Reworking the Early Card Pool


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.

Posted in Art, Community, Custom Cards, Guest Author, Metagame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Dúnedain hold back The Long Arm of Mordor


After a brief and much-needed hiatus in the City of Eternal Spring, I finally had a chance to try out my most recent deck. Last Guardians of Arnor is the first pure Dúnedain deck I’ve built which feels satisfying to play. There are already some great examples of the archetype, notably including Damrod for traps, but I have yet build a pure Dúnedain deck that was as effective as I wanted. There is no doubt more tuning in store for this deck, but the initial tests have been promising. The above photo is from the winning round against The Long Arm of Mordor.

Posted in Aggro, Deck Building, Deck Lists, Photo, Solo, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Poll Results: Favorite New Hero


It’s well past time that we tally the results of our last poll and see which new hero players like best. I should note that Spirit Beregond and was spoiled after this poll was started, so the only vote for him was a write-in. Similarly, The Sands of Harad was not even a mirage on the distant horizon, so Spirit Legolas and Leadership Gimli were both omitted from the ballot.

With so many heroes being released in new spheres, it will be interesting to see how many existing archetypes change to include familiar faces with new capabilities. We are already seeing some powerful combinations of these heroes, with the newer versions mixed in with familiar faces. In particular, the recent trend of ally-light decks is a nice change. Given the level of excitement when Tactics Éowyn was first spoiled, not to mention the long-held expectation within the community, it should come as no surprise that she won the most votes in a convincing fashion.

Arwen made a respectable showing in second. Her ability is at the heart of a burgeoning Noldor discard archetype, and she too works well with Aragorn, though this could be said for most heroes. Seeing these two heroines of Middle-earth win out, a bear can’t help but wonder if there is a powerful deck (or two) that features them both. It’s a shame that Arwen refuses to share with Éowyn, but they give you a powerful sphere combination and excellent stats. The design possibilities with these two are intriguing to say the least.

Seeing Treebeard in third place was a surprise as I assumed that his ally version would detract from the popularity of the hero. I’ve made several decks with the leader of the Ents (as a hero), but I find that his ally version always wins out in terms of versatility – a well-known focus of mine. Perhaps my judgement of the hero is too hasty, but the high threat does limit the heroes that you can pair with him. I will say that I very much enjoy playing Sean’s Glóin deck, which features hero Treebeard, albeit in a supporting role.

Denethor-Front-FaceThe rest of the field is rounded out by Tactics Aragorn, Leadership Denethor, Círdan the Shipwright (and transcendent hipster-level beard-enthusiast) and Erestor. The latter two are part of the Noldor archetype, which sprang seemingly from nowhere and has taken a lofty place among the most powerful decks in the game. Tactics Aragorn has a place in powerful Dúnedain decks, but can also be used to great effect in decks outside that archetype. When it comes down to it, killing everything in sight is a skill for which most decks can find a use. Last, but certainly not least, we have Leadership Denethor.

If I had to pick a favorite from the new heroes, the least likely candidate for Father of the Year would probably be my choice. His threat, stats, trait and sphere all provide maximal utility to many different flavors of Gondor deck, but it is his setup ability which I really appreciate. Almost all of the games I’ve ever lost have been lost within the first few rounds of the game (even if I didn’t realize it until after the fact). The nature of this game is such that you have a few rounds to establish yourself with critical allies and attachments to prepare for the onslaught of the encounter deck. The benefit of those two extra resources to start the game should not be underestimated.

As always, thanks to all of the readers who voted. Feel free to leave any thoughts about your favorite new hero, or why you agree or disagree with the community consensus in the comments below. Also, be sure to participate in the latest poll about where in Middle-earth you would like the next cycle to take place. From me, Mrs. Beorn, and everyone here visiting the Hall of Beorn, we want to wish you all happy and safe holidays!

Hero Votes Percentage
Éowyn (Tactics) 90 18.56%
Arwen Undómiel 75 15.46%
Treebeard 40 8.25%
Aragorn (Tactics) 38 7.84%
Denethor (Leadership) 31 6.39%
Círdan the Shipwright 30 6.19%
Erestor 30 6.19%
Amarthiul 29 5.98%
Damrod 23 4.74%
Rossiel 21 4.33%
Merry (Spirit) 18 3.71%
Théoden (Spirit) 15 3.09%
Faramir (Leadership) 15 3.09%
Halbarad 9 1.86%
Dori 6 1.24%
Galdor of the Havens 6 1.24%
Lanwyn 2 0.4%
Beregond (Spirit) 1 0.2%
Legolas (Spirit) 1 0.2%
Posted in Community, Metagame, Poll Results | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Big as a House

Here I am! As you all probably know by now: I arrive precisely when I mean to.
Some of you already now me as GandalfDK from the Deck Spotlights on or from the COTR Discord server. After several journeys I’m currently staying at the Hall of Beorn, for peace, thought, honey and company. I will produce articles that will mainly focus on lore, for my love lies therein. Without further ado, I hope you’ll like the article and have fun playing!

Finally we are at the utmost border of Middle-Earth as known from the maps of old. Not only on the physical border, but also treading into the unknown lore-wise. Deserts, Harad, Haradrim: keywords for the upcoming cycle. Deserts may sound dull, but if you know the Haradrim, you’ll be familiar with something called an Oliphaunt. Yes, Mûmakil, yes!
The designers are taking us on such an epic adventure, the excitement is overwhelming.

What exactly are Mûmakil though? They are big elephants, yes, but there is more to it than that, I deem. Mûmakil, as the Haradrim call them, Oliphaunts, as the Hobbits call them, or Annabon, Sindarin for long-snout. These elephant-like creatures had legs the size of trees (large trees of course), bodies larger than a house, sail-like ears, a long snout and six tusks!
They lived in the jungles of Far Harad and Rhûn. How big would the trees be there? How much fruit would these trees hold? To sustain even one Mûmak, let alone multiple Mûmakil, there must have been quite an abundance of food. So, if Mûmakil have legs the length of trees, these trees must’ve been massive in their own right. The jungles of Far Harad were likely far more vast than even Fangorn Forest before Saruman betrayed the Free Folk. One great mass of trees and plants, with even more exotic creatures than Mûmakil.

Sadly, Mûmakil were only known in the West because of their use by the evil Haradrim during the War of the Ring. Resembling howdahs as used on elephants in South Asia, they built massive platforms atop of the oliphaunts. Archers and javelin throwers would have a great view to target their enemies. More than any tactical advantage, fear would have been the greatest weapon of the Mûmak. Many a soldier would break and run at the sight of a giant mass of muscle and bone stampeding towards you. Only the most disciplined soldier would be able to hold their ground. With thick skin to protect them from arrows and blades, their most vulnerable spot would have been their eyes – not an easy target for most archers. Mûmakil could also go berserk when roused to anger, as seen with the Mûmak that got ambushed by Faramir and the Ithilien Rangers. Mûmakil are one of the (not so) small things in the Lord of the Rings which has always tickled my fancy. Giant elephants at the edge of the known world, the very concept implies adventure.

One of the aspects I love the most about Tolkien is how he allows for mystery. Rather than explain everything in depth, he chose to leave certain threads of his narrative with many gaps, to leave space for your own imagination to fill. Such is the case with these giants beasts, one immediately wonders: “Where did they came from? Are there more like them? What happened to them after the War of the Ring? Were these creatures themselves evil as well, or was it simply their riders who spurred them to evil deeds?” So many questions, and without an authoritative answer, we will never know. But being left to contemplate these mysteries is part of what gives Middle-earth its charm. This is also what draws me to this game and I am enthusiastic that the designers have free reign over these mysterious lands and majestic beasts. I wish you all luck with the taming of your own magnificent Mûmak!

Posted in Books, Community, Guest Author, History, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Hunters Aggro Braves the Desert Crossing


I had the chance to try out my Aggressive version of the The Hunters Deck tonight and was able to survive Desert Crossing before my heroes were burnt alive. Roheryn was invaluable for this quest. Not only did he provide the Tactics icon needed to play Gondorian Fire, but once Aragorn had some resources built up he was able to instantly kill any enemy that engaged (even the Were-worms that make an immediate attack). Like my other aggressive decks, the effectiveness of this deck can swing wildly, but a major focus on card draw helps to dramatically improve consistency. After playing so many ally swarm decks lately, it felt nice to switch things up with a deck featuring very few allies.

With a strong opening hand, I was questing for 6 with Aragorn on the first turn, with Unexpected Courage attached. It felt nice having the willpower bonuses come from Strider and Celebrían’s Stone’s, as the deck holds very closely to theme. Later, I was using Wingfoot to ensure that Aragorn was never left flat-footed by enemies. Once he had Steward of Gondor and Roheryn attached, Aragorn was all setup. One copy of Gondorian Fire was the finishing touch to make combat a forgone conclusion. The real challenge then was to avoid game-ending treacheries that might kill off my heroes. This is where an aggressive deck really shines though. Since I am not running A Test of Will, I am forced to quest as aggressively as possible, every round. By minimizing the number of rounds, and thus the number of cards revealed by the encounter deck, I was able to cross the desert safely. My heroes found there way to safety before the temperature rose too high and ended their hopes.

Posted in Aggro, Fun, Solo, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Model UN Embargoes Captain Sahír


With the holidays approaching, I finally had a moment to play my first solo game in ages. The Model UN absolutely crushed Captain Sahír and his henchmen at the City of Corsairs. His piracy days are over after any army of 17 Dwarves crushed him into dust.

dwarven-sellswordThis version of the deck was even more aggressive than the original, including 3 copies of The Seeing-stone. As crazy as it might seem to include this card, it ended up being clutch because I could spend all of the resources from my heroes to avoid many of the forced effects that trigger when Corsairs engage. Then, when I was ready to counter-attack, I could gaze into my Palantir to fetch Legacy of Númenor to give me resources to pay for effects like Erebor Record-keeper. As expected, Dwarven Sellsword was clutch questing and attacking for 3 in his only turn in play (I never paid to keep them in play, as they are simply included to fuel the engine).

This deck is by far the most aggressive I’ve ever built – I was at 48 threat at the beginning of the second refresh phase. Aragorn returned me to my (relatively) more reasonable 32 starting threat and then Galadriel helped keep my threat under control (and provide more card draw) for the rest of the game. Two undefended attacks to my ships meant that I had to place 12 damage on my allies when I progressed to stage 2 but my army toughed it out the rest of the way. Dwarves sure are a hearty lot.

Zigil MinerAt that point I had so much action advantage over the encounter deck it was absurd. Even though I had to chump block the larger enemies (I can’t afford to risk losing a hero with a tri-sphere deck), I way playing 3 or 4 new allies each round. Imladris combined with Zigil Miners and Legacy of Durin is just silly. I had so much willpower that I actually mined away both of copies of Sword that was Broken because I didn’t need the questing help. The action advantage of Galadriel paired with Dwarves is really incredible.

While this deck is absurd in it’s power-level (when it can survive the first few rounds), it did feel necessary for this quest. I worry that most traditional decks won’t stand a chance the way the quest just barrages you from every angle. If I feel like taking a less broken deck against it, I will probably try this again in easy mode. For an interesting, and much more consistent solution to this quest, check out Ian’s latest Beorn-related deck, Ramming Speed. Not only is that deck a lot of fun to play, but it is also quite effective against Siege of Annúminas. I turned to it for our eventual victory at the Austin Fellowship event on Saturday.

Posted in Aggro, Fun, Opinion, RingsDB, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving the Siege of Annúminas


The Austin LotR group held our Fellowship event over the weekend and it was a great success. We had 7 people in attendance, and after a couple of false-starts we were able to survive and hold off the Hosts of Angmar from their attempts to destroy Annúminas. The biggest surprise was Faramir: the Favored Son, a deck played by my friend Terence (“hone” on the forums). It featured only two heroes: Denethor and Faramir, and while I was skeptical at first, it ramped up quickly and was able to hold its own against the onslaught. Thanks to everyone who came out on Saturday, these events are one of the highlights of our gaming year.

Posted in Austin LotR Group, Community, Fellowship Event, Fun, Multiplayer | Leave a comment