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The Black Riders: Attachments Review

by on October 2, 2013

the black riders

The TftC review of The Black Riders continues with a look at the attachments contained in this brand new Saga Expansion. In the first two installments, we looked at the heroes and allies featured in this box. Now, our attention turns to the tools that these new characters have at their disposal to fight the fearsome power of Sauron’s servants. Are these attachments up to the task or are they sorely lacking? Put on your cloak, sharpen your dagger, light up your pipe, and don’t forget your lucky stone, the review is about to begin!

ATTACHMENTS

* Dagger of Westernesse (Tactics Attachment, 1 cost):

It’s no secret that I have an abiding affection for weapons in this game, as witnessed by my lengthy investigation into all of the tools of the trade in A Look Into Middle-Earth’s Arsenal. With the Dagger of Westernesse , we now have available one of the best weapons in the entire game. That is not hyperbole; for several reasons, this attachment deserves the highest praise that can be lavished upon it. The Dagger’s game text is simple and straightforward:

Attach to a hero. Restricted.

Attached hero gets +1 attack (+2 attack instead if attacking an enemy with an engagement cost higher than your threat).

At minimum, a +1 attack boost for 1 resource is fair, equivalent to something like Dunedain Mark. On the other hand, when attacking an enemy with a higher engagement cost, you are getting a +2 attack boost for that 1 resource, which is a fantastic deal. What I like about this attachment is that even if you do happen to face an enemy with an equal or higher engagement cost to your threat, the dagger of westernesseweapon doesn’t become useless. However, there is one aspect of the Dagger of Westernesse that pushes it over the edge into top-notch territory, and it may not be apparent at first glance: it has no racial restrictions. A card like Rivendell Blade is certainly a great weapon, as subtracting 2 from the defense of an enemy is usually equivalent to a +2 attack boost, however it can only be used by Noldor and Silvan characters. Similarly, the Dwarrowdelf Axe grants a +1 attack bonus, plus an automatic point of direct damage, but can only be used by Dwarves. The Dagger of Westernesse has no such restrictions, which especially benefits Hobbit, Gondor, Rohan, and Esgaroth/Dale heroes, who haven’t had the benefit of access to the most powerful weapons previously (the Dwarven Axe does allow all heroes to use it, but a mere +1 attack bonus for 2 resources is expensive).

There are several great candidates for the Dagger of Westernesse that are worth mentioning. Merry is the first obvious choice, as he will often be included as part of a Hobbit deck, which is a type based around taking on enemies with a higher engagement cost anyway. With an attack of 3, assuming that you are using all Hobbit heroes, and with a +2 boost from the Dagger, Merry can easily slice enemies for 5. Since the Dagger is not limited to 1 per hero, you can throw 2 on Merry at once, for a grand total attack of 7. Another intriguing option is Dunhere, who is designed to attack enemies in the staging area during the combat phase, which most of the times means that they will have a higher engagement cost (if they didn’t, then they would come down from the staging area during the encounter phase in most cases). With even just 1 Dagger equipped, Dunhere can use his ability to attack an enemy in the staging area for 5; 2 Daggers allow him to smash most enemies with one hit using an attack of 7. Previously, Dunhere’s attack boosting possibilities have been limited by the fact that most weapons have racial restrictions, while something like Support of the Eagles is limited to Tactics heroes. Dunedain Mark has usually been the best option, but Dagger of Westernesse dramatically improves the potential of this hero of Rohan. Beyond these two candidates, the Dagger can be dropped on pretty much any hero to great effect, with the best options of course being decks that are planning on starting and/or staying at a low threat.

The question is whether the Dagger of Westernesse is too powerful. The argument could certainly be made that being able to boost any hero to an attack of 7 for a mere 2 resources is perhaps overpowered. When looking at previous weapons, most of them had some sort of built-in restriction. For example, the Rivendell Blade could be stacked for a -4 penalty to enemy’s defense values, but since not many enemies have 4 defense, this piling on of effects was limited in its application. However, the Dagger’s only true restraint is the “restricted” keyword, which is perhaps not as meaningful as it sounds. Granted, decks that are fast and loose with their threat may not be able to maximize the attack boost, and similarly scenarios that feature enemies with low engagement costs can also serve as a natural drag on this weapon’s power. However, using this card so far has shown that it can easily allow for the swatting of the toughest of enemies.

* Note: There is an appetizing combination with the Ring of Barahir. Since the Dagger of Westernesse not only counts as a weapon, but also as an artifact, you can get a hit point boost from the Ring of Barahir as a nice icing on the cake, in addition to the attack boost.

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Elf-stone (Lore Attachment, 1 cost, 1 willpower):

Just as I have no hesitation in saying the Dagger of Westernesse is one of the best weapons in the game, I also have no qualms about declaring the Elf-stone as one of the best attachments period. For a low cost of 1, Elf-stone allows you to earn a substantial discount on the cost of an ally:

Attach to the active location. Attached location gets +1 quest point.

Response: After attached location leaves play as an explored location, the first player puts 1 ally into play from his hand.

That’s right, this attachment allows you to potentially put a 5 or 6-cost ally into play for essentially 1 cost. This is especially useful for a sphere, Lore, that doesn’t have a ton of resource generation available. There are a couple of limitations to Elf-elfstonestone, namely that you have to explore a location to activate it, and that location gets an additional quest point, but neither condition is especially burdensome, at least in most cases. Lore just so happens to have a few different location management options available, and generally you should be clearing out most locations within 1, or at most 2 turns, if your deck(s) is set up properly. It is worth keeping in mind that the free ally goes to the first player, so it does take some planning to make sure it goes to the person who really needs it, and unforeseen developments can foil your schemes. Still, this caveat is actually a benefit as well, as it provides some flexibility in a multi-player game.

With an attachment that is so general in its effect, there are a ton of appetizing possibilities, but, as always, I’ll try to provide at least a few examples. By far, my favorite companion for Elf-stone is Gildor Inglorion. Not only is he a natural sphere match for this attachment, but he is an expensive, 5-cost ally that boasts hero-like stats and an extremely useful ability. If I could consistently afford Gildor in every Lore deck, he would be a permanent fixture. However, his expense can sometimes prove a significant obstacle. Elf-stone makes this a moot issue, and I would be hard pressed to imagine a situation where I included this attachment but did not include Gildor. The ally version of Beorn is another strong contender. At an intimidatingly high cost of 6, it has always been a tough ask to get him onto the table, despite the fact that he has some truly impressive stats (1 willpower, 3 attack, 3 defense, 6 hit points), with the potential of taking advantage of a +5 attack boost (which boots him back into your deck). Generally, the main way of getting Beorn to be viable has been pairing him with Sneak Attack, but this only grants his services for a single phase. However, Elf-stone actually gives you permanent control, giving you a strong attacker and extremely solid defender. Of course, Elf-stone also provides yet another way of getting Gandalf into play, which is always a smart play, and can provide an alternative when you are running low on resources and not running Sneak Attack. Of course, there are plenty of other possibilities: synergy with secrecy decks, combination with A Very Good Tale, etc. To put it bluntly, Elf-stone immediately enters into the selective pool of “must-have” cards; if you run Lore, you should be running this attachment.

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦♦

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

* Hobbit Cloak (Leadership Attachment, 1 cost):

When it became clear that The Black Riders would focus on making Hobbit decks viable, one of the most pressing questions was how Hobbit heroes could stand up to the dangers of questing in Middle-earth. Even heroes with 3 hit points can feel quite flimsy with the existence of damage-dealing treacheries and the recent proliferation of archery, not to mention the peril posed by conventional attacks, and so the prevailing pattern of 2 hit points for Hobbits set by Frodo and Bilbo was understandably concerning. However, The Black Riders set has provided a compelling answer to this anxiety, the Hobbit Cloak:

Attach to a Hobbit hero. Limit 1 per hero.

Attached hero gets +2 while defending against an attack made by an enemy with an engagement cost higher than your threat.

This attachment plays upon the Hobbit approach developed in this expansion, which is the desire to take on enemies with a higher engagement cost. When this happens, a Hobbit hero gains a substantial +2 bonus to defense, for the mere cost of 1 resource. It is quite appropriate that this attachment falls within the Leadership sphere, as it finds a natural partner in the hobbit cloakLeadership hero, Sam Gamgee, who with 3 hit points and natural defense-boosting potential, is the best Hobbit candidate for the tank role. The ideal case is for Sam’s controller to engage an enemy with a higher engagement cost, which boosts Sam’s defense to 2, while the Hobbit Cloak will raise this up to an impressive 4. Of course, Sam is not the only game in town, as Fatty Bolger, with a printed defense of 2 and 3 hit points himself, makes the second best candidate for this attachment. Bilbo and the Lore version of Pippin are also strong options, as they can benefit from A Burning Brand to become relatively safe defenders, at least against enemies with moderate attack values.

There is a significant downside to Hobbit Cloak, though, and this is that it is completely dependent upon being used against an enemy with a higher engagement cost. While this should usually be the case when running a Hobbit deck, there are plenty of instances when either your deck has gotten out of control or you are facing a scenario that floods the staging area with enemies with a relatively low engagement cost. When this happens, that Hobbit Cloak you counted on to protect your Hobbit hero suddenly can go up in a puff of smoke. Unlike the Dagger of Westernesse, which at least has some kind of minimum bonus regardless of the situation, Hobbit Cloak is an all-or-nothing proposition, and that makes it inherently a bit risky. Granted, this is not to say that this attachment is not worthwhile, far from it. In actuality, it is an automatic include for a Hobbit deck, and probably for any deck including Sam Gamgee (at least, if that deck is planning on running a relatively low threat), but a wise player plans for all contingencies, and a back-up plan for Hobbit Cloak is therefore a must.

I like the idea of running Hobbit Cloak along with some other defensive options, with Ring Mail being a prime candidate, as it also boosts the defense of a Hobbit (along with a hit points increase), although it is a bit more expensive at a cost of 2. However, this Tactics attachment can not only enhance the effectiveness of Hobbit Cloak, it can also partially cover for it when it fails. Take No Notice is an event that can be played for free if all three of your heroes are Hobbits (or Rangers) in order to boost enemy engagement costs by 5, which allows you to get extended use out of this attachment. Also, don’t forget about the best friend of any Hobbit, Barliman Butterbur, who can provide that kind of “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” type protection you might need. With this in mind, it might be wise to defend with your Hobbit Cloak hero early on, saving a chump blocker like Butterbur until later in the game, when the cloak has lost much of its effectiveness.

Versatility: ♦♦◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

* Hobbit Pipe (Spirit Attachment, 0 cost):

It would certainly be sacrilegious to release an expansion focusing on Hobbits without giving some love to Old Toby, Longbottom Leaf, Southern Star, and other assorted varieties of pipe-weed. To this end, one of the attachments in this box is a Hobbit Pipe, which provides some nice medicinal benefits to its users:

Attach to a Hobbit. Limit 1 per character.

Response: After your threat is reduced by an event card effect, exhaust Hobbit Pipe to draw a card.

As is quite fitting for a Spirit attachment, this card plays off threat reduction, although in this case, it is at the service of card draw. The purpose of the Hobbit Pipe is to essentially give a bonus for doing what a good Spirit and/or Hobbit deck should hobbit pipebe doing anyway: playing threat reduction cards. This bonus comes in the form of card draw, which is quite useful for Spirit, and can serve as a replacement for Lore Pippin’s draw, if you are forced to make the decision between Lore and Spirit for your Hobbit deck. This attachment is no cost, which is fantastic, and can be played on any Hobbit character, not just heroes, which potentially allows those Wandering and Keen-eyed Tooks to light up as well (don’t forget about Farmer Maggot, as well).

Despite these advantages, it can be debated whether or not the Hobbit Pipe is essential to a Hobbit deck. Since this attachment is free to play, it really just needs to justify its own spot. You have to figure that in most games, you will get a chance to play at least one event card that reduces threat, assuming of course that you include several copies of such effects. In a Hobbit deck, the main candidates, in terms of threat reduction events, will be The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Smoke Rings (we’ll get to the latter card in a moment). In such a case, and taking into account a minimal situation where you only have one pipe in play, you are essentially using the Hobbit Pipe to replace itself, thus shrinking the size of your deck a bit. Then again, you would need to play 3 such events total to make up for the 3 pipes in your deck. However, if you manage to get 2 or 3 copies of the Hobbit Pipe into play, then you are actually drawing multiple cards with each event that is played, which is when this attachment really becomes worthwhile, in my opinion. Once you add Smoke Rings into the equation, then things really become fun, as this Spirit event is really designed to work in tandem with the Hobbit Pipe. Smoke Rings reduces your threat by 1 for each pipe you control, which in turn activates the card draw ability of the Hobbit Pipe (you also get a nice bonus to willpower).

With 3 Hobbit heroes all boasting pipes, you could play Smoke Rings to lower your threat by 3 and gain a total bonus of +3 to your willpower, followed by exhausting the pipes to draw 3 cards total. This is a truly impressive effect and combination, and if you can get it going multiple times per game, then Hobbit Pipe definitely justifies its spot in a deck. The problem I have with Hobbit Pipe (and Smoke Rings) is that it requires quite a bit of set up to function to the point that it really can be viewed as a top-tier effect. It’s not just a matter of a two-card combo (Hobbit Pipe + Smoke Rings); it’s that you really need to get multiple copies of Hobbit Pipe into play as well. If you can include Master of the Forge or general card draw effects, then Hobbit Pipe (and Smoke Rings) becomes more effective, so that a Lore/Spirit Hobbit combination is perhaps the best context for this attachment. Still, in many cases, I might be tempted to replace Hobbit Pipe with a card that is more straightforward in its implementation and can have a more immediate impact. Don’t mistake my meaning here – I’m not suggesting that this attachment is a bad card by any means, just that I would place it below Hobbit Cloak, Dagger of Westernesse, and Elf-stone in terms of power. However, there are ripe possibilities for building powerful decks around Hobbit Pipe/Smoke Rings that cover three bases at once: threat reduction, willpower, and card draw.

Versatility: ♦◊◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

Conclusion

As we’ve seen already, The Black Riders expansion has certainly pulled no punches in the power department, introducing heroes and allies that can immediately form the basis of strong Hobbit decks. The attachments are just as impressive, and in the case of Dagger of Westernesse and Elf-stone, provide cards that can slot into a variety of different decks, immediately becoming staples of the card pool. I particularly look forward to seeing the uses that players devise for Elf-stone, although part of me fears that the card may be overpowered. Only time will tell, but for now, I think we can all safely enjoy these new toys.

Next time around, TftC’s multi-part review of The Black Riders concludes with a look at the events contained in this expansion!

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24 Comments
  1. Vverian permalink

    I think Hobbit Pipe deserves some more credit in a combo with Wandering Took: Give someone the Took: Draw a card. Get the Took back, repeat.

    • sweetnesswhachacha permalink

      Oh man, I didn’t think of that, haha great combo!

  2. Vverian permalink

    Adding to that: Once you’ve drawn your entire deck with a wandering Took and a hobbit pipe, you could play 1 more Took and attach 1 pipe to each Took to allow another players to draw their entire deck. Unless I’m missing something, that’s a pretty game breaking combo in multiplayer games..

    • You are missing “After your threat is reduced by an EVENT card effect.”

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, unfortunately Hobbit Pipe only works with event card effects, which discounts the Wandering Took combo. I’m sure this was very intentionally done to prevent broken combos.

  3. klancyg permalink

    it doesn’t work like that – Took raises a threat instead lowering it. And the pipe needs an threat-lowering event to fire.

  4. Great article as usual. Just a small typo: The title says ALLIES instead of ATTACHMENTS.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks for that, it’s fixed now. Blame it on the late-night editing!

  5. Yeah, that whole part about “EVENT” card effect really made this card drop off my radar. No Wandering Took, no Gandalf threat reduction, etc.

    • Without restricting it to Events, it would have been a broken card.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        Completely agree. Restricting it to events was a smart design decision. I think Hobbit Pipe can be effective if you throw some recursion (Dwarven Tomb) and cost reduction (Good Meal) into the deck with it.

  6. Tiandes permalink

    About Elf Stone, too bad the location resolution is part of the same phase as questing, cause it could have made for a very powerfull combo!

    Just Sneak Attack Gandalf during quest phase, get one of his ability, use him to get more willpower, put it back in your hand, because of his willpower contribution, succesfully explore a location triggering the Elf Stone effect and put back Gandalf in play to use once again one of his ability!

    For 1 resource of lore and 1 of leadership you could have end up with :

    6 new cards
    8 damages on a big ennemy (brutal!)
    10 treat reduction (almost “Strider”esque!)

  7. Traekos77 permalink

    The Daggers are extremely powerful, they probably should have been made unique or 1 per hero. As they are designed, I’m going to included them in every deck possible!

    The Elf-stone doesn’t bother me as much because there aren’t that many powerful allies and those are unique (Gildor and Beorn). That doesn’t sound like a drawback but you still have to set aside deck space for them! Other allies generally max out at a cost of 4 which isn’t obscenely high considering the requirements of the Elf-stone to activate them.

  8. Daggers seem pretty much spot on to me. Compared to the Dwarrowdelf Axe they are similarly effective in combat & the same in battle quests. They are probably slightly stronger than the Rivendell Blade which is a more situational +2 & may not even be +1 & does not work on questing. The dagger does have a restriction – it may only be use on heroes which is significant especially for the Blade where there are some good ranged attackers to use it.

    I am very happy to see a vanilla weapon though which makes using weapons a good (well promising) way to buff the tactics heroes instead of relying on eagles, again.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I think the biggest potential for abuse is with Dunhere, as being able to swat enemies in the staging area for 7 could certainly be called overpowered. Then again, the same is true for someone like Faramir, for example, but it requires a lot more setting up.

  9. Elf stone is also not an auto-include. It would not go in a Dwarf deck where you want to play lots of cheap dwarfs from hand. That’s a technical objection though 🙂 – it is awesome converting Lore’s excess cards into resources. It also requires a bit of building around too.

  10. Has anyone had success working Pipes into their Hobbit decks, I wonder? My issue has been that I want to use the three Hobbits from the BR box since they work so well together, but then I have to throw in Song of Travel. This adds yet another step to the Pipe/Smoke Rings/Galadhrim Greeting setup.

    Spirit Pippin just hasn’t worked for me, so I guess Spirit Frodo is one way to go if you’re not actually playing BR.

  11. Tiandes permalink

    For me Spirit Pippin seems a very situational hero where his ability seems to work very well in quest that put an ennemy in your face early on!

  12. Slamin permalink

    Just a note that the header for Hobbit Cloak is incorrect: Hobbit Cloak (Tactics Ally, 3 cost, 1 willpower, 2 attack, 0 defense, 2 hit points)

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! The wrath of copy and paste is relentless.

  13. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Thanks for the article!

    The dagger is amazing! Dunhere and Merry, and a ton of other situations to be just a plus one!

    Pipes kind of fizzle for me because it seems like the best combo is merry, pippin, and samwise. I wish this had been the spirit version of pippin as it would have been the natural move to put in threat reduction. I am not a fan of depending on songs so the pipes are sitting out for now

    Elf stone seems cool, and I’d agree hobbit cloak is a must for samwise!

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