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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Hobbit Saga expansion #2 - review from a dedicated player point of view.

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Here is my review of the Hobbit: on the box composed of quick looks at each scenario and player cards. Please note that this review is written from a perspective of a player that loves the game and has all the previous expansions. Another review from a core set + 1st Hobbit only player point of view is coming.

Scenarios
Flies and Spiders
8/10 - Very interesting and fresh scenario that relies on venom mechanics. I had a lot of trouble with interpreting stages 2 and 3 but once I got it straightened out the scenario started to flow nicely. This a combat heavy scenario. There is one timing trick in the scenario (do not worry I will not spoil it) that seems to be obvious once you find it but it took me couple of plays to get it.

This scenario seems slightly easier in solo than in multiplayer (at least 2 player). On one hand it is nice change of pace but on the other hand we loose part of the experience. This is another proof that us, solo players, are often just an afterthought for the game developers. In fact most of difficulties I had with the rules of the quest cards followed directly for this (luckily this was answered in FAQ).

Overall though I highly recommend this quest - it is unique and it is fun.

The Lonely Mountain
4/10 - Initially I loved the scenario - thematic concept that the more treasures you get the more difficult questing gets is tremendous. Getting all treasures (and nothing else was satisfactory) in solo required tweaking my deck to the last card. This is such huge improvement over the treasures in the first box that I am really impressed with the developers. You really owe it to your self to try to get all of them in a solo mode at least once.

Once I was able to achieve that I was really dissatisfied with what happens later. After all this work your fate is left to luck of the draw (i.e. how many times Smaug will attack). Since in my case lady luck was not very friendly (I got attacked upwards of 6 times in 4-5 attempts) the scenario left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed like nothing else matters so much as how many times Smaug will attack you. That is fail in my book.

It is also worthed to mention that getting all the treasures in solo is so much more difficult than in multiplayer that I think is another fail of developer's for this quest.

This scenario is up for my personal award: "Most wasted potential". I still recommend playing it.

The Battle of Five Armies
7/10 - Concept of three stages from which you could choose yourself (with consequences) seemed very, very interesting. In practice though executions was a bit weaker. Namely this scenario follows the typical HIT-EM-HARD at the start and see if they will fall i.e. it is very difficult at the beginning and it turns to very easy (if you survive that is) towards the end. Most of the effects (treacheries, enemies, shadows) are very dangerous at the start of the game and turn into tame later on.

Despite the above I think it is a fun quest and a decent finale to the whole saga. It features questing, battle and siege so you deck needs to be very versatile in solo. Somehow it manages to create very tense moments while reaming beatable. One additional thing keeps this quest from getting better rating it gets old surprisingly fast. It is one of the few quests that I got bored before playing it 10 times (but this may follow from the fact that my playstyle somehow determines the order in which I like to complete quests)

Heroes
Three dwarves and Bard the Bowman. At this point we have so many dwarves heroes that the new bunch does not impress very much. Despite that on paper all of them look interesting with two pushing dwarf synergy even further

Sprit (Oin) - seems weak as Spirt-Tactics dwarven combination seems relatively weak compared to other options (leadership tactics is my favorite solo option).

Leadership (Balin) - has decent stats and emergency replace nasty shadow with hopefully something less dangerous. No real synergy with other dwarves so could be used outside of race specific decks.

Lore (Bombur) - counts as two dwarves for dwarf counting abilities. Very interesting as it can help to trigger "5 or more dwarfs" one turn earlier than usual but is it worthed to sacrifice a hero spot for him? I do not play lore dwarves but my gut response is: NO.

Tactics (Bard) - again tactics does not get a dwarf in this Saga. Bard seems very cool but let us be honest - he sucks in solo as he is all about ranged attacks.

For me this box is not very strong in hero department. Those of you that tend to play multiplayer or two-fisted will get much more out of it.

Player Cards
Tactics - As with the first set, tactics got the cards that are the least tied to the dwarves. This time it seems that all of them were custom made for Bard. This unfortunately limits their usability in solo mode (ranged focus).

Spirit - Weird bunch of cards. Event is useless in solo. Attachment can help you to deal with locations with terrible effects (pity is that most of those can't be affected by player cards which limits use of this). Ally is typical for this set: if you have 5 or more dwarves you get small benefit when playing him.

Lore - Two of those cards got errata which tells you something about their playtests. Their main problem is that they copy most of the things that lore is already quite good at i.e. card draw and scrying. This makes them less impressive as other options are less dwarf specific.

Leadership - GREAT dwarf cards. If you want to make your dwarves even more of a powerhouse those cards alone should make this box worthed.

Final Rating:
Scenarios are ultimately a let down. They continue to be thematic but they all are flawed in some way or another. Developers need to be congratulated for creating more unique experiences than in first Hobbit but at the same time most of the things seem to be underdeveloped and not playtested well enough. Treasures work much better in this one than in the first and managed to become a focal point of two (even all) of the scenarios, mostly due to Bilbo's ability.

As for player/hero cards ... more dwarves plus some range. Again since at this point we have so much dwarf cards it is strike against this box for me. It is worthed to mention that the selection is dramatically better for those that play multiplayer. If you love dwarves though forget about all my complaints and be prepared for even more goodness.

My final rating on the box is quite negative (even I am surprised). It is probably the worst purchase for me so far (with The Hills of Emyn Muil being close second). I did enjoy the first saga box more than this despite lack of originality in its scenarios. Ultimately both sagas expansions seem to suffer from being rushed (not enough development, not enough testing). I really hope that the second saga starting with Black Raiders will be much better in this regard. I will not go as far as to say to skip it but if any expansions came close to this verdict this is the one.

How about you? What are your opinions on the 2nd Hobbit as whole and/or particular scenarios?
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