Long are the Waves on the Last Shore

To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people for ever!

The years have a way of sneaking up on us. Time is a subtle but inexorable stream, and the trickle of the everyday adds to our lives one drop at a time. Only when we look back do we realize that our lives have pooled into a vast lake. It boggles my mind to think that I’ve been writing this blog for seven years. I look back at what I wrote in 2013, at where I was in my life, and I marvel at the journey which has led me from there to here.

Involvement in the Lord of the Rings LCG community has grown into a vital facet of my life. Attending GenCon in 2013 was my introduction to the community at large. There I met Caleb Grace, designer extraordinaire, and participated in my first GenCon/Fellowship event. Some moments represent critical junctures in our lives, and GenCon 2013 was certainly that for me. Among the many fine folks I met were Derek, Ian, and, Matthew, who I later joined as The Grey Company Podcast. They remain close friends and my life is better for knowing them.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
-The Fellowship of the Ring

I never would have guessed, all those years ago, just how my community involvement would lead to wondrous adventures. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet players in: France, Portugal, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, and Spain. The Austin LotR LCG group which I helped start has been running strong for several years now and continues to be a source of joy and fellowship for me. I’ve been privileged to have conversations with designers Caleb and Matt Newman, as well as members of Cardboard of the Rings, Master of Lore, CardTalk and other notable content creators. Beyond GenCon, I’ve participated in Lure of Middle-earth in Germany and Con of the Rings in Minnesota. I cannot count the number of friendly people I’ve met and friends I’ve made since I started playing this game.

As with all adventures, life is not without its challenges. After a valiant struggle against cancer, my father passed away suddenly in 2015. Only those who have lost a loved one will understand just how deeply the wound hurts. Time passes, and our hearts heal, but we will never quite be the same. The most seemingly innocuous moments can bring a flood of memories back; a song, the smell of his favorite food. Tolkien had true wisdom when he said that not all tears an evil. We who survive hope to live inspired by those who have gone before us. In our hearts and memories, they live forever.

It was my father reading the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me as bedtime stories which instilled an enduring love of Tolkien. Doubtless one of the things that makes me think of him now is the recent passing of Christopher Tolkien. Authorship is not always a clear-cut distinction, and works like the Silmarillion and Children of Húrin owe a tremendous debt to Tolkien’s original writing and legendarium. Still, the work of editor and collaborator is never easy, particularly when the original author is not available for questions. Christopher Tolkien deserves recognition for helping to complete so much of what his father left unfinished. As time passes, and my appreciation for Tolkien’s lesser-known works deepens, I recognize just how instrumental Christopher Tolkien was in crafting many of my favorite stories.

An unfortunate trend in media, which seems to have only worsened in the 21st century, is our fascination with the negative. I suppose this is human nature. Like many aspects of our nature, the tendency to be distracted by negativity is dangerous. If we don’t allow ourselves to step back and give self-awareness a chance to regain the reins, we risk getting caught up in the narrative and losing perspective on what really matters.

Our fine community is no exception when it comes to being distracted by the negative. Looking around various online forums, one can hear the doomsaying which followed immediately after FFG’s announcement of the game’s impending hiatus. Having worked for corporate entities in one capacity or another for 20 years now, I have little faith in their ability or desire to speak the truth. Personally, I think that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with truthfulness. If a company knows that withholding the truth will in some way aid its profitability, it will most often choose this approach over one which is more forthright.

That said, companies are made up of people, and having met many of those directly involved in the creation of this game, this distinction is vital. While we may never know the ultimate reasons why this version of the game is ending, we do know that those who work on LotR LCG day-to-day care. They care not only for the game as a product which makes money, but they care for the players and the community which has formed around the game over the last decade. So many have put years of their lives into making this game the best it could be, and to be cynically critical of them because of a corporate decision would be an egregious mistake.

While it may be tempting to bemoan the ending of one story I am choosing to use this opportunity to look back and be grateful. If not for this game, I would never have formed the beautiful friendships I did. My travels would have been that much poorer for not having met kind and hospitable players from around the globe. The game has pushed me to pursue my passions for writing, graphic arts, search engine design, and literary criticism. Even now, the Discord channel remains a consistent source of inspiration, far more so than more general forms of online social interaction.

The community which formed around this game is as rich, diverse, and worthwhile as any community you are likely to find anywhere – it deserves to be cherished and celebrated.

After this iteration of the game ends, we don’t know what story comes next. For every creator the day comes when a creation must be allowed to stand or fall on its own. The original designers of this game have moved on to other endeavors and I am happy for them in their new adventures.  I hope that whoever is tasked with the next chapter of this game is able to continue with the level of quality which we now take for granted. As long as the post-hiatus output maintains the excellence of what we have now, I will remain a loyal patron and supporter of the game.

It may be that it is impossible for FFG – or any other company – to achieve the magical combination of theme and mechanics, community and camaraderie, which this game embodies. If that is the case, I will consider myself privileged to have been a part of something beautiful. The friendships I’ve made and the adventures I’ve experiences will live with me forever, and for all that this game has given me I am eternally grateful.

In the mean time, I encourage others to spend a moment and appreciate what this game has given to them. I thank all of you, my readers, for the feedback, encouragement, and even criticism you’ve given me over the last seven years. Without you, I would not have continued on this journey and so I owe some small but vital portion of my joy to your involvement as an audience. Feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Austin LotR Group, Community, Con of the Rings, Discussion, Fellowship Event, GenCon, Lure of Middle Earth, Opinion, Theme, Tolkien, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alternate Art: Starlight on the Western Seas

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees.
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.
– The Fellowship of the Ring

The Eldar bring a sense of mystery to Tolkien’s legendarium. They represent a link between the world of men, which more closely resembles our world, and the world of the Valar which places Tolkien’s writing at the head of the fantasy pantheon. With the Elven Rings of Power, the epoch-long influence of the Noldor and the Teleri on the shaping of history in Middle-earth.

A synthesis of ideas which have percolated for some time, this deck brings together tribal strategies, mono-sphere design, and attachment-centered design concepts. Continuing in the vein of my recent alternate art projects, all of the player cards feature the works of Magali Villeneuve. Her iconic pieces of elves have provided a signature for the visual style of this game.

From a strategy standpoint, this deck is exists as the hybrid of hero-centric decks and ally swarm. To fully realize the power of Narya, we obviously need at least two allies in play, and allies fill a role in combat which is the one real weakness of our heroes. Moreover, it is only natural to include a good number of allies in order to best utilize Galadriel’s passive ability.

This deck is also well-suited as a questing and support deck in multiplayer, where you can share Narya and Nenya’s abilities across the table. For solo play, it may not be the best choice for combat heavy quests which do not allow sufficient time to setup your ally army. Given time, you can amass an impressive board state, thanks to Glorfindel and Guardian of Rivendell. Wild Stallion complements Narya’s effect and can confer an ally with heroic combat prowess.

Events here provide a late-game punch. A timely use of Lords of the Eldar or Shadows Give Way can often be the moment when victory is assured. Cancellation and threat reduction are mainstays of the Noldor archetype, so A Test of Will and Elrond’s Counsel should be no surprise here. There is nothing radical about the design here, but I’ve found this deck to be a perfect compliment to combat-oriented decks which don’t want to concern themselves with questing, threat control or cancellation.

I hope that you enjoy this deck as much as I do, and the beautiful alternate art certainly adds to that enjoyment. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. As always, contact the Hall if you are interested in printable versions of these images. May your adventures in Middle-earth be bless by the light of the Elves!

Heroes

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Posted in Alternate-Art, Art, Deck Lists, Fun, Mono-Sphere, Multiplayer, RingsDB, Strategy, Tribal Deck | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternate Art: Bear Jamboree

I’ve been tinkering with various means for unlocking the fierce potential of Grimbeorn the Old, and this decks represents my current thinking. There are undoubtedly decks which focus more directly on Grimbeorn, but I also wanted to create something thematic. There aren’t enough Beornings in the card pool – at least not enough effective Beornings, so this deck is supplemented with Dúnedain, Hobbits, and a smattering of other factions.

This is one of a handful of decks which I will bring to Con of the Rings 2019. As such, it is not designed as a solo deck, but rather is intended to fulfill combat roles, with very limiting questing ability, and some card draw (thanks to Gildor Inglorion). That a deck featuring both Beorning heroes is primarily intended for combat is not in any way shocking, but what may be surprising is just how powerful this deck can be when it’s had a chance to setup properly. With Orcrist and The Day’s Rising attached to Grimbeorn, along with an Armored Destrier, he actually gains money by using his ability to kill an enemy, with the second attack being resource neutral (The Day’s Rising, sadly, is not repeatable).

In any case, once Grimbeorn has some gear loaded up, this deck will cut through most enemies like a hot knife through butter. Papa bear helps buy you a few rounds of setup, as Beorn can handle all but the strongest enemies without twitching a whisker. Gildor provides questing, and the all important card draw to help find all of our critical attachments. The decks skews more toward Leadership cards than would normally be advisable in a deck with only a single Leadership hero, but Grimbeorn’s resource is not really available to pay for cards, so in that regard the ratio is more reasonable.

The ideal first hand will include a copy of Tighten Our Belts, and any such hand should make one strongly consider passing on the first planning phase. You can still safely play Dúnedain Hunter as this costs no resources, but the rest of the cards can wait until the second round. Having 3 resources on each hero to start the second round is a huge early game boost, and Beorn makes this strategy less risky than it might otherwise seem. Critical early plays for Grimbeorn are Armored Destrier and Dúnedain Warning, to help him survive enemy attacks.

With Gandalf in hand, or possibly a Giant Bear, you will be ready to defeat whatever enemy might happen to guard Orcrist. On the off chance that a location is guarding the sword instead, a Sneak Attacking Meneldor can handle that. Whatever it takes, the goal is have Grimbeorn wielding Foe-hammer as quickly as possible. Of special note: the response on Orcrist does not require you to exhaust it, so with readying effects like Armored Destrier you can gain multiple resources to help pay for Grimbeorn’s ability.

The full deck list can be found on RingsDB. Anyone interested in printing these alternate art cards for themselves should contact the hall. I look forward to meeting many fine members of the community at the Con of the Rings. In the mean time, happy adventures in Middle-earth!

Allies

Attachments

Events

Posted in Aggro, Alternate-Art, Art, Beornings, Community, Deck Lists, Fun, Metagame, Multiplayer, The Hobbit, Theme, Tribal Deck | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternate Art: The Three Hunters Aggro v2

Sands of Harad was not exactly my favorite deluxe expansion, when it was first released. The versions of Gimli and Legolas had obvious synergy, but their effects seemed a bit underwhelming. Spirit Legolas, in particular, was in an uphill battle to be more compelling than his Core Set Tactics version. At the risk of being a tad reductive, deluxe expansions fall into two main categories: iconoclastic, and insinuating.

Heirs of Númenor and Voice of Isengard are examples of iconoclastic expansions. The introduced the first exemplary defender in the game. Moreover, the quests completely shattered the way player decks interacted with the game. The turtle strategy, so effective in the first two cycles, essentially went into hibernation with the release of Heirs. Ranger Spikes ushered Traps decks into being, and represented a radical departure from traditional combat strategies. Blood of Númenor, along with the subsequent Gondorian Fire, remain such powerful combat solutions that they seem bound for some inevitable errata.

Likewise, Voice of Isengard’s affect on the metagame was felt almost immediately. The Doom keyword, particularly the events Deep Knowledge and Legacy of Númenor, brought about a seismic shift in early-game development strategies. Rohan Warhorse immediately joined the ranks of combat staples and remains one the best sources of action advantage for Tactics decks. In retrospect, the Warhorse was the crest of a wave of Mount attachments, which later even became it’s own archetype. While less impressive, the Westfold Horse-breeder is a staple support piece in Mount-heavy decks.

In contrast to these impactful releases, expansions like Sands of Harad have a less immediate and more subtle influence on the metagame. I’ve always been a fan of cantrips, so the value of Unlikely Friendship was immediately apparent. Still, the card lacks raw power, and its presence in a deluxe expansion leaves a question hanging in the air: are these multi-trait effects going to be worth it?. With the release of power-houses like Proud Hunters, Coney in a Trap, and Heirs of Eärendil, the question would ultimately be answered with an emphatic yes. Still, the two somewhat bland heroes, along with a clever but as yet unproven trait-based strategy, made for a less than stellar debut, at least in my estimation.

Fortunately, the quests in the Sand of Harad and the Haradrim APs were and remain some of the best in the game. So, if the player cards were in some cases less exciting it did little to detract from overall impression of many (myself included) for that deluxe expansion and cycle. A game with this level of complexity will inevitably have cards and archetypes which are not immediately power, or even where there are hints of power but it is not yet fully realized. I think back to Ian and myself, opening our packs of Blood of Gondor back at Gen Con 2013. Neither of us recognized the power of Caldara, and we were left puzzled to say the least. It wasn’t until later cards unlocked her potential that it became clear just how robust her archetype truly was.

One of my favorite things about Caleb’s design style is that he is constantly searching for ways to re-contextualize existing cards within the metagame. A perfect example of this are two attachments from the Sands of Harad which both serve critical roles in the deck featured here. Neither Mirkwood Long-knife nor Dwarven Shield seemed very impressive on arrival. While they were each obviously designed for Legolas and Gimli respectively, they seemed a bit over-priced at 2 resources, and a bit underwhelming when compared to existing options.

Glóin decks were already well established by this point, making the shield seem like a trifling after-thought compared to the original Core Set resource powerhouse. Only available to Silvan, the Long-knife had a narrow niche of heroes on which it even made sense as an attachment. At 2 cost in a sphere lacking much resource acceleration, it was going to be hard-pressed to compare favorably to attachments like Rivendell Blade. Still, these items had positive aspects as well, particularly that they belonged to spheres which did not have many armor or weapon options available.

It wasn’t until the latest spoilers for The City of Ulfast that the potential of these two attachments was readily apparent. Forth, The Three Hunters! is a contract that is near and dear to my heart. The heroic efforts of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to rescue Merry and Pippin is one of my favorite parts of The Two Towers. Because of the requirements for action advantage and raw stats, it has largely been impractical to run decks without allies. This is a challenge for thematic deck-builders, as representing passages like The Three Hunters becomes all but impossible. Something feels a bit off about trying to represent the Three Hunters’ valiant chase of the Uruks across Rohan, when your heroes are accompanied by a veritable army of supporting cast.

Finally, it is possible – even encouraged – to build a deck without any allies. This contract is exciting, and I cannot wait to see what possibilities the community uncover – the ground of ally-free decks is fertile and largely uncharted. In the mean time, I took this as an opportunity to resurrect my old Three Hunters Aggro deck. I removed what few allies that deck included, and added a laser focus on getting restricted attachments on each of the heroes as quickly as possible. The cost reduction built into the A-side of the contract is critical here.

While Mirkwood Long-knife and Dwarven Shield both feel a bit underwhelming at 2 cost, the immediately become compelling when you can play them for half cost. The decision making around which attachments to play on which heroes and when is the central question which makes this deck so much fun to play. Like is predecessor, the reliance on Doomed events to ramp our setup makes it a poor fit for multiplayer games. Again, this fits with the theme of the Three Hunters, who could rely on little to no external aid in their efforts to find and rescue their friends.

The full deck list is available on RingsDB, along with a brief discussion of strategy. Like all aggro-style decks, the strategy at play here is risky and exhilarating. With bad luck, it is possible to get stuck without critical attachments on one of our heroes, and without the willpower and healing provided by the B-side of our contract, this deck can easily falter. However, the absurd levels of card draw, and fetch via effects like Open the Armory, are included precisely to mitigate against these sorts of circumstances.

Enjoy the alternate art I’ve chosen for this deck, and the ridiculously aggressive play-style that it demands. I will be attending Con of the Rings in Minnesota in a few short weeks, so and I look forward to seeing some of you fine people while I’m there. In the mean time, have many wondrous adventures in Middle-earth!

Heroes

Attachments

Events

Posted in Aggro, Alternate-Art, Art, Community, Complexity, Discussion, GenCon, GenCon 2013, Metagame, Solo, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alternate Art: Errata

The fate of any living game is that it will accumulate some cruft over the years. This game is no exception, with FFG releasing numerous FAQs to clarify rules and changes to fix broken cards. Some players voice frustration at the need for errata, and while I can understand this to some extent, it is important to remember that a game with an ever-growing card pool is essentially impossible to grow perfectly.

This set of alternate art includes 29 cards, many with only minor changes (per-phase and per-round limits, mostly). Looked at another way, having only 29 cards with errata – out of the pool of thousands of cards released – is an impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately, FFG does not have an existing solution for releasing errata cards to players. The only way to get the amended versions of these cards is to buy a new version of the associated product, with the new printing. For a game with so many products, each on their own printing schedule, it is simply not possible to have all of the most current printings.

With that in mind, I’ve created a set of alternate art cards for all of the cards (as of September 8th, 2019) with official errata. If you want to print them yourselves, I invite you to download them here (these are printable versions, which include bleed margins). Unfortunately, I cannot have them printed and then offer to sell them directly as this would be in violation of FFG’s community policies. That said, if you appreciate the work I do writing on this blog, creating alternate art decks, and maintaining the Hall of Beorn Card Search, I gratefully accept donations to help me cover the upkeep of these sites.

The cards are all included below, and it is an interesting overview of the game to see which cards were broken by players over the years. For the heroes, I preferred full-bleed versions of the existing art, since those are not available officially. All of the other cards have completely different art, to differentiate them from the official printings, and also to spice them up a bit. I tried to find the highest quality and most thematic art piece for each card, but if anyone has suggestions for alternatives please leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!

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Posted in Alternate-Art, Card Lists, Community, Errata, Metagame | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments