Each game of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a battle. On one side, your heroes and the cards in your deck represent an army of the free peoples of Middle-Earth. On the other side, the encounter deck represent the evil forces of Sauron, bent on death and destruction. The quest stages provide structure to the conflict, and represent progress that the players must make in order to win the battle. Like any conflict, the outcome is not random. The deciding factors in victory can often be subtle, and difficult to summarize. A multitude of decisions, in their own immeasurable way, turn the tides of the battle. This article will examine one of the most basic concepts of military strategy to see how we can apply it to our decking building and in-game play, to improve our chances of success.
The best generals are constantly looking for any advantages they can use to simplify the task of defeating their enemies. In a battle, each side is looking for these advantages, and the specific advantages in question are often asymmetrical. For example, one army might have more troops, while the other, smaller army, may have troops which are better trained and equipped. The victor is not necessarily the army without a weakness, but the one that maximizes its potential while exploiting any weaknesses of the enemy.
Force multiplication is the art of emphasizing your deck’s strengths. The basic idea is to use various strategies to increase the effective strength of your cards. If one character can be used with the effectiveness of two, you have essentially multiplied the force of that character. What follows is an overview of some of the common types of force multiplication. Remember, a well-designed deck is not limited to just one of these. In fact, the best decks often employ all of them, in some form or another.
The most obvious and intuitive force multiplier, numerical superiority is the strategy of simply having more troops than your opponent. Even accounting for surge, and treacheries that reveal multiple encounter cards, there is a limit to what the encounter deck can throw at each player in a given round. Decks that utilize numerical superiority will contain a high ratio of allies to attachments and events. The goal will be to flood the board with allies, so that whatever is revealed from the encounter deck can be simply overwhelmed.
To make it easier to muster an army quickly, many of the allies in this strategy will be low-cost. Less expensive characters often lack tactical superiority (see below), so the idea is to make up for the lesser strength with sheer numbers. These decks often won’t become truly effective until the numerical superiority reaches a critical threshold. For this reason, they will often include other accelerators like card draw or ally-playing events (A Very Good Tale, Timely Aid) to ensure that a steady stream of troops is available. This also helps offset the occasional need to sacrifice weaker allies as chump blockers. Most importantly, these decks will utilize global effects to multiply the advantage of having so many characters. Where Blade Mastery is mediocre on a single character, For Gondor! is fantastic on an entire army.
Forgive a silly old bear for bringing math into the discussion, but there is actually a formula for representing the numerical advantage one army has over another. As you may know, I can only count to 8, but a wise wizard once taught me this rule:
The Rule of Numerical Superiority:
[Larger Army] ^2 – [Smaller Army] ^2 = Numerical Advantage
Those funny looking ^2 simply mean to the power of 2. So, the bigger the disparity between the size of the two armies, the more telling is the impact of numerical advantage. Here are two examples, to help make this concept more concrete.
Bergil has his dwarf deck, which includes Dain, Thorin Oakenshield and Ori as heroes. In addition, he has the following six allies in play: 2 Longbeard Elders, 2 Longbeard Orc Slayers, an Erebor Hammersmith, and Dori. He is facing the following four enemies: East Bight Patrol, Dol Guldur Orcs, Eastern Crows and Chieftan Ufthak. Bergil has the following, impressive, numerical superiority in this situation:
(9 characters ^2) 81 – (4 enemies ^2) 16 = 65 points in Bergil’s favor
Rosie on the other hand, has only her three trusty heroes: Boromir (TDM), Elladan and Elrohir. In her case, these same four enemies would slightly outnumber her party. The numerical superiority of Chieftan Ufthak and Company against Rosie’s characters would thus be small:
(4 enemies ^2) 16 – (3 heroes ^2) 9 = 7 points in Chieftan’s favor
These “points” are just a generic unit used to describe the extent of the numerical superiority. Intuitively, one can see the Rosie is only barely outnumbered by the enemies, and remember that numerical superiority does not in any way take into account that the relative strength or abilities of Rosie’s heroes. The interesting thing to observe, however, is the non-linear nature of this measurement. Bergil has more than twice as many characters as the enemies, so one might naively assume that his advantage would be about twice that of the enemies advantage over Rosie. Since we are dealing with powers of two, and not just multiplication, this assumption would be incorrect. In fact, Bergil’s army of characters gives him a 13-fold increase over that of Chieftan Ufthak and Company. My paws are far too big to draw with a mouse, so I will just borrow this graph to serve as an illustration.
Because numerical superiority increases at a greater rate, the more the disparity between the sizes of the armies, Bergil actually has an overwhelming advantage in this example. Again, it must be stated, numerical superiority is only one measure of the relative strengths of two forces. Eastern Crows are much easier to defeat than Chieftan Ufthak, just as Boromir is a much more powerful character than an Erebor Hammersmith, all else being equal. That said, this concept is still useful when examined in the proper context.
Ultimately, numerical superiority becomes truly powerful once you bring global effects into account. In the above example, while he is ready, Dain will give all of the other dwarves +1 to their attack. This means that Dori and the two Orc Slayers can kill the Chieftan, without even needing help from a hero. This stands in stark contrast to Rosie’s situation, where all of her heroes would have to participate in an attack in order to defeat Chieftan Ufthak. Any of those dwarves, individually, is obviously not as impressive as Boromir. Collectively, however, they can be as effective as the hero of Gondor, if not more so.
The best example of this strategy in action is definitely dwarf decks like the one mentioned above. Built around Dain Ironfoot and a bevy of cheap dwarf allies, these decks can quickly build an overwhelming numerical superiority. When you include cards with trait synergy like Erebor Battle Master and Lure of Moria, dwarf decks are some of the most powerful, card-for-card, of any decks in the game. Thorin Oakenshield can be used for resource generation, Ori for card drawing, and Nori for threat-reduction, but the undisputed master of the dwarves remains the King Under the Mountain, Dain Ironfoot. His is the global effect that makes everything else work.
Heirs of Numenor introduced a different version of Boromir which allows players to use this same strategy, but with Gondor allies. Boromir coupled with inexpensive and easily-played allies like Citadel Custodian and Errand-Rider, can create a powerful Gondorian army. With such an army, cards like For Gondor!, particularly in Battle quests, become game-changing. Unfortunately, Boromir’s ability only effects allies’ attack strength, and only when Boromir has resources. With the current dearth of trait synergy for Gondor, this deck is not yet on the level of dwarves. But fear not, brave citizens of the white tower! The Gondor trait looks to get a lot more attention in the upcoming Against the Shadow cycle, so this particular strategy will improve very soon.
Lastly, Rohan quest-rush decks also employ the numerical superiority strategy. Allies such as Snowbourn Scout and Escort From Edoras, along with cards like Faramir and Astonishing Speed, allow these decks to commit a tremendous amount of willpower to the quest. It is plain to see how numerical superiority can win games: why spend 4 resources for Faramir, only to quest with 3 characters at +1 willpower? At that point you are only getting one more willpower than just sending Faramir to the quest as well. On the other hand, seemingly weak allies like Snowbourn Scout are tremendous when you can ride an army of 8 or more of them, all at +1 willpower, to glorious victory on the fields of battle.
In the above example, Boromir, Elladan and Elrohir seem outnumbered. Indeed, if the only measure of force multiplication available was numerical superiority, these three heroes would be in trouble. But where many characters can accomplish much, so too, can a single character gifted with the ability to act multiple times in a round. When facing the four enemies described above, assuming you have the resources to pay, Elrohir can actually block each attacking enemy in turn. On the counter-attack, Boromir and Elladan can then join Elrohir to finish off the enemies.
This is an extreme, but still plausible example of action advantage. Action advantage is costly, but brutally effective. Whether you are powering the readying effects built into heroes, or you use attachments and events to provide these effects, you will need resources. Ideally, action advantage will be repeatable multiple times. This is why the attachment Unexpected Courage remains the holy grail of action advantage, even after newer cards like Miruvor and Cram were released.
As a strategy, action superiority stands in stark contrast to numerical superiority described above. Rather than field an army of cheap allies, and make them powerful using sheer numbers and global effects, action superiority is all about effective use of heroes. For this reason, you will often want to pair this strategy with tactical superiority (see below), because it means that the characters that you are using multiple times are maximally useful in the situation at hand. There are few scenarios in the game that will long withstand the efforts of strong heroes acting multiple times each round.
It should be pointed out that readying is not the only way to get multiple uses out of a character. Heroes like Beorn (that’s me!) and attachments like Light of Valinor allow heroes to take actions that would normally require exhaustion, while staying ready to do other things later in the round. Cards like We Do Not Sleep and Light the Beacons are examples of expensive, but powerful, global events that can swing the entire course of a game.
At this point, the game has a cornucopia of options to provide action advantage. Heroes like Aragorn (Core), Boromir (TDM), and the brothers Elladan and Elrohir, all have abilities that allow them to ready. In Boromir’s case, there is actually no limit, other than your threat, to the number of times that he can be readied in a round. In a deck with threat reduction, Boromir represents the single best action advantage of any hero in the game. Additionally, attachments like Unexpected Courage, Cram and Miruvor can be used to ready heroes. By far, the most powerful examples of action advantage in the game are the global events, Grim Resolve and Lure of Moria. For the cost, Lure of Moria in a dwarf deck is quite simply ridiculous, especially because you can pair it with cards like We Are Not Idle to gain resource superiority as well.
Tactical superiority at its heart, is having better characters, abilities and effects than the enemies and effects that come from the encounter deck. In the earlier example of Chieftan Ufthak and Company, Rosie’s heros Boromir, Elladan, and Elrohir have tactical superiority over every enemy except the Chieftan. For characters and enemies, the easiest way to determine tactical advantage is to simply compare them, stat-for-stat, for attack, defense, and hit points. Using this formula to compare Boromir and the Chieftan highlights the limitation of this naive metric:
Boromir (3 Atk, 2 Def, 5 HP) 10 vs. Chieftan Ufthak (3 Atk, 3 Def, 6 HP) 12
Obviously, this is only useful to provide a baseline, it does not tell the whole story of their relative worth. Discounting Boromir’s ability would completely ignore the action superiority that he provides. On the other hand, Chieftan Ufthak has the potential to permanently gain +2 Attack each round, so his point tally is deceptive as well. These kind of unique characteristics, along with abilities like sentinel and ranged, bonuses from weapons, armor, and various events, all play a part in tactical superiority.
Not all abilities are created equal. Some abilities are so powerful that they represent almost-total tactical superiority for a given situation. Armed with these sort of game-breaking abilities an army, even a smaller one without action superiority, can still overcome powerful foes. Any card that nullifies or automatically solves all of a certain class of problems, is one which possesses definite tactical superiority.
A prime example of this is the attachment, A Burning Brand. Because it cancels all shadow effects on an attacking enemy, even for enemies like Dol Guldur Beastmaster that are dealt multiple shadow cards, A Burning Brand represents a massive tactical superiority over shadow effects. Being able to effectively shut down one whole aspect of the encounter deck’s strength should not be underestimated.
To a lesser extent, cards like Eleanor and the soon-to-be-released Balin fall into this category as well. Because the cancelled effect is replaced by a new card in both cases, these heroes cannot be said to truly shut down the given aspect of the encounter deck. Still, the fact that each of these heroes can use their ability repeatedly gives you the ability to stop the first bad effect of that type that occurs each round. This sort of soft-control can still be very powerful, particularly if there is one treachery or shadow card in particular that is the bane of your deck.
Brute strength and cancelation are not the only forms of tactical superiority. The fact he can easily be equipped with powerful weapons and armor, in addition to his high defense and sentinel ability, gives Beregond a potent tactical superiority as a defender. Similarly, the existence of Asfaloth gives Glorfindel tremendous tactical superiority in scenarios with a lot of locations. In the same way, Celebrian’s Stone provides Aragorn tactical superiority as a quester.
This can then easily be paired with the action superiority of readying Aragorn after he commits to the quest. In this simple example, one attachment paired with the right hero and 1 resource, gives you 4 willpower committed to the quest, along with an excellent combat participant. These kind of advantages are precisely how you beat a larger, seemingly more powerful foe, with only a few characters.
Some tactical superiority can be more subtle, and less obvious. The fact that you include a Noldor as one of your starting heroes, allows you to include Elrond’s Counsel without being dependent on drawing the right ally. In addition to being a cheap willpower boost, this card is the most efficient form of threat-reduction in the game. This, in turn, provides tactical superiority against quests with many doomed cards, and encounter effects that raise player threat. These more nuanced tactical advantages take time and experience to spot, but the more you learn to identify them, the better your decks will become.
Tying It All Together
The three forms of force multiplication mentioned in this article are by no means the only ones that exist in the game. Two obvious examples that come to mind are resource superiority (think, Steward of Gondor) and card superiority (Gleowine, Beravor, etc.), but these are much more obvious so we will leave them as an exercise for creative readers. As with any key concept, the idea is not to just fill a deck with every readying effect in print and call it done.
The best decks, like the Dain-powered monstrosity mentioned at the beginning of the article, mix and match many different kinds of force multiplication. Cheap allies like Erebor Hammersmith and Miner of the Iron Hills, combine with cards like A Very Good Tale, Fili and Kili to quickly muster numerical superiority. Erebor Record Keeper, Cram and the awesome Lure of Moria provide action superiority. Even without donning armor, Dain is tactically superior as a defender, while characters like Gimli and Erebor Battle Master are overwhelming on the attack.
Force multiplication is not simply a good idea, it is essential for survival against the most difficult scenarios. The more that your deck maximizes the utility of its cards, and multiplies the strength of your army, the more likely you will be able to handle the force multiplication that the encounter deck is utilizing. Yes, you read that right, even though it is not controlled by a player, the scenario is using force multiplication of its own.
In fact, the more difficult quests will attack your deck from multiple directions at once, often in ways that play off of each other. In Peril in Pelargir, a Pickpocket might steal your last Spirit resource or cause you to discard your Miner of the Iron Hills. When the next card revealed from the encounter deck is Local Trouble, you have just been hit with action inferiority on your biggest hero. This is the encounter deck’s equivalent of a force multiplier and once you get hit with, it will be that much harder for your deck to overcome the next onslaught.
That’s enough for today. All this talk of multipliers has put a buzzing between my ears, and it’s not bees. Math gets hard when I have to use all four paws to count that high. I think it’s time to go out and slay some orcs, just to clear my head. Check back soon, as we bring you another thought-provoking look at one of the game’s key concepts.