A Look Into Middle-Earth’s Arsenal: Part One
Although Lore has recently grown to be my favorite sphere, I still maintain a very healthy love for Tactics. There are few things I love more in this game than the feeling of discarding an enemy off the table after I have laid down a savage beating. Recently, I was reminded of my affection for all things combat-related when I went back into Moria for a few replays of the Shadow and Flame scenario. Piling as many damage tokens as I could on the Balrog in one turn became a sort of mini-game, and I cackled with glee when I pushed him into the Dark Pit with 0 hit points remaining (so I imagine it was probably just a light breeze that blew him over the edge), thanks in large part to Spirit Glorfindel and a Rivendell Blade. What this whole experience got me thinking about is that it was really the shiny and glorious weapons and armor of Tactics that first attracted me to that sphere. Yet they are an aspect of the game that seem very obvious in their uses, and not really strong material for thinking about synergy and combos. In this 3-part series of articles, I will debunk that myth, as we take a look into Middle-Earth’s arsenal and evaluate the weapons and armor that currently exist within the game, looking for both basic and advanced applications for players to enjoy. This is not going to be a top 5 list, as the utility of each item really comes from how you use it and what kind of cards you are going to include with it. Instead, its a matter of thinking about the strengths of each item, and how they can work with other cards to best effect. In this first part, we will look at the Blade of Gondolin and Dwarrowdelf Axe.
* Blade of Gondolin
The Blade of Gondolin is one of the original weapons included with the Core Set, and saw massive play in the early days of the game in many player’s decks. However, despite being overshadowed by some of the newer toys that have come out since then, its utility hasn’t really diminished with the passage of time. There are two aspects to the Blade of Gondolin:
1) It gives you +1 attack against all Orc enemies.
2) It helps you progress through quests by adding a progress token whenever you kill an enemy.
Basic applications: The Blade of Gondolin is obviously really handy for quests that you know are going to involve lots of orc enemies. So, for example, the Khazad Dum scenarios are fodder for this weapon, because not only does it give you +1 attack against the majority of enemies in those quests, but since most of those enemies only have 2 hit points, it is really easy to destroy them and make quest progress using the Blade’s second ability. With that in mind, quests that don’t include orcs lessen the utility of the Blade a bit, but the real appeal of this weapon has always been the extra progress tokens it contributes. What should really give you pause in including the Blade of Gondolin is if you are facing a quest that either doesn’t include many enemies or features enemies with high hit point values. If only a few enemies are felled by the Blade in the course of a quest, then it doesn’t reach its full potential. Still, at a low, low cost of 1, it usually gives you value back pretty quickly.
Who to use it with: You can attach the Blade of Gondolin to any hero that is filling the attacker role for you, and be thankful for the progress tokens that trickle in whenever he or she takes out an enemy. On the other hand, you can specifically focus your attention on transforming that Blade-wielding hero into a questing engine. This can be especially invaluable for the Tactics sphere, which usually can’t contribute as much as other spheres when it comes to questing progress (in the pre-Heirs of Numenor days anyway). The classic combo in the Core Set days was to attach a pair of Blade of Gondolins to Legolas, with the upshot that each enemy he destroyed would yield a whopping 4 progress tokens. Even better, there is a little wrinkle to the rules with the upside that the progress tokens from this combo don’t take effect all at once, but as separate actions. So if the 2 progress tokens from Legolas’ character ability send you through to the next quest stage, the tokens from the Blades will go on that next stage instead of being lost (which would happen if they were just lumped with Legolas’ ability). There are other great potential recipients of the Blade of Gondolin other than Legolas. Tactics Boromir, with his ability to ready as much as he wants (as long as you are willing to eat the threat), can kill multiple enemies in one turn, thus contributing hefty amounts of progress. To take one example, if Boromir had two Blades of Gondolin equipped, and killed 3 enemies during one combat phase, he would be putting a massive 6 progress tokens on the quest (or active location). Gimli can also use the Blade of Gondolin to great effect, as his high attack value (once you put damage on him) means he can kill more enemies than most other heroes, but you will need some way to ready him to get the maximum benefit. Dunhere is a bit of a different option, allowing you to use the Blade against enemies in the staging area, and perhaps adding a little extra boost to an already questing-savvy Spirit deck. Dwalin is a hero that synergizes very well with this weapon. Since his ability (reduces threat by 2 every time he kills an orc enemy) relies on consistently killing orcs, you might as well give him a tool to make it happen more quickly, and receive an additional bonus while he’s doing it. Finally, I would recommend that any hero with ranged is a good candidate for the Blade of Gondolin, as that ability gives them more potential targets (of course this is moot in a pure solo game).
Advanced applications: The Blade of Gondolin can also be used strategically as a form of location management. You can travel to a location that only needs 1 or 2 progress tokens to clear, knowing that in the combat phase you will be able to explore it fully by killing an enemy using the Blade of Gondolin. This can be valuable for those locations with nasty effects while they are the active location, such as raising your threat by additional amounts at the end of the round or preventing you from playing cards. The Blade allows you to essentially sneak past those effects by exploring the location before it can do its dirty work, whereas normally there is a lag between making a location active and being able to clear it on the next turn during the quest phase. One of my favorite uses of the Blade of Gondolin is to control exactly when you progress to the next quest stage. If you can strategically quest just enough to come 1 or 2 (depending on how many Blades you have) progress tokens shy of advancing to the next stage, and there is a killable enemy on the board, then you can postpone moving on until the combat phase (or a phase of your choice if you have Quick Strike). You would be surprised at how often this has proved useful in my games. When the next quest stage has a troubling “when revealed” effect that you need to plan carefully for, using the Blade of Gondolin as a pacing tool can help you to deal with the consequences of advancement only when you are truly prepared. For example, many questing stages involve revealing cards or enemies to the staging area. The Blade of Gondolin gives you the option of having those cards or enemies revealed after the encounter phase of a turn, instead of before it, potentially preventing a horde of monsters from swarming you all at once. Another example is quest stage 3B from the Into the Pit scenario, which prevents players from collecting resources during the planning phase. With the Blade, you can sit just shy of advancement on quest stage 2B, collect your resources as normal, then play Quick Strike to kill off an enemy using this weapon, advancing to quest stage 3B. If you are able to muster enough willpower, you could possibly blow through this stage before you ever reach another planning phase, completely avoiding the resource drain. By contrast, the normal turn sequence would mean you advance to quest stage 3B during the quest phase of one turn, forcing you to wait until the quest phase of the following turn to make progress, thus ensuring that you would be unable to collect resources for at least one planning phase. Hopefully these examples demonstrate the rich potential of the Blade of Gondolin as a tool for skillfully controlling the pace with which you move through quest stages.
* Dwarrowdelf Axe
The Dwarrowdelf Axe has a racial limitation, in that only Dwarves can use it. Like the Blade of Gondolin, it has two separate effects:
2) After the character with a Dwarrowdelf Axe attacks, an automatic 1 damage is applied to the defending enemy.
Basic applications: Dwarrowdelf Axe is one of the more straightforward weapons regarding its uses (especially compared to the Blade of Gondolin). It helps the character it is attached to kill enemies more quickly and easily. The automatic damage is quite useful in that it completely ignores the defense of an enemy. So the wielder of the Dwarrowdelf Axe can attack an enemy that it cannot damage normally and still inflict 1 damage on it. Granted, enemies with high defense values usually have high hit points as well, so that this strategy has limited utility. However, it can come handy in certain instances where you are just interested in slowly whittling down a big baddie or if you are only one damage away from killing something and the Dwarrowdelf Axe can finish it off without you having to devote a bunch of other characters to help overcome a high defense value. Both of the aforementioned strategies become even more viable if you are able to attach 2 Dwarrowdelf Axes to the same character, as they will be able to deal 2 damage automatically every time they attack. Finally, don’t forget that with the new battle mechanics introduced by the Heirs of Numenor box, the Dwarrowdelf Axe gives you a consistent bonus to questing as well.
Who to use it with: The important thing to note is that the Dwarrowdelf Axe can be attached to any Dwarf “character”, meaning that Dwarven allies are fair game in addition to heroes. This will come into play when we discuss some of the advanced applications of this weapon. Assuming you will be using it with a hero, however, Gimli is an obvious choice, as he will likely be your heavy-hitter and damage-dealer anyway, so you might as well beef him up to even more ridiculous levels. Dwalin is another good candidate for pretty much the same reasons I mentioned previously regarding the Blade of Gondolin. Finally, throw the Dwarrowdelf Axe on Thorin Oakenshield and he becomes a 4 attack combat powerhouse.
Advanced applications: In general, it is better to put weapons and attachments on heroes, even when you have the option to put them on other characters, because allies tend to die too quickly, cheating you out of the some of the value of the weapon that you just paid for (and discarding the attachment as well). However, giving a Dwarrowdelf Axe to an ally is an intriguing possibility that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Obviously you are going to want to give it to an ally whose role is pure attack; there’s no point wasting it on someone who will be exhausted to quest or defend. With this in mind, the Erebor Battle Master seems a perfect fit for the Axe. His only job in life is to tear through enemies, and his ability (+1 attack for each other Dwarf character you control) would be supplemented by this weapon. The other strong candidate is the Veteran of Nanduhirion. He does not have any special abilities (other than starting with 1 damage already on him, leaving 2 hit points), but his base attack of 3 would be boosted by the Dwarrowdelf Axe to an amazing attack of 4. This is a level of combat ability that could see him acting as almost a fourth hero when it comes to battle. You could also attach the Axe to an ally with a more moderate attack of 2, such as Tactics Bofur, and then use that character to take out smaller enemies, keeping your big hitters free to deal with the tougher foes. The fact that Bofur has an ability that allows him to fetch attachments makes him ideally suited for this task as well. Overall, I would still prefer to attach this weapon to a hero, if only to make sure I get maximum value out of it. A second copy on the same hero is also incredibly tempting as it could lead to some intriguing combos with that now 2 automatic damage with each attack. However, after that first copy, placing subsequent copies on allies like the Battle Master or Veteran could be a great option, especially since the cost of 1 is very reasonable. If you do go with this strategy, you should have cards that fetch attachments from the discard pile, like Erebor Hammersmith or Second Breakfast, so you can bring the Axe back even if the ally holding it gets killed.
Beyond using allies, what are some other advanced applications of the Dwarrowdelf Axe? This weapon combines well with other direct damage effects in the game. It works particularly well with Thalin’s special ability (he deals 1 damage to each revealed enemy while committed to a quest). You don’t want the Axe on Thalin, as he is almost always involved in questing and not combat, but when the 1 damage he provides is combined together with the 1 damage provided by the Dwarrowdelf Axe, that’s an automatic 2 damage on every enemy. If you have Thalin, a defender with the Spear of the Citadel (1 damage to the enemy when the hero holding it is declared as a defender), and the Dwarrowdelf Axe in play, that’s an automatic 3 damage! Just to chain this combo out to ridiculous proportions, playing a Swift Strike (when a defender is declared, the enemy takes 2 damage) on top of these other cards would mean 5 damage total, which would kill most enemies. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to get all of these cards in play all the time, but because weapons are attachments that stay in play, Thalin + a character with Dwarrowdelf Axe + a defender with Spear of the Citadel is a very easily achieved set-up that essentially guarantees 3 points of direct damage per turn. Using Tactics Bofur in your deck ensures that the weapons you need for this combo come into play quicker and more consistently as well. The larger point to take away from this discussion is that Dwarrowdelf Axe works very well with decks that are focused around direct damage, including certain cards that I didn’t even get around to mentioning like Gondorian Spearman and Descendant of Thorondor. And again, if you get two Dwarrowdelf Axes in play, especially on one character, all of these effects and synergies are intensified even more. To conclude, I want to emphasize that what makes the Dwarrowdelf Axe special as a weapon is not that it can make a strong warrior even better, because most weapons in the game can do the same thing. What makes it truly unique is the potential to change attack patterns so that one hero or ally can take an enemy out all by himself, whether killing a medium-sized foe in one turn through combining with other direct damage effects or handling a huge adversary single-handedly over the course of several rounds. Just realizing that a dual Axe-wielding Thorin Oakenshield could take down a Mumak in four turns (the quickest time that is possible) without having to devote any other character to that endeavour gives you a sense of the possibilities.
◊ A note on timing and the Dwarrowdelf Axe: The wording of the Axe leaves it unclear as to when exactly the 1 point of damage is placed on the enemy. There have been several debates on various forums as to whether the damage is placed when the attacker is declared, sometime during the attack, or after the attack resolves. I have not found any definitive conclusion. If any reader out there can point me to an official ruling, I’d much appreciate it. For now, I believe that the point of direct damage is placed after the attack resolves. I base this on the FAQ entry regarding similarly worded enemy effects:
Q: When do “after this enemy attacks” Forced effects
like those on Chieftan Ufthak (CORE 90) and Wargs
(CORE 85) resolve?
A: These effects resolve immediately after step 4 of
enemy attack resolution.
Since this applies to enemy attacks, I see no reason why it should not apply to player card effects as well. Since step 4 of enemy attacks is resolving damage, I feel relatively certain that the direct damage for the Dwarrowdelf Axe should be placed right after determining and placing the normal damage caused by the character’s attack. ◊
With that, we will conclude Part 1 of A Look into Middle-Earth’s Arsenal. Next up will be the weapons of Elrond’s folk: the Rivendell Blade and Rivendell Bow. Until then, keep your blades sharp and your axes notched.