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The Black Riders Are Coming!

by on May 15, 2013

I’m positively giddy with the massive news being issued from FFG yesterday that there will be a brand new Saga Expansion, titled The Black Riders, released later this year, and it will cover the events of the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. Obviously this means that further Saga Expansions will be released, and one day, in the near future, we will get to take part in the battles at Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields, among other memorable moments. Since it’s always fun to pine and ponder over upcoming releases, here are my own personal thoughts, highlights and questions about The Black Riders.

How will the hide tests work and will they be as thematic and rewarding as they sound?black-rider

On the Black Rider card that was spoiled, we can see a brand new keyword, “Hide”, and the forced effect declares that a failed hide test will lead to an attack from this particular Nazgul. So the question is how exactly will this hide test work? In the past, we’ve had the escape test in The Dead Marshes scenario, which involved exhausting characters and comparing their willpower to the escape values on cards drawn from the encounter deck. We’ve also had a locate test in The Long Dark, which required you to discard cards from your hand in order to discard cards from the encounter deck in search of a “PASS” keyword. However, both The Dead Marshes and The Long Dark are often seen as being some of the weaker scenarios that have been released. Is this a coincidence or a direct result of mechanics that don’t quite resonate? More recent test attempts, like the riddle and burgle mechanics, have met mixed reviews as well. Hopefully, the hide tests in The Black Riders expansion end up being more fulfilling. What hampered those previous mechanics is that they added an extra layer of randomness that could only be controlled by players to a satisfying degree by building decks specifically to achieve success on those tests. It will be interesting to see how hiding plays out, and how the designers tackle this challenge.


Will Tom Bombadil show his face?

This particular expansion is probably the best chance we have to see Tom Bombadil (barring an Old Forest-themed AP or expansion in the future, which is not impossible). However, the announcement article seems to rule out any of the scenarios taking place in the Old Forest:

From Bag End, your heroes must help Frodo reach Buckland and cross at the ferry. Then, when spies cause trouble in Bree, your flight through the wilderness leads to a desperate confrontation at Weathertop. Should your heroes survive, they’ll have to race for the Ford of Bruinen and the safety of Rivendell.

From the above quote, it seems that the three scenarios will be: from Bag End to the ferry, from Bree to Weathertop, and from Weathertop to the Ford of Bruinen. So it seems unlikely that Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, and even the Barrow-downs will make an appearance. That is certainly a disappointment (in a joyous moment overall), but it is mitigated by my hunch that the heroes will have their own Barrow-downs adventure, with the possible assistance of Tom Bombadil, at some point in the future (you can always check out the custom quest, The Culling at the Barrow-downs, until then). Still, this does not mean that Bombadil can’t show up as an ally or event of some kind in The Black Riders, but the probability seems low at the moment.

How exactly will the Boons and Burdens in the new Campaign Mode be earned?

This is one of my favorite aspects of The Black Riders from what has been announced so far. I’ve been craving a greater sense of connection between quests and campaign mechanics of some kind for quite some time, and my prayers have been answered. The article hints that the Boons and Burdens will be assigned based on player decisions, but I’m wondering exactly what that will look like. Will there be different quest paths as we saw in Into Ithilien? Will there be different victory conditions like in The Watcher in the Water? Perhaps taking the easy route in a quest may come back to bite you later as you are forced to take a Burden. Such possibilities are compelling indeed. Of course, there is also the possibility that there may simply be a treachery card that says, “Attach Burden X to a hero of your choice”. I hope there’s not too much of that sort of thing. I’d rather it be based on player choice and strategy.

Who will be the fourth Hobbit hero?

The announcement article states that “…[i]n addition to the new Frodo Baggins, The Black Riders delivers four other Hobbit heroes”. If we take it for granted that all of the Hobbit party that leaves the Shire will participate as heroes, then we have Sam, Merry, and Pippin (a new version), in addition to Frodo, who will be a special hero like Bilbo in the Hobbit expansions. This leaves open the question of who the fourth Hobbit hero will be. My guess is Fredegar Bolger, a.k.a. Fatty Bolger, as although he did not leave the Shire with the others, he was part of the “conspiracy”, albeit in his own humble way. This would be a pretty amusing and entertaining option, as we get to play out an alternate story with Fatty Bolger tailing along with the gang. Now if only we could make him the ring-bearer…

Will secrecy make a return?take-no-notice

One aspect of the game that has been unsatisfactory to some players is that the secrecy concept was introduced and immediately forgotten before it could become quite viable. If it is ever going to make a re-appearance, it would need to take place in The Black Riders, with its focus on Hobbits, Rangers, and hiding. However, none of the spoiled cards have the secrecy keyword. My hunch is that secrecy will not show up again (at least not in this expansion). From what has been revealed so far, it seems that the designers are including secrecy-type cards without actually using the secrecy keyword. A good example is Take No Notice, which increases the engagement cost of an enemy and receives a discount based on the number of Hobbit and Ranger heroes you control.

Finally “surge” and “doomed” have met their match…sort of.

The One Ring has been revealed, as has the new expansion-specific Frodo Baggins. What is awesome about The One Ring, besides its mere existence, is that it can be exhausted by Frodo to shuffle a newly revealed card back into the encounter deck. Of course, you have to draw a new one to replace it, but this effect does completely ignore everything about the original card, including the dreaded “surge” and “doomed” keywords. Obviously, this does mean that you might draw the card again later or draw something worse now, but it is nice to have options. The article does hint, though, that bad things will come to those who use The One Ring too freely, as is only appropriate. I hope the designers don’t just simply throw “surge” onto everything that moves now that we have a single, limited, means of dealing with it!

 

All I can say to wrap up is that I couldn’t be more excited about The Black Riders than if Gandalf himself dropped it off at my door (ok, I probably would be more excited in that case). The future of this game looks bright, shiny, and full of promise. Readers, what are you most excited about? What questions and thoughts do you have about what has been spoiled so far?

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11 Comments
  1. Glaurung permalink

    On one card there was one more keyword Peril. What this can be??? Anyway i love BR and happy difficult is not going down since there is easy mode and future of the game looks good for me.
    Campaign mode also very good feature, 100%. FFG make a good job this time. HON was amazing new cycle start now and is really cool .BR also give us new level of the game. Good move FFG.

    • I absolutely agree. Campaign mode gives the hardcore players what we want, while easy mode provides a better introduction for new players, without having to resort to house rules.

  2. shipprekk permalink

    I share your concerns with “Hide”. I did kind of enjoy the “Locate” tests, because of their random nature. I enjoy those kind of controlled gambles; they remind me of the showdowns you experience in Texas Hold ‘Em, when the guys are circling the table like sharks with their hands held over their heads, waiting for just the right card. Somehow this was lost on me with the “Riddle” test. Those were just way too random and frustrating because you were losing so much of your deck. At least they provided some drama to the quests.

    One thing I will say, though, is that Caleb and co. seem to be making adjustments in the right way. This is the only non-video game I’ve followed very closely and it really seems like these guys care about making a good game and are going about it correctly. For example, their focus on storytelling and campaigns, I think, is a good move because it plays to the strengths of the game. They also seem to be moving away from poorly implemented mechanics like Secrecy. So, if my hunch is correct, then they’ve probably learnt their lessons and will do something fun with “Hide”.

    All in all, I’m pretty excited! I just hope the Saga Expansions remain few and far between. I like the new adventures too much!

    • Well said. The one thing that I would add is that Secrecy is only poorly implemented because they never fleshed it out. I really fell like with a few more key cards (Pippin looks like a good start), it absolutely could be a viable strategy. Furthermore, I argue that it *should* be made a viable strategy, not only because it fits so well thematically, but because I feel that having more than one way to win ultimately makes the game better.

      In any case, the recently announced changes are definitely encouraging. Building variable difficulty into the game may be less heralded, but is probably one of the most important of these decisions, as it provides an explicit path for new/casual players. I am likewise very excited to see what Caleb and co. have in store for the future.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        So far the game is very combat-focused, and combat is where a lot of the excitement comes from. I’m interested to see whether the designers can introduce new mechanics and make existing ones (like secrecy) feasible so that not only is it possible to avoid combat, but that it is actually entertaining to do so. This is the big challenge in my opinion.

  3. I try not to get too excited before I get more information. My excitement always seems to be lower after seeing the final product if I get excited early. I’m waiting before passing my judgement.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I don’t blame you for managing your expectations. Sometimes we build things up so much that they can’t possibly meet expectations.

  4. I’m pumped. The idea of finally playing a Hobbit deck excites the hell out of me. One of my favorite builds in Decipher’s LotR CCG was an elusive Hobbit deck, allowing you to sneak to victory. I truly hope such a build will exist in FFG LCG. It is risky and extremely fun to play.

    It is also exciting to see a campaign mode geared to playing the trilogy. There is much they can do with the game. Each of these Saga boxes all give us a unique experience, a memory in its own. I can only begin to imagine the memories to come. This is good stuff my friends.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yes, the campaign mode should be truly epic. If we get 2 boxes per book, 3 quests a piece, then we’re looking at around 18 scenarios for the whole trilogy. Now that would be an amazing play-through experience!

  5. legolas18 permalink

    I wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of a Old Forest/Barrow-Downs quest. It’s very unlikely, but it could make an appearance in the Buckland to Bree scenario. Although, that scenario will most likely deal with the hobbits trying to avoid the Black Rider… Oh well. It’s a small possibility, especially because the expansion itself is called “The Black Riders”, and the Old Forest part of the story doesn’t have any Black Riders, but there’s still a chance.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      True, it’s possible that one or two quest stages may cover the Barrow-Downs/Old Forest, but that might seem very rushed. We’ll have to see how it gets handled! By the time it comes out, we’ll know what the next cycle is, so let’s see if we get something Eriador-related.

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