Card Spotlight: Keeping Count
In this edition of Card Spotlight, I’ll be dissecting a card that is rich in theme but perhaps lacking in power: Keeping Count. For those of you relatively new to Tales from the Cards, I tend to pick cards to spotlight that are not traditionally considered to be among the most powerful in the game. Instead, I look for those that remain in the shadows or collecting dust in boxes and binders, seeking out the answer to that all-important question: Is this a coaster or a gem? Onto the card of the moment!
I really wanted to love Keeping Count from the first moment I laid eyes on it. Who hasn’t wanted to recreate Gimli and Legolas’ contest of one-upmanship in the field of baddie destruction? This card exists to satisfy that desire. In thematic terms, it’s right on the money. Keeping Count is a Tactics attachment that has the following card text:
Attached hero gets +1 attack for each resource token on another copy of Keeping Count that is above the current number of resource tokens on this card. Forced: After attached hero attacks and destroys an enemy, place 1 resource token on this card.
The idea behind this effect is that the hero who is behind in terms of how many enemies they have destroyed will gain a boost in attack strength, perhaps to represent the added determination and power given by wanting to win the contest. So, if say Gimli has 4 resources on his copy of Keeping Count because he has killed 4 enemies, and Legolas has only 1 resource on his copy of Keeping Counting because he has only felled a single foe, our intrepid Silvan (technically Sindar) hero would gain +3 to his attack (the difference between 4 and 1). Of course, the moment he kills a second monster, he would gain a 2nd resource token, thus reducing his attack bonus to +2. Again, thinking only about theme, I feel like this makes perfect sense and I love it in that respect.
However, this game is not won through theme alone. How does Keeping Count hold up as a player card, as an aid to victory? In order to answer that question, we have to cut through the tangle of text and boil this card down to its essence, comparing it to cards with similar effects currently in the card pool. Keeping Count is an attack-boosting card (what I sometimes refer to as an attack/hulking effect, because it causes a character to “hulk” out), albeit based on a unique mechanic. Once we look past this novelty, it becomes clear that the issue with this card is that there are an array of other effects that can boost attack far more consistently and with far less effort. For example, if you are running Dwarves, the 0-cost Tactics event, Khazad! Khazad!, can provide a +3 attack boost for free with no other cards required. There also are an array of weapons in the Tactics sphere that can consistently bolster a character’s attack without any dependency on what other characters are doing or how many enemies they’ve killed: Rivendell Blade, Dwarven Axe, Dwarrowdelf Axe, etc. These are essentially “plug and play” effects, whereas Keeping Count is more of a “plug, do a bunch of other stuff, then eventually play” effect. Beyond weapons, there’s also the option of the Leadership attachment Dunedain Mark, which gives you 1 attack for 1 resource). Beyond that, there’s the trio of events, For Gondor!, Blade Mastery, and Durin’s Song, that can provide a temporary attack boost (which is often what Keeping Count ends up being anyway).
I see at least three major problems with Keeping Count:
1) In order to be effective, it requires you to draw 2 copies, get both into play, and have one character kill a bunch of enemies. This all requires the luck of the draw and time. Of course, you can make your own luck by including plenty of card draw alongside Keeping Count, but the issue of time still remains. By the time you’ve gotten the Keeping Count machine rolling, the game may be almost over, and thus the utility of the card minimized. Ideally, you want your card effects getting into action as quickly as possible, thus increasing your power and improving your position within the first few turns, while Keeping Count requires you to increase your power and improve your position in order to get into action. In this way, it is a bit backwards. Just imagine this scenario: Boromir is tearing through enemies, and has killed 3 so far; it’s too bad your first copy of Keeping Count just showed up after those foes are already dead! Before I move past this particular point, I should also mention that luck of the draw applies to the encounter deck as well, because if you don’t draw enemies that can be quickly destroyed, then you won’t be able to accumulate tokens on Keeping Count.
2) It’s in the wrong sphere. Part of what makes Keeping Count feel a tad useless is that it is part of the Tactics sphere, which, as I already mentioned, has plenty of other options for attack boosting. Just imagine if Keeping Count was part of the Spirit or Lore sphere instead, which could benefit from any attack boosting effect, however convoluted. Granted, this would not make that much thematic sense, as both Gimli and Legolas, the inspirations for this effect, are part of Tactics, and the theme of the card revolves around killing enemies. Still, players might be willing to overlook the clunkiness of getting Keeping Count to work if it was the only game in town for their deck/sphere in terms of bolstering attack. It also makes sense as far as how the designers have approached the game so far, with cards that give a sphere access to effects that are usually the domain of other spheres having some substantial in-built limitations.
3) It doesn’t fit well into established roles and gameplay strategies. Of course, this is not an indictment in and of itself, as a well-designed card that messes with the ways players approach the game can be quite fun and interesting. However, Keeping Count just feels like a square orc fitting into a round cave. This is because ideally you’ll be throwing one copy of this card onto a hero who never kills enemies, likely one of your questers or defenders, and another copy on your primary attacker in order to maximize the bonus. Then you may eventually have a nice bonus on your questing/defending hero, but that character is probably one with a low starting attack (which is probably one of the reasons why it’s in that role in the first place), and can only be used once or twice at most, before it loses most of its value. How able you will be to use that attack windfall will depend on how able you are to do without that hero’s participation in its given role of questing or defending, which is thus dependent on readying effects, a solid stable of allies, or a penchant for risk-taking. There also is the additional problem, again having to do with time, that this bonus will probably be only be functional for this unlikely attacker towards the end of a game, when your position is either already so good that the boost from Keeping Count is marginal or so desperate that you will probably need that hero for their given role. Given this reality, Keeping Count is probably most useful for those quests that require a certain enemy to be destroyed, when you will just devote everyone to a huge attack at the end and every extra point of attack might be welcome.
Tallying up the balance sheet, the case for Keeping Count looks quite grim. The jury seems decided and the executioner is sharpening his axe. But wait, I believe that there is one possible use for Keeping Count, and it is the Heirs of Numenor expansion and the coming Against the Shadow cycle that have thrown it a possible lifeline. With the new battle mechanic that has been introduced, forcing players to quest with attack power instead of willpower (this also makes an appearance in the On the Doorstep expansion as well), there is a reason to boost a character’s attack that has nothing to do with combat or killing enemies. If you are facing a quest stage with battle, now it would make perfect sense to have a questing hero and an attacking hero paired together with Keeping Count, with the questing hero now benefitting from added attack strength in order to make progress. This means that Keeping Count could help them in their role, rather than distract them from it. Of course, if you are facing a quest that features battle, wouldn’t you just have a bunch of heroes with high attack strength anyway, thus rendering Keeping Count nice to have, but not necessary? Sure, this is possible, but many of the newest quests interchange battle stages with more traditional willpower stages (as well as siege stages). Having a collection of heroes with balanced stats is important, and Keeping Count may allow your traditional high willpower questing hero to excel at battle questing as well. For example, what if you put one copy of Keeping Count on Thalin and one copy on Bard the Bowman? Bard is always killing enemies, and happily piles up 3 tokens, while Thalin quests every single turn and has 0 token on his copy of Keeping Count. Suddenly, Thalin would be able to quest during battle stages for 5 instead of 2! Even better, one of the positives of Keeping Count that I haven’t mentioned, and I should emphasize in the interest of fairness, is that the bonus doesn’t just abruptly appear, it gradually strengthens with every enemy killed. This is a use of Keeping Count that I think is begging for some experimentation by brave souls.
Still, Tales from the Cards does not equivocate when it comes to our Card Spotlight verdicts, and there can be no middle ground. Unfortunately, I must relegate Keeping Count to the fate of protecting tables from condensation and frosty mugs containing refreshing beverages. In a Living Card Game, time will only tell if Keeping Count can reverse this fate one day. For the time being, there are just too many other cards that provide attack/hulking effects in a more consistent and timely fashion, and Keeping Count doesn’t do enough to justify being included over them. For that reason, I fear that it will only find its way into the decks of the most thematic-minded players.
What have your experiences with Keeping Count been, readers? Is there anyone out there who swears by this card? Any Keeping Count decks? Sound off below!