Tales from Gen Con 2015
Three days in Indianapolis at Gen Con 2015 flew by much too quickly for my taste. Although it’s good to be home, I will miss the ludicrously passionate debates about random cards (yes, Caldara is awesome), the ability to jump into games at a moment’s notice with friends new and old from around the country, and the great fun to be had in having a good chunk of the LOTR LCG community in one place. For those who couldn’t make it, I will do my best to distill the experiences down and share them with you so that you can hopefully sample some of the flavor and enjoyment that was had. Enjoy!
Gen Con Quest: The Ruins of Belegost
First of all, I’m sure that many readers are eager to hear more details about the Gen Con quest this year. I only had the opportunity to play it once, which may seem odd, but there’s simply so much to see and do. I am hoping to give it a few more plays over the coming weeks, and am greatly excited to do so, because what I can safely say is that this quest is awesome. It focuses around what can safely be called a good old fashioned dungeon crawl. The quest centers around the players’ exploration of the ancient ruined city of Belegost, with the new “discover” keyword simulating the search through various locations for loot. This loot is not only shiny but also useful (gimme that loot!), as each one comes with a useful effect, and which loot you have at each stage determines the next stage you will go to, setting up a series of branching paths. What this combination of loot and stages means is a ton of replay value. Add into this equation a furious dragon looking to roast you alive and you have a recipe for a truly memorable scenario. I truly can’t wait to get this one on the table again, and I have no doubt that other players will feel the same way, so don’t miss this one when it becomes available to print on demand. As an extra bonus, I loved the various references to First Age lore, from Belegost itself to Aule, all of which warmed my First Age loving heart. Finally, did I mention that the quest came with an alternate art Gimli? Of note is the fact that the alternate art template has been slightly tweaked, with the banner/scroll placed behind the stat numbers. It truly is a great looking card. Finally, one of the great parts of Gen Con is getting a chance to catch up with designers Caleb Grace and Matt Newman in person. Both are not just fantastic designers but also thoroughly good dudes, and Caleb gave some insight into his thought process behind The Ruins of Belegost as we played.
New Releases: The Land of Shadow (Quest spoilers for TLoS in this section!!!)
Generally, one of the appeals of Gen Con is the chance for players to get their hands on new LOTR LCG product a bit earlier. In this case, The Land of Shadow was available at Gen Con! Many players were hoping that this would be the case with a rash of preview articles for this expansion released in the weeks leading up to the convention, and their hopes were not dashed. The absurdly long three hour wait through the Thursday morning Fantasy Flight Games line was rewarded at last as we were able to place our hands on the precious.
The Land of Shadow focuses around three main events. The first has players following Gollum/Smeagol through the Dead Marshes, avoiding locations with harmful effects that trigger if they are left too long in the staging area through the mire keyword, as well as a rash of undead enemies. The second quest has players ambushing an army of Harad marching towards the Black Gate of Mordor. This was actually the one quest in the box that I was able to play at Gen Con, and I had a blast playing it. The key mechanic revolves around enemies being placed under the Black Gate if they are left in the staging area, representing the fact that these enemies have essentially escaped your ambush and made it into Mordor. If too many enemies escape in this way, then you lose the quest. Together with my brave companions, we survived a round of 14 archery damage(!) and tons of nasty Harad enemies to come within one big quest push of winning despite all odds. Unfortunately, we drew the one card during staging that could pull defeat from the clutches of victory, but had a great time anyway. Note that the resolution for this quest has players recording the number of Harad that are placed under the Black Gate on their quest logs, so it seems as if this will come into play in the future. Finally, the third quest revolves around one of the key moments of the books: the battle with Shelob. What I’ll say is that Shelob is an innovative boss and isn’t simply another huge foe with “immune to player card effects”, but poses a meaty challenge in a different way. I did get a chance to try out Damrod and some of the new traps and the trap deck is definitely at a higher level with these cards, but certain quests can still pose a challenge for this archetype.
News and Announcements?
Fantasy Flight Games runs an In-flight Report at every Gen Con where they review the past and announce upcoming releases for the first time. Generally, this is where the next Deluxe and/or Saga expansions for LOTR LCG are announced each year. Unfortunately, there was no news on this front this time around. Just to be clear, this isn’t a cause for concern, as none of the LCG’s had any announcements during the In-flight Report, but the omission was likely simply a matter of time.
Community Innovation: New Formats
I am of course deeply biased, but I believe the LOTR LCG community to be one of the best game communities out there. Not only is it one of the friendliest and united communities out there, as befits a cooperative game, it also is a truly creative one. From custom quests to custom cards to ground-breaking decks to new ways of playing the game, community members are always stretching what can be done. At Gen Con, the community gets to come together and share some of these creations. At the Cardboard of the Rings listener event, a brand new competitive format entitled Keeping Count was debuted. It takes inspiration from the melee format of A Game of Thrones LCG, where each player chooses a different title each round, which determines their relationships with other players for that round. In a similar way, Keeping Count allows each player to choose a different role each round, with names like Ranger and Captain (and even Burglar!). Each role gives you a different useful ability, as well as a different way of gaining “prowess”, which are progress tokens you gain towards your own personal victory. The player with the most prowess at the end of the game is the MVP (winner). What I like about this competitive format is that it keeps the existing format of the game intact. You are still playing the cooperative game we all know and love and you can use any quest (although some quests are better for this purpose than others) for this format. The roles are simply layered over the top of an existing game to add a new competitive dynamic, in the same way that Legolas and Gimli competed for the most kills even as they were working together to defeat the enemy. For more information, check out the Cardboard of the Rings Facebook page, as I’m sure they will be posting the information and documents soon.
At The Grey Company listener event, my fellow host (and operator of Hall of Beorn) Dan introduced players to his Bear Draft format. In this format, a game is preceded by a draft, where players take turns selecting cards for a deck from a limited pool. This pool has been carefully constructed to create the best draft experience, and it allows players to essentially build a deck on the fly, in conjunction with others. At the event, eight players (including LOTR LCG designer, Matt Newman) participated in the draft, operating as two teams of four with the best score earning the victory. Once the draft was complete, these two teams faced off against The Weather Hills in easy mode (easy mode was chosen to compensate for the limitations of decks built from a draft), and despite the challenging nature of that scenario, especially in four player, both teams were victorious! Dan had to use his card collection to construct the draft pool, which limited the draft to a maximum of eight players unfortunately, but hopefully we can run a larger draft at future events, as the players involved seemed to greatly enjoy the experience. If you’re interested in exactly how the draft works, Dan has the full information on his blog so that you could run one as well.
For my part, I helped a group of four take on the first scenario of my First Age custom expansion, The Isle of Werewolves, using decks consisting entirely of First Age cards. They did quite well against a punishing scenario, coming close to victory, but ultimately they fell victim to my *ahem* I mean Morgoth’s evil designs. Thanks to these players for giving First Age a try and it was a truly rewarding experience as a designer to see players trying out something that you have made.
Of course, Gen Con 2015 is an ocean of games, not just LOTR LCG, and while my beloved game does occupy a good share of my attention, I of course also love having the opportunity to play other games as well. I finally got a chance to play Hobbit Tales, an enjoyable storytelling game from Cubicle 7. It involves taking turns telling stories based on a set of cards, as other players try to interrupt your story with their own cards, rolling dice to determine whether their interpretation overrides your own. If you can make it to the end of your story (five cards), then you win. Otherwise, you lose. It’s a great game for a group of friends, and we played it with some adult beverages at the Cardboard of the Rings After Dark event, which only made the experience even more ridiculous (in a good way).
The In-flight Report also announced a Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. This game takes the classic Warhammer Quest board game, which I loved back in the day, and transforms it into a card game format. It allows players to undertake a campaign, facing off against enemies and exploring locations. To be clear, this is not a new LCG, rather it is a cooperative card game in a box, albeit one that will likely see expansions in the future. However, from what I know, it does not involve deck building like LOTR LCG. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to demo the game, as I simply ran out of time, but I’m watching it with great interest and will surely pick it up when it is released (sorry wallet, I’ll make it up to you one day).
A highlight of Gen Con for me was being able to purchase A Game of Thrones LCG 2nd edition, which I’ve been waiting for with bated breath since the reboot was first announced. I was a big fan of the 1st edition, but never moved beyond the Core Set, because by the time I got into the game, there were already 10 or 11 cycles released and the buy-in was just too intimidating. Fortunately, the reboot allows me (and other players) to get in on the ground floor this time. The 2nd edition is truly masterful in my opinion. The new design of the card templates is fantastic and some of the rules have been changed for the better. I particularly like that they have tried to place a stronger focus on marquee characters instead of pumping out an army of nobodies. The Core Set is also much better than the 1st edition Core Set, with eight factions right out of the box and starter decks that are actually neatly balanced (the starter decks in the 1st edition were not balanced by any stretch of the imagination). This is a game that you could probably just pick up the Core Set and have fun with friends, but of course many, many expansions will be coming in the future. The end of my Gen Con consisted of two epic games of AGOT melee, both won by Dan. Do not be fooled by his furry, friendly exterior, he is a heartless bear!
That’s it, folks! The countdown of course begins to the next Gen Con, but there’s plenty of content for me to now cover over the next couple of months, as I seek to get my campaign up to date so that I can delve into The Land of Shadow and review the new players cards of Escape from Mount Gram. Thanks to everyone that I got to meet, talk to, and play with at Gen Con! Many of you had kind words for the blog and you should know that your words mean a lot to me. I wish I would have had more time to talk to and play with you all, but it is amazing how quickly time can pass. Until next time!