Lord of the Rings:LCG - reviews and general thoughts

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.

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Solo player buyers guide (for those that have only the core set)

Wojtek Wojcik
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This post is in a sense a follow-up to my A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players article. I assume that you played the core game enough times and you sure that you love the game. You are faced now with one overwhelming problem ... where to go from here? There are so many expansions! What to buy first? Can I pick and choose? If so what I should be getting first? First you might want to check how expansions for LOTR:LCG work (see How expansions for LOTR:LCG work) and when you already know that let us dive-in.

Below I post 3 ways to approach expanding LOTR:LCG. For each I present you with a list of pros and cons and a shopping list (you should stick to the order on the list). I strongly believe that in any case you should not buy multiple expansions (despite the savings on shipping) at the same time. First you should have played scenarios in previous ones at least 7-10 times. Remember you may burn out on the game at some point and without following the previous advice you would be left with expansions that you haven't even played!

My recommended purchase order
Go (mostly) in order of release skipping POD expansions and Nightmare decks.
Pros:
- Scenarios will have the intended difficulty level
- You will play as intended/playtested by FFG
- First expansions are usually easy to get second hand (saving you decent amount of money)
- No need to buy skipped expansion later on when the old cards get a boost due to release of new cards (example: Rohan is getting a lot of new love in the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Voice of Isengard while before they were mostly restricted to first cycle and many of their cards could be considered weak without newer cards to interact with).
- You will get the complete set of player cards

Cons:
- Some of the expansions might be harder to get especially if you want them new (depending on FFG reprints)
- Frustration with difficulty with some of the early scenarios in solo (Escape from Dol Guldur, A journey to Rhosghobel, Return to Mirkwood)
- If you are cult of the new member you might be annoyed by the fact that you are always behind (I am assuming that you will play each scenario at least several times before moving to the next)
- You will be quite close to the full collection which might turn you into collector (which is pricey!)

Shopping list:


Minimalist Route
I feel very strongly that the above is the way to go but since it generates a huge drag on your gaming budget I have another option. This list is designed in such a way to give you maximum "bang for your buck" and in short it states: Buy only the saga expansions, forget about the rest.

Pros:
- Relatively cheap
- Quickly gets you up to speed with some of the current releases (which might be a huge thing for the cult of the new crowd)
- Best "use of your dollar" (as far as this games goes)
- Best if you are only interested in stories directly taken from J.R.R. Tolkien's

Cons:
- You are pretty much stuck with playing 30-35 card decks
- You might be forced into playing easy mode
- You will not be able to get the full experience on some of the scenarios (example: with a limited card pool it is impossible to get more than 1-3 treasurers in Lonely Mountain scenario in second Hobbit box)
- You might get burn out on constantly seeing the same player cards as their variety will be limited (as will your deck building options)
- You will be tempted to buy an AP or two just to get some awesome card (and usually those will contain a scenario that will be unbeatable with your pool of cards so you will paying 15$ for couple of player cards)
- If you decide to get the rest of expansion those might turn out to be too easy with your extended card pool.
- Some of the scenarios might be a bit more tricky to manage (a lot of effects that you need to keep track of) without experience from previous releases.

Shopping list:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Hobbit saga: Over Hill and Under Hill, On the Doorstep
Saga box: The Black Riders (at the point of writing there are no more Saga's available but The Road Darkens should be out soon).

Option: After one or two Hobbit Sagas you could get a Khazad Dum expansion.

Pick and Choose way
This is the way that I bearly recommend because of its flaws (see below) but it might be something that people actually look for because of combination of its pros. Remember that this list (much more than others above) is geared toward solo players and is very subjective.

Pros:
- Not as expensive as complete purchase list
- Decent player card pool
- Decent scenario pool
- Brings you closer to current releases faster

Cons:
- Quite expensive
- Balance will be off (some scenarios will be too easy others too difficult with your card pool)
- Quite a few "dead" player cards (due to the fact that you will be missing some other cards that make them work - uncomplete themes/keyword pool)
- This is probably the most subjective list hence you might find that my recommendation are not ideal for the decks that you want to play.


Shopping list:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
NOTE: expansions in italic can be skipped if on tighter budget
Conflict at the Carrock
A Journey to Rhosgobel
The Dead Marshes
Hobbit saga 1:Over Hill and Under Hill
Return to Mirkwood
Deluxe box: Khazad-dûm
The Watcher in the Water
The Long Dark
Foundations of Stone
Hobbit saga 2: On the Doorstep
Saga box: The Black Riders (at the point of writing there are no more Saga's available but The Road Darkens should be out soon).


So this concludes my buying guide. Please feel free to comment, add your prefered purchase order and/or point out why I am wrong.

Why this post
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Seems to be a bit out of place at the end but I didn't want to interrupt the flow of my advice above. This post was directly inspired by mistakes done in a following buyers guide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_GZgFQ9He4 (those include suggesting to buy expansions that are not playable without having some other boxes). Don't get me wrong I understand why creator made them and what was his intent but I think those are just not acceptable and the video should be updated or at least commented in order to save frustration to people that might follow its advice. I also have seen other buyers guides including: Tales of the cards and Couple vs Cardboard and while I consider both of them great, in my opinion they are not geared toward solo players. That is why I decided to create one that it is optimized for those of us that enjoy playing the game alone.
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Tue Mar 25, 2014 10:49 am
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How expansions for LOTR:LCG work

Wojtek Wojcik
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What I am about to write here will be obvious to any seasoned LOTR:LCG player. The trick is that if you shift your perspective a little bit it turns out that the releases for this game are highly unusual. In fact I am sure that most of new people WILL be confused and might even buy something that they can't use! I myself was surprised by what came in Massing at Osgiliath when I first got it. Here let me give you the tour:

Deluxe expansions
Examples: Khazad-dûm, Heirs of Númenor, The Voice of Isengard
Contents (around 165 cards in total):
- 2 hero cards
- 11-16 player cards (each in 3 copies)
- 3 scenarios
- Encounter cards (several sets)
Remarks
Those boxes are required to play adventure packs (see below) from the cycle that follows them directly. Price wise they tend to cost around the same as two adventure packs which if you do the math is very good as far as new scenarios go but so so if you are looking for more player cards.

Adventure packs
Examples: The Hunt for Gollum, The Blood of Gondor, The Redhorn Gate
Contents (around 60 cards in total):
- 1 hero card
- 9 player cards (each in 3 copies)
- 1 scenario and some of the encounter cards for it (the rest of them is found in corresponding Deluxe Box)
Remarks
Adventure packs (APs) require corresponding (preceding) deluxe box in order to play contained scenario. They are supposed to be released monthly (although this rule is often broken due to other releases for the game) and are linked into so called cycles that consist of 6 adventure packs.

In theory they APs within the cycle are independent of each other but they tend to tell consistent story and the player cards usually have some theme/mechanics that becomes fully developed only when you get all of the expansions from particular cycle. Example: in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle tactic sphere gets a lot of Eagle allies and boosts for them. Only when you have full cycle the "Eagle deck" becomes a reasonable build.

Saga expansions
Examples: Over Hill and Under Hill, On the Doorstep, The Black Raiders, The Road Darkens
Contents (around 165 cards in total):
- 5 Hero cards (1 is unusable outside of its expansion)*
- 11-14 player cards (1-2 might be unusable outside of its expansion)
- 3 scenarios and encounter cards for it,
- Various number of expansion specific cards (treasures, boon, burdens etc,)
Remarks
Intended to tell the stories directly from Tolkien's books. Those expansions are in a sense separate from the rest of releases and they are playable (and mostly winnable) when combined with just the core game because of that those can be treated as entry points for the expansions for game. Player and hero cards in those tend to be strongly linked to each and work very well when combined although some of them might be much less useful outside of corresponding scenarios. Saga expansions are priced the same as deluxe expansions and seem to be more cost effective (as you get more hero cards in a saga box than in a deluxe box).

Two series can be distinguished here:
Hobbit - finished, consists of two boxes (OHaUH, OtD).
LOTR - one released, second one announced and few more are supposed to follow to tell the story of Lord of the Rings.

*Note: the content of saga boxes is about to change with release of The Road Darkens that will have only 2 heroes (and one will be unusable outside of its scenarios) and only 9 player cards. If FFG continues this with later releases it will make those boxes much less cost effective.


Print on demand expansions
Examples: The Massing at Osgiliath, Battle of Lake-town, The Stone of Erech
Contents (around 45 cards in total):
- 1 scenario and the encounter cards for it
Remarks
No player/hero cards. These scenarios are first released as GenCon exclusives and later you can buy them separately as POD. Cardstock and colors are different than regular cards but you do not have to mix them with regular cards so it's not a problem. Usually scenarios in this expansions are very hard! They cost roughly the same as adventure packs (though tend to be more expensive internationally). This makes them cost ineffective.

Nightmare decks
Examples: Nightmare Deck: Journey Along the Anduin, Nightmare Deck: Conflict at the Carrock, Nightmare Deck: Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim
Contents (around 20 cards in total):
- Nightmare mode card (modifies the rules for the corresponding old scenario)
- Encounter cards
Remarks
Requires original expansion that introduced the scenario. Those cards are intended to make old scenarios difficult again. Cardstock and colors are different than regular cards and you have to mix them with regular cards encounter cards (sleeving might be required). Two of them cost slightly less than an adventure pack which makes them pricey considering the content and quality (again international buyers might be forced to pay more due to availability).

Game Night Kits
Examples: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Game Night Kit 2013 Season Two, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Game Night Kit 2013 Season One
Contents (around 60 cards in total and various other stuff):
- 3 x Nightmare decks
- Playmat or other accessory
- Rules for organized play
- Poster
Remarks
Those can't be officially bought (but you may come across them on ebay so I am including them here) and are only for retailers. Cards inside of those can be latter obtained as Nightmare decks (see above) and accessories (while nice) are nothing more than collector items. Tend to be very pricey due to their collectible nature and no official distribution.

EDIT: Adjusted price remarks and added a note about saga boxes content thanks to comments by John85.
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Fri Mar 14, 2014 12:04 pm
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Quick update including second Hobbit box initial impressions

Wojtek Wojcik
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I've been quiet for last two weeks but this does not mean that the blog is dead or anything. Just to keep you up to date what I am up to and not let myself get out without writing anything about the game for too long ... here is "state of things":

1. I am two-thirds into the second Hobbit box. Just to give you an idea of my initial reactions:

a. I like the first scenario - spiders delux. It was a bit confusing at first on how it should be played solo and even the errata was not answering my questions. Once I got it straight though I very much liked it. It has two high points (namely "Captured by spiders" and "Battle with spiders" and because of this it brakes the standard flow of other scenarios which is great.

The scenario is fairly beatable with core + hobbits cards and is also exciting with "up-to-date" card pool. Great job.

b. I do not like the second scenario. The set-up with treasures and lonely mountain is great and I love that you can decide how hard you want it to get. On the other hand the Smaug infinite attacks skill is just too absurd (I've already suffered 9 and 8 attacks in a row in my games). Simply put you can not do anything about it. It feels that you play this wonderful game in the second stage just to go to stage three through random series of card flips you get destroyed (show me a deck that can survive 9 attacks from Smaug) or you get out for free (no burgle on first card).

Additionally it is clear that the Mountain was not tested with one player in mind - 10/12 + number of questers is hard to pull off solo even with pure spirit deck (and good luck in killing Smaug with this deck).

Since the main difficulty lies in random nature of Smaug it is equally hard with full card pool and restricted (core+hobbit boxes). One note though: you would have to be crazy lucky to get all the treasures with restricted card pool. With full card pool it is possible to get all the treasures solo (I've managed to do it twice - but in both cases lost in stage 3 after >5 attacks from Smaug).

c. I am looking forward to playing the battle of 5 armies scenario.

2. As I already mentioned the main reason for slowing down with the blog is the fact that my new game is going to have its premiere this Essen. Hence my "hobby time" is fully booked. I will not write much about Metallum here but please have a look at it here: Metallum. Thanks in advance!

3. I am eager to come back to the Against the Shadow cycle. I like the sagas but "Heris ..." box really wetted my appetite for what else is coming.

4. Because of the above I am not too keen on dwelling into "Black Raiders" yet. Although I am pretty sure this will change once I get my dose of "rear-end" kicking from the encounter deck in "Against the Shadow".

5. "The Voice of Isengard" looks awesome. New doomed mechanic on player cards is GREAT idea. It brings the very thematic concept "power corrupts" in to our game. Very thrilled.

4. At the moment my prediction is that until the end of the month I will not have much to report on LOTR front but hopefully after the Essen fair is over with things will pick up again. Until that time let me know what you are looking forward to in LOTR:LCG!
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Mon Oct 7, 2013 1:36 pm
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Season 2 Game Night Kit - sneak peek

Wojtek Wojcik
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Due to very fortunate turn of events I got a chance to look through the Season 2 Game Night kit for LOTR:LCG. What follows is just a summary of things that caught my eye. I was not able to play any of the nightmare decks so "reviews" of them are just based on quick look at the cards (I am also writing from memory so some things might be off).

Contents of the Game Night Kit
Pamphlets (tournament rules and how to use the game night kit)
Poster
Playmat
Nightmare decks (for Hunt for Gollum, Conflict at the Carrock, A Journey to Rhosgobel)

First impressions of additional components
Poster - It seems to be roughly A3 size (2 x letter size paper). It has the same art as Glamdring treasure card from Hobbit Over and Under Hill. The art looks very nice in larger format and I think it would look nice on one's game cave wall. The poster comes folded so it would require some smoothing before hanging. It is ok, nice addition but nothing to write home about:
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill


Playmat - It is a wide rectangle made from mousepad-like material. It has the same art as Khazad-Dum expansion box. I have to say that in larger format this art looks even more impressive - it really brings up what Moria once was and is able to evoke both the ave and dread that dwarves might have felt when entering it.
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Khazad-dûm

Just to test the mat functionality I've lied down some cards on it according to my typical solo play area. I have to the following observations:
- It is very easy to exhaust cards (they rotate easily) and at the same time cards won't slide by them self, they rest in place.
- Width: roughly 3 rows of cards: staging area, cards engaged with a player and single row of player cards.
- Length: I was able to place 7 cards (without cramming them) in a row. This of course means that some allies (and attachments) would have to go to the second row (i.e. below the mat).
- I didn't see much problem with cards "blending" into the background too much.
- It rolls nicely and it should be easy to store/carry
As a whole the mat is very thematic and highly functional. Unfortunately it is just a bit too small to handle my full play area witch deducts half point:

Nightmare decks
Please note that impressions mentioned are based purely on single read through cards. It means that I am only speculating here.

In general each deck comes with 20 cards, one of witch is a quest card that has a constant effect(s).

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
Hunt for Gollum
Main trick is that now Mordor enemies will guard any clues unclaimed by heroes and if at any point they control 4 or more of them the players loose. As for particular encounter cards I remember three of them (each coming in few copies):
- In this scenario you look through more cards that you put in play. One enemy will enter play when you just "look" at him
- There was a location that would boost defence of Mordor enemies guarding clues.
- Enemy (warg) that summons other Mordor enemies.
The deck didn't seem so hard but of course I might be totally off on this. I have to say that my initial impressions are so-so but the fight for clues might become very interesting so who knows.

Conflict at the Carrock
It seems that this scenario was really reworked and I get the feeling that it will be even better than it was before. There were three main changes:
- If players do not put progress on a quest stage one will be placed there automatically. It means that you will not be able to linger too long in stage 1.
- We got new versions of named trolls. They have there own abilities but now boost other trolls when they are in Victory Display (i.e. dead). This means that a troll will get more dangerous the more others you have killed. I very much like this change because previously the 2 stage worked exactly other way around: it was hard at the begging but once you killed a troll or two it become easier. I like the new flow much, much better.
- Third stage was added with an additional (two headed) troll. His stats were not as impressive by them self (slightly stronger that other named trolls) but you need to remember that at this point you will have many trolls in Victory Display buffing him. Also he becomes more dangerous with more players (attacking current engaged player, engaging next player and attacking him).
As for cards:
- More unnamed trolls (again buffing other trolls when killed)
- Devilish location (Hives or something) that will damage every characters if you put progress on it! Be sure not to travel there unless you have some mass healing available (or Thor's key)!
This seems to be the most interesting quest change. It takes care of the standard way to deal with this quest (lingering in stage 1) but also should make the fight with the trolls more climactic. Very much looking forward to try this out.

A Journey to R.
I remember only one thing about general effect: Athelases from discard pile get shuffled to the encounter deck - which is great as it should make this quest much less random. I am sure there was some bad effect as well but I do not seem to recall it.
Cards:
- Surge, some more surge and even more surge.
- Cards that remove ranger keywords, remove eagle keyword (i.e. prevent you from defending/attacking from "flayer" creature that damage Wilyador)
- Cards that further limit healing (enemy that prevents it totally, attachments that reduces any healing done to 1 HP)
- Some archer enemies that damage Wilyador when in play.
I was not impressed on paper. Although bringing back Athelas to the encounter deck is very nice the amount of surge seemed to be out of control.
END SPOILER ALERT

All in all it is hard to judge those scenarios just from the cards but I have to say that I am very excited to try the new Carrock - it seems that it might become one of my top favorites scenarios in the nightmare version. Other two didn't impress me much.

One additional comment. Since nightmare decks are "print on demand" quality the card stock and the colors are quite different from the regular cards. For standard Gen Con scenarios this is not an issue as they form complete encounter deck but for Nightmare decks it is an issue as you need to mix them with a standard encounter cards fir a particular scenario. FFG suggests sleeving the encounter cards when playing nightmare but I have to say it is a bit annoying.

Final thoughts
In general I was very excited to get a chance to look through the game night kit and I secretly dreamed about getting it but ... after writing this review I am not so hot anymore. Nightmare decks are great way to refresh the old quests and I very much like that not only they address the difficulty but also try to make the quests more enjoyable by getting rid of things that were missed first time around. When judging the Game Night Kit though you have to take into account that you will be able to get those decks later on without any problem so they do not add much value to the kit (well you are getting them earlier). Taking the decks out of the picture you get a mat and a poster. Of the two only the mat seems attractive enough to compel me to try to seek out a Kit but to get it you really need to be on good terms with a gaming shop (officially the kits are not for resale) and probably pay an arm and a leg for it and this makes the mat alone just plain not worthed (especially that it is not ideal). So do not despair that you can't get it at the end of the day you are not missing much.
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Thu Aug 29, 2013 8:05 am
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Keywords and game concepts - LOTR:LCG development in review.

Wojtek Wojcik
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Today let me do something slightly different - I usually tend to look at a specific expansions and try to review them separately. This time I want to make some more "cross section" observations. I decided to look at current development of more important keywords and two of the game concepts. I have to say that I am very curious what other people think about those keywords/concepts - please feel free to comment.

Keywords


Eagles -
Eagles was one of the first keywords explored by FFG. I have to say that I was not impressed when I was unpacking first adventure packs. Tactics was almost a dead sphere in solo at this point ... but now ... Let me tell you eagles are quite strong and despite the fact that synergies are not as great as I would like them this keyword still has some very fun and useful things in stock (Vassal of the Windlord in battle quests turns from ok to GREAT!!!). The only thing that is a bit negative is that we have not seen any eagle development since the first cycle and if this continues ... they might become obsolete.

Rohan -
I am of two minds on Rohan keyword. On one hand it has a great mixture of allies and events that has some nice synergies and we see new Rohan cards from time to time. It also seems that we should be getting more Rohan in the next (Saruman Voice) deluxe expansion. So with all of that, why do I give it only an average rating? It is because for me as a solo player this keyword is just too single purpose: quest and explore locations. This is too limited for solo but great for multiplayer. That said I still have high hopes for Rohan as appearance of Tactics Hamma can signify that we will see more fighting horse lords. This promises a great solo Rohan deck combining great questing with great fighting.

Dwarf -
Can I say anything new about dwarves? No I do don't think so. This keyword has so many great allies, events, attachments and synergies that it dwarves (sorry for a poor pun) every other keyword. My only complaint is that huge amount of "dwarven stuff" slowed development of other keywords.

Noldor/Silvan -
And here for some controversy. The winners for the worst keyword are elves. Mind you, there are some tremendous Noldor/Silvan cards, some of them are up there in top cards ever but the synergies are almost non-existent (one card for Silvan?). What is even worse for elvish folk is that none of the announcements made by FFG suggests much improvement in foreseeable future.


Currently under development so I am not ready to give my rating yet:
Gondor - very promising
There are quite a few heroes/allies with a Gondor trait and there some cards that only work (or are better when played on) Gondor characters. So what this card pool needs is some more cards that will bind the them together (effects for all Gondor characters, cards courting other Gondor chars). I am predicting that once such cards will appear we will see Gondor as strong as Dwarves - this the one to watch! BTW: I do not like citadel custodian card but I like the way his ability is intended I hope to see more chars like this in the future)

Outlands - very interesting
This a tough one to judge. Those cards are all about synergy - i.e. in group they can be crazy powerful and on their own they are laughable. At first I was quite sure that those guys will only work in multi-player but with Hirluin and secrecy ... I saw some people using it with great efficiency but at this point it seems that this deck would be too luck dependent for my taste. Please also observe that this is a smallest set of cards that deserved a space on this list.


Hobbit - not too thrilled about it
This is almost pure speculation at this point but for some reason I see hobbits more as an individuals with very unusual skills (that is why I love Frodo) than a cooperating group. Of course this is just my bias. One thing that I still want hobbits to have - very unique abilities. I just do not want them to have "if you control at least X hobbits" type skills. FFG already did that for dwarves so I want something new.

Game concepts:


Secrecy -
When I was starting to write this article I was about to declare it dead as a game concept. We haven't seen any cards boosting it since the Dwarrowdelf cycle. On paper idea of smaller fellowships gaining some bonuses sounded great but it never materialized completely*. There are some tremendous cards in secrecy mode ... but as a whole it is not quite there because:
- most of the secrecy cards are dead outside secrecy mode i.e. if game pushes you over 20 ... halof of your cards are useless
- only one or two of secrecy cards are worthed the hidden price you have to pay for them i.e. one or two less heroes in your team
So why is not dead yet? See outlands section above.
* One note here. It would be much better if secrecy = you control one (two?) heroes. In this way it would not only be more reliable than 20 threat but also one could imagine very intense climactic game ends when you are down to one hero but due to secrecy power he can really do some awesome things.

Battle/Siege -
This is, in my opinion, the only major game concept introduced since the game was released. Yes, there were quite a few others introduced for particular scenarios and some of them were brilliant (separating players in FoS, Cardahras in Redhorn Gate) but none of them shares amazing simplicity that has tremendous effect on game play with battle/siege. I am waiting for this one to be extended to combat (i.e. enemies that can be only attacked/defended via willpower and/or progress tokens) and explored for expansions to come!

As I said before I am very curious on how do you feel about various new game mechanisms and keyowrds? Did I miss something important in my recap?
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Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:09 pm
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Heirs of Númenor - is it worthed to fight for Gondor?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Here is a review of the Heirs of Númenor box composed of quick looks at each scenario and player cards.

1. Scenarios
Peril in Pelargir
5/10 - NOTE: I messed up this scenario by including additional encounter set (orks) so please take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Poor thematic feel (especially that it is beneficial to let the enemies take the scroll) really damages this scenario. It was fun to explore the battle keyword for the first time and enemies had interesting effects (that can't be canceled) but I will not be returning to this one any time soon. It also suffers from a loose connection with the other scenarios.

Into Ithilien
7/10 - Much better use of battle/siege mechanisms. At times it is very difficult (first turn Mumak = game over). Loved the non linear nature but it is a bit weird that stage two (penalty) was easier than stage 3 (reward). Great thematic connection with the next one.

The Siege of Cair Andros
8/10 - Scaling on this one seems to be totally off. Setup is deadly for solo and if you fail to avoid stage two it is pretty much game over. All this takes two points away from this excellent scenario. Definitely one of the best so far. Great mechanisms carry strong theme and forces interesting choices and risk taking. This scenario alone makes this box worthed to buy (assuming you have other expansions as it would be very difficult with limited card pool).

2. Heroes
Two heroes in this box. This is really few compared Saga boxes that contain 4.
Beregond - His main (and only) purposes are to handle questing under siege and to defend. He is great at that. He also rounds out tactics sphere providing decent defence. His ability is on the weak side though so I am a bit surprised by his high threat cost. Still he is worth including when dealing with siege quests.
Boromir - At this point he is weak. There are only few interesting Gondor allies. His stats as in the tactics version are good but until I see more Gondor characters I won't be playing him.


3. Player Cards
Tactics - Tremendous mix of cards. Excellent and cheap defender, readying, defence booster and decent weapon attachment.

Spirit - Watchful peace - can be interesting especially in solo. Blood of Numenor might be interesting if you are running Spirit Leadership deck. Light the Beacons sounds great on paper but I never have 5 spirit resources lying around. Damrod is plain terrible.

Lore - Good cards. I love ranger spikes that can essentially trap an enemy and Ithilien Tracker might also create interesting choices. Master of Lore seems to be too expensive unless you are planning on running mono-Lore (and even that is it worthed?). Hunter of Lamedon looks weak on the surface but with Outlands synergy ... let us wait and see.

Leadership - Mostly cards that allow some resource manipulation. Nothing to write home about. Rohan-Gondor combo card is interesting but I do not see it in solo so not too great.

Neutral - Envoy can allow you to transfer some wealth and is quite cheap but ...

In general Tactic is a winner here (suffice to say that I used all new cards and created first mono tactics deck). Lore also seems to have something interesting in stock. Other sphere look very weak in solo (though Watchful Peace could be great for solo spirit decks).

Final Rating:
In short excellent box for dedicated players. I've liked it for introduction of siege/battle keywords, loved the third scenario and second one was fun as well. Decent player cards round it up to a surprisingly good rating. Half of the point was taken for poor 1st scenario and for the fact that there is too little Gondor in the Gondor box.

How about you? What are your opinions on the Heirs box as whole and/or particular scenarios?
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Tue Aug 6, 2013 2:27 pm
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Easy mode - is it too late for it?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Many interesting developments in LOTR:LCG took place during my break from playing it. Two most interesting ones came on the heals of each other: announcement of LOTR Saga expansion and introduction of the Easy mode. We will have plenty of time to discuss the first one when the expansion comes up so let us look at the second one.

Easy mode? What is it?
There are basically two rules that differ easy mode from standard mode i.e.:
- Remove certain encounter cards from the deck before the game
- Your heroes start with resources (i.e. after first resource phase they will each have two resource tokens on their card).
That is it! No fancy conditional approach, no altering of phases. That is the second time (after introduction of battle and siege keywords) that I have to congratulate the designers on simple yet brilliant changes to the rules.

Who it is aimed at?
Simplest answer comes from article itself - thematic players - those that enjoy journeying through Middle-Earth in accordance to Tolkien's lore. I am not a thematic player myself but I am very much impressed by their determination to recreate the source material as much as possible. Since many of the scenarios put so much pressure on players decks that even slightest inefficiencies (especially in solo) in player deck really impact chances to win these players often struggled. Now, the developers claim that those players should have a decent chance to win the games using the decks that they enjoy best.

Another group of players that gets mentioned are casual players. There is not much to expand here. It really took me many many plays to learn how to build half decent decks that can hold their own against certain scenarios. I can imagine how it feels to try to conquer newer scenarios with several games under your belt - endless frustration. Here the easy mode can definitely help but it remains to be seen if this is enough.

What easy mode has to offer for me?
I consider myself a hardcore player even if I do not think that I am that good at the game. With 300+ plays under my belt I can't honestly say I am casual about it any sense of the word. Here are some ideas on how easy mode could be used by more dedicated players and my opinions on them:

1. Extend re-playability - Now I could imagine playing each scenario in 3 variations. First discover it in Easy mode, add to the challenge by playing normal mode after that and finally dig deeper with Nightmare decks. If you are really into deep analysis and exploration of the game (and I am after all: this blog is all about that) this sounds great.
MY OPINION: I am not seeing this. Ultimately standard mode is where the game is being developed, tested and prepared the most. Additionally first playthrough of a scenario is often accompanied by a great sense of real adventure (as I am never sure what to expect) - so I will go with Standard every time to get optimal experience. Then unless I find scenario hopelessly difficult (Dol Goldur could be an example here) I do not see myself going down with difficulty.

2. Test decks - You could test off the wall deck ideas, weird card combination on easy mode. Especially additional resources can help you out with this as you can finally play those hyper-expensive cards and see them in action and decide on their value. I know that there are many players that find enjoyment in this so this might be excellent.
MY OPINION: I test my decks on regular scenarios so this holds little value for me. On the other hand I am not big on trying weird stuff just to see if I can find excellent combos. I am more of simple-yet-reliable-deck-is-better kind of player. Nay for me but maybe yey for you?

3. Campaign mode - I never tried this. My deck building skills were never good enough to construct a deck that is of "one to rule them all" type. I can construct a deck that will handle a given scenarios (most of the time anyway) but creating one that will deal with several of them in a row is beyond my skills. I am very impressed by the people that can do it but I even do not want to have such deck (tweaking my decks is fun). Despite this I am strangely attracted to the concept of campaign play and maybe easy mode is only way for me to tackle it.
MY OPINION: This might hold some value for me. The only problem is that I am still behind current releases. I have so many scenarios to play that I do not see myself doing campaign unless FGG stops printing new stuff.

4. Extended player base - i.e. easy mode=more players (of thematic and casual type)=more profit for FFG=more products for all of us.
MY OPINION: Yeah I know that "equations" above are just theoretical but I am convinced of their relevance. So in this sense I say all the more power to the Easy Mode!

So ultimately only last point seems to be really relevant for me personally but it seems strong enough to make easy mode a decent addition to the system.

Are there any dangers?
None so far. Additionally very first inspection did not allowed me to find any in the future until I've re-read my own sentence above: "standard mode is where the game is being developed, tested and prepared the most". What if FFG turns this on it head i.e. they develop easy mode first and then just add some random, ridiculously punishing encounter cards and create standard mode this way. This would not only damage thematic feel of the game for me but would also make it much more random. I hope it will not come to this. I do not mind that so much if added cards are well tested and integrated but we already saw some examples of ridiculous cards (Sleeping Sentry seems to be a good example here) although so far it were more exceptions than the rule. I remain optimistic though - easy mode will do more good than bad.

Is it too late for introduction of the Easy Mode?
My short answer at this point seems to be yes. FGG was losing casual and thematic players over after released expansion that us hardcore fans were praising for tenseness and difficulty. I read about it in forum posts, sell offers and even my own blog comments. I am not sure if many of those players will return to the game now that they can play on their own level (paraphrasing FFG's title) as they sold their collection and or stopped reading about the game. They might have found the game more to their liking in its current state with this additional mode included but some of them got burned.

I really hope that FFG in any reprints of the game will incorporate easy mode directly on the cards and rules. This way anyone who pickups game from store shelf will see this option right away and may go for it without much digging. The problem is that from what I saw FFG is not quick to include erratas in new print runs so it might not happen any time soon.

It is not all doom and gloom though as FFG timed the easy mode as good as they were able to at this point. LOTR saga announcement is bound to attract thematic/casual player attention and added bonus of easy mode might be just enough to get them sucked in (again in some cases). It requires though (I think) that saga scenarios to be beatable in easy mode using only core and Black Riders player cards. This makes designing these scenario a nightmare as all of us that have full card pool also want something challenging and with dwarven decks being so ridiculously strong ... Well, let us wait if developers find some way to combine this opposing goals.

What are your opinions on Easy Mode? Do you use it or at least plan on using it? Are my concerns valid?
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Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:00 am
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Did I really Escaped Dol Guldur solo?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Malopolska
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I described my feelings about playing Escape from Dol Guldur with only core cards here: Escape from Dol Guldur - the one cursed by all solo players. Then after playing Mirkwood cycle (and Massing at Osgiliath) I attempted it again with extended card pool (you can find brief comments here: play comments) and failed miserably again. At that time I made a resolution to play it after each full cycle and see if at some point I will be able to create a deck that will be able to deal with this scenario on a semi-regular basis. Just before taking my time out from the game I exactly did that. In March I attempted the bane of all solo players scenario and ...

(Long pause) ... YES I DID IT ... I beat Dol Goldur with tournament legal deck solo!

I have to say that satisfaction when I did that for the first time was really someting. Even better I was able to beat it few more times after that. I was not able to achieve my "holy grail" goal of >50% win percentage (I got around 45%, but who's counting) nevertheless I was/am so proud. Unfortunately my limited time/burn-out phase kicked in right after that and I only have half of the comments about my plays. Still you can find at least those below.

[Session Comment]

Date: 16 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Aragorn (WitW), Frodo, Glorfindel (FoS) (spirit/lore)
Played 7 times, won three of those
--------------------------------------------------------------
[Session Report] Due to being a bit sick I've spent the weekend escaping from Dol Guldur. Due to decent amount of plays details are a bit hazy:
- Started with a defeat. Frodo was the first prisoner. Initial objective "guardians" were not so bad but soon enough got attacked by Chieftan and Ungoliant Spawn.
- FIRST win against this scenario for me. Frodo was again the prisoner. Manged to get to him quite fast due to nice balanced mix of enemies, locations and treacheries. Had a little trouble killing the Nazgul (Chieftan Ufthak was assisting him). Gandalf helped greatly and after that I was off to my first win.
- Another win this time Aragorn was taken prisoner. I was able to rescue him just in time for threat reset.
- Three losses in a row (Glorfindel was in prison). Once I got double Caught in a web early. Once I got 5 location turn one (even Gandalf couldn't help). Once I had three Dol Guldur orcs at the start and even despite killing them soon Ungliant appeared and sealed the deal.
- Finally won with Glorfindel in prison. Got an fairly easy start (two no effect treacheries which helped a lot)
--------------------------------------------------------------
[General thoughts] At this point I was very satisfied with my deck (only changes I mad was pretty obvious swap of Peace, and Thought for Miner of Iron Hills. I assumed that it will be always easier to win if Glorfindel is not in prison (Light of Valinor is a huge help in starting hand and Asfaloth can help as well). I was very happy to finally beat this bane of all solo players quest. FFG always gets bashed for including it in core set and I tend to partially agree as I think it was not tested enough in solo mode. On the other hand it was nice to comeback with great pool of cards to this core set quest and find that most of its theth are still pointy and lust for solo player's blood. It was a joyous moment after 250+ plays to add this quest to my "completed" list (I refuse to comment on performing small victory dance).

[General Thoughts]

Here I will only include my deck if someone else wants to test it out:
Heroes:
Glorfindel - Foundation of Stone
Aragorn - Watcher in the Water
Frodo Baggins

Allies:
3x Gandalf - Core set

3x Northern Tracker
3x Arwen Undomiel
3x Bofur - The Redhorn Gate
3x West Road Traveller
2x Wandering Took


3x Miner of the Iron Hills
2x Henemarth Riversong
3x Master of the Forge


Attachments
2x Unexpected Courage
3x Light of Valinor
3x Ancient Mathom


3x Fast Hitch
1x Asfaloth


Events:
2x Dwarven Tomb
3x Test of Will
3x Hasty Stroke


3x Daeron's Runes
3x Radagast's Cunning



What are your opinions on this scenario? Do you think it will ever become a pushover scenario in solo?
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Sun Jun 16, 2013 6:00 am
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What is up with the blog and how to rekindle your interest in LOTR:LCG?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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State of the blog

As is the case with many blogs in general mine went to a bit of a dormant state. I am afraid I am not here to say that this is over yet but still I want to provide you with status update and some content.

Main reason for my silence is something that I mentioned (maybe in passing) in one of my posts before, mainly mysterious project that I started to working on. At that time I suggested that it might slow down my writing/playing. Now I can give some details:
Few months ago one of the Polish publishers (Galakta, that also publishes Polish version of LOTR:LCG) announced a boardgame design contest. They called on designers to submit their prototypes for consideration in one of the three categories. As you can see from my badge I do fiddle around with designing games and I even had some of them published. Hence this opportunity was just too good to pass up. Together with my partner in game designing crime ... we've taken out a game that we were working on for several years, polished it some more and sent of.

Our game won (ex-aequo but still) first prize in Science Fiction category and we are working together with the publisher on releasing it in Essen. This of course means tons of playtesting, tweaking and other time consuming activities. As game design is just a hobby for me it basically took over my free time reducing my LOTR:LCG playing down to zero.

At this point I will not promise you that I will soon return to regular posting although there are several post brewing in my mind so something might come up here and there.


Rekindling your interest in LOTR:LCG

The fact that I was not playing the game for a while had a side effect. I caught myself playing some video games when I did get some idle time instead of LOTR:LCG. I realized that probably game designing and testing is only part of the reason why I did not play LOTR for a while. I suspected that I burned out on it a little (I played it like crazy in March). I still felt that I want to play and explore it more, I was following FFG's website for any news about the game ... but I could not get it to the table. I decided to make a concentrated effort to rekindle my interest in the game. Here are some things that worked for me ... maybe you also feel a bit tired with the game but do not consider quitting. Then those "tricks" might prove useful to you:

- Following FFG news - even if at the moment I was not feeling like buying anything new for the game I did follow publisher's site. Even announcements of new products were interesting as FFG is are good at highlighting new mechanics that sparked my imagination. Additionally they do post regular non-product related content (Second breakfast series) which is well written and does give interesting insight into game developer's view of things.

- Lurking around the game forums - I suggest BGG although I mainly followed Polish boards. I've read the posts from people that are excited about the game and I have to say that it can be contagious. Also it is nice to help other people with their rules questions even if I am not up to date with current releases (on the other hand I never was up to date).

- Re-reading the books - I've actually started to listen to the audiobook. It is nice to find inspiration for the cards in the story that the game is based on. It really helped to get back into the theme.

- Organizing your collection - I've finally clearly labeled the card boxes, sorted out encounter cards to the respective expansion boxes. Arranged player cards, sleeved new cards that I have not yet opened. Looking at the artwork I got excited again and making game faster to "access" allowed me to finally play it again.

- Creating a deck - I was still a bit weary of playing but decided to build a deck. It was fun to look through cards from the newest expansion (I git Heirs just before stoping to play the game). Compare them with old favorites (some of card's sleeves do show wear after so many games - yes I am looking at you Test of Will).


All of the above helped me to play Peril in Pelagir yesterday. I have to say that after 3 month break from the game I was a bit shaky on the rules (Universal Head's player aid and Kirk Bauer's timing sequence had to be handy) but surely I got back on the saddle. Now I am hoping that my time does allow me to play some more in the near future. I missed playing LOTR:LCG without even realizing it.

Have you gone through burn-out phase with LOTR:LCG? Do you have any additional tips for me?
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Wed Jun 12, 2013 2:35 pm
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Hobbit Saga expansion #1 - review from a core set only player perspective. Can this be the first expansion to buy?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Malopolska
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NOTE: There is another expansion that I would recommend to get as a first one to buy: Black Riders review for Core Set players (unless you love dwarves but hate hobbits in which case read on )

There are quite a lot of players that do have just a core set and play the game every now and then using original scenarios and possibly some custom ones. The game is perfectly playable this way. Most of those players do not play this often enough to warrant buying monthly expansion packs. Here the hobbit comes into the picture as FFG suggested that this box should be fully playable when combined with just a core set. Is this really the case? If so is it worth to buy it? I will try to answer those questions in this article.

Two notes:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
1. Methodology: I played each scenario with 50 card decks composed from two core sets and hobbit box cards. In most cases (except the third 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 250+ 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.


We must away, ere break of day
8/10 - In this scenario you will encounter there very nasty enemies and you will need to prepare for this. I think that this scenario is very interesting as it gives you two option to deal with it (path of traveler and path of warrior). It might be hard and interesting trying to figure out how to deal with such tremendous enemies (in a sense of their abilities, not necessary stats). You will need several attempts to discover some of those things so be prepared for some initial beatings.

Getting treasures in this scenario was made much more reliable and frankly more interesting due to latest FAQ/Errata.

Over the Misty Mountains Grim
8/10 - Two very different (but excellent as far as theme goes) challenges await you in this one. Start of this scenario might feel a bit like Journey down the Anduin but the challenges it offers make it very different. You might find that first part of the quest tends to be very hard at times (there are some instant-party-kill card combinations in the encounter deck). Second part should really appeal to you if you like some fair but intensive fighting.

You should use treasures in you deck in this one otherwise you are at a great disadvantage.

Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim
7/10 - This scenario is very very interesting. Riddle mechanic forces the player to make many interesting choices. Unfortunately I am afraid that core plus hobbit card pool is too limited to deal with this scenario on a fairly regular basis especially that limiting deck size is almost not an option. It will (more often than not) be an exercise in frustration as answering riddles will be hard. In some games you will get very lucky and win easily but most of the time Bilbo will perish. I still think that it will feel close and exciting so I am not totally bashing this scenario.

Heroes
You will get additional hero for each of the spheres which is very good as it will give you more choices no matter which decks you like to play. Three of them are very much oriented towards dwarven decks but your card pool is barely able to make use of that. Beorn could be very handy to initially stabilize the fighting situation on the board (by defending and then attacking) which might be very helpful for some of the scenarios (Anduin comes to mind). Overall I think that heroes in this box alone are far from being worth on its own but they do increase your options and round out the spheres nicely.

Player Cards
You get three cards per sphere (each in 3 copies), new version of Gandalf and one card from Baggins sphere. In general I would say that tactics got the best cards (which is very good as it is the weakest of the spheres in core set). Leadership cards are also nice. Lore and Spirit cards are ok.

It is worth noting that Fili/Kili combination reinforces Spirit/Leadership decks that were fairly strong solo in the core set.

Final Rating:
Here are the greatest strengths of this box:
- Interesting new scenarios extending game life
- Good selection of player cards

Treasure concept linking all three scenarios together is good but a bit weaker than what I expected from it.

Ultimately I think this is good expansion for core only players as it will not only give player new scenarios but also allows for new strategies (dwarves, stronger tactics) for old quests. I would even go as far as to say that is better in this light as those players will not see rehashes of some of the ideas and will probably find scenarios much more fresh and engaging. So if you want to extend the life of LOTR:LCG without spending tons of money on regular adventure packs this box is the way to go (much much better than Khazad Dum in this respect).

How about you? Is this the first expansion that you bought? If so is your opinion similar to mine?
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Sat Mar 16, 2013 6:00 am
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