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The Hobbit: On the Doorstep Review (Heroes)

by on March 5, 2013

The Hobbit: On the Doorstep, the second Saga Expansion released for LOTR LCG, has now been out for over a week. As I did for Heirs of Numenor, I’m going to be reviewing different aspects of the game in separate articles. First up, I’m going to reviewing what is always the most exciting part of any new release: the player cards. After that, I’ll give overall impressions about the scenarios themselves, including reflections on the overall theme and initial thoughts about strategy. Eventually, I may write individual strategic analyses for each quest, as I did for Peril in Pelargir, Into Ithilien, and Siege of Cair Andros. However, I’m still a bit undecided about this, as from my play experiences thus far, they are nowhere near the difficulty level of the Heirs of Numenor scenarios, and thus may not be as needed or useful for players. If anyone has any strong feelings about this one way or another, let me know in the comments.

So what can you expect to find once you get your hands on this expansion? There are three new scenarios, four new heroes (five if you count the new version of Bilbo), thirteen player cards (three copies each), and six new treasures to obtain. Overall, this is very good value for your money, but of course quantity does not always mean quality. How useful are the player cards in this expansion? How well do they stack up against cards released in recent expansions?

*I ended up being more long-winded about the heroes than I originally intended, so I decided to separate them into a stand-alone article.

Player Card Ratings

* As an initial disclaimer, be aware that this expansion and the player cards contained therein are laser-focused on Dwarves. If you are not interested in Dwarves or building Dwarf decks, then you will undoubtedly be a bit disappointed by these player cards. However, if you don’t mind using Dwarves, you will find that they have been improved even further, to almost insane levels. Personally, I am not quite sick of Dwarf decks yet, as I tend to switch between playing different types of decks quite often, so variety keeps them a bit fresh for me.

* As a second disclaimer, and I’ve said this before, but rating heroes is always a subjective exercise. I do it more for entertainment value than anything, and hopefully it provides a rough guide to utility.

HEROES

Balin – Leadership (9 threat, 2 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 4 hit points)

Balin may spend 1 resource to cancel a shadow effect, and thus is a walking Hasty Stroke. However, you do have to reveal a new shadow card to replace the one that was just cancelled. His ability echoes Eleanor’s treachery-balincancellation effect so closely that comparisons between the two heroes are almost inevitable. However, I would argue that there are important differences between the two that need to be considered. While Eleanor requires her to exhaust to use her ability, Balin only needs to pay a resource. In general, when it comes to heroes, I would rather have to pay a resource than exhaust in order to use an effect, as the latter is usually much more difficult to bear with action advantage in mind. With Balin being a part of the wealth-generating Leadership sphere, his ability becomes all that more painless to use as well. The other important difference is that while both abilities require a new card to be drawn, this does not have the same impact. While Eleanor cancels a “when revealed” effect on a treachery, and I do think this is a worthwhile ability in some instances, drawing a new encounter card means you will always have to contend with some new danger, whether another treachery or an enemy or location. Granted, every now and then you will get lucky and draw a treachery that doesn’t affect you, but in most cases the new card will have a gameplay impact. In Balin’s case, depending on the quest, there is a good chance that the new shadow card will not have an effect, as not every card contains a shadow. With this in mind, Balin’s ability is both easier and less costly (in the sense of action advantage) to trigger, and more reliable in producing a positive effect.

Still, is it a worthwhile inclusion when compared with all other possible hero choices? Yes. I have mentioned in other places that the two main areas of danger in the game are during staging and during the revealing of shadow cards. These are the places of uncertainty where your plans can and will go awry. Balin gives you a consistent and reliable way of dealing with shadows, as long as you have the resources to pay for it. There are other shadow canceling abilities of course: Hasty Stroke, A Burning Brand, Dunedain Watcher, and Dawn Take You All (two of which are part of Leadership itself). However, Balin has one big advantage over all of them: you do not need to draw any cards to have peace of mind. As long as he lives, you can count on being able to cancel shadows from start to finish, and that is not a small thing. Again, you do have to keep in mind, that a new shadow might be revealed that has an effect as well, so I would advise coupling Balin with other cancellation effects to have a redundancy system in place. Stats-wise, he is decent. With Dain, he becomes a 3 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense hero, which is quite respectable for only 9 threat. What I really like about Balin though, is that like Bifur, he is a Dwarf that can find a home in non-Dwarf decks.

Rating: ♦♦♦◊

Bard the Bowman – Tactics (11 threat, 2 willpower, 3 attack, 2 defense, 4 hit points)

Bard has the thematically-appropriate ranged trait, and when making such a ranged attack, subtracts 2 points of defense from the targeted enemy. In essence, he comes with a built-in Rivendell Blade that only activates when making a ranged attack. What does this mean? Well, one important consideration is that he loses a large measure of utility for those players who play a pure solo game (one-handed). How does he hold up in multi-player? I have put him into action and so far the results have been mixed. When another deck needs help, Bard really does shine. As long as the targeted enemy has more than 1 defense, Bard can hit them with the equivalent of 5 attack, which is huge. Loading Bard up with weapon attachments or even some of the Hobbit treasures can turn him into an absolute monster. However, if the other deck(s) in the game are able to deal with combat on their own, or most enemies are coming to attack the player controlling Bard anyway, then he becomes a rather generic hero. He still has a strong attack of 3 in regular combat, but at that point you might as well include Legolas instead, who also has 3 attack, and an ability that triggers even in non-ranged situations. I feel that Bard, as with other ranged characters, increases in utility the more players there are in the game. More players means more enemies potentially engaged with players, giving Bard more targets to shoot at. His base stats are high enough that, even if his ability is not seeing use, he can be rather flexible, participating competently in attack, defense, and even questing. Still, I feel that with other Tactics heroes being so useful, Bard can only justify inclusion if you are willing to build a ranged-focused strategy, and this includes devising the right synergy with any other deck(s) in play. I thought the Great Yew Bow would make Bard’s ability more flexible and powerful, however that new attachment can be very hit-or-miss, as I will discuss in the GYB entry.

Rating: ♦♦◊◊ (With more than 2 players – ♦♦♦◊)

Bombur – Lore (8 threat, 0 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points)

Bombur’s ability is odd, intriguing, and has generated a fair bit of rules discussion since he was first spoiled: “When counting the number of Dwarf characters you control, Bombur counts as two.” Of course, this fits bomburperfectly with his description in the book, when he was constantly asked to go solo or last while other Dwarves were paired up, thus figuratively counting for two. Jokes aside, is his ability any good? In order to figure that out, we need to be clear about which cards/abilities that Bombur actually counts for: Thorin’s extra resource, Ori’s extra card, and Erebor Battlemaster’s attack power (if I forgot any, give a holler). In addition, this expansion itself adds three new cards that depend on controlling at least five Dwarf characters: the Gloin, Bifur, and Dwalin allies that I will discuss in the other player cards article. Are these effects powerful enough to be worth including Bombur? In a word, yes. Ori’s power alone is one of the best and most consistent card draw effects in the game as long as you can get it going early (cue Bombur). The new Dwarven allies, particularly Gloin and Bifur provide additional resources and card draw with 5 Dwarf characters in play. The question is whether Bombur makes enough of a difference to justify his inclusion over other heroes. Dwarf decks work exponentially and so the sooner you can get them going, the more advantageous the power curve. With Bombur and two other Dwarf heroes, you only need to put one Dwarf ally into play on the first turn to immediately reap the five Dwarf bonuses, which is made fairly elementary with the 1-cost Erebor Record Keepers that are part of the Lore sphere (as well as a mulligan to make sure you can play and pay for at least one Dwarf right off the bat). Without Bombur, if you have three Dwarf heroes, you need to put two Dwarf allies into play to reach the magic number of five. With a good draw, or with a Kili or Fili in an opening hand, I have made this happen on turn one in several times. However, most often you get the five Dwarf machine rolling on turn two. So, on average, Bombur gets things going one turn faster than they would without him. With 2 defense, 5 hit points, and access to A Burning Brand, Bombur can also serve as a competent defender. I would argue that Bombur’s utility is heavily quest-dependent. For scenarios that eat up allies quickly or need decks to ramp up on the very first turn (Massing at Osgiliath, Shadow and Flame, Heirs of Numenor quests, etc.), Bombur can prove key in making sure that the Dwarf bonuses are always in operation and that no time is wasted. On the other hand, well-built Dwarf decks can explode quickly, even without Bombur’s help, and therefore against most quests there are probably other Dwarven heroes that could prove more useful.

Rating: ♦♦◊◊

Oin – Spirit (8 threat, 2 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defense, 4 hit points)

The final member of Thorin’s company to receive a card, Oin is the first hero to have a built-in dual-sphere capability (leaving aside Elrond’s ability to pay for allies from other spheres). If you control five Dwarf characters or more, Oin gains a Tactics icon and a +1 bonus to attack. Thus, Oin, if paired with Lore and Leadership Dwarf heroes, could give a single deck access to all four spheres without the necessity of attachments like Narvi’s Belt or songs. In addition, Oin allows you to easily splash into a Dwarf deck just a few key Tactics cards, like Feint or weapons attachments, without having to make a bigger commitment to the red sphere. If you instead want to use Oin more conventionally, say in a Tactics/Spirit combination, he can then generate resources for both spheres. Abilities aside, let’s talk about his stats. With Dain in play and 5 Dwarf characters, Oin is a 3 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defense hero, which is nigh-Glorfindel like (only missing 1 hit point), for only 8 threat! The key is that you have to be willing to tailor a deck around Oin in order to get the most out of him. You can’t just throw him into any deck and expect him to carry his weight. As always, it’s important to compare a hero to his counterparts in the same sphere. For Spirit, there are only two other Dwarf heroes: Dwalin and Nori. Dwalin is an extremely situational hero that only finds true worth in quests with a multitude of orcs (the Battle of Five Armies in this box is actually a good example of prime Dwalin fodder), and this means it is great to have another Spirit Dwarf option for those non-orc scenarios. Nori is extremely useful in Dwarf decks to manage threat, and has decent stats (2 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense), only made better with Dain (3 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense). Which one you use will largely depend on the needs of your deck, the quest, and any other players/decks. Oin is the better attacker and gives you access to Tactics, while Nori is the better defender (both can be strong questers). The bottom line is that if you don’t need the extra Tactics icon, then Nori is probably the better choice (don’t forger that Oin is one less threat, however).

Rating: ♦♦♦◊

 

Join TftC next time for a review of the rest of the player cards in The Hobbit: On the Doorstep!

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11 Comments
  1. shipprekk permalink

    I was really, really impressed with Bard when we played yesterday, but I could see his value diminishing solo or in a two-player game.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, in a 4-player game, he was awesome. That’s what opened my eyes to how much better he is with a bunch of players in the game, especially when you throw those attachments on him.

  2. Do you use these characters in non-Hobbit quests? I haven’t yet, but that is all I’ve done with my first Hobbit set was look at the cards and then pack it away. Since I’m becoming more and more of a Galadriel-type character (i.e. theme means a lot to me), I have trouble taking these Heroes out of their context and playing them in other quests where they wouldn’t have been available, either because they died (Thorin) or were human.

    • if I could edit my comment, the second sentence would read: “…that is *because* all I’ve done…”

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I have used them in non-Hobbit quests. Generally, I tend to play a little bit loose with the timeline, like having Aragorn be part of the Battle of Lake-Town or Frodo taking part in battles over in Gondor! I could definitely see how this would be uncomfortable for more thematic players. I wouldn’t say I’m a power gamer but I’m also not married to theme either. One of my favorite things is to try to come up with some alternate universe explanation of why these characters are not where they should be. I do draw the line on the most egregious examples though. Like I would have trouble bringing Balin into the Khazad-Dum quests to find out what happened to himself!

      • That is like my refusal to give Gimli the Steward of Gondor. As much as that would be great for my deck, since I only have him as my lone Tactics hero, having a Dwarf as a Gondorian Steward is just plain wrong. *grin*

        • Steward of Gondor should really be “attach to a Gondor hero” and not attached hero gains “Gondor”

  3. legolas18 permalink

    Great article. I’m not really sure why, but I’m oddly drawn to using Oin… I have a feeling that he will be used a lot in my decks in the future. I also like Balin. His ability is priceless, much better than Eleanor’s in my opinion. You could use Steward of Gondor to give him two resources right before combat, and then if his ability draws another shadow card, he can just cancel it again.
    As for writing an article on all the quests, I would definitely read it, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary like Heirs of Numenor was.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Balin + Steward was pretty key for me against Lake-Town, and I imagine it would be so in many other quests as well. I forgot to mention it in the article, but there is a limit on Balin’s ability in that he can only use it once per attack. So whatever you draw for the next shadow card you have to accept, unless you have some other means to cancel it. This is why I would only save Balin’s ability for shadows I truly can’t live with, because the worst feeling would be drawing something even more horrible! However, what is nice is that it’s not a limit once per phase, so he could theoretically use his ability for every attack if you have the resources.

  4. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Man there are a lot of really interesting dwarf heroes! It seems most of them are pretty solid but I find it hard to see most as being much better than others. Bombur is definitely useful, but picking him over the other dozen dwarf heroes seems unlikely, and as you say, dwalin is very situational. I find card draw and threat reduction are ALWAYS the best options and so it is a shoe in for Dain, nori, and ori. I know it depends on the deck. It would be cool and I think possible to have 4 players with all dwarf heavy decks and all dwarf heroes.

    I love Bard, and enjoyed the article you had on him. I think ranged is so necessary, as you can pick a target to team up on, or always have a target somewhere on the table. Love ranged, and he is very good I think.

    Balin’s shadow canceling is pretty interesting, and you are correct, about those being the 3 most dangerous times, but interestingly enough, the last 2 Heirs of Numenor quests (especially Seige of Cairo Andros) the biggest problem are the shadow effects, but because of the sheer quantity in caire, it is almost useless to play him.

    Thanks again!

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