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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Road to Rivendel - Will you fall asleep as your sentry did?

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]

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]

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.

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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