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Subject: Four plays, one win, and a review. rss

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Nicholas
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I finally got my copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game earlier today, and celebrated by playing it four times in a row. (It didn't take nearly as long as you'd think, you'll see why in a bit.) The first game I've summarized elsewhere (http://boardgamegeek.com/article/7162884), as I was playing solo Leadership with two heroes, and got massacred pretty badly (partially due to misplaying a rule). But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

What you get:

The contents of the card game are a bit underwhelming out of the box, mainly due to the lack of a board. (Yes, I know it's called a card game, I suppose some part of me was expecting there to be some main board along with everything else... ) However, aside from that there's no complaints, as the threat dials work nicely, and the game is pretty easy to set up. Just sort the various card decks, and all you need to do to play is pick a scenario and shuffle the appropriate decks! The art is nice, and there isn't too much else to comment here.

The main problem with what you get in the game would be the rulebook, as quite a few crucial points with the rules aren't apparent from a quick read-through. Access to a computer or ipad so you can look up the FAQ is strongly recommended.


Game mechanics:

The main object of the game is to successfully quest to the point where you complete all three quest parts (which occasionally have other requirements to be completed.) Now, each of your heroes is readied at the start of a turn (they can be readied elsewhere or fail to ready at the start of a turn due to certain cards, but let's ignore that for the moment), and there's four main things you might exhaust them for. Questing, defending, attacking, or their special ability (depending on the card). Since you can only exhaust once per turn, it's important to strike a good balance between the options, or you might end up in a very tight spot.

The game is separated up into seven phases per turn.

1: Card drawing and resource gathering.
This is self explanatory and sets up the rest of your turn. Each player has control of several heroes (One to three per player), and gets one resource per hero in this phase. Resources are needed to play cards from your hand, (in general more powerful cards cost more) so it's important to decide whether you want multiple weak cards, or a single powerful ally.

2: Planning
This is the only time during your turn where you can play allies and attachments. Allies are like mini-heroes, in that they can exhaust themselves to quest, attack, or defend, and ready each turn, but they're generally much weaker than the heroes. Attachments are items you can use to improve your characters' (heroes or allies) attributes. (Think +1 attack, +1 defense, etc.) In addition to these cards, you also have event cards, which can be played at any time.

3: Questing
The most important part of the game, if you don't quest successfully, you can't win. Anyway, when you quest, you choose a number of heroes to exhaust, and then draw one encounter card per player. Encounter cards come in three varieties. Enemies add threat while in the staging area until they engage to fight you (I'll get to that later). Locations are like mini quests. They add threat while in the staging area, but you can travel to one and successfully explore it via questing to remove it from play. Finally, treachery cards are negative status effects on you (for example, you can't ready your hero at the start of a turn without paying two resources, stuff like that), but at least they don't add threat.

Once the cards have been revealed, you check the total threat against the total questing. If your questing is higher, the difference is added as progress to the active location (if there is one, if you successfully explore it or there isn't one, what remains goes to the active quest.) If the threat is higher, the difference is added to the threat total of each active player.

4: Travelling
After you quest, you can pick a location and travel to it, making it the active location. The active location won't contribute threat for when you quest, but you have to complete it before you can pick another active location or make any progress on the actual quest. Additionally, sometimes travelling, exploring, or merely having a location as active will have other effects (that are card-dependent).

5: Engaging
I've talked about threat for a while now, so I'd better explain just what it is. Threat is more or less how close you are to losing the game. When a player reaches 50 threat, they're out of the game instantly. (The other way a player can be removed is if all their heroes die off) The other important thing to know about threat is that your threat determines what enemies engage you. At the start of this phase, each player can pick an enemy they want to engage (they don't have to), and then you start checking each player's threat against the threat level the enemies will engage you at. Each player takes turns doing this until they both pass (that is, their threat is lower than that of all non-engaged enemies), and if they fail they'll be engaged by the enemy with the highest threat level lower than their threat. Why engage enemies? Well, aside from the fact that you'll often have to, enemies add threat to the staging area, making it a lot harder to quest, so it's often beneficial to kill them off ASAP.

6a: Defending
Before you get to slice and dice through Sauron's minions, you have to survive them. Each enemy gets a shadow card (they draw an encounter card, some of them have secondary shadow effects, think of them as random buffs for the enemy), and you evaluate their attacks one by one. For each attack you can pick a defender and exhaust them (or leave it as undefended, in which case one of your heroes will take the blow full strength. BEWARE, as many shadow cards have more powerful effects when undefended.) Then, you simply check the enemy's attack against your character's defense, if the attack is higher you take the difference as damage. If your character has taken more total damage than their HP, they die, it's as simple as that. (It's worth noting that extra damage after the killing blow doesn't do anything. So even if Sauron himself attacks, you can stall him with your wimpiest Gondorian spearman.)

6b: Attacking
Now for the fun part! You've survived the enemy's attack, now it's payback time. If you have any non-exhausted characters left, pick an enemy and check the sum of your attack against that enemy's defense, they'll take the difference as damage. (You won't need readied characters for anything else this turn, so use them all, and KILL those blasted orcs!) You can carry out one attack against each enemy you're engaged against, and can use as many characters in each attack as you want. (Just keep in mind each character gets exhausted via attacking, so you can't normally do multiple attacks with the same character.)

And a couple rules you probably didn't/won't notice for your first play of the game:

Characters marked as sentinel can defend for other players, should the other player have an undefended attack.

Characters marked as ranged can attack enemies engaged with other players, though not enemies in the staging area.

7: Readying
Now you prepare for the new turn, readying all exhausted heroes (unless they're caught in a web... shake ), and adding one to each player's threat dial.

Game 2: Tactics

Well, last time I got totally SLAUGHTERED by three spiders right off the bat, so I decided to go a little more combat oriented this time around, and the tactics deck seemed the best way to do it.

(Note: All games are of the mirkwood scenario. I just got the thing, after all.)

At first it went really well, I killed the opening forest spider without any problems, but soon I noticed a critical flaw in my plan.

Even with all 3 tactics heroes questing, you only get 4 points towards questing. The average location/enemy contributes 2 threat. Therefore, even if the staging area NEVER had more than 2 cards (which is somewhat rare from the games I've played so far), I'd be unlikely to make any progress on the quest!

And that's more or less how the game ended, although enemies never posed a threat (pun intended), the locations just slowly piled up and strangled me to death, and I couldn't do anything about it. shake

Game 3: Spirit

Since it had been two games without even beating the first quest card, I decided it was time for the other extreme, the questing-focused spirit deck. I'd just try to avoid enemies and their threat as much as possible via the overpowering willpower of Eowyn and co.

Of course, there's one main problem with that plan, and that's that some enemies only need a VERY low threat level to engage you, and of course those are the ones that came up when I played. The east blight patrol only needs 5 threat to attack you, and the dol guldur orcs only need 10 threat (keep in mind that you start out with a little less than 10 threat PER HERO, and lose at 50 threat), so I couldn't really avoid engaging those. And of course, aside from the forced opening forest spider, those are the three enemies I encountered. Add in that the spirit deck is horrible at combat, and that was the killing blow (though it took a little while for the corpse to lay down and die.)

However, the past two failures had given me an idea. The spirit deck worked nicely against the locations and questing, but failed hard at those enemies. The tactics deck was awesome vs enemies but got completely flailed when they tried to quest. Hm...

Game 4: Spirit + Tactics

I played this as a two player game, with myself being both players. (Hey, since I've played the wargame War of the Ring solo, this was almost normal1!) And finally, something worked. My tactics deck built up some allies in the early going, and focused on engaging and killing each enemy as soon as it appeared. Meanwhile, my spirit deck would use Eowyn, the other heroes, and the willpower allies for questing and taking out locations.

It worked like a charm. Both decks managed to get a good amount of allies going (the spirit deck put out wandering tooks, a lorien guide, and a VERY awesome northern tracker, that guy killed half a dozen locations with his special ability alone! Meanwhile, the tactics deck stuck with Legolas, Gimli, and a couple of veteran axehands. Add dwarven axe and a bit of damage to Gimli, and the tactics deck could do a very nice 13 damage in one turn.) About halfway through the game, ungoliant's spawn turned up, but no problem. I used a spirit event to cancel it's -1 willpower for every quester (which would have been quite nasty). With that bit done, I then transferred a wandering took to my tactics side for cannon fodder before turning my killing machine on it, and it went down in one turn. As a bonus, Legolas's ability gave me two absolutely free quest points whenever I killed an enemy (which was more or less every turn.)

Before I knew it, I had cleared the first and second stages of the quest, and was about to embark on the branching paths. I happened to end up with "Don't leave the path", where all I had to do was kill Ungoliant's spawn to win. Each player had to search out a spider enemy when the quest card was revealed, so I retrieved my target from the discard and another throwaway enemy. Engaged it, sacrificed an axehand for cannon fodder, and again, a 1-turn kill. Awesome.


Strategy

If you'd rather find out this stuff for yourself, don't read this section and just skip to the final verdict bit.

I found solo play to be much more difficult then group play, none of my first three attempts made it past the first questing stage, but my 2-player attempt beat the mirkwood quest pretty handily (The threat for the tactics deck was 35 or so, the spirit deck was somewhat behind at 26 or so, and as far as damage went, I had only lost one spirit hero and a couple damage points on Gimli).

Regarding each deck, here's a few comments.

Leadership:
Considering how ridiculously short the first game was, I don't have much to say about these guys, but Gloin's ability didn't impress me when compared to Aragorn or Theodred's. Aragorn can basically quest AND do something else for just one resource, and Theodred is a free resource if you send him questing. Meanwhile, Gloin gets an extra resource for each point of damage he takes... which isn't much compared to what Theodred gets you. However, my general impression of the deck is that it tends to be the most balanced one.

Tactics:
If you need to kill enemies, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this deck. Gimli is decent as he starts, but he can take 4 damage before dying, and gains an extra attack point for each point of damage he takes. That means he can do up to 6 attack in just one turn! It's just really great having that kind of firepower. Legolas is nice as well, as he does good damage and gets a questing bonus for each time he helps kill an enemy. He can even attack enemies other players are engaged with, if you've already finished off your opponents. This deck has plenty of allies to work with, though they aren't quite as useful as the main heroes. (Gondorian spearman is cannon fodder, but the veteran axeman makes a nice attacker to complement your other guys.) In addition to the sheer power you can use against one enemy, you can also try group attacks against multiple enemies. The third hero (I forget the name) automatically does 1 damage against enemies that come out while he's questing, the gondorian spearman does one damage to anyone that attacks him, and the rain of arrows card does 1 damage to the entire group of enemies you're engaged against. Since your average enemy will have 3 hit points, this doesn't do much by itself, but if you combine several of these effects, you could easily kill multiple enemies without a normal attack.

Spirit:
An absolute must for questing. Eowyn is completely awesome when it comes to questing. 4 willpower is quite a lot, considering most heroes only have 1-2 willpower, and her special ability nets you one more willpower at the cost of a card if needed. The other two heroes aren't quite as impressive, but I prefer the rohan horseman, as he can strike into the staging area. That ability gives the spirit deck a needed way to take care of enemies without getting massacred(although you'll likely want and need more firepower in addition to that), and is quite cool in its own right, as it lets you hit enemies without letting them attack you at all.
Regarding other cards, the lorien guide is nice for location exploring (since you get one progress on the active location regardless of what else happens), but the real prize goes to the northern tracker. One automatic progress token on EVERY location in the staging area? Just for questing? No strings attatched? I'd take this guy over half the heroes in this game, that ability is so awesome. He's even better in combat than ANY of the heroes in the deck! Without this card, I very well might not have won my last game.

Lore:
Sorry, no comments about this as I haven't played it yet. (I know, the fourth game should have been Lore, I just really wanted that win.)

Final verdict:

This game is very fun once you get the hang of it. Although solo difficulty seems out of whack compared to playing with multiple players, you can easily do 2 players solo, so that's not a problem. With the multiple scenarios (as well as expansion packs, not to mention fan-made ones), the usual problem with co-operative games of replay value from playing against a system looks to be averted completely. Additionally, various scenarios look to require different tactics (and perhaps different decks), and should provide plenty of challenge for everyone, from the newbie to the expert. Despite four games and several hours of playing, I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this masterpiece. Even in just the core set, I have yet to touch the lore deck, the Anduin and Dol Guldur scenarios, not to mention the whole concept of deck-building. In the final analysis, the worst complaint I can level at the game is the rulebook, which says quite a bit about the quality of the rest of the game.
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Tristan Hall
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Nicholas1024 wrote:
I have yet to touch the lore deck, the Anduin and Dol Guldur scenarios, not to mention the whole concept of deck-building.


Always interesting to see if/how people's opinions change after playing scenarios 2 and 3.
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Michele Esmanech
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ninjadorg wrote:

Always interesting to see if/how people's opinions change after playing scenarios 2 and 3.



LOL
+1 to that!!

Let us know how you feel, after playing "Escape from Dol Guldor".


Edit: Greatly written review and batt reports.

cheers
 
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