Bear Draft version 2

bears_playing_cards

It’s been a while since Gen Con, but with so much happening at the Hall these the delay was longer than expected before I had a chance to write a retrospective. As part of the Grey Company‘s listener even, Ian hosted a four player game of his wonderful First Age custom expansion. While Ian/Morgoth was mercilessly slaying heroes, I was running the first ever 8-player Bear Draft. Both events were a smashing success and I’ve just now had a chance to go back over the deck lists from the draft and review all of the feedback from participants.

First of all, let me extend my utmost gratitude to everyone who participated. It was tremendous fun to run this event and I hope that I will have a chance for a follow-up in the future. While the event was an overwhelming success this was my first attempt at a limited format version of the game at this scale. As such, there were aspects of the process that could be improved. I have taken some excellent constructive criticism from those involved and others in attendance in designing a second version of the Bear Draft. In particular, feedback from Matt Newman and Matthew John Elias was incisive in aiding me to further refine the card pool – so a particular thanks to you both. While there were various suggestions among, the changes ultimately fell into three main categories.

The first and most vital issue with the v1 card pool was that there were not enough allies. In retrospect this was a rather obvious mistake as the ratio of card types did not match that of typical decks. For each of the four spheres, the breakdown by card types was as follows: 40 allies, 30 attachments and 30 events. When the “average” constructed deck will often have closer to 50% allies, these ratios are obviously problematic. Since players end up drafting 55 cards (along with one copy of Core Set Gandalf and a Song of their choice), I had hoped that they would be able to draft enough allies to create balanced decks. While the deck lists from Gen Con were quite excellent, with a couple in particular that I will highlight in a moment, they did suffer from a consistent lack of allies.

Lonely-bear

Many decks had under 20 allies and some even had closer to 15. My deck lists are not perfect because some cards were shuffled into the extras before I could get a perfect accounting of the contents of players decks. Still, this seemed to be a fairly consistent concern across the event. In any case, this has been addressed by not only adjusting the ratios to match standard deck conventions, but by also expanding the card pool slightly to allow players to build their deck using more total cards. Each sphere now consists of 120 player cards: 60 allies, 30 attachments and 30 events. Neutral cards now number 48 with 24 allies, 18 attachments and 6 events. With these changes, half of the overall card pool (264 cards) are allies. Instead of 55 cards, each player now has access to 66 cards (plus the free Gandalf and Song card) from which to make their 40 card deck. This should ensure that player who want to build decks with more allies can easily do so, as well as facilitating decks of more then the minimum 40 cards. As we will see, a change to the card rarities has also allowed more decks to access so-called utility allies which are generally useful in most decks.

A Test of WillWith the issue of ally shortage resolved, the next problem to solve with Bear Draft v2 was the high demand for staple cards. As any player who has expanded their collection beyond the Core Set well knows, there are simply no replacements for certain must-have cards, even with the overall card pool at a now healthy size. In particular, cards like A Test of Will are critical for many scenarios where a handful of “game-ending” treacheries make success a difficult proposition for decks without access to cancelation. Eleanor hero is included among the hero pool, but only 1 player will be able to select her, and the remaining 3 copies of A Test of Will simply where not enough to cover an 8 player draft. While the challenge of building decks with arbitrary constraints (e.g. no healing, no cancelation, etc.) is quite enjoyable to advanced players, the goal of a limited format is to test the players’ deck-building skills in a limited environment, not to determine their level of masochism.

With that in mind, within each sphere and card type, a single card has been given a new rarity of “staple” and 6 copies of that card have been included in the card pool. This expands the requirements for building the draft pool to 3 Core Sets (and two copies of a few Adventure Packs like Celebrimbor’s Secret and Shadow and Flame), but my hope is that this won’t prove too onerous a change for those who are interested in trying out this awesome format. I would encourage anyone interested in playing Bear Draft who is held back by the multiple set requirement to consider using proxies of other cards, or substituting new cards in place of the extra staple cards. Most of the choices of staple cards will be fairly obvious and non-controversial, though there are a few that bear further mention because of the way that they interact with traits.

bear-in-a-bath

The last major piece of feedback from Gen Con was that trait-based cards were often very difficult to use effectively. For example, a card like Support of the Eagles is very powerful in a constructed deck with 3 copies of The Eagles Are Coming and other means for drawing the attachment itself. In a limited format like Bear Draft powerful but cheap Eagle allies are likely to be drafted by players with entirely difficult archetypes in mind. Eagles benefit everything from “leaves play” decks built around Prince Imrahil and Éomer, to aggressive Tactics decks with a high starting threat and a need for inexpensive chump blockers to help survive the early game. This leaves a more dedicated Eagle deck out in the cold as the pieces required to make a card like Support of the Eagles work simply are not available.

Support of the EaglesOne simple solution to this problem would be to simply remove all of the heavily trait-based cards from the draft pool. I opted not to go with the easy choice in this situation because I believe that it would remove much of what makes the card pool interesting. The expression “throwing the baby out with the bath-water” is one of those idiosyncratic yet eloquent Americanisms that is most fitting here. One of my very favorite things about this game is precisely the way that it blends mechanics with theme. That fact that so many players want to build “pure” faction decks in this game whereas players of other LCGs and CCGs largely do no care is a great indication of the degree to which the lore matters when it comes to Tolkien. While the expedient of removing trait-heavy cards from the pool would have solved the immediate issue, it would have created a much larger and more serious problem of a very dry and one-dimensional card pool. The goal is not to design a card pool where all of the decks look the same.

With that in mind, some of the decisions for staple cards have been made not only to bolster a particular sphere, but also to facilitate drafting of more trait-based decks. A good example of this is the decision to include the Wandering Ent as the staple Lore Ally. To get equivalent stats from any other non-unique ally in Lore, you would be paying at least 3 resources, so just from the standpoint of helping make Lore more self-sufficient as a sphere the Wandering Ent is an obvious choice. Moreover, cards like Ent Draught and Boomed and Trumpeted require a Ent character to be played so we want to prevent them from being “dead” cards in the draft pool. Likewise, Vassal of the Windlord is the staple Tactics Ally. As mentioned previously, a cheap Tactics ally with Ranged that leaves play is welcome in many decks, so this is by no means a wasted slot for a staple card. It does also have the benefit of making Support of the Eagles a much more viable card to include. Still astute readers will note that only 2 copies of Support of the Eagles are included in the list below as we don’t want to oversaturate our pool with trait-conditional cards. The idea is that just about any Tactics deck would be happy to run a full set of Vassal of the Windlord regardless of the particular archetype. If you happen to pick up a late round copy of Support of the Eagles as a possible trump card, so much the better.

Steward of GondorIt should be stated that the presence of 6 copies of staple cards in the draft pool does not change the official deck-building rules so at most 3 copies of any one card can be included in a deck. The new card pool also includes Player Side Quests, which are of course limited to one per deck. Only two copies of each of these is included in the card pool, so this should not be much of an issue. There was an optional rule that we instituted first in Austin, and was used to great success at Gen Con. We gave each team the option to have their first player draw 1 less card in their opening hand (with or without a mulligan). If they choose to do so, they were allowed to start with a copy of Gather Information in their opening hand. While this is obviously a very powerful option it helps balance the game in two important respects. First of all, many draft decks by there very nature are highly dependent upon a few cards. A Leadership Gondor deck quite simply needs to get Steward of Gondor on the table as quickly as possible. Where a constructed deck will include 2 or 3 copies of this card, along with multiple ways to fetch it, draft decks do not always have this same luxury. An early game Gather Information helps to ensure that decks can have at least part of their intended setup, and stand some kind of a chance against the scenario.

This leads to the second reason for using such an optional rule. Depending on the scenario (at Gen Con they played Weather Hills), four player games can be brutally difficult. While the two teams are competing against each other, the overall goal is for everyone to have fun, and to at least feel like there is some chance for success – however slim that may be. Another thing to consider is that players often plan ahead for 3 or 4 player games, designating that one deck will be responsible for questing, another healing/encounter cancelation, another combat, while the fourth might provide support for whatever particular challenge a quest brings (e.g. condition removal, or threat reduction). With the difficult of some recent quests this kind of pre-game strategizing is no longer a luxury, it is often a requirement. In a draft environment the flexibility of each player’s deck is limited at best. Allowing each of the decks to go fetch that key early piece (e.g. Warden of Healing) helps to mitigate the fact that the format effectively prevents players from any sort of pre-game planning.

Gather-Information-smallStill, a case can be made that a first turn Gather Information is too imbalancing, especially against earlier or easier quests. Ultimately, there is a reason that this last piece is an optional rule. If you like this idea, and you want to see decks with more strategic variety, then let players know going into the draft that this will be in play, so that they can draft accordingly. Suddenly, Support of the Eagles and Boomed and Trumpeted won’t seem like such worthless cards. On the other hand if you want to more fully test a players ability to build a balanced deck from a limited card pool, you are encouraged to ignore this particular option rule. As always, the best way to play the game is whatever way you find most enjoyable.

What follows is the revised card pool list. The heroes have been mostly unchanged, with extensive updates to the player cards. With 528 total cards, each pack will still consist of 11 cards (with a mix of staple, common and uncommon cards). The draft now runs 6 rounds, which leaves 66 total cards drafted (in addition to the 5 heroes). Each player then gets 1 copy of Core Set Gandalf and 1 Song of their choice from among Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel and Song of Wisdom. With those 68 cards and 5 heroes, players will then build decks of at least 40 cards and from 1 to 3 heroes. If you choose to use the optional Gather Information rule, the first player on each team will draw 1 less card – as though Gather Information was in their opening hand. Since this article is already lengthy enough, I have decided to include the deck lists from Gen Con 2015 in a follow-up article, so the curious can look forward to that. I plan on brining this version of the Bear Draft to one or more of the upcoming Fellowship Events in Austin, so it will be interesting to see how these changes effect the draft. With natural ursine curiosity I am always interested in hearing feedback, questions, criticism and random grunting noises – all of which should be left in the comments below.

bear print

Leadership (120 cards)

Heroes x1 (10)

Sam Gamgee (TBR)
Théodred (Core)
Balin (TH:OtD)
Halbarad (TLR)
Boromir (HoN)
Celeborn (TDT)
Erkenbrand (TAC)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)
Aragorn (Core)
Thorin Oakenshield (TH:OHaUH)

Allies (60)

Staple x6 (6)

Errand-rider (HoN)

Common x3 (30)

Snowbourn Scout (Core)
Guard of the Citadel (Core)
Pelargir Ship Captain
Naith Guide (TDT)
Warrior of Lossarnach (TSF)
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR)
Longbeard Elder (FoS)
Silverlode Archer (Core)
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG)
Warden of Helm’s Deep (TAC)

Uncommon x2 (24)

Bill the Pony (TBR)
Herald of Anorien
Dúnedain Watcher
Fili (TH:OHaUH)
Ingold (TWoE)
Galadriel (TRD)
Orophin
Anborn (TLoS)
Denethor (EaAD)
Erestor (TLD)
Gimli (ToS)
Longbeard Orc Slayer (Core)

Attachments (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Steward of Gondor x6

Common x3 (12)

Cram (TH:OHaUH)
Dúnedain Mark
Dúnedain Warning
Ranger Provisions (AtE)

Uncommon x2 (12)

O’ Lorien! (TiT)
Dúnedain Signal
Celebrían’s Stone (Core)
Dúnedain Cache
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD)
Visionary Leadership (TMV)

Events/Side Quests (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Sneak Attack (Core)

Common x3 (12)

Gaining Strength (TSF)
We Are Not Idle (SaF)
Campfire Tales (THfG)
Swift and Silent (TDT)

Uncommon x2 (12)

A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH)
Feigned Voices
Send for Aid (TToR)
For Gondor! (Core)
Lure of Moria
Grim Resolve (Core)

Tactics (120)

Heroes x1 (10)

Merry (TBR)
Legolas (Core)
Thalin (Core)
Beregond (HoN)
Brand son of Bain (THoEM)
Éomer (VoI)
Mablung (NiE)
Bard the Bowman (TH:OtD)
Gimli (Core)
Beorn (TH:OHaUH)

Allies (60)

Staples x6 (6)

Vassal of the Windlord (TDM)

Common x3 (30)

Knights of the Swan (TSF)
Booming Ent
Defender of Rammas (HoN)
Derndingle Warrior (EfMG)
Galadhon Archer
Gondorian Spearman
Honour Guard (TWoE)
Veteran Axehand (Core)
Westfold Outrider (VoI)
Winged Guardian

Uncommon x2 (24)

Dunedain Hunter (TLR)
Trollshaw Scout
Bofur (TH:OHaUH)
Erebor Battle Master
Longbeard Sentry (AtE)
Skinbark (TLoS)
Boromir (TRD)
Eagles of the Misty Mountains
Legolas (ToS)
Rumil
Landroval
Beorn

Attachments (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Dagger of Westernesse (TBR)

Common x3 (12)

Blade of Gondolin (Core)
Gondorian Shield (TSF)
Rohan Warhorse (VoI)
Dwarven Axe (Core)

Uncommon x2 (12)

Arod
Horn of Gondor (Core)
Rivendell Blade
Firefoot (TDT)
Spear of the Citadel (HoN)
Support of the Eagles

Events (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Feint (Core)

Common x3 (12)

Foe-hammer (TH:OHaUH)
Hail of Stones (RtR)
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF)
Quick Strike (Core)

Uncommon x2 (12)

Gondorian Discipline
Khazad-khazad! (KD)
The Eagles Are Coming!
Boomed and Trumpeted
Tireless Hunters (TLR)
Horn’s Cry (TToR)

Spirit (120)

Heroes x1 (10)

Merry (TWoE)
Eleanor (Core)
Frodo Baggins (CatC)
Dúnhere (Core)
Éowyn (Core)
Dwalin (KD)
Galadriel (CS)
Nori (TH:OHaUH)
Idraen (TTT)
Théoden (ToS)

Allies (60)

Staple x6 (6)

Galadriel’s Handmaiden (CS)

Common x3 (30)

Minas Tirith Lampwright (EaAD)
Galadhrim Weaver (TToR)
Ethir Swordsman (TSF)
Westfold Horse-breeder
Escort from Edoras
Imladris Stargazer (FoS)
The Riddermark’s Finest
Wandering Took (Core)
Westfold Horse-breaker
Zigil Miner (KD)

Uncommon x2 (24)

Arwen Undomiel (TWitW)
Bilbo Baggins (TRD)
Elven Jeweler (EfMG)
Bofur (TRG)
Dwalin (TH:OtD)
Kili (TH:OHaUH)
Lorien Guide (Core)
Pelargir Shipwright (AoO)
Northern Tracker (Core)
Éomund (CatC)
Gamling (TLoS)
Háma (ToS)

Attachments (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Miruvor (SaF)

Common x3 (12)

Ancient Mathom
Song of Earendil
Steed of Imladris
Silver Lamp

Uncommon x2 (12)

Hobbit Pipe
Hobbit Pony
Light of Valinor
Snowmane
Unexpected Courage (Core)
Herugrim

Events/Side Quests (30)

Staple x6 (6)

A Test of Will (Core)

Common x3 (12)

Dwarven Tomb
Hasty Stroke
The Galadhrim’s Greeting
Stand and Fight

Uncommon x2 (12)

Double Back (EfMG)
Elrond’s Counsel
Power of Orthanc
Ride to Ruin
Astonishing Speed
Fortune of Fate

Lore (120)

Heroes x1 (10)

Pippin
Bifur
Denethor
Bilbo Baggins
Damrod
Ori
Haldir of Lorien
Beravor (Core)
Glorfindel (Core)
Treebeard

Allies (60)

Staple x6 (6)

Wandering Ent (CS)

Common x3 (30)

Anfalas Herdsman
Erebor Hammersmith (Core)
Ithilien Tracker (HoN)
Galadhrim Minstrel
Master of the Forge (SaF)
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core)
Warden of Healing (TLD)
Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core)
Silvan Tracker
Wellinghall Preserver (AtE)

Uncommon x2 (24)

Erebor Record Keeper (KD)
Henamarth Riversong (Core)
Ered Nimrais Prospector
Gleowine (Core)
Mablung (TLoS)
Quickbeam (ToS)
Rivendell Minstrel
Dori (TH:OHaUH)
Elrond (TRD)
Anborn
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR)
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM)

Attachments (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Ranger Spikes (HoN)

Common x3 (12)

Protector of Lorien (Core)
Ambush (TLoS)
Forest Snare (Core)
Self Preservation (Core)

Uncommon x2 (12)

Ent Draught (ToS)
Fast Hitch
Legacy of Durin (FoS)
Lembas
A Burning Brand (CatC)
Asfaloth (FoS)

Events/Side Quests (30)

Staple x6 (6)

Daeron’s Runes (FoS)

Common x3 (12)

Mithrandir’s Advice
Noiseless Movement
Secret Paths (Core)
Lore of Imladris (Core)

Uncommon x2 (12)

Distant Stars
Scout Ahead (TWoE)
Entmoot (ToS)
The Tree People
Gildor’s Counsel
Take No Notice (TBR)

Neutral (48)

Allies (24)

Staple x6 (12)

Envoy of Pelargir (HoN)
Ranger of Cardolan (TWoE)

Common x3 (6)

Defender of the Naith (TiT)
Treebeard (TAC)

Uncommon x2 (6)

Saruman (VoI)
White Tower Watchman (TDF)
Radagast (AJtR)

Attachments (18)

Uncommon x2 (18)

Boots from Erebor (KD)
Elf-friend (TToR)
Nenya (CS)
Song of Battle (TDM)
Song of Kings (THfG)
Song of Travel (THoEM)
Song of Wisdom (CatC)
Resourceful (TWitW)
Sword-thain (TDR)

Events (6)

Common x3 (6)

A Good Harvest (TSF)
The White Council (TDT)

Extras

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

Optional Rule (for more difficult quests):
The first player on each team starts with Gather Information as one of the 6 cards in their starting hand

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9 Responses to Bear Draft version 2

  1. Ah! This was longer than expected and given that I’m at work I have yet to finish it. However this looks great and I can’t wait to finish reading the whole thing.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m thinking this would be a great event to host at FFG Worlds next week. It would have to be in the evening when all the competitive games are finished. Assuming I had everything setup beforehand, how long would it typically take for eight people to complete the draft?

    • Beorn says:

      The draft itself typically takes 30-45 minutes, depending on how familiar all of the players are with the card pool (it takes longer if players need to read unfamiliar cards). The duration of the game itself really depends on which quest you choose, but four player games typically take at least an hour. I hope that you are able to run this at FFG Worlds! If you do, please let me know how it goes.

      • Chris Eckes says:

        I would be interested in participating. The fellowship event is the following weekend at FFG as well, or we could do in our bi-monthly LotR LCG meetups at the FFG Center.

      • Matt says:

        So, I sorted out the draft cards last night and read through the rules. Everything makes sense except for draft pack card distribution. Since there are now an even number of rounds the “pass left” and “pass right” pack totals are the same (24 each). There are 84 staple cards, which do not divide evenly into 24. 75% of the packs will have two staples and the rest will have one. Am I missing something or is there just a little extra randomness now in the packs?

  3. Beorn says:

    You are correct, there is a bit more randomness in each pack. With six rounds instead of five, and more overall cards from which to make a deck, this should not be an issue. Also, the staples have six cards which ensures that multiple decks have access to those essential cards. It should be pointed out that a pack with only one staple card is not necessarily a “bad” pack as many of the most powerful cards are uncommon, and some are even common.

    For example, If I am in the process of drafting a Leadership/Tactics Ent deck and I see Steward of Gondor for my only staple but Treebeard for one of my common cards, I will happily draft Treebeard. When I have a moment I will update the article to mention the new pack distribution. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Pingback: Gen Con 2015 Bear Draft – Deck Lists | Hall of Beorn

  5. Sappidus says:

    I was interested in applying your drafting rules to my own playgroup, but it’s rare that I can get 8 players together at a time. Do you have any suggestions for what to do for just 4 players drafting? Any particular modifications?

    • Beorn says:

      When we’ve run the draft for four players, we used the same card pool with the same number and size of packs. This means that half of the draft pool goes unused, which can mean that critical cards like A Test of Will are unavailable for players. An alternative would be to have four players draft the entire card pool so that they can build stronger decks. In this case, I would increase the minimum deck size to 45 or 50 cards, since players will have so many more cards to choose from. Draft format is a great way to enjoy the game. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

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