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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Escape from Dol Guldur - the one cursed by all solo players

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
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]
I attempted the third scenario (escape from Dol Guldur) again trying to apply what I have learned throughout my plays of Journey down the Anduin and was trounced by the scenario. It is very badly suited for solo play as you get 3 cards from the encounter deck right from the get go and only if you are very very lucky you have a chance to start to progress (if you start with two enemies or two locations then you are pretty much toasted). Once you get going (by clearing the staging area) then the things are looking better but ... you soon discover that you are running out of cards. Then the Nazgul comes and eats you allies faster then you can field them (especially if supported by other enemies attacking you).

NEWER:
Finally I decided to try my battle (Massing at Osgiliath) tested deck against the bane of all solo players - Escape from DG. Come on, the old core set scenario, how hard it can be? Well as you can see from my results despite the fact that my pool of cards was greatly enhanced since first attempts it is still pretty much un-winnable . I lost two or three games on setup (say two enemies amd caught in the web guarding objectives). In few others I was not able to move past the first stage of the quest. The most interesting attempts were the first one and the last one.
During the first one I got a decent hand and average encounter deck draws (some terrible some easy ones). I was able to move past stage one, have a prisoner rescued and was able to balance the threat from the staging area for several turns that allowed me to draw two sneak attacks and Gandalf. I was ready to announce that I will do it! Then I got a treachery that forced me to discard all events from my hands ... after that few enemies appeared back to back in the staging area and slowly I was overwhelmed.
Last attempt was even more successful. I was able to move past stage two and I even was ready to take the Nazgul down. Threat was very high at this point unfortunately and enemies plus shadow effects soon took me above 50. I decided to play just to see how much over I would go ... I was able "to win" with threat dial showing 58.


[General Thoughts]
This scenario should be in the core set despite the fact I think it is unbeatable with the cards from the base game (unless you will get 1-in-a-million lucky). It intrigues, it forces you to tweak your deck tons and tons of times. At the same time I understand why it lowers the value of the base game for many people. They will see it as unbeatable (solo) and claim that the game comes with only two playable scenario. I think that FFG would do much better by including fourth scenario with a difficulty close to Journey down Anduin.

My thoughts on Escape from Dul Guldur are not settled yet - I like the challenge on one hand but I am cursing the ridiculous difficulty on the other. I will try to make my mind about it latter as I decided to see if further player cards will make this beatable.
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Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:00 am
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Journey Down the Anduin - old favorite

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]
- I started to play using pre-constructed decks first. I was basically massacred by the scenario each time (although was able to get far few times with leadership).
- This is were I started to deck build and quickly settled on Spirit/Leadership deck fairly early on (although had some luck with spirit/tactics as well).
- At first I was considering the Hill Troll as a main obstacle but soon enough discovered that the second part is even harder once you figured out how to deal with troll.
- Went with tournament illegal decks of 30 cards and started to have a decent go against it.
- Returned to it several times after that (with extended card pool). Still found it engaging, challenging, thematic and fun.


[General Thoughts]
- While playing only with cards from the Core Set one is extremely limited in deck construction part of the game if using two sphere tournament deck of 50 cards. Almost all available cards need to be used which means that quite a few of not so good cards will end up in your hand throughout the quest. Since in this game most of the time the encounter deck will pound on you very hard every card needs to work to its highest potential and those not so good cards will be your undoing.

- Threat is an excellent mechanic in this game introducing very hard and interesting choices. Do you go for better heroes that will be able to do a lot of cool things latter ... the trade off is that enemies will start pounding at you from the turn one and will most of the time overwhelm you by killing your allies and wounding heroes. Then you are so weakened that treacheries will slowly kill you off unless you are very lucky. On the other hand ... if you choose only weak heroes you will have time to prepare but will lack the strength to take care of the stronger enemies. Of course it all depends on the scenario but as a general observation it seems to be correct.

- When choosing heroes/spheres for playing you really need to choose ones that will help you reasonably well with several aspects of the game. The test above showed me that tactics is probably the weakest sphere in solo playing - it is solely oriented on fighting (if you disregard Legolas and Balde of Gondolin) and this is usually not enough to succeed (on regular basis) in more difficult quests. I am not ready to say that it useless in solo play but for now I am marking as the weakest or too specialized.

- Cards "on paper" might look weaker/stronger then they actually are in a particular deck. Need to try several cards that I consider bad/not worthed and see if they are actually that bad or am I not seeing their full potential.

- So far Journey down the Anduin is by far the best quest for solo players. Passage through Mirkwood is a bit on the easy side and it is fairly repetitive as far as quest stages go. Escape for Dul Guldur is just too hard solo (although I will try to play it again soon). I like the Hunt for Gollum but once you know how it plays it's ending seems a bit anti-climactic. JdtA starts with an earthquake (troll), it tension rises (as more and more things flood the staging area), to reach excellent finale (when you try to time going to last stage with as few enemies as possible in the staging area)
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Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:00 am
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Random thoughts about the game in general (player cards, player type, second core set)

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
My blog mostly concentrates on session reports and thoughts about the scenarios but from time to time I do make more general observations. I am planning on gathering them in this Editorial sub-series. This first installment collects some of them that appeared through out my comments i promise that in the future I will make those shorter.

So you write about scenarios a lot, how about player cards?

I am curious what other people think but I am starting to think that most of the player cards we get in adventure packs are pretty weak (some frankly useless). This becomes even more of an issue if you are restricted to solo gaming as I am. This is not a huge issue for me as I am more into the new scenarios but still I would like some more interesting cards for underutilized spheres (lore and tactics in my case). I understand that part of an issue comes form the fact that I am only looking to build a single deck that is efficient against a scenario during multiple attempts. Some other players might be more interested just exploring the interactions between their cards and have tons of fun trying various possible combos even if those work only every now and then. Now after typing that I think that maybe the current model is ideal - cards for me (new scenario) and cards for combo players (say that each card means at least one attempt gives 9 attempts which is roughly the same as I am doing). Still I found some post by people that were so disappointed with quality and quantity of new player cards that they've quit playing the game (Khazad Dum contents was a deal breaker for quite a few it seems).

Cards "on paper" might look weaker/stronger then they actually are in a particular deck. Need to try several cards that I consider bad/not worthed and see if they are actually that bad or am I not seeing their full potential.

NOV 2012: This is a main weakness of my exploration of the game. I do not try all new player cards. I concentrate only on the scenarios and most player cards are only seen on paper.

Are you sure that you keep your rules straight?

Discussing the game on Polish message boards I discovered that I was counting my points wrong (starting with round 1 instead of zero and according to the rules you are supposed to tally a round only at its end). I was pretty sure that at this point I had all the rules down and I still discovered something. This is not a big deal as it only affects scoring which is not that important but ... it makes me think. What else am I missing or playing wrong? This is a major drawback of solo game (or if you only play games in the same group) - there is no one to correct you. In other games (CCGs/LCGs especially) you have tournaments, fairly regular plays with different people and that soon enough allows you to discover if you play something incorrectly. There is nothing like that in this game (at least for me) so I am left to hope spotting my mistakes during some discussions at the forums. Mind you I am not interested in the tourneys and even playing this game with others (well I would like to do the former but I don't see me finding time for that) but I think that getting all rules right for this game is important to get the difficulty level planned by the designer. On the positive note - my games are pretty though in most cases so I am satisfied with difficulty anyway even if I am slightly off at some things.

What kind of player am I?

Fantasy Flight prepared a list of players archetypes for this game at some point. They've given them some LOTR names but in short those are:
- Flavor player - builds his deck according to LOTR reality (e.g. will never use Frodo as he was not active/alive during official period of time).
- Combo player - enjoys finding synergies between the cards
- Must win player - enjoys winning and this is most important for him (or goes for the lowest score even at the risk of several losses before getting it).
I find my self in between those categories. I am not a hardcore LOTR fan and I do not care if cards are in accordance to book timeline but I do enjoy the stories that this game tells. I like to find combos and synergies and I am usually quite impressed with them but I do not actively seek/invent them and test them out - I am more of one card at the time guy who is often pleasantly surprised when two cards work in concert. Finally I do construct decks to win but I am more for consistency (high percentage) of wins then about high score or 100% success rate.

Musings on threat.

Threat is an excellent mechanic in this game introducing very hard and interesting choices. Do you go for better heros that will be able to do a lot of cool things latter ... the trade off is that enemies will start pounding at you from the turn one and will most of the time overwhelm you by killing your allies and wounding heroes. Then you are so weakened that treacheries will slowly kill you off unless you are very lucky. On the other hand ... if you choose only weak heroes you will have time to prepare but will lack the strength to take care of the stronger enemies. Of course it all depends on the scenario but as a general observation it seems to be correct.

So is second core set worthed?
Random thoughts:
- Using cards from two core sets gives your ("tournament legal") deck a huge boost.

- I started with merging two sets into a "tournament playable" pool of cards 3 copies of player cards. With two CS I am missing around 12 player (3 or 4 per sphere) cards to complete it. It was nice to obtain more copies of some of my favorite cards (feint, sneak attack come to mind). I felt pretty good getting the game "again" at this point.

- I packed all of the surplus cards, tokens and rules in one of the boxes in order to store them at the bottom of my closet. When I was closing the lid on this second box I saw so many components that I will not get to use and to tell the truth felt disappointed that so many things will be pretty much useless.

- Then the newly constructed card pool went into a "transport" deck box (it should hold close to 200 sleeved cards) followed by encounter cards and tokens (with d10s replacing threat counters). To my great disappointment I discovered that there is no space left in the box. I realized that now my game will not be as portable as it used to be with a single core set and the adventure packs will make it even worse. I am afraid that this will impact amount of plays. I will be hesitant to carry a huge box of cards with me just in case I have some free time to play it (so far it yielded +10 plays so not bad at all).

To sum up I have mixed feelings about the second core set - on one hand I am glad that my card poll increased as it makes deck building more interesting. On the other hand I feel that there is a great waste of space, cards and value here. This solves the problem of the third core set - I will not be getting it.

NOV 2012: After so many more plays I do think about getting missing cards. I will not buy the whole set though (even used) I want to find someone to share it with (preferebly a person who plays with more players and does not care about single cards but does want the extra cards, tokens etc.
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Tue Nov 27, 2012 11:08 am
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Passage through Mirkwood - return to the beginning.

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I do not have any extensive comments about the scenario as I played it a lot before starting to comment my plays. Here is a summary from memory:

[Session report] Played it with all pre-constructed decks. Managed to win with all of them except tactics at least once. It was a very good experience as I was still learning the basics of the mechanics and I was able to get to know all the player cards from the Core Set. This helped a lot with my deck building later on.

[General Thoughts]As for the scenario it self I like it quite a bit as an introduction. It is not too deadly most of the time and should give you time to build up a little bit. If you are new to the game I really recommend playing it few times with pre-constructed deck (even if you can beat it easily) as you will get the taste for everything without feeling pressured much (at least most of the time). This a good introduction for the game although still some things do tend to confuse new players (searching for Ungolianth's Spawn in stage 3).

From a more experienced player perspective it is not that exciting and it does not age well (in a sense that new cards make it too easy). I am not planing to revisit it anytime soon (unless I decide to go through all scenarios again). Still if introducing new people to LOTR:LCG it will be my first choice although see bellow on my thoughts about teaching the game to my wife and playing this scenario:

In general teaching rules to LOTR LCG is quite easy (as the rules are fairly straightforward) but of course the devil is in the details as there are plenty of rules on the cards and it can be quite hard to manage/understand them all at the same time. Now after teaching my wife the game I also understand why so many people were not impressed with this game as much as I am. Two points:
1. Without deck building you loose very fun strategic part of the game and you are left with a tactical game (that you might or might not enjoy enough to like the game as a whole)
2. If you play the game only to win each scenario once (instead of trying to build the deck that will beat it consistently) its replayability will be very limited
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Tue Nov 27, 2012 6:00 am
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Introduction to this blog. Who am I and what is my LOTR:LCG experience so far?

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
NOTE: This post will be occasionally revisited and updated. As I play the game more and more my view on it changes and so changes this blog. I will try to make this post relevant.

First of all let me start by saying 'hello'. IMPORTANT NOTE: I am a gamer from Poland so please excuse many grammatical mistakes that I will surely make in my posts.

Goal
This blog contains mostly reviews and my general thoughts about The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game as per its title. I also try to be helpful for new players so I write articles that are dedicated for those that are just starting with the game. Occasionally I also include some articles that do not fit any of this categories but I keep it relevant for LOTR:LCG.

Because of this I have few tags/categories that you might use to get to the content you might be interested:
New player: /blogcategory/2828/new-player
General thoughts: /blogcategory/1325/general-thoughts
Reviews: /blogcategory/2826/review
Updates & Stuff: /blogcategory/2827/updates-stuff

NOTE: I do not have any kind of regular release schedule for my articles they show up when I have something interesting (at least for myself) to write. If you are interested in what I have to say consider subscribing.

How do I approach the game?
1. I play the game exclusively solo (never simulating two players)
2. I play the game mostly in the order of release (I do skip many of PODs and occasionally will finish a cycle before jumping into Saga that was released in the middle of APs).
3. My personal goal is to play each scenario at least 10 times before moving to the next one.
4. I adhere to the rules to the best of my abilities. Occasionally will allow myself to use a card that I forgot to play (in the same round) provided it wouldn't change anything.

How this blog started?
My deeper look at the game started with the 100 play challenge:
I saw a geeklist on BGG - The 100 Play Challenge: In Support of Deeper Exploration of Games (Update: Now with GeekGold!) - that asked for players to pledge to play a game 100 times and write down thoughts/comments about each play and the chosen game in general. I decided to join the fun with LOTR:LCG as my game of choice. It is quite interesting to me to see how my perspective on the game changes as I play the new scenarios and expand the card pool at my disposal. Posting comments forced me to look at the game experience from a more analytic point of view.

That is why in my first posts you will find session reports detailing my playthrough and thoughts about a particular scenarios and the whole game. In time I found that session reports itself were becoming less and less interesting (even I stopped looking at the old ones). Slowly those were replaced with my reviews of the scenarios and player cards.

I also observed that there is a huge demand for guides for new players that is why I started a series of articles for those that begin their time in LOTR:LCG.

My (analog) gaming background:
- Gamed a lot in my childhood (Chess, Checkers, Polish Monopoly clones, Talisman, Fury of Dracula etc.) mainly with my brother
- Had a long break in tabletop gaming as I went to high school and to college/university
- Got back into it while staying in the Netherlands (mostly eurogames but also A Game of Thrones, Warrior Knights)
- I came back to Poland and expanded my collection, started my own gaming group (which is still meeting bi-weekly and is highly competitive)
- My wife enjoys gaming so we play two player often.

My LOTR:LCG experiences and collection:
- Played LOTR: LCG with a friend at the end of 2011 and was intrigued
- In May 2012 got my own core set and played it more than 50 times. Later I traded for the second core set and two expansions.
- Slowly I was getting more and more expansions.
- I completed 100 plays challenge and the end of October 2012.
- I failed to convince my wife to play the game. She is not very big on fantasy, card games and co-ops so it was not surprising.
- As of today: I have everything that was released except Voice of Isengard and several PODs. At the moment I am playing through the Against the Shadow cycle


Some stats:
1. Currently I've logged almost 400 plays of LOTR:LCG
2. My most popular post: A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players - almost 100 thumbs, one of the most popular blog posts in 2013 on BGG.
3. I've written almost 50 posts on this blog
4. May 2014 will mark two years with LOTR:LCG for me
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Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:25 am
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