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Deck Meta Strategies

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Microbadge: 5 Year Geek VeteranMicrobadge: Hanabi fanMicrobadge: Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game fanMicrobadge: LotR:LCG fan - I build Resource Engines!
The introduction of the Great Yew Bow to the player card pool presents yet another way to assault the staging area directly. Dunhere has been available since the beginning, so this is by no means a new ability. However, there are numerous reasons why a character like Legolas or Bard the Bowman is going to be able to power up better than Dunhere. Dunhere's boosts are mostly limited to Dunedain Marks and the somewhat expensive Dwarven Axe. Legolas can use Rivendell Blade + Rivendell Bow, Bard is already boosted with his special ability, and support of the eagles can be naturally played on both heroes without songs. So I set out to build a deck that would leverage and maximize these abilities. While I want to talk a bit about the details of putting such a deck together, my play testing reminded me of what I already knew but keep conveniently forgetting: When a staging area attack deck works, it tends to work very well. When it doesn't work, it doesn't work very well. This ranks perhaps as the most tautologically inane statement that I've made in a while, but nonetheless there is some truth. Furthermore, it got me thinking more broadly about the meta-strategies that are possible in the game. I am going to attempt to enumerate the most viable ones and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.


I've spent a lot of time in the past talking about power curving in this game and the economy cards that are needed to generate a power curve. Card draw and resource acceleration are the most basic examples that do this by increasing your ability to play more cards and to ultimately have more cards in play. But one important thing to remember is that economy cards are not an end by themselves, rather they are there to support getting out a group of cards that ideally work well together. I can't help but think back to one of the earlier decks I built that I was really excited about. It had everything, massive card draw with Beravor, massive amounts of healing to support a Gloin resource engine, songs and Narvi's belt to reapply those resources, shadow cancellation/scouting effects that protected Gloin from a bad shadow reveal, Frodo to allow undefended attackers to apply to threat instead of Gloin if the situation required, treachery cancellation to stop nasty effects from breaking the engine. It had everything . . . but meaningful cards to play that really did anything. There has to be a balance, and it can be quite easy to pile so much economy/power curving cards into a deck that it leaves room for little else. Ultimately we have to remember that there are really just two or three things you need to accomplish on quests:

1. Quest successfully + amass progress tokens on quests/locations
2. Prevent enemies from killing you
3. Kill enemies (optional in theory . . . but most of the time it is necessary to survive)

Conventional Strategies

The most obvious way to deal with the above items is to simply look at a standard ally or hero card. Want to quest successfully and clear locations? Get a bunch of willpower. Want to prevent enemies from killing you? Make sure you have plenty defense and hit points. Want to kill some enemies? It won't likely shock you that you should have some attack power. But to delve into this a bit deeper, I see two primary “conventional” approaches to satisfying these requirements

Swarms
The goal here is to expand your basic capabilities by getting a bunch of allies in play to contribute. For questing and killing enemies, this is usually as simple as amassing allies with the appropriate stat. While the preference is to have enough defense to absorb an attack, an ally can be just as useful as a "chump blocker" - dying for the sake of stopping an attack. The examples for the swarm approach are extensive and encompass nearly every ally.

Studs
The goal here is to set up individual characters who can manage a key gaming element mostly by themselves.

Stud Defenders are the most obvious choice to apply this strategy to since "chump blocking" tends to be a drain on resources. This generally requires some kind of defense boosting attachment. Examples include: Dunedain Warning, Ring Mail, Protector of Lorien, Blood of Numenor, and Support of the Eagles although Arwen is certainly a good option as well. The other option is to increase a defender's hit points (Citadel Plate, Hardy Leadership, Ring Mail, Boots from Erebor) and/or have healing available (Warden of Healing, Self Preservation, Daughter of the Nimrodel) to heal any damage that does get through the defense. Burning Brand or other forms of shadow cancellation are usually needed to further secure the defender from "something horrible happening". The ultimate goal is to establish a sustainable blocker that can be counted on for a defense every round without dieing. To take this to the next level, give the stud defender some action advantage (UC, Cram) so that they can defend multiple times or sentinel so that they can defend on another player's board. Good choices for stud defenders are usually characters with high defense and/or access to action advantage (Dain, Bombur, Elrohir, Elrond, Boromir, Beregond, Denethor, Gildor, Gandalf, Beorn, Eagles of the Misty Mountain) although any Lore character gets a bump for having access to Burning Brand as does any Dwarf or Hobbit with their access to Ring Mail, Boots from Erebor, and Fast Hitch/Erebor Record Keeper (Frodo, Bilbo, Bifur, and even Erebor Hammersmith or Longbeard Map-Maker are noteworthy examples).

Stud Attackers are a bit simpler since all you really need is attack boosts like Dunedain Mark or Dwarven Axe. But a lot of attack boosters target specific races, spheres, or abilities. Elves have access to Rivendell Blade + Rivendell Bow. Dwarves get the efficient Darrowdelf Axe and more power out of the Dwarven Axe, and Tactics heroes can get Support of the Eagles. Having the ranged keyword helps ensure that your stud attacker always has targets while action advantage can multiply the effect (although remember, each player can only attack an enemy once). Most heroes with a decent attack power can be a stud attacker options if properly supported although I'll call out a few in particular (Boromir(original), Legolas, Elladan, Gimli, and Glorfindel not to mention Beorn who you can't really improve). There are certainly a few allies that can fit the mold as well most notably Eagles of the Misty Mountain, Erebor Battle Master, and Gandalf. Although a couple of Dwarrowdelf Axes can turn any dwarf into an effective killer.

Stud Questers are even simpler still. Pile willpower boosting attachments on a high willpower hero. Longbeard Map-Maker is a key notable exception with his "pumpable" willpower if you can afford it.

There are certain situations where one strategy prevails over the other.

Swarm Defender Advantages
1. Very high attack enemies - it can be very difficult to get a stud defender in a position to safely absorb attacks of much more than 6 which quite a few enemies can do at this point (Orc Vanguard, Battering Ram, Smaug, Durin's Bane with the Flaming Sword, Attercop Attercop to name a few). Even Dain with a Ring Mail and a Dunedain Warning can be brought down in couple of turns of being hit by the right enemy. While it is possible to get characters to stratospheric levels of defense (pile of Dunedain Warnings, powered up Blood of Numenor, Support of the Eagles and/or Eagles of the Misty Mountains), it is usually late game before this can be put together. So a chump blocker is often preferable.
2. Nasty shadow effects - There are some quests where the variability of the shadow effects is too high to be able to safely defend unless you have shadow cancellation available (Seige at Cair Andros is a classic example). In these cases, it is often better to defend with allies you are willing to see die rather than a key hero.
3. Lots of attackers - Unless you have lots of action advantage with your stud defender, you will be vulnerable to situations where multiple enemies can come out and engage you which the quests specifically cause to happen in many cases.
4. Early initiative – A chump blocker is just as good at the beginning of the game as it is later in the game. Having some chumps available to manage enemies that start in the staging area and/or the first turn reveal is often critical to deal with the first turn.

Stud Defender Advantages
1. Plenty of hit points - There are shadow effects that are not as kind to low hit point defenders. Blocking Wargs and Wolves From Mordor are great examples. When you are chump blocking it is a disaster when your chump is killed (or knocked unconscious) before he can actually execute the defense.
2. No attrition – Ideally an enemy attack would be absorbed completely with no damage or with damage that can be cheaply repaired (e.g. healing damage). A dead ally currently can only be resurrected by spending a card which is a drain on resources.
3. Mid/Late Game – If you can avoid attrition, your stud defender will get stronger and stronger as the game progresses as you add more attachments and targeted abilities towards him. This will allow him to safely take on larger threats.

Swarm Quester Advantages
1. Global willpower bonuses – There are a multiple cards that increase willpower for all allies on a player board or in play. The most notable are Dain, Faramir, Sword that was Broken + Aragorn. Having more allies makes better use of these powers.
2. Impact of some encounter card effects – Some when revealed and shadow card effects target individual characters either disabling them or simply removing them from the quest so that their willpower doesn’t contribute. Swarming your questers affords protection against these affects since losing less of your overall questing.

Stud Quester Advantages
1. Global willpower reductions – We have seen numerous encounter cards that have effects that reduce every character’s will power. This can be devastating to a swarm of low willpower allies, while an Eowyn with a Celebrian’s Stone might be able to shrug it off.
2. Encounter card effects that impact all questers – there are plenty of cards that do damage to all questing characters (Morgulduin) or exhausted characters (Necromancer’s Reach). The more characters committed, the more damage you take.

Swarm Attacker Advantages
1. Positive global effects – Heroes like Dain and Boromir can provide boosts to an army of small allies.
2. Versatility in attack allocation – There are no rewards for overkilling an enemy. If you are hitting an enemy for 8 damage and you only need 5, then you’d prefer the other 3 damage be applied to another enemy (or use the ally for another purpose). If you have one uber-attacker this isn’t an option.

Stud Attacker Advantages
1. Can be multiplied by UC – Unexpected Courage and other action advantage can allow you to apply your high attack multiple times.
2. Some enemies are resistant to small attacks – The trolls from Hobbit on the Doorstep are protected from being swarmed requiring you to set up a stud attacker if you actually want to kill them.

The good news is that you don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) pick either the swarm or stud approach entirely. Ideally there is some degree of mix in your decks if you want to be prepared for most quests.

Finesse Strategies

The idea behind a finesse strategy is to deal with encounter deck challenges in such a way that you avoid some of the innate dangers normally encountered.

Direct Damage

This is probably the most extensive and well developed finesse category. It is the answer to the question of “why can’t I just kill the enemies before they start doing nasty things to me?” If you think about it, there are actually 3 times when an enemy can do bad things to you: On reveal/adding to the staging area, on engagement, during its attack with the added detriment of a shadow card. Fortunately, there are options before each of these times that can allow you to prevent those bad things from happening.

Entering Play:
There are three ways to hit an enemy as it is entering play. Thalin is of course the most reliable, but Fresh Tracks and Expecting Mischief can’t be overlooked as options. This is a highly limited list and it probably should be. Killing enemies as they are revealed is immensely powerful as it can stop When Revealed and Forced effects from triggering. It also keeps the enemy’s threat out of the staging area providing a nice boon to your questing. If you ever thought about whether removing uniqueness from the game would imbalance the game, think about having lots of Thalin's on the board . . .

In the Staging Area:
Killing an enemy in the staging area will prevent any engagement forced effects from triggering.
Staging Area Damage Cards - Hail of Stones, Descendent of Thorondor, Gandalf, Longbeard Orc Slayer, and, everyone’s least favorite, Beorning Beekeeper each allow for a one time application of damage to enemies in the staging area. If a sneak attack or Born Aloft (in the case of DoT) is used, it is possible to apply this damage after the reveal and before the quest resolution.
Repeatable Staging Area Traditional Attacks – Dunhere and ranged characters equipped with Great Yew Bow can assault the staging area as a normal attack. Key point is that it is still required to be a normal attack which is after engagement checks and quest resolution.
Quest phase attacking – Hands Upon Bow with a ranged character and Quick Strike with Dunhere will allow for attacks during any phase not just the normal combat phase. Usually these are best used to launch an attack after an enemy is reveal but before quest resolution to take out that enemy before it can contribute threat.

While Engaged Before the Enemy Attack:
At this point the enemy is about to attack you which not only means you have to deal with the attack, but also the shadow effect. There are multiple ways to hit the enemy before this can occur.
Rain of Arrows, Gandalf, Goblin Cleaver, and Swift Strike are options for applying in the window between engagement and defending. Quick Strike and Hail of Stones can also be used at this time, but as stated earlier, usually it is just as good if not better used during the quest phase. While most of these events can be resurected by Hama's ability, they don't synergize particularly well since Hama can't be declared an attacker against the enemy hit by these cards unless of course the enemy isn't entirely killed. So to cycle them you need Hama to have another enemy to attack.
Gondorian Spearman + Spear of the Citadel - Two of the very rare examples of repeatable direct damage in the game. Defending with a Gondorian Spearman is immensely effective if the damage applied is enough to finish off the enemy, otherwise you are likely looking at a dead spearman. Spear of the Citadel can be put on more sturdy defenders like Boromir and Beregond where you can hopefully fully block the attack and also where down the attacker. Although a Spearman with a Spear of the Citadel is still my prefered approach.
"Boromir Bomb" - Using Tactics Boromir's less frequently used ability is the final way to do direct damage. While Fortune Or Fate possibly paired with Dwarven Tomb could be used to spam this ability, this is an expensive way to apply damage.

Strengths
Direct damage can be incredibly effective. You can imagine stacking these effects such that any enemy could be killed before they finally get around to attacking you. This is exceptionally compelling as it would seem that the strategy gets stronger and stronger the more you pile on direct damage options since you can be more and more sure that enemies won't get through. Plus if you have options in hand for each of the 3 levels of defenses, you can clean up enemies that get through the first or second level either due to some effect or shortage of damage capability at that level. Probably my favorite example is using Thalin, Gondorian Spearman, and Spear of the Citadel to kill a Haradhrim Elite. It is very rare that I am actually excited to see a Forced effect trigger on an encounter card, and in this case it sends the Elite to their doom before quest resolution at the mere cost of an exhausted Spearman. As I suggested earlier, when direct damage shines, it shines brightly.

While it is nice to stop any enemy ability, not all abilities are created equal. There are also countless situations where effects on enemies or shadow effects are so nasty that it is immensely valuable to simply kill the enemies before the effects are triggered. Zealous Traitor from Heirs of Numenor and Hummerhorns from the core set are a great examples due to their painful damage dealing abilities on engagement. With their relatively low hit points, they make excellent targets for direct damage.

Weaknesses
Unless you are using Dunhere or Great Yew Bow, direct damage is heavily dependent on card supply. While there are some repeatable options (Thalin, Gondorian Spearman, and Spear of the Citadel), you generally need event cards to take down larger targets. Hama is an option to allow for some recycling, but as mentioned earlier, you'll need to deal with some enemies in a conventional manner. That said, it is usually a decent deal to be able to eliminate an enemy by playing a single card. But when you start needing multiple cards per enemy, it tends to be unsustainable without a very generous amount of card draw and resource acceleration.

If you are using Dunhere or Great Yew Bow, it can appear that you have everything you need to dominate the encounter deck. A powered up Dunhere with some Unexpected Courages can be a force to be reckon with and can rapidly clear out a staging area. But there are two critical dependencies here:
1. You need to set up the strategy - While it is quite easy to maniacally rub your hands together imagining Dunhere with 3 Dunedain Marks, 2 Dwarven Axes, and 3 UCs, Dunhere out of the box is not particularly effective at killing enemies. It takes time, cards, and resources to set up a Dunhere killing machine. In the meantime, you need to be able to manage enemies in some way. This can be a bit frustrating as anything you do to optimize your early combat abilities potentially becomes somewhat redundant once Dunhere (or Legolas/Bard/Brand with GYB) powers up while taking resources away from the target strategy.
2. You have to keep your threat down - So while you are powering up your staging area killer and keeping the enemies in check, you also need to keep your threat low. If enemies engage you then the strategy loses its power. So ideally you start with a low threat and make it even lower so that you can control enemy engagements. But watch out, because . . .
3. Some enemies are sneaky or simply immune - Unfortunately, not all enemies are kind enough to simply hang out in the staging area waiting to be killed. Some engage through card effects (Goblin Follower). Some engage at ridiculously low threats (Tentacles). Some attack you from the staging area without even engaging you (Durin's Bane, Haradhrim Elite). And then, worst of all, some are simply immune to card effects (Smaug). This last one is a killer for a deck built around direct damage as it completely undermines the strategy.

I've generally been under the perception that direct damage particularly the Dunhere/GYB style is getting stronger and stronger as an option. Furthermore, I thought Great Yew Bow was going to turn the tide to make it a dominant strategy, but I think the optimal time has come and gone for this strategy. I suspect FFG has realized the power of stacked direct damage and is factoring it in to their quest design. A quick run down of the most recent quests
Watcher in the Water - Bad. Not friendly to keeping enemies in the staging area due to low engagement threats
Foundations of Stone - Ok
Shadow and Flame - Mostly Bad. Durin's Bane is going to attack you each turn anyway. Staging area attacks are useful for the other enemies, although the Great Cave Troll is immune to GYB. A staging area attack deck is going to deal with more heavy attacks in this quest than it would normally prefer to.
Hobbit OHaUH Quest 1 - Bad. You have to kill William to eliminate his special ability that protects trolls in the staging area
Quest 2 - Ok
Quest 3 - Ok
Laketown - Terrible. Smaug is immune to player card effects
Heirs of Numenor Peril at Pelargir - Bad. Enemies aggressively engage you early on which is exactly what a staging area attack deck wants to avoid. I have also found that this quest applies pressure on your threat. Zealous traitor also has a very low engagement threat. The game is mostly decided by the first 2 turns.
Into Ithilien - Bad. The game is heavily decided by the first 2 turns before the strategy is set up. High hit point/defense enemies.
Siege at Cair Andros - Somewhat ok . . . although the enemies can be very challenging to kill through direct damage given their massive hit points/defense (6 or 7 is the magic number). Fortunately the quest gives you the opportunity to power up for the first two turns if you want to.
Hobbit OtD Spiders and Flies - Very ok. Actually a very strong option.
Lonely Mountains - Terrible. Smaug is immune to player card effects
Battle of the Five Armies - Seems to be ok, although Bolg can’t be hit.

So amongst the last 12 quests that have been release. I would claim 7 are a poor match for a deck built around killing things in the staging area. While I'll concede that some of the above conclusions are perhaps arguable, the point remains. It is quite common for encounter decks to be significantly fortified against staging area attack shenanigans. Other direct damage methods have a slightly better record. Watcher in the Water is actually pretty good for Thalin + spearman. DD can be very handy in HoN. But there is still a significant representation of quests where DD is weak or useless.

This brings me to my moment of epiphany on this topic. With the new hobbit expansion, I finally had Great Yew Bow and I made a brand new pair of decks built around low threat and staging area attacks. Legolas was the primary staging area attacker teamed with Eowyn and Frodo in one deck and Glorfindel, Bifur, and Theodred in the other deck. I also planned to swap out Eowyn for Dunhere if the willpower needs on the quest I was facing wasn't too high. My first test was taking on Spiders and Flies which proved to be very strong, particularly with Dunhere swapped in. Energized I pushed forward to the Lonely Mountains where I was absolutely crushed by the player card immune Smaug. This was when I realized just how variable the strategy was.

Conclusion:
While it seems like focusing your strategy entirely around DD is a great idea, it can create a brittle deck that can fall apart if you are on the wrong quest or if enemies slip through your defenses. I would claim DD is at its best when heavily balanced with conventional combat or splashed into a deck just to target certain enemies. Hail of Stones, while not as strong as it used to be due to enemy hit point inflation, is a decent option for this that is compatible with most decks that contain a significant amount of allies. If Legolas is in a deck, I will almost certainly add in at least 1 or 2 Great Yew Bows and/or Hands Upon Bow. But I now finally understand why my previous attempts to leverage Dunhere's massive potential have often come up short. While Legolas can be a solid contributor in a deck without GYB, Dunhere is awful if he isn't hitting the staging area at least once a turn.

Direct Progress Tokens

Similar to Direct Damage, you can also potentially deal with locations by placing progress tokens directly on cards rather than through quest resolution. Having a Northern Tracker or two in play can make short work of a bunch of locations at the same time. Asfaloth is another great way to repeatedly snipe locations. And there are other less effective options as well such as Riddermark's Finest and Snowborn Scout.

Strengths:
1. Avoiding Travel Effects - If you can eliminate a location in the staging area then you don't have to worry about travel effects which are almost universally bad
2. No location blockage - Some locations have special effects that make them more difficult to eliminate than others. Being able to place progress tokens on a different location than the active one can sometimes make a very large difference
3. Pre-Quest Resolution - Asfaloth and Riddermark's Finest can use their abilities after cards are revealed but before quest resolution. Any locations fully explored would not be factored into the quest. The core set didn't offer this ability outside of some sub optimal combos (sneak attack + snowborn scout). The introduction of Asfaloth pre-quest resolution repeatable effect is one of the key reasons that Northern Trackers are less appealing than they were early on.

Weaknesses:
1. Player Card Effects Immunity - Before making these player card abilities as your only way of dealing with locations, you should keep in mind that some locations are immune to player card effects. This immunity has become relatively common after being a rare inconvenience in the earlier quests.
2. Large Number of Progress Tokens Required - Locations on average are requiring more progress tokens to defeat. This makes it much harder to apply some quick progress tokens to eliminate them. Needing two or three applications of Asfaloth means that the Pre-Quest Resolution advantage is eliminated and it may be more efficient to simply get tokens through standard questing

Conclusion:
Similar to direct damage, direct progress token application is powerful but must be balanced with traditional questing. Splashing even a few Riddermark's Finest, a Snowborn Scout, an Asfaloth, or possibly a Northern Tracker can give you the versatility to take out particularly nasty locations indirectly.


Encounter Deck Manipulation/Control

The goal of Encounter Deck Manipulation/Control is to avoid or minimize some of the more nasty things that the encounter deck can throw at you. While there are multiple repeatable ways to scout the encounter deck (Henemarth Riversong, Denethor, Rumour from the Earth, Dark Knowledge, and the upcoming Palantir), there is only one repeatable option for actually manipulating the encounter deck (Denethor). So any deck manipulation strategy as a primary focus all but requires Denethor. Other cards that can contribute to optimizing the encounter deck reveals include (Risk Some Light, Shadow of the Past, Gildor's Counsel, A Watchful Peace as well as the more trap oriented Ranger Spikes and Expecting Mischief) What I find interesting about encounter deck manipulation is that its impact is mostly nebulous and hard to describe. However, in certain extreme cases where certain cards are so horrible that you don't want to deal with them, there is an enormous amount of power. Much like direct damage, the more you pile together deck manipulation cards, the more options you have to protect yourself.

Strengths:
1. Risk Mitigation - It doesn't matter how horrible a card is if it never gets played. And there are plenty of cards that really are just that horrible (think Mumak, Sleeping Sentry, or Attercop Attercop). This is the key power of encounter deck manipulation, keeping these cards out of play so that you don't have to deal with them.
2. Optimized play - Knowing exactly what is being revealed from the encounter deck can allow you to (for example) commit just the right number of characters to quests, know when shadow effects require a chump blocker instead of a real blocker, or simply know that enough enemies are coming that you need to hold back characters for the combat phase. Knowledge is power in this game.

Weaknesses:
1. Single Player Prefered - Since the deck scouting and manipulation abilities do not scale with the number of players, the effectiveness of this strategy dramatically declines as more players are added. It is an extremely powerful single player option.
2. No Contribution to the Card Economy - It is important to remember that deck manipulation at its core doesn't do any of the basic things needed to win a quest or even the key contributing factors to winning a quest(e.g. add good cards in play or contribute to elimination of bad cards in play). The hope is that you will be able to better use your good cards to beat the bad cards due to the deck manipulation actions which makes it very difficult to quantify in conventional terms (e.g. additional attack power or willpower). This is one of the reasons that Henemarth Riversong is so powerful. He is a strong contributor using either his stats or his ability.
3. Really Bad Stuff Can Still Get Through - It is almost impossible to construct an impregnable deck manipulation defense when "Surge" is a somewhat common key word. Even if there are only 2 or 3 "really bad" cards in a deck, a surge card right in front of one of those bad cards will make for a very challenging deck management scenario. Also, at the beginning of a quest, your deck manipulation methods may not be available for the initial encounter deck reveals and the first couple of turns. So you may see those really bad cards anyway.
4. Too Much Information - My early forays into this sort of deck ended up being disappointing. This was not necessarily due to lack of effectiveness, but knowing exactly what was coming each round meant that the decisions were much less interesting. There was no on the fly risk mitigation about the encounter reveals. I simply calculated out what I needed and played the turn. There is something fun about revealing cards on the quest phase after you have committed to the quest having made certain assumptions about what would be revealed.

Conclusion:
I want to be very up front here. I am not much of a fan of deck scouting/control and I rarely make use of any of the cards (with the exception of Henemarth who is good anyway). So the above is more my thoughts on the topic rather than based on extensive play experience. But the weaknesses I perceive keep me from using it. I just don't see it as a reliable strategy particularly to deploy on a larger scale. While I might splash some scouting/manipulation cards in a deck on occasion, I'd for the most part rather play cards that have a more well defined impact on the game play.


Maintaining a Low Threat (Secrecy)

Secrecy has two key advantages that are interrelated because of the Secrecy mechanic:
1. Cheaper Cost to Play Secrecy Cards - This is an economic advantage and belongs next to the other economy related resource accelerators like SoG, HoG, Elrond/Vilya, and Gloin. I am going to ignore these benefits for the purposes of this article.

2. Low Threat - I consider maintaining a low threat as a finesse strategy because it attempts to neutralize the engagement phase of the game. In theory, if your threat is low enough, nothing will engage you and you will be able to choose which enemies that attack you and when. You could even take the strategy to an extreme by trying to avoid engagements all together, leaving all enemies in the staging area, and simply putting enough questing power into play to overcome the increasingly massive staging area threat. Ultimately this requires two things in large quantities: Threat Reduction and Willpower. Under questing is the best way to unravel a Secrecy strategy as it can quickly balloon your threat to a level where enemies auto-engage. Threat reduction is obviously important to counteract the expected threat increases that you will encounter during the game.

Strengths:
1. Few Enemies Engage - Having the option to engage enemies or not is almost always preferable. Enemies like Hummerhorns and Zealous Traitor are particularly nasty to engage due to their Forced effects. These are excellent candidates to leave in the staging area for the whole game rather than deal with their effects.
2. Synergizes Well with Staging Area Attacks - While simply controlling when you engage enemies is useful, there is an obvious synergy with being able to attack the staging area which I covered previously.

Weaknesses
1. Auto-Engaging Enemies - Some enemies will engage through card effects bypassing the approach of the deck.
2. Low Engagement Enemies - Some enemies engage at particularly low threat. So even a threat in the 18-20 range won't be good enough to avoid all engagements.
3. Threat Increases - A deck that is depending on low threats to avoid enemies is particularly sensitive to threat increases, particularly large ones (Collateral Damage comes to mind). It could trigger lots of enemies to engage unexpectedly.

Conclusion:
I like Secrecy much better as an economic strategy rather than a tactical one. While having a lower threat is always a good thing, depending on it as a part of your strategy can contribute to the "brittle deck" syndrome.


Hama Lock

Hama allows for an interesting array of strategies built around Tactics events. One of the most powerful options is to repeatedly use Feint or Thicket of Spears to prevent enemies from attacking. It is conceivable to build your entire defensive strategy around usage of these cards.

Strengths:
1. Locked enemy(s) - An enemy engaged with player with Hama can be all but removed from the game if the player can cycle a play of Feint for the rest of the game.
2. No Shadow Effects - No attack means no shadow effects. This is a great way to deal with quests with horrible shadow effects (e.g. Cair Andros).
3. Thicket of Spears Scales - Thicket of Spears gets more powerful as more enemies engage the player with Hama. With careful engagements or imbalances in player threat, it is possible to herd the majority of the enemies to the player with Hama.

Weaknesses:
1. Hama must be able to execute an attack - If Hama doesn't have an enemy to attack, the supply line is broken and the Hama lock will shut down.
2. Resource Drain - You need a lot of card draw to balance out the discarded cards using Hama's ability. You also need resources to continually commit to playing the cards.
3. Inconvenient Treacheries - Feint and Thicket require expenditure of resources during the battle phase. If a treachery or card effect causes resources to be lost, then it may not be possible to play the cards as planned.
4. Immunity - The Achilles heel of most finesse strategies, if the enemy is immune to card effects, Hama is not very effective.

Conclusion:
Much like direct damage, Hama Locking enemies can make some quests substantially easier. Durin's Bane being the prime example making an otherwise challenging quest mostly a cakewalk particularly before the errata. I’ve gone through phases where Hama was my favorite hero because of the event based game play he fosters. But it is incredibly frustrating to take him into a quest like Battle of Laketown and see the strategy completely neutralized. There are some other very solid things you can do with Hama’s ability (repeating Foe Hammer or Eagles are Coming), but the primary power of Hama is in repeating direct damage or attack neutralizing events. If these are taken away, then Hama is a rather weak hero. Fortunately, there are currently a relatively small number of enemies in the game that are immune to player card effects and all are recent additions (Bolg and Smaug). Assuming that this list doesn’t significantly expand, Hama locking is probably the most broadly applicable finesse strategy.


Finesse Decklist

Finesse Strategies are really really good in some cases. So I firmly believe that splashing the concepts into decks can be very effective, but as soon as you start depending on them, you open yourself up to an all out collapse. With all of the above said, I’ll present a pair of staging area attack decks that should work extremely well on about half of the quests. There is a heavy reliance on staging area attacks, so if low threat can be maintained, then they can be very effective.


Staging Area Assault
Legolas is the primary staging area assault character. While Bard the Bowman provides a similar capability, Legolas's synergy with Elven weapons and cheaper starting threat give him the advantage. An opening hand with a Great Yew Bow is preferred, but a Hands Upon Bow is a decent early alternative. Legolas can be further powered up by a Rivendell Blade, Rivendell Bow, and/or Dunedain Marks. Knowing the scenario will allow you to customize his killing prowess to the appropriate level. In some cases two GYBs on Legolas will be preferred instead of using a Rivendell Blade for additional staging area attacks with a Unexpected courage. Depending on the needs of the quest, Eowyn can be swapped out for Dunhere to provide additional attack power (e.g. Battle/Siege quests, although I also found this effective in Spiders and Flies). Frodo is the one sturdy defender in the two decks particularly when equipped with Ring Mail if conventional defenses are required. You must keep your threat low with Gandalf or Galadhrim’s Greeting to keep the enemies in the staging area. Song of Earendil and Wandering Took allows for threat balancing as needed.


Hero (3) – starting threat of 25 or 24
Frodo Baggins (CatC) x1
Legolas (Core) x1
Eowyn (Core) x1 or Dunhere (Core) x1


Ally (15)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x1
Bofur (TRG) x1
Elfhelm (TDM) x1
Northern Tracker (Core) x3
Wandering Took (Core) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Damrod (HON) x1
Gandalf (Core) x2


Attachment (23)
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Ring Mail (TLD) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Rivendell Bow (TWitW) x2
Song of Earendil (RtR) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x1
Great Yew Bow (OtD) x3
Black Arrow (OtD) x1


Event (12)
A Test of Wil (Core) x3
Foe-hammer (OHaUH) x3
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF) x3
The Galadhrim's Greeting (Core) x3


3 Hero Secrecy
Ideally an opening hand has a Timely Aid or Resourceful in it to take advantage of an opening threat of 20, although additional threat reduction from Elrond’s Council or a Sneak Attack Gandalf can ensure that you pay discounted secrecy prices for a while. Ideally Ranger Spikes is played and then recycled with Anborn after the enemy is destroyed. You want resources to flow to Bifur either directly with Resourcefuls and Theodred or indirectly through his resource shifteng power to fuel trapping and the Map-Maker. Steward of Gondor and Blood of Numenor are intended for Frodo for late game defense. Master of the Forge should also be an early game priority so that Dunedain Marks can be amassed for the staging area attack heroes.

Hero (3) Starting threat of 20
Glorfindel (FoS) x1
Theodred (Core) x1
Bifur (KD) x1


Ally (23)
Dunedain Wanderer (RtR) x3
Erestor (TLD) x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Gandalf (Core) x3
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x1
Gleowine (Core) x1
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR) x1
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x1
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x2
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Anborn (TSW) x2 (From the upcoming Stewards Fear, can be replaced with another Haldir and Gildor)


Attachment (15)
Asfaloth (FoS) x1
Dunedain Mark (THfG) x3
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Ranger Spikes (HON) x3
Resourceful (TWitW) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x1
Blood of Numenor (HON) x1


Event (12)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Timely Aid (TRG) x3


In other news, I’ve never really liked the name of this blog. It was always meant to be a bit of a placeholder. So in deference to my long winded writing style (there is so much to say about this game!) and no frills blogging approach (while I’d love to link all of the cards and provide pictures, I’ve struggled to find the time to do all of the editing), I am changing the name of the blog to LOTR LCG: The Great Wall of Endless Text
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