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Competitor’s Corner #1: Introduction

by on July 1, 2013

Editor’s Note: As a passionate fan of the game, and as someone who really enjoys contributing to the community around it, I’m always looking to add more content to Tales from the Cards. I am therefore extremely thrilled to, for the first time, provide a space for another writer to contribute content for loyal TftC readers to enjoy. With Competitor’s Corner, IshallcalluSting (you may call him Sting for short) is tackling an area of the game that I probably wouldn’t touch, and I think the site will be all the richer for it. 

                                                                                    -Ian-

Motivations: Why do you play?

Hello all, my name is IshallcalluSting. LOTR LCG just happens to be my favorite game, and I would like to help build the community that surrounds it. For this reason, I have decided to join in with all the fun on this particular website and compose a regular blog series. Hopefully, this article will be the first of many.

This site already features so many interesting topics and well written posts; my personal favorite is 5 Things I Wish I Would’ve Known When I Started Playing LOTR LCG. Needless to say, it was a challenge to add to the mix, but I decided to focus on something a little different, something my own, something unique. That is why this article, and those to follow, are focused on something rarely discussed. I would like to explore the competitive tournament mode of LOTR LCG.

As most of you know, FFG just released a set of official tournament rules in which teams will race each other to the finish line. Winning is almost entirely based on who ends the game in the fewest turns, and scoring only really matters if both teams finish in a tie. For those of you who aren’t already familiar, the link is found on the games support page here (look under “other rules”).

Now, I have to be honest, I have my doubts about LOTR becoming a regular fixture in tournaments. I think that the game is fundamentally cooperative and therefore non-competitive. The reason I love to play is because it gives me a break from competition and allows space for constructive communication with my other gamer buddies. That’s why co-op is my favorite game format. Trying to turn that unique cooperative experience into a race and thus make it competitive feels forced and inauthentic. I just don’t think it will work. Even if it does work, the format will probably be plagued with mirror matches that come down to the luck of the draw 90% of the time, which doesn’t sound very fun.

Apparently, I am not alone in my feelings because when FFG announced the tournament rules they made a point of stressing that the game was NOT going in a competitive direction. I was happy to hear that. I suspect many agree with me. Now that I have said my peace, however, I am going to ignore all of those legitimate doubts and willfully embrace the competitive format because it provides an opportunity to play the game from a different perspective. It gives the fans like me a chance to flex some different mental muscles. I’m going to explain what I mean by that, but first, let’s unpack tournament mode a little further.

The Bigger Picture

To understand why FFG did this, we have to take a step back and look at gaming in general. Why do people game? Believe it or not, I have studied that very topic quite extensively and read several books on the subject (like this one). Allow me to give you a little insight. Hopefully, you find it interesting.

Games are a pastime in which people make choices and role play. Games are extremely similar to puzzles. Essentially, we humans like to waste our free time trying to gather information in order to solve some arbitrary problem that we have imagined for ourselves. This means that the primary motivations for playing are entertainment and accomplishment. Different people will gravitate toward different aspects of the gaming experience. Some like puzzle solving, others like role playing, and others like to compete.

Game designer Mark Rosewater, of the Magic the Gathering fame, divides people into four styles Timmy, Johnny, Spike, and Vorthos (you can find the article here).

To put it in my own words, I would say that the four types are:

  • The Competitor: Pretty straightforward, this guy wants to win. He doesn’t care about theme or making sure that the character mix makes sense in the story. He tends to approach learning the rules like a lawyer learns the law, wanting to master tiny details in how the game is conducted to build many small advantages.
  • The Artist: This guy sees games as an opportunity for self-expression. Winning often takes a backseat to winning with style. This is the kind of guy who would feel dirty if he copied a deck-list off the internet. He has to do his own thing. This type learns a lot about the kind of rules that fit his set of interests, often searching for hidden synergies.
  • The Buddy: This guy is a social and casual gamer who likes playing games when everyone is having fun. Winning takes a backseat to seeing cool things happen and reaching other goals (like pulling off a sweet combo). This is the kind of player who gravitates away from cheap efficient cards and prefers huge awesome effects.
  • The Collector: The collector type is more common among collecting card games rather than living card games (in living card games there are no random packs—thank you very much) but there is still that element.

A while back, FFG gave their own take on these different player motivations. I disagree slightly with their take, because Pippin and Bilbo do not neatly line up with Buddy or Artist. I would say something like Boromir = Competitor (we can all agree on that), Frodo = Artist (because he has to be his own Hobbit and do things his own way), and Sam = Buddy (doesn’t need to be the star as long as everyone is in their place doing their job). Anyway, these things are always so debatable.

Here is the point: FFG wants to sell more copies of its game. In order to do that it has to appeal to as many different types of people as possible. Right now the game is great for expressive types and casual fun types, but currently it has no appeal at all for competitive types. Unfortunately, it is the competitive types that tend to really drive popularity and sales. The “winners” tend to set the trends and then the other groups follow because they want to participate (even if they don’t win) in their own unique way. I, myself, tend to fall into the artist/competitor hybrid. Winning makes the game more fun, but I still want to win in some way that nobody else has found.

Why do you like to play? I would love to see some comments on this.

Let’s look at it from another angle. In deck building games—like LOTR—there tend to be roughly three main archetypes of decks: aggressive decks, control decks, and combination decks. The aggro deck tries to win as quickly as possible by controlling tempo (roughly, being faster than the other guy). The control deck doesn’t just try to win; it tries to dominate and suffocate its opponent to death while denying them any action. The combo deck tries to win by utilizing synergy between cards to create ridiculously powerful effects. The balance between these deck types creates a metagame as players try to figure out which type of deck is the king of the mountain and which type of deck is the paper to everyone’s rock.

That all gets thrown out the window in a cooperative living card game. We can have those kinds of decks, but we have to completely rethink our approach to the metagame. No deck I build can ever effect what you are doing, unless perhaps it inspires you to copy me. I can’t ever go into a tournament for LOTR and say, “Well my spirit/lore deck was mopping up, but then I ran into a guy who was running  ‘mono lore control’ and that is just a bad race for me.” There is no context in which a compelling balance between types of decks can arise. We don’t fight each other; we fight the quests. There are decks that beat quests and there are decks that don’t. In order for the metagame deck landscape to evolve, the quests have to evolve. We see that happening with the coming of Heirs Of Numenor, yet FFG is trying to figure out more ways to do that, especially in a way that appeals to those players who want something more like a conventional competitive community.

It’s an interesting challenge. How would you tackle this issue?

One could argue that the tournament rules actually restrict the styles of play because it forces everyone to go aggro style. Yet I am not going to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to say that right now there is no real incentive to play aggro. The closest thing is the scoring system, but that is more self-measurement then true competition, and it only means something if you want it to. I mean, if my Dwarf secrecy deck wins on turn 10 or turn 60, who really cares? That is especially true if the deck wins every single quest with a final threat level of 0. I am more satisfied by that achievement than a low score, but maybe that is just me. In any event, embracing the tournament style gives me a much stronger reason to go aggro. Anybody with me?

The Challenge

I am going to be exploring these types of topics with more detail in articles to come, but for now I want to give you the first competitive challenge. I made the choice to go for an aggro style of deck design, in which the single most important goal was to beat quests on the earliest possible turn. I wanted to embrace my inner Spike and act like I was training for a tournament. I started with the quest “Hunt for Gollum”, because it is so darn easy. I experimented with tons of deck lists and styles until I found something that could really hum. With that deck I was able to win every game (5 total) on an average of turn 6. Three of my games ended on turn 5, one on turn 9 and my fastest win was turn 4. Next week I am going to tell you all about it. First, however, I want to see what you can do.

Here is the challenge. Build a better deck.

Here are the rules. It has to be tournament legal. It has to be a solo deck. Other quests are totally irrelevant. If the deck loses to every other quest but can beat “Hunt for Gollum” on turn 3—cool. Later I will give you challenges with teams and larger quest pools. For now, let’s start simple. Most importantly, you have to track your turns and submit a written battle report of your fastest game. We are on the honor system here, so don’t ruin it by stacking the deck(s). I look forward to reading your battle reports, and next week I will comment on some of the better ones I read, so get them in early. Any other questions or comments you have, leave them below.

That about wraps it up 🙂

Until next time, delight yourself in the slaying of spiders,

IshallcalluSting

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20 Comments
  1. scwont permalink

    I was very skeptical about competitive play for this game, and had never even bothered keeping score of any of my games, but a couple of months ago an online tournament was held using OCTGN and I decided to bite the bullet and participate. it was held under slightly different rules than the official ones, mainly due to the quirks of online play as opposed to face to face. Coincidentally (or not?) the scenario for round 1 was Hunt for Gollum. Warning – may contain strategy spoilers:

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/958359/lotrlcg-via-octgn-solo-tournament-2013-underway

    I believe the lowest score in the tournament was 72. (I won’t reveal which deck managed that!)

    Word of warning: Murphy’s law applies to LotR LCG tournaments, and your consistent results from playtesting are likely to go out the window as the encounter deck will throw its nastiest combinations at you when it matters most!

    Yes, the tournament rules do favour “aggro” approaches, although it’s offset a little by the fact they tend to be high-risk, high-reward – i.e. the aggro deck will tend to win faster, but also be more likely to crash and burn than a slower, more resilient and controlling deck.

    Anyhow, despite my initial misgivings I found the experience quite fun as I got to expand my appreciation of the game by approaching it from a different angle than I was used to (i.e. optimising speed/scoring), and also spend more time exploring one specific scenario in depth than I ever had before (with the exception of Passage from Mirkwood and Journey down the Anduin). It also helps that the vast majority of LotR LCG players have a great attitude toward the game and their fellow players and are able to maintain it even in a competitive setting!

    • ishallcallusting permalink

      Thanks for the link. Eventually I hope we can run a tournament on this site. I was actually thinking of running it like a golf tournament. We would set pars on the different quests (like this quest is a par 6, so you should beat it on turn 6) and then everyone would run the deck solitaire style and if you go over or under the number of turns set by the par you receive a score like +1 or -2. At the end lowest score wins. That way you are not going single elimination but competing against an entire field. What do you think?

      • Ian permalink

        Good idea- encourages the “puzzle” mentality…

        Of course, poor old secrecy decks will be shelved for the time being.

      • Nice.
        It should be considered if all quests must be played with the same Hero group. That should give a wider variety of decks, than the “1 quest, 1 deck” approach.

      • scwont permalink

        Very cool idea – just don’t forget that players will lose quests too and your scoring needs to account for that!

  2. Redboots permalink

    How do we file a report, along with decks? Have a deck that won in 3, and seems likely to repeat as long as it gets a clue.

  3. Ian permalink

    While I agree with pretty much everyone else regarding the tournament rules, the aggro bias could be mitigated by having a new/unknown encounter at the tournament.

    For example, everyone needs to submit their deck list knowing that they will be doing a quest from the mirkwood cycle bt they don’t know which one. This forces everyone to build a moderately rounded deck as opposed to being a knob about it.

    IMHO, the whole scoring system in LotR, whether its time based or threat based, just encourages a whole bunch of public penis measuring (excuse my crassness, that’s my best description for it) I’m a competitive type but LotR is just not suited to that sort of game…

    Finally, it’s also worth noting that in other competitive card games there is a certain bias towards aggro decks in tournaments as well. It’s not a question of whether a deck can win against another deck- it’s more about whether a deck can win a certain number of games in a time period. Thus a deck that either wins or looses quickly is preferable to a deck that relies on control or attrition.

    Then again, this thinking can (and does) change the meta in those games, but that’s a rant for another post.

    Cheers, Ian

    • scwont permalink

      Ian, I had the same concerns about competitive play, i.e. that it would bring out the worst aspects of people’s competitive nature and/or attract the ultra-competitive minority. As I reported, my experience turned out to be positive and confirmed for me that by and large LotR LCG tends to attract players who can maintain a friendly, welcoming, collabarative attitude even in a competitive framework. There are exceptions, and they tend to stand out from the crowd, but they’re a pretty small minority.

      I also agree wholeheartedly with Tracker1’s point that there is positive value to be found in the exercise of trying to optimise and compare scores. It’s not a bad thing by nature, it’s the attitude you bring to it. It’s still not my primary focus overall, not by any means, but I found it an interesting diversion to explore occasionally and it expands the ways I can get enjoyment out of the game. It’s not for everyone, but there are aspects of the game that hold little interest for me either, but I don’t begrudge other people’s appreciation of them.

      • Ian permalink

        Despite my comments regarding the competitive nature of people, my main point was really that this sort of scoring system (much like the threat based one) provides a certain bias to specific builds.

        While this may provide some entertainment and competition for “The Competitor”, there is little excuse for any of the other archetypes to participate.

        Don’t misunderstand me, I welcome the rules. I am not saying that the minority that abuse the system will ruin it for all. I do, however, doubt that FFG will ever actually implement this widespread in sanctioned tournaments- not unlike their previous scoring system. It just seems to much like an afterthought, much like any number of competitive games that people have written solo/co-op rules for.

        It puzzles me because FFG have four other LCG offerings that are competitive (Call of Cthulu, A Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Warhammer) so it just doesn’t seem like there is a lot of reason to force LotR. If you can’t get your competitive blood flowing from any of those other Fantasy offerings then you aren’t trying hard enough 🙂

  4. Glaurung permalink

    I also agree this game will never be tournament oriented like other LCG but still is good to have this format for players who wont to do it. I pretty sure is really interesting to play Against the shadow rules in 2 players versus wit some special rules (special nightmare mode).
    dont like to participate to any report tournaments since they not really fair. And the the tournaments is about meet other people, have fun. This case look like one more game at home……not fun at all for me……..

  5. Matthew permalink

    welcome to the content-producing community! i’m looking forward to future posts!

  6. Tracker1 permalink

    The curent scoring system is the only way we have been given to measure the success of a deck each game. I keep track of scores just to see how they change as the card pool changes, and to see how one deck stands up to another. Did i run a deck that end with high threat in a few rounds or vise versa. If i win a game with high threat in lots of rounds that tells me the deck could be better.
    When someone posts a really low score for a scenario, I want to know how they did it, what was their deck? I think it’s cool and I’m happy for there success. I want to know if there is some neat deck combo to learn. I don’t think it’s all about be penis measuring. I think the scoring can be educational and tell us something about the game.

    I really like the golf idea for competitive play. Golf is not so much about beating your opponent, its about testing your own skill with oneself, your equipment, and the golf course. In the case of Lotr Lcg it is more about your deck and the scenario. Lets say players were asked to play the 6 quests in shadow of mirkwood cycle. You have one deck that has to meet all the chalenges you face. The number of rounds to complete each scenario is set, and you keep score like par in golf, dertermined on how many rounds you go over or under. Sounds fun, would be cool to see results. I like it more than playing the same scenario 5 times in a row. Not sure if there should be a side bar of cards or you just have one deck, or maybe you can change your deck each game. Lot’s of options.

  7. ishallcallusting permalink

    Great comments! I want to respond to each comment but that might get me entangled in something that would take up too much time, so instead I will respond in my next article. For now you can submit your decklists and battle reports to talesfromthecards@gmail.com. Sorry I didn’t include that in the article itself.

  8. TalesfromtheCards permalink

    This article made me think about my own play-style and the deck types I tend to gravitate towards, and I think I would probably fall into the control category. I tend to play at a deliberate pace in order to secure victory. There are certain quests though, that practically demand an aggro style so that you beat them before they beat you (the Heirs of Numenor quests are a good example). Those exceptions aside, it is intriguing to think about trying to build some super-aggro decks that just blow past quests

  9. Tiandes permalink

    Aggro strategy tend too much on the chance factor for my taste.

    Even when playing MtG you could see it happen. It was either fast win or fast lost for the aggro decks. A player with a control-deck could just play a single card to anhilate any chance of victory for aggro deck.

    The thing is with Aggro, you can play a lot of games cause it goes fast so you tend to accumulate a lot of victories… but also a lot of lost or non-finish games.

    I’m not saying all players are like that, but it’s easy to forget the number of times you restart a game only after a couple of turns. So aggro players tend to overestimate their deck efficiency. This become even more a reality with playing solo in LoTR since you are alone facing an encounter deck.

    That’s my 2 cents.

    As for me, my trill is try to get a single deck-solo able to complete all the quests with a minimum of card swapping.

    That was really fun, since I did all the quests the first time without knowing what was waiting for me. Let me tell you that Dol Guldur was brutal! And I did put some healler on my second try of Journey to Rhosgobel…

  10. Gobliin permalink

    I think that a competitive aspect of the game would be good for the game because it would allowed a better organize play system. But I think that the path they have chosen right now is not a good one. Keeping track of your sore right now is tiresome for me and the race against the cloak is not appealing.

    I would had prefer that they use some achievement cards that you can play when you do certain thing. Each cards would give you a different amount of points (Each card would give you a certain amount if you win, and a lower number if you lose). You would build your own achievement deck and each cards would remain secret until you reveal them. That would let your opponent guess what you are hoping to do so it would be more difficult to stop you from doing it.

  11. VladVoivode permalink

    The question was asked “Why do you like to play?” and I feel that this question hasn’t received enough responses. As far as why I like to play LOTR:LCG is that it really captures the spirit of Tolkien’s timeless work no matter what your type of player you are. That being said, I tend to fall into the “artist” category but with the addition of theme.

    Tolkien’s works stress cooperation and moreover, for me at least, what is most compelling is that Tolkien’s characters are not so easily categorized in terms of moral stance. While one can paint broad strokes in that The Fellowship has banded together (no pun intended) on an impossible quest, Tolkien sets up an ingenious tension within the Fellowship that is far more intriguing for the reader than the more cut and dry Star Wars approach. The Elves and the Dwarves have no love for one another and of course we read that in The Hobbit and the tension still exists in The Lord of the Rings. Yet Legolas and Gimli, both nobles, join this perilous journey and their relationship born out of the necessity of cooperation becomes a friendship symbolic of the reuniting of these proud peoples. Their competition in battle is not a case of one upmanship yet there is the sense of pride in their respect races. Yet that friendly competition becomes a binding force.

    Boromir as we know, for all his strength and nobility is the Aristotelian hero and his Achilles’ heel is of course the temptation to take the Ring. This noble is also “everyman” – a venerable literary tradition that Tolkien was well aware of. While noble, Boromir also represents the human in all of us: frailty, pride, doubt, inner conflict.

    I like to play because of all the above reasons. Tolkien is the master because I believe that he alone was able to create these characters that are really mirror images of ourselves. And at all times we are beset with the unknown and temptation lurks without and within. The game captures this perfectly if we look beyond threat costs and resource tokens or rather, imagine them as part of the personalities we play and become vicariously. It’s fitting that LOTR:LCG is a cooperative game not only because of the stories, but, it should be remembered that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic. I would offer that Tolkien keenly understood Christ’s words that no man is an island unto himself. There are of course many more themes from Tolkien’s Christianity in the tales. Tolkien even remarked that The Lord of the Rings was his great Christian work though he was adamant that LOTR was not allegory and indeed it isn’t. [N.B. Tolkien chided his friend C.S. Lewis for his use of allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia and did not like the idea of Lewis dressing Christ in a lion skin.

    LOTR:LCG allows me to “live” in Middle Earth and as a biannual reader of his major works, I can now become even more immersed in the events leading up to what Tolkien referred to as the eucatastrophe.” I will let you look that one up. 😉

    Magic The Gathering is an excellent competitive game and I would be horrified to see it become a cooperative game. While it and I would argue all fantasy games, books, and movies, are possible because of Tolkien, MTG is a war game with cards. LOTR:LCG is a celebration of life, hope, and cooperation; of cooperating and picking up one’s comrade when she/he falls.

    And I should add …

    It’s FUN!!! 🙂

    I apologize for the wall of text dear readers.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      This is a pretty epic post, and I couldn’t agree with you more. One of the things I really love about Tolkien is his devotion to creating a world and characters that were not merely vessels for his particular beliefs, but rather were things that he “discovered”. Because of this, Tolkien can speak to people from all walks of life. One thing is certain though, the spirit of cooperation and fellowship are so central to his stories that it’s really fitting that this is the one cooperative LCG.

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