Cthulhu on the horizon!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about some of the news from FFG about new Cthulhu-themed games coming on the horizon that I’ve only recently had the time to digest (the new Star Wars trailer dropping has primarily been responsible for my tardiness here!) So let’s kick off the Halloween season with a look at the next big box expansion for Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathotep!

Masks of Nyarlathotep

This was an expansion that was both entirely expected, and yet completely blew me away with the announcement last week. I mean, for sure we would be getting Nyarlathotep in the game soon enough – it’s a Cthulhu mythos game, what would it be without the wearer of a thousand masks? But I had entirely been expecting to see him in a small-box expansion, with some specific Mask monsters, and nothing more than that. Oh, how wrong I was!

Masks of Nyarlathotep introduces a campaign mode of play to Eldritch Horror, and currently we only have a few lines towards the end of the announcement that tell us what is involved here:

When taking on a Campaign, players will need to win multiple games, with consequences and benefits carrying over to the next game after each threat is sealed away from the world. If stopping any single Ancient One seems an impossible task, can the investigators possibly hope to succeed as these otherworldly beings attack one after another?

However, earlier in the article we learn that there are several cults springing up across the world, each seeming to worship a different entity, and it’s up to the investigators to stop them. While my first thoughts about campaign play were that we could play games using different expansions, and they would all somehow feature into this mode, I think rather it will be implemented as more self-contained within this box. I’m going to guess, then, that this expansion won’t have a new sideboard, but instead will just be choc-full of cards that allow for several different gameplay experiences, maybe even mini-Ancient Ones like the Heralds from Arkham Horror, all of which will add up to some climactic endgame against Nyarlathotep himself. Nyarlathotep will still appear as a more regular AO if you want to just play a straight game with him involved, but for the campaign mode he’s probably going to have some kind of mechanic that makes him stronger the more Mask villains we don’t defeat, or something.

We’ll see in Q1, 2018!

Omens of the Pharaoh

The next bit of news I was really happy to see was the new Elder Sign expansion, Omens of the Pharaoh!

Have you played Elder Sign: Omens? It’s a pretty good re-interpretation of the card game for Android/iOS, and features an expansion based on the sinister goings-on in Egypt. The Dark Pharaoh, Nephren-ka, has already made it into Eldritch Horror of course, and now he’s making his malevolent presence felt here, too!

I really like how the new mode for Elder Sign has allowed games to move out of the museum. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the classic game where you’re wandering the deserted exhibits at night, but Omens of Ice was an incredibly flavourful (and difficult!) game, and while I still haven’t managed to get round to Omens of the Deep, I’m sure that will also be a delight.

Whoever made the connection between having locations to explore inside a museum, and locations in a more general sense, should definitely feel a deep sense of pride at that achievement!

Adding the Egyptian horror feel to this game is definitely something to be pleased about, as it’s a classic setting for the mythos, though if we’ve already had the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the deep sea and now Egypt, I wonder whether this line of ‘Omens of’ expansions can continue for much longer? I’m guessing there will be an Amazonian jungle (or some kind of tropical theme) expansion at some point, but then what?

FFG’s Lovecraftian games are always a true delight, and I cannot wait to add both of these games to my collection when they arrive early next year!

Netrunner Rotation

Android Netrunner

Last week, Fantasy Flight put up a very interesting article that explained the way that rotation is going to work for their Netrunner LCG from October, and I have to say, I was utterly fascinated by it – to the point that it’s the subject of this week’s game day blog, in fact!

For the uninitiated, rotation is the definition of an organized play environment for the game, where older sets have been moved out of the pool to prevent that pool from growing prohibitively large. For me, it’s synonymous with Magic the Gathering, where sets rotate out of Standard at set points in the year to ensure the environment is manageable for tournament play. FFG first put up an article about this in 2014, which described how Netrunner would see the first two cycles of data packs rotate out of organized play when the first pack of the eighth cycle was released. That cycle has now been announced as the Kitara cycle, and takes the game to Africa and the Sub Saharan League. As this cycle comes into play, the Genesis and Spin cycles will rotate out, meaning that none of those cards can be used in decks for organized play from this point on.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

See, FFG are releasing a Revised Core Set, which isn’t just a core set with errata’d cards or something, but is essentially the next way to buy into the game. It doesn’t merely reprint cards from the current set, but rather includes a new mix of cards that features some from the Genesis and Spin cycles that are rotating out, meaning that you may not need to deconstruct those decks, after all!

They have released a card list for the Revised Core Set already, just to help further!

I find this somehow fascinating, and it makes me think that the game is expanding at a sensible rate. It is somewhat similar to the way that Magic works, by having a core set come along with those all-important cards, but the rotation here is so much more leisurely that it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a mad scramble to keep up. At its smallest extent, there will be five cycles of cards that will form the current meta, which represents a good number of years with which to play these cards. I mean, Netrunner has already been out for what, five years now? That’s a five-year Standard season that allows you to really get a decent amount of play out of your card pool!

Back when they announced rotation originally, I was all for it, and I remain so. The fact that it took almost a year longer to get going than they’d initially thought notwithstanding, I think now that we’re here, and seeing how they’re handling it, I’m really impressed at what’s happening.

Will I be getting a copy of the new core set? Probably not. While I have taken part in Netrunner tournaments in the past, I don’t think it’s something I’m planning to do in the future, so it’s almost irrelevant to me. I’m really pleased to see that the game is being supported so well, however, and I’ll doubtless be buying the data packs as they come out anyway, as casual play is really all I get into these days!

Star Wars RPG, Fantasy Flight style

Hey everybody!
Game Day is upon us once more here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a brief look at the Star Wars role playing game system from Fantasy Flight Games, which is kinda involved, so this blog may get a little sprawling! I’ve previously looked at Star Wars RPG systems from West End Games (here!) and Wizards of the Coast (here!), so this is just the latest in the illustrious line of such products! Let’s get to it!

Star Wars RPG

The Star Wars license has been held by FFG since 2011, though they had a few problems with both their card game and the X-Wing miniatures game, so they didn’t actually publish any games for roughly a year after procuring the license. At GenCon 2012, they unveiled the RPG system as a tri-part thing, three distinct books that would focus on three distinct aspects of the galaxy far, far away, but all of which would be compatible with each other. The first of these to come out was Edge of the Empire in 2013, which dealt with the galactic fringe. It was followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014, which dealt with the military of the rebellion, and finally Force and Destiny in 2015, dealing with Force users and the Jedi remnant.

Each of these core rulebooks also came with a Beginner Game, which featured maps and tokens, as well as a slim beginner adventure that teaches you the game as you play, and of course the dice you need. The Star Wars RPG was designed by Jay Little, who had previously been behind the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying series, and is a huge lover of custom dice.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the character stuff!

When you play the RPG system from Fantasy Flight, you create your character as is standard for such things, picking a species and career, the latter giving you a choice of three specializations. For example, using the Edge of the Empire book, you might choose to be a Twi’lek Explorer, which will give you a choice of following the Fringer, Scout or Trader specializations. Each of these three has a unique talent tree in the book that describes the arc your character can expect to follow. The way that character creation works in this system is quite closely driven by story, and the book constantly asks you to think about this when you go through to make your character.

In addition to this, there is a further level added to the creation of your character that is somewhat unique to each strand of the RPG. For Edge of the Empire, that level is called Obligation, and represents “a debt, nemesis, duty or other motivating factor that drives your character’s efforts on the fringes of galactic society.” (The mechanic returns as Duty in Age of Rebellion, and Motivation in Force and Destiny). A lot of RPGs use this story element to help propel the story forward, and a good GM will be able to weave these sorts of strands together as a part of his or her overall narrative to tell a truly immersive story.

Star Wars RPG

So, what about the dice?

There are a number of different dice in the game, which all help to tell the narrative of the game you’re playing. Narrative dice? Yep, you heard that right. As a player, you have a pool of these dice that you roll when specified by a particular task. Dice can be added to or taken away from your pool by the GM to help reflect the narrative better.

The blue and the black d6 are boost and setback dice, and are added to the pool to reflect the fact that your character might be particularly good at what he or she is doing, or might be trying to accomplish a task under fire.

The green and the purple d8 are ability and difficulty dice, and reflect the core of how good or bad at accomplishing a task your character may be.

Finally, the yellow and the red d12 are proficiency and challenge dice, and act as modifiers to the d8 versions, either reflective of just how good or how bad your character may be.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of symbols on these dice, and the way they interact can appear a little daunting at first. However, once you get into it, the dice are actually fairly straightforward to deal with. Adding and subtracting dice, cancelling one result with another, it all becomes fairly straightforward. The beauty of the system, however, lies in the real narrative possibilities of these dice – they don’t just tell you if you succeeded or failed at a task, but help to tell the story by telling you how well or badly you did:

The dice do take some getting used to, don’t get me wrong, but they’re certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this game system!

While the Force can be used in Edge of the Empire, it didn’t really come to the fore until 2015’s Force and Destiny. Force powers work much like any other skill, of course, and you roll the white d12 to see how many Force points you roll to use on powers. Force and Destiny brought the Heal, Misdirect and the classic Battle Meditation powers to the fore, with each power following a tree akin to the career options, and as your character advances through the game, he or she can essentially level up within a chosen discipline.

The RPG has had a fair number of expansions for each of the three strands at this point, with adventure modules and sourcebooks for many of the career options available to help immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe. Naturally, Edge of the Empire has seen the majority of these, though the others are catching up. The interesting thing to note about the way these expansion books work is how specialized they are. While there have been a handful of sourcebooks on locations (such as the Corellian sector’s Suns of Fortune), and of course, adventure modules, the sourcebooks are predominantly focused around a career path, meaning that you won’t want to buy every single book if you’re playing a Colonist, for example. I find this interesting because it’s a much more consumer-friendly way of expanding the game than previous editions, which have usually incorporated rules that everybody would want to get their hands on within all manner of different books. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a RPG group for a while now, so I don’t know if this is still the case, but I’ve heard of groups where the GM buys everything and lets the group make use of it, as well as people picking and choosing what they get. If you’re heavily invested in just one player character type, then, you could feasibly get away with just buying one book, plus the core rules.

FFG have also released The Force Awakens beginner game, which has so far not led into a fourth branch of the RPG, but rather felt more like a bit of a cash-grab. It’s a good way to introduce people to the game system who may have only jumped in once the film was released, of course, though the system is otherwise flexible enough that I would imagine you could set your games wherever you liked in the timeline. Notably, while some mention of now-Legends stuff has been made, there aren’t any “Knights of the Old Republic sourcebook” style products; instead, the system feels a little bland by giving you all the tools you need to create an adventure entirely of your own choice. I say “a little bland”, because I think I’d prefer to tie my adventures more firmly into the narrative – certainly, that’s how I’ve run campaigns in the past – but by structuring the game in this way, FFG have actually left the universe pretty wide open. I mentioned in my Saga Edition blog that WotC ended their run on the RPG with a sourcebook that provided you with all of the tools you would need to forge a narrative entirely on your own; well, FFG started at that point, and have continued to provide books that are more along the lines of helpful nudges than hard-line stuff.

Star Wars RPG

All in all, I have strangely mixed feelings about the FFG role playing game. I want to like it – heck, I want to love it – but I’ve never quite been able to truly dive in. I think I enjoyed my time with Saga Edition so much, I just want to keep a hold of my d20s and never let go! That is my idea of a Star Wars RPG. Strangely, then, I think I’ve become the crazy old guy who shouts at the kids with their new fancy dice (though I’m not as bad as the guys who still play the West End Games version…)

Battlelore!

Hey everybody!
It’s part two of my game day blog special thing, looking at two games on the Battlelore system. Following last week’s look at Battles of Westeros, it’s time to take a look at the fantasy version, Battlelore itself!

Battlelore

The second edition of the game, Battlelore came out late in 2013. Set in the same universe as the hugely popular Runebound, but featuring the factions that we’ve all come to expect from Terrinoth in this post-Runewars age, the game pits the human Daqan Lords against the abominable Uthuk Y’llan. The game is a pretty strategic tabletop wargame, and prior to the launch of the Runewars miniatures game earlier this year, I’d have said it was probably the premier such game from Fantasy Flight.

If you’ve read my Battles of Westeros blog from last week, you’ll have a fair idea for what to expect from this game, as well. I think Battlelore is the more enjoyable game, in part because the fantasy theme elevates it somewhat from the gritty battles in the earlier game. There are also a number of different elements changed in Battlelore that make it just more interesting, to me! Let’s take a look at some of them now.

Battlelore

The system is of course going to be similar to BoW, so it should be no surprise that there is a Command Card system that is used as the main mechanic. You order your troops about the field by selecting from a hand of cards, and then over the course of the round those orders are carried out. That does make it sound quite simplistic, of course, and I think it’s important to note that there is a tremendous amount of strategy involved here, as you try to ensure you manoeuvre your troops into the best possible position.

Battlelore

The troops have similar-looking cards to those in BoW, but I just want to talk a moment about the deployment here. The game also comes with those smaller cards shown at the bottom of the above picture. These deployment cards all have the same back, and at the start of the game you pick these cards out and place them in the hexes on your side of the board face-down. There are also Decoy cards, so an element of bluffing is introduced as to where your big threats actually are.

There is also a really cool element to both army building and scenario generation for the game. Similar to BoW, there are scenarios to play through, though rather than having the prescriptive feel of Westeros, here the scenario is generated by players each taking a scenario card, which shows one half of the battlefield board, and marks out their deployment zone as well as detailing victory conditions. It’s a really interesting way to ensure the game feels fresh whenever you play.

Additionally, armies are generated by a points-based system. Those small deployment cards show the points of each unit as a “muster value” in the bottom-left corner. Armies are generally costed up to 50 points, and the game comes with a few suggestions for each of the factions within.

 

Battlelore

So how does combat work?

Well, there are fancy dice that you throw, the number of dice being equal to the attack value (in the red circle) of the attacking unit. The dice have sword symbols for melee attacks, and bullseye symbols for ranged attacks, and for each hit you score, you remove a model from the unit. Each unit in Battlelore also has special abilities that can take place during combat, adding to these basic mechanics. It makes combat fairly straightforward overall, anyway!

If that’s the battle, what about the lore?

Battlelore

The dice also have a weird diamond symbol on them, which is the lore symbol. This allows you to gain one lore token – these tokens are then used to play Lore cards that can have different effects over the course of the game. Each faction has their own distinct deck, which allows for the theme to come through quite strongly here. As you can see in the picture above, the cards show when they can be played, but there is still a very strong element of strategic depth to how you use these effects over the course of a game.

In a fairly broad nutshell, that’s it! Battlelore is not the sort of game that I get to play a lot, primarily I think because of the wargame aspect it has. Similar story to Battles of Westeros, really! However, it is a great deal of fun to play, and there have been a good deal of expansions to the game over the last four years, from “Reinforcement Packs” that feature a single miniature that you can draft into your army, to the Undead faction released back in 2015. The symmetry with Runewars has been off for a while of course, as we still haven’t had the Latari Elves released for the game – and now that the Runewars miniatures game has landed with such force, it has me wondering what the future of Battlelore will be. I can’t claim to have any insider knowledge, of course, but anecdotal evidence seems to be supporting the idea that Runewars miniatures game is selling well, perhaps due to its appeal to the disenfranchised Warhammer Fantasy players. Given the fact that Runewars miniatures and Battlelore have such close parallels as to almost be the same game, it makes me wonder if we’ll actually see any further support for it, or if instead the game will just quietly sit in the inventory as Runewars had been for so many years before it.

I suppose only time will tell on that front!

Battles of Westeros

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and this week is the first in a two-part series that takes a look at a pair of fairly similar games from Fantasy Flight, tabletop wargames that use a hex-based map the players fight over. This week, we’re going to Westeros!

Battles of Westeros

Battles of Westeros was published in 2010 by Fantasy Flight, as “A Battlelore Game”, and uses a lot of the mechanics from the earlier, fantasy-based game. Set in the now-iconic universe of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, players take the armies of Stark and Lannister to bloody combat across a series of scenarios that recreate some of the climactic battles of the novel series.

The scenario-based system means that you get to play different games each time you play, as the victory conditions are always changing. There is, of course, also the option of a Skirmish game that allows for less-prescriptive games. The system is fairly straightforward, with one side needing to secure objectives and such, and the gameplay tends to be uncluttered, allowing you to focus more on strategy than rules.

Each game round has four phases: rally, order, marshalling, and regroup. Rallying the troops is basically refreshing all of those units that have acted already in your last turn. Ordering the troops is where you dish out the orders for the coming battle; Marshalling is where those orders happen, such as movement and combat; and finally Regroup is the cleanup step where you check for victory and the like.

Battles of Westeros

The army you choose will give you a choice of Commanders you can play, as shown above. Commanders have some powerful in-game mechanics, and always come with a group of bodyguard units. Jaime Lannister comes with Lannisport Guard, for example, so he will take up one slot in the Guard’s grouping when deployed. His abilities, however, will usually affect the whole army, and not just the army unit he’s with. For example, Commanders have a one-use “commit” ability that is quite powerful, but can only be used once in the game before the card is flipped over. Jaime’s commit ability affects all of the units adjacent to him whenever he captures an enemy Commander, while his regular ability only affects the unit he’s in.

In addition, Commanders come with a suite of Leadership cards that are added to your deck at the start of the game. These Leadership cards form something of the meat of the game. Usually, a card will have one ability that will require you to spend tokens to use them (Jaime Lannister has three such tokens to spend per turn, denoted in the bottom-right of his card). These cards are used during the Order phase to give your army direction for the coming turn. The Commander’s Leadership cards, however, have multiple choices on them, providing for greater tactical flexibility over the course of the game.

Battles of Westeros

The combat system is notable for using 8-sided dice (a precursor to X-Wing). Each unit is colour-coded, from the most basic infantry troops (green), to the middle-guys (blue), and finally the elite units (red). There are more green symbols on these dice than red, naturally, and in order to roll a successful hit against a unit, the dice need to match that unit’s colour. Additionally, green units roll 2 dice, while red units roll 4 dice, so while it is possible to defeat an elite unit with your chumps, it can be a slog. However, it is also possible to roll a Valor symbol, which is a bit like a wild card and will cause a hit no matter what colour of unit you’re attacking. Of course, the very chumpiest of infantry have a further restriction that denies them this ability, but it does mean you have more of a chance than you might think.

The dice also have the potential to cause Morale hits, which force the unit to retreat one hex. this can be important as some units can Counterattack if they survive the first round of melee combat. When hits are resolved, one model from the unit is removed for each hit, so you can potentially wipe out a unit, which causes a Morale loss for the army overall. If your House’s morale gets too low, your army will flee the battlefield immediately. Importantly, Commanders are not removed as casualties in this way, but instead have a “capture rating”, denoting the number of hits that must be done to them in a single round of combat once all other models in the Commander’s unit have been removed as casualties. Captured Commanders are removed from the board, and their abilities can no longer be used.

Battles of Westeros is a really fun and engaging game, and will appeal especially to fans of the books looking to get something deep out of a board game. It does use a lot of elements of the traditional war game, of course, such as morale and line of sight, and games tend to take around 2 hours to get through, so it will likely appeal to pretty dedicated folks! I had a lot of fun playing this game back in the day, though as other games have taken over my game nights in recent years, its long set-up and play times meant that BoW became relegated to the point where I eventually sold it all last year. Which was a shame, as it’s a really great game.

The game has been kinda languishing in FFG’s inventory for a while, however, with no new expansions since 2012’s House Baratheon box. While they have launched the LCG in a second edition, I think Cool Mini Or Not’s upcoming miniatures game will likely mean that Battles of Westeros has seen its time in the sun…

Let the campaign commence!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and today I wanted to talk a bit about the Arkham Horror LCG, which I’ve started to play again as part of a campaign rather than just the one-off games I had back at Christmas while I was learning the ropes. I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, as the game has been incredibly popular for months already, but I thought I’d just ramble a bit about it all, and then talk about the first game in the Night of the Zealot campaign that I had a couple of weeks ago!

Arkham Horror LCG

Deck-building
Before I go any further, I think it’s probably useful to have read my earlier blog where I talk a lot about my reactions to the game after playing through each of the core set scenarios. Back then, I was playing as Roland Banks with the starter deck suggested in the rulebook, and I didn’t feel any need to deck-build throughout the attempts. I was gaining experience, as I was trying out the campaign back then also, but the deck-building options just didn’t really do anything for me.

This time around, I’m playing different decks, headed up by Skids O’Toole and Daisy Walker. The Ex-Con and the Librarian; it’s got rom-com written all over it! Again, I’ve just mashed the ten level-0 cards from each of their possible character classes, along with ten level-0 neutral cards, to form the decks to start with. However, right from the off, I’m seeing how it can be exceptionally useful to actually deck-build here, and I’m now considering buying a second core set in order to widen my options.

The decks that are possible with the core set cards just feel very narrow, I think because we only get one copy of each class card and, to build a 30-card deck for the investigator, we need therefore to include all of those class cards. With two core sets, you could use two copies (the maximum allowed) of five cards, and refine your deck accordingly. I’m sure you don’t need me to lecture you on the art of deck-building, of course, but I think it’s worth pointing out anyway. While I’m writing this blog, I still haven’t pulled the trigger on a second core set, mainly because I’m in the middle of buying a house, but I do foresee getting it before the end of the summer, for sure.

Campaign Play
Something that I talked about at some length in my earlier blog was the idea that I didn’t want to play the core set scenarios again after the first run-through, due to the fact I knew what was happening in the story there. While this is true, and is probably the biggest factor in my not picking the game up again for the last six months, I found the game to still hold a lot of my attention despite this factor this time around.

One thing that was immediately apparent was the added benefits and disadvantages of playing with more than one investigator. For a start, the number of clues spawned at locations was doubled, meaning the game was potentially sped up that much more. However, the number of encounter cards drawn was also doubled, but as these cards were – either by accident or design – predominantly affecting the investigator who drew them, it didn’t really impact on the game overall. For example, Skids drew a card that forced him to make a skill test, then Daisy drew a card that affected the location only she was at.

Comparisons with Lord of the Rings LCG have been made all over the place, naturally, and I don’t think they’re particularly wrong, but the way the encounter deck is built with predominantly treachery effects rather than enemies means that adding more investigators usually isn’t as much a hindrance to the game as it is for the older LCG. Of course, oftentimes you do need to spend clues equal to the number of investigators to advance the act deck, leading to a nice sense of balance in the game overall.

I’m surprised at how little overall impact knowing how the story ends actually had on my enjoyment of the game this time around, however. I still managed to defeat the Ghoul Priest (mainly thanks to some very lucky cards from Skids, I have to say!) and I still opted to burn my house down – but knowing this would be coming didn’t stop me from having a good time! So that was very pleasing!

Arkham Horror LCG

The Gathering
So I’ve completed the first scenario, and both investigators managed to score six Victory points by the end of the game. Skids O’Toole has gained the company of the lovely zealot Lita Chandler, and I’ve used two of his experience points to upgrade the deck. One point went on upgrading the Leo De Luca ally, and with the second I swapped out Pickpocketing for some Extra Ammunition. With only two target cards for this in the deck, I think that’ll be one of the first things I do when I upgrade to a second core set!

Daisy didn’t seem to have as many interesting options, however. I’ve upgraded her Magnifying Glass, but that’s it. I was hoping I could get a few more Tome assets, but again, with only one core set, the pickings are slim. Of course, once I truly get underway, I should have more options from the Dunwich cards as well!

Something that I found really interesting, however, was just how much this process actually felt like a real RPG. The ability to level-up your character has, at its core, a sense of where you want that character to go. Do you choose to level-up their combat ability, or their mental attributes instead? In doing so, I feel like I made a conscious decision to refine the Skids deck into something less self-serving than the Rogue cards he starts out with make it feel. His character story tells of how he stole in order to pay for his mother’s operation, yet she died while he was in prison. There’s a noble streak to the character, and so I want to try and make something more of that, if I can, through the deck-building options. In something of a similar vein, Daisy is all about reading books, but the addition of the Mystic class to her deck allows her to actually gain knowledge from all that reading – in the form of spells. I’m considering making her something of a cleric-style character, therefore, though I need a wider card pool to choose from to do this. At any rate, I thought this was a really interesting aspect of the game, and one that I hadn’t quite expected to come across so well!

So the house has burnt down, and Skids has got four experience points and one point of mental trauma for his trouble. Daisy still has five experience points left to use, so hopefully she’ll be able to get more for them after the next scenario!

I’m hoping to write these campaign updates on a semi-regular basis, so stay tuned to see how well my daring duo get on!

The Voice of Isengard

Hey everybody!
Tuesday means just one thing here at spalanz.com, it’s game day! Today’s blog returns to Middle Earth, and the next deluxe expansion in the series of blogs I’ve been writing with my garbled thoughts on the Lord of the Rings LCG: today, we’re braving the Voice of Isengard!

The Voice of Isengard

The third deluxe expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG, The Voice of Isengard marks a bit of a turning point for me with this game. For the first three “seasons” of the game, I’d been playing fairly often, and have logged plenty of plays with all of the adventure packs up to this point. While there had been some odd moments where I’d thought my love for the game could have wavered (Watcher in the Water, I’m looking at you), I think the fourth deluxe marks a significant level of difficulty-increase, which in turn has seen me move away from the game to some degree. That’s not to say that I dislike this game by any means, and I still snap up the adventure packs and deluxe expansions upon their release. However, I find that I’m somewhat less inclined to actually sit down and play with them upon their release, and I actually have two cycles of cards that I haven’t yet played with, at the time I’m writing this.

I’ll probably come back to this point later in the blog; let’s actually take a look at the contents and the quests!

As always, there are two new heroes and a slew of new player cards in the box, as well as three new quests to play through that set up the following Ring-maker cycle. The player cards are headed up by the new Éomer and Gríma heroes, Éomer is actually pretty great, and quickly found his way into my Rohan deck as I began to re-tool it for spirit and tactics. He’s great for attacking, especially as how his ability gives him +2 attack when a character leaves play. Use an Escort from Edoras during the quest phase to buff your willpower, then he’ll leave and buff Éomer during the next attack phase – excellent! Ride to Ruin is another useful card to have if you have some cheap allies you don’t mind getting rid of! While probably not as deep as dwarves, the Rohan deck type is nevertheless rife with all manner of fantastic cards that work really well together.

The Voice of Isengard also brings the third and greatest Istari to the game: Saruman! Yes, I’m a big Saruman fan, I find him extremely compelling as a character, and had been looking forward to seeing him arrive. As the main game is set somewhere in the nebulous early part of Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman hasn’t actually fallen to evil, and so works fine as being a player card. However, he does showcase one of the new mechanics from this expansion, Doomed X. Whenever a card with this keyword enters play, each player raises his threat by X. These cards are usually quite powerful, and Saruman is definitely a prime example of this. With three willpower, five attack, four defense and four hit points for only three resources, Saruman is an exceptional ally. Furthermore, when he enters play, you get to remove a non-unique enemy or location in the staging area from the game for as long as he remains in play. Like the original Gandalf, Saruman does unfortunately leave play at the end of the round, but this effect can be incredibly useful, as you can get just enough time to set yourself up to deal with something potentially game-ending. The price is high, for sure – raising your threat by three can put you in a precarious position, so it’s not to be done lightly. But paired with some of those Valour cards from the Angmar Awakened cycle? He’s definitely got his place in decks, that’s for sure!

The encounter cards are varying degrees of awful, and most of them showcase the new Time X keyword. Whenever a card with Time X is revealed, you place resource tokens on it equal to X, and at the beginning of each refresh phase, you remove one counter. When there are no tokens left, something will happen, usually something terrible. There are also cards that remove tokens, which add to your woes! The mechanic lends a sense of urgency to the game, though, something that the designers said was a deliberate method of changing the meta, such as it is, for the game.

The Fords of Isen

The Voice of Isengard

The first scenario sees you trying to help a group of Rohirrim warriors defend the small Islet from fierce Dunlendings – more accurately, they’re protecting Gríma among them. The fact that there is a Gríma hero card in this box led to a similar situation to the Faramir business in Against the Shadow, though I must say I’ve never played with Gríma among my fellowship, so have never been too concerned by this!

The object of the quest is basically to outlast the awful encounter deck, and defeat the three stages of the quest. In addition to the Time X keyword on each quest card (the first of which can discard Gríma from play, causing you to lose at the first hurdle!) there are a significant number of effects that punish you for having cards in hand. This was another conscious decision by the designers, to combat strategies that had made it into the meta, and thematically reflects the hatred the Wild Men of Dunland have for the richer, more resourceful men of Rohan. I tend not to use too many card draw effects in my decks, but there are also a lot of mechanics in the encounter set that force you to draw cards, adding to the misery!

The Fords of Isen is a very urgent scenario, forcing you to breeze through it quickly or else die horribly, face down in the muck.

To Catch An Orc

The Voice of Isengard

The next scenario requires the players to capture the orc, Mugash, at the behest of Saruman himself. Mugash has been leading raids into the valley of Isengard, but Saruman believes he has vital intelligence about Mordor, and so wishes to question him. At the start of the scenario, you are forced to put the top 20 cards of your own deck aside – copies of Mugash’s Guard and a single copy of Mugash himself are then shuffled together, and distributed among these out-of-play player decks.

Over the course of the game, you will encounter locations with the Searches X keyword – this allows you to search through X cards of your out-of-play deck, as you try to find the leader of the Orc tribe. You also get to choose one of those cards to keep and discard the rest, while placing any enemies into the staging area. It’s an incredibly different-feeling quest, with something of a built-in timer in the form of giving you a smaller deck to start. The mechanics of finding Mugash are quite prescriptive, but overall I think they’re really effective for providing an interesting, and engaging scenario. While the encounter deck can still be quite awful, it doesn’t feel quite so bad somehow, and overall I think this is one of my favourites.

Into Fangorn

The Voice of Isengard

The final quest takes us into Fangorn Forest, and we get to see the Ents! Despite (presumably!) capturing Mugash in the last scenario, he has since escaped his bonds, and the players pursue him into the depths of Fangorn. The Forest is alive, however, and the Ents are not happy with the players’ intrusion.

This is another interesting scenario, with some very interesting mechanics. Mugash is now an Objective, and the players must capture him to win the game. If he is captured when you defeat the first stage, then you progress to the second stage and attempt to keep hold of the Orc chieftain while putting 12 progress there. If he has escaped into the encounter deck, you instead advance to stage three and remain there until you find him again, then advancing to stage two and keeping hold of him until the end. It reminds me of a few earlier scenarios, where the possibility of losing an Objective can make the game suddenly a lot more arduous.

However, the encounter deck itself is no picnic, filled as it is with the Huorn! The Ents of Fangorn have the Hinder keyword, which basically annoys the hell out of you. Rather than attacking, these enemies remove progress from the quest when they are engaged with you, and with high toughness and high wounds, these enemies are not going to be picked off quickly! Indeed, the whole quest seems designed to slow you down, while the quest cards themselves continue to make use of the Time X mechanic. It’s actually a pretty fun, thematic scenario, but my god is it disheartening to actually play through!


Each of the quests in Voice of Isengard has something different to offer, and each is highly thematic to play through. While it’s an expansion that I’d wanted for a long time, being such a fan of Saruman and this area of Middle Earth as a whole, I nevertheless found it to be a little less than satisfying, because there no longer felt like the option to just enjoy the quest, as you had to rush through or whatever. All quests in Lord of the Rings LCG have a race element to them, of course, as you attempt to outlast your threat reaching 50, but moreso than ever, we’re now being forced into a very specific play style if we want to go through these newer quests. I get that the more competitive elements of the community had been asking for this since the game released, but I do get the impression that a fundamental shift occurred somewhere here, whereby the main focus of development for Lord of the Rings LCG was no longer exploring Tolkien’s world in all of its glorious abundance, but instead on nuts-and-bolts mechanics of flipping cards over and mathematics.

I still play Lord of the Rings LCG, don’t get me wrong, and I still love it, but I don’t find myself returning to these newer quests nearly as often as I return for just one more stroll through Mirkwood or the Long Dark of Khazad-dûm.