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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LOTR in light of ' A Critical Look at the Idea of a "Living Card Game" ' article

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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INTRODUCTION
Recently Trent Hamm wrote a quite popular blog post [blogpost=16034][/blogpost] in which he presented weaknesses (and how to fix them) of living card games. In his post he treats LOTR:LCG as just another game suffering from same problems but are his arguments valid in the case of this game? I will try to look at his points and try to analyze them in LOTR context.

As an mini-introduction I will point out one thing that should be stressed more often as I think that for some reason people miss it despite the fact it is quite obvious. LOTR:LCG is the first* cooperative collectible/living card game! On the surface this seems like a mode of play change that does not affect the general idea of expandable card game at all. After closer inspection it turns out that it not only is different but in many aspects it flies in the face of what collectible card game stands for. I think that this change is so radical and innovative that one should really distinguish between LOTR and other LCGs/CCGs as many general arguments just brake on this cooperative game.

DISCUSSION
Here are Trent's points of criticism and my view on them in terms of LOTR:

Expansion Overkill
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


The game is almost two years old so it is not that old but it following expansions out:
- Core set
- 3 deluxe expansions
- 12 Adventure packs (2 cycles)
- 2 Print on Demand scenarios
if you go and sum up the MSRPs on those you will see that you are in for quite some money if you are completist. So on first blush Trent's argument holds for LOTR as for other living card games.

The difference is there though. You do not need the expansions at all if you do not want them. In a regular collectible game once you fall behind current release your deck will become very weak and will loose 90% (completely made up statistic) against people that keep buying new stuff even if your deckbuilding skills are better. In LOTR this is not the case, you still be able to beat every quest you have** with the card pool at your disposal. Basically you can stop buying expansions at any point and your game will be fully playable. With the amount of fan created (custom) scenarios you can even have new experiences and challenges without paying a single additional dollar.

So is there at least a part of argument that holds? Surprisingly the answer is yes - the game turns into very challenging one (and maybe even impossible one in some extreme instances) if you decide to buy newest expansions without having those that came out before them. Say that after buying Core Set you would go for the Heirs of Numenor (newest deluxe), then you are in for a very frustrating/hardcore experience. If you buy in order you should be fine.

VERDICT: Slight problem

Unlevel Playing Field
From gallery of Midaga


What is even better in LOTR is that you can play with a deck constructed from your limited card pool with a guy who has it all and you can both have fun (it will be more challenging but doable in most cases I am familiar with!). From a cooperative nature of this game it follows that you still have all the planing, discussions and thrills of a game with all players having full card pool.

In my opinion it is a great idea for a new format of play!

VERDICT: No problem

Lack of Organized Play
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


I am quite surprised to see this argument at all (as in Poland the organized play for WH:I which is only one that is released in Polish is very strong) but let us look at it nevertheless. For LOTR:LCG there is no organized play at this point (although a program was announced recently) but the cooperative nature of the game really resist any tournament setting. Yeah, team competitions could make sense (each team plays a scenario and we compare the score) but I do not see it as interesting as head to head. I am sure that some (many?) LOTR players do crave for some form of the tournament scene (there is a whole section of FFG forums devoted to so called Living Tournaments) but at its core this game does not need it.

We shall see how strong Organized Play for LOTR shall be but I am pretty sure that most of the players will not be interested (due to life constraints) in taking part int it as many of us choose this game BECAUSE of the fact that it can be enjoyed despite the lack of organized play community. I am (and many other are) strict solo player and this is what attracted me to the game in a first place - I can play as hardcore or as casual as I want. I've read of many couples enjoying the game together. You do not need many more than that, FFG is your opponent in this game, creating decks for you to beat that you can buy as often or as rare as you want.

VERDICT: Problem for some players (minority IMHO but what do I know?)

Lack of "Limited" Play
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


This is not a problem for LOTR, limited play (understood that we play only using card up to certain expansion) is very much feasible and often practised (to get "optimal/designed difficulty". As before only drawback is that skipping expansions (to buy newer ones) might not be great idea.

VERDICT: No problem

SUMMARY
This addresses the criticisms points from Trent's blog post. I think that most of them are fairly weak in case of LOTR and I think that he is not that familiar with LOTR (I might be wrong on that) and just assumed that it is just another LCG. Nevertheless I find his post very interesting as it also forced me to rethink those points.

LOTR has its own problems and flaws for sure (new expansions being less and less casual player friendly is in my opinion one that might trun off many players) and I do not want say that the game is perfect. My post was written just to point out the LOTR:LCG is so different that many of the generalizations made abut LCGs do break down here and the game should be treated in many respects separately.

What is your opinion? Is my analysis correct or am I seeing differences where there are none? Is LOTR really just another LCG suffering from the same problems? If not what are its main points of criticism?

*Yeah I've heard that some earlier CCG were trying to implement such an idea but as far as their popularity show they all failed. At this point we can safely say that LOTR is the first one that implemented it successfully.
** With exception being Escape of Dol Guldur solo
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Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:07 am
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The Watcher in the Water - what will be the final password - "Take it" or "Leave it"?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Here is a compilation of my session reports comments on the scenario. They where only slightly edited to fit this format better.

[Session Reports]

Date: 16 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, (Dunhere)Frodo, (Denethor)Lore Aragon (spirit/lore)
Played 6 times, won 3 lost 3


- I've started with my Road to Rivendel battle tested deck and I was massacred. I even din't have a chace to see the Watcher himself as I was slaughtered by a striking tentacle that forced an undefended attack.
After that I realized that my heroes were not prepared for this challenge at all - Dunhere's abilty is farily usless as tentacles have a very low engagement cost, Denethor ability is weak as the amount of tentacles is so high that it does not help to put one on the bottom of the deck. I was not ready to go all tactics all dwarves on this scenario so I went with Frodo as my second spirit hero. He could take care of undefended attacks but I was afraid that huge threat rise will kill me easily so Denethor was swapped out for Aragorn from this expansion. It seemed to be perfect combo - Frodo could convert attacks to threat and Aragorn would reset threat if necessary and could also pack a decent punch. Here are brief notes on plays with this deck:
- Everything went as planned, Eowyn was questing (soon supported by Arwen - sweet addition to spirit) and Frodo with Aragorn were fighting. I was lucky with Rumors from the earth that easily allowed me to "guess" the password for the Durin's door.
- Next play was much worse and I lost. I didn't get Arwen (I've just put one in my deck to test her out) so once I had two trashing tentacles (those are so hard to kill without direct damage) I was unable to cancel damage from both attacks and I was soon killed.
At this point I also realized that my deck was also optimized toward additional resources that were provided by Arwen in previous scenarios. I had too many expensive Lore cards and those had to go (Mirkwood runner's ability of disregarding defense is much weaker here, Wealth of Lorien is too expensive). I've added more copies of Arwen (additional defense for Frodo is very useful here), 3xFast Hitch for cheap Frodo reading and some more minor changes.
- With those changes I had easier time - although Frodo had to convert ton of threat due to undefended attacks from strinking tentacles. Here the trick with reseting threat worked like charm and guessing password was very easy (this time thanks to the Riversong).
- This time I was surprised by the third type of tentacle (it had zeroed Northern tracker attack and defense) after that I was afraid to attack it and it slowly chipped away at me while other tentacles took its toll.
- Final win was a hard one, I discovered fairly easy way to make grasping tentacle not so dangerous (attacking it with questing character, next to a battle characters). I went to the second stage fairly early on and had Riversong on the table, Rumors of the Earth in hand and ton of lore resources. But this time guessing the password was though. I needed 6 or so rounds before finally I had match between my hand and encounter deck. All this time Watcher was raising my threat (damaging Frodo) and despite its reset I was over 40 again. I started sacrificing allies at this point and somehow managed to avoid location lock (Tracker).

Date: 25 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Lore Aragon (spirit/lore)
Played 2 times, won twice


I was tempted to change my deck entirely and to try to go for one that would be capable of killing the watcher, unfortunately it was quite late so I decided that it would be easier to play my already tested deck.
- First attempt was quite standard. I've managed to sneak past most of tentacles (they did not show up) so I went for a second stage early on. It took me few tries before I got a match between encounter deck (rumors of the earth being the key as before) and my hand so I got more or less a standard result as far as points go.
- Second try was a very hard one. I was attacked by 3 or 4 tentacles early on and I barely managed to beat them back (my heroes life hanged on a card flip two or three, times). Finally I was able to clear the table and was faced with strange option. Encounter deck was almost depleted so if I would go to the second stage ... I would be facing almost only tentacle cards (as those get shuffled back in stage two). I decided that I do not want to risk another onslaught of those "creatures" so I've I stalled my progress a bit and let the deck run out and went to stage two only after reshuffle. After that Gandalf solved the riddle by being discarded on a match.

Date: 10 Jan 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Aragorn (tWitW), Frodo (spirit/lore)
Played 2 times, won both


After two week break from playing the game (I might write more on this later) I was able to squeeze two attempts in. Since my time was very tight I decided against changing anything and went with previously used one.
- First attempt started fairly well. I was a bit low on allies in play and in hand but heavy usage of Rumors of the Earth to pick at encounter deck allowed me to dispatch several tentacles despite quite an intake of threat (Frodo). Once I hit stage two I was fairly certain of an easy win but it turned out different. Guessing the password was easy but putting 5 progress tokens on the quest stage turned out much harder than usual. Watcher was a huge drag on questing (I could not afford to quest with more than two characters) and recently reshuffled tentacles were slashing left and right. Threat was again around 40s (despite previous reset). I was down to my heroes at this point and had to engage Watcher just two avoid his auto damage - Aragorn was sacrificed to absorb his attack wile Frodo defended another tentacle. Next turn was all or nothing I had to make 6 with Frodo Eowyn. I did it, discarding a card to boost Eowyn gave me just the right amount. I got the worst score so far of 180 but it was a tense and fun game with great tactical plays.
- Second attempt was just an opposite I got my record score of 77. Starting hand contained two Ancient Mammoths that quickly allowed me to draw 6 cards and I was fairly confident that I am ready to deal with second stage. It was all over in 5 turns. Still I enjoyed this run through the scenario very much.

[General Thoughts]

Initial This scenario surprised my quite a lot - this is a very good point. Each tentacle type needs a special approach and little tricks to deal with its nasty forced effects that almost always go off. Threat is normally not a huge issue here but in my play style (Frodo) it was.

I am of two minds abut the guessing mechanics. On one hand it marries the theme (guessing) with mechanics quite well - if you your characters are wise (i.e. you play lore and have see the encounter deck cards) deciphering runes can be quite easy and if not you could always try shouting anything (by discarding your whole hand and hoping for the best as last ditch effort). On the other hand building your deck according to alphabet seems a bit silly and artificial (especially since I play Polish version so translation can have different probabilities of same first letter).

The watcher is mighty strong and unless you play strong tactics (which might be an option here) you can forget about trying to get through his enormous defense.

I love the fact that you are given the two options to deal with this scenario - get through the doors or kill the thing in the water. Despite all this positive things for some reason I do not love this scenario but I can't point to a thing that bothers me ...

After few plays I am still on the fence about this scenario. Despite tremendous experience in my plays (great tactical fight with tentacles) and all the positive points I gave before I am still not sure why I am not singing praises about this scenario. What is missing here? Yeah, there is no evident climactic struggle delivered by the scenario but I am clearly not sure why I do not like this scenario as much as I should.

Final I couldn't make up my mind about this scenario but after my last two plays I think I know why. I was playing this game too much at the end of last year and I just needed a break. Yesterday I've had so much fun playing it - relaxed, not feeling that I had to play just to catch-up with current release, to be able to discuss new deluxe expansion, open the next adventure pack etc. This (slightly due to Christmas and all) slowdown allowed me to just have fun with the game. I might play less in coming months (new hobby project that might take quite a lot of time till March) but I know that the game will be there for me to enjoy once I sit down to play!

So the final verdict on Watcher is very much positive. Two alternative ways to deal with it (combat or "guessing"), interesting tactical combat with tentacles and huge pacing change between stage one and two are all contributing toward my enjoyment. Do try it out if you get the chance - it will challenge you, the feel of fight against huge monster or last minute slip into the doors with tentacles smashing just behind you will be present. This will more than make up for some shortcomings.

What are your opinions on this scenario? Do you find the password guessing mechanic fun? Interesting? Strange?
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Fri Jan 11, 2013 8:36 am
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[Cards] Aragorn in his lore role

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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This is the first article in a new sub-series tagged Interesting Cards. It is intended to have a closer look at a card that I found quite intriguing for whatever reason. I will try to present at least few uses of presented card, possible combos and potential pitfalls. Please note: All discussions I present are in a restricted card pool (namely up to the current expansion I am plying - in this case The Watcher in the water)

Card: Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Watcher in the Water


It has been quite long since I was excited about a hero card (I guess really since Boromir in Dead Marches, although I do acknowledge that Dain Ironfoot is strong), many of them seem to only make much sense in a multiplayer game (eg.: twin elf brothers). At first glace I was not too thrilled about new version of Aragorn, as I am very weary (ever since Journey down the Anduin) of high threat cost heroes. Soon enough I discovered that his ability to reset threat is very strong especially in a good combination (i.e. with Frodo).

Uses of the card itself
- Strong stats make him useful for almost all tasks (quest, attack and defend)
- High hitpoints should keep him alive and even help with unexpected undefended attack
- Huge threat reduction possibility (as far as high 30s although just below 20 seems more likely)
- Allows you to skip questing few times if you have a big fight coming up, threat gain can be negated by reset later on.

Uses in its sphere
- Lore has few strong attackers at this point so his very useful in this regard
- Lore has (almost) no threat reduction abilities so his ability is a great asset.

Very strong against
- Return to Mirkwood - This scenario is brutal solo due to huge and constant influx of threat. Using lore Aragorn will almost double the amount of turns you have to complete the quest making it much easier as it gives you needed time to prepare at its start.

Card combinations
- Frodo in a Spirit/Lore deck. Such combo inspired this article - Frodo can convert damage into threat that can be latter reduced by Aragorn. This gives you a great option of letting quite a few attacks go undefended provided that they do not happen in one phase (especially that in newer packs undefended attacks are not as deadly as far as shadow effects go). This in turn saves you decent allies that would have to be sacrificed to stop those attacks. After your threat reaches dangerous area of high 40s you reset it and in the mean time you can establish firm supremacy on the table. I had a great success using this strategy in The Watcher in the Water (especially because of the tentacles that can have undefended attacks anyway)

- Combination with Aragorn specific cards if quite weak in my opinion. You will need to play Lore/Leadership or songs as both of Aragorn friendly attachment (Stone and Sword) come from Leadership. This sphere combination is quite difficult to pull off solo (at least for me)
- Cards that rise threat in order to accomplish something (eg. Boromir)

Replaces in your deck
- Threat lowering cards loose a lot of appeal
- Cards that ready all characters after questing (we do not sleep, grim resolve) or reduce penalty for questing unsuccessfully (Ever Onward) as you can usually suffer the threat rise few times to have your characters ready for battle.
- Due to high attack may decrease the need for high cost/high attack allies in Lore heavy deck (together with Glorfindel they can swing for 6 which is very respectable for non-tactics deck)

Pitfalls
- Aragorn with his huge threat cost is secrecy unfriendly despite his ability that seems to support it

What combination have I missed? Or am I putting too much stock in the "new" Aragorn?
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Thu Jan 3, 2013 11:57 am
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Road to Rivendel - Will you fall asleep as your sentry did?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Here is a compilation of my session reports comments on the scenario. They where only slightly edited to fit this format better.

[Session Reports]

Date: 12 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Denathor (spirit/lore)
Played 3 times, lost twice, won once


First two reports are longer that actual plays:
- 15 threat enemy at setup, engages me. Has Sleeping Sentry as shadow card. Total party kill (TPK).
- Turn two I have burning brand on Denethor. One enemy engaged is not a problem. I have allies ready to take it out next turn. New enemies comes out and engages me. I will defend one with Denethor (with burning brand) another is blocked by an ally. Guess which one gets Sleeping Sentry and TPK's my team.
- I didn't draw Sleeping Sentry. It took me 8 not particularly interesting turns to win.

Date: 13&15 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Dunhere (Eleonor), Denathor (spirit/lore)
Played 4 times, lost once, won 3 times


Return to Road to Rivendell was a bit more successful than initial plays of this scenario. Let me go through experiences:
- Since I was not using Frodo for much else then questing I decided to swap him for Eleonor. Yes her ability is weak but since this scenario has two hard hitting treacheries (Ork Ambush and Sleeping Sentry) I deeped that she might help me out if I do not draw Test of Will. Well she did not. This scenario turned into 7th level all over again. I got swamped by tons of weak enemies that were hitting me, spawning new guys or returning to the staging area. Despite strong ally presence I was wiped out after prolonged fight.
- After previous experience I decided that it does not make sense to keep Eleonor just in case if she is bad at other things and decided to go for some preemptive strike with Dunhere. I was fairly lucky to draw hasty stroke (gained thanks to Ancient Mamoth) just before sleeping sentry appeared as shadow effect. Got a very good score of 105.
- I was almost location locked (also due to keeping enemies in staging and slowly taking them down with Dunhere) but with help of Escort from Edoras, Northern trackers and questing with Gandalf I slowly broke it and sailed to victory.
- Played very low threat game thanks to two Gandalfs but mostly won due to drawing very weak treacheries. I also had burning brand so enemies were harmless (although at the end Orc riders broke my control on the encounter deck by forcing me to discard burning brand and unexpected courage from Denethor. Nevertheless this was two turns from the end so it didn't matter much

Date: 16 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Dunhere, Denathor (spirit/lore)
Played 3 times, won all of them


Nothing great to report here. I mad small adjustments to my deck that turned out pretty good. I decided to ditch Forest Snare (it was too expensive and to tell the truth there are only few enemies that warrant it in this quest) and replaced it with Galadhrim's Greeting (to be able to use Dunhere for as long as possible). I also changed spirit allay (horse breaker) for Hammersmith (to be able to get burning brand back in case it would be discarded due to Orc Raiders). With this optimization my deck was very effective. All my plays went through a similar progression:
- Slow build-up (preferably with threat reduction early). Mostly Dunhere would fight at this point if at all possible
- Once I have few allies and shadow cancel (Burning Brand or Hasty Stroke) I would start questing with more power
- Quickly run through stage two (preferably in one round) and stage 3 (2 rounds at most).

In one of my plays I was without any shadow cancellation for half of the game - it resulted in two opportunities for the encounter deck to kill me with Sleeping Sentry.

Orc Ambush helped me once by sending Goblin Archer to engage me. Loved killing this annoying little orc (with 3 shields he can resist Dunhere all he wants).

In this plays the ability of Denethor was not that crucial for some reason, I would rarely put the card at the bottom of the deck. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I was ready for most of the cards that would come up.

[General Thoughts]

Initial
I was about to bash this scenario to the ground but decided to hold off proclaiming it as THE WORST SO FAR until I play it few more times. So before I go about bashing Sleeping Sentry lets look at other weak parts:
- No story arc. You travel, then you travel some more, you find Goblin Gate that almost does nothing and then you travel to win. Action does not accelerate, there is no introduction, no climax, no finale, no nothing.
- Fights are boring if you have shadow cancel ability - otherwise they are as fun as Russian Roulette.
- Luck is ridiculous in this one. It can be easier than walk in the park or harder than Escape from Dol Guldur.

Let me try (very hard) to find good points:
- This feels like a tiering, long journey (especially if you make thematic connection to Redhorn gate that does feel like a though mountain climb as there is nothing like this in this scenario)
- It does forces you to try to walk around the horrible TPK cards (less questers, leave Arwen ready, etc.)

After few plays
Second series of games was a bit more interesting then the previous experiences. I still don't like this scenario as most of its difficulty comes from two cards (Orc Ambush and Sleeping sentry). This turns plays of this scenario into two possible outcomes:
- You will not draw them - scenario is fairly easy and does not carry any story (yes you can still loose, mostly if your hand is cluttered with shadow/encounter card cancellation that you keep in case the other two show up)
- They will appear and either kill you right away (Sleeping as shadow or Ambush towards the end of the game) or you will cancel then and return to case above.

But all this complaints are not the ultimate failure of this scenario for me. Its lack of story ark is its downfall. Here how the story of this ark could be described in fairy tale:
- There was this prince, he went to save the princess but the Dragon ate him and he died (sleeping sentry)
- Another one went and the dragon was not there and he saved the princess. (np Sleeping Sentry)
Tell me if this a story that would fire up your imagination.

I long for the thematic struggle that Redhorn Gate was. Still can feel the chills in my bones from it and it keeps me excited as I hope that Watcher in the Water will be better than Road to Rivendell.

Final
In the end I find this fairly weak - one of the two worst scenarios so far. Yeah, you do need to prepare your deck for two deadly cards (Sleeping Sentry) but to tell the truth this is not so exciting after all - draw them at the start without appropriate counter and you are dead and if not later on you will just cancel them and that is it.

One more point against it is that has a very similar feel to 7th level, I was not so thrilled by that scenario as you can see in my previous entry but I gave it props for being new and forcing me to rethink my deck build up to the last card. Here it just felt very similar only spiced up by KILL YOU ALL card.

Finally I usually do not speak about player card in this reports but here it is worth mentioning that this was first time I was completely disappointed by player cards in this one. Yes it is true that this is a solo player opinion that does not play dwarven deck and is so so on tactics but still I really hope that in the future it will not be so.


What are your opinions on this scenario? Is Sleeping Sentry an annoying instant death card or another challenge that you are thrilled to face? How do you find the story in this one?
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Sat Dec 22, 2012 6:00 am
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The Redhorn Gate - Ready to face the wrath of the Misty Mountains?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Here is a compilation of my session reports comments on the scenario. They where only slightly edited to fit this format better.

[Session Reports]

Scenario played: Redhorn Gate
Date: 25 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 1 time, lost.


I opened the new pack and went with my Moria tested deck, here is their story: Trusty warriors supported by strong willed allies started the climb fast dispatching enemies left and right. Great smile of Arwen was inspiring heroes that gathered help and were able to enlist new member at almost every step. Things started to changes at it started to snow in the higher part of the mountains - slowly freezing cold was weighting down heroes but the support of allies was strong enough to get them close to the top.

Here the mountains unleashed their fury, howl of snow storm sounded as if Saouron him self descended on them. Veteran warrior heroes and allies stopped, unable to carry on (they were ready to fight the mightiest trolls but not the nature itself) and soon froze to death. It takes a lot to brake the will of the dwarves but Gimli and Thalin gave in. Eowyn and remnants of the party made little progress but decided to press on hoping to pass the cursed Caradhras, counting on easier path later on. Then Eowyn was struck by Freezing Cold and knew it was all over but there was no way down for them. Few moments latter howling snow storm threw precious Arwen of the cliff ... only Eowyn through her half frozen eyes witnessed her death as the rest of the party was killed by the snow assault at the same time. No one lived to tell the tale as the enemy approached to kill the lone daughter of Rohan.

Talk about thematic experience. My team was moving fast first. Then slowly the cold started to take its toll, slowing me down. Then the real storm hit and whipped me out (together with stage 3 effect). Now onto the game - I need to build the deck that can scale those mountains - and I have quite few ideas on how to do it.

Scenario played: Redhorn Gate
Date: 28 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Denthor (spirit/lore)
Played 2 times - won both


So after epic (and fantastic) failure of my Tactics/Spirit deck against Redhorn Gate I've needed new team that would be able to deal with the hazards of escorting Arwen through the Misty Mountains. I knew that I need more spirit allies in my team so I went with two heroes from this sphere I was fairly sure that I wanted at least two will power on my heroes so that made my choice limited to basically Eowyn and Frodo. The more interesting question which sphere to choose to support them. I decided against mono sphere and went with Lore just to see some more cards (I played Spirit Leadership a lot at the beginning). This choice was reinforced by the fact that Arwen's ability guaranteed a nice resource generation effectively replacing the need for Theodred. I was really debating taking the Lore Glorfindel (another strong quester) but decided to go with Denthor. His job (besides generating resources) would be to stand back, defend or peek at the cards and get rid the real nasties by putting them on the bottom of the deck. My real worries was the attacking ability of my team - defending was easy and heroes could take care of it but slaying even those wimpy enemies might be hard to kill but I decided to see that in practice.

First try started quite hard - Mountain Warg was drawn at setup and I knew killing him would be very hard with him returning to the staging area. For now though my threat was low enough so I let him sit in the staging area. I was happy to see Unexpected Courage in my starting hand and soon it went on Denthor (so he can look ahead and protect me from troubles). This was a blessing, in fact I soon had another copy of this card on Denethor and he often had to use his ability 3 times to get rid of powerful enemies and/or nasty treacheries. My progress was very slow but I also had Northern Tracker and was planing on getting rid of Caradhras from the staging area using his ability. It took a long time (and Gandalf had to kill the Warg) but I did it. I expected easy victory at that point. Just to be sure I've red the text on quest 2B and realized that the mountain had to be scaled again (the quest effect forced to put it in play again). Denethor had his hands full to keep the dangers at bay, Gandalf had to help with questing and slowly but surely I was able to traverse the Caradhras. Final score was almost 200 and my threat was above 40 but the team manged to get to the other side of the Mountains.

In the second attempt my deck was less generous (at least with Unexpected Courage although I had Rumors of the Earth and Riversong allay to save Denethor's ability for crucial things). I lingered at the base of the mountain and was able to draw a very decent hand of cards and had quite few allies in play. My plan was to put several progress tokens (Northern Tracker again) on Cardahas, go the 3 stage and finish it off next turn. It was foiled by a treachery that was unable to postpone with Denethor (after he got rid of a Warg) and all progress tokens in play were removed. After that I decided to finish the game without any tricks. Progress was decent although still several turns were still ahead of me. I decided to let a mountain goblin to appear thinking that now that several allies do not quest I can dispatch him easily. I need two turns to kill him. First attack was deflected but I had to burn Hasty Stroke to cancel shadow effect. Next time he attacked shadow effect discarded Denethor from play. I've thought that this is it. My hand was full of Lore cards (only Test of Will and two Dwarven tombs were playable). I wanted to see how far I could go still, River song was used to check what to expect, I was using lore cards to fuel Eowyn ability. I used test of will 3 times (redrawing it with Dwarven Tomb). Although the troll appeared in the staging area I knew I had two or three allies that I could use to block him while I was racing to finish. Canceling treacheries gave my just enough easy turns and I managed to win. In the end my score was not much better than previously.

Scenario played: Redhorn Gate
Date: 1 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Denethor (spirit/lore)
Played 3 times - lost once, won twice


I decided to test my deck further to see if it really that good against the Gate.
- I lost my first try but in a sense in solidify my assumption that the deck is quite good. Enemies were my doom this time. They started attacking a bit to early and once Denethor was wounded I had to start using Frodo to convert wounds to threat. Slowly I was able to take control of the satiation but the threat was too high already (few untimely shadow effects increased the threat by quite a lot - I made a mistake of not using the Forest Snare early enough as I preferred more allies). After that the slow increase of threat pushed me over 50 before I was able to get to stage 3. I was glad that I could deal with enemies nevertheless as fighting is a weak spot of my deck.
- Second try was interesting as I almost become location locked. Timely Escort from Edoras followed by Gandalf questing broke me free (together with Denthor control over encounter deck) and I was able to finish the quest with a decent score.
- Third try was an easiest so far. I lingered at the base of the mountains through (using Northern Tracker to put 7 progress tokens on Caradhras). This resulted in a similar score to the one during second try.

The deck I am playing is weak! How can I say that after reporting 4th win with it? Well it is build strictly for this scenario an it relies heavily on Arwen generating tons of additional Lore resources. Without her my hand would be overflown with expensive, unplayable lore cards. I have a great admiration for people that are able to construct one deck to rule them all - I am more of a deck against a scenario kind of player.

Scenario played: Redhorn Gate
Date: Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Denethor (spirit/lore)
Played 1 time - won

I was disappointed seeing Mountain Troll as a setup card. Fortunately my starting threat is low (24) and my staring hand contained West Road Traveller and she would be able to balance troll generated threat. Denethor got rid of Warg and I've drawn Celebdil. It is a bit annoying as an active location with its progress removal ability but I could not afford to let it sit in stagging. Progress was slow but with two unexpected courages coming out of my deck Denethor ability allowed me to control encounter deck and avoid location lock. Enemies were also less dangerous once I had burning brand on him. Finally I had to engage troll and I was forced to let one ally die to stop his attack - what a disaster - a shadow that discarded two lore resources that were saved up to play forest snare next turn. Next attack had to be stopped using Frodo ability and my threat went up into 40's. After that the troll was snared and ceased to be dangerous. Slowly but surely I finished the quest after that.

Scenario played: The Redhorn Gate
Date: 7 Dec 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Denathor (spirit/lore)
Played 3 times - won 3


I will not be able to provide full session report this time as it took me few days to post it and I forgot most of the details by now. I won all of the attempts
- One time I was assaulted by enemies and almost got overwhelmed (Frodo's ability to convert damage to threat was essential to my survival). Once I got things under control it was much better.
- I finally encountered the location that puts all locations back into encounter deck and provided that you traveled far enough it reduces your threat by 11. It was fun and annoying at the same time. Would love to see more of this in the deck with an option of exploring it via threat rise (ala Zigil Shaft). Would make decision to travel there interesting one.
- I finally had to dig through the encounter deck to find enough VPs to win. So far I always seemed to find VP peaks early in the game so it was interesting change (I was using Denethor just to speed up the process).


[General Thoughts]
I really, really recommend playing scenarios blind - so far the most thematic experiences I got were when playing like this. DO not read scenario spoilers, do not read discussions like this. Go in and experience it, you will not regret. Once you know the encounter deck at least a bit the feeling changes, you still get the great surprises in the way the cards come up but some sense of living through the great adventure is lost as you know what to expect. Here the tactical and strategic game begins but those moments of terror or surprise are not as powerful anymore. Do not devoid yourself of this first play marvel - this is something that is so unique to this game (so far I think only RPGs can create that in a long run).

One note on this scenario - plays here are on the longer side (closer to 1h per play) so I will not finish it as fast as Moria scenarios.

One interesting side effect of Denethor "put it on the bottom of the encounter deck" ability - if the game last long enough this accumulated terrible cards will start showing up again - and even two unexpected courages on him might not save you from that. Luckily there is a shift of focus between start of the game and towards the end - many of the encounter cards that are deadly at the start of the game (and hence go on the bottom of the deck) are not that dangerous once your fellowship is stronger and/or staging area is clear.

So let me sum up my opinions of The Redhorn Gate. The first attempt was epic, tense failure - going blind into this scenario is the way to go. The tale of freezing cold, un-traversable peaks and dread of weather was so strong that I almost could feel the chill myself. Scenario stayed strong after that but my choice of heroes (Denethor) softened the blows like a good coat that isolates you from the cold.

Strength of the scenario comes from its increasing difficulty. It starts fairly easy (although the Caradhras looming over your head can be though), then the wind picks up and at first it just seems to slow you down. Only when you enter the third stage it turns deadly. The only gripe I have with it is that once you explore Caradhras it gets much easier. It does tell the story right (as once you go over the pass, slowly the road gets easier) but looses a bit of it climatic edge.

After all I like it very much, with the strong points being that narrative feel - great stories of group of adventures fighting against the wrath of mountains. At this point it is in my top 5.

NOTE: At this point my blog is pretty much up to date with my play comments this should have two effects:
- Since now when writing about plays I do take this blog into the account it my entries should make more sense here.
- The speed with which I post stuff here should slow down to normal I hope to post something bi-weekly (with occasional additional content).
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Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:00 am
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LOTR:LCG - A game or a hobby?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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The question asked in the title is at the back of my mind for a while now and I decided that easiest way to answer it is to write it down here. I must say that I am curious to see to what conclusion I will arrive by the end. I've started wanting to state some general observation but let me keep it personal. Is LOTR:LCG a hobby for me or just a part of board gaming? If it is a hobby then did it replace board games?

I
Ok, one point is easy to tackle. I still am a board gamer, I play regularly (every two weeks at the least), I read the news, blogs, listen to podcasts - so I say that I can safely say that I did not replace old hobby with a new one.

II
Second point. Is LOTR:LCG a standalone hobby for me? Here I want to go through certain observations:

Interest - It all starts here for me. If I seek information, read about given things then the first signs of a hobby are there. I do read a lot about LOTR:LCG (all FFGs previews, tons of threads, posts and blog articles also listen to podcast(s)). CHECK

Money (or Time see bellow) - I bought the game on a cheep side of things (most stuff used) but still with 2 core sets, Khazad Dum and 9 AP I've spent a lot. CHECK

Accessories - Important part of indication whether interest is becoming a hobby for me is whether I invest in non-essential things that make experience better. Be it magazine subscriptions, comfortable furniture, above average equipment it has to be there. In case of LOTR it is expensive but terrific card sleeves from FFG, deck boxes, printing additional scenarios. CHECK

Time - I played this game almost 200 times at this point. If I assume that it took me on average 1/2 hour to play one game I already invested 100 hours in playing the game. I should also add the time dedicated to building, tweaking and re-tweaking my deck - it is not huge amount but I am sure its significant. Add all the reading, posting, bloging, thinking and you will get a huge number CHECK

There is no denying it LOTR:LCG is a standalone hobby for me.

III
So the most interesting question comes up finally. Did the new hobby pushed back the old one?

Interest - Well I've definitely reduced the number of board game reviews I read but I feel it is mostly due to the fact that there are so many of them that it is not possible to read them all and once you start to be choosy on what to read you discover that there are not so many of them that are actually relevant for you. On other interest fronts (podcasts, forums, BGG) I did not see much decline on the board gaming side of things despite huge increase of interest in LOTR:LCG.
VERDICT: Both hobbies coexist nicely here.

Money & Accessories - I've seen huge decline in my buying of board games before discovering LOTR:LCG. This trend only continued here. On the other hand I've spent quite some money on the living card game and I even sold some of my rarely used games to fund those purchases.
VERDICT: LOTR:LCG seem to have pushed board games back as far as money go even if it was a continuation of a trend.

Time - As you see above I've spent ton of time on LOTR:LCG - was board gaming hit by it? On the first glance: not really. Since I play the living card game excursively solo it did not take away from playing games with others. I never turned down another game to play LOTR. So where did all this time came from? I've stopped watching TV, I read much less now, I greatly reduced time on-line. One note though: I think that board gaming did get hit a bit ... before discovering LOTR:LCG I would often talk my wife into playing a two player game with me every now and then (say once per week on average). Now I am not that persistent as I can play the game.
VERDICT: Yeah, although not by much but LOTR:LCG did push board gaming back here.

Final thoughts:
As you can see from above LOTR:LCG became a hobby of mine. It did pushed general board gaming back a bit but not as much as it would seem if looking at the amount of resources I dedicate to the game.

How about you? Is LOTR:LCG just another game on your shelf? A hobby? If the latter what did it replaced/pushed back?
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Sat Dec 15, 2012 6:00 am
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Massing at Osgiliath - Surrender on Witchking demand?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Malopolska
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Here is a compilation of my comments on the scenario, note that they were made some time ago and I have not edited them much so they tell a story of how my view point changed (but my current opinion may differ). They are presented chronologically in each section.

[Session Reports]

Date: 1 Oct 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Theodred (spirit/leadership)
Played 3 times - lost twice and won once


So after my exciting attempts against the Return to Mirkwood scenario I was ready to face my next challenge - POD scenario: Massing at Osgiliath. I've heard that this was very difficult scenario but after great success with previous one I was pretty confident. First game started quite well first stage was quickly conquered, in the second one I was moving at much slower speed. Finally I was able to go to the third - discard a hero (I have not been lucky enough to encounter the ranger) to be able to quest!? I was not sure what is waiting in stage three but I was certain that the Witchking will show up but decided to discard Theodred (as he is not as crucial later in the quest). I was kind of hoping for a short last stage but when 15 quest progress requirement was raveled I knew I was doomed. Threat counter reached 50 next turn. I've decided to play with this deck again just to see if it was its inefficiencies that got me killed or is this scenario is just this hard. This time I've progressed throgh the first stage even faster. I felt that I am in a good shape - quite a few resources (steward of Gondor), had an unexpected courage. The next stage halted me though - I was cut off (discard allays from hand - bye bye Gandalf ready to be summoned twice with quick strike) so all my resources were growing but I've had no cards to spend them on. I was able to go a bit further but staging area quickly was growing dangerous (I've had many enemies sitting there and no way to deal with them). Things snowballed from there and again threat killed me as I've entered stage 3. This was a sign that I need to redesign my deck. Few more stronger allies, few more dunedain attachments, few less events. That all helped I think ... but what really allowed me to win was to finally see that I do not need to go quickly through this scenario. This strategy was necessary before but this time ... I've taken my sweet time in the first stage of the quest, fielding my allies. I was very much ready when I've went to the second stage. This time also payed off because Ranger of Ithilien showed up and I knew that I was ready for stage three. With so many allies in play and relatively low threat I optionally engaged Witchking and was able to pay "his threat due" to keep him engaged. Three allies had to die to defend his attacks but in the end ... I've escaped and won the scenario. In some sense like this scenario very much and in some sense I am disappointed. The strategy for it is the same as for Conflict at the Carrock.Build up in the first stage and just than proceed to the following stages - this feature I do not like especially because it feels a bit anti-thematic. Your heroes spotted a large force of enemies but they are staying behind taking their time, preparing equipment, finding allies etc and just then the mad pursuit begins only after they are ready. So that is bad ... but luckily there is good as well. This mad pursuit is great and very very thematic. You are laving men behind just to buy time, you need to leave someone to buy you time to get through the river and then with dwindling force you are running towards the safety of the white city.

Date: 11 Oct 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Theodred (spirit/leadership)
Played 2 times - lost once and won once


After my first successful attempt last time against the Massing at Osgiliath I wanted to check if the new modification of my standard deck and discovered strategy will be able to beat the scenario on a regular basis. First try was showing exactly that: I had quite a few allies, tons of resources (Eowyn had Steward of Gondor and Song of Kings) and I was even able to draw quite lot of cards. The only worry I had was threat I could not draw Galdaiers greeting for the life of me and some unlucky shadow cards (removing defender from combat) meant that Fordo had to convert tons of damage into threat. I was in the last stage of the quest and had 4 threat left before defeat. I could not afford to keep Whichking engaged but with all those allies and Faramir in play I was quite sure that I will manage to win. I made decent progress, Witchking engaged me, Snowburnt Scout was the designated defender ... shadow card ... remove defender from combat. I was devastated 6 damage to threat through Frodo meant I lost. EXCEPT later when going to sleep I realized that I could have sacrificed Frodo or Theodred and would be able to win next turn. This scenario does not leave much room for mistakes. Next time despite quite a bad draw at the begging I was able to win it was a struggle at least as the game length goes (17 turns, I've managed to go through all of the encounter cards) - although I was not able to field large army of allies I was quite luck as far as threat reduction goes. I also would have killed the Witchking (he had 8 damage on him) same turn as I completed the quest. Fun times.

Date: 16 Oct 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Theodred (spirit/leadership)
Played 3 times - lost once, won twice


Few observations:
- In my first attempt I decided I want to see if I can kill Witchking (and would it made scenario easier) and in fact I almost accomplished it. But while attempting this I got too many enemies engaged with me and despite killing the big bad I was was stomped by smaller guys. They were able to kill my allies and my hope to run away and finish the scenario was buried by Pelenor Field ("auto travel" location with 7 progress tokens requirements).
- Next time was a nail baiter. I had a quite bad card draw at the beginning (actually the draw was decent but I was cut off soon and lost nice allies). It took me long time to build a decent team and moving no further. Threat was a real danger through out, despite a decent progress made once I started moving. I was sure that I will be killed again but few good draws (especially Eomyr? - the guy who reduces threat increase from encounter cards while he is ready) allowed me to win with a terrible score - 209 but a great feeling of just making it - threat 49.
- In this attempt my deck showed what it can do if I am lucky with draws. First time ever I had 3 Sneak Attacks and 2 Gandalfs near the end of stage 3. I could have played my cards better (score wise) but I went and killed Witchking . Final score 133.

Date: 17 Oct 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Frodo, Theodred (spirit/leadership)
Played 2 times - lost once, won once


In my first attempt I was as unlucky as I was lucky in my previous game (the one with 3 sneak attacks on Gandalf). My ally count was very low in initial hand (despite using mulligan) and I was swamped with enemies in the staging area. I was kind of hoping to get many cards from two Ancient Mathom but I simply did not have enough questing power to put any progress on active location. I died on turn 4. In the second try it was much better. I had a decent draw and early Ranger of Ithilien allowed me to move to stages 2, 3 and 4 much earlier then usual, I was able to achieve my second best score of 143 despite the fact that I did not have a spectacular draw as before.


[General Thoughts]
I do not know if this intentional. This scenario in some sense feels like an much improved version of Conflict at the Carrock. Of course it only fells like this in an approach you have to take to beat it but still there is a strong connection here for me. This in one sense a good thing because you should improve on good concepts and create even better experiences for the players. Nevertheless like with all things improved version sometimes gives you the "been there, done that" felling - yeah it is better ... but it is not new. I try not fall into this trap of considering those improvements inferior due to not bringing anything revolutionary - because we need improvements on existing things (and games) to achieve greatness. I will try harder next time when I sit down to play Massing at Osgiliath because at the end of the day as it stands this scenario is amazing on its own.

I like how the scenario showed me that if I get careless and stop thinking it will punish me. I wonder now how many of the defeats I suffered could have been avoided if I just be more concentrated and saw a way out. This time I "paid the price" by playing according to an assumption - you can never allow your heroes to die. I am glad in fact that I realized that this is not the case - there are some very interesting (and thematic) plays available if you trow this assumption away. I still believe that if you loose a hero (I am talking about solo) at the start a game you will likely loose but ... towards the end of scenarios it is not so. I am glad that the game forces me to question my strategic assumptions after so many plays.

It is time to present my final thoughts about this scenario. In short I liked it very much - I am sure that it is in my top 3 favorite ones for now. At first I was a bit surprised why people rate it so highly but as I was playing it more and more I came to similar conclusion. I have only two knocks against it as far as its design goes:
- Idea of putting good cards into the encounter deck is great and very exciting but it makes it a bit more random then usual scenario. If you draw them early you will have much easier time if you do not see them at all. I think it might be more interesting of you had some sub quest that you would have to sacrifice something (time, resources, progress tokens) to get them under your control.
- The initial step where you almost have to stay behind to prepare for later assault does not work thematically. I know, it would be enough to change flavor text on the first card a bit to make it work ... but for some reason it bothers me.
There are many positive points so I will mention just one of them that seem to be a bit less obvious:
- 40 card encounter deck that you almost go through works much better in delivering consistent play experience then the regular larger ones (composed of cards from the core set and scenario). In the second case you often get easy plays (example drawing only core cards as encounter cards) or hard ones (only scenario ones drawn).
In short other positive points:
- Pacing, excellent stage 3 and 4, very good climax, nice thematic distinction between locations (west vs east bank), high reply value.


One thing that is great in replaying single scenario several times is that you get "some feeling" towards certain cards. For example you learn to hate Witchking, love some treacheries that are not so devastating. This enhances play experience as you are rooting for certain cards to appear, cursing others when they show up. This increases excitement and ultimately gives you better experience. Of course there is a breaking point here - you can burn out on a scenario if played too many times in a row. So far I found that 10 attempts is just right for me. I am just curious when I will get around to replaying scenarios again. With so many new waiting for me I am afraid that it will not be as soon as I would like but we shall see.

DEC 2012 comment:
I feel that this scenario might be more difficult with multiple players than it is solo. One of the few exceptions to the general trend so far.
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Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:00 am
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Summary of my opinions on Khazad-Dum

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Here is a review of the Khazad-Dum composed of quick looks at each scenario and player cards.

Into the Pit
8/10 - Your journey into the mines starts here. I very much like the initial step with a "journey through the most iconic" locations in Moria. Love the torch mechanic. You need to take preventive measures against insta-kill treacheries. The end feels a bit anticlimactic.

The Seventh Level
5/10 - Very weak thematically, very random. Very, very hard for solo (IMHO second only to Escape from Dul Guldur) - forces you to optimize your deck to the last card and it is one of the its few redeeming qualities. Some interesting tactical fighting.

Flight From Moria
7/10 - Excellent idea (bordering on genius) on quest stages and Nameless Fear, good thematic feel. Its full potential is wasted by huge shortcuts taken toward the end of its development (you almost always bypass quest stages - making mr. Fear laughable, one of escape stages=flip the card to see if you are eliminated is just ridiculous). Can be easily house ruled to make interesting.

Heroes - Two dwarves - There are a lot of dwarves already present and some strong synergies emerge so if you are planing to run dwarves deck you might find them useful but if you look at them in a vacuum ... they look fairly weak. Also at this point the dwarven deck is not fully ready yet (although Dain Ironfoot that came with last Mirkwood pack has an ability that is so strong that you can still succeed).

Player Cards - Dwarven theme taken to the max but in the end only one card gets my full recommendation. That is "Khazad! Khazad!". Zigil Miner used to be excellent (adding a tremendous resource generation to the Spirit sphere) but its ability underwent an errata (and is better now in my opinion as Spirit is already very powerful) and now is just ok. Of the other cards nothing stands out as great or particularly terrible. I think most of them will find their place in a specialized deck.

Final Rating:
As value for your money goes it is great you get 3 quests for price of two adventure packs. Player cards are very consistent and have a thematic feel. So it all comes down to quests. Here it looses points because two of them are almost excellent. A little more development/testing and this "almost" would be gone and my review would be glowing. Note, my opinion is a bit colored by the fact that people used to tell me (when I was playing the first cycle) that KD is the best thing since sliced bread - well it is not. It is (just) good.

How about you? What are your opinions on KD and/or particular scenarios?
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Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:00 am
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Khazad-dum scenario 3 - flight from Moria - How awesome is the conclusion to the KD trilogy?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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Microbadge: Terraforming MarsMicrobadge: Metallum fanMicrobadge: Podcast listenerMicrobadge: Plays Games With FamilyMicrobadge: 15 Year Geek Veteran
Here is a compilation of my comments on the scenario, note that they were made some time ago and I have not edited them much so they tell a story of how my view point changed (but my current opinion may differ). They are presented chronologically in each section.

[Session Reports]

Date: 20 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 8 times - won 4, lost 4

I will be brief this time as I played it so many times that the details of each play are a bit hazy.
- First play was an excellent experience (probably the best with this scenario). I didn't look through the cards earlier and assumed that I need to collect several victory points before finding an exit. This approach lead to enormous threat from Nameless Fear. Slowly though I was progressing forward (many due to several spirit allies) and finally found one possible exit (prisoned by shadow) but I didn't like the risk of being eliminated with just one card flip so I decided to carry on. Next quest card called for tools (that I found nearly at the start). At this time the troll showed up and killing him required all the attention from Gimli (he was carrying the tools). Next three threat from the staging area was too much (especially that Gimli had to stay ready to dig). Soon enough I died because of threat overdose.
- In second play I knew what to expect. I started to bypass quest cards (but not all yet as I wasn't sure if I saw all of them). This time it took me too much time to find the tools and in the mean time got location locked.
- First win after that assured me that only complete avoidance of stage completion is a key in this scenario.
- Another win was more interesting as I was able to do it despite Thalin falling down due to shadow effect that discarded an ally defender. Unexpected Courage on Gimli worked miracles.
- Lost again, very quickly. Troll plus nasty treacheries killed my by turn 4 or so.
- Won. Had a bit of bad luck with treachery making me to reshuffle the quest cards when I had tolls and was on the last stage digging. Unexpected courage on Gimli with tools made the end stage fairly easy when I got to it again.
- Lost swamped by the enemies this time. Shadow effects are much less frequent here then in The 7th level but if you are unlucky it is possible to get a string of enemies spawning new ones faster than you can deal with them. That is what happened to me this time.
- Won with an excellent score. Fairly quickly found tools and Gimli with an unexpected courage was able to smash through a wall in no time.

Date: 21 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times, won both.

Both wins were quite easy with no real danger of loosing in any of them.
- During first play I was severely slowed down by two Shadows of Fear treacheries coming up one after the other. First one hurt a little bit (consumed 3 resources) but the second one costed me three turns as I had to put it on Gimli that was carrying the tools.
- Second started as one of the luckiest one (tools came as a first card from the encounter deck) and soon I was able to find Escape from Darkness right after this. I was not able to beat my high score though as digging without unexpected courage is much slower (although it was worse only by two points in the end due to Gandalf showing up twice and reducing the threat quite a bit).

[General Thoughts]

Oh man ... after first play I was about to say that this is the best scenario ever. It is very good but I am disappointed by the missed opportunity to make it outstanding. So what went wrong in my opinion:
- There is absolutely no reason to gain victory points in this scenario - in fact you are severely punished for doing that. Ok, you need to bypass completing quest cards but you were unlucky enough to face Giant Troll Cave and killed it ... guess what nameless fear is 3 points more powerful.
- The second possibility to win (blocked by shadow) is so totally random (especially solo) with flipping the card to check if you are eliminated that I personally will never use it. At the same time if you are lucky you can finish the scenario in two turns easily if its the first Stage 2 card to appear and you just go for it for fun. Yeah it might be interesting as a last ditch effort, all or nothing type of option with hearos almost dead but as it stands it does not work this way.

Looking at those two drawbacks it is so easy to see other option that would make this scenario more thematic and interesting. How about requiring the player to have at least 6VPs to be able to use blocked by shadow exit instead of a card flip (you traveled far and long so you luckily found an exit finally) this mechanic would introduce two strategies against the scenario - either avoid VPs totally and go for tools or collect VPs and try to survive increasing threat from Nameless Fear to somehow sneak by it and escape. I am afraid that this scenario was slight underdeveloped towards the end of its design.

So last time I complained that Flight from Moria missed opportunities to become one of the best scenario out there but still claimed to like it. So let me iterate why:

- Thematic feel. I love turning the next quest stage at the beginning of quest phase. Yeah it is random, you can't plan for it but the thematic feel makes up for it big time. You are running away from the mines. You do not have time to scout you just press on and change the way on the fly if needed.
- How many of the treacheries work well in the story context. I saw some of them before but now they are not only more dangerous (like removing progress tokens from a quest card that you were digging through for the past 3 turns) but make sense (you caused the ceiling to collapse with your tools and need to start over).
- The increasing threat from the staging area is an excellent idea. Nameless Fear is slowly approaching reaching its full deadly potential with every turn.
- The fact that you do not fight Nameless fear just trying to get away from it makes sense and its thrilling (although I doesn't feel as much as frantic run in Return to Mirkwood.
- Love the idea that tools will appear not only from the encounter deck but that stage cards brings them in - gives the search more intense and interesting feel that random draw as per athelas in A Journey to Rosghobel.
- Like the idea of bypassing quest cards as an option (although it would be great to loose some benefit by doing that for now in most cases it is a trivial decision in most cases).
- Its drawbacks sparked an interest in me to fix it. My custom redesign creative juices are flowing we shall see if I can come up with something good here.

I am really eager to check the first scenario from Dwarrowdelf cycle but I am tempted to prepare my own variant for Flight from Moria so we shall see what session reports will bring next time.
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Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:00 am
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Khazad dum sceario 2 - The seventh level - Can comments be longer then the scenario itself?

Wojtek Wojcik
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Here is a compilation of my comments on the scenario, note that they were made some time ago and I have not edited them much so they tell a story of how my view point changed (but my current opinion may differ). They are presented chronologically in each section.

[Session Reports]

Date: 08 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (earlier Boromir) (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times: 3 loses and 1 win.


This time I've broken my own rule and glanced at the cards composing the scenario before playing. I saw many enemies and decided to that this a good excuse to finally significantly change my deck. I got rid of leadership and went with one spirit and two tactics heroes. Here is the summary of my experiences:
- First attempt (I used Boromir here). Goblin Archers were the bane of existence this time. I had almost no way to deal with them except Gandalf (I overlooked that 3 copies of one time use attack eagle had ranged skill). At first I was not worried looking at huge amount of hit points my tactics heroes had but ... when two of them were in the staging area - I was taking two (or even four) wounds in one round and my progress was completely stooped.
- I decided to modify my deck to include more ranged characters but decided that the only way to be sure to have them in play is to replace Boromir with Legolas. This time I was unable to draw any allies and with three man team the pool of events I had in my hand quickly dwindled down to handle some not so difficult situations. I was soon overwhelmed by the enemies unable to keep up with limited support.
- I reduced the number of weapons in my deck and replaced them with more allies. I also included more spirit allies as resources kept piling up on Eowyn. This time I had an excellent draw and was sure to succeed this time. Everything went well until Orc Summoner appeared - including the additional enemy from scenario I had 4 enemies in the staging area after this phase. I looked at my cards and decided that I can still pull it off. Two of my allies went down and two enemies went down but ... shadow effects added next two enemies to the staging area before next round even started ... which added two more. I was dead.
- I was about to give up but determination kept me going and decided to go one more. I won this time but to tell the truth it was still though and it took me 11 turns (I was fairly lucky with draws in the second stage this time). Again I had problem with the archers. I realized that Legolas without any weapon can't kill them due to their ridiculously high defence of 3. Nevertheless once I was able to deal with them it went much better.

Date: 08 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times: lost x3, won once


After each subsequent loss I went and adjusted my deck a little but it seems that I can't beat the quest on a regular basis. I will not go into the details of each play as the scenario seems fairly standard - I get overwhelmed by tons of enemies. As for deck tweaks I added more allies (spirit with 2 will power). What is even worse after so many failures my successful attempt didn't feel all that great and I would say that luck contributed as much to my success as deck changes.

Date: 12 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times, won both.


After so many losses it was refreshing to win twice in a row. I had previously constructed deck with me and was able to play for a bit. It means that I was unable to test any of previously presented ideas but here is short description of my experiences this time:
- First try was like walk in the park. Enemies were coming one or two at the time and even troll was unable to impress me much (I used feint and killed him right after that). In three turns I was ready to go to the second stage and I was able to beat it in two turns and achieved the best score so far.
- Second one was much harder. I had three enemies (including troll) engaged with me and two more waiting in the staging area at some point. Nevertheless by "clever wound distribution" among heroes i was able to survive and put everything under control. I won with the worst score so far this time. All of my heroes had max number of wounds possible on them.

Date: 14 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 3 times - lost twice, won once (beat my worst score)


I was abut to play the game with my recently successful deck but since this time I had my cards handy I decided to try replacing Legolas with Thalin. I attached the Book of M. to him so he can be committed to the quest and still be able to act as a defender. Losses were due to enemies swarming and location(!) lock. In all three games I faced trolls coming in close succession (twice it was round after round so I guess my shuffling was not throughout enough). I made small adjustments to my deck each time (getting rid of the armor, blade of Gondolin and replacing them with Veteran Axehand and Dwarrowdelf Axe). I felt confident that my deck is ready but still I lost twice. Here are some things that work great:
- Thalin and Gondorian spearman is an auto-kill for most of the enemies that come from the encounter deck (bypassing the shadow effect which is very important)
- One troll is not a great threat by itself although I usually need to sacrifice a strong ally (Winged Guardian all Gandalf) and powerful event (feint, quick strike etc.)
- Thalin auto-kill on Goblin archers.
Here are some things that were not great:
- Two troll is the row are also manageable most of the time but it cost me too much and if shadow effects are though I am left too vulnerable.
- Not enough shadow cancel (although I fell I have many ways, auto-kill combo as above, swift strike, hasty stroke ... would love to have burning brand somehow)
- Thalin can't attack because of the book (although I need him committed to the quest anyway) this means that faint becomes waker then with Legolas as I am loosing some attack power.
- Not enough quest power to quickly go through stage two (here the loss of Legolas was visible and allowed for location lock once)

Date: 14 Nov 2012 (it is hard to keep the dates stright)
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times - won twice


After last games I made two adjustments got rid of Stand up and Fight and Dwarrowdelf Axe and added Eagles of the Misty Mountains and Escort from Edoras. First choice was to add more expensive tactics allies as in several games I saw this resources pilling up on the heroes and I like the versatility of EoftMM as they can both quest and fight well (their response might be also interesting but my deck comes with 9 eagles cards in total so I am not counting on it much). Escort from Edoras was added mainly to push through stage two fast.
- First play was a fairly straightforward win although early troll did make me go slower than I would like.
- In the second play I've drawn Goblin Archer as a setup card (very unlucky draw for my deck as otherwise those guys die from Thalin's ability). This constant +2 threat lead to a location lock (augmented by annoying goblin scout) that almost killed me but with the help of Escort from Edoras and all my questing characters I was able to brake it. I lost a lot of time though and threat was a real danger but strong questing power (timely Gandalf helped) allowed me to get through stage 2 fast.

Date: 18 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times - lost twice, won twice


First defeat was caused by the second troll coming before I was able to deal with the first one (actually other enemies slowed me down with killing the first troll). This was too much to handle and my heroes were defeated. In the second attempt treacheries had their way with me and the troll sealed my fate. Three of my allies were discarded due to treacheries and in that final one was discarded when defending the troll (which meant auto-kill on one of the heroes). I decided to play for a while (as troll did go down after that) but when unexpected courage of Gimli was discarded on another treachery I knew I was going down.

As for successful attempts there was not much to them. I got my deck going and even orc horn blower was unable to stop me although it did slow me down on my second attempt.


[General Thoughts]
DEC 2012 NOTE: Following comments might look strange presented in order as I go back and forward on the scenario. Please treat them as a stream of conciousness (you can match them with above play experiences at times).

Oh man! This was way harder that I expected. After all FFG's DL for this scenario is 3 which is the second easiest ever. I think playtesters that assigned it were very very lucky in their attempts or their deck building skills are through the roof. In all honesty I can see that it can be very easy if you are lucky but it can kill any imaginable fellowship that you could construct with a little help of (un)luck. I feel that difficulty of particular attempt can rage from 1 all the way to 10. I do have some ideas on how to improve my deck though:
- I need more cheap allies with two willpower points - Eowyn needs support in questing at times.
- I am curious if all spirit deck can attempt to run through this scenario with reasonable chance for success.

Wow, talk about frustrating experience! At the same time I feel like FFG is mocking me with their difficulty rating of 3 for this one and this forces me to think about new tweaks to make my deck at least semi successful against this scenario. I even resorted to reading few session reports to get some inspiration on how to improve my deck and found few interesting ideas:
- How about replacing Legolas with Thalin? The main reason for introducing Legolas was to deal with goblin archers ... but what if I could kill them just when they appear from the encounter deck?
- So far I didn't include the escort from Edoras as I felt that one time use allies are a waste for this scenario. Now I see that they might allow me to quickly finish stage two of the quest when things get out of hand quickly.

What I am worried about is the loss of progress I was getting from Legolas and the fact that I will have to keep Gimli behind to attack which means loss of one will power during questing (at least at stage one). We shall see.

So despite the above negative comments you can see that I am intrigued by the scenario which is a good thing of course - it forced me to question my deck building.

What contributed to my wins this time was a slight change in my strategy and a little bit of luck (no orc horn blowers in both attempts - they were discarded as shadow cards). My "new" strategy is two move through stage one slower so that I am in a position to end stage two of the quest in at most two round. This requires a slower progress on stage one (several times in my second try this time I have not used the Legolas ability)

I can see that my deck is fairly effective against this scenario I really see cards that I am not glad to have drawn (maybe I might get rid of the armor for Gimli and replace it with stronger/more expensive tactics ally).

I hate this scenario for its random nature but I love the way it challenges me to optimize my deck to the last single card. On the other hand I can see that as far as mechanics go this quest is fairly weak and only its challenging nature keeps me trying to beat it. As I see it now if I find a deck with over 50% win percentage I will put this quest to rest and do not expect to return to it any time soon.

Having said that I am loving the fact that I get to play with so many new cards (tactics mostly) and said goodbye (for now) to few favorite but overused (Sneak attack, Steward of Gondor, The Galadhrim's Greeting etc.)

One more thing that I like is that now fighting feels very tactical. There usually few ways to deal with a given enemy (enemies) and you need a little bit of planing and some thinking on how to do it.

I think I've finally found a deck that I am satisfied with. Of course random nature of this quest will still lead to losses but I am quite confident that I can win more then 50% of the time now. I will play some more to confirm that but expect reports from the next scenario (Flight from Moria) soon.

All in all my final opinion on this quest is settling on a positive one. Yeah, it is random, non very well balanced and the story it tells is not an engaging one but it forced complete redesign of my deck which is a great thing, it allowed me to see and use so many cards that "were collecting dust" in the box, revisit heroes that I have not seen since playing with core set alone. New challenge is next to new stories and exciting games is something that I look very much in each new adventure pack so even if those other elements are missing I am still happy with how this scenario turned out after all.

I know I am running in circles with a rating on this scenario and I think it will stay like this the end. This time I was dissatisfied with my plays. It feels that after all this deck optimization it still all goes down to how encounter deck is treating me - if it trows its best at me then I am toasted and if not the games are quite boring. I am glad that I am happy with all my draws and rarely I see a card that I feel is a waste at this time this means that the deck is as good as I can do for now.

If I put all this thoughts about The Seventh level scenario together I am coming up with an average score. The thing is that its best quality is that is first combat intensive one that forced me to rethink my strategy but I am fully expecting it to be overshadowed soon by another scenario that will do it much better and in a less random way.

This brings me to a more general observation about gaming (and even beyond): If a game (scenario, movie etc.) brings something new to the table (be it mechanics, felling, story) it will capture your attention for sure but after all the fact whether it is well executed will decide if it will stay and be enjoyed for longer time and be considered seminal or be replaced/forgotten.
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Tue Dec 11, 2012 6:00 am
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