Alright, so I talked a bit in the last Line Unbroken post about the things in this game that really catch my interest, the magic and mystery and so on, and that seemed like a decent way to segue into talking about the experience of anticipation we players go through when waiting for the release of certain packs which contain things we’re really excited about.
So, background: my brother got the game as a birthday present when it was still fairly new, but neither of us got really into it until some time last year I think. We’d played occasional games here and there but then after a particular game for me at least it was like things just clicked and suddenly I liked the game, found it really interesting, and wanted to go online and find out about all the other cards that we didn’t have.
So when I did then look through all the cards that had been released, Shadow and Flame particularly caught my attention for Elrond and Vilya (as also mentioned in the Line Unbroken post for Shadow and Flame which is going to be the next post after this one). And then I discovered the new cycle that was going to start being released soon was called the Ring-maker cycle and got incredibly excited for that, particularly with the spoiling of Galadriel. As it turned out, Galadriel was everything I hoped and more, but the cycle itself slightly disappointed. I enjoyed it, some of my favourite quests are in that cycle, but I was looking forward to exploring the intricacies of ring-lore and Celebrimbor’s history etc, not half a cycle of Dunlendings, a couple of ruined cities and a swamp. And in fact, Celebrimbor’s Secret was possibly the quest I found least interesting as it turned out, because exploring some locations, picking up an objective and fighting some orcs all felt rather pedestrian and divorced from the magic associated with the rings which I was hoping for.
So much for that. On the other hand, of course in the midst of all this we got The Road Darkens, with Hero Gandalf presenting me with some more magic, and once again I was highly satisfied. And of course, The Lost Realm was announced, and the Dunedain are of course my favourite people in Middle Earth. I think I re-read that announcement article about five times with anticipation building.
Which brings me onto present anticipation for Angmar Awakened. Initially I had a bit of the same sort of disappointment – rather than a weighty quest into the heart of the dread realm of Angmar, it looks like the cycle starts out with fighting some random wargs, goblin prison-break, and run away from trolls. While I’m going to come more to the mechanics later, I will mention now that I do think all of these will be very enjoyable quests (in the case of Wastes, I know for a fact that it is), but they’re not quite what I was really wanting from a cycle taking us into Angmar. However, the second half of the cycle looks like exactly what I wanted – exploring a haunted keep, uncovering a secret which prompts the remaining Noldor and Dunedain into an attack on Angmar, leading to the Battle of Carn Dum, in which we participate, and then heading down into the catacombs to stop a dark ritual which would return an ancient evil to the world. Yes please, this is exactly what I signed up for. In terms of the theme and story at least, I expect those three scenarios to be probably my absolute favourites, and thus they really can’t come soon enough for my liking.
Now you may be thinking that for someone who by his own admission doesn’t pay too much attention to the theme while playing the game, so far it’s all I’ve talked about. But then of course a lot of the time the designers do such a great job tying the mechanics to the theme that it comes to the same thing. Certainly this was the case with my causes of past anticipation. The moment I saw Galadriel and Gandalf spoiled my mind was blazing with ideas for how to make interesting decks with them: Galadriel of course is fantastic with Celeborn and Silvans – since all their stats are boosted, having them quest without exhausting gets you more use out of those boosts. Great for other characters as well, other than Arwen, where it’s an annoyance, and Ents, where mostly it won’t come up. Galadriel is also amazing for Secrecy decks, since she can completely negate the natural threat gain over the course of a game, for guaranteed full-game Secrecy in the absence of too much Doomed. And Galadriel with her Mirror is amazing for a Caldara deck, wherein you mostly don’t care what ends up in your discard pile, because you most likely have a way of getting it back. The ideas just piled up. Gandalf is more of a powerhouse on his own rather than Galadriel being a phenomenal support hero (though Gandalf is also ridiculously good support for Elrond+Vilya), and as such, other than the threat cost issue, there’s practically no limit on what you can do with a Gandalf deck.
So much for my big notable past anticipations, what of the ones right now? Well, of course sometimes a certain card that gets spoiled will really catch your interest purely because of a specific combo you can pull off with it – for example, I was incredibly excited for the Honour Guard from Wastes of Eriador, purely because he combos so well with hero Beorn. Of course as soon as I tried it out I found it incredibly handy for more than just the bear, rather it helped enormously in dealing with attacks on everyone, so it’s definitely a card I’ll be using more in future decks, but my initial excitement was purely down to that one combo.
Otherwise, sometimes things fit a certain mechanic that just suits you (this may be kind of an extension of the single combo excitement), sometimes they’re something you’ve wished was in the game and now is, and sometimes they represent such a massive meta shift that you can’t help but be excited for them, even if you’re not going to use them so much yourself.
An example of the first I suppose would be Spirit Theoden, for lovers of the Rohan trait, because he boosts them so much (though they still suffer from lack of card draw). I am not so much of a Rohan fan as many others in the community, but I can recognise how huge a boon to the trait the new Theoden represents.
A perfect example of the third is hero Erestor. At present, I have no real plans to build an Erestor deck. I’m sure I will, because I try to build all kinds of decks just to see how things work, but I have nothing in mind that’s like “Oh, I have to build that deck the moment the cards are available on OCTGN!” Which was an experience I did have with Galadriel and Gandalf. However, the massive shift in playstyle required for an Erestor deck, drawing so fast but discarding everything you can’t play immediately, is so huge that I am brimming with anticipation to see what other people do with it – people who are more fascinated by that playstyle than I am.
Now it may seem like all the big examples are heroes, but this is not necessarily the case. Another couple of cards I would consider for my third category are Favour of the Valar and Doom Hangs Still – being able to completely ignore the risk of threating out, or being able to completely ignore the quest phase? Those are potentially huge right there, and they are definitely things I want to try out. I’m really looking forward to the Valour keyword and everything that goes with it.
Finally, my big example for number 2, though it fits 3 as well, probably the card I am most excited to play around with as soon as it’s released, is of course Sword-Thain. That card is reason enough for me to write this article about anticipations. Of course, in one respect you can view Sword-Thain like Resourceful but without the Secrecy discount – takes 4 rounds to pay for itself. On the other hand, on top of the resource generation, turning an ally into a hero firstly means they can take undefended attacks (nice), secondly means they’re immune to negative encounter effects which target allies (great), and thirdly means they can have attachments which only work on heroes (fantastic if you choose the right Sword-Thain). Add in the possibilities of getting a discount on the ally and it’s potentially pretty crazy. On the subject of discounts, perhaps the easiest is that hilariously, it has been ruled that if you Sneak Attack an ally in Planning then Sword-Thain them, they don’t return to your hand as Sneak Attack specifically says the “ally” returns to your hand, so since they’re not an ally any more it doesn’t happen. One more reason why Leadership is the most powerful sphere I guess? It’s not a card that will be amazing all the time for every deck, but I’m sure it will allow some truly incredible things if done right.
To talk briefly about the other cards which have been spoiled and relevant anticipations (but only the ones where we’ve seen the text, I don’t see the point of baselessly speculating on the others):
Escape from Mount Gram – Distant Stars will be nice to get rid of some annoying locations, but it’s not particularly exciting. On the other hand, I am pretty interested in the whole victory display mechanic we’re getting with Leave no Trace/Keen as Lances. I’ve always like Out of the Wild, so an extension of that idea sounds pretty great to me.
Across the Ettenmoors – Hope Rekindled will be a nice little enabler for valour, but nothing special. Delay the Enemy will be incredibly powerful in the right circumstances, if you get it to work. It’s a bit conditional though, because if you fail to clear it at the right time, you’ve used up a bunch of combat power on Battle questing, so things are going to be that much worse for the actual combat.
Treachery of Rhudaur – Galadhrim Weaver is fantastic. Cheap and useful. Elven Spear is a bit of a maybe, but could be really good in the right context.
Battle of Carn Dum – The Long Defeat looks fantastic, I love that we’re getting Conditions which attach to more different things. And this is only the second healing effect that can target multiple characters at once, so that’s pretty great. Hold your Ground! Will obviously be fantastic in Valour, but even out of it, a fair few decks will run Behind Strong Walls pretty much just to ready Beregond. This doesn’t provide the defence boost of BSW, but most of the time you don’t need it.
The Dread Realm – Fornost Bowman is like the First Age hero Hurin in ally form, with Ranged. The Ranged is kind of a bonus, but scaling up attack for engaged enemies is great on its own, potentially making it much easier to deal with big swarms.
I imagine I’ve missed some. I know there’s that Dunedain event which fetches a side-quest, which should be pretty good, because the side-quests so far are look pretty powerful, but you can’t rely on having them in hand at exactly the right moment (particularly relevant for Delay the Enemy, Gather Information and Scout Ahead are much more fine to just do whenever).
And of course, right as I was finishing off this article I saw the new Second Breakfast about Escape from Mount Gram. Essentially it confirms my feelings that while the theme isn’t as cool (for my taste anyway) as the stuff we’re getting later in the cycle, the mechanics of the quest are going to be fantastic. I expect to absolutely love this quest. To bring this article full circle a bit, I suppose it has some similarities to Foundations of Stone – splitting up and losing your equipment. Fun and challenging times await, it seems.
I think I might make a habit of this, without so much of a preamble. Just going over the cards we’ve seen previewed and talking about what’s really holding the anticipation. So, expect this again next year I guess, when we have a bunch of spoilers for the next cycle.