Star Wars LCG: The Hoth Cycle

I am so obsessed with the Star Wars LCG, it’s untrue. It’s a real shame that I never had the people around me who were into it back in the day, as I think it’s one of those games where, given the right sort of playgroup, you could have so much fun, re-enacting so many key moments from across the entirety of the original trilogy.

Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last few weeks is how much I miss having a card game – or specifically, a living card game, that I would play regularly and tinker with my decks when we had a new release. I did this a lot with Lord of the Rings during its early days, and I remember doing a fair bit with my Netrunner decks too. But in other games, I would say 85% of the time, I was starting with a big card pool. Of course, coming back to the Star Wars card game four years too late runs really counter to this, as well, given that I have pretty much everything there will ever be for the game. I find myself yearning for a new Star Wars game that I can get my teeth into, in the hope that I can once again have this experience of meta-shifts over time.

But in an effort to re-capture some of this element, I’ve been playing the game with some decks that are built somewhat restricted to the early sets available. Both the Rebel and Empire decks that Jemma and I have been using are made predominantly from the core set with some Hoth cycle cards thrown in, and just one set that came later in the game that is used mainly for flavour, or to support the deck. In this way, I’m enjoying playing the game and getting to experience some meta-shifts as I’m thinking of introducing newer cycles every few months. In all honesty, Jemma and I aren’t really playing very often, so it could almost run in real time, with deck changes on an annual basis! But I thought I’d come here today to talk about this cracking game, and it’s first cycle. In the future, I think I’ll be doing a similar style of blog for all of the cycles – hopefully I’ll still be playing it by the time it comes round to the last one!!

The Hoth Cycle is mainly focused around the struggle between the Rebels and the Imperials, following the events of the movie. Of course, everybody gets cards throughout the cycle. The Jedi have some interesting support stuff, and a very interesting new version of Luke which predates the Pilot keyword by a couple of cycles.

This pre-Pilot is a theme for the Rebels, who can attach characters like Wedge to speeder unit cards for additional effects. There are a lot of really interesting interactions among the speeders in these objective sets, and the objectives themselves have the theme of control that is mirrored in the Empire’s sets, as both sides fight for control of the “ice cube”.

The very next cycle then gave us an additional Hoth objective set, featuring none other than General Riekkan, along with an objective that increases the Rebels’ Force icons in the Force struggle. Very handy, and always nice to see it when some older themes are given further support.

We also had a new, Rebel version of Han Solo, who allows you to search your deck for a card when he leaves play. Nothing too earth shattering there, if I’m honest. I think there are some fairly exciting deck prospects that present themselves from looking through the Rebel and Smuggler cards in conjunction.

Renegade Squadron was founded by Col Serra on the orders of Han Solo, the idea being to recruit an elite team of smugglers to assist with the Alliance’s “dreamers”. Their first action was during the evacuation of Yavin, and they played a significant part in the defence of Echo Base.

It’s natural, then, that they’ll feature in the Hoth cycle. It makes things very interesting by giving us more Hoth objectives that can be mixed in to a Rebel/Smuggler deck, which can be quite a popular build.

There is some really lovely synergy between the three objective sets. Col Serra himself buffs you during the Edge battle, and he cannot be damaged or focused during an engagement where you have the Edge. The objective itself allows you to put the top card of your deck into your Edge stack as well. There are a number of ways to dictate the flow of the battle as well, such as forcing characters to defend, or preventing characters from taking part in the battle. It should make for some pretty exciting deck options, for sure.

The interesting thing, though, is the synergy between Col Serra buffing the edge battle, and the Rebel objective Hoth Operations, which gives each speeder unit an icon to use in the edge battle if you control more Hoth objectives. It does certainly make for some interesting deck-building ideas for a Rebel/Smuggler deck, maybe when we’re a bit further into playing the game and want to mix things up more!!

Renegade Squadron wasn’t entirely forgotten, as a fourth objective set featured them in Imperial Entanglements, which has a lot of shenanigans as far as altering the flow of battle when you defend.

In addition to these gems, we have five neutral Hoth objective sets, which contain some very useful support cards, including a set built around shielding and stuff.

As might be expected, there are many Imperial cards that stand out for me as being very tasty. There’s an Imperial version of Darth Vader, there are cards for the Death Squadron he commands, and General Veers gets his own objective set. A very exciting set is that one at the bottom there with Colonel Starck, the guy who commands Blizzard 4 in Empire. For those of you who don’t know, Blizzard 4 is the walked Luke throws the bomb into after his snowspeeder has been downed. He’s a wonderful example of the way characters come to be, first being mentioned in a reference book and later having his story fleshed out.

The Empire have the Death Squadron, but for some reason the flagship, Executor, is in the Sith side, who otherwise get some Sithspawn creatures, some stormtroopers, and a Prophet of the Dark Side objective set. While it’s a bit weird, I think it’s great to see that already this game is really delving into the background for stuff, and a lot of cards make reference to stuff from the 90s, giving me some real nostalgia-bumps!

Finally, the Scum faction gets some mercenaries and Dengar. I think FFG had said the “story”, such as it can be said to exist here, was that the scum were getting ready to collect on Jabba’s bounty on Han Solo. Given that I don’t think Edge of Darkness was out for the most part of this cycle, so Scum in particular seem to get a really raw deal here – at least Smugglers have some good synergy with the Rebels!!

There we have it, anyway. The first cycle for the Star Wars LCG still drips in theme, for me, nine years after its release. I’m planning to look through all of the expansion cycles in due course (hopefully I’ll have picked up those final two packs by the time it comes to the last cycle!) so stay tuned for more!!

The Blood Harvest

Hey everybody,
It’s been a while since Magic has been at the forefront of my mind, but today I thought I’d once again spend a bit of time talking about a deck that I’ve been tinkering with recently. It’s an older red/black deck, which I think I’d originally built years ago – Vampires and Demons, Zombies and Wizards! It was, like many such decks, a bit of a homage to the deck I used so often with the android app, but has since evolved into something a bit more like my normal style of deck-building. Any time I’m building a paper deck, it’s hampered by the fact I didn’t get into the game until well after most of the legendary sets, such as Zendikar and Innistrad, so the card pool is somewhat limited! But still, enough prattling on, let’s look at the deck itself!

As always for me, it’s creature-heavy, but this one is particularly big on bodies.

Creatures (22)
Harvester of Souls
Blood Cultist
Kargan Dragonlord
Onyx Mage
Blind Zealot
Rakish Heir (2)
Bloodcrazed Neonate (2)
Markov Blademaster
Stromkirk Noble
Vampire Outcasts
Falkenrath Torturer
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Falkenrath Exterminator
Guul Draz Vampire
Kalastria Highborn
Vein Drinker (2)
Blood Seeker

Instants / Sorceries (5)
Uncanny Speed
Dark Temper
Vampire’s Bite
Feast of Blood
Blood Tribute

Enchantments (5)
Curse of Wizardry
Raid Bombardment
Talons of Falkenrath
Maniacal Rage
Claws of Valakut

Artifacts (3)
Veinfire Borderpost
Onyx Goblet
Elbrus, the Binding Blade

Land (25)
Swamp (11)
Mountain (9)
Lavaclaw Reaches
Crypt of Agadeem
Smoldering Spires
Teetering Peaks
Akoum Refuge

The main idea behind the deck, then, is to just beat on my opponent with constant attacks. There are a few effects that don’t allow my creatures to block, emphasizing the vicious nature of the deck. There aren’t really any key pieces for the deck, either, which is something of a philosophy for me when making these kinds of decks. Far too often, you’ll be playing a game with an army out there, and key cards are getting removed in one way or another; for me, it’s much better if I can just keep going with whatever I have to hand.

The Innistrad vampires have the subtheme of +1/+1 counters going onto cards, and I was thinking about including some of the Proliferate cards from Scars of Mirrodin block, as I have done with my Sheoldred deck, but I think this deck is a little less involved than that one. If the cards can generate counters, then that’s great, and there are a couple of “target creature can’t block” effects to hopefully get some combat damage through to make it happen, but that’s not the force of the deck, really.

It’s just all about dealing damage, all the time. There’s a little bit of deathtouch, and a little bit of intimidate, but otherwise we’re not being too fancy here. Sometimes it’s just good to go all out and kill stuff, you know? The big lad in the deck is the Harvester of Souls, which would be nice if he had some form of evasion like flying, but I think deathtouch can be enough of a deterrent at times that he should still be able to get some damage through. I’ve got Falkenrath Aristocrat in the deck as well, who is quite a powerhouse in the right circumstances. I was actually trying to alter the deck up to include more humans to sacrifice to her abilities before I realised that I basically have one copy of her in the deck, so it became a bit silly.

There are a couple of cards that I can still see myself swapping out, though for the moment I’m leaving them where they are. Raid Bombardment is just a nice call-back to my deck on the app, but isn’t really necessary for the deck to work (it’s just good to have, as there are a lot of low-power creatures here!) Falkenrath Exterminator is another of these cards that I think I could potentially do without, but for the time being I’m leaving him in, as well. I was considering going heavier with artifacts at one point as well, but that’s gone by the wayside somewhat, too.

It’s definitely the type of deck that I enjoy playing. Relatively straightforward, no requirement to set up a combo and won’t fall down if some cards get removed. There are a lot of singleton cards in here, so it’s not vulnerable to stuff that discards all copies, and stuff. Generally, it’s the kind of janky deck that nobody expects, and can very often do well as a result! But it can definitely be vulnerable to -2/-2 effects…

Having written all of this up, I am now kinda tempted to try and make this into a much more “streamlined” kind of deck. You know, the sort of deck where you have 4-of everything for maximum efficiency, and whatnot. I probably won’t, of course, as I can’t afford it, but it’s an interesting idea!! The deck originated in an idea that I’d had for making a singleton deck (aside from basic lands), and included a lot more cards from Alara block. It’s interesting to see how it has been refined into the Vampire deck that it is today, at any rate!

Almost there!

I am so close, you guys!

As I previously mentioned here on the blog, I’ve become obsessed again with Star Wars LCG, a game that I hadn’t really been playing while it was still actually a living card game. Because of that lack of table-time, I stopped collecting when the game shifted to include content from Rebels, which was a dumb move in retrospect, because that was the game’s penultimate cycle. For years, the game was just stored up in the loft, though, so it didn’t really bother me.

But this Easter, I somehow managed to convince Jemma it would be a good game to try, and we’ve played it twice, as Empire (her) vs Rebels (me), each of us winning a game.

In all honesty, I don’t think we’d even played it once before the obsession took root, though, and I began to search out those remaining Force packs…

In pretty short order, I’d snapped up almost all of the Opposition cycle, and the very final pack from the game. It didn’t seem so bad, after all! But no – I exhausted all of my online resources in the UK, and couldn’t find any more packs on this sceptred isle. Time to broaden the net!!

This past week, in the middle of sitting my health and safety exam, I took delivery of these beauties – two from the US, and two from Belgium (of all places!) I couldn’t believe it! I had begun to think that the Alliances cycle was a creature of myth, but I’ve now got 2/3 of that, and have finished off the Opposition cycle to boot!

That just leaves Aggressive Negotiations, which I have seen for sale recently, just for about double the RRP, and Allies of Necessity, the golden goose itself! I have tried for weeks to find the latter, particularly once I’d heard it was so rare in the wild, but it seems that I may never get to own that last piece of the puzzle.

If anybody knows where I might find copies of either of these packs, PLEASE let me know!! Until then, I think it’s time to get some more games in!!

Star Wars card games

Hey everybody,
I’m still so much in love with the Star Wars LCG, but for today’s game day I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look at the LCG’s two predecessors, the CCG (from Decipher), and the TCG (from Wizards of the Coast), and maybe throw in a dash of conjecture for how a possible new card game could look.

Decipher published the Collectible Card Game between 1995 and 2001. The game works by players battling for control of central locations, which will give them the opportunity to “Force drain” their opponent – that is, deplete their deck. The game is purely card-based, and everything you need to play it is contained within your 60-card deck.

You play cards by generating Force from the locations depending on how many icons are on your side of the table, then use these to play cards to contest locations and so on. The number of icons you have on your side allows you to draw, face down, cards from your deck to then “spend” to deploy cards from your hand – these “resource cards” then go to the bottom of your deck to be recycled.

There were a host of sets released over the six year run, taking in the entirety of the original trilogy and episode one – it is thanks to Decipher that we have the names of many of the background characters in the films, or the previously unnamed “Commander #1” type roles. The game used movie stills for its artwork, which can seem limiting at first, but they ended up paying for models to pose as Expanded Universe characters, such as Shannon McRandle to pose as Mara Jade in several cards.

The game was a huge success, second only to Magic (and sometimes surpassing it) during its run, and has a tremendous following even now. Player committees have produced sets that encompass everything from the new sequel trilogy to the Darth Bane novels, and organising tournaments. It’s quite something, really, to think that the game has been officially finished for more than 20 years but is still going strong.

It’s mentioned in the video above, but the rules are complex. I mean, some games can be difficult to wrap your head around at the first play through, but this one is really, really deep. Even a game like Magic, which can lead to some very complicated interactions, seems to be pretty straightforward by comparison. I’ve seen articles online that call it an “open world” game, and it seems like Decipher basically churned out the cards and players were able to decide upon their own strategy for the win, from traditional space fleet combat to moisture farming. Seems a bit baffling to me, but at the same time, I think it’s really quite indicative of these kinds of older games, which were designed for gamer nerds and almost didn’t try to appeal to the mass market back then. Games could be quirky and weird, and you could make it your own, which I suppose is one of the reasons why it endures to this day.

I never played it, as the game was dead shortly after I really stepped off the cliff edge into Star Wars fandom, so it kinda passed me by, really.

It wasn’t long, however, before the game was replaced by Wizards of the Coast – within a year, WotC produced the Trading Card Game, launched with a set to coincide with Attack of the Clones. Over the course of just three years, there were expansions for the card game that covered all six movies, and delving a fair bit into the expanded universe, as well. We were once again using movie stills, though, so EU stuff was principally realised from video game stills, though Mara Jade was once again featured by a model.

This game has the distinction of being designed by none other than Richard Garfield, who came up with Magic and Netrunner. The game splits play into three arenas – space, ground and character. One person plays as the Light Side, and the other as the Dark Side, and the object of the game is to control two of these three arenas, fighting your opponent to clear his units out of an arena to move in. You generate Build points, which you use to play cards, and Force points, which you use when battling your opponent, but there is also dice rolling involved, leading to a fairly complex game.

At the start of the game, you get 30 build points to get started, thereafter you get d6 build points at the start of each round. When you build a card, you play it face down and allocate your points accordingly, so you don’t necessarily have to wait to play your important stuff, but instead get to work towards stuff from the get-go. That’s kinda interesting, to me. Each unit has three main stats: speed, attack and hit points. Speed is a bit like initiative, and tells you who gets to go first in combat; attack tells you how many d6 to roll, and everybody hits on 4+; and hit points are self-explanatory. Often, units will have abilities which require you to pay a certain amount of Force points to activate.

You also get Location cards, which are built like Units and play into one of the three arenas, granting your units there a global effect of some sort, and there are Battle cards, which are like event cards which you pay for with Force points, and grant you a temporary effect for a single battle round. In addition, Mission cards are built but have a one-time effect, and Equipment cards that you build onto units, and there are rules for Stacking characters on top of each other if, for instance, you have multiple versions of the same character. It’s quite a complex system, like I said, with the dice element and whatnot.

Indeed, both of these card games feel fairly unique in terms of their game play, and with the amount of rules both have generated over the course of their respective runs, it seems fairly dense to try to get into either game. I’ve read that the CCG was once considered one of the most difficult card games to play, actually.

I never played the TCG, either, although I did wind up with quite a lot of product for it, between various starter sets and the like, then shortly after I started work, and began collecting the Miniatures game, I dropped a lot of money on this, picking up a massive amount on the secondary market. I bought booster boxes of almost all ten sets, bought singles wherever I could find them, just because I wanted to collect the game. It’s now confined to a binder in my attic, though I still don’t have a complete collection.

I think the TCG solved the problem of C-3PO fighting a Star Destroyer quite well, splitting the game into the three arenas. The CCG reminds me a lot of Call of Cthulhu in that you’re fighting over a central run of cards, but I do like that implementation as well, and I think it has a lot of the hallmarks of the LCG in terms of players deploying units to contest dominance in a slightly abstract manner.

This brings me on to my thoughts for the future of Star Wars games in card form!

One of the big issues for me when it comes to any kind of Star Wars game is mixing eras. So having Princess Leia fight Darth Maul, for instance, just seems wrong. These games didn’t really police that, and it was really up to players to determine how wonky games could look. The LCG manages it the best way, in my mind, by limiting itself to the Original Trilogy timeframe, but that does mean that a massive chunk of Star Wars history is being missed out. A possible way around this, I suppose, is to have some kind of era mechanic, so the Empire could never fight the Old Republic, but that creates marketing issues, as you end up producing content for smaller sub-groups of your player base. Something that comes to mind, though, is making campaign boxes like Marvel Champions has, and theming these around specific battles. Maybe producing two small-scale boxes per expansion season, such as Battle of Endor for the OT guys, and Battle of Naboo for the Prequel lovers, could work?

Of course, you could also just take the line used by other games, and leave it up to the fans to police themselves…

I used to be all over having a co-op Star Wars game, something along the lines of the original design for the LCG, where you’re the Rebels fighting an encounter deck of the Empire, but I actually don’t think that is really what Star Wars is about. It’s kinda made for PvP play, so I am now favouring the more competitive style, even though it’s not guaranteed that I’d be able to play such a thing!

I think having units fighting over objectives does make sense, but rather than having your own objective deck that is being attacked as per the LCG, I think something more along the lines of the CCG might be nice, where both sides are trying to control a key location or something (which you play from your deck). These types of cards could grant you bonuses for successfully defending it, or could work against you if you lose control of it, and maybe you have to attempt to re-gain control later on. Actually, maybe that’s where scenario play could come in, and the game has a set of Story cards like Call of Cthulhu, but the set is, for instance, Battle of Hoth, and you get more of these per expansion season. So it becomes a bit like Arkham Horror but for opposing players, with an encounter deck that unfolds from round to round, or something?

I’m just typing the first thing that comes into my head at this point!!

I do like those sorts of games though, like 40k Conquest, where you’re not simply duking it out but you’re fighting for control of something. I think that could work well in Star Wars as well, because it solves the problem of Lando trying to fight an AT-AT or something, as well – you’re not directly fighting each other, but instead you’re committing your strength to a cause. The AT-AT might be a physical presence at the objective, but Lando might be working behind the scenes charming the officer in charge to blindside them. Of something.

Actually, the more I think about it, the Conquest LCG could work well re-skinned for Star Wars…

Deck building in Middle Earth

Following on from yesterday’s post about my recent adventures in the shadow of Mordor, I thought I’d continue in that vein a little longer and waffle about my decks that I had built for the game, and share some observations on their performance, etc. I know that Lord of the Rings LCG isn’t a competitive game, and so it can seem a bit like it relies more on personal choice as to what you include in your deck, but nevertheless, I find this kind of thing interesting!

Both decks are tri-sphere, and so resource matching can be horrendous to manage at times! The first deck involves Aragorn (leadership), Legolas (tactics), and Glorfindel (spirit). I’ve got two attachments in the deck that go on Aragorn to give him the spirit and tactics icons, to help smooth that out, and there’s another attachment I’ve given to him that gives an extra resource each round. Nevertheless, it can be very tricky at times to get this moving in the right direction.

In a way, I do feel as though the resource match rule is the most punishing aspect of this game, as you need a total match, it’s not like the Star Wars LCG, where at least one resource needs to come from the relevant faction. Cards like Haldir, for instance, aren’t coming out until turn 4, whereas the encounter deck is at you straightaway, turn 1. I do often think about trying to implement a house rule of using the Star Wars matching system, but I think that could bring its own problems. The alternative that has also crossed my mind is having at least one free pass/starting with more than one resource token per hero when playing a tri-sphere deck.

Anyway, it’s beginning to sound like I’m complaining about the game, but this is a blog post about deck building!

Up until about 18 months ago, I played this game exclusively solo, with one deck of three heroes. However, since playing with two decks has opened up the multiplayer co-op aspect so much, I don’t think I’d ever go back! However, I think I’m still in that former mindset with using tri-sphere, and should probably think about shifting things around so that the two spirit heroes are together, and the two tactics heroes are together. Making decks dual-sphere decks are a lot easier to manage, of course, but I think that would potentially open up an issue as regards how the encounter deck targets the first player in the Vengeance of Mordor cycle.

See, having a good range of Ranged and Sentinel characters on both sides means (in theory, at least!) that I can attack and defend from both decks, no matter where the attacks are coming from. This is something that took me a while to get to grips with, if I’m honest, as the single deck approach meant those keywords were meaningless for me for so many years. As they tend to be in specific spheres, too, it would need careful planning to rearrange the decks, so for now I’m just plodding on!

In my Faramir deck, I have a spread of Song cards, the original Mirkwood Songs that grant different icons to the heroes they’re attached to. Now, invariably in this game, you’ll draw cards for the wrong hero, leaving one stuck with most of the tokens because you’re not drawing anything they can play. Perfect target for a Song, normally! I found it interesting in my last game, though, that no good target really presented himself, because I was drawing a good spread of cards so was managing fine – the best use I could put these Songs to was discarding for travel effects!

I suppose this is the interesting thing about this sort of card game, though. Due to shuffling your deck, your cards are randomised, so you never really know what you’re going to get next. Obvious, I know, but in practice this can mean you draw really well, or you only draw event cards whose triggers just aren’t coming up. Or you only draw leadership cards, meaning you end up with the Bank of Legolas or something.

This is why “search your deck” effects can be so useful, as not only do you have the chance to go look for exactly what you need, but you also (usually!) have to shuffle your deck afterwards. Any additional shuffle is usually very useful, I find – regardless of the fact that most of the game is often down to luck of the draw, it just feels good to shuffle your deck when you’re not drawing anything useful, because it feels like you’re going to change the game. Regardless of the fact that Galadhrim’s Greeting might well have been the next card you were going to draw, anyway!!

So, heroes having multiple spheres is very useful, the Ranged and Sentinel keywords are very useful, and being able to search for specific cards is very useful. The fourth “pillar” to all of this is, of course, getting multiple uses out of your characters, particularly heroes. Aragorn has this ability natively, of course, where you can pay one resource from his pool to ready him when he has committed to the quest. Given his all-round great stats, plus Sentinel, makes this really useful, but it does assume that you have the resources to pay for it. Light of Valinor is just made for Glorfindel, as it means the guy doesn’t exhaust to quest in the first place. Stuff like Leather Boots, which allow the attached to character to ready when a certain card is revealed from the encounter deck, is also really good, although somewhat situational. I mean, if Faramir has his boots on, and only enemies come out of the deck, you’re stuck with a Ranger character who can’t do anything to help out.

The gold standard in these types of cards is, of course, Unexpected Courage, which allows you to ready the attached hero, regardless of what has happened. I’m not sure a character can defend, then attack back, all that often, but this allows you to do that. (As another side note about the rules in general, I don’t understand why characters have to throw themselves in the line of fire without getting to retaliate. There should either be a kind of simultaneous combat, or a rule that allows a defender, if he survives the attack, to attack back before attackers are declared properly. But maybe that would skew things too much, as well).

The final subset of cards worth mentioning is not that well-represented in these decks, but I would say is still fairly important – the ‘cancel’ effect cards, and other generally playing-outside-the-rules. So cards such as A Test of Will, which cancels the when revealed effect of a card from the encounter deck, or the lore events that ignore the threat of a location or an enemy in the staging area, giving you some questing room. Direct damage cards are also useful, as they bypass the need for engaging enemies, though obviously there are Dúnedain cards that want you to be engaged. Tactics has a variety of cards that allow you to directly attack an enemy, which used to confuse me a bit because I thought I was engaging those enemies as well. Nope. Hands Upon the Bow, for example, let’s you attack someone at +1 to that attack, without the need for enduring an attack coming from that enemy first. It’s a really powerful effect, especially on a heavy-hitting hero tooled up with something like a Rivendell Blade, which reduces the defence on that enemy.

With all of these card types to take into account, along with a sprinkling of buffs and other one-time events, it’s no wonder I’m enjoying the game much more since I stopped playing just the one deck! In all honesty, playing two-handed has almost been like learning how to play the game anew, but it’s been really quite a great experience to see all of these effects and combos come out as I’ve done so! There will always be bad hands drawn, even after a mulligan, but sometimes, you get to draw Light of Valinor for Glorfindel in your opening hand three games in a row. And that, my friends, is glorious!!

A Shadow in the East

Hey everybody,
Today’s blog is perhaps unsurprisingly taking us into Middle Earth, following on from last week’s exciting discussion of new decks for the game! I’m currently investigating the later cycles for the game, having pretty much stopped playing the game regularly during the fourth cycle, The Voice of Isengard. So, even though this expansion was released back in 2018, it’s new to me!

A Shadow in the East starts off when the heroes are resting in Dale, after the previous cycle’s adventures had concluded. Envoys from Dorwinion, in the east, arrive with news of spreading darkness – disappearances, mainly, but with no army for defence, the people have turned to King Brand for aid. The heroes volunteer for the mission, and off we go!

The first scenario, The River Running, reminds me a great deal of the first scenario from The Voice of Isengard – being relentlessly pursued by enemies, this time, Easterlings. We have a tremendous amount of pressure exerted through the Objective card, which forces the arrival of more enemies every third round. Coupled with this is a set-aside Side Quest, and the annoying number of Treachery cards which, for this scenario, function as attachments for enemies! Don’t get me wrong, I like that mechanic, and was surprised it took so long to be implemented in the game, but even so, it does make things so much more difficult!!

Assuming that we make it out alive, our next task is to head for the city of Dorwinion, built on the shores of the sea of Rhûn. Here, we learn that people have been disappearing, so we head out into the city to investigate.

Danger in Dorwinion is the second scenario, and bears a striking resemblance to the first scenario from the Against the Shadow cycle, The Steward’s Fear. We’re running round a city, ferreting out a cult; we have a random cultist enemy to defeat, and a random objective revealed to affect the game. It’s almost like being back in the realm of Gondor!

This scenario plays greatly around the threat level, and everything coalesces really quite catastrophically for the heroes, the way that the encounter deck just keeps on raising the threat. I actually lost half of the team when the Faramir/Dúnhere/Elladan side threated-out.

If we’re able to survive, one of the cultist prisoners tells us that cityfolk have been taken to a hidden temple in the Hills of Rhûn, and so we March onwards!

The Temple of Doom concludes the deluxe expansion, and is interesting to me in that it was complicated in terms of how it shakes up the main rules, but didn’t feel impossible like some third scenarios can be. We have a quest deck where each stage goes into the victory display upon completion; the number of stages there informs the threat level of the boss, Thane Ulchor, who cannot be defeated until there are 4 stages in the victory display, and there’s a side quest that cannot be completed until Thane Ulchor has 0HP left, at which point we win. That side quest is working against us though, as every fourth round it’ll force us to draw from the Power of Mordor deck; we have another boss, the Tower of Barad-Dur location (which can never be traveled to, and reduces the threat elimination level by 5), and three obnoxious objectives. With just five cards in the deck, the maths-savvy among us will realise that this means we have 23 rounds to defeat the whole thing (if you cannot draw from the Power of Mordor deck, you lose). But there are also other effects going on that will speed this up – yikes!

For all of the complicated goings-on here, it wasn’t particularly bad to play through, as the encounter deck is predominantly location cards and treacheries, and both decks I was using to play have got significant willpower output when I get them going, which has happened really quite well so far in this play-through! Regularly throwing out 20+ willpower for the quest, with numerous ways to re-use heroes for combat as well, has meant that it was fairly okay. I’m not trying to call it easy, far from it, but it didn’t feel that bad.

I wonder if I would find some of the earlier quests easier with these decks, as they benefit from the entirety of the card pool…

Story-wise, we have an unexpected call-back to an earlier villain (is it a spoiler if we’re over 4 years since this came out?) and we seem to be firmly in Sauron-country for the foreseeable future. There is a definite Against the Shadow feel to this cycle so far, so I’m intrigued as to where the story is going to take us as we move further into the cycle.

Difficulty ratings are not really something that you can really trust, yet I was still surprised that Danger in Dorwinion only merited a 5, when I was just one round from losing. True, I’ve lost to Passage through Mirkwood before now, and that rating is 1, but even so, this feels much more difficult than The Dead Marshes, but both have the same difficulty! Interestingly, it also shares that rating with The Steward’s Fear. But perhaps there’s a perceived ease about The Dead Marshes, as I’ve played that scenario quite a lot now.

This kinda brings me on to the next point, anyway. These later quests really don’t feel like the same game as those earlier ones. Maybe I’m just too struck on the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but I do have incredible nostalgia for that one, and there feels like too much going on in these later quests to really give the same sort of feeling. I can’t quite describe it, but I much prefer my hundredth run through Emyn Muil, say, than these new things. Maybe I’m just becoming a grouchy old man…

For all that, though, I am really enjoying finally getting to see what the later quests are all about. They’re often difficult, with a lot to keep track of, but it’s good to play them all the same. I don’t think I’m going to be in for an easy time of it, however, as I head into the cycle itself!

Throwback Thursday

I don’t normally get into this sort of thing, but for a variety of reasons I felt the need to do so today! I think talking about a return to Age of Sigmar yesterday, more broadly about Fantasy in general, has put me in the mood, somewhat.

When playing Warhammer Invasion, I would almost always play as Chaos, and it’s a faction that I really enjoy a great deal. When it came to the miniatures, though, it took a lot longer for me to fall in with the ruinous powers. I’ve recently begun to work with some gusto on the Khorne Bloodbound models as a second army for Age of Sigmar, and I’m also still chipping away at the Black Legion for 40k. So I’m definitely feeling Chaotic at the current time!

The models tend to be absolutely beautiful though, whether it’s in the baroque majesty of the Khornate armour, or the lithe beauty of Slaanesh Hedonites. Which reminds me, I’ve got some of those mortal units still boxed up somewhere…

For me, there is a definite appeal to the Fantasy miniatures, I think mainly due to the fact that it was Warhammer Fantasy that initially got me into this mess. True, I never played the game, but there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia attached to these things, for me. I’m not about to do a complete 180 and throw my lot fully into AoS, especially because most of my gaming buddies are more 40k-centric. But I’m definitely leaning into the fantasy setting once again. And with stuff like Warcry and Warhammer Underworlds, it’s hard to stay away from the mortal realms!!

Lord of the Rings LCG: the road goes ever on

After yesterday’s blog where I decided that I wanted to play some Lord of the Rings LCG again, I did in fact get a game in with the first scenario from A Shadow in the East, The River Running. I was using two of my favourite decks to attempt the scenario, elves (headed by Legolas, Elrond and Glorfindel) and dwarves (Daín Ironfoot, Ori and Óin). These decks have been used for many years as I took on a variety of quests from early in the game’s run, always to quite magnificent results. The dwarf deck is something of a powerhouse when it gets going, thanks to the fact that dwarves as a theme have been so well-explored as a deck type. The elves do sometimes need a bit more planning, but the deck is still quite successful. Together, I thought they’d be tremendous!

Well, that was my first mistake. I think the reliance on cards from comparatively early in the game, when playing scenarios from the eighth and final cycle really showed how far things had come along! Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of cards from the core set that have retained their power throughout the whole life of the game, and thanks to my general confusion at times (it’s been almost a year since I last played!) I did manage to get through it in one piece!

But I’ve decided that I want to pretty much entirely redesign my decks, because there is a huge plethora of cards that I’m not using, and by sticking to themes so rigidly I’m missing out on too much. When I was building the two decks for my journey into Angmar, I took a wildly different approach to the norm, and it really paid off for me, I think.

I’ve therefore completely disassembled the dwarf deck ( which, in fairness, relied a lot on Underground/Mountain/Dark locations triggering effects, anyway), and the elf deck has been stripped down to be rebuilt with Aragorn in the mix. That’s right, original, core set Aragorn! Those old cards still have a lot of power, remember!

I like having him in a deck, even if his starting threat is pretty huge, though that is offset in a deck which also has the Spirit version of Glorfindel, because they still only start at 26 in total. I’ve got a lot of Spirit cards in the deck, but Aragorn has that stone attachment which also gives him specifically the Spirit icon, so it’s good that way.

I’ve pulled in cards from all across the history of the game, which is very exciting, so that I can get some interesting stuff going on – well, I hope it’s going to be interesting! One of the things that has surprised me with this deck is the extent to which I’m going to be able to buff willpower, but I’m hoping that it will be a good all-rounder, as the heroes have good attacking strength, too.

This deck is broadly still elves, then, with some more cards added in from the realms of men, to supplement Aragorn’s presence. I think I’ve tried, so far as possible, to have an equal spread among the three spheres. It’s something that I invariably struggle with in games of Lord of the Rings LCG, having one sphere where I either get no cards, or too many cards, so one hero ends up with all the resources because they don’t have anything to play.

I’ve tried to mitigate against that in my revamped Rohan deck, however, by using the full suite of Song cards to share out icons.

The major change to this deck came about when I decided to use the elf twins, Elladan and Elrohir, in some capacity. Elladan as a Tactics hero and Elrohir as a Spirit ally was running around my head, so the Rohan triumvirate of Dúnhere, Éomer and Theodred came to an end! But as with dwarves and elves before them, it had served me well! The original deck was dual-sphere, but I’ve decided to broaden things out with the addition of Faramir as a Lore hero. He brings with him the Gondor theme, as well as a bunch of interesting attachments. It’s another interesting, all-rounder deck, and I think it could be nice to run alongside the Aragorn deck to get a good Fellowship feel going!

At any rate, it felt like it was going to be A Task to build new decks for this game, but as it turned out, I’ve really enjoyed it! I think it’s definitely getting me excited for cracking on with the Vengeance of Mordor cycle, at any rate!! However, looking through the card pool has made me really nostalgic for the earlier quests

May Plans

Somehow, I’m on quite the blog-writing streak here at the minute, I think this is day 16 now, which is quite exciting! Amid all of the rambles, though, I feel like I need to get a bit more focused. I’m very much in a Star Wars mood at the moment, and combined with a return to board gaming, I seem to be moving away from what has been my main hobby for the last eight years now, miniature war games. I did touch on this on Friday, but I think I need to try to strike more of a balance, and see if I can keep up the games while also enjoying a bit more of the plastic hobby. I have the coming week off work (which is just as well, really, because I’m in the middle of some pretty intense training at the moment!) so thought it would perhaps be a good time to recalibrate, and whatnot.

So, to start with, I want to try to press on with the Black Legion bits that I’m in the middle of painting. I may have said this before, but I find it difficult to come back to projects when they’re halfway finished, so I do need to keep on with these guys before it’s another couple of years before they’re fully painted. I’m not going to go any further than this for the time being: I wouldn’t say that I’m in a hobby slump per se, but I’m definitely in that realm of feeling a bit overwhelmed with just how much I’ve got going on, so don’t want to plan ahead beyond the one immediate project for now!!

It’s no secret that I have a lot of armies on my plate, but in the last week I’ve started to take some action here, and have listed my Blood Angels on eBay to try and trim down. As it stands, I’m hoping to get around £100 for the lot, which would be nice, and traditionally I would almost immediately plough that back into Games Workshop’s coffers, but I’m hoping that I can be more circumspect this time around, and resist the allure of new shiny stuff. I still want to off-load more models, including my Nighthaunt, so hopefully I’ll be feeling a bit better about the hobby and stuff once I’ve cleared away some of the chaff. It’s amazing how much noise is in my head from the variety of projects that I have at the moment.

I’m very keen to give the new Kill Team a try – well, especially seeing as how it isn’t really “new” any more. This would kinda play into the Black Legion that I’ve been painting up as well, as I could start painting those models that were built up from the Nachmund set, though at this point I have quite a few sets of miniatures from which to draw – including AdMech and Genestealer Cults from the White Dwarf rules.

Unfortunately, nobody around here appears to be that into Kill Team right now, I think in part as a result of a general downer on 9th Edition 40k that seems to be led by the main group from my local GW. So it may be a bit of an uphill struggle on that one!

I do need to finish building the terrain from Nachmund though, at which point I may just try it out with me taking on both sides, just to see how the ruleset works. I may have a better chance of convincing people if I’ve got a better grasp of the rules!

So far, then, I don’t think my plans for the month are particularly onerous! Finish painting five/six models, build up some terrain, and maybe read over some campaign books!

Of course, I’m still really keen to play lots of other games that I own, and have been enjoying quite a variety of them in recent weeks. I’m still trying to convince Jemma that the Star Wars LCG is worth playing, and I’m still in the middle of the jungle in the Forgotten Age campaign, but I’ve recently also been thinking a lot about Lord of the Rings LCG. It’s widely been referred to on my blog here as my favourite game, and I think that holds true for the first couple of cycles of the game. But somewhere around the Voice of Isengard, I just lost interest due to the game becoming so incredibly difficult to play solo.

There are about six full cycles that I have not yet played, and last year I made an effort to change that, playing my way through The Lost Realm before once again getting distracted. Now, I have a vague memory of playing through the first three scenarios in the Angmar Awakened cycle as well, and even mentioned it here on the blog, but I didn’t record it on my BGG stats, and I don’t actually remember the scenarios themselves, either, so in confusion I’ve somewhat given up for the time being.

I still want to play this game, though, so I’m thinking that I’m going to go straight in for the final cycle of the game, the Vengeance of Mordor! This should be interesting, as from what I remember of it from promotional stuff at the time, we get to explore some fairly interesting aspects of Middle Earth, and we get something of a unique look at the world. So that’s pretty exciting! Although I may not be saying that when I’ve been beaten into submission by the scenario!

I’m hoping to get started with it while I’m off, anyway, so stay tuned for more updates there!!

Gaming Reflections

Hey everybody,
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my gaming history, and my enjoyment of board games and stuff, and it has struck me how things have changed over the years as I’ve gone from one aspect to another. I think what prompted it was an idle look into my boardgamegeek stats, where I’m one of those gaming anoraks who like to log my plays with various games. My history there goes back to 2008, when I started playing games with my ex-girlfriend. She was the one who got me into it, with Carcassonne, and over the couple of years we were together we played a massive variety of board games. She was the one buying them, though, so the choices were pretty much entirely driven by what she wanted to play.

As time went on, I discovered games for myself (and bought a few that I remembered enjoying during those early years). I was probably into the heavy fantasy adventure boardgames at this time, like Runebound and Arkham Horror. Star Wars Miniatures was a huge thing for me during 2010, but I would never have considered myself a miniature wargamer prior to my getting into Warhammer Fantasy Battles in 2014, and almost immediately moving on to Warhammer 40k, starting a Necrons army late in that year.

In between, then, I was playing a lot of board games, and a lot of card games, such as Lord of the Rings LCG and the like. I discovered Rune Age quite early on, but didn’t really get into the deck-building game thing until a little later. It’s Rune Age, though, that has really prompted me to write this blog, as I’ve been thinking a lot about it as one of my all-time favourite games that hasn’t seen me play it for so long! I had a game last night, for the first time since November 2015, and it was just incredible to return to the game after so long!

Getting back into board games in general has been a product of playing Ticket to Ride Europe with my extended family back last September, and I began to blow the dust off some of the other bits and pieces that had been put away during my Warhammer years. Hellboy was a big one at the end of last year, of course, and after my wife suggesting we have more regular game nights last month, we’ve played quite a few things, like Elder Sign. She’s sticking with me on the Star Wars LCG, too, god love her, but I’m not convinced that she’s enjoying it as much as I am; I’m preparing for that to fall by the wayside once again very soon!

Playing games with Jemma has helped me to get back into some of the more regular gaming that I enjoy, though, as opposed to my non-gaming time being almost exclusively taken up with assembling, or painting little men.

Last week’s game day went a long way to recovering some more of that enjoyment, as well. Playing a new game, playing old favourites, it was great – even if we were both rusty with those old favourites! I think part of it is down to wanting a rest from the mess that comes with painting (and avoiding stabbing myself with the hobby knife!) but it’s also nice to have a boxed game that you take down from the shelf, get all the bits out and play it, and then put it away and it’s all nice and tidy again.

I’m flirting around things here, but let me come out right now and say this, I am categorically not getting out of Warhammer. Not only am I far too invested at this point, but I’m also still really into that world, and that game. 9th edition 40k has been a very weird time, for sure, and like a lot of folks, I think it’s been just odd how it was launched during a global pandemic where games were so difficult to get. Fair enough, it’s out there, and I have had games now, but there’s just something not quite sitting right with me for 9th, and I can’t quite put it into words.

I can’t decide whether it’s a genuine problem with the game, or whether it’s down to my somewhat lack of interest in the new 40k, but it seems to be getting out of hand a bit now, with the campaign books adding more rules bloat, and the White Dwarf articles giving more again, it feels like the game is getting unwieldy. I’m on the fence with it a bit, because I think if I were part of a regular gaming group, and we were playing regular games, then I imagine it would be a glorious sandbox time for us to play all manner of wonderful games that could be the stuff of gaming legend for years to come. However, I play fairly sporadically, so it’s not really of any use to me. When I do come to play though, I see references online to stuff that I need to try and track down, and then lose interest and just give up!

40k is definitely not just a hobby, but a way of life, and I’m certainly moving to the other side of the fence with that one right now. I used to be really into that whole side as well, but now I’m shrinking down my collection and trying to free up space (and money!) and trying to make it less of a chore for me.

Where I find myself right now is quite a nice spot, though. I’m offloading some of the extraneous noise to whittle my plastic addiction to just a core of stuff that I like, then I think I want to be a bit smarter with how I store things so that I’m not finding myself too overwhelmed by it all.

I have a fairly good core of my favourite board games still, so I think it’ll be good to keep hold of those, and actually enjoy them, rather than continually expanding. I’ve talked about Tony’s obsession with games a lot on the blog, but going round to his place last week was a real eye-opener, because he has a whole bedroom that is taken up with games storage. I mean, it’s quite startling, really. I was never that bad, but I think that speaks more to the kickstarter addiction than anything else. Having a massive chunk of game in one hit, rather than maybe a game with one expansion, is going to take a lot of storage space!

Where am I going with all of this ramble right now?

Well, I guess I am quite happy for the time being with how things are looking. I’m working to get 40k into balance with the other games that I like, and I’m working at rediscovering some of my old favourites, like Rune Age. I was in the loft yesterday, looking for something, and I came across a box with Dungeon Quest in it – and I was enraptured! I’d forgotten I even had that game! How amazing. (I also found my degree certificate, so it was quite a productive box, that!)

The fact that I mentioned the 40k hobby being a chore is a big one though, as it has become really quite cumbersome for me lately. It’s symptomatic of me as a gamer though, I suppose, because I like having variety and I am something of a collector; as such, I have thousands upon thousands of Magic cards, and I have too many 40k kits to be allowed. I suppose the former is much less of an issue than the latter, as it still takes up less combined space. I really don’t think I’ll ever be a one/two army guy, but I think I’m finally getting more streamlined!

It’s good to get things in balance, and I hope that I will continue to play the board and card games alongside enjoying the hobby and game of 40k, but I don’t want one to consume the other, as has been happening over the years. It’s nice to have a range of things to enjoy, after all!