Angmar Awakened – out of the dungeon, into the Ettenmoors

Hey everybody,
After more than two months, I’m once again back with the Angmar Awakened cycle! Back in November, I started this with The Wastes of Eriador, having played through The Lost Realm deluxe box back at the end of 2020! It’s definitely taking me a while to get through this, but I’m pressing on! I played the second pack, Escape from Mount Gram, at the start of December, so I’m currently doing well at one pack per month!

Escape from Mount Gram

At the end of the last adventure, the heroes were taken captive by the goblins, and Escape from Mount Gram sees us running around in the dungeons, trying to get our stuff and flee. There is a fairly annoying mechanic that starts the pack by shuffling all of the stuff, including allies and two heroes per player, into a sort of side-deck, meaning that we start the game with just one hero and a deck of event cards. Encounter cards often have the Capture mechanic, which draws cards from this set-aside deck under them and, when those cards leave play, such as by defeating enemies or exploring locations, we get to draw those cards as normal. Some effects will actually allow us to put cards into play for free, which is nice!

Escape from Mount Gram

Thematically, it works wonderfully, as it simulates the helpless/abandoned feeling of being lost in the dungeons and trying to regroup really well. However, it’s just that tiny bit soul-crushing as we start from so far behind, it’s like an uphill struggle right from the off. In addition, of course, players can’t team up until the second quest stage, so you really are on your own. It’s a little bit like Foundations of Stone from the Dwarrowdelf cycle in that respect.

Escape from Mount Gram

To win, you have to flee via the Southern Gate, which is quite the task because you can’t travel to that location until the quest has got the max number of progress tokens on it, so it’s very prescriptive in that respect. But it was quite enjoyable – just a bit hectic, and not one that I think I would rush to play again!

Across the Ettenmoors

Once we’ve escaped the dungeons, we then race Across the Ettenmoors, a wild place where Giants and Trolls abound. This one was a very interesting quest, as it is basically side quest heaven. Due to the fact that I was playing a team that includes Thurindir, and both my decks have quite a few side quests in as well, towards the end of the game I was questing for something like 20+ easily, Thurindir himself contributing well over half of that due to the 10 or so side quests in the victory display!

Across the Ettenmoors

There are a lot of enemies in this one, plus a lot of quite horrible treacheries, though I was surprised that it didn’t feel quite so bad as you’d think. Yes, there are massive Giant enemies to contend with, but as luck would have it, I was able to either discard them as shadow cards, or else deal with them on my own terms by keeping my threat low enough throughout!

I think Across the Ettenmoors is ranked as the easiest quest of the cycle, in the official literature at least. But like I say, it could be pretty horrific if you’re stuck with a bunch of giants and trolls looming over you. During my game, I was stuck with drawing a lot of player cards that interacted with locations, yet barely any locations were coming up. I always find these things interesting, because people will tell you that x quest is easy, or y quest is difficult, but without the right cards in your hand, x quest could be impossible! 

On that note, I believe I have an extremely difficult one coming up over the horizon. The Battle of Carn Dûm gets a lot of bad press for being one of the hardest quests in the game, but I still have another quest to get through before I’m there, so I can try to build myself up for that one. 

In the meantime, I continue to be quite impressed by how my decks are performing. The combination this time around has led to some very powerful turns where fairly significant enemies are crushed in one blow, and locations never seem to linger for longer than a turn or two. It’ll be interesting to see how I fare when the time comes – hopefully it won’t be too long before I will be able to draw this particular cycle to a close!!

LCG campaigns

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog of late, you’ll have seen a massive increase in my playing The Lord of the Rings LCG of late, including finally getting round to playing the saga expansions. Very exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree! I’m also roughly halfway through playing the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror LCG and, having got this far, earlier in the week I finally set about using all of the experience gained to upgrade my decks. Playing both of these games almost side by side has got me thinking a lot about the differences between the two, and I’ve found myself really disappointed with the older game.

I think it mainly comes down to the campaign experience, really. Lord of the Rings was never really designed to have that kind of campaign feel, after all – the monthly adventure packs were of course designed to have a cohesive narrative to them, which only increased during the life of the game. That’s all well and good in terms of the encounter deck, of course, but when it comes to our player decks, they’re pretty much what we want them to be, and some folks do play “progression style” and only use the cards released up to the pack they’re playing, which is pretty much how I think we all played back in the day! But there’s no real sense of progression in terms of your deck, in the same way that we get in Arkham.

In Lord of the Rings, you can play earlier quests with cards from later in the game’s life, and have a comparatively easy time of it all. The core set still has some phenomenal stuff that you won’t find surpassed from later on, but the reverse is also true, and later cards do really help to smooth things out that just weren’t possible early in the game’s history.

In Arkham Horror, however, the player cards are designed from the start to level-up and improve as you make progress through the campaign. I think I spent a couple of hours the other night going through my collection to buff Patrice and Trish, and I found it actually really exciting, finding the upgrades that I could get, or exchanging some cards for others. It’s an obvious point, really, but it’s just great to have that aspect of the game built-in.

Interestingly, it also means that the game is quite accessible, because you can have a deck with clear avenues for levelling-up as you can just buy the higher-tier versions of cards that you started with, but also it allows for people who want to make some narrative choices with their decks as they play, and get really granular as to what they swap out and in. We’ve seen this most clearly with the five Investigator decks that came out a while ago now, where those decks came with higher-tier versions of the basic cards that really telegraphed how to upgrade the deck. There is the possibility for upgrading by increments, and spending your XP over a wide variety of cards by just taking them up a single notch, or you can go heavily in and invest it in the top-tier versions of just a couple of cards. I’ve done it both ways, and find the options are always quite fascinating really.

For my current duo, I approached the task by looking at the level 2 and level 3 cards first, thinking I’d go for a middling split, so have been able to upgrade quite a few things throughout each deck. Of course, it’s also a great point to see what is and isn’t working well for you in the deck, and to try and make the most of things by ditching the “filler” cards for something more usable. Of course, some element of filler might be needed, due to the way the game works – you might want to keep certain cards, not for their actual effects, but rather for their icons. 

The task of levelling up a deck can sometimes feel quite daunting, and playing Edge of the Earth isn’t the first time I’ve left it a couple of games before spending my XP because of that. Sometimes it can be a case of too much choice, and you don’t know where to start. However, you’ll always have that trajectory of levelling up the existing cards to guide you. In contrast, when I’ve come to make some tweaks to my Lord of the Rings decks before now, it really is a daunting prospect because you are faced with the entirety of the card pool to try and figure something out! I actually organise my cards for Lord of the Rings by set release, as well (rather than by type, as with Arkham), so trying to find a certain effect or something can be quite arduous! There isn’t really the same option of having a stronger/better version of an existing card either, although sometimes you might see cards where they have a bigger effect than one that you already have, such as giving a character +3 attack instead of +1 attack, but you have access to everything from the start. So for example, in my Eowyn/Theodred/Merry deck I have had the Rohan pump cards in there from the very beginning.

Now, Lord of the Rings does have boons and burdens in campaign mode, which are cards that get added to the encounter deck, or to the player decks, and carry over between games once you have earned them. So while you don’t get the option to have better versions of cards in your deck, you do get the chance to add some fairly useful cards to your deck over time. Of course, this is balanced by having to also include horrible cards as time goes on, as well (although Gildor Inglorion does get added to the encounter deck, which is always nice to see him). So we have recurring cards throughout, which we very rarely see in Arkham (the only example that springs to my mind in this vein is The Harbinger from The Forgotten Age, which I think pops up twice after its initial appearance). 

Of course, ultimately they’re different games and therefore they work differently. Lord of the Rings works perfectly well playing it as it was originally released, just building a deck and working through each of the adventure packs in a cycle. Many people do prefer to build a deck to tackle a specific scenario, and while I don’t do that per se, I am aware that there are some scenarios that I would never attempt with an all-purpose deck. FFG have now started to add boons and burdens to the re-released stuff, such as the core set and Angmar Awakened boxes, to make them all into a campaign in the manner of the Saga expansions. I’m not sure they needed this, if truth be told, but I think there is that kind of shift for a lot of games to make a joined-up experience and try to get people more invested. I’m a little baffled by the fact that Marvel Champions does this, because it strikes me as being entirely on-theme for you to be able to battle the villains in a one-shot kind of way. I don’t have any experience of the Marvel campaign system though, so can’t comment more fully just yet!

It does make me wonder if anything would be lost by playing the Saga expansions, which introduced this concept, in non-campaign mode. I wonder if the boons that you earn make the scenarios playable, and not having them makes it nigh-on impossible to win.

I have definitely rambled on far longer than I thought I would about this, so I should probably try to draw this to a close now! I think I definitely prefer the Arkham system for its clearly delineated path for progression, both in terms of the encounters that you face and also the player decks and the whole levelling-up process. However, the campaign system can also get really clunky, and sometimes it can feel very difficult to keep track of exactly what is going on, especially as you go through a campaign and you need to recall what happened earlier on. Lord of the Rings as a game is just wonderful, if incredibly difficult, although I must say I have had a whole new appreciation for the game since I stepped away from true solo and embraced two-handed. The game tells a really beautiful story and, while it can often get a bit complex as well in terms of what exactly is going on, oftentimes the scenarios are designed really well, and really draw you in as a result. The only thing it falls down on, really, is how it attempts to implement the whole campaign thing, but aside from the Sagas, I haven’t really felt the absence of a campaign system before now. It’s funny how playing the Saga stuff has made me see all of this, really!

However, most of this is only an issue when you look at stuff from later in each game’s life. When you look at the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle for Lord of the Rings, it tells an overarching story (following Aragorn’s rescue of Gollum from Mordor) without any kind of complicated system of adding and/or removing cards as you go. The most complicated aspect is having to disassemble the encounter decks if you need to re-use some card sets across different scenarios (although personally I just bought five core sets, so have more than enough!) This model is broadly true for each cycle in Lord of the Rings, although the narrative of the game becomes more dense as we move through the various expansions, often leading to complicated set ups.

Arkham Horror, by contrast, sees us adding cards to our deck that we have “earned” right from the core set, with the infamous Lita Chandler, and the first cycle, The Dunwich Legacy, does play around with this as we rescue characters, and gain esoteric formulae etc. Later cycles do become quite complicated – I’m thinking of the Innsmouth Conspiracy, which flip-flops between the present and the past, so requires us to remove and add cards based on whether we’re going back in time. Sometimes you might only earn a card for a single scenario, which feels a bit redundant overall. However, it does intrigue me that it took six full cycles before the game realised that a monthly pack release schedule is not what this game is about, and it serves the game much better to produce a big box of the campaign that has all of this stuff that we can just mix and match across the various strands of play. While I’m currently not all that sure if the Edge of the Earth campaign is all that fun for me, I can nevertheless see that this is how Arkham should have been, right from the start.

It’s funny, though, that they’re now trying to retrofit Lord of the Rings expansions with a campaign mode as well, as they release these boxes in a similar manner. I suppose it’s a symptom of the rise in popularity of these sort of legacy-style games, where we as gamers need to have those links, and have story choices that matter. Unfortunately, we don’t get to make story choices in Lord of the Rings, we just play the scenario that is given to us. Many times in Arkham Horror, we can actually choose when to end a scenario by resigning without actually having completed our investigation. There are real decisions in campaigns like Path to Carcosa, which influence the path that we take through the eight scenarios. It is glorious, but it’s also a lot of book-keeping and can become very clunky in some campaigns.

In a perfect world, then, I think I would have the Arkham-style player deck progression, with the early, story-driven scenarios of Lord of the Rings, and try to just forget about campaigns and boons or burdens.

But that’s just me!

A Knife in the Dark

Hey everybody,
I am now the furthest into the Saga that I have ever been! It’s only been, what, almost a decade since they came out? Having tried a couple of times with the Lord of the Rings LCG saga, though, I am finally committed to trying, at least, to make it through!

After evading the Black Riders and managing to get out of the Shire to Bree, we arrive at The Prancing Pony and immediately there is trouble afoot. This scenario is actually a nice balance somehow, as each of the three quest stages brings in something very different, meaning there is a definite sense of moving through the quest. We start the game with Bill Ferny in the staging area, an enemy with 3 threat that we cannot optionally engage. The Prancing Pony has the benefit of allowing the first player to put an ally card from their hand into play for free, but when it is explored we need to discard from the encounter deck until we find two enemies, and engage them. Ouch!

The second stage is the journey through Midgewater, where enemies cannot attack, take damage, or be engaged. With six quest points, the Midgewater location card can be an absolute pain to deal with, especially if you are turning over a lot of enemies. (There are a lot of treachery cards in this one, so it should never be completely insurmountable, but even so!) The quest itself, however, has us shuffling in one of the out-of-play Ring Wraith cards into the deck, a theme that runs through the whole encounter.

When we get to the third stage, Weathertop, not only does the Witch-King get added to the staging area, but every Nazgul enemy from the encounter deck and discard pile – potentially four Ring Wraiths, and a further two Black Riders. We don’t win the scenario until all Nazgul enemies are defeated, so this can be a huge pain!

Now, whether it was due to my excellent playing, whether the decks that I’m using are just good against this scenario, or maybe I was forgetting some rules, but I managed to defeat this on my first play through today. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough, especially when I was turning over treachery cards that were reducing my hero stats to 0, or killing folks with 0 willpower, or whatever else was going on! My strategy was to ignore Bill, and progress as quickly as possible through the game, but after the first scenario in the saga, I was wary of those Ring Wraiths and so was raising my threat or whatever else I had to do to avoid putting too many in there. My threat was managed pretty well though, with enough reduction that I don’t think it was a huge problem, overall. Again, maybe the decks I’m playing are just well-suited for this scenario?

I didn’t have the right spread of cards this time, so it didn’t feel quite like the well-oiled machine I had in the first scenario, where I almost felt like I was just playing one big deck with six heroes, they played together so well!

Once again, Aragorn was in full-on beast mode, as I had him with the necklace attachment that gives him +2 willpower and gives an extra resource, then I slapped Unexpected Courage on him so he could basically take part in each stage of the game. Legolas wasn’t quite the MVP he was last time, though armed with a Rivendell Blade he was giving enemies -2 defence when he attacked, which came in handy at the end against the Witch-King. I had Eowyn with a golden shield, meaning she could defend for 5, which almost nullified any single enemy’s attacks – a Shieldmaiden, indeed! However, I am seeing a couple of areas where I could make some tweaks to the decks, in particular I think the fact I have Frodo collecting Fellowship resources to almost no end makes me want to include more neutral cards to give him stuff to do.

As I said last time, I’m not scoring this “officially”, but I did end the game with 6VPs in the victory display, so that was good!

Next up, we have the Flight to the Ford scenario, where we have to struggle to get the now-stabbed Frodo to Rivendell. Should be interesting!

Lord of the Rings LCG Custom Scenario Kits

Hey everybody,
I’m still on this massive Middle Earth kick at the minute, and have been delving through my LCG collection to look at all of the stuff that I have for the game. Among the masses of standalone scenarios and nightmare decks, I also have two of these custom scenario kits – Fantasy Flight produced four in total, with the first pair themed around Mirkwood and the next around Moria. They’re a bit odd, I’m not going to lie, but they’re also an interesting addition to the game.

LotR custom scenarios

A custom scenario kit is basically a bunch of encounter cards that gives you the opportunity to build a scenario to play. In the two that I have, there are cards mostly from early in the game’s run, but which have been shuffled around to create fourteen groups of five cards, as opposed to the encounter sets that we are familiar with. They have also been subtly changed, as the format for these kits is a little different to the more regular game. See, custom scenario kits originally came about for Gen Con 2018, and were designed to give Lord of the Rings LCG a competitive variant. In this way, you build an encounter deck and give it to your opponent, who then has to beat it quicker than you beat their encounter deck. So it isn’t a huge difference, as you’re still sitting down to play against an encounter deck rather than a person, but as a way of introducing a competitive variant of the game, I think it works pretty well.

The way you build a deck can largely be influenced by the quest card structure. To begin, there is a single quest card – 1A – to which you can then choose 2A and 3A to add to it. There are three copies of each in the kit, so you can create a number of variations on this. You then need to pick 35 encounter cards to make up the encounter deck. As I said above, instead of encounter sets there are numbered groups of five cards each, and the “quick start” rules allow you to pick seven of these sets to make up the deck. However, the encounter cards also have a cost on the bottom, and in the advanced rules you get 21 points to build the deck. There are some caveats though, in that you need a minimum of ten locations, ten enemies and ten treacheries, so if you’re building this for an opponent, you can’t front-load it with all the worst cards.

LotR custom scenarios

There are two sets, The Wizard’s Quest and The Woodland Realm, and the encounter sets from each are fully cross-compatible. I’m not sure, as I don’t have them, but I don’t believe the two Mirkwood sets are meant to be compatible with the Moria sets. While you can’t combine the quest cards, you can combine the encounter cards to create a massive pool of 28 sets of five cards to create your 35-card scenario.

These kits are designed to encourage competitive play, as the rules insert says, but cooperative play isn’t restricted here. While a lot of the encounter cards reference “your opponent” when choices have to be made, for example, the rules state that the first player in co-op must make that choice, going with the worst possible outcome for the group. I believe a lot of people use these things to deck-test, which is interesting, but otherwise they don’t seem to have a great deal of love, which seems a shame. Even though they’re mostly reprints of cards that have been changed up a bit, I still find them quite interesting and when time allows, I think I’ll be giving them a try with the co-op rules!

LotR custom scenarios

One of the reasons that I find them so interesting is because they basically fulfil one of my earliest crazy ideas for this game – mixing up the encounter sets. I think it was while we were still in the Shadows of Mirkwood mode, when I was playing and finding the game difficult in true solo, I used to think about taking some of my “favourite” encounter cards and building a quest out of them. I can’t really remember how this Frankenstein’s Monster of an encounter would look, in fact I think this was very much in the vein of shower thoughts, but I nevertheless used to wonder how it would work to take some of the sets that are challenging without the kind of “auto-lose” sets and see how I get on. I might yet do that with some of the stuff from Against the Shadow, which I know is quite fun to play around with. I don’t really know the other cycles well enough to try it, sadly!

Of course, all of that assumes I’ll have the time to spare for such hybrid gaming, given that I want to try to get through both the Angmar Awakened cycle, and the Saga boxes!

A Shadow of the Past

After more than seven years, I have finally embarked once more on the Saga play-through for Lord of the Rings LCG!

The last time I played A Shadow of the Past was Spring 2015, and I seem to recall that I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience. The scenario involves the heroes, along with Frodo Baggins, trying to evade the Black Riders as they make for Bucklebury Ferry. There are five Nazgûl in the encounter deck, and a slew of locations. The objective is to explore the Ferry location, but you cannot travel there if there are any locations in play, so it makes sense to have a whole host of locations in the deck.

I very nearly reached location-lock early on, but managed to remember that Legolas can add progress to the quest, and as I also had him riding Arod, he was able to make some effort to also clear those locations in the staging area. It became an exercise in keeping my threat low, though, as I tried everything I could to engage the Nazgûl on my own terms.

Fellowship

Thanks to the decks that I am using, there’s a lot of Ranged and Sentinel, which meant a lot of the time, combat was a pretty straightforward affair. The deck headed by Aragorn could basically support the deck headed by Eowyn, meaning it felt very much like I was playing one huge deck! In fact, the heroes duplicate spheres across both, so it kinda is one big deck! I think this is the first time that I have really experienced that, and it really did feel like one big Fellowship!

I’m sincerely hoping that things continue in this vein, anyway! I wouldn’t say that it was easy, but it was certainly easier this time around. I did start the game with 2 resources per hero, but otherwise played without any of the house rules I mentioned the other day. Whether I end up resorting to house ruling certain things as we go along will remain to be seen, though!!

So. I explored two locations worth 1VP each, but I don’t really want to go in to the whole scoring thing, as scoring in Lord of the Rings is very convoluted, involving adding up your end threat, remembering how many turns you played, and totting up the starting threat for any dead heroes. So I’m going to leave it as a final score of 2VP for now.

Lord of the House Rules

This is a post that I’ve been ruminating on for quite a while now. I’m not the sort of gamer who normally goes in for house rules, they always struck me as a bit dirty, somehow! I mean, I like to play games within the confines of the rules that come in the box (or book), and stick to the “official” way to play stuff. I find that this is the way that the game had been designed and balanced, so deviating from this can cause chaos. In terms of 40k, this becomes a fairly difficult undertaking, given just how much there is to track between the FAQs and errata, but with more regular board and card games, such things can be much easier to deal with. I recently printed off the FAQ for Runebound, and the entire game line (five big boxes, twenty-four card packs) is just four pages. Kinda tells you something about game design in the early 2000s, doesn’t it?

FAQs are one thing, but I have forever drawn the line at trying to alter a game myself. Or so I thought. For a very long time, I was playing The Lord of the Rings LCG incorrectly, but some of my accidental alterations to the game, it turns out, are variants adopted by many folks. Indeed, the game is widely agreed to be quite difficult to play, especially considering the game’s theme attracts many narrative or thematic players like myself. So I have begun to do a bit of research into this phenomenon, and I’ve actually been trying out some suggestions from the global community!

One of the official suggestions for learning the game is to leave out shadow cards, something that I was doing for years, but which I would not think to do anymore. Aside from the fact that they’re quite an important part of combat, with a lot of player cards that interact with them, shadow cards are also quite a useful way to thin out the encounter deck – I know it’s all random chance, but I would much prefer to see a hill troll as a shadow card than have to deal with it normally!!

Lord of the Rings LCG

The game also has an easy mode, which removes some of the encounter cards, and also allows heroes to start with two resources instead of one. Now, I recently tried this, and had Steward of Gondor in my opening hand, meaning Boromir was just a powerhouse. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because while the game is designed and balanced around its actual rule book, the variant is official, and it was just dumb luck. It’s equally possible to play the game as-is, yet draw Light of Valinor in your opening hand, allowing for Glorfindel to become a beast straightaway.

I think I’m a fan of starting with two resources, then!

Taking myself as the only player, even when playing two-handed, and so only revealing one encounter card per turn is, I feel, too easy. On reflection, I avoided a lot of location-lock while questing for around 12 points per turn, meaning it became really quite easy after a while. I did wonder if this was perhaps due to the fact I was playing The Hunt for Gollum, a scenario that I am very familiar with, but in all honesty, I don’t really think so. A lot of the difficulty around this game comes, I think, from how the encounters can snowball right from the off, and it takes the heroes time to build up. Encounter cards on an individual basis are not normally so terrifying, so playing in this way definitely felt a bit like the heroes ganging-up on the encounter set! Not a fan of this.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The next variation is something I’ve seen referred to around the web as “enjoyable mode”, which allows you to pick one card per hero to be in your opening hand. The cards you select must share a sphere with that hero. It sounds good, and in some of the discussions that I’ve seen around the internet, it does make sense: for example, a hero goes on the road prepared for what might come up, so of course they would come with a sword or an axe. Some variants take this further by limiting the cost of that attachment to cards costing 0, 1, or 2 resources. This makes some sense, and I do like the narrative idea behind it. However, in the game that I tried it, I decided that the attachment had to be a physical thing, not a title or whatever, which meant that it seemed to swing quite wildly as to what was useful and what wasn’t. Having Eowyn’s special horse and Celebrian’s Stone meant that I had two heroes questing for 8 between them, which seemed to be too powerful. Not entirely sure on this one yet.

Lord of the Rings LCG

In a similar vein, something I’ve thought about for a while is getting to start the game with a single ally in play, expanding the party and giving you more flexibility in the opening rounds. The reason for this is mainly due to the fact that I have played so many games where I have had a bad start and just couldn’t claw my way back from it. Even when playing Passage Through Mirkwood, the tutorial scenario! I understand that having three heroes allows you to quest, defend, then attack, so in theory you should be able to do everything required in the game from the get-go, but in practice it so rarely works out that way! There is the possibility of getting to start with a powerful ally which has been balanced to not be able to come out until turn 4+ normally, but I think without trying to abuse this, it could give the game just enough of an uplift that it isn’t a kerb-stomp straight off the bat. When I tried it, I specifically picked allies that wouldn’t be a massive benefit, but they had to be unique, named allies. It turned out to be pretty good, I thought, though it does feel a bit dirty to have 4-cost Elfhelm out right at the start, so I’m still debating this one with myself.

Much like the attachment thing, I think it could be a case of limiting this to starting the game with one card per player, rather than one per hero. Or even one card per party? Hm.

There are some very peculiar ideas out there as well. I saw something that suggested discarding multiple copies of the same location, which does kinda make sense for some places, it has always been thematically the case that you have multiple areas of the same place to explore, as some places are vast. It’s an unfortunate aspect of the rules that you can be location-locked with two or three copies of the same card up there taunting you! But I suppose the game isn’t meant to be easy, really.

So far, all of these things have been fairly straightforward things, which don’t really break the main rules of the game. Now, something that I’ve never really liked about the rules is the way enemies attack. Normally in the sequence of things, you need to defend against enemy attacks before you can attack, and this holds true whether you optionally engage that enemy, or if the enemy engaged you because of your threat level. It breaks the theme for me, to a point, where you have an enemy up there in the staging area, you shout a challenge and rush up to engage him, axes or swords swinging, but he can then strike first. As the game grew, there are cards that allow you to bypass the engagement, meaning you can straight up wallop an enemy still in the staging area, and there’s at least one card that allows you to fight before the enemy, but these still annoy me to some extent, because you’re relying on a card spot within your deck to do something that should be a rule.

I’ve read ideas to get around this where defenders, if they survive, can then attack back against the enemy, which isn’t bad really. The possibility to attack first does seem pretty strong, especially if you’re attacking en masse, but the only mitigation that I can think of for this basically makes everyone into Dúnhere – I do like the idea of a single hero being able to attack the enemy first when an optional engagement happens, then the fight is resolved as normal, but it does seem like you’re basically giving every hero Dúnhere’s specific ability. Even tacking-on a resource cost to it doesn’t help, in my mind.

Lord of the Rings LCG

One idea that I had come up with years ago, although I never tried it out, was to have almost a simultaneous fight, where you engage an enemy, declare “fighters”, and then everybody gets to go at it; the enemy damage is spread out as evenly as possible (but prioritises the highest-cost hero), and everyone can then have at the enemy card. It sounds like it would be way overpowered, but in reality, you might only have a couple of combat characters, alongside your couple of questing characters, so some enemies are still going to be difficult to shift, yet will still quite easily see off some allies, and even some heroes!

I never tried it, but now that I’ve come to write it up here, it’s got me thinking…

There are a number of other ideas out there that allow sentinel characters to not exhaust to defend, for instance, or ranged characters able to shoot into the staging area, which is another intriguing twist to things. I think these are principally variants for playing true solo (one deck to rule them all), but it’s an interesting idea that you could perhaps nominate one hero among your fellowship who doesn’t exhaust to do one thing, a bit like Light of Valinor but you could also apply it to defending or attacking in a single combat.

For the time being, though, I’ve settled on trying to have characters who survive an enemy attack as a defender can then deal their damage to an enemy, then the party can attack back as they see fit.

Lord of the Rings LCG

In short, I’d like the game to be not necessarily easier, but I’d just like to stand a chance against it, you know? Far too often, I’ve pulled early cards that have made it impossible to win, and even late game I’ve been sent back to the Stone Age with board wipes and similar. I’ve considered trying to maybe stack the top of the encounter deck so that I’m not starting from even further behind, or having at least one free pass where I just don’t reveal cards for the first quest phase. But all of that feels like it might interfere too much. The game is meant to feel like you’re playing against an actual player, and the purpose of Nightmare Decks was at first to simulate that player tuning their deck in the same way that us players do. However, with the encounter deck “able to play” powerful cards like hill troll on turn one, while us poor souls need to save up at least 3-4 rounds for our powerful cards does mean that we’re starting from behind, all the time.

I do love this game, I really do, but I’d like to be able to play it and enjoy it, not go through all the set-up just to then put my balls in a vice for a couple of minutes, then realise that I’ve lost regardless!

I think I’m going to adopt the 2 starting resources option in all my games going forward, and maybe I’ll sprinkle some other stuff into the game from time to time, as well…

Angmar Awakened #1: The Wastes of Eriador

Hey everybody,
It’s almost two years since I started to play the scenarios from The Lost Realm deluxe expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG, and in that time I don’t appear to have made any headway with the rest of the cycle! Despite some vague recollection that I had played it during the time leading up to the birth of the secondborn, looking at my boardgamegeek stats tells me otherwise. However, with a massive upsurge of interest in the game for me once again, I thought it was time that I got round to seeing through the cycle. I’ve mentioned this previously, of course, but I was an alpha playtester for Angmar Awakened, so have seen a lot of the cards (both encounter and player) in varying stages of draft, all text-only, so I’ve been looking forward to actually playing with the proper, full-art stuff!

Angmar Awakened #1

The deluxe box introduced us to a Dúnedain theme as we embark on a quest to rescue Iârion from the fell wight Thaurdir. Having left the border fort of Amon Hen, we’re now into the snow-covered wilds of Angmar itself, and pursued by Wargs in the first adventure pack!

Seriously, these spectral wolves are the worst. They range from annoying beasts to horrific nightmarish things, and each time we advance the quest they come at us again! There is a very interesting day/night mechanic in the scenario, which inherently prevents engagement checks during the day, and then draws additional encounter cards at night, but the quest stages all interact with the time of day as well, and most of the encounter cards will have some additional effect if it is night, so there is a lot to keep track of.

Angmar Awakened #1

I was using the same pair of Dúnedain-centric decks that I had built all those years ago to tackle this cycle, as I felt it would be thematic to do so. These were the very first decks that I had built to try out two-handed solo, and I do like the whole range of cards in there, it really felt like I was playing one massive fellowship towards the end, as I was playing cards across the board and making use of Ranged and Sentinel to really get the best out of them. That said, it does strike me as a bit weird having both decks as tri-sphere, with a Tactics/Spirit/Lore, and Leadership/Spirit/Lore mix. I’m currently thinking it would make more sense to have the two Spirit and the two Lore heroes in the same deck, for maximum efficiency. The only thing really stopping me doing that, for now, is not really knowing how things like Ranged and Sentinel are split across the spheres. They currently work fairly well together, so I don’t want to knock stuff out of sync by messing around just for neatness’ sake!

Anyway. I was really impressed with this pack, even if it was difficult. It’s still nice to see an encounter deck work well with itself, and the way this quest works to simulate the wargs coming at you during the night is really quite splendid at times! Of course, key is being able to keep your threat under control so they don’t all come at you at once, or being able to hit them while they’re still in the staging area. Luckily, this time, that was the strategy that was working for me.

Angmar Awakened #1

I’m going to try and play more of this, and then do some write-ups as they happen, rather than waiting until I have played a few scenarios and risk forgetting what I’ve been doing! I’m also planning to make a start on the first of the Saga expansions soon, as well, so it’s going to be a very Tolkien-y time here on the blog for the foreseeable!!

Lord of the Rings: Saga Expansions

It’s been ten years since the first Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings LCG was released. I can still remember the excitement of reading about the first box, taking us through the first half of The Hobbit, and getting a fourth hero from the yellow, “pipe” sphere! When the box arrived, I gave the first scenario a try, and promptly got nowhere. Two further attempts were equally ridiculous in terms of difficulty, and I have not played it since. There are three scenarios in the box, but I’ve never tried the other two because of this difficulty.

The follow up box, On the Doorstep, proved to be much more fun when it came out in 2013, and to this day I have very fond memories of the first scenario, where characters poisoned by the spiders are turned upside-down to symbolise what happens in the book. Very thematic, and it did somewhat bring my attention back to the game!

In 2014, after much speculation, FFG finally began to release the Lord of the Rings saga boxes, starting with The Black Riders. I’ve tried the first scenario in this box twice, first being utterly destroyed with a thematic hobbit deck, then in my abortive attempt at a full saga play-through back in 2015.

Since then, we’ve had five more boxes that cover the events of the whole trilogy, but I haven’t played through a single one. I’ve studiously bought them all, including multiple copies to get those all-important encounter sets to ensure I could have each quest set up ready to go, but they have remained unplayed all this time.

Now, where Lord of the Rings LCG is concerned, that isn’t entirely surprising. I’ve talked about this a lot on the blog, but the difficulty level ramped up so quickly that it really ceased to be enjoyable for me somewhere around the Ringmaker cycle, and I have a lot of unplayed content for the game. There are certainly two full cycles that I have never played, and plenty where I’ve only played the deluxe box or less. The game, I find, is just brutal from the off, and I’m not always in the mood for that kind of pummelling!

However, I’ve been reading a few bits and bobs about house rules, not trying to make it easy, but just trying to give myself a chance, and I’m finding it interesting to read about how other folks have handled this game. It is a co-op game, so nobody should really care about making some variation to make it more fun. It surprises me at times how much of a stickler for the rules I can be, when I think back to games such as A Touch of Evil where I would actively create my own content to play! So I’m thinking about trying some of these things out, with the idea that I might make a serious attempt to actually play through a saga campaign this winter! I know that I’ve excitedly talked about starting campaigns through complete cycles before, of course, and promptly gotten nowhere, but hopefully this time I can take it easy and just plod through, peppering the saga games into my more regular gaming. It’s exciting to consider, as it’ll be like having a completely new game to discover!!

October 2022 retrospective

Hey everybody,
October has been and gone, and I can’t believe that we’re nearly at the end of the year already. Doesn’t seem like there’s much of 2022 left, so I think I need to get a bit of a move on if I’m going to complete the hobby goals that I had set for myself at the start of the year!

The month started really well, I thought, when I was able to finish off two projects that had been dragging on perhaps longer than intended – the Raider and the Tomb Blades. The Raider was really nice to work on, I have to say, and I have been thinking about getting to work on another one, though for now I’m working on a bunch of other stuff, but I could see myself getting back to the Dark Eldar soon enough!

The Tomb Blades were becoming very annoying, as they are quite difficult to paint when they’re fully-built, but thankfully they’re now done, so I just have the gauss blaster set to paint at some future date, then I’ll have all the Necron jetbikes I could ever want!

In a surprise move, though, I also painted two kill teams during the month, the Death Korps of Krieg and the Traitor Guard!

These models are all just wonderful, and I really enjoyed getting them finished during a week off. I think the success there was in picking fairly easy paint schemes. The objective, after all, was to get models painted so that I could play with them. I still haven’t actually played the game, of course, but it was really nice to actually get them finished!

The rest of the month was spent painting more Sisters – a Dominion Squad, a Palatine, an Imagifier, and the Penitent Engine. I think I have now finished painting the models from the launch box, which came out three years ago, so that’s good going, right?!

My painted Sisters army is now looking pretty impressive, even if I say so myself! I think that by painting it in stages as I have been doing, I’ve managed to do really well – hopefully I can keep chipping away at 5-10 models at a time, and I’ll get it all done in fairly short order!!

Going back to kill team, though, this month has been quite expensive for me as I have once more been buying models. I picked up the big Into the Dark box after going back and forth on it for a number of weeks – I think the desire for the terrain got me, especially when I realised that it can soon be used in regular 40k as well – but the lack of availability of the second space hulk-themed box has somewhat cooled me on that once again. I am very much in love with the Breacher models, I think they look tremendous, and I am looking forward to getting those painted up as well soon enough. I have also been digging into the backlog, and I’m vaguely thinking about getting the Elucidian Starstriders painted soon as well.

However, I also bought the big Ash Wastes box for Necromunda, and have been busy putting all of the new terrain together. We were quite lucky, and had some good weather during that week off that I mentioned, so I have been able to prime it all up as well. While I did initially think that I’d make a bit of a project of it, and try to get the stuff painted too, that has fallen somewhat by the wayside, as I’ve been working on all the other stuff this month. But still, it’s been great to actually get a good amount of stuff built and primed, so that I can then spend the winter working on actually painting it all up!

Necromunda Ash Wastes

It hasn’t all been about the Warhammer, though!

After sharing my #shelfie a couple of weeks back, I’ve really been in the mood for more games, and have been enjoying something of a board game renaissance right now! I’ve really been into Lord of the Rings again, after playing the miniatures game with JP last week, so have been enjoying a return to the card game, getting two new decks built up to tackle some of that once more. I have a Silvan themed deck, and a sort-of Gondor themed deck, although both utilise elements that I’ve not really looked at before. The Gondor deck in particular is using Hobbits for the first time! I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I do like these sort of Fellowship type of decks – having played Dwarves and Rohan so much, I like playing decks where we can see more of the breadth of Middle Earth.

Lord of the Rings

I am becoming a little obsessed with Middle Earth SBG though, so I need to watch myself there – I don’t think I have room in my house for many more models!

Runebound has been looming large in my mind for a couple of weeks now, as well, so I want to try to get that to the table soon. I haven’t played the game in years, so I feel almost like I need to plan it out so that I have enough time to actually devote to it!

It’s definitely good to get back into these other games though, as I do enjoy them a great deal. Hopefully there will be an influx of game posts here on the blog before the end of the year!

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!!