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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Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim (The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill - scenario #3)

Wojtek Wojcik
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Board Game Designer
I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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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: 3 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Aragorn (WitW), Frodo, Glorfindel (FoS) (spirit/lore)
Played twice, won once

- First time I was doing very well with a standard questing but I was a bit behind on answering riddles. I had 8 of 9 progress on that quest card. I had only few cards left in my deck so I knew that it is now or never. Unfortunately due to treachery I had to remove two progress tokens which was my doom. I attempted the final riddle and had to surrender the game.
- After initial play I was ready for the fact that my deck size was a crucial resource in this quest. I did not play any card drawing events and was really attentive when to choose riddles and when to pass them. I was able to finish initial stages with only four cards remaining in my deck. After that I quite quickly finished the game and won.

Date: 8 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Aragorn (WitW), Frodo, Glorfindel (FoS) (spirit/lore)
Played twice, won once

Both of my plays went almost the same way as last time.
- First attempt was lost due to my deck running out (I needed 1 more correct guess on the riddle, unfortunately my last card was not an ally). I think I really should include will of the west to have a better chance of avoiding those kinds of losses.
- Had more luck with guessing (although this time I had trouble of out-questing stages one and three due to unfortunate timing of encounter cards). I think that this time treasures did helped me a bit to win (or at least win earlier).

Date: 10 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Aragorn (WitW), Frodo, Glorfindel (FoS) (spirit/lore)
Played once, won once

I decided to play once more without treasures included. I also added Will of the West to my deck in order to save myself loosing once my deck runs out. I was surprised to score 116. Best so far.

Date: 10 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Nori, Gimli (spirit/tactics)
Played twice, won both

Time to use core + hobbit cards to check how well will they fare against riddles.
General strategy was to send Eowyn and Nori for questing (and in dire I could keep Nori back to defend) and use Gimli (and after he is wounded help him with some defending allies) for fighting. In general that worked although I had to add bofur to the questing team and often other allies as well. I had much wilder luck (or deck composition) in terms of riddles - ranging from hitting 3 on 3 and having to pay 5 resources to find a match.

My scores were 115 and 135 (in the second case I had two treasures in my opening hand so I thought that I will break mt record but was unable to do as questing was slow and I almost got location locked at one point).

Date: 11 Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Nori, Gimli (spirit/tactics)
Played 4 times, lost all of them

After so many successful attempts I was shocked to discover that the quest was able to defeat me 4 times in a row in two different way.
- Attempt one. Turn two. 3 surging goblins mean that there are four of them in staging and they all come down to kill me. Using minor tricks (feints and spare hood and cloak mostly) I am able to fight them of for 3 more rounds before I loose all my heroes.
- Attempt two. I am doing fantastic. Round 4 and I am missing on progress token on stage two to proceed to stage 3. To beat my high score I spend 5 resource token on a riddle without finding single card. After that I am forced to answer another riddle. No luck and Bilbo dies.
- Attempt 3. See the first one. Only few turns later and I have few allies with me. Nevertheless nasty shadows and poor draws allow Goblins to kill my heroes.
- Attempt 4. I am doing ok with riddles (although Bilbo does has two wounds on them). Even better on the questing side (missing 1 progress token). Staging: Forced riddle forcing another riddle (resource pool on Bilbo shrinks to one resource). Another forced riddle (still one resources) and next forced riddle (guess the sphere, draw one card - fail, spend resource, fail - game over).

Date: Mar 2013
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Nori, Gimli (spirit/tactics)
Played 3 times, won once

After slight modification of my deck I attempted the scenario again.
- Both loses were caused by Bilbo being killed by Gollum. Unfortunately it seems to be impossible to construct the deck with a limited card pool so it can answer the riddles with more consistency. On the other hand I was able to deal with 3 Goblins attacking me at the same time with more ease than previously.
- Finally when I was getting really annoyed by the riddles I was able to win. I had few attempts that yielded two or more progress tokens. Once stage two was safe I progressed to stage 3. I had 3 enemies engaged with me and due to shadows I was unable to kill all of them until next round. After that one successful questing pushed to the end.

[General Thoughts]

With "full" card pool
I was a bit skeptical when approaching this scenario. The rules for riddles and setup gave me impression that this scenario is quite complicated and can be fiddly. Additionally as with Doors of Durin in Watcher in the Water I was a bit skeptical of the whole "guess the next card" mechanic.

Glad to report that initial impressions after playing the scenario are much better. What I liked:
- Despite using my "generic" deck riddles were fun and I was able to guess them most of the time (especially with additional resource or two from Bilbo). It seems that the number of card to draw was very carefully chosen.
- Both sides of the table (riddles and regular quest) created interesting decisions and interplay between them was crucial to success (when to settle for another card in staging and when to answer riddles)
- With 50 card decks there is a real time pressure - as once your deck will be depleted you can't answer riddles correctly.

What was missing:
- Final quest stage was kind of anticlimactic.

Removal of the treasures did increase my "guessing riddles skills" (as they were auto-failures for all of my answers). In general I also found very little use for them, most of the enemies I was able to kill with one stroke from Aragorn (some times with a little help from a minor ally) and additional resources/cards were nice but far from being crucial to the success of running away from goblin caverns.

This scenario hinges on the riddles - it is very fun and interesting mechanic that binds stages one and two together. Unfortunately outside of that the scenario seems a bit on the boring side. Additionally managing all active effects, surges, two quest cards does feel fiddly.

Core plus Hobbit cards
I have to say that deck building for this one with only core + hobbit cards was difficult - this resulted in much less consistent riddle guessing (I had to use ring few times to generate Bilbo some resources). The real problem comes in when you really have just one core set (as a reminder I have two), then your deck building skills will be put to the limit (as my regular recommendation of 30 card decks is out of the window in this scenario). I am not up for this challenge so I will not test it but my gut feeling tells me that you will really struggle with this one.

I made a weird discovery here - I was looking for another spirit hero (Eowyn was an easy pick) and found that in limited card pool there was nothing - Dunhere was useless as Goblins would engage me easily, Eleanor's ability is very weak here as most of the treacheries that you might be tempted to cancel prevent this. Additionally they both have just 1 will power which was just to few for my needs. I discovered that Nori nicely fit my needs by being decent defender (2 shields, 4HP) and quester (2WP). Although I had only one dwarf ally in my deck he worked quite well for this scenario.

Wow the scenario did show me my place after initial plays. Twice I was overwhelmed by goblins. In both cases it was fairly early on so there was little I could do but this shows that my deck is inefficient as many of the cards I hold are useless (added for riddles sake).

In terms of riddles my deck composition is also worthless. So many different values (too many zero cost cards), poor card type balance (too many attachments). I have to say that with restricted pool of cards is really difficult to compose a deck that will fare well against this one. I really might need something new here.

I kind of expected that with latest tweaks I will get much better results with riddles. They indeed are but mostly due to the fact that often I will get from some of them 2 progress tokens. Unfortunately I still fail many of them. I do see that sometimes it follows from the fact that I waste too many resource tokens just to get something right (instead of suffering one wound). This is especially true for the forced double riddle.

My final opinion on this scenario with only core plus hobbit cards settles on: too difficult, close to impossible to build very reliable deck.

What are your opinions on this scenario? Have you tried it only with core + hobbit cards? How do you like the riddle mechanic?
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