This edition of Design Debates, just like the last, is somewhat well-timed (allowing for the fact I take a while to get things written and have had some fairly busy weeks lately) since the new FAQ came out very recently. I’ve wanted to do a post talking about stuff in the FAQ for a while and this just seemed the perfect moment for it – specifically though as the title indicates I’m just going to be focusing on the errata as that also tends to prompt the most discussion (I might come back at a later date and address some of the other stuff in the FAQ though).
So. Errata. Errata is and always has been a thorny issue in this game, because there tend to be two divergent viewpoints among the community, between those (like me) who like the fact we get these errata to fix broken combos; and those who feel that people who don’t want to play broken combos should just not play them (since it is a co-op game after all), and the cards should remain un-errata’d because the errata may spoil non-broken decks as well as stopping the broken stuff. I don’t know if there’s much that can be done to reconcile these two perspectives so I’m not really going to try. We accept that errata is a thing as it seems the designers tend more to the former perspective – the question then becomes how these things get errata’d (and also perhaps how broken something needs to be before it merits errata, since there are certainly variable degrees of it).
I’m struggling to come up with much more of a preamble to this so I’m just going to give up on it and skip straight onto the meat of the post, wherein I’m going to go through all the errata we’ve had so far and give my thoughts on them:
Thalin/Eleanor – Strictly speaking these aren’t even errata, just clarifications of how they work. They didn’t change the actual text on the cards.
Beravor – Limit once per round. At the time this errata happened I would’ve been less sure about how much the errata was needed since there were considerably less readying effects at that time, but card draw is huge for sure, so the potential to stack Unexpected Courages onto Beravor and draw 8 extra cards per round could be game-breaking for sure if you get it set up. Personally I might have liked a slightly more nuanced version, if maybe it could only apply to each player once per round – so in solo it’d be as it is now, but in multiplayer you could have multiple players draw 2 cards each round. Not a big deal though, this is fine.
Will of the West – After playing Will of the West, remove it from the game. This I think is one of the best and least controversial errata we’ve had. Because it stopped a certain amount of broken stuff (involving infinitely looping your deck), but had little to no impact on decks not intended to break the game because if reshuffling your deck 3 times isn’t enough for you, what the hell are you doing? The only time I can think this would be a really big deal would be Steward’s Fear with Up in Flames as the plot, or Deadmen’s Dike, so you’ll lose if you run out of deck, and you’re playing 4 player, you wouldn’t be able to have a single deck reshuffle everyone, but then if you’re so bothered about it you can run more than one Spirit deck.
Of course some of the broken stuff involving infinitely looping the deck still proved to be somewhat possible even when you can only loop it 3 times, but that’s another matter entirely…
Stand and Fight – This one again is technically not an errata, more a clarification. It’s also one I’m less happy with, and I would be happier with it if it was a proper errata, changing the card text rather than just saying “it works this way”. Because the things is, the card says “The chosen ally can belong to any sphere of influence” (emphasis mine), which does not explicitly eliminate neutral allies from the running. If instead they’d errata’d the card to say “Choose an ally belonging to any sphere of influence…” then I would’ve been fine with it. My objection isn’t that I think it’s particularly unfair you can’t Stand and Fight Gandalf or Treebeard, it’s purely a semantic issue that I have.
Feint/Thicket of Spears/Out of Sight – Changing them to only stop attacks against a single player. These changes were of course made to reduce the power of the Hama-lock, in particular against Shadow and Flame, but it’s also a logical change considering that presumably when the game was originally made with these two cards in the Core Set, the designers hadn’t yet conceived of the idea that an enemy could be engaged with more than one player at a time, or that it could potentially attack a player with whom it was not engaged. In the case of Out of Sight obviously they had already designed Shadow and Flame, but I guess they just didn’t think about how powerful it could be. The one thing I find to be an interesting wrinkle here is that this phrasing has been applied to all other attack cancellation effects, with the exception of the neutral event Hobbit-sense, so I wonder if there’s still a little bit of broken-ness to be squeezed out of that one (on the other hand I have never used Hobbit-sense…)
Horn of Gondor – This one of course came in the most recent FAQ a few weeks ago, and was the more controversial errata in that particular FAQ. Now I said it on the forums and I’ll say it again here, though with slightly more detail and clarity: I think there were two factors at work in this errata. I think the reason this card received errata is that it can be severely exploited in some broken combos, including but not limited to the Valour action on Rallying Cry. That’s one factor. The other is that (and bear in mind I possess no inside information on this, I’m just speculating) I think having determined that the card required errata, the reason it was errata’d this specific way was probably to be more in line with the theme (so it triggers off characters dying, not Gandalf popping in and out or Silvans jumping in and out of the trees) and the original intent of the card as described in the article (that it would alleviate some of the pain of having to chump-block).
Now this is an errata which bothers me more than most. I certainly agree the card needed errata, because it can do some ridiculous things, and while in most cases it’s less effective than Steward of Gondor, Steward has the advantage of being consistent. But I can certainly appreciate that the specific errata given in this case made the Horn much less useful in certain decks (Eagles, Rohan, Silvans, Sneak Attack) as collateral damage alongside the prevention of the broken combos. That’s why I’m so confident the errata was chosen for reasons of theme and original intent, because if they just wanted to reduce the power level and prevent broken combos they could’ve just made it exhaust, or limit once per phase (an idea I had thrown around in some friendly discussions on the subject in the past), neither of which would have had significant impact on most decks that used it, only preventing massive swings when a multitude of characters all left play at once, which always felt unreasonable to me in any case. That would’ve been the simpler solution on pure balance concerns and had less collateral damage to other non-broken decks. The approach they chose dealt more collateral damage to certain decks, but also fits the theme better, and does allow it to still have some of those more bomb moments if direct damage treacheries or archery wipe out a ton of allies all in one go. So all in all, I’m personally not hugely bothered by this, indeed I quite like the way they did it think it keeps things interesting; but then I’ve never been a massive proponent of the Horn, so I can understand that people who used it a lot more may be put out.
Protector of Lorien – Limit 3 times per phase. Seems fair, it’s still powerful, but no longer offers the option of trivialising your willpower demands by dumping your entire hand. I imagine the combo of pre-errata Protector + pre-errata Beravor was probably pretty crazy.
Dol Guldur Beastmaster & others – The vast majority of encounter card errata aren’t changing what a card does but rather correcting phrasing to make it do the thing it was intended to do in the first place, or clarifying it, or maybe adding in an answer to some niche case they didn’t consider when designing the card (like returning an Orc Guard to the staging area in Escape from Dol Guldur). In this case, as originally written the extra shadow card was dealt after the Beastmaster attacked, at which point it wouldn’t do anything and would get discarded at the end of the combat phase. Changing it to “when” made it follow the original intent, that it gets two shadow cards.
Nazgul of Dol Guldur – I’ve never actually considered nor heard of anyone using Forest Snare on the Nazgul, but I can understand the designers wanting to prevent it, and “can’t have attachments” has become fairly standard on boss enemies at this point.
Narvi’s Belt – I’m going to be honest here: I had to use google to find out what this did before the errata. Specifying the standard four spheres disallows Narvi’s Belt from giving you additional Baggins or Fellowship resources. This is another case really of making a card do what it was always supposed to do, but in this case the problem didn’t come from poor phrasing initially, but from failing to anticipate game mechanics which hadn’t been introduced yet when the card was originally made. There are some other cards which have had similar reasons for errata, so to save space I’m going to skip over the others unless they’re particularly interesting.
Zigil Miner – Given that the Ziggy/Stargazer combo is still a highly effective means of resource generation to this day (so long as you don’t mind dumping stuff into your discard pile), toning it down from the point where stacking up the right cards could potentially net you up to 12 resources from a single exhaust of a 2-cost ally seems very reasonable. The one thought that has struck me, never having played with pre-errata Ziggy (I’m thinking at some point I might try playing with some pre-errata versions of certain cards just to see what they were like) is that people may have found the nerf to make him less fun than before, without the chance of getting a big swing when you spot a high value card near the top of your deck. And I would hazard a guess that it may have been based on that exact feeling that the designers created the Hidden Cache, to give some of the same feeling but in a more balanced form. Which is a heartening thought, because it gives us cause to hope that other errata that have spoiled cards we liked may be compensated for by future card releases. Maybe not, but it’s certainly possible.
Erebor Battle Master – This one seems somewhat of a no-brainer to me. When it read ‘character’ this guy was at minimum a 3-cost 4-attack ally if you had 3 Dwarf heroes, with the potential to be much more. Now you at least have to put in a bit of effort and include some other Dwarves.
Love of Tales – The other recent player card errata, and this is one of my biggest reasons for liking that we get errata. The thing is, the idea of building a Love of Tales/Song deck has always been kind of tempting. And with the number of songs getting released, it has gotten increasingly encouraging with the idea that it could actually work. The thing is though, if one started to build such a deck, while the broken possibilities existed, it’d be really hard to make the idea work without straying into that realm. It’d always be niggling at me that I was deliberately constraining my deck-building to be less than optimal. Now that Love of Tales no longer allows for such game-breaking possibilities, I can try and build that deck and refine it and try to optimise it as I would any other deck without any such qualms. Maybe this won’t work for a lot of people, but personally I’m pleased to have that little deck-building niche opened up to me again.
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! – The only card ever to have errata issued for its title. They also made it only affect non-unique enemies, which is fair enough since the unique enemies are usually bosses who are really supposed to be fought properly as part of the scenario.
Nori – This is one I know some people were more bothered about back when it happened, particularly citing the fact that if nerfing by power level, Dain has a far bigger impact on the power of Dwarves than Nori does. That said, I agree with this one. Even with it, a Dwarf deck can easily end the game at or below its starting threat with Nori. If he triggered off Spirit Bofur, Sneak Attack, To me O my kinsfolk and A Very Good Tale I think there’s every possibility a Dwarf deck could drop its threat down to 0 with reasonable consistency if it really wanted to. At that point it feels like an exploit. On the other hand, Dain is powerful, but doesn’t feel exploit-y in the same way.
Thror’s Map – Travel action as opposed to regular unspecified time action, so you can’t swap in an active location between staging and quest resolution. I have mixed feelings about this one. I don’t really know why the change was made. It doesn’t seem like it’d be particularly overpowering to be able to swap locations at any time, but on the other hand I know from experience that Thror’s Map can still be useful now. More so now than when the errata happened, because we’ve gotten more and more interestingly problematic travel effects for it to bypass.
Actually come to think of it, the errata was probably to stop people using it to break the game with Path of Need by swapping PoN out before resolution and then travelling to it again. That’s definitely not a thing that should be so easily doable, though Path of Need can still have some serious shenanigans played around it.
Expert Treasure Hunter – Limit 1 per hero. I’m fairly indifferent. It makes it marginally more difficult to trigger multiple copies.
Master of Lore – This is perhaps the one I’m most bothered by. Because this errata was issued to stop the broken combo with Master of Lore/Erebor Hammersmith/Born Aloft/Legacy of Durin/Horn of Gondor (Nori optional) which would allow the player to draw their entire deck (and if using Nori, drop their threat to 0). Obviously that’s a thing which needs to be stopped, but they stopped it by nerfing one of the less powerful cards involved in it, while (at the time) leaving the far more potent Horn of Gondor and Legacy of Durin alone. This is the reason why I’d occasionally thrown around possible nerf ideas for Horn of Gondor in the past: as suggestions for how they could more fruitfully have stopped that particular broken combo. There’s some hope now that since Horn of Gondor has finally been errata’d, maybe Master of Lore could be reverted to his previous state, though it seems unlikely. Personally I’d quite like to see it, as in his present form he’s just a bit too expensive for what he does. Maybe if he only cost 2 he’d still work better (he can still work even now, but he’s pretty damn limited), but then they have never yet issued an errata which changes a cards basic stats, only their text.
Blocking Wargs – The people who had been ineffectually beating their heads against the proverbial brick wall of Into Ithilien were no doubt delighted that one of its more brutal cards got errata’d to be a bit less punishing. It’s significant to note though that of course the errata wasn’t given because the designers felt the effect was too punishing, merely because previously it could lead to an infinite loop. For anyone not familiar, Blocking Wargs used to shuffle itself back into the encounter deck if the current quest was a Battle or Siege; so if the last 2 cards in the encounter deck were both Blocking Wargs, you’d reveal one, deal the damage, shuffle it back in, reveal another, deal damage, shuffle it back in, and so on, until all your questing characters are dead, and technically even then, if you had any non-questing heroes and are thus not eliminated from the game at this point, you would technically by the rules have to continue revealing those two copies of Blocking Wargs forever so that staging (and by extension, the game) would never end. Now it doesn’t do that any more.
Blue Mountain Trader – This was a case of making the card do what it was originally supposed to,with particular amusement factor attached because before the limit was errata’d onto the card, you could keep moving the Trader as many times as you liked, with the functional effect that each player could simply rearrange their resources between their heroes however they liked, as well as the intended use that whoever started with the Trader could get a resource from one of the other players. Obvious oversight.
Well, for all that I’ve written quite a lot there, nevertheless one of the points I would note is that there aren’t that many bits of errata that I think have been really controversial – and there have been a lot that I just skipped over because they basically amounted to “This card works the way we meant it to but we got the phrasing wrong originally.” There have been a few controversial bits, but they’re few and far between, and even there some of the negative responses I imagine may have been more emotional responses to the power reduction of their favourite decks rather than an objective assessment of the change being truly bad. Not to mention the fact we can, as I said, hope that some of these negative errata might be somewhat compensated for by future card releases, like the way Hidden Cache added a little back to post-errata Zigil Miner. On top of that, I recall sometimes seeing comments thrown around that we get far fewer errata than we might were this a competitive game rather than a co-operative one – I can’t speak from experience on that point as this is the only LCG I play, but I can easily believe it. By and large, the designers let us be, only stepping in for the more egregiously broken or disproportionately powerful instances, and while there may be some grumbling, I personally feel quite positively about this state of affairs.
I feel like I had some more to say on the subject, but I can’t remember what, and I’ve already spent longer writing this post than I intended to and want to move on to something else. So if you think I’ve missed some crucial point about the way errata is handled in this game, please feel free to yell at me in the comments section.