GenCon 2015: Bear Draft

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With GenCon 2015 fast approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about having something special for The Grey Company Podcast listener event. With so many fans of the game in one place, we have a rare opportunity to try different game formats. Recently on The LotR LCG Subreddit there was an interesting thread about a draft format that piqued my interest. Looking a bit further back, another player devised a cube draft format on Board Game Geek. What I ended up with here is a bit different from those formats, but I wanted to give proper credit to others who have also worked on this idea.

Unexpected CourageBack when I still played competitive CCGs, one of my favorite game formats was booster draft. For those unfamiliar, draft is what is known as a limited format. Normally in card games, you can build a deck with whatever cards you want – as long as it still follows the standard deck building rules. For example, if you own three Core Sets, you can build a deck which includes three copies each of Horn of Gondor and Unexpected Courage. You would also be able to include 3 copies of A Test of Will, Sneak Attack and ally Faramir. These cards are all very powerful, and being able to include the maximum number of copies in a deck will improve the consistency of that deck. Limited formats, among other things, address this power imbalance.

The most obvious problem with constructed formats – an issue which is an order of magnitude worse in CCGs – this is that it rewards the players with the most money. By paying the extra money for the additional copies of the Core Set, you are allowing yourself to create decks that simply are not possible for a player who only owns a single copy of the Core Set. While this is much less of an issue in a cooperative LCG, it can still lead to a negative play experience. Players with a limited card pool might feel that their deck is being overshadowed and marginalized by a “top tier” from a player with access to a larger card pool. Anyone who has ever seen a Core Set deck played next to a well-tuned Elrond or Gandalf deck will know exactly what this looks like. Limited formats like draft ensure a balanced card pool and a fair place experience for all. Draft also reintroduces experienced players to the thrill and challenge of deck-building with a limited card pool.

Spare-Hood-and-CloakIn draft, players take turns selecting cards from a fixed pool of cards. The cards that they select are then built into a deck and they are typically not allowed to add outside cards – except perhaps certain fundamental cards which are universal to all decks (e.g. basic lands). This not only solves the problem of the player who buys three of everything to build the uber-decks, but it also rewards players who are good at deck building. Being able to create a viable deck with cards that others players ignore as “worthless” is precisely what separates a good deck-builder from a player who simply sticks 3 of each power card in all of their decks.

In a CCG booster draft, the card pool is completely random because the cards are taken from packs which themselves use a random distribution model. This randomness is a big part of the appeal for players of all skill levels. New players know that every player will be spending the same amount of money, and will have the same opportunity to build a good deck – money does not help you in a limited format. Experienced players know that the random card pool offers the opportunity to prove their worth as deck builders with what would otherwise be sub-optimal cards. Some of my favorite moments of competitive play have come from winning a game using a card that my opponent was convinced was “garbage”.

While LCGs do not use a random distribution model, there is no reason why you cannot define a limited card pool and create random “packs”. This is precisely what I am proposing with the “Bear Draft” format. The card pool consists of 440 player cards and 40 heroes. Player cards are divided into common cards (3x of each) and uncommon cards (2x of each).

The reason for creating commonalities is twofold. First of all, cards like Unexpected Courage and Steward of Gondor are simply more powerful than most other cards in the card pool. The entire point of a limited format is to reign in the power imbalance that comes from decks with the maximum number of copies of each “top tier” card. Odds are very good that whichever player opens a “pack” with one of these power-cards is going to immediately select that card – regardless of what else is in the pack. By limited power cards to two copies in the card pool, the odds are significantly decreased that a single player has multiple copies of any one of these game-bending cards.

Feigned-Voices-smallSecondly, many cards are context specific. Visionary Leadership and Feigned Voices are both excellent cards, for example, but they can both be totally useless in the wrong decks. Each of these cards requires multiple cards in a deck with the given trait, so they are not globally useful for all decks. Because we want to maximize each player’s ability to create useful decks, most cards which rely on a specific trait or archetype are limited to 2 copies in the card pool. This reduces the odds that any player is stuck with a deck filled with dead cards.

With caveats about card quantity out of the way, its time to look at the distribution of by sphere and card type. We don’t want to favor any one sphere so each of the spheres gets 10 hero cards and 100 player cards. Since allies are an important staple of all but the most niche decks (shoutout to Tracker, proponent of the no-ally archetype), 40 of the 100 player cards will be allies. Attachments and events then make up 30 cards each with a given sphere. Lastly, we have 40 Neutral cards consisting of 13 allies, 20 attachments and 7 events. The reason why the Neutral card ratios are so skewed is because we have included three copies of each of the Song cards – essential for a limited card pool such as this.

Glorfindel-FoSAttentive readers who have scanned the list of heroes may have already noticed some notable omissions. This is not an accident. Not only has Gandalf hero been left out from the card pool (along with his many toys), but each sphere is missing one powerful hero. One of the biggest problems with powerful cards, especially heroes, is that they can become a crutch. Every deck that needs Spirit will inexorably be drawn to Spirit Glorfindel. With 5 starting threat and access to such “auto-includes” as Light of Valinor, Asfaloth and Elrond’s Counsel, you would be crazy not to consider him for the final slot of a deck that needs Spirit. The problem is that his power makes the meta-game stale and it leads to lazy deck-building. This is nothing against Glorfindel, I’ve used him in dozens of my decks, but at a certain point it gets boring to use the same hero with the same 9 to 12 supporting cards.

Dain IronfootWith that in mind, each sphere is missing what I consider to be its most over-played or game-breaking hero. Dain Ironfoot has taken a much-needed vacation to the Iron Hills. Tactics loses ever-ready Boromir and his uncanny ability to defend against 7 enemies in a round. Spirit is without do-everything Glorfindel and his ability to create huge hero lineups with low starting threat. Another Noldor is also absent, as Elrond is busy writing poetry at his haven in Imladris. Some players will no doubt complain at these choices, but the idea is that the undeniable power of these heroes is only compounded in a limited card pool. Besides, when was the last time you actually used Fatty Bolger in one of your decks?

Now that we covered the card breakdowns in detail, its time to discuss how to actually run a draft with this card pool. There are many ways to do it, and I encourage players to devise their own methods to suit their play-styles, number of players, and situations. What I present here is the format that I plan to run at GenCon 2015 for our listener event and it is specifically designed for 8 players.

First, the 40 hero cards will be turned into 8 five-card hero “packs”. The process for doing this is as follows: randomly select a hero from each sphere and use it as the basis of each pack (8 x 4 = 32). Then, take the remaining 8 heroes and shuffle them together and add 1 to each of the existing packs. This creates 8 packs of five heroes with at least one hero from each sphere.

For the player cards, we will first create two giants decks consisting of each card with the same rarity. Unless you have giant bear paws like me, it is not physically possible to hold these as a single deck so feel free to pile them as stack on the table. One stack will consist of the 264 common player cards and the other stack will consist of the 176 uncommon cards. Together these two stacks comprise our 440 player cards.

With the stacks created, we will build “packs” of 11 cards that include a mix of common and uncommon cards. 16 of the packs will include 6 random common cards and 5 random uncommon cards. The remaining 24 packs will consist of 7 random common cards and 4 random uncommon cards. The packs with a 6-to-5 ratio should be kept separate from the ones with a 7-to-4 ratio of common to uncommon cards. These 40 packs of 11 cards make up our 440 card pool. Note that the card list below will be provided to each player before the draft, so that everyone knows which heroes and player cards are available, and the rarity of each of the player cards.

The hero draft proceeds for one round, as follows:

1. Player split themselves up into two 4-player teams
2. All players sit around a single table, alternating so that no two teammates are sitting next to each other.
3. Each player receives a random 5-card hero pack.
4. Each player selects a hero card from their pack and places it in front of them face-down
5. Once each player selects a hero card, they turn their choice face up and pass their remaining cards clockwise.
6. Hero choices are public so that teammates can strategize and all players are less likely to get stuck without a viable hero lineup.
7. Repeat this process until each player has drafted 5 heroes.

This completes the hero draft. Players will ultimately make a deck with three of the heroes that they drafted, but they won’t have to choose which three heroes until after they have drafted their player cards.

The player card draft proceeds for five rounds, as follows:

1. Each player receives a random 11-card pack.
2. For odd-numbered rounds (1,3 and 5), use the packs with a 7-to-4 ratio of common to uncommon cards. Cards are passed clockwise in odd-numbered rounds.
3. For even-numbered rounds (2 and 4), use the packs with a 6-to-5 ratio of common to uncommon cards. Cards are passed counter-clockwise in even-numbered rounds.
4. Other than the ratio of the cards and the direction cards are passed, each round proceeds in identical fashion.
5. Unlike hero cards, player cards are not revealed after they are selected but should be kept secret. Heroes are public information so that players can form high-level strategies about the decks and their overall draft strategy, whereas player cards are known only be the player who drafts them.
6. Repeat this process until each player has drafted 55 player cards (11 x 5 = 55)

This completes the player card draft. Player will now build decks that consist of a minimum of 40 cards. Standard deck-building rules apply, but with the given card pool it is not possible for one player to have more than 3 of any one card, and no cards with limit 1 per deck are included in this draft. In addition to their 55 cards, each player will receive  1 copy of Core Set Gandalf which they may add to their deck (bonus points if you can build a deck without such an powerful ally) . As a final option, each player may also include one the following Song cards from outside of the card pool (Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel, Song of Wisdom), if they so choose. These Song cards will be provided by whoever runs the draft, or proxies can be used – as long as the player clearly indicates which Song card the proxy represents.

With the decks built, each team of four players will then play against an agreed-upon scenario. Because of the limitations imposed by this draft format, it is highly encouraged that this scenario be of lesser difficulty. If all of the players agree, easy mode can be employed for the chosen scenario – so long as both teams play their game against the same mode of the chosen scenario. Score is kept for each of the games, according to the latest rules in the FAQ. At the end of the games, the team with highest score wins the tournament and is awarded with bragging rights, or a round of beers, or magical rings of indeterminate provenance.

This is just one bear’s take on a limited format for The Lord of the Rings LCG. If you have your own ideas, or suggestions for how to improve upon what I have proposed here, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I will be testing this format at the meeting of the Austin LotR group next, so be sure to check back for my report on whether or not I can pull off this crazy idea.

Leadership (100 cards)

Heroes x1 (10)
Sam Gamgee
Theodred
Balin
Halbarad
Boromir (HoN)
Celeborn
Erkenbrand
Prince Imrahil
Aragorn (Core)
Thorin Oakenshield

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Errand-rider (HoN)
Snowbourn Scout (Core)
Pelargir Ship Captain
Naith Guide
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR)
Longbeard Elder
Silverlode Archer (Core)
Warden of Helm’s Deep

Uncommon x2 (16)
Bill the Pony
Herald of Anorien
Dunedain Watcher
Galadriel (TRD)
Orophin
Denethor (EaAD)
Gimli (ToS)
Longbeard Orc Slayer

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Cram
Dunedain Mark
Dunedain Warning
Dunedain Signal
Dunedain Cache
Dunedain Quest

Uncommon x2 (12)
O’ Lorien
Celebrian’s Stone
King Under the Mountain
Narvi’s Belt
Steward of Gondor
Visionary Leadership

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Gaining Strength
Parting Gifts
We Are Not Idle
Campfire Tales
Sneak Attack
Swift and Silent

Uncommon x2 (12)
A Very Good Tale
Feigned Voices
Dawn Take You All
For Gondor!
Lure of Moria
Grim Resolve

Tactics (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Merry
Legolas
Thalin
Beregond
Brand son of Bain
Eomer
Mablung
Bard the Bowman
Gimli
Beorn

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Vassal of the Windlord
Booming Ent
Defender of Rammas
Galadhon Archer
Gondorian Spearman
Veteran Axehand
Westfold Outrider
Winged Guardian 

Uncommon x2 (16)
Dunedain Hunter
Trollshaw Scout
Bofur (TH:OHaUH)
Erebor Battle Master
Boromir (TRD)
Eagles of the Misty Mountains
Legolas (ToS)
Landroval

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Blade of Gondolin
Dagger of Westernesse
Gondorian Shield
Rohan Warhorse
Secret Vigil
Dwarven Axe

Uncommon x2 (12)
Rivendell Blade
Elven Mail
Support of the Eagles
Arod
Captain of Gondor
Horn of Gondor

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Unseen Strike
Blade Mastery
Feint
Hail of Stones
Hands Upon the Bow
Quick Strike

Uncommon x2 (12)
Close Call
Foe-hammer
Gondorian Discipline
Khazad-khazad!
The Eagles Are Coming!
Halfling Determination

Spirit (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Eleanor
Fatty Bolger
Frodo Baggins
Dunhere
Eowyn
Dwalin
Galadriel
Nori
Idraen
Theoden

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Minas Tirith Lampwright
Silvan Refugee
Westfold Horse-breeder
Blue Mountain Trader
Imladris Stargazer
The Riddermark’s Finest
Wandering Took
Zigil Miner

Uncommon x2 (16)
Arwen Undomiel
Escort from Edoras
Galadriel’s Handmaiden
Bofur
Lorien Guide
Northern Tracker
Eomund
Hama

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Blood of Numenor
Spare Hood and Cloak
Ancient Mathom
Miruvor
Song of Earendil
Steed of the Mark

Uncommon x2 (12)
Light of Valinor
Ring of Barahir
Thror’s Key
Silver Lamp
Unexpected Courage
Herugrim

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Late Adventurer
Power of Orthanc
A Test of Will
Hasty Stroke
The Galadhrim’s Greeting
Stand and Fight

Uncommon x2 (12)
Elrond’s Counsel
Island Amid Perils
Ride to Ruin
Dwarven Tomb
Astonishing Speed
Untroubled by Darkness

Lore (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Pippin
Bifur
Denethor
Bilbo Baggins
Ori
Haldir of Lorien
Beravor
Aragorn
Glorfindel (Core)
Treebeard

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Erebor Record Keeper
Erebor Hammersmith
Ithilien Tracker
Galadhrim Minstrel
Miner of the Iron Hills
Wandering Ent
Daughter of the Nimrodel
Silvan Tracker

Uncommon x2 (16)
Henamarth Riversong
Gleowine
Master of the Forge
Quickbeam
Warden of Healing
Rivendell Minstrel
Dori
Elrond

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Expert Treasure-hunter
Healing Herbs
Elf-stone
Protector of Lorien
Ranger Spikes
Self Preservation

Uncommon x2 (12)
Fast Hitch
Legacy of Durin
Lembas
A Burning Brand
Asfaloth
Forest Snare

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Daeron’s Runes
Rumour from the Earth
Noiseless Movement
Radagast’s Cunning
Secret Paths
Lore of Imladris

Uncommon x2 (12)
Entmoot
The Tree People
Expecting Mischief
Strider’s Path
Gildor’s Counsel
Take No Notice

Neutral (40)

Allies (13)

Common x3 (9)
Envoy of Pelargir
Defender of the Naith
White Tower Watchman

Uncommon x2 (4)
Saruman
Treebeard

Attachments (20)

Common x3 (12)
Song of Battle
Song of Kings
Song of Travel
Song of Wisdom

Uncommon x2 (8)
Boots from Erebor
Palantir
Nenya
Resourceful

Events (7)

Common x3 (3)
A Good Harvest

Uncommon x2 (4)
The White Council
Shadow of the Past

Extras

Gandalf (Core) x8 [one for each player]
Songs x8 [one for each player, of that player’s choice]

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16 Responses to GenCon 2015: Bear Draft

  1. Yet Another Mike says:

    Neat idea. I enjoyed reading about it. The limited card pool, on-the-spot-deck building, and scoring would make for a unique challenge and one of the best ways to have some sort of team-competition from a cooperative game (based on the scoring).

    I like the pre-constructed pool idea best, but if you wanted to make it more random you could also do a randomizer like in Dominion (one copy of each card in a deck, draw to see what goes into the common card pool). OCTGN would probably be easier to do for the randomization. You could also have a preconstructed pool (say 90 cards) and then have the remaining 10 cards drawn from a randomizer for more chaos (Oh! Spirit Glorfindel was drawn!….but without any of his support cards. Would he still be worth it?)

  2. EricF says:

    For less prep work, you could just shuffle everything together and make packs like that. Then allow for a generic (non-unique) hero:

    10 Threat, 2/2/2 Stats, 4 HP, and either “Setup: this hero gains the printed sphere of your choice this game” or “Action: this hero gains the sphere of your choice this round (limit once per round)”

  3. Authraw says:

    I’ve actually been thinking about draft rules for this game the past few weeks too, for some reason. What has always stopped me from making progress on it is the idea of trying to shuffle all of my encounter cards together. 😛

    The way I was planning on solving the difficulty issue was by drafting a part of the Encounter deck as well. The idea works like this:
    1. Shuffle together the encounter deck. Remove any cards required for the quest to play properly (basically anything that gets set aside or put into play by one of the quest cards).
    2. Every time you pass your hand, draw a card from the top of the Encounter deck. You may either (A) Pick a player card from your hand and add it to your pool AND add the encounter card to the encounter pool or (B) Remove both the encounter card and a random card from your hand from the draft.
    3. At the end of the draft, all of the cards in the encounter pool get shuffled together to make the encounter deck.

    Because encounter decks aren’t actually thick enough by themselves to support 4 players drafting them like this, there are a few options:
    1. Shuffle in the nightmare cards too
    2. Multiple copies of the same encounter deck
    3. Shuffle in some other encounter sets from other quests too
    4. Only draft the encounter deck on certain rounds (2 and 4, for example)

    I’ve always wanted a game mode that allowed for interactions between old and new encounter cards, and the draft format seems like it might be a good way for that to happen.

  4. Tony F says:

    Intriguing idea. I look forward to hearing how it works out for you. Did you consider using the Race Against the Shadow format for the tournament itself?

    And I noticed there is some duplication of unique characters, whether it’s multiple heroes or both hero and ally versions. Are you going to relax the uniqueness rules for this format, or do teams just have to negotiate who gets to use which unique characters?

    • Beorn says:

      We will probably relax the uniqueness rules for this format. I wanted to give the more iconic characters due representation, which is why there are both hero and ally versions of Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, etc. They also happen to represent some of the best allies for their spheres, which helps for keeping the card pool balanced as well. To be honest, I am not a fan of the Race Against the Shadow format, which is part of why I created my own format.

  5. Michael says:

    Wow, very nicely done!

    I’ve never experienced a draft format, so I decided to try this out. I created a script that would simulate an 8 player draft (2 humans and 6 AIs, which choose cards randomly — not ideal, but better than nothing). The result was a ton of fun. It really took me back to the old days where you couldn’t create a deck based on traits alone. My decks lacked some key cards (eg, I only had one copy of A Test of Will); however, this really breathed some new life into the older quests. Journey Down the Anduin was quite a challenge, and I was only able to get through Escape from Dol Guldur on easy mode: all of this with a different card pool than I’m used to.

    Thanks for the fun!

    • Beorn says:

      That’s great to hear. We were able to defeat Journey along the Anduin, but I doubt anyone would want to attempt an escape from Dol Guldur with draft decks. We’re going to try out draft again this week at our Austin LotR group, and we might try Encounter at Amon Din. If goes well, I can post a follow-up article about our experience. So far the response has been very positive – people are really enjoying the challenge of a limited card pool and decks that they normally might not play.

  6. Pingback: Bear Draft was a hit with the Austin LotR Group | Hall of Beorn

  7. Scott Frazer says:

    Is this an official event at Gencon? I’ll be there this year and this sounds like fun.

  8. dylansharek says:

    Thoughts on how you’d alter this for a two-person draft?

    • Beorn says:

      It seems like you would still want access to the larger card pool, even with just two players. I suppose that you could perform the hero draft as usual with ten random heroes but extend the player card draft a few more rounds. For example, two more rounds would give each of the players 77 cards instead of 55. Then, depending on how difficult you want to make the game, you could increase the minimum deck size to 50, or leave it at the original 40. Player miss a lot of the overall cards in the pool, but I’m not sure how you solve that in a two player draft unless you have each player draft two decks.

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