Contest Winner: Gratitude

One thing I’m grateful for: Grizzly bear populations are recovering in the US

Greetings, readers. I hope that you all had happy holidays and a joyous new year! At the end of last year, I announced a contest to give away a copy of the ALeP quest The Scouring of the Shire. Thanks to everyone who shared thoughts of gratitude and appreciation. Reading everyone’s comments helped put me in an appropriately happy frame of mind for the holidays. I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the contest is morganbabaarno. Congratulations, and please contact the Hall so we can coordinate delivery of your prize via special Eagle messengers.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been reading more over the pandemic and I thought I might share some of my favorites books of the last few years. We all deal with the stress differently, but for me reading, listening to music, and the companionship of my animal helpers all help keep me sane during trying times. Any who attended Con of the Rings last year should recognize the newest animal helper to the Hall; though it’s debated whether he is more of a “chewer” than a “helper”.

Here is a short list of books and music I’ve particularly enjoyed over the last couple of years. Like all things subjective, some will enjoy my taste and some will not. I make no guarantees, but hope that readers can find something that speaks to them among the odds and ends. Without further ado:

Fiction

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
The Travels of Jamie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Non-Fiction

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide by John Cleese
Wilmington’s Lie by David Zucchino
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
Tito by Neil Barnett

Music

Fear Inoculum by Tool
Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus
In Rainbows by Radiohead
Izleti by Paraf (Thanks, Marko!)
New Direction by Gene Russell

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Books, Community, Con of the Rings, Contest, Literature, Media, Music, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

News: Celebrating 9 years of the Hall

The smallest decisions can have an outsized impact on our lives. When I made my first hesitant post on this blog, over 9 years ago, I had no idea of the adventure I was starting. In the intervening years, I have grown as a player, as a member of the community, and even (dare I say) as a person. The local game nights, conventions, and ad hoc meetings with fellows players are all priceless treasures. Mrs. Beorn and I would like to extend a special thanks to Marko and his family, for the generous hospitality you showed to us on our recent visit to Croatia. It’s easy to say that a community is welcoming, but seeing the warmth and generosity extended from folks around the world warms the heart of even the grumpiest bear.

To all of the readers who have contributed questions, suggestions, praise, criticism, comments and guest posts over the last 9 years, thank you. For all of my Patrons, your support is invaluable in helping me create and maintain the Hall of Beorn Card Search, and the BeornBot Discord plugin. It is privilege to be a part of such supportive community. The comradery that surrounds this game, more than anything, is what keeps this blog going strong.

For any who have not yet entered, the latest contest is still open for a few more days. Players interested in The Scouring of the Shire (from ALeP) are encouraged to make their entries, right away. Everyone here at Hall wishes a happy and healthy new year to you and your families.

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Contest: Gratitude

It’s been a trying year, and it’s important to keep perspective and remember that we have much to be grateful for. First and foremost, I am grateful for the health of my family and friends. My mother in law contracted Covid at the beginning of this year, and it nearly took her life. Mrs. Beorn traveled to Mexico, to take care of her mother. Her efforts saved her mother’s life, but in the process she herself contracted Covid. This meant that for the first two months of this year, my wife was stuck in Mexico, sick, and unable to return home. I was back home working, and wishing I could do more to help.

It can be all too easy to judge others, especially when we lack important context or are unable to empathize with another person’s situation. Mrs. Beorn is studying to become a nurse, so she is uniquely qualified to take care of her mother. Also, at the time her mother was infected with Covid, ICU beds in her local hospital were full. What followed was a heroic effort on the part of everyone in my wife’s family to transform their mother’s home into an ad hoc ICU. Everyone pitched in and they were able to help their mother fight off the virus.

That she herself contracted Covid in the process of saving her mother was a price that Mrs. Beorn would not and did not hesitate to pay. The most trying times in our lives force us to examine, honestly and deeply, what our priorities actually are. I am so proud of my wife for being willing to sacrifice for what she believes in. That is not to say that any of this was easy, while it was happening. Most worthwhile endeavors in life are anything but easy.

As the year comes to a close, I’d like to once again give back to the community with a contest. It just so happens that I have an extra copy of The Scouring of the Shire. This ALeP-designed quest makes the perfect epilogue to any avid players’ saga campaign. In addition, I’m going to add a few exclusive Hall of Beorn promotional alternate art cards. The rules of the contest are simple: Write a comment below with something you are grateful for. It does not have to be about the game, just anything which sparks gratitude for you. I will announce the winner sometime early next year. Happy holidays to all of my readers, and thank you for being a part of a community which brings me so much joy.

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Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 2

Númenor – S.A. 3319

Nonetheless for long it seemed to the Númenóreans that they prospered, and if they were not increased in happiness yet they grew more strong, and their rich men ever richer. For with the aid and counsel of Sauron they multiplied their possessions, and they devised engines, and they built ever greater ships.

—The Silmarillion: Akallabêth by J.R.R. Tolkien (1977)

Birmingham – May 7, 1963

Whenever people in that part of the world asked Patterson about the wonders of America, the possibilities and the hope of America, Patterson would say that it was a good and fine place but all the Americans were running it into the ground and that it would be a far better place if it had no Americans.

—The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

This is the second part of an ongoing discussion about The Downfall of Númenor. The hope is to discover lessons that we can apply to our 21st century society, particularly in the United States of America. As with any in-depth discussion, context is critical so those who have not already done so are encouraged to the read the first part. Caveat lector: Grumpy bear may have sharp edges.

An empire doesn’t not collapse overnight. The decline of Númenor was a long time in coming, with Sauron doing everything within his power to bring about its doom. While Sauron was the mastermind and his agents executed his plan, it took the citizenry of Númenor, in their selfish indifference, to allow his plan to be carried out. In large enough numbers, apathetic humans are more dangerous than all of the Balrogs of Morgoth.

Ideas and manners had coalesced into old and cobwebbed conventions. The old stories were still being told, but their tellers seemed to lack confidence in them. Words seemed to have become detached from emotion and no longer flowed on the rhythm of passion. Even the great myths floated apart from their rituals.

—Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (1977)

While Tolkien was far from a Luddite, his writing evinces a healthy skepticism of man’s obsession with technology. It is not that technology itself is an evil, more that it represents a temptation, which can easily lead men astray. He describes the Númenóreans as building “engines” and ever “greater ships”. The United States spent the 20th century building bigger and better versions of just about everything, but it is the miniaturization and turning inward of the 21st century which worries me most.

There is a temptation when reading The Lord of the Rings to compare the One Ring to a nuclear weapon. This comparison is not only simplistic but it fails to grasp the underlying theme of the narrative. As mentioned in part one, these kinds of reductive mappings are precisely why Tolkien had such a distaste for allegory. The One Ring is not a physical weapon, which can be expended in one terrible explosion. Looking at the narrative as a whole (including the appendices), The One Ring embodies something far more abstract. Like all great tragic symbols, it seems to manifest the deepest flaws of whoever wields it.

Hurtling at break-neck speed through the 21st century, we seem to have created a world filled with Rings of Power. Social media, the least social invention since the first man fled to the woods and hid in a cave. Smart phones, which give us a dopamine hit at some infernal cadence which ultimately turns us all into addicts. The One Ring seemed like such a fantastical extreme when I read the story as a child. How could something so powerful exist?

As an adult I have seen my country steadily corrupted, distracted by antagonistic technology, wallowing in the solipsism of our engorged egos, inexorably losing compassion for one another one piece of propaganda at a time. I realize that The One Ring was not any kind of exaggeration. The kind of apathy that allowed Sauron to bring about the destruction of Númenor is a thin piece of metal that each of us is holding in a tightly held fist, in our own pockets.

Nature’s answer to those who seek to control nature through programmable machines is to allow us to build systems whose nature is beyond programmable control.

—Analogia by George Dyson

Stories are more important than we realize. Stories are a conversation with ourselves throughout the centuries. If we listen carefully enough we can hear our past selves, warning us not to repeat their mistakes and encouraging us make a better world than the one they left. History has villains and heroes, to be sure, but what gives it the weight of inevitably is the sheer mass of people just being. Living their lives, every day in the best way they know how.

We’d all like to believe that we would have been a hero, had we been alive during the Nazi regime in Germany, or the Stalinist pogroms in Russia, or the Khmer under Pol Pot, or any one of the sadly too frequent atrocities which litter our history. It’s far more likely that we would fire off a quick tweet about thoughts and prayers and then go back to sleep. I am just as guilty of this inaction as anyone. Apathy is a cancer. It starts small, but replicates exponentially until we have convinced ourselves that there is nothing we can do.

Above, I included an image from Birmingham Alabama, in the Spring of 1963. A police officer has his knee on the neck of a black women. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail and his words speak far more eloquently on that time that I ever could. The story repeats itself. It’s easy to point at the racists in Birmingham as the villains, but segregation would never have existed without the apathy and indifference of the general populace.

We are all Númenóreans. We hear the deception spread by the agents of Sauron, and we can choose to let is pass. We see the great ships being built for a suicidal war against the Valar, and we can look away. We can speak polite nothings to each other, while injustice is wrought just outside our walls. Our great engines are no match for clever lies, told in the dark and instantly spread throughout the land.

I wish I’d a knowed more people. I would of loved ‘em all. If I’d a knowed more, I would a loved more.

—Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

The story does not require that we all are heroes, merely that our conviction for good exceeds our desire for comfort. Compassion is meaningless without action. We cannot concede our collective power to the whims of egomaniacal despots. We owe it to ourselves and each other to preserve the worthwhile things in our world, the havens of beauty and art and mythic stories of bravery.

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.

—John Stuart Mill

Once again I’ve included a reading list. I encourage those who are curious about any of the topics discussed to read the words of these fine authors. A book is a journey into another world, one which leaves us forever changed.

Reading List
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control by George Dyson
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted in Books, Discussion, Legendarium, Media, Series, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 1

The drowning of Númenor

But for all this Death did not depart from the land, rather it came sooner and more often, and in many dreadful guises… now madness and sickness assailed them… And men took weapons and slew one another for little cause; for they were become quick to anger, and Sauron, or those whom he had bound to himself, went about the land setting man against man.

—The Silmarillion: Akallabêth by J.R.R. Tolkien (1977)

Thuggish mediocrity

Power, then, which can have no morality in itself, is yet dependent on human energy, on the wills and desires of human beings. When power translates itself into tyranny, it means that the principles on which that power depended, and which were its justification, are bankrupt. When this happens, and it is happening now, power can only be defended by thugs and mediocritiesand seas of blood.

No Name in the Street, by James Baldwin (1972)

Now that I have your attention, this is not going to be a casual discussion of strategy or meta-game. It is safe to say that my mind has been on darker matters of late. For any readers not in the mood for the ravings of a wild bear, feel free to mosey on over to various community content of the more on-topic variety. Caveat lector: Sometimes a bear needs to growl.

My reading style is similar to the way I hike trails in Austin. I like to explore new paths, or come at the same path from a different direction or at a different time of day. Never underestimate the way sunrise and sunset or even different weather conditions can transform a once familiar setting into something surprising and new. Once I find an interesting trail I often stick with it, to see where it leads. Relentless curiosity will reward you with countless interesting and beautiful discoveries.

James Baldwin was never on any of the reading lists in school, so I had only a vague notion of his importance among American authors and esteemed members of the Civil Rights movement. After reading a biography by David A. Leeming, I knew that I had to read his books for myself. Sometimes, you see the sun dappled shadows fall on a fork in the road and your instinct compels you to see where it leads.

His writing in The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street demands that one sit up and take notice. Baldwin has a depth of understanding rivaled by few men, and the fact that it is paired with such an incisive ability to articulate complex and fraught subjects puts him in singular company. It is easy to make the mistake of dismissing issues of race or class as “someone else’s problems” but Baldwin cuts through such capitulation when he centers his criticism on power.

This is not the first time that we’ve discussed power here, and rightly so as it is a topic with which Tolkien himself was fascinated. Throughout his legendarium, Tolkien brings the critical eyes of Manwë’s eagles, examining, deconstructing, and often rebuking those who would seek and wield power. Aragorn is a just king because he wants to unite his allies and reconcile enemies like the Dunlendings and Haradrim. Saruman is corrupted and falls aside from the path of wisdom the moment he tells himself that mustering an army against the Rohirrim is a necessary evil to “save mankind”.

Discussions of characters like Aragorn and Saruman are all well and good, but these are archetypes. If we push too hard to map fictional characters onto real, living, breathing human beings we are bound to find ourselves stuck at intellectual dead ends. I suspect this danger of reading too deeply into details and patterns is precisely why Tolkien possessed such a strong dislike for allegory. His stories are beautiful and evocative in their own right, they have merit which transcends any need to relate them directly to current events.

Drawing direct parallels between fiction and reality is inevitably reductive. What I’m far more interested in is comparing the themes and seeing where the insights about human nature point the way to deeper understanding. No two trails are ever the same, but the more you hike you will inevitably learn to identify where the footing is treacherous, or which rocks offer the best hand holds to climb a ledge. Fiction it may be, there are there lessons to be learned from stories such as the Downfall of Númenor.

It is notable that great writers like Tolkien and Baldwin mediate at length on the human need for power. Human weakness is one the purest sources of conflict in fiction. Who wants to read a story where nothing happens? If the characters are never in danger, never face challenges, never overcome adversity, the story is boring. Simple stories might bring external conflict, in the form of monsters or dangerous environments. This kind of conflict is crude but effective. However, when the conflict comes from within the characters – from their own failings and weaknesses – a story takes on an added dimension. All of the best mythologies and fables have at their core some human tragedy to which we can relate.

With the ebb and flow of a pandemic as a backdrop upon which extra craziness has been painted, the past two years have been tumultuous. Like many, I was curious to see the outcome of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. The entire sad story is so indelibly linked to America’s flaws that it borders on the surreal. I share the outrage of his acquittal, but the problems go much deeper than one misguided boy. My attempt to research the legal side of the issue led me to an even more disturbing conclusion. I am by no means a legal expert, but after reading a couple of articles from lawyers on different sides of the political spectrum it is clear that Wisconsin’s “self defense” laws are designed to support his behavior.

Let that sink in for a minute. Some states in US have decided that they want laws which encourage a 17 year old to bring a gun to a tense situation and instigate violence. This is not hyperbole. The Wisconsin laws specifically protect an individual who uses deadly force even when they were the one who instigated the conflict. The fact that police saw a child with a gun as a non-threat and walked right past him underscores the point that the state laws support vigilantism (by select groups).

This is no apologia for all of the protestors and rioters in Kenosha. Many of them broke laws, many of them committed violent acts. They were angry, but this in no way excuses their behavior. Those who committed crimes should be held responsible for their wrongdoing. However, it is not appointed to citizens to mete out justice.

Taking a life is the most extreme form of punishment, one which is not even legal in many states. When capital punishment is allowed, it is only to be carried out by authorities of the state and its use is supposed to be reserved from the most hardened criminals. A trigger-happy teenager with a penchant for skullduggery is in no way qualified to decide who should live and who should die. Black youths with candy bars are gunned down in the name of “self defense” and a white teen can roam the streets with an assault rifle without raising alarm from authorities. It’s not reactionary to point out such disparity.

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Rings

There is the fundamental flaw with the argument that guns can be used to ensure safety. A more violent weapon escalates the level of violence inherent to a situation. Rittenhouse had his friend purchase the gun because he wanted to “protect” a car dealership. A gun is a very specific kind of tool. Beyond instilling fear, it can only maim and destroy life. Bringing a lethal weapon into a situation where emotions are high and people are angry is not going to de-escalate conflict. Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone who wants to bring a gun to a protest which is boiling over into a riot has any sort of training in conflict resolution.

This is the same reason why so many interactions between police and civilians end in tragedy in the US. When someone has only been trained in the use of a lethal weapon to solve problems and the only tool they’re given is a lethal one their options for problem solving are binary. Do nothing or fire a gun. It takes extensive training to learn how to deal with rioting and crowd control during tense situations. You can learn to load and fire a gun in an afternoon. The easy solution is often not the correct solution.

My suspicion that America is an empire in decline has been growing for several years now. I’ve read Gibbon, I know the signs. Decadent elites, more interested in their own pet projects than the hard work necessary to effect substantive societal change? Check. A merchant class obsessed with money and infected by the delusion that one day they too may aspire to power and glory? Check. Rampant xenophobia, used as a tool by those in power to divide the populace and foment distrust among the lower classes, so they ignore the corruption and excess of the elite? Check, check, check.

In the Akallabêth, Tolkien provides just such a checklist for how a tyrant can subvert a once great nation and bring about its destruction. Please do not misinterpret this comparison. I am not comparing anyone in our world to Sauron. Such a comparison would be facile and worthless. What I’m interested in here is the changes in the society which precipitate the Downfall of Númenor. There is no need for allegory if we constrain our discussion to the aspects of Númenorean society which lead to its end. Just as I don’t need symbolism for the petty tyrants of Rome to teach me lessons about the modern world, so too does the writing of Tolkien provide valuable insight into how and why empires fail.

In the latter Second Age, Sauron did many things to corrupt the Númenoreans. If they had remained a united front against him, he would not have succeeded in destroying them. The first, and arguably most important of his strategies was to set them against one another. A divided people is a weak people. Some he recruited into his death cult. Others who he could not subvert directly, he manipulated through his allies and their agents. In the end, Númenor was dragged into an unnecessary war against a foe they could not hope to defeat.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but restraint is the better part of valor so I’m going to end this post here for now. It was important to lay down the groundwork while events and reactions were still fresh in my mind. For those curious about where the bear gets some of these crazy ideas, I’ve provided a reading list below. Any small insights I have are thanks to the brilliant minds who’ve influenced me. Any dumb ideas and broken syllogisms are purely my own.

Reading List
No Name in the Street by James Baldwin
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

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News: A Bear in Croatia

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

—Mark Twain

The above quote has always held special resonance with me, even when I was too young to have traveled much. Curiosity, and a desire to understand other cultures has been ingrained in my since I was a child. The Fantasy and Science Fiction stories I was immediately drawn to all feature characters with a sense of adventure, a desire to meet new people, and excitement in exploring lands which once seemed unknowable.

Many of in the US have strongly held opinions about other countries, particularly neighbors like Canada and Mexico. It’s interesting in talking with others about their perception of other countries to learn how few Americans have traveled to the countries about which they hold such deep opinions. To be fair, travel is a luxury not available to all. Still, I think one’s opinions of a country should be tempered and never held too firmly when one has never visited that country or spent real time interacting with its citizens.

Mrs. Beorn hails from Mexico and we live in Texas, so this desire for compassion and perspective in others is not some idle hypothetical. Suffice it to say, the history between Texas and Mexico is complex. If I had a magic bear stick, which I could shake and reshape reality, I would definitely use it to allow some Texans to spend time in Mexico. I have no doubt that they would be changed by the experience. Mexico is a mix of beauty – both natural and man-made, rich culture, amazing food, and heart-breaking economic disparity. Anyone who spends time there with open eyes and an open heart cannot help but return home with deeper appreciation of the people and a compassion for hardships which are at once unique to the Mexican people and yet universal to humanity.

When possible, we like spending the winter holiday season visiting other countries. This year we have the privilege of traveling to Croatia. I admit that I don’t know much about the country, but from what little I’ve seen it has a rich history and is filled with beautify scenery. I look forward to learning more about the culture, the cuisine, and the history. After a stressful year, it will be nice to relax and enjoy some hibernation time.

I know that this blog has readers from around the world. One of the highlights of this community is how friendly and welcoming its members are. I’ve reached out to and met folks in several countries and I would love to be able to do that in Croatia as well. Around Christmas and New Years we will be spending time in Zagreb and Dubrovnik, and other cities as time allows. If any readers of the blog hail from Croatia, or know friends who do, please contact us if you are interested in meeting up. We would love to join you for coffee, or beer, or a friendly board game. Likewise, if anyone familiar with the country has advice for things to see and do, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Our lives are enriched by this vibrant community and for that we are eternally grateful.

We here at the Hall wish everyone safe and happy holidays and a 2022 filled with health and prosperity!

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Alternate Art: Eagle Storm

A sense of adventure and a desire to explore the world is at the heart of Tolkien’s writing. Trying to deconstruct our hobbies is a tricky business, but I have no doubt that my love of travel was in some way influenced by readings of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at a young age. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a bit in my life, and I try to hold onto that sense of wonder and discovery that enraptured me as a child.

Japan holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel there twice. On my last trip, Mrs. Beorn and I met up with another member of the Lord of the Rings LCG community while we visited Osaka. It says a lot about how welcoming our community is that you can have impromptu meetings with folks you’ve only known online and have such a positive experience.

Beautiful scenery and delicious food are among the many appealing qualities of Japan. The Japanese have a specific and finely tuned aesthetic, and this can be seen in everything from their gardens to the hyper-attention to detail in their food. When it comes to cultural exports, many people are familiar with sushi and anime, but Japan has older forms of art which are also worthy of attention.

Ukiyo-e is a style of woodblock prints which flourished in Japan from the 16th through the 1860s. After it caught the eye of artists like Monet and Van Gogh (among others), Ukiyo-e’s culture influence travelled beyond the borders of Japan. Hiroshige and Hokusai are two of most renowned practitioners of Ukiyo-e, and many of his works are breathtaking. Hiroshige painted a famous series of prints based on his travels from Kyoto to Edo (the early name for Tokyo) which will be familiar to anyone who has played the game Tokaido. The alternate art for this deck was inspired by Ukiyo-e, particularly the works of Hiroshige.

I built Eagle Storm to take advantage of the new Eagle heroes and related cards from Fire on the Eastemnet, the most recent AP from A Long-extended Party. After a one year hiatus (yes, that word is not a synonym for death), Con of the Rings returned this year and I was able to attend. I brought Eagle Storm but due to hero conflicts I did not have a chance to play it. Once the vaccine is widely available to children, my hope is that our Austin Lord of the Rings community will start back up. If all goes well, I will have a chance to play this deck in a on over-the-board multiplayer game soon.

Contact the Hall if you are interested in printing these cards for yourself. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. As the holidays approach, I wish you all safe and happy travels on Earth and Middle-earth.

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Metagame: The Core of the Problem

Vitruvian Bear is perfectly balanced

The announcement of the repacked Core Set was greeted by the community with much fanfare. The excitement is understandable, especially when some players thought that the hiatus of official content amounted to a death sentence. Caleb has confirmed that the repackaged Core Set will include a full play set (3 copies) of each player card. In addition, photos show double-sided tokens: with 1 and 3 on either side. The only other changes appear to be the smaller threat dials introduced in the Two Player Limited Edition Starter deck (and some later releases of the original Core Set deck) and the separate Learn to Play and Rules Reference books.

These changes are indeed useful, especially for new players who will not need to purchase multiple copies of the Core Set in order to have a full set of players cards. From the latest reports, the repackaged Core Set will sell for $70 when it is first introduced, but various online stores may discount it from there. Regardless of the final price, a single repackaged Core Set will certainly be less expensive than the multiple original Core Sets which were necessary for three copies of power cards like Unexpected Courage and Steward of Gondor.

While these changes bring improvements, they also present their own problems. As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, the Core Set decks are ill suited for teaching the game to new players. In short, they are not well balanced, nor do they fit into any sort of cohesive theme. The number of times the community has fielded questions from new players about how to defeat Core Set quests with the Tactics deck is a compelling argument that the Core Set decks have serious flaws.

The deck building and strategy which this game offers are some of the best of any card game ever created. Unfortunately, new players must often look past the uneven Core Set experience to discover the hidden depths of the game.

From a consumer standpoint, including 3 copies of each player card is a great boon. However, increasing the count of each player card actually makes the unbalanced Core Set player decks even less consistent. This might sound like a bold claim to make, but one merely needs to look at the existing deck lists to see where the potential for balance issues. The Tactics deck is considered by many to be the weakest in solo play, so using it as my example would be fighting a straw man. Instead, we’ll look at an example opening hand with the Leadership deck from the repackaged Core Set.

An amazing late game play

Opening Hand:
Grim Resolve, Brok Ironfist, Celebrían’s Stone, Celebrían’s Stone, Silverlode Archer, Ever Vigilant

I categorized early game, middle game, and late game cards in my key concepts article about Timing. Grim Resolve is one of the most powerful events in the game. At 5 cost with a global effect, it is about as obvious an example of a late game card as there will ever be. Even if you can afford to play Grim Resolve on the second round, that would be a mistake. This card is best used after mustering multiple allies, when the benefit is multiplied by the number of characters in play. In short, you don’t want to see a copy of Grim Resolve in your opening hand. With 1 copy in the original Core Set, this was unlikely. Now that the repackaged Core Set includes 3 copies of Grim Resolve you are much more likely to see a copy of it early, when it is far less useful.

Brok Ironfist is another example of a late game card. Somehow, he manages the embarrassing feat of being both more expensive and less powerful than a card like Grim Resolve. There are certainly cases where Brok is worth playing, but almost never early in the game. Leadership includes many allies with a lower cost and a greater impact on your board state than Brok Ironfist.

Beyond late game cards like Grim Resolve and Brok Ironfist, another reason to include fewer copies of a card in your deck is when that card is unique. Sure, with a powerful card like Steward of Gondor it makes sense to play 3 copies. The cost of drawing a duplicate is worth the risk as that card has such a noticeable impact on your deck when played early. However, a card like Celebrían’s Stone is usually less critical for a deck, even in the early game. It’s a useful card, no doubt, but the Core Set Leadership deck has no way to discard or otherwise benefit from dead cards, and finding duplicate means not drawing an ally with which to establish your board state.

The Core Set Leadership deck features a number of over-costed allies, likely to offset the tremendous power of Steward of Gondor. The way that card broke the cost curve of the early card pool is a topic for another article, Regardless, it is safe to say that many early Leadership allies either cost too much, or have stats which are too weak, or both. Silverlode Archer is a typical example, as you can find allies like Greenwood Archer with better abilities and a lower cost in the later card pool. The archer is still a useful ally, particularly in multiplayer games, but it costs all of your resources for a round with a limited return.

Events like Ever Vigilant can be clutch, particularly on the turn you play a Core Set Gandalf. However, this card is not helpful in your opening hand as you don’t even have allies in play. Your first few rounds will likely be spent playing allies and useful attachments, so this card will often not see play until the middle game. This example opening hand is obviously not ideal, but it is far from the worst one could see with the repackaged Core Set Leadership deck.

It is certainly possible that the repackaged Core Set will include deck lists which are a subset of the full set of each card in the sphere, and my example above illustrates why that would be a good thing. However, even if they address this issue in the repackaged Core Set it will leave the decks at the level they are in the existing Core Set. Aside from Tactics, these decks are certainly up to the task of defeating Passage Through Mirkwood. Asking them to defeat either Journey Along the Anduin or Escape from Dol Goldur is pushing your luck to the breaking point.

Having pre-built decks which are effective and thematic is a lesson learned by later cooperative LCGs like Arkham and Marvel Champions. Some players find less appeal in the deck-building aspects of the game and want a solid deck which they can use effectively out of the box. Other players, perhaps less familiar with deck-building games, may in time develop into skilled deck-builders but can nonetheless benefit from a well-designed deck as an example. The learning curve for the game is steep, anything that can be done to help ease new players into the Core Set is an improvement worth considering.

Designing 4 Core Set decks which are balanced and thematic is a daunting challenge. One could spend an unlimited amount of time on the exercise and still the result would be ripe for criticism. Some players would even argue that the balance and theme issues with the existing Core Set decks are a benefit rather than a hindrance. After only one or two games, the limited nature of the built-in decks practically beg new players to mix and match spheres and start their journey as neophyte deck-builders. Still, Marvel has proven that solid pre-built decks are a useful tool which many players appreciate.

With that in mind, I have listed below four decks which I propose as a better out of the box experience than either the existing Core Set decks or the repackaged (full play set) Core Set decks. I’ve decided to stick with mono-Sphere decks as I do think their is value in minimizing the number of concepts which a new player must learn at once. However, I’ve designed these decks to be more balanced from a strategic standpoint. In addition, I’ve tried to make them more thematically cohesive.

The heroes represent each member of the fellowship, something which was lacking in the original Core Set. Even players who are less well versed in Tolkien’s writing will be familiar with the members of fellowship, whether from the movies or just popular culture in general. This seems like a more appropriate starting point for a new player than random characters like Thalin, Beravor, and Eleanor Yes, I know that these were featured in earlier FFG games, but I don’t expect new players to know or care about that. The fact of the matter is: The Lord of the Rings is Tolkien’s most popular work and Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf are among the most popular characters in his legendarium.

As for theme and traits, I didn’t want to overwhelm new players with too many different traits and archetypes. I also wanted to allow the spheres to be mixed and matched – once players were familiar with playing the mono-Sphere decks as they were built. With that in mind, Gondor and Rohan were the obvious choices for most of allies in each deck. Many of the trait-specific synergies have been omitted from these decks, with the idea that they would be introduced in one or more tribe-specific expansions after this (hypothetical) new Core Set. I continued the pattern of including a full set (3x) of each player card, with the exception of Core Set Gandalf where each deck receives 2 copies. This puts the final deck sizes at exactly 50 cards. As I said, there is no way to build perfect Core Set decks, but I feel confident that these four decks would represent a significantly improved out of the box experience. I’m interested to hear players’ opinions and suggestions, so feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Balanced Core Set: Leadership


Heroes

Aragorn (Core Set)
Frodo Baggins (A Shadow in the East)
Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)

Allies

Errand-rider
Soldier of Gondor
Galadriel
Ingold
Veteran of Osgiliath
Warden of Helm’s Deep
Knight of the White Tower
Gandalf x2

Attachments

Cram
Dúnedain Remedy
Staff of Lebethron
Steward of Gondor
Ancestral Armor

Events

Sneak Attack
Valiant Sacrifice
For Gondor!
Reinforcements

Balanced Core Set: Tactics

Heroes

Boromir
Gimli
Merry

Allies

Defender of Rammas
Westfold Outrider
Soldier of Dol Amroth
Grimbold
Westfold Lancer
Master Ironsmith
Déorwine
Gandalf x2

Attachments

Captain of Gondor
Dagger of Westernesse
Gondorian Shield
Warrior Sword
Citadel Plate

Events

Foe-hammer
Feint
Quick Strike
Thicket of Spears

Balanced Core Set: Spirit

Heroes

Éowyn
Legolas
Beregond

Allies

Rohirrim Scout
Westfold Horse-Breaker
Knight of Belfalas
Derufin
Linhir Sea Captain
Pelargir Shipwright
Elfhelm
Gandalf x2

Attachments

Miruvor
Ancient Mathom
Horn of the Mark
Silver Circlet
Unexpected Courage

Events

A Test of Will
Hasty Stroke
Elven-light
The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Balanced Core Set: Lore

Heroes

Denethor
Faramir
Pippin

Allies

Ioreth
Guardian of Ithilien
Ithilien Tracker
Warden of Healing
Gléowine
Ithilien Archer
Anborn
Gandalf x2

Attachments

Woodmen’s Clearing
Ranger Spear
Wingfoot
A Burning Brand
Forest Snare

Events

Daeron’s Runes
Heed the Dream
Secret Paths
The Great Hunt
Posted in Archetypes, Community, Metagame, Mono-Sphere, New Players, Play Style, Series, Solo, Theme, Tribal, Two Handed | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deck Spotlight: Bear Draft at Con of the Rings 2021

It’s time for your draft…

I had a great time at Con of the Rings 2021. Seeing old friends and making new ones is always a highlight. Whenever I can, I like to run the latest version of my Bear Draft. This year it was the Sixth version of the Bear Draft, which was the first time I’ve included cards from A Long-extended Party. The draft was a great success, and players where once again able to draft some excellent decks. Here are links to all of the decks on RingsDB:

Justin’s Draft Deck
Jason’s Draft Deck
Ted’s Draft Deck
Joe’s Draft Deck
Nathan’s Draft Deck
Teddy H’s Draft Deck
Matthew D’s Draft Deck
Seastan’s Draft Deck

Many quality decks were drafted, but I’d like to highlight two decks in particular. Seastan is known as one of the most skilled deck-builders in the community. His decks fill the Hall of Fame on RingsDB, so my curiosity was piqued to see what kind of a deck he would build in a limited format like draft. Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed. His deck looks an awful lot like a constructed deck. In fact, I imagine this deck would stand a fair chance against many quests.

The list speaks for itself, but there are a few nuances of strategy deserving of mention. Like many of Seastan’s designs, this deck handles all of the most critical early game challenges. Even without armor, Beregond is the perfect defender for the first two rounds. Likewise, Éowyn solves early game questing with 4 willpower out of the gate. Galadriel can take a bit more setup as you need to find her Ring and Mirror before she has her full capabilities. However, her ability allows you to draw into these cards (among others) and it keeps your threat low to buy some time for setup. In addition, she gives action advantage to each of your allies – of immense value in early game.

The draft consisted of 8 players, split into 4 teams of 2 players each. This makes multiplayer friendly cards an asset, so that a player can help their partner. Ancient Mathom is one such card. By timing when this is played on a location, it can be used to draw them 3 cards. Combined with Galadriel’s ability, this can provide consistent card draw to a deck which might otherwise lack those effects.

Con of the Rings 2021 – Bear Draft – Seastan

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Beregond (Heirs of Númenor)
Éowyn (The Flame of the West)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)

Ally (15)
1x Derndingle Warrior (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Ethir Swordsman (The Steward’s Fear)
1x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Grimbold (The Flame of the West)
1x Honour Guard (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Knights of the Swan (The Steward’s Fear)
1x Legolas (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Marksman of Lórien (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Pippin (A Shadow in the East)
2x Rammas Sentry (ALeP – Children of Eorl)
1x Westfold Outrider (The Voice of Isengard)

Attachment (10)
3x Ancient Mathom (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Gondorian Shield (The Steward’s Fear)
1x Magic Ring (The Crossings of Poros)
1x Mirror of Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Nenya (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Raven-winged Helm (The Wastes of Eriador)
1x Round Shield (Mount Gundabad)
1x Windfola (A Storm on Cobas Haven)

Event (5)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
1x Behind Strong Walls (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Desperate Defense (The Flame of the West)
1x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)

Player Side Quest (1)
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)

3 Heroes, 31 Cards
Cards up to ALeP – Children of Eorl

Deck built on RingsDB.

The next deck that I’d like to highlight was drafted by Jason P. This deck features Grimbeorn the Old, but that is just one of many reasons to like it. Pairing the Tactics version of Prince Imrahil with Grimbeorn is an ambitous choice, but it gives this deck an excellent fallback plan if Steward of Gondor does not show up early. Essentially, you can spend your two Tactics resources per turn to use the Bear’s counter-attack and the Prince’s ally muster effect. This strategy is particularly compelling in the early game, when you lack the resources to pay for more expensive allies.

The attachments provide an armory’s worth of items to bolster Grimbeorn’s combat ability. Many of these options are Leadership attachments, a wise choice as it frees up your Tactics resources for hero abilities. War Axe is such a perfect weapon for Grimbeorn, it’s impressive that Jason was able to secure 2 copies of this card in the draft. The events in this deck provide even more ally mustering, making it that much more consistent in the unfortunate round where Imrahil’s ability might fail to produce a suitable ally.

Con of the Rings 2021 – Bear Draft – Jason

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Gimli (The Sands of Harad)
Grimbeorn the Old (The Withered Heath)
Prince Imrahil (The City of Corsairs)

Ally (16)
2x Boromir (The Road Darkens)
1x Defender of Rammas (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Defender of the Naith (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Déorwine (Temple of the Deceived)
1x Galadhon Archer (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
1x Greenwood Archer (The Sands of Harad)
2x Knight of the White Tower (The City of Corsairs)
1x Legolas (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Marksman of Lórien (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Meneldor (Roam Across Rhovanion)
1x Morwen Steelsheen (ALeP – Children of Eorl)
1x Vassal of the Windlord (The Dead Marshes)
1x Warrior of Dale (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Yazan (The Mûmakil)

Attachment (20)
1x Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)
1x Captain of Gondor (The Antlered Crown)
1x Citadel Plate (Core Set)
1x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
1x Dúnedain Mark (The Hunt for Gollum)
1x Dúnedain Remedy (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
1x Firefoot (The Dunland Trap)
1x Hauberk of Mail (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Raiment of War (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Rohan Warhorse (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Round Shield (Mount Gundabad)
1x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x The Day’s Rising (The Antlered Crown)
1x Valiant Sword (Under the Ash Mountains)
2x War Axe (The City of Ulfast)
1x Warrior Sword (The Ghost of Framsburg)

Event (8)
1x A Very Good Tale (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x Captain’s Wisdom (The Thing in the Depths)
2x Feint (Core Set)
1x Gondorian Discipline (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
1x Open the Armory (The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat)
1x Open the Gates (ALeP – Children of Eorl)
1x Quick Strike (Core Set)

Player Side Quest (2)
1x Keep Watch (Beneath the Sands)
1x Prepare for Battle (The Mûmakil)

3 Heroes, 46 Cards
Cards up to ALeP – Children of Eorl

Deck built on RingsDB.

A hearty thanks to everyone who participated in the Bear Draft. I will continue to improve the format and look forward to running an updated version at next year’s Con of the Rings. Until then, happy adventures in Middle-earth!



Posted in A Long-extended Party, Archetypes, Community, Con of the Rings, Control, Deck Spotlight, Draft, Events, Game Variant, Live Play, Multiplayer, Play Style, Power, Series, Tempo, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

News: Con of the Rings 2021

Ready for the draft to start…

Covid has put in-person games on hold for more than a year. Thanks to the vaccine, I’m finally ready to brave a convention and play some over the board games. After it was cancelled last year, Con of the Rings resumes in 2021. It starts this Friday and runs over the weekend. I am excited to attend, see friends, and renew acquaintance with many fine members of the community.

On Saturday I will be hosting Bear Draft v6 and it will be the first draft I’ve run to include cards from A Long-extended Party. It will be interesting to see how these community designed cards play in a limited format like draft. I made some special Hall of Beorn alternate art promo cards specially for the Con, and it will be nice to hand those out. If you are attending the con, I encourage you to stop by and say hello.

Coordinating decks in multiplayer is always a logistical challenge. This is especially the case at conventions, when many players want to play with the newest heroes and powerful unique cards. With that in mind, here are the decks I plan to bring to the convention:

Grimbeorn’s Path
The Greatest Adventure
Nouveau Hunters
Nurn Hobbits (created by Chad)
The Old Elf and the Sea
Ride to Bruin
Eagle Storm

I’m bringing two new decks featuring ALeP cards, with a nod to the writing of Cormac McCarthy: The Crossing and Cities on the Plain. I haven’t yet posted the deck lists for these to RingsDB, but readers can look forward to seeing articles for them in the near future.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Alternate-Art, Cardboard of the Rings, Community, Con of the Rings, Events, Live Play, Multiplayer, News, Play Style, RingsDB, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment