Come on in for Next of Ken, where this week I'll be talking about two recent entries into the growing LCG realm; FFG's popular new Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, and Alderaac's Legend of the Five Rings-based War of Honor boxed set. Join us, won't you?
A puffin' on his pipe in his Hobbit-hole
I know I've talked about Lord of the Rings LCG in a previous installment, but I finally took the plunge and started deckbuilding. You may remember I was a little lukewarm about the game originally; the "out-of-the-box" play was frustrating and really boiled down to luck, and whether you drew enough allies early.
Still, I felt that there was something more in the game system. I liked the notion of a cooperative CCG/LCG, as it was a pretty unique concept to me (though a natural evolution really, given the popularity of co-ops these days.)
Sadly, you really do need two core sets, at the very least. With this though, you do have a lot of options. I decided to build two 'main' decks and two support decks. The first deck was based around Theodred/Aragorn/Eowyn, and was a heavy-hitting quester with cards to help mitigate bad luck against Treachery and Shadow cards.
It was also a resource machine, using Theodred's ability coupled with Steward of Gondor to generate ridiculous amounts of points to spend on allies and attachments.
The second "main" deck is meant to do the rest of the lifting with Legolas/Gimli as the big fighters, and Beravor for a splash of Lore and card churning to help get the two big fighters tanked up.
My brother and I ran these two decks against the first scenario, and it was literally like night and day from our first sessions with the core decks. We had fists full of cards, tons of resources, were able to plow through quests and creatures alike. I was routinely questing with 10+ Willpower (that's a lot, if you haven't played the game) and he could easily chop down even the most ferocious beasties in a couple of turns, max. I think Gimli finished the game with 7 attack (again, that's a lot.)
Our threat was still in the mid-thirties, and we never really felt like we were in danger. Contrast that to our attempt at playing with just a pair of the core set decks, and from turn two on we were scrambling for our lives.
I know that the base quest is meant to be something you can stomp all over once you start tweaking your decks--it's rated a "3 of 10" in terms of difficulty. I get that. However, it does make me realize that the core decks are fairly rotten in terms of quality. That's disappointing to a degree. We're not buying random booster packs here...but we're seeing limitations of card distribution in other ways. At the very least, we're not beholden to random packs, so that's a plus for certain.
I like the game though. I like working together, I like customizing the decks, and the artwork on these cards is just flat-out gorgeous. There are plenty of card combos, and the card pool will keep expanding as they release their chapter packs.
I don't have the same initial "high" that I had when first playing Decipher's Lord of the Rings back in 2001, but I have a strong feeling that, in the long run and given the histories of both companies, this will fare much better in the long run. I'm willing to enjoy the ride for now.
Lord of the Rings fans are truly blessed; between War of the Ring, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings LCG, Lord of the Rings Confrontation, and Middle-Earth Quest, there are plenty of good-to-great games to play in the Middle-Earth setting. I can only hope that Fantasy Flight will eventually bring the same joy to Star Wars fans with the same plethora of great games.
At any rate, I expect to see this in a lot of "Top 10" lists come the end of this year. Will it make mine? Don't know yet, you'll just have to wait and see!
An oath against the shadows, denying the dark
Here's a contrasting view of the LCG model, though admittedly one that is based on a time-proven CCG--AEG's recent War of Honor release.
War of Honor is AEG's answer to the LCG format, and a way to hopefully lure players into the larger CCG world. Legend of the Five Rings, upon which War of Honor is based, is one of the oldest and longest-lasting of the CCG industry, surviving not one but TWO "gluts".
There is no cooperation here. Players play the role of different houses, hiring characters to wage war for them and destroy their opponent's provinces. The setting is a mythological feudal Japan (Rokugan), so not only will you need to deal with samurai and ninja, but also dragons and demons of the deep who seek to corrupt everything they touch.
I always found Legend of the Five Rings to be a fairly fun game, especially in multi-player. In my opinion it wasn't a great two-player game precisely because of what I felt was the game's biggest flaw--"all or nothing" combat.
When players fought battles, they totaled up the strength of their army and compared it to their opponent's. If you lost, you lost EVERY character who participated. If there was enough overflow, the defended province was also destroyed. What this meant was that if you lost by 1 or 51, the outcome was the same; your entire army was obliterated.
This was insanely frustrating and usually meant in a two-player game that once you made that minute miscalculation, all that was left was the mop-up.
We played it quite a bit casually in the 90s, enjoying a lot of multiplayer brawls. But a friend of mine stationed in the Air Force moved away for awhile and got into the competitive scene, and when he returned none of our weaksauce decks were any match for his. The game at that level was brutally fast--Lion clan could start destroying provinces on turn two, and woe be unto you if you were unprepared for that type of assault.
As a result, the rest of us dabblers moved away from playing the game, and I think one of my earliest trades on BGG was dumping the rest of my leftover L5R cards.
With War of Honor, AEG looks to hook back in the folks who moved away from the game, or provide a "complete in a box" experience for those who want to play in the rich Rokugan setting without having to take the plunge down the endless rabbit hole of booster packs.
In the box you get decks for four clans; the ferocious Lion, the sorcerous Phoenix, the enlightened Dragon, and the nefarious Scorpion. Right off the bat, War of Honor does a great job at providing four different style decks right out of the box. Legend of the Five Rings was great in how it provided alternate victory conditions; it was something that Magic flirted with early on but never comitted to like L5R did. The bad thing was that to get all the pieces to pursue the alternate victory paths, you had to buy lots of boosters. Thankfully, all the tools you need for each of the paths to victory are present inside each deck.
The box is a typically-sized square box with kind of odd-shaped compartments; I still haven't quite figured out how to tuck everything in as they may have intended. That's really my only complaint about the components though. The artwork on the cards is fantastic, you get four solid, varied decks to play, plus all the tiles that you need, and a solidly put-together instruction booklet
For those who are coming back to the game, one key difference is that War of Honor provides a new "Paths to Victory" set-up, which as far as I can tell is completely new for this game. It provides a defined, structured path to victory. Also, to compensate for the difficulty in moving closer to the more difficult victory conditions, you get bonuses for each "rung" as you progress. This doubly serves to limit degenerate instant wins as well as give each strategy a boost as it advances toward the endgame.
The other completely new element are the Fortress tiles. Before the game, players create a small 'map' of tiles that they use to create a layout for the game. This layout determines who can use some of the actions on those tiles as well as which players may ally with each other. Before War of Honor, L5R had the typical "Don't attack me, attack him!" prolonged whining/pleading thing going on; now there is considerably more structure provided.
As for the rest? It's pretty much the same game, just way more balanced than it was in the earliest of days, I think. Or at least, more balanced in terms of this being a self-contained set.
Players generate gold, hire personalities, play actions, and wage war on each other in an attempt to win through one of the four paths of victory. You can win militarily by destroying all opposing provinces, through honor by accumulating enough of it, through "enlightenment" by getting all five elemental rings into play (a task unto itself), or by dishonoring all of your opponents.
The multiplayer aspect is what I think makes the game, though I've heard L5R veterans argue that the 2-player game is the "true" version, and the version that was played in tournaments. At any rate, War of Honor runs with the multiplayer concept. With the tile layouts and cards that encourage alliances, not to mention the natural tendency of the game to involve diplomacy and combined assaults to bring down another player, the game shines in its multiplayer format.
The only part I think I'd warn players against is that if you're coming from a "dabbled in LCGs" arena, War of Honor is going to be a LOT to take in. Remember that Legend of the Five Rings came out during a very different era of CCG design, and is comparatively quite complicated--several leagues more complicated than the Lord of the Rings LCG, for example. It's not that the game is unapproachably difficult to learn, but it will require more involvement than casual players may be expecting.
There's still the issue of the "all or nothing" combat that I'm probably never going to be enamored with...seriously, losing everything because you miscalculated by one point really and truly sucks, and it can lead to some fairly timid gameplay as the risks for losing battles can be quite high. In a multiplayer game at least you will likely have time to rebuild as players tend to focus more on whomever is winning, allowing you to crawl back in your hole and recruit an army anew.
I don't know if the world is moving entirely away from CCGs. Their popularity has certainly waned to the point where only the biggest names remain. However their stamp has been indelibly made on game design--neither War of Honor nor Lord of the Rings LCG would exist without the CCG design philosophies and influences. Although the distribution may change permanently to a more fixed, controllable method, it's pretty clear that the notion of customizable card games will stay with us for quite some time to come.
That's all I've got for this week. As always, comments and feedback are extremely welcome. I'll see you in seven.