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

The Scarlet Keys!

Folks, the build up is finally over, and we are indeed getting The Scarlet Keys as the next expansion for Arkham Horror LCG!

I’m very excited. I’m imagining this as quite the globetrotting adventure, with an international secret society that puts the Order of the Silver Twilight to shame! Whether we will be going up against an elder god seems somewhat up in the air, but I’m really excited nevertheless!!

Into the Jungle…

Hey everybody,
Today is game day, and for today’s blog I’m throwing myself into the Forgotten Age campaign like there’s no tomorrow! Traditionally, I used to write up my Arkham Horror LCG blogs in pairs, so four blogs to cover the whole campaign. However, I’ve really gotten into this one, and have played the next three scenarios in pretty quick succession, so buckle up as we go on a trans-continental journey, from Arkham to the jungles of Mexico!

We’re back in Arkham – I won’t say “safely back”, for obvious reasons – for Threads of Fate, and Ichtaca has joined the investigators, demanding that we return the Relic of Ages to its rightful place. Upon checking, we discover that both Harlan and Alejandro appear to be in danger. Ichtaca impatiently leaves, so it’s up to the investigators to find out just what’s going on.

I loved this one. We’re back in Arkham, so we’ve got the familiar locations that we love so much. The encounter set uses much from the core set, including stuff from the Midnight Masks once again. I’ve lost count of how many times these treacheries are used in other scenarios, but I just love it – it feels very Arkham to me, you know? We have the Dark Cults encounter set as well, which I do enjoy, and a new set of cultists, the Pnakotic Brotherhood, who function slightly differently to the regular cultists in that engaging them adds doom to them, and their stats are buffed for each point of doom on them. So we have a lot of cultists gathering doom to themselves, and each card in the agenda deck only has a threshold of 6. Added to this, when you advance the agenda, you might well be adding doom to begin proceedings. Added to this, there is a new treachery card, Conspiracy of Blood, which lowers the threshold by 1 until you parlay with a cultist. It’s just brutal, but the whole thing works so well together that I can’t help but love it!

The big change about this one, though, is that we have three act decks in play, and the text of all of them is considered in play. There’s a lot to keep track of, but the scenario just acts like it is one giant investigation, and as such it works beautifully – yes, there’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t feel particularly hectic or anything. Instead, we’re faced with what feels very much like a board game version of the game, as we move around the fairly static locations and choose our path to investigate. I like this a lot, because it feels like we can actually play the game, rather than it continually surprising us with new locations and stuff.

That’s not to say that there are no surprises. Each act deck symbolises a strand of the investigation – looking for Harlan, looking for Alejandro, and looking for the relic itself – and the decks are built based on earlier story choices that we have made. This really gives it great replayability, I must say! As the investigation progresses, we meet folks who turn out to be enemies, and so have to defeat them to triumph in the end. I think the scenario wasn’t particularly difficult in this respect, the most annoying aspect (for me) was the inclusion of the Nightgaunt deck, as I really hate those guys! But I love an Arkham teeming with cultists, and the opportunity to uncover a conspiracy, and I think this scenario really delivered on that front!

In the end, I was able to complete all three of the act decks with two rounds of doom to spare, so recovered Alejandro, the Relic of Ages, and Ichtaca is still on side. Turns out, we’re going back to the jungle to restore the relic, so at the end of the game there was another opportunity to resupply ourselves. I have no idea whether taking a blanket along this time will be of any use, but between the two investigators, I have a decent spread of all the available items now, except for the pick axe, so let’s see whether that’ll turn out to be an almighty blunder!

The next scenario is The Boundary Beyond, and we’re in Mexico City as we try to get some information from Alejandro’s academic buddies. Something doesn’t feel quite right, though, and soon the modern-day locations start to be replaced by their ancient equivalents. The fabric of reality seems to be tearing, and the past is starting to intrude into the present, quite literally!!

This was a very interesting scenario to me. The exploration deck is made up of two versions of these ancient locations, and if you’re at a location that has a matching symbol to one that you draw from that deck, you travel to it, placing that card on top of your current location. However, there’s a 1/6 chance that you’ll draw the right card, not accounting for the added treachery cards, so you can actually spend a lot of wasted time trying to find that location. The idea is great, but the fact that you’re trying to make it happen, in-game, while the story makes it sound more like a disaster movie where you have no control over it, I did feel like this was a bit of a fail, overall. Perhaps if the locations were in the encounter deck, and you replaced them but took a sanity hit if it happened to the location where your investigators are, it might have worked better (though I feel like that’s been done already…)

To add insult to injury, the Harbinger of Valusia turns up again in this one, albeit still with the same amount of damage as when we left her. What a nightmare! Of course, I love recurring elements like this, but it did make for a difficult climax as the Harbinger was at the location where we need to be to advance the Act deck.

After the excitement of the temporal distortion, we have another Interlude where our supplies become important once more. I found that I didn’t mind it this time around, probably because there wasn’t anything quite so horrible coming my way! But we then leave the city behind, and venture once more into the jungle…

Heart of the Elders is one of the more bizarre scenarios for this game, for sure! Within the encounter cards are three distinct decks, and they’re all split off as we first explore the jungle around the mouth of a mysterious cave, before then delving into the cave to see just what we can see. I get it, of course – depending on the outcome to the last scenario, you have the possibility to actually skip the first of the two mini-scenarios, so it’s clear that the developers wouldn’t want to make a dud scenario when this was still in the monthly release model.

The second of these mini-scenarios was really interesting, as the choice of supplies that we’ve brought along was really informing the gameplay, such as locations having effects like taking damage unless you’ve brought a rope, etc. I think this is what I like as regards the supplies theme – so far, it’s been fairly limited in-game to allowing us to look at the Exploration deck if we have a compass, or somesuch, but otherwise these things have been confined to the book-keeping sections of the campaign. Hopefully they’ll take on yet more importance to the actual scenario as time moves on!

Not since Path to Carcosa have I not understood what it is that I’m trying to do, but here I think there is a level of obfuscation that feels similar to The Circle Undone, where I ended up siding with the Silver Twilight Lodge and “winning” before the campaign was truly over. This time, I have a relic, and I’m returning it to the jungle, along with an Aztec lady and a Mexican academic. After delving into the cave, I end up discovering a portal to Yoth, where several Yithians come out and said academic casually tells them to take my brains! What the?!

Okay, so from reading Lovecraft I know that the Yithians are on the friendlier end of the spectrum when it comes to extraterrestrial beings, but it still feels like a betrayal, and I kinda wish that I hadn’t tried to rescue him now! I know that it’s easy to say at this point, but I did feel like there was something up with Alejandro during the initial scenarios, but I guess it’s too late to worry now. It’s going to be interesting to see where we’re headed next, anyway!

So scenario five is bonkers, but I still find this campaign kinda fascinating. It’s definitely harder than I was expecting, but I don’t think it’s as merciless yet as many people seemed to make out back in the day. I mean, the treacheries are so annoying, and some enemies can be just brutal, but I think I’ve got a really good investigator duo in Ursula and Lily, as I have high investigation and high evade, and high combat abilities. Luckily, willpower hasn’t been a big issue so far, but with Lily having a lot of mystic cards in her deck, there are ways and means there.

Overall, I seem to be doing quite well, and I’m getting a good amount of experience to level my investigators up – in total, I’ve now gained 24 experience points, and while I have been taking the opportunity to level up cards regularly, I still have 11 points unspent following the last two scenarios. I think it’s curious that we’re headed to an Other World after the third mythos pack of the cycle, as historically these things were saved for the finale, but I wonder if that means we could potentially have even more weirdness to come? At any rate, I think it’s a decent stopping point to regroup and refuel, and I’ve also passed the threshold for the next Discipline for Lily Chen, which is quite exciting!

What’s next, FFG?

Something interesting has been going on, over on Fantasy Flight’s twitter account. A series of posts, detailing a group of people who all have the colour red in common, presented in the Eldritch Horror style – it’s verrrrry interesting, and I need to know more!

It all started with Amaranth, here, who was featured way back in the Call of Cthulhu LCG as a Conspirator character type. Well, there’s a whole cast of these guys now, as FFG has slowly fed them to us over the past week!

The consensus seems to be that this is all linked to the next campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, supposedly titled The Scarlet Keys, based on a leaked product list from December last year. That’s interesting, because it lines up with this card from the older LCG, which came out in the globe-trotting Ancient Relics cycle. Those six packs took us all over the world, including China, Greece and Antarctica. Now, I know that currently the sense of place in Arkham Horror LCG has been confined pretty narrowly to a small area per campaign – even Path to Carcosa didn’t stray far from northern France once it had crossed the Atlantic.

I hope that we have some kind of global adventure where we have to choose which members of the Congress of the Keys to pursue, which could tailor the campaign in a certain way. Of course, that might lead to some unused content in the box, if we choose to not go to Havana for example, but I suppose it might be much more advantageous to explore them all. But this method of campaign is much easier to do in the new style, rather than creating optional mythos packs, so could well be on the cards (pun intended) for future big box stuff!

The possibility of getting a truly globe-trotting campaign, where each scenario takes place in another country, is particularly intriguing. However, if we don’t quite end up with the card game version of Eldritch Horror, I would like to cast my vote right now for it being China-centric. There is so much to get excited for in that realm, I think, and it would really capture my imagination for sure. Given that the new big-box format is said to allow for greater storytelling opportunities, I’m positively quivering with the prospect of what this could all mean!!

But, of course, this could be for something entirely different, maybe a completely new Arkham Files game? Maybe Eldritch Horror 2.0?

I hope not, but you never know…

Star Wars LCG!

Hey everybody,
Following on from yesterday’s game day blog about my rekindled love for the now-defunct Star Wars LCG, I’ve been taking a look at all of the expansions for the game that we have, and in particular looking at what each cycle brought to the table in the order that they came out. It’s interesting to me, to see when certain cards were published, and to a lesser extent, how they fared in the meta.

The card game had a total of six cycles published over its duration, and we also had five deluxe expansions – including one that gave us a multi-player variant. Let’s take a look at what each cycle brought to the game…

The Hoth Cycle (2012-13)
The first cycle of the game introduced many Hoth objective sets for the various factions, although there was more of a specific focus on Rebels vs Imperials, given the nature of that battle. We see a variety of bonuses available for decks which include Hoth objectives, with card effects slanted towards a player having a lot of these cards in their deck. It isn’t all about the Rebels and the Empire, however, as we have a host of cards for the other factions that don’t necessarily take in any notice of the battle on the ice planet. Smugglers and Spies get Renegade Squadron, though, which was a force led by Col Serra in the defence of Echo Base, comprised of smugglers and scoundrels. The Sith faction gets the super star destroyer Executor, which is a shocking card, while Scum & Villainy get a bunch of new bounty hunters to augment those already in the Edge of Darkness deluxe.

When evaluated as a whole, the cycle has got a lot of interesting cards, even from outside of the Hoth theme. However, I think more than any other cycle from any other card game, the Hoth Cycle is one of those that begs to be played in order – by which I mean, adding cards to your decks in the order that the packs came out. There isn’t power creep, per se, but the theme of establishing the base, the Imperials arriving, and the desperate flight from the ice world is captured really quite beautifully in the way these cards came out. It’s one of my biggest gaming regrets, not being able to play this game as it was published.

Echoes of the Force (2014)
The second cycle had something of a focus on Force users, and introduced a lot of fairly powerful cards, particularly for the Jedi faction. However, all factions have an interaction with the Force struggle, from Scum & Villainy capturing Force cards, to Smugglers counting the top card of their deck towards the Force struggle, it’s great to see a load of innovative ways for the various factions to stay relevant in a Force-centric set. We get a number of lightsaber forms as enhancement cards, and a lot of the factions pull characters from the Dark Forces series, such as Kyle Katarn and Jerec. The Empire is creating the Dark Trooper project, and we get more of a focus on vehicles from the Rebellion. Which is interesting, because vehicles are something of a focus for the next cycle, too. We also get Mara Jade and Winter, which is very nice indeed!

Rogue Squadron (2015)
With a focus on starfighters and dogfights, the third cycle introduced the Pilot mechanic as a way to essentially crew friendly vehicles. Doing so can grant vehicles bonus abilities, or switch on the effects of the pilot cards themselves. We get a lot of new starfighters, as you’d expect, and at times it feels like the game has crossed over with X-Wing, as a lot of the pilots from that game are featured in card form, Howlrunner, Mauler Mithel, etc. We get new versions of Han and Luke, with the Pilot keyword, but it’s not all about the small ships. Indeed, we get Grand Admiral Thrawn in this cycle!

The Endor Cycle (2015-16)
The fourth cycle once again provided a sense of location, but the biggest change was Mission cards, which are played as objectives under your opponent’s control, waiting for you to attack them. They generate no resources for your opponent, but count as objectives in every way, and when they are destroyed, you get a bonus (in addition to the usual stuff). Given that we’re on Endor, there is an Ewok subtheme with a load of neutral objective sets that contain the furry aliens. The way that Endor objectives work is also really interesting, in that cards interact with how many are on both sides of the table, and it can sometimes be possible to shift your damage to your opponent as some card effects don’t specify who owns the cards.

Opposition (2016-17)
The fifth cycle pitted pairs of factions together in opposition, Jedi vs Sith, Rebels vs Imperials, and Smugglers vs Scum. While we have plenty of cards that are drawn from the movies and expanded universe, we also begin to see characters from Rebels join the fray, starting with Ahsoka Tano. We also have a fairly interesting development in terms of faction-specific Fate cards, which is a way of emphasizing the struggle between the paired opponents. It’s a really interesting way to emphasize the theme of the cycle, but I also like the fact that we still get stuff like the Pilot mechanic, ensuring that the game hasn’t completely forgotten about its own expansions.

Oh yeah – and the Empire gets a Death Star card…

Alliances (2017-18)
The final cycle sought to bring factions together, and gave new Affiliation cards that paired the factions in specific ways, with bonuses when you adhere to the deckbuilding requirements in this way. So for example, by including five Smugglers objective sets, and five Jedi or neutral objective sets, you fulfil the requirements for the new Smugglers affiliation, Desperate Allies, which grants the bonus of removing an additional focus token from a unit after you refresh. With a focus on mixing factions in this way, there are many cards across the cycle that have pseudo-multi class abilities, and there are a few copies of the enhancement card Necessary Allies that grants a resource that matches any affiliation, thanks to the Influence keyword.

More importantly, though, this cycle features cards that pull from Rogue One, Rebels, and the Darth Vader comic series. So we get Doctor Aphra, Jyn Erso and Ezra Bridger, along with all the usual suspects, but we do continue to get the more familiar faces from the original trilogy, and a few new faces that are drawn from FFG’s RPG, which would have been so exciting if this hadn’t been the final cycle! It’s nice also to see continued support for stuff like Endor and Hoth objectives, and cards that have been printed throughout the game’s run continued to appear in objective sets right to the end, allowing for a great level of consistency across the whole game. It’s one of the reasons why I love this game so much, and find the deckbuilding particularly fascinating.


I am currently in love with this game, and I can’t wait to play it more, and more, and more! I hope to get some more games in soon, and I shall doubtless be waffling on again here in due course!!

Star Wars: The Card Game – a renaissance

Hey everybody,
For game day today, I’m once more going to talk about the Star Wars LCG, my new-found obsession, something that I never thought I’d say again! I was really into this game back when it first came out, but despite forcing several different people to play it with me, nobody really wanted to play it much, so it ended up being shunted into the attic and just left there. However, after a passing comment to Jemma about it when we were re-watching the original trilogy over Easter, she’s proven to be more receptive than literally anybody else I’ve ever talked about it with! So we had a game last Saturday and, while it wasn’t exactly brilliant, it’s most definitely promising!

I’d already put together 6 decks, one for each faction, very much in the spirit of just mashing objective sets together and hoping for a good time. Well, I suppose some thought did go into them, but even so. Jemma decided she wanted to play as the Empire, so I decided I would stick to form and go with the Rebels, rather than either of the other two light-side factions.

Now, I’m going to say this right now: this game can be very confusing, even for seasoned card game players. For someone like my wife, who is not all that into Star Wars, and isn’t really a card gamer whatsoever, I think I lost her almost immediately with my explanation of how the game works. There is so much to think about, and there is a lot that is different from other games, that it can be quite a minefield to negotiate. She also insisted on playing it as normally as possible, so we had the whole Force Struggle thing, Edge Battles, no open hands, etc etc. I think she grew frustrated quite early on, and I began to feel like it was going to be a waste of time.

As the game went on, though, I think she got into things a little. The rules around paying for cards, and refreshing cards, all of that seemed to go quite smoothly after a while, and as so often happens with this game, it did come down to the wire. I think I made one mis-play that meant Jemma won on her next turn, rather than me dealing one additional point of damage to the third dark side objective to win (I’d played a card on it to allow me to draw cards when it produced resources, and so held back a bit as I wanted the card draw – but the Death Star dial was at 10 and was ticking on twice per turn, so…)

The bright spot on all of this is that Jemma has agreed that there is a pain barrier to go through in order to learn a new game, and just because you don’t enjoy the first run through doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever play it again. I’d thought that perhaps we should have played other card games first – even going back to Magic for a time – but anyway. I think we’re tentatively going to be playing the game every other week, in an effort for her to get into it (and for me to get back into it, I suppose!)

I can’t say that the Rebel Alliance is my favourite faction to play. That was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t drawing very many good cards, I suppose, but I have a feeling that the rebels play better with some of the fancier cards from later cycles, particularly when you bring in the Pilot mechanic. In an effort to keep things straightforward, though, I was trying to keep things fairly basic, with obvious plays that help to play off each other.

I think we had a couple of mistakes, namely that Jemma was focusing cards like Tarkin to generate resources, then also using him to attack me, but there was quite the situation set up whereby she was able to one-shot my objectives thanks to Tarkin making them -1 defence, and Orbital Bombardment giving every unit an additional blast icon, which made the Death Squadron Star Destroyer a beast. So between the good plays from across the table, and my own lacklustre cards being drawn from the Rebel deck, I think I was lucky to be able to do anything in the way of damage, really!

I am glad that Jemma has agreed to play it again, though – and she seems to want to get into it, I think, although that may be wishful thinking on my part! The fact that she won notwithstanding, I think when card plays like that come together, and it becomes quite clear what you need to do to play the game, it can be quite exciting. I’ve been re-examining my Rebel deck, and have yet to really come up with any combinations like that. Which might, of course, be the point. If I can get a number of fighters out, I should be able to deal a fair bit of blast damage, but on the whole I have a lot of pretty average stuff, and not a great deal of obvious plays. But then, I suppose that could be the idea of the Rebels being a rag-tag bunch, and it might be symbolic of the fact they aren’t able to bring overwhelming firepower to bear. I don’t have any of the capital ships included in the deck, but I do think that further down the line I might be switching out some objective sets. Not for the purposes of power-gaming, of course, but more for variety – I quite like the look of the Walex Blissex set, but I currently have no space for him.

On this note, I think the deckbuilding is one of the more fascinating aspects of this game, and I really enjoy the fact that you don’t just replace cards on a one-for-one basis. It really makes you think about how they’re going to work within the deck, even if you don’t have a plan for the deck as a whole just yet! It’s something that I particularly like in the Jedi deck that I’ve enjoyed playing with (when I had the opportunity!) Due to the way Edge Battles and Force struggles work, I think there’s always a use for a card, whether you throw away something you deem “worthless” for its pips in the Edge Battle, or whether that unit whose only worth comes from a “when played” trigger, commit him to the Force and leave him off to the side. It’s a really well-designed game, and I think this is really evident when it becomes difficult to build a deck due to the embarrassment of riches!

So, let’s talk about the decks for a minute. The Rebel Alliance deck doesn’t have any duplicated objective sets, which does mean that it lacks somewhat in consistency. Looking through the cards in the deck, there isn’t a lot in the way of duplication either – a couple of Twist of Fate cards, a couple of Hidden Outpost cards, and a couple of Rebel Assault cards. There are a lot of starfighters – a couple of X-Wings, some B-Wings, an A-Wing and a Y-Wing, and there are a lot of the kind of generic trooper types.

There is a slight theme that comes out from inclusion of several Yavin-IV cards, although it’s only slight, and I think it only really works off having General Dodonna out to draw cards off it. I think there are a total of six objective sets that form what I’m considering to be the core of this deck, with a myriad of starfighters and the like. The remaining four are all candidates that are, to some extent or another, ripe for swapping out – the Mon Mothma set, the Leia set, the General Madine set, and the Winter set. Leia and Mon Mothma however are there for their iconic status, and Madine is a very useful resource generator. Winter, however, is simply there because I love the character. So it’s a thematic deck from the point of view that it shows us a lot of the Rebellion, not because it will play the game necessarily well! I do want to play with it some more before I go changing too much up, as I think it will be instructional to see how things work out. However, I can see myself going much more heavily into the whole starfighter / Pilot thing, rather than having the mix of commandos and spies that is in there currently.

By contrast, while the Empire deck only has one duplicated objective set (the Tarkin set), there is a much more general feel of cross-pollination somehow, as themes like recurring troopers come out fairly well, and the aforementioned play with making that star destroyer into an objective-killer. It’s interesting because that combo wasn’t something that had occurred to me when building the deck, but clearly is something that comes out quite well.

Now, I mentioned in my previous blog about this game how I had stopped buying Force packs after the fourth cycle, so there are two cycles of cards that I never picked up back in the day. Well, as will come to a surprise to nobody, I’m sure, I have now started trying to find these packs, and have managed to get a hold of six, between the Opposition and the Alliances cycles. I think I might be struggling to get at least one of them, as there were a set of new affiliation cards that were seemingly snapped up and so have disappeared from the market, but I do have some hope that I’ll be able to get a decent number of these things before too long. It’s exciting to think that there are some cards in these packs featuring characters from Rogue One, and even the Rebels stuff, as I have recently started to watch that show again.

As I also mentioned last time, I do like the fact that the card pool is now a finite resource from which to draw, and so there is a real prospect that everything will see play, as decks are tweaked. Of course, it’s also possible that decks might stay the same forever, but even if Jemma has no inclination to deck-build, I think I’ll be tinkering for a long time to come, as I swap out the Leia objective set for something else, and so on.

Before I draw this to a close, I also wanted to briefly mention the fact that we currently don’t have any kind of Star Wars card game in general circulation. The situation with FFG at the moment is very odd, and I think I need to take a look into what’s going on there before I begin a massive speculation, however we have Legion (a tabletop miniatures game now outsourced), X-Wing (another miniatures game, also, I believe, outsourced), and the RPG (yet again, outsourced). I don’t really know if FFG have the licence to make Star Wars games anymore, but given how Asmodee seem to be trying to run the company into the ground, it wouldn’t surprise me. I have read that there are still plans for board and card games into 2023, but as that article went up around the same time as the world started locking down for Covid, I would imagine that such plans have been well and truly pushed back, as production schedules scramble to get back on track. Whether we will ever see another card game will remain to be seen, though it will be interesting to see how such a thing could be implemented, given the well-defined eras of Star Wars and so on. It strikes me as really weird, though, how there just isn’t a Star Wars card game being made anymore. I’ll need to take a better look into this kind of thing.

At any rate, I’m just really glad that I’ll be able to play the LCG once again!

Remembering the Star Wars LCG

Ah yes, there was indeed a Star Wars living card game. Running for six years, between 2012 and 2018, the game took in the breadth of the Star Wars galaxy from across the original three movies (including Rogue One) and the expanded universe, filling five deluxe expansions and six complete cycles of Force Packs. That’s a lot of cards, though due to the unique structure of the game’s Objective Set deck building rules, the number of unique cards is probably lower than you might think.

I really loved this game, and bought it up consistently for the first few years of its life. When the content started to drift into including Rebels stuff in the fifth cycle, however, I called it a day; in retrospect, if I’d have known that I only had two more cycles to pick up, I might have stuck it out. But, it is what it is, and while a part of me has been thinking that maybe I’ll see if I can still get some of the later packs, I do feel a bit like my resources might be best used elsewhere…

I’m planning to try it out with my wife at some point in the future though, since Jemma did suggest having regular games nights, and we have played a variety of card games now. It’s also pretty newbie-friendly, I think, having the Objective Set structure behind it, as you don’t need to worry too much about building a deck. I’m planning to get just a couple of interesting decks built up, and seeing what she thinks of it, so here’s hoping that I’ll be successful in that!

For all that it’s straightforward in terms of the deck building, which can be as easy or as complex as you like, I think that the game itself plays really quite interestingly. I mean, it almost doesn’t play like any other card game I have tried. The Star Wars thing of having infantry defend against starships is handled well, I think, by having the game basically be about the struggle of light vs dark, and you’re using the unit cards to represent your overall power and might, and not throwing bodies against vehicles, etc.

When you get into the nitty gritty of focus tokens and edge battles, I think the game really comes into its own as this kind of struggle for overall dominance, and it’s something that I really, really enjoy. The fact that it’s done with my favourite cast of heroes and villains, is really just the icing on the cake, I suppose!

I really like the idea of focusing cards to use them. It really gives the game some nice design space when you talk about multiple uses of cards, and making decisions on how many resources to generate from those cards that have the potential to give big returns, but then losing its utility until you’ve been able to clear the tokens from it. Having the asymmetrical gameplay is another thing I like (though of course, it’s not in the same league as Netrunner in this regard).

I’ve gone for two decks to start with, Jedi vs Sith, and have tried to keep them interesting but not overwhelming. In case I’m able to succeed, I’ve got decks built up for the other four factions as well. I’m hoping that things will go my way, and the game will grab Jemma’s attention! I have previously taught her to play Magic, which she got without too much fuss, and she continually surprises me at how competitive she gets in games, so I’m hoping that she’ll like it enough to play more!

One of the big draws for this game now, of course, is that it is finished. That may sound a bit weird, and don’t get me wrong, I love a game that continues to get support, but when you find yourself in a position like this, it’s kinda interesting because it almost becomes a board game, with finite pieces. There may be hundreds of different cards, but you have that finite resource to draw from, and it does feel, to a fairly large degree, that you are dipping into a board game, rather than flicking through endless reams of cards. Another plus point for the Objective Set system is that you assemble a deck fairly quickly from the library, and set up consequently doesn’t take very long at all.

I suppose when the expanded universe was washed away, the writing was on the wall for this game’s survival, so entrenched was it by that point. The material was predominantly movie based, of course, but legends characters like Mara Jade were involved, and while Doctor Aphra has since made an appearance too, I don’t think it was a good move to have that sort of mix. FFG were perhaps rightly looking elsewhere, and Destiny came out with content firmly in the Disney canon. The LCG was therefore allowed to die off with a whimper, and the company has moved on to other outlets for the Star Wars license, mainly X-Wing and Legion. Games like Outer Rim getting an expansion was a surprise, as they do seem to otherwise be very low-key with the Star Wars license, which continually surprises me as I would have thought we’d have seen plenty to exploit the new content that we’re getting! But I wonder if Disney are trying to pull the license back to themselves, and so might be looking at different avenues for the future. Star Wars and gaming have gone hand in hand since time immemorial, so it seems baffling to me that more games aren’t being produced.

At any rate, it’s been so good to get my collection out of the attic, and I’m really looking forward to trying this game out once more!

It’s a shame, really, that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince Jemma to try Warhammer Invasion, or Conquest!! 🤣