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.


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.

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!!

The Lost Realm

Hey everybody,

I’m not sure if I’m actually going to reinstate the whole Tuesday-game-day thing in 2021, but hopefully I can write more about my games here as the year goes on! We’re now in Lockdown #3 here in the UK, where staying home is pretty much the new way of life for us, so what’s better than playing loads of games, right?! Today, I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about my latest endeavour, playing through more of the Lord of the Rings scenarios that I’ve never explored. Given that the game ended last year (well, went on hiatus), I’m probably a bit late to this party! But it’s among my all-time favourite games, and I want to devote more time to it.

Lord of the Rings LCG

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed a slip here – I’ve long thought of Lord of the Rings LCG as “my favourite game”, even when it was curb-stomping me, and even when I wasn’t playing it regularly. Now, however, I’m much more into Arkham Horror LCG as being a better overall game experience, though I come back to Middle Earth for the nostalgia trip!


Over Christmas, I decided to make the effort to play at least one full cycle from one of the five or six later ones that I’d never taken the time to explore, and settled eventually on the Angmar Awakened cycle. This one begins with The Lost Realm deluxe expansion, which brings the game into the north of Middle Earth, and explores the area to the north of the Shire, in the Lost Realm of Arnor. Hence the name!

There is a very strong Dúnedain theme developed across the player cards of the cycle, where the main focus is around engaging enemies. It was recently pointed out to me that this theme was telegraphed from way back in the core set with Son of Arnor, which I find pretty neat.

As the cycle moved on, and certainly as further cards came out in subsequent cycles, we’ve seen the Dúnedain theme become quite strong, rewarding players for engaging multiple enemies (although, I have to say, there are few defensive cards associated with the trait than I’d like!) It’s almost a high risk strategy, which sort of brings me to the next new thing in this cycle, Valour. A lot of cards have two effects, labelled Action and Valour Action. The Valour Action can only be triggered if your threat is above 40, but usually gives a much bigger effect – such cards have effects like ‘ready a character you control’ for the normal Action, and ‘ready all characters’ for the Valour Action.

But let’s talk about the quests in this box!

There are three, of course, and they’re all pretty middling difficulty, if I’m honest. I think this is due to the new Side Quest mechanic introduced in this cycle – cards that are shuffled into either your player deck, if it’s a player side quest, or into the encounter deck, and which act as an alternative to the main quest going on. Obviously, they depend upon being drawn to have an effect (although the second scenario, The Weather Hills, does instruct you to set one up in stage 2B), and having one (or more!) in play can make things extremely difficult!

Side quests are almost like extra active locations, in a sense – progress is placed there instead of the ‘main’ quest, and completing the quest does not advance the quest deck. Player quests can have some powerful effects, whereas encounter side quests can bolster enemies in play, so need to be removed!

The first scenario is Intruders in Chetwood, and serves to set the story up. The heroes are helping the Dúnedan Rangers in clearing out some Orcs that are marauding through Bree. In many ways, it’s similar to scenarios of the past – we have the objective-ally Iârion whom we need to keep alive, in a scenario full of enemies and nasty effects, some of which can trap him.

The Weather Hills is a bit more brutal, as we pursue the Orcs into, well, the Weather Hills. However, it seems that there is foul sorcery afoot! There is an objective card in play that collects tokens when enemies are defeated and, when flipped over, acts as something of a timer for the quest.

We pursue the Orcs into the old border fort of Amon Forn, where we discover the remnants of some depraved ritual having been carried out. Rescuing at least some of the prisoners from Bree, we take them to Fornost and have a chat with Aragorn, no less! But then – the sun goes down, and all hell breaks loose when Thaurdir, the spokesman for the prisoners, turns out to have been an undead wight!!

Deadman’s Dike tasks us with defeating the undead hordes roused by Thaurdir, though it is very much a ‘just survive’ type of quest. Thaurdir cannot be defeated, but if he doesn’t have damage on him equal to his hit points when the final progress token is placed on the quest, we haven’t yet won!

The story ends as Thaurdir escapes with Iârion captive, and we swear to his younger brother Amarthiúl that we will help to rescue him.

It was a bit odd for me to be playing a deck that included Amarthiúl from the start, although his hero card wasn’t released until the penultimate pack in the cycle! I’ve been playing two-handed solo, which is a completely new experience for me, and was actually a whole lot of fun – not least because I was finally able to experience both the Ranged and Sentinel keywords, so that was good! Whether it was helped by the fact I’ve been playing Arkham Horror in this manner for a while now, I found this way of playing really quite straightforward, and didn’t really get that confused by everything that was going on. The one concession I made, though, was to not pass the first player token.

The scenarios were really good, I have to say. I played the first one years ago, but don’t remember doing too well. However, aside from a miserable failure with the first Harad quest back in 2018, this box marks the first time in a long time that I have played “new” quests in this game! So that was pretty exciting to realise! There is a lot of theme in the scenarios, I think, and they don’t seem entirely impossible when playing with two decks, so that is nice! I was playing Standard mode, and still managed to make it through each one, at any rate – though I have read online that this was the first cycle that really tried to address the issue of scaling the game for 1-4 players, rather than assuming an optimum two.

At any rate, this was definitely an enjoyable experience for me, and I think it’s gone a long way to rekindling my love for the game, after the sound thrashing of the Ring-Maker cycle before it putting me off for years! As far as the Angmar Awakened cycle itself goes, I was a play-tester for that, so have played each one back in the day – albeit with cut-out bits of paper with text and no art! Not that I remember a great deal about it (it was 5 or 6 years ago, now), but I’m looking forward to going through the cycle in pursuit of Iârion, so stay tuned for more updates!

Post 999!

Hey everybody!
It’s my 999th post on this blog! What an incredible milestone! I honestly didn’t give things much thought back when I started this endeavour back in 2014, but I suppose as time has gone on, I suppose it’s been quite exciting to see the blog growing – even if it is with my inane babble! As we gear up for post number 1000, which is already written and scheduled to go live tomorrow, I thought I’d have a bit of a catch-up blog with you all, and dip into some of the stuff that has been going on in recent weeks!

Curtain Call

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Arkham Horror LCG, and enjoying myself immensely. Back when I first played the game upon release, I definitely knew that I enjoyed the game, but always seemed to struggle to get round to actually playing it. It wasn’t until last year, almost three years after the initial release, that I got round to actually trying out a full campaign.

Now, however, I’m firmly entrenched in the whole thing, having really revitalized my enjoyment of the game and throwing myself in whole-heartedly! I’ve made my way through two full campaigns now, and I’m poised to start on a third over the festive season, tackling The Circle Undone with Diana Stanley and Joe Diamond. Having sleeved the cards for this cycle, it’s been exciting to see that this one focuses more on the classic trope of regular cultists trying to bring about the end of the world, rather than fantastical creatures and the like. I’ve been recording my games here on the blog, and I’ve set up a page specifically to collect these posts together. I’m sure I’ll be trying out some campaigns multiple times, too, but I want to try out all the game has to offer me, and make up for lost time!

Interestingly, all of this Arkham Horror LCG has got me thinking about trying my other great card-game love, Lord of the Rings LCG. It’s been a long time since I have last played this game, I think I tried my hand in one of the early scenarios in the summer-time, but playing this game has really dropped off my radar in recent years. It’s interesting, of course, because I still really love it, and I still call it my all-time favourite card game. I suppose part of the reason for me having stepped back a bit from it resides in the fact there is just so much of it now. The game wound up a few months ago, after the last cycle took an absolute age to actually see all six packs released – in total, we have nine full cycles, eight deluxe Saga expansions, and about a dozen standalone scenarios. It’s quite mind-boggling, really, and the player cards have become quite the beast to wrangle!

Earlier this week, as it happens, I spent a sleepless night looking through my collection once more, and reliving some past memories as well as tinkering a little with my favourite Rohan deck. The whole thing was brought about because I wanted to re-sleeve some of the cards, requiring the transparent sleeves for Arkham Horror as it happens, but it really took me on that journey down memory lane, to the time when I would excitedly play each pack in the Mirkwood cycle as it was released – spending yet another sleepless night back in, what, 2011, playing The Dead Marshes. Ah, memories!

I’ve currently got four decks built up and ready for the game – the Rohan deck, a Dwarf deck, an Elf deck, and more of a generic/mix that uses a number of Dúnedain and Outlands cards. Going over these (and re-sleeving them), and sorting out a lot of the later packs from Harad, Rhovanion and Mordor, has got me thinking how I’ve never really ventured very far into this game, always returning to Mirkwood and the Dwarrowdelf, without really exploring any of the cycles from Ringmaker onwards, really! Looking back, I got as far as The Dunland Trap from that cycle (the game’s fourth, just fyi!) while playing what I would call regularly, back in 2015, and have pretty much given up, since! Sporadic plays of a scenario from Angmar and Harad notwithstanding, I’ve pretty much let the bulk of this game pass me by, whilst still compulsively collecting it!

Well, hopefully that will change soon!

Lord of the Rings LCG

I’ve got my eye on playing some of the newer quests, potentially with that Dúnedain deck, or else with the re-tuned Rohan deck, over the festive period (although probably more like the new year weekend). I’ve even been considering building up an entirely new deck, using the newer player cards to build around the Dale theme. I’ve got my eye on trying maybe The Lost Realm, or else Vengeance of Mordor as that has struck me as a very intriguing cycle. I’ve heard so many good things about the Ered Mithrin cycle, though, so that is also a strong contender. Of course, I playtested on the Angmar Awakened cycle, but I think I came into the game after the playtesting for the deluxe expansion had finished. I have lots of bad memories of never being able to escape from the dungeons, but it’ll be nice to actually play the game in its finished form, with artwork and not the badly-formatted black-and-white printouts that were sleeved on top of other cards!

So that’ll be something good to look forward to!

What else has been going on?

Well, I’m quite excited to say that I’ve pretty much finished my first major terrain piece! I mean, I’ve painted up some ammo crates before, but I’m quite excited for this one! The Sector Mechanicus stuff is really nice, and I have rather a lot of it after all, but I think after the game of Necromunda the other week has got me thinking more about terrain and whatnot, so I think it’ll be nice to have some done. I’ve been working on a Galvanic Magnavent lately, building it up to reflect the back of the box rather than the “standard” build from the front (I’m pretty sure I did that with another piece, too…) so I think when I have these big pieces painted up they’ll look really good out on the table!

Let’s talk about Necromunda though, as it’s something I’m hoping to try out again over the festive break (first Lord of the Rings, more Arkham Horror, and now this?! Where will I find the time…) I’ve been reading up the rules for scenery from the Book of Peril, and I’m quite excited by just how interactive the battlefield can get! So it should be really interesting to see how all of that works (although it might not be something that I get to straight away, as there are a lot of moving parts in this game, after all!)

It’s not all about the scenery though, as I’ve also been building up some more Van Saar folks as the excitement around House of Artifice increases! My current leader comes in at a whopping 310 credits – I know Van Saar are expensive, but that’s a third of the starting gang, so I needed to slim them down a bit. This chap, above, is a much more respectable 245, which means I can actually fit in another body, between trimming down the leader and champion options. I think that game I linked to earlier definitely showed just how much the advantage of numbers can go in your favour – and expensive gangers are of no use to anybody if they’re Prone and Pinned!


We need to talk about this. I don’t think I’ve properly recovered yet, of course! But 10 new Star Wars series’ is just phenomenal! The Mandalorian is showing that Star Wars can absolutely have a future on the small screen, and I am so excited to see what they’re going to do with it all. I probably need to confine my thoughts on this to a separate piece, but suffice it to say, I’m really happy with what’s going on there right now!

So, folks, that’s almost a thousand posts finished! Come back tomorrow to celebrate my birthday with Post 1000 itself – I think it’ll be a good one!

A Shadow in the East

Wow, you guys! Wow!

Lord of the Rings LCG is getting an eighth deluxe expansion pack, A Shadow in the East, and it sounds spectacular! We’re heading to Rhûn for this and the subsequent Vengeance of Mordor cycle, and I for one simply cannot wait!

The three quests that come in the expansion are all a little reminiscent of the Against the Shadow cycle, with their urban feel and sinister cults, but there is also the added feeling of the oppression of Mordor, with the idea of mysterious ruined temples built in honour of Sauron. Wow!

This has been great news, I have to say. It’s always exciting to see more come out for this game, which I have frequently said is my all-time favourite board/card game in my collection. We’re getting new quests of course, and we’re travelling to another new area of the map, so what’s not to like? Some very interesting new theme and mechanics coming on the cards we’ve seen spoiled so far – and we’re getting The One Ring once again!

I’m not sure whether this new Ring card will make it into my decks (although I’m also wondering whether it will be a stipulation of playing the quests?) as I’m a fairly cautious player at times, and reducing my threat elimination level by 5 to play with it seems a bit too much for me! But I’m sure, in time, I’ll try and experience how it changes things – especially seeing as how there will be new cards that interact with it, as well.

The first double-sided Hero card is here, too! I’m sure I’ve seen fans speculating about the possibility of a Sméagol/Gollum card for years, so I’m sure there are plenty of folks excited by this! With two cards shuffled into the encounter deck that give him a chance to flip to the Enemy side, I can see having the Ring’s ability to counter encounter cards in this way could be quite powerful! He’s otherwise quite decent-looking, and his cost is splendid! Reminds me of the Spirit Glorfindel from back in the day!

I’m really excited to see a new deluxe expansion – I’ve been concerned for a while now that The Wilds of Rhovanion would be the end of the game in its paper form, as it seems to have a real “last hurrah” feel to it. You can read more about that here, though! There is still some strong speculation online that the language used in the announcement feels a bit final – “it has all led to this” etc – plus the question of just what was happening within the time period the game is supposed to be following, leading many folks to think we could be in for news of the final expansion pack soon.

Previous LCGs from Fantasy Flight have come to an end when they have about this much content out there for them, of course. We’re coming to the end of the eighth cycle for the game, which has also included seven deluxe expansions and eight Saga deluxe expansions, as well as eleven standalone expansion packs, not to mention all of the Nightmare expansion packs! There is a heck of a lot of content out there right now for this game, and while the amount of content doesn’t always equal bloat for a game like this, there is nevertheless quite a high barrier to entry at this point, and I wonder if the designers might be feeling the need to draw things to a close. I guess we can but wait and see on this.

At least we’re in for more Lord of the Rings LCG for a while yet, and I cannot wait to see what we’re going to be up to in this upcoming cycle! I think it might be time to crack out some decks and see how far I can get once more!

Lord of the Rings LCG

Hey everybody!
It’s my birthday today, so for today’s game day, I thought I’d ramble for a bit about my favourite game of all, Lord of the Rings LCG from Fantasy Flight Games!

Lord of the Rings LCG

It’s my favourite for so many reasons, not all of them linked to how wonderful the game is to simply play, but also my memories of playing it over the last seven years. I’ve featured the game on my blog before as a game day extravaganza, but I’ve recently been playing more of it again, so I wanted to talk a bit about my enjoyment of these games, and see where I go from there!

I’ve been playing the Shadows of Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf quests once more, which are some of my absolute all-time favourites. I’ve been trying to play them all, rather than going through those that I know I enjoy and skipping the others, and it has led to me almost rediscovering these early packs as if they were brand new! For instance, the last time I played A Journey to Rhosgobel prior to this most recent playthrough was 2012!

Getting to play these old favourites has really taken me back to my glory days of gaming, when I had so much more time for these sorts of things. In particular, I remember how excited I used to get to take delivery of the latest Adventure Pack, and would have tried it out within days (if not hours!) of getting it. I recall my first plays with The Dead Marshes being almost at the dead of night, as I just couldn’t wait to give it a go! Happy times, indeed.

As the game matured and evolved, though, I think that faded for me, as the quests seemed to get harder and harder almost on purpose. Some of those from the fourth cycle onwards (the Ringmaker cycle) felt a little like they were too much like a game, and not as much like an exploration of Middle Earth, and I seem to recall it was around this time that my attention waned somewhat. I’ve certainly never been as excited for the latest expansions to arrive since – although Sands of Harad was perhaps one exception!

I recently gave a couple of new scenarios a try, while still intending to play through the entire game from start to finish, and I think it surprised me at just how difficult things have become! Sands of Harad has been on my radar for a long while now, as I love the desert theme and whatnot, but I was a little surprised at how brutal the first quest was – having an automatic “you lose” if there are no progress tokens on a quest, as well as a proliferation of enemies to keep you pinned down and make questing difficult, seemed a far cry from the banks of the Anduin! The Nightmare decks for scenarios are supposed to represent an opponent tweaking his deck to give you a slightly tougher challenge, but I thought this was quite tough to begin with, so would hate to see how bad Nightmare mode makes this one!

I’ve been using an elven-themed deck, which features a lot of comparatively new cards from the Ringmaker cycle. I’ve previously talked about the deck here, and you can see the full breakdown in that blog also. However, I think I might need to include some of the newer-still cards if I’m to make it through these new scenarios!

Shadows of Mirkwood

Of course, my all-time favourite scenario remains The Hills of Emyn Muil. It’s widely dismissed by the internet community as being “too easy” and has been consigned to oblivion since 2011. But I would vehemently defend this as being the most thematic, Tolkien-esque expansion for the game that FFG has ever produced. Nowhere is the breadth of Middle Earth more clearly brought to the tabletop than in this expansion, as we wander almost lost and aimless through the expanse of Emyn Muil, desperately trying to pick up the trail of Gollum once again. It manages to capture the feel of the books, and even that of the movies, so amazingly well that I always look forward to playing this one. It might be easy to play as a game, but as a gameplay experience, it is just nothing short of wonderful.

The Dwarrowdelf cycle is one that I feel another special sort of kinship with, though I always feel like I need to play with my Dwarven deck whenever I head into the Mines of Moria. Part of that is a game reason, of course, as the deck includes a lot of cards designed to work with the Underground locations within that cycle, but even so, there is a very strong theme here that comes from the fact that Dwarves were the first deck archetype to be really supported in the game.

The cycle is obviously FFG trying to tell the central story from Fellowship of the Ring, as the merry band of heroes travels through the Mines on their way to Lórien, from the time when the company didn’t have the licence to produce games based on the books themselves. While we’ve since had the Saga expansions that actually tell that tale, I still enjoy the Dwarrowdelf cycle for what it is: an attempt to tell an original tale within the framework of the novel itself. I like it, anyway, and I think I’ve returned to this cycle much more than I’ve attempted to play through the Saga expansion itself!

My recent playthrough of the three scenarios from Khazad-dûm this past weekend has shown that, between some luck and the amazing synergy that a Dwarven deck can build, the scenarios are nowhere near as difficult as they once were. I think it’s not so much the whole Dwarrowdelf cycle support for the theme, but also the two Hobbit Saga expansions that really helped to flesh out the archetype – the increased bonuses granted for having more than five Dwarf characters in play, combined with some of the cheaper generic Dwarves from the core set and early packs, really help to build the theme early on.

For reference, then, here’s my Dwarf deck that I enjoy:

Dáin Ironfoot (leadership)
Óin (spirit)
Ori (lore)

Zigil Miner
Longbeard Orc Slayer
Miner of the Iron Hills
Longbeard Map-Maker
Erebor Hammersmith
Erebor Record Keeper
Erebor Battle Master

Song of Battle
Song of Kings
Ever My Heart Rises (2)
Dwarrowdelf Axe (2)
Narvi’s Belt (2)
Boots from Erebor
Legacy of Durin (2)
Hardy Leadership

Khazâd! Khazâd!
Dwarven Tomb
Untroubled by Darkness (2)
Durin’s Song (2)
To me! O my kinsfolk! (2)
Lure of Moria (2)
Strength of Will (2)
Daeron’s Runes
Ever Onward
Ancestral Knowledge (2)
Fresh Tracks (2)
A Good Harvest
We Are Not Idle
Quick Strike
Sneak Attack

The deck is one of my favourites, though as I said above, it can get on-line pretty quickly and make short work of some of these earlier scenarios. There are a lot of effects that trigger of specific location-types, which means I probably wouldn’t bring it out if I knew there were none of those locations coming in the deck. The return of Underground and Dark locations in the Ered Mithrin cycle has made me think once more about seeing how this deck fares with those newer scenarios, though, so I may well give it a go in the near future!

Lord of the Rings LCG may well be coming to the end of its life cycle soon, as it feels very much like FFG is winding down the game. It has grown significantly over the last 7 years, and it’s currently their longest-running card game still being produced, with a card pool that really shows that. While I do appreciate the fact that core set cards remain valid in decks built to take on the very latest expansions (the above example with Sands of Harad being a case in point), I think there is a general pervasive feeling that the game is coming to its end, with the current Ered Mithrin cycle feeling very much like one last hurrah through Middle Earth before it’s done. Seeing scenarios that re-use encounter sets from the core set, as well as returning to mechanics such as Underground and Dark locations, feels very much like a last ride through the fan favourites before calling it a day.

I will naturally be saddened to see the end of the game, should that come to pass, but I think, of all the games I own, this is one that I have kept coming back to, and will keep coming back to, time and time again. Not just for the wonderful memories it has given me, or the beautiful card art, or the breathtaking narrative each Adventure Pack brings, but just because it’s such a good game, overall. It’s a fantastic adventure game, while managing to be as under-stated as Tolkien could be.

I just love it!

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 Shadows of Mirkwood

Hey folks! Welcome to another Tuesday Game Day!

Today I’m going to take a look at the first cycle of Adventure Packs for the Lord of the Rings LCG, the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. This is a cycle that is really close to my heart, so I may well wax lyrical quite a lot – just to warn you!

Shadows of Mirkwood

The cycle began shortly after the core set was released, though I seem to remember Fantasy Flight didn’t appear prepared for just how successful the game proved to be, and were constantly being harried for reprints in the early days. It was around July 2011 that the cycle eventually started, and ran for the rest of that year, with packs coming out monthly. I had initially resisted this game, as I was still quite new to card games (thinking of myself still as a boardgamer, primarily), and remember being put off particularly by the amount of cardboard tokens – fine in a boardgame, but not in a card game! Oh, how naive.

Journey to Rhosgobel was the first pack that I bought upon release, and I remember being so incredibly impressed by the artwork – it just blew me away! I sat down to play the scenario, and was brutalised forthwith! Oh, but it was just excellent! The core set was a good gaming experience, but it was Shadows of Mirkwood that converted me wholly to this game.

New Cards
The release model for the game is for a big box followed by six smaller packs, each of which uses encounter sets from the earlier big box to create the individual scenarios. For Shadows of Mirkwood, that big box is the core set itself, naturally. Along with the scenario are new player cards, including a new hero. However, I’m so much more interested in the new scenarios, so the course of this blog will follow those. I also keep all of my player cards together, by type-within-sphere, so have no easy way of remembering which player cards came from where!

Shadows of Mirkwood Heroes

That said, I do recall some particularly good cards from this cycle which, for me, remain really popular, three years after their release.

Shadows of Mirkwood

If there is one subset of cards for which this cycle should be forever remembered, however, it is the Song cards. Neutral attachment cards, they allow you to attach them to your hero to give him a second sphere, easing your economy as the game moves on.

Shadows of Mirkwood

Song cards have developed quite a bit since these initial four as the game has grown, as have sphere-manipulation tricks in general, but back in the day, these were among the most important player cards you could include in your deck!

However, as I said, it’s the scenarios that interest me the most in this game, a fact that has held true ever since those first days of the game. Let’s have a look at each in turn…

The Hunt for Gollum
As the “original” expansion for this game, this pack is quite special. I also think it is one of the most underrated packs to have been released. The story behind the cycle is that of Aragorn’s search for Gollum, which is recounted in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. The cycle replaces Aragorn with the player’s Hero Fellowship, as we are tasked by King Thranduil to find the miserable little wretch and make him tell us what happened to him in Mordor.

Shadows of Mirkwood

The objective of the scenario is to find at least one of the ‘Signs of Gollum‘ Clue cards, and basically make it through to the end of the quest with one of these cards attached to a hero. All the while, you are having to avoid the usual encounter deck nastiness, including the Hunters from Mordor, who get stronger as more of these Clue cards are in play. As the fourth scenario ever released for the game, it works extremely well, and I think this is one of the reasons why people do underrate it.

Conflict at the Carrock
The second pack sees the heroes on a side quest. Combat-heavy, Conflict at the Carrock pits the players against a quartet of vicious Troll enemies. These guys are trying their best to place your heroes into Sacks, potentially removing them from the game. The trolls all have the same engagement cost, and each buffs the other, so you want to try to keep your threat low enough that you can deal with them on your own terms – there’s nothing more unpleasant than seeing all four of these chaps come down to engage you!

Shadows of Mirkwood

I find this quest to be a bit too much of a hack-and-slash type of thing, without really that much storytelling involved. We’re just trying to beef up our Fellowship in order to face down the four trolls, and even the Objective Ally Grimbeorn the Old isn’t exactly a must-search-for type of card. Well, maybe he was when the pack was released, but things have moved on in the past three years! The quest is definitely enjoyable, of course, but it’s not one that I find myself wanting to play time and again.

A Journey to Rhosgobel
Another side-quest, the third quest is similar to the first in that you’re searching the encounter deck for a specific Objective card, but unlike the first, this is most definitely a race-against-the-clock style quest. The heroes have agreed to aid Rhadagast the Brown in healing the eagle, Wilyador, but they only have so long before he’ll succomb to his wounds!

Shadows of Mirkwood

This is one of the early quests that remains fairly difficult, showing how well these scenarios hold up to the progression of the player cards. There are a number of encounter deck effects that really hate on the players, sometimes forcing some really tough choices. I remember, back in the day, using the original Glorfindel hero card for his healing ability, completely forgetting that the third stage of the quest forces a card’s discard once its healing effect is used – argh! It remains one of those niggling, annoying quests that might not be thought of as “difficult” in comparison to what we’ve seen since, but still requires a very specific deck type to play successfully.

The Hills of Emyn Muil
This is my absolute, all-time favourite quest, and I really don’t care what anyone thinks of me for that! The first single-quest-card scenario (and it remains one of only about two or three), the objective behind this pack is simple – pick up Gollum’s trail again. This is represented by the accumulation of Victory Points, something that is barely touched upon by the core set. The whole quest is exactly that, a quest – your heroes are moving through the vast landscape of Emyn Muil, groping in the dark really as they search through iconic locations in an effort to pick up some sign that Gollum might have been through here.

Shadows of Mirkwood

As such, the scenario is location-heavy, and that is something that I really like about it. There is a real sense of exploration happening as you play this quest, and as more and more locations build up in the staging area, your escalating threat becomes symbolic of the enormity of the task before you. A lot of players don’t like it because there aren’t a lot of enemies to defeat, and there is a general consensus that it is “boring” as a result, but I find it one of the most thematic gaming experiences of my entire life. It’s so rewarding when you have those 20VPs and no locations left, but it can also be so frustrating when you have those points, but you keep turning over Emyn Muil locations and threat-out. Overall, this is a quest that I keep coming back to again and again, just for the unbridled pleasure of being in Tolkien’s world!

The Dead Marshes
I think the fifth pack, like the first, is also one of those unjustly-underrated scenarios. Assuming you were victorious in Emyn Muil, you’re back on Gollum’s trail, and find yourself in the Dead Marshes. Gollum makes his first appearance in the game in this pack, as an Objective card. The scenario introduces a mechanic called the Escape test, which, if failed, places a token on Gollum – if he has 8 on him, he’s shuffled into the encounter deck and the game becomes a chase as you try to find him again.

Shadows of Mirkwood

This is another of those really thematic quests. When you start the game, you can see Gollum, staring back at you from across the marsh, but he’s a slippery little git, and if you fail the Escape test often enough, he’s gone! I’ve had a few games of this quest where this has happened, and I don’t think there’s another game I’ve ever encountered that can have such a wild shift in its feel, from a steadily-plodding effort to take hold of the creature, to a mad scramble to find him again before you threat-out. Wonderful stuff! It’s also worth noting here that this pack gave us one of my all-time favourite ally cards, Elfhelm. A staple of my favourite Rohan deck (mentioned in my original look at the game), I like to include him wherever I can nowadays, due to his all-round utility.

Return to Mirkwood
The final pack is also one of the most brutal. Once again, Gollum is an Objective card, and this time the heroes are guarding him as they return to King Thranduil’s palace. I love the artwork on that Objective card, it’s one of the best-looking cards in the game!

Shadows of Mirkwood

The basic premise is to outlast the encounter deck, and get to the final stage of the quest with Gollum at your side. However, Gollum isn’t coming quietly, and is throwing tantrums left and right. All this noise attracts some unwanted attention, reflected in the brutal threat-raising mechanic. And this quest has some of the most unwanted attention you could ever hope for – Attercop, Attercop, I’m looking at you! I think that card was the worst enemy yet seen in the game, and one to really stop a Fellowship in its tracks! However, it’s not all bad news, as the pack also gave us one of the truly great heroes, Dain Ironfoot. This guy became very important very quickly, with the subsequent release of Khazad-dûm and the incredible Dwarf synergy that came out of the next cycle. To this day, even with the release of the Hobbit Saga boxes, Dain is a real powerhouse of a hero, and I don’t foresee him leaving my Dwarven deck any time soon.

All six of these packs have a lot to commend them singly, but together, they can be an awesome adventure. I think I mentioned it back when I did my blog overview of the game, I only ever play this game solo, as it allows me to really immerse myself in the world and just shut away everything else. As such, the final pack can be a real pain in the behind, as the player guarding Gollum raises his threat by 3 each round, which can be a real game-over situation really quickly. However, that can never put me off this cycle, for which I retain an unbridled love even all these years later.

Of course, the scenarios have become a lot more sophisticated as time has gone on, and we’ve seen some truly amazing stuff from the design team since this cycle was released. But it retains its prominent place in my heart! It’s really fun to look back and see how the designers were clearly feeling their way through with how things could go in this game, particularly the way they play around with Objective cards (which had, at the time, only been used in Escape from Dol Guldur). Representing allies as well as real game-objectives continues to delight me, though of course, as the game has developed over time, we’ve seen so many more twists come out of the encounter deck that these things seem almost basic by comparison.

The “problem” with this cycle is that it is very narrative-focused. While all of the cycles are, to some extent, focused on telling a story in Middle Earth, this first cycle is still very much the original product of the design team. Subsequent releases have been, I feel, much more informed by popular opinion, with the Dwarrowdelf cycle in particular being quite responsive to early criticisms from the fanbase. But there is nothing that can beat the epic sweep of playing through the cycle from start to finish (caveat: I’ve not yet done a proper play-through with The Black Riders, which I feel might be even more epic).

Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks

Nightmare Mode
Nightmare Mode has been in the game since the very beginning, as an official “variant” of gameplay that involves playing one quest consecutively after another, without refreshing your threat etc. It can be really fun to do that, and I’ve done it quite a few times with the Mirkwood cycle, but back at the end of 2012, a new Nightmare Mode was developed, that involved new cards for the encounter deck. FFG has since revisited about half of the game with new Nightmare Mode decks of 20 cards that replace some of the original cards, the idea being that the encounter deck has been updating itself just like a regular player. Of course, it’s never going to work out entirely that way, but that isn’t really a bad thing – rather than just adding in 20 new enemies/locations/treachery cards, some of these Nightmare Mode decks alter the entire feel of the original game.

The Mirkwood cycle has had this treatment, and while I haven’t actually tried out any of these at the time of writing, I’ve had a look at each and can say that I’m really quite impressed!

Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks

The first three quests all feel quite different, with noticeable changes including a third quest stage (and five all-new trolls, including replacements for the original four) for Conflict at the Carrock, and (my personal favourite of any Nightmare Deck to date) the ability of Hunters from Mordor to gain Clue cards as well as the heroes in The Hunt for Gollum.

Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks

Packs four, five and six all feel just that much more brutal in Nightmare Mode.

Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks

Particular note should be made of Mere of Dead Faces for The Dead Marshes, one of these subtle differences that can make the game play so much more different. Normally, if Gollum has escaped into the encounter deck, it’s just a matter of trying to find him again and grab hold of him when you do. This new card, however, collects tokens when Gollum has escaped, and when he reappears, the tokens shift over to the little guy – potentially sending him right back into the encounter deck again!

Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare Decks

We also have more Tantrums for Return to Mirkwood, and more Emyn Muil locations for Hills of Emyn Muil. All these little tweaks make these quests that much more difficult to complete, and add their own wonderful little twists in the process.

I’ve always said that the greatest thing about Lord of the Rings LCG is the expansion design, which effectively gives you a new game every month. Shadows of Mirkwood really showcases this, with six very thematic, and very different quests to play through, yet all forming a cohesive narrative if you take them as a whole. The addition of the Nightmare Mode cards adds even more replayability to the game, and while they’re all getting on a bit now, they nevertheless each remain highly enjoyable. For me, playing any of these six has a real feeling of “coming home”, as I used to play the game really very regularly back then. The lustre has absolutely not gone, of course, but I sometimes feel that I don’t know the more recent quests as well as I know these. I have some really fond memories of playing them, particularly whole-cycle play-throughs that first Christmas after the game was released! Wonderful times.

In short, I can highly recommend the entire cycle to you all!
In fact, in writing all of this, I feel like breaking out the decks and playing a game or two!

Buy it from amazon:
The Hunt for Gollum (Nightmare Mode)
Conflict at the Carrock (Nightmare Mode)
A Journey to Rhosgobel (Nightmare Mode)
The Hills of Emyn Muil (Nightmare Mode)
The Dead Marshes (Nightmare Mode)
Return to Mirkwood (Nightmare Mode)