|Your Time Is Running Out
A Preview of The Voice of Isengard Expansion for The Lord of the Rings
|The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game | Published 20 November 2013|
“You come at last, but too late, and with too little strength. Things have gone evilly since Théodred fell. We were driven back yesterday over the Isen with great loss; many perished at the crossing.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
As it carries us south of the Misty Mountains to the lands surrounding the Fords of Isen, The Voice of Isengard introduces both player cards and new scenarios inspired by the region, its landmarks, and its people.
Here, the Riders of Rohan guard their borders atop their noble steeds, even as the Shadow of the East steals across the land. Dunlendings rise against them, seeking to reclaim the land they once lost. And Saruman the Wise studies the dark arts of Mordor in order to use them against the Enemy. The whole of the region is poised on the precipice of momentous change, and it falls to a few of Middle-earth’s noblest heroes to see that this coming change leads to good. Still, you must make haste; there is little time to act…
In our last preview, lead developer Caleb Grace explored the influence that Rohan and the Rohirrim exerted upon the expansion’s player cards. Today, Caleb turns his attention to the expansion’s scenarios and the ways in which they portray the region and introduce new types of challenges to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.
Lead Developer Caleb Grace on the Scenarios from The Voice of Isengard
Today, I’m excited to talk about the three upcoming scenarios in The Voice of Isengard. It’s exciting for me to talk about scenarios because they are where the design team really gets to interact with players. With each new scenario, our goal is to create a fun, challenging adventure with some unexpected twists and turns that forces players to respond to the game in new ways. While you’re building new decks to defeat our scenarios, we’re developing new scenarios to challenge your existing decks. It’s like a friendly competition. To learn what types of decks and strategies players are using, I like to host events and browse different forums and fan sites. Then I use that knowledge in order to develop new quests and encounter cards that challenge those decks and, hopefully, encourage players to keep exploring all the options available in the game.
I think this is one goal we really nailed with the scenarios from The Voice of Isengard expansion, and I think players are going to find that many of their old strategies won’t work as well as they did previously. Even better, I think the overall result is that players are going to find the game’s drama and sense of urgency have been reinforced while the new encounter mechanics partner well with the expansion’s themes.
The “Turtle” Strategy Versus the “Time” Keyword
The first thing I noticed is that many popular decks are “turtle” decks: They advance slowly until they get everything they need into play. Then they snowball to the point where they can blow away anything the encounter deck can throw at them. I’ve played many games myself that started out very tense as I struggled to deal with each new encounter card, but then I would reach a point where I found myself in complete control and the tension was all but gone. While it was rewarding to see that my deck could come together in such a way that I had command of the game, it was also a little disappointing to feel the tension slip away. Therefore, my first goal for the scenarios in The Voice of Isengard was to find a way to preserve that tension throughout the entire scenario regardless of how well a player deck was coming together. That’s how I came up with the “Time X” keyword.
The Time keyword represents the urgency with which the players must accomplish their tasks. When a card with the Time X keyword is revealed, the players must place X time counters on that card. Then, at the end of each refresh phase, the players must remove a time counter from each card with a time counter on it. Each card with the Time keyword also has a Forced effect that triggers after the last time counter is removed from it. These effects are typically bad for the players.
This innovation opened up a lot of exciting new design options, and Matt Newman and I worked hard to explore the different ways we could take advantage of these possibilities throughout The Voice of Isengard box and The Ring-Maker cycle. There certainly weren’t any dull moments during play-testing! It’s not hard to keep players under pressure when there’s a nasty Forced effect on a quest card or encounter card in play that will trigger after the last Time counter is removed from it. Just take a look at stage 2B of The Fords of Isen, Dunlending Attack (The Voice of Isengard, 60). That’s definitely not a quest stage that I want to spend too much time at.
Card Advantage Versus the Dunlendings
Speaking of Dunlendings, the players get to fight Dunlendings in The Voice of Isengard! But the Dunlendings will fight back… hard. In the first scenario, Fight at the Fords, the players must aid the men of Rohan as they fight off a small army of Dunlendings. These wild hillmen are savage fighters who bear an ancient grudge against the people of Rohan, and I designed them to counter another popular strategy common in nearly every customizable card game: card advantage.
Every experienced card gamer knows that the more cards you have in your hand, the more options you have to choose from, and that typically translates to your advantage. Since there’s no hand limit in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, there’s typically no reason not to draw as much of your deck into your hand as you can. I’ve seen plenty of players with twenty or more cards in their hand. This extreme amount of card draw usually goes hand-in-hand with the “turtle” strategy, and when players build hands so loaded with options to choose from, they’re usually prepared for anything the encounter deck can throw at them.
This is where the Dunlendings fight back: They get stronger for every card in your hand and punish you when you draw cards. I was excited to pair this mechanic with the Dunland trait because it made so much sense thematically. In the War of the Ring, the people of Dunland were all too eager to ally themselves with Saruman in his war against Rohan because of their old hatred towards the horse-lords. They saw the Rohirrim as thieves and usurpers because they displaced the Dunledings when they settled in the country of Rohan long ago. The Dunlendings were forced to relocate to the rough highlands of Dunland while their enemies lived in the rich land that was once theirs. To represent that bitter grudge in the game, I designed enemies with the Dunland trait to get more aggressive as the players flaunt their riches by drawing more cards.
One classic example of this idea is the Dunlending Bandit (The Voice of Isengard, 43). At an engagement cost of thirty-three and only one attack, you might be tempted to optionally engage this enemy to get his two threat out of the staging area, except then you have his ability: “While engaged with a player, Dunlending Bandit gets +1 Attack Strength for each card in that player’s hand.” If you’re a turtle player with twenty cards in your hand, you’d probably rather leave his two threat in the staging area than deal with his twenty-one Attack Strength.
Another great example of turning card advantage into disadvantage is the Dunland Berserker (The Voice of Isengard, 48). This enemy’s ability should make you think twice before drawing cards if you’re engaged with it: “Forced: After the engaged player draws any number of cards, Dunland Berserker makes an attack.” Its Attack Strength of two may not be very intimidating, but when it attacks you each time you draw a card (including at the beginning of the planning phase) those attacks can add up quickly.
To really keep players on their toes, we placed the Dunland Tribesman (The Voice of Isengard, 46) to go in the same encounter set as the Berserker. Though his printed Threat Strength starts at zero, it can quickly become a serious concern: “Forced: After a player draws any number of cards, Dunland Tribesman gets +1 Threat Strength until the end of the round.” In a four player game, that means this enemy will be at least four Threat Strength if it began the round in play. But you won’t get a free pass if you reveal it during the quest phase because it also reads: “When Revealed: Each player draws a card.” What I love most about this effect is that not only will the card draw increase the Tribesman’s threat, but it will also cause any engaged Berserker to attack while simultaneously increasing the Bandit’s Attack Strength! And there are more bad things that can happen to players when they draw cards, but because I want some of them to be a surprise, I won’t spoil all of them here.
Once The Voice of Isengard arrives at retailers, I look forward to learning how different players approach the new challenges presented by its scenarios, the Time keyword, Dunland enemies, and the expansion’s other new mechanics. It’s my hope that you’ll have a fun time building new decks or adjusting your strategies in order to deal with these challenges. If you do, then everyone in our friendly competition comes out a winner.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game allows players to explore the untold stories of Middle-earth, and some of the most urgent of those tales come from the realm of Isengard. With The Voice of Isengard, you’ll have the chance to delve into these unfinished chapters. Can you safeguard the region from the Enemy’s influence?
Until The Voice of Isengard arrives at retailers, be sure to check back often for more previews and other news related to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game!
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.