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The Blood of Gondor: Player Cards Review

by on September 3, 2013

the blood of gondor

 It’s hard to believe that we’ve almost reached the end of the Against the Shadow cycle. With the release of the Blood of Gondor to attendees at Gen Con, soon to be followed by its wider release to players at large, we now have the chance to glance at the penultimate set of player cards in this collection. Certainly, there have been some surprises along the way as each Adventure Pack has been released. Most players assumed that this cycle would have a heavy focus on Gondor, but while there has been a smattering of love for that trait, the main emphasis has been on Outlands,  Rangers, and mono-sphere. The Blood of Gondor continues this trend, while throwing in a few curveballs as well. I’m happy to be able to give you an in-depth player cards review of this pack before it hits stores. Just like last time, I will be rating these cards according to three categories: versatility (how many different kinds of decks can this card work in and how applicable is it to various types of scenarios), efficiency (how much power does this card provide compared to its cost), and uniqueness (how many other cards provide a similar ability). 


* Caldara (Spirit Hero, 8 threat, 2 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit points):

Caldara is yet another FFG-created character, this time providing a hero for the Gondor trait. I personally have no gripes with this hero in terms of theme, but when it comes to gameplay, she leaves quite a bit to be desired. It usually takes a lot for me to completely write off a card, and while I am not doing that here, I’m close. When I first saw Caldara through the glass of a display case at Gen Con, as I waited in a seemingly interminable line to buy a copy of the Black Riders box, I was immediately taken aback once I saw that her ability required her to be discarded. This is absolutely the highest cost that a player could be asked to pay. Let’s take a closer look at Caldara’s text:

Action: Discard Caldara to put 1 Spirit ally from your discard pile into play for each other hero you control with a printed Spirit resource icon.

I spent quite a few idle moments during that Gen Con weekend trying to figure out what the intentions behind this card were and whether it could be rehabilitated as a useful hero. The idea seems to be that Caldara would be used in a mono-Spirit deck, and could perhaps be sacrificed in a moment of desperation to bring 2 Spirit allies into play. For example, using her to bring back a couple of copies of Escort from Edoras and their 8 willpower to mount a massive quest push at the end of a game would certainly be impressive. Of course, there also is thecaldara possibility of designing a deck to maximize her ability, using Fortune or Fate to resurrect Caldara after she has been discarded, thus gaining 2 allies for free. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this strategy. First, Fortune or Fate is an extremely expensive event, costing 5 resources to play, so in real terms, those 2 allies you gain from Caldara’s ability are not so free. To put it another way, you’re actually paying 5 resources (the cost of Fortune or Fate) to play 2 Spirit allies. Suddenly, the deal doesn’t look so good after all. The best bet would be to use one of the Spirit Hobbits (Pippin, Frodo, or Fatty Bolger) along with Good Meal so that you can play Fortune or Fate for a cost of 3, but it is still a dubious proposition. The second problem with the Caldara recursion strategy, related to the first, is that there aren’t currently any expensive, impressively powerful Spirit allies, as there are in other spheres (i.e. the 5-cost Gildor Inglorion from Lore, the 6-cost Beorn from Tactics, etc.). The most expensive Spirit allies cost 4, and while there are some useful characters amongst them, would you be willing to discard a hero for 2 Northern Trackers (just as an example)? I would have to say the answer is a clear no (the other 4-cost candidates are Elfhelm and Damrod, both of whom have their uses, but probably not enough to justify Caldara’s inclusion). If you’re using Fortune or Fate in this scenario, you are paying 5 resources to get 8 resources worth of allies into play, for a net savings of 3. Is this worth taking up a hero slot, when there are plenty of other useful Spirit heroes with a low threat and abilities that have far more of an impact? The third issue with Caldara is that the allies you want to play have to be in the discard pile for them to be eligible targets. This means that they somehow have to end up there, either by being paid for in the first place and destroyed or by discarding cards from your deck through various means. While not an insurmountable obstacle, this does restrict the possibilities of this ability. If the ability instead allowed the controlling player to search through their deck and pick out the allies, then it would bump up its potency a notch.

I can see a future where Caldara becomes more useful, specifically if expensive Spirit allies are released in the future that have powerful abilities. Further methods for decreasing the cost of Fortune or Fate could also be handy, as well as other means of resurrecting heroes. However, I think from the perspective of game balance, the designers will have to keep such resurrection powers quite limited, so the former seems much more likely than the latter. Moving beyond her ability, Caldara’s stats are quite ordinary, with her main benefit being that she contributes to a low starting threat. This might be a decisive argument in her favor if she wasn’t part of the Spirit sphere, but with the abundance of relatively low-threat heroes that have better abilities, I have a hard time imagining Caldara getting much play. If she was in another sphere, say Tactics or Lore, then I could see her getting a lot more attention. I’m sure intrepid deck builders out there will find ways of integrating her into useable decks, but from a broad perspective, I have to say that she is currently not an optimal hero choice.

Versatility: ♦◊◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦◊◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦♦

* Anborn (Lore Ally, 4 cost, 1 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defense, 3 hit points):

Anborn has arrived! This Ranger ally was spoiled when the Against the Shadow cycle was first announced, but we’ve had to wait awhile to get our hands on him. He is the perfect counterpart to a trap deck, as he has the following ability:

Action: Exhaust Anborn to return 1 Trap card from your discard pile to your hand.

This effect allows you to get the maximum use out of traps, as once one is discarded when an enemy is destroyed, you can use Anborn to quickly bring it back into your hand and get it back into play on the subsequent turn. This essentially increases the consistency of your deck, as while you may not always draw all those copies of traps sitting in your deck, you can get multiple uses out of the traps that do emerge (thus using Anborn to get 2 uses out of a copy of Ranger Spikes beyond the first is equivalent to drawing all 3 copies of Spikes in your deck, without having to actually do so). Is Anborn absolutely essential to a trap deck? Yes and no. I would say he is a great choice because he increases the frequency and consistency with which you are able to get traps into play. On the other hand, his cost of 4 is extremely high for a sphere without much resource generation and as part of a deck that will already be pouring tons of resources into putting traps into play and using events. This doesn’t mean that he’s not worth the cost, he certainly is, just that I could see the logic behind leaving him out of a trap deck. If you were to take that approach, however, then you should certainly include a variety of card draw effects to make up for the lack of his trap recycling ability. One quick look ahead to the Black Riders: Elf-stone is a Lore attachment that is put on an active location, and when that location is explored, allows the first player to put an ally into play from his hand for free. Anborn would certainly make a great candidate for this amazing new card.

As far as playing Anborn in a non-trap deck is concerned, I would hesitate to include a 4-cost ally that is not contributing a meaningful ability. In a deck that is just using Ranger Spikes, though, which is still perhaps the king of all traps, he could find a use to keep pumping Spikes into the staging area, but you would have to destroy the attached enemy first. Beyond his ability, Anborn does have great stats. His 3 attack is extremely potent, especially for a Lore ally, and for that reason alone he might be worth using in a non-trap mono-Lore or Lore-heavy deck to provide some attack power. He also has a healthy store of hit points (3) that allow him to take some punishment. Beyond stats and his ability, Anborn also possesses two useful traits: Gondor and Ranger. The first can combine well with Leadership Boromir, who can pump Anborn up to an amazing attack strength of 4, while the latter helps to interact with certain quest cards (paging Overgrown Trail) and player cards (Ranger Bow, for example). Anborn, overall, is a solid ally that does justify his cost, especially in Ranger/trap and Gondor/Boromir decks.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦♦

* Emery (Spirit Ally, 3 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 2 hit points):

Emery is the second FFG-created Gondor character in this pack, but unlike her companion, Caldara, I find her to be quite a useful card. Her ability seems a bit strange at first glance:

Action: Discard the top 3 cards of your deck to put Emery into play from your hand, under any player’s control. Then, if any of the discarded cards have the Tactics, Lore, or Leadership sphere, discard Emery.

Essentially, what this ability allows you to do is get an ally into play for free in a mono-Spirit deck. Certainly, you can use Emery in other decks, but you would have to build in some tricks to ensure that she doesn’t get discarded immediately after entering play. An easy fix would be cards like Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion, which allow you to look at the top cards emeryof your deck and manipulate the order. With these abilities, you could then ensure that the top 3 cards are either Spirit or neutral. However, if you’re playing a deck that is light on Spirit, even with these “fixing” effects you may be faced with situations where it is impossible to stack the deck in order to allow Emery’s effect to work. Thus, Emery is predominantly built for use in mono-Spirit or Spirit-heavy decks.

Now that Emery is in play, the question is whether she is worth it in the first place. My answer is a clear yes. First of all, I will never argue with a free ally, as they can serve as a chump blocker, if nothing else. Granted, she is not completely “free”, as you have to dump the top 3 cards of your deck to fund Emery’s ability, but, in my opinion, this is not much of a cost. I’m not going to lie, it does hurt to see useful cards get flipped into your discard pile, but hopefully you will draw more copies of anything you need in the future. In my opinion, it is more important to seize the day in the present moment and get stuff into play rather than worry about what may have been, although philosophies on this topic vary. In fact, including Imladris Stargazer, even in a mono-Spirit deck, will work well with Emery, as you can put the 3 cards on top of your deck that you are most willing to lose. Returning to Emery’s worthiness, the second reason why she justifies inclusion is that she can be put into play under any player’s control. This is huge, and something that I glossed over on my first reading of her card text. Being able to give another player an ally is immensely useful in a multiplayer game, as someone might not draw or be able to play an ally on a given turn when they desperately need one for blocking purposes (or to have that 1 extra point of attack they  need to kill an enemy). Another great aspect of Emery is that her ability is an action, so she doesn’t have to be played during the planning phase. Instead, you can put her into play under another player’s control during the combat phase, when you suddenly realize that they are in deep trouble without another character to help out. Granted, Emery’s stats are not impressive, although her 2 defense and 2 hit points will at least allow her to block an enemy swinging for 3 and still survive (shadow effects willing). I’ll say it again, though, the key is that she is free!

If I have not yet convinced you to join the Emery Fan Club, let me offer one final possibility. You can use her as a means of activating the effects of cards that trigger when a character leaves play. To put it another way, activate her ability when you know that she will be immediately discarded, so that you can ready Prince Imrahil or add a resource to the hero holding Horn of Gondor. To take the Prince Imrahil example, I have certainly built decks around him that are designed to get the maximum use out of his ability by constantly pumping out allies as cannon fodder. However, there are still occasions when it is just not possible to get him readied when it would be helpful (when you can’t afford to sacrifice a character, for example). With Emery in hand, you could trigger her ability and get her discarded during any action window, immediately readying Prince Imrahil. Even better, since Emery’s ability causes her to be “put into play” from your hand, you can actually include her in a deck that is completely lacking Spirit, just to use her as a trigger. With the release of the spoiled hero Eomer in the upcoming Voice of Isengard expansion, who also relies on characters leaving play to trigger his ability, along with other cards in the future that will likely do the same, Emery is a reasonable option to activate these effects at will.

Versatility: ♦♦◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Guthlaf (Tactics Ally, 3 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 2 hit points):

Another Rohan character from the Tactics sphere has arrived! I’m hoping that this represents a trend that will carry over into the next cycle, as we see the more martial side of the Rohirrim unveiled. As for who Guthlaf is in the lore, he was the bearer of Theoden’s banner as Rohan rode to the relief of Gondor, and he fell during the Battle of Pelennor Fields. With this background in place, his card text, which plays on both the Gondor and Rohan traits, makes perfect sense:

If there is at least 1 Rohan hero in play, lower the cost to play Guthlaf by 1.

If there is at least 1 Gondor hero in play, Guthlaf gains sentinel.

As the standard-bearer for a Rohan “hero” (Theoden) in the story, it makes sense that he would spring into action more easily if it means accompanying one of the prominent figures of Rohan. Similarly, since he rode to the defense of Gondor, its only natural that having a Gondor hero in play would give him the “sentinel” trait, allowing him to come to the aid of that hero. Moving to the card’s gameplay impact, this is a strong card that will not win you a game on its own, but can play a part in steadily building up your forces.

Let’s examine Guthlaf under ideal circumstances: as a 2-cost ally with sentinel. Under these conditions, he has one of the best stats-to-cost ratio in the entire sphere (for more on this “value rating” stat, check out my Sphere Analysis article). Of course, we also have to look at how these stats are distributed. Guthlaf is clearly  meant to be a defender, with 2 defense and 2 hit points, along with sentinel. There are far better defenders in the Tactics sphere: both the Defender of Rammas and Winged Guardian also cost 2 but give you 4 defense (and the Winged Guardian has built-in sentinel without any conditions). However, what Guthlaf gives you is a bit more flexibility, as his 1 willpower actually is more useful than it appears in the willpower-starved Tactics sphere (in fact, he is the only Tactics ally below 3 cost who has at least 1 willpower!). Also more important than it appears at first glance is that he has 2 hit points. There are quite a few shadow effects and treacheries that deal damage to characters, and the flimsy Defender of Rammas and Winged Guardian can both be felled by a single point of damage, completely wrecking your defensive plans at times and even leading to brutal undefended attacks. Guthlaf, at least, can take that point of damage and still survive. So while the Defender and Guardian are overall better defenders (and arguably better allies), Guthlaf is a more well-rounded character. He also has the benefit of possessing the Rohan trait, which I expect to get some more love in the upcoming Ring-maker cycle. Even now, if you (or another player) are running Astonishing Speed, Guthlaf can contribute a massive 3 willpower for a single phase. Keep in mind that even if you include the Defender of Rammas and/or Winged Guardian, there still aren’t a ton of choices for 2-cost Tactics allies, so Guthlaf is certainly worth more than a look. One final note is that sentinel can provide essential defensive support to other decks, even as a one-time chump blocker.

Is Guthlaf worth including as a 3-cost ally without sentinel? The case becomes a bit more murky in this situation, and his stats-to-cost becomes average. In most cases, I would probably aim to include Guthlaf mainly in decks that have at least a Rohan hero, so that I could get him for 2. Of course, without knowing what is in store for the Rohan trait, he may become worthwhile even at a cost of 3 in the future. At the end of the day, Guthlaf is not among the elite of allies, but he certainly provides some of the best value.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦◊◊◊

* Squire of the Citadel (Leadership Ally, 1 cost, 0 willpower, 0 attack, 1 defense, 1 hit point):

I’ll tell you what, the Snowbourn Scout might now have serious competition when it comes to being the chump blocker of choice. In fact, the Squire of the Citadel and the Snowbourn Scout have identical stats and cost, with the only difference between them being their ability. While the Snowbourn Scout has a handy, if modest, ability that allows you to put 1 progress on a location in play, the Squire of the Citadel is designed to reward you for throwing him to the metaphorical (or literal) dogs. Here’s his ability:

Response: After Squire of the Citadel leaves play, add 1 resource to a Gondor hero’s resource pool.

So when the Squire is mashed into a fine jelly by that troll you just threw him under, he essentially repays the 1 resource you paid for him, making him a “free ally”, albeit in a delayed sense. Of course, he can also be used as a morbid form of resource transfer, as the resource-rich Leadership player can pay 1 for him, watch the Squire get turned into flesh confetti, and then place the 1squire resource on a Gondor hero that another player controls. This ally combines especially well with Horn of Gondor, actually giving you a net gain of 1 resource, meaning you are getting paid for chump blocking! I really feel bad for the Squire of the Citadel, as he really seems eager and ready to serve in his artwork, not knowing the foul fate that awaits him, but I also feel good because it’s always good to have a 1-cost ally available. Currently, the only other 1-cost allies in the Leadership sphere are the Snowbourn Scout (the OCB – “original chump blocker”) and the Errand-rider, who is a bit too useful to sacrifice casually. As such, while I see the Snowbourn Scout still getting some play, because of his location-management bonus, I imagine that the Squire of the Citadel will become the new monster bait of choice.

However, it has to be mentioned that this game is increasingly punishing the use of chump blocking as a consistent defensive strategy. Shadow effects now often use the phrase “If this attack destroys a character…”, which means that I tend to currently favor the uber-defender hero strategy over casual chump blocking (or noble ally sacrifice, if you want to give them some dignity). Of course, there still are situations when it is necessary to take the risk of sending an ally off to play the role of Orc piñata, so the Squire of Citadel will definitely have a part to play in past, present, and future quests.

* Note: You can get even more value out of this guy with Aragorn/Sword that was Broken and Leadership Boromir on the table, turning him into a 1/1/1/1 ally for 1 cost. Let’s be honest, though, this is a more marginal use and most of the time he’s designed to serve as Nazgul toothpaste. Ok, that’s my last chump blocking joke, I promise!

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦◊

Efficiency: ♦♦◊◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Poisoned Stakes (Lore Attachment, 2 cost):

The latest trap to be released, Poisoned Stakes is the first that actually puts damage on an enemy, thus filling an important role in a trap-focused deck. Working in a similar fashion to most of the other existing traps, Poisoned Stakes has the following game text:

Play Poisoned Stakes into the staging area unattached.

If unattached, attach Poisoned Stakes to the next eligible enemy that enters the staging area.

At the end of each round, deal 2 damage to attached enemy.

Thus, Poisoned Stakes can immediately kill an enemy with 2 hit points or less at the end of the round in which it is attached, but it can also steadily wear down a larger enemy over the course of several turns. In fact, this trap makes it possible to watch with glee as a foe steadily succumbs to poison and is destroyed without ever having to lift a finger to attack it (it would surely be satisfying to watch one of those venomous spiders from the Flies and Spiders quest get a taste of its own medicine). Ideally, if the enemy’s engagement cost is high enough (or your threat is low enough), it can simply sit in the staging area until it dies. Otherwise, Poisoned Stakes could serve the purpose of softening up an enemy before you destroy it with conventional means, use other direct damage effects, or simply tank it until it’s dead. Obviously, this trap combines especially well with Forest Patrol (as a reminder, that card deals 3 damage to an enemy that has a trap attached to it). With just these two cards, you can destroy an enemy with 5 hit points by the end of a round.

There are a few drawbacks to the Poisoned Stakes. One is the cost of 2, which is comparable to the other traps (Ranger Spikes is 2, Ithilien Pit is 1, Forest Snare is 3), but can certainly drain resources that could be used to pump out allies or attachments that buff heroes. The other negative is that like Ithilien Pit and Ranger Spikes, you can’t choose which enemy is trapped by Poisoned Stakes unless you use a scrying effect. In many cases, this will not matter much, as you will simply be happy to have constant direct damage dealt to any enemy. However, in other cases, you may feel that this trap (and the 2 resources) have been wasted on a weak foe. Despite these caveats, Poisoned Stakes vies for the title of my favorite trap, although I think it is still trailing behind Ranger Spikes a bit.

Certainly Poisoned Stakes combines well with other direct damage effects and traps, as well as effects that postpone or prevent enemy engagement (these give the poison time to work). Since this is a trap that will constantly be discarded once the attached enemy dies, it is also a prime candidate for Anborn to recycle. This card could work well in decks that contain no other traps, simply as a means of managing enemies in an unconventional way or making them easier to kill at the very least. Some intriguing combo possibilities are pairing Poisoned Stakes with Thalin, leading to 3 automatic damage in one turn, using Poisoned Stakes to weaken an enemy so that a Spear of the Citadel and/or Gondorian Spearman can finish it off with a well-timed defense, and enabling the use of effects that facilitate staging area attacks (Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow, etc.). Finally, I would be tempted to include Goblin-cleaver along with Poisoned Stakes to quickly and cheaply add to its direct damage (although this requires engaging an enemy).

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Tome of Atanatar (Leadership Attachment, 4 cost*):

The third card in the series of sphere-specific attachments that recycle events, the Tome of Atanatar is perhaps the most powerful of them all:

Attach to a hero.

Reduce the cost to play Tome of Atanator by 1 for each hero you control with a printed resource icon.

Action: Discard Tome of Atanator to play any event card in your discard pile as if it were in your hand. Then, place that event on the bottom of your deck.

Why do I find Leadership’s Tome superior to the Book of Eldacar for Tactics and the Map of Earnil for Spirit? There are certainly a variety of useful events in the Tactics sphere that are great fodder for recycling, and the Book of Eldacar is certainly a worthwhile card to include, yet Hama is an alternative option for recursion. In regards to Spirit, as discussed in the Assault on Osgiliath player cards review, the Spirit sphere already has Dwarven Tomb, which is a better and more flexible option for returning Spirit events (and it can also bring back allies and tome of atanatarattachments as well). However, not only does Leadership have no other option for event recursion, but it also possesses one of the most powerful events in the game, Sneak Attack (mostly because of the classic combination with Gandalf from the Core Set). With 3 copies of Tome of Atanatar in your deck, you can potentially get 6 uses (actually more if you are able to draw to the bottom of your deck) out of the Sneak Attack/Gandalf pairing, which is absolutely mind-boggling. This of course also opens the door for the more consistent use of other Sneak Attack pairings (Sneak Attack/Beorn, Sneak Attack/Descendant of Thorondor, etc.).

While Sneak Attack is perhaps the most compelling reason for including the Tome of Atanatar, this is certainly not a one-trick book. A Very Good Tale is another Leadership event that can be extremely powerful as it allows for the quick spamming of allies into play. With the Tome, you can push even more allies out with an even greater rapidity. This would be especially powerful in an Outlands deck (as if it needs any more help). Of course, this would lead to a bunch of cards from your deck getting discarded, but Men of the West is an easy Outlands solution to bring back any allies that are wasted (assuming you have the resources). In a mono-Leadership deck, which is definitely encouraged by the Tome’s discount, I would also love the opportunity to recycle Strength of Arms. I find this event to be extremely useful as it readies every single ally in play. The power of this sort of global readying cannot be overestimated, and being able to use it over the course of several times can give an important boost to both questing and combat.

I struggle to find any substantial negatives to this card, other than that its versatility is constrained by the cost in decks that are not mono-Leadership. With 2 Leadership heroes and a cost of 2, the Tome of Atanatar is still worthwhile, especially when you are talking about a sphere that is so rich in resource generation. At a cost of 3, meaning only 1 Leadership hero in play, I think this card then becomes far more marginal. Beyond the enforced mono-Leadership or Leadership-heavy restriction, there are no glaring weaknesses (like the Map of Earnil’s inability to use A Test of Will or Hasty Stroke), so I’m not employing hyperbole when I say that this is one of the most powerful new cards to hit the card pool.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦ (dependent on cost)

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

Children of the Sea (Spirit Event, 0 cost):

I’m a huge fan of 0-cost events, as you can’t really argue with the flexibility of a card that can be played at any moment, regardless of the state of your resources. While the low cost is sometimes an indication of marginal utility, in other cases 0-cost events are almost too good to be true (the +3 attack boost for Dwarves of Khazad! Khazad! can be crazy good in a variety of situations). Children of the Sea falls somewhere in between these extremes. Let’s take a look at the card text:

Action: Choose a Silvan or Noldor ally you control. That ally gets +2 until the end of the phase. At the end of the phase, shuffle that ally into its owner’s deck if it is still in play.

A +2 boost to willpower that can be played during any action window is certainly useful, especially since such boosting events can be played after staging and before quest resolution. With Children of the Sea in hand, you can perhaps hold back a character or two, knowing that you can up the willpower total if it is truly necessary once you know the amount of threat you are facing. You can also use it to push the quest total just over the edge to clear out a location or quest stage if you fall 1 or 2 progress tokens short. All of this is great, and not substantially different from similar effects that interact with other traits. However, this Spirit event does have a built-in penalty, which makes up for the lack of cost: the Silvan or Noldor ally that you choose to receive the benefit of this card’s effect has to be shuffled back into your deck. This means that you will be losing a character from play, although you will have the chance to draw and play it again later.

One way to mitigate the “cost” of Children of the Sea is to play it when you know that a character will be leaving play soon anyway, for whatever reason. This is why the Silvan Refugee is potentially the best target for this event. Since the Refugee is discarded when another character leaves play, you can wait for a turn when you know that this will happen, (such as a round when Gandalf hits the table for example), and then use Children of the Sea to bump it up to an impressive 4 willpower. That way, instead of the Silvan Refugee being discarded when Gandalf leaves play, it will be shuffled back into your deck, potentially seeing the light of day again. Any Noldor or Silvan characters that will leave play are also good candidates, such as one that has been brought into play using Sneak Attack. Children of the Sea could also be a means of triggering effects that depend on characters leaving play (see the entry on Emery) while getting a nice bonus along the way.

Altogether, while I find Children of the Sea to be a perfectly playable and useful card, it isn’t necessarily a must-include. Having a 4 willpower ally for one turn, to use the Silvan Refugee example, is equivalent to using the Escort from Edoras. The difference, however, is that the Escort relies on only one card to function, while the Children of the Sea/Silvan Refugee combination requires 2 cards and potentially 6 slots in your deck, if you include 3 copies of both (on the other hand, you can use that Refugee for several turns before you ultimately boost its willpower, which you can’t do with the Escort). Of course, Children of the Sea can be applied to any Noldor/Silvan ally, so it does provide some flexibility that the Escort from Edoras cannot. If you can build a deck with solid card draw and one that does not necessarily rely on building up an ally army, instead focusing on lightning quest pushes, then Children of the Sea can certainly play a part. Otherwise, I would keep in mind that 0-cost doesn’t always mean “free”, as in this case.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦◊◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦◊◊◊

* The Hammer-stroke (Tactics Event, 2 cost)

The Hammer-stroke is the kind of event that at first makes you say, “Wait, why would I want to do that?”, before you start realizing the possibilities. In a game where you often are struggling to avoid getting swarmed with enemies, a card with the following text seems counter-intuitive:

Encounter Action: Engage each enemy in play.

However, there are tons of possibilities for this Tactics card. First of all, in multiplayer games it allows the deck/player that is most capable of dealing with enemies to take on all of the combat responsibilities, saving more fragile decks from having to engage with anything. This is essentially a way of getting around the limit of one optional engagement per player. However, ahammer-stroke well-built Tactics deck can dispense with some of the need for this effect (and the 2 resources it costs) by including “sentinel” and “ranged”. The second use of The Hammer-stroke is to pull enemies out of the staging area that cannot be optionally engaged. Certainly there are other means of accomplishing this, such as Son of Arnor and the Knight of Minas Tirith (and they stick around as allies to boot), but The Hammer-stroke can grab multiple enemies of this type at once or serve as an alternate means of accomplishing this objective if you haven’t included those cards. Third, The Hammer-stroke can clear the staging area of enemies, in situations where they wouldn’t be able to be engaged normally, in order to set players up for a massive quest push (one important note is that since this is an encounter action, you can’t use it during the quest phase to pull down enemies after staging). Fourth, this event can be the first step in a combo designed to destroy a swathe of enemies.

This last use is where things really get interesting. With a hero that can attack multiple times per turn, like Elladan or Tactics Boromir, and with the help of attack-boosting attachments, you could use The Hammer-stroke to engage all enemies on the board and then theoretically destroy them all in a single turn (at the cost of a bunch of resources, in the case of Elladan, or threat gain, in the case of Boromir). Obviously this wouldn’t be something you would do all the time, but it could certainly be an epic, and potentially game-winning, moment. Any effects that target all enemies engaged with you, such as Boromir’s sacrifice ability, which deals 2 damage to all enemies engaged with a player, would definitely benefit from this event. In fact, The Hammer-stroke could finally lead to Boromir’s second ability being used more often.

Overall, this is a card with interesting applications that is ripe fodder for those players who enjoy creating unique decks and weaving together intricate combos. I actually find it difficult to include all the extensive possibilities for this card in this short entry, but readying effects and those that provide action advantage combine especially well with The Hammer-stroke to set the stage for a massive round of combat. Another possibility for a mono-Tactics deck (especially one with Hama) is to use this event to engage all enemies and then Thicket of Spears to prevent them all from attacking. In this way, you could potentially tank all enemies on the board indefinitely, at least until new ones emerge. On the other hand, players who prefer a more straightforward play-style may struggle to find a justification for giving up 2 or 3 spots in their deck and 2 resources for an event that may not always find an appropriate use. There could be games where this card dramatically alters the situation on the board, and others where it simply sits in your hand. What kind of player you are will probably go a long way towards determining your view on The Hammer-stroke.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Well-Equipped (Neutral Event, 0 cost):

While recent expansions have been packed with cards that support Dwarves, the Against the Shadow cycle has quite understandably avoided further exploration of this trait. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, to see Well-Equipped in this pack. This Neutral event has the following text:

Action: Discard the top 2 cards of your deck. You may attach 1 attachment card discarded by this effect to an eligible Dwarf character in play.

Well-Equipped is a form of card draw that can sometimes miss, ending up with a player drawing absolutely nothing. This is also a very specific form of card draw, as it can only retrieve attachments, and even more specifically, attachments that can work with Dwarven heroes. What all this means is that you would only include this event in a deck that is built in a highly focused way, including tons of attachments that can work with characters with the Dwarf trait. Including Imladris Stargazer could also set up this card so that it works effectively and isn’t completely wasted (our clairvoyant friend is certainly getting a workout from cards in this pack).

The question is, what is the benefit of using Well-Equipped versus either relying on powerful card draw already available to Dwarves (King Under the Mountain, Legacy of Durin, etc.) or Master of the Forge, who can repeatedly search for attachments in the top 5 cards of your deck? The main advantage of Well-Equipped is that it allows you to put an attachment into play for free. Immediately, this makes me salivate at the thought of putting an expensive copy of Citadel Plate on Gimli (or any other Dwarven hero, for that matter) for absolutely no cost, as Well-Equipped itself costs nothing to play as well. Other expensive attachments that work well with particular Dwarven characters, such as the 3-cost Self Preservation with Gloin, are also an intriguing possibility. However, I find it an extremely dubious proposition to take up space in my deck with a card that may bear no fruit whatsoever. At least with a card with a repeatable search effect, like Master of the Forge, you can keep trying until you find something, and have a body in play to boot. Well-Equipped, by contrast, is played and then is gone, so you need to be able to count on it. To this end, I feel that including Well-Equipped practically demands the inclusion of either the Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion as well. While saving resources on attachments and having a bit of extra card draw is certainly helpful, there are too many other great Dwarf cards that overshadow this one. I do like that this event is neutral, however.

Versatility: ♦♦◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦◊◊◊


With The Blood of Gondor reviewed, only The Morgul Vale remains to complete this cycle. Generally, the final Adventure Packs have tended to contain the most powerful cards, but with only two cycles under our belt, any attempt to guess at patterns is probably a bit misguided. Still, I’m hopeful that the Against the Shadow collection of player cards will go out with a bang. As for the cards in this collection, I feel that there are several solid, useful effects that are well worth including in decks, if they don’t necessarily leap out and scream in your face. This fits the mold of much of what has been released so far during this cycle. Those who are waiting for the Vilyas and Dains and Light of Valinors of the Against the Shadow cycle to emerge may feel a bit underwhelmed, but there is plenty to get excited about here. Of course, such things are all in the eye of the beholder!

Readers, what are your thoughts about the player cards of The Blood of Gondor pack?

From → Reviews

  1. It looks like I may have to notify Snowbourn Scout School that I won’t be needing their services. Squire of the Citadel is my new favorite meat-shield!

  2. Landroval permalink

    Another Dwarf card – are you kidding me?! A stinker of a card too.

    Excepting the Spirit Ally I’m not enthralled by these cards one bit.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, the Dwarf card definitely came out of left field. Kind of an odd one.

  3. Caldara:

    I too don’t see a lot of use for her, but if you have a lot of enemies in the staging area on the final questing phase to win the game, you could pull this combo off and then discard Damrod to get a better score 🙂 Or you could use it to lower your threat to the point where you wouldn’t need to engage any of the enemies. You could also use it to pull up 2 Northern Trackers which could be awesome if there are a lot of locations in the staging area with low numbers of quest points.

    You could use it to get Emery back after your plan backfired because you drew a non-spirit/-neutral card. Or you could use her to bring back the allies that Emery made you discard to put her into play, essentially making Emery’s ability into a card draw effect, though a very indirect one (and hopefully there are a couple good allies discarded – once again, Imladris to the rescue).

    Essentially it’s like playing an event that costs 5 that says “Put Emery into play from your hand. Then discard the top 3 cards of your deck. If any of those are Leadership/Tactics/Lore, then discard Emery. Put 2 Spirit allies from your discard pile into play.”

    Zigil Miner is another card that can end up discarding allies that you may want to bring back.

    In the end, I still don’t really like Caldara or Emery, but they could make an interesting pair and might be worth trying out.



    I didn’t like the idea of Emery until I thought about using her in a deck with Prince Imrahil, Valiant Sacrifice, Horn of Gondor, and potentially Eomer. I think readying Imrahil, drawing 2 cards, gaining a resource (while using one to pay for Valiant Sacrifice), and gaining 2 attack is better than putting Emery into play, though that could obviously depend on the situation.

    Thinking about it now, though, it would be better to put her into play to block, then die and trigger all of these effects. 🙂


    Children of the Sea:

    I like this card in a few situations:
    – If you can gain from the ally leaving play (Imrahil, Horn of Gondor, etc)
    – If you have a unique elf (e.g. Arwyn) who is already in play, but you have one in your hand already too (and can spare the resources to play her). This makes it so that the Arwyn in your hand is not a dead card.

    Obviously best if you have both situations plus the need for a questing push.


    The Hammer-Stroke

    If you’re playing 2 decks and the second player is using a hobbit deck, and the first player has higher threat than you, then you can use this to pull the enemies off of the other deck and use the countless boosts you get from engaging enemies with higher threat, to make the Hobbits more powerful and take down the enemies. This works even better if the other deck also has a lot of ranged and/or sentinel characters so they can participate in the attacks (and make Use of Merry’s readying).

    • Aaron permalink

      You can use Brand Son of Bain in one deck and Merry and hobbits in the other to run an infinite combo of death against enemies that take 6 damage or less to kill (more with attack boosts). As Merry would repeatedly ready Brand and Brand would repeatedly ready Merry. This deck combo pretty much trashes the bulk of the combat quests especially if you use Hammerstroke to pull all enemies to Merry after the players defend attacks.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        I’ve been wondering if they will errata either Brand or Merry to compensate for this infinite combo once Black Riders comes out in stores. I’m thinking one of them will probably get an errata where their readying effect is limited to once per round/phase.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Nice thoughts! I too like the idea of using The Hammer-stroke with a Hobbit deck. During Gen Con, I was playing one of the Black Riders quests in a 4-player game. Due to a location effect, my Hobbit deck engaged with 4 enemies at once. The nice thing is that the Hobbit effects based on engagement stack and are not limited, so I was able to draw 4 cards from Pippin and Sam got +4 to all his stats. It was pretty epic. Because of this, I definitely think this card could see some use in Hobbit decks.

  4. mndela permalink

    You can play Caldara also having only one spirit hero. Lol. True.
    But if other friend has 3 spirit heros and you have Desperate Alliance. Then, you can “return back” 3 strong allies (your friend, sorry).

    • Pickles permalink

      Nice idea & the friend would be better positioned to play Fortune or Fate too. The trouble as TftC mentioned is the lack of good targets for this effect. If we get a couple of good high cost Spirit Allies then she is less terrible (Any other sphere would like this ability better though many of the leadership allies are just expensive not good)
      Late game she is not too awful as she is so bad herself. Getting one of many 3 cost allies would quest & soak damage as well as her & a free Northern tracker will tank or attack or clear locations as well so you get a NT 4 turns sooner which is a clear profit if the game lasts less than 4 turns more & its rarely bad to have a card in play sooner.

      While I agree she is pretty bad she is one of the most interesting spirit cards – it is a really dull sphere & she may become decent one day.

      • Landroval permalink

        Lots of discussion on BGG recently about Desperate Alliance and its combos. I think DA is a very slow burn card which people are begining to realise has huge potential.

        Somebody was commenting there about having only one hero, playing hammerstroke to engage all enemies with it, and then playing desperate alliance so that the damage just has nowhere to go… crazy!

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        I kind of feel the same way, Pickles. I don’t think much of Caldara and she is overall pretty garbage right now, but I find her quite intriguing. Hopefully, we’ll get some cards in the future, perhaps even in the next pack, that make her better.

  5. raynor2013 permalink

    I’m all about The Hammerstroke. When I start to loose faith in the tactics sphere and get all down about that lack of threat reduction and difficulty in certain areas of the game all I need to do is look at this one card and that faith is renewed.

    I mean just look at it. Aside from the badass art, the visceral name, and the combo potential just really take a moment to contemplate that small box of text… it sums up everything that I love about the tactics sphere.

    The Hammer Stroke engages every enemy in play because
    the tactics player can handle it…

    Forget the fancy card play. Forget the engagement checks. forget the rules!!! Play The Hammerstroke and with the likes of Boromir, Beorn, Gimli, The Erebor Battlemasters, Merry, and the Support of the Eagles … watch the ensuing massacre.

    Sure this isn’t a Light of Valinor or a Vilya, but this card represents tactics more than any other lone card in the sphere

  6. Can’t you use Well-Equipped on all attachments ? You can only attach it to dwarf characters.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, you can. The issue is if you discard attachments that don’t work with Dwarves, such as a Rivendell Blade or Blood of Numenor, for instance. Most likely that won’t happen, as you’re probably only going to play Well-Equipped in a Dwarf deck with Dwarf compatible attachments.

  7. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Great analysis!

    I like emery and the squire, cheap and free allies are great for chump blocking but shine in combos.

    I love the sphere specific replay events. Poisoned stakes is awesome.

    Overall a great pack! Except the hero, there is no reason to ever use this character, the ability is awesome, if only in another sphere maybe? Or if you could pull any sphere ally back? So close to being awesome but unfortunately a total coaster

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