Poll Results: Where should the next cycle go?

Bear Photographer

With Beneath the Sands, we’re half way through the Haradrim cycle already. The final Saga expansion, The Mountain of Fire, should be released at GenCon 2017, so we can start to look ahead a bit, and wonder about where the next cycle will go. Chronologically speaking, cycles have taken us through Mirkwood; the Dwarrowdelf; Gondor, Pelargir and outlying areas; Rohan and Dunland; Fornost and the Northern reaches; the Grey Havens, and now Harad.

Beorn heroBard the BowmanOne cannot help but speculate where the designers might take us next. The poll has closed, all votes are tallied, and the consensus is that players want to see the next cycle set in Erebor and Dale. Both of the Hobbit Saga boxes are based in that region, and in addition to a bevy of Dwarves they gave us such iconic heroes as Bard the Bowman and yours truly.

It would be interesting to see a return to the North. Perhaps we could see a different version of Dain Ironfoot. It is unlikely that we will ever see a Dwarf hero with anything approaching Dain’s power level, but that is for the best as her is one of the more unbalanced heroes. A version of Dain in a different sphere (Spirit perhaps) with an ability based around the new digging archetype would be interesting. Given the proximity to Northern Mirkwood, we could even finally see a version of Thranduil in such a cycle.

The second most voted destination for the next cycle was surprising to me. We know that The Mountain of Fire will be going to Mordor, but it could be fun to have a cycle go there outside of the narrative of the books. I do wonder what sorts of heroes we would see in Adventure Packs based in and around Mordor, but I have no doubt that the quests would be thrilling and mercilessly difficult. Deluxe boxes allow players to live out an alternate history and it would be cool to see an army of Gondor and Rohan lay siege to Barad-dûr, or similarly outrageous hypotheticals.

The Shire comes in a distant third place in the voting. We saw a smattering of Hobbit and Hobbit-based cards (Fast Hitch) early in the game’s life, but there were only ever supplemental to other deck styles. It wasn’t until The Black Riders that Hobbits became an archetype in their own right. I quite the the engagement shenanigans that you can pull with Hobbit decks, and the way that the blend so well with Dúnedain is one of my favorite thematic wins in this game.

I would definitely like to see the game return to the Shire in a cycle as there are so many great characters which have yet to be represented in the game. The Gaffer is one of my personal favorites and I can only imagine how the designers would choose to represent an Hobbit with the fortitude to stand up to a Black Rider. They could even get adventurous and choose to represent the events of the Scouring of the Shire in a cycle, in case we don’t get those as part of a Fellowship event. For such a small quiet place, there is a lot of material left to explore.

Lorien

Rounding out the voting we have lesser known locales like the Iron Hills and Rhûn, along side famous havens like Rivendell, Dol Amroth and Lórien. In our latest episode of the book club (to be released soon), we discuss Lórien at some length. With the descriptions of that magical place fresh on my mind it certainly seems like it would make a great setting for a cycle. Woe to any Orc or Warg that is foolish enough to cross into that wondrous land!

Thank to everyone who voted (even whoever wrote in “Tatooine” or “Space, the final frontier”). There is a new poll up, so make sure to weigh in on your favorite play styles. For obvious reasons, my heart is set on the next cycle being set around the Carrock, with an entirely new archetype around Beorning characters. It may be a faint hope, but a bear has to dream. No matter the destination, it will be exciting to see where the game takes us next.

Region Votes %
Erebor/Dale 125 17.31%
Mordor 109 15.1%
The Shire 68 9.42%
Iron Hills 66 9.14%
Rhûn 57 7.34%
Rivendell 31 4.29%
Mirkwood 31 4.29%
Dol Amroth 30 4.16%
Withered Heath 30 4.16%
Rohan 28 3.88%
The Old Forest 27 3.74%
Khand 27 3.74%
Lórien 25 3.46%
Bree 25 3.46%
Ithilien 15 2.08%
The Carrock 10 1.39%
The Western Sea 10 1.39%
Other 2 .28%
Beleriand 2 .28%
Lindon 1 .14%
Forodwaith 1 .14%
Blue Mountains 1 .14%
Gondolin 1 .14%

As a bonus, here is a picture of the newest helper animal here that the Hall of Beorn. We found him stranded in a tree, so we named him Monkey.

Posted in Community, Discussion, GenCon, Poll Results | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Vacation, with Spider Ceviche

Horn's Cry Valour Action

After what seemed like an interminable wait, I finally got my massive paws on Beneath the Sands – the latest AP from the Haradrim cycle. A warning for anyone with arachnophobia, this quest features more spiders than you can shake a stick at. I would not recommend hanging around long on the third stage as the Brood Mother boss is invincible until you get 5 progress on the quest, and she keeps popping out annoying spider babies.

For a change of pace, I brought my A Bear on Vacation mono-Tactics deck to the party. While it wasn’t entirely stress-free, there were moments of quiet introspection, cocktails with little umbrellas, and plenty of spider ceviche (a Carrock delicacy). By far the highlight was hitting 40 threat just after reaching the final quest stage with Horn’s Cry in hand. With Brood Mother, a Giant Scorpion, and three Spider Broodlings engaged, it was the perfect time to give all engaged enemies -3 attack.

This situation proved how powerful Valour Effects can be, as one of Broodlings ending up attacking 3 times in a row because of a bad run of shadow cards. Since the baby Spider’s attack had been reduced to 0, all of those attacks amounted to nothing more than an invertebrate massage – with far too many appendages. No matter, friends like Legolas, Dúnedain Hunter, and Eagles were on hand to chop the Broodlings into delicious hors d’oeuvres.

The ending to the quest was nearly equally as epic as that round. Éowyn used her boss-killing super move to finish off the Brood Mother. I can see why Caleb said he was inspired by a certain classic 80’s Horror Sci-Fi movie in designing this scenario. That movie happens to be a favorite here at the Hall and I could wandering the underground halls killing spiders was a fun bit of nostalgia.

As Rohan’s original bad-ass finished off the Brood Queen I found myself shouting out the movies iconic line. Éowyn didn’t even need a robot loader for support, what with a giant Spider-eating bear on hand. All things considered, it was an exciting and enjoyable vacation. It is encouraging to see how much better mono-Tactics has become with the help of Valour, Legolas, and recent aces like Proud Hunters. While they could certainly use an exterminator, I give Beneath the Sands resort two paws up. 🐾

Posted in Art, Beornings, Combo, Community, Deck Lists, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Mûmak’s Name is Homer

Caldara vs The Mumakil

I’m presenting my trek through the Haradrim Cycle a bit out of order, but I wanted to give a snapshot of my victory against The Mûmakil with my Aggro Caldara deck. With the help of an army of allies, Caldara was able to capture and tame one of the mighty beasts of legend. She named her elephantine pet Homer, in honor of the renowned poet.

Home Feeding Ganesh a PeanutWhile the end-game can be a bit less dramatic, I am really enjoying playing with aggressive decks, as it makes the crucial first few rounds that much more tense. The decisions that you make in the early rounds are interesting and important. In particular, figuring out how to survive while you get your support online (Sword-thain, Prince Imrahil, Glorfindel, Jubayr/Háma, etc.) makes every quest a unique experience.

While there are versions of this archetype with more consistency – extra copies of critical allies like Glorfindel and Jubayr – I find that not being able to rely on any one ally (outside of Imrahil) brings a welcome bit of variety and ultimately makes quests more fun. I guess this speaks to play style, but I like knowing that a sub-optimal draw with this deck could still put me in a position where I could lose to an early onslaught. Even with bad draws, I’ve been able to pull out of some pretty dire situations – Fortune or Fate is a big help in that regard. The best games teach us to appreciate overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds, tempting fate only to emerge victorious. I aspire to take that lesson and apply it elsewhere in life.

Spirit Elrohir AllyWith the announcement of The Mountain of Fire saga expansion, and a Spirit Elrohir, I look forward to yet another powerful Spirit ally to add to this deck. Granted, Elrohir needs his brother so that only works in multiplayer, but that won’t be a problem. The slew of fantastic new allies has me tinkering with a Noldor deck to pair two-handed with Caldara. Together, they will soon tackle the saga quests from the beginning.

It’s exciting to imagine that we soon will be able to play through the entire story of the Lord of the Rings. One can’t help but look back with nostalgia on my first experiences with the LotR LCG. It’s startling to realize what a huge role this game and its community have played in my life. I started this blog, created a  search engine, joined The Grey Company, got to meet the guys from Cardboard of the Rings – along with other fine community members at GenCon, and was even able to interview Caleb. These are all things that I never would have imagined when I opened that Core Set all those years ago.

Posted in Art, Community, Deck Lists, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Caldara and friends win the Race Across Harad

Race Across Harad

I finally had a chance to sit down tonight and play the second AP in the Haradrim cycle, Race Across Harad. After multiple failed attempts with lesser decks, I had to bring out the power deck with the latest version of my Aggro Caldara design. This was my first chance to play with the deck using the alternate art cards from Printer Studio. As convenient as OCTGN is for testing, having beautiful art to look at only enhances the experience of playing with physical cards.

As the name implies, Race Across Harad requires a deck that can come out of gate at full speed. With two quest decks, one for the Orcs and one for the players, if the enemies ever pass your quest stage with theirs you immediately lose the game. There are, of course, plenty of tricks in the encounter deck to keep the Orcs’ pace from ever being predictable and many of my earlier games ended quickly in defeat. Fortunately, I was able to get Sword-thain on Emery on the opening turn, along with a Prince Imrahil and Pelargir Shipwright into play with the first (of many) sacrifices of Caldara.

By the end of the game I had all three copies of the Shipwright in play. Amassing 12 willpower with only three characters was essential action advantage for this quest as the Orc enemies are no slouches and I needed other allies to help with combat. Narya and Light of Valinor on Círdan allowed powerful unique allies like Glorfindel and Jubayr to pull double duty. As powerful as this deck is, the quest was still tense right up to the end. The round that I won I had maybe one more turn before the Orcs would catch me.

Posted in Aggro, Art, Deck Lists, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tolkien, Politics, and Hobbies vs. “Real Life”

Bear with American Flag
Other than the odd post with alternate art cards, I’ve been notably silent these days. More than the typical “life is busy” refrain, this stems from a certain unease with events outside of the game. “Real life”, so to speak, has intruded into the life of my hobbies. It is fair to say that US politics have changed rather dramatically in the last several months. Like most seemingly radical changes, it is probably more accurate to say that things have been changing for quite some time but it took a singular moment for many Americans (myself included) to finally notice this shift.

It’s best to acknowledge up front that I am delving into the dangerous realm of politics. This blog is about a game, which I play as part of my hobby, and many readers and fans of the game play specifically to escape from the drudgery and ugliness of “real life”. I too live with this bifurcation between the outside world and the world of my hobbies. This has been a comfortable fiction, but a fiction nonetheless, and one which no longer serves its purpose. For those who only want to read articles about the game, and see pretty pictures of alternate art cards, I recommend you skip this article. For those who are curious about what has been going on in the life of the author, read on.

About a month ago, I posted a deck to RingsDB called “Middle-earth, Without Immigrants”. This was my first attempt to break down these self-imposed barriers between games and my everyday life. The primary intent of that deck, beyond pointing out the irony of anti-immigrant rhetoric, was to start a conversation about how abstract political agendas have a very real impact on people’s lives. This fine community of players did not disappoint me, and the comment thread of that deck evolved into an interesting discussion. Contributors added their voices in support and provided unique viewpoints on the issue. I ended up sharing part of my wife’s immigrant story in one of the comments, but I’ve decided that it deserves its own place here. I’ve used this blog to make announcements of my achievements, to share the sadness of my loss, and to revel in the fraternity of community, so it feels appropriate to share about what is affecting my life most in the last several months. What follows is an excerpt of the story which I first shared in that comment.

One of the reasons why America is great is because we have welcomed wave after wave of immigrants. I do not see this as a controversial statement, and if you disagree, I challenge you to go back through our 240 year history and try to make that case. The anti-immigrant sentiments that are de rigueur are by no means new. The same terrible lies were made about (among others): Germans, Italians, Polish, Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc. – this list goes back to the first two tribes of human beings. They were xenophobic lies then, and they are xenophobic lies now.

I make this argument not as some abstract part of a political platform to which I hold blind allegiance. I say this because it is something which I know intuitively to be right and just and decent. I also happen to have seen the effects of this anti-immigration propaganda in the lives of my loved ones.

My wife immigrated to the United from Mexico only 10 years ago. Her father was a powerful man in Mexico, but he refused to submit to the will of the Cartels. They threatened to kill his family, and rather than give in to corruption, he and his family fled to the United States.

If we want to be technical about labels, they really should have been called refugees, but as Mexicans the United States government has an official position of treating them (at best) with suspicion and (at worst) with outright disrespect. Overnight, her father went from being in a position of power in the second largest state of Mexico, to cleaning toilets in office buildings. His youngest daughter, my wife, went from studying for a law degree to working two jobs at minimum wage to help support her family. I strongly suspect that those who say things like “immigrants are stealing our jobs” or “immigrants are lazy” have never taken the time to get to know an immigrant. Ignorance is so often the breeding ground for erroneous notions. Meeting people who are different from us is like the sun, it drives away all shadows of fear and mistrust.

The fact that her family does not all still work minimum wage jobs is a living testament to the American dream. They worked hard, and they earned a better life for themselves and their children. That is all any of us can aspire to. My wife is a permanent resident, but as a Mexican the process has been long and expensive. Talking to friends with spouses who immigrated from Europe, I am appalled. The process for a Mexican, without a criminal record and with job skills, is so much harder than for someone from Europe who is otherwise in a similar situation. I struggle to find any explanation for this difference other than bigotry. There has been talk of even trying to deport permanent residents if they hail from Mexico or certain Middle-Eastern countries. This would be America breaking her word to those who need her freedoms most.

With that story as background, one can imagine the fear and uncertainty at Casa De Beorn with the vitriolic rhetoric issuing from the Federal Government after the recent election. Unfortunately, this fear-mongering has not been limited to the corrupt officials who live in oblivious detachment in our nation’s capital. Here in Texas, state politicians recently passed a bill which allows any law enforcement officer to act as a “liason” for an Immigration and Customs official. What this means is that a police officer can pull someone over for a traffic violation and then, if they deem fit, ask them for proof of citizenship. To some, this seems like a reasonable law. The argument goes: “this only hurts illegals, and they don’t deserve to be here anyway”. This is the perfect real world example of the law of unintended consequences. How do you suppose, is an officer to determine who is and is not in this country legally?

As someone born here and who has only ever lived here, I have never carried proof of my citizenship on my person. I carry a driver’s license, but this in no way proves that I am a citizen. The fact of the matter is, no police officer is ever going to ask me if I am in the country legally. They will take one look at the color of my skin, they will hear the way that I speak English, and they will decide that I am allowed to be here. On the other hand, they will look at my wife’s dark skin, they will hear the thick accent with which she speaks English, and they will suspect that she does not deserve to live here legally.

My wife is a legal permanent resident. She now has to carry proof of this with her at all times, or risk being sent to a deportation facility at the border. According to the law of the land, I could come home from work one day to find that my wife is detained 100 miles away and that without my intervention she could be taken away. A simple mistake like leaving her purse at home would mean that my wife is in danger of forced deportation to a country that she hasn’t called home for 10 years. A country which she and her family fled, in danger for their lives. One government employee failing to find her file in their database, a dead cell phone battery, and she becomes an exile.

This situation is insane. The entire criteria around vetting is racist. A law which is only enforced against people of certain ethnic groups is a bigoted and unjust law. This kind of paranoia is not what makes America a great country. I refuse to believe that the spirit of The New Colossus is dead in this country. Some might have forgotten, but that poem is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, great symbol of our ideals.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


The question was raised in that comment thread, of whether or not I would agree politically with J.R.R. Tolkien. This is impossible to answer definitively, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering. My absolute favorite parts of his writing do lead me to believe that Tolkien possessed compassion. This, more than any other trait, is essential to understanding those who are different from us. The line from Sam in The Return of the King (which I have in the past erroneously attributed to Faramir) gives some insight into Tolkien’s view of the dangers of tribalism, and the need to have compassion for those who seem alien to us.

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace

It is difficult for me to read the above and not believe that Tolkien would have had sympathy for my wife’s situation. In any case, he is on the short list of heroes with which I would like to share a pint, and discuss these deeper issues of the world. Compassion, discussion, compromise, these are the tools of civilization. The ability to share a respectful discourse with even those who you vehemently oppose is the mark of wisdom, not weakness.

Issues like immigration are complex, everyone is not going to agree and there are legitimate concerns voiced by those who have an anti-immigration stance. Broad, clumsy and racists laws like the one we now have in Texas are not the solution. Civilized discussion with a goal of compromise and understanding – this is what we need. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be much of the Blood of Númenor left in our leaders to even desire such a compromise.

For those who have wondered where the bear was hiding, and what he was up to, now you have a bit more of my story. My wife and I will continue to fight for what we believe is right. It is difficult to be surrounded by such ugliness and not feel pessimistic at times. On some level, this article is an attempt to find hope when all around we see storm clouds.

Posted in Community, Discussion, Lord of the Rings, News, Politics, Thanks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Alternate Art: Aggro Caldara v3

As may be plain from my recent posts, I’ve been on an alternate art kick lately. My latest bear-brained scheme was to find and print alternate art for an entire deck. In this, the latest version of my Aggro Caldara deck seemed like a fine candidate. The archetype features some iconic characters, and it was an epic but thoroughly enjoyable task to hunt down good candidates for alternate art. I am particularly pleased with a few of the cards, which I will highlight here.

Some of the allies likewise came out looking quite nice.

Attachments, while not quite a critical to the deck, provided a nice opportunity to liven up the art. Sword-thain and Map of Earnil are two of my personal favorites.

Last but not least, we have the events which drive the engine of this deck. While I am pleased with all of them, Elven-light, Fortune or Fate and Hidden Cache stand out for me.

 

For anyone interested in printing these cards, here is a zip of the Strange Eons files. This project has been in the works for a while, so the cards were printed over a couple of different print runs, which means I unfortunately do not have a single Printer Studio project to link to. We’ll see about getting a Printer Studio batch as I probably need to slow down on the alternate art card printing for a little while, or they might run out of ink. I hope that you all enjoy these alternate art cards as much as I enjoyed designing them.

Posted in Aggro, Art, Community, Custom Cards, Deck Lists, Fun, Mono-Sphere, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Alternate Art: Printer Studio

alt-art-magali-heroes

I finally got around to having a batch of my alternate art cards printed and the results were even better than I had hoped. I used Printer Studio and am quite happy with the price and the quality of the printing. After seeing just how nice these Magali heroes (and a bonus bear) turned out, my new goal is to make alternate art cards for every hero in the game. The full-art template really showcases the amazing art, and FFG should at least consider moving all heroes to this style.

While I was printing cards, I went ahead and included some alternate art staples. After seeing these ubiquitous cards so many times in the last few years, it is a pleasant surprise to have the alternate art. In an interesting twist, having different art even brings a certain vitality to my deck-building, as I am looking for an excuse to mix the beautiful art together into a deck. For anyone interested in the Strange Eons files for printing these cards, let me know.

alt-art-staples

 

My latest project is to make alternate art for my entire Aggro Caldara deck. Here is my latest alternate art version of the eponymous hero:

caldara-front-face

Posted in Art, Community, Custom Cards, Fun, Photo | Tagged , , , , , , , | 30 Comments