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)

Allies:
Glóin
Gimli
Dori
Bifur
Bofur
Fili
Kili
Dwalin
Zigil Miner
Longbeard Orc Slayer
Miner of the Iron Hills
Longbeard Map-Maker
Erebor Hammersmith
Erebor Record Keeper
Erebor Battle Master

Attachments:
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
Cram

Event: 
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)

The Game

Following yesterday’s look at the awesomeness that is Lord of the Rings LCG, I thought it might be nice to actually look at the Core Set itself!

Lord of the Rings LCG

As discussed yesterday, the game is structured around encounter decks, each of which give the expanding game an entirely new flavour. In the core set, there are three scenarios that work as introductions to the mechanics of the game.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Passage through Mirkwood is the first, and serves really just to introduce how the game works. The objective of the game is to, well, take a trip through Mirkwood – harassed by spiders and the like. It’s now thought of as a “training scenario”, with most experienced players using it to teach the game or test out new, outlandish decks. I do enjoy this one, all the same, and it’s always really nice to come back to after a break, some of these cards are classics! It’s also worth noting that the first scenario in the entire game was also the first to use the idea of multiple stage-cards, requiring players to choose a random one (such as Flight from Moria, for instance).

Lord of the Rings LCG

Journey along the Anduin is one of these scenarios that manages to hold itself up to the widening card pool. Again, some wonderful, classic cards – including the Marsh Adder, which dates back to the very first promotional article on FFG’s site:

Lord of the Rings LCG

Ah, memories!

Finally, we have Escape from Dol Guldur!

Lord of the Rings LCG

This is, again, one of the classics. During setup, a player chooses one of his heroes to be “captured”, and you’ve got to rescue the poor unfortunate. For quite a while in the meta, this scenario was the absolute worst, because of this impossible starting handicap. Even at the remove of three years, it can still be pretty brutal. There’s a really good blog here that discusses strategy, and another one here that details the cards you’ll be coming across, but it can still be an awful game – particularly solo.

Escape from Dol Guldur is the first scenario to use Objective cards. Over the course of the game’s development, the designers have used these Objective cards for a variety of purposes, so it’s interesting to see them here as real objectives that you need in order to complete the quest. To this day, I feel this third scenario is one of the most unique out there, and while I have yet to actually make good on my escape, I nevertheless hold this one in high esteem!

But the core set is only the beginning!

Of course, there are a whole host of expansions for the game (27 packs in general release, with 20 print on demand quests, as of October 2014), but I can’t take a look at each of the core set scenarios without looking at their Nightmare equivalents!

Back in 2012, Fantasy Flight brought Lord of the Rings into their organised play schedules through the use of “updated” packs of familiar scenarios. The initial idea seems to have been to make earlier quests harder, but the designers have since explained that Nightmare Mode is meant to simulate a growing card pool as would happen in a head-to-head game. From the summer of 2013, adjustable difficulty levels were introduced to the game, which makes it appeal to a wider group of gamers, I suppose. Anyhow – Nightmare Mode, while it was actually an official variant back in the original rule book, requires a set of cards that are produced on a print-on-demand basis, meaning you need to sleeve the encounter deck if you want to play. The cynic in me feels that players wanting a more testing experience are tested in more ways than one, but let’s not go there!

Lord of the Rings LCG

The three scenarios from the core set have all been updated, and all are suitably nightmarish in these new incarnations!

Lord of the Rings LCG

Passage through Mirkwood features a lot more spiders, so an arachnophobe such as myself has a whole other difficulty playing this one. I remember when I first played this in Nightmare Mode and being really shocked at how much the pressure was on, right from the off!

Lord of the Rings LCG

Journey along the Anduin sees yet more trolls, and generally more enemies to pile up in the staging area during stage 2b. And oh, the hilarity of the misprinted Brown Water Rats – I seem to remember a lot of players thinking the fact that virtually the entire game effect being missed out during printing card 8 in this deck meant you’d essentially have a free draw. Ah well.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Escape from Dol Guldur is even more vicious in Nightmare Mode, with a distinct flavour of its own. Nightmare Mode has seen a wonderful re-invention of many scenarios in the game, and this one is no different. What was already a brutal scenario becomes something of a race, as the mechanic of adding tokens to Dol Guldur locations is introduced – the Torture Chamber on the far left of this picture will cause the players to lose the game if four tokens are on it, for instance. Brutal!

The three core set scenarios are lots of fun, and are often maligned, in favour of the later releases, as being simplistic or whatever. But they’re the scenarios that helped to get all us fans into the game, remember, so they have something going for them! It’s always lots of fun to look back at them, whether a high-level glance as I’ve just done here, or getting the cards out for a game.

Which I feel I might just do now…

Buy it from amazon:
Lord of the Rings LCG
Passage through Mirkwood Nightmare Mode
Journey Along the Anduin Nightmare Mode
Escape from Dol Guldur Nightmare Mode

One card to rule them all

Morning folks!
It’s time for a serious event, today. Every Tuesday for a fair few weeks now, I’ve talked about a tabletop game that I really enjoy, but today I’m going to make something of a feature by talking about my absolute favourite card game that has ever been made, ever. I’m talking, of course, about The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2011, this is just such an enjoyable game, I can barely begin to get my words out to describe how much I enjoy it. A Living Card Game like Call of Cthulhu and Star Wars, Lord of the Rings is actually a game on its own as it is the only co-operative LCG they publish (in fact, I think it was the first co-operative card game, though that might just be hyperbole). Rather than playing against each other, therefore, the players compete against the game itself, by means of an encounter deck. Expansions take the form of new scenarios/quests (call them what you will!) that provide new encounter decks to play against, along with new player cards. The game has, therefore, grown much slower than its peers, but that is really beside the point. It is just such a beautifully crafted game, I will only scratch the surface of its awesomeness in this blog!

For illustrative purposes, I was going to stick to just one deck and play through just one scenario, but that seemed a little boring. Instead, I’ve got an amalgam of several games, and at least three different decks, the better to show off the variety of the game. However, in this blog I intend to just discuss the base mechanics of the game, and give some thoughts about the game overall. I then hope to devote separate blogs to discussing the expansions at future dates, though these will most likely involve a discussion of the quests, and not the player cards, simply because I keep all of the cards together in the core set box. Anyway, let’s move on!

Lord of the Rings LCG

The game is played by one or two people playing together to beat the encounter deck of any given scenario. In the core set and each subsequent deluxe expansion, there are three separate scenarios; the smaller Adventure Packs bring one new scenario each month. The game model features a group of encounter sets that are mixed together to form the encounter deck; while each Adventure Pack features its own unique encounter set, it will also use a number of other encounter sets. The model of release FFG has chosen is to have a cycle of six Adventure Packs linked to a deluxe expansion box; each pack uses at least one encounter set that comes from the linked deluxe, with the initial cycle of six being based of encounter sets found in the core set. This sounds an awful lot more complicated than it actually is, however!

Encounter sets feature a variety of card types, most commonly enemies, locations and treachery cards. Enemies have to be fought in order to be defeated, and locations have to be explored to clear them. Until these things happen, the cards are kept in the ‘staging area’, where they contribute a threat total (threat is shown at the top-left of encounter cards).

Lord of the Rings LCG

 

Seen above, enemy cards have values for threat (4), attack (7) and defense (4), as well as their hit point value (how many hits are needed to kill them; 5). The text box at the bottom then gives any special effects that enemy may have, and the number in the blue circle at the very top-left is the engagement cost – if your threat is equal to or greater than the engagement cost of an enemy, that enemy comes down from the staging area and starts to fight you. This can sometimes be a good thing, as it means they no longer contribute threat. In combat, you have the option to commit any number of characters as defenders, in an attempt to soak up any damage the enemy may dish out, before you can then commit another group of characters to attack said enemy. With the Nazgul above, you would need to commit characters with a combined defense of 7 or higher to ‘avoid’ the attack, otherwise damage is assigned and can potentially kill characters. If you don’t commit defenders, the attack is undefended and all the Nazgul’s damage is dealt to one hero – as most heroes only have a base health of 5 at best, the Nazgul could potentially kill a hero!

Lord of the Rings LCG

Locations contribute threat to the staging area, making it increasingly difficult to quest successfully the more you uncover, but you have the option after the quest phase to travel to a location. If you do that, the location becomes ‘Active’, often triggering an effect. That on the Morgul Vale, above, is a passive ‘always on’ effect, however. The number in the blue box on the middle-left is the number of quest points needed to clear the location. When questing, active locations have any progress tokens placed on them before on the quest. One of the great thematic moments of this game is seeing an expansive location with a high number of quest points, indicative of the vast area you have to traverse before it contributes any success to your quest! Finally, there is a Shadow effect on the above location. During combat, once defenders have been declared, an attacking enemy is dealt a shadow card from the top of the encounter deck face-down to it; when combat begins, that card is turned face-up, and any Shadow effect is resolved. Not all encounter cards have Shadow effects, but they are universally bad, often buffing attacking enemies. The specific effect on The Morgul Vale above refers to an Objective card in the Morgul Vale scenario called To the Tower, which is a critical card in that quest.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Finally we have Treachery cards. As the name suggests, these cards are just awful. Analogous to player Event cards, they usually have a one-time effect such as that above, and a high number also carry keywords such as Surge (reveals a second encounter card as soon as the current card is resolved) or Doomed (increases your threat level by a specific number). I have never met a Treachery card that I like, but some have become the targets of particular hate – the most notorious perhaps is Sleeping Sentry from the Dwarrowdelf cycle, which damages each exhausted character but, when dealt as a Shadow card, discards each exhausted character. It is a potentially game-losing card, and there are two copies in the deck! So yeah, Treachery cards stink.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Encounter decks vary in difficulty, and also in inner synergy. Earlier quests are almost very vague, as if the game was still finding its feet and whatnot. But subsequent expansions have really improved upon this, and nowadays the quality of quests we’re seeing is usually cause for awesomeness! My particular favourite encounter deck comes in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, Shadow and Flame. The quest is brutal, and I actually dislike playing it because I often find it so difficult, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating just how amazingly put-together the deck is – it’s almost like you would expect from a real player, with cards that work off each other to make an often-impossible strategy.

Lord of the Rings LCG

In addition to the three card types outlined above, the encounter deck can sometimes contain Objective cards. Early games experimented with the types of cards we’d see as Objectives, and the game as it stands right now has seen a whole gamut of types. Unsurprisingly, these cards have a specific function within the game, such as allies that you are escorting, or creatures you’re guarding. The implementation of Objectives in a set is something that I absolutely love and always look forward to seeing, just because of the sheer variety such cards provide.

Lord of the Rings LCG

Lord of the Rings LCG

The main focus of the game is for the players to complete a quest by putting progress on the quest cards – to do so, they must commit units that have a combined willpower value that is greater than the combined threat total of the encounter cards in the staging area. If they are successful, the players place progress on the quest; if they are unsuccessful, they must raise their threat dial by the number of points they were unsuccessful – once the threat dial reaches 50, the game is over. If the players complete each stage of the quest, they win!

Lord of the Rings LCG

Quest cards, shown above, are double-sided. Side A has some sort of Setup instruction, usually revealing one card per player as shown above, but quite often now we’re seeing more complex setups that involve setting aside specific cards. By far the most complicated, to my mind, is that for The Steward’s Fear, the setup for which is too much to fit on the card so is contained on a leaflet inside the pack. (That quest, incidentally, is one of the very best, so don’t be put off by the complexity!) Once Setup is complete, the card is flipped to the B side which shows the number of quest points needed to clear it (in the above example, 10), as well as often having some kind of ongoing effect while that stage is in play. Once the number of quest points is reached, the card is immediately flipped for stage 2, and so on.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The player cards vary from allies (units), attachments and events. Heroes are central to the game, and never get mixed into the deck but are on the table at the start. They are almost identical to allies (both of which are shown above), except that rather than having a cost to play during the game (Arwen costs 2, as shown above), they have a Threat cost (Elrond is 13) – this cost is added together from each hero at the beginning of the game to determine your starting Threat. Similar to the Enemy cards described earlier, Heroes and Allies have an attack and defense rating, with a willpower value in place of the threat. It is this value that is added together from all the questing characters and compared to the current threat in the staging area to determine success during the quest phase.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The other player cards are attachments and events, as shown above. Quite simply, attachment cards attach to a character (sometimes, expressly a hero) and provide some form of bonus. Event cards are one-off, well, events, intended to provide a boon to the heroes in some form or other, from adding resources (as above) to damaging enemies.

Player decks are built around a core of three heroes (though you can use two if you like), who each belong to a specific sphere – lore, leadership, spirit and tactics – which determine which cards you can use in your deck. Heroes collect resources each round, and you can only pay for cards with resources from a hero of the same sphere. Deckbuilding encourages mixing the spheres, so that you can have dual-sphere, or even tri-sphere and monosphere. The addition of ‘song’ cards, as well as other little tricks, can give a hero two spheres, allowing for greater flexibility. There are also neutral cards that can be paid for with resources from any hero’s pool.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The heroes shown above belong to Leadership, Spirit and Tactics, left to right, and form the core of the Rohan deck that I like to take through adventures in Middle Earth. The deck has evolved over time to include new cards where appropriate, but it says a lot for the replayability of the core set that, three years on from the initial release, and with a wealth of player cards to choose from, two of these three heroes are found in the core set. In terms of the meta, Rohan was a trait that developed very early, so a lot of the useful cards came out in that first year’s run, but in terms of game balance, my Rohan deck is still perfectly viable against the newer quests, showing just how well-designed the game has been throughout its growth.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The core of my Rohan deck, shown above, has a strong emphasis on questing, and therefore, willpower. Allies (shown along the bottom) often have high willpower, or effects that can work towards threat reduction; events (the two cards either side of the row of the heroes) work to increase the combined willpower of the fellowship, and the attachment cards in the centre allow the heroes they are attached to either to make better attacks, or to take more than one action. Always handy! Of course, this isn’t the entirety of the deck, as usually the decks I play with are at least 30 cards (for official tournaments and the like, 50-card decks are the minimum requirement. However, I do not play in tournaments).

Lord of the Rings LCG

I don’t pretend to be a massive strategist when it comes to any game, and I wouldn’t pretend to do so here either. But I have played this game quite a lot, so I would say I do know my way around it. However, I am always one to play thematic decks – the sorts of decks that feature all-dwarves, or all-elves, or an alliance between Gondor and the Outlands. These things I really enjoy, and the card pool is expansive now that you can set up all sorts of nice little combos, such as the Glorfindel-themed set shown above, which allows you to do a lot of stuff with one hero. However, there are also ombinations of cards that can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things, from locking down the encounter deck so that you can win in two or three turns, to cards that form infinite loops and can, for instance, allow you to draw your deck into your hand before turn one is over. While I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t play like that, because that sort of thing isn’t it up me, what I would say is that sort of thing can’t be fun – if you know you’re going to win a game, where is the enjoyment? For me, the great thing about Lord of the Rings LCG is that it can be really quite tough, so you never know when you’re going to win or lose. I play for a love of the theme and the general joy that I derive from wandering around Tolkien’s world, not because I can “beat” the encounter deck.

Lord of the Rings LCG

And this game is exceptionally thematic! The “general release” game is the model of one deluxe expansion followed by a cycle of six adventure packs, as described previously, and each cycle like this follows an often highly-specific storyline. So the Mirkwood Cycle followed the tale briefly mentioned in the Appendices, where Aragorn tracked down Gollum through the forest of Mirkwood. The Dwarrowdelf Cycle sees us on a mission for Elrond to investigate the reports of increased Orc activity in the region of the Mines of Moria. The third, Against the Shadow Cycle has an almost-RPG feel to it as we are sent on a mission by the Steward of Gondor to root out a potential spy from Mordor within the city. We are now currently poised on the brink of the fourth, Ring Maker Cycle, which deals with the area of Dunland around Isengard, where we are working for Saruman (who, at this point in the lore, has not revealed himself to be in league with Sauron).

Lord of the Rings LCG

In addition to these, Fantasy Flight have also been releasing Saga Edition deluxe expansions, which are roughly released annually and re-tell the events of the actual books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We’ve currently seen two Saga boxes of Hobbit-themed quests, and one telling the early adventures from The Fellowship of the Ring. These boxes stand slightly apart from the main game, as they are intended to be as thematic as possible, but there are always ways for players to get around these things if they really want to, and use inappropriate cards in the quests (for instance, Frodo in the Hobbit quests, or Thorin Oakenshield in the Fellowship and beyond).

Lord of the Rings LCG Saga

Fantasy Flight need to be commended for the level of support they have shown this game, specifically through the addition of the Print On Demand resources for the game. Rather than being issued for general release, FFG have created special scenarios for GenCon every year since the game was released, later being sold through their webstore. These scenarios are often quite difficult, but are also really very good to play against.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The release of Nightmare Mode cards is also wonderfully done. To reflect the changing metagame, and to reinvigorate older scenarios, a programme of ‘Nightmare decks’ has been steadily issuing to essentially revise the old quests and make them more difficult for seasoned players. One of the big complaints about the game has often been the unchanging nature of the encounter deck, hence the need for ever-different quests, while the player-card pool keeps expanding. With the Nightmare Mode decks, however, old quests are spiced up with new cards being swapped-in, almost as if it is a real player who is taking advantage of new cards being released for him. Some of the Nightmare cards are truly horrific, and make what were once thought of as easy quests so much more difficult.

Lord of the Rings LCG

From last Autumn, to balance the increasing difficulty of the “general release game”, an Easy Mode was also introduced, which basically removes cards from the encounter deck that are either very difficult to overcome, or else occur multiple times and can often lead to exasperating difficulty for players. Easy Mode isn’t really “easy”, and many people think it would have been wiser to call it “thematic mode” instead, but there we are.

Lord of the Rings LCG

The game is just absolutely beautiful. The breadth of the game is stunning. There is very little else I can say about it, really, just – go out and buy it!

Buy it from amazon:
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Khazad-dum
Heirs of Numenor
The Voice of Isengard
The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill
The Hobbit: On the Doorstep
The Fellowship of the Ring: The Black Riders
The Fellowship of the Ring: The Road Darkens