Samwise the Brave:
I love Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings Card Game. When I first reviewed it I went on record saying it was the best solo game in my collection. Then I got distracted by some other great solo games… Mage Knight and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game to name a couple. I even skipped buying a whole series of expansions for the LotR card game (the Heirs of Numenor/Against the Shadow cycle). But then I came back to LotR, and for the past two months I’ve been playing it a ton and loving every minute.
Sometimes I play two-handed, controlling a pair of decks as if two players were playing (stay tuned for an article about my super-awesome “Lords of Middle-earth” and “Death From Above” tandem decks that have romped through every printed scenario to date), while other times I’ll play a single deck.
In almost every deck you might build, you’ll use the maximum of three heroes. These are your starting characters and resource generators, and barring a few special effects, it’s insanity to start with less than three. Still, there are some decks that do quite well with only two heroes, taking advantage of the “Secrecy” mechanic which makes cards cheaper if you have less than 20 threat. And the most recent Saga expansion — Black Riders — has all sorts of Hobbit goodies that reward low starting threat. (Fewer heroes means lower starting threat, means Sauron’s forces don’t go after you quite so fast.)
A typical three-hero LotR deck will have around 25-30 starting threat, while a two-hero deck will drop you into 15-18 range. But what if you try it with just a single hero? Madness you say? It can’t be done?! CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
A couple years ago I tried building a single hero deck and managed to defeat the Spiders of Mirkwood scenario. Session report and decklist here:
At the time I only had two Core sets to work with, and even then couldn’t round out a 50-card deck. Well, 4 big boxes and 12 adventure packs later I was primed to try again… the moment I saw the hero Sam (released in the Black Riders Saga expansion) I knew the potential was there. A 3-willpower self-readying hero? Let’s do this!
I’ve managed to put together a single hero deck that can not only beat Spiders of Mirkwood, but Down the Anduin as well. Hill Troll in the staging area? I, and my starting threat of 8, laugh at you! Escape From Dol Goldur? Well… I’d run into a little problem when a hero is taken prisoner. (For the uninitiated, Escape from Dol Goldur is generally considered the hardest solo encounter, mainly because you begin the scenario with one of your heroes being removed from play. Therefore a single hero deck… let’s just say it’s a short game.)
But seriously, this is a strong deck, and could probably handle many of the later quests as well. I must say I’m tempted to throw spirit Glorfindel into the deck, raise my starting threat to 13 and try Escape with Glorfindel as the prisoner. But more on that later…
The deck list is below. The only cards that require a second core set are a third Sneak Attack and Northern Tracker. You are going to need almost all of the cards listed to make this deck work (and they come from a wide array of expansions), but if you’ve only got one core set I’d proxy the third Sneak Attack (just use Ever Vigilant or something, and pretend it’s a Sneak Attack when you draw it), and replace the third Northern Tracker with the beefy ally of your choice — doesn’t even matter what sphere it comes from, as you’ll soon see.
As for how to actually play the deck, here are some tips:
* Ideally you’re looking for a first-turn Timely Aid (reveal the top 5 cards of your deck and put one revealed ally into play). With secrecy, it only costs you one resource to play. And once you get a second ally into play you can use A Very Good Tale (exhaust two allies to bring more allies into play) to starting rolling out the allies, but there are other ways to get the engine running. Bill the Pony is free, and if need be you can Sneak Attack another ally into play in order to play A Very Good Tale. Once you get 3-4 allies into play, you’re rearing and ready to go. And since you start with such low threat, it’s okay if it takes a couple turns to get going.
* Usually the first card I’ll play (if I have it in my opening hand) is Resourceful (costs just 1 with secrecy, hero generates an extra resource each turn), since there are very few enemies that can engage on the first turn (just the East Bight Patrol) and the sooner you can jumpstart your resource production, the better.
* I’ve long been looking for an opportunity to effectively use Taking Initiative (discard the top card of your deck and if its cost is equal to or greater than the number of characters you control, deal two damage to an enemy and draw two cards). It’s an interesting card with limited practical application, but in this deck it will almost always hit early on. 38 out of 50 cards in the deck cost 1 or more (and the odds are better than that since one of the 0-cost cards is the one you’re playing). That 2 damage to a Forest Spider or Hill Troll and extra 2 cards can give you a nice first-turn jolt. Later in the game you can use Gildor to control the top card of your deck and make it work with as many as 6 characters in play.
* Speaking of which, if and when you get him into play, Gildor Inglorien is the rock star of this deck. His ability to look at the top three cards of your deck, exchange one with a card from your hand, and put them back in any order, does a lot for you. Among other things, he lets you recycle cards you otherwise can’t play (the Spirit, Tactics and Lore allies) back into your deck, which can then be set up to come into play with Timely Aid or discarded to Taking Initiative.
* This decks makes far more use of Sneak Attack than your typical “wait for Gandalf” combo. There are many, many uses. For example, in one game I had two Gildors, Sneak Attack and a Timely aid in my hand. I used Sneak attack to play one Gildor and then exhausted him for his ability, putting the other Gildor on top of my deck. Then, when the first Gildor bounced back to my hand, I played Timely Aid to get the other one permanently into play.
* Good Meal (reduce the cost of an event by 2) isn’t just there to make Strength of Arms (2-cost event, ready all allies) free. Early on, resources are precious, so if you have a Good Meal, don’t hesitate to use it to play Sneak Attack or Timely Aid for free. Yes, you’re only saving one resource, but it’ll be well worth it.
* The beauty of starting with only 8 threat is that it really doesn’t matter if you fail to quest early on. A few extra points of threat here and there aren’t going to make much of a difference. The enemies that might be able to engage you — Black Forest Bats, Dol Goldur Orcs, Wolf Rider and Misty Mountain Goblins from the first two quests — aren’t too difficult to take out once you’ve got a beefy ally or two into play.
* Obviously this deck has some weaknesses… it has no healing (though I suppose I could always throw in a couple Wardens of Healing), and an early Caught in a Web can be painful. Tthough when it gets going this deck relies so heavily on allies that not being able to ready Sam won’t matter. I had a game where I could no longer quest with Sam because he had three damage on him (plus Bill the Pony in play) and I couldn’t risk the third Necromancer’s Reach (deal one damage to each exhausted character) coming off the encounter deck. But by then I had more than enough questing allies in play to make up for it.
Bottom line, this deck has quite a few tricks, and can handle a variety of challenges. Some games will be over practically before they start (do use the mulligan rule to try to get a good starting hand) but for me this deck has won much more often than it’s lost. Here’s the full deck list, along with which set the cards come from.
x2 Cram [Over Hill and Under Hill]
x3 Good Meal [The Redhorn Gate]
x3 Resourceful [The Watcher in the Water]
x1 Boots of Erebor [Khazad-Dum]
x3 A Very Good Tale [Over Hill and Under-Hill]
x3 Sneak Attack [Core x2]
x3 Strength of Arms [The Druadan Forest]
x3 Taking Initiative [The Redhorn Gate]
x3 Timely Aid [The Redhorn Gate]
x1 Beorn [Core]
x3 Bill the Pony [The Black Riders]
x1 Brok Ironfist [Core]
x1 Denethor [Encounter at Amon Din]
x3 Dunedain Wanderer [Road to Rivendell]
x1 Elfhelm [The Dead Marshes]
x1 Erestor [The Long Dark]
x1 Faramir [Core]
x3 Gandalf [Core]
x3 Gildor Inglorien [The Hills of Emyn Muil]
x1 Haldir of Lorien [A Journey to Rhosgobel]
x3 Northern Tracker [Core x2]
x1 Radagast [A Journey to Rhoshobel]
x3 White Tower Watchman [The Druadan Forest]
FURTHER THOUGHTS: Sam + Glorfindel?
Though I’ve yet to try it, I think this deck could become super effective if I added spirit Glorfindel [Foundations of Stone] and a few choice Spirit cards. Light of Valinor [Foundations of Stone] of course (I’d replace the Crams and Boots of Erebor), perhaps a few copies of A Test of Will (always useful to have around, not sure at the moment what I’d take out), and 3 copies of Imladris Stargazer [Foundations of Stone] (replacing the White Tower Watchmen). I think they’d really make the deck sing, and it’d be nice to be able to actually play the Norther Trackers from your hand instead of having to rely on tricks to get them into play. And Imladris Stargazer would just be so good with Timely Aid and Taking Initiative.
Anyhoo, there you go. An effective single hero deck, with a base engine that has lots of potential if you add a second hero. Stay tuned for my next Lord of the Rings article, where I’ll give you a pair of tournament-worthy decks primed to take on any challenge, and detailed results to prove it.
– Married for 14 years and with two young children to exhaust him during the day, Jeff Hannes has mastered the art of playing
with by himself at night.