MalopolskaMetallum ... game I most proud of.
It is been a while since I've played the previous deluxe expansion. This time FFG decided to take to an interesting place of Middle Earth i.e. into the vicinity of Isengard before Saruman decided to leave free peoples to pursue his own dark path. I have to admit that this is excellent choice as the developers can explore very profound element of the story by filling the details that were never fully explained by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Time X keyword - In general it works like this: certain key cards (quest cards mostly in this expansion) have a punishing effect that triggers X rounds after the card shows up (and then the card starts counting again). This is a very thematic and efficient mechanically. It pushes players to move along. I am very impressed with it especially if it really gives a player the choice:
- do I need to go along fast to avoid triggering the time effect or,
- I will handle the punishment once or twice and use the time to build up my position.
Doom on player cards - this sounded amazing. We were to get powerful cards that come with drawback i.e. playing them would raise your threat. This adds to the design space as we essentially get a new currency in the game (you pay for the cards with your threat instead of resources). This in itself gets very high mark from me. The selection of this cards in the box is decent and in general goes with the strength of the spheres (ex. lore card gives card draw for threat gain). Nevertheless I think that it would be better if the spheres got doom effects allowing them counter some of their drawbacks instead of adding more cards boosting their natural strengths.
Doom player cards underline the point: "power corrupts" which is thematic and was mostly missing from LCG so far. Mechanically they tend to be very efficient at the start of the game giving you breathing room and do tend to loose their value towards the end of the game (as resources tend to be plentiful then and threat starts to become an issue).
Designers decided that they will also create cards with effects that trigger when your threat rises due to the doom keyword. In combination with doom player cards this seemed like a very powerful deck archetype. Unfortunately here I am disappointed. The cards that do have this kind of triggers seem underwhelming at best (take the lore messenger: 2 cost lore ally with 1 WP that gets additional willpower via doom - he is so weak and so unreliable ...).
Taking all of this in my final rating of this new concept is so-so but the potential is there and I am eager to see what APs will bring to the table.
Punishing players for drawing cards - It is especially visible in the first scenario of the box (The Fords of Isen). Enemies get stronger for each card in your hand, they make extra attacks when you draw cards, treacheries rise your threat for each card ... etc. I have to say that I am on the fence about this one. On one hand it combats some of the standard card drawing decks forcing us to be more creative with deck construction. On the other hand it is very easy to forget all the effects that trigger when you draw a card which makes this particular mechanic quite fiddly.
In general scenarios in this expansion are quite good and varied.
Fords of Isen
We combat the Dunland tribesman on the border between Rohan and Isengard to save ... Grima.
This scenario is combat heavy but at the same time it requires quite a lot of progress to be placed in order to win. It is heavily concentrated on punishing players for cards in their hands and drawing cards. This in theory sounds great but in practice it gets very fiddly (it is easy to forget all the triggers) very fast.
- Requires specific deck building (keeping your hand size low)
- Card punishing is new
- Well placed "time X" keywords
- Tends to be quite slow towards the end
- VERY fiddly, easy to forget all the effects (I would say that it is even worse with more players)
To Catch an Orc
Seek and ... catch
Looking for an Orc in the hostile mountain region sounds like a bad idea. It gets even worse when you realize that you need to catch him instead of killing. This scenario takes 20 cards out of your deck and asks you to shuffle the dreaded Orc into them. You mostly search for him do it by exploring various locations which allows you to discard cards from this special deck until you find the Orc. This of course makes the scenario very thematic but can also can make it drag a little bit if locations do not show up. Also the second stage's time X trigger is very punishing (reveal two cards per player). This mechanism also tends to be swingy (if Orc is the first card you reveal for the special deck it will be very hard to contain him without strong table presence).
Once you find the orc you will have to catch it (overpower in combat) then and only then you have time to place progress on the quest. Every 3 rounds orc will escape you and force you to fight him again. This makes for a very difficult and exciting finale. You really get a felling that you are trying to overpower someone who is really really strong.
- Thematic feel
- Climactic and difficult finale
- Random way in which the orc appears.
Catch the Orc again while the trees stand in your way.
Most distinctive feature of this scenario is the fact that (most) enemies will not attack you but will punish you in some other way (raising your threat or damaging your characters). This combined with the fact that Huron enemies are very though to kill (high defense and high hit points) tempts you into not dealing with them at all. Soon enough you realize though that two or three of them left unchecked turn out to be very deadly. Sadly in solo play this does not work so well. There are few enemies showing up and it prevents them from accumulating their effects and makes the scenario quite easy. This is amplified by the fact that that locations could create interesting combos if few of them show up at the same time which does not happen too often when playing alone. This one seems to be much better with more players.
- Combat is much different then usually which makes this one interesting
- Not much excitement to be had (definitely in solo)
Heroes and player cards
As per usually in the deluxe expansions we get two heroes:
- Eomer - Tactic Rohan hero that gets +2 ATT when a character leaves play. Very thematic and very efficient in decks that use cheap allies that die to defend. Definitely a star of the expansions and one of the top tier heroes.
- Grima - Lore hero that can add doom 1 keyword to cards to lower their cost by 1 (once per round). Very interesting hero that could be very very efficient at the beginning of the game when resources are scare and he can be very efficient in general if combined with threat reduction (in particular Lore Aragorn). His drawback is the fact that player cards that trigger on doomed are so weak lowering his potential greatly.
- Cards with doom can be very powerful at the start of the game and work quite good in solo (as it is easy to decide that whether you can eat the threat or not). Their usefulness drops towards the end of the game. Exception here is Saruman who seems quite expensive and weak in comparison to the other doom cards.
- Cards with doom trigger are very weak so far. In my opinion this drastically hampers this expansion (as other doom cards and Grima loose part of their potential strength)
- Other than that we get Rohan:
Rohan tactics ally that has very decent stats for his price but does not shine in solo (as his discard to engage an enemy ability looses some of its power)
Rohan horse that can be attached to all tactic heroes (and non-tactic Rohan heroes) that can give them another swing provided that they kill an enemy. It combos very well with Eomer allowing him to use his buff multiple times.
In short I very much like the new concepts. Heroes are also very good and so are the scenarios. This combined with a cool theme sounds as a recipe for best expansion so far, right?
Almost. I am surprised to conclude this but failed cards with doom triggered effects really put this expansion down. Not only they are crappy themselves but they lower the effectiveness of cards with doom and Grima so almost all player cards of this expansion get a hit due to this. Other drawbacks of course do amplify the negative effect of this but ... I just wish that those cards were either buffed up or replaced with something else. Then we could have gotten the best deluxe expansion to date.
How do you like the new concepts? Did you enjoy the scenarios? Any thoughts of doom triggered cards/abilities that I disliked so much?
It all started with accepting 100 plays challenge and pledging to comment each play. Soon my thoughts outgrew the BGG comment format and also FFG's forum. I decided to post them in a form of a blog here. In time I got rid of session reports and replaced them with expansions reviews. Enjoy.
- [+] Dice rolls
NOTE: New players please check first A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players
NOTE: Alternative buy: Hobbit Saga expansion #1 - review from a core set only player perspective. Can this be the first expansion to buy?
Throughout this article I assume that you have the core set of LOTR:LCG (and nothing more) and that you are a solo player. Additionally I assume that you've played each scenario you have at your disposal at least several times and enjoyed most (say at least 2 out of 3) of those.
Maybe you were a little disappointed by the fact that the game did not refer to LOTR books directly? Are you wondering if you should get some more adventures and player cards? Should you go with this expansion and join Frodo and his hobbit friends embark on the journey that sparked imagination of so many readers/viewers of Lord of the Rings? If so this review is for you.
Two notes:Spoiler (click to reveal)1. Methodology: I played each scenario several times with 50 card decks recommended in the rules (which uses just core + black riders cards)
2. It is very hard for me to judge how hard those scenarios are for players that have played this game few dozens of times. With 400+ games under my belt certain strategies, combos and tactical plays are fairly easy to spot and this surely makes scenarios easier to deal with it for me. Please do keep this in mind when reading my comments on the difficulty.
3. I've read some post of a player that tried to do the same as I did and had very little success with the deck from the rules. We were not able to find out why is that ... just a word of caution
Easy Mode - this expansion introduces so called easy mode to the game also known as thematic mode (as it allows thematic decks to be successful). It changes two things in the game:
- Your heroes start with extra resource
- Some copies of most deadly cards (marked in new expansions with gold circle) are removed from the encounter deck.
I do not play the easy mode but, man it is something that should have been in the game since day 1 period. There are no strange rules or complex setup but the easy mode really does work great (some players say that additional resource is already big enough boost and they do not take the cards out of encounter deck). If you struggle with the game you can use easy mode without this expansion see here: Easy mode rules
Camping rules I do not want to spoil anything here so I will not go into many details. Let me just say that as you progress you will get good and bad cards that will continue with you to the next scenarios. It works quite good to give the feeling of development ... but I think that it could be done even better.
In general scenarios in this expansion are very thematic and you will see a lot of places and characters that you probably know from the books. So this is a definite plus for many players that are really into the first LOTR book or movie. This also has a surprising drawback you will see very few enemies outside of the titular black riders which makes the scenarios a bit less varied and thus less interesting that they could have been otherwise.
A Shadow of the Past
Will Frodo leave shire in time before the black riders will catch-up with him?
- Interesting theme integration
- New hide test mechanics (if you have not played Dead Marches)
- A bit tedious/long at times
A Knife in the Dark
Bree and Weathertop
- Climactic finale.
- Very thematic
- Some nasty treachery cards
- Encounter cards give you some options but one of those is so terrible in solo that you are always left with the other choice
- One card that starts in staging is very hard to deal solo with limited card pool so you will need some very good luck with your initial draws.
Flight to the ford
Frodo is dying ... run to Rivendel.
- Time pressure due to Frodo dying
- Climactic finale of the first part of campaign
- None really.
Heroes and player cards
Most of the player cards and heroes are tailor made for hobbit deck that with just this cards can be very powerful. Especially in this box due to additional boosts given by additional hobbit hero - Frodo - that you get control of. Only few cards are really usable outside the hobbit deck but those are fairly good.
Hobbit deck can be also quite good in other scenarios under one condition: you need enemies with high say (30+) engagement cost. Unfortunately the developers were not always very diligent when planing older scenarios and some of them are riddled with powerful, low cost enemies that render hobbit deck quite weak. Nevertheless I am giving very high rating on players and hero cards especially for solo players. This is nothing to sneeze at as this is one of the few "solid deck in one box expansions". If not for a very weak spirit hobbit this would be amazing!
Overall let me say that this so far is the best entry point for Core Set players into the game.
- player cards and interesting heroes (even if mostly limited to hobbit decks)
- interesting and mostly beatable scenarios
- easy mode
- solo deck that works included in the rules
- so-so camping integration
- enemies tend to get repetitive (how many times you can kill a Nazgul without getting bored?)
THIS IS THE BOX TO GET if you want to expand your Core Set without spending too much on it. Highly recommended.
Did you try Black Riders with just core+BR cards? What was your experience?
- [+] Dice rolls
05 Apr 2015
Polish version - current status
Polish publisher of LOTR:LCG, Galakta, announced that it will continue to publish all the expansions for at least the next year (after which they will asses the sales and decide where to go from there). All big box expansions (deluxe + saga) will be published in a regular way at the same time when FFG. Adventure Packs will be published in a POD format i.e. the same way that Gen Con/Nightmare scenarios are printed in English. Galata is also planning to reprint some of out-of-stock APs in this format. POD expansions are at this moment delayed with respect to English version but Galakta already announced that they will try to close in the gap.
So this all a great news for us and most of Polish players are very happy with this solution. One grain of salt in all of this is that expansions are now more expensive (both regular and POD). Again most of the players are ok with this as we treat the increased price as our contribution to keep the game alive in Polish. Initially I was a worried that this will kill the game for the new players (as it was already very expensive for PL standards) but I think that second hand market is saving the day here. Some players drop out and sell their collections so new players are able to buy old expansions cheaper and continue to purchase the new expansions.
POD Quality and future of the game
I have to say that when this plan to move forward was announced I was a bit hesitant. I had only experience with very old POD content (first printing of Massing at Osgiliath) and I considered quality of those cards very poor. Luckily FFG made a lot of progress. The new expansion in POD format are much better. Even if paper is slightly off the difference is marginal and I am ok to mix POD and regular cards in one deck as it is very hard without side by side inspection to distinguish them. I am not totally satisfied with the print it self (image quality for some reason seems much lower) but if FFG continues to improve in this way I should be happy in no time .
One interesting note comes from "Polish" solution to the players worldwide: even if in the future FFG decides to stop publishing the game they can still provide us with new content by printing scenarios in POD format. I am not sure if this would be a good enough reason for FFG to keep the LOTR license but I am optimistic. Even if FFG's will be forced/decides to close the game ... we already see fantastic and huge in scope fan-created content and with POD quality raising ... the game might "live for a long time to come".
Happy gaming and happy Easter (for all that celebrate it).
- [+] Dice rolls
So I have not played the game for 4 months (since the end of September last year till the end of February this year). Two main things caused it:
1. I went all-in into organizing the fight for Polish version of LOTR:LCG (you can read more about it here: Fight for Polish version of LOTR:LCG). It was a glorious effort and I am proud that I helped but all the posting, organization and communication did wear me down (and in part the feeling went toward the game itself)
2. Our kid is growing up and he needs more and more attention (and less sleep )
Nevertheless one evening I decided to set the game up again and ... I was hooked like first time I played it. I managed to play the game 70 since then and enjoyed every moment with it. I have to admit I am a bit worried that I will burn out again if I continue to play it so much but on the other hand ... I try to enjoy it as much as possible.
Few days ago I managed to log my 500th play. YAY! I am just enjoying this "milestone".
I will not try to analyze how the game changed in this time but I wanted to give you two points:
Most disappointing thing about the game - the game lost its portability that I really enjoyed when I got into it. In the times of Core Set I was able to take all the cards from two spheres and a scenario into one or two deck boxes and play the game on the go (I was "traveling" then a lot). Now with difficulty level and amount of cards this is not feasible. Even if I can usually fit my deck and a scenario into a deck box (most often but not always, especially with sagas) then I really need a huge selection of cards to be able to tweak my deck. The game has became purely "at home" activity for me. As a follow-up disappointment I will say that the game is a pain to store at this point (so many cards, so many boxes!).
Most exciting thing about the game - its development. So many clever mechanics, interesting themes and super cool experiences. Nate French definitely created a masterpiece with this one ... but what is as much as important is that the developers took it even further and this way created the game that does not stop to amaze me.
For this I salute you all!
- [+] Dice rolls
17 Mar 2015
NOTE: New players please check first my: A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players and Hobbit Saga expansion #1 - review from a core set only player perspective. Can this be the first expansion to buy?
NOTE: I stated to write this review long time ago and finished it just recently so please excuse any disjoint tones/styles/informations.
Throughout this article I assume that you have the core set of LOTR:LCG and Hobbit: Under hill and over hill expansion (and nothing more as far as LOTR:LCG goes). Additionally I assume that you played each scenario you have at your disposal at least several times and enjoyed most (say at least 4 out of 6) of those.
Are you itching for some more adventures and player cards? Wondering if you should go the second saga expansion and see Bilbo and his dwarven friends complete their amazing journey? If so this review is for you.
Two notes:Spoiler (click to reveal)1. Methodology: I played each scenario several times with 50 card decks composed of two core sets and hobbit box cards. In most cases (except the second scenario for which I have separate discussion) a player owning only one core set and hobbit should be able to construct decks that will perform in a similar way using 35 card limit.
2. It is very hard for me to judge how hard those scenarios are for players that have played this game few dozens of times. With 350+ games under my belt certain strategies, combos and tactical plays are fairly easy to spot and might make scenarios easier to deal with it. Please do keep this in mind when reading my comments on the difficulty.
In general scenarios in this expansion are very unique and interesting. This is both a con and pro - on one hand they are more complicated than more typical ones but on the other hand you are guaranteed to see something new in them. They mostly do seem thematic.
In my comments I will try to give you some general ideas on the scenarios without spoiling main twists which are very fun to discover on your first playthrough.
Flies and Spiders
Will Bilbo and the dwarves be able to survive meeting of poisonous spiders?
Despite the theme similarity this scenario is much different than what we saw in core set in Passage through Mirkwood. The key mechanic in the scenario is venom (spiders and other effects will poison your character which will make them less reliable or could even make them unusable for a while). I will not tell you much more because there is very nice twist during this scenario which I don't want to spoil.
Pros: Interesting poison mechanic, not so difficult in solo.
Cons: Confusing quest cards (see Errata & FAQ). More interesting with more players
The Lonely Mountain
Finally we are approaching the Smaug and his treasures.
I have some bad news about this scenario while it has so many great ideas it also very under-tested. This results in very random and unsatisfying conclusion. While the initial journey toward this finale is interesting with limited card pool you will be forced to skip some interesting parts due to limited willpower of the cards you have.
- Interesting ideas
- Interesting treasure getting mechanic with push your luck feel ...
- ... but with limited card pool you will not be able to get more than 1-2 treasures anyway (in solo)
- Huge random element in the finale
- Main mechanic (burgle) is a bit confusing
The Battle of Five Armies
Ah the famous battle. How well your heroes will do?
This is by far the most interesting quest. You will see concepts that are quite new to the game (questing with other things than willpower). It does not feel very "battle like" but on the other hands your heros are not regular soldiers or commanders so maybe this is a good thing. I only wish it was a bit less hard at the start/easy near the ned type because otherwise it is great.
- Very varied scenario that requires balanced deck (while still being beatle with limited card pool)
- Shows some of the best modern (Heirs of Nummenor) mechanics in a friendly manner
- Hard at the beginning
- Anticlimactic i.e. easy towards the end
We have three dwarves and Bard the Bowman (tactics). The latter is pretty weak in solo sadly as his ability only works in multiplayer so we are left with three to consider:
Balin - Leadership - breaks the mold of if you control 5 dwarves then X. He comes with build-in (almost) shadow card cancellation for a resource that does come handy in some brutal shadow ridden scenarios.
Bombur - Lore - counts as two dwarves. That sounds ridiculous. Nevertheless if you consider the main theme of dwarves cards and heroes in hobbit boxes it turns out that he can be very useful when paired properly. Latter in the scenario you will curse that he is nothing more then a resource generator but he can go and speed up your dwarven deck erly which might be critical.
Oin - Spirit - 5 dwarves and he gets +1 ATK and tactics. Seems a bit weak to me but I can see some people using this guy to add a little bit of tactics cards to their Spirit centered decks. So personally I do not like him but your milage may and should vary.
In general I was not too impressed with the heroes here. They have their uses but the first Hobbit box was much better here.
Varied lot here. I would divide it into following groups:
- Three unique allies that have nice responses when they enter play while you control 5 dwarves. They are very nice if not for two downsides
a. They are unique
b. Gloin has his hero counterpart
- King under the mountain - amazing card draw (take one out of two cards) if you have leadership and dwarf hero. Autoinclude in this situation.
- To me! O my kinsfolk! - AKA dwarven sneak attack from the discard pile. Very good and again leadership.
- Three cards and while one of them allows for attacks in staging area for ranged chars in general I would say for solo they are not great.
- In general this lot is quite weak and varied. Only ones that I consider worth mentioning:
a. Expert treasure hunter can provide you with very decent if a bit unreliable card draw.
b. Straight shot - discard enemy with zero defence. Although there are not very many of those it can really help in some of the quests. One note to mention it does combo with Bard.
In general I would say that this box does have some very nice cards but nothing too ground breaking. The trick here is that they do nicely round up some holes in your dwarven decks. So if you feel like you are few cards away from great dwarven deck then this box should get you covered. Otherwise, if you got your dwarven fix with the first box ... then player cards in box (and heroes) will disappoint you.
So the question appears
- "I have Core Set and Over Hill and Under Hill, should I invest in the On the Doorstep to continue my LOTR experience or am I to look somewhere else?"
Ahh the dreaded question. One I was constantly asking myself (for the sake of this review) from the moment I opened the expansion's box. What is worse I still am unsure. I did like the scenarios in this one (except the second one) and I think that they would be very interesting (albeit a bit confusing) for players with limited card pool. On the other hand the player cards and heroes left me unimpressed. Ultimately I will answer the above question in the following way:
- "Get second Hobbit box only if at least one (preferably two) of the following is true:
a. You love dwarves and your dwarven decks are almost there, they just need couple of cards to get great.
b. You look more for the scenarios then player cards.
c. You really, really enjoyed the first part of hobbit.
Otherwise look somewhere else (hint: review of Lord of the rings saga nr.1 Black Riders is coming soon) and give this one a pass"
Did you try 2nd hobbit with just core+1st hobbit cards? What was your experience?
- [+] Dice rolls
Here is a review of the whole cycle composed of quick looks at each adventure pack and some general thoughts. I decided only to mention player cards that particularly resonate with me (in a good or bad way). The ones I do not mention should be considered so-so/ok or very specific
The Steward's Fear -
Scenario - 6/10 - It revolves around initially unknowns: special condition and boss enemy. This makes the scenario very replayable. I also very much enjoy the way that enemies are introduced to the game (they come hidden under locations and come into play only when you explore those locations) - this forces you into some tough decisions: explore and face consequences or let location sit and slow you down (potentially causing your threat to explode).
Overall though the scenario is too long for my taste. It has so many cards that stop you in your tracks, delaying your progress and so on. This when combined with some of the special conditions can cause you the game of course but more often it will be just frustratingly long.
Hero - 9/10 - Hirluin the Fair - One of those heroes that got me fooled thinking that he is weak. Just looking at his stats (1, 1 , 1, 4HP) he seemed to be beyond useless. But then I realized that his threat is higher than the sum of his stats and knew that the trick is in the ability. Only when I looked at the ally cards in this box I knew his true value. This guy is awesome! He is (almost) playable as a single hero which is great and terrifying at the same time.
Player Cards - 9/10 - This pack can be (almost) considered as a "deck in one expansion". It is Outlands haven (4 allies boosting each other to fantastic levels). The Outlands deck is still fragile at the beginning but once its get going ... wow! From the rest of the cards I would like to point to Mithrandir's Advice, card that rewards playing heavy Lore decks (draw X cards where X is number of lore heroes) and Gondorian Shield that can make Gondor heroes (i.e. Beregond) unbelievable defenders (by giving them +2D, non-Gondor heroes get +1D)
The Drúadan Forest -
Scenario - 4/10 - An easy scenario? Nice change for us solo players as we often get hammered by poorly (solo) tested scenarios. This time the developers made a mistake in the other direction. All the resource theft and archery boosting effects are much weaker when they come one at the time. The final battle when you use willpower instead of attack to "convince" enemies is a excellent twist that I hope to see again. Overall I enjoyed this scenario as a nice change of pace but I am not use how often I will return to it.
Hero - 3/10 - Milronde - Reduces threat cost of your lore heroes by 1. I guess she is supposed to be secrecy friendly/enabler for pure lore decks. But to tell the truth her rounded stats (2, 2, 1, 3HP) make her weak in almost all departments. I think that outside very special decks she will be useless (although you at this point you could create 3 hero lore deck with starting threat 18). She might also make a comeback once silvan synergy gets going.
Player Cards - 8/10 - We see one main trend: cards that work only in mono sphere decks. Some of them fix their respective sphere weaknesses. In general I find it great as mono decs before this pack were very weak in solo.
- Strength of Army (leadership, ready all allies)
- Trained for war (use attack instead of willpower)
- Against the shadow in spirit (you can use willpower instead of defence)
- White Tower Watchman - 3Hp neutral ally can take undefended attacks, provided you are going mono. With a defence of 2 and Gondor trait, he usually should be able to defend 1 attack and then take one undefended before going down.
- Forlong - next Outlands ally is always nice to see
- Silvan Refugee - very fragile (leaves play whenever a character leaves play) two willpower spirit ally for a nice cost of 1.
Encounter at Amon Dîn -
Scenario - 6/10 - I love the idea of trying to save villagers, while fighting/questing at the same time and it alone is worth the price of admission. Nevertheless the difficulty of this one seems off as the scenario is very easy. Many of the powerful encounter effects depend on the amount of dead villagers and so does the win condition. So the whole scenario changes into "do not any villager die" and most of the time it is not so difficult. I would like to see a similar concept used in the future but turned on its head i.e. a lot of choices: let villagers die and the encounter cards get easier. This temptation should lead to interesting climax near the end when you need to have more saved than dead.
Hero - 2/10 - Pippin (Spirit) - The third hobbit hero we get. His ability works only in pure hobbit deck and it is not impressive especially in solo - you can push the enemy to the staging area for 3 threat. I know that theoretically it can (for one round) save your heroes from being swarmed but ... ultimately his weak stats (2, 1, 1, 2HP) mean that he becomes close to useless. I do not foresee him gaining much playtime even with huge support for hobbits in Black Riders.
Player Cards - 7/10 - We have an interesting mix here.
- Lord of Morthond - Gondor/Outlands (i.e. Hilurin) get an attachment giving card draw when playing allies from non-leadership sphere (all heroes must be leadership) - this boost is very strong for outlands deck as it gains much needed speed.
Traps - we get a new trap that in solo allows you to attack enemies in the staging area. Also new lore ally Ithilien Archer allows you to send enemies back to staging area provided that he damages them. This seems a bit weak ability but actually it can push an enemy into a trap that is waiting in staging so it has some potential.
Hobbits get two cards (next to Pippin). Small target can be surprisingly good (especially if used on Frodo) as it can redirect an enemy's attack to another enemy (provided that: hobbit was used as defender and no shadow effect triggers). Neutral event Hobbit sense that essentially allows you to skip one combat phase if you are running only hobbit heroes seems close to useless.
Gondor gets 2 more allies (next to Ithilien Archer). Denethor makes a comeback as one that costs 4 and boast very nice stats (3, 1 , 2, 3HP) his ability is very thematic card (loses 1 willpower for each damaged hero) but I am still wondering whether he is useful. Second Gondor ally is Minas Tirith Lampwrigh - first card that gives us a random chance to prevent surge - might work on some surge heavy adventures.
Assault on Osgiliath -
Scenario - 7/10 - Another thematic stroke of genius. You really get a feeling that you are fighting for and in the ruins of the old city. Each location you manage to take brings you closer to victory but also makes it harder to move further (as you would "need to leave the defenders" and thus reducing the size of your strike force).
The only trick is that this scenario again seems quite easy solo (once I was able to win on round two) and only when you get a lot of locations it shows its real potential and turns into bloody struggle for Osgiliath.
Hero - 6/10 - Faramir - lore hero that gets stronger the more enemies are in staging. He is clearly designed with trap deck in mind and works well with many of trap/ithilien cards. Personally I didn't try any trap deck yet so jury is still out on how powerful he can be (I am slightly worried about balanced stats) but I definitely like the idea.
Player Cards - 6/10
- Men of the West (return Outland allies from discard to hand, paying 1 resource for each). This (partially) negates the issue with outland deck i.e. slow start.
- Lore gets Trap/ranger deck cards that are able to deal direct damage under specific conditions. Both of them look great on paper though their limitations lie in other cards appearing in your hand. Still very interesting.
- Gondor fire - The second one seems to be the more interesting one as it can boost Gondor/Dunedain hero's attack significantly (since it depends on the amount of resources it can work great in leadership/tactic deck).
- Palantir - scrying effect that can show you up to 3 cards which is huge for solo (it can usually help you to plan two turns). The risk involved is quite high (threat gain) but benefit is good. I tested it with lore Aragorn deck and it worked quite well although additional cost of exhausting hero turned out to be quite steep (but this could be nullified by a readying effect)
The Blood of Gondor -
Scenario - 8/10 - Interesting one again. This time new idea seems to be hidden cards that is:
- All sorts of effects force you to take hidden cards.
- When you turn (see below) hidden cards all turned enemies stay in play engaged with you, other cards are discarded.
- In stage 1 you have a choice at the beginning of combat to turn your hidden cards. In stage two you lose this option but the cards get turned when you have 5 or more of them.
This creates fantastic ambush feel and gives you very interesting choices. I like it very much. Only downside is that random nature of the card draws tends to be more painful in this case. Again this scenario seems to be more difficult multiplayer.
Hero - 2/10 - Caldara - if you are going to have a hero that has an ability "discard this hero to get X" then better make X super great. For Caldara X is put two (and 2 is if you are running mono spirit) spirit allies from your discard in play is far from that. Unless you are able to put her back in play right away (which requires ton of resources and specific card) ... let us just say that I am not a fan
Player Cards - 3/10 - Most of the cards in this set are underwhelming (especially for solo) in my opinion. Notable exceptions include:
- Lore got two more "trap" cards - actual trap and an ally that can take traps from your discard. Very nice combo.
- Leadership got an ally (chump blocker) that could be considered free/resource transfer in Gondor deck (returns resource to a Gondor hero when leaves play).
The Morgul Vale -
Scenario - 8/10 - Grand finale of the cycle is also as usual the most difficult scenario. Very combat heavy but at times can also require quite a lot of questing power and this of course makes it very difficult for us solo players. Nevertheless I really enjoyed it for two main reasons:
- Three bosses with increasing difficulty premise is a great one and creates interesting "tempo" decisions.
- I got to play tactic decks (including mono tactics)
Hero - 6/10 - Theoden (boots willpower of all tactic heroes) - On paper he looks amazing. He has potential of nullifying main weakness of solo tactic decks i.e. low willpower. But the devil is in the details. Here is the main negative: His threat is sky high due to rounded stats. This by itself almost kills his usefulness outside mono-tactics and since most of other tactics heroes have a tendency to go near or above 10 threat it makes using Theoden a very risky proposition as you will get enemies attacking you on turn one.
Player Cards - 6/10 - We see first (in a long time) new cards for Rohan decks: this time we see their new signature offensive ability i.e. attacking in the staging area. This coupled with tremendous ability to quest, explore locations could make them ultra powerful in the future. This time we get spear of the mark (attachment +1 Atk, +2 Atk when attacking staging area) and event that allows all Rohan chars to attack in the staging area.
Outside of that we get a decent leadership boost for Gondor in the form of Visionary Leadership (Attachment: +1 Willpower for Gondor, provided that attached hero has at least 1 resource). Other cards also tend to be at least ok.
Overall Opinion So if you look at the numbers and stars above the cycle seems to be of good but far from great category. Is is really like this or is the whole stronger than the sum of its parts?
Scenarios: WOW, I mean WOW. What great ideas we have here. The developers really were able to show how much more potential there is in LOTR:LCG. Although many of the scenarios fallen a bit short (especially solo) by being too easy but I am very impressed by the designers ability to invent and create new experiences in each scenario. Also I very much liked stronger thematic connection between the scenarios. The writing on the story was not of the highest quality but it was decent enough and made the whole more enjoyable. In my opinion the potential of creating new scenarios shown in scenarios of this cycle is its greatest strength even if execution (mostly solo again) was far from perfect.
Heroes: From the highest point to the lowest one. I found that the heroes in this cycle were the worst I've seen so far. Of course Hirluin is an exception here and one or two others might be playable but ... what a disappointment in general.
As for player cards my opinion are as follows:
- Outlands - For solo this deck can be a little slow and fragile when starting but the power level that it can reach surpasses anything we have seen so far. I am not too fond of it since the deckbuilding with outlands is very limited (there are so many auto-include cards that you are left with little room for your own creativity) but I will be the last one to deny its power.
- Monosphere support - Great idea. So far solo mono sphere decks were not so strong and it usually paid off to play multi sphere. Now the possibilities are much wider.
- Gondor - I have to admit that I haven't tried pure Gondro deck yet on paper it looks like there are some very strong cards (mostly boosts related to resources) so it is possible that the deck is beyond good. Nevertheless I feel that we are not there yet. Gondor does not have the variety of cards that dwarves have at their disposal nor the uber cards like Dain Ironfoot or King Under the Mountain.
In general I think that despite the fact that heroes were subpar this was my favorite cycle so far. As I say it even despite the lack of polish on scenario difficulty as their innovation really brought this cycle up. Is this cycle better than Shadows of Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf ? My short answer is yes but only due to scenarios and not by much.
How about you? What are your feelings on the cycle? Particular scenarios? Card combinations? Preference vs the other cycles?
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As you might already know (probably from my post here: Polish version of LOTR:LCG is no more. What does it mean (if anything) for the game?) Galakta - publisher of Polish version of LOTR:LCG announced that they will no longer publish new expansions for the game. As you might expect this announcement was met with quite a disappointment/outcry/rage by the Polish fans. This was letter (mostly) soften by publication of sales figures that were pathetic for the latest expansion to say the least.
Nevertheless the publisher kept talking to the fans that were arguing that many people are still behind the releases (playing old expansions) and many of us were wishing at least for continuation of Saga expansions. Those arguments did not go without the response from Galakta. They gave us 3 weeks to show the mobilization of fans - the goal seemed quite modest: 50 copies of Polish Black Riders sold in the allotted time = Road Darkens PL. I have to say that I was sceptical at first as apart from few declarations on forums of purchases there seemed to be nothing much going on.
There was two things that kept bugging me:
- In the future I would love to play this game with my son ... and Polish version would really make this easier/probable
- Why can't we (fans) do something for the game WE love. It is always publisher that gets the blame but at the end of the day WE are playing this game.
Those two things finally put me over the edge and I proposed (on two main forums for the game) to fund 1/2 of any expansion for one of those that will buy Black Riders PL in the allotted time.
Yes, this started it all for some reason and I was appointed (unofficially) the leader of the action "Save LOTR:LCG PL". Here are the things we were able to do/arrange:
Contest - people that bought the Black Riders during the action were eligible to enter the contests with fabulous prizes:
- Fans founded two expansions one big and one small (so many people declared to pitch in that in the end I had to start declining offers)
- Mariusz Gandzel offered 9 autographed graphics (from our game as well as from a Hobbit game)
- Badger's Nest offered one copy of their new game 7 Ronin
- Polish boardgame shop Tropem gier offered Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill
Media support - Most of Polish boardgame blogs/sites mentioned our action and this way we were able to reach some of the people that only played the core set and convinced them to check out Road Darkens. Two blogs decided to support us all the way and become media sponsors and helped greatly in the running the action, contacting prize sponsors, stores and making the action visible on FB etc. those were: Board Times, Przystanek Planszówka
Articles - Series of articles were written and published at that time promoting the game, Black Riders as "stand alone" expansion, unboxings, reviews of expansions, custom quests/cards etc. Few of them were my own but I was glad that many other fans joined.
Stores support - Many online retailers made a special offers for the expansion lowering its price significantly and thous pushing some undecided buyers to get the game. Some of the most popular game shops had to restock Black Riders once or twice during the action.
All and all we made a huge noise and were able to get the required amount of purchases: Road Darkens will be published in Polish version. This shows that fans of LOTR are a strong bunch despite the lack of tournaments and many people playing only solo. What we need to remember though is to try show our passion and the game to other people - we need new players to keep the game alive.Spoiler (click to reveal)One thing though. With all this support behind us and dedication of many fans I am a bit disappointed that we didn't blew through the goal. We made it but not by much and this shows that the game is still not as healthy as I would like at least not in Poland.
As you might expect since I had to throw most of my time on the "Polish front" I was unable to update this blog. I hope to be able to write opinions Against the Shadow some time soon.
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Since my look at the game and my approach towards it evolve overtime I made some little redesign of the blog. It should be mostly invisible to people that occasionally look at the blog but maybe it is worthed to mention for those that subscribe to it.
1. I've changed the categories to reflect the articles that I am writing. Now the blog posts can be effectively divided into:
- General Thoughts - my thoughts on the game's evolution, development and direction it is heading
- Review - reviews of expanions (either bigger boxes or whole cycles)
- New player - this is by far the most popular catgeory. It groups articles, guides and reviews directed toward people that are beginning their adventures with LOTR:LCG
- Updates & Stuff - Mostly stuff directed toward people that follow my blog on more regular basis and some occasional post that do not fit everywhere else.
There is also a now mostly dead category of Session Reports.*
2. I've changed the titles of some of the articles, the name of the blog itself and its description to better reflect the contents. I've also updated the first introductory post for the same reason: Introduction to this blog. Who am I and what is my LOTR:LCG experience so far?
3. * I no longer keep detailed session reports from my playthroughs. Mostly due to the fact that even I rarely looked at those (and they seemed to be least popular posts of mine). I really enjoyed writing them when I first started Item for Geeklist "The 100 Play Challenge: In Support of Deeper Exploration of Games (Update: Now with GeekGold!)" . Recently I feel myself mostly drawn towards more general look at the game.
As for plans for the future:
0. Second hobbit saga from new player perspective (article is half written so I hope to finish it soon)
1. By the end of May I should have the review of Against the Shadow Cycle
2. After that I hope to delve into Balck Riders (both from dedicated and new (core only) players)
3. As for more general thoughts I need to put down my thoughts on Nightmare scenarios (for this I will need to play some of them first which is low on my priority list)
4. I am quite eager to organize some event for LOTR:LCG players in my home town. On the other hand I am very limited in my time so this may be only wishful thinking on my part.
May 2014 will mark second anniversary of playing LOTR:LCG for me. It is also fortunate that nearly at the same time (few days ago) I logged my 400th play of the game.
So based on this I came up with few random statistics that I consider fun:
- 400 plays, at an average .5h a play, means that I've spent 200 hours that is 8.3 days spent playing the game.
- This also averages to 16 and 2/3 game a month. Hence I am very slowly catching up with FFG (assuming that they would release 18 scenarios i.e. 2 big boxes and 12 APs per year and I am playing each scenario 10 times)
B. I am currently ranked #4 in the number of logged plays on BGG - please check the current standings
C. Here is a graph of my # of plays during particular months:
See this huge gap between Apr 13 and Jan 14 - this is when we were working almost full time on my game Metallum. If you want to be a game designer be prepared that it will hugely cut down your time playing time (I consider it worthed but be ready for this).
D. As part of my "celebration" I am planing to write the review of the game - both base and as a collectible product. This is huge undertaking for me (as I have to put all my chunks of thoughts together) so do not expect it anytime soon.
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Here is my review of the Hobbit: on the box composed of quick looks at each scenario and player cards. Please note that this review is written from a perspective of a player that loves the game and has all the previous expansions. Another review from a core set + 1st Hobbit only player point of view is coming.
Flies and Spiders
8/10 - Very interesting and fresh scenario that relies on venom mechanics. I had a lot of trouble with interpreting stages 2 and 3 but once I got it straightened out the scenario started to flow nicely. This a combat heavy scenario. There is one timing trick in the scenario (do not worry I will not spoil it) that seems to be obvious once you find it but it took me couple of plays to get it.
This scenario seems slightly easier in solo than in multiplayer (at least 2 player). On one hand it is nice change of pace but on the other hand we loose part of the experience. This is another proof that us, solo players, are often just an afterthought for the game developers. In fact most of difficulties I had with the rules of the quest cards followed directly for this (luckily this was answered in FAQ).
Overall though I highly recommend this quest - it is unique and it is fun.
The Lonely Mountain
4/10 - Initially I loved the scenario - thematic concept that the more treasures you get the more difficult questing gets is tremendous. Getting all treasures (and nothing else was satisfactory) in solo required tweaking my deck to the last card. This is such huge improvement over the treasures in the first box that I am really impressed with the developers. You really owe it to your self to try to get all of them in a solo mode at least once.
Once I was able to achieve that I was really dissatisfied with what happens later. After all this work your fate is left to luck of the draw (i.e. how many times Smaug will attack). Since in my case lady luck was not very friendly (I got attacked upwards of 6 times in 4-5 attempts) the scenario left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed like nothing else matters so much as how many times Smaug will attack you. That is fail in my book.
It is also worthed to mention that getting all the treasures in solo is so much more difficult than in multiplayer that I think is another fail of developer's for this quest.
This scenario is up for my personal award: "Most wasted potential". I still recommend playing it.
The Battle of Five Armies
7/10 - Concept of three stages from which you could choose yourself (with consequences) seemed very, very interesting. In practice though executions was a bit weaker. Namely this scenario follows the typical HIT-EM-HARD at the start and see if they will fall i.e. it is very difficult at the beginning and it turns to very easy (if you survive that is) towards the end. Most of the effects (treacheries, enemies, shadows) are very dangerous at the start of the game and turn into tame later on.
Despite the above I think it is a fun quest and a decent finale to the whole saga. It features questing, battle and siege so you deck needs to be very versatile in solo. Somehow it manages to create very tense moments while reaming beatable. One additional thing keeps this quest from getting better rating it gets old surprisingly fast. It is one of the few quests that I got bored before playing it 10 times (but this may follow from the fact that my playstyle somehow determines the order in which I like to complete quests)
Three dwarves and Bard the Bowman. At this point we have so many dwarves heroes that the new bunch does not impress very much. Despite that on paper all of them look interesting with two pushing dwarf synergy even further
Sprit (Oin) - seems weak as Spirt-Tactics dwarven combination seems relatively weak compared to other options (leadership tactics is my favorite solo option).
Leadership (Balin) - has decent stats and emergency replace nasty shadow with hopefully something less dangerous. No real synergy with other dwarves so could be used outside of race specific decks.
Lore (Bombur) - counts as two dwarves for dwarf counting abilities. Very interesting as it can help to trigger "5 or more dwarfs" one turn earlier than usual but is it worthed to sacrifice a hero spot for him? I do not play lore dwarves but my gut response is: NO.
Tactics (Bard) - again tactics does not get a dwarf in this Saga. Bard seems very cool but let us be honest - he sucks in solo as he is all about ranged attacks.
For me this box is not very strong in hero department. Those of you that tend to play multiplayer or two-fisted will get much more out of it.
Tactics - As with the first set, tactics got the cards that are the least tied to the dwarves. This time it seems that all of them were custom made for Bard. This unfortunately limits their usability in solo mode (ranged focus).
Spirit - Weird bunch of cards. Event is useless in solo. Attachment can help you to deal with locations with terrible effects (pity is that most of those can't be affected by player cards which limits use of this). Ally is typical for this set: if you have 5 or more dwarves you get small benefit when playing him.
Lore - Two of those cards got errata which tells you something about their playtests. Their main problem is that they copy most of the things that lore is already quite good at i.e. card draw and scrying. This makes them less impressive as other options are less dwarf specific.
Leadership - GREAT dwarf cards. If you want to make your dwarves even more of a powerhouse those cards alone should make this box worthed.
Scenarios are ultimately a let down. They continue to be thematic but they all are flawed in some way or another. Developers need to be congratulated for creating more unique experiences than in first Hobbit but at the same time most of the things seem to be underdeveloped and not playtested well enough. Treasures work much better in this one than in the first and managed to become a focal point of two (even all) of the scenarios, mostly due to Bilbo's ability.
As for player/hero cards ... more dwarves plus some range. Again since at this point we have so much dwarf cards it is strike against this box for me. It is worthed to mention that the selection is dramatically better for those that play multiplayer. If you love dwarves though forget about all my complaints and be prepared for even more goodness.
My final rating on the box is quite negative (even I am surprised). It is probably the worst purchase for me so far (with The Hills of Emyn Muil being close second). I did enjoy the first saga box more than this despite lack of originality in its scenarios. Ultimately both sagas expansions seem to suffer from being rushed (not enough development, not enough testing). I really hope that the second saga starting with Black Raiders will be much better in this regard. I will not go as far as to say to skip it but if any expansions came close to this verdict this is the one.
How about you? What are your opinions on the 2nd Hobbit as whole and/or particular scenarios?
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11 Apr 2014
Galakta, Polish publisher of LOTR:LCG decided to discontinue localized version of the game. From their statement it follows that for a while they were losing money of each expansion and they had to make this tough decision as current situation was endangering the company. They are still considering some other various options for continuing PL version but nothing they tried so far seems to be possible.
They will still distribute the English edition of the game.
This is of course a huge deal for Polish LOTR:LCG community several forums are full of discussions. Let us be honest though - in the larger scope of things Polish market for boardgames is still relatively small (we are on the 9th place as far as visits on BGGs goes, whatever this may mean). Nevertheless is this news something that users outside of Poland should worry about? Is this sign of weakness of the game? What were the main reasons that the game was discontinued? Well I do not know but that does not prevent me from speculating.
Form Galakta's statements and comments it seems that core set (had 2 or 3 reprints) and first cycle were selling very well but after that each next expansions was less and less popular. This trend was not broken even by the big boxes or saga boxes (at least not significantly).
First thing is not very surprising. Interest in almost every game dwindles over time (with MTG or classic games being only counterexamples). The last bit is a huge deal for me. I was so excited for the Saga expansions that seemed to be great entry points for new players failed to attract their attention in Poland. How it looks internationally (I know that users that keep track their collection here are just a small part of all players of LOTR:LCG but I guess that the trends in the whole community are similar):
BGG Users owning:
LOTR Core set - 12800
Return to Mirkwood - 2745
Khazad-dûm - 3175
The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill - 2098
Shadow and Flame - 1584
Heirs of Númenor - 1482
Morgul Vale - 581
Black Riders - 980
From this data I see two thing:
A. Game is still very healthy.
B. The downward trend is clearly visible. More and more people leave the game and Saga expansions do very little to counteract this.
Maybe this is the publisher fault - they failed to get the message across to the more casual players. Maybe this ours (fans) fault when we missed opportunity to use those expansions to get new blood in. Or maybe there is nothing that can be done, it is LCG format issue (i.e. Trent Hamm was right [blogpost=16034][/blogpost] and I was wrong: LOTR in light of ' A Critical Look at the Idea of a "Living Card Game" ' article
2. Release schedule and number of products
Shear number of products available discourages players from trying the game. On one of the conventions in Poland I introduced a couple to the game. I had a little bit of downtime so decided to help them out (they were learning from the rules). They played the game and enjoyed it greatly, then they went to the stand to possibly buy the game. Seeing the number of expansions they resigned.
[RANT MODE ON] The releases for LOTR are so confusing and so crazy fast that it boggles my mind! You do not believe me? Compare the list of releases for LOTR: LCG (as per BGG entry of the game) to the one for AGOT:LCG (again BGG entry). You know what? AGOT:LCG is running for 6 years now and LOTR:LCG for 3. You would have not guessed that based on the number of products for both games. We had several people on the forums that bought something that they could not use. Some diving into POD right after core set and so on.
As I see it FFG is flooding the market with LOTR:LCG products. I do not know what is the reason for this? Is license going to expire soon so they want to put as much as products are possible before that happens? Or maybe its more the case: look what another cool idea we have. Let us put it out now! This way we have regular releases, saga releases, POD scenarios, Nightmare decks. What's next? POD player card packs? POD alternative versions of "old" heroes? Simarilion core set?
Who has time to play all of those scenarios more than once or twice? [RANT MODE OFF]
3. Price of the game
I believe that one of the reasons why Polish players were not able to support the game was the price. We are still economically far behind US or Western Europe so it is clear that buying the game was much more challenging for our budgets that it might be for other players in more developed countries. This does not seem to translate directly into the success or failure of English edition ... except of the fact that it is sold all over the world. This is more of an observation than anything - I understand that the game just can't be much cheaper.
Conclusions (sort of):
Hardcore fans are in the golden age of the game. The game is a huge success for FFG and they put out product after product after product. A lot of content is released for the game and there are no immediate signs on the horizon (although end of Polish version is a small warning sign of what my happen with English version in couple of years). If you are more like me i.e. (just) a fan LOTR:LCG the situation is more tricky. We are approaching a breaking point of decision:
- Do we change into hardcore fans (possibly by sacrificing our other interests) and continue to play/buy the game.
- Realize that we are collecting more cards that we can play in years to come and stop buying expansions or shift to only Saga's from now on.
The second choice though means also slow drift away from the community.
As for me I have not decided yet. I am not opposed to mixing ENG and PL so I will not be selling my Polish version (I even hope to be able to buy singles from core set cheaply) ... but when I am done with playing the third cycle (I am 1/3 in) I will open Balck Riders and check how the second saga is for me. I will probably get Voice of Isengard PL (the last expansion in Polish version) and then make my choice.
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