Across The Ettenmoors: Hero Review
We are now officially halfway through the Angmar Awakened cycle with the release of Across The Ettenmoors, the third Adventure Pack. This of course means that we now have a brand new set of player cards to talk about and use. First and foremost of course, as always, is the hero. It was a bit of a surprise to see this hero, Dori, be a Dwarf, as although cycles do tend to draw heroes from a broad range of traits, not just those that are central to the cycle, it’s been a long while since we have seen a new Dwarf hero. Dori is also only the third Tactics hero with the Dwarf trait, with both Gimli and Thalin reaching all the way back to the Core Set (Oin can gain the Tactics icon of course, but this isn’t quite the same). What all this means is that Dori’s arrival was quite unexpected, but certainly welcome from the perspective of gaining another element for Dwarf decks after a long period of justified neglect (in other words, Dwarves got attention for so long that a break was welcome). However, beyond his trait and sphere, does Dori hold up as a hero? Is he indeed a valuable new addition to decks and the card pool in general? Or does he fall short of the mark? Read on to find out!
* Dori (Tactics Hero, 10 threat, 1 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points):
Dori has probably generated more head-scratching than any hero in recent memory. I remember quite a bit of similar confusion when Caldara was released, for example, and outright slagging when Spirit Pippin dared to show his face, but the utility of the more recent crop of heroes has tended to be clear-cut, even if a particular hero doesn’t appeal to everyone. The utility of Dori, by contrast, has been brought into question by a broad swathe of players, so let’s take a closer look at this hero to find out exactly what is going on, and whether this Dwarf is a misunderstood soul or truly just a bad, bad hero. Dori has the unique ability of adding his defense to that of another hero:
Response: After another hero is declared as a defender, exhaust Dori to add his to the defending hero’s for this attack.
It’s probably worth delving into the finer mechanics of this particular ability before we assess its power. First, the condition, “After another hero is declared as a defender…”, is vitally important, as it specifies the timing of this ability. Declaring defenders is step 2 of the process of resolving enemy attacks, just before step 3, which is revealing and resolving shadow effects. What this timing means is you cannot base your decision on whether or not to use his ability according to the shadow effect. If you could, Dori’s ability would certainly be more powerful, as exhausting Dori after seeing an enemy’s attack boosted by 2, for example, potentially destroying a fellow hero, would make him an invaluable safety valve (similar to the ally version). Instead, you have to make that decision as soon as another hero is declared as a defender and before shadow effects are revealed. The other important bit of language is the phrase “…for this attack”, which specifies the duration. The hero that is assisted by Dori only gains the defense boost for that one particular attack, not for the entire phase (or entire round, for that matter). This is another important limitation to the effect.
So with those restrictions in mind, is this ability worth the cardboard it is printed on? In solo play, the answer is a clear “No” in my book. To understand why, we only have to look at the Core Set card, Stand Together, a 0-cost Tactics event that allows a player to declare multiple defenders against a single attack. When I first started playing the game, I was basically new to this type of card game. After all, although I did have some experience with the CCG’s of the 90’s, that experience was about 15 years in the past when I cracked open my Core Set for the first time. All of this is to say that Stand Together seemed like a useful card when I first looked at it, as enemy attacks usually outpaced the individual defense of heroes and allies, and a key limitation of the game was that only one character could defend against an attack. Stand Together seemed like a way to circumvent this restriction and gain a leg up against the enemy. However, I soon learned that this card was not very good, around the same time that I began to understand that action advantage is king in a game like this one. Giving up the actions of two characters for defense is a hefty cost that will punish you severely in terms of questing and attack.
The same logic applies to Dori in solo play. Since Dori’s ability can only be applied to heroes, not allies, it is actually even more restrictive and punishing than Stand Together, as it essentially requires giving up the actions of two heroes, not allies, to cover a single defense. Any LOTR LCG player will know that a hero action is usually the most valuable action of all. Dedicating 2/3 of your heroes on a given turn to blocking the attack of a single enemy just isn’t a very efficient use of actions to say the least. Of course, there is readying available in the game, so a Dori with Unexpected Courage, for example, could boost another hero’s defense by 2 and still be available for some other purpose, but this raises two questions. One is whether it wouldn’t be better just to simply equip the defending hero in question with a defense-boosting attachment. The other is whether Unexpected Courage might not be used for a more high-impact purpose. The one advantage that Dori does have over a defense-boosting attachment is that he is available from the very start of the game and you don’t need to draw a card to have access to that effect. This means he has special value as a buffer to give decks time to get running, which is of special importance for Dwarf decks, which are extremely powerful but can be vulnerable during the first two rounds. On the other hand, does that provide enough value to take up a whole hero slot, when that slot could theoretically go to another hero with an ability that might have a higher impact?
Overall, then, it’s probably fair to say that Dori’s value in solo play is extremely limited, unless you simply want a Tactics Dwarf and don’t care about the ability. In most cases, Dori seems to be mainly a multiplayer hero, so let’s evaluate his utility in that context. First off, it’s notable that Dori has the sentinel keyword, so he could simply use his sturdy 2 defense and 5 hit points to defend for another player. Alternatively, he could add his 2 defense to a hero controlled by another player. It might seem that these two options step on each other’s toes, and in some ways they do. After all, why add Dori’s defense to another hero when he could simply defend for that player using sentinel, so that only one character is exhausted instead of two? Well, this flexibility actually allows for making use of two separate sets of hit points. So, for example, my friend might be stuck defending with Grima, so I could defend for her, using Dori to soak up any excess attack past Dori’s 2 defense.
On the other hand, maybe Dori has taken a bit too much damage, while Grima is relatively unscathed, in which case I could boost Grima’s defense by 2 instead, knocking him up to a quite respectable 4. In this way, Dori opens up some defensive options that might otherwise not be available, and this is probably where his true value lies. The nice aspect of his ability is that if you boost his defense and/or hit points, he becomes not only a better sentinel defender, but also becomes better at helping others defend as well. So a simple Ring Mail gives him 3 defense and 6 hit points, which just by itself makes him one of the more impressive defenders in the game, while it also allows him to boost another character’s defense by 3 instead of 2. So in our example Grima would go up to 5 instead of 4. It would be better if this ability lasted for the whole phase, as I could imagine a multiplayer combo where Dori is used to increase a Lore hero’s defense, along with some readying and A Burning Brand, allowing for a great defensive option for the table. Still, what we have is a means to protect other players, especially those that are more vulnerable. While a good multiplayer setup should be able to cover for the non-combat decks, there are always those unforeseen situations that crop up, whether we’re talking about enemies that are unexpectedly put into play engaged with everyone or those enemies that switch players and attack or use some other sneaky maneuver. Dori gives a way of dealing with these situations that might otherwise be disastrous. With this in mind, I feel like 3 or 4 player is really the sweet spot for Dori, as with that number of players, there are more enemies on the board, more ground to cover, but also more room for an extremely specialized hero like Dori.
It’s worth noting that beyond general flexibility and covering for non-combat players, Dori also can provide a solution to certain quest-specific problems. More specifically, Dori is a viable choice in multiplayer against those quests that tend to feature a few strong enemies, or even a big boss. It’s probably no coincidence that the very pack that Dori is part of, Across the Ettenmoors, contains such a quest, with its focus on trolls and giants. However, I could also imagine using Dori against something like The Three Trials, helping another hero defend against a tough guardian or propping up another player to stand against a dragon in the Battle of Lake-town or Ruins of Belegost. In these cases, the sentinel keyword alone wouldn’t quite cut it as Dori’s 2 defense would not be enough. However, helping another hero reach 5 or 6 or 7 might just allow for a successful defense. The one problem here would be that some bosses (though not all) attack every single player and not just one of them, which means that the Dori player would probably have to use him for their own defending needs. Still, these types of scenarios seem to be a valid fit for Dori’s ability.
We’ve established that Dori does have some utility in multiplayer, especially 3 or 4 player games. Now what kinds of decks make a good match? Obviously, Dwarf decks are the best fit. With Dain, Dori could have 2 willpower and 3 attack, which gives him quite the impressive stat line. Then again, the same is true for all Dwarf heroes really. With or without Dain, Dori provides an important defensive option for Dwarves, as the lack of a designated defender, especially in the early game, is one of the only weaknesses of a Dwarf deck, as mentioned in FFG’s own article about Dori. Still, if I’m truly looking for a defensive Dwarf, I wonder if I might not pick Bombur instead, who has the same defense and hit points, but access to A Burning Brand. Or I could run Gimli for one more threat, who could take a couple of early hits just as well and then be an attacking force for the rest of the game. Again, it all seems to come down to multiplayer utility. The one case in which I would pick Dori instead of these other options is when playing in a 3 or 4 player game, as Dori can help other players defend in a way that Bombur or Dori cannot. He also could be a decent choice if playing two-handed or two player with both players/decks running Dwarves. In this case, the Dori side could potentially help the other side, either with sentinel or his ability, and his value as a Tactics Dwarf alone is high, given that Thalin’s value has plummeted thanks to the creation of toughness and the ever-increasing hit point pools of enemies (I still think Gimli is useful even if his value is also questioned these days). Outside of a Dwarf deck, there’s not another clear archetype that leaps out necessarily. Generally, he fits into a Tactics deck in a 3 or 4 player game, preferably with access to readying, either through Spirit (Unexpected Courage), Leadership (Cram), or another player.
What are some attachments (or events) that can be used to get the most out of Dori? I’ve already mentioned the two major options, which are Ring Mail and Unexpected Courage. The former is a 2-cost Tactics attachment that can give him +1 defense and +1 hit points. I would say that Ring Mail is pretty much a must-have for a Dori deck. Unexpected Courage is invaluable to allow him to use his ability while making sure that his other stats don’t go to waste. Beyond those two, we enter into more speculative territory. Citadel Plate could be useful, but as is usually the case, is a bit too expensive to be reliable. It could be cheated into play with Well-equipped, but this is also unreliable. I kind of like the idea of throwing Song of Mocking onto Dori and making him the ultimate tank: defending with sentinel, adding to another hero’s defense, or outright soaking up damage as necessary, then using healing to reset him. I’m not sure if this is workable or even useful, but it’s a thought. More prosaically, a simple Gondorian Shield could add to Dori’s defense as well if you want a cheaper alternative to Ring Mail or a supplement. Dori could make use of the sentinel keyword to attach Raven-winged Helm, which would make him a better defender in his own right, although it doesn’t do anything for his ability. Don’t forget that if Dori is your only Dwarf and you are running Leadership/Tactics, you can get card draw with him through King Under The Mountain. Sticking in Leadership, Dunedain Warning could be helpful to expand on the flexibility of Dori, as it could boost his defense when he is defending or adding his defense to another hero, or be transferred to another hero altogether when needed. Moving to Spirit, in a multiplayer setup, it could be helpful for a non-combat deck to run Silver Lamp. That way, you could use knowledge of the shadow effects arrayed against that player to make your decision as to whether to use Dori’s ability to help them. Finally, anything that grants extra hit points, like Boots from Erebor or Ent Draught could be useful, and healing is always welcome.
As for events, Durin’s Song could be good, especially with readying. Light The Beacons would be huge with Dori’s ability, as it would raise his defense to 4, then he could add that to another hero’s defense (which has also been raised by 2 already from Light The Beacons), and then that hero could defend without exhausting. To take Frodo as an example, he could defend every attack for 8 with Dori’s help. Give him A Good Meal, and you could play Light The Beacons for only 3 resources. This would take a bit of doing to pull off, but I suspect that it is the hardcore combo players that will probably get the most out of Dori, and I expect that in the future there will be some collection of cards that will be pretty powerful and that I will have never even seen coming. For many players, though, while the possibilities I mention are enticing, they might not be enough to push our newest Dwarf over the edge into respectability.
Where exactly does Dori stand at the end of it all? It’s clear to me that Dori is not the worst hero out there. Just having the Dwarf trait alone guarantees that fact. Being a Tactics Dwarf makes him even better. However, I do think that we’ve gotten used to having some pretty great heroes of late, and Dori rates as a bit of a disappointment. This is not so much a matter of objective weakness as subjective expectations. I would argue that heroes that are more multiplayer focused, and that are of more limited use in solo play, tend to be dismissed by players more readily. Brand Son of Bain, who can actually be quite powerful in the right multiplayer setup, but who has been criticized heavily since his release, is the perfect example. To reiterate the point one final time, in a 3 or 4 game, or when using dual Dwarf decks, Dori can be useful. This is not to say that he will blow your beard off, but sometimes the slightest edge is what you need for victory. On the other hand, his utility does decrease as more enemies hit the board, when the player controlling Dori will be under more pressure to use him for his own defense, rather than to help other players. One could argue that such a player would need a dedicated defender in any case, but there are better Tactics heroes for that purpose. If you’re running Tactics without a Dwarf focus, for example, you could include Beregond, a 4 defense hero who also has sentinel, for the same starting threat. Couldn’t he help out other players, and his own player, better than Dori, while using fewer hero actions? The clear answer is yes in the majority of cases. However, Dori can contribute more strongly in questing and attack, making him more versatile. Whether that is something you value or not is another question. Overall, Dori will mostly appeal to Dwarf players and perhaps combo players, but can find a place if you’re looking for an extra layer of versatility or flexibility that someone like Beregond can’t provide.
Possible Attachment Choices: Ring Mail, Unexpected Courage, Cram, Dunedain Warning, Spare Hood and Cloak, Self Preservation, Gondorian Shield, Song of Mocking, Citadel Plate, Boots from Erebor, King Under The Mountain, Raven-winged Helm
Across the Ettenmoors has already given players plenty to talk about with a controversial new hero, perhaps the most controversial in quite some time. Next up, we’ll take a look at the rest of the player cards in this pack, and see whether they outshine Dori or join him in the mud.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Dori? Has he been unfairly maligned? Or will you be sending him straight to the depths of your binder?