Key Concepts: Play Style

No two players will play a game the same way. The style with which we play a game is personal, and informs who we are and how we find enjoyment in a particular game. Though Lord of the Rings LCG is a cooperative game, it is no different from competitive games, each player has their own style and enjoys the game for different reasons. Rather than talk in purely abstract terms about the different kinds of play style, it is easier to embody them as characters from Tolkien’s novels. This is not to imply that any player has one and only one play style, we are often a mix of several styles, and can even change play styles depending on the scenario, who we are playing with and various other factors. Think of these archetypes as simply a useful tool for describing which aspects of the game each player enjoys most.

Boromir

Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the enemy.
—Boromir

ImageThe Boromir player is concerned with power. Whether it is building a deck with as many of the most powerful cards as possible, or trying to pull off the biggest, most game-ending combo, the Boromir player is looking to go big in everything that they do. It’s not so much about score, or the measurement of personal achievement, as it is the rush one gets from playing the same Gandalf three consecutive rounds in a row and watching all of the enemies in the staging area die in a hailstorm of wizard fire.

There are many powerful cards in this game and the Boromir player gains the most enjoyment from using, and abusing, these powerful cards. The power of a card in one’s deck is much more important to a Boromir player than whether or not it fits thematically or has some elegant synergy with other players’ decks. This play style is perfectly suited to solo games and the more difficult quests. Indeed, many of the hardest scenarios like The Battle of Lake-Town and Shadow and Flame basically require you to unleash your inner Boromir to have any chance of being successful.

In multiplayer games, the Boromir player should take care not to alienate the other players. Just as Boromir’s lust for power ultimately sundered the fellowship, this play style can hamper the enjoyment of everyone else. Not everyone at the table will be pleased to sit quietly for 10 minutes in the planning phase while the Boromir player draws their entire deck (yes, this is actually possible now with Master of Lore, Erebor Hammersmith, Born Aloft, Horn of Gondor and Legacy of Durin). It’s great fun to design and build a deck that lets you accomplish these kinds of feats, but in a game with multiple players, it is important to remember that everyone might not share your play style. In these situations, the power of your deck can actually be counter-productive. The more incredibly your deck performs, the more it can leave other players, with different styles and goals, feeling left out and unnecessary. This need not always be the case, a multiplayer game of like-minded Boromir players can still be enjoyable, as each player tries to out-do the combos that the other players are performing.

Gimli

“Speak, or I will put a dint in your hat that even a wizard will find hard to deal with!”
—Gimli

ImageThe Gimli character enjoys keeping score and friendly competition amongst compatriots. Though Lord of the Rings LCG is a cooperative game, there are many ways to compete and compare one’s ability to others. In a multi-player game, a Gimli player may strive to commit the most willpower to the quest, or muster the most strength in a single attack to kill large enemies. In solo play, the Gimli player can use the score, and various other milestones to gauge how well they are competing against past performances of their own decks, or published scores of other players’ decks.

Whatever the competition is, a Gimli player wants to excel. This play style also fits well with solo play because it allows one to measure their performance. A Gimli player knows when they have done the best job at completing a quest, because they have beaten their previous best score. With multiple players, this can be a fun play style as well, when the other players join into your friendly competition. When Gimli and Legolas were keeping count at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, they used friendly competition as a way to make an otherwise deadly and grim situation, a little bit light-hearted, and fun. As long as the other players also enjoy this kind of interaction, this play style can work quite well in a multiplayer game.

Sam

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”
—Samwise Gamgee

ImageThe Sam player takes the most joy from the cooperative elements of the game. Where players of other styles will ask of a card, “how does this card make my deck better?”, a Sam player will often ask, “how can this card be used to make other players’ decks better?”. For this reason, a Sam player will often prefer to play a support deck, or at least a deck that includes cards that are intended to be played on the heros and allies of other players. This style is valuable strategically, as a Sam player can include cards with powerful synergies to the cards included in the other players’ decks. These can either be duplicates to act as backup or copies of cards that the other decks cannot pay for. A good example of this would be a Lore deck that includes Asfaloth with the intention to play it on another player’s (Spirit) Glorfindel.

There are many cards that allow one player to help another throughout the game. Indeed, two of the core character abilities in the game, sentinel and ranged, are only useful when there are multiple players (or decks). Just as Frodo would not have even made it to Mount Doom without Sam, other play styles can find tremendous benefit from the Sam player in a multiplayer game. This style of play does not lend itself to solo games, unless you play with two decks, because there is no one else to support, and many of these cards and abilities are useless or greatly diminished when played in a solitary deck.

Galadriel

“In Dwimordene, in Lorien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever long and bright.
Galadriel! Galadriel!”
—Gandalf

ImageThe Galadriel player is most interested in the way the game represents the setting of Middle-Earth. They take great joy from making decks that are thematically and historically appropriate within this wonderful world. A Galadriel player will look at cards differently. Cards that might seem underpowered or too situational for other players, make perfect sense to a Galadriel player because of how well they fit the story being told by the deck.

The history of Middle-Earth is one of the greatest mythologies ever created and the game does an excellent job of representing the various peoples, places, artifacts and events from the books. A Galadriel player enjoys making decks that fit nicely into the larger narrative and scope of Tolkien’s creation. To be sure, thematic decks do not have to be weak. On the contrary, because of trait synergy, thematic decks can be some of the most powerful decks in the game. It’s not that a Galadriel player won’t use powerful cards, they simply have a different set of criteria when judging the relative worth of a card. Where a Boromir player might choose cards solely based on how powerful they will make their deck, or a Gimli player may choose cards that lead to the lowest scores, a Galadriel player will tend to choose cards that best fit into the theme and spirit of their deck, regardless of their relative power.

Merry

“Hullo Pippin!” he said. “So you’ve come on this little expedition, too? Where do we get bed and breakfast?”
—Merry

Merry SmilingFor the Merry player, having fun is more important than anything else. Where a Boromir player will look for powerful card interactions, and a Galadriel player will look for thematically appropriate cards, a Merry player is less concerned with the game within the game, and more than anything wants to have fun. A Merry player might still include powerful combos in their deck, or very thematic sets of cards, but the most important criteria for a card or theme’s inclusion is whether or not it is fun to play.

This play style generally works well with players of other styles. Whether playing solo, or in a group with other players, the Merry player wants to have an enjoyable play experience. This can be seen, not only in the way that they build their deck, but also in the way that the Merry player interacts with other players. Being cooperative, the Lord of the Rings LCG is inherently a social game and everyone wants to have fun. The Merry player is more focused on having a positive play experience, for themselves and others, than any specific tactics or thematic elements. It is important for players with other play styles to realize that Merry players want to have a good time, regardless of the outcome of the game. Some of the most fun experiences playing this game are in closely fought battles, even if they ultimately end in defeat. The Merry player can help remind us all that, at the end of the day, this is a game, and we play it to have fun.

Differences In Play Style and Personality

In solo play, play styles are much less important. Barring a psychotic discussion with yourself (Blocking Wargs has admittedly left me questioning my sanity), you should be comfortable with your own play style. In a multiplayer game however, differences in play style can be frustrating if expectations do not line up. A Boromir player might annoy the other players by hogging all of the play time doing combos. A Gimli player might be so focused on setting up their big kill that it acts to the detriment of completing the quest. A Sam player can be distracted by trying to setup other players, so much so that they do not attend to their own deck. The perfectly thematic deck of a Galadriel player might be so underpowered for the given quest that it forces everyone else to work overtime just to pick up the slack. The most important thing to remember with the variety of play styles is that everyone enjoys the game for different reasons.

brown-bears-playing-with-a-ball

Different play styles, and player personalities can also manifest in forums, and other non-game interactions between players. The internet can make everyone feel so disconnected, that we lose perspective and forget that this is a game. It is so much easier to snap off a quick, flippant comment, without even considering the context, than it is to take a deep breath and give a reasoned and respectful response. Personally, the fact that Lord of the Rings LCG is cooperative is one of my favorite things about it. I enjoy the camaraderie that comes from beating a difficult quest, both with my friends that play in person, and my online friends that I share the stories with afterward.

Everyone has a different level of understanding of the rules, and the rules can be very complicated at times. Not everyone has a photographic memory of all of the cards sets, or the same deep appreciation for the lore and thematic elements that are woven into the game. Despite these differences, we are all unified by our mutual enjoyment of the game. Most of the time, people treat each other with kindness and respect, which makes this kind of appeal to reason completely unnecessary. But sometimes, people, for whatever reason, choose to tear others down instead of building them up. So the last thought that I want to leave all of my fellow LotR players with, is this:

Next time you are about to comment on a podcast, or Youtube video, or forum post, or blog article, just take one second and ask yourself, “how would I feel if this comment was written to me?”

That said, if anyone hates this article, or thinks it’s stupid, feel free to tell me below. I’m a giant bear that kills orcs for a living, I can take it. Check back soon for more in the ongoing series of key concepts, next up we will have a discussion of the importance of traits.

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22 Responses to Key Concepts: Play Style

  1. I like this character/play-style breakdown better than the one FFG did waayyy back when (Boromir, Pippin, and Bilbo). I would have to say that my play-style is a lovechild of Boromir and Galadriel (hmm, a bit hard to imagine that).

    • Beorn says:

      That’s interesting, Boromir/Galadriel is how I would describe my play style as well. Group dynamics definitely play a big part in my style, I’ve noticed. Solo I am very Boromir, but in the few four-player games that I’ve played I was much more of the Sam style, helping other players get their decks up and running as much as possible. I have always wanted to build 4 decks that each include Spirit for Renewed Friendship, Rider of the Mark, Wandering Took, Spare Hood and Cloak and then a bunch of general purpose attachments. It’s a silly idea, but just thinking about only playing attachments on other players’ characters and all of those allies and cloaks bouncing around seems like it would be a lot of fun.

  2. gaudyls says:

    I think there is, at least, one more playing style: The Merry player. Merry player is a player that loves precisely play. He doesnt like the very strong options because they are not funny (but he can try only to see how it works); but he likes to win. He only avoid the strongest and mad combos like the Erebor Hammer combo. He loves taste every card and combination in the game. Theme, score, or support is not a thing to think when you are a Merry player.

    I consider myself that kind of player.

    • Beorn says:

      I like this, thanks a lot for sharing your play style, gaudyls. It makes sense that there are players who just want to have fun, and win, but aren’t necessarily interested in the other aspects of that game. Next time I update this article, I will be sure to add the Merry play style.

      • gaudyls says:

        Thanks for considering my proposal. I think your blog is great! It makes me love more this game day by day.

  3. shipprekk says:

    Another great article! I really like that you made Gimli about “friendly competition”. I was fully expecting him to be the heavy hitter, kill-the-orcs type player.

    I would say I’m a Galadriel aspiring to be a Samwise. I really, really like making decks that serve each other well and I would like to see more cards that reward that kind of thing (besides Brand’s ability, I think the only card that directly rewards helping other players is Renewed Friendship). I say Galadriel because I typically go for theme first, but since I’m getting more into deckbuilding I’ve been fudging that in favor of good synergy/combinations. I’m working on a “Mess with the Encounter Cards” deck right now and it’s just too tricky to make the theme/lore work out.

    And I concur, this is way more thorough than the Boromir/Bilbo/Pippin system.

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  9. Gobliin says:

    I think I would be a boromir, but I’m not totally sure. For my part, I’m looking for total control over the encounter deck, which mean that I might not use some of the most powerful so that I can include more useful cards to me. For example, I use Denethor more than Elrond since knowing the nest cards of the encounter deck in solo play is so much valuable.

    Or maybe it just another Archetype, Denethor the control player.

  10. nyckk says:

    Well old bear, you missed another player type: the Gandalf. He sits back, regards and analyses. He likes to hear the stories and watch the adventures to unfold. He knows when to support a little here and to fight off some enemies there, not showing all his plans nor power openly. But when it is time for some fireworks he delivers and saves the game. And afterwards nobody really knows how he did it. That’s when he lights his pipe, sits back and smiles 😉

    Great blog, i like it, keep it up!

    • diedertk says:

      Yeah, indeed! Really like this suggestion! But as to put it this way, Gandalf would not really be a playstyle but more a player we all would like to be. At least, I dreamed a lot about being Gandalf or his return to Middle-Earth for a next adventure. As for I am a real Galadriel player with a little splash of Sam.

    • mcnoat says:

      I think you are more looking at Gandalf and then describing an archetype that could be named after him than looking at what archetypes actually exist and then naming one of them “Gandalf”.

      P.S.: I hope that made sense…

  11. diedertk says:

    Really like this blog!

  12. mcnoat says:

    I would suggest adding a trickster player archetype. Maybe call it “Gandalf”, because trickster players probably LOVE to play with his hero version.

  13. To define or classify the different styles of player… This is a bold article, if i may say so myself!
    Executed wonderfully, too. I recall Mark Rosewater writing a smattering of articles a handful of years ago on Magic player archetypes- I also recall it striking me as a way of esigning cards for sale, rather than designing cards for player enjoyment. This has a different ring to it, indeed!
    Wth a guide like this, I can easily evaluate each card in my collection through a series of different lenses.

    • Beorn says:

      Thanks, Mark! As the card pool grows, I find my inner Galadriel-style coming to the forefront. It is fun to make powerful decks, but the wondrous setting of Middle-earth compels me to build thematic decks which as much narrative appeal as strategic might.

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