Lord of the Rings LCG: Card Draw, Deck Thinning

November 26, 2013

Having not played a CCG or LCG in a while, when I first started playing the Lord of the Rings LCG, I was stumped about deck composition. Eventually I found a few good blogs that offer strategy tips, and my rule of thumb was simple: build decks that are roughly 50% allies, 25% events, and 25% attachments. Now I stray widely from that general rule, but when I’m building a brand new deck, I usually start with those ratios.

But early on, I still found I was running into problems. For instance, I would include three copies (the maximum legal number) of a card that was really important to my strategy. However, if I didn’t draw it in my opening hand or my mulligan hand, I would be despondent, my strategy wouldn’t get off the ground, and I’d lose. How can one overcome such a problem and the accompanying (incorrect) judgement that this game is mostly luck-based? Really, two techniques come to mind:

  • Card Drawing: Utilizing abilities that let you draw more than the required one card per turn, thus allowing you to increase your hand size and increase your options.
  • Deck Thinning: Utilizing abilities that let you hunt for certain cards, draw, or discard in order to decrease the size of your deck and thus increase the chances that you will pull the cards you need later.

There are a few things I’d like to say about how to achieve success when it comes to both of the techniques. First, I  almost always include three copies of a card in my deck. If I included it in a deck in the first place, I think it’s important to have, so why decrease my chances of drawing it by including less than three copies? Second, I play with as small a deck as possible. The “tournament legal” deck in LOTR:LCG is 50 cards. If I play with 51, I can get in three copies of 17 different cards. If I play with 60 cards, I can get in 20 different cards at three copies apiece, but my chances of drawing the card  I need at the right time are drastically reduced. Third, find a way to make multiple copies of unique cards relevant. This is why I love the ally Erestor, because I can essentially use his ability to get rid of extra copies of unique cards and fuel card draw at the same time. This gives value to previously “dead” cards.

One problem I’ve seen in co-op play is players who are afraid to discard in order to cycle through their deck. They pass over King Under the Mountain or A Very Good Tale because it forces discards. I think that’s a mistake. First off, if you have no card draw, you’ll never dig through your whole deck in one game anyway. Second, even if you drew your entire deck into your hand, you’d never have enough resources or time to put everything into play. So don’t sweat the small stuff: cycle through the deck and discard a bunch in order to gain an advantage on the encounter deck.

With all this in mind, here’s a mono-Leadership Outlands deck I built recently that utilizes every bit of card draw available to that sphere:

Heroes
Hirluin the Fair
Theodred
Balin
(Threat = 25)

Allies (27)
Gandalf x 3 (draw three cards upon entering play)
Erestor x 3 (once per round, may discard one card from hand to draw one card)
Forlong x 3
Anfalas Herdsman x 3
Hunter of Lamedon x 3 (upon entering play, discard top card of deck. If it is Outlands, put it in hand.)
Ethir Swordsman x 3
Knights of the Swan x 3
Warrior of Lossarnach x 3
Snowbourn Scout x 3
Envoy of Pelargir x 3 (if solo) OR Errand Rider x 3 (if multiplayer)

Attachments (9)
King Under the Mountain x 3 (Exhaust attachment to draw two cards. Put one in hand, discard the other.)
Lord of Morthond x 3 (Draw a card every time a Spirit, Lore, or Tactics ally is played.)
Steward of Gondor x 3

Events (15)
A Very Good Tale x 3 (Exhaust two characters. Add up their cost, then discard the top five cards of the deck. Place two allies in play whose cost does not exceed the cost of the two exhausted allies.)
Sneak Attack x 3
Strength of Arms x 3
Valiant Sacrifice x3 (When an ally leaves play, draw two cards.)

It’s very easy to draw through this deck in 5-6 turns. I never hesitate to sneak attack Gandalf into play in order to exhaust him to fuel A Very Good Tale. (Essentially you’re paying 1 resource to gain 5 threat reduction, 4 damage on an enemy, or 3 cards + two free Outlands allies.) The first time I trotted out this deck, I played this combo in the mid-game: Sneak Attack + Gandalf (3 cards) + A Very Good Tale + 2xValiant Sacrifice once Gandalf left play. That’s seven cards drawn into hand, 3 discarded from the top of the deck, and two brand new allies in play…all for the cost of three resources and two exhausted characters. (Interestingly, that’s drawing/discarding your way through 24% of your deck!)

Erestor is also critical in the mid-game, because he lets you sluff those extra unique attachments in exchange for more card draw.

Mid-game it’s not unusual to see this deck draw 1 card in the planning phase, draw/discard with King Under the Mountain, then play an Outlands character, which triggers Lord of Morthond, which allows 1 more card draw, and then get rid of/draw a card with Erestor. (That’s digging through 10% of the deck in one round.)

So, my final note to new players: draw cards, draw cards, draw cards! You can’t do nuthin’ if you ain’t got nuthin’ in your hand.


Behind the Scenes of Creating a Game

November 11, 2013

A while back I was invited to a game day at a coworker’s house. I played a few good games and had a great time. After that my coworker and I started talking gaming at work. Next thing I knew we were setting up Twilight Struggle in my cube. We got in a few games over the course of many lunch breaks playing a turn or two at a time. I was finally able to make another game day with him and he told me, “We’re going to play Jay’s game this Saturday.” Turns out we weren’t the only gamers around the office. That’s when I first found out about Jay Meyer‘s gaming history and Noble Treachery.

Noble Treachery
This game is a bit of a twist on your traditional trick-taking card game that adds some chaos and enough strategy that it fits in well with today’s board and card game market. The game uses a custom deck of 55 cards with 5 suits (colors), 5 dice and 25 alliance tokens. There are 45 common cards in the deck – 9 each of the 5 colors and 10 cards that are unique. The strength of each card is determine by the value of that card plus the value of the corresponding die color which are rolled at the start of each round. The round is either a War round (highest total strength) or Diplomacy round (lowest total strength) determined by the highest bettor. The player that wins the round gains an alliance token. Each card also has text that can change the game state by re-rolling dice or earning alliance tokens through other means. The game play 4-6 players and finishes in under in hour.

First Play
When I showed up for the game day ready to try this new game I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be some cards printed and put in card sleeves, instead what I got blew me away. Jay had already commissioned artists and a local art and design school to produce prototypes for him. This game looked as good as anything on the market. And the game was fun to play. The chaos of the dice changing mid-round kept you rethinking your next play. And the ability to earn alliance tokens without winning the round gave everyone a shot. It was a good game and we played it twice.

Jay Meyer
After hearing about my enjoyment of the game, Jay gave me one of his prototype copies to play with friends and family. I got in a few more plays and reported back to Jay on my playing experiences. In addition to talking about the game I got to know Jay. He’s been playing games for years with his weekly gaming group. But not just any games: his games. He’s been creating his own board games and his weekly game group play tests and refines a game into something good or even great. They’ll play that until he’s got his next game ready to play. So far I’ve gotten to try out 3 of his games: 1) Noble Treachery 2) Labyrinth, a dungeon crawling, take-that deck builder and 3) a questing card game that went from a discussion at my white board to a playable game in a matter of days. After many years creating games (he’s made over 30!) he finally decided to fulfill a dream of publishing one. He, with the help of his game group, chose Noble Treachery as his first game. It’s fairly small (55 cards, 5 dice and some tokens) and seemed like a good manageable project for a first shot.

Game Development
Jay says the game was first created in under a week. He needed a portable game that he could bring along for a camping trip. The first version just used dice and cards and you kept score with pencil and paper and played with 2 teams of 4. It was originally called Ambush. After playing it for a while he thought he had something interesting. A few years back he brought it to GAMA and showed it off. He got a lot of feedback and knew he had to make some changes. First, he couldn’t limit it to just 4 players so he got rid of the partners and allowed up to 6 players. Because of this, each card had to be able to help you individually and couldn’t just help your partner during a round. That’s where the War/Diplomacy option came in. Second, the scoring mechanic was too old school. That’s when he added tokens, but two types: alliances for scoring and money for the betting. It seemed to work, but realized that betting a money token that didn’t change your score wasn’t meaningful. That’s where the switch to betting your alliance tokens came in. You had to risk your scoring tokens to take control of a round. A few refinements later and he had something.

Prototype
At that point he had a game that was good enough to start working to make real. He contacted the design school and got artists to make this game his own. He finally had 10 copies of his game. He passed this game on to friends to playtest and the results were very positive. The game played well for casual gamers as it was easy to learn and the random cards and dice helped level the playing field with advanced gamers. The strategy gamer could devise plans on when to play certain cards and when to take the bet. But, always wanting feedback he continued to ask how could this game be better. He also started to look at how to launch this game and make it a reality. Those two things forced him to take a deeper look at the game and what really makes you wanting to come back for more. A few minor tweaks to existing cards and the addition of more of the unique cards really spiced up the game. He was ready for primetime.

Kickstarter
Jay launched his Kickstarter campaign last week. Sitting in his office today we talked about how it’s been going. There was an initial rush of people pledging their support which was a great feeling. Then, last weekend the backers slowed down: only 1 on Saturday. Thoughts of failure crept in. Fortunately they were quickly dissapated after a play session with a group of Magic players who didn’t know anything about the game. After a wild game that came down to the last round he was confident in his product. This is a game worth playing and more importantly a game that has you coming back for more.

The End?
My post ends here, but this game’s story will continue. The Kickstarter has almost 5 weeks to go yet. If it funds there will be finalizing the added artwork for the new cards and working to get it printed. Then it’s shipping all those games off to the backers. If it doesn’t fund…? We’ll see what the future holds. All I know is, either way I’ve learned a lot from Jay and his experiences with this game. It makes me want to work on that game idea that’s been floating around in my head for while. Until then I’ll continue playing good games, like Noble Treachery, and look forward to Jay’s next creation.