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 - So you have the core game and #1 Hobbit. Should you buy this expansion?

Wojtek Wojcik
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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NOTE: New players please check first my: A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players and Hobbit Saga expansion #1 - review from a core set only player perspective. Can this be the first expansion to buy?
NOTE: I stated to write this review long time ago and finished it just recently so please excuse any disjoint tones/styles/informations.

Throughout this article I assume that you have the core set of LOTR:LCG and Hobbit: Under hill and over hill expansion (and nothing more as far as LOTR:LCG goes). Additionally I assume that you played each scenario you have at your disposal at least several times and enjoyed most (say at least 4 out of 6) of those.

Are you itching for some more adventures and player cards? Wondering if you should go the second saga expansion and see Bilbo and his dwarven friends complete their amazing journey? If so this review is for you.

Two notes:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
1. Methodology: I played each scenario several times with 50 card decks composed of two core sets and hobbit box cards. In most cases (except the second scenario for which I have separate discussion) a player owning only one core set and hobbit should be able to construct decks that will perform in a similar way using 35 card limit.
2. It is very hard for me to judge how hard those scenarios are for players that have played this game few dozens of times. With 350+ games under my belt certain strategies, combos and tactical plays are fairly easy to spot and might make scenarios easier to deal with it. Please do keep this in mind when reading my comments on the difficulty.

In general scenarios in this expansion are very unique and interesting. This is both a con and pro - on one hand they are more complicated than more typical ones but on the other hand you are guaranteed to see something new in them. They mostly do seem thematic.

In my comments I will try to give you some general ideas on the scenarios without spoiling main twists which are very fun to discover on your first playthrough.

Flies and Spiders
Will Bilbo and the dwarves be able to survive meeting of poisonous spiders?

Despite the theme similarity this scenario is much different than what we saw in core set in Passage through Mirkwood. The key mechanic in the scenario is venom (spiders and other effects will poison your character which will make them less reliable or could even make them unusable for a while). I will not tell you much more because there is very nice twist during this scenario which I don't want to spoil.

Pros: Interesting poison mechanic, not so difficult in solo.
Cons: Confusing quest cards (see Errata & FAQ). More interesting with more players

The Lonely Mountain
Finally we are approaching the Smaug and his treasures.

I have some bad news about this scenario while it has so many great ideas it also very under-tested. This results in very random and unsatisfying conclusion. While the initial journey toward this finale is interesting with limited card pool you will be forced to skip some interesting parts due to limited willpower of the cards you have.

- Interesting ideas
- Interesting treasure getting mechanic with push your luck feel ...
- ... but with limited card pool you will not be able to get more than 1-2 treasures anyway (in solo)
- Huge random element in the finale
- Main mechanic (burgle) is a bit confusing

The Battle of Five Armies
Ah the famous battle. How well your heroes will do?

This is by far the most interesting quest. You will see concepts that are quite new to the game (questing with other things than willpower). It does not feel very "battle like" but on the other hands your heros are not regular soldiers or commanders so maybe this is a good thing. I only wish it was a bit less hard at the start/easy near the ned type because otherwise it is great.

- Very varied scenario that requires balanced deck (while still being beatle with limited card pool)
- Nonlinear
- Shows some of the best modern (Heirs of Nummenor) mechanics in a friendly manner

- Hard at the beginning
- Anticlimactic i.e. easy towards the end

We have three dwarves and Bard the Bowman (tactics). The latter is pretty weak in solo sadly as his ability only works in multiplayer so we are left with three to consider:
Balin - Leadership - breaks the mold of if you control 5 dwarves then X. He comes with build-in (almost) shadow card cancellation for a resource that does come handy in some brutal shadow ridden scenarios.
Bombur - Lore - counts as two dwarves. That sounds ridiculous. Nevertheless if you consider the main theme of dwarves cards and heroes in hobbit boxes it turns out that he can be very useful when paired properly. Latter in the scenario you will curse that he is nothing more then a resource generator but he can go and speed up your dwarven deck erly which might be critical.
Oin - Spirit - 5 dwarves and he gets +1 ATK and tactics. Seems a bit weak to me but I can see some people using this guy to add a little bit of tactics cards to their Spirit centered decks. So personally I do not like him but your milage may and should vary.

In general I was not too impressed with the heroes here. They have their uses but the first Hobbit box was much better here.

Player cards
Varied lot here. I would divide it into following groups:
1. Dwarves:
- Three unique allies that have nice responses when they enter play while you control 5 dwarves. They are very nice if not for two downsides
a. They are unique
b. Gloin has his hero counterpart
- King under the mountain - amazing card draw (take one out of two cards) if you have leadership and dwarf hero. Autoinclude in this situation.
- To me! O my kinsfolk! - AKA dwarven sneak attack from the discard pile. Very good and again leadership.
2. Ranged
- Three cards and while one of them allows for attacks in staging area for ranged chars in general I would say for solo they are not great.
3. Other
- In general this lot is quite weak and varied. Only ones that I consider worth mentioning:
a. Expert treasure hunter can provide you with very decent if a bit unreliable card draw.
b. Straight shot - discard enemy with zero defence. Although there are not very many of those it can really help in some of the quests. One note to mention it does combo with Bard.

In general I would say that this box does have some very nice cards but nothing too ground breaking. The trick here is that they do nicely round up some holes in your dwarven decks. So if you feel like you are few cards away from great dwarven deck then this box should get you covered. Otherwise, if you got your dwarven fix with the first box ... then player cards in box (and heroes) will disappoint you.

So the question appears
- "I have Core Set and Over Hill and Under Hill, should I invest in the On the Doorstep to continue my LOTR experience or am I to look somewhere else?"
Ahh the dreaded question. One I was constantly asking myself (for the sake of this review) from the moment I opened the expansion's box. What is worse I still am unsure. I did like the scenarios in this one (except the second one) and I think that they would be very interesting (albeit a bit confusing) for players with limited card pool. On the other hand the player cards and heroes left me unimpressed. Ultimately I will answer the above question in the following way:
- "Get second Hobbit box only if at least one (preferably two) of the following is true:
a. You love dwarves and your dwarven decks are almost there, they just need couple of cards to get great.
b. You look more for the scenarios then player cards.
c. You really, really enjoyed the first part of hobbit.
Otherwise look somewhere else (hint: review of Lord of the rings saga nr.1 Black Riders is coming soon) and give this one a pass"

Did you try 2nd hobbit with just core+1st hobbit cards? What was your experience?
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