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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Black Riders review for Core Set players

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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NOTE: New players please check first A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players
NOTE: Alternative buy: Hobbit Saga expansion #1 - review from a core set only player perspective. Can this be the first expansion to buy?

Throughout this article I assume that you have the core set of LOTR:LCG (and nothing more) and that you are a solo player. Additionally I assume that you've played each scenario you have at your disposal at least several times and enjoyed most (say at least 2 out of 3) of those.

Maybe you were a little disappointed by the fact that the game did not refer to LOTR books directly? Are you wondering if you should get some more adventures and player cards? Should you go with this expansion and join Frodo and his hobbit friends embark on the journey that sparked imagination of so many readers/viewers of Lord of the Rings? 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 recommended in the rules (which uses just core + black riders cards)
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 400+ games under my belt certain strategies, combos and tactical plays are fairly easy to spot and this surely makes scenarios easier to deal with it for me. Please do keep this in mind when reading my comments on the difficulty.
3. I've read some post of a player that tried to do the same as I did and had very little success with the deck from the rules. We were not able to find out why is that ... just a word of caution


New concepts
Easy Mode - this expansion introduces so called easy mode to the game also known as thematic mode (as it allows thematic decks to be successful). It changes two things in the game:
- Your heroes start with extra resource
- Some copies of most deadly cards (marked in new expansions with gold circle) are removed from the encounter deck.
I do not play the easy mode but, man it is something that should have been in the game since day 1 period. There are no strange rules or complex setup but the easy mode really does work great (some players say that additional resource is already big enough boost and they do not take the cards out of encounter deck). If you struggle with the game you can use easy mode without this expansion see here: Easy mode rules

Camping rules I do not want to spoil anything here so I will not go into many details. Let me just say that as you progress you will get good and bad cards that will continue with you to the next scenarios. It works quite good to give the feeling of development ... but I think that it could be done even better.

Scenarios
In general scenarios in this expansion are very thematic and you will see a lot of places and characters that you probably know from the books. So this is a definite plus for many players that are really into the first LOTR book or movie. This also has a surprising drawback you will see very few enemies outside of the titular black riders which makes the scenarios a bit less varied and thus less interesting that they could have been otherwise.

A Shadow of the Past
Will Frodo leave shire in time before the black riders will catch-up with him?
Pros:
- Interesting theme integration
- New hide test mechanics (if you have not played Dead Marches)
Cons:
- A bit tedious/long at times

A Knife in the Dark
Bree and Weathertop
Pros:
- Climactic finale.
- Very thematic
Cons:
- Some nasty treachery cards
- Encounter cards give you some options but one of those is so terrible in solo that you are always left with the other choice
- One card that starts in staging is very hard to deal solo with limited card pool so you will need some very good luck with your initial draws.

Flight to the ford
Frodo is dying ... run to Rivendel.
Pros:
- Time pressure due to Frodo dying
- Climactic finale of the first part of campaign
Cons:
- None really.

Heroes and player cards
Most of the player cards and heroes are tailor made for hobbit deck that with just this cards can be very powerful. Especially in this box due to additional boosts given by additional hobbit hero - Frodo - that you get control of. Only few cards are really usable outside the hobbit deck but those are fairly good.

Hobbit deck can be also quite good in other scenarios under one condition: you need enemies with high say (30+) engagement cost. Unfortunately the developers were not always very diligent when planing older scenarios and some of them are riddled with powerful, low cost enemies that render hobbit deck quite weak. Nevertheless I am giving very high rating on players and hero cards especially for solo players. This is nothing to sneeze at as this is one of the few "solid deck in one box expansions". If not for a very weak spirit hobbit this would be amazing!

Conclusions
Overall let me say that this so far is the best entry point for Core Set players into the game.
Strong points:
- player cards and interesting heroes (even if mostly limited to hobbit decks)
- interesting and mostly beatable scenarios
- easy mode
- solo deck that works included in the rules
Weak points:
- so-so camping integration
- enemies tend to get repetitive (how many times you can kill a Nazgul without getting bored?)

THIS IS THE BOX TO GET if you want to expand your Core Set without spending too much on it. Highly recommended.

Did you try Black Riders with just core+BR cards? What was your experience?
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