Thursday, April 30, 2015

Impressions - The Treason of Saruman - Player Cards

Thanks to back ups at the west coast ports, we are blessed with back to back big box expansions.  The Lost Realms is still fresh, but we can now continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings saga, entering into the events of The Two Towers.  In this entry, I will give my opinion on the player cards for this saga expansion.


All these heroes have been spoiled prior to the release, but this did not lower my anticipation.  Fellowship Aragorn gives us a fairly different saga hero, compared to Frodo or other Frodo.  Gone is The One Ring, and now Aragorn has a readying ability.  We already have multiple attachments which have abilities specific to Aragorn, such as Celebrian's Stone or Sword that was Broken which can give this version of Aragorn even more utility.
Théoden, King of the Rohirrim, was a hero that divided the community when the tactics version came out.  A new version was released in this pack.  Now a spirit hero, gone is his willpower boost, replaced with a much needed cost reducer for Rohan allies.  Since there is no resource generation, save for Miruvor, in spirit, and Rohan allies can be fairly pricey, this is a welcome ability.  Also, it allows you to reduce cost down to zero, so cards like Westfold Horse-breeder can play for free.  The only downside that I see for Théoden is his threat.  Prior to Théoden's release, Idraen was the highest threat spirit hero, with 11 threat, and the same stats as Théoden.  Obviously, if you want to to run monospirit, there are plenty of low cost heroes you can pair him with, but you're going to be in rough shape if you're trying to splash spirit with him.
Treebeard had just recently been introduced as an ally, and now we see his hero version.  Just like hero Gandalf did, playing hero Treebeard removes a versatile ally from your deck.  There were very few decks that I didn't put the ally version of Treebeard in, due to his powerful stats and his resource generation.  Even if there aren't any more Ents in the deck, ally Treebeard's resources are still useful for readying him.  That said, hero Treebeard has solid stats.  His action ability, while potentially risky, can allow you to have a powerful quester/attacker turn one.  Being able take damage after staging to boost your willpower can be savior, just like Eowyn's card discard ability, but not limited by the number of players in the game.  Since he's lore, he already has in sphere healing abilities, whether it's the core classic Self Preservation, or more recent cards such as Athelas, which allow you to continue recycling his ability.


Four allies came with this saga expansion, three of which are ally versions of former heroes.  Ally Gimli is a solid addition to any Dwarf deck, or leadership decks in general.  Now in the leadership sphere, his ability to ready after an enemy is revealed allows him to react to the enemy.  Whether that is using Gimli's sentinel to defend, or to attack back with his 2 attack (more likely 3 with Dain).  At four cost, he's also a great candidate for A Very Good Tale, which again still has utility in case enemies show up.
Legolas has been a solid hero since the core set.  His ability to add progress has always been a boon to the tactics sphere, which typically lacks in questing.  While this version doesn't have progress generation, the ally version has card draw, another ability lacking in tactics.  Typically, if I want card draw in a tactics deck, I pull out Foe-hammer, which requires a hero attacking and a weapon.  Though Legolas draws one card, versus Foe-hammer's three, his draw is more reliable and with less parts to get the combo.  That all said, I wish there was some synergy with the silvan cards of the Ring-maker cycle.  There is no benefit to bouncing Legolas back to your hand, and since he's tactics, there is not an eligible silvan hero (aka not Legolas) to pair with him. That said, he's a strong addition and definitely a card I'll be messing with.
Hama was an hero famous for his event recycling ability, especially the infamous "Hama lock" which had previously been used to break Shadow and Flame, now errata'd away.  In the most recent COTR podcast, they state that the hero version is a younger version of Hama, where this ally version is an older version, where he has taken the the role of Doorward to King Théoden and Captain of the King's guard.  This version definitely represents his more defensive side.  Already solid stats for three cost, or two if brought into play with Théoden's ability, Hama really shines during combat.  He gets to ready and gains 3 additional defense.  Because of the readying, he gets could be committed to the quest first, and then still defend.  At the end of the combat phase, you have to discard him, but there are still ways to get more utility out of him.  Since he's going to get discarded anyway, he would be a good candidate for Ride to Ruin, or if you want to save him, you could always attach Born Aloft to him to bring him back to hand and play later.
Quickbeam is the only ally from this expansion that doesn't have a previous hero version.  A unique Ent ally, so though you can only have one on the table at a time, his stats make up for the uniqueness.  Like other Ents, he has to come into play exhausted, however he has an ability that gives him immediate utility.  For the cost of one damage from his three hit points, he gets to ready when he enters play.  Normally, we would be concerned to take damage, but at his cost, and the synergy with Booming Ent, I don't see a reason not to include him and not take advantage of his response.


The first attachment is a new mount.  Arod, able to attach to any hero, or Legolas, is able to place progress on a location.  Attaching it to hero Legolas, along with two Blades of Gondolin, and you have to potential for up to five progress placed on locations after a kill.  Throw in Asfaloth, and you have another progress, two if it's on Glorfindel.  With the new ally version of Legolas, it can be used on him as well.  Arod could also work well in a Rohan deck, using Westfold Horse-breeder to pull it, and then attaching to Éomer.
Ent Draught is a fairly simple attachment.  Extra hit points are nice, but it doesn't really excite me.  Similar to classic attachment, Citadel Plate, it gives extra hit points, but doesn't take up a restricted slot.  This makes it good for Treebeard, who relies on taking damage to boost questing and attacking, or hero Gimli.  It also gives you a little extra to handle quests with archery.
Herugrim is one of my favorite cards from the expansion.  This weapon opens up the opportunity for questing decks to have significant attack power.  Two of the strongest heroes to attach to: Eowyn or either Théoden.  Include Steed of the Mark or Unexpected Courage, along with willpower boosting, such as The Favor of the Lady or Dúnedain Quest, and you have the opportunity to quest strongly and still attack enemies that come down.  If you include Nor am I a Stranger, granted a longer combo to setup, you have unlimited choices of who to use this with.
Shadowfax is another unrestricted mount, though limited to Gandalf.  Shadowfax gives Gandalf ranged and sentinel, as well as a readying effect.  This is definitely a multiplayer card.  Thematically, it makes sense to include it, and it is neutral, so it is flexible regardless of what heroes accompany Gandalf.  Even with that, I would use Unexpected Courage over Shadowfax in a solo game.  If you're using hero Gandalf, more than likely you are using Wizard Pipe, so getting Unexpected Courage to the top of your deck so Gandalf can use any sphere shouldn't be a problem.


Entmoot is similar to Mustering the Rohirrim and The Eagles are Coming! where you can pull allies of a certain trait into your hand.  I find it interesting the inconsistencies between these cards.  For Rohan, you have to pay 1 resource, and only get to pull 1 ally out.  With the eagles, you can pull out as many as you find.  The Ents work the same as the eagles, but you have to have an Ent character in play.  If you're playing with hero Treebeard, then the requirement for an Ent character isn't a problem, but if you prefer the ally version, then you need to have something out before the card is effective.
Helm! Helm! seems situational.  You have to exhaust and discard a Rohan ally to discard a non-unique enemy enemy engaged with you.  This means you probably don't get to utilize the ally you are discarding since it has to be ready.  I suppose you could use ally Hama's ability to ready so that it can be exhausted and discarded.  It also has to happen only after enemies have attacked, so it doesn't even allow you to save a defense, meaning you may have to lose two characters for especially rough enemies.
The Three Hunters is the last event included in the expansion, and is the third Fellowship card.  I'm not a big fan of both Fellowship and Baggins sphere cards, since you can't play it unless you are controlling the respective hero, and it cannot be used outside of the saga quests.  At three cost,  it seems like it will be hard to save the resources until the card holder is able to play it.  Obviously, there is resource smoothing that could be used, such as Théodred's response, or Errand-rider, but I would be hesitant to put any resource acceleration on Aragorn, unless I planned to use an attachment to give him additional resource icons.  That all said, if the resources are available, the card's ability is strong.  Being able to ready three heroes and give them stat boosts could be useful regardless of the reason.  Perhaps you need three additional willpower to boost questing, or you need to added combat strength to deal with enemies that showed up.  It's unfortunate that is requires that the player controls Fellowship Aragorn, as it makes it unavailable in The Black Rider and The Road Darkens.

Final Thoughts

In many ways, the player cards in Treason of Saruman are welcome additions to the card pool. Some of which are more situational than others, but there is a place for each card. It's hard not to compare these cards to what we received in The Lost Realm, because of how closely they were shipped. In my opinion, I am more excited about the cards from The Lost Realm than Treason of Saruman. There are strong cards in this expansion, but I feel The Lost Realm introduced new ways to run a deck, where as these cards feel like more of the same. 
What's your thought? I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sidetrack - Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Last September, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was released to much fanfare.  Instead of following the stories already told in Tolkien's Legendarium, Monolith Productions decided to make their own story.  The video game follows the story of Talion, a Gondor ranger assigned to guard the border between his home land and Mordor.  His garrison is attacked by Orcs, led by the Black Hand of Sauron.  The Black Númenórean sacrifices Talion and his family in an effort to summon a wraith, who ends up being (semi-spoiler) Celebrimbor, the Elven Lord who crafted the rings of power for Sauron.  Over the course of the game, Talion's power grows as Celebrimbor's power is revealed, and eventually he gains the power to dominate lesser minds (namely Orcs) to build an army up against the forces of Mordor.

This game does a good job of weaving old characters and new into the story without it feeling tacked on.  During parts of the game, you are following Gollum as he finds artifacts for the "Bright Master", and other times you are hunting with Torvin the dwarf, tracking down the mighty Graug.

I have enjoyed playing through this game, and hope that they continue the story.  Bringing it back to the living card game, inspired by Ian's (Tales from the Cards) work on the First Age, I have been developing custom player cards and quests to follow the adventure of Talion.  In a later post, I will share some of the cards I have made, but here's a sneak preview of what is to come:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

OCTGN Tutorial

I've had a few people ask about using OCTGN, so I put together a fairly basic tutorial.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Custodio de la Casa del Manantial

Today, an interesting card appeared on my Twitter feed.  A spanish LOTR blog released a supposed spoiler for an upcoming card.  Custodio de la Casa del Manantial, roughly translated to Custodian of the Spring, is a new Ent ally.

His text translates to: "Cannot have restricted attachments.  Enters play exhausted.  Response: After the Custodian of the Spring readies , heal 1 point of damage on an Ent character." The effect sounds very similar to Silvan Tracker, though more limited. There will definitely be synergy with the recently spoiled Treebeard hero, who gains willpower and attack by dealing himself damage. I hope this card turns out to be real, and if so, look forward to adding him to my Ent decks.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sidetrack - The Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game

Welcome to the first Sidetrack entry.  These are meant to be opportunities for me to discuss things not related to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  For this first entry, I chose to stay close to the card game.  I'd like to talk about The Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game.

Cryptozoic has put out a wide variety of deck-building games: Street Fighter, Naruto, DC Comics, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.  All of these are essentially the same.  All are based on the Cerberus engine, which is a fancy word for "Theme Glue".  Regardless of the theme, you basically have a hand of cards, all of which are used to either gain power (the currency of the game), hurt your opponents, or do some shenanigans.  I first played the the DC version and was not a fan.  I did not understand why I was Nightwing, but was collecting different colored power rings, or how I spent punches to buy a kick.  With that said, I actually like the Lord of the Rings version.

Why?  Maybe it's bias towards LOTR, though I am a fan  of DC Comics.  Maybe it's a bias towards DC to the point that I can't get over the abstraction.  Regardless, I enjoy it, to the point of buying all three versions, sleeving it, and even buying a custom insert so I could hold them all in one box.

What do you think? Have you played any of Cryptozoic's games, and which is your favorite?

Keep Running!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Call to Arms

The Treason of Saruman is shipping now.  We've already had a preview of some of the cards and quests, but now we given a look at the heroes we will be getting.  We already knew about our new Fellowship hero, Aragorn v4.  Now we have our two other heroes: Théoden and Treebeard!
Many people online were predicting a new version of Théoden, considering the source material.  Personally, I had completely written off a hero version of Treebeard when we got the ally version in the last cycle.  As it stands, I'm more excited for spirit Théoden than I am hero Treebeard.  His ability to boost willpower and strength is interesting, especially since there is so much opportunity for in-sphere healing.  Théoden shows lot of promise.  Already being in the same sphere as his niece, Éowyn, shows promise by itself, but his cost reduction should make a lot of the more expensive Rohan cards more viable.  
My favorite from this update is Herugtim.  This weapon works well Théoden, either version, or Éowyn.  Add some willpower boost, like Dúnedain Quest, or Éowyn base ability, and you can get some significant attack power.  All in all, I'm excited to get my copy late next week.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nightmare Run Episode 1 - Passage Through Mirkwood (Solo)

In the first episode of the series, Nightmare Run, I decided to take the Dúnedain through the nightmare version of our first quest, Passage Through Mirkwood.  It didn't go well..  Regardless, here it is, and I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Impressions - The Lost Realm - Events, Attachments, and Side Quests


There are three event cards in The Lost Realms, with spirit missing a card.  Tireless Hunters is what I call a "soft" version of feint.  During combat, you're able pull an enemy over to you, and if it has been dealt a shadow card, then it is removed.  This could be used to move an enemy from another player that isn't set up to defend an attack, or even bring an enemy down from the staging area.  Back in the core set days, the Hill Troll in Journey Down the Anduin could be a daunting enemy.  It was common to forest snare him until you could deal with it.  Unfortunately, you either had to spend a feint, or deal with his 6 attack for at least a round.  In this case, you could use this card to pull him down after enemies have attacked, then snare him during the next turn's planning.
Expert Trackers reminds me of Strength of Will. Instead of a static amount of progress, you are able to place progress on a location relative to the threat of an engaged enemy.  There's not much to say about it, it's solid.  As long as you have a deck with a good number of scouts or rangers, I don't see a reason not to include it to help with location control.
Ranger Summons is the card that got me excited for this expansion.  First off, it's a signal card, so it has synergy with our new watchman.  For one cost, this card places a ranger ally into the encounter deck.  I have to imagine that this was inspired by The Massing at Osgiliath's Ranger of Ithilien.  It can do damage to an enemy, or put progress on a location, then you get to give it to whichever player needs him most.  Solid stats for the cost, but I wish it would of had a shadow effect, like the Ranger of Ithilien.  Perhaps that would of been overpowered.  Regardless, I'm very happy with this card, and I can tell from my initial playthroughs that it is very satisfying to see them come up during staging.


Heir of Valandil reminds me of O Lórien!  To fit in with the Dúnedain trait, instead of being a static reduction, it is relative to the number of engaged enemies.  I imagine it will be good as we get through the cycle and fill out the number of Dúnedain allies.  I don't see any value, however, in a mono-leadership deck, considering the amount of resource acceleration available.
Secret Vigil is my favorite attachment from the expansion.  It provides a lot of utility that isn't available in tactics, particularly threat reduction, both enemy and player.  There was a core set card, Power in the Earth, which had similar effects, but for location.  It didn't, however, provide any additional utility beyond reducing the threat in the staging area.  It fits right into what tactics is meant to do, and not only benefits the player who played it, but each player.
When I saw Athelas, the first thing I did was pull up the quest cards for A Journey to Rhosgobel, to see how it was written about the Athelas objective cards.  These can't be used to for the last quest card in AJtR, but it could still heal Wilyador earlier in the quest.  My second thought was relating it to lembas, another recent lore attachment.  Where as that only healed three hit points, and readied the character, this heals all damage and removes a condition.  Not having a cap on healing isn't as big of a deal for me, as the most you would typically heal is four, but I'm always happy to have more condition removal.  Also, it doesn't have to heal the character its attached to, so there's flexibility there.  Unfortunately, you have to exhaust the attached character, so you use up their utility in exchange for the healing.  A small inconvenience for sure, but there's plenty of value to make up for it.
Star Brooch is a solid questing boost.  As opposed to The Favor of the Lady or Dúnedain Quest, which both cost two, for one you get the same boost, and it cannot be reduced.  The only trade off is limit one per hero, and you have to put it on a Dúnedain or Noldor hero, but that still opens it up to plenty of valid targets, such as Idraen or Glorfindel.  This attachment would come in very handy in quests where there are willpower reduction conditions, such as Black Breath.

Side Quests

A new addition to the player card line up, side quests allow for the players to take a break from the main quest for some added benefit.  Similar to The Battle of Five Armies, players decide which quest card they will take on, and then quest against that.  Not only do you get the benefit of the side quest, but it could also be useful in quests where you don't want to progress too quickly, such as Conflict at the Carrock, where you usually want to build up before taking on the trolls.  The only neutral card in The Lost Realm is a side quest, Gather Information.  Limit one per deck, it allows the players to search their decks for a card of choice, and add it to their hand.  Similar to Word of Command, being able to pull those key cards from your deck could be game changing.  In the quests included with The Lost Realm, there are various effects which can penalize you for how many quests are in play, but for all previous quests, I don't think there's any negative to include this.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the new cards as a whole, I'm very excited for where the designers are taking the game.  None of the cards drastically change the way the game is played, but they all give the players new options to explore.  Regardless if you build a Dúnedain deck, a lot of the cards can be included in older builds.  I look forward to testing out these cards in future plays.  What do you guys think?  What is your favorite card?  Are there combos that I didn't mention that merit further exploration?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Across the Ettenmoors

FFG announces the third adventure pack in the Angmar Awakened cycle: Across the Ettenmoors.  In  this quest, our heroes will journeying through the troll-fells, fighting new troll enemies, such as the Ruthless Hill-troll.
With 12 hit points, he can be nasty, especially if you can't finish him off in one attack.

Here, we see a call back to the Hill Troll of the Anduin, except instead of extra threat, we're seeing lost progress.
In addition to the new quest, players will also get a new tactics hero, promised to boost defense.  Will this be a new power defender, like Beregond, or will he have a passive defensive boost?  I hope the later, as that should help with the new focus on engagement.  We will also see new signal, mount, and Ent cards.  I am very excited for the new Ent cards, as I want to flesh out that archetype further.  We should expect this adventure pack some time in Q3 2015.

Impressions - The Lost Realm - Heroes and Allies

On Saturday, a boat sailed to my home from Westernesse, carrying with it the last of the Edain.  Along with it, the promise of adventure in the lands north of the Misty Mountains.  The Lost Realm is in our hands, and what does that mean for the game?


Two heroes are included in the deluxe expansion, Aragorn and Halbarad.  Aragorn is no stranger to LOTR players.  This marks version 3 of the hero, with a fourth, fellowship version coming soon in Treason of Saruman.  Same states as before, but different text.  Still Dúnedain and a ranger, but this time he also has the warrior trait. This is very useful for him as a tactics version, which synergizes with attachments which require warrior heroes, such as Captain of Gondor.  He is combat focused, reducing all engaged enemies' defense by 1.  Including Aragorn with Bard in another deck, or Legolas with a Rivendell Blade, you have the potential to reduce defenses by 3.  Combined with Unexpected Courage or Rohan Warhorse, and you have a killing machine.

Halbarad was Aragorn's second-in-command of the Dúnedain, and was among the rangers who guarded the Shire prior to the War of the Ring.  I like heroes at 10 threat, such as Elladan and Elrohir, and has identical stats to fellow Dúnedain, Beravor, as well as Mablung.  Since the Dúnedain trait is showing a lot of engagement effects, Halbarad should be able to commit to the quest frequently without exhausting.  With the ranger trait, he has synergy with a lot of the lore cards related to rangers, such as Wingfoot.  In fact, Wingfoot would work well with Halbarad, as a back up, in case there aren't any enemies currently engaged with him.  Halbarad's built-in action advantage could be a replacement for, or addition to, other leadership heroes, such as Aragorn, without having to spend resources, or Prince Imrahil, without a character leaving play.  During combat, he could be combined with Gondorian Fire or Blood of Numenor to up his offensive or defensive ability, respectively.


Not Pictured: Warden of Annúminas
To jump start your Dúnedain decks, The Lost Realms includes four Dúnedain allies.  Starting with the Weather Hills Watchman, his ability is similar to that of Galadhrim Minstrel or Westfold Horse-breeder.  Currently, there are five signals, one of which will be discussed below, and all in the leadership sphere.  I'm interested in dusting off old favorites such as Dúnedain Mark, with the ability to scry for them.
Dúnedain Hunter is interesting in the fact that it is the first zero-cost ally.  The trade-off is having to search for an enemy, and possibly losing the ally if you don't see one.  Of course, if you're embracing Dúnedain, then having an enemy engaged with you is not a bad thing, plus the fact that you get to choose which enemy engages you when you search.  This could be very helpful in finding an enemy that you don't want popping up in staging.  In the event that you don't find an enemy, if you have Horn of Gondor on the table, you're at least up one resource.
Sarn Ford Sentry is not bad, but I'm not excited about.  For three cost, it's nice to have 2 willpower and 2 hit points.  Unfortunately, it is Dúnedain and scout, and not ranger, which would synergize with other ranger cards from the lore sphere.  Depending on how many enemies are engaged, it could result in significant card, but there are so many cheaper card draw effects, such as Mithrandir's Advice or Deep Knowledge, that I can rely on how much I can draw, I don't think I would rely on the Sentry for its effect.
Finally, we have Warden of Annúminas.  What to say about this card?  For four cost, I can't help but think of another Dúnedain: the classic Northern Tracker.  Both cards have two attack, two defense, and three hit points, but Northern Tracker has a static one willpower, where Warden of Annúminas, and his card effect is that he has +1 willpower for every enemy engaged.  This ties into the Dúnedain trait, but it still feels expensive for an unreliable effect.

Closing Thoughts

Out the gate, FFG has given us a good set of characters to flesh out the Dúnedain.  For the most part, the cards are good, with a few that aren't bad, but I'm lukewarm, at best, over.  One thing I am interested in is looking how many enemies we will have engaged with us at a time.  Obviously, the more you have engaged, the better many of these card effects become, but I am concerned that this will lead to getting overwhelmed.
In the next Impressions segment, I will go through the other players card: events, attachments, and the new card type, side quests.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Alternative Art

OG Aragorn

Promo Aragorn
The first and only promo card for LOTR is Aragorn. You could of gotten it either by going to Gen Con 2014, or a Fellowship event, or paying way too much on eBay. Guess which route I took. 

Anyway, the completionist in me wants every last bit from this game, even though I'm not a big fan of the art. It's ok, but I'm just a big fan of the original super baggy shirt and all. I did, however, fall in love with the graphic design. I love the full card art and the change in layout. 

Moving on from Aragorn, where are the others? Hopefully there will be another at this year's Gen Con, but one per year will not do. Inspired by some of the work Tom Howard and Beorn have done, I have made some of my own custom cards.  All of these were made in Strange Eons, a free program that will get more mention in future blog entries.

Gandalf was one of my firsts. I loved the old cover art from the 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. I feel it really show the grand power of Gandalf. 
Whenever you create a new hero card in Strange Eons, this is the default image. After a while, I had to make her into her proper card. 

Finally, I thought I'd bring it full circle with Aragorn. This time, it's the lore version. I love the shadowing the artist used. I feel it fits the "Strider" persona that I associate with Loragorn. 

What do you think? What heroes would you like to see with new alt art cards?

Keep Running!