Tony Fanchi
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In order to frame my review, let me say a few words about my feelings on the base game. I really like the Lord of the Rings LCG, as does my wife. We have probably played 100+ games with the base set alone in the two months since we got the game. I am a fan of coops in general, but the thing that puts this one ahead of all others is the deckbuilding aspect. When the scenarios start feeling tired, I can build a new deck to try to beat them with a different strategy. The game does have many problems (lack of card balance, lack of clarity on some card interactions, scaling problems, the fact that, if you're going to lose, it'll probably be on the first stage of the quest), but all in all, it has kept my wife and I playing.

Having said that, I was thrilled to finally have the first expansion to add some new luster to the game. In fact, I drove a half an hour to another FLGS on Friday when my FLGS told me they wouldn't have the game until the next Tuesday. But when I finally got it home, I have to say I was quite disappointed.

The Art

I won't go into much detail here because I think the art is very good in the base game, and this set is on par with that. If you didn't care for the art in the base game, then this game probably won't impress you, but if you liked the base game art, then you'll be pleased with the art here.

Note: The following sections include spoilers. If you do not want to know specifics about cards, skip to the "Conclusion".

The Hero



The hero in this expansion is Bilbo, who isn't one of my favorite characters (I'm more of a LotR fan than a Hobbit fan), but he made a logical first expansion hero. I have not had a lot of play using Bilbo (mostly because my wife has a monopoly on all of our Lore cards for her "feminist" deck with Eowyn, Eleanor, and Beravor). However, I have played one game with him, and I wouldn't discount the power of being able to draw an extra card every turn. Yes, he is fragile, and yes, I don't know if his game text is worth the extra 3 threat he has above the sum of his stats (all Heroes in the base set had their starting threat set to the sum of their Willpower, Attack, Defense, and Hit Points), but getting an extra card every turn can be very powerful. Yes, Beravor does get you two cards, but she must exhaust to do so, and in many games, she's only able to do this a few times, and usually not early in the game when getting that extra card can be the difference between survival and utter annihilation.

I doubt I will probably use Bilbo much (for the aforementioned reason that my wife uses most of the good Lore cards), but I think he could be a solid hero in certain decks.

Rating:

The Player Cards



Perhaps the part of this expansion that I was looking forward to the most were the player cards. The base set comes with a decent selection of cards, but the deckbuilding options are very limited. The cards provided for player decks in this expansion allow for a bit more flexibility in deck design. However, there are unfortunately several cards in the expansion with limited value (at least for now). With only 9 different player cards, having 3-4 of them be less than useful is rather disappointing.

The highlights of the pack include the "Song of Kings", an attachment that gives a hero a Leadership resource, which opens up a lot of multisphere possibilities; the "Rivendell Minstrel", which allows you to get the "Song of Kings" out of your deck and also gives you 2 willpower for 2 resources, a very good bargain; "Strider's Path", a Response Event card that lets you immediately travel to a location revealed by the encounter deck without activating that location's "Travel" text; the "Dunedain Mark", an attachment that gives +1 Attack and can be moved from hero to hero for a resource; and the "Winged Guardian", an Eagle ally that has four Defense for only two cost (though you must spend a resource after it defends or else it is discarded). These cards are all solid additions and have seen good use in decks.

The rest of the player cards have limited utility, at least for now. Several cards in the expansion seem to be "promise" cards (in that they promise to become more useful later). This includes two "grabber" cards, "The Eagles Are Coming!" (TEAC) and "Mustering the Rohirrim". There is only one Eagle card yet released (unless you count "The Eagles Are Coming!" itself, which does have the "Eagle" keyword), so the Eagle grabber has limited use. I've played this card three times in games so far. Twice I drew extra TEAC cards, which then drew nothing, and the third time the initial TEAC card found nothing. It's hard to find 5 cards out of 50. While there are a handful of Rohan characters, none of them are particularly powerful, and so we have not yet used "Mustering the Rohirrim". The Westfold Horsebreaker could be a useful card, but as it is its upside is just not enough to make it into my wife's Spirit/Lore deck. And "Campfire Tales" is just plain useless with fewer than three players. (Yes, it does net you one card draw with two players, but it is worth a resource for that?)

All in all, there are some useful player cards, but having 3-4 cards that are "whiffs" is something of an annoyance. Why not print cards that can be "grabbed" by other cards before you print the grabber cards themselves?

Rating:

The Quest



Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this expansion is the quest. After playing through the base set's quests and some player-produced quests many, many, many times, I was so excited to have something new to try out. Unfortunately, the new quest, while ambitious, just fails to be very interesting.

In this quest, you will spend two phases looking for the Clue card pictured above. There are four of these in the deck, and we never had too much trouble getting one or two into play by the time we needed them in the third stage. Now this is actually a good thing because this quest would be even more annoying if it was impossible to find these cards, but in our 4-5 plays of this quest, they have not be hard to come by.

However, it is the third stage of this quest that really bothers me. In the third stage, each player must have one of these clues attached to a Hero, or else that player's characters cannot quest, and if no player has a clue card, you must go back and redo the second quest stage in its entirety. How's that for a kick in the teeth? I am very much not a fan of this mechanic. Rather than seeming challenging, it is instead very annoying. For one, it is fiddly to have to reset the quest deck. The fewer times I have to mess around with the quest deck, the better. Second, it is demoralizing to have to go back and redo the stage because the stage just isn't that interesting to do. In fact, none of the stages are. This is due largely to the fact that this quest's encounter deck has far more locations than enemies, and locations just don't make for very interesting gameplay. I was hoping that we'd get a quest that made the Northern Tracker less powerful, but this quest makes that ally even more important, even to the point of making it necessary to win the quest. If you want to raise this quest's difficulty (which is listed at 4, but seems like it should be lower than the Anduin quest), try not using the Northern Tracker and see if you can survive drowning in riverlands.

Don't misunderstand me. I do appreciate that the designers were trying to mix things up with this quest, to make it one where you're not swarmed over with bad guys, but instead wanted to give a feeling of searching out an evasive enemy. However, it turns out this just isn't very much fun to play, at least the way this quest is designed. By having a very limited number of enemies, this quest reduces the number of choices the players can make. Basically it comes down to "do I keep one character back to defend, or none?" Nearly everyone has to commit to the quest to counter the massive buildup of locations in the staging area. And if you have a deck built towards fighting, you're going to be sitting on the sideline for most of this quest. I personally prefer to build decks that can succeed at any quest. My wife's Spirit/Lore deck does the questing/healing/card drawing, and I do the fighting. In our first go at this quest, I sat around doing nothing for most of the game. It would have been far more interesting if I could have killed things to find clues. Why not include more swarming creatures to fight off? The quest does use the Crows from the Anduin quest, but there could have been others added with this expansion. Give me something to do with my Willpowerless allies, other than chuck them for Protector of Lorien.

I will give the designers props for making a quest that seems to be more challenging with more players than with fewer. Where the base quests were very hard solo, just about right for two players, and easy for 3-4, this quest seems harder with more players. (This is what I have heard. I've only played it two player so far.) Further, I appreciate the attempt with the Old Ford to encourage the players to limit the number of allies in play, but this one card is not enough to make me think too hard about whether or not to play another ally. Hopefully there will be more such "encouragement" in future quests.

Rating:

Conclusion

Is this a case of simply having too high of expectations that nothing could satisfy them? Perhaps. It's impossible to say. While I understand that the circumstances of the delay between the release of the base game and this first expansion were out of FFG's hands, having so much time in between really caused expectations for this first set to rise to such great heights, at least in my mind, that it may well have been impossible to meet them. However, even though that might be the case, I still feel like this expansion would have been a disappointment even without the delay. The quest is just not that interesting and several of the player cards are nearly unusable at this point.

So this all leads to the question, do I think you, the reader, should buy this expansion? Despite my disappointment, I will answer with a qualified "yes". If you really enjoy this game and expect to be in it for the long haul, then you should definitely buy this set. (Then again, these types of players probably already have purchased it.) Some of the player cards are useful and give more deckbuilding options, Bilbo could be fun to play with, and the quest, though not great, is at least something new. If, however, you weren't sold on the base game and are unsure if you'll continue to follow this game, I'd say that you could skip this pack, try a future one and, if you change your mind, you can go back and get this one later. There's nothing included in it that, to me, seems like a "must have."

Final rating:
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Silver Samurai
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It's a balanced review, and one that has swayed me into not buying the expansion despite my enjoyment of the base game.

The review also encorporates the perspectives and opinions of another recent post, so i understand that you're in agreement with Alex' viewpoints on the game:

AdmiralACF wrote:
The game does have many problems (lack of card balance, lack of clarity on some card interactions, scaling problems, the fact that, if you're going to lose, it'll probably be on the first stage of the quest)

Where the base quests were very hard solo, just about right for two players, and easy for 3-4, this quest seems harder with more players. (This is what I have heard. I've only played it two player so far.)


Thanks again.

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Chris Wolfe
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I liked the included scenario. It is focused and, rather than being a chaotic mess, the threats are defined so that players can be strategic rather than lucky (not that you can't be very lucky -- or unlucky). The way it's set up does allow you to consider whether you want to stick around for that extra clue, or if you will go ahead and face the final stage. My wife and I play similarly to you an yours, and I enjoyed the mechanic because, well, I often end up protecting her as the clue holder.

Other than that, I agree with your thoughts on the other areas, but my overall would have been higher. I'd consider it must-buy simply because of some of the cross-sphere deckbuilding cards that open up new possibilities.
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Michail Giannis
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A really helpful review.

I think the problem is that in this game there are a lot of areas to cover and it's a bit difficult to to do it.
What i mean is that everybody wants
- new heroes (the more the better)
- new player cards for more deckbuilding (the more the better)
- new scenarios (the more the better)
- new encounter cards (the more the better)
- to be able to play the scenario in solo mode balanced
- to be able to play the scenario in 2 players mode balanced
- to be able to play the scenario in 3-4 players mode balanced
- good scaling
- new keywords and new options
and all the above at the same time with one expansion and the core.

Obviously i also want all the above but come on.....you have to admit it is kinda difficult when each and everyone wants something different.

For my part i am not gonna buy this expansion nor any other for the time being.... i will wait for 4 or 5 or even all 6 to come out first and then see where this is going and choose what i will buy next. Maybe i will see that i want more player cards for my deckbuilding and buy a second core set instead of 1 or 2 expansions packs.

Mostly i am waiting for the first big box expansion...
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David Hoffman
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See, I figure buying these is akin to buying boosters for a CCG -- only you know exactly what's in the set. One booster isn't supposed to radically change the entire game. Collect the cycle of six and you'll have added, what, six new quests, six new heroes and a good number of new options for deck-building.

I'd buy em all at once but they're not available all at once. I tweaked my decks a bit but I'm realistic.

I think people would be unhappy if a single small expansion like this was able to completely change the game -- that's because the next one would do the same thing, etc., etc. and eventually the game would just be a total mess.
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Richard Morris
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ohbalto wrote:
Collect the cycle of six and you'll have added, what, six new quests, six new heroes and a good number of new options for deck-building.


It looks like each pack will have 3 copies of 2 new cards for each sphere (=24 cards), plus three copies of a neutral sphere card (=3 cards) plus 1 quest (=3 cards) and 30 encounter set cards.
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Tony Fanchi
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SilverSam wrote:
The review also encorporates the perspectives and opinions of another recent post, so i understand that you're in agreement with Alex' viewpoints on the game:

Actually, while I share several of Alex's concerns about the core game, I disagree with Alex on a great number of things. I feel his comparisons to Magic are superficial. Any card game is going to have something in common with Magic, especially since Magic's "tapping" mechanic is simply a very good way to show that a card has been used on a turn and is thus unavailable to be used again.

Similarly, while I agree with his assessment that there are some card balance issues (for instance, a game can be decided upon whether or not you draw a specific card, like Steward of Gondor or Northern Tracker, in your opening hand), the challenge in any coop game is going to rely on randomness. If you could quest your characters after revealing the Encounter cards, where's the challenge in that? And if you were to have combat without Shadow cards (which is a variant suggested in the rulebook), then it makes the game much easier and, IMO, much less exciting because you do not have to take any risks.

All in all, I felt that Alex's review was especially (and unnecessarily) harsh on the game. I agree that the base set was not perfect, but it's still a really fun game that my wife and I both enjoy. Certainly not everyone is going to like the game, and that's fine. I was just somewhat confused by Alex's largely negative review, and yet at the end he says he'll continue playing the game. It's sometimes easy to get focused on the things you don't like about a game and ignore the things that are good about it. Perhaps I am guilty of a bit of that myself in this review. I guess I'll know better once I've spent more time playing with the expansion.

Sorry for the tangent, but I wanted to address this particular point.

chrswlf wrote:
Other than that, I agree with your thoughts on the other areas, but my overall would have been higher. I'd consider it must-buy simply because of some of the cross-sphere deckbuilding cards that open up new possibilities.

My opinion of the quest is certainly a matter of taste, and I have noted that others do enjoy it. I simply liked the quests in the base set more. And I do agree that the Song of Kings could make this set a must buy for someone who really wants to use some Leadership cards (like Steward of Gondor, Celebrian's Stone, or Sneak Attack) with other spheres.

MountainRoot wrote:
I think the problem is that in this game there are a lot of areas to cover and it's a bit difficult to to do it.

Obviously i also want all the above but come on.....you have to admit it is kinda difficult when each and everyone wants something different.

Certainly I agree with you. This game, unlike the other LCGs, is a coop, and so half or more of each expansion is going to consist of cards you will never use in building a deck, which does place more pressure on FFG to make good, solid, useful cards for the other "slots" in the package. My main problems were twofold: 1) I didn't care much for the quest, though certainly there have been others who have enjoyed it, and 2) I thought that including a few of the cards, specifically Mustering the Rohirrim and The Eagles Are Coming, didn't make too much sense because there just aren't a lot of useful cards that either of those can get you right now.
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Mario Acanda
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AnnuverScotinExile wrote:
It looks like each pack will have 3 copies of 2 new cards for each sphere (=24 cards), plus three copies of a neutral sphere card (=3 cards) plus 1 quest (=3 cards) and 30 encounter set cards.


You forgot 1 hero card leaving only 29 encounter set cards.
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Cindy C
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AdmiralACF wrote:
the "Rivendell Minstrel", which allows you to get the "Song of Kings" out of your deck and also gives you 2 willpower for 2 resources, a very good bargain;


The Minstrel actually costs three
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kevin long
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I have to say after my experience with the base game, this is not a surprise.
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Oleg volobujev
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Actually HFG have same problem as all core set quests. Very easy to play.
Mechanic is good and fun, encounter cards also interesting but there is no real challenge.
Last stage of the quest is really boring. Why they dont make a rule: only hero with clue card can quest. Than you will really need all four clue cards in play. But now you need only one and is enough.
There is treachery card which shuffle the clue card back in deck. This card play for you not against you. I happy when this card come. They should put 4 cards like this instead 2. Than is the risk to lose all clue cards.Why they dont put 4 copy of Flooding???

Again quest is interesting but........to easy for win. Encounter deck is to weak. And looks like this is they strategy (I mean FFG). maybe they will put difficult level more up with every Adv. pack???
If HFG is 4 so Conflict in Carrock shoulb be 5 or 6 and go up up. Than is ok. If not more and more players will be dissapointed.
 
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Ryan S
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Good review, thanks for posting.

My roommate has purchased 2 of the core sets so we can play 4 player games, and we've played maybe 10 games total, including one round of the Gollum expansion.

We played a 3 player game through the Gollum expansion over last weekend, and I share your disappointment. Nobody wanted to bother with Bilbo, as his card seemed almost useless compared to other heroes. The new Song cards seemed pretty handy when I used them with a Lore deck, as I had Minstrel's who could find those cards and attach them to other characters (we had a guy playing leadership so I attached a couple songs to him).

What I really didn't get were the clue cards. They attached to your characters, ok easy enough, but if you got hurt, then went back to the top of the encounter deck. This may little sense to my play group because clearly they'd show up in the next round. It seemed like the clue cards were almost useless, except for the fact that they made less monsters or travel locations appear in the staging area, making the game a lot easier than the other "4" difficulty quest the core set comes with. My friends and I breezed through the Gollum quest, completing it in maybe 30 minutes.

All in all it wasn't too impressive, tho some of the cards may be useful for core quests or custom quests.

Oh and my friends and I were pretty upset that the giant eagles had no attack strength. After just watching the movies again and seeing the scene of the Eagles ripping apart giant dragons, it make the card pretty lackluster. It's also humorous because the card artwork shows the giant eagle attacking an orc.
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Tristan Hall
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GibbRS wrote:
What I really didn't get were the clue cards. They attached to your characters, ok easy enough, but if you got hurt, then went back to the top of the encounter deck. This may little sense to my play group because clearly they'd show up in the next round. It seemed like the clue cards were almost useless, except for the fact that they made less monsters or travel locations appear in the staging area, making the game a lot easier than the other "4" difficulty quest the core set comes with.


FYI - Every time the Clues come back from the top of the encounter deck their 'Guarded' keyword kicks in again, meaning that you now have to draw and defeat a new guardian (enemy/place/treachery) first, and only when the new guardian has been defeated can you then claim the Clue back by questing (successfully), usually costing you at least two more turns. I'd agree that HfG is easier than Anduin Journey, but it sounds like you might have been making it even more easy for yourselves - they certainly don't mean less monsters and locations appear.


EDIT - not to mention how much the Hunters From Mordor start to mess with you once Clues start appearing!
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Tony Watson
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Really nice review. This gave me a very good idea of what the expansion includes and its strengths and weaknesses. I hope you are able to do the same for the others as they come out. Thanks!
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Jimmie Andersson
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Uuurrh! I let him in, uuuhh, was that not cool? Arrrarrh...
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Nice review! Bilbo is pretty awesome solo as he doubles your draw, coupled with some cards that let's you discard for effects he works really well (also since his skill is passive you can put a couple of the bad web-attachment on him without much loss).
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