Metagame: Part 6 – A Unique Challenge

Brown Bear Play Fight

There are several core mechanics which all of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games share. In a sense, these fundamental aspects are what defines all of the disparate games as LCGs. The concept of unique cards is one such rule, and it is as important for theme as it is for game balance. Unique cards are inherently more iconic, they represent the distinctive people, places and things that underpin a particular world.

FrodoMiddle-earth is no different. There was only one Frodo Baggins, so it wouldn’t make any sense to include him in your company alongside the Frodo Baggins that is included as a Fellowship hero in the early Saga quests. Likewise, there was only one Sword that was Broken – you would not have met two heroes who both carried the precious remnant of Narsil in their scabbard. The limitation that prevents players from having multiple copies of such cards in play at once allows the designers to create more dynamic and powerful cards, and it makes the game feel more real.

Sword that Was BrokenHowever, having a card pool filled with multiple versions of unique cards (e.g. three different non-Saga versions of Aragorn, and counting) can pose some serious challenges, particularly in casual multi-player games. It is great to have options, and many marquee characters like Gimli and Legolas even have ally versions now as well. This is great from a deck-building standpoint as it opens up so many avenues that we’re available before. Say you’re making a Noldor and Silvan deck, with Elladan and Elrohir, but you don’t want to go with a second Tactics hero. You can still include Legolas as an ally and he will fit right into that deck, taking advantage of powerful cards like Rivendell Blade without forcing you into a particular sphere.

From a solo player’s perspective this level of flexibility is all well and good, but as someone who plays frequently in a group setting it can sometimes be frustrating. The logistics for multi-player can reach a comedic level of complexity. You won’t always know who will be present, the quest being played, or the play-style preferences of other players for a given night. With that in mind, I bring a box of several decks, most of them already tested and ready to go. With the increasing number of variations on the same unique characters, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid conflicts with other players’s decks.

GamlingSome players complain when a new expansion or pack features an FFG-created hero or even just a lesser-known character from the Tolkien Legendarium. While it may be frustrating not to see your favorite hero, it is important to remember that these lesser known characters serve an important purpose in the meta-game but avoiding conflicts with other marquee heroes. This frees players to choose their heroes without having to miss out on a critical piece to their strategy.

A great example is Gamling from The Land of Shadow. Choosing this less-heralded of the Rohirrim to possess this ability was an excellent decision on the part of the designers. By using a character that does not exist in other ally or hero versions (and is far less likely to be represented again soon), they have given breathing room to the Spirit Rohan archetype. With so many powerful Spirit allies that are discarded from play, Gamling’s ability facilitates a powerful new strategy. Paired with the new Spirit version of Théoden to lower the cost for playing this expendable allies, Gamling is at the heart of these decks.

HámaIf the designers had instead chosen a more well-known character from among the warriors of Rohan, it could have crippled many potential decks in this nascent archetype. A counter-example to prove this point is the ally version of Háma from the Treason of Saruman. This ally gives Spirit Rohan decks that feature Gamling a viable alternative (or at least supplement) to using a hero as a dedicated defender. However, because Háma is also a Tactics hero, it limits the options for Spirit/Tactics Rohan decks.

Éomer is the obvious first choice for the Tactics hero in such decks, but what do you do if another player is using him in their deck. For example, a mixed-Faction deck featuring Prince Imrahil and Éomer with chump blockers can be a very effective combination against certain scenarios. Because of Háma’s value as a defender in a Spirit-heavy Rohan deck, there is essentially only one Tactics hero that you can use and still take advantage of the various other Rohan synergies.

HamaThe Háma Tactics hero has plenty of value in powerful decks which are not in any way Rohan-themed, and likewise you could supplement a Spirit/Tactics Rohan deck with a non-Rohan Tactics hero. It is just frustrating when you have cards like Steed of the Mark, Éomund and a bevy of interesting and powerful events that all key off of the Rohan trait. It makes sense – not only thematically but strategically – to want to build more pure faction decks. It certainly seems like a larger card pool would allow for this, but with so much overlap among unique characters this can be difficult in practice.

To be clear, as a solo player I really appreciate the different versions of the more popular characters. Aragorn is a great example of a universally-loved character where his diverse representations only serve to better portray the many aspects of his history and personality. Still, the saturation of multiple versions of these key characters is starting to make ad hoc multi-player games almost untenable. This might not be a popular opinion, but I appreciate the appearance of these unique FFG creations, along with the characters who play only minor roles in Tolkien’s stories. These side characters allow for interesting and often powerful decks, with the advantage that they don’t conflict with the main characters that feature so prominently in so many decks.

The following is a list of all of the characters printed (or spoiled) to date with at least two different cards. I have here included Baggins and Fellowship heroes, along with Objective Allies – while they don’t feature in player decks they can still cause conflicts with the unique characters that players might include in their decks.

Hero Versions
Amarthiúl Leadership Hero and Objective Ally
Anborn Lore Ally and Leadership Ally
Aragorn Leadership, Lore, Tactics and Fellowship Heroes
Arwen Undómiel Objective Ally, Spirit Ally and Spirit Hero
Beorn Tactics Ally and Tactics Hero
Bifur Lore Hero and Lore Ally
Bilbo Baggins Lore Hero, Baggins Hero and Spirit Ally
Bofur Spirit Ally and Tactics Ally
Bombur Lore Ally and Lore Hero
Boromir Tactics Hero, Leadership Hero and Tactics Ally
Damrod Spirit Ally and Lore Hero
Denethor Lore Hero and Leadership Ally
Dori Lore Ally and Tactics Hero
Dwalin Spirit Hero and Spirit Ally
Elrond Lore Hero and Lore Ally
Erestor Leadership Ally and Lore Hero
Faramir Leadership Ally, Lore Hero, Objective Ally and Leadership Hero
Frodo Baggins Spirit Hero and Fellowship Hero
Galadriel Spirit Hero and Leadership Ally
Gandalf Neutral Ally (x2) and Neutral Hero
Gildor Inglorion Lore Ally and Objective Ally
Gimli Tactics Hero and Leadership Ally
Glóin Leadership Hero and Leadership Ally
Glorfindel Lore Hero, Spirit Hero and Spirit Ally
Gríma Lore Hero and Objective Ally
Haldir of Lórien Lore Ally and Lore Hero
Háma Tactics Hero and Spirit Ally
Legolas Tactics Hero and Tactics Ally
Mablung Tactics Hero and Lore Ally
Merry Tactics Hero and Spirit Hero
Pippin Spirit Hero and Lore Hero
Sam Gamgee Leadership Hero and Spirit Ally
Théoden Tactics Hero and Spirit Hero
Treebeard Neutral Ally and Lore Hero
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8 Responses to Metagame: Part 6 – A Unique Challenge

  1. Patrick says:

    Excellent essay, as always. I’ve really enjoyed this meta series as a whole. Having played this scenario laat night, I did notice that you omitted the Faramir objective (Blood of Gondor) from your list. Looking forward to more in this series. I don’t play multiplayer often (at all) so this hasn’t been a problem, but something to be aware of, certainly.

    • Beorn says:

      Good catch, I’ve updated the list of include Faramir as an objective ally. Yes, this issue doesn’t effect solo players much – though I suppose you do still have to choose between versions of a unique character within a single deck. For the most part this is easily solved, though.

  2. mpk says:

    I have definitely built a deck featuring the Hama hero and ally by accident.

    • James says:

      I had a Dwarf deck that I played with against multiple scenarios and never noticed I had both Spirit and Tactics Bofur in there!

      I have wondered whether there could be a variant for pick-up games that relaxes the unique ruling slightly, so that players could use different versions of the same card (e.g. Hero Boromir in one deck, Ally Boromir in another) in a deck. Not sure how much that would help though.

      • Beorn says:

        Yes, we played a more relaxed version of the unique rule when I ran the Bear Draft at Gen Con last year. Basically a given player could not have more than one copy of a unique card in play at a time, but another player could have their own copy of that same card. That way if you are playing Faramir as one of your heroes, it does not prevent me from playing his ally version from my hand. With a limited card pool, we didn’t want to run the risk of players having multiple dead cards in their decks before the game even starts.

  3. Jason says:

    Perhaps introducing non-unique “heroes” is something FFG should consider. Creating more-generalised versions of iconic figures – like a Tactics Elf of Mirkwood with a weaker version of Legolas ability, for less cost – would increase the range of cooperative deck types player could use, and make substitutions easier when conflicts occur.

    • Beorn says:

      That is an interesting idea. Especially if these “generic” heroes always have a threat cost from 6 to 8 or so, this could solve two problems. Not only does it avoid conflicts with other unique characters, but the trait and low threat make it easier to build pure faction decks that also include interesting unique allies.

  4. dumpynose says:

    Beorn —

    What “Well-Tested Decks” do you bring to group play? I’ve tried introducing LOTR LCG to my group, but my deck fu is weak, and the four decks I put together got well and thoroughly trounced. Thanks!

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