Getting back to Mirkwood, part one

Hey everybody!
I’m having something of a card game renaissance lately, getting back into both Arkham Horror LCG and my all-time favourite game, Lord of the Rings LCG! I’ve rambled previously about these events, of course, and today will be a little more of a ramble, as I talk about revisiting three of the absolute classics of the game, the first half of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle!

I’ve waxed lyrical about this game in a number of posts now, but I really can’t quite describe just how much joy I get from playing this game!

If you read my original look through the Mirkwood cycle linked above, you’ll know just how much I like to wax lyrical about this cycle. I wrote that back in 2014, but it all pretty much still stands up as true! The cycle is just so classic for me, and so quintessentially what this game is all about. This was released before the Saga expansions of course, when I think FFG didn’t have licence to produce games set to follow the books themselves, so had to work around that by producing these side-stories. We see this most clearly with the Dwarrowdelf cycle, of course, but even with things like the Dead Marshes here, we’re attempting to visit book locations while not telling the story of Frodo and Sam.

While I’ve been a huge fan of this cycle since I originally bought it, I don’t normally play Conflict at the Carrock or A Journey to Rhosgobel, as I like the cinematic feel of playing packs I, IV, V and VI in that order. Missing out the ‘side quests’ has become so normal for me that actually playing them this time has been a lot of fun! A Journey to Rhosgobel in particular was almost something of a discovery, as I’d forgotten so much of that scenario!

I was playing through them with my Elves deck, which is made up of a lot of cards from the Ringmaker cycle, something that I was curious to see whether it would have much of an effect on these comparatively older expansions. As it happens, the answer is no. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot to be said for playing with a much more synergistic deck like all-elves or all-dwarves, as FFG have really made some great attempts to bring these cards together into often quite powerful archetypes, whereas trying to play with the wider synergies of the entire sphere could see you struggle, but I don’t think it makes things particularly easier to manage. My elven deck can allow Legolas and Glorfindel to become real powerhouses, of course, but I still managed to end up with Glorfindel Sacked! in Conflict at the Carrock, and I did still lose A Journey to Rhosgobel after having only discovered one Athelas plant.

I’m really thinking I might play Rhosgobel again, as I feel like I barely know that pack! It was a lot of fun – well, the whole playthrough was a lot of fun! But yeah, might get back to that one before I move on into the Hills of Emyn Muil


I’ve got the second half of these quests to play through as well, of course, but I’m also thinking about playing through on Nightmare mode before I move on to Khazad-dûm. It’s something I definitely don’t normally do, as I find a lot of the time, Nightmare mode feels like it breaks the original theme for the sake of making an otherwise really enjoyable game unnecessarily difficult. However, when I’ve previously looked through the cards for the Mirkwood Nightmares, I seem to recall they’re actually very thematic as well. Maybe I’m unjustly hating on Nightmare mode? Anyway. We shall see!

The Lord of the Rings LCG remains my all-time favourite game, and I am really looking forward to getting back into playing through some of my favourite quests, as well as playing the newer scenarios that I have yet to experience! Stay tuned!

The Ered Mithrin cycle

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a game day blog, but it’s Tuesday, and there’s some really cool games news been announced, so I thought I’d write a little something talking about my favourite game, Lord of the Rings LCG!

The Wilds of Rhovanion was announced what feels like ages ago now (well it was four months back), and I was beginning to wonder just what the plan was for Lord of the Rings these days. Well, it looks like we’re still in for some wonderful content going forward, thanks to yesterday’s announcement of the eighth cycle for the game.

Journeying through Middle Earth on the eve of winter ticks a lot of boxes for me, make no mistake. Winter-themed fantasy is always a plus, and this particular quest is putting me in mind of the classic The Redhorn Gate, so I’m really chuffed!

The adventure pack seems to involve searching for a drake, to prevent any calamity falling the Haradrim tribe we’re trying to relocate. It sounds a bit odd, but I love it all the same – the focus is on something a lot more heroic, in many ways, without being all about the big boss fights. The weather is an important part of the quest, which I really like, as it’s something that has been talked about in years gone by in terms of adding weather cards to current quests to help mix things up. So that should be a nice addition!

As always, the art is beautiful, and we’ve got a real sense of LotR history here in getting Grimbeorn the Old as a hero! We last saw him in Conflict at the Carrock as an objective-ally card, so it’s really cool to get the big man as a hero to play in other scenarios now, as well! His ability is also really good, allowing him to attack back when he defends an attack. It’s always made sense to me that characters should be able to do both, as they’d be both defending and attacking as part of the same action, surely? Splitting these up has always really detracted from the game for me, but there we go.

I’m really happy to be seeing some more announcements for this game, and I’m looking forward to getting into the Wilderlands soon!

 

The Voice of Isengard

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

The Voice of Isengard

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

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

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

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

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

The Fords of Isen

The Voice of Isengard

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

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

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

To Catch An Orc

The Voice of Isengard

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

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

Into Fangorn

The Voice of Isengard

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

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

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


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

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

Game stuff ahoy!

Hey everybody!
I’ve been missing out on a lot of new game stuff coming out over the last few days and weeks, so following the news about new 40k yesterday, it’s time to get caught up!

Magic the Gathering Commander

So first of all, we’ve got Commander 2017 coming on 25 August. August? I always thought these things came out later in the year! Well, anyway, Bank Holiday weekend will no doubt be full of digesting all of that stuff. Four new pre-constructed decks coming, based along a tribal theme rather than the usual colour-based design, I’m excited for this for a number of reasons. First of all, getting four will be cheaper than five, and since the C16 decks have sold out so quickly and I’ve missed out on at least the Atraxa one, I’m planning to buy all of them this time around just in case. Secondly, I love tribal stuff, so I’m sure there will be a lot here that I’ll enjoy. Definitely looking forward to seeing what’s going on here!

The Commander Anthology is of course coming out in June, and that’s something else that I’m feeling the need to pick up before it becomes impossible to find a Kaalia deck once again.

We also know the name of the next set after Hour of Devastation: Ixalan! It has that vaguely Mesoamerican sound to it that came through from the “leaked” packaging a while back, though with a different name. Hopefully it’ll still have that sort of aesthetic and will be wonderful, anyway!

Iconic Masters will apparently be a thing, but crucially the Reserved List is going to remain unviolated and intact. While I’m a huge proponent of allowing people to play the game rather than supporting people who want to hoard the components of a game and not use them for their intended purpose, I’ve recently changed my mind and have come to appreciate the fact that having a Reserved List adds a depth to the game that elevates it above its competitors.

And, I don’t think I want to actually play with cards like Kukemssa Pirates, Tracker or Boris Devilboon. I’m sure there are plenty of more interesting cards on the list (dual lands, anyone?) but by and large, I’m actually content to have the new stream of cards coming out.

Legend of the Five Rings

Let’s move over to FFG now, and their Legend of the Five Rings LCG!

Another famous CCG from back in the day, L5R is being reimagined as a LCG from Fantasy Flight and is due out at the end of the year. It looks like a really interesting game, a bit of a cross between A Game of Thrones and, well, Magic. I’ve noticed that I’ve been buying fewer actual games lately, partly because I’m saving up to buy a house, but also I’ve been throwing a lot of money at Magic singles. L5R looks like it should be a good experience, so I’m actually looking to get this thing and see what it’s all about!

We’ve got the next deluxe expansion for Arkham Horror LCG, while we’re on the subject of the living card games now, The Path to Carcosa. I mean, first of all this expansion has already been spoiled on the internet by a European game shop (I believe), so I suppose it’s about right for them to show it off here before too much thunder has been stolen.

I’ve not actually been delving too much into Arkham Horror LCG since I first played through the core set at Christmas, but I’ve picked up a couple of the expansions that have come out since, so really should get back into this game. It seems to have been really popular locally, and the boardgamegeek forums are lighting up daily with threads, so a part of me is slightly concerned that it might actually overtake Lord of the Rings LCG soon, because –

The final Saga expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG has finally been announced, and it looks splendid! We’ve got two scenarios that follow Frodo and Sam through the spires of Cirith Ungol and to the fires of Mount Doom, with the third depicting the clash on the Pelennor Fields. I am really excited to see this box, even might get me playing through the entire Saga at last!!

Ever since The Black Riders was announced, there have been rumblings about the future of Lord of the Rings LCG, with an almost consensus being that the game would lose a lot of momentum once we dump the Ring into Mount Doom. I’m hopeful that FFG will have room for two co-op LCGs in their stable but, given that they have previously cancelled one LCG in order to start up another (Warhammer Invasion for Warhammer Conquest, for example). If Lord of the Rings hasn’t got anything further to offer once we’ve been to The Mountain of Fire, and it will be retired in favour of Arkham Horror.

As much as I would love to see more content for years to come, and as much as I’m concerned that we might not see this happen, I’m sure my wallet will be relieved to have one less game to pick up each month!

Runewars Miniatures Game

Runewars has been released, and while I haven’t actually dropped the £80 on a core set, I have actually been tempted by that Rune Golem model. It does actually look pretty decent, though, and I’m concerned that my resolve will waver if I walk into my local store and it’s still on offer there! But the fact that I don’t know anyone who has even expressed a passing interest in the game has managed to keep me away from it for the time being. Maybe at some time I’ll see if I can get a demo in, and see what it’s all about.

FFG have already announced the Latari Elves expansion for the game, which I find funny, so I might actually be tempted to get it if they bring the Uthuk Y’llan out and they also look as good. For now, I’m resisting, though!

DC deck building game Rogues

It’s been a while since we’ve had anything new come out for the DC deck-building game, but finally the next Crossover pack is apparently out and available, so it’ll be time to try and sniff that one out soon enough. We’ve also got the artwork for the next Crossover pack, Birds of Prey. The Multiverse Box has recently had another preview over on the Cryptozoic website, showing some of the new content that will be coming out in the box, which is really exciting! Anything that just adds depth to the game is always welcome by me, anyway! Looks like there are elements from the Crisis packs being ported over into the more standard game, which I like, so I’m excited to pick that up, anyway!

Back into gaming!

Y’know, considering board games is my most-used category on this blog, which has had over 600 posts to it at this point, I’ve recently not been doing a lot of gaming whatsoever! In fact, according to my stats over on boardgamegeek, I haven’t played a game since Christmastime, which is actually shocking! Long-time readers may recall, however, that I’ve been doing a part-time degree and, while this is now drawing to a close, the last couple of months have been particularly hectic, which likely explains a lot of this absence.

But, no more!

At the weekend, I finally managed to break the gap and play a game of Lord of the Rings LCG, just using my trusty Rohan-themed deck against the first scenario, Passage Through Mirkwood. I think it’s traditional for more people than just myself to get back into the swing of things with this scenario, usually for testing new decks but it’s also really useful for getting back into the whole world of the game itself!

Lord of the Rings LCG

As I said, I was using my tried-and-tested Rohan deck, though I hadn’t actually played the deck since November 2014! (I log all my plays on boardgamegeek, especially the decks for this game). It has been changed a little to include some of the Angmar Awakened cards, but even so, that revelation did surprise me!

The game didn’t actually last very long, when all’s said and done, anyway. I had Dúnhere out, tooled up with a Spear of the Mark (a card really made for Dúnhere) and Blade of the Gondolin, which allowed me to deal with pretty much everything in the staging area before it became a problem, and both Éomer and Théoden were essentially my questing powerhouse, beefed up with a timely Astonishing Speed to get through the quest in about seven turns overall!

Lord of the Rings LCG

There are still annoying cards to deal with here, of course, chief among them being The Necromancer’s Reach, which deals one damage to each exhausted character, but overall it can be a fairly easy scenario to play through. I’m already planning to get back to Middle Earth soon for more exciting times with the game, and I’m really looking forward to trying out some of the comparatively more recent scenarios.

In my game day blogs, I’ve been looking at the deluxe expansions and the corresponding cycles of adventure packs up to the third such cycle, Against the Shadow, and can speak with some authority on these, having played each scenario multiple times with a variety of decks. However, from the fourth deluxe, The Voice of Isengard, onwards, I’m not quite so familiar. I’m still going to continue to write the blogs, of course! I’m quite excited for the air of discovery that doing so will give me, however!

I’m also trying to play more games, in general. It was something of a new year resolution for me, and for the first three months of the year I didn’t do anything for it, so I need to get moving there, I feel. To this end, I’m intending to play at least one game per month, so at least one game day blog per month will feature this kind of session-report thing so that I can prompt myself to actually make that happen!

Lord of the Rings LCG remains my absolute favourite board game, simply because the theme is just so amazingly done. So I’m hoping that the prospect of getting back to some of the truly classic scenarios, as well as discovering what the new scenarios have to offer, will get me actually playing games again! I’m also intrigued as to what the new player cards will have to offer me…

Against the Shadow!

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day here at spalanz.com, and it’s time to return to one of my absolute favourite games in the history of the world: Lord of the Rings LCG! It’s been more than a year since I took a look at the deluxe expansion, Heirs of Númenor, so it’s time to look at the subsequent cycle!

Against the Shadow

Against the Shadow was released throughout 2013, and subject to some hefty delays here in the UK. The first pack in the cycle, The Steward’s Fear, was actually the first game I had delivered after I moved into my new flat! As I said in the last blog, the narrative possibilities of the game were really embraced in Against the Shadow, with the designers – including company CEO, Christian Petersen – developing a story that involved us solving mysteries on the streets of Minas Tirith, defending the outpost of Osgiliath, and ultimately, into the shadow of the Black Gate itself!

The player cards in this cycle were fairly decent, mainly involving an effort to support mono-sphere decks and pushing both the Gondor and new Outlands traits. This latter deck type became extremely powerful quite early on, with a series of allies who were buffed by having other Outlands cards in play. The heroes were a bit of a mixed bag, and includes the first original hero for the game since the core set, Mirlonde. As usual, however, I’m more interested in the scenarios than the player cards!

The Steward’s Fear

Against the Shadow

This scenario remains, for me, one of the most narrative games in the entire Lord of the Rings product line to date.  There are three modular elements to the game: a plot, an archenemy, and a series of clues. The idea is that you are travelling around various locations throughout Minas Tirith, trying to discover a sleeper agent from Mordor. Most locations are “underworld” locations, which are placed in the staging area with a number of cards face-down beneath them. As you explore these locations, the cards are turned face up, and can either be enemies, or clues. As you progress through the game, you will first uncover the plot that has been put into effect, before finally uncovering the villain himself!

This is a really prescribed scenario, with an especially detailed set-up. As such, it can be a really great, thematic experience, but also sometimes you just want to explore somewhat at your own pace, which is why I always find myself returning to the Mirkwood scenarios… It’s a really good expansion, however, and well worth taking the time to explore!

The Drúadan Forest

Against the Shadow

This cycle was the first to employ a narrative focus at the forefront of the game. Rather than having an overarching plot that didn’t really have much of an impact, the adventure packs each having a story that you get to read when you finish the adventure that describes what happens next.

The Drúadan Forest takes place as part of the heroes’ chasing the villain out of Minas Tirith before his true identity was revealed. The scenario sees us going through the forest, much like Into Ithilien from the deluxe box, but this time we’re set upon by the Woses rather than the Haradrim! Again, there is a prescribed feel to the game as we have the big enemy kept aside until later in the scenario, but overall it’s a fairly standard game.

Encounter at Amon Dîn

Against the Shadow

Every cycle seems to have one of these sorts of quests, which feels super-thematic but is almost entirely written off by the majority of gamers as “too easy” or whatever. True to form, this scenario is one of my favourites from Against the Shadow, as well! Returning from the forest having seemingly shot all of the conspirators full of arrows, the heroes come across the village of Amon Dîn being attacked by Orcs!

This scenario features the really great Villagers mechanic, where locations come into play with resource tokens on them to represent a number of villagers: when the location is explored, the villagers are rescued and placed on the appropriate objective card. There are a number of cards that will remove villager tokens from cards, and deal damage to the “dead villagers” objective card. The object of the game is to rescue more villagers than see villagers die. I really like this, as I said, and it feels really thematic when an Orc enemy shows up and starts dealing damage to the villagers before you can slay him!

The scenario is also the first in the cycle that gives us the objective-ally card of Lord Alcaron, whose scroll was so important in Peril at Pelargir! Lord Alcaron is a character invented for the game, and functions similarly to Arwen in the previous Dwarrowdelf cycle, where if he is leaves play, we lose the game. Alcaron can be exhausted to rescue a discarded villager token, which is really useful in this scenario, but his effects will change as we meet him in subsequent scenarios!

Assault on Osgiliath

Against the Shadow

I said that Encounter at Amon Dîn was my favourite scenario from this cycle, but Assault on Osgiliath runs it a very close second. This scenario is also one of the strangest put out in the entire history of the game, if I’m honest. In the narrative, we’ve saved the villagers and have now hooked up with Lord Alcaron, and we go off to Osgiliath to help Boromir re-take the beleaguered city from the Orcs. This is represented by the heroes literally taking control of explored Osgiliath locations as the game progresses.

When an explored location leaves play, it goes into the victory area, but there are numerous effects that depend on how many locations we control, such as enemies having +1 attack or whatever. However, in order to win the game, we just need to control all of the Osgiliath locations in play: set-up requires us to place one such location in the staging area at the beginning but, feasibly, that may be the only such location we turn up, so the game can be over really, really quickly!

Even so, I love the thematic tug-of-war we have with locations coming under our control or then leaving again. It’s a really great scenario, and possibly the one I’ve returned to most often since its initial release.

The Blood of Gondor

Against the Shadow

This scenario sees us pursue the Orcs after successfully purging them from the city of Osgiliath, running back into Ithilien and right into an ambush! Lord Alcaron is back, this time he can exhaust to return enemies to the staging area, which can be a useful thing. We also get an objective-ally Faramir, which had fans up in arms at the time because the hero Faramir came out in the previous scenario!

This scenario involves the Hidden Cards mechanic, where the players take one card from the encounter deck and place it face down in the play area. This represents the forces of the enemy lying in wait. We also have the iconic Black Númenorean enemy in this pack, which initially excited me as I thought we were getting the Mouth of Sauron himself! But alas, this is just one of the many sorcerous men from the north. Anyway, there are a lot of cards, such as the Black Númenorean, that have a greater impact depending on how many hidden cards are in play. Objective-ally Faramir is another such card, who can deal 3 damage to an enemy card if one is turned up from a hidden cards pile.

From the second stage of the quest, Alcaron and Faramir are both captured, and all hidden cards are turned face up. The players then need to quest using their attack value, something from Heirs of Númenor that has featured somewhat sporadically throughout the cycle, in order to win.

This is another super thematic scenario in an already super-thematic cycle, but always seems to be overlooked – probably because you can’t use any other version of Faramir in your decks to play it, and he can be a fairly useful card…

The Morgul Vale

Against the Shadow

The final scenario takes us to the Black Gate of Mordor itself, as the storyline of the cycle plays itself out. Another prescribed scenario that throws increasingly difficult ‘captain’ enemies at the heroes in order to prevent their recovery of Faramir, it reveals that Lord Alcaron is a traitor to the free peoples of Middle Earth!

Each of the captain enemies needs to be destroyed in order to make it past each stage, with the demise of the final, Nazgul enemy winning us the game. The Nazgul has the usual effect of reducing all damage dealt to him to 1, which is wonderfully in-keeping with other iterations of these enemies in the game, but horrible when you’re trying to win! There is also a timer element in To the Tower, which will lose us the game if it has 10 or more progress tokens on it. There are all manner of cards that are trying to place progress on this thing, and I think it’s actually an incredible implementation of this war on two fronts thing: we’re trying to rescue Faramir, but we’re having to fight our way through the Orcs to get to him.

The scenario is difficult, I have to say, and once again can’t have Faramir in play, but it’s a really incredible way to finish what has been a really immersive cycle.

Against the Shadow

The nightmare packs for this cycle are, as can be expected, truly nightmarish, with all manner of unnecessary horrors added to each scenario! There are new Plots and new ways of interacting with the Villain in The Steward’s Fear, while the Drúadan Forest gives each hero five resources at the start of the game, and you can’t collect any more! Something that I really like about the Assault on Osgiliath nightmare deck is the additional Osgiliath location card, Palace Remains, which prevents you from claiming it until you have at least five other Osgiliath locations. This can drag the scenario out enough that the true tug-of-war feel comes to the fore.

While I still love the Mirkwood cycle dearly, and I don’t think anything can truly knock that cycle off its lofty perch, Against the Shadow is an incredible cycle, with some wonderfully thematic storytelling – which is precisely what this game is all about, for me.

Weekend reflections

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these weekend reflections types of blogs, but I thought I’d just ramble for a bit about what’s been going on and what I’ve been up to of late, so sit back and enjoy some rambles!

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Forging ahead with #TheBeastArises

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First off, I finished book six in The Beast Arises series, Echoes of the Long War. This was a really good book, showing the Fists Exemplar and the renegade Iron Warriors working together to destroy the Ork menace infesting the world of Prax. The world is a fortress world of the Iron Warriors, but the marines discover the Orks are using it to provide food for their war effort (in the form of human chattel) and so initiate a hidden mechanism in the core of the planet to basically destroy it. Exterminatus is but a mere wipe down with a damp cloth compared with what the Iron Warriors are prepared to do to wipe out the xenos!

In addition, we have some pretty turbulent events taking place on Terra, as Chapter Master Koorland basically takes command of the High Council of Terra, which gives me tremendous hope for the next steps in the war against the greenskins! We also get more on the intrigue on Mars, as the net closes on the assassins placed there back in book two…

I have to say, I’m really impressed with how the series has been progressing, especially over the last couple of books. I was surprised by the inclusion of the Iron Warriors storyline, but as the books have progressed I’ve been finding myself interested in them more and more! In fact, I’ve since moved on to reading the Iron Warriors novel, Storm of Iron, by Graham McNeill! Back last year, I read the first two novels in the Ultramarines series, Nightbringer and Warriors of Ultramar. I know that the next novels have strong ties to the Iron Warriors stories, but hadn’t really looked into the reading order until recently. So wait for that review, coming soon!

Thousand Sons

On the subject of Warhammer 40k stuff, it’s been an exciting weekend for Chaos folks as we see the new releases of Tzeentchy goodness, including these rather magnificent Rubric Marines. I single these out, as I would like to get myself a box soon enough! I mentioned it a while ago that I wanted to build some up, perhaps for a kill team type of thing, but having many projects on the go right now, I’ve managed to resist… for now!

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Let's see what this is all about! #StarWars #games

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That hasn’t stopped me buying other games of course, including the new Star Wars Destiny dice game, and The Sands of Harad for Lord of the Rings! Destiny looks great – I bought both starter boxes and three boosters with the idea that I could try the game out with my buddy Tony, and maybe change up the starter decks if required. I’m disappointed I didn’t get Count Dooku, but from all accounts there appears to be a very small distribution of characters in the game, so I suppose I’m not overly surprised. My usual Magic singles webstore, Magic Madhouse, is selling stuff for the game singly, and I’m a bit surprised at the £6 cost for single cards with dice – but having paid £14 for a single Magic card in the past, I suppose I shouldn’t really be all that surprised… At any rate, I want to actually play the game a bit and get an opinion of it before I go too nuts…

The Sands of Harad looks fantastic, I must say. I talked about this a while ago, where I thought it might be the expansion that really gets me back into the game and, on first glance through, I think that assertion is correct! The artwork is beautiful as always, and has gotten me excited to get back into playing the game. Christmas is only around the corner, of course, and it’s a time of year that I do associate with both the game and the setting, so I’m very excited for this! I’m still featuring the various cycles in game day blogs in the order of their release, but I might be talking about this one more in the near future, so stay tuned for that!

I’ve still got the Arkham Horror LCG waiting to be investigated (pun intended, I think) though I’m not yet in the mood for that one… think it might have to be one of these games where you devote an afternoon to the whole experience of it, you know? Between the deckbuilding and learning the game itself, I’m actually looking forward to it! But, much like my painting, it seems whenever I spend more than an hour doing things these days, I feel like I’m wasting time! Not sure what that’s all about… But at any rate, I plan to set aside some time when I’m next off work (and have no essays due!) so that I can go through it all – and will no doubt be reporting back here in a game day blog soon enough, so stay tuned for that, as well!

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not really been keeping up with a lot of the new games lately – though I haven’t really seen anything that I can say I’m really super-excited for. I’ve not bought any of the Flashpoint cycle for Netrunner, and the next cyle, Red Sand, has already started the announcements! I haven’t played the game in months though, so should probably look to getting back into that. It seems a lot like Warhammer things have taken over my life the last few months – which I’ve been enjoying, don’t get me wrong! I just think that I’ve been missing out on some other really great games, and it might be time to make a return to some of those…