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TftC Mailbag: Deck Building #3

by on October 11, 2013

bilbo mail

Happy Friday readers! It’s been a bit of a slower week, in terms of content, for me, but next week will see several new articles hit the site, and I’m definitely excited to share those. We’ve made it there and back again, to the end of another week, and it’s time for another edition of the TftC mailbag. The mail today comes from a player who owns a certain segment of the card pool, and, sharing the experience of many new players, was struggling a bit against the first few quests of the Core Set:

I have one core set plus an extra lore and leadership collection from the core set that I bought on ebay (so essentially one and a half core sets), khazad-dum, both hobbit expansions and the first four adventure packs from the mirkwood cycle. My son and I both play sometimes so the cards have to spread out amongst two players but I tried solo the other day using monosphere spirit and got overwhelmed with enemies then I tried monosphere tactics and got overwhelmed with locations and threat. Is it just impossible to play monosphere solo in this game unless you have every set and two complete core sets or should I just start on easy mode until I learn how to play a little better? Thanks

This is an extraordinarily common reaction as players first get to grips with what’s in the Core Set. To be honest, the four mono-sphere starter decks just aren’t very good as an introduction to the game, and I fear that some players get discouraged sooner rather than later. Here’s my response:

It is extremely difficult to play mono-sphere solo at this point in the game’s development, because of the limitations you mentioned. Mono-sphere can work well with two or more players. The one deck that has a decent chance solo is mono-Leadership, as it tends to be the most balanced, although you will be missing a couple of important cards from the Dwarrowdelf packs. I honestly don’t think starting on easy mode is that bad an idea, as it will allow you to last longer in quests and get a better feel for the cards and decks. With the expansions you have, I’d also recommend focusing on throwing together a couple of Dwarf decks, which will probably be the most powerful deck type that you can build. Usually a Leadership/Tactics Dwarf deck on one side, and a Spirit/Tactics on the other works pretty well. From there, after experimenting with Dwarves and easy mode, you can go back to trying out mono-sphere. Alternatively, if you still want to try out mono-sphere, I recommend running a mono-Leadership. Aragorn, Theodred, and Prince Imrahil make a great hero tandem that I still use. You should be able to have enough questing and combat to make it though at least some of the quests. I hope this was helpful, and thanks for reading!

As long-time readers of the blog will know, I’m a pretty devoted mono-sphere aficionado, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the limitations of this deck type. Certain mono-sphere decks still struggle in solo play, although things have gotten a lot better. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem, as you really need a sizable chunk of the card pool to make mono-sphere decks function at the same level as powerful dual-sphere decks, at least in solo play. In multi-player, you can make mono-sphere work effectively with fewer cards. This same reader continued to struggle, and asked for further advice:

Hey. I’m sorry to keep pestering you with this issue but I’ve tried four or five more games with mixed sphere decks, dwarves and once more with tactics only and have only won once. Taking a look at what I have are there only going to be one or two decks I’m going to be able to use solo or am I just missing something? I even tried it on easy mode twice and lost. All these on Passage Through Mirkwood which is supposed to be an easier quest. Once again, thanks for any help you can give and that you’ve already given.

Before I give my second response, I want to take a moment to re-assure newer players who are having a similar experience: you are not alone, and things do get better. I know that is probably the corniest, after-school special (do they even have those anymore?) response possible, but it’s true. It takes awhile to get to grips with the game, but it can be quite rewarding once you clear that initial hurdle. Seeking out the community for advice is probably the best thing you can do. Here’s my second response:

No worries. I wouldn’t be too discouraged about struggling when first playing this game. It took me awhile to get the hang of things as well. As far as providing help, there’s a couple of things I can offer. First, here’s a Dwarf deck I built using the cards that you have:

Hero (3)
Thorin Oakenshield (OHaUH) x1
Ori (OHaUH) x1
Balin (OtD) x1
Ally (23)
Gandalf (Core) x3
Erebor Record Keeper (KD) x3
Bifur (OtD) x2
Dori (OHaUH) x2
Fili (OHaUH) x2
Gloin (OtD) x2
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Kili (OHaUH) x1
Faramir (Core) x2
Snowbourn Scout (Core) x3
Attachment (14)
Cram (OHaUH) x3
King Under the Mountain (OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Thror’s Map (OHaUH) x2
Protector of Lorien (Core) x3
Event (13)
A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x3
Durin’s Song (KD) x3
Radagast’s Cunning (Core) x2
Secret Paths (Core) x2
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
It should be competitive against many quests, including Passage Through Mirkwood. You are missing some cards, but with the pool you have, you should be able to build a variety of decks. Realistically, when playing solo, you are restricted to a small set of decks, because you have to cover so many bases all at once, while in multiplayer you can play more specialized builds.
My other recommendation is to watch this video, if you haven’t already:
It will give you a good sense of possible decks with just the core set, strategies to use against the quest, and a chance to see any possible mistakes you’ve been making. The rest of this video series is very helpful as well. Don’t hesitate to ask for more help if you need it, and good luck.
Fortunately, this reader did report later that the deck worked well for him, and we had some further correspondence, but I’ll save that for another time. I do tend to recommend to newer players that they build the strongest deck type that they have available, as building confidence first is important before delving into deck building experimentation. I also think the Progression Series is a fantastic resource as well, as there is sometime no good substitute for actually seeing the game played successfully.
TftC readers, what further advice would you give this fellow player? What decks would you recommend given this player’s available card pool? For any readers out there who have similar questions, or just want to drop a line, don’t hesitate to click the Contact TftC tab above! Enjoy your weekend!

From → TftC Mailbag

  1. I just want to second your comment and encourage other new players: this thing is tough from the outset, but it’s a rewarding game to carry on with. As it should be! One does not save Middle-earth overnight. One does not simply…ah, you get it.

    So, two quick comments on the score. (1) You will get better at playing the game and at deckbuilding if you stick with it. Once your cardpool expands and you get the feel for what decks really need and how to play them, you will be sending those baddies to the darkness prepared for them in no time. (2) Don’t let losing be too discouraging. Easier said than done! I remember a time, when I first started playing, when I wanted to win so badly that I fudged the rules constantly. Then it hit me: it’s supposed to be hard! I’m supposed to lose! That’s one of the joys of this game — overcoming. To steal a line from Dwarf Fortress, losing is fun.

    Anyways, I think I’ve added to the after school special but hopefully you newbies will stick with it. You have some great resources through COTR, Beorn, this blog, and Master of Lore (to say nothing of the FFG forums and BGG and the COTR Facebook page). So use [continue to] use them and hang in there.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink


    • No, I got to totally agree with everything said above. It’s one of those games that you can’t sit down with a top deck and start playing and expect to win every time. LotR is a game that honestly takes patience and practice to learn. It’s sort of like the idea of ‘It takes an hour to learn but a lifetime to master’ mentality.

      I have lost more times than I can count when it comes to running scenarios because either my decks don’t work as well as I think, I don’t have enough or it was raining outside and I forgot to Sneak Attack my Gandalf into play to feed him to the Ringwraith…

      Anyway, I am also learning the game even though I have the full card pool now because there are so many choices as far as deck creation its a wonderful thing. 🙂

  2. Tiandes permalink

    I honestly think that the way to go for player new to the whole concept of a deck-building card game is the Saga Expansion.

    The decks are almost already built for you.

    This give the chance to those players to get the hang on all the different mechanics of the game and get a feel on how cards are working together and what needs to be done to beat a certain type of quest.

    Then, for those get hooked, there’a the whole card pool to play with and try building different types of deck.

    As a former MtG player (long time ago!!!), it took me only 1 go with a mono-sphere deck (as suggest by the rulebook in the core set) to realize it was going nowhere and that I needed other options. For a person that never play that kind of game, I can understand they are feeling completely at lost since, like pretty much all DB cardgame, deck-building is 50% of the game!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      You’re definitely right, deck building is at least half of the game, and this can be intimidating for new players. It must be especially difficult now with all the cards that are available in the card pool!

  3. Legolas of Darkwood permalink

    For a start I would rather recommend dual sphere decks and two player games instead of solo, especially with those early quests.

    Further I strongly advise playing at least “half” easy mode: take out these extremly annoying cards that just kill you, if you are unlucky enough to draw them, but don’t take the extra starting resource. In my opinion the game is far less random if you do and honestly just feels like normal mode should.

    This game has been designed to challenge card game geeks for a long time and out of the box actually already comes in hard mode.

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