I made the gamer’s pilgrimage to Indianapolis and participated in the “Best Four Days In Gaming” this year!
I had a great time! I got to play some great games, meet a lot of excellent people (including the designers of my two main games) and put faces and real names to internet handles. I also walked my feet off! I came to the convention by myself and I was afraid I’d be bouncing around by myself a good bit of the time but the LOTR community took me right in and helped me have a great time enjoying the events with other people.
My son’s birthday was on Thursday so my GENCON started on Friday. Seeing all the pictures on Facebook and watching the buzz on Discord on Thursday was a little torturous knowing that I’d be there the next day.
My GENCON Narrative
I traveled from Portland, Oregon through Thursday night and arrived at the convention center around 10am Friday morning. My Lyft driver dropped me off at the convention center and through dumb luck I randomly wandered into the FFG tables and bumped into Chad from COTR, Matt Newman and Caleb Grace himself, the lead designer for The Game. A Wizard’s Quest event had just started but Caleb invited me to sit down for a game with him. I literally just got off a plane less than an hour before and the first thing I get to do at the convention is play my favorite game with the designer himself! Doesn’t get much better than that! He was incredibly nice and great fun to play with. We played the Wizard’s Quest in the competitive mode vs a nice couple who’s names have slipped my mind. I used Ryan’s Starter for Dale deck and Caleb (who only brought one deck to the convention) used a Caldara deck with the standard Caldara/Cirdan/Arwen hero lineup but some unconventional cards including the Curious Brandybuck and The Free Peoples. We ended “winning” the game but the other group was able to win the quest in the next couple turns. It was a strange experience wanting the encounter deck to combo on the other players.
I went straight from that FFG event to the COTR Listener’s Event on the other side of the same hall. The event started late due to technical difficulties (no doubt a router was at fault) so we eagerly waited for the big revelation of the much anticipated loot!
They handed out a very nice wooden deckboxes which contained 3 custom tuck boxes that together made a Beorning panorama. The art was commissioned from Owen Weber for this project and contains some COTR Easter Eggs including the infamous Beorning Bee.
Owen Weber was there to sign the deck boxes and answer questions. You can find all his contributions to LOTR on Hall of Beorn and you can hear an interview with him on the latest COTR podcast.
I was at least slightly acquainted with all 3 people I sat next to at the event from various online activity. I knew Thaddeus (R) and Cullen (L) from the Facebook group and “Bodasafa” from COTR streaming sessions.
As at any LOTR event without a new quest to focus on there was some “What do you want to play? Anything! What do you want to play?” banter but my group settled on playing the new quests from the Wilds of Rhovanion. Coordinating decks wasn’t too difficult although we ran into some key cards overlapping later in our games… We pulled off a successful 3-player game of Journey Up the Anduin although there were some tough moments! A 16 threat Hills of Wilderland hit a nasty combo with Dangerous Crossing and we dumped 48 damage on the board from that one treachery! We moved on to Lost in Mirkwood as a two player game after one of the players had to leave after the first game.
After a much needed dinner with the COTR guys (I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in 24 hours), I came back to the convention center a caught a game of the Withered Heath with ElectronJohn himself.
We all went back to our Seedy Super 8 hotel around 11:00 and I was privileged to sit in on a podcasting session until around 12:30. By 1:00am when I finally got to sleep I had officially played more LOTR over the past 48 hours than I had slept.
I was able to play the Wizard’s Quest with DaveG vs Chad and Bodasafa on Saturday morning. Chad’s Red Arrow deck performed great and Bodasafa ran Seastan’s Caldara deck well and they beat my Noldor and DaveG’s Dale deck at the last moment. We finished on the same turn and same stage so it came down to points and our threat levels were slightly higher which gave them the victory.
After the morning even I had some time to wander the vendor hall for a while and try out the new digital spinoff game. It was entertaining but I ended up threating out because I forgot to keep on eye on my threat and there were no reminders or warhings when you starting approaching 50. I don’t know if I’ll like it, love it or merely tolerate the digital game at this point, but I am sure it won’t be replacing the card game for me!
I had an Imperial Assault tournament in the middle of the day which made me late for the 4:00 Wizard’s Quest event which I was actually registered for. Everyone had started before I got there but I was able to catch a couple games of Withered Heath with MBogie and Mirkwood Runner. Before leaving that event I got a really good game of Wizard’s Quest in with Ryan Fralich (who works for FFG) and radAGAHST and his friend (who’s name I’ve failed to remember). All three guys were great players and that was one of the best games I played all weekend. We were running Mono Tactics and Noldor vs their Haldir/Dunhere/attack the staging area decks. It was a pleasure seeing their decks work so well and I felt dirty picking that nasty treachery that slowed them down enough for us to narrowly grab the victory.
That game made me late for my Blood and Plunder miniatures tournament but they let me in anyway and I ended up taking 2nd place (of 7 people). I was able to talk with the designer and meet some great people and take home some sweet prizes.
That tournament ran from 7-11 which made me late for the COTR After Dark party at the Slippery Noodle pub.
That pub was a busy place and it took me a while to wade through the rowdy crowd upstairs and find the relatively chill gamers downstairs. This is where you really get to meet and talk with the “LOTR elites.” I had the pleasure of meeting Ian from Tales from the Cards, Sean from COTR, Chris from LOTR Deck Tech, Bard Lee from Twitter and many more players from the Discord channel. The First Age’s Bryan and Brandon were there as well but I wasn’t able to meet them as they were playing party games most of the time.
After 4 hours of sleep I was back at the FFG tables for the 9:00 Wizard’s Quest on Sunday morning. I pulled out my trusty/rusty dwarf decks play alongside SamthemanGamgee’s freshly brewed Grimbeorn deck. We played in the competitive format but came up one turn behind the other team after they rushed the end quest with Astonishing Speed!
SamthemanGamgee and I proceeded to play the Wizard’s Quest again 1 v 1 and I have to say it feels a lot more personal playing against one person! I finally used the crazy “Facebook group deck” that used Lore Glorfindel, Beorn and Elrond. With a starting threat of 37 I had low expectations but my opponent was very polite and didn’t fill my encounter deck with the threat raising encounter cards. I ended up winning that match after the trolls rushed my opponent. When our match was finished we both played the quest again as solo games. This 37 threat deck actually turned out decent and has since evolved into a deck I really enjoy playing!
I used the next hour to make my only purchases of the CON. I bought an ungodly amount of generic tickets to pick up extra copies of the LOTR and AH event kits to distribute to my friends back home (and around the world).
I rushed through the dealer hall to pick up a game and some trinkets for my kids but couldn’t really buy much since my minimal luggage was already bulging!
My final game of the convention was The King’s Quest with Bodasafa. We played Dale and Dwarves across from each other and destroyed that quest with massive armies! In spite of controlling throughout the game it was a really satisfying game with some epically thematic moments. We found the Arkenstone in the dragon hoard, we used Hardy Leadership to survive the nasty Dragon Breath treachery, the Blue Mountain Trader actually was helpful smoothing resources between the Dwarves and Dale and the Bow of Yew knocked off the Dragon Scale condition attachment. Thematic things just kept happening!
That was the end of my convention and I made my way to the airport (I missed my flight due to my brain fog but got on the next one with no problems). I got a final solo game of Wizard’s Quest in during my 3-hour layover in Chicago on the way home bringing my LOTR game count for the weekend up to 14.
Huge thanks to all the great people who made convention so fun! It was a pleasure meeting so many of the great players who make up this community!
The Wizard’s Quest
This year’s quest for the FFG event was a dramatic departure from the Epic Multiplayer Mode that has been the standard for the past couple years. This quest has two defining features that make it different than anything that has been released for this game in the past: you get to design a quest and there is a large competitive aspect to the quest.
I won’t go every detail of how this quest works or how you build the encounter deck but you can find an excellent run down over at the Darkling Door.
The event was a big hit! Nearly everyone I saw playing it seemed to be having a great time! I really enjoyed having the chance to try my hand at building the encounter deck and I think it gave me a better understanding of how the designers think when they put a quest together. I’ve been fiddling with different builds and making random quest with the encounter sets since I got home and I’m looking forward to getting a whole new set of cards this winter at the Fellowship Event!
The competitive element was enjoyable as well but it made me appreciate all over again how much I like the basic cooperative nature of the game. Playing in the Imperial Assault and Blood and Plunder tournaments over the weekend also made me appreciate the whole different feeling a cooperative game brings to the table. The camaraderie and teamwork that happens in this game is so much more enjoyable to me than a head-to-head type of game where the goal is to wipe your buddy off the map with no mercy. I do enjoy those games as well and I met some great people playing both Imperial Assault and Blood and Plunder, but the Lord of the Rings LCG is special! All that to say that I enjoyed the new format but I’m glad the game is cooperative at it’s core. There was a certain delight in watching my encounter deck wreck the other players, but it also hurt a little. It was actually more fun for me to see people’s deck do well and kill all three trolls in the staging area!
The game is designed to play 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 which keeps play nice and fast but I think it could be played 3 vs 3 without large balance issues and maybe even 4 players to a group but play would certainly slow down. The directions suggest taking turns with blocks of phases of the game. First group does Resource and Planning phase, then second group catches up, then take turns getting through Quest and Travel phases, then finish with the Combat and Refresh phases. There was a group that linked 3 groups of 2 players which seemed to work fine as well! I played it purely solo and as a 2-player cooperative game as well and it was solid, but not as exciting.
- Much faster play and less down time when compared to Epic Multiplayer
- Very Interactive.
- Encourages you to pay attention to how other people play the game.
- I saw a lot of people learning how to play the game more accurately or more efficiently.
- Highly Replayable.
- Huge new part of the game to explore with encounter deck building.
- Not extremely difficult so it won’t discourage newer players who tend to come to public events.
- More antagonistic than standard LOTR and some people didn’t want to play “against” the other players.
- Can produce “feel bad moments” if one group is getting crushed.
- Can take a while to set up since you have to build the encounter deck.
- Slightly slower play while you watch opponents’ turns.
Overall I really enjoyed the FFG event this year and I’m eagerly looking forward to sharing the experience with all the players in my hometown. Last year I went into the Fellowship event with excitement but also a little dread knowing how difficult Attack on Dol Guldur would be and knowing how much work it takes on my part to organize an epic event like that. Many thanks to Caleb Grace and FFG for making an excellent event this year!
The Withered Heath
I have to thank Bodasafa for standing in line at the FFG booth to pick up the new pack for me! You can literally wait in line at the FFG booth for over an hour just to have the privilege of walking through their display and buying from them!
I got to play the new quest 3 times while at the convention and I’ve played it several times since then. It’s a long quest! I won’t give detailed spoilers here but I’ll give some advice and some warnings. Bring a “long game” deck. There’s no rushing this quest. Bring a good defender, some healing and some threat reduction. You have to delve into the deep locations to find signs of the Cold Drake you’re hunting and you’ll have at least one confrontation with the beast. If you go in blind, you may make a tempo mistake in the middle of the quest which will unintentionally drag the last stage out for longer than you need to so be careful not to dally at stage 3!
It’s a solid quest but being a long quest with specific demands, it won’t be a testing quest or a pickup game standby. It’s thematic, challenging and doesn’t feel like it’s smashing you unfairly so I consider it a good quest! I hope you all enjoy! It should be hitting stores in a couple days!
The player cards seem solid with the Grimbeorn taking center stage as an extremely powerful Tactics hero. I predicted we would get the Arkenstone in Mr Underhill’s Wilds of Rhovanion card review video so I was gratified to see it included in this pack!
This is the first large gaming event I’ve ever attended and I enjoyed just seeing what other people were playing! There were a couple deck styles that were popular, but “the meta” was actually very diverse and I saw lots of decks that I hadn’t seen before!
Popular decks that seemed well represented included Dale, Caldara, Mono Tactics/Hirgon and Vilya decks. I saw more Rohan decks than I expected with Eowyn and Fastred/Dunhere being well represented. Gondor decks were nowhere to be found! I saw a couple dwarf decks including some mining decks and even one that included Galdariel as a hero. I saw a few different Hobbit and Silvan decks. Arwen, Eowyn and Denethor seemed to be everywhere! I’m happy to report that The One Deck wasn’t omnipresent! I did see one person playing it, but it wasn’t an issue at all.
I could tell that players worked hard to keep some of the popular unique cards out of their decks but since the event format only had you playing with one other person, it was never a problem trying to find a deck that wouldn’t overlap cards with the other player.
The quests I saw getting played were also fairly diverse. The most common quests included the new Wizard’s Quest, the Wilds of Rhovanion quests, Escape from Umbar and Murder at the Prancing Pony.
I took notes on the games I played and included that list here with some decklist links.
- Wizard’s Quest – 2 v 2. Caldara/Free Peoples Deck (Caleb Grace), Starter for Dale by Mr Underhill.
- Journey Up the Anduin – 3 player. Caldara 2.0 (Bodasafa), Vilya deck (Cullen), Mono Lore Traps.
- Lost in Mirkwood – 2 player. Finding Dori (Bodasafa), Swords of the Noldor.
- The Weathered Heath – 2 player. Dale/Aragalad deck (Electronjon), Swords of the Noldor.
- The Wizard’s Quest – 2 player cooperative. Old Friendships and Oaths Remembered and deck I can’t recall (SamthemanGamgee).
- The Wizard’s Quest 2v2. The Red Arrow 2.0 (Chad) and Caldara 2.0 (Bodasafa) vs Dale (DaveG) and Swords of the Noldor.
- Withered Heath – 3 Player. Silvan Deck (Mirkwood Runner), Tactigorn Kill deck (Bogie) and Location Busters. Loss.
- The Withered Heath – 2 Player. Tactigorn Kill Deck (Bogie) and Thurindir the Snapping Turtle.
- The Wizard’s Quest – 2v2. Mono Tactics (Ryan Fralich), Swords of the Noldor 2.0 vs Haldir/Thurindir/Erkenbrand and Fastred/Dunhere/Eowyn (RadaGHAST).
- The Wizard’s Quest 2v2. Grimbeorn Deck (SamethemanGamgee) and Dwarf Swarm vs Idraen/Beravor/S Glorfindel and Rohan swarm.
- The Wizard’s Quest – 1v1. Glorfindel/Beorn/Elrond vs Living the High Society Life (SamthemanGamgee).
- The Wizard’s Quest – Solo. Glorfindel/Beorn/Elrond.
- The King’s Quest – 2 Player. Starter from Dale by Mr Underhill (Bodasafa) and Dwarf Swarm.
- The Wizard’s Quest – Solo. Starter for Dale by Mr Underhill.
Thanks for Reading!
I had a great time and I highly recommend attending GENCON if you love the LOTR LCG and can make the time! I felt privileged to meet Caleb Grace, play games some excellent players and meet so many of the community leaders and members that I’ve interacted with online. My last thanks goes to my saintly wife who let me leave for 3 days while she watched the kids!