The elves in Tolkien’s legendarium allow for histories and world building of truly mythological scope. Their lifespans mean that many of them have witnessed centuries of world events. It also deepens the tragedy when an elf is slain; centuries of potential is lost forever. A being with such epoch-spanning memory is simply incomprehensible for humans with our limited mortal perspectives.
While the LCG takes place firmly in the Third Age of Middle-earth, it includes several characters who were alive and played vital roles in the Second Age. Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel all helped set the stage for the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While many of the player cards are tied specifically to the events of the Third Age, the card pool has grown large enough that it becomes possible to hop in our time machine and build a deck which is set in the past. This deck is an attempt to represent these critical characters in the Second Age, before Last Alliance and the fall of Sauron. The full deck is available on RingsDB.
Out of necessity, this is another Three Hunters deck. There simply aren’t enough characters who were alive in the second age to make a viable deck. Sure, I could include a bunch of generic allies and hand wave that many of the geographies where they live in the Third Age don’t exist, or an markedly altered during the Second Age. My goal here is to avoid gross anachronisms, and instead highlight these powerful characters.
The first question that I expect many experienced players to ask is: “Why is Vilya not included in the Deck?!”. The answer is that Elrond was not the bearer of Vilya until the Third Age. Gil-galad bore Vilya during the time period this deck is attempting to represent. The fact that Elrond can still be effective in a deck without any allies and without a copy of Vilya shows you just how powerful he is. It bears mentioning that this deck is thematic first and foremost, so those who are looking for the most powerful decks built around these characters should look elsewhere. I’ve played enough Elrond + Vilya decks to last a (human) lifetime, so it’s a welcome opportunity to see a beloved character through a new lens, and from a new perspective.
Galadriel was the bearer of Nenya during the Second Age, which is good because she is much less effective in a deck without allies and needs the ring to more fully support the other two heroes. Her card draw and threat reduction are always useful, and she also gives access to the Spirit sphere which drives the engine of much of this deck. Between her ability and Elven-light, there is ample card draw effects to find all of the restricted attachments necessary for the deck to be successful. Pay close attention to cards like Elven Spear and Steed of Imladris as they provided a consistent means for getting Elven-light into the discard pile.
Speaking of Steed of of Imladris, along with Protector of Lórien it is one of the few anachronisms in the deck. During the Second Age, neither Lórien nor Imladris existed in the way that readers will recognize them in the Third Age. Given the card pool constraints, I’m okay hand-waving these supporting cards as they don’t drastically change the form of the deck and, as mentioned above, they are essential in providing a discard engine for Elven-light. In my mind, while playing this deck these cards become “Elven Steed” and “Protector of the Eldar”, respectively.
Glorfindel’s role in this deck is rather self-explanatory. He had time off from fighting Balrogs, so Galadriel and Elrond have enlisted him as Middle-earth’s most overqualified security guard. Load him up with weapons and get out of his way. Onward Into Battle makes another appearance here as it is a perfect fit for Glorfindel. Three copies of Legacy of Gondolin might seem excessive, but remember that we can discard duplicate restricted cards to fuel Spears, Protector, and Steeds. As with any Three Hunters deck, the goal is to get the B-side as quickly as possible, but our heroes have strong stats so with some readying and a little luck it should be possible to survive until we’re setup.
The sideboard features several historical inaccuracies, but cards which work well mechanically with our heroes. I leave it up to the player just how accurate you want to be when you play the deck. Obviously Asfaloth and Vilya add some punch to the deck, though the ring is not nearly as effective as it would be in a deck full of expensive allies. Obviously Glorfindel had a different horse during the Second Age, so if you want to make the lore work you can say that Asfaloth represents that steed. Even without the ring Elrond still contributes mightily to this deck. He doubles the healing provided by the B-side of the contract, which should help keep your heroes alive and thriving.
It was an interesting challenge to constraining the deck to a specific point in Middle-earth’s past. All the more so when this deck is set so long before the events of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. It feels appropriate, that all we have left are a few dusty artifacts and place names which seem vaguely familiar. Many of the characters of the Third Age have a vague awareness of the grand events which preceded them, but only the smallest hints of memories of the passing of years. I hope you enjoy playing this deck as much as I enjoyed building it.
Con of the Rings is just around the corner, and will feature quests from the Heirs of Númenor and Against the Shadow cycle. Into Ithilien has long fascinated me as quest, in both its original and nightmare version. It’s been a while since I built a deck for this quest and the card pool has changed quite a bit in the ensuing years. As always, the full deck list can be found on RingsDB.
Heirs of Númenor was a pivotal moment in the life of the game. The Dwarrowdelf cycle brought a bevy of powerful (some might say too powerful) player cards to the table. In many ways Heirs was the designers’ reaction to the “One Deck” of the day which featured Spirit Glorfindel, Elrond and Vilya, and could easily crush every quest released. Quests like Into Ithilien and Siege of Cair Andros changed all that. Suddenly, a multi-sphere deck built around the incredible power of Vilya was not necessarily fast enough.
Battle and Siege quests forced players to reexamine their starting hero choices. Any deck which doesn’t include enough attack and defense from round one is in serious risk of being steamrolled by a horde of angry orcs or a stampeding Mûmak. Contracts were not even a shadow on the horizon when this quest was released, but it is an interesting exercise to take one of my favorite contracts and go back and design a different kind of solution.
It should be stated at the outset that this deck is designed for multiplayer. If you want to play it solo, you should replace Tireless Thoroughbred with some other, more useful, restricted attachment. The contract gives a discount on the treasure trove of weapons and armor at your disposal, which should help your heroes to be well-equipped in the early game. Beregond can easily be turned into a tank in this deck, which is critical in a quest so many powerful enemies.
Once it is flipped to the B side, the healing also mitigates some of the archery damage which makes this quest so deadly. Don’t forget Livery of the Tower as an alternative solution for rounds when direct damage is overwhelming. Most decks without Steward of Gondor will find Livery too expensive but Three Hunters decks are an exception to normal cost curves. The discount makes 1 cost attachments like Gondorian Shield free, and Raiment of War becomes a bargain at 1 cost.
Once each of your heroes has their full assortment of attachments all of your resources are reserved for events and many of those included here are free. This means that you can easily save up money on you heroes (especially Beregond) and use it with Livery to save them from the inevitable rain of arrows coming later. Mablung’s ability makes him an excellent choice for both Livery and Gondorian Fire. It is nice including that card in a deck as a thematic choice without guilt because it does not use the easy and obvious combo with Steward of Gondor.
The deck lacks willpower, by design, so unless you are pairing it with a questing powerhouse you will want to avoid stage 3 and instead let Celador leave before moving on to stage 2. For a Tactics deck, there is a plethora of action advantage available. In particular, the ALeP card Onward Into Battle is perfect for readying a hero with combat stats after they have committed to a Battle or Siege quest. Unexpected Courage is expensive, but there are not many Spirit cards included so it should be possible to save those resources. Without allies, we need to maximize the power of our heroes.
Tactics Boromir, in particular, shines in this deck. Load him up with Raiment of War, Gondorian Shield and even a Captain of Gondor. Then watch the favored son of Denethor become a one man wrecking crew. Beregond’s ability will help offset the threat raise incurred from readying Boromir. Secret Vigil is always an underrated card, but in a quest with so many high threat enemies and plenty of doomed effects it becomes even more useful.
A typical weakness of Tactics-heavy decks is their lack of healing. Into Ithilien especially highlights this gap in the Tactics arsenal, as it features perilous levels of direct damage effects. The healing provided by the B side of this contract is thus essential. The armor available here transformed already strong defenders into tanks, so they should not be taking too much damage in combat. However, multiplayer games are sure to feature an army of enemies with archery, so damage is going to be assigned despite your best efforts. Being able to receive and immediately heal 3 archery damage every round allows this deck to help other decks while they muster solutions for healing or damage prevention.
Avoiding hero conflict is an inherent challenge to ad hoc multiplayer, but this deck is powerful without the necessity of any unique player cards. Sure, Captain of Gondor is unique, but it is by no means essential for this deck to function. This genericity allows the deck to easily coordinate with many other kinds of decks in multiplayer games. Beregond has sentinel built-in, and a ranged Boromir riding a Thoroughbred will strike fear into every enemy. Secret Vigil is significantly more powerful in a three or four player game.
I wanted to keep this deck thematic, which does mean sacrificing the most powerful combinations. That said, it features powerful heroes with useful abilities who only becomes stronger as their don their battle gear. Still, players seeking power above all else are encouraged to either run the encounter deck or look for other, less thematically constrained decks. Better still, pair this with another deck which features cards like For Gondor! that boost your heroes, and see the true might of Gondor made manifest.
I look forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new friends at this year’s Con of the Rings. With the evolution of the card pool and almost a full cycle’s worth of ALeP cards it will be interesting to see creative decks designed to tackle the quests from the Heirs of Númenor and Against the Shadow. These quests were challenging when the released, and I suspect many of them remains so. One of the real joys of this game is emphasizing strengths with new cards and discovering novel uses for existing cards and melding it all into a cohesive strategy.
In the first part of this article, we discussed staples for card draw and resource acceleration, which are appropriate for multiplayer games. Specifically, with Con of the Rings arriving soon, the goal is to give players ideas of how to plan their decks and sideboards to ensure a positive experience for multiplayer games. Showing up to a convention with only a Gandalf deck which relies on Steward of Gondor and a bunch of powerful unique allies, while humorous, is not recommended. Part one talked about card draw and resource acceleration. In this part, we discuss two more pillars of deckbuilding: threat control and readying.
While not always as important as resource acceleration or card draw, threat control can be critical. This is especially the case when playing an aggressive deck, or against a quest with multiple threat raising effects. Spirit has always had the most solutions to lowering ones threat and keeping it low, but other spheres have slowly improved in this area. Threat control becomes even more important in multiplayer as it only take one player with threat above the enemy engagement cost of enemies in the staging area before combat is assured. Your Hobbit Secrecy deck which consistently crushes quests by turtling and avoiding all combat can actually become an impediment in multiplayer, if it means an extra enemy being revealed for which you have no solutions to help the combat-oriented decks. In games of 3 or more players, it is often ideal to keep every players threat below some reasonable threshold, so that engagement is optional and players can optimize their combat plans.
The Leadership version of Frodo Baggins has a nice ability for solo play. Like Théodred, he becomes even more effective in multiplayer where the number of other questing heroes increases. The readying is great on its own, but the consistent threat reduction which elevates his value. This requires questing successfully, but that goes without saying in multiplayer. One round of failing at the quest will likely spell doom for the table, so this is not a “win more” ability. Sure, it costs a resource but any deck with access to Leadership should be able to manage that without blinking.
Beyond Frodo, the best option for threat control in Leadership remains the classic Core Set combo of Sneak Attack and Gandalf. You cannot benefit other players with Gandalf’s effect (except indirectly, by killing and enemy), but the versatility is unrivaled. It’s an unrivaled bargain to paying 1 resource for the wizard’s help, with the option of bringing him back in the future. The best thing about relying on Gandalf for your threat control is that he will never be a dead draw. If you don’t need threat reduction, you can always draw cards or take out an enemy in play. If you don’t need either of those options either then you’re probably about to win the game regardless.
On average, tactics heroes have the highest threat cost of any of the spheres. The sphere focuses on combat, more than any other aspect of the game. This lends itself to aggressive decks built around tactics heroes, so it makes sense that tactics doesn’t have a multitude of options for threat control. In fact, tactics really only has one option for reducing a player’s threat in the form of Secret Vigil. Fortunately, this card is excellent at what it does. It is inexpensive and can be attached to any enemy. If you happen to choose an enemy in the staging area, it even lowers their threat by one. Once you defeat the enemy every player lowers their threat by that enemy’s printed threat strength. This is an incredible powerful effect in multiplayer, especially in quests featuring enemies with high threat strength. A 4 threat enemy makes this card more powerful than The Galadhrim’s Greeting, for a third of the resource cost. Sure, you have to destroy the attached enemy, but that is where tactics already excels.
While not technically threat control, the tactics version of Éowyn does give you access to a powerful low threat hero with a fantastic late game “boss-killing” ability. However, including her as a starting hero can be a fraught strategy because both of her versions are so popular. Her spirit version is especially effective in four player games, as each player can pay to boost her willpower. In many multiplayer games, the odds that another player’s deck also included Éowyn are quite good, so be sure to ask the other players before you go this route. If you cannot include Éowyn and your deck has a high starting threat, see if one of the other players has access to threat control and is willing to share.
Spirit: Galadriel and The Galadhrim’s Greeting. Honorable Mention: Double Back
It gives a sense of just how powerful is the lady of the golden wood that she appears in these discussions a second time. Her exhaust ability helps with two of the four pillars of powerful deck building, which instantly makes her one of the best support heroes in the game. Support heroes are not always necessary in solo play, depending on the quest and the deck used. However, support heroes become far more important in multiplayer, where players want to balance getting their deck setup with helping other players at the table. A single player receives both the threat reduction and card draw, which allows the player with Galadriel to give whichever player most needs help a powerful boost. Even if you are passing her gifts around the table, your allies still benefit from her passive ability during the round they enter play.
Some of the Core Set staples never lose their value, and The Galadhrim’s Greeting is certainly in this category. Like many of the best card, it offers versatility. You can either reduce a single players threat by 6 or give each player a smaller reduction of 2. In a four player game this latter option gives you a net of 8 threat reduction for only three resource – quite the bargain. At three cost, this card works best in decks with multiple spirit heroes, or some form of resource acceleration. Not ever quest lends itself to side quests, but for those that do players should strongly consider including a copy of Double Back. It costs at least one round of questing, but no single card has threat reduction of this magnitude and it come with absolutely no resource cost.
For much of the life of the game, Lore lacked for threat control options. Outside of minor effects like Needful to Know, Aragorn was the first significant source of threat reduction for Lore. His ability is incredibly powerful, and lends itself to solo decks built around doomed effects. It’s still effective in multiplayer games, but less so. Aside from trickery with Desperate Alliance, his ability cannot benefit other players. In addition, it is often ideal for to keep the threat of each player at relatively the same level. This heightens the effectiveness of optional engagement, and avoids having combat heavy decks overrun by a horde of enemies. This makes the timing on Aragorn’s ability critical. Use it too early, and it limits the benefit and makes Aragorn a less ideal hero choice. Wait too long to reduce your threat, and the gap between your threat and the other players will put an extra burden on the group. Regardless, the biggest challenge with using Lore Aragorn is avoiding conflict with the other versions of this iconic hero.
Woodmen’s Clearing only impacts the first player, which means it requires timing. On the plus side, it has no resource cost and multiplayer games require clearing locations. Also, the attached location doesn’t have to be active when it is explored, which allows for all sorts of location control shenanigans. Along with cards like Ancient Mathom, this card works best in a dedicated Woodmen or location controls decks. That said, it is easy to splash into any deck with a Lore hero. It costs nothing, and the odds are good in a multiplayer game that there will always be a location in play as a viable target. Just be mindful of timing, so that the first player actually benefits from the threat reduction.
Action advantage is the fourth pillar of successful deck design. Some decks can get away with having a single role for each hero, but even then there will be rounds when you defender needs to block twice, or you questing hero might have an exhaust ability that you really need. Readying is the most common form of action advantage, but cards which allow characters to perform an action without exhausting also qualify as action advantage. Because every deck starts with heroes already in play, it makes sense to maximize the effectiveness of these characters. Some decks will take an alternate approach and rely heavily on allies, but this is a riskier strategy as it often depends on finding and mustering those allies before the deck is effective. Using your heroes is the safer approach, as they tend to be stronger than allies and you don’t need to search them out of your deck.
Leadership: Armored Destrier and Grim Resolve. Honorable Mention: Need Drives Them
Armored Destrier is another paragon of versatility, providing readying and shadow control in a single card. It can be tricky to discard shadow cards with the destrier, because it requires more than one enemy engaged with the same player. This is much easier to accomplish in multiplayer games, which makes this card that much more effective as the number of players increases. The destrier is a natural choice for powerful sentinel defenders, a critical asset for multiplayer games. Even when it is not possible to have multiple enemies engaged with the same player, this card always provides readying to the defender.
At five cost, Grim Resolve doesn’t make it into many solo decks. For a single deck, this effect often represents a “win more” situation. This calculus changes in multiplayer. Assuming you include the resource acceleration to help pay the cost, readying ever character in play is a huge mid game play. In a four player game, this card makes it safe for players to quest with every character, then have all of them available for combat. Many heroes and allies have powerful abilities which require them to exhaust. Grim Resolve allows you to trigger these abilities twice, or use a character’s ability and still have them available later in the round.
Tactics: Brand Son of Bain, Merry and Rohan Warhorse. Honorable Mention: Hold Your Ground!
Tactics is nothing if not consistent. As with card draw, resource acceleration, and threat reduction, the readying effects in tactics are based on defeating enemies. Brand son of Bain and Merry both have similar effects. In multiplayer they can even be used (by two different players) to ready each other indefinitely – as long as there are enough enemies to kill. This form of readying is powerful, and particularly useful in quests which feature a horde of engaging enemies. It unfortunately lacks versatility as it precludes them from participating in other parts of the game, unless you give them readying from some other sphere.
Rohan Warhorse is another similar option, and it definitely worth considering if your primary attacker is a tactics (or Rohan) hero who can spare a restricted slot. The lack of powerful effects other than in response to defeating enemies is one of the reasons why tactics tends to be a one dimensional sphere. Fortunately the game does not restrict decks to a single sphere, so you are free to include heroes from other spheres which compliment your combat-focused hero. In particular spirit and leadership tend to pair well with tactics as they include numerous effects (resource acceleration, readying) which cover the weaknesses of tactics. If the problem you’re faced with is the ugly visage of an orc, there is often no better solution than a well-equipped tactics hero.
Subsequent versions of popular heroes have quite the hill to climb to achieve notice. The Core Set version of Legolas has an ideal stat mix with traits which make it easy to bolster his strengths. His spirit version is a bit more subtle, and pairs best with Gimli. Still, his readying ability pairs perfectly with Elven-light and works even better in multiplayer games. The scout trait is less immediately useful as Warrior, but it also opens some interesting options for effects like Distant Stars and Well Warned, both of which are more useful in multiplayer games.
The game has steadily moved away from “Voltron” archetypes in which one hero is loaded with all manner of attachments to become invincible. Instead, ally swarm is the most common strategy for achieving action advantage against the encounter deck. This makes sense, but there are numerous situations in which an ally simply cannot take the place of a hero. Some enemies cannot be blocked by allies, there are also shadow effects which punish chump blocking. The Forth, the Three Hunters contract takes this to an extreme, preventing you from even including allies your deck.
For whatever reason, there are times when the best course of action is to make one hero as powerful as possible and then give it readying to maximize the impact. Even if your spirit deck doesn’t feature a hero who needs readying, it’s worth including Unexpected Courage for multiplayer games. You are guaranteed to have at least one valid target for repeatable readying. A tank defender like Beregond, a sniper like Haldir, or a support hero like Galadriel are all excellent options for this card.
Lore: Lembas and Leather Boots. Honorable Mention: Wingfoot
While it might not be as narrow as tactics, the readying in lore is also relatively narrow. For one thing, it is almost all trait-dependent. Fast Hitch is great for Hobbits, but useless for anyone else. Lembas is excellent, but it can only be played if you have an elf hero. Leather Boots are more versatile in that they can be attached to allies and do not take up a restricted slot. Still, they only work with Lore or Ranger characters. These limitations require creatively in deck building, but when used well they can support powerful decks.
Wingfoot is another option, but it is unique and can only be attached to Ranger heroes. Still, it is probably the most consistently effective readying available to Lore. Just be mindful of avoiding conflict with other decks, as it commonly splashed into any deck with access to lore and a Ranger hero. Instead of readying, Lore features a sub-theme around heroes not exhausting to commit to the quest, when you fulfill some additional criteria. This action advantage can be used in place of readying, though it is less versatile as readying as an action. Radagast, for example, does not exhaust to commit on rounds when you’ve played a Creature ally. Haldan, on the other hand, receives the bonus whenever the active location has attachments. These heroes have other abilities, which is good because there brand of conditional action advantage can be difficult to consistently realize. Like tactics, lore will often need to look to other spheres for repeatable readying effects.
With Con of the Rings fast approaching, now is an excellent time to review some multiplayer staples worth considering. Many solo players, even if they play two-handed solo, don’t often have to deal with coordinating unique cards in an ad hoc multiplayer game. These article will outline a few multiplayer cards worth considering, along with strategies for mitigating unique conflicts. For brevity’s sake, this article has been split into two parts: the first part focuses on card draw and resource acceleration. Part two discusses threat control and readying.
Of all the aspects of the game, card draw and resource acceleration are probably the two most important. Multiplayer games tend to have a greater swing in difficulty, simply because more cards revealed from the encounter deck means a greater chance that the scenario manifests some nasty combination of effects. This makes card draw all the more critical, especially in the first two or three rounds when players are getting their deck’s primary strategy setup. Lore clearly has the best options for draw, but Leadership and Spirit were both bolstered as the card pool expanded. Tactics lags behind, and still lacks options for giving card draw to other players. Fortunately, most of the card draw effects in tactics trigger from defeating enemies, which is indirectly a meaningful benefit to the other players at the table.
Gildor Inglorion remains an underrated hero, albeit his lower popularity is likely due to being released late in the life of the game. Leadership tends to be flush with resources, so trading one for a card is an easy price to pay. Worth mentioning is how his ability can grant any player the extra card, which is perfect once your deck is setup because you can turn your attention to supporting other players. As far as unique conflicts go, the ally version of Gildor is an excellent character but he comes at a steep cost in Sphere lacking resource acceleration or ally mustering. You will often only see the ally in Elrond + Vilya decks and the most dedicated Noldor discard (from hand) decks.
Campfire Tales is a card which almost never sees play in solo decks, and for good reason. Outside of exceptions like a Council of the Wise deck, trading one resource for 1 card as an event is a waste of a card slot. However, the cost benefit of this card changes completely when it comes to multiplayer games. Paying one resource for all four players to draw a card can be a tremendous benefit in a four player game. Even at lower player counts this effect can be worthwhile, especially in support of decks which might otherwise lack for card draw effects.
Tactics: Legolas (ally) and Foe-hammer. Honorable Mention: Herubrand
Tactics unfortunately does not have a way for other players to draw cards, but it at least now has its own sources of such effects. Ally Legolas is the best repeatable for of card draw in-sphere, but his hero version is very popular so you need to check with other players ahead of time if your deck relies on him as your only source of card draw. Foe-hammer is a safe fallback as any Tactics deck which focuses on combat is likely to have multiple weapons with which to pay the cost. Also, defeating enemies is something that most Tactics heroes are designed to do, so this effect fits naturally into many tactics-heavy decks.
Galadriel is the best form of general purpose repeatable card draw available to Spirit. Sure, Elven-light can be even more powerful in the right deck, but Galadriel has the advantage of starting in play and allowing you to easily give card draw (and threat reduction effects) to other players. As if all that were not enough, her passive effects gives your allies free action advantage for the round they enter play. Obviously, she is a hero worth building your deck around but here abilities are generic enough that you can even splash her in (e.g. to replace Spirit Éowyn that another player is using) without disrupting your deck too much. Even if you don’t have her ring in the opening hand she at least gives you the ability to draw another card in the hopes of finding it.
Ancient Mathom is one of many cards which target the first player. This is a mixed blessing in 3 and 4 player games as it requires specific timing to ensure that the correct player receives the benefit. On the other hand, it can swing the game when you give 3 cards to the deck running Steward which is flush with resources but has no more cards to play. In a Woodmen deck, which already relies on location attachments to drive its engine, including this card is basically automatic.
Lore: Beravor and Deep Knowledge. Honorable Mention: Gléowine and Elrond (ally)
Lore is the undisputed king of card draw, and this includes effects which grant the additional cards to other players. Beravor is great in solo decks, but becomes even more incredible in multiplayer games, where she can guarantee that no one is ever stuck with an empty hand. Deep Knowledge but seem like a costly card, in terms of raising 8 points of threat in a four player game. However, outside of Secrecy and the most aggressive Valour decks, the minor threat bump is more than worth it to jump-start early game development. When it comes to effects like Heed the Dream, remember that another player (e.g. the one playing Steward) can pay the kicker cost. Any deck which cannot setup its strategy after searching one card from the top five, then a second from anywhere in the deck is probably best left to solo play.
Resource Acceleration/Cost Reduction
The jelly to card draw’s peanut butter, resource acceleration is the other key component to most effective decks. Only one player can have Steward of Gondor in play, which leaves the other players to find alternative solutions for ramping up their decks resources – or at least reducing the cost of their cards. Of all the unique cards which players should coordinate before a multiplayer game, Steward of Gondor may be the most important. Better still, I encourage players to bring multiple decks which do not rely on Steward of Gondor to conventions and other multiplayer events. Even outside of Leadership, there are plenty of alternative solutions to the resource ramping problem.
One of the central themes with multiplayer staples is effects which can be given to other players. Théodred does require a nuanced understanding of timing in that he can only grant the additional resource to heroes which are already committed to the quest. This means that you will often want to start the game as the last player since that allows you to choose any questing hero as the beneficiary on the first round. An extra resource every round is not to be dismissed, especially as it can easily be spread around the table to different targets each round. If all else fails, he can always give the bonus resource to himself.
Adding to the location attachments which benefit the first player, we have Ranger Provisions. Again, outside of Woodmen decks, this attachments doesn’t see much play but it is worth considering for multiplayer. Giving another player an extra resource per hero is a huge boost, and if you need to be greedy you can still wait until you are the first player. If the first player happens to be running the Bond of Friendship contract, this effect is even greater. Granted, receiving the benefit requires clearing the corresponding location but a multiplayer game is going to necessitate aggressive location clearing if not explicit location control effects. In concert with cards like South Away! this card can be clutch.
Tactics: Mablung and Beorn’s Welcome. Honorable Mention: Horn of Gondor
Ever since Horn of Gondor received errata, Tactics has been a sphere mostly devoid of resource acceleration. Mablung helps, especially in aggressive decks which are designed to consistently engage enemies. A card like Dúnedain Hunter can even be used with Mablung to add an ally and a resource in one fell swoop. Sure, you get an engaged enemy too, but remember that added enemies do not trigger keywords or “when revealed” effects, so this combo also represents a form of encounter deck control. Beorn’s Welcome is a powerful ALeP card, which can bolster any hero with an effect which requires a resource cost – just be sure to bring a Beorning hero along with you or the Bear won’t be some friendly. The way the card is worded even allows resource recuperation when that hero pays for another effect (e.g. Birna or Azain Silverbeard) so long as the attached hero is the one spending the resource.
Spirit: Arwen Undómiel and Zigil Miner. Honorable Mention: Gavin
Noldor is one of the archetypes best equipped to do without Steward of Gondor. Between Arwen Undómiel and To the Sea! To the Sea!, Noldor decks have plenty of resource acceleration and cost reduction available while remaining on-theme. Fortunately, Arwen can share resources with every version of Aragorn, which opens up resource acceleration to a multiple of archetypes outside of Noldor. Like Théodred, she can always give a resource to herself, which means that she is a perfectly viable splash hero too, if you don’t want to hew to a single narrow theme. Her ally version is quite powerful, so make sure to ask ahead of time if your deck is reliant on her hero version for resource acceleration (or card draw, via Elven-light).
Zigil Miner was traditionally used with Imladris Stargazer, but there are other ways to take advantage of his powerful effect. Hero Gandalf gives you insight into the top card of your deck, but he is a hero ill-suited to many multiplayer games. Another option is just to play a deck where most cards have the same cost. Often this is built around 2 cost cards, as Zigil itself has this cost. While this constraint can seem onerous, it allows your deck to consistently acceleration resource while using the Zigil Miner’s effect blind.
Lore: Bifur and Seasoned Forager. Honorable Mention: Love of Tales
Lore has never had resource acceleration as-such, which makes sense as card draw effects are cheap and ever-present in this sphere. Still, it makes mono-Lore decks difficult to build and means that a Leadership hero is a natural companion to any Lore hero. In solo, Bifur only provides resource smoothing, which is still a useful effect. However, in multiplayer games where other player may be using powerful acceleration effects, Bifur provides an automatic way for other players to share their bounty and accelerate a Lore deck’s resources.
Seasoned Forager is a sort of opposite to resource acceleration, in that it provides a consistent cost reduction without the ability to gains resources through any player card effects (even those triggered by other players). Still, this card can be used every round in the right deck, so it represents a huge improvement for many Lore-heavy decks, especially with the errata to Master of Lore. It’s worth noting that the card is not unique, so while each player can only have one copy in play, including it in your deck does not prevent another player from also using it in theirs. These kinds of considerations are critical to ensure multiplayer games without the frustration that comes from the uniqueness rule.
Time moves on, and the bear just keeps rolling with the tumult. This series looks at the modern world through the lens of Tolkien’s legendarium. You can find the previous parts here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In particular, Part 3 will provide useful background for this article. For those who prefer game related content, Matt Kell is doing great work over on the Card Talk Blog.
In Part 3, the tragic shooting at Uvalde prompted me to share my thoughts on gun violence in America. This article received some positive comments, but not everyone agrees with my perspective. We gain more by engaging with those with different viewpoints than we do by limiting our conversations to people who share our views. A user with the handle “Lost Cajun” commented on Part 3 and I’m including his entire comment here, to provide context for this article.
Hello, fellow Texan, longtime reader, and father here. Thank you for sharing how you feel, I’ve used your site for some years and really enjoy opinions on cards and decks. I’ve recently gotten my oldest son into the LCG and so read more frequently, I really enjoy playing with him! I was saddened by the tone and characterization of this article. It seems to show no context or citation of historical argument from our founding and no understanding around the second amendment or gun culture in America. I’d like to answer your question with equal strident sincerity, no. But that is a strawman question. What sane person who has studied our founding would say yes? In fact the actual text of the second amendment reads:
‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’
And thus, to steelman your question, I would preferred you ask something along the lines of ‘Did our forefathers intend for citizens to have the most advanced weapons available?’ or ‘Did our forefathers intend gun crime to be a domestic scourge?
I believe the answer to first is yes, and the second is no. Quite simply, the amendment itself reads ‘shall not be infringed,’ and one of those founding writers, John Adams, said: ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’
The sad reality is that mass murders are perpetuated against soft targets. Case study after case study shows us that the people that want to kill lots of people find soft, highly populated targets. Case studies further show us that when they guess wrong, and attack a defended target, they don’t get the notoriety and the kill count they intended. We now know that when the gunman arrived at the school in Uvalde there were multiple failures that would have hardened the target against an aggressor. The arriving police not only didn’t pursue him immediately after opening fire outside the school, but failed to engage him while he shot children who were calling them. There was no guard at the school, and the teachers were defenseless.
I’d like to point out something else that only obfuscates this discussion, you stated “Since the tragedy at Uvalde prompted me to start writing this article, there have been 30 more mass shootings. Thirty!”
Ok, with no context, that may make a naive reader think 30 events like Uvalde happened in less that 2 weeks, and I believe that is misleading. ‘Mass shootings,’ depending on the person citing the statistic (and I’d be glad for you to share yours), often use very low numbers such as 3 or 4 deaths per incident, and then lump then all together for fear mongering. What I mean by that is it is typical for US media companies to look at a TERRIBLE event such as Uvalde after a period, such as two weeks, and say something akin to ‘There have been xxx mass shooting since then!’ What they mean is that our major cities have extremely violent events regularly, such as New York and Chicago, where small numbers of people are shot. These are called mass shootings and lumped into events like the Uvalde to create a narrative like the one that I feel inspired your article. Gang violence in Chicago and Police failure in Texas are not the same.
And finally, can you help me understand how moving to Mexico is somehow an upgrade in safety, security, and freedom?
Sincerely, A Lost Cajun in TX
First of all, I would like to thank Lost Cajun for reaching out and sharing his perspective. I will do my best to address his comments and questions, though I cannot promise we will ever reach an accord on this issue.
My article was a polemic. I didn’t cite references because I was writing extemporaneously. Nineteen children were massacred so completely that their parents had to use shoes and dental records to identify them. Having an immediate, visceral reaction to this seems appropriate. I’m here to process my feelings and articulate my thoughts on the perils of American life, not to publish a research paper. Citations to our founding documents and the writing of our founders is fine, if you start with the premise that those documents are appropriate to our 21st century life. I reject that assumption.
Ultimately I am arguing for America to examine itself and intentionally make a change. Citing two hundred year old documents out of their historical context is the opposite of what we need right now. We’ve fallen into the trap of worshipping our founders, and treating these founding documents as gospel. Once you elevate something to gospel you no longer need to critically examine it.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
When you let your enemy dictate the terms of engagement, you have already lost. All of this talk of “hardening” and “soft targets” would transform schools from a place of enlightenment and creativity into a battlefield. Once we do that, we ensure that the only victor can ever be death. Wargaming for how to deal with people who are suicidal and homicidal at the same time is rank foolishness. There is a fatal flaw (no pun intended) in the premise of turning a school into a fortress when the assailants can come from inside the walls. What parent would ever want to send their child to such an environment?
For Americans, guns are the problem. We are incapable of handling them as responsible adults. More guns is not going to solve this problem. Every single public space is filled with “soft targets”. If the solution to gun violence in public is “hardening” and “guards” we would transform our country into a permanent war zone. The United States had 45,222 gun deaths in 2020. Any proposal to address even a small fraction of this number with more armed Americans is so impractical as to be nonsensical.
In a hypothetical where everyone around an active shooter situation is armed there is a critical problem: how do you identify the shooter? Who do “the good guys” shoot if everyone is running around in plain cloths with a gun in their hand? We rightly herald citizens who intervene in these situations and use a gun to kill the perpetrator. We don’t talk so much about the number of times an innocent person with a gun is shot because the police (or even another civilian) mistake them for the perpetrator. This problem is especially pronounced when you bring race into the equation. A black citizen who is armed and is trying to help catch the bad guy is far more likely to be mistaken for the bad guy and shot by police. This problem scales exponentially as you increase the number of people with guns. All it takes is one person with a gun to make a poor decision and any given situation goes from bad to worse.
The idea that the Uvalde victims are “not the same” as the other mass shooting victims is a telling distinction. Categorizing and compartmentalizing are uniquely human coping mechanisms for avoiding subjects which make us uncomfortable. Why are the other deaths since Uvalde different? Are their lives any less valuable that the children of Uvalde? Is a human life which is taken while a crime is committed any less worthwhile? Uvalde is just one sad chapter in the ongoing saga of America’s violent gun crime crisis, it is by no means unique.
There have been another 130 mass shootings in the United States since I wrote Part 3. I believe their families mourned them the same as the families in Uvalde. A sad fact of life in America is that these events bring the survivors and mourners together in solidarity. They say “never again”, while others propose a “solution” to Uvalde which weaponizes everyone. We can deputize every janitor and security guard, it will not make us safer. In fact, millions of untrained people with guns is precisely the problem.
Americans have many skills, but on the whole we’re monumentally bad at appreciating nuance. Guns are like salt: a small number of them in the right context (e.g. killing fascists) is great, but too much is immediately disgusting and unpalatable. Somehow we have deluded ourselves into thinking a steak which is mostly salt tastes great; if only we could add just a bit more ketchup.
There are other countries which don’t have this problem. Switzerland, for example, where almost 25 percent of the population owns a gun (and, I would add, is properly trained in its use). Yet they haven’t had a mass shooting since 2001. The differences between our two countries are complex and would take a team of historians and anthropologists years to outline. Fortunately, we don’t need to know why Americans are not collectively capable of using guns responsibly like the Swiss. The diagnosis is clear: guns are killing us. We know the cure, we just lack the will to diminish our freedoms one iota in the name of preserving life. Like the Númenóreans before their island fell into the sea, we are worshippers of death on a path of self-destruction.
I’m well aware of Madison and the Federalist papers. One can cite founding documents with different beliefs about the intended role of guns and gun proponents will doubtless have their counter-examples ready at hand. It doesn’t matter. Talking about historical precedent misses the crux of my argument in Part 3. The beliefs of the founders are an anachronism at best, and fatally flawed at worst. Technology and society have changed enough since 1776 that it’s well passed time we look in the mirror and ask ourselves a serious question about our future.
Many of our founders owned slaves. They agreed that women need not participate in democracy. At America’s inception, African Americans were considered property, not people. Some of Jefferson’s ideas were novel, but political theory has evolved just a smidge in 250 years. Society has evolved. We don’t drive a horse and buggy into town, we don’t send telegrams, and we don’t pack wadding into a smooth bore musket. Instead of a “well regulated militia” we have an 18 year old without any training who buys a semi-automatic on his birthday and treats a grade school like his own sick video game. We cannot look to the past for solutions to problems which are uniquely ours in the present.
Taking our cues for how to live from dead 18th century elites is dubious at best. It would be the equivalent of a French person who models their daily existence after the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. They’re dead and we’re capable of better ideas. Instead, let’s discuss what we can do to ensure that America is a better country 100 years from now. Deep flaws bring our current system crumbling down around us, yet we quibble over what some dead rich guy wrote in his journal two centuries ago; that seems like an irresponsible use of our time and energy.
One might assume that I’m unfamiliar with guns, and thus hate or fear them from a place of ignorance. This could not be further from the truth. I grew up around guns. I’ve fired everything from handguns to shotguns and semiautomatic AR15s. My family knows about guns more intimately than I would like. Ten years before I was born, my grandmother took her own life with a gun. Seven years ago, right around the time my father was succumbing to cancer, my best friend took his own life with a gun.
These experiences are how I know that the victims of gun violence (self inflicted and otherwise) do not simply exist to fill empty statistics. They are human beings. Their lives mattered. It’s disingenuous to act as if we are powerless to effect a change around this issue, that all of these deaths were somehow inevitable or unavoidable.
We must not compartmentalize different minutiae of violent crime so that we can immediately ignore the categories that “don’t effect us” because we “don’t live in the big violent cities” or “no one in our family has mental health issues”. We are all Americans. Whether we live in the most remote reaches of Alaska or the sprawl of New York City, all of our lives must have some inherent worth, or none of them do. If human life has worth, then human death cannot be dismissed as a triviality.
Is any one American’s sense of individual liberty, to be part of the “well regulated militia”, more important than one of 40,000 lives we lose each year to gun violence? This is not rhetorical (though I do wish it was) and it’s not a trick question. Many Americans have and are answering that question in the affirmative. For those who do, I challenge you to have the courage of your convictions and frame your answer to this question honestly. Your sense of freedom, the joy you get from having, owning, and using a gun, is more important to you than the lives of the people who die by one each and every day.
I don’t expect anything I’ve written here to change anyone’s mind. As human beings we have a dangerous tendency to take the things we like, then work backwards to explain why they are good. Once we’ve done that, it is basically impossible for anyone to ever convince us that our preferences might have flaws. If nothing else, I hope to provide a different viewpoint that others can take to broaden their perspective on this issue.
All humans are biased by our flaws and flawed by our biases. We are all swimming in the same tumultuous seas, just trying to stay afloat. Every day is an opportunity to be wrong, and then learn a better way to swim. The key is not to stay obstinate in our flaws, insisting that they are strengths even as they drag us down to the treacherous depths below. For anyone who has thoughts, rebuttals, questions, or just wants me to shut up and only talk about card games, I welcome your feedback in the comments below.
The Con of the Rings 2022 will be from September 30th though October 2nd and this bear is excited. As with past years, I have updated my Bear Draft to include some new (ALeP) cards. In addition, I’ve taken notes of which cards were popular in past drafts and made corresponding adjustments to the card pool. I ran the previous version of this draft at last years convention and it was inspiring to see the excellent decks that players were able to create.
For those who are unfamiliar with the format, I will outline it below. For those who have participated in the past, other than streamlining some of the optional steps not much has changed.
The Bear Draft is designed for 8 players, split into two teams of 4 players each. It consists of the following stages, in order. The draft consists for 4 stages, completed in order. In addition to drafting their player decks, each time will use the dynamic encounter sets to create a quest which another (randomly selected) team will have to play. The quests will be built from The Mines of Moria, and Escape from Khazad-dûm custom scenario kits. The dynamic quests have a good difficulty level for draft decks, as opposed to many official quests with specific deck-building requirements which can be difficult with a draft deck.
1. Hero Draft: 40 total heroes, 1 pack of 5 heroes per player. A single round, at the end of which each player has drafted 5 heroes.
2. Player Card Draft: 448 total cards, 4 packs of 14 cards per player. Four rounds, at the end of which each player has drafted 56 player cards. The minimum player deck size is 30 cards.
3. Add Signature Cards and Gandalf: Each hero has 3-6 optional signature cards. Players may add any or all signature cards for each of their starting heroes to their deck. Also, players may add 1 copy of Core Set Gandalf and 1 resource Song (Kings, Battle, Travel, Wisdom) to their deck.
4. Quest Draft: 7 distinct encounter sets (5 cards each), one stage 2 and one stage 3. The simple rules are used for building quests from the custom scenario kits. Each team of two players will alternate drafting encounter sets from the custom scenario kits. Two copies of each custom scenario kit are used to allow multiple teams to include the same encounter set. However, a given team cannot draft two copies of the same encounter set. Once each team has drafted their 7 distinct encounter sets, they will then alternate choosing a stage 2 and stage 3 (stage 1 is the same for each team). The completed quests are then randomly assigned among the 8 teams (a team cannot be assigned the quest they built).
There are 40 heroes in the draft pool, 10 from each sphere. They each include 3-6 signature cards. These cards represent characters, weapons, armor, mounts, titles, and thematic events which are associated with that hero. Signature cards are optional, but they often help to build a viable deck around a given hero.
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Heirlooms
Title, Song, Skill
Sword that was Broken, Roheryn, Ring of Barahir, Celebrían’s Stone
Heir of Valandil
Brand son of Bain
King of Dale, Traffic from Dale
O Lórien!, Feigned Voices
Ranger Provisions, Woodman’s Outpost (ALeP)
The One Ring, Sting
The Master Ring, The Ruling Ring, The Ring of Power
Rod of the Steward
Heir of Mardil, Steward of Gondor, Visionary Leadership, Wealth of Gondor
Dwarven Shield, Ring Mail
The Day’s Rising, Khazâd! Khazâd!, Unlikely Friendship
Sword of Númenor
Descendants of Kings
Erestor, Harlond Lookout (ALeP)
Angbor the Fearless
Need Drives Them, Open the Gates (ALeP)
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Title, Song, Skill
Rivendell Blade, Bow of the Galadhrim, Arod
Hands Upon the Bow, Unlikely Friendship
Spear of the Citadel, Raven-winged Helm
Rivendell Blade, Asfaloth
Revealed in Wrath
Prince of Dol Amroth, Gondorian Discipline
The Red Arrow
Grimbeorn the Old
Beorn, Birna (ALeP), Beorning Skin-changer
Beorn’s Welcome (ALeP), Beorn’s Rage
Elfhelm (Tactics Ally)
Spear of the Mark
Charge of the Rohirrim
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Title, Song, Skill
Spear of the Mark
Free to Choose
Haldir of Lórien
Mirror of Galadriel, Nenya
Steed of Imladris, Silver Harp
Gavin, Minas Tirith Lampwright x2
Círdan the Shipwright
Galdor from the Havens
Lords of the Eldar
Bard son of Brand
Descendant of Girion
Necklace of Girion
King of Dale
Bofur (Spirit Ally)
Ring of Thror
King Under the Mountain
Lie of the Land
Warden of Arnor
Ride to Ruin
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Keen Longbow, Dúnedain Pipe
Legacy of Durin, Ancestral Knowledge
Haldir of Lórien
Bow of the Galadhrim
Galdor of the Havens
Faramir (Lore Ally)
For the hero draft, each of the 8 players will receive one pack consisting of 5 random heroes. The heroes will be drafted in a single round. Each player will draft one hero from their pack, placing it facedown in their draft pile. Once each player has selected a hero, they will pass the remaining cards in their pack clockwise to the next player. This continues until all of the heroes are drafted. Each player will end this stage having drafted 5 heroes.
Player Card Draft
There are 448 player cards in the draft pool, consisting of cards from each sphere as well as neutral cards. These 448 player can be further broken down into three categories, based on the number of copies of each card. There are 192 Common player cards, with 3 copies of each card. There are 176 Uncommon player cards, with 2 copies of each card. Finally, there are 80 Rare player cards, with 1 copy of each card.
Players will draft player cards in 4 rounds. During each round, each player takes one pack of 14 cards. They select one card to draft, placing it facedown in front of them. Once each player has selected a card from their pack, all players will then pass the remaining cards in their pack to the player sitting next to them. The direction cards are passed depends on the round. In rounds 1 and 3, cards are passed clockwise. In rounds 2 and 4, cards are passed counter-clockwise. A round continues as long as cards remain in a pack. Once a pack is finished the next round is started, until four rounds of player cards are complete.
Mustering of the Rohirrim was released earlier this week, and I for one could not be more excited. Looking back on the decks I’ve built over the years, I’ve been trying to make viable decks around Beornings since The Hobbit Saga was released. To be fair, the archetype features powerful heroes like Beorn and Grimbeorn the Old, but it has always lacked enough supporting cards to allow for a full-fledged Beorning theme.
When Bilbo and the Dwarves first meet Beorn in the Hobbit has always been one of my favorite moments in the book. There is something so humorous, off-putting, and yet endearing about the interactions between Beorn and his guests. This deck is my attempt at capturing that moment, while highlighting some of the exciting new cards from Mustering of the Rohirrim. I don’t just want to capture the theme, I also want the deck to be viable mechanically. Certainly, it won’t be the strongest deck ever built, but once it gets setup is should more than hold its own. As always, the deck list can be found on RingsDB.
At it’s heart, this is an ally swarm deck. At first glance a tri-sphere deck might seem a bit too ambitious, given the relatively high cost of many of the allies. However, thanks to the industrious Dwarves and their mining mechanics, we won’t often be playing allies from our hand in this deck. Instead, the strategy is to use cards like King Under the Mountain, Expert Treasure-hunter, Daeron’s Runes to get our best allies into our discard pile. Once we have a good selection of allies in the discard pile, Birna and the Beorning Skin-changers give us incredible versatility when it comes to mustering allies.
We also feature the two cards that I spoiled recently, Osbera and the Beorning Pony. Osbera offers questing or damage prevention, depending on which need is most pressing at the time. She also gives us access to Lore for some essential attachments and events. Remember that we can still muster Lore allies while Osbera is flipped to her tactics side, we just cannot play them from our hand. The Beorning Pony combines with all of the other mining effects, seeding the discard pile with helpful allies. If we have an extra tactics resource to spare, he can even be used to fetch a critical card.
It’s important to note that with Birna’s effect, the ally is shuffled into your deck at the end of the phase so timing is critical. Ideally, we will pull an expensive ally like a Giant Bear out of the discard pile during the combat phase. Then, we can use the Bear to attack or defend, but ready him with his ability. Then, we can use him to pay the cost on A Very Good Tale. Between his ability and Birna’s, he is destined to be shuffled back into our deck, but not before his high cost helps us muster another powerful ally or two. The net result of all of this fun and games is that we keep the two allies we muster via A Very Good Tale.
A Very Good Tale is definitely the card we’re looking for with our card draw and search effects, as it massively accelerates the rate at which we build an ally swarm. Even after we’ve used our copies of that event, the deck is not dead however. Birna still allows us to bring extra allies into play every round, we just know that they won’t be staying around. Even if you only have him for a phase, ally Beorn is a beast. An 8 strength attack is going to kill many enemies by itself, and he’s especially adroit at helping to topple powerful boss enemies.
One downside of this strategy, is that the effects on Osbera, Birna, and Balin all cost resources. While we don’t need many resources for playing allies (once we get the mustering engine running), this deck can still feel somewhat resource constrained. The ample supply of card draw and search effects only exacerbates the sense of having too many options and not enough money to buy them all with. This is where another new ALeP card come to the rescue, and it forms the thematic heart of the deck.
Beorn’s Welcome is the perfect solution to a deck built around all of these costly effects. Each hero can attach a copy, then any time we trigger the effect for Balin’s shadow cancelation, Osbera’s transformation, or Birna’s effect (paid for by Thorin), we can recoup or resource. The only time when Beorn’s Welcome doesn’t allow us to gain a resource is when we play an ally from our hand. Fortunately, after our first few allies, this deck should not have to do that very often.
The inclusion of The Last Alliance contract gives this deck an interesting wrinkle. With two Dwarf heroes, our Beorning allies cost 1 less out of the gate. This means that with We Are Not Idle in the opening hand we can play Birna on the first turn. The cost reduction obviously shifts as the number of allies in play changes, but that is just one reason for the contract. Look at an ally like Erebor Record Keeper, and imagine using his ability to ready a Beorning character. Suddenly, papa Bear is swinging his massive paws for 8 damage multiple times before he goes back to his winter nap.
For the most part, the deck list stays true to the theme of the Hobbit. Unfortunately, there was no Tactics version of Thorin Oakenshield, so I had to use Dain’s son Thorin Stonehelm as a replacement. When I play this deck, I am going to consider Thorin to be the one for the story as the alternative is narratively impossible. In any case, this deck is more fun than a mug of mead and a slice of honey cake. I hope you find your own enjoyment from this thematic feast.
This article continues a series of discussions (Part 1, Part 2) about the modern world through the lens of Tolkien’s legendarium. For those seeking game-specific subjects I encourage you to check out Vision of the Palantir, where you will find a wealth excellent content. In the mean time, a bear has thoughts and is not too shy to share them.
For a multitude of reasons, Mrs. Beorn and I are looking at living abroad for a few years. We want to find a country which fits our sensibilities, and also stretches us outside of our comfort zones so we can continue to grow and learn. I have long held the personal philosophy that growth is essential. There is always more of the world and ourselves that we can discover, and to better know ourselves and others is as good a life aim as I can espouse. To that end, we started an extended visit to Ajijic Mexico, to see if it is a place where we could see settling down for a few years.
I have lived in the United States all of my life, and there a many things that I love about living there. Like any country, it also has its flaws, and living there has given me a particular insight and a specific awareness of some of those flaws. In my travels, I have enjoyed the different way of life in many other countries, noticing distinct advantages over my experiences in America. Many cultures are specifically taking steps to address and ameliorate problems common to modern living, problems which America seems unwilling or unable to even talk about.
About a week into our stay I happened to look down to my phone to see a notification about an active shooter event in Uvalde, Texas. For those who don’t know, I’ve called Texas my home for the past 17 years. As details of that event came to light, my heart was broken by the indescribable horror. Nineteen children between the ages of 9 and 11, slaughtered while attending school. Two teachers, senselessly killed trying to protect their students. This kind of tragedy cannot be described in words. The heartbreak of the families and friends of the victims is incomprehensible.
Thoughts and prayers without action only compounds evil of this nature. These shootings are now the status quo in America: 269 mass shootings in the US this year, as of this writing. Since the tragedy at Uvalde prompted me to start writing this article, there have been 30 more mass shootings. Thirty! Day by day, we are destroying ourselves from within.
Among US states, Texas has the dubious distinction as a “champion” of gun rights. This means that it is easier for me to legally acquire a handgun than it is to drive a car. At 18, children can buy a gun when they are still too young to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. Yes, I say children because I do not believe that an 18 year old is in fact an adult – either emotionally or intellectually. This is not to absolve monsters of responsibility for their heinous actions. Rather, we as a society have to recognize that younger people are not yet capable of making sensible decisions when it comes to something as powerful as a gun. To be fair, many adults lack the maturity to responsibly own and carry a gun, but that is an even more difficult problem.
While we’re on the subject of guns, let’s talk about second amendment purists. The second amendment of the US constitution grants every citizen the right to bear arms. The founding fathers built this into the very fabric of the country because we were a colony fighting for independence from an empire which spanned the globe. Since its founding, America has fought wars against Spain and Mexico, a quasi war against France, and various other (often ignominious) conflicts around the world.
America participated in the two World Wars which defined the 20th century and reshaped the entire global political landscape, eucatastrophe-style. Especially in the context of these earlier conflicts, while America was still in the process of defining itself, an armed populace makes some kind of sense. However, the nature of our place in the world has changed dramatically since the 18th century. I have one simple question for every American who insists that guns are still among our most fundamental rights.
I ask this question not rhetorically, but with the most strident sincerity. Like many empires enamored with the glory of past accomplishments, we have lost sight of our own identity. Particularly as our place in the world has changed, we spout anachronisms about our founding tenants when the reasons for those tenants have changed or no longer exist. America has fielded the largest military in the world for decades. No foreign power is going to invade us, not with physical troops, so the need for an armed populace to hold off foreign invasion simply does not exist. Why would an enemy need to invade, when we are doing a far more efficient job of tearing ourselves apart?
America has been great at various times in our history. War is the ugliest side of humanity, but America’s involvement in the World Wars of the 20th century was both necessarily and ultimately for the good of people beyond ourselves. This does not excuse mistakes we’ve made, but we have been a force for good. It cannot be denied that Europe and Asia would look very different today if the United States had remained neutral during the Second World War.
In these moments of greatness, what made us great? I contend that an armed populace has never contributed in any significant way to American greatness. In earlier centuries there was a very real threat of invasion by a foreign power, civilians with guns made sense in those times. In the 21st century, an armed populace is clearly a contributing factor in our decline. At the current rate, there will be over 640 mass shootings in the United States by the end of 2022. It is well past time that we critically examine what matters most to us, and act accordingly.
The heroes in The Lord of the Rings all made real sacrifices. Any definition of heroism which does not include the concept of sacrifice is fundamentally flawed. To fight evil without is to first look inward, and face the demons that live inside. This might sound like so much romantic poetry but it is foundational to Tolkien’s stories, and central to the mythology of many cultures.
Some characters lose this internal battle, and fall as a consequence. In the Lord of the Rings, Boromir succumbs to the temptation of the Ring and finds redemption only when he gives his life to defend Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai. Even Aragorn, the idealized protagonist, makes very real sacrifices. He wanders the wilds of Arnor for decades – a king without a kingdom and a misunderstood vagabond with a broken sword in his scabbard. Greatness does not come from strength of arms or bold words spoken in front of followers who already agree with you. Greatness comes from profound personal sacrifice and a willingness to do what is right, despite the cost.
Frodo beings the story of the Lord of the Rings a naive happy young Hobbit, content to live in peace among his people and largely unaware of the dangers all around. Indeed, this ignorance was precisely the gift that Aragorn and the Dúnedain were giving to the Shire. The rangers protected the borders of these havens of peace and prosperity, while the very inhabitants being protected could remain ignorant to the ugliness of the wider world. This theme is repeated often in Tolkien’s stories, and one needs only to look at characters like Frodo to see Tolkien’s point.
We may start naive and innocent, but evil exists without our knowledge or consent, and we must one day face it. Frodo of the Nine Fingers understands this better than perhaps anyone else in Middle-earth. When the time came to face his inner demon, he balked, and the corrupting power of The One Ring was too great for him. If not for the fickle hand of fate and one misstep by Gollum, all would have been lost. This understanding lead Frodo to remain apart during the events of The Scouring of the Shire. His only involvement was to minimize bloodshed.
I contend that the pacifism exhibited by Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings was not weakness, but strength. There is a kind of toxic aggressiveness which exists in every culture, particularly those in the United States who advocate the loudest for the primacy of gun rights. Why are we so eager to unleash the weapons of destruction, especially on our own people? A far more noble goal is to protect those who are weakest, to preserve the things of beauty which can only exist when we exercise restraint.
Frodo saw the devilry of Saruman, the destruction of all of the beauty of the Shire, and he wept. Then, he played his part to right the wrongs and return to The Shire to its former glory and beauty. The Hobbits who became sycophants to Saruman and Gríma were certainly culpable for this destruction. All the more so, responsibility lay with the men who wrought much of the Shire’s destruction. By any sense of justice, Frodo could have urged his companions to kill any men and Hobbits who had sided with Saruman.
One of the enduring lessons of The Lord of the Rings is that it is far easier to take a life than to protect one. What makes one a hero is not the sudden sword thrust which ends the life of an enemy. What makes one a hero is sacrificing the things we value most, in order for others to live in peace and prosperity. To protect and preserve the innocent, in Tolkien’s world as in ours, is the greatest form of heroism.
In the 21st century, America is faced with an existential crisis. We can blindly hold on to traditions which were created for another purpose, hundreds of years ago. Like Denethor on his pyre, we are immolating ourselves at the altar of a dead idea. We are addicted to the myth of our former greatness, which never existed in the perfection of story and song. Or, we can take a lesson from Frodo and reexamine what it is that truly matters to us. Surviving trauma gives us keen insight into what is actually necessary to save our country and our way of life. Heroism cannot be the easy path, the one based on fear and mistrust of others. Heroism and greatness only comes with the willingness to sacrifice to protect those more innocent than ourselves.
For the most part, my involvement in A Long-extended Party has been as a player. I’ve admired the excellent quest and player card designs from a distance, with only minor input or feedback here and there. When plans became known about an Adventure Pack featuring new Beorning characters, my fuzzy ears perked up. It is only fitting then, that I’ve been more involved in the design of some of the player cards from Mustering the Rohirrim. This article will highlight two such cards which are personal favorites.
Long before A Shadow in the East gave us Sméagol/Gollum, the idea of a double-sided hero card intrigued many players. While that card was perfect, thematically, the prospect of adding treacheries to the encounter deck which transform my hero into an enemy does not at all fit my play style. Still, a hero who transforms from one form into another opens up all sorts of design possibilities. As Skin-changers, Beornings transform from a human form into giant Bears, so they seem like a natural fit for such a hero design.
Enter Osbera. She is a hero card on both sides, so there is no need to worry about an ill-timed treachery taking away one of your strongest characters. Her human side is a Lore hero with well-rounded stats. Looking at her Bear side, she has the Tactics sphere, the Creature trait, and excellent attack strength. Having two different spheres with differing stats gives Osbera excellent versatility, especially as she provides access to Lore cards in an archetype which can benefit from card draw and healing.
Looking beyond the stats and examining her abilities, we see that Osbera transforms from one kind of support character into another. A simple willpower boost would not have worked well with hero Beorn, as he is immune to player card effects. Instead, she lowers the threat in the staging area, a common theme for Lore. Her ability is based on other damaged Beornings in play, similar to the way a mother bear becomes protective when her cubs are in danger. Her Tactics side is more combat focused, which makes sense as nothing draws a momma bear’s ire quite like a stranger endangering her family.
Just as a willpower boost would have been a bit plain (and overlapped with factions like Gondor) a Beorning with a healing ability is not only unbalanced but it doesn’t fit the theme of the archetype. Instead, Osbera’s Tactics side has an interesting form of damage cancellation. As a response to a Beorning taking damage, another Beorning can take some of that damage instead. This ability is powerful, to be sure, but it is limited to once per round. There is an obvious synergy between her two abilities, which offers an interesting decision of whether or not to flip to her B-side depending on the situation.
Compared to Osbera, Beorning Pony is a much lower profile card, but it is near and dear to my heart. In a Living Card Game, it’s important for some cards to work in multiple different factions. If every card clearly supports one and only one faction, deck building becomes a fairly mundane exercise. Less powerful but useful “glue” cards, which work well with multiple styles of decks, make for a much richer and more interesting ecosystem.
Beornings lack card draw and card search effects, but a card which simply draws more cards would be a bad design. Not only would Tactics card draw be potentially too powerful, but Beornings already interact with allies in the discard pile, so it would be a missed opportunity not to build on this theme. The pony gives a Beorning deck the ability to quickly find one of its most powerful cards, with the side effect that it will likely seed the discard pile with excellent targets for the Beorning Skin-changer. The archetype doesn’t have any good ways to fetch a powerful attachment or event so the Pony fills a useful niche.
One of the narrative details from The Hobbit which I’ve always enjoyed is the way that Beorn warned the Dwarves not to keep his ponies, but to instead send them back once they reached the eaves of Mirkwood. In fact, he was so mistrustful of the Dwarves that Beorn followed them from a distance, in bear form. Still, the ponies helped the Dwarves to continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Ponies lightened the load and provided welcome support. That is the theme that I wanted to capture with this card, and it fits perfectly with the Dwarven Digging archetype.
Aside from the more recent Nori ally, most of the “digging” effects are found in Spirit and Leadership. Part of making the card pool more diverse and interesting is introducing support for an archetype in a different sphere. This card probably won’t be included in the most “optimal” versions of the Dwarven Mining deck, but that was not the goal. One of the goals of A Long-extended Party which I wholeheartedly espouse is not to specifically improve the top tier archetypes. The existing Spirit/Leadership version of Dwarven Mining doesn’t need any help. On the other hand, if cards like Beorning Pony encourage players to branch out and discover a new version of the archetype then it will certainly have met my design goals.
A Long-extended party is an unofficial, fan-made project for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, a living card game by Fantasy Flight Games and is not endorsed, supported or affiliated by FFG. This project is entirely volunteer-driven, and the content created by ALeP is a non-commercial fan release, distributed without pay or profit, for the sole intent of private enjoyment by fans of the game.
Depending on your location, the Started Decks have been available since March or April. At this point, most players interested in these four decks have probably had a chance to try one or more of them. Each deck focused on a different faction: Dwarves, Silvan Elves, Rohirrim, and Gondorians. The latest poll asked players which of the four decks they were most anticipating, so here are the results.
With 140 total votes, the clear winner was Elves of Lórien with almost 40% of the vote. The other three decks came within one vote of tying so after the elves there is fairly uniform interest in the other archetypes. Silvan Elves are one of my favorite archetypes, and my Whispers in the Trees alt-art deck is one that I return to quite often. It is especially effective as a toolbox multiplayer support deck as it features plenty of effects which can be used to benefit other players.
Silvan “bounce” is one of the most fun archetypes to play as it affords many interesting decisions. Deciding when to return an ally to your hand and when to sneak one into play is the most obvious pair of decisions, but the deck is deeper than that. More experienced players are rewarded for knowing which action window is best to use Tree People to return an exhausted Silvan to your hand so they can be replaced by an even more powerful ally from the top 5 cards of your deck. Allies like Defender of the Naith likewise reward a player who understands the ideal way to time their blocks and feints during the combat phase.
This is not to say that the other starter decks aren’t worth exploring: Dwarves of During in particular gives players a nice introduction to the Dwarven “digging” archetype which is also terrific fun to play. Riders of Rohan and Defenders of Gondor also have their bright spots, but the nature of those two archetypes is that those decks benefit most from being supplemented by additional Core Set cards, as well as cycle and saga cards which have yet to receive a reprint. In any case, each of the Starter decks allows new and returning players to experience the game immediately, without having to delve into dec-building until and unless that aspect of the game interests them.
These ready to play decks fill a need which previously had to be answered by deck lists and tutorials featured here, on BGG, RingsDB and elsewhere. Players will certainly continue to benefit from the excellent resources provided by the community, but it only makes sense for FFG to offer a friendlier more immediately solution to trying out the game. The mono-sphere Core Set decks simply do not show off the themes and tactical depth of this game the way a deck like Elves of Lórien does.
Thanks to everyone who voted, and I hope you are all enjoying these new Starter Decks and the campaign content which has started to trickle out. I encourage readers to take a look at the newest poll on the right and share which cycle you most want reprinted. I wish you all have many enjoyable adventures in Middle-earth!