Design Debates – Threat Costs part 2

This post is intended to follow on from the previous one I made on this subject. If you haven’t read part 1, you should read it before this one because it contains the preamble and discussion of threat costs in the abstract, whereas this is just continuing going over specific examples.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the subject at hand. I said in part 1 that I would probably make another post talking about heroes whose threat costs are equal to the sum of their stats but arguably shouldn’t be. This is that post, but first, for the sake of completeness I have a couple more who are differently costed, one who I missed initially and one who has been released since that post, so for the sake of completion I’m putting them in here as well.

Merry – The Black Riders

Merry’s printed stats actually only add up to 5. Of course he never uses his printed attack value of 0 unless he’s subjected to something which blanks his text box, because he gains 1 attack for each Hobbit hero you control, and that includes him. So text box blanking aside, he has a minimum of 1 attack which makes his cost equal to his stats. On the other hand, depending on your hero lineup he can potentially have 3 attack (or 4 some turns in Saga quests). Sounds pretty crazy, but going all Hobbits does have some attendant downsides to it, primarily a shortage of hit points and limited defensive options. No, the attack boost is not too bad. The reason some people have lately begun to actually decry Merry as overpowered is because of his second ability, to ready another character after they kill an enemy together. Now, it is certainly a very powerful ability. Some of the best abilities in this game are support abilities like this, because while the character with the ability may not be that effective, they can enable a more powerful character to be far more effective. Otherwise to ready your powerful attacker you’d need a Rohan Warhorse (which is Restricted) or Unexpected Courage. With Merry, you can use his Restricted slots for more Warhorses to ready him so he can ready your powerful attacker, as well as the similarly cheap Fast Hitch. Fast Hitch being cheap is of course fair enough, because getting extra actions out of Hobbits tends to be less significant than getting them out of heroes like Aragorn or Gandalf. The issue is that in this instance the Fast Hitch is allowing you to get extra attacks out of heroes like Aragorn and Gandalf.
To be honest, overall I’m still on the fence about this. I like Merry’s ability, but maybe it should be limited. On the other hand I can’t entirely speak from first hand knowledge as I haven’t yet had an opportunity to try out that deck that was being held up as evidence for why Merry and/or Tactics Aragorn should be errata’d.
Regardless, whether or not the designers choose to errata Merry at some point, his threat cost will be fine.

Theoden – Treason of Saruman

I already gave some thoughts on Spirit Theoden in a forum thread shortly after he was originally spoiled, so I’ll copy/paste those in:
“As far as Theoden goes, this ability is powerful and I think can be considered to reasonably justify a +1 threat cost – it certainly merits the extra point of threat more than Tactics Theoden does. However I do wonder if they felt obliged to give Spirit Theoden such a powerful ability specifically so they could keep his threat cost consistent with the Tactics version.”
Obviously I don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that they would mostly want to keep threat costs consistent across different versions of heroes (the only exception so far is Glorfindel), so they may well have come into looking at Spirit Theoden with the thought that they wanted him to be +1 threat cost over his stats and therefore they had to give him a powerful ability to justify it. As noted elsewhere, I think Spirit Theoden justifies his extra threat point more than Tactics Theoden does. Cost reduction is a pretty big deal.

And now on to the original point, heroes whose threat costs are equal to their stats but possibly shouldn’t be.

Glorfindel – Core Set

Poor maligned Corefindel. As already noted in my Line Unbroken cycle wrap-up, he was actually decent enough at the time of his release, because back then 3 willpower was enough to make him a pretty big deal. But in the modern card pool he just doesn’t stack up, and so since his other incarnation already broke with consistency of threat costs, it wouldn’t matter so much if this one did as well.
To be honest, I don’t actually really want that. As is likely to be a theme across most of the heroes I’m about to talk about, if a hero is lacklustre for their threat, I’d rather their ability was made better than their threat cost reduced. There are a few ways this could be done in Glorfindel’s case. A suggestion I’ve seen posited is simply to make it heal 2 damage rather than just one. A slight variation on this which I’d consider would be to let him heal 1 damage for free and pay a resource to increase it to two (Or possibly even make the resource payment come from the controller of the character being healed). Thus making it possible to use a less powerful version without it sapping your resources, which was always one of the problems with it, Lore resources being scarce at times. I’m sure there are other ways it could be resolved. Regardless, with the ability as it currently is, I don’t really think Glorfindel really merits his threat cost.

Dain Ironfoot – Return to Mirkwood

Dain, the lynchpin of the overpowered nature of Dwarves. Actually in and of himself I don’t think Dain is necessarily too powerful. The thing is, that with the amount of stuff available to the Dwarf trait, they’re incredibly powerful even without him and then he kicks them into overdrive. It was a while after he was released before Dwarves really started to become the true powerhouses they are now and thus made him far too good.
I could go on about this for a while – essentially, Dwarves have a bunch of things which make them overpowered as a trait, and Dain is only one. If some of the others didn’t exist, Dain wouldn’t be as good either. However since all the Dwarf synergy does exist, Dain is ridiculous.
As such, a bit of extra threat really wouldn’t be out of place. Hell, you could make the case that he should have some extra threat for the extra stat points he’s granting himself, like Tactics Theoden. Admittedly unlike Theoden, Dain can’t use those stat boosts without readying effects, since as soon as he commits to the quest or attacks, he’s exhausted and therefore no longer buffing himself. But on the other hand, Theoden’s ability is far less useful outside of the self-buff. In theory, in a four player game Theoden could be providing an extra 12 willpower if everyone’s mono-tactics. By contrast Dain could potentially end up providing more like 50 if everyone’s playing Dwarves. And four Dwarf decks will be better equipped to deal with most if not all quests than four mono-tactics decks.
So yeah. If there’s a hero in this game who deserves a higher threat cost, I’d say it’s Dain.

Pippin – Encounter at Amon Din

Poor Spirit Pippin. Released not that long before his vastly superior Lore incarnation and given a situational ability with an incredibly stupid restriction placed on it. In theory his ability could be useful for a strategy revolving around avoiding all combat. In practice that’s problematic because forcing enemies back to the staging area means you have to keep questing past them in subsequent rounds. Raising your threat to do it means they and other enemies are more likely to engage you in future. Stopping an enemy engaging you doesn’t necessarily stop them engaging other players. And above all, for no sane reason they made his ability not even work unless all three of your heroes are hobbits, so you can’t even throw him into a Dunhere deck where he’d actually make sense and be useful.
I could go on about this for a while longer, but I think I’ll leave that for another time. Point is I really wish he could get buffed. Failing that, though, giving him a threat discount wouldn’t be out of place. Given his ability involves raising your threat by using it, is of limited use, and is primarily designed for a strategy which will by necessity revolve around keeping your threat under control (secrecy wouldn’t be out of place), a lower threat cost would go a decent way towards making it (and him) more viable.

Faramir – Assault on Osgiliath

Now we’re moving into heroes who I personally feel are alright, but I know other people would question so I figured I’d put up some thoughts on them.
The problem people have with Faramir is that while he gains attack from enemies in the staging area, he doesn’t have any innate ability to attack into the staging area, leaving enemies in staging once again means questing past them on subsequent rounds, and his threat cost of 11 makes it harder to stay below engagement costs.
But there are counterpoints to this. One is that if you’re building a deck specifically around trying to make his ability work for you, then you can match him up with a couple of low threat cost heroes (I have a decent deck using Merry and Pippin with Faramir, for example) and get use that way. The second point is that there are always some high engagement cost enemies, not to mention some boss enemies which stay in the staging area but are considered to be engaged with each player. And finally, traps. If you’re staying below engagement costs, then Ithilien Pit will allow Faramir to shoot with his boosted attack at the enemy in question. And above all, Ranger Spikes. Honestly, I think you can get decent use out of Faramir by just sticking him into a deck with three copies of Ranger Spikes and calling it a day. Sure, other heroes can get up to 5 attack with attachments, but in Faramir’s case he still has both his restricted slots at that point, and that’s leaving aside that sticking an enemy onto Ranger Spikes is useful in and of itself. So overall, I personally don’t see a problem with Faramir.

Caldara – Blood of Gondor

And here’s another one. Caldara is certainly a problematic hero, as she only works in mono-Spirit and you really need to build your deck around her to make her work properly. I’ve had the debate about her a couple of times with a friend – since in practice you don’t want to end up replacing a hero with two allies, however powerful, you end up including Fortune or Fate to bring her back afterwards. And since the most expensive Spirit allies cost 4, in practice her ability saves you 3 resources. My friend’s view is that a hero ability should do more for you than save you three resources over the course of a game, having had to devote your deck design to making it work and go through a certain amount of setup.
I disagree. For one thing, Caldara’s ability can see more than one use in a game. For another, cost reduction is a hugely powerful ability. Thirdly, with effects like Zigil Miner and Emery, getting things into your discard pile can be easier for a Spirit deck than getting them into your hand, plus there’s a whole load of versatility to be gained by building your deck around the expectation that a lot of it will end up in the discard pile and that one of your heroes will be popping in and out.
Of course at this point the obvious comparison to make is Spirit Theoden, who saves you one resource per round (assuming you have the Rohan allies to play), while Caldara saves you three resources per use of her ability. I don’t think it’s out of the question that a well-tuned Caldara deck could use her ability once every three rounds, on average, plus there are some other advantages which may arise. And the final point, which I forgot to mention while actually having this debate, is that Spirit Theoden has +1 threat cost, so arguing that Caldara’s ability is not as good and therefore she should have a discount doesn’t entirely hold up.
Overall, bumping Caldara down to 7 threat probably wouldn’t break anything, and it might mean she’d see some more use, but I really think she’s fine where she is.

Fatty Bolger – The Black Riders

And now we’re back to one where I think there’s more of a case to be made. Now until recently I hadn’t actually used Fatty Bolger. A couple of days ago I put together a deck with him and found that it worked pretty well. I used him more as a defender than for his ability, but when I did use his ability it came in very handy for making extra quest progress, and I was able to keep myself well stocked with threat reduction to compensate for it. It’d be far more palatable if he didn’t have to exhaust for it as well as raising threat, but it’s manageable. On the other hand I’m not considering him fully vindicated just from this, because one of my other heroes was Gandalf, so I’m not sure I can’t attribute a fair amount of the success to his influence rather than Fatty himself.
The fact is, Fatty Bolger is one more threat than either Merry or Pippin, and doesn’t feel as appealing in general. He’s the same threat as Frodo, but Frodo is amazing, while Fatty is still a hero you look at and think “Interesting idea, but doesn’t really grab me and make me want to build a deck around him.” Given this and that his ability causes you to raise your threat, so in practice he ends up giving you noticeably more threat than is actually printed on his card, I don’t feel like a discount would be too out of place.
On the other hand, I’ve found with a few heroes that once I got past my initial knee-jerk negative reaction and put them on the table (well, into the OCTGN client anyway), I found that they worked just fine and their ability’s were much more use than I initially thought. It happened with Caldara and may well happen with further use of good old Fredegar here. So, I think a discount could be reasonable, but it may well turn out that he’s fine as he is.

I was a bit surprised when I started writing this that there weren’t more heroes I really felt could do with threat cost adjustment. Just goes to show that by and large the designers are getting it right. It’s pretty much just Corefindel, Dain and Spirit Pippin how really don’t feel like they match up to their threat costs one way or another.
Your thoughts? Are there any heroes you feel are too good for their threat, or not good enough for it? Any thoughts on the heroes I’ve talked about in this article? Please leave comments, I’d love to carry on the discussion.

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5 Responses to Design Debates – Threat Costs part 2

  1. I’ve always just looked at Fatty as a multiplayer hero to prevent the players from failing a quest… never as a way of actually increasing the progress made. That’s an interesting strategy: increasing your threat to make more progress and it works during battle and siege as well. Hmm, Fatty seems a lot better now, as long as you can keep your threat down.

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    • Steven A says:

      Well, you certainly can do that when otherwise questing unsuccessfully – better one player raises their threat than all players. But essentially it’s a repeatable Radagast’s Cunning with a therat raise attached, and can be used for all the same purposes. I found it handy sometimes to get through a quest stage or clear a location. And this was in solo – in multiplayer I might well use it more since I wouldn’t always need him ready to defend for me, and with other players to help out with combat I wouldn’t be as worried about hitting all the engagement costs either.

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  2. Authraw says:

    I have built a few good decks with Fatty in them, my favorite being a deck built around soaking up all kinds of threat damage for the other players and then using The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Gandalf to get rid of it. Fatty definitely shines in multiplayer.

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  3. Qwaz says:

    Lol, i see i got a shout out. Caldara remains to me an interesting hero. I think i’ve found the crux of my problem….If making her work is the deck you want to play then i can see the enjoyment there and would share it (Playing the same way every time would be boring). If your aim is meerly to net gain resources in spirit i maintain there are simpler ways to achieve it and they allow you a lot more deck room for other things.

    So she’s not bad. She’s a perfectly servicable hero but mindframe-wise she needs to be “The hero you want to play” rather than “Any old hero thrown into a deck for resource gen..”

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  4. Pingback: Year End Roundup | Warden of Arnor

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