As readers will no doubt have realised, I have some fairly strongly set views on the design of the game. I generally feel that the designers get it about right, but that their task is a very difficult one. Correspondingly I tend not to be a huge fan of custom content. Obviously it’s highly variable, but a lot of custom content seems more like people just threw ideas they found interesting at some cards and went “Eh, it’ll do.” I appreciate that generally people making custom cards are just doing it for a bit of casual fun rather than a serious game-design endeavour, but nevertheless it bugs me that so many custom things either seem less well balanced or less in line with the theme and the rich story which underlies this game and so I’m generally negative on custom content as a whole.
With one big bright shining exception.
The First Age sets put out by Ian at Tales from the Cards are in my opinion the most spectacular success this game’s community has had in the area of custom content. The balance is good (it’s perhaps not balanced on quite the same level as the official content but since it’s all separate that’s not really an issue, and the most outlandishly broken options I can think of involve bringing in official cards), and the theme is fantastic. I’ve been fortunate enough to help with playtesting on the Doom Mastered cycle (the latest instalment of which hits playtesting soon so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested) and that has just reinforced my love for the whole project. As such, I knew as soon as I started up my blog over a year ago that I’d want to incorporate the First Age into The Line Unbroken even though it’s obviously not a part of the standard progression, and so here we are.
Now when I started the Line Unbroken one of the decisions I made was that I would not do card reviews like the Progression Series did, and there were two main reasons for that. One was that I feel card reviews in video form at least work better with more than one person so you can have a discussion rather than just a monologue. The second and more significant reason was that the Progression Series already did the card reviews, and I felt there was little I could add to what they already said. I considered picking up card reviews once I passed the point where Mitch and Matthew stopped, but decided against it because even without the Progression Series card reviews, Tales from the Cards does card reviews of new packs (and started somewhere around where the Progression Series stopped), the Grey Company and Cardboard of the Rings podcasts both review new cards when they’re released, the Mirkwood Runner does card reviews, people discuss the cards on the forums, there’s a function to post card reviews on RingsDB, etc. There is a glut of card reviews spread around this community if you want to find them so once again there’s little I could say that others hadn’t already said.
The First Age though. Being a custom set the First Age doesn’t see anything like as much play, and certainly I’ve never seen any card reviews for it. This is fresh untrodden ground on which I can be the first to make my mark. It’s also probably for the best, since when I start explaining how I’ll exhaust Hador for Strength of Men, pass resources from Fingon to Fingolfin using Oath of Friendship, attach Huan to Luthien and corrupt Feanor to put Nauglamir into play etc, I might as well be speaking Quenya for all the sense it’ll make to an audience who haven’t first been at least introduced to the cards.
So before I move onto the review videos themselves, I should mention some general points which really apply to many of the cards I’ll be covering so it’s well to have them stated at the start.
1. So the first thing is Corruption. I’ll read through the full definition myself when it comes up in the videos, and you can find it in the rulesheet on the First Age page, but in brief, when a character takes Corruption you put progress tokens on them, and if they have more than their willpower they turn into enemies. This was a new mechanic devised for the First Age, and as such being aware of it inevitably influences how certain cards are viewed, including some which don’t directly reference it.
2. The Relentless keyword was also created for the First Age as kind of a compromise between being the two boring extremes of able to completely hamstring boss enemies or just making them immune to player card effects. A Relentless enemy cannot have its attacks prevented by any player card effects, but everything else still works. This may impact views on certain cards.
3. First Age heroes were designed consistently with threat discounts compared to the sum of their stats. While I can’t be sure without actually asking Ian, it seemed to me that in general the standard was a -2 threat discount, with less for those heroes with more powerful abilities. Regardless of if that was intended as a standard, the varying threat costs are an obvious topic for discussion, and if you were previously unfamiliar it’s best you know up front that discounts are the standard here.
4. A couple more, not actual explicit rules aspects, but personal observations which I may bring up more than once – firstly it always seemed to me that some of the designs of things in the First Age were intended to take official cards which never worked as intended and fix them. And the other is that there are a fair number of First Age cards which very much encourage multi-sphere interactions because of the nature of their effects, even if there’s nothing explicit to that effect on the cards like the stuff we’re getting now in the Dream-Chaser cycle.
5. A lot of First Age cards have obvious comparisons in the official FFG card pool. I’ll bring these up where they come to mind. But while I’ll certainly try, I may well forget to bring up when the comparison card was released in relation to the First Age (while I’m doing the First Age progression-style just like the rest of The Line Unbroken, in the card reviews I will refer to cards from the full modern card pool ). So if I do forget, bear in mind that the First Age was released between Voice of Isengard and Dunland Trap, so anything from Ring-maker onwards wasn’t out yet (though some bits may have been spoiled already at that point).
6. Finally, because the First Age is a totally different setting, not all of the modern card pool makes sense for it. Of course, there are different relative levels of sense-making when you consider that a great many of the First Age characters weren’t around at the same time because of the timescales involved (especially the humans who could die of old age, but a fair number of elves got themselves killed by the forces of Morgoth also); but that’s still on somewhat of a different scale than if you were to try and include, say, Bilbo in a First Age deck. As such, there is a First Age Approved List, and the only official FFG cards permitted for First Age use are those on the Approved List to avoid those thematic oddities. As such, obviously when considering good combos with certain cards I will only be considering ones which are on the Approved List and thus legal for FA deckbuilding.
One final note – this is the first time I’ve ever really done video/audio editing on a significant scale. The video should be fine, but I ask that you forgive any slight oddities in the audio, like where I accidentally removed a consonant from a word one time, the one place where I just re-recorded a sentence and it sound weird, and anything else. Hopefully next time will be better!
So here are the links to the 5 card review videos, divided up by sphere (including the First Age specific Mastery sphere):