LOTR LCG: The Great Wall of Endless Text

Currently, my main gaming focus is on Lord of the Rings the card game. I feel the need to rant and rave about my strategic and mental transgressions and figure it is better to not clog up the forum with it.
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Watcher in the Water - How It Has Changed the Game

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Microbadge: 5 Year Geek VeteranMicrobadge: Hanabi fanMicrobadge: Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game fanMicrobadge: LotR:LCG fan - I build Resource Engines!
The great thing about a living card game is that the game is changing all the time. Every expansion not only presents new player cards that create new combos, but new encounter cards that require new strategies. Both of these items have a significant impact on affecting the value of existing cards and strategies. My intention is to dig into these items and reflect on their impacts moving forward.

Firstly a commentary on the quest itself. It is thematically strong and fun, I really like it. My favorite part is the Watcher itself which is very challenging but beatable in many ways. By far the strongest quest construction is built around setting cards to the side and bringing them in play or into the encounter deck at certain times during the quest. This is EXCELLENT game design as it presents the encounter deck a way to ramp up difficulty as the quest progresses. This is much better than sprinkling killer combos in the deck that could come out before the player has a hope to be ready (Yes, I am definitely looking at you Road to Rivendell with your Sleeping Sentry). This method has been applied before multiple times at various levels (Carrock, Dol Guldor most notably) and in general makes for fantastic game play. Plus these scenarios are so much more satisfying as they essentially have a Boss at the end of them. You don't have to look far in gaming media to realize that this is a common and effective technique for building a great game experience. Plus it implicitly provides a sense of satisfaction at the end of the game because of having the big final battle/challenge, rather than the abrupt endings that you get in other scenarios (Rhosgobel! I can see you hiding behind Road to Rivendell, but I haven't forgotten how much you thoroughly suck!). Put simply, when beating a scenario for the first time, you should be high fiving your partner and taunting an inanimate card on the table rather than saying "that's it??" while flipping the quest card in hopes of finding the elusive "third" side. To that end Watcher nails it, hopefully we will see more like it.

The evil game designer was quite busy with this expansion. He took liberal refuge in the remaining holes in the defenses of a tuned player card deck. The forced effects of the tentacles are pretty nasty and conveniently skirt around the those pesky hasty strokes and tests of will. While this makes me wonder if a Forced cancellation card is in our future, I don't necessarily have issues with the Grasping Tentacle and the Thrashing Tentacle - they present some key tactical challenges that make you carefully consider when and how you attack them. On both, you are wise to not choose a high attack ally/hero, hence undermining game play built around buffing 1 or 2 heroes/allies to do all the killing. This decision making process is entirely unique to this quest and presents a refreshing challenge.

Striking Tentacle is potentially an overreach. The forced effect is absolutely brutal as it can easily be a hero killer particularly if the attack gets boosted by the shadow effect. If these cards were held out and shuffled in during the the second part of the quest, I'd feel better about it. Or even better, if the forced affect only applies when the Watcher is in play. A couple early Striking Tentacles would make for a extremely hard game (especially with bad luck on the forced effect draw). Increasing the card's threat level would make a huge difference.

The game set up presents a very interesting twist as well. Ensuring that 2X threat is in the staging area is a great idea. But they screwed this one up. They should have had Treacheries not count during this set up. This can create a couple of ridiculous scenarios. My favorite is starting a solo game with 3 Wrapped! cards. This of course is guaranteed death as there is no way to either prevent the cards from being applied during set up, or to get rid of them without an unwrapped hero. Personal view, the game designers should be ensuring that these kinds of draws aren't possible . .. not that it is too hard to reset and try again. But I find such things bothersome since I'd like to think I have something to do with whether I win or not.

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Crap allies: Grasping tentacle can be countered with a complete crap ally either in combo with damage dealers as a tentacle shield or just as a sacrificial offering. Attacking with a snowborn scout and having the forced effect land is fantastic!. Plus it is handy to have crap allies around for the Watcher to snack on. Note that the previous two expansions were rather crap ally unfriendly.

Forest Snare
: I think it was a mistake to not have the Watcher be immune to attachments. Forest Snare is also awesome against the tentacles to avoid their forced on attack effects.

Direct Damage: Thalin, Gondorian Spearman, hail of stones, swift strike, infighting, Gandalf, and Descendent of Thorondor. Already very useful, the forced effects of the tentacles and the high defense of the Watcher make these capabilities incredibly valuable. Although, it would seem that the game designers learned their lesson from Khazadum and gave the tentacles 3 hit points instead of 2 to avoid the Thalin + Gondorian Spearman combo.

Frodo: By far and away the best way to deal with Striking Tentacle. He continues to be the wild card that protects you from all sorts of nasty things. He is the king of undefended attacks. And he is all the more powerful now with . . .

: This quest attacks your threat very aggressively (Doomed 5! Really!), probably second only to Return to Mirkwood. Aragorn the Lore version is the best threat reducing option in the game and isn't card draw dependent. Teamed with Frodo, you can play rope a dope with the encounter deck trading threat on questing and fighting to better position for long term success (getting cards out and killing enemies/locations with disregard for threat). Then you reset the threat and play with a board advantage. The Sword that is now Broken is also fantastic. Aragorn has been reborn in my decks.

Dwarves: They continue to be the king race by a wide margin. Legacy of Durin is another solid addition. Hobbits got Short Cut which is crap. Elves got Guardian of Bruinen which is an ok ally, but it presents little to work with with race synergies or any synergies really. Elves also got Rivendell Bow which I can't really come up with much of anything particularly useful to do with it. Boost my Silverlode Archers? Legolas seems the best target, so I could see putting one in a deck running him. Only 1 per character is a big hit to its value. Arwen is obviously fantastic, but a racial synergy is needed to make it competitive with the Dwarves.

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Miner of the Iron Hills: Oops, I thought all bad attachments were going to be "Condition" attachments. I mean what the frack! It isn't like this card was overpowered, why work around it? While I wouldn't expect to see more "Tentacle" attachments in the future, the precedent has been set. What's next? A "Game Designer Gives You the Finger" attachment?

A Test of Will/Hasty Stroke and other cancellation powers: apparently having both of these in hand can't protect you from all of the really nasty effects anymore (Forced effect). Plus they can't cancel the "doomed" key word either. Ill Pursuit and Wrapped still present good targets for A Test of Will. And stopping a shadow effect boosting of Striking Tentacle with a Hasty Stroke can be hero saving. But all in all, this is the first quest in a while where it is very reasonable to not include them at all.

Dunhere: Not only is it hard to get your threat low enough to take advantage of Unseen Strike on the tentacles while ensuring you can attack them in the staging area, your attack could backfire due to the forced effects.

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Secrecy: Can't figure out how I feel on this one. On the plus side, Resourceful and Elrond's Council are enormously helpful to make Secrecy viable. Teamed with Dunhere there is serious potential here. But Secrecy partially depends on low threat to keep the nasties in the staging area. The tentacles present the most cost effective enemies in the game so far for engagement cost. East Bight Patrol is arguably a competitor because of it's absurd engagement cost of 5, but the effects of the Tentacles are nastier. And Striking Tentacle is absurd in its own right as discussed above. If I am running a Secrecy deck, I am not preparing to defend against attacks of 4, particularly undefended ones. Add on top of that the cards that give big hits to your threat, and I can't help come to the conclusion that they were specifically trying to foil Secrecy in this expansion (while providing cards to help it). This seems rather odd as the strategy is still in its infancy and is not really on par with 3 hero decks yet even with Resourceful being available. Maintaining balance between 2 hero decks and 3 hero decks is one of the biggest and toughest challenges that the game designers have, but doing so will make a much more diverse experience.
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