Alternate Art: All The Pretty Horses

He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.
―Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

A challenge of designing alternate art decks is finding cohesive art to help tie the various parts of the deck together. An artist that I discovered recently, Anato Finnstark, has a striking style which makes for dramatic player cards. Other than the heroes (which feature work by kimberly80), all of the cards from this deck feature Anato’s work.

While we’re on the subject of artists to recommend, the quote above is an excerpt of a Cormac McCarthy novel from which this deck takes its name. All The Pretty Horses is a work of heart-rending beauty and I encourage any of my readers who enjoy fiction to check out the entire Border trilogy. I read these books out loud to Mrs. Beorn and we both enjoyed them immensely.

This deck is another in a series of designs I’ve been testing which are all built around the Forth, the Three Hunters! contract. Appropriate to it’s title, this deck is built around restricted Mount attachments, so hero Elfhelm is a natural choice as the fulcrum. To compliment his all-around stats and ability, we have two heroes with very specific responsibilities. Core Set Éowyn is our dedicated questing hero, and Grimbeorn the Old is our combat specialist. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB.

The contract itself grants an additional restricted slot to each of our heroes. Golden Belt grants another slot. This means that we have the  potential for 4 restricted attachments on each of our heroes. With so many attachments in the deck, there is a multitude of combinations of which cards to put on each hero. Rather than enumerate all of these combinations, I will outline the ideal attachments for each hero, and then discuss some strategies for arriving at that ideal.

As our dedicated quester, Éowyn’s ideal attachments come with little surprise. Even before we flip to the B-side of the contract, Celebrían’s Stone and Silver Circlet each grant 2 willpower for 1 cost (thanks to the reduction from Side A of the contract). With Elfhelm’s willpower bonus, Windfola also provides 2 willpower but as long as it is the first restricted attachment you play on Éowyn during the planning phase, it costs nothing. Her fourth restricted attachment (after she dons a Golden Belt) is typically overkill, so the first copy of Golden Belt we draw should be reserved for Grimbeorn.

This highlights one of the more important strategic aspects of Three Hunters decks – deciding the order in which you play restricted attachments on each hero. Strider is not restricted, but naturally belongs on Éowyn. Ordinarily, giving a single hero so much willpower is a risky strategy, but Windfola ensures that she will not be removed from the quest by some troublesome encounter card effect. It is possible for Éowyn to quest for 16 in this deck, and that does not count her ability. Even without a perfect load of attachments, she easily becomes the best questing character in the game, especially in multiplayer where everyone can boost her willpower after encounter cards are revealed.

As the dedicated combat character, Grimbeorn’s ideal attachments are mostly obvious, though a bit more involved than Éowyn’s. Grimbeorn’s action is quite powerful, but it comes at a resource cost. Steward of Gondor remains the single most efficient form of repeatable resource acceleration. We are also taking advantage of the fact that it grants the Gondor trait, which makes Gondorian Shield that much more effective.

Because Grimbeorn acts as both defender and attacker, we want to improve both of these stats. We also need readying effects to allow him to defend multiple enemies. Once we have multiple restricted attachments on Grimbeorn, War Axe is our most powerful weapon. Golden Belt only makes the Axe that much more effective. With Elfhelm’s help, Firefoot grants 2 additional attack. It also grants the ability to kill multiple enemies, in the case where Grimbeorn has enough attack to overkill one of those enemies.

Assuming he has Steward and the Golden Belt to allow a fourth attachment, the ideal attachments for Grimbeorn are: Gondorian Shield, War Axe, Armored Destrier, and finally Rohan Warhorse (if you need more readying) or Firefoot (if you need to kill tougher enemies). It won’t always be possible to get exactly the attachments that you want, but Grimbeorn’s 5 hit points combine with the healing provided by the contract’s B-side to make him a robust defender.

Gondorian Shield is useful, even without Steward, as it can help him survive until we find more support. Round Shield is another option, as it is free, and it does a good job of protecting a dedicated defender who is more likely to face adverse shadow effects. Regardless of whether Armored Destrier is available, one of copies of Unexpected Courage should usually go on Grimbeorn, especially in multiplayer games where his sentinel is vital for fending of attacks in early-game attacks.

Elfhelm is our one hero with a less clearly defined role. Typically, he serves as a questing hero, but readying effects like Snowmane or Unexpected Courage allow him to support Grimbeorn in combat. The choice of which attachments to give him depends on whether we want him to aid us as defender or an attacker during combat. In either case, Snowmane is an excellent fit, as it grants him a defense bonus and gives him repeatable readying.

As a defender, Gondorian Shield, Golden Shield, and Armored Destrier are all excellent options. As an attacker, War Axe is again the best choice of weapon but Spear of the Mark and Firefoot also work. Don’t forget that Round Shield is always an option, regardless of Elfhelm’s designate role. We can always play different restricted attachments later, and discard less desirable cards like Round Shield once they have outlived their utility. The goal with any Three Hunters deck is to take maximal advantage of the cost reduction afforded by the A-side of the contract so that we can get 2 restricted attachments on each of our heroes as quickly as possible, and flip to the B-side. Once we are on the B-side of this contract, each of our heroes can best fulfill their roles.

This deck has proved quite effective in multiplayer games at our local Austin group, but I suspect is could excel at many solo quests as well. I hope that you all have as much fun playing with these contracts as I do. Anyone interested in obtaining printable copies of this deck for their own use, please contact the hall. Happy hunting!





Posted in Alternate-Art, Beornings, Books, Contracts, Deck Lists, Metagame, Multiplayer, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternate Art: Core Set Completion

It is encouraging to see that FFG has changed their release model for the Marvel LCG. Having products centered around player cards with a particular theme, and a Core Set with more playable decks are both excellent decisions. It will be interesting to see how the differences in the product model affect the metagame for Marvel. Also, the fact that a deck is only allowed to contain one copy of a given unique card seems like it will push for more diverse decks.

With few exceptions, the Core Set for Lord of the Rings is every players’ introduction to the game. If the Core Set did not appeal to our sense of adventure and wonder in the world of Middle-earth, this game would never have become the success that it is. Unfortunately, the Core Set is not without its rough edges. Ask any player who has attempted Passage Through Mirkwood solo with the Tactics deck, and you will likely head less than flattering story.

Instead of 3 quests, one of which is effectively impossible for new players, I would have preferred 2 quests and a more complete mix of player cards. It is interesting to note that this is closer to the approach taken with the Two Player Limited Edition Stater. Unfortunately $100 is not an ideal price point as an introduction to the game, and that box still lacks complete sets of the player cards included.

Most players expect a full set of player cards from a single Core Set. Moreover, the need to purchase multiple copies of a Core Set in order to achieve full play sets is a consistent sore spot for many players. I would venture to say that this one fact is behind many of the less favorable scores from new players on Board Game Geek. In adjusting the card counts of the Marvel Core Set, It appears that FFG has listened to players’ feedback, which is encouraging.

There is no way to know what the products for this game will look like after the hiatus. It is doubtful that a new Core Set will be released, though we can always hold out hope. In the mean time, I’ve gone ahead and made alternate versions of all of the player cards from the Core Set which don’t have 3 copies. I hope that players, new and veteran alike, enjoy these interpretations of some of the most iconic cards in the game. Happy adventures in Middle-earth!




Posted in Alternate-Art, Art, Card Lists, Community, LCG, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Metagame, New Players | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Alternate Art: Wandering in Search of the Entwives

When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, and sap is in the bough;
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow;
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain-air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!

When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade;
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid;
When shower and Sun upon the Earth with fragrance fill the air,
I’ll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.

When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold;
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!

When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I’ll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best!

When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay;
When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day;
When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain
I’ll look for thee, and call to thee; I’ll come to thee again!

When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I’ll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!

Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.

Contracts represent a radical and refreshing shift to the metagame; I only wish they had come sooner. Still, we’re spoiled to be given such a dramatic finale to this iteration of the game. While Forth, The Three Hunters has been holding most of my attention these days, I have been thinking about the other contracts. The constraints and benefits of contracts are such that it requires deck-builders to rethink many of their principles and question their assumptions. Just as in life, it is important to be faced with situations where we are introspective and adapt our thinking to new circumstances.

To be honest, when I first saw it spoiled, The Grey Wanderer was not my favorite contract. Starting with a single hero puts any deck at a considerable disadvantage, especially in quests which require a fast start. It is unlikely that we will see more cards in the vein of Strider: specific support for with fewer than three heroes. This means that the pool of viable starting hero choices for The Grey Wanderer will remain limited in size.

Still, there are some intriguing choices. Any of the high threat heroes seem like a natural choice as they are inherently powerful heroes. Moreover, the most iconic characters inevitably come equipped with a plethora of supporting cards. Aragorn, Gandalf, Elrond, and Círdan all seem like natural choices for this contract. Lately, I’m more interested in using contracts to give new life to heroes which I previously found lackluster.

With that as a driving impetus, I set out to make a thematic deck around Treebeard which can hope to be viable for multiple scenarios. The nature of a single hero deck is that it will be a poor fit for some quests, but decks which excel against every quest are less interesting to me, particularly in the context of contract-based design. Observant readers will note that this deck bears a superficial resemblance to an earlier deck I made as a political statement.

The goal is to elevate Treebeard into the upper echelon of heroes, where he has always belonged. It should come as no surprise that Strider is the starting attachment chosen here. Action advantage and additional willpower are essential for our early game survival. Beyond having only one character to start, the biggest handicap of Wanderer decks is gaining only a single resource per planning phase.

Granted, the contract provides resource acceleration, but we must take advantage of our low starting threat to ramp our resources and allies in play. This is where Resourceful and Timely Aid are invaluable tools. As long as it is the first card we play during planning, we can pay for Tactics Ent allies without a matching sphere. Timely Aid can likewise be played without a matching hero, but we must be judicious in or decision making for which card to play.

Timely Aid is ideally used to get Gandalf into play, as quickly as possible. Our low starting threat will mean that we can keep him in play long enough to buy time for our Ents to wake up and be roused into action. The extra threat necessarily to keep Gandalf in play is not to be taken lightly, so we want to use our card draw to find and play as many Secrecy cards as we can, before passing the 20 threat threshold.

Once we have Gandalf and at least one powerful Ent in play, preferably a Wellinghall Preserver, the deck starts to run smoothly. Narya is particularly effective with this version of Gandalf, as he does not exhaust to commit to the quest. It also helps to wake up our sleepy allies, who would otherwise take an extra turn to enter the fray.

Single hero decks are always going to struggle against some quests, especially ones with many effects which exhaust characters. Still, it is pleasantly surprising to see how effective this deck can be, in solo and multiplayer. I’ve made alternate arts cards for this deck, featuring some beautiful art, and you can find the full deck list on RingsDB. I hope that you enjoy Treebeard’s Wanderings, and let me know in the comments what your favorite hero choice is for a Grey Wanderer deck. As always, contact the hall if you want printable copies of these alternate art cards.




Player Side Quests

Posted in Alternate-Art, Combo, Community, Contracts, Control, Deck Lists, Fun, Metagame, Strategy, Theme, Tribal Deck | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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!





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!




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