As one of the oldest games in existence, Chess has a well-established strategic vocabulary. A good example of this is the common language used in Chess around game phases (Please note that this has word a different meaning in chess than in card games). The Early game is largely defined by openings: rote series of moves and counter-moves designed to put a player in a position to be successful. The middle game, where the bulk of a chess match is played is where the real challenge begins. After a handful of moves, the board state is too unpredictable for predefined strategies, and players must work out in-game strategies on the fly. By the late game, one side will typically have the advantage, which they will try to trade for victory. In cases where the sides enter the end game evenly matched, a draw is also possible.
As a living card game, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is much more dynamic than Chess. It is also impossible to “draw” a game against the encounter deck, so aiming for total victory is the only viable strategy. Although it is not feasible to have predefined openings in this game, the value of a particular card can definitely vary based on timing (which Chess calls phases). This article will attempt to examine cards in the context of when they have maximal utility: early game, middle game and late game.
Early game cards will have the greatest impact when played in the first few rounds. While they may still be valuable when played later, it is ideal to look for these cards in your opening hand. Middle game cards often depend on having other resources available for maximal impact. They may have a higher resource cost, or depend on having multiple allies in play. Whatever the reason, these cards will most often be used after about the third round but well before the game ends. As the name implies, late game cards will tend to be saved for one final push to victory. While some of them can certainly be put to good effect earlier in a game, their cost, requirements, or global scope, will mean that you want to keep them for the critical moment when victory is within reach.
To be clear, none of the classifications are exact. Some staple cards like A Test of Will and Feint are good at almost all times of the game. In other cases, you will want to accelerate your resources and cards in play, to allow for playing late game cards earlier. Playing more powerful cards early is a great way for a deck to gain a strategic advantage in a scenario, entering the late game.
For example, Gildor Inglorion is listed as a late game card, because his cost of 5 resources in the Lore sphere means that he is difficult to get him into play in the first several rounds of the game. Using resource acceleration, or ally mustering effects like A Very Good Tale and Elf-Stone can get Gildor into play much more quickly. Having access to such a powerful ally will free up your heroes for other actions and mean that your deck can better handle the challenges presented by a scenario.
On the other hand, not all late-game cards can be accelerated for maximum effect. Even if you are able to afford Grim Resolve on the first round of the game, that does not mean that it would be a wise decision to play it. Waiting until you have more characters in play will greatly increase the potency of these kinds of global late game cards.
Because of their cost, you will not necessary want to include as many copies of late game cards, which works well statistically as you will need to spend a few rounds drawing and using other deck manipulation effects to get these game-ending cards in hand. The alternative of including 3 copies of each of your late game cards could spell strategic disaster. The last thing a deck needs is an opening hand filled with expensive cards that won’t become effective until other cards (which are still in your deck) have entered play.
For the early game, the Leadership Sphere provides a wealth of tools. When it comes to allies, Errand-Rider is one of the best early-game plays. In a multi-player game, Errand-Rider allows you to share resources with other players. Even in a solo game, the ability to move resources around is critical in all but mono-Sphere decks. The fact that he has 2 hit points should not go without mention, as it makes the Errand-Rider a good meat shield for chump blocking attackers. Even if a direct-damage shadow card like Blocking Wargs is flipped, there is little risk that the Errand-Rider will be defeated before the attack damage is dealt.
Snowbourn Scout is another good ally for the early-game, particularly in scenarios with a lot of hard-to-visit locations. One last consideration is Fili. At a cost of 3 resources, Fili is not cheap. If you can find a way to play him quickly however, you will maximize his benefit as he can immediately fetch his brother Kili and give you a second ally in play for no additional cost. This is important to do early, because he must fetch Kili out of your deck. If you wait too long to play Kili, you may have already drawn your copy of Fili and then be unable to take advantage of this effect.
Leadership includes several critical attachments for the early game. The most obvious must-have for developing your board state, is also one of the best cards in the game. Steward of Gondor is a critical card in the opening or early hands for almost any deck that includes Leadership. The longer that you have this card out, the more you benefit from the extra resources. It pays for itself the round you play it, so being able to attach it to a hero on the first or second round will mean that you are netting additional resources for the rest of the game.
For Dwarf decks, card drawing is also an early-game option in Leadership thanks to King Under the Mountain. The more cards that you can draw, the more of your deck that you will see, and the more likely that you will be able to realize your core strategies. Cram is another great opening play, especially because action advantage is so critical in the early stages of the game. Later, when you have more allies in play, readying a hero is not as meaningful so Cram is definitely something to value in your opening hand.
As far as events are concerned, Sneak Attack is an all around great card. If you have Gandalf (Core), Beorn (Core) or a Descendant of Thorondor in hand, it doesn’t matter what time you draw Sneak Attack – the resulting combo will be very powerful. Even so, in the mid and late-game, you are more likely to actually have the resources to play the ally in question. In these cases Sneak attack is only really good with allies like Gandalf, that leave play at the end of the round. Early on, when resources are scarce, being able to drop an extra character into play for only 1 resource can make a huge difference in the outcome of the game. If you have effects like Horn of Gondor or Prince Imrahil that trigger off of allies leaving play, this is all the more true.
Resource acceleration of any kind is of great benefit in the early game, and Wealth of Gondor and Gaining Strength both fit the bill. Without other effects, Gaining Strength cannot be played until the second round, but this is definitely the time to play it when you have this event in hand. To get a sense of why these are early game events, think about the one time you wouldn’t want to draw one of them. That’s right, the late game is the one time that these cards tend to be useless. You will often have very few cards in your hand, and especially in the Leadership sphere, you can have an abundance of resources on your heroes. This is the one instance when extra resources do you absolutely no good. So remember, when it comes to resource acceleration: the sooner, the better.
For decks that sport a starting threat under the Secrecy threshold, Timely Aid is another fantastic early-game play. Not only are you scrying your deck for the best ally among the top 5 cards, but you are then getting them into play for only a single resource. Secrecy in general is always an early-game strategy; in all but the shortest games your threat will inevitable raise above 20 at some point.
Tactics has a bevvy of great choices for early-game allies. On the defensive side of things, Defender of Rammas and Gondorian Spearman are both great options. Winged Defender is less ideal, simply because you are unlikely to have the spare resource to keep him in play. For offense, Vassal of the Windlord remains an absolute bargain for one resource, and can still be used as a chump blocker if his ranged and high attack are not needed. In the right decks, Veteran Axehand and Gulthlaf are also solid early plays.
As far as attachments are concerned, pretty much any weapon is a good early play. With limited exceptions (e.g. Ranger Bow), weapons are the exclusive domain of the Tactics sphere, and equipping characters early will give them a bonus that lasts throughout the game. Two weapons in particular, Great Yew Bow and Dagger of Westernesse, are good early-game plays. In the case of the Dagger, you get the full benefit from this weapon while your threat is lower than the enemy that you attack, which is more of a sure-thing in the early-game. For the bow, the situation is similar but even more critical. Because you can only trigger the bow during the combat phase, the target needs to have an engagement cost that is higher than your threat (or be returned to the staging area somehow). If you wait too long to play this card, you will find yourself without any valid targets for its effect.
One last attachment that is critical in the early game is the Horn of Gondor. Resource generation is always a good candidate for early-game play, because it provides a means for playing mid and late-game cards faster than would normally be possible. Horn of Gondor is especially important to get into play early, because of its conditional nature. There is nothing worse than drawing a Horn of Gondor the round after several allies left play from some direct damage treachery, or a large-scale combat. The sooner that you have this card attached to one of your heroes, the sooner that you can reap the benefits.
For events, there are a handful of good candidates for early game play. A staple of the game, Feint is an especially good play early, when your lack of ally support can leave your heroes exposed. Behind Strong Walls, with its powerful combination of defense boosting and readying effects, is another great early-game play. In combination with a hero like Beregond, who is already a superb defender, this card can be vital to early game survival in multi-player games with lots of enemies.
For Eagle decks, The Eagles Are Coming is the perfect first-round play; it let’s you fill your hand with more options, and thins your deck so that other attachments and events are more likely to show up. This also sets up the middle game for Eagle decks, providing the fuel for more powerful cards that will be played later.
The newly-released Silvan Refugee is one of the quintessential early-game cards. The longer the game goes on, the more likely that an ally leaves play, and our Refugee will slip back into the forest. For this reason, getting Silvan Refugee into play as quickly as possible is advised. A good way to look at this card is as a small, short-term, investment in your overall willpower. Even if the Refugee only stays in play for 3 rounds, that is a net of 6 additional willpower that we gained for a single resource.
Arwen Undomiel is another great example of an early-game ally. Keeping heroes alive is one of the most important tasks in this game. This task is made that much harder in the first round of the game, when you don’t have any allies out to help share the load. If Arwen is your first-round play, you have immediately improved the defensive capabilities of one of your heroes. In a multi-player game, she becomes an even better early play, as her ability to grant Sentinel can lead to all kinds of cross-table support strategies.
Another good option for an early-game ally is the Imladris Stargazer. For a small cost of 2 resources, having the ability to scry your deck and rearrange the top five cards is very powerful. This effect is even better in multi-player games, because you can choose another player. Decks featuring spheres like Tactics and Leadership, which lack these kinds of abilities, can take special advantage of this. It should also be mentioned that Imladris Stargazer is a key component to combos that involve cards like Vilya, Expert Treasure-Hunter and Zigil Miner. Even when those combos are not present, being able to smooth your next few draws can be a huge advantage in the first few rounds.
When it comes to attachments, the best early game plays in Spirit all involve some form of action advantage. Light of Valinor, Miruvor and Unexpected Courage are all great cards, and provide additional actions that are vital in the early rounds. Light of Valinor is a must-include card for any deck that features the Spirit version of Glorfindel, but can also be quite useful on other heroes like Elrond.
Unexpected Courage is the best readying effect in the game, but its higher cost can make it harder to play quickly, especially when saving resources to play A Test of Will or Hasty Stroke. Miruvor is one of the best early-game plays in Spirit, not only does it provide a readying effect, but it can pay for itself after it is triggered.
The early-game Spirit events will come as little surprise. A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke are both great cards throughout the game. However, early on, when there is less margin for error, is when cancellation is the most critical. Once an army of allies has been built up, equipped with an arsenal of powerful attachments, good strategy can be used to mitigate the effects of most treacheries and shadow cards. It is these cards, used early and judiciously, that will allow you to survive to that later state of the game that holds more certainty.
Many of Lore’s best allies are well-suited for play in the early-game. Henamarth Riversong is a prime example of this. Not only are his stats excellent for his cost, but his scrying ability can prove life-saving in the critical first rounds. For Dwarf decks, Erebor Record-Keeper provides some much needed readying, and can also contributing to the quest. Card drawing is a strength of Lore, and both Gleowine and Master of the Forge are fantastic choices to play first round. The more times that you trigger their abilities, the more benefit you will receive. Even if you miss out on attachment with the Master, the odds swing to your favor each time you trigger his effect.
There are a couple of very powerful attachments in the Lore sphere that can benefit any early-game strategy. A Burning Brand can negate shadow cards for one defender, for the rest of the game. The sooner you get this on your defender of choice, the better your outlook will be. Asfaloth is the best location-control card in the game, and at a cost of 2, there is no reason not to attach this card early. Once there are any locations in play, having the option of exploring them without travel is a huge strategic advantage. Additionally, Poisoned Stakes and Ranger Spikes are both excellent choices for early game play. They can provide the breathing room that a slower deck needs to establish board control.
When it comes to events, card draw is at the top of the list for early game Lore cards. Daeron’s Runes and Mithrandir’s Advice are two fantastic ways to draw additional additional cards. Most decks will feature other critical early game cards, if you cannot find those in your opening hand then card drawing effects are your best alternative.
Radagast’s Cunning and Secret Paths are both excellent in the early game, particularly when a single high-threat enemy or location is endangering your ability to quest successfully. Locations like The Brown Lands can be particularly devastating in the early game, when successful questing is so important. Having a way to mitigate these high-threat encounter cards for one round is essential in the first few rounds of the game.
There are a few neutral cards that fit well as early-game plays. For allies, Envoy of Pelargir is a surprising useful character in any deck that includes Gondor or Noble heroes. Having a limited resource-moving effect can definitely help multi-sphere decks pay for more expensive cards. The fact that the envoy has 1 willpower can also really help mono-Tactics decks that will typically struggle with questing.
The Songs are the other neutral card that is a great play in the early game. Collectively, Song of Kings, Song of Battle, Song of Travel and Song of Wisdom provide sphere icons to heroes that lack them.
Getting these attachments into play early will help smooth over many of the rough patches that multi-sphere decks can experience. Resource smoothing from Songs is similar to resource acceleration effects, they are much more powerful in the early game. Not drawing these cards until later in the game will often be a case of too little, too late.
The Leadership sphere offers some very powerful allies for the middle game. Foremost of these is Faramir. With a cost of 4, Faramir would be expensive in any other sphere. Fortunately, Leadership has a number of ways to get Faramir into play quickly. He is by no means a character that you need to have in play first round, but once you have a few other allies in play, Faramir becomes a real powerhouse. If you can take advantage of his ability from the middle of the game onward, your chances of survival are greatly increased.
Erestor and Dunedain Watcher are some other good allies to play in the middle game. Erestor will allow you to discard any duplicates which may have accumulated in your hand over the course of the game. Dunedain Watcher is a good all-around ally, and provides a fail safe for shadow effects that would otherwise cause a hero to be defeated. In general, more expensive Leadership allies are still viable in the middle game, because of the sphere’s ability to generate resources so quickly.
Narvi’s Belt, Celebrian’ Stone, and Hardy Leadership are good examples of attachments that will often be played in the middle of the game. The Belt and Stone are both beneficial as soon as you play them, but their 2 cost may make them harder to play early, with cards like Steward of Gondor taking early priority. Hardy Leadership on the other hand, is a more traditional middle game card, as it doesn’t really become powerful until you have more Dwarf characters in play.
Leadership has some great middle game effects. A Very Good Tale is a card that you will want to play as soon as possible, it just will not always be practical to do so early. Not only do you need to have two allies in play, but they need to be characters that you can afford to exhaust. Even so, taking the risk of using this card earlier will often reap the rewards, assuming your deck contains a high number of allies.
Characters like Faramir, with abilities that require them to exhaust, especially benefit from this card. In multi-player games, utility allies like Gleowine, Imladris Stargazer and Bofur also really appreciate the action advantage. Obviously, this card only makes sense when their are a good number of characters in play, to maximize the benefit. When used at the right time, the tremendous action advantage that it provides can give a critical advantage in the middle of the game.
The Tactics sphere has some solid allies for the middle of the game. Bofur is a critical piece of any deck that includes weapons (which is most Tactics decks), and also provides some much-needed willpower.
Another dwarf that makes a great middle game play is the Erebor Battle Master. Over the course of the game this ally can build to a truly massive attack value. However, he is not a good defender or quester, so he is not necessary the correct early game play. Once you have established the other facets of your deck, the Battle Master can be brought into play to clean up any pesky enemies.
Similarly, Eagle of the Misty Mountains is an important middle game play for an Eagle deck. With a high cost, this card may look like a late game play, but you want to get it out earlier, to allow the other cheaper Eagles to attach after they leave play. Playing this card after a couple of your Eagle allies have just left play is a waste of strategic resources.
Support of the Eagles and Citadel Plate represent two attachments that are good to have by the middle of the game. While they are both expensive, you want to maximize their value by getting them into play relatively quickly. Attaching Support of the Eagles to Boromir (TDM) by round 3 or 4 will mean that you often have the necessary Eagle allies to turn him into a one-man army, especially if you have been using cards like The Eagles Are Coming!.
Tactics has a good number of powerful events that depend on other cards to work effectively. In the case of Foe-Hammer and Goblin-Cleaver, these cards are basically dead in your hand until you have a weapon attached to one of your heroes. Once you do have a weapon in play, being able to draw cards and deal direct damage at no additional cost is a well addition to any resource-constrained Tactics deck.
Hail of Stones is a bit more subtle, in that you can play it as early as the first round, but it becomes much more powerful when you wait until you have an army of allies at your disposal. Thicket of Spears has one of the most unique play restrictions in the game, it also effects all of the enemies engaged with a player. Being able to prevent multiple enemies from attacking is very powerful, but it won’t be until later in the game that this advantage even becomes available.
Northern Tracker is definitely one of the most powerful allies in the game, but even a deck that has the capability to play him on the first round will find that it might not be the best choice. His 1 willpower is not contributing much to the quest, and while he has good stats for combat, he is expensive. Moreover, his ability depends on their being locations in the staging area, something that is less likely in the early game.
For these reasons, the early game is often where a Spirit deck will establish some high-willpower questing allies, to ensure that it makes steady progress in the scenario. Later, when some locations with nasty travel effects are in play, The Northern Tracker will be a lot more effective. As far as timing, you will want to get the Tracker into play before the staging area becomes too full, to start building up those progress tokens. Fortunately, Spirit has many solutions for managing the staging area threat and continuing to quest successfully.
Dwalin is another solid ally for Spirit decks built dwarves, but his bonus doesn’t come into play until you have 5 dwarf characters in play, so he is difficult to play in the early game. Escort from Edoras may seem like an odd choice as a middle game ally, given his relatively low cost of 2 resources. While he can certainly be helpful in the early game, other allies like Silvan Refugee, Arwen and West Road Traveler are often more than adequate. Because he is discarded after the quest resolves, the Escort is a high-risk and high-reward card. For this reason, I find it is best to wait until you have A Test of Will in hand before committing him to the quest. Also, with cards like Silvan Refugee that will leave play after the forced effect on Escort from Edoras triggers, this becomes a better card for the middle and late game.
For attachments, Ring of Barahir and Thror’s Key can both be powerful cards, but they don’t necessarily make sense in the early game. Certainly, with such a low cost, you can play the Ring of Barahir on the first round. You won’t really get the benefit all of those extra hit points however, until you have amassed several artifact attachments on the chosen hero. Thror’s Key is another card that can take some patience before its value becomes evident. The card is unique, so you cannot have multiple in play at once. Also, you don’t necessarily want to use this card on the first location that comes into play. A scenario will often have one or two locations with really negative effects, this is what Thror’s Key should be saved for.
The Galadhrim’s Greeting is the single most powerful threat reduction effect in the game. However, the cost makes it difficult to afford in the early game. Additionally, it can be used to aid other players in a multi-player game. In particular, there is a lot of strategy around lowering a player’s threat before the encounter phase, to avoid having to engage a powerful enemy. Most of these kinds of decisions come up in the middle game, though a deck with resource acceleration, or cost reduction like A Good Meal, can also make use of this card earlier in a game.
Another event that doesn’t usually see play early in a game is Stand and Fight. Because the ally that you want to return to play has to already be in the discard pile, there won’t be any targets for this card on the first round. As the game goes on, and players make use of cards like Escort from Edoras, the discard pile will be filled with some choice targets for this effect. A reminder, unfortunately this card does not work with Neutral cards, so although it would seem like a natural fit with the core set Gandalf you cannot perform that combo with these cards.
Lore has a multitude of reasonably costed allies that make for good middle game plays. Erebor Hammersmith, Warden of Healing and Miner of the Iron Hills are all imminently affordable at a cost of 2 resources. There abilities however, don’t really come into play until the middle of the game. Depending on the scenario, having healing effects available first round can often be overkill. Again, this depends greatly on the situation. a scenario with a lot of Archery effects like The Drúadan Forest will necessitate multiple forms of healing as quickly as you can get them into play. In most scenarios though, the Warden isn’t needed until later rounds.
For the Dwarves, their abilities typically cannot be used in the first few rounds of the game. Once you have a condition attached to one of your characters, or attachments in the discard pile, you will be able to derive the full benefit from these cards. Erebor Hammersmith in particular can work to great effect in allowing you to reuse early game cards like Cram and Ranger Spikes.
Speaking of returning attachments to your hand, another ally that is great in the middle game is Anborn. Thanks to all of the trap cards released in the Against the Shadow cycle, there are now plenty of targets for Anborn’s ability. He is expensive, and his ability doesn’t work until you have traps in your discard pile, so it make sense to wait on playing him until a few rounds into the game.
When it comes to attachments, Expert Treasure-Hunter, Elf-Stone and Protector of Lorien are all inexpensive and powerful cards. The fact that each of these cards costs very little might make them seem like good early game plays. Indeed, in the case of Elf-Stone, they certainly can be quite powerful early. On the other hand, each of these cards has limitations which make them harder to use effectively in the early game.
For Elf-Stone, you cannot use this card until you have a location in play that you will be able to explore. In most scenarios this is not a problem, but sometimes you will be waiting a few rounds before you can make use of this card. Protector of Lorien is a great card, but you won’t always want to be discarding cards from your hand, especially if you haven’t yet setup a repeatable form of card drawing. Expert Treasure-Hunter represents a great form of repeatable card drawing. But without Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion to scry the top of your deck, Expert Treasure-Hunter can be a risky venture.
Just like these conditional attachments, Lore has some event cards which can take a bit of setup before they have their full impact. Lore of Imladris, Take No Notice and Peace, and Thought all require specific strategies. In the case of Lore of Imladris, it makes sense to wait until a character has more damage on them before using this card. This is less likely to be a good play in the early game. Take No Notice can be very powerful, but in the early game when there are fewer enemies in play, the effect of this card is diminished.
Peace, and Thought is one of the best forms of card drawing in the game, at a bargain cost of 1 resource. However, because it requires you to exhaust two heroes during the Refresh phase, it makes the most sense to wait until you have some readying effects on hand. Certainly, losing the use of two heroes in the early game is not an acceptable trade-off for the cards that you gain.
Either version of Gandalf represents probably the single most powerful ally in the game. With a cost of 5 resources, the grey wizard is not someone that will often be joining your party right out of the gate. While it might be ideal if you can receive Gandalf’s help earlier, decks without resource acceleration will struggle to get him into play in the first few rounds.
Likewise, while the Hobbit version of Gandalf can certainly be a game-changer when played early, there are going to be situations where this is inadvisable as well. Depending on your starting threat, and the engagement costs of enemies in play, it may make sense to wait for some threat reduction effects or you will only be able to enlist the wizard’s help for a brief time.
Shadow of the past is one other neutral card that can come in handy in the middle game. After an innocuous encounter card has been discarded, paying 2 resources to ensure that you will see this harmless card again is a good deal. Paying the two resources for this effect in the early game makes less sense; those precious resources will often be better spent elsewhere.
The late game plays for Leadership are an interesting mix of powerful and questionable cards. For allies, Citadel Custodian has relatively weak stats; the only way this characters makes sense is if you have several Gondor allies already in play and he comes out for free. Similarly, Brok Ironfist is expensive but can come into play for free if one of your dwarf heroes is defeated.
Attachments provide some better late game options. Sword that was Broken can a tremendously powerful card, and is something that you should look to play in the middle game if possible. In the right scenario, Path of Need can be a game-breaking card, but with a limit of 1 copy per deck this card becomes a late game card almost by definition. Tome of Atanatar is a powerful card, and can be played at a discount in mono-Leadership decks, but you still want a good target in the discard pile to use with this effect.
Grim Resolve might be the best late game card in the current card pool. Being able to ready every single character in play for 5 resources is an absolutely amazing effect. While 5 resources might seem expensive, it is unlikely that any Leadership deck worth playing will be without resource acceleration to help pay for this card.
The effect applies to all characters, not just those that you control, so this card becomes truly epic in multi-player games. Certainly, this card can be put to good use earlier in the game. Unless you are willing to run the risk of including 3 copies in your deck, it still makes the most sense to save for a critical late round.
Not surprisingly, Tactics include some real heavy-hitters for the late game. The ally version of Beorn and Landroval are both immensely powerful characters. In both cases, they have abilities that you will typically only be using once per game. In Beorn’s case, you can technically get multiple uses from his “beast mode” ability, if you build some cleverness into you deck. Even so, his cost is high and Tactics decks mostly lack card draw or resource acceleration, so it will take a different kind of deck to accomplish this feat.
In the case of Landroval, his ability is explicitly limited to once per game, and his cost means that you will rarely have him in play in the earlier rounds. That said, you do want to get the eagle into play as early as possible; his ability being a response means that he must be in play in order for you to save a hero from defeat.
Tactics has a few other cards which often end up reaching the full potention in the late game. Black Arrow is another card that is limited to one per deck, so while it may be nice to have the boost from this card earlier, it will not be often that you find it in your opening hand.
Book of Eldacar and Gondorian Flame are late game for different reasons. In the case of the Book, it can be played earlier in mono-Tactics decks. In my experience though, I have found this card works well as an emergency escape hatch. If an ill-timed treachery means that an enemy engages earlier than planned, this card can allow you to replay to Feint and buy some time for a counter-attack. Gondorian Flame can be very powerful, but the extra resources that you will need to make this card truly impressive are simply not available in the earlier round.
One of the few late game events in the Tactics sphere is The Hammer-Stroke. At a cost of only 2 resources, it can certainly be played earlier, but this card lends itself to more spectacular displays of valor. Using it to engage one or two enemies might even be helpful, but these kinds of global effects really gain value when they scale to greater numbers.
For example, it is possible to build a deck around Tactics Boromir that uses The Hammer-Stroke along with other damage all enemy effects to effectively kill all enemies in play. In a game with four players, this kind of sacrifice can completely swing the tide of battle, as well as being a lot of fun!
Spirit has all sorts of cards that make sense as late game plays. While he definitely can be played earlier, Damrod is a most effective later in the game. Particularly in a low-threat mono-Spirit deck that leaves enemies in the staging area, Damrod can be quite powerful in the late game.
With cards like Stand and Fight, it is even possible for a Spirit deck to get multiple uses out of the same copy of Damrod. The last reason why he tends to be played later is that given a choice of playing Northern Tracker or Damrod in the middle game, those 4 resources are almost always going to the Tracker.
Blood of Númenor and Map of Earnil are two attachments that tend to work better in the middle to late game. Just like Gondorian Fire, Blood of Númenor requires a serious investment of resources before it becomes truly powerful. Spirit is a resource poor sphere, so it will often take time, and resource acceleration, to make this card work.
Just like the other “book” attachments, Map of Earnil is more viable in a mono-sphere deck. Even so, it is often best to wait and see what you need most and use this attachment to replay that card. It is important to note that responses like A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke cannot be reused with the Map, only actions like The Galadhrim’s Greeting or Elrond’s Counsel.
Spirit events represent some of the more powerful late game cards. Fortune or Fate is not cheap at 5 resources, but being able to bring back a fallen hero is can be crucial to keeping victory within reach. The critical strategy here is to leave resources on your heroes that are least likely to die, because you need to be able pay for this card with the heroes that are still in play.
Light the Beacons is a global effect on the level of Grim Resolve. In a sphere like Spirit, it is certainly costly, but timed correctly it can be game-saving. Particularly in scenarios with Siege quests, the global bonus of this card is very powerful. Will of the West is another card that works best in the late game, when you already have a host of good cards in your discard pile.
Some of Lore’s best allies are on the expensive side. Haldir of Lorien and Gildor Inglorion, rhyming pair that they are, both provide great versatility but are on the pricey side. To be sure, using resource acceleration or ally mustering (Timely Aid, A Very Good Tale, Elf-Stone) to get these elves into play more quickly is a great idea.
Some games however, it will not be possible to field these characters until later in the game. Even so, they are a great play and can often free up your heroes for other important work. The scrying provided by Gildor works wonders with cards like Vilya and Expert Treasure-Hunter and Haldir’s ranged keyword can be essential in scenarios with flying enemies. Incidentally, they are both great targets for cards like A Burning Brand and Self Preservation.
Forest Snare is another very powerful late game card in Lore. At three resources, it is possible to play it earlier, and in some games this may be necessary to avoid a low-engagement cost enemy. However, the best use of this card is against larger “boss” enemies, like Trolls and Giants. With the help of resource acceleration this is definitely a candidate to be used in the middle game. Thanks to cards like Erebor Hammersmith and Anborn decks you might even be able to get multiple uses out of a single copy of this card.
Lorien’s Wealth is a less used card these days, now that Mithrandir’s Advice has superseded it for mono-Lore decks. One advantage that this card still holds however, is that you can choose another player to draw the cards. In multi-player games this can be essential, particularly when paired with resource rich spheres that lack card draw effects.
Even so, the expense of this card means that it will often not be practical to play it until later in the game. This strategy also depends on a support-style deck, used by a player who doesn’t mind spending considerable resources to help their fellow players. Solo players can safely ignore this card, but for the rest of us, giving another player 3 cards at a critical time can make all of the difference.
With so many more efficient forms of healing, Beorn’s Hospitality has been relegated to the dust-bin of most players’ card collections. It can still be effective as a late game card, though. In scenarios with a lot of direct damage effects, being able to heal all of your heroes at once is an undeniably powerful effect.
If a deck was to include this card with such a situation in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to include too many copies, and you would want to wait until later in the game to maximize the benefit. Even with this added perspective, most players won’t include a card like this in their decks, as Warden of Healing is more efficient in almost every situation. Still, it is important to understand why these cards exist, and where they fit into the meta-game as a whole.
Here at The Hall of Beorn, Chess is a much beloved game, something that I learned to play before I was knee-high to a Hill Troll. As Professor Tolkien would say, all languages and cultures have common, fundamental roots that bind them together. Likewise, all games have the same fundamental concepts and mechanics at their core. Using strategies and vocabulary from other sources is a great way to improve your skills in any game. I hope that you have enjoyed this view of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game through the lens of one of the oldest and most respected games on Earth.