Building for a Race Against the Shadow Tournament

July 15, 2014

A few months ago ago Divinity of Number and Caleb Grace announced there would be a Race Against the Shadow tournament at the Fantasy Flight Games Center in Roseville, MN, if you want to know all the details please keep reading to find more info about this. I immediately contacted some of my buddies who play the Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game, and Mark and I began planning…to win, that is! We learned early on that the scenario would be Journey Down the Anduin, and two weeks before the tournament, my partner and I met up at a local game store. We each had built paired decks to test out against the scenario. After a few hours of testing, we identified several problems with both pairs of decks and settled on a slightly modified version of a Hobbit deck I had brought along. For the other deck, we gutted a Rohirrim deck I had put together, and each of us took it home, rebuilt, and playtested it without consulting the other. We then shared our results online and made a few minor changes before bringing the decks along to the tournament on Sunday, January 26 (more on the tournament here).

I had never so extensively played against a scenario, and I learned a lot. In addition, the Race Against the Shadow format required that we not only beat Journey Down the Anduin, but that we do it in the fewest number of turns. Injured or dead heroes don’t count against you if you can simply beat the quest before the opposing team does. I thought I would share a few insights gained during our playtesting period:

First, Journey Down the Anduin is a lot more complicated than you’d think. Plenty of decks can beat it, but doing it quickly is another matter entirely. Stages one and three require strong defenders and attackers, whereas stage two requires a hefty amount of questing. Furthermore, there are several nasty treachery cards that penalize you for having a threat higher than 35. The worst thing we discovered, however, is that the Goblin Snipers and the Wargs are impossible to deal with unless you have some way of attacking into the staging area. Since the last stage of the quest requires you to defeat all enemies in play, this can present a problem.

In this tournament format, combos are out and cheap, consistent cards are in. To put it another way, there is no time to set up any wacky moving parts. Imladris Stargazer + Zigil Miner is right out. Even Elf-Stone proved to be nearly useless in practice. In some early versions of our decks, we would win in seven or eight turns. By tournament time, we were consistently beating the quest in four or five turns because we jettisoned the more complicated gimmicks of which I am so fond.

Redundancy is key. We learned early on that having really specialized decks was problematic. If Player A is in charge of some aspect of the game and he or she doesn’t draw the necessary cards early, you may lose before you really begin. We mitigated this somewhat by including all sorts of redundancy. While my partner was playing heavy Spirit and could play Northern Tracker, I had Asfaloth and Secret Paths ready to achieve similar results. Also, We both ran with three copies of Dagger of Westernesse and Unseen Strike.

Our final lineup was a three-sphere Hobbit deck of Sam, Pippin, and Merry on one side of the table, and a two-sphere deck using Beregond, Dunhere, and Glorfindel on the other side. I’ve included the deck lists below. Feel free to ask any questions about our experience!

(Note: This tourney took place before the Voice of Isengard came out. If there is another tourney in our area, I’ll be curious to see how Doomed cards will help or harm us.)

Hobbit (Tourney) Deck: Total Cards: (55)

Hero: (3)
1x Pippin (The Black Riders)
1x Merry (The Black Riders)
1x Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)

Ally: (19)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Numenor)
3x Bill the Pony (The Black Riders)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)
1x Haldir of Lorien (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Beorn (Core Set)

Attachment: (21)
3x Ring Mail (The Long Dark)
3x Fast Hitch (The Dead Marshes)
3x Hobbit Cloak (The Black Riders)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Asfaloth (Foundations of Stone)
3x Elf-stone (The Black Riders)

Event: (15)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Unseen Strike (The Redhorn Gate)
3x Halfling Determination (The Black Riders)
3x Take No Notice (The Black Riders)

Rohan + Elves (Tourney) Deck: Total Cards: (50)

Hero: (3)
1x Beregond (Heirs of Numenor)
1x Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)
1x Dunhere (Core Set)

Ally: (20)
1x Arwen Undomiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
3x Ethir Swordsman (The Steward’s Fear)
3x Imladris Stargazer (Foundations of Stone)
3x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
3x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
2x Bofur (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)

Attachment: (15)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Spear of the Mark (The Morgul Vale)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
3x Ancient Mathom (A Journey to Rhosgobel)

Event: (15)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Feint (Core Set)
3x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Straight Shot (On the Doorstep)
1x Goblin-cleaver (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)

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:

Hirluin the Fair
(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.

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Thorongil Deck

August 13, 2013
Recently I won a contest over at Tales from the Cards with this Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game deck. If anything, playing with this deck over the last few weeks has shown me the powerful combination that LotR: LCG offers to a player; excellent mechanics married to a deep sense of theme. Kudos to the designers for making such a great game that a deck like the one below can hold its own in play while remaining entirely faithful to Tolkien’s legendarium.
Thorongil Deck
Aragorn II went by many names. In Rivendell he was Estel because he was the hope of his people. In Bree he was Strider due to his long gait, and at the close of the Third Age he was Elessar, the Elfstone. But from T.A. 2957-2980, he was known throughout Gondor as Thorongil, the Eagle of the Star. He rode with Thengel, Theoden’s father, in Rohan for a time, and served under Steward Ecthelion II of Gondor with a star embroidered on his cloak. During this time, he was beloved of the people of Minas Tirith, which caused resentment on the part of Denethor II, the steward’s son.
This deck is intended to represent Aragorn’s time serving in Gondor. From his childhood in Rivendell, he brings with him the Ring of Barahir and the broken sword Narsil, both of which he keeps in secret in his belongings. He also has brought his skills as a Ranger (Dunedain Mark) and two minstrels, who record his deeds for posterity. From his time in Rohan he brings a small contingent of Snowbourn Scouts. Most importantly, he carries in his mind Elrond’s Counsel, and in his heart he carries the thoughts of Arwen, his one true love. Rallying around the future king is a vast array of Gondorian soldiers and nobles to aid in the fight against evil.
For an added thematic challenge, Denethor may not exhaust to take the same type of action as Aragorn or Gandalf. Thus, if Aragorn is questing, Denethor must do something else that round, etc. This represents young Denethor’s growing resentment of Thorongil and the wizard Mithrandir. Give yourself a pat on the back if Denethor ends up with the Horn of Gondor because he is the steward’s son and Aragorn gets Steward of Gondor to represent the trust Ecthelion has placed in him.
This is a solo deck created for thematic purposes, though it plays quite well. Certain artifacts, such as Celebrian’s Stone, are not included because they were not in Aragorn’s possession at this point in his life, and certain characters do not make an appearance because they were not born yet (e.g. Faramir). Eleanor is included because we frankly have no idea when she was born! Many theme-appropriate changes may be made based on the quest. For instance, young Gleowine for extra card draw, Northern Trackers from the Dunedain for location management, the Lore of Imladris for healing, or any non-unique Gondorian or Outlands cards for various purposes.
For more information about this time in Aragorn’s life, please see the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, “Gondor and the Heris of Anarion,” “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen,” and “The Tale of Years”.
Heroes (3)
Aragorn (Core) x1
Denethor (Core) x1
Eleanor (Core) x1
Ally (24)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Defender of Rammas (HON) x2
Envoy of Pelargir (HON) x3
Errand-rider (HON) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x2
Guard of the Citadel (Core) x3
Rivendell Minstrel (THFG) x2
Snowbourn Scout (Core) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Attachment (12)
Dunedain Mark (THfG) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Ring of Barahir (TSF) x2
Song of Battle (TDM) x1
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Event (16)
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
For Gondor! (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Gondorian Discipline (EaAD) x2
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Starting threat = 27
Cards in deck: 52
Leadership cards: 20 (avg. cost = 1.6 resources)
Lore cards: 8 (avg. cost = 1.5 resources)
Neutral cards: 6 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 2.8 resources)
Spirit cards: 10 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 0.9 resources)
Tactics cards: 8 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 1.3 resources)

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Three Types of Advantages

July 19, 2013

Since January I’ve been playing a lot of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s my first foray into a CCG/LCG format since about seventh grade (long ago, I assure you!), and I’ve been enjoying the co-op nature of the game with my wife, Rick, Russ, and others both in real life and online through OCTGN.

This game took me a while to wrap my head around, but after many, many plays, I’ve got some basic strategy thoughts I’d like to share. It’s very simple. There are five things you are trying to accomplish in Lord of the Rings:

  • Willpower: Generating sufficient willpower to quest easily.
  • Defense: Being able to block enemies efficiently.
  • Healing: Regularly getting rid of damage to keep your own characters alive.
  • Attack: Dispatching enemies effectively.
  • Encounter Manipulation: Pulling tricks to deal with locations, treacheries, threat increases, and shadow cards via interrupting events.

When I first started playing, I would focus on these five things in every deck I built…and I would lose badly. After I took a step back and thought about it a bit, I realized that those five things stated above are actually goals, not methods, for winning the game.

What, then, are the methods for success? It gets even more simple:

  • Action Advantage: The ability to have a character act twice or more in a round.
  • Resource Advantage: The ability to generate more resource tokens than usual.
  • Card Advantage: The ability to draw more cards with the added bonus of thinning your deck.

That’s it. Once you’ve got those three working, you’re good to go. However, I would caution players against trying to get all three types of advantages going in one deck. Often that takes up so many card slots that the deck cannot do much else. Instead, consider splitting up the advantage cards between two decks so that you and a partner can play off of each other.

There are obvious cards for each type of advantage. Some examples would be Unexpected Courage for actions, Steward of Gondor for resources, and Beravor for cards. But I would argue that there are more subtle combos that can be played that are actually more powerful. For example, let’s take We Are Not Idle and the Lure of Moria in a dwarf deck. The first card is great because it can gain you both resource and card advantage. However, if you exhaust all your Dwarf characters to get a bunch of resources, you may not be able to gain much because you have no one to quest, attack, or defend. So consider playing We Are Not Idle, exhausting every Dwarf you have, and then playing Lure of Moria. If you have 4 or more dwarf characters out, you still get a net bonus of +1 resource and +1 card.

Another one of my favorite combos is to play the hero Hama in a deck that is focused on the Eagle trait. If you begin play with a copy of The Eagles Are Coming! in hand, you can use Hama’s ability every turn to keep cycling that card back into play. This gives you card advantage because you’re pulling Eagles out of your deck every turn, with the added bonus of thinning your deck so that you’re guaranteed to be pulling good cards out during the resource phase. Throw Horn of Gondor into the mix, and with all those Eagles constantly entering and leaving play, you’ve got resource advantage as well. Or, if your partner is playing Horn of Gondor, you’re giving him resource advantage.

Another great combo is to used the oft-maligned 0-cost card, Cram, in conjunction with Erebor Hammersmith. Play Cram on your partner’s best attacking hero and you’ve granted him action advantage. After he’s discarded it to ready that character, play Erebor Hammersmith to pick up from the discard pile and play it again. The net result? For a cost of two resources, you have gained action advantage twice, and put into play a 3 hit point character.

As the card pool expands, it’s exciting to see more avenues open up to gain these three types of advantages. I’m playing a mono-Leadership sphere Outlands deck right now. In the early iterations of the deck, I was having trouble getting those Outlands allies on the table early. However, by utilizing everyone’s favorite combo, Sneak Attack + Gandalf, in a really weird place in the turn sequence, the refresh phase, I’ve been able to overcome this problem.

Whenever Gandalf enters play, you get to choose one of the following: draw three cards, deal four damage to an enemy in play, or lower your threat by five. In addition, you obviously get to use Gandalf’s 4 willpower, 4 attack, or 4 defense in one phase. But what if you pay one resource to sneak attack him in during the refresh phase? Do you really feel cheated if by spending one resource, you only get one of the first three bonuses? Not if you can also exhaust Gandalf, play A Very Good Tale, and discard the top five cards of your deck for two more Outlands characters to put in play.

I’ve also started looking at action advantage differently. It’s actually not just about having one character act twice or more in a round. It’s also about being able to ignore a particular challenge so that you can save allies for the actions you really want to take. So by using Gandalf to lower threat, say from 30 to 25, I might be able to ignore certain enemies and fly under the radar, so to speak. In doing that, I’m not allowing any character to act a second time, but I am freeing those characters up for questing instead of attacking/defending.

These insights probably seem obvious to any experienced players of CCGs/LCGs, but to me, it’s really been a revelation. The depth offered by this format has been really engaging for me in the past several months.