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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Shadow and Flame - Will all your base belong to Balrog?

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: 30 Jan 2013
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn/Glorfindel(FoS), Aragorn(WitW), Frodo (spirit/lore)
Played 2 times - lost once, won once

Here is the short report on my first attempts against the final adventure pack in the Dwarrowdelf cycle
- As usual I went in blind (I have not read any encounter or quest cards) using my Eowyn, Frodo, lore Aragorn deck. I have to admit that initial threat influx (due to Fordo constantly canceling damage from Durin's Bane) was worrying me but on the other hand the reserve (starting at zero and being able to drop it down) was huge enough that I decided that I should be able to withstand it for many turns. My hand size was very decent but at this time Counter-Spell came up essentially locking my events (although in retrospect I should have just let it activate). On the other hand my fellowship was growing steadily with new allies coming into play. Most of the cards coming from the encounter deck were not too threatening so I felt like I had this scenario. Slowly I passed stage one and two and realized what I have to do to win. I calculated my attack strength and realized that I would be putting 1 wound per round on Durin's Bane (at the beginning I forgot his regenerate ability) - was sure to loose at this point. Sure enough - my threat was high enough that I had to stop using Frodo and started to loose allies each round. Few enemies from the encounter deck sealed my fate.
- With knowledge from the previous attempt I've redesigned my deck swapping Eowyn for spirit Glorfindel and adding more fighting strength to my deck (Rumors of the Earth, Hasty Stroke, Infighting were gone, Mirkwwod runner, Light of Valinor and more copies of unique allies came in). Frodo was again converting Durin's Bane's attacks to threat while I was taking more cards in and fielding more and more allies. I've had 13 attacks strength ready (after questing) so I was dealing some pain back to Bane (hahaha). Even with a Giant Cave troll coming up from the encounter deck I was able to progress ahead and keep the staging area clear (except of the Balrog). I had to start sacrifice questing allies since my threat was high again but getting rid of the Balrog was quite easy at this point.

Date: 31 Jan 2013
Heroes (spheres): Glorfindel(FoS), Aragorn(WitW), Frodo (spirit/lore)
Played 6 times - won only once

After my initial success I was fairly confident in my deck ... well ... the Balrog had different opinion on it. I was massacred is so many ways that I am really at loss on how to beat this scenario solo. Here is the sampling on how I was defeated
- First turn Fiery Sword caused huge threat influx (Frodo) and I was unable to contain my threat and lost
- Two Giant Cave Trolls in row followed by three locations lead to staging lock, huge threat gain and ultimate loss despite two Gandalfs
- Twice early Giant Cave Troll slowed me down heavily first by sitting in staging and then by eating precious allies so I was too weak for a final showdown with mr. Bane
- First turn whiplash starved me as far as cards go and reduced me to draw one play one which is just too weak.
- I almost have won two of the failed attempts - I needed 3 in two cards but failed in one and I surrendered one attempt while I should have sacrificed Frodo and go for the mr. Banes throat in the other

In the mean time I did a lot of back and forward tweaking (adding Zigil Miner and removing it, increasing and decreasing and increasing again the card draw, removing Hasty stroke and bringing it back, changing the amount of unique cards etc). After my final play I made few more radical changes but to tell the truth it will be very hard to attain more than 30% win rate with this one. Unless I change my approach completely which might be necessary.

Date: 1,2 & 3 Jan 2013
Heroes (spheres): Glorfindel(FoS), Aragorn(WitW), Frodo (spirit/lore)
Played 6 times - won ALL of them

I have to say that last time I was starting to be flustered with this scenario. I couldn't understand why my deck was doing so bad against Balrog despite what seemed like a sound strategy. I made quite few changes after my last failed attempt but to tell the truth I did not expect a dramatic improvement (and had few more ideas in stock) I was in for a surprise. My next 6 plays with this new deck were all successful. In retrospect I understand that those few changes made my deck more efficient but to tell the truth it is hard to get why I went from 20% win percentage to 100% with few cards. Here are brief summary of my plays:
- Most of the games ended with my heroes being down to 1-2HP and my threat in upper 40s despite reset
- Most of the games took around 14-15 turns that is a lot.
- My best score was 125 and worst one 222.
- I was able to kill 2 Giant Cave Trolls in one of the games although it was a close call
- I almost quit one game but decided to go on and won - that was a lesson from last time when I did concede a game and only after collecting cards I realized that I could have won.
- I was almost location locked once. Last minute Northern Trackers saved the game for me (I was digging for them hard).

[General Thoughts]

This is a though quest I have to say. To tell the truth I do not see at this point how to deal with it without Fordo and major threat reduction (unless you keep stopping Balrog from attacking using Feint+Hama combo). I guess one would need a host of cheap allies that are constantly sacrificed to block Bane but then resource generation to put stronger cards would be required.

Major point for which I like this quest that it puts constant pressure and does not follow typical scenario of going slow on stage one to arm yourself and then speed through the rest. I find this refreshing and interesting. Quest stages are fairly uninteresting but I do like how the developers handled "destruction" of the Balrog.

After few plays
Wow, this is hard! I've sensed it with my last session although its success did hidden it a bit. Constant onslaught of Bane supported by Trolls and even Goblin Swordsman is really hard to withstand - especially that at the same time you need huge attack strength to deal some pain back. This scenario is not Escape from Dol Guldur hard but it is a very close second.

At this point I am a bit flustered with my inability to stabilize on a decent deck so I can't objectively rate the scenario it self.

Ufff that was one hell of a meeting with Balrog. Plays with my final deck were very interesting, tense and result was down to the wire. As such I think of this scenario very highly - this was the second scenario in history that did put my deckbuilding skills to a very intense test. I even had a look at some posted decks for inspiration but ultimately went with my own construction (although next iteration would take some suggestions in). So in my mind this scenario is great.

Despite that I will not be giving it a high rating. Why you ask? Mostly because I see only two ways to deal with it (Frodo, Lore Aragorn combo which I did and some kind of feint recycle with Hama). Scenario is just too hard on regular decks (you would have to pump out almost two allies per turn to succeeded I guess). I might wrong on this but this is my gut feeling. Let me point out some of the strengths:
- It brakes the typical mold of the scenarios - stall the game to gear up, field ton of allies and only then tear through a quest
- There are no boom you are dead treacheries (although some of them are much worse then others)
- You can both loose by location/enemies lock and great pounding
- Most of general purpose decks are weak against it

For me this was a worthy finale to the second cycle of adventure packs - it was a grand finale indeed. I do not see myself returning to this one often but boy am I glad to have played it and proud to win my share.

In general this scenario should be avoided by all casual players while it should put more experienced players skills to the test. For this kind of players it is a must!

What are your opinions on this scenario? What other methods of dealing with Balrog have you found? What win percenatge you were able to obtain?
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