Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Grey Havens

Two adventure packs into the current cycle, and FFG has announced the next deluxe expansion, The Grey Havens, as well as the next cycle, the Dream-chaser cycle.  Having completed our journeys in Angmar, the players are now going to be taken to the ruins of Númenor.  

As would be appropriate for the namesake of this expansion, sailing has been introduced as a new mechanism,  Two ships are spoiled in this article, Dawn Star, and Silver Wing.  It is stated that each player will select a ship for their heroes, or two in a solo game.  Not much has been said about how this will interact, but it appears to be similar to another hero, affecting your starting threat, but also requiring to keep the ship from being destroyed, otherwise you'll be eliminated.

In addition, the promise of additional Noldor synergy has been mentioned to build on what is being introduced in the Angmar Awakened cycle.  We see this in Cirdan the Shipwright, one of the two new heroes for the expansion.  This new hero, boasting strong stats, also gives the ability to draw additional cards during the resource phase, at the cost of having to discard one.  Though we haven't fully seen the Noldor's synergy with the discard pile, we are promised that cards will be introduced to increase in power based on other copies being in the discard, and others which will be effected by the top card of your discard pile. 

The Grey Havens will be released in Q4 of 2015.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Impressions - The Land of Shadows Player Cards

According to the FFG website, The Land of Shadow is still at the printer.  For those lucky enough to be at Gen Con, they were treated to the opportunity to purchase it early.  As we explore the second half of The Two Towers, the player cards that accompany it do not disappoint.
Faramir gets his second hero card, fourth card overall.  With stats matching his lore version, his leadership version matches sphere with his original ally version.  In this case, instead of being boosted by enemies in the staging area, Faramir is able to ready allies in response to engaging enemies.  Just like hero Mablung, his ability is limited to once per phase, which keeps a player from getting all their allies back up in one go.  The options to ready allies is fairly limited, such as Ever Vigilant, or Strength of Arms.  Even though he's a Gondorian Ranger, his ability ties into Dúnedain's engagement tricks. One of my favorite recent heroes has been tactics Aragorn, and his engagement ability falls right in with Faramir.  Engage an enemy during engagement, ready an ally, kill that enemy with Aragorn, engage a new enemy, ready that same ally or another.  This also could give opportunity to get utility in the same turn you play an Ent.
Damrod is the other hero included in the saga expansion, and as I had mentioned in the preview article, I have never played with the ally version.  Gone is the expensive, situational ability of his ally version, and replaced with a trap-focused ability.  When Anborn was released in The Blood of Gondor, I began looking at a deck which was focused around traps.  With Damrod, this idea has really taken shape.  The cost reduction is limited to the first trap played per turn, but due to the nature of trap cards, any more than one per turn would more than likely be a waste.  In addition, once the trap gets attached, you get to draw a card, which is always welcome.
Anborn provides a new version of the ally which is not tied to traps.  This version works similar to an ally version of Thalin.  Where as Thalin puts damage on all enemies as they are revealed during questing, Anborn allows you to place damage on an enemy any time an enemy is added to staging area.  He also increases their engagement cost by 5 for the round, which combos with cards that improve when the enemy has a higher engagement than your threat, such as Boromir and Farmer Maggot.  The downside of his ability is that Anborn has to exhaust to use said ability, which lets his three damage go to waste, without some readying effect such as the new Faramir hero.
Gamling really brings the Rohan trait to a new level.  One of the weaknesses of Rohan has been the limited use of their allies.  Their most valuable abilities were tied to discarding allies.  Gamling takes this weakness and mitigates it by allowing you to take one card back to hand.  If you can ready Gamling, then he can continue to do this.  Some of these cards are unfortunately costly, so pairing this with Theoden helps significantly to pay to play cards back out.  There are other allies in the Rohan trait that are cheap, such as Snowbourn Scout or Westfold Horse-breeder, that have great abilities when they come into play.  With Gamling, the cards could be played, chump-blocked or otherwise discarded, and then returned to hand to be played again later and gain the ability once more.  Just like Anborn before, he has to be ready to use his ability, but in this case, I think his stats are not as much of a waste as the Gondorian Ranger.
The final ally from the realm of Man is Mablung.  Just like his hero version, the ally version interacts with engaging enemies.  Like the new Anborn, he increases the engagement cost of an enemy already in play, plus it allows you to either engage the enemy, or return it to the staging area.  I really like the utility in this ability, as his ability can be used at different times.  Looking at my Aragorn and Hobbits deck, this would interact very well.  By increasing the engagement cost, it increases the chance of Pippin triggering.  Furthermore, it could hold enemies back for another round while setting up.
Moving away from Man, we see a new Ent in the form of Skinbark.  The first Ent to be at three cost, his stats are good, but I wouldn't say great.  His ability, however, boosts his utility significantly.  Whenever attacking an Orc enemy alone, he ignores the enemy's defense.  Similar to our namesake, the Mirkwood Runner, however specific to Orc enemies.  Luckily, a vast majority of enemies in the game have been Orcs, and even in the case of non-Orcs, his four attack is still pretty significant.
Ambush is the new trap for the expansion, and, as I had mentioned in my preview article, it seems ok, but unreliable.  I had previously compared it to the Quick Strike, but more expensive and more restrictive.  Obviously, if you don't have access to Tactics, then Ambush could be a replacement, but to get its full utility you need to employee encounter deck scrying.
Snowmane continues to add to Theoden's list of attachments.  There had been various speculations to what a Snowmane card would look like, mostly humorous ones where the horse crushes Theoden.  Like Herugrim,  Snowmane can be attached to any Rohan hero, but gains additional benefit from being attached to Theoden.  After questing successfully, Snowmane allows the hero attached to ready.  Similar to Steed of the Mark, this allows for readying questing heroes, but doesn't require additional resource investment.  Even though it's out of sphere, I think Snowmane is best with tactics Theoden.  Tactics gets an extra willpower over the Spirit version, plus when paired with Herugrim, he gets to attack with six after questing.  The combo can go further with additional readying, so Theoden could quest, defend, and attack, all in one turn.
Staff of Lebethron should pretty much be called Sam's staff.  When defending against an enemy with an higher engagement than your threat, you can exhaust the staff to discard a shadow card.  Combined with Hobbit Cloak and Sam Gamgee's ability, Sam is more than likely defending for four, but also without a shadow card to worry about.    If running a standard Hobbit deck, you want to limit yourself to engaging one enemy per turn, so it's limitation shouldn't be too bad.
In the Shadows adds to the Hobbit deck, similar to Take No Notice.  Once again, looking at my Aragorn and Hobbit deck, In the Shadows allows for combat advantage.  Tactics Aragorn already drops defense by one, playing this event adds an extra defense drop.  The one thing I'm not sure about, however, is the timing of the defense drops.  Is the event affecting your player area, or the enemies engaged with the player when the card is played.  The reason I wonder is, going back to Tactics Aragorn, do new enemies pulled over by his attack get the debuff?
The final player card of the expansion is Taste it Again!  Once again, this plays right into Sam.  Sam has his cloak and staff, and he readies when an enemy engages, removes the shadow card, readies after defending, and then attacks for four, or six with a Dagger of Westernesse.  That sounds like a pretty rad combo.
Final Thoughts
It was very appropriate for the saga expansion which revolved around the section of Lord of the Rings where it's focused on Sam and Frodo's struggles.  The Hobbit archetype has been a great one since it was given a shot in the arm from The Black Riders.  I look forward to see how the Hobbit deck changes.  In addition, we've seen significant additions to the Rohan and Gondor/Ranger archetype that I think will also become staple cards.  A great set of cards and I look forward to digging into the quests.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Impressions - Escape from Mount Gram Player Cards

I am back from Gen Con, and my body is still recovering.  That said, with Escape from Mount Gram released slightly before Gen Con, and The Land of Shadows released at the convention, there is plenty to discuss.
Rossiel is an interesting card.  She has fairly standard stats, with the 1 attack feeling like a bit of a waste for her.  She introduces an interesting mechanic, in being able to interact with the victory display.  Her stats get a nice boost when she is questing or defending, based on what has already made it into the victory display.  If she is in a quest which already has a lot of cards which go into the victory display, such as Emyn Muil, then I can imagine her working out easily.  In other quests, however, it will take some work to maximize her utility.  During Gen Con, I played the deck I had posted previously, and it was a little slow to get moving.  As it stands, I think she will be a very situational hero, that may have some cool decks built around her.
Derndingle Warrior adds to the Ent archtype, providing a strong defender to the deck.  Like all other Ents to this point, it has strong stats for a two-cost ally.  In addition, it has the ability to deal itself a damage while defending to gain 3 extra defense for that attack.  I really like damage dealing effects in Ent decks, since it combos well with Booming Ent, to give you a strong attacker.  Unfortunately, it only lasts for the attack, so if you are able to ready the warrior, such as using Treebeard, you have to deal another damage to get the defense boost.  Since Ents, to this point, have been either Lore or Tactics, including healing, such as Warden of Healing allows for multiple rounds of strong defense.
Elven Jeweler adds to the promise of Noldor synergy in this cycle.  For 2 cost, the stats are OK, but there is also the option to drop her out at any time by discarding two cards from hand.  This ability essentially makes her a better version of Emery.  Emery requires that three cards be discarded off the top of the deck, and if any Tactics/Lore/Leadership cards come up, she's discarded.  This either required that you had some deck scrying, or play mono-Spirit to ensure that she doesn't get wasted.  Here, you're able to choose the cards to discard, and you could even run this without any Spirit cards.  The only downside is that it has one less defense than Emery, but it isn't unique, and costs one less.  As we explore the Noldor trait, I think the value of this card will only go up.
Veteran of Osgiliath is this pack's addition to the Valour trait.  Though not specifically calling out Valour, it's power is triggered by having a threat at 40 or higher.  His stats are fairly standard, if not good, for three cost, but if playing with Valour, his stats become really good.  Being Gondor, he can combo well with Boromir or Visionary Leadership.  This guy is good, and just like the Jeweler, will only get better as we get more cards in the cycle.
Boomed and Trumpeted is one of those cards that really solidifies the Ent archtype.  Ents already have a lack of action advantage, considering they all come into play exhausted.  By playing this event, Ents are able to be a little more hasty.  Especially with our new Ent ally, this card allows for you to defend for five, and then get another defense (albeit for less defense) or get a solid attack.  Additionally, in quests with Archery, you could place a damage on an Ent that was exhausted, either from entering play or questing, then have it ready.  Finally, combine this with hero Treebeard and you can boost his attack by 1, or more, use the event to boost him further, then have ready for another attack, still boosted by his ability.
Descendants of Kings is a solid readying effect.  For 1 resource, you can ready as many Dúnedain characters as you have enemies engaged with.  If you are playing Dúnedain, then you're already conscious of keeping enemies engaged, whether it's for Heir of Valandil, or even just Halbarad's ability.  The problem comes when you don't have those enemies engaged with you.  This allows you a chance to setup.  One card I think will get value out of this event is Northern Tracker.  I feel safe in admitting that she is not placed in one's deck for her 1 willpower.  Her location control has kept her around since the days of the core set.  That said, she has great stats that aren't fully utilized.  With this ability, she can still use her location ability, but be available for other uses.
Distant Stars is a form of location control, similar to the ability of West Road Traveller.  Where as the traveller allows you to switch the active location with another location in the staging area, this card lets you search the encounter deck for any location, at the cost of exhausting either a Scout or Ranger character.  There are plenty of characters that have that trait, especially in the Lore sphere.  Since you have to have an active location, you have to travel to this location first.  This could be something that has a mild travel effect or none at all.  Then, the new location could be something that has a nasty travel, which this card allows you to avoid.  It seems like a fairly straight forward card, for zero cost it's definitely something that can fit well in a location control deck.
Keen as Lances is sexy.  Not only in Galadriel's piercing eyes on the artwork, but in its ability.  It is essentially a Gandalf replacement.  Granted, you don't get an ally out of the play, but the card does get cheaper as you play more of this card, or other cards that go into the victory display without victory points, such as using Out of the Wild, or the next card.
Leave No Trace plays right into location control, just like Distant Stars.  In addition, it's allowing you to put two cards into the victory display without any victory points, so it immediately reduces the cost of playing Keen as Lances.  In addition, if there is a location which you don't want to see again, then this would also allow you to get it out of play.  This also plays into Rossiel, letting you put locations into the victory display, which could boost her willpower.
Side Quest
Double Back adds to the library of side quests that players have to include in their deck.  In this case, clearing the location will reduce everyone's threat by 5.  A strong effect, for sure, especially for zero cost.  When looking at this card, I think about the same things I do for any side quest, and there are definitely good and bad times for the side quest.  If you're on a timer, then it could be a hindrance to slow down the tempo of the game.  On the other hand, there have been times where I can't progress, not due to making progress on the quest, but because of another factor, such as killing the Hill Troll in Journey Down the Anduin.  In those cases, side quests are excellent ways to take advantage of the situation you're currently facing, and gain some benefit.
Final Thoughts
We see some themes repeat from previous packs.  More side quests, more Dúnedain, and a lot of location control.  In practice, some of these cards take some setup, so don't expect a deck that comes out swinging, but there is plenty of interesting combos that can occur.  I continue to be intrigued by the Ent trait, and we're getting to the point, where it isn't feasible to put every Ent card into your deck.  This will lead to more variety in the archetype, which I welcome.