that the other players can focus on making quest progress unimpeded. The fact the the readying will also allow other players to help out with combat is another benefit of this approach.

In any case, it will be interesting to see whether or not the lack of Core Set Gandalf greatly hinders this deck. I am also curious to see whether or not The Wizard’s Voice can be a life-saving card, or it just sits dead in my hand. More than anything, I can’t wait to see my friends from the Grey Company and enjoy some intense multi-player games of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. For anyone attending GenCon 2014, we will be at the Cardboard of the Rings event Friday morning, as well as hosting our own event off-site that same evening. Safe travels to all those attending, and I look forward to meeting you there!

Fellowship – Elladan, Elrohir, Sam Gamgee

elladanelrohirSam Gamgee

Heroes:
Elladan (RtR)
Elrohir (TRG)
Sam Gamgee (TBR)

Allies: 18
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Bill the Pony (TBR) x3
Bofur (TH:OHaUH) x2
Denethor (EaAD) x2
Erestor (TLD) x2
Faramir (Core) x3

Attachments: 18
Cram (TH:OHaUH) x3
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Rivendell Bow (TWitW) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Elven Mail (TTT) x3

Events: 14
The Wizard’s Voice (VoI) x2
Foe-Hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
Campfire Tales (THfG) x3
Feint (Core) x3
Grim Resolve (Core) x3

Post-GenCon Update!

Here are the rest of the Grey Company’s Decks.

Ian’s Deck

Gandalf-TRD-smallAragorn (TWitW)glorfindel

Heroes:
Gandalf (TRD)
Aragorn (TWitW)
Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies: 16
Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x3
Elrond (TRD) x2
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3

Attachments: 18
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Gandalf’s Staff (TRD) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x2
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2

Events: 18
Flame of Anor (TRD) x3
Feint (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3

Matthew’s Deck

Boromir (Core)Gimlilegolas

Heroes:
Boromir (TDM)
Gimli (Core)
Legolas (Core)

Allies: 25
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x3
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Beorn (Core) x2
Landroval (AJtR) x2
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Farmer Maggot (TBR) x2
Knight of Minas Tirith (AoO) x2

Attachments: 19
Rohan Warhorse (VoI) x2
Blade of Gondolin (Core) x2
Horn of Gondor (Core) x3
Dwarrowdelf Axe (KD) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x2
Ring Mail (TLD) x3
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x2

Events: 6
Foe-Hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
Feint (Core) x3

Derek’s Deck

fatty-bolger-tbr-smallmerry-tbr-smallPippin (TBR)

Heroes:
Fatty Bolger (TBR)
Merry (TBR)
Pippin (TBR)

Allies: 14
Farmer Maggot (TBR) x2
Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x2
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3

Attachments: 12
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Good Meal (TRG) x3
Hobbit Pipe (TBR) x3
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3

Events: 24
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Take No Notice (TBR) x3
Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x3
Test of Will (Core) x3
Dwarven Tomb (Core) x2
Smoke Rings (TBR) x3
Unseen Strike (TRG) x2
Halfling Determination (TBR) x3
Power of Orthanc (VoI) x2

Posted in Community, Deck Lists, Fun, GenCon, The Grey Company, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Metagame: Part 4 – Core Set Supplements

the-hobbits-start-their-journey

One of the biggest challenges to introducing new players to this game is the Core Set. This statement might at first seem controversial, but anyone who has played this game this for long will begin to notice certain flaws in the game’s introductory set. A quick search in any of various forums for the phrases “Core Set” and “Tactics Deck” will serve to underscore this point.

The core set is designed to be an introduction to the game, and it is a wondrous game. Unfortunately, the game takes much more time to reveal its quality than I believe it should. On the forums, on my blog, and in person, I have had many people ask me how to build decks to handle the game’s early scenarios. The fact is, core set deck building is more limited and challenging than it needs to be.

This game is not easy, and I would not want it to be otherwise. It is possible to build viable decks using only the Core Set, as shown in Beorn’s Path, at Tales from the Cards, and elsewhere. However, these decks are at best marginally cohesive, thematically and strategically. Building strong decks, that also reflect the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s writings is one of the biggest reasons that I started this blog in the first place. The fact that it takes hundreds of dollars of investment to realize the true, deeper, potential of this game is a real shame.

core-setFor various reasons, political and practical, it is unrealistic for FFG to release a completely redesigned Core Set for this game. Instead, it makes more sense to supplement the existing product. Providing an easier introductory experience, for those less familiar with deck-building and card game strategy, makes all kinds of sense.

What I propose here are five decks, that could be provided as supplements to the core set. Whether they would be sold individually, or packaged together into a single more expensive product, is left to others to contemplate. To be clear, I am most interested in this problem from the perspective of new players and community building – the commercial aspects of productization are frankly boring. As a bear, and fearless Orc-slayer, the only gold that interests me is the honey from my hives.

There were several important goals that I had in mind when I was designing these deck lists. First and foremost, I wanted them to be fun to play. In each case, and often in very different ways, these decks provide excellent examples of the kind of dynamic and thematic game play that the game affords. At its best, this game is a battle of wits between players and the Dark Lord Sauron (or the encounter deck, if you prefer to be pedantic). To me, an good introduction would throw the players right into this fray.

Rather than puzzling about why their pre-built 30 card Tactics deck cannot achieve a single point of progress on the first quest in the entire game, it seems more interesting for a new player to puzzle over the best way to use their Gondorian army to overcome Ungoliant’s Spawn in the final stage. Purists might argue that an Army from Gondor amassing in the middle of Mirkwood is wrong, thematically. While they would not be wrong, the Core Set suffers from this same problem, only more so. What exactly is it that Aragorn, Théodred and Glóin have to do with each other again?

Tolkien-BooksUltimately, what makes this game unique are two key factors: deep strategy against a dynamic and evolving set of quests, and the wondrous setting of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. It seems only right then, that an introduction to the game would introduce players to both of these things. While the core set decks do teach the rudiments of in-game strategy, it is only in the most basic form. By mixing the decks, players can begin to understand certain deck-building concepts, but again, the limited pool means that there are only so many ways to combine those cards. Ideally, an introduction would provide a broader glimpse of this magical world.

The goal here is to provide ready-made decks, which are strong and thematic, and which also help players to understand key game concepts and learn to recognize combinations as well as general strategies. There is a reason why no strategy guide is included for the core set decks. The strategy with these decks, particularly Tactics and Spirit, is lacking in any sort of nuance. Each of the decks below would include a deck list, a thematic flavor text insert, and a brief description of the kinds of strategies recommended when playing the deck.

It is important to stress that these decks would serve as supplements to the Core Set. It is, after all, the Core Set which includes the game rules, threat trackers, and various tokens which are necessary for playing the game. The Core Rules should also be updated to include the most important of the games many errata. A player, having purchased the Core Set and any one of these decks, would be able to make a good showing against Passage Through Mirkwood and Journey Down the Anduin.

Hill TrollThe high threat decks might struggle against the Hill Troll at the beginning of Journey Down the Anduin. Likewise, the tri-sphere decks would be severely challenged by having a hero held captive before their Escape from Dol Guldur. The goal is not to make decks that will be equally successful against all scenarios – indeed this would be an impossible goal. The aim of these decks is rather to provide examples of cohesive and interesting archetypes, which provide a good introduction to the games deeper strategy.

Players could combine the cards from any of these decks with heroes and player cards from the Core Set and make new and interesting decks. As a new players expand their card pool with Adventure Packs and Deluxe Expansions, they could easily make changes to and improvements to these decks, or even combine them into entirely new archetypes.

A small but vocal minority has complained about the lack of 3 copies of each player card in the Core Set. As even the CEO of FFG has explained, it was a design decision to include a greater variety of cards rather than a more limited pool with a full set of each card. Honestly, with some of the cards in the Core Set, this is a completely irrelevant argument. I can’t imagine that anyone wants 2 extra copies of Brok Ironfist of Beorn’s Hospitality.

Unexpected CourageAs for the “power” cards like Unexpected Courage and Feint, I can certainly see the argument that it would be useful to have a full play set of these cards. As I stated at the outset, it is unrealistic to assume that the Core Set would change, even just to include 3 copies of each player card. One of the aims of these decks is to address this aspect of the Core Set, and fill in the gaps for these power cards.

As much as possible, the best cards with less than 2 copies have been included in these decks. This will allow players to build a full play set of the more powerful cards, without having to purchase multiple copies of the core set. In addition, players that prefer a particular sphere could easily use these decks to provide extra copies of key cards, to allow for building multiple decks. Ultimately, having options is a good thing, and being able to increase those options without having to purchase the same product twice is something that will appeal to many players.

In any case, there will no doubt be many who take issue with this proposal. Naysayers may well argue that the core set should not need supplementing to begin with. While the optimist in me would love to see a world where every hollow log was filled with honey; trolls never invaded my land – or online forums; and Wizards came to me with presents, instead of itinerant Dwarves. Sadly, that is not the world in which we live. As is so often the case, practical is the enemy of the ideal and expedient the death of perfection. 

By definition, the Core Set was designed before the game was ever released. Judged on its own merits, and despite what might seem are harsh criticisms, it has been an overwhelming success. These supplements were designed with the benefit of hindsight. Without exaggerating, I can say that this game is one of the best games, card game or otherwise, which I have ever had the pleasure to play. These proposals are made with the respectful goal of improving the game, particularly for new players. I welcome the feedback, criticisms and suggestions of all readers in the comments section below.

bear print

Guardians of Minas Tirith

Heroes
Boromir (HoN)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)
Denethor (Core)

Allies: 26
Errand-Rider (HoN) x3
Squire of the Citadel (TBoG) x3
Guard of the Citadel (Core) x2
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Pelargir Ship Captain (TMV) x2
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x2
Faramir (Core) x2
Anborn (TBoG) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Citadel Custodian (HoN) x2

Attachments: 12
Ranger Bow (AoO) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x3
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x2

Events: 12
Wealth of Gondor (HoN) x3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) x3
Sneak Attack (C0re) x2
For Gondor! (Core) x2
Grim Resolve (Core) x2

Riders of Westfold

Heroes
Éomer (VoI)
Éowyn (Core)
Dúnhere (Core)

Allies: 24
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x3
Escort From Edoras (AJtR) x3
The Riddermark’s Finest (THoEM) x3
Westfold Horse-breaker (THfG) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Horseback Archer (Core) x2
Éomund (CatC) x2
Elfhelm (TDM) x2

Attachments: 12
Spear of the Mark (TMV) x3
Rohan Warhorse (VoI) x2
Firefoot (TDT) x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Steed of the Mark (TMV) x2

Events: 14
Feint (Core) x3
Quick Strike (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Mustering the Rohirrim (THfG) x2

Legacy of Durin

Heroes
Dain Ironfoot (RtM)
Balin (TH:OtD)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 26
Erebor Record-keeper (KD) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Ered Nimrais Prospector (TMV) x3
Longbeard Elder (FoS) x2
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x2
Dwalin (TH:OtD) x2
Fili (TH:OHaUH) x2
Glóin (TH:OtD) x2
Kili (TH:OHaUH) x2
Erebor Battle Master (TLD) x2

Attachments: 12
Cram (TH:OHaUH) x3
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x3
Hardy Leadership (SaF) x3
Narvi’s Belt (KD) x3

Events: 12
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3
Durin’s Song (KD) x3
Lure of Moria (RtR) x3

Lords of Imladris

Heroes
Elrond (SaF)
Aragorn (TWitW)
Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies: 21
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x3
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3
Harbor Master (TDF) x2
Rivendell Minstrel (THfG) x2
Northern Tracker (Core) x2
Gandalf (TH:OHaUH) x3
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x3

Attachments: 18
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Vilya (SaF) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x3
A Burning Brand (CatC) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x3

Events: 11
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Lore of Imladris (Core) x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x2

Watchers of the Woods

Heroes
Celeborn (TDT)
Legolas (Core)
Mirlonde (TDF)

Allies: 24
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x3
Naith Guide (TDT) x3
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x2
Silverlode Archer (Core) x2
Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core) x3
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Rúmil (TTT) x2
Haldir of Lórien (AJtR) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2

Attachments: 14
Elf-Stone (TBR) x3
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Rivendell Bow (TWitW) x2
Elven Mail (TTT) x2

Events: 12
Feigned Voices (TTT) x3
Gaining Strength (TSF) x3
Foe-Hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
The Tree People (TDT) x3

Posted in Community, Metagame, New Players, Opinion, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments