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The Steward's Fear – How It Has Changed The Game

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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!
I never could quite gather up the excitement to talk about the second Hobbit expansion. The player cards can be easily summed up with 3 words: "Dwarves got better". In a world where Dwarf decks are already the strongest option, this just wasn't a particularly ground breaking expansion. All in all, I think it did very little to change the game. What's worse, this was the only release during a 4 months stretch where the news pipeline from FFG was a bit limited. I certainly got some enjoyment out of the expansion both in reworking my dwarf decks a couple of times and playing the quests, but the strategic juices just weren't flowing. Even going back another few months to encompass Heirs of Numenor reveals a player card pool that just isn't that influential to viable strategies (for now), especially after the Master of Lore nerf. HoN's + On the Doorstep’s influence was more around its quests (the third in each being a lot of fun to play). But the lifeblood of my passion for this game is in the deckbuilding, and I haven't done nearly enough of it over the past 6 months. But now Steward's Fear is here, and it brings us back what I hope are regular adventure packs and regular news updates from FFG teasing the cards. At a minimum, it has made an immediate splash in deck construction with the highly impactful development of the Outlands trait.



Steward’s Fear introduces some strong mechanics in the quest. The Underworld deck creates a very thematic experience that also gives the players some more planning options. Since almost all of the enemies are relegated to the Underworld deck and only parceled out underneath an Underworld location when it is revealed, a revealed enemy from the encounter deck is unlikely. So avoiding Underworld locations is a way to limit the number of enemies you are dealing with as the enemies underneath are only revealed after you explore the location on top. You have to explore the Underworld locations eventually so you can’t avoid them forever, but for a more casual quester this is a welcome reprieve from the in your face battle heavy Heirs of Numenor quests and the two “fair” quests from On the Doorstep (Flies and Spiders + Battle of the Five Armies). There is a feeling of exploring a city where you are on your guard for danger, but danger comes roughly when you expect it (when you clear an underworld location). Perhaps one location will have a particularly large number cards under it and you decide it is simply too dangerous to explore.

This is significantly easier than the recent quests, even more so since the first turn is rather tame. It is quite rare to have a quest that involves no revealed cards during setup and a staging area that is entirely clean. This is particularly welcome on this quest because of the Local Trouble card which was a very nasty opening draw on Peril at Pelargir. Reveals during set up are one of the cheapest opportunities for the encounter deck to screw over the player since there are almost no defenses available (Eleanor being the only one). So I am happy to see FFG protect players from awful/unfair starts. A swarm of enemies can quickly appear from the initial underworld location, but the players once again have control on when they clear this location providing the opportunity to get the player boards set up or at least stabilized. The quest does have some pitfalls that can lead to a loss especially if you don’t know they are coming, so I think the difficulty rating of 5 is appropriate.

The variable Plot and Villain mechanic is a welcome one that should improve replayablity. I certainly haven’t been through all of the combinations yet, but I hope that we’ll see this mechanic again as variable game play is a good thing. I’d like to see FFG reuse some of their more successful concepts rather than simply moving on. The location destruction mechanic in Siege at Cair Andros and simultaneous quest cards in Battle of the Five Armies are certainly two of my favorites that I’d be happy to see them reprised.

The thematic character of the quest is strong, stronger than most. But I have to rant slightly about one card: A Knife in the Back. This card randomly selects one of your allies and essentially turns them into a traitor. The effect of this is to apply the ally’s attack to one of your heroes and then to discard the ally. Thematically this actually pretty awesome, you can imagine your heroes recruiting a Gondorian Spearman only to find that he has been paid off or is simply working for the Villain in the scenario. So he stabs you in the back and then runs off. Our first experience with this card didn’t work out quite as well. Our randomly selected ally turned out to be Gandalf who immediately killed a hero. While this is certainly theoretically possible, the moment played out a bit sour as simply a game mechanic . . . especially when the same player played Gandalf the next turn. Hence I really wish the card only targeted “non-unique” allies.

Trending Up

Outlands - The feature of the expansion. Outlands instantly becomes one of the strongest traits in the game. With a generous helping of 6 one cost allies balanced with 9 still relatively cheap 2 cost allies, Outlands is an amazingly affordable early game option to get boots on the ground. A first turn deployment of 2 Outland allies is very achievable. At worst these can be used for chump blockers featuring the Herdsman that ties the Errand Rider as the cheapest + safest chump blocker in the game with its 1 cost for 2 hit points (2 hit points being VERY important on some quests). In fact, this encounter set significantly increases the availability of 1 cost allies, adding 2 Outlanders to the already present Errand Rider, Henemarth Riversong, Erebor Record Keeper, and Vassal of the Windlord. 1 cost allies are a very very handy option and in most cases are equivalent to one of the stronger cards in the game: Feint. But the hope is certainly to not "waste" these allies through chump blocking, you'd rather amass them and generate a stud mid to late game army of Gandalfs (as Michael/Zwerg has noted). But the key point is that the choice is there. The true strength of the Outlands allies is their strong play at any stage of the game. Unless the forces of mordor do an exceptionally efficient job of killing your allies, an Outlander showing up in your hand will always be a welcome sight.

Elrond - I've always been disappointed by our elven ally options. Any remnant racial allegiance that Elrond has in my decks will be all but swept away as he adopts the versatile Outland army. Elrond's ability to purchase allies from all spheres makes him just as good of an Outland general as Hirluin. Plus Elrond starts with great stats and has numerous other synergies. While Elrond and Hirluin are strong options side by side, my inclination is to ditch Hirluin due to his weak start of game state. This solidifies Elrond as a permanent fixture in my decks, at least until a Gondor/Outland relationship is formalized or I am fed up with up with Elrond's bulbous starting threat.

Gondor Heroes - Outside of the Outlands allies, the Gondorian Shield is strongest of the other cards in the pack. There are very few options for boosting defense, especially early on in the game at an economical price. 1 resource for 1 defense matches Dunedain Warning in a different sphere with the downside of being restricted. For Gondor heroes, getting 2 defense for 1 resource is an unbelievable deal and it immediately raises the value of these heroes. Beregond with 6 defense! Boromir blocking a whole wave of enemies with 4 defense! Denethor with 5 defense and immediate access to Burning Brand! That last one is very important as there are many ways to access relatively large defense ratings, but repeatable shadow protection is still extremely limited.

Steward of Gondor - It is a little disappointing that one of the most powerful cards available in the core set is now acquiring additional synergies. The Gondor trait already has significant value and the only universal way to add it to a hero is through Steward of Gondor. In my deck construction, I am increasingly trying to find ways to target Steward towards my stud hero defender since the Gondor trait provides access to Blood of Numenor and, now, extra defense from Gondorian Shield. Hopefully there will be other options in the future to induct new characters into Gondor.

Aragorn - Aragorn gets a boost with the Ring of Barahir. Not only does it directly give him the Lore resource icon, it also synergizes well with a couple of other “Aragorn optimal” attachments/artifacts: Sword that Was Broken + Celebrian’s Stone to give a beefy 3 HP boost for just a cost of 1. Because of the Lore resource icon add, it is obviously more targeted at the core version of Aragorn which can achieve tri-resource status when paired with Celebrian’s Stone. I haven’t played with Coragorn since Loragorn came out, but the new found resource versatility makes it worth a second look. Lore is a sphere that I tend to heavily miss when it isn’t represented due to the lack of card draw and healing. But both can be easily survived without in the early game while waiting for the stack of attachments to be set up.

Stud Heroes - Zealous Traitor is particularly unfriendly to having a swarm of allies. A Knife in the Back makes it dangerous to have really strong individual allies. While pick pocket does attack your attachments a bit with his shadow effect, as long as you don’t take undefended attacks, the impact tends to be modest since you can select the impacted attachment (unlike A Knife in the Back). So the “safest” strategy in this quest looks to be studding up your heroes with piles of attachments.

Hands Upon Bow + Hail of Stones- Cheap yet effective “interrupt” staging area attacks are immensely helpful due to Zealous Traitor. Killing Zealous Traitor before he engages is the cleanest way to stop him.

Miner of the Iron Hills- Local Trouble returns and it is one of the nastiest condition attachments in the game, especially since you don’t get to choose the hero. Having a miner to clear it out is fantastic otherwise you must use . . .

A Test of Will- Local Trouble and A Knife in the Back make excellent targets for A Test of Will. Admittedly, I don’t think either of these cards are complain worthy for their overpoweredness, but your lack of choice in their taking at least one character out of commission makes them unpleasant and they can massively undermine your strategy (I got my Eagles of the Misty Mountain out and was going to start churning out cheap eagles to buff him . . . but he was traitorous Eagle!). There have been stronger cases for A Test of Will in the past, so calling out A Test of Will is arguably unnecessary, but I would actually welcome a quest where I could legitimately suggest that the card isn’t a no brainer for every deck in play.

Asfaloth- The surging City Streets can pile up locations in the staging area pretty quickly and keep you from the locations that you want to target. But their required quest points make them easily resolved with Asfaloth.

Will of the West- One of the plot cards causes you to lose the game if you are out of cards in your player deck. Particularly for decks with heavy card draw, a Will of the West may be a needed card to keep your card draw strength from losing you the game (or simply dial down your usage)

Stand and Fight- This is a card that has seen a huge reemergence in my decks as of late. With the stronger synergies of the dwarves and now the huge synergies of Outlands, resurrecting the right ally can make a huge difference. Cards like A Very Good Tale and some encounter card effects force you to discard cards that you may not want to. Pulling a Anfalas Herdsman back on the board could be the difference between an Outland army dominating the game and a pile of wiped out allies.

Trending Down

One health allies - Zealous Traitor’s engaging forced effect impacts my game play on this quest. Allies with a single health are a liability especially if every player has them. You pretty much need to have one player be able to engage these buggers with minimal impact (or ensure that they are dealt with in the staging area)

Erebor Battle Master - All in all, the enemies in this quest don’t come at you in huge numbers and they don’t tend to be that hard to kill. An EBM is more attack strength than you need on this quest. What’s worse is that a traitorous EBM from A Knife in the Back could easily take out a hero. On most quests, EBM is a great play, but this time he is probably best left in hand or used as a chump blocker if your A Test of Will supplies run out.

Eagles - Prior to this adventure pack, Eagles of the Misty Mountains and EBM were the only allies that could potentially increase in power as a game progresses. So if you were looking to get strong mid-late game combat output out of your allies, you were likely looking at playing dwarves or playing with Eagles of the Misty Mountains. While the peak potential of a single EotMM is still higher, Outlanders are superior in every other way. They are easier to get into play since they don’t require an excessive concentration of Tactics resources and they are all cheap. They are more well rounded with their scaling willpower from Ethir Swordsman. They are more sturdy in general assuming you can get a Herdsman in play. And they swarm even better than dwarves do. While I might end up playing both Eagles and Outlands together, if I have to cut one, eagles are the first to go.

Tactics Heroes - The strength of Tactics is their combat prowess. Outlanders present an excellent way to simply ignore the whole sphere and still be able to get prodigious amounts of combat capability onto the battlefield. Elrond and/or Hirluin are required to gain access to the critical Knights of the Swan. But if you can get a couple of the Knights in play you aren’t likely to be wanting for attack strength or a native Tactics sphere.

Decklist

Dwarf Swarm Leadership + Tactics
I’ve been quite used to accepting the first turn as a somewhat lost turn as I wait for my resources to gather for a big second turn play. This tends to be necessary in a tri-sphere deck. Battle of the Five Armies is very unfriendly to this tactic. Admittedly my usage of tri-sphere decks has been a bit excessive and it significantly throttles my first turn options. I’ve been moving my decks more towards optimizing early turns anyway, so it is about time to make my dwarf decks dual sphere. I always build in pairs anyway and the introduction of Oin allows for Tactics representation without sacrificing having Spirit in both decks. Because of this, the deck functions its best with a Kili with We Are Not Idle or a Fili in hand to start the game giving quick access to the Tactics sphere on Oin and resource boosts if Thorin is in play. Although it is not requisite as an early focus on attachments also presents a strong start. Steward of Gondor is intended for Bombur to fuel the other deck. As usual Dain can be a stud defender, although Bombur will often be a better choice with his access to Burning Brand. Balin is preferred on quests requiring lower starting threat or extensive shadow cancellation, otherwise, Thorin is likely the more optimal option. King Under the Mountain is better used in this deck for a possible purposeful discard of Erebor Battle Master


Hero (3)
Dain Ironfoot (RtM) x1
Balin (OtD) x1 or Thorin Oakenshield (OHaUH) x1
Oin (OtD) x1

Ally (24)
Longbeard Orc Slayer (Core) x3
Gloin (OtD) x3
Fili (OHaUH) x3
Longbeard Elder (FoS) x3
Erebor Battle Master (TLD) x3
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Kili (OHaUH) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachment (17)
Cram (OHaUH) x3
Hardy Leadership (SaF) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Dunedain Warning (CatC) x3
King Under the Mountain (OtD) x3
Ring Mail (TLD) x3

Event (9)
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3


Dwarf Swarm Lore + Spirit
Bombur has grown on me for a few reasons. In isolation, I would choose just about any dwarf ahead of him other than Dwalin. But Lore resource access is very important for a dwarf deck and a single Lore hero is just not enough. If you don’t use Bombur, you essentially have to use Bifur. I think Bifur is a great hero, but he is actually quite weak when it comes to dwarven synergies. Ultimately it is the generous supply of hit points that Bombur supplies that sets him apart. I prefer to have at least one hero on every player board with 5 hit points, just in case. In a quick start pair of dwarf decks, Bombur makes the hero alignment work, plus he makes it easy to meet the 5 dwarf requirement on the first turn. A first turn hand of a miner, hammersmith, or record keeper combined with Dwalin can easily result in a two ally first turn play. Legacy of Durin adds to the card draw abuse from Ori and is best targeted at this deck to take advantage of the most dwarven plays from hand. The player of this deck will constantly root for an Erebor Battle Master to show up in the discard pile in the other deck so that it can be Stand and Fight-ed for ultimate attack power. While the Bofur/Nori combo has been nerfed, Nori is still likely all of the threat reduction you’ll need. One of the major sacrifices of the deck rearrange is the poor options for guessing correctly with the Zigil Miner. The 19 2 cost cards are still your best bet. But the odds are low enough that you’ll likely want to be highly selective in your use of Ziggy’s action.

Hero (3)
Bombur (OtD) x1
Ori (OHaUH) x1
Nori (OHaUH) x1

Ally (35)
Wandering Took (Core) x1
Zigil Miner (KD) x3
Bofur (TRG) x2
Dwalin (OtD) x3
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Bifur (OtD) x3
Erebor Record Keeper (KD) x3
Dori (OHaUH) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x1
Gleowine (Core) x1
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x3

Attachment (6)
Blood of Numenor (HON) x1
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x3

Event (9)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Stand and Fight (Core) x3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3


Elrond's Outlanders

Get Outlanders out, use A Very Good Tale, get more Outlanders out, win the game. The formula is pretty simple here. The deck features a bunch of cheap cards. Even with some solid card draw from Expert Treasure Hunter and Gleowine, I didn’t find resource acceleration to be difference making beyond making a natural Gandalf play a bit more easy to achieve. Two cards a turn can easily be played without it. The challenge here is surviving the early game and trying to keep your Outlanders mostly alive. If you do, turning the corner towards mid to late game dominance is inevitable. Because of this dynamic, I actually like Prince Imrahil as a hero choice over Hirluin. You need 4 Outland characters in play for Hirluin’s stats to match Imrahil and even then the Prince still has an action advantage. This means Imrahil is nearly guaranteed to be a superior play for at least the first 2-3 turns. By the time there are enough Outlanders in play, they will be able to stand on their own without their hero counterpart. That said, Hirluin does have his advantages. Paying for allies will be easier (if no Errand Rider is in play) and his lower threat is a difference maker on some quests. There are also a few quests where being ranged is very helpful and his peak hit points of 7 is “outlandish”. But either way the deck plays very well and should do well on most quests (based on very limited testing). The below version is part of a pair of decks, but it could be easily converted to solo by swapping out Fast Hitch for Light of Valinor.

Hero (3)
Elrond (SaF) x1
Glorfindel (FoS) x1
Prince Imrahil (AJtR) x1 or Hirluin the Fair (TSF) x1

Ally (28)
Bofur (TRG) x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Errand-rider (HON) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3
Gleowine (Core) x1
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x1
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Hunter of Lamedon (HON) x3
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
Warrior of Lossarnach (TSF) x3
Knights of the Swan (TSF) x3
Anfalas Herdsman (TSF) x3

Attachment (7)
Asfaloth (FoS) x1
Expert Treasure-hunter (OtD) x3
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3

Event (15)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x3
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Stand and Fight (Core) x3


Frodo and Selected Friends
Intended to be paired with Elrond’s Outlanders and hence early survivability is the name of the game. Frodo and Beorn present strong options in this department. The deck has 4 key developmental options during a game: Develop Frodo into a defensive stud, set up Eagles of the Misty Mountains, get out sturdy chump blockers like Trollshaw Scout and Watcher of the Bruinen, and equipping Legolas (Support of the Eagles, Rivendell Blade, Black Arrow). What is most needed will be scenario dependent. I have more to say about this deck, but I’ll save it for another post!

Hero (3)
Frodo Baggins (CatC) x1
Beorn (OHaUH) x1
Legolas (Core) x1

Ally (19)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x1
Trollshaw Scout (FoS) x3
Watcher of the Bruinen (TWitW) x3
Wandering Took (Core) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3

Attachment (15)
Horn of Gondor (Core) x1
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Ring Mail (TLD) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Black Arrow (OtD) x1
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x1

Event (16)
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Dwarven Tomb (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
The Galadhrim's Greeting (Core) x3
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x3
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF) x3
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