The Black Riders: Events Review
The TftC review of the player cards in The Black Riders expansion comes to a close with a look at the events that come in this box. Previously, I reviewed the heroes, allies, and attachments featured in this set. With the focus now turning to events, it will be interesting to see if their power level can compete with some of the fantastic cards we’ve seen from the other deck types. Like a Halfling, I am determined to take no notice of any obstacles in my way as I push forward towards the thrilling conclusion. Let my intuition guide me, much like Frodo, as I take a moment to ponder the meaning of these events through the cloud of these smoke rings. Read on for the review!
* Halfling Determination (Tactics Event, 1 cost):
This Tactics event serves the same function for Hobbits as Durin’s Song does for Dwarves, with a few slight differences between the two. Halfling Determination provides Hobbit characters with a boost to all stats (save hit points):
Action: Choose a Hobbit character. That character gets +2 willpower , +2 attack , and +2 defense until the end of the phase.
This is quite a fitting event for an expansion that heavily focuses on making Hobbit decks truly viable for the first time, and it gives players a handy “Swiss army knife”-type card that can be used for a variety of purposes. Any card that is this flexible, in that it can be used for more than one function, is inherently valuable. Since Halfling Determination provides a sizable +2 bonus to either willpower, attack, or defense, it can be used for whatever you most need on a given turn, whether it be to make up willpower during questing, to compensate for an enemy that suddenly has its attack boosted during combat, to provide just the extra strength you need to defeat an enemy, and much more. While this kind of disposable boost doesn’t have as much of an impact in a long-term sense as an attachment that increases a particular stat, it can prove absolutely decisive during key moments.
For example, Halfling Determination is an all-star during the A Shadow of the Past scenario, as it can give you a cushion during hide tests that would be sorely missed otherwise. If you happen to discard 1 or 2 more threat from the encounter deck than the willpower you committed, Halfling Determination can give you just what you need to make up the difference, and anyone who has played this quest knows that failing a hide test can often have disastrous consequences. Willpower boosting effects are also generally valuable as they can allow you to be a bit more conservative when committing characters to the quest, since you have a couple of willpower in your pocket if needed. Similarly, imagine defending with a hero when a brutal shadow effect raises an enemy’s attack just enough to kill your character; Halfling Determination can swoop in to save the day (this is particularly important for Hobbits, who are so flimsy in terms of hit points). Again, the distinction between losing a hero and having that hero survive just may be the difference between victory and defeat.
With all this in mind, Halfling Determination is that kind of steady, flexible card that should go into every Hobbit deck that includes Tactics. I mentioned the similarity with Durin’s Song, which plays a similar part for Dwarves, although there the latter card works for an entire round instead of just one phase (and can only be played on a hero rather than all characters). Durin’s Song is thus a better card from the perspective that you are more likely to get the full benefit of a boost to all stats if it lasts for an entire round, presuming you have readying effects available. By contrast, the fact that Halfling Determination boosts all stats, but only for a phase, just means that you can use it for a variety of purposes, rather than being able to turn one character into a superman for a round (although I have used it with a Fast Hitch-equipped Sam to help with both questing and a hide test during one phase). Would this card, which is eligible to be played on allies, unlike Durin’s Song, ever be worth using on a Hobbit ally? In most cases, the answer is probably no, but I could imagine a situation where all your heroes are exhausted and you need to drop Halfling Determination on Farmer Maggot to give him 4 attack against an enemy or to give a Hobbit ally extra willpower to give you a fighting chance against an unexpected hide test (or some similar mechanic).
Overall, this is a solid card with limited applicability, in that it can only be used with decks that feature Hobbits. The cost of 1 is perfect, and the flexibility of this type of card is enough to justify its space in a deck.
* Smoke Rings (Spirit Event, 2 cost)
I already covered this event quite a bit when discussing the Hobbit Pipe attachment, since the two cards are so very closely linked. However, I will do my best here to isolate Smoke Rings a bit and discuss it on its own merits. This event from the Spirit sphere is mostly a threat reduction effect, with a willpower cherry on top:
Action: Reduce your threat by 1 for each Pipe you control. Each hero with a Pipe attachment gets +1 until the end of the phase.
There is one important thing to note about Smoke Rings immediately: its impact is entirely dependent on how many pipe attachments you control. Currently, the only pipe available is the Hobbit Pipe, also included in The Black Riders, and with 3 copies maximum possible in your deck, and a limit of 1 per character (with a Hobbit restriction), in most cases, you are looking at a threat reduction of 1 at minimum and 3 at maximum. Taking into account just its effectiveness as a threat reduction effect, I’m a bit underwhelmed by Smoke Rings. Paying 2 resources for 1-3 points of threat reduction is not a great deal, in my opinion. If I’m going to have to rely on multiple cards for threat reduction anyway, I’d be much more inclined to run with a Good Meal/The Galadhrim’s Greeting combination, which allows you to pay 1 resource for a much more impressive threat reduction of 6.
This means that, if you are thinking about running Smoke Rings, you really need to be interested in its impact as a willpower boosting effect as well, in addition to the card draw provided by Hobbit Pipe. Getting 1-3 extra willpower on top of 1-3 cards and 1-3 points off of threat sounds much more appealing than just the threat reduction. However, I still don’t love the cost of 2. Whether or not Smoke Rings justifies a place in your deck really depends on what else you are running and what you anticipate needing for a particular scenario. If I had other card draw effects available, I probably would pass on the Smoke Rings/Hobbit Pipe duo, while the willpower boost can be provided by a variety of other effects. With all this in mind, I don’t think this card merits inclusion in most decks, at least as it currently exists. If more pipe attachments are eventually released, then this may change. I don’t think that it is unplayable, just that there are better options out there. I suppose that you could use Good Meal to reduce the cost of this card to 0, which would certainly make it much more worthwhile, but at that point, you are running 3 cards to make the combination work (Good Meal, Hobbit Pipe, and Smoke Rings) and this is far too much effort for an effect that is not game-changing.
* Take No Notice (Lore Event, 3 cost):
A Hobbit deck is fundamentally all about keeping one’s threat below the engagement cost of enemies, as many Hobbit effects only trigger if this is true (i.e. Dagger of Westernesse, Sam Gamgee, Hobbit Cloak, etc.). There are two ways of accomplishing this goal: reducing one’s threat when possible or raising enemy engagement costs. Take No Notice uses the latter approach:
Lower the cost to play Take No Notice by 1 for each Hobbit or Ranger hero you control.
Action: Add 5 to each enemy’s engagement cost until the end of the round.
With this event, you can prevent a swarm of enemies from coming down from the staging area or push their engagement costs high enough that key cards and effects will actually function. This can be the difference between having the crucial +2 defense boost from Hobbit Cloak and being left exposed. This can be the difference between Sam Gamgee readying when an enemy comes down and having one less available character. This can be the difference between an extra bonus for Dagger of Westernesse and not having enough attack power to destroy an enemy. Thus, Take No Notice can play an essential role in expanding the opportunities and time frame for using card effects based on the engagement cost of enemies.
The cost of this event is also quite reasonable, given that it can be played for free if all your heroes are Hobbits (or Rangers). Even a cost of 1 (if you control 2 Hobbit/Ranger heroes) can be justified. However, I think that once you reach a cost of 2 or 3, Take No Notice becomes a harder sell. I also have found that I can often get by fine without the services of this event, as long as I can include enough threat reduction (and card draw to reach the threat reduction) in my Hobbit decks. So the decision to include or exclude this card really comes down to the particular composition of your deck and the specific challenges of the scenario you’re facing. I would put Take No Notice firmly in the category of useful cards, but not “must-haves” (again, though, this really depends on the specific needs of your deck).
One aspect of this event that I want to point out is that it has use beyond Hobbit decks, and can be quite effective for Ranger builds as well. Not only do Rangers receive the same discount on Take No Notice as Hobbits, they also can take advantage of natural synergy. In most Ranger decks, particularly those using Faramir, you are looking to keep enemies in the staging area as long as possible, so that you can pick them off with direct damage, ranged attacks, and traps. Take No Notice can allow you to prevent enemies from engaging who would otherwise do so, and while Advance Warning is an alternative option (and a more powerful one), it’s hard to ignore the advantages of a 0-cost version of this type of effect.
* Frodo’s Intuition (Fellowship Sphere, 2 cost):
This is one of those Saga-specific event cards, similar to Burglar Baggins from the On the Doorstep expansion, and The Lucky Number from Over Hill and Under Hill. However, while I have to admit that I haven’t used those other cards much, preferring to include choices from the more traditional spheres, Frodo’s Intuition has seen plenty of play on my table already. This event is extremely powerful in Hobbit decks:
Action: Each hero you control gets +1 willpower until the end of the round. Draw 1 card for each Hobbit hero you control.
There are two main roles this card plays: as a general willpower booster and as a mechanism for Hobbit card draw. The cost of 2 is a bit much for just the willpower component BUT it is important to keep in mind that these resources are coming from the special Fellowship version of Frodo, and thus you don’t have to pay the cost from your regular pools. In general, I’ve found that there aren’t as many demands on the Fellowship resources as there were on the Baggins ones, so meeting the cost of Frodo’s Intuition is not that big an issue. An extra boost of 1-4 willpower can certainly help with questing or a crucial hide test.
However, it is really the card draw function of this card that makes it so powerful. If you are running all Hobbit heroes, then when you play this card, you can draw an amazing 4 cards (3 for your heroes + 1 for Frodo himself). This is a fantastic amount of card draw, and can be integral to greasing the wheels of a Hobbit deck, allowing you to pull out those crucial attachments that much quicker. With this in mind, if you are playing any of the Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions and are using Hobbits, you’d have to be mad to pass up Frodo’s Intuition.
Versatility: ♦◊◊◊◊ (can only be used in LOTR Saga Expansions)
The TftC multi-part review of The Black Riders has come to a close, and I can now make some general statements about the quality of the player cards as a whole. All in all, I’d have to say that this expansion gives you some of the best bang for your buck, from four strong heroes to powerhouse cards like Dagger of Westernesse, Elf-stone, and Hobbit Cloak. However, there are a few caveats. One is that if you are not interested in building a Hobbit deck at all, then these player cards may leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed. I imagine, though, that most players will be excited at the prospect of building a new and interesting deck type that features some of the most iconic characters from The Lord of the Rings. The other caveat is that I don’t want to overstate the case for these cards too much, and mislead players into expecting every card to be a knockout punch. What you have here is a couple of top-tier heroes (Merry and Sam), and a few high-level attachments, with the rest being a consistently useful collection of cards. It is this consistency that really defines this set of player cards more than anything, as there aren’t any real duds to be found, and plenty of fun to be had.
The review of The Black Riders player cards may have ended, but the TftC coverage of this expansion is not over. Stay tuned as my journey through Campaign Mode continues with A Knife in the Dark!