Nov 23, 2015

LotR LCG: A solo interlude

One of the outstanding qualities of the Lord of the Rings living card game is how good solo play is. It adds a whole other dimension to the game and especially to deckbuilding: I normally play two-handed with a Tactics deck, but how the heck do I beat those enemies without Legolas, Boromir and the eagles? So in this post, I thought I'd talk about the solo gaming experience and how it's influenced my deckbuilding. I hope you'll forgive the utterly self-indulgent, thinking-out-loud nature of these posts; I was writing them as a form of therapy while slogging through the final stages of my master's thesis.


First, some bad news. Like I mentioned last time, I picked up Lost Realm on a lark, since I really like the setting and wanted something new to try out solo. The first quest, Intruders in Chetwood, is pretty straightforward: one quest stage, 30 progress, no engagement checks, raise your threat by one extra for each enemy in the staging area. So not only do you have to quest, you also have to either fight or manage your threat. Wait, did I say or? Silly me. You have to fight, because you can't win as long as any copies of Orc War Party are in play. As if that wasn't bad enough, over half the encounter cards have shadow effects, some of which are downright nasty, and many specifically punish chump blocking. Oh, and Orc War Party is immune to direct damage, so neither Descendant of Thorondor or Thalin can help us here, and can't have attachments, so no Forest Snare, either. You also can't really wait, either, because as soon as there are more enemies in the staging area, your threat will explode, and/or a horrible treachery will make them all attack you or something. The only thing you can do is straight up fight them, or if you can't, then I guess you can't beat this quest.

It's not just the Orc War Party, though: pretty much all the enemies are too much for my puny Spirit/Lore questing deck to handle. I took a couple of shots at this, but either my threat skyrocketed to 50 or my heroes died in combat. Two-handed attempts with my partner on Tactics didn't go one bit better. This game often walks the line between being highly challenging and maddeningly frustrating, and Intruders in Chetwood falls on the wrong side of that divide for me, so I gave up. There are some pretty good player cards - side quests are a great addition - but geez. Maybe we'll get back to Lost Realm one of these days, but for now, I'll just let it gather dust.

I strongly agree with the Dor Cuarthol blog:

That said, “Immune to Player Card Effects” is boring. It means that your only option is massed numbers, it means that all of the thought goes out of deck-tweaking, and you just need a Middle Earth version of Hulk Smash.

To me, this is true of all the restrictions on player card use, like no attachments or immune to player events or whatever. Sometimes they're thematically appropriate: you don't Forest Snare a Nazgûl, for instance, and the restrictions on the trolls in We Must Away worked brilliantly. I'm 100% in favor of restrictions on player card use if they make the gameplay experience more interesting. I'm absolutely against them if all they do is add a needless obstacle to using cards that you've paid money for, and stop you from thinking of clever ways to deal with enemies. To me, Orc War Party was an excellent example of the latter.

A large part of my disappointment is thematic. You've got the whole of Eriador to play with: Rangers, barrows, ruined kingdoms, the Witch-King, what have you, and what you came up with was "let's make them fight loads of orcs!" Brilliant. The other deluxe expansion we have is Khazad-dûm. So far, I've managed to beat the first quest solo, but I keep getting overrun by orcs in the second one. Given that it's Khazad-dûm, though, I don't really think I can complain: if I didn't want to be fighting orcs, why the hell did I buy a deluxe expansion set in Moria? I expected something a lot more interesting from Lost Realm, and it didn't deliver.


My first ever solo success with my current deck was, predictably, A Passage through Mirkwood. I've also managed to solo through Hunt for Gollum and Dead Marshes, but to be honest, these were all pretty easy (we're actually thinking about getting the nightmare decks). I feel that my first proper solo success was beating We Must Away and Over the Misty Mountains Grim, which I talked about earlier. It was while playing We Must Away that I first managed to lower my threat below 20, which gave me the idea of including Resourceful in my solo deck. I'm happy to report that the experiment was a success: in my second solo playthrough of Hills of Emyn Muil, I got my threat below 20 and managed to play Resourceful on Eleanor, who also had a Song of Wisdom at that point. To be fair, though, I blew through the quest so easily anyway that I can't really claim the extra resource made that much of a difference.

There's a decent post on Dor Cuarthol about solo play, which I pretty much agree with: the solo experience is different, at times much more difficult and frustrating, but also very satisfying. As I've said before, my feeling so far is that while multiplayer games obviously generate a lot more problems in staging, the fact that there are several players on hand to deal with them tends to more than make up for it, especially when players can tailor their decks to be more specialized than they could manage in solo. The solo experience tends to be much more random; even when something unexpectedly disastrous happens in multiplayer, the odds are that someone has something they can at least try, or at the very least some of the load can usually be shared. In solo, it's much more likely that there's simply nothing you can do.

The other major difference between solo play and multiplayer so far has been pace. Multiplayer games, at least with three or four players, rarely last a huge amount of turns in my experience; either you can deal with the deluge of encounter cards or you can't. At least for my deck, with a (comparatively, for non-Hobbit heroes) low starting threat and quite a bit of threat management, in many quests I can hang around for quite a while, getting all my allies and attachments and whatnot into play. In quests like We Must Away and Conflict at the Carrock, where hanging around is positively indicated, I can use the fantastic Henamarth Riversong to really manage my quest progress, and prepare properly for what's coming. By contrast, Henamarth's ability is dramatically less useful when there are three or four cards coming off the encounter deck every turn.

In my case, the biggest gameplay difference is definitely card draw. In a slower-paced solo game, I have several times drawn my entire deck with the help of Gléowine and Beravor. This was why I wanted to include Will of the West on my sideboard, and it's even made me contemplate ditching Gléowine from my solo deck. In multiplayer, not only are there less turns, but I also occasionally lend Beravor's and Gléowine's abilities to other, more draw-challenged decks, so far fewer cards pass through my hand.

The other key difference is that in solo play, secrecy becomes possible. Like I said, I've managed to get Resourceful in play already, and with some interesting encounter deck manipulation cards with secrecy in the Dwarrowdelf packs, I really might consider something along those lines for my solo deck. Out of the Wild is interesting, especially since Escape from Mount Gram but also on its own, and would combine nicely with Risk Some Light, while both that and Henamarth make Needful to Know a viable proposition.

As you can see, one of my problems is that I want my deck to be able to do everything and then some. But even if none of this secrecy/scrying stuff works out, it'll be good groundwork for a future Mirlonde/Rossiel Lore deck. A deck with Rossiel, Mirlonde and Beravor would have a starting threat of 23...


So, let's solo play! I started out by revisiting Passage through Mirkwood. Drew a good opening hand with Gandalf, Arwen, a Warden of Healing and Elrond's Counsel, meaning the Forest Spider wouldn't be coming at me just yet. Everyone except Eleanor quests, and Dol Guldur Orcs show up, doing two damage to Éowyn; they will be engaging us! Elrond's Counsel drops our threat and traveling to Old Forest Road readies Beravor; Eleanor defends the orcs easily with Arwen's bonus, and Beravor deals them two damage.

At this point, everything is more or less under control. On the second turn, I play the Warden and hang onto two Spirit resources. Éowyn and Arwen quest, revealing a King Spider, who exhausts the Warden of Healing. With an engagement cost of 20, the spider's coming for us as well, and at this point it's all we can do to defend both of them. Beravor defends the Dol Guldur Orcs, whose shadow card is... King Spider, which exhausts Eleanor. So now I'm taking the King Spider undefended. Its shadow card is Ungoliant's Spawn, which raises my threat by eight, and the attack does 3 damage to Beravor. The threat increase means I'm at 36 after this turn, so next turn the Forest Spider will be joining in as well.


Seriously though, this is why we play this game. Just like that, one of the easiest quests in the while game has left two of my heroes on the verge of death, and my party facing more enemies than we can defend.


In my opinion, there are two reasons to buy Over Hill and Under Hill: We Must Away is one of the best quests in the game, and you should never, ever leave home without OHaUH Gandalf. He will now save us.

Gandalf and Arwen quest, and we draw Mountains of Mirkwood. Gandalf, Eleanor and Beravor defend an enemy each, mercifully not taking any more damage, and Gandalf's questing left Éowyn free to use her massive attack of 1 to get rid of the Dol Guldur Orcs. Gandalf obviously sticks around, raising my threat uncomfortably high, but in two more turns there are no more spiders and we're happily making our way down Beorn's Path. Éowyn does manage to get Caught in a Web, vindicating my decision to bring along some Athelas, and soon enough we've made our way out of the woods.

Whew. That was a lot more nerve-racking than it should have been! I'm sure a nice, calming trip down the river will make everything better.


That's right, it's Anduin time. I feel like I've tried this quest solo a million times; only once did I get past the Hill Troll, and then I got swamped by the second stage. For a long time, beating Anduin solo looked damn near impossible. Hell, we couldn't even get anywhere three-handed at first. Now, though, having managed to scrape through Passage through Mirkwood by the skin of Gandalf's teeth, I'm giving it another shot.

None of my heroes can defend a Hill Troll even once without dying, so even if I'm going to use the time-honored tactic of Forest Snare, I need some help. Also, the troll's defence of 3 means it's going to take us a million years to get rid of him, snare or no, without Mirkwood Runner. Ideally, an opening hand would have a defence buff (Arwen or Protector of Lórien), Forest Snare and Mirkwood Runner.

Of these, all my opening hand has to offer is Arwen, but a copy of Elrond's Counsel means we'll have several turns to spend, hoping to catch at least Forest Snare. I probably should have gone for the mulligan, but I was tempted by the fact that I'd finally drawn a side quest, and didn't. It was my newest addition, too: Scout Ahead!

This is a brilliant card: not only does it let me see what's coming, I can get rid of an annoying enemy or treachery permanently. It's perfect here, since the Hill Troll means I'll end up stuck on the first stage of this quest longer than it would take me to muster up the progress to pass it anyway, so diverting some to a side quest is no loss. I played it straight away, along with Arwen, and got enough progress in on the first turn to clear it. The next cards in the encounter deck are Banks of the Anduin, Gladden Fields, Pursued by Shadow, Dol Guldur Beastmaster and Wargs. Guess which card I added to the victory display?

If you've ever played Journey Along the Anduin, I'll bet you did. Banks of the Anduin is a lovely location; Gladden Fields comes with victory points so I can't pick it anyway. Since I can set up Pursued by Shadow so that Eleanor can get rid of it without taking any chances, the choice came down to the Beastmaster and the Wargs. Even though two shadow cards can be trouble, his engagement threshold is 35, so I don't need to worry about him just yet. Honestly though, I didn't take too many seconds to think about this, because Wargs can be so incredibly annoying. And now there's only one of them left! This was a good start.

Knowing what was coming out of the encounter deck for at least the next three turns helped, and we not only cleared a couple of locations but also succeeded in drawing Forest Snare! It would hurt Beravor, but we were ready for the Troll.

Next turn, our questing cleared Banks of the Anduin, so we knew what shadow card the Troll would get, making this the perfect opportunity to engage it. Arwen's bonus raised Beravor's defence to 3, meaning she barely survived the Troll's attack. Next turn, we snared him! We started whittling away at the immobilized troll, fighting off some orcs as we did. Luckily, I got a Warden of Healing into play, as well as Henamarth and a Northern Tracker, essential for clearing locations away from the staging area. The attack of 2 helps quite a lot, too! A few turns more, and my Mirkwood Runner showed up, quickly finishing off the Troll.

For what it's worth, the second quest stage is actually much harder than the first. You reveal one extra encounter card in staging, and enemies don't make engagement checks, so you have to pull them out one by one. After our first staging, there were four enemies in the staging area: the Beastmaster, a Goblin Sniper, Wargs and some orcs. Enough threat was building up that it was Gandalf time again; we killed the orcs, got A Burning Brand on Beravor so she could defend the Beastmaster risk-free, and Gandalf and Elfhelm took him out. As soon as my Northern Tracker cleared out several locations, we waved goodbye to Gandalf; having him around had cost me a bunch of threat, but luck held and I drew both copies of The Galadhrim's Greeting, more than making up for it.

In fact, my threat was so low that when I hit the last quest stage and did the final staging of the quest, only the Wargs engaged me of their own accord! I had to engage both Eastern Crows in the staging area myself, and the damn Wargs took several attempts before they'd stay put. Only then could I finally engage the Goblin Sniper who'd kept my Warden of Healing permanently busy, and finish the quest.

That's right: I won! I still can't quite believe it. Again, Over Hill and Under Hill Gandalf popped by to act as a fourth hero for a couple of turns, and my threat-reducing cards certainly made life a lot easier. My latest additions were brilliant: the Warden of Healing made the Goblin Sniper little more than a nuisance, and Scout Ahead took a weight off my shoulders in the early going. I was lucky, too, drawing Marsh Adder, Chieftain Ufthak and the other Hill Troll as shadow cards. But still, before this it hadn't mattered one bit how lucky or unlucky I was as I'd always lost, and actually succeeding at a quest that I at one time thought would be impossible for this deck is a great feeling.


Since this troll-fighting thing seemed to suit my deck better than I'd anticipated, I also decided to take a shot at Conflict at the Carrock. To cut a long story short, I don't know how I could possibly do this solo thing without Henamarth. Knowing what's coming off the encounter deck almost feels like cheating! We had to tangle with a Hill Troll in the early going, but luckily Gandalf stopped by to deal him some direct damage, Protector of Lórien let me defend him and Gandalf's attack of 5 helped put him away expeditiously. The only real problem I had was that both of my copies of The Galadhrim's Greeting were stuck at the bottom of my deck, and since there was no way I was going to get those trolls in play before my threat was well under 34, we had to hang out on the first quest stage for quite a while.

Eventually I drew my entire damn deck, got my threat below 30, and off we went to fight the trolls! Since I had both copies of Forest Snare in my hand, I voluntarily engaged two of the monsters to snare them, leaving my Mirkwood Runners to whittle down their hit points. The next two we just fought straight up: with an attacking force of Beravor, Elfhelm, Haldir, a Northern Tracker, two Mirkwood Runners and both Éowyn and Henamarth or Eleanor chipping in, we can one-shot a Troll! Having done that twice, all that remained was finishing off the two snared trolls and we were done!

The best part of all this is that the only solo quest that I really got into any kind of trouble with was Passage through Mirkwood.


And as usual, my deck update. Despite my disappointment with Lost Realm, I did really like the idea of side quests, so I went and picked up The Wastes of Eriador when it came out, just so I could get a copy of the awesome Scout Ahead in my deck. It was also high time to upgrade my healing allies: although I quite like my Daughters of the Nimrodel, they have two major drawbacks: they can only heal heroes, and since they don't have the Healer trait, I can't attach Athelas to them. Both of these problems are easily fixed with The Long Dark from the Dwarrowdelf cycle, which includes three copies of Warden of Healing. I was also excited to include them for thematic reasons. I have one Rohan hero and several Rohan allies, one Dúnadan hero and several Dùnadan and related cards, and one Gondor hero - but no Gondor allies. Finally I can fix this!

Now that I've established my solo sideboard, i.e. the cards I swap in when playing solo, I can start making my deck a bit more specialized. Since my partner uses Legolas, preferably tricked out with one or more Blade of Gondolin, in quite a few quests we end up with no active location after the combat phase. I wanted to use Thror's Map to fix this, but the FAQ made that impossible by changing Thror's Map to a travel action. Boo! In my opinion, if this errata was prompted by players using Thror's Map to abuse Path of Need, surely that card could have been fixed instead. Another idea could have been to restrict Thror's Map to times when there is no active location.

One change I did make: I can't remember the last time I used Forest Snare in a multiplayer game. With Thalin a regular quester, I've been thinking about trying out Infighting to get rid of annoying Goblin Snipers and, Eru forbid, Hummerhorns, so maybe I'll make that swap and see how it goes.

The Amazons

52 cards: 26 Spirit, 21 Lore, 5 neutral; 3 heroes, 25 allies, 8 attachments, 14 events, 2 side quests


Allies: 25 (13/9/3)
Elfhelm (TDM) x2
Northern Tracker x2
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x2
Westfold Horse-Breaker (THfG) x2
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Haldir of Lórien (AJtR)
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Gléowine x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Henamarth Riversong
Gandalf (Core)
Gandalf (OHaUH) x2

Attachments: 8 (1/6/1)
Unexpected Courage
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Athelas (TLR) x2
Protector of Lórien x2
Song of Wisdom (CatC)

Events: 14 (10/4)
The Galadhrim's Greeting x2
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb
Hasty Stroke x2
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Infighting (AJtR) x2
Radagast's Cunning
Secret Paths

Side quests: 2 (1/1)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)
Gather Information (TLR)

Solo sideboard:
swap one Warden of Healing (TLD) for Resourceful (TWitW)
swap Gather Information (TLR) for Will of the West
swap Infighting (AJtR) x2 for Forest Snare x2


Next time, multiplayer mayhem in the mines of Moria!

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