Reworking the Early Card Pool

bear-stretching

A reader of this blog, and well-known community member from the FFG forums, has been working tirelessly on an ambitious task. John Constantine has revamped many of the player cards from the Core Set and first cycle of the game, to improve them in various ways. The cards feature updated art and game text, and I encourage readers to download the cards – the scope of this project is impressive.

When the Core Set was first designed, there was no way for the original designers to know the future (they had no Palantir on hand). Archetypes like Silvan, Noldor and Dúnedain did not exist, as such. Even archetypes like Eagles and Rohan, which were largely created in the first cycle, were too new to be judged within the context of the larger metagame. For that matter, a metagame didn’t actually exist yet provide such a context. The initial designers and playtesters faced the onerous task of testing the game in a vacuum. The fact that The Lord of the Rings LCG has gone on to be a smashing success speaks to the excellent work of these trailblazers, but the early card pool is not without its warts.

In general, the early card pool seems to suffer from a few classes of problems. I will discuss these problems in brief here, and then provide some examples of John’s work where he addresses these issues. Again, I encourage everyone who is curious to check out the entirety of his work as it is too broad in scope to be covered in a single article. For anyone interested in meta-gaming and game design, it is fascinating to see another player’s take on how to evolve the early design of a Living Card Game.

silverlode-archergreenwood-archerFirst and foremost, the Core Set and early cycles include some of the game’s most overpriced cards. A great example of this is Silverlode Archer. With the vastly superior Greenwood Archer now available, there is very little reason to ever include the Silverlode Archer in a Silvan deck. For that matter, the Greenwood Archer’s ability even allows it to fit into non-Silvan decks, a hard sell for the one-dimensional Silverlode Archer. While this sort of power-creep is inevitable, it is unfortunate in a game with a card pool which grows as slowly as this one.

Glorfindel (Core)glorfindel-allyAnother problem with many early cards is that the various archetypes were not yet established, so even some of the most iconic cards feel disconnected with the modern metagame. For example, Core Set Glorfindel does not fit into the Noldor archetype in any meaningful sense. Because this archetype was developed later in the game’s life, his ability is at odds with what Noldor decks want to do (get cards in the discard pile) and he is underpowered compared to either of his more modern counterparts. Again, this is not a criticism of the original designers – there was no way for them to know that the various discard mechanics would largely come to define that archetype. Still, having one of the Core Set heroes be essential a dead card in terms of archetype synergy is a terrible waste given the small number of hero cards to date.

Steward of GondorOne other problem with the early pool, though this is less common, is over-powered cards. The prime example of this is Steward of Gondor. This card is so powerful that is has completely warped the metagame around resource acceleration effects. In essence, every card which adds resources to a hero’s pool (or reduces the cost of cards) had to be weaker because this card is so powerful. The cost of Leadership cards for the first few cycles was seemingly inflated to account for the tremendous advantage of a card that immediately pays for itself and then reaps a huge resource benefit over the course of the game. The Silverlode Archer above is a great example of the inflationary effect, which we are just need getting away from with cards like the Greenwood Archer.

With these three concerns in mind, I’m going to cover a few of the cards from John’s redesign of the early card pool, with his comments added. As with any design, these cards will not be to everyone’s tastes, but players who have been with the game long enough can agree that some of these early cards really have not aged well. While I don’t agree with some of the decisions that he made, I will say that John has done an excellent job reimagining some of the more troubling dead cards in the card pool. It is exciting to see an interpretation of a card that I have never used, that inspires me to think about the kinds of decks it allows for.

RadagastA great example of a promising card which has simply never lived up to its potential is the Radagast ally from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. With a high cost and ridiculously low stats, unless you could cheat him into play (which wasn’t really possible in the early life of the game) you would rarely ever get your money’s worth for this card. When you think about the other things you could do with those 5 resources – not the least of which is to simply play for the Creature cards that he ostensibly is helping to muster – Radagast is drastically overpriced.

zradagastJohn’s version of this card retains the original cost, but adds vastly improved stats and few interesting wrinkles. On stats alone, this card is certainly worth the price. He might even be too strong now – considering he sticks around – as an iconic and unique character, it seems fitting that he would be significantly more powerful. With the Istari and Healer traits, there are a few different decks in which he fits, outside of just the typical Eagle builds. His healing now applies to all characters, providing an interesting option for non-Lore decks that desperately need healing and can pay the cost (Leadership ally army decks come immediately to mind). Here are the designer’s comments:

I never quite understood why they made such expensive and UNIQUE character, also iconic and an Istari, so weak. 5 resources is 1.66 turns worth of resources without any acceleration, it needs to get the work done for the invested resources. +1 to all stats was a no-brainer, however it obviously couldn’t be bumped to the level of Gandalf due to him not leaving play at the end of the round. Extending the healing ability to any character, but making it stronger on Creatures, was another step in direction of making Radagast overall strong and potent addition to many decks, not just the Eagle ones.

Rohan-Warhorse-VoI-smalltrohan-warhorseA major focus of his redesign was Mount attachments. While this might seem like a less obvious area of concern in the early card pool, his changes not only work mechanically but address some thematic concerns – particularly where characters can ride three horses at the same time with the current card pool. I have long advocated that Mount attachments be limited to one per character and that is precisely what John has done with his mount cards in the redesign. Not only does that resolve the thematic oddity of a single person riding multiple horses, it also allows these attachments to be a bit more powerful.

tfirefootlasfalothGone is the ability to have Éomer ride his trusty steed Firefoot at the same time as he rides the more generic Rohan Warhorse. This is an example of where a design change doesn’t just increase the strength of a card, but finds a better balance for that card within the card pool as a whole. Because mount attachments can no longer be combined on the same character, there is no longer any risk of unintended (aka Seastan) interactions between Mount attachments.

Speaking of Firefoot, astute readers will notice that Mr. Constantine has borrowed from an excellent design trick on Snowmane. Instead of giving an extra attack bonus when ridden by Éomer, Firefoot loses the restricted keyword. This makes all kinds of thematic sense as a skilled horseman can keep both hands free to fight when riding a familiar mount, essentially steering the horse with their legs. Likewise, Asfaloth, still one of the most powerful (perhaps broken) location-control cards in the game receives some very necessary changes. In addition to gaining the restricted keyword for everyone by Glorfindel, Asfaloth now requires the attached hero to commit to the quest before they can use the horse’s ability. Here is John’s commentary on Mounts as well as character-specific attachments:

I thought it wasn’t thematically appropriate to have more than 1 mount on any given character at a time, so I added a limiter on each mount card in the game to prevent that from happening. That limiter enabled me to buff the mounts in return, as people can no longer ride 7 steeds at once. Let’s take Rohan Warhorse for example. Vanilla version lets you ready on a kill, and is restricted. My rework version gives +1 attack, lets you ready on a kill, is restricted, and limits the number of mounts on the attached hero to 1. Keep in mind that it doesn’t just prevent a second Rohan Warhorse, it prevents any other mount in the game from being attached to the same hero, while still taking a restricted slot, hence the justified +1 attack bonus. Regular weapons usually give an optional +2 attack (and are rarely played unless that optional condition is fulfilled), while not preventing other weapons from being attached, so I felt like this +1 attack on Rohan Warhorse was a reasonable addition.

As for character-specific cards, I suspect you asked about them in tandem with the mounts because of the Asfaloth, so I’ll use him as a reference to the treatment I gave to the various character-specific cards in my rework. To be blunt: I hate it when in a card game with so many heroes, a card comes out that is only usable with one of them, regardless of the way it’s enforced – either by limiting the card to the name directly, or providing a bonus/penalty that makes the card reasonable only on that particular hero. I fight that approach by making card power level the same regardless of the name it used on, but I make small adjustments that make the card easier to use on the characters of that particular name. For example, with Asfaloth, unlike the vanilla version, it always places 2 progress, regardless of who rides it, however now it boasts a Restricted keyword, and only loses it if attached to Glorfindel, which also strikes a thematic goal for me – Glorfindel is good at riding his steed, which allows him more flexibility with the stuff he uses while riding.

Blood of NumenorsbloodofnumenorWith the size of his project, it would take many articles to scratch the surface of John’s redesign, but I wanted to finish this brief introduction with an example of his fixes to over-powered cards. The pair of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire has been featured in several game-breaking decks in the modern metagame. They have not received errata, but of all of the cards to warp the game in recent times, they seem like the most likely candidates. The confluence of Tactics Boromir (and to a lesser extent, other heroes like Tactics Aragorn), repeatable threat reduction like Galadriel, and resource acceleration (namely Steward of Gondor), these attachments have the potential to trivialize many of the games most difficult quests. Because the bonuses they provide are not limited to a single defense or attack, these cards become obscenely powerful when paired with consistent readying effects.

hsteward-of-gondorJohn’s changes help to address these problems in several ways. First of all, he added a limit of 1 per hero for each of these cards. I almost wonder if all new attachments shouldn’t feature a “Limit 1 per character” as a general rule (with exceptions for some cards, of course). Secondly, he changed the bonuses provided by Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire to only apply to a single attack.

Granted, this eliminates the ability for these attachments to help with Battle and Siege during the quest phase. However, they were already so powerful in their primary usage for combat support that losing their (limited) ability of quest support seems like a fair price to pay. Limiting one per hero along with per-attack scope immediately dampens the extent to which these cards can trivialize the combat phase. Paired with his proposed change to Steward of Gondor, it is interesting to imagine what the metagame would look like if these were the official versions. Here again, are the designer’s thoughts on these cards:

One name: Boromir. The main offender. Stack the resources on him and defend/wipe any board by spending two resources. I like how these cards pack a punch and allow you to get through tight pinches, I just didn’t like how they were abused to literally annihilate anything. Limit of once per attack, and one attachment per hero, keeps that in check.

As someone who is interesting in game design, it is fascinating seeing what other players focus on when they go about proposing changes and improvements to existing cards. I hope that you enjoyed this brief introduction to John Constantine’s redesign project and I heartily encourage to download it and look at the cards for yourselves. For me, discussing these kinds of projects is just as fun as reading about them, so feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

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9 Responses to Reworking the Early Card Pool

  1. EricF says:

    The link didn’t work for me, but I think Unexpected Courage should have been a Tactics card, to spread out the power effects among spheres, and also because Tactics is the sphere that needs the extra actions, since they are both defending and attacking, as opposed to just Questing.

    • Beorn says:

      I just tested the download link and it worked for me. If it still does not work, you can email me and I will reply with the zip file. As much as I would love to see something like Unexpected Courage in Tactics, I don’t think the designers would ever give unconditional readying to the Combat-oriented sphere.

      • D4rkWolf10 says:

        Is there a link to the comments the developer had for each card? I’d be curious to see the why behind each redesign.

      • Beorn says:

        He did not comment on every card, but here are the rest of his responses from our discussion:

        Doom
        The first idea behind the optional doom cards was to make the Doomed keyword printed, so that Seeing Eye could interact with them, should the need arise. I had to keep the threat optional, so I adjusted the card textes to provide the options to refund the threat if ability is not triggered.
        Then, it got to the balance of the cards themselves, as Doom is a steep cost paid by all players, it sometimes felt very underwhelming for those optional Doom cards to have one player-related effect, while taxing all players with threat. So, I got that fixed for Herald of Anorien, Henneth Annun Guard and Saruman by providing an effect that each player can trigger individually or refund their threat in case they don’t need it.
        Mirkwood Pioneer received a blunt stat buff as well as a text box improvement. His stats were atrocious for a 2 coster with an optional ability that increases your threat, and his trait did not interacted with anything, so I threw in a Ranger just for the kicks. Greyflood Wanderer received a treatment similar to the thing that goes on with modern Scouts, which I felt was kind of appropriate. No one ever played him due to the Ranger of the North existing.
        Word of Command
        The Spell trait was a no-brainer. However, removing the exhaustion requirement was the main goal, as it was too steep cost to pay anywhere outside of the core Gandalf pre-round end. Merely controlling an Istari character is a mighty fit to rely on, so I went with that. To compensate, I limited the action window to planning and forced the card to go into the victory display to prevent any shenanigans with the discard pile recursion.
        Eagles
        Born Aloft and Eagles of the Misty Mountains are probably best to be explained together, as both of them fall behind the global Eagle rework I attempted. The point of this rework was to bring all Eagles under the single interactive theme. And that theme became, mostly due to the original Descendant of Thorondor text box, Eagle juggling. Eagles popping in and out of the game, triggering on enter/leave effects, and triggering other eagles to do something. Which leads us t the Eagles of the Misty Mountains – their original thingy with taking other eagles underneath facedown could no longer stand, as it would simply prevent the eagle juggling, so I kept the main idea of getting buffed from eagles popping around, but removed the requirement to attach them underneath, to allow the eagles to go back into the hand to be played later.
        As for Born Aloft, it was a really tough one, as I am sure it was used for some players for various Gandalf and other shenanigans, however I felt like this card could add to the Eagle theme I was nurturing, so I went with the attachment that could consistently help you bounce your eagles around, and also help you with the economy as eagles are very expensive and bouncing them might prove too costly at times.
        Radagast
        Well, I never quite understood why they made such expensive and UNIQUE character, also iconic and an Istari, so weak. 5 resources is 1.66 turns worth of resources without any acceleration, it needs to get the work done for the invested resources. +1 to all stats was a no-brainer, however it obviously couldn’t be bumped to the level of Gandalf due to him not leaving play at the end of the round. Extending the healing ability to any character, but making it stronger on Creatures, was another step in direction of making Radagast overall strong and potent addition to many decks, not just the Eagle ones.
        Dwalin
        Dwalin was plagued by several things, from my point of view. He had a kill-trigger while having only 2 base attack, his kill trigger was tied to orcs, and his ally version was a pretty darn good sentinel defender. Well, and the fact that most of the Dwarf hero slots were already taken by more potent Dwarf heroes… So I decided to roll with the flow, and to preserve the kill ability, while turning Dwalin into the defender, like his ally version. The change might seem like too drastic, but it’ll make Dwalin much easier to utilize, especially in multiplayer, since Spirit is not that keen on killing, and Dwalin has a Sentinel now.
        Beorning Beekeeper
        Beorning Beekeeper is a tough one. I have a person that passionately persuades me that he’s useless 🙂 . I, however, lean more to the “too strong” statement, as his stats are indeed marvelous for a 4-cost non-unique ally. With that in mind, his trait is non-interactible, and he has a self-remove ability, and self-removing allies in my philosophy need to have inflated stats (unless their self-removal ability does something spectacular, which is not the case with Beorning Beekeeper). With that in mind, unless you have a way to ready him, which are almost nonexistent in Tactics, you’ll be using only one of his 3 amazing stats per round. And if you run him in multisphere, you’ll have trouble paying his resource cost, as 4 is something to get bothered with even within Tactics monosphere.
        Mounts
        For mounts, I thought it wasn’t thematically appropriate to have more than 1 mount on any given character at a time, so I added a limiter on each mount card in the game to prevent that from happening. That limiter enabled me to buff the mounts in return, as people can no longer ride 7 steeds at once. Let’s take Rohan Warhorse for example. Vanilla version lets you ready on a kill, and is restricted. My rework version gives +1 attack, lets you ready on a kill, is restricted, and limits the number of mounts on the attached hero to 1. Keep in mind that it doesn’t just prevents a second Rohan Warhorse, it prevents any other mount in the game from being attached to the same hero, while still taking a restricted slot, hence the justified +1 attack bonus. Regular weapons usually give an optional +2 attack (and rarely played unless that optional condition is fulfilled), while not preventing other weapons from being attached, so I felt like this +1 attack on Rohan Warhorse was a reasonable addition.
        Character-specific cards
        I suspect you asked about them in tandem with the mounts because of the Asfaloth, so I’ll use him as a reference to the treatment I gave to the various character-specific cards in my rework. To be blunt: I have it when in a card game with so many heroes, a card comes out that is only usable with one of them, regardless of the way it’s enforced – either by limiting the card to the name directly, or providing a bonus/penalty that makes the card reasonable only on that particular hero. I fight that approach by making card power level the same regardless of the name it used on, but I make small adjustments that make the card easier to use on the characters of that particular name. For example, with Asfaloth, unlike the vanilla version, it always places 2 progress, regardless of who rides it, however now it boasts a Restricted keyword, and only loses it if attached to Glorfindel, which also strikes a thematic goal for me – Glorfindel is good at riding his steed, which allows him more flexibility with the stuff he uses while riding.
        Blood of Numenor/Gondorian Fire
        One name: Boromir. The main offender. Stack the resources on him and defend/wipe any board by spending two resources. I like how these cards pack a punch and allow you to get through tight pinches, I just didn’t like how they were abused to literally annihilate anything. Limit of once per attack, and one attachment per hero, keeps that in check.
        Secret Paths/Radagast’s Cunning
        I can’t talk about Secret Paths without mentioning it’s brother, Radagast’s Cunning. I like both cards as they allow you to sneak through unexpected and big threats, however with the ever growing card pool they have fallen out of favor, as more and more useful cards show up and take up the precious deck space. One of the main problems with such small events is that you only draw one card each round by default (which is a huge mistake from the developers in my opinion, card draw is extremely essential for card games, and drawing only 1 card per round renders most of the small effect cards useless, but that’s a whole different story). So, to remedy that, I implemented a soft “self-refund” effect in form of the event turning into an attachment that draws you a card when you explore/defeat the thingy you used the event to bypass earlier. I couldn’t just outright give you the card upon playing the event, that would be too powerful in the current meta, so I see the way I handled it as a decent alternative.

  2. John Constantine says:

    Hi. I’m an author of the project, and if you wanna pick my brain for any info about the reasoning or anything else regarding this project, you can always ask me at: https://community.fantasyflightgames.com/topic/236256-lotr-lcg-rework-project-v10-release/

  3. An impressive project indeed.
    I’m disappointed, though, that not a single one of the re-designed cards gives credit to the artist who drew the picture displayed on it. That’s alright if those art pieces were released under a non-attribution license, but I doubt that’s the case for every single one of them.

    • John Constantine says:

      This subject is a heavily beaten horse, so I’ll just say that finding the right art/fitting replacement was a gigantic pain in the ass by itself, tracking down and listing each and every author is an additional and wholly unnecessary layer of work I am simply not willing to do.

  4. VorBalin says:

    Thanks for your work!

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