SPOILER ALERTThis article contains some spoilers for the encounter cards in The Grey Havens Deluxe.
Whilst there’s not enough crunch to meaningfully gain an advantage, players who want a virgin experience are advised to stay clear.
Like many Lord of the Rings LCG players, I sleeve my encounter cards. I use KMC Perfect Sleeves for my normal encounter cards because they suit my storage solution, are very durable and feel lovely to shuffle. For nightmare decks I use KMC normal sleeves as I need them to be opaque rather than transparent due to the different card stock used on the nightmare cards.
“Cheers Paul, great article hook there…” But before you head off to see what’s loading in other tabs, wait a moment. I tell you this because it means that as I sleeve I get the opportunity to read the encounter cards. Admire the art. Wince at the shadow effects.
And I therefore walk away with an impression of what the encounter deck in any release might be throwing at me. It’s nothing more than that: a first impression. I don’t really build the quests in my mind to see what combinations there might be, or count the number of enemies, or compare threat costs to attack or anything like that. More often than not I focus on the shadow effect, the special ability and the art.
For those interested, I present my first order thoughts on the encounter cards in the new Deluxe, The Grey Havens Expansion. It’ll be interesting to see whether these are the same after I’ve played the quests a few times. Analysis of the player cards will follow shortly; I do read those in much more detail!
First impressions being first impressions, let’s quickly talk about the art. I have to say it’s something of a mixed bag: the landscapes / seascapes are phenomenal. Starlit Sea and Fog Bank particularly appealed. The Corsair ships and Raiders clearly showed their different ancestry and allegiance in the art when compared to the ships of the Teleri and Gondor.
The undead art didn’t particularly appeal to me, and some of the jungle locations were a bit too “jungley” for my tastes. The Temple of Morgoth not only looks cool, but resonates with the theme very strongly. Overall, though, the navalness of the expansion was captured in the art.
The cards do support the themes of the quests that they are part of and I can see how the story of the quest is realised in the mechanic of the game. For instance, one of the undead cards can recycle itself back onto the top of the encounter deck if destroyed, and is most likely to appear when you stumble into a graveyard location. The card itself, called Throngs of Unfaithful, is supposed to represent the hordes of undead and does so in art and mechanic.
It’s clear that the encounter cards break down into: sea exploration, sea battle, land exploration, land battle, all of which are the building blocks of any nautical adventure.
Objective cards that represent personalities within the world, including a couple of double-sided enemies that can become an objective, invest players in playing the quests as part of a narrative chain rather than as stand-alone adventures. The Ship objectives in particular present an interesting choice in either solo or multiplayer as each grants an ability to the player that controls them. I like that there’s another decision point in the game, though I can’t see it making or breaking success.
The whole ‘keep your ship on course’ mechanic looks interesting; I’ve no view on how bad it will be at the table to be off-course, but there are encounter cards that trigger of this. For instance, some thematically related treacheries cannot be cancelled if you’re as far off course as it is possible to be, and some engagement costs lower if you’re off course demonstrating the risks of not sailing true.
This is really where it’s obvious that these are impressions rather than analysis.
Let’s start with the obvious: treacheries are still powerful things to avoid if you can. However, the prominence of Surge and Doomed appears to be reduced from the previous cycle and there’s no ‘Battle’ or ‘Siege’ quest antics.
Sidequest cards are also missing. That could be because the designers were waiting from the feedback on those cards before committing to them further, and the lead time for design meant that the wouldn’t get it until after the Grey Havens cycle was out in the wilds.
The deluxe player cards support the Noldor discard archetype and the excitement for a lot of players is to continue to build that archetype following the advances in the last cycle.
The designers are reacting to that by having the bottom of the player’s deck rather than the discard pile become the destination of choice when bad stuff happens. Some enemies place destroyed allies there; some treacheries move cards there. You get the drill.
Another archetype that I think is receiving some gentle push-back is decks that rely upon stacking resources to trigger high defence or attack numbers, e.g. with Gondorian Fire and Blood of Numenor. Rather than straight up attachment hate, a number of the Raider enemy types get more powerful the more resources they have on them, and some of their Forced Reactions require players to hand over resources. This will keep the number of resources on those heroes lower as well as incentivise resource spend rather than accumulation. I’d like to see some play with the quests before deciding how important that is.
It should also be noted that the ship enemies have high hit points; something that makes the much maligned Sword of Numenor a potentially more important attachment than previously considered.
A number of encounter and shadow cards require the player to check a card (top of deck, bottom of deck etc) and if it has a printed cost of 2 or lower then bad things happen. In practice, this is targeted at events or attachments (allies are typically >2 cost) and decks that rely upon building up Heroes or recycling events could face a tougher time.
From a mechanic point of view this targets some of the more powerful decks (Boromir!) and the Noldor archetype where event cards are used because of their lowered cost and ability to recycle to receive their benefits multiple times.
From a theme point of view both of these considerations incentivise bringing allies because of their higher cost (won’t trigger the <=2 resources) and therefore require resources to bring into play leaving less to accumulate. Looked at thematically, this is encourages you to bring a crew along for the journey!
As I said, this is very much first impressions rather than analysis and I’m very interested to see how it all plays out.
If you’ve already ran a few quests, talk about your experience in the comments below!