The first piece of advise given to new players struggling to win their first game of LOTR LCG is to forget about playing the pre-built Tactics deck that comes with the core set. Lopping the legs off giant spiders with a Dwarven Axe might make you feel like a badass, but a serious willpower deficit means that Tactics decks tend to fare poorly against even the easiest scenarios. Now that I have completed the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, and have a full complement of Eagles at my disposal, I thought it was time to revisit the core set with a mono-sphere Tactics deck to see how it fared.

To make this experiment properly challenging I allowed myself neutral allies and events but no Songs, since including off-sphere cards in my deck would make it too easy to compensate for Tactics’ weaknesses. Gandalf was an auto-include, since he is the Tactics sphere’s only means of threat reduction. Radagast was included for his obvious synergy with Eagles as well as for his willpower. I also included a couple of copies of Shadow of the Past, a neutral event which proved valuable in my quest against Return to Mirkwood. Other than that it was red cards all the way.

Passage Through Mirkwood

For Passage Through Mirkwood I chose Gimli, Legolas and Boromir as my three heroes. This gave me a whopping 31 starting threat, but I knew that the scenario played quickly so I wasn’t too concerned.

Radagast quickly proved his worth as a resource generator, letting me build up a decent sized army of Eagles. I committed Gimli to the quest in most rounds since he was my only hero with 2 willpower. Radagast and Eagles of the Misty Mountains helped to ensure that my company was able to muster plenty of willpower. My threat did creep up as the scenario progressed, largely due to repeated uses of Boromir’s readying ability, but I was never in any danger of reaching 50 threat.

I played through the scenario three times, and each time my heroes left a trail of dead orcs and spiders in their wake as they hacked and slashed their way to victory. My mono-Tactics deck was proving to be the well oiled killing machine I had been hoping for!

Journey Along the Anduin

I was encouraged by my easy wins against Passage Through Mirkwood, and felt confident as my company set out on their Journey Along the Anduin. As is often the way in this game, the encounter deck was quick to crush my optimism!

In some games I made it within striking distance of the finish line. In others I was lucky to make it past the hill troll. In every case I hit 50 threat before I could achieve victory. I tried every deck building variation I could think of. I used the lowest threat Tactics heroes, hoping to stall for time. I jettisoned expensive cards that seldom hit the table and replaced them with low cost allies and events. I even attempted the scenario using only two heroes. Nothing I tried made much difference.

In one particularly memorable defeat I was sitting on 47 threat when I advanced to stage 3 of the quest. I had held 4 characters back to deal with the final ambush, but the encounter deck had one last trick up its sleeve. I drew Pursued by Shadow (Each player raises his threat by 1 for each character he controls that is not currently committed to a quest), taking my threat level to 51 and dashing my hopes of victory.

Near misses such as this reassured me that I would beat the scenario if I persevered, but I knew that when victory finally came it would be down to good luck rather than good strategy. Without staples like Unexpected Courage, A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, Burning Brand and Sneak Attack I was very much at the mercy of the encounter deck.

Eventually I did manage a win with Legolas, Thalin and Brand, and sure enough it was a near perfect sequence of cards from the encounter deck that got me across the line. To prove the point I played another game with the same heroes and didn’t make it past the first stage of the quest.

Escape from Dol Guldur

Um… Perhaps not.

Verdict

Playing an Eagles deck against Passage Through Mirkwood is a heck of a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it the next time you feel like cracking a few Orc skulls. Journey Along the Anduin however proved to be more than my deck was capable of handling with any degree of consistency. Unfortunately mono-sphere Tactics decks will have to remain a novelty for me, at least until I expand my card pool. Perhaps I will try this experiment again once I have completed the Dwarrowdelf cycle and see if Tactics’ fortunes have improved.

Strategy notes

It would be a stretch to say that I had a specific strategy in mind for my Tactics decks, but here are a few tips for playing Tactics against these scenarios.

  • Legolas is still essential for making progress on the quest. If you attach Blade of Gondolin to him he can make 3 progress each time he kills an enemy.
  • Support of the Eagles can give Legolas an attack boost that allows him to take out most enemies in one swing, letting you trigger his quest response with greater frequency. Combo Support of the Eagles with Eagles of the Misty Mountains for potentially massive attack boosts.
  • There are a few ways of dealing with the hill troll in Journey Along the Anduin. You can use Gimli to defend its first attack, supercharging him for a counter attack in the next round. This is a highly risky strategy though, since a shadow effect might boost the troll’s attack and kill Gimli. Another strategy is to use Gandalf’s enter play response to soften the troll up and then use him to defend its first attack. Finish the troll off in the next round with all 3 of your heroes. Lastly, you can use Feint to immobilise the troll and try to take it down in a single combined attack.
  • Descendant of Thorondor is great during stage 2 of Anduin for pruning enemies from the staging area. You could use Born Aloft to return Descendant to your hand and double its damage potential.

I am sure that someone more experienced at playing Tactics would have better success than me, so if you have any tips for running mono-Tactics with the Mirkwood card pool let me know in the comments!


Header art by Lius Lasahido