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Shadow And Flame: How It Has Changed the Game

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With exceedingly strong player cards introducing multiple new strategies for deck design AND an epic quest, Shadow And Flame is truly a fantastic expansion pack. If you haven't played this expansion yet, go out and get the expansion pack and play it now. It is an exceedingly strong conclusion to the Darrowdelf cycle combining together the best parts of Journey down the Anduin and Flight from Moria. Spoilers a plenty will follow as I dive into how Shadow And Flame has changed the game.

This scenario got my blood pumping on the initial set up. As I put Durin's Bane in the staging area and digested the card text, I posited the only logical conclusion: we're doomed. Suddenly my trusty pair of dwarf decks that performed so admirably in combat in other scenarios looked flimsy. Gimli and Dain could each handle one hit from Durin's Bane assuming no shadow influence. Beyond that we were going to start hemorrhaging allies assuming we could get them in play in time. The Dark Pit gave us a vision about what we would eventually need to do to to escape the quest. Not only did we need to survive the relentless attacks of Durin's Bane, but we would need to create a sufficient power curve to pile a bunch of damage on it. The 1B quest card gave a modest reprieve by dropping our threat to zero. This was a rather curious alteration of the standard flow of the game, but fundamentally, it only slightly altered the key challenge of the Balrog before us. One round to prepare still didn't seem like enough.

We were on the edge of hero destruction every turn for the whole game each time squeaking out a defense somehow. We were able to get allies flowing just in time for the Balrog to power up with his Fiery Sword which could easily cut through the hero based defenses we constructed. We hung on just long enough to reach the third stage and muster a large enough attack to secure victory. This was a fantastic gaming experience. Our second game was slightly less suspenseful while using the Elrond decks from below as we discovered some key tricks that helped contain the Bane. But nothing is ever safe with the Balrog lurking.

The scenario found an epic balance impending doom and peril while providing a real opportunity for the players to actually win. The scenario reminded me a lot of Journey Down the Anduin back in the early days when very few expansions were available. There is a seemingly impossible enemy right from the beginning. And with the early hero selection, it was very challenging to create a large amount of time to prepare for the battle. This key battle right at the beginning immediately creates an engaging experience (assuming you don't let it crush your hopes and enjoyment of the game as we've seen numerous comments of people who never played past Anduin). Anduin doesn't hold that suspense as much anymore as heroes like Glorfindel (spirit), Frodo, and Dain that make the Anduin significantly easier. So it is great to have that experience again even with powered up decks.

Of course the quest is also reminiscent of Flight from Moria which also features a Balrog chasing you. While Flight from Moria did some interesting things with the quest using a rather unique quest design, I found Shadow and Flame to be a much more enjoyable and engaging experience. Instead of the abstract power curve of the Nameless Fear being based around your victory display, you have a much more explicit and vivid ramp of Durin's Bane with Treachery attachments. Instead of depending on "A Foe From Beyond" being an abstract application of the Nameless Fear's power on the players (while including the obnoxious and restrictive "cannot be cancelled" text), you have actual attacks by an enemy using the standard rule set. Instead of encouraging degenerative and counter-intuitive strategies like avoiding putting cards in your victory display and bypassing quest cards, there is a very clear and logical flow to Shadow and Flame. The objective is difficult, but a player's instincts in the game are likely to carry them towards a solid strategy and a good gaming experience. Perhaps frequent engagements are in our future, but the quest sniffs a bit as a mulligan on the Balrog experience. To FFG's credit, they nailed it this time.

Although, I think I've lucked out on my experiences so far. There is definitely room for rather horrendous opening scenario set ups. The X-1 initial reveals are a great idea to minimize the effect of player number. In retrospect, other quests probably should have done a similar approach when specific cards start in the staging area. But the true power of encounter deck is treacheries, some much more convenient than others. The worst is one is Massing in the Deep which is from the "chain" encounter set from Khazadum. My recent replays of Flight from Moria showed me how devastating this card can be particularly during set up when A Test of Will can't be played. This card is dreadfully awful in multi-player games anyway as it acts as a multiplier on the cards revealed, but it gets special credit here since it also has "doomed 1". That little "doomed 1" means that you not only have to deal with additional cards at the beginning, but you also have to take on Durin's Bane first turn - and of course the doomed 1 can't be cancelled by Eleanor either. I also found that the difference between Durin's Bane attacking at 6 and at 9 (with the Fiery Sword) is a huge difference in managing the attacks. Cancelling the treachery is the only way to eliminate this boost, so your options for stopping it are limited during set up. Leaping Flame adding an attack right from the beginning is also quite awful. These three in combo could easily create an unrecoverable open. A Massing in the Deep also creates a much more difficult first turn if it is revealed on the initial questing.

Trending Up

Wandering Took - This was THE card that allowed my two Elrond decks to blast through this scenario. In general, I think this Took doesn't get enough love as he is a reasonably efficient ally and his ability comes in handy as a way to move threat and to reinforce other players. This is especially true on this scenario. We stayed under threat on the opening round. During the second and third round, Durin's Bane was entirely defended with Wandering Tooks by one player putting it into play and then transferring it to the other player for defense. This drops the first player's threat back down to zero and hence avoids the attack. The second player sacrifices the took to the unending hunger of the Balrog and the attacks are handled for the cost of just 1 card and 2 resources (as well as 2 threat). This left plenty of resources available to get our economies moving and crank out additional fodder units. Of course, you can't play Wandering Tooks forever . . .

Song of Earendil - I also think that this is a somewhat underrated card in multi-player as threat versatility can make a big difference. In this scenario, we were able to have Song of Earendil take over once our Took supply ran out to keep one player at zero. Having one less Durin's Bane attack each turn was well worth the imbalanced threat creep that it created.

A Test of Will + Eleanor - This quest is very very heavy on treacheries. And we still only have two direct ways to deal with them. While deck management approaches can certainly work as well, piling up when revealed cancellation abilities is the best security blanket you can have for this quest. You will not be lacking in targets. I really really think they need to give us another option here, or if they would prefer us to not cancel treacheries, outlaw the only two cards that can do it (and eliminate Sleeping Sentry while they are at it).

Shadow Cancellation - There are a lot of shadow effects in this scenario. While none are anywhere close to the level of previous outliers (the aforementioned Sleeping Sentry), many can boost enemy attacks as much as 3 (or even 4 with 4 players). I often don't have 3 defense/hit points to spare on a defense, particularly when the attack is 6, so shadow cancellation is a must if you want to actually be able to absorb attacks on this scenario. Of course there are lots of ways to do this, even more no if you count Hands Upon the Bow which can take out an enemy even before it engages (let alone attacks).

Dwarves - Two more solid to great cards for the dwarven theme. Hardy Leadership makes a huge difference, and having another way to get resources with We Are Not Idle is certainly good as well. These two cards add to what is already a strong list of Dwarf cards that scale with the number of dwarves - Dain, EBM, and Legacy of Durin. And I think Hail of Stones works well within the theme of "lots of dwarves" as well. Of course the game is ripe with dwarven synergies and dwarves continue to be immensely strong and by far the best race to build around while the other races are mostly defined by one off synergies that don't demand racial uniformity.

Lore - Well let's see. For some reason they got 3 cards in this expansion. I am not entirely sure what is up with that. I think Master of the Forge is an immensely strong option for deck sifting assuming of course that you are digging for an attachment. I recognize that Peace, and Thought and Risk Some Light have some strong potential, but off hand I am not excited about their board economy impact. The fact that you have to do Peace and Thought BEFORE going through your round of actions means that you either need actions to spare or be willing to take a significant risk. I have trouble imagining this card being useful until mid to late game when card draw is less likely to be decisive (but I'll concede that there are occasions where it would be). I like Risk Some Light as a secrecy played card particularly with proper card draw support to avoid my economy being throttled, but I suspect it won't find its way into my normal decks as it is too expensive to play early when I need the deck control badly. And then of course there is this guy Elrond who freakin' rocks when properly equipped. I've already written extensively about him here http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/12245/building-with-el.... It was awesome watching my wife read Vilya for the first time when I played it for her as her eyes bulged out in surprise and excitement just before flashing a huge maniacal grin.

Legolas, Brand, and Hama - After a very weak Tactics offering in FoS, Hands Upon the Bow presents an incredible option and finally gives Tactics an ability that was wrongfully bestowed upon Spirit (in Dunhere). But of course FFG still sticks it to Tactics by only giving them one card . . .

Spirit - What is the one thing that Spirit does not particularly well? I would claim, getting rid of enemies. Glorfindel eroded that weakness a bit but now they have supplied Spirit with a true ace in the hole. O Elbereth! Gilthonial! appears to have been designed to be another option for resolving the Shadow And Flame quest (although this is somewhat in question) but it is eminently applicable to every other baddy in the game short of the Nameless Fear. Of course it is expensive if not done via secrecy. I haven't found a true home for the card since I don't currently don't run secrecy (although I am thinking heavily about changing that), but I certainly can't ignore how powerful it is and I think it is another step towards Spirit being self sufficient. Although, as a side note, I'd like to say that O Elbereth! Gilthonial! has the most obnoxious name to remember - it will henceforth be known as OEG!.

Crap allies - Our fights against Durin's Bane have heavily involved letting it snack on low cost allies. I feel pretty strongly that having a representation of 1 or 2 cost allies in a deck is critical to handle situations like these unless you have . . .

Feint - Which is even better with Hama. It would appear that this protects all players in SaF, although I can't help but suspect that there will be a ruling that Durin's Bane is treated as a separate enemy separately engaged with each player. Either way it is a strong option for holding it off.

Imladris Stargazer + Gildor Inglorian - The power of Vilya is that much greater if you can rig what is going to be played. These cards are a must if you are running Vilya + Elrond.

Unexpected Courage, Miruvor, Light of Valinor - The demands on Elrond's time are extensive since he is good at so many things. There is no better target for an Unexpected Courage than Elrond.

High Threat Heroes - I go through all of this effort to find hero combinations that have a low threat and they go and make my starting threat completely irrelevant in this scenario. I am still trying to avoid the hill troll whenever I build my decks, even better if I can avoid Wolves from Mordor. Perhaps I'll take a step back and expand my thinking if there continues to be weak arguments for containing one's opening threat.

Frodo - I almost forgot this one. Frodo is a stud here with the substantial threat cushion and his ability to soak Durin's Bane attacks. I just feel so much safer with Frodo on the board as it gives a way to weasel out of some nasty predicaments that the game throws at you.

Trending Down

Gleowine - With a modest representation of attachments, I view Master of the Forge as a superior choice. No uniqueness concerns, plus you can select what you want.

Rivendell Minstrel - Master of the Forge offers an alternative here as well for a cheaper price and a repeatable effect. There is still a use for both the Minstrel and Gleowine, but I have previously been forcing them into decks where Master of the Forge is a much better match.

Events - Events already are at a disadvantage with their transient effect, but when a Counter-Spell is in play, they are very risky without deck scouting. I do find the Counter-Spell design quite compelling even though it picks on the weak portion of the player card pool.

Dunhere - Designing decks for Dunhere has frustrated me for quite some time. Hands Upon the Bow is in many ways superior since it has Quick Strike built in. I suspect that I won't bother with Dunhere again unless they give us some easy to use killer attack boosting attachments.

Miner of the Iron Hills - See my rant from Watcher in the Water http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/10210/watcher-in-the-w... and replace Tentacle with Weapon. I guess it is a trend . . .

Glorfindel (Spirit) - Not only is his starting threat essentially a waste, if he quests first turn, he causes an engagement with the Balrog (assuming no Light of Valinor). They actually created a scenario where the original Glorfindel is substantially better than the new one.

Trending Up and Down

Secrecy - Secrecy gets a couple very strong cards in Risk Some Light and OEG!. I see Bifur, Glorfindel, and Theodred as a very strong hero combo to take advantage of all of the secrecy cards with a relatively well rounded party. But then I see quests like this one that totally hose one of the great advantages of secrecy - avoiding engaging enemies. Of course this quest also makes it trivially easy to get at the required 20 threat to trigger secrecy cost. This in combo with not worrying about hero starting threat could create some rather unique specialized decks to take on this scenario.

Attachments - Master of the Forge is great for fetching attachments, but Durin's Bane is also great at destroying them. Don't be too "attached" to your attachments unless you have a way to protect them.

Bonus: FAQ 1.3: How it has Changed the Game

FFG has done little to alter the rules after cards have been released for game balance. The closest I can think of is the ruling on Stand and Fight to try to curtail Gandalf usage. That has all changed now as clearly FFG will step in with complete card rewrites. I can't really argue with them castrating the cards they selected as numerous overpowered strategies were built off of Beravor and Ziggy.

Trending Down

Beravor - Beravor is still a good hero, but is no longer the solution for unending card draws. Bilbo in particular warrants a much harder look as a quite possibly a more optimal choice in 1 or 2 player games. I really feel like my Unexpected Courages have been liberated as previously a play on Beravor was by far the best option.

Zigil Miner - A massive downgrade here. You can't completely ignore any option for resource generation, but it is very hard to justify building around Ziggy for the return he gives now.

Will of the West - My need for playing Will of the West is usually a result of abusing Beravor and/or Ziggy. I doubt it will see much play for me now.

Trending Up

Steward of Gondor - After having its title wrongfully usurped by the dwarves in Khazadum, SoG returns to its throne as the king of resource acceleration. All hail the Steward of Gondor!

Deck snapshot

(Note this is before the recent Hobbit reveals which I promised myself I wouldn't read until this is posted . . .)

Elrond's army

Taking out Ziggy required a significant rework of the Elrond decks. I pulled in resource acceleration from Theodred and Steward of Gondor. But this helped me see an interesting combo of Son of Arnor which can be used to pull an enemy from the staging area during the quest phase with vilya without burning a sneak attack. Of course this was accessible before due to Elrond's versatility. Dunedain's mark is here to allow for buffing Brand in the Armory deck. Brand's readying power is rather nice particularly when Gildor Inglorion is out who can't benefit from UC or Miruvor.

Hero (3) - (26 threat)
Glorfindel (FoS) x1
Theodred (Core) x1
Elrond (SaF) x1

Ally (29)
Elfhelm (TDM) x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Gandalf (Core) x3
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x1
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR) x1
Northern Tracker (Core) x3
Radagast (AJtR) x1
Landroval (AJtR) x1
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Wandering Took (Core) x3
Beorn (Core) x2
Erestor (TLD) x1
Son of Arnor (Core) x3
Rider of the Mark (RtR) x3
Eomund (CatC) x1
Bofur (TRG) x1
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3

Attachment (9)
Forest Snare (Core) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Dunedain Mark (THfG) x3
Celebrian's Stone (Core) x1

Event (12)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Campfire Tales (THfG) x3

Elrond's Armory

The wussy half of the Elrond decks, but it is actually the key to jump starting the Elrond engine. Brand's readying power is also key to allow for early turn defenses with Elrond followed by a Vilya play without needing a UC (or in addition to a UC so that Elrond can quest as well)

Hero (3) - (26 threat)
Bilbo Baggins (THFG) x1
Brand son of Bain (THoEM) x1
Frodo Baggins (CatC) x1

Ally (14)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x1
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x1
Watcher of the Bruinen (TWitW) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3

Attachment (28)
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x3
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Song of Earendil (RtR) x1
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Ring Mail (TLD) x3
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x1
Blade of Gondolin (Core) x2
Protector of Lorien (Core) x2
Vilya (SaF) x3
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2

Event (8)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
The Galadhrim's Greeting (Core) x2
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3

Dwarf swarm with Thorin

Thorin (from the hobbit expansion) is sufficiently strong that I reworked the dwarf decks to include him. For those of you who are proxy adverse, remember that heroes are brain dead easy to proxy except in extreme cases (Lost and Alone). All dwarves are in this deck with some support to maximize the synergies. Thorin's power ideally fuels Bifur while Thalin gets a boost from Steward of Gondor from the support deck. We are Not Idle provides an alternative mechanism for resources if needed or as a way to power the Map-Maker and Record Keeper.

Hero (3) - (28 threat)
Bifur (KD) x1
Thalin (Core) x1
Thorin (OHaUH) x1

Ally (35)
Bombur (RtR) x1
Brok Ironfist (Core) x1
Erebor Battle Master (TLD) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Erebor Record Keeper (KD) x3
Longbeard Elder (FoS) x3
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x3
Longbeard Orc Slayer (Core) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Veteran of Nanduhirion (KD) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x3

Attachment (9)
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x3
Dwarrowdelf Axe (KD) x3
Ring Mail (TLD) x3

Event (6)
Hail of Stones (RtR) x3
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3

Dain Dwarf Support

This deck has moved towards a much more explicit support role. With massive cancellation (Eleanor, aToW, Hasty Stroke, Dunedain Watcher), the key point here is to ensure that nothing stops the power curve of the dwarf swarm. Darrowdelf axes go on Dwalin to aid in killing for threat reduction and to give the support deck the necessary punch to fight off enemies that Dain defends. Location management is also built in with NT and Riddermark's Finest.

Hero (3) - (27 threat)
Dwalin (KD) x1
Eleanor (Core) x1
Dain Ironfoot (RtM) x1

Ally (23)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Bofur (TRG) x3
Elfhelm (TDM) x1
Northern Tracker (Core) x3
The Riddermark's Finest (THoEM) x3
Zigil Miner (KD) x3
Westfold Horse-Breaker (THfG) x3
Faramir (Core) x1
Wandering Took (Core) x1
Dunedain Watcher (TDM) x3

Attachment (14)
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Ever My Heart Rises (TLD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Hardy Leadership (SaF) x3

Event (13)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Fortune or Fate (Core) x1
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Lure of Moria (RtR) x3
Dwarven Tomb (Core) x1
The Galadhrim's Greeting (Core) x2

Hama/Legolas/Eowyn and Eagles
Featuring eagles and Hama events with just enough questing to get by. This deck serves as an adequate third deck to either of the pairs above and can venture solo as well.

Hero (3) - (27 threat)
Hama (TLD) x1
Legolas (Core) x1
Eowyn (Core) x1

Ally (24)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x1
Bofur (TRG) x1
Descendant of Thorondor (THoEM) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x3
Landroval (AJtR) x2
Radagast (AJtR) x2
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3

Attachment (12)
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Blade of Gondolin (Core) x2
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x2
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x3

Event (14)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Dwarven Tomb (Core) x1
Feint (Core) x3
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x1
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x3
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