Various articles here at the Hall of Beorn have emphasized the importance of resource generation and card draw as essential components of successful decks. Indeed, these two concepts go hand-in-hand. With all of those extra cards, we will need extra resources in order to pay for everything. On the other hand, having extra resources on our heroes with no cards on which to spend them is a waste of the attachments and events that generated the surplus to begin with. One of the fundamental aspects of game balance in living card games is that the more powerful cards are unique. So, what do we do when all of card-drawing gives us multiple copies of our powerful, but unique, allies and attachments?
This is where efficiency enters into the discussion. Our decks should include ways to ensure that we can always use cards in our hands, and resources on our heroes, to maximal effect. No matter how good a card, if we can’t afford to pay for it, then it is a dead card. On the other hand, all the resource generation in the game is of no use, if we have nothing on which to spend the resources. Focusing on efficiency is another way to create consistency, as we can squeeze the maximum effectiveness from our deck, even if we get a bad draw.
The ideal of card efficiency is to always be able to use every card in your hand. Obviously this is not always possible. Resources constrain the number of cards that can be played on a given turn. Only one copy of a unique card can be in play at a time. Each character can have at most two restricted attachments at a time. With multi-sphere decks, the randomness of the draw can mean that we have a hand full of cards and only one hero to pay for them. For one reason or another, there will be times when we have dead cards in our hand. Part of card efficiency is finding other things that we can do with the dead cards in our hand.
Not only is she the best questing hero in the game, but Eowyn is one of the best characters when it comes to providing card efficiency. Duplicate uniques, expensive allies, case-specific events, and restricted attachments can all be discarded to increase Eowyn’s willpower. The fact that any player can trigger her ability in multiplayer games actually makes her one of the few cards in the game that improves everyone’s card efficiency.
When the need arises, we even have the option of discarding useful cards to fuel Eowyn’s ability. Obviously, this is less ideal, but in cases where we really need to clear the active location, or pass on to the next quest stage, it can be worth sacrificing a good card in the short-term in exchange for long-term strategic gain. That Eowyn always gives us this option, with any card in our hand, once per round, is what makes her such a paragon of card efficiency. Another way to look at her ability would be that while she is in play, each card in your hand gains the following text:
Action: Discard this card to give Eowyn +1 Willpower. (Limit once per round)
Read this way, the true power of her ability becomes even more apparent. If you choose Eowyn as one of your heroes, you will essentially never have a dead card in your hand. With questing being one of the central mechanics of the game, other than battle and siege quests, Eowyn’s ability will always be useful.
The Rohirrim seem to have the market cornered when it comes to heroes with innate card efficiency. Háma, the door-warden of Meduseld, similary has an ability that is fueled with cards in hand. Every time he attacks, we can return a tactics event from the discard pile to our hand, after which we must choose and discard 1 card from our hand. Not only do we ensure that every card is always useful, but we are gaining discard recursion, an ability not normally found in the Tactics sphere.
This means that as long as there are enemies to attack (a pretty safe bet in most scenarios), any duplicate or dead cards in our hand can be replaced by one of the game’s best events. The advantage of this effect becomes particularly evident in scenarios with more powerful enemies. Háma’s ability to bring back cards like Feint, Foe-Hammer, and Hands Upon the Bow, can be the difference between victory and defeat when dealing with Trolls, Nazgul, or even the mighty Balrog.
With alternative uses for cards in our hand, having ways to bring cards back from the discard pile becomes even more useful. Erebor Hammersmith is an ally with good stats, that many players will include in their dwarf decks without regard to his ability. Regardless of the advantages we may take from his solid stats, and his trait, any time the Hammersmith is played from hand and we do not trigger his response, we are wasting a valuable resource.
Because we can can return an attachment from the discard pile, for no additional cost, we should always try to have a target for Erebor Hammersmith’s ability. This is one of the nice bits of synergy where multiple effects can work together to give us increased card efficiency.
With the Erebor Hammersmith in hand, we can chose to discard an attachment — even one that we want to use, without worry. After discarding the attachment as part of playing Daeron’s Runes, or triggering the ability of Eowyn, Háma or Protector of Lorien, we get a useful effect for virtually no cost. With the effect triggered, and the attachment in the discard pile, we simply pay for the Hammersmith and return the discarded attachment to our hand.
Resource generation is at the heart of the game. Barring certain unpleasant condition attachments, or prisoner-situations, each hero will be gaining a resource, at the beginning of ever round. Obviously, and important aspect of deck building is choosing cards with a good cost distribution. On the one hand, we don’t want to fill our decks with only high-cost cards, as we will be stuck waiting multiple rounds, just to play a single card. In the early early rounds, especially, it is critical to be building momentum and mustering solutions to the problems presented by a scenario. On the other hands, filling our decks with only low-cost cards leaves us unnecessarily weakened. Many of the best synergies in the game involve cards that cost 3 or 4 resources, and game-changers like Gandalf and Grim Resolve are by no means cheap.
The fact of the mater is that even the best decks can have resource issues. Whether it is drawing too many of the wrong sphere of cards, or failing to find your song attachments in a multi-sphere deck, or even having Steward of Gondor in play with only low-cost cards in your hand, many things can create a situation where resources are wasted. Resource efficiency is the goal of using all of your resources, to their greatest impact, as much as possible. Obviously, there will be rounds where you need to save up to play bigger cards later, but when you end the game with a dozen resources on one of your heroes, that is a sign that you deck could be more resource efficient.
Even after two chapter pack cycles, the game has only a few variable cost cards. An often overlooked advantage of the “X” cards is that you can use extra resources, that would otherwise go to waste, to pay for these cards. Granted, with something like Stand and Fight, we are constrained by the cost of the ally that we want to return to play, so circumstances will most often dicate how much we pay for that card. But other variable-cost cards can give us a nice resource-sink when we find ourselves with a glut of resources, and nothing on which to spend them.
Gandalf’s Search is a great example of a card that, under ordinary circumstances, seems underpowered for the cost. The existence of Imladris Stargazer, makes this card seem like an expensive, one-time, alternative that is not worth considering. But one of the tricky things about judging the relative worth of a card is examining it in context. In a Leadership/Lore deck, unless we include song attachments, we can’t pay for our stargazing friend.
On the other hand, Steward of Gondor and Master of Lore will ensure that we have plenty of extra resources lying around, much of the time. In this context, Gandalf’s Search doesn’t seem like such a bad card, particularly because we can choose which player to play it on in multiplayer game. It works well with Master of Lore, either to look at one extra card for free, or to setup the next round of cards to reduce. Bifur comes in handy once again, as the dwarf can pull excess resources from heroes with other spheres, and put them to use in the search. Additionally, we can always have Master of the Forge reshuffle our deck, if we don’t like what the grey wizard found. In a worst case scenario, we simply pay 1 resource and draw the top card of our deck.
Having allies and attachments to take advantage of unused resources is a great way to improve you deck’s resource efficiency. The Errand-Rider, recently released in Heirs of Numenor, provides a very cost-effective means for maximizing the use of extra resources. In multiplayer games, we even have the option of sending our leftovers to heroes controlled by other players.
More so than song attachments, of even Narvi’s Belt, the resource smoothing provided by Errand-Rider is a very efficient way to put resources where they will be most useful. Because we can choose a different target, each round, there should never be resources stuck on the wrong hero. This also works well with heroes from the core set, like Aragorn and Glorfindel, with abilities that require a resource payment.
Moving resources between heroes is all well and good in a multi-sphere deck, or a multiplayer game, but some decks will just generate too many resources to spent from any hero. This is where allies like Longbeard Map Maker are invaluable.
In the Leadership/Lore deck mentioned above, Steward of Gondor and Master of Lore will allow us to play all of the cards in our hand fairly quickly. But what happens when the resource generation continues, but the cards in hand have dried up? Ideally, we would have enough card draw from Gleowine, Beravor and Legacy of Durin, to keep a steady supply of cards in our hand. But, just like the changing seasons, every deck will have times of feast and famine.
Resource overflow most often occurs later in the game. After we have played the cards from our hand, we won’t have much of anything to pay for with the extra resources from Steward of Gondor. The Longbeard Map-Maker allows us to make one final, major questing push. Because there is not limit to the number of times we can trigger his ability, it is not hard to boost the Map-Maker’s willpower to 5 or 6 in a single quest phase. This allows us to put all of those extra resources to good use, and finish of the scenario in style.
Each new release adds more resource generation and draw effects into the card pool, making efficiency an increasingly important part of deck design. Maximizing the utility of cards in our hand and resources on our heroes will make our decks that much more effective. Remember that resources, just like honey cakes, are made to be consumed. That’s all for this edition of key concepts, come back soon for another fascinating look at another of the game’s strategic aspects.