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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Voice of Isengard review

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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Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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It is been a while since I've played the previous deluxe expansion. This time FFG decided to take to an interesting place of Middle Earth i.e. into the vicinity of Isengard before Saruman decided to leave free peoples to pursue his own dark path. I have to admit that this is excellent choice as the developers can explore very profound element of the story by filling the details that were never fully explained by J.R.R. Tolkien.

New concepts

Time X keyword - In general it works like this: certain key cards (quest cards mostly in this expansion) have a punishing effect that triggers X rounds after the card shows up (and then the card starts counting again). This is a very thematic and efficient mechanically. It pushes players to move along. I am very impressed with it especially if it really gives a player the choice:
- do I need to go along fast to avoid triggering the time effect or,
- I will handle the punishment once or twice and use the time to build up my position.

Doom on player cards - this sounded amazing. We were to get powerful cards that come with drawback i.e. playing them would raise your threat. This adds to the design space as we essentially get a new currency in the game (you pay for the cards with your threat instead of resources). This in itself gets very high mark from me. The selection of this cards in the box is decent and in general goes with the strength of the spheres (ex. lore card gives card draw for threat gain). Nevertheless I think that it would be better if the spheres got doom effects allowing them counter some of their drawbacks instead of adding more cards boosting their natural strengths.

Doom player cards underline the point: "power corrupts" which is thematic and was mostly missing from LCG so far. Mechanically they tend to be very efficient at the start of the game giving you breathing room and do tend to loose their value towards the end of the game (as resources tend to be plentiful then and threat starts to become an issue).

Designers decided that they will also create cards with effects that trigger when your threat rises due to the doom keyword. In combination with doom player cards this seemed like a very powerful deck archetype. Unfortunately here I am disappointed. The cards that do have this kind of triggers seem underwhelming at best (take the lore messenger: 2 cost lore ally with 1 WP that gets additional willpower via doom - he is so weak and so unreliable ...).

Taking all of this in my final rating of this new concept is so-so but the potential is there and I am eager to see what APs will bring to the table.

Punishing players for drawing cards - It is especially visible in the first scenario of the box (The Fords of Isen). Enemies get stronger for each card in your hand, they make extra attacks when you draw cards, treacheries rise your threat for each card ... etc. I have to say that I am on the fence about this one. On one hand it combats some of the standard card drawing decks forcing us to be more creative with deck construction. On the other hand it is very easy to forget all the effects that trigger when you draw a card which makes this particular mechanic quite fiddly.

Scenarios
In general scenarios in this expansion are quite good and varied.

Fords of Isen
We combat the Dunland tribesman on the border between Rohan and Isengard to save ... Grima.

This scenario is combat heavy but at the same time it requires quite a lot of progress to be placed in order to win. It is heavily concentrated on punishing players for cards in their hands and drawing cards. This in theory sounds great but in practice it gets very fiddly (it is easy to forget all the triggers) very fast.
Pros:
- Requires specific deck building (keeping your hand size low)
- Card punishing is new
- Well placed "time X" keywords
Cons:
- Tends to be quite slow towards the end
- VERY fiddly, easy to forget all the effects (I would say that it is even worse with more players)

To Catch an Orc
Seek and ... catch

Looking for an Orc in the hostile mountain region sounds like a bad idea. It gets even worse when you realize that you need to catch him instead of killing. This scenario takes 20 cards out of your deck and asks you to shuffle the dreaded Orc into them. You mostly search for him do it by exploring various locations which allows you to discard cards from this special deck until you find the Orc. This of course makes the scenario very thematic but can also can make it drag a little bit if locations do not show up. Also the second stage's time X trigger is very punishing (reveal two cards per player). This mechanism also tends to be swingy (if Orc is the first card you reveal for the special deck it will be very hard to contain him without strong table presence).

Once you find the orc you will have to catch it (overpower in combat) then and only then you have time to place progress on the quest. Every 3 rounds orc will escape you and force you to fight him again. This makes for a very difficult and exciting finale. You really get a felling that you are trying to overpower someone who is really really strong.
Pros:
- Thematic feel
- Climactic and difficult finale
Cons:
- Random way in which the orc appears.

Into Fargorn
Catch the Orc again while the trees stand in your way.

Most distinctive feature of this scenario is the fact that (most) enemies will not attack you but will punish you in some other way (raising your threat or damaging your characters). This combined with the fact that Huron enemies are very though to kill (high defense and high hit points) tempts you into not dealing with them at all. Soon enough you realize though that two or three of them left unchecked turn out to be very deadly. Sadly in solo play this does not work so well. There are few enemies showing up and it prevents them from accumulating their effects and makes the scenario quite easy. This is amplified by the fact that that locations could create interesting combos if few of them show up at the same time which does not happen too often when playing alone. This one seems to be much better with more players.
Pros:
- Combat is much different then usually which makes this one interesting
Cons:
- Not much excitement to be had (definitely in solo)

Heroes and player cards
As per usually in the deluxe expansions we get two heroes:
- Eomer - Tactic Rohan hero that gets +2 ATT when a character leaves play. Very thematic and very efficient in decks that use cheap allies that die to defend. Definitely a star of the expansions and one of the top tier heroes.
- Grima - Lore hero that can add doom 1 keyword to cards to lower their cost by 1 (once per round). Very interesting hero that could be very very efficient at the beginning of the game when resources are scare and he can be very efficient in general if combined with threat reduction (in particular Lore Aragorn). His drawback is the fact that player cards that trigger on doomed are so weak lowering his potential greatly.

Player cards:
- Cards with doom can be very powerful at the start of the game and work quite good in solo (as it is easy to decide that whether you can eat the threat or not). Their usefulness drops towards the end of the game. Exception here is Saruman who seems quite expensive and weak in comparison to the other doom cards.
- Cards with doom trigger are very weak so far. In my opinion this drastically hampers this expansion (as other doom cards and Grima loose part of their potential strength)
- Other than that we get Rohan:
Rohan tactics ally that has very decent stats for his price but does not shine in solo (as his discard to engage an enemy ability looses some of its power)
Rohan horse that can be attached to all tactic heroes (and non-tactic Rohan heroes) that can give them another swing provided that they kill an enemy. It combos very well with Eomer allowing him to use his buff multiple times.

Conclusions
In short I very much like the new concepts. Heroes are also very good and so are the scenarios. This combined with a cool theme sounds as a recipe for best expansion so far, right?

Almost. I am surprised to conclude this but failed cards with doom triggered effects really put this expansion down. Not only they are crappy themselves but they lower the effectiveness of cards with doom and Grima so almost all player cards of this expansion get a hit due to this. Other drawbacks of course do amplify the negative effect of this but ... I just wish that those cards were either buffed up or replaced with something else. Then we could have gotten the best deluxe expansion to date.

How do you like the new concepts? Did you enjoy the scenarios? Any thoughts of doom triggered cards/abilities that I disliked so much?
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