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Friday, April 3, 2015

LOTR LCG- Making the Most of a Four-Player Game

By Grant "pfcamygrant" Ellis

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game supports one through four players. I have shared the game with nearly a dozen players, from casual games with nephews who are quite knowledgeable about The Hobbit and the adaptations surrounding it, to community events that required days drive and a hotel stay, to my closest gaming buddies who I have spent decades dealing cards with through a number of systems and formats. A chief selling point of the game is the scalability and balance (delicate though it may be) as you add additional players when tackling a quest. This article outlines some helpful hints and a few practices I’ve incorporated into my game that have been useful at keeping the game fun and the experience edifying.

Who’s in your own personal Fellowship? Is it made up of very old friends, like Bilbo and Gandalf? Is there the proverbial Hobbit who needs guidance as they do not know the way to Mordor? Let us look at some common group configurations you may or may not be familiar with:

An Unexpected Party – This group usually consists of one or two new (or newer) players, some of which may need an introduction to the rules altogether or a refresher on the various phases and steps of each round. Usually the group consists of someone who either has recently purchased the game and is embarking on the great quest of completing the Core Set, a Thorin so to speak, or someone who has played through many adventures and enjoys teaching others the concepts, a Gandalf of sorts.

Here’s some Helpful Hints for a group of four players where there may be a significant experience gap:
  • It’s usually good to start new players on mono-sphere thirty card decks, while introducing a fifteen card sidebar if introducing them through a slightly more challenging scenario.
  • If only one person hasn’t played before, and you have time, it helps to have the best teacher in the group to take them through at least the first stage of Passage Through Mirkwood to learn the rules.
  • If only one person has played before, then it doesn’t hurt to have the entire group play through the entire Passage Through Mirkwood quest at least once.   
  • If you feel comfortable with the rules, I highly recommend playing through The Black Riders expansion as it is very thematic, put together exceptionally well, and full of iconic moments from the source material. 
  • Don't be afraid to net deck, by checking to see what decks other people are playing online. You might find a great balance between theme and gameplay and a little assistance in recreating Middle-Earth at the gaming table goes a long way. It also gives a good idea on potential upcoming purchases.

The White Council – This group consists of players who often follow the popular blogs, the lotrlcg subreddit, and may actively participate in community forums. They are familiar with upcoming releases, they may be using proxy cards, and occasionally break the table talk rule by sharing privileged information that is printed on their unrevealed cards, not to spoil the game, but the cards themselves are striking and tell a story that may not be initially obvious. This group enjoys the meta-game and deck construction, while solving the various logic puzzles presented by the available adventures.

Here’s some Helpful Hints for a group of four players who are well-versed in the state of the game:
  • Find new ways to challenge yourselves, by seeing what is trending on forums and reddit. Have you tried dealing a random hero to each player then making them draw tokens to determine what dominant sphere they have to build a deck around? 
  • Don’t be afraid of Nightmare mode, as we remember that it took the bravest of the Wise to free Gandalf from Dol Guldur in the source-material. These adventures can leave scars, but they are a great way to enjoy the game when you feel your card pool is becoming overpowered. 
  • Don’t get lost in the sauce, Radagast the Brown may have had a divine calling and an Istari origin, but he still spent his days covered in bird-shit talking to millipedes. Remember the point of the game is to have fun, and part of the fun is in the playing of the game, win or lose, and not simply the theory-crafting sides of things.  Testing a new deck is more important than building it.

The Three Hunters (plus one) – The last group of players, like the previous, shares the same thirst for theme and challenge-embracement, but are daring and dynamic in their group composition. They are willing to OCTGN it as necessary, travel to game shops and special events. They coordinate deck construction, and keep up-to-date on errata and development.

Here’s some Helpful Hints for a group of four players who are seasoned and adventurous:
  • Campaign it! Your adventures should build on one another, even if they are episodic in nature and the line isn’t perfectly straight, you ought to explore campaign rules both provided by FFG as well as the LCG community. 
  • Write about it! Even if you aren’t dedicated enough to start a consistent blog or have the tech savvy to run a podcast, there are many forums and outlets that need to hear your voice! You might be the one that helps somebody solve a scenario that has long tripped them up or give advice that helps them overcome road-blocks along their way. 
  • Keep score! Just as Legolas and Gimli tracked their kills on the field of battle, so can your group track both official score and other milestone achievements. Whether it is completing the Mirkwood-cycle or finishing off your collection of the current card pool, there are many moments your group experience that are worth making a record of. If Bilbo and Frodo had not made a record then the story would never have been told to us anyways.

As we examine the sociality that exists at our gaming tables, we should never forget the most important rule: Have fun. That is the point of the game, after all. If fun means following every errata and rule regulation then seek that fun. If fun is constructing a tri-sphere gizmo deck that baffles other players with its efficiency of play, then seek to make that deck. If fun is creating a custom expansion and card cycle, then seek to make that cycle. In the words of Gandalf the Grey “All we have is to decide what to do with the time that is given us.”

Game on.

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