Deck: Be Our Guest

Mustering of the Rohirrim was released earlier this week, and I for one could not be more excited. Looking back on the decks I’ve built over the years, I’ve been trying to make viable decks around Beornings since The Hobbit Saga was released. To be fair, the archetype features powerful heroes like Beorn and Grimbeorn the Old, but it has always lacked enough supporting cards to allow for a full-fledged Beorning theme.

When Bilbo and the Dwarves first meet Beorn in the Hobbit has always been one of my favorite moments in the book. There is something so humorous, off-putting, and yet endearing about the interactions between Beorn and his guests. This deck is my attempt at capturing that moment, while highlighting some of the exciting new cards from Mustering of the Rohirrim. I don’t just want to capture the theme, I also want the deck to be viable mechanically. Certainly, it won’t be the strongest deck ever built, but once it gets setup is should more than hold its own. As always, the deck list can be found on RingsDB.

At it’s heart, this is an ally swarm deck. At first glance a tri-sphere deck might seem a bit too ambitious, given the relatively high cost of many of the allies. However, thanks to the industrious Dwarves and their mining mechanics, we won’t often be playing allies from our hand in this deck. Instead, the strategy is to use cards like King Under the Mountain, Expert Treasure-hunter, Daeron’s Runes to get our best allies into our discard pile. Once we have a good selection of allies in the discard pile, Birna and the Beorning Skin-changers give us incredible versatility when it comes to mustering allies.

We also feature the two cards that I spoiled recently, Osbera and the Beorning Pony. Osbera offers questing or damage prevention, depending on which need is most pressing at the time. She also gives us access to Lore for some essential attachments and events. Remember that we can still muster Lore allies while Osbera is flipped to her tactics side, we just cannot play them from our hand. The Beorning Pony combines with all of the other mining effects, seeding the discard pile with helpful allies. If we have an extra tactics resource to spare, he can even be used to fetch a critical card.

Birna makes the deck work

It’s important to note that with Birna’s effect, the ally is shuffled into your deck at the end of the phase so timing is critical. Ideally, we will pull an expensive ally like a Giant Bear out of the discard pile during the combat phase. Then, we can use the Bear to attack or defend, but ready him with his ability. Then, we can use him to pay the cost on A Very Good Tale. Between his ability and Birna’s, he is destined to be shuffled back into our deck, but not before his high cost helps us muster another powerful ally or two. The net result of all of this fun and games is that we keep the two allies we muster via A Very Good Tale.

A Very Good Tale is definitely the card we’re looking for with our card draw and search effects, as it massively accelerates the rate at which we build an ally swarm. Even after we’ve used our copies of that event, the deck is not dead however. Birna still allows us to bring extra allies into play every round, we just know that they won’t be staying around. Even if you only have him for a phase, ally Beorn is a beast. An 8 strength attack is going to kill many enemies by itself, and he’s especially adroit at helping to topple powerful boss enemies.

One downside of this strategy, is that the effects on Osbera, Birna, and Balin all cost resources. While we don’t need many resources for playing allies (once we get the mustering engine running), this deck can still feel somewhat resource constrained. The ample supply of card draw and search effects only exacerbates the sense of having too many options and not enough money to buy them all with. This is where another new ALeP card come to the rescue, and it forms the thematic heart of the deck.

Quality resource acceleration

Beorn’s Welcome is the perfect solution to a deck built around all of these costly effects. Each hero can attach a copy, then any time we trigger the effect for Balin’s shadow cancelation, Osbera’s transformation, or Birna’s effect (paid for by Thorin), we can recoup or resource. The only time when Beorn’s Welcome doesn’t allow us to gain a resource is when we play an ally from our hand. Fortunately, after our first few allies, this deck should not have to do that very often.

The inclusion of The Last Alliance contract gives this deck an interesting wrinkle. With two Dwarf heroes, our Beorning allies cost 1 less out of the gate. This means that with We Are Not Idle in the opening hand we can play Birna on the first turn. The cost reduction obviously shifts as the number of allies in play changes, but that is just one reason for the contract. Look at an ally like Erebor Record Keeper, and imagine using his ability to ready a Beorning character. Suddenly, papa Bear is swinging his massive paws for 8 damage multiple times before he goes back to his winter nap.

For the most part, the deck list stays true to the theme of the Hobbit. Unfortunately, there was no Tactics version of Thorin Oakenshield, so I had to use Dain’s son Thorin Stonehelm as a replacement. When I play this deck, I am going to consider Thorin to be the one for the story as the alternative is narratively impossible. In any case, this deck is more fun than a mug of mead and a slice of honey cake. I hope you find your own enjoyment from this thematic feast.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Archetypes, Books, Combo, Community, Decks, Series, Swarm, The Hobbit, Theme, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 3

The Pyre of Denethor

This article continues a series of discussions (Part 1, Part 2) about the modern world through the lens of Tolkien’s legendarium. For those seeking game-specific subjects I encourage you to check out Vision of the Palantir, where you will find a wealth excellent content. In the mean time, a bear has thoughts and is not too shy to share them.

For a multitude of reasons, Mrs. Beorn and I are looking at living abroad for a few years. We want to find a country which fits our sensibilities, and also stretches us outside of our comfort zones so we can continue to grow and learn. I have long held the personal philosophy that growth is essential. There is always more of the world and ourselves that we can discover, and to better know ourselves and others is as good a life aim as I can espouse. To that end, we started an extended visit to Ajijic Mexico, to see if it is a place where we could see settling down for a few years.

I have lived in the United States all of my life, and there a many things that I love about living there. Like any country, it also has its flaws, and living there has given me a particular insight and a specific awareness of some of those flaws. In my travels, I have enjoyed the different way of life in many other countries, noticing distinct advantages over my experiences in America. Many cultures are specifically taking steps to address and ameliorate problems common to modern living, problems which America seems unwilling or unable to even talk about.

A view of Lake Chapala

About a week into our stay I happened to look down to my phone to see a notification about an active shooter event in Uvalde, Texas. For those who don’t know, I’ve called Texas my home for the past 17 years. As details of that event came to light, my heart was broken by the indescribable horror. Nineteen children between the ages of 9 and 11, slaughtered while attending school. Two teachers, senselessly killed trying to protect their students. This kind of tragedy cannot be described in words. The heartbreak of the families and friends of the victims is incomprehensible.

Thoughts and prayers without action only compounds evil of this nature. These shootings are now the status quo in America: 269 mass shootings in the US this year, as of this writing. Since the tragedy at Uvalde prompted me to start writing this article, there have been 30 more mass shootings. Thirty! Day by day, we are destroying ourselves from within.

This should not be normal

Among US states, Texas has the dubious distinction as a “champion” of gun rights. This means that it is easier for me to legally acquire a handgun than it is to drive a car. At 18, children can buy a gun when they are still too young to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. Yes, I say children because I do not believe that an 18 year old is in fact an adult – either emotionally or intellectually. This is not to absolve monsters of responsibility for their heinous actions. Rather, we as a society have to recognize that younger people are not yet capable of making sensible decisions when it comes to something as powerful as a gun. To be fair, many adults lack the maturity to responsibly own and carry a gun, but that is an even more difficult problem.

While we’re on the subject of guns, let’s talk about second amendment purists. The second amendment of the US constitution grants every citizen the right to bear arms. The founding fathers built this into the very fabric of the country because we were a colony fighting for independence from an empire which spanned the globe. Since its founding, America has fought wars against Spain and Mexico, a quasi war against France, and various other (often ignominious) conflicts around the world.

America participated in the two World Wars which defined the 20th century and reshaped the entire global political landscape, eucatastrophe-style. Especially in the context of these earlier conflicts, while America was still in the process of defining itself, an armed populace makes some kind of sense. However, the nature of our place in the world has changed dramatically since the 18th century. I have one simple question for every American who insists that guns are still among our most fundamental rights.

Did our forefathers intend civilians to be armed so that we could kill each other?

– Second Amendment Intent

I ask this question not rhetorically, but with the most strident sincerity. Like many empires enamored with the glory of past accomplishments, we have lost sight of our own identity. Particularly as our place in the world has changed, we spout anachronisms about our founding tenants when the reasons for those tenants have changed or no longer exist. America has fielded the largest military in the world for decades. No foreign power is going to invade us, not with physical troops, so the need for an armed populace to hold off foreign invasion simply does not exist. Why would an enemy need to invade, when we are doing a far more efficient job of tearing ourselves apart?

America has been great at various times in our history. War is the ugliest side of humanity, but America’s involvement in the World Wars of the 20th century was both necessarily and ultimately for the good of people beyond ourselves. This does not excuse mistakes we’ve made, but we have been a force for good. It cannot be denied that Europe and Asia would look very different today if the United States had remained neutral during the Second World War.

In these moments of greatness, what made us great? I contend that an armed populace has never contributed in any significant way to American greatness. In earlier centuries there was a very real threat of invasion by a foreign power, civilians with guns made sense in those times. In the 21st century, an armed populace is clearly a contributing factor in our decline. At the current rate, there will be over 640 mass shootings in the United States by the end of 2022. It is well past time that we critically examine what matters most to us, and act accordingly.

Those moments in history when we did what we knew was right, even when it was difficult and came at deep personal sacrifice

– American Greatness

The heroes in The Lord of the Rings all made real sacrifices. Any definition of heroism which does not include the concept of sacrifice is fundamentally flawed. To fight evil without is to first look inward, and face the demons that live inside. This might sound like so much romantic poetry but it is foundational to Tolkien’s stories, and central to the mythology of many cultures.

Some characters lose this internal battle, and fall as a consequence. In the Lord of the Rings, Boromir succumbs to the temptation of the Ring and finds redemption only when he gives his life to defend Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai. Even Aragorn, the idealized protagonist, makes very real sacrifices. He wanders the wilds of Arnor for decades – a king without a kingdom and a misunderstood vagabond with a broken sword in his scabbard. Greatness does not come from strength of arms or bold words spoken in front of followers who already agree with you. Greatness comes from profound personal sacrifice and a willingness to do what is right, despite the cost.

Elendil with Narsil

Frodo beings the story of the Lord of the Rings a naive happy young Hobbit, content to live in peace among his people and largely unaware of the dangers all around. Indeed, this ignorance was precisely the gift that Aragorn and the Dúnedain were giving to the Shire. The rangers protected the borders of these havens of peace and prosperity, while the very inhabitants being protected could remain ignorant to the ugliness of the wider world. This theme is repeated often in Tolkien’s stories, and one needs only to look at characters like Frodo to see Tolkien’s point.

We may start naive and innocent, but evil exists without our knowledge or consent, and we must one day face it. Frodo of the Nine Fingers understands this better than perhaps anyone else in Middle-earth. When the time came to face his inner demon, he balked, and the corrupting power of The One Ring was too great for him. If not for the fickle hand of fate and one misstep by Gollum, all would have been lost. This understanding lead Frodo to remain apart during the events of The Scouring of the Shire. His only involvement was to minimize bloodshed.

I contend that the pacifism exhibited by Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings was not weakness, but strength. There is a kind of toxic aggressiveness which exists in every culture, particularly those in the United States who advocate the loudest for the primacy of gun rights. Why are we so eager to unleash the weapons of destruction, especially on our own people? A far more noble goal is to protect those who are weakest, to preserve the things of beauty which can only exist when we exercise restraint.

Frodo saw the devilry of Saruman, the destruction of all of the beauty of the Shire, and he wept. Then, he played his part to right the wrongs and return to The Shire to its former glory and beauty. The Hobbits who became sycophants to Saruman and Gríma were certainly culpable for this destruction. All the more so, responsibility lay with the men who wrought much of the Shire’s destruction. By any sense of justice, Frodo could have urged his companions to kill any men and Hobbits who had sided with Saruman.

One of the enduring lessons of The Lord of the Rings is that it is far easier to take a life than to protect one. What makes one a hero is not the sudden sword thrust which ends the life of an enemy. What makes one a hero is sacrificing the things we value most, in order for others to live in peace and prosperity. To protect and preserve the innocent, in Tolkien’s world as in ours, is the greatest form of heroism.

In the 21st century, America is faced with an existential crisis. We can blindly hold on to traditions which were created for another purpose, hundreds of years ago. Like Denethor on his pyre, we are immolating ourselves at the altar of a dead idea. We are addicted to the myth of our former greatness, which never existed in the perfection of story and song. Or, we can take a lesson from Frodo and reexamine what it is that truly matters to us. Surviving trauma gives us keen insight into what is actually necessary to save our country and our way of life. Heroism cannot be the easy path, the one based on fear and mistrust of others. Heroism and greatness only comes with the willingness to sacrifice to protect those more innocent than ourselves.

Posted in Books, Discussion, Legendarium, Series, The Lord of the Rings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

News: A Long-extended Party – Mustering of the Rohirrim Spoilers

The origins of Bear Cavalry

For the most part, my involvement in A Long-extended Party has been as a player. I’ve admired the excellent quest and player card designs from a distance, with only minor input or feedback here and there. When plans became known about an Adventure Pack featuring new Beorning characters, my fuzzy ears perked up. It is only fitting then, that I’ve been more involved in the design of some of the player cards from Mustering the Rohirrim. This article will highlight two such cards which are personal favorites.

Long before A Shadow in the East gave us Sméagol/Gollum, the idea of a double-sided hero card intrigued many players. While that card was perfect, thematically, the prospect of adding treacheries to the encounter deck which transform my hero into an enemy does not at all fit my play style. Still, a hero who transforms from one form into another opens up all sorts of design possibilities. As Skin-changers, Beornings transform from a human form into giant Bears, so they seem like a natural fit for such a hero design.

Enter Osbera. She is a hero card on both sides, so there is no need to worry about an ill-timed treachery taking away one of your strongest characters. Her human side is a Lore hero with well-rounded stats. Looking at her Bear side, she has the Tactics sphere, the Creature trait, and excellent attack strength. Having two different spheres with differing stats gives Osbera excellent versatility, especially as she provides access to Lore cards in an archetype which can benefit from card draw and healing.

Looking beyond the stats and examining her abilities, we see that Osbera transforms from one kind of support character into another. A simple willpower boost would not have worked well with hero Beorn, as he is immune to player card effects. Instead, she lowers the threat in the staging area, a common theme for Lore. Her ability is based on other damaged Beornings in play, similar to the way a mother bear becomes protective when her cubs are in danger. Her Tactics side is more combat focused, which makes sense as nothing draws a momma bear’s ire quite like a stranger endangering her family.

Just as a willpower boost would have been a bit plain (and overlapped with factions like Gondor) a Beorning with a healing ability is not only unbalanced but it doesn’t fit the theme of the archetype. Instead, Osbera’s Tactics side has an interesting form of damage cancellation. As a response to a Beorning taking damage, another Beorning can take some of that damage instead. This ability is powerful, to be sure, but it is limited to once per round. There is an obvious synergy between her two abilities, which offers an interesting decision of whether or not to flip to her B-side depending on the situation.

Compared to Osbera, Beorning Pony is a much lower profile card, but it is near and dear to my heart. In a Living Card Game, it’s important for some cards to work in multiple different factions. If every card clearly supports one and only one faction, deck building becomes a fairly mundane exercise. Less powerful but useful “glue” cards, which work well with multiple styles of decks, make for a much richer and more interesting ecosystem.

You’d better not steal my ponies…

Beornings lack card draw and card search effects, but a card which simply draws more cards would be a bad design. Not only would Tactics card draw be potentially too powerful, but Beornings already interact with allies in the discard pile, so it would be a missed opportunity not to build on this theme. The pony gives a Beorning deck the ability to quickly find one of its most powerful cards, with the side effect that it will likely seed the discard pile with excellent targets for the Beorning Skin-changer. The archetype doesn’t have any good ways to fetch a powerful attachment or event so the Pony fills a useful niche.

One of the narrative details from The Hobbit which I’ve always enjoyed is the way that Beorn warned the Dwarves not to keep his ponies, but to instead send them back once they reached the eaves of Mirkwood. In fact, he was so mistrustful of the Dwarves that Beorn followed them from a distance, in bear form. Still, the ponies helped the Dwarves to continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Ponies lightened the load and provided welcome support. That is the theme that I wanted to capture with this card, and it fits perfectly with the Dwarven Digging archetype.

Aside from the more recent Nori ally, most of the “digging” effects are found in Spirit and Leadership. Part of making the card pool more diverse and interesting is introducing support for an archetype in a different sphere. This card probably won’t be included in the most “optimal” versions of the Dwarven Mining deck, but that was not the goal. One of the goals of A Long-extended Party which I wholeheartedly espouse is not to specifically improve the top tier archetypes. The existing Spirit/Leadership version of Dwarven Mining doesn’t need any help. On the other hand, if cards like Beorning Pony encourage players to branch out and discover a new version of the archetype then it will certainly have met my design goals.

A Long-extended party is an unofficial, fan-made project for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, a living card game by Fantasy Flight Games and is not endorsed, supported or affiliated by FFG. This project is entirely volunteer-driven, and the content created by ALeP is a non-commercial fan release, distributed without pay or profit, for the sole intent of private enjoyment by fans of the game.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Aggro, Archetypes, Books, Community, Legendarium, News, Series, Spoilers, Swarm, The Hobbit, Theme, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poll Results: Most Anticipated Starter Deck

Depending on your location, the Started Decks have been available since March or April. At this point, most players interested in these four decks have probably had a chance to try one or more of them. Each deck focused on a different faction: Dwarves, Silvan Elves, Rohirrim, and Gondorians. The latest poll asked players which of the four decks they were most anticipating, so here are the results.

DeckVotesPercentage
Elves of Lórien5438%
Riders of Rohan2921%
Dwarves of Durin2921%
Defenders of Gondor2820%

With 140 total votes, the clear winner was Elves of Lórien with almost 40% of the vote. The other three decks came within one vote of tying so after the elves there is fairly uniform interest in the other archetypes. Silvan Elves are one of my favorite archetypes, and my Whispers in the Trees alt-art deck is one that I return to quite often. It is especially effective as a toolbox multiplayer support deck as it features plenty of effects which can be used to benefit other players.

Silvan “bounce” is one of the most fun archetypes to play as it affords many interesting decisions. Deciding when to return an ally to your hand and when to sneak one into play is the most obvious pair of decisions, but the deck is deeper than that. More experienced players are rewarded for knowing which action window is best to use Tree People to return an exhausted Silvan to your hand so they can be replaced by an even more powerful ally from the top 5 cards of your deck. Allies like Defender of the Naith likewise reward a player who understands the ideal way to time their blocks and feints during the combat phase.

This is not to say that the other starter decks aren’t worth exploring: Dwarves of During in particular gives players a nice introduction to the Dwarven “digging” archetype which is also terrific fun to play. Riders of Rohan and Defenders of Gondor also have their bright spots, but the nature of those two archetypes is that those decks benefit most from being supplemented by additional Core Set cards, as well as cycle and saga cards which have yet to receive a reprint. In any case, each of the Starter decks allows new and returning players to experience the game immediately, without having to delve into dec-building until and unless that aspect of the game interests them.

These ready to play decks fill a need which previously had to be answered by deck lists and tutorials featured here, on BGG, RingsDB and elsewhere. Players will certainly continue to benefit from the excellent resources provided by the community, but it only makes sense for FFG to offer a friendlier more immediately solution to trying out the game. The mono-sphere Core Set decks simply do not show off the themes and tactical depth of this game the way a deck like Elves of Lórien does.

Thanks to everyone who voted, and I hope you are all enjoying these new Starter Decks and the campaign content which has started to trickle out. I encourage readers to take a look at the newest poll on the right and share which cycle you most want reprinted. I wish you all have many enjoyable adventures in Middle-earth!

Posted in Archetypes, BGG, Community, Multiplayer, New Players, Play Style, Poll, RingsDB, Series, Solo, Support, Tempo, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear Market: Five Powerful Staples that aren’t in the Starter Decks

The Revised Core Set and Starter Decks are introducing a wave of players to the game and they represent the perfect starting point for anyone new to LCG adventures in Middle-earth. These products offer a wealth of cards to support several archetypes, but it’s not possible to include every powerful card from the decade-long life of the game. What follows is a list of 5 powerful cards which are not available in the Revised Core or any of the Starter Decks.

Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

An enduring quality of the game is that there are multiple viable strategies for most quests. One deck might take a “control” approach, slowly developing a dominant board state and using treachery and shadow cancelation to avoid the worst of the encounter deck. Another deck might feature an “aggro” approach, with high threat cost and powerful heroes that hit the encounter deck early and often, before the quest can setup an antagonistic board state. Regardless of the strategy, a deck needs 1 and 2 cost cards which support the strategy. A bargain at 2 cost, the warden has remained a staple for the life of the game.

Healing is often, though not always, found in control-centered decks and Warden of Healing is the most powerful form of repeatable healing. When he was first released, the ability to ready him by spending 2 Lore resources was not used much. Other than attaching Steward of Gondor to a Lore hero, there just wasn’t an easy way to generate that many Lore resources. Dedicating that many resources to healing is risky, as it often takes away resources from other cards and abilities. Later, decks emerged around hero Glóin where the readying ability of the Warden became essential, creating a sort of healing and resource acceleration loop which was constrained only by the dwarf’s maximum hit points and the attack strength of engaged enemies.

The Warden is too efficient as is, even without ever using his readying ability. As an ally with 1 hit point, the only real real danger is that a treachery which discards or deals direct damage to allies can eliminate him. Knowing the quest you are playing is critical. If Necromancer’s Reach is in the encounter deck, wait to use the Warden until after the quest phase. If there are effects which discard allies, make sure to play the Warden second, after some more expendable ally has already been mustered.

Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)

Sentinel defense is an invaluable ability in multiplayer, especially when pairing a “support” deck which wants to avoid combat with an “aggro” deck which is specifically designed for engaging and destroying enemies. Sometimes, multiple enemies are engaged at once, and the support deck has to engage an enemy that it’s not prepared to defend. Other times, a deck which is not designed for combat is better able to mitigate the forced engagement effect on a particular enemy.

The great thing about Arwen is that she can give Sentinel and the defense boost to any character, regardless of which player controls them. Even in solo the defense boost is still welcome. Also, 2 resources is the sweet spot in terms of cost for questing characters with 2 willpower. The fact that she has 2 hit points makes her that much more effective as a quester, because treacheries and other encounter card effects which deal 1 damage won’t destroy her immediately.

As if Arwen were not already powerful enough, both of her traits are underrated. The Noldor trait allows you to use To the Sea, To the Sea! to reduce Arwen’s resource cost. You can also use cards like Lords of the Eldar and Elrond’s Counsel to boost her stats. The Noble Trait, while less obviously helpful, interacts with several interesting cards. Well Warned and Proud Hunters are two events which require a unique Noble character, and both can be useful in decks paired with Arwen.

Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)

Most weapon and armor attachments can only be given to characters with a specific sphere or trait. This makes a generic weapon like Dagger of Westernesse, which can be attached to any hero, that much more useful. To maximize the attack bonus you will need to keep your threat lower, which makes it especially effective in Hobbit Secrecy decks.

Tactics Merry, from the Black Riders saga expansion, is the perfect hero to wield the dagger, but it can also be used to great effect in Rohan decks attached to a hero like Dúnhere. Thankfully, Tactics now has multiple ways to reduce your threat. Cards like Secret Vigil and Hidden Roosts (ALeP) can be used to keep your threat below the engagement cost of enemies and gain full advantage from your daggers.

For many decks, trait-specific weapons are useless for other decks. In a multiplayer game, this means that extra weapons can become dead cards in your hand. This should never be a problem with the Dagger of Westernesse, as it can be played on any attacker controlled by another player. This versatility only applies to multiplayer games, but it is worth consideration as establishing a powerful dedicated attacker is a critical prerequisite for many combat-focused decks.

Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)

Shadow cancellation is invaluable, all the more so as it is relatively rare. Many decks rely on a single powerful “tank” defender. Such a defender will undoubtedly be facing several attacks, often within the same round. This becomes even more of a problem later in the game, when player threat is higher and all enemies revealed will engage on the turn they enter play. This leaves aggro decks, which feature powerful heroes with high threat cost, in danger of being overrun by a horde of enemies.

Armored Destrier is one of the most powerful solutions for dealing with hordes of attackers because it pairs readying with shadow cancellation. Some enemies, in particular, become more dangerous when they are dealt specific shadow effects. Even with armor attachments, a “tank” only has so much defensive strength. Armored Destrier lets you remove the shadow for a high attack or high-risk enemy, while readying you after blocking a less dangerous attacker.

Ordinarily, the Restricted keyword would detract from the value of the Destrier, as it takes up a coveted slot from other defensive attachments. The Three Hunters contract changes this equation, because of how it interacts with the Restricted keyword. With the A-side active, this card can often be played at reduced cost, which is critical as you want to get it on your defender as quickly as possible. Both the A and B sides of the contracts grant your heroes an additional restricted slot, leaving plenty of room for other powerful attachments.

Treebeard (The Antlered Crown)

Ents are a powerful archetype, but their action disadvantage can be a critical flaw in some quests. Ally Treebeard helps mitigate the problem of Ents entering play exhausted. The resources he gains can either be used to reduce the cost to muster an Ent ally, or ready one which is already in play. Theses resources can be used to pay for Ents of any sphere, making Treebeard the ultimate captain for Ent decks.

It’s a bit ironic that the ally version of Treebeard is a more effective lynchpin for Ent decks than his hero version. Even so, Treebeard does not require that you include any other Ents in your deck. Any excess resources he accrues can be used to ready him – effectively every other round. There is no limit to the number of times you trigger his readying ability, so you are free to save up a whole forest of resources and then use them in one crucial round.

Other than Gandalf, you will not find an ally with more impressive stats than Treebeard. His 3 defense and 5 hit points make Treebeard especially well suited to act as a dedicated defender. Assuming you have at least 2 resources saved up, defending with Treebeard does not prevent you from using his 4 attack in a counter-attack. With stats like his, Treebeard is clearly at his best in combat. However, 2 willpower is enough to make him useful as a quester in an emergency. Regardless of how he is utilized, Treebeard is one of the most powerful allies in the game.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Aggro, Archetypes, Bear Market, Community, Control, Multiplayer, RingsDB, Solo, Support | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

News: Ring-maker Campaign Spoiler

Is it because of my mug
with its frowning mouth?
So often I would itch
to be luminous and free of fog
but nothing would approach
except big dogs.
And the dogs got zilch.

 –Song of the Dwarf, by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Angmar Awakened cycle will be the first to receive a reprint in the new format. This is welcome news as that cycle introduced beloved heroes like Arwen Undómiel and Erestor, as well as player side quests and the Dúnedain archetype. I’m pleased to announce that the Hall of Beorn received word of the next cycle to be reprinted. This may come as a surprise to some players, but the Ring-maker cycle will be the next released in the new Hero Expansion/Campaign Expansion format.

That cycle introduced a powerful Silvan archetype, along powerful characters like Treebeard and Gwaihir. As exciting as Eagles and Ents might be, the most anticipated character from the Ring-maker cycle is a humble Dwarf. Yes, dear readers, your dream have come true! There will be a new campaign version of the Nalir in the reprint of this cycle. I, for one, cannot wait to remove time counters from the best objective ally ever created.

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Bear Market: Starter Deck Support

Thanks to an intrepid player in Australia, we finally have the full lists for the four Starter Decks. The cards from Defenders of Gondor, Dwarves of Durin, Elves of Lórien, and Riders of Rohan have also been added to Hall of Beorn card search and the Discord BeornBot. Starter decks are something I suggested several years ago, so it’s nice to see them finally in the hands of players. For many new players, the Revised Core and these Starter Decks will be their first foray into deck-building for the game.

With the sea of content available, one of the biggest challenges for new players is knowing “what to buy next?”. With this article, I will present some adventure packs with player cards which can be used to supplement the Starter Decks. The designers did an excellent job of capturing four distinct archetypes in the design of these decks, and they will offer a wide variety of experiences for players who are still in the process of discovering which play style and deck types they prefer. If you find one of the Starter Decks in particular matches your play style, a few well-chosen packs can give your deck a welcome boost or enhance a sub-theme which was not fully realized, out of the box.

Defenders of Gondor

Leadership Gondor is a swarm archetype. Steward of Gondor is the most powerful form of resource acceleration, so the idea is gain resources and fill the board with Gondor allies as quickly as possible. Then, global boosts like Leadership Boromir, Visionary Leadership, and For Gondor! become incredibly powerful.

Mablung, the main Tactics hero included in the deck, fits more into the Trap theme but he can be swapped out for Tactics Beregond for quests with powerful enemies. Unlike ally swarm, the Trap archetype is more of a control style of play. Rather than focusing on Leadership, Trap decks are heavily Lore with some Tactics, and they rely on the cost reduction of hero Damrod. In my experience, Swarm and Traps don’t necessarily mix well so it’s probably best to pick one theme or the other, rather than trying to create a hybrid.

Fortunately, some adventure packs provide support for both archetypes. The City of Corsairs, for example, provides a powerful hero in Tactics Prince Imrahil as well as useful cards for both swarm (Knight of the White Tower) and Trap (Guardian of Ithilien) archetypes. Flight of the Stormcaller includes Leadership Denethor, one the best heroes in the game, Gondor or otherwise. It also gives Gondor some much needed repeatable card in the form of Rod of the Steward.

Another sub-theme found in Gondor is Valour: card effects and cards which become more powerful when your threat is 40 or higher. The deck includes a few such cards in Pillars of the Kings, Angbor the Fearless, and Soldier of Gondor. This is a fun but risky archetype to play, so look into other Leadership and Tactics cards with valour effects if you want to concentrate on this theme. Just remember to include threat control so an ill-times Doomed effect doesn’t eliminate you.

The Battle of Carn Dûm: Doom Hangs Still (Valour, Quest Control), Hold Your Ground! (Valour, Readying), Favor of the Valar (Valour, Threat Control)

Flight of the Stormcaller: Denethor (Resource Acceleration and Smoothing), Rod of the Steward (Card Draw), Head the Dream (Card Search)

Temple of the Deceived: Armored Destrier (Readying, Shadow Control), Entangling Nets (Trap), Arrows from the Trees (Stating Area Control, Direct Damage)

The City of Corsairs: Prince Imrahil (Ally Mustering), Knight of the White Tower (Champion Ally), Guardian of Ithilien (Trap/Staging Area Control)

Dwarves of Durin

Dwarf decks built around Leadership Dáin also tend to involve ally swarm, though they typically use different means for getting allies into play. While you can of course include a card like Steward of Gondor in a Dwarf deck, this is not a thematic choice. Instead, Dwarf decks typically use events like A Very Good Tale and We Are Not Idle to amass an army of Dwarves. Dwarves tend to be hardier than the men of Gondor, so the kind of chump blocking seen in Gondor (e.g. Squire of the Citadel) is not really seen in Dwarf decks. On the other hand, events like Durin’s Song can combine with the stat boost from Dáin to turn a single Dwarf into a unstoppable force.

Dwarf Swarm decks were a powerful archetype for much of the game, but the Mining sub-theme that was introduced later in the game is my personal favorite. Mining involves effects like King Under the Mountain and Zigil Miner which discard cards from the top of your deck. It might seem risky, putting so many cards into your discard pile, but the pay-off when you hit cards like Hidden Cache and Ered Luin Miner makes it a risk worth taking. A critical hero for the mining archetype is actually the Spirit version of Dáin Ironfoot, so most decks choose one theme or the other.

Conflict at the Carrock: Longbeard Map-Maker (Willpower Boosting), Dúnedain Warning (Defense Boosting), A Burning Brand (Shadow Control), Second Breakfast (Attachment Recursion)

The Ghost of Framsburg: Dáin Ironfoot (Mining, Tank Defender), Soldier of Erebor (Champion Ally), Ring of Thrór (Mining, Readying, Attachment Mustering), Man the Walls (Ally Mustering)

Challenge of the Wainrders: Nori (Discard Recursion), Golden Belt (Bonus Restricted Slots), Horns! Horns! Horns! (Ally Mustering)

Mountain of Gundabad: Erebor Toymaker (Attachment Cost Reduction), Armor of Erebor (Sentinel, Defense Boost)

Elves of Lórien

Silvan Elves are one of my favorite archetypes to play as they are a well-rounded toolbox style archetype which presents multiple interesting decisions to make every round. The nickname which many players have given these decks is Silvan Bounce as they rely on effects which benefit Silvan allies which are entering and/or leaving play. Unlike swarm archetypes such a Gondor or Dwarves, a Silvan deck often does not want all of their allies in play at the same time. Celeborn and Galadriel’s boosts only apply to allies the round they enter play, so Silvan allies become weaker once they’ve been in play for a round. Instead, you want to ensure that at least one ally is entering play each round, while another ally is leaving.

One of the critical pieces of this ally bouncing strategy is the attachment The Elvenking, so players who enjoy this style should definitely consider acquiring the Fire in the Night adventure pack. This pack also includes Thranduil hero and several quality cards to enhance the archetype. Other Silvan allies with useful “toolbox” effects are found scattered throughout the game, but I’ve highlighted a few here. Remember that all allies benefit from Celeborn and Galadriel when they enter play, but other allies like Defender of the Naith benefit when a Silvan ally leaves play.

The Drowned Ruins: Marksman of Lórien (Bounce, Ranged, Enemy Weakening), Woodland Courier (Bounce, Location Control), Hithlain (Bounce, Location Control)

Fire in the Night: Thranduil (Combat Control, Resource Smoothing), Galion (zero-cost Bounce target), The Elvenking (Readying, Repeatable-Bounce), Quicker Than Sight (Shadow Control)

Mount Gundabad: Greenwood Defender (Defensive Action Advantage), Elf Guide (Resource Acceleration), Drinking Song (Card Draw)

The Treason of Saruman: Legolas (Ranged, Card Draw, Champion Ally)

Riders of Rohan

Rohan has two primary archetypes: ally sacrifice and staging area attack. The starter deck mostly focuses on the ally sacrifice theme, though it does include a few cards to support staging area attack. The starter deck does a good job of covering the ally sacrifice, but those interested in community created content should definitely take a look at the Children of Eorl expansion created by A Long-extended Party. Thengel from that expansion is a perfect addition to this starter deck.

Beyond Thengel, there are some toolbox options of additional allies with discard (sacrifice) abilities. This is one case where the best options are not an adventure pack, but instead saga expansions. The Treason of Saruman provides great additions to a Rohan Sacrifice deck in the form of ally Hama and Helm! Helm!. The Land of Sorrow provides Gamling, which makes the ally sacrifice engine viable without card draw. For staging area attack, The Mountain of Fire brings a strong Leadership version of  Éomer with his sword Gúthwinë and one of his trusted lieutenants in Tactics Elfhelm.

Challenge of the Wainriders: Rohirrim Scout (Ally Sacrifice, Staging Area Attack), Golden Belt (Bonus Restricted Slot, Staging Area Attack), Horns! Horns! Horns! (Ally Mustering)

The Treason of Saruman: Háma (Defense, Ally Sacrifice), Herugrim (Attack Bonus), Helm! Helm! (Ally Sacrifice)

The Land of Sorrow: Gamling (Ally Sacrifice), Snowmane (Readying)

The Mountain of Fire: Éomer (Staging Area Attack), Elfhelm (Ally Sacrifice), Gúthwinë (Discarded Ally Recursion)

Posted in Archetypes, Bear Market, New Players, Series, Swarm, Theme, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deck: Valiant Defense

We Ukrainians are a peaceful nation. But if we remain silent today, we will be gone tomorrow!

—Volodymyr Zelenskyy

I mentioned in my previous post that Russia was making aggressive gestures towards Ukraine. Unfortunately, our fears have come to pass and the Russian army is in the process of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings are often criticized for painting too stark a picture of the world. Armies in these fictional worlds tend to be either evil or good, with very few shades of gray. It’s not often in life where situations are nearly so clear cut. In particular, the conflicts of the 21st century have been fraught with ambiguity, with countries on all sides sharing blame on many fronts.

This invasion of Ukraine is not a situation with such ambiguity. The Ukraine is a sovereign nation, and Russia is invading it without any just cause. To see such a flagrant violation of a nation’s right to self-determination one needs to look back to the Second World War. The actions of Vladimir Putin are those of a villain.

In his recent article, My friend Daan over at Vision of Palantir made a wonderful gesture to donate his Patreon earnings for the month to support Ukrainian relief efforts. I’m happy to join him and pledge the earnings I make from my Patreon in a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. I hope that this conflict is short-lived, but in the event that fighting continues I will donate as long as the people of Ukraine have a need. It’s not much, but Tolkien reminds that even the least of us can have an impact, especially when we work together for a worthy cause. Ultimately, this is not about bolstering my Patreon so I encourage those who don’t want to donate to me to give directly to an organization like The Red Cross or Unicef. It’s easy to focus on the high-level drama of war, but it is the individual people of the Ukraine who are most affected, and most in need of our help.

For those who need a break from all of the war news, I’ve built a thematic deck called Valiant Defense. It is inspired by the bravery of the people of Gondor, as they defend themselves from the onslaught of Sauron’s armies. Some might notice a parallel to the current situation. Хай живе Україна!

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Archetypes, Books, Community, Decks, Legendarium, Mono-Sphere, Series, The Lord of the Rings, Theme, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deck: Bloodless Victory

Ah, that Time could touch a form
That could show what Homer’s age
Bred to be a hero’s wage.
‘Were not all her life but storm
Would not painters paint a form
Of such noble lines,’ I said,
‘Such a delicate high head,
All that sternness amid charm,
All that sweetness amid strength?’
Ah, but peace that comes at length,
Came when Time had touched her form.

—William Butler Yeats

Tolkien’s legendarium is threaded with multiple complex themes. As with music, we notice the most obvious themes first. The tragedy of Boromir, the bravery of Aragorn, and the loyalty of Sam are all major chords in the opus. These are apparent on the first reading of the Lord of the Rings. Some themes are a bit more subtle and easily to miss on the first reading. These minor chords give insight into Tolkien’s more nuanced themes.

I had the privilege to contribute to the ALeP brainstorming session for The Scouring of the Shire. The exercise of translating part of Tolkien’s writing into a quest encourages a deeper reading of the text. One of the details which emerges about that chapter is Frodo’s reticence for any kind of violence. In fact, his greatest involvement in the scouring is to prevent Hobbits from killing each other. After all of the challenges overcome, and sacrifices made, he does not want to see any more bloodshed.

This topic is always a timely one, but it feels especially so right now. The world is holding its breath, hoping that Russia does not invade Ukraine. War is in the blood of mankind, and Tolkien reflects this in his fictional stories. Only someone who has experienced war, has watched friends and loved ones hurt or even killed can ever truly understand the horror of war. The concept didn’t exist, as such, when Tolkien was writing, but it’s clear that Frodo is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

I’ve been reading a fascinating biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was the physicist who lead the Manhattan Project to create a nuclear weapon at the end of the Second World War. The book is filled with many fascinating insights, but among the most important is that the US knew that Japan was ready to surrender, before we dropped the nuclear bombs. Our spies had cracked Japanese codes and we intercepted communications confirming that they wanted to surrender, all that was necessary was to begin discussions.

However, many within the US military saw Russia as a threat, once the war ended. They insisted that we use these terrible weapons against Japan to “send a message” to the Russians. The misguided idea was that the Soviets would somehow take America more seriously once they saw the power of the weapons we had created. This kind of thinking has pervaded militaries throughout human history, but it has served as the rationale for all manner of atrocities.

Mrs. Beorn and I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima a few years ago. Some friends think it’s odd that I will spend my vacation time in places with such a dark past. I aspire to be a student of history. In order to understand something, we must look at all of its facets, even the ones which make us sad or uncomfortable.

What makes Tolkien’s world so rich is that he built a history. As much as popular culture focuses on the heroic deeds captured in the movies, Tolkien’s world has plenty of sadness and loss to go along with the joy and triumph. The Silmarillion is darker and more tragic than the Lord of the Rings, so in a way his legendarium has tragic underpinnings. My favorite of Tolkien’s stories is The Children of Húrin and it stands beside the great Greek Tragedies. Man’s penchant for violence is a recurring theme in the tragedies of Tolkien’s world.

Frodo came as close as any mortal to succumbing to the lure of the Ring, without losing himself. He stared into the abyss of the ultimate evil, and only barely survived. This gives him a unique perspective on taking a life or wishing harm to others. His pacifism in the Scouring of the Shire may seem like weakness to some, but I interpret it as a strength which comes from a deeper wisdom. He paid dearly for a true understanding of the nature of good and evil and the fruitlessness of violence.

Compared to most card games, the mechanics of this game are unique. So long as you fulfill the requirements of a scenario, you don’t actually have to kill any enemies. Granted, some quests require you to defeat a particular “boss” enemy, but many of those quests can still be completed without combat. For example, Intruders in Chetwood cannot be defeated while any copies of Orc War Party are in play. The easiest way to fulfill this requirement is obviously to build a deck of powerful heroes, bold attackers and stout defenders, and defeat the Orc War Party in combat. However, you do not actually have to defeat the War Party to complete the quest, they simply cannot be in play.

Frodo had been in the battle, but he had not drawn sword, and his chief part had been to prevent the hobbits in their wrath at their losses, from slaying those of their enemies who threw down their weapons.

—The Return of the King

Inspired by Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings, I designed a deck around the idea of never declaring an attack. This deck is not well-suited for some quests. In fact, some quests will be impossible to complete with this deck. Anyone who has ever played a beloved video game and added an arbitrary constraint will understand the spirit with which I built this deck. Think of it as an achievement to attempt for an extra challenge. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB.

The core strategy of the deck is to use low starting threat and Pippin’s ability to avoid engaging enemies until we’re ready to deal with them. Gaffer Gamgee allows us to avoid attacks from most enemies. We can then attach Forest Snare to prevent the enemy from ever attacking again. We also have a bevvy of solutions for dealing with enemies in the staging area. The Great Hunt is perfect for removing big scary enemies like Orc War Party. Put Off Pursuit offers a similar solution for removing enemies with punishing effects while they are in the staging area. Low engagement cost enemies, or ones which can safely be left in the staging area can also dealt with using Ranger Spikes. In a pinch, Fatty Bolger can be a defender, but if you’re defending too many attacks this deck is probably failing.

Pacifism might not be perceived as heroic, but violence is less of an answer to life’s challenges than some might believe. I hope you enjoy this peculiar deck, and it encourages you to look at heroism through a different lens. For anyone who has a chance to try this deck, let me know in the comments which quests you attempt. May you all have safe travels in Middle-earth, and may your year be filled with peace and good health!

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Archetypes, Books, Control, Decks, Legendarium, Literature, Mono-Sphere, Play Style, RingsDB, Series, Solo, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Theme, Tribal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Metagame: Balance of Power

Reading history, it’s easy to assume that the current state of things is inevitable. In fact, history is littered with random, unexpected turns of events. The same can be said for this game. Over a decade after its release, it seems crazy to think that the game might have been a flop. One need only cast their eyes upon the graveyard of excellent card game which have died in the last 10 years to see proof. Still more games deserving of attention simply fail to catch gamers’ attention and wither in obscurity.

When faced with a seeming contradiction, the best response is not to ignore it, or hide from it. Instead, we should look at it as an opportunity for deeper understanding. One of the deep conundrums at the heart of this is game is the Dwarrowdelf cycle. I contend that it is both the best and worst thing to happen to the game. Bold words, I’ll grant, but allow me to elaborate.

The Dwarrowdelf cycle undeniably includes some of the most popular player cards ever printed. The data backs up this claim. Based on analysis of more than 24 thousand published RingsDB decks, Spirit Glorfindel is the most popular hero in the game. Elrond is the fifth most popular hero. If we look beyond heroes to player cards, the argument only grows stronger. Staples like Daeron’s Runes, Warden of Healing, Elrond’s Counsel, Light of Valinor, and Master of the Forge all have a popularity of 10 out of 10. In fact, the popularity scale actually does not do justice to the magnitude of their popularity. Though they are both popularity 10, Daeron’s Runes is over 3 times more popular in published decks that ally Treebeard. If you graph the popularity of player cards, the best Dwarrowdelf cards fall off the right end of the chart.

We will grant the bias inherent in all LCGs where earlier sets are more popular. This is a function of time and fundamental to the nature of game expansions. Even accounting for this, Dwarrowdelf is far and away the most popular cycle in the game. Player cards are only half of the explanation, however, as scenarios also fuel its popularity.

Quests like The Watcher in the Water and Shadow and Flame offer the first opportunity for players to fight against iconic “boss” enemies. To this day, Foundations of Stone remains one of my go-to quests for 3 and 4 player games and was (at the time) the only “split the players up” quest available. Even less popular quests like Redhorn Gate were influential in introducing weather-themed cards and unique fatal effects for heroes outside of combat.

Such effusive praise belies the opening question; wherein lies the conundrum? The problem with the Dwarrowdelf cycle can be summarized with one word: power. The power of player and encounter cards introduced in the Dwarrowdelf cycle skewed the game for years afterwards. Outside of a few Core Set staples, no other player cards in the pool had as much impact on design space as those from the Khazad-dûm expansion and Dwarrowdelf adventure packs. I contend that Elrond and Vilya comprise the most broken combo in the game, and those cards came in the same pack.

A first turn Vilya is sufficient to beat most quests in the game. Granted, a few quests were released later in the life of the game which can give Elrond + Vilya decks trouble, but these are the outliers. The overwhelming success of Seastan’s One Deck is proof of just how effective this combination is. Looking further into the deck, we see a bunch of broken Dwarrowdelf cards. It’s not often mentioned, by Master of the Forge is another over-powered card which left little space for lesser search abilities. Because Master of the Forge exists, cards like Westfold Horse-breeder and Open the Armory are made just that much less appealing. It’s not to say these these cards aren’t played, but the are relegated to sub-optimal status when a clearly superior alternative exists.

Warden of Healing is yet another card which broke an entire category of effects upon its release. For 2 resources, he gives you the best repeatable healing in the game. What’s more, extra resources (from effects like Glóin) can be used to ready the Warden multiple times in the same phase. As fun as they might be for power-gaming, these kinds of “good at everything” designs are deleterious to the long-term health of a game.

Anyone who has played competitive card games knows the power creep issue all too well. You show up to a tournament and suddenly 6 out of 10 decks feature the same core cards. This inevitably leads to errata, restriction or even outright banning of the cards at the heart of the problem. As a cooperative game, errata is used differently in Lord of the Rings. Only the most egregious degenerate combinations receive errata, and the card to receive changes is not always the one you would expect.

Errata itself is a controversial topic, and one I’ve discussed at length elsewhere. To be sure, several Dwarrowdelf player cards have received errata. However, the current topic is more concerned with the cards which remain as they were designed. The elephant in the room is a 5 threat hero with 3 willpower and 3 attack, a 1-cost action advantage attachment, and a mount which remains the single most efficient location control to date. To say that Spirit Glorfindel had an impact on the metagame would be quite the understatement. Before the card pool grew, and Against the Shadow quests upset the dominant paradigm, any deck built around Elrond and Spirit Glorfindel was effectively a form of “easy mode”.

Lest we forget the other side of the power coin, the encounter cards introduced in the Dwarrowdelf cycle also deserve their time to shine. Never in my decade plus of playing this game have I uttered a fouler curse than the first time I saw Sudden Pitfall revealed from the encounter deck. Especially in the early game, when drawing an inexpensive questing ally is not a given for many decks, this card can be an instant game loss. My initial reaction was the the card must surely be a misprint, especially with the added line “This effect cannot be canceled”. If you think the When Revealed effect on this card is bad, just look at the Shadow effect.

Sleeping Sentry is not much better, leaving all of your characters exhausted and many of them wounded. The absurd punishment of these cards makes a twisted kind of sense, when you look at the strength of the player cards pictured above. Of course you need a treachery which can discard a hero and cannot be canceled. Of course you need a reverse Grim Resolve, which exhausts every character and kills off all of your over-powered support allies with 1 hit point. These are the only reasonable solutions to the dominant archetype introduced by the Dwarrowdelf cycle. Elrond and Vilya, bolstered by Imladris Stargazer, Master of the Forge, and Warden of Healing, allow you to fill the table with the most expensive and powerful allies in the game, even ones which are out-of-sphere for your starting heroes!

These cards are a perfect example of a power feedback loop. They’re all too common in any long-lived card game where the pool evolves over time (see also, Magic the Gathering). A powerful archetype of cards is introduced. The only way to preserve the balance of the game is to then make other equally powerful cards to offset the first set. This feedback loop has a halting state: when a game collapses under its own weight. Essentially, a smaller and smaller set of the pool becomes “viable” in comparison to the power cards. Any new cards are either immediately coasters because they do not live in the same stratosphere as the dominant paradigm, or worse, they supplant the dominant cards because they are even more broken. When only the smallest fraction of a card pool can compete in terms of power, most players will abandon a game – it is no longer fun to play.

Fortunately, that worst case scenario was not the outcome for this game. The designers reigned in the power creep of the Dwarrowdelf cycle and the game retained the healthy balance necessary for long-term survival. It easily could have gone the other way, and it is a testament to Caleb and Maxine’s skills as designers that they successfully navigated the game out of the feedback loops and dead-ends which are the death of many games.

All of the criticism of power creep may leave readers wondering how the Dwarrowdelf could be the best and worst thing to happen to the game. As much as social media might shout to the contrary, nuance still exists in the world. It is possible for a thing to be both good and bad, for different reasons. In reality, most things are neither all good or all bad, they are the strange frothy mix of shades of gray which we call “life”.

If not for the popularity of iconic and powerful heroes like Elrond and Glorfindel, the game might not have sold well enough for FFG to make a long-term investment in future cycles, Nightmare Decks, and Saga expansions. On the other hand, if not for the over-powered player cards around healing, card draw, threat reduction, location control, and card search, the card pool would have been allowed to grow in a more organic, balanced fashion. These power issues are not confined to player cards as player decks and encounter decks are inextricably linked. We didn’t see locations with 2 quest points for years after Asfaloth was released. We also started to see more surge and more brutal global treacheries because Elrond + Vilya made it too easy to quickly grow your board state.

It would be reductive to assume from all of this that Dwarrowdelf cycle was a mistake or should not have happened. I started playing while the cycle was being released, so I have nostalgia for the excitement created by these cards. My brain melted just a little bit when I first opened the Shadow and Flame adventure pack. Games need to generate this kind of excitement or players wouldn’t play them and designers would be looking for work elsewhere.

However, like many things in life, immediate gratification and excitement is not the same as long-term sustainability. Sometimes the “boring” cards are necessary for a game to function properly, years down the road. We can celebrate the exciting cards, but also understand that the middle of the road cards, or cards which don’t match our aesthetic are necessary for a robust and balanced card pool. A designer’s job is no picnic, they have to constantly dance on the knife’s edge. Too many powerful cards collapses a game in catastrophic explosion, not enough kills it quietly in its bed, with no one standing by as witness.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Community, Metagame, Multiplayer, Play Style, Series, Solo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments