Another milestone, another wrap-up post. Since the Hobbit saga is a bit shorter than a full deluxe expansion + cycle (even including Battle of Lake-Town with it) I’m going to have a bit less to say, and in particular they bring less player cards so I will be passing over the section where I’d go over player cards I’ve used and not used. Instead I’ll be trying to put in some more general perspectives on how The Line Unbroken is going, and I’ll make this the standard for end-of-book saga wrap-ups moving forward.
So first, general thoughts on the player cards – they’re mostly good for Dwarves. Introducing the whole 5 Dwarves mechanic and some other good stuff. So a lot of the cards aren’t so great for me, but there are some notable exceptions in cards that either aren’t specifically Dwarf-focused or can be used in a Dwarf or non-Dwarf context, like A Very Good Tale, Beorn, Balin, King Under the Mountain (which can be played outside of Dwarf-focused decks with e.g. Balin), Fili/Kili and some others. And despite saying they’re not so great for me, I certainly can play Dwarves and I’ve quite enjoyed doing so during these boxes, showing off the fact I think that Dwarves can still be quite effective even in the absence of Dain Ironfoot.
And now the quests, one by one:
We Must Away, Ere Break of Day has nice thematic quest mechanics, but one of the worst encounter decks in the entire game. A lot like Road to Rivendell, I like the ideas, but certain cards just ruin the quest for me.
Over the Misty Mountains Grim starts with big brutal enemies you want to avoid (but may not be able to) and then transitions into a potentially excessively large swarm of smaller enemies. Beyond that though, it’s rather generic. Those aspects and again a few fairly horrible encounter cards, are the only distinctive features which comes to mind. I can’t think of anything interesting about this quest that I also consider good.
Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim (like We Must Away to some extent) suffers greatly from the problem that it carries to great a requirement that you build specifically for it in order to manage sensibly – obviously it can be done otherwise, and I managed it, but it’s liable to be decidedly unpleasant. And then if you do build specifically for it it becomes trivial instead. There isn’t really a happy medium to be found between the two.
Flies and Spiders is a marked improvement – in general as I said I prefer the quests in the second box to the ones in the first. The worst thing in this quest really is losing some of your good cards as poison attachments. Besides that, and a couple of horrible treacheries (though in my opinion still noticeably better than some) it’s mostly a fairly standard but well polished quest – good mix of stuff in the encounter deck, interesting times when the players get split up, the challenge of waking up all the unconscious characters on one side while the other players tread water and wait, it’s all pretty fun. I suppose the one possible issue is that it can be frustrating being at stage 4 with nothing to do until stage 3 is done and no way to help the player who’s there – I recall a 3 player game where me and my brother were perfectly content sitting at stage 4 but began worrying that our friend would never make it past stage 3 and thus lose the game for us through no fault of our own.
The Lonely Mountain is a gimmicky quest, and not a particularly difficult one (especially if you build specifically for it), but I prefer that to a quest where one feels compelled to build specifically for the quest just to make the experience properly enjoyable. When it comes down to it, this quest represents a section of the book in which not a lot actually happens – it’s very interesting narratively for the conversations between Smaug and Bilbo, the finding of the Arkenstone, and the treasure beginning to affect Thorin, but those sorts of character interactions and so on don’t translate so well into the card game, so under the circumstances I am happy enough with a quest that is fun and interesting; challenging would seem a bit much to ask for in the circumstances.
Battle of Lake-Town is perhaps the epitome of a quest I feel compelled to build specifically for – while a generic but powerful deck might fare better against Lake-Town than riddles if it wasn’t overly consistent, that would be a case of the deck being bad at riddles, yet still able to function normally, whereas so many decks would find chunks of themselves invalidated by the way Lake-Town works, as any cards which interact with enemies are instantly made irrelevant. I talked a fair bit about this quest in the post for it, so I’ll just reiterate here: I tend to have more fun building decks for this quest than actually playing it, finding the enjoyment in the puzzle-solving aspect of it because the randomness of what comes out is less than in other quests and the whole thing can become very mechanical.
Battle of Five Armies is fairly unique, innovative, and challenging. The interesting decision-making process of choosing between different quests based on how easy they’d be to progress through weighed against the detriments of leaving them unattended is something not to be seen again until the appearance of side-quests in The Lost Realm and the Angmar Awakened cycle. Certainly this is a very interesting and effective representation of trying to juggle the various demands of fighting such a wide-ranging battle.
The hardest quests: A case could be made for We Must Away and Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim if you bring the wrong sorts of decks; Battle of Lake-Town and Battle of Five Armies in general though.
My favourite quests: Flies and Spiders, Battle of Five Armies.
My least favourite quests: We Must Away, Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim.
Quests which have aged least well: In a controversial move I’m going to say Lake-Town. As I’ve said I tend to view it more as a puzzle to be solved than a quest to be played. The big thing it had going for it when released was the huge challenge it represented, it’s nigh-unbeatable nature and brutal reputation. Now though, with the mixture of an expanded card pool and greater experience, it has become much more beatable. The puzzle has been solved, and there’s generally not so much fun to be had in redoing a puzzle when you already know the solution.
Now as noted above, I’m not doing a full player card rundown but instead I’m going to do a bit of a general retrospective on the progress of The Line Unbroken so far.
So of course one crucial idea behind TLU is to observe how the card pool developed over time all the way starting from the Core Set to get to the point it’s at now. Same for the quests. So for quests, I’ve seen it said that the first cycle works kind of an extended tutorial – a quest for objectives, a quest for boss enemies, a quest for horrific treacheries, and a quest for locations before rounding it out with the last two. I don’t know if that was the intention, but I suppose it could explain Rhosgobel and Emyn Muil. The second cycle had a bit more general, mixed mechanics with interesting other mechanics going on, though some of them still fell kind of flat (Looking at you Long Dark). Then when we came to HoN we got a massive mechanical shake-up with Battle and Siege, plus a much increased level of challenge, while the Hobbit boxes had some very specific requirements in the first box followed by more general in the second, kind of like the transition from Mirkwood to Dwarrowdelf in microcosm.
And for player cards it was much the same thing, as I said in the Dwarrowdelf wrap-up, the first cycle saw some fairly basic stuff with a greater concentration of duds or poorly costed cards, while in Dwarrowdelf it seemed they had the basics down more but still made some mistakes in doing more complicated and unusual mechanics. The other thing in the development of the player card pool has been the development of a few archetypes. Mirkwood gave us Rohan and Eagles, while Dwarrowdelf gave us Secrecy and Dwarves, and Hobbit gave us more Dwarves. To my mind, the best designed was Eagles – though they have their problems, they follow a fairly consistent mechanic of leaving play, and you benefit from that mechanic with the Eagles of the Misty Mountains. On the other hand Rohan mostly follow a consistent leaves play mechanic but there’s no specific benefit for using it, and minimal benefits to focusing on the Rohan trait rather than just including a mix of Rohan and other traits. Secrecy of course didn’t work quite as well as intended, and Dwarves… well Dwarves really I would say are too good. They’re still a top-tier power deck now, having had barely any attention since the Hobbit boxes. And design-wise, the issue with Dwarves is that initially they didn’t focus on a particular mechanic like most trait-based archetypes do – we just got a lot of cards that were generally good at everything, and Dain. The Hobbit boxes introduced the “if you control 5 Dwarf characters” mechanic, which works pretty well. If the Dwarf trait had been designed around that to start with I think it could’ve worked out a lot more interestingly (although it would’ve still had one of the problems it has now that it would be difficult to splash a small amount of Dwarf synergy into a deck not specifically focused on it, making them more xenophobic than other traits).
And the other big point was in terms of making a blog post/video series of it to do my best to show off as much of the card pool as I could, as well as the particular mechanics of the quests. As far as the quests go I think I’ve done fine – there are some quests which can fail to show off their mechanics if you complete them too fast, but the ones which spring to mind are Rhosgobel and Long Dark, both of which I had to make multiple attempts because of unfortunate luck and my somewhat eccentric deck choices for them, thus ensuring they did get that chance to demonstrate their mechanics (that wasn’t intentional on my part, just a happy coincidence). Perhaps Hunt for Gollum didn’t really show itself off as I kind of breezed through that one. But mostly that aspect I think has worked out fine.
Now as far as player cards go, I’m going to delve into some stats as to how I’ve been doing. A little while back I decided to put all my successful Line Unbroken playthroughs into the FFG quest log to have a record of them and have a look at some stats. It’s interesting to note the sphere balance – none of the numbers are too far from 25%, but Tactics is at the top and Leadership at the bottom, whereas the quest-log-using community apparently has a more pronounced pro-Spirit anti-Tactics bias. Understandable perhaps, especially since a certain amount of those wider community stats will be solo play. In my case, I’m not sure about the amount of Tactics I apparently use (though Battle and Siege questing certainly will have helped add to it), but the low percentage of Leadership I suspect may be helped by the fact I’ll often just run a single Leadership hero and rely on Steward of Gondor to get him additional resources.
I also initially found it interesting to look at the hero weight, but after a bit I found that beyond comparing to the community percentages (I use notably more Beravor, Eleanor and Beorn, notably less Eowyn and Dain, much much less Glorfindel), it was more interesting to keep my own records of how many quests I’ve played with each hero, and then add in details of how those quests divided up by cycle. So interesting points:
Obviously heroes I’ve used in big boxes, and especially heroes released in big boxes, have an advantage as they’ve mostly gotten 3 quests apiece from those while AP heroes only get 1. This in turn has caused a greater bias towards Dwarves than would otherwise happen since I’ve tried to go somewhat thematic for Khazad-Dum and the Hobbit boxes.
My top 6 heroes are still the ones I used for the Core Set – in order Eowyn, Beravor, Eleanor, Legolas/Gimli/Aragorn. Gimli gained favour by being a Dwarf in Khazad-Dum, but the others I’ve just chosen freely to bring back over and over again, though Aragorn may be losing traction now he has to compete with his Lore version.
There is no hero I’ve used only once, and no hero I’ve used 9 times. All other numbers are represented up to 12 (Eowyn).
The only hero I had available for the Dwarrowdelf cycle and didn’t use was Dunhere.
Usage numbers for Mirkwood varied from 9 (Eowyn/Beravor) down to 1 (Gloin/Thalin), whereas in Dwarrowdelf they only varied from 4 (Gimli/Thalin/Bifur) down to 0 (Dunhere), so the spread was much more even.
And for other player cards, at the end of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle there were 39 cards released that I hadn’t used. By the end of the Dwarrowdelf cycle there were only 23 SoM cards still unused, and 17 from Dwarrowdelf itself. Now, it’s only 14 Mirkwood cards and 11 Dwarrowdelf. I think in the long run there’s a reasonable chance those numbers could make it down to 8 and 4 respectively, but probably no lower.
Specifically, the Mirkwood cards I think I’ll definitely never use are Blade Mastery, Power in the Earth, Gandalf’s Search, Beorn’s Hospitality, To the Eyrie, Keen-eyed Took, Meneldor’s Flight and We Do Not Sleep.
The Dwarrowdelf cards I think I’ll probably never use are Ever Onward, Taking Initiative, The End Comes and Short Cut.
The Long Dark became the first box where I’d used every single card, when I slotted in Fresh Tracks for Peril in Pelargir. It was followed by Hunt for Gollum when I used Song of Kings for Siege of Cair Andros, and Return to Mirkwood when I used Dawn Take You All for The Lonely Mountain. Sneak preview: The Steward’s Fear comes very close to immediately joining this list, but falls short by one card. It’ll very probably make it before the end of the Against the Shadow cycle.
As a result of deliberately trying to find uses for all the cards in the course of The Line Unbroken, I have used 19 cards which I don’t think I had ever previously chosen to include in a deck, even when playing with a limited card pool. Some will of course then be returning to the virtual binder, but others I found to be more effective than expected, at least in the right context, so I may well consider bringing them out again on occasion.
Specifically, these were Horseback Archer, Ever Vigilant, Common Cause, Beorning Beekeeper, Song of Kings, Born Aloft, Dunedain Quest, Infighting, Rear Guard, Dawn Take You All, hero Hama, ally Bombur, Keeping Count, Song of Earendil, Ever My Heart Rises, Love of Tales, Burglar Baggins, The Lucky Number, and Expecting Mischief.
So overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with how The Line Unbroken has been going. I think it’s basically doing what it was intended to do, showing me how the game developed over time before I got into it, and conveying that information over to you; and showing off the huge variety of available options in quests and player decks that are available in this game. As I head back to Gondor for the Against the Shadow cycle and approach the point at which the Progression Series sadly stopped, I’m excited to continue my journey through the game’s history, and I hope you’ll all enjoy following along with me.