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The Ring-maker: Cycle Wrap-up

by on January 20, 2015

The Voice of Isengard - Matt Stewart watermarked

Now comes the dark times between the release of the last Adventure Pack of a cycle and the arrival of the next deluxe expansion. In such moments, we can take time to breathe and catch up on content that we may have missed or experiment with cards that we didn’t get to try yet. It also is a good opportunity to pause and reflect on the cycle that just ended. The Ring-maker cycle was a fantastic triumph on all counts, but any cycle has its highlights and lowlights, its interesting diversions and epic encounters. Every year of films deserves its awards season and thus every LOTR LCG cycle deserves its own moment of recognition. Thus, as I did with the Against the Shadow cycle, I will wrap up the cycle by giving individual awards to various elements of the Ring-maker cycle. What follows are my completely subjective assessments and judgments on cards in the cycle. Enter at your own risk!

Note: I am including Voice of Isengard as part of the cycle wrap-up.

* Most Game Changing CardGaladriel

In many ways, Silvan dominated the player cards of the cycle and emerged as a viable and fun new deck type. However, if I am thinking about one card that had the biggest impact or potentially the biggest impact on the meta, it has to be Galadriel. By giving players a greater degree of control over threat than ever before, Galadriel has opened the doors wide to new deck types and given new life to old ones, such as Secrecy. The potent level of card draw for the Spirit sphere that she provides, which the sphere has never seen before, is also worthy of note. Galadriel is a brand new style of hero, one whose primary role is not to engage in the main areas of play but to provide indirect support for players through card draw and threat management. All in all, the wait for Galadriel was long, but she has proven to be as game changing as many were probably hoping that she would be, and her ripples are only just beginning to be felt.

Rivendell-Scout

* Most Underrated CardRivendell Scout

This is probably the most difficult “award” to determine, as in a game like this, it’s impossible to really know what card is underrated. I can’t peer into every player’s deck box and know what cards they use or don’t use, or see into their minds to know what they think about a card. Still, from various chatter around the internet, it’s possible to pick up on which cards are talked about often and which are rarely mentioned, and  how they are spoken about when they do come up. The Rivendell Scout largely flew under the radar and wasn’t spoken very well of when it did get a mention. This does make sense, as if you are not playing Secrecy, then the Rivendell Scout does have marginal value. However, if you are playing Secrecy, which has become more viable thanks to a few cards in this cycle (although isn’t quite where I would like it to be yet), then the Rivendell Scout is fantastic. A free ally is always good, without exception, and the Scout actually has decent stats, with 1 willpower for questing, 1 point of attack, and 2 hit points instead of the 1 you might expect. If you are playing Sam,  you can put Bill the Pony and Rivendell Scout into play for free, then exhaust both for A Very Good Tale for a possible four character swing for 0 resources. That’s value.

* Most Unexpected Card – Message from Elrond

It was clearly stated before the cycle began that it would contain a smattering of support for different deck types, from Secrecy to Silvan to Ents and more. With such expectations on the table, it was a bit difficult to be taken aback by any card. However, if there was one that totally threw me for a loop and left me saying confusedly, “Err…what?”, it has to be Message from Elrond. This oddball Lore event lets you move a card from one player’s hand to another player’s hand. There are some few applications that have been imagined, such as passing a Core Gandalf to another player if they need the threat reduction or card draw. However, in large part, most players, including myself, are left still scratching their heads. Usually, I can figure out what the designers intended with a certain card or how it was meant to interact with other effects. In this case, I really have no idea what the intent was behind Message from Elrond, but it’s kind of cool how such a weird card exists, and I have no doubt it will appear in some combo in the future.

* Most Thematic Card – Mirror of Galadriel

This one should come as no surprise, as I’ve sung the thematic praises of Mirror of Galadriel in various other places. The Mirror perfectly reflects the spirit of this artifact, providing knowledge of the future (looking at the top 10 cards that are “coming up”) and being able to take action to affect this future (choosing one card to draw). However, as Galadriel warns, such knowledge is imperfect, and this is built into the card effect by the random discard of one card in hand that occurs after the draw. This is a fantastic example of designing a card perfectly to match theme, but in a way that does not result in lengthy card text. The effect is actually quite simple and straightforward, but every bit of it conveys an element of the story behind the mirror. I also appreciate that this is a card that builds in a drawback for balancing purposes, a bit of darkness with the light, and I would like to see more of this in the game. Some honorable mentions for this category were Silver Lamp (shedding light on the shadow effects is a bit on the nose, but I like it) and Feigned Voices (a Silvan ally runs off making noises in the trees to fool and distract an enemy from attacking).

* Most Powerful Card – Treebeard

This was a much tougher choice than last time around, as Gondorian Shield was clearly the most powerful card in the Against the Shadow cycle for my money. The Ring-maker cycle contains a very well balanced set of cards, by contrast, none of which can be said to be overtly overpowered. A card like O Lorien!, for example, is quite strong for Silvan decks, but is essentially restricted to that trait. In addition, while it helps the trait to function better, it isn’t borderline broken like a Legacy of Durin. Similarly, Galadriel is quite strong, but requires some deck building finesse and strategic thinking to get working properly, and even then victory is not assured. So I went with the card that seems to provide the most bang for your buck and the most raw power, and that is Treebeard. I wasn’t sure how much of a drawback the “enters play exhausted” clause would be for Treebeard and the other Ents, but playing them quite a bit in these past few weeks has shown their true power and that their restrictions are a mere annoyance. Treebeard is one of the most powerful allies in the game when his stats are taken into account, his stats as compared to cost, his ability to ready himself and other Ents, and the resources he generates to pay for other strong allies (other Ents). With all this in mind, Treebeard may not end up being as ever-present in decks a Gondorian Shield, but he surely will make a big impact in any decks that do feature him, and he will only grow in strength as more Ents are released.

Mirkwood-Pioneer

Most Flawed Card – Mirkwood Pioneer

Something like Message from Elrond could have taken this spot, but here I’m really thinking about a card that has potential but is undermined by its flaws, as Spirit Pippin was in the Against the Shadow cycle. With this in mind, the Mirkwood Pioneer is not a completely useless card and I can see some applications. A Lore deck could go all in on threat negation with the Pioneer, Ranger Spikes, Secret Paths, and Radagast’s Cunning and potentially always face 0 threat in the staging area during questing, or at least very low threat. Such an approach could work well in solo play, at least. In addition, multiplayer games, especially three or four player games, pose a unique challenge in terms of dealing with locations, and adding Mirkwood Pioneer to other effects might be worth the trouble. Might. The problem is that the flaws of the Pioneer really bring this ally down. For one, the relatively high cost of two is compounded by a threat gain of one for every player as well, which is substantial. The Pioneer also has terrible stats, contributing only one willpower, and has a trait, Woodman, that has no synergy with anything else in the card pool. Finally, for many decks and quests, the Pioneer is easily replaced with other cards in the same sphere that are cheaper and do the same job or better (i.e. Secret Paths, Radagast’s Cunning, Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Tracker, etc.). All these factors make the Mirkwood Pioneer the most flawed card of the Ring-maker cycle.

* Most Fun CardHaldir of Lorien and Firefoot

Fun is a truly relative term and the Silvan deck type as a whole is really entertaining to play, so picking a winner here is again difficult. I’ve thus cheated a bit and picked two! Haldir of Lorien takes the sniping of Dunhere to another level, allowing him to pick off enemies in the staging area and engaged with other players before they can even swing a sword in anger. This is great fun and will have you cackling in glee in no time as your enemies fall unsuspecting to your well-placed arrows. I have fond memories of running out Haldir for the first time with my fellow Grey Company podcast hosts at Gen Con and this plays into this decision as well. Firefoot is another combat-focused card that just elicits a smile or smirk Running over one enemy and carrying on that damage to another hapless foe is a fantastic experience and I hope to use Firefoot more in the new year. 

Galadriel

* Best Hero of the Cycle – Galadriel

I really wanted to pick Grima as the best hero of the cycle, both because I really love using him and because it would have doubtlessly brought forth some cries of shock and horror in the comments section. I started out on Team Grima, briefly fell out of love with him, and then went on a flurry of Grima decks that solidified my admiration for this hero. He plays the part of tricksy Lore hero to the tee and opens up some fun possibilities. Still, this is not the place to write paeans to Grima, but rather to pay homage to the official TftC Best Hero of the Cycle: Galadriel. This is probably not a surprise. Galadriel is not only a strong and innovative hero, but a big name in Tolkien’s world. She has two abilities at once (three if you count the card draw and threat reduction as separate), and although she is hampered by not being able to contribute to questing directly, can quickly overcome this limitation with Nenya. She also grants access to Mirror of Galadriel, which is a great way to tailor one’s hand to the needs of the moment. All told, while Galadriel has clear and significant weaknesses, she still is a very strong hero that can facilitate whole new decks and hero combinations through her abilities. There really was no way to pick anyone else, although I will say that this cycle had a strong set of heroes, none of which was a stinker. Haldir of Lorien would be my other runner-up, besides Grima, due to his low threat and high attack value for the Lore sphere.

* Biggest Surprise of the Cycle – The Story

The Against the Shadow cycle first introduced the idea of added narrative elements to each quest. The Voice of Isengard and Ring-maker cycle dramatically upped the ante with substantial story text, resolution after each quest, and a strong story thread from the deluxe to the final Adventure Pack. In the Ring-maker cycle, the heroes ended up as unwitting dupes in Saruman’s grand scheme. There was definitely a danger here of making players feel like their efforts were meaningless and not worth the doing. However, the way in which the story unfolded was brilliant, as players could do nothing but watch in rapt horror as the heroes first gave Saruman the building blocks for his Uruk-hai, then brought him the mold to create a ring of power, and finished all this off by uniting the Dunlendings. All three of these elements laid the foundation for Saruman’s power during the War of the Ring. Even better, the players weren’t hit over the head right away with this trajectory, but were left to discover it through reading between the lines and experiencing the gradual development of the story. There is always something intriguing about watching a grand plan come to fruition, and Saruman definitely plays the Keyser Soze role to perfection. On the other hand, while the heroes may have gotten played like an Elvish harp at Rivendell, it still felt satisfying to learn more about the Dunlendings and their struggles. So even though they gave me no end of grief and even though I know they’ll one day be storming the walls of Helm’s Deep alongside Orcs, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction that they were achieving unity for their people (let’s face it, the Rohirrim kind of acted like colonialist jerks to the Dunlendings). More importantly, it was just a good story and a surprising one.

Best Scenario of the Cycle – The Three Trials

This was a really strong set of quest with not a dud to be found. The Three Trials, however, was my clear favorite, and I knew it would grab this title and hold on from the moment it was released. Facing down three different guardians in order to retrieve three keys which unlocks a “magical” artifact is reminiscent of classic RPG storylines or fairy tales and this is a positive in my book. In addition, the choice of what order to take on the quest stages combined with different guardian/barrow combinations adds replay value to the quest. Ultimately, this is also one of the most challenging quests of the cycle for a solo player, which is my main method of playing these days, and I welcome the bigger tests when the appear. The guardian spirits are tough, as they should be, but not cheap and this is overall a well-built and designed quest.

* Worst Scenario of the Cycle – Trouble in Tharbad

I really hesitate to attach the “worst scenario” tag to any quest in this cycle, as none of them deserve that dubious honor. The worst of a good batch is still pretty good, so I wouldn’t want anyone to shy away from Trouble in Tharbad because they think it is terrible. I actually find Trouble in Tharbad quite fun because of the unique threat reduction aspect and the way in which it allows me to have fun exploiting Secrecy cards in a way that’s not possible in most other scenarios. Thus, the only reason I picked Trouble in Tharbad as the “worst” is because it is quite easy in solo play and I haven’t come close to losing yet. Still, while an easy scenario can be boring, this one is not.

Mugash-Enemy

* Favorite Encounter Card – Mugash

Although this was a great cycle all around, I will say that there wasn’t necessarily a standout, memorable villain like Lord Alcaron. Foes like the Ancient Marsh-dweller, Bellach, and the Raven Chief certainly posed a challenge, but they didn’t necessarily make a long-lasting impression in my mind. Mugash from Voice of Isengard, however, is a notable exception. This tough Orc is the focus of the magnificent To Catch an Orc scenario and he really makes you work to capture him and hold him captive. Perhaps what makes me like Mugash so much is that this was the first opportunity to take an enemy alive rather than simply kill them, and the mechanics around Mugash really conveyed the story. From searching for him in various locations to racing to escape with him before time ran out to having to subdue him if he escaped, I really felt like I got to know Mugash and ended up viewing him as a worthy adversary. He even holds a central place as the foundation for Saruman’s Uruk-hai.

Favorite Player CardBooming Ent and Wingfoot

There were many possible contenders for favorite player card, as Grima, Ride Them Down, Firefoot, Treebeard, and more all were personal favorites of mine. However, I ultimately singled out two for very different reasons. Wingfoot appeals to my love for mono-Lore. I’ve long lamented the lack of action advantage in Lore and Wingfoot is the perfect solution, one that combines well with scrying, which is one of the natural strengths of the sphere. For my other choice, I knew I had to pick one of the Ents, as they are one of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings and I’ve been waiting impatiently for their appearance, and the Booming Ent is the one that feels the most like I’m controlling an actual Ent when he gets going. The day when I was swinging each Booming Ent for six was probably the day when this honor was won.

* Card with the Most Potential – Heir of Mardil

The Heir of Mardil attachment hasn’t gotten too much love since its release but one cost repeatable action advantage is amazing. There are some limitations here, as the Heir of Mardil is restricted to the Noble trait and tied to the gaining of resources. However, this attachment will gain steam over time. The most recent FAQ, released today, states that gaining resources includes both resources that are added and those that are moved over from another hero as well. This means that a card like Errand-rider could be used to great effect to trigger Heir of Mardil when previously this was believed to be an invalid combo (since “moving” resources had been clearly distinguished from “adding”). With this in mind, Heir of Mardil is a flexible and cheap means of granting action advantage to a variety of different heroes and can be fairly easily triggered through resource movement. We will likely see a variety of decks featuring Heir in the future.

That’s it, folks! The Ring-maker cycle has wrapped and The Lost Realm approaches. Feel free to share your own favorites below!

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15 Comments
  1. Ecthelion III permalink

    I thought of a use for Message from Elrond, but it’s one that you might not want to hear…

    If one player was playing Hirluin and the other player was only using a couple of Outlands cards, the second player could send an Outlands ally over to the Hirluin deck and that player’s characters could get even more overpowered (i.e. +4 attack)

    It’s like that time in Stone of Erech when you’re both playing Outlands (Hirluin in one deck and Elrond in the other) and Groping Horror makes you pass your hand, only to realize that you have the potential to play 5 Ethir Swordsmen.

    I am deeply sorry for reminding you that Outlands existed. 🙂

    • Michael permalink

      Luckily, the card is nicely balanced out, so that this “overpower” would only last until the end of the round. (“At the end of the round, if the chosen card is in that player’s hand or in play, shuffle it into its owner’s deck”)

      I think that the card is probably meant mostly for events. If you were a dedicated Lore player will lots of card draw in your deck, you could add events from other spheres and use this card in multiplayer to distribute them to other players with resources in the respective spheres. This could make it easier to get stable events into one’s hand, such as Feint and Test of Will. Not sure how well this would work in practice though…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Haha, you are forgiven for your mention of the dreaded “O” word. It could be used for a similar use for other traits I suppose, like lending someone a Booming Ent or Erebor Battle Master for a round if they are running those types of decks as well.

  2. fouilloux permalink

    Hey I just looked at the errata, and you guessed right: Blue Mountain Trader is restricted to once per round!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’m really happy at this change! It seemed like one of those no-brainers for errata.

  3. Pengolodh permalink

    I heartily agree with you on the best quest being The Three Trials. Besides all of the interesting mechanics, the artwork on the keys is amazing!
    For worst quest of the cycle, though, I’d have to say Nin-in-Eilph. It was really challenging and I barely survived after several attempts. However, as for all other categories, I have no arguments. I always enjoy these cycle wrap-ups.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I know lots of people who didn’t like Nin-in-Eilph, and I can definitely understand why. For whatever reason (probably playing it mostly solo and two-handed), I enjoyed it a lot. It took me several tries, especially since I was using thematic decks, but it was a fun nut to crack and I enjoy the difficulty and swamp theme. The one weakness I would say is it can feel repetitive with only two types of enemies and a small encounter deck.

  4. Tonskillitis permalink

    Have to say, I’m devastated that you put in Mirkwood Pioneer in as ‘most flawed’. You’ve really given that woodsman a hard time since his spoil! I’ve found a use for him in most Lore decks since release. His ability to negate a high threat location or enemy is versatile, and he provides another body for questing or defence. Conversely, I keep wanting to try Message from Elrond but just can’t bring myself to do it. Other than the core set Gandalf swap it just doesn’t seem worth it…

    • Authraw permalink

      I agree! I have found uses for the Pioneer in several trisphere decks because he fills so many roles simultaneously. Need a cheap chump blocker? An ally with willpower? Is the threat in the staging area getting out of hand? The Pioneer solves all of these problems with only 3 card slots (instead of the 9 slots usually required if you include an ally, Radagast’s Cunning, and Secret Paths). He lets your deck focus on other areas.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        I’ll have to give him the acid test and throw him into some decks. There are so many good 2-cost Lore allies that it’s hard to find room, and the thing I like about Cunning and Paths is that they can be played after staging, but I’ll certainly give the Pioneer a chance and see if he changes my mind.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I think Message from Elrond is probably the weakest. I chose the Pioneer as most flawed because I really wanted to like him more because we got him as a spoiler at The Grey Company and I’ve wanted the Woodmen trait to get some love. I’ll have to actually try him out some and see if my opinion changes.

  5. Michael permalink

    By the way, seeing that it is still “a number of weeks” before The Lost Realm comes out, are there any plans to play through the latest Nightmare adventure packs and update the Nightmare buying guide? In particular, I have been wondering whether it’s worth to get the recent HoN Nightmare release. Not that I need things to be more difficult but I am always happy to see improvements in terms of theme and fun.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yes, I definitely have plans to do this! HoN Nightmare is at the top of my list of things to play. Unfortunately, it’s not on OCTGN yet and it’s a bit harder for me to get my cards onto the table these days. That being said, I’ve had it in my possession since it came out so I should get a chance to play it soon and get a review up on the buying guide!

  6. kidohearts permalink

    The only thing I would say about the Scout is that its hard to stay in Secrecy through Leadership. You could combine Sam, Pippen, and Glordindel or Frodo or Merry, or Mirlonde. And except Sneak Attack Gandalf to drop threat you may be looking at Glorfindel or Frodo for threat dropping. But ya, first turn Scout and Bill with Very Good Tale and Timely Aid would be an amazing first turn. Could be 5 allies for 1 cost, crazy, lol.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      The two Secrecy decks that I’ve used that have worked well are Sam, Pippin, and Glorfindel, and Sam/Glorfindel. I think this experience is what makes me appreciate the Rivendell Scout. In general, there aren’t too many options for Secrecy heroes in general unfortunately.

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