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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The Redhorn Gate - Ready to face the wrath of the Misty Mountains?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Board Game Designer
I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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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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