Fantasy Flight Games [News] - Boromir's Guide to Deck Construction, Part One:
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“Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Númenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West.”
–Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring
–Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring
One of the reasons The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has entertained so many fans and enjoyed a great deal of success is because it appeals to people across a range of player archetypes–Bilbo, Pippin, and Boromir alike. The game’s narrative structure makes it easy to find a story in every game. Because it’s a Living Card Game, novelty seekers can find new cards to try in their decks and new challenges to face with each monthly release, and enough of the scenarios and their enemies pose sufficient threat to challenge the hardcore Boromirs, who seek glory through conquest. In fact, some of us are still waiting for the combination of cards that will allow us to beat Escape from Dol Guldur solo with a measure of consistency.
The lone traveler’s journey
The game has also found a good measure of success due to its rich solitaire play, but while confronting the challenges of Middle-earth may lead to memorable game experiences, they can also frustrate players with less experience in games with deck construction. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is unique among these games in that players compete against the forces of Shadow, as controlled by an encounter deck and its artificial intelligence. Still, the encounter deck has its fair share of devious tricks and an arsenal of deadly weapons. Accordingly, it is no simple thing to master the encounter deck and succeed at your quests.
Now that the Khazad-dûm Expansion has arrived, players will face a whole host of new challenges, and some have already wondered how they will fare against the goblin hordes of Moria.
Today, then, we begin a three-part series of deck-building tutorials aimed at the new solo player, but one that should contain helpful information (and reminders) for players of all experience levels.
Sharpening your blade
There’s much to be said for the decisions you make while playing a game, but we begin any conversation about success in a card game by looking at the deck.
While players may find many different card combinations and ways to approach the challenges before them, there are a number of larger, universal concerns that touch upon deck-building in any game, including The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. No matter the scenario you intend to conquer, you’ll want to consider how your deck may provide you with action advantage, card advantage, and resource acceleration. Additionally, every card designer at some point talks about “synergy,” and it’s important to be able to recognize whether or not your deck is filled with synergies between cards, or if it’s a combination of 50 cards all seeking to do their own thing. Meanwhile, each card game introduces its own game-specific concerns, and in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, it’s always worth trying to maintain as low a starting threat as possible, and including some means of reducing it should it start to rise.
Today, we’ll go into a bit more depth about action advantage and card advantage.
Action advantage refers, generally, to the idea that you can do more than your opponent each turn. In a head-to-head game, like A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, you might gain action advantage through “board control” or a stronger “board position.” In short, if you have more and stronger characters on the table than your opponent, you’re more likely to win challenges and the game. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, your heroes are limited in what they can do by the number of times they can exhaust. Do you choose to quest with your hero, defend, attack, or exhaust to use a special ability? Each of these is an “action,” and the more actions you can take, the better.
Part of the solution is to include allies. A lot of allies. Many successful decks are almost half full of allies. Allies who can quest allow your heroes to attack or defend. Allies who block enemies for your heroes allow your heroes to quest or attack. Allies are good and help you gain action advantage.
Another part of the solution is to build your deck around heroes who can ready themselves. Aragorn (Core Set, 1),Prince Imrahil (A Journey to Rhosgobel, 50), and Boromir (The Dead Marshes, 95) all come to your fellowship with built-in means of readying themselves. Still, there are other means of readying your heroes. Spirit heroes can help others find Unexpected Courage (Core Set, 57) or recruit a Westfold Horse-Breaker (The Hunt for Gollum, 6), and now, with the release of Khazad-dûm, your Dwarf heroes can get a boost from the Erebor Record Keeper (Khazad-dûm, 11).
Khazad-dûm introduces another card that clever players may use to find action advantage, Ever Onward (Khazad-dûm, 5). Certainly not the most glamorous of cards, Ever Onward may appear at first glance as though it’s merely a safety net. However, if you know you won’t fall deeper into threat by failing at your quest, Ever Onward can afford you a single turn in which for three-cost, all your characters remain ready to confront the enemies with which they are engaged, allowing you to withhold them from questing and assign them, instead, to defense and attack.
You can even find action advantage from cards that don’t provide you with extra actions but can let you “cheat” around the need to take actions. For example, Dúnhere (Core Set, 9) and Quick Strike (Core Set, 35) can let you attack enemies without first having to defend against them. They can save you the need to heal your characters later, prevent nasty shadow effects from resolving, and free you to focus on questing successfully.
Card advantage comes primarily in four forms. One is card draw. The more cards you can draw, the more options you hold in your hands. Another is subtler but no less effective, and that is the ability to do more with fewer cards. The final routes to card advantage are search and recursion.
There are only a handful of cards in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that accelerate card draw, and the best of them are ubiquitous among top players. Beravor (Core Set, 12) almost always receives the first copy (or two, or three) of Unexpected Courage when she’s present in the party. While it may seem like a waste of an action to exhaust her to draw cards rather than quest, defend, or attack, nothing could be further from the truth. Card draw is the backbone of versatility. The more cards you hold in your hand, the likelier you’ll be able to find the perfect response to any threat. Furthermore, if another of your heroes is a Protector of Lórien (Core Set, 70), you can convert Beravor’s card draw directly into extra Willpower toward the quest. Bilbo (The Hunt for Gollum, 1), Gléowine (Core Set, 62), and Ancient Mathom (A Journey to Rhosgobel, 56) also provide excellent card draw, as can Gandalf (Core Set, 73), when he isn’t busy wounding enemies or lowering your threat.
Gandalf’s versatility serves as an excellent illustration of the second type of card advantage. Not only is he a powerful ally with tremendous benefits while questing, defending, or attacking, but he also offers your party the pick of his three exceptional abilities whenever he comes into play. At five cost, he’s not cheap, but the combination of Gandalf andSneak Attack (Core Set, 23), both reduces the wizard’s cost and allows you to play him more times. This combination offers classic card advantage. Dwalin (Khazad-dûm, 1) offers similar card advantage with his ability to reduce your threat each time he defeats an Orc. The mines of Moria are filled with Orcs, after all, and if you can boost his strength, Dwalin can both clear away your enemies and control your threat, saving you a card slot you might otherwise spend onThe Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set, 46).
Finally, cards that search your deck, reorder the cards on top of your deck, or pull other cards out of your discard pile may not provide you with more options in your hand, but they may ensure you hold the right cards. Dwarven Tomb(Core Set, 53) can be as good as any Spirit card in your discard pile. Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil, 79) is good not only for his excellent statistics; his ability to manipulate the top three cards of your deck can help you find the cards you need earlier than you would otherwise. Gildor’s search ability can also ensure the success of your Zigil Miner (Khazad-dûm, 9), leading to rapid resource acceleration… a fundamental of deck-building.