Ranger of Cardolan

TL;DR A versatile neutral ally well positioned for unexpected combat requirements.

Background

[In] the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin. They were taller and darker than the Men of Bree and were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of beasts and birds. They roamed at will southwards, and eastwards even as far as the Misty Mountains; but they were now few and rarely seen. When they appeared they brought news from afar, and told strange forgotten tales which were eagerly listened to; but the Bree-folk did not make friends of them.
—The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Ch 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

The Ranger of Cardolan was released during the Angmar Awakened cycle which featured heavy development of the Dunedain archetype. These descendants of the kingdom of Arnor are capable of an aggressive, combat focused style of play as they seek to protect and guard those more vulnerable, and happen to be able to tell a good tale now and again. As such, Ranger of Cardolan makes an excellent contributor to this style of play.

Card Theme

If you’ve played the Angmar Awakened Cycle (which is likely since that’s where this card originates), you’ve been exposed to a fair smattering of Dunedain history. However, it isn’t intuitive to piece the scraps together solely from playing the card game. Hence a brief (and hopefully accurate) review of the foundational historical pieces of Arnor, of the Northern Kingdom of the Dunedain.

Following the defeat of Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance, the rule of Arnor is assumed by Valandil, Isildur’s only surviving son following the Disaster of the Gladden Fields. Thereabout eight uneventful centuries pass until the unity of Arnor is splintered into three kingdoms: Arthedain, Rhudaur and Cardolan.

Arthedain was in the North-west and included the land between Brandywine and Lune, and also the land north of the Great Road as far as the Weather Hills. Rhudaur was in the North-east and lay between the Ettenmoors, the Weather Hills, and the Misty Mountains, but included also the Angle between the Hoarwell and the Loudwater. Cardolan was in the South, its bounds being the Brandywine, the Greyflood, and the Great Road.
—The Return of the King, Appendix A, “The Númenorean Kings”, “Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur”

Image credit to The Mad Hobbit blog

The chronicle of tales shows that the dread realm of Angmar was established and Rhudaur fell under it’s control. Cardolan allied with Arthedain to hold back the evil forces, but it was eventually overwhelmed and it’s royal line destroyed. A band of survivors took refuge in Tyrn Gorthad (Barrow Downs and Old Forest region) where they interred the Last Prince of Cardolan (possibly the tomb Frodo encounters) where they endured for two centuries; but eventually they were ravaged by the Great Plague and perished, allowing the evil wights of Carn Dum to possess the barrow region. Upon rescuing Frodo, Tom Bombadil remarks of his memory of the fallen people of Cardolan; to what extent he interacted with these people is unknown, but he was certainly present and contemporary with them, and may have had friendly relations.

It is speculative to suggest this ally card represents a faint, unbroken lineage of Cardolan Dunedain. Rather, it likely depicts rangers of intact Arthedain descent who are stationed, posted, or positioned in regions of the former Cardolan kingdom (additionally, similar for the Sarn Ford Sentry). Nevertheless, card’s ability is a thematic success for to spring into play from the shadows in order to protect others.

Synergies and Interactions

Let’s establish one thing at this point, the stats on the Ranger of Cardolan are quite good. A combined nine stats for four resources is cost effective and it’s neutral (non-)sphere to boot. There are a good number of heroes that have a 2/2/2 statline as well as several allies in the “Vilya Champions” group. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call it the strongest non-unique neutral ally in the game (although there are interesting cases to be made for Guardian of Rivendell, etc).

Researching this card provided a lot of different clever uses for Ranger of Cardolan. But its high stats are a bit of a drawback when it comes to all of the effects that Ranger of Cardolan could trigger. If a card effect requires you to exhaust an ally/Dunedain/Ranger, then there is almost always a lower stat ally that could fit the bill (provided they are actually in play). These come at the opportunity cost of not being able to use its stats, which we’ve verified, are quite good.

To establish just a couple other points on the card’s ability that will come up later. “After you engage an enemy” is not limited to the Engagement phase. This could be triggered during non-traditional phases for engagement such as planning, questing, combat, etc. Also note, when triggering the ability, Ranger of Cardolan stays in play until the end of the round (i.e. the very end, after the refresh phase); you could get several uses out of this card over the course of the round with various readying effects available, or even in the narrow window after it refreshes but before the round ends and is discarded.

I’ll briefly acknowledge some combo’s that are viable, but on fringe of productive. Expert Trackers has an interesting combo to engage an enemy, bring in the Ranger of Cardolan and exhaust it place progress on a location; but it’s not really that productive since a different Scout/Ranger could be used to exhaust and our Ranger of Cardolan could be used to help deal with the enemy. He’s only here for a limited time, let’s make the most of it. Similarly, attachments on the Ranger of Cardolan could be useful, but that means you’re not using his ability (although very much still viable), and as before, other allies may be better targets.

There’s another set of combos that are intriguing, but still only situationally applicable because several pieces may need to be in place.

  • Descendants of Kings: more ways to get uses out of Dunedain stats/actions and you’ll likely have enemies engaged if you trigger Ranger of Cardolan’s ability
  • Tale of Tinuviel: always takes some finesse since it’s not providing action advantage. Since the stat boosting lasts until the end of the phase, extra readying is needed to get maximize the benefit (say from: Descendants of Kings)
  • Dunedain Hunter: an alluring gamble to directly take on an extra enemy to get a strong ally in play for not cost. Sometimes that enemy is more than you can handle right away, and the Ranger of Cardolan could help double-team that enemy if necessary. Plus, played during the planning phase, it gives you more opportunities to get an extra use.
  • Wait no Longer: a similar combo as previous, play during planning and appreciate exactly what extra enemy you are dealing with this round. However, it starts to get a little bit expensive to pull off.
  • Heir of Valandil: a perfectly acceptable way to reduce the cost once you’ve got some enemies engaged. Appreciate the flexibility to play Ranger of Cardolan this way if you missed the opportunity to trigger the response, of if you have Ranger of Cardolan back in your hand later in the game when the response isn’t as needed.
  • Mablung (hero): while he doesn’t share the right trait with the Ranger of Cardolan to trigger its ability, Mablung effectively defrays the cost of putting the Ranger into play during any phase.

Now to the substantive analysis, putting Ranger of Cardolan against the two staple 1-cost cards dealing emergency/unexpected combat:

Feint
Completely shuts down an attack and no secondary effect triggers: no shadow card, no forced effect related to the attack, etc.

Sneak Attack
Allows ‘enters/leaves play’ effects to trigger. If the ally survives, it could be paid for conventionally during the next planning phase, or a second sneak attack during a later phase of the same round.

Ranger of Cardolan
One resource cost is not specific to a sphere. Ally remains until the end of the round. Card is shuffled into owner’s deck for potential reuse. Takes up less ‘deck space’ with the integrated ability.

Objectively, Feint and Sneak Attack deserve their spots among the most popular and abused effects from the core set. But looking comparatively at the Ranger’s ability, would Feint and Sneak Attack be improved if they were neutral (non-)sphere? Would Feint and Sneak Attack be improved if they were shuffled into their owner’s deck after use (say, conditionally if no shadow effect was dealt to the target enemy)? The fine print to shuffle back into the owner’s deck can be incredible if there is sufficient card draw in a Dunedain deck.

The Ranger of Cardolan can be an excellent archery damage soak, effectively healing itself as it leaves play (also true for Sneak Attack). But it is also significant card economy, as it takes up half the space in your deck as a Sneak Attack and the corresponding ally.

Clearly there are some restrictions on Ranger of Cardolan. Controlling a Dunedain hero is much more limiting than being able to pay for one tactics or lore resource based on any hero lineup; there’s only six Dunedain heroes by name, and a couple more Messenger of the King candidates. But there is quite a bit of sub-archetype flexibility here: the multifaceted Aragorn, Idraen with location control, Thurindir (and Thalion) with side quests, and Beravor with card draw support. It also is only triggerable at the moment you engage an enemy; while that usually is the most impactful moment to have use of an extra ally, it lacks the flexibility to enter play if that isn’t the case.

Sidebar: Thalion mirrors the Ranger of Cardolan. Differing only in ability and unique status, they share the same card type, stats, cost, traits and sphere. It would really be a bonus achievement to trigger Ranger of Cardolan if your only Dunedain hero was Thalion after three side quests have been cleared.

Peak Power

Here we go; you’ve been looking for that overpowered combo to abuse the encounter deck with. Here we go! It was an unexpected surprise when I found the quote at the head of this article that mentioned when the Rangers would appear in Bree they “told strange forgotten tales which were eagerly listened to“.

Alright, you’re smart. You’ve probably known this combo was coming all along. But let’s go over some extra abuses of A Very Good Tale when used in the refresh phase before Ranger of Cardolan is discarded at round’s end. If you’ve snuck it into play using only one resource, you’ve got a chance to get excellent value out of that one resource.

To be explicit, all characters will ready during step 7.2 and then A Very Good Tale is playable during the action window between 7.4 and 7.5. Exhausting an ally, especially one with a high printed cost, that is about to leave play maximizes A Very Good Tale’s already potent resource acceleration and card draw effect.

Remember, there is that sneaky little action window after all cards ready and before the round ends

Here’s an extra achievement to unlock for yourself: pair Ranger of Cardolan with another ally leaving play at the end of the round. Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman, while costly, all have powerful when enters play effects that you can squeeze one more use out of before they depart. Combined with Ranger of Cardolan, they can bring in a pair of high cost allies. Frankly, a pair of Rangers makes a perfectly viable combo on their own.

Dwarven Sellsword and Wilyador similarly leave play at the end of the round, but they are remarkably cheap allies whose value decrease the longer you keep them hanging around; what better than to play them on the cheap, yet get another stable ally into play as they leave (however, you are compromised to a total cost of incoming allies at five resources, but still plenty of respectable allies can be brought in this way).

Backing off “Peak Power” for a moment, imagine blanking the textbox on Ranger of Cardolan; gone is the ability, but also the restriction. Is it still worth playing? Consider how playable a neutral ally is in a tri-sphere deck.

Consider also if a Bond of Friendship contract is played. Per the setup restriction, ten non-sphere cards need to be included in your deck and, with four heroes, paying for a four cost ally doesn’t require any forethought or resource hoarding. As good as they are, a strong neutral ally is much more playable than one belonging to a specific sphere. (And if you really want a third neutral ranger, remember Thalion.)

Rating, Conclusion

Card Talk uses the highly scientific yet arbitrary scale of 1 ring for the card to rule them all to 10 to be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.

The Ranger of Cardolan has a lot of strengths. As a neutral ally, it can fit in almost any deck. Its statline is versatile and above average per stat to resource value/ratio. With a Dunedain hero, it can bounce into play many times during a game especially as an emergency combatant and archery soak.

With a mature card pool, it can’t always get included, but it’s certainly worthy of consideration in many decks even if its ability isn’t triggerable.

  • Dave – 4
  • Grant – TBR
  • Ted – 5
  • My rating – 3
  • Average – 4.00

Fast Hitch

A card so nice, they reviewed it twice (at least).

TL;DR It’s a Hobbit staple.

Background

Hobbit stats are rubbish: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever, about that. If you’re of the persuasion the first statement would read better with the word “stats” omitted, then you are probably off to find a better use of your time. Unless you’re getting into extended fan-created content (ALEP: The Last Alliance Contract) from here on, the following discussion is clearly in the context of Hobbitish application.

Card Theme

The source material for Fast Hitch comes from Sam and Frodo’s journey through the Emyn Muil. Our beloved podcast hosts appreciated this context the first time around, but a veil of forgetfulness had passed over all of them by the second time they discussed this card. Please reference The Two Towers: Chapter 1. The Taming of Smeagol to delight yourself with the fullest quotation.

After the elven rope gifted to Sam by Galadriel comes loose:

Sam did not laugh. “I may not be much good at climbing, Mr. Frodo,” he said in injured tones, “but I do know something about rope and about knots. It’s in the family, as you might say. Why, my grand-dad, and my uncle Andy after him, him that was the Gaffer’s eldest brother he had a rope-walk over by Tighfield many a year. And I put as fast a hitch over the stump as any one could have done, in the Shire or out of it.”

Even though an internet search today for fast hitches will result predominately in towing hitches, the demographic most interested in them is unsurprising: Farmers (and tangentially modern farming certainly relies on fast tow hitches to quickly attach and unattach equipment from tractors). The ability to quickly secure loads, equipment, or produce is key to agrarian values and skills that just such a Gamgee Hobbit family would have prided themselves on and found essential to efficiently cultivating lands.

Hopefully, it is obvious why knotting knowledge and the ability to quickly fasten loads would thematically represent action advantage for Hobbits. In the source material, the fact the elven rope loosens itself and returns to its owner is a sore point for Sam, but it also allows them to continue their quest sooner, without having to leave the rope behind.

Of note, in knot tying theory, a hitch is a knot used to fasten a rope to another object. Clearly an accurate use in this circumstance. Another thematic win is achieved by designing this card for the Lore sphere; from the core rules, “the sphere of Lore emphasizes the potential of a hero’s mind. Intellect, wisdom, experience, and specialized knowledge are all under the domain of this sphere.” A small quibble is it would have been nice if there was a Gamgee hero with the printed Lore icon; a MotK Gaffer is the closest we come.

Synergies and Interatcions

In the greater context, Fast Hitch compares most directly with the core staple Unexpected Courage; attachments that provide a repeatable readying effect. Note that Fast Hitch can be used on any character, not just heroes.

It’s easy to ask, “name a Hobbit that’s not a good target for Fast Hitch?” Clearly they all are, but one must consider the opportunity cost that exists. Because of this, there are clearly better targets for the readying. Also, should multiple Fast Hitches be stacked on a single character, or should they be spread around.

There exist two main strategies for building for Fast Hitch: you are planning to sufficiently boost a Hobbit’s stats to make the extra actions pay off or you are planning to use actions that require a character to exhaust. But let it be stated, Rosie Cotton merges these two strategies in powerful ways.

Stat Boosting

  • Characters that have above average or stat boosting abilities: Sam Gamgee (Leadership), Tom Cotton, Tactics Merry
  • Attachments for boosting Hobbits: Hobbit Cloak, Staff of Lebethron, Sting, Ring Mail, Friend of Friends, etc as well as plenty of others (i.e. play an off-theme Steward of Gondor, then Gondorian Shield becomes quite effective)
  • Events for boosting: Halfling Determination (best for combat as you might get multiple uses out of the boost).

Ability Triggers

Characters with abilities you may want multiple uses of:

  • Firstly, MotK Rossie Cotton: if her power isn’t self-evident, more in the next section.
  • Tactics Merry: top attack potential for Hobbits, with an attacking buddy they can really mow down the enemies. Top thematic points for pairing with a partner deck triggering Tactic Eowyn’s ability. You will have to figure out some potential ranged damage though (partner attack w/printed range, Dunedain Cache, etc.)
  • Spirit Merry: even though Hobbit Pony may do it better, questing-readying-triggering is quite effective.
  • Other more niche cases include Spirit Pippin and Tactics Bilbo Baggins

Peak Power

If your ambition is to feature Fast Hitch in the most powerful ways, building around MotK Rosie Cotton is your objective. Making Rosie a hero (yes, Sword-thane is similarly viable, but requires considerably more resources to set up), opens her up to all willpower boosting effects that target heroes (consider Fireside Song, Red Book of Westmarch, Celebrian’s Stone, Necklace of Girion, Stone of Elostirion, Strider, Courage Awakened, Hobbit Pipe + Smoke Rings, etc.). Having multiple hitches on Rosie will allow her to quest, then ready and exhaust to boost another questing Hobbit, while finally readying and exhaust to boost a combat hobbit. Not to mention all the decision points of whether you want to trigger her ability; you might want to limit your progress, while a big enemy reveal might have you prioritizing combat. It is still incredibly strong even if you can’t get her willpower boosted.

Defending enemy attacks is always a vital part of this game. As such, our defense capable Hobbits can greatly benefit from Fast Hitch: Sam Gamgee, Tom Cotton, and Spirit Frodo.

Even though Hobbit decks tend to be tri-sphere, you still must have access to Lore. There are only 3 printed heroes that are Lore Hobbits. While A Good Harvest, Song of Wisdom, or intentional discarding an attachment and playing it with Reforged can work, they are probably a bit too big of a momentum hit unless you’re utilizing those cards in other ways to facilitate your deck. Also note, the Bond of Friendship contract plays nicely with a couple of Fast Hitches. Additionally, Fast Hitch is a nice inclusion for many of the saga quests, since the extra hero is often a Hobbit and may have some nifty utility in the quest.

Rating, Conclusion

Even though their stats are rubbish, a pleasant side effect is that giving Hobbits action advantage through Fast Hitch doesn’t feel overpowered. Many decisions underlie skillful play of this card that is thematically appropriate for the hiding in the shadows, tricksey Hobbit archetype.

You knew it before you read all this, Fast Hitch is a near auto-include in any Hobbit deck. There are many shenanigans yet to be uncovered if you’ve extended your LCG experience with the ALEP fan content; the Last Alliance contract opens up the Hobbit trait to any other trait archetype.

Card Talk uses the highly scientific yet arbitrary scale of 1 ring for the card to rule them all to 10 to be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.

Dave: w/Hobbits 1, w/out Hobbits 10: overall 5

Grant: 3

My rating: 4 — I agree with Dave’s logic to split the difference between it’s usefulness with or without Hobbits; but as the card pool grows beyond the official FFG releases, there are more ways to use Fast Hitch than a strictly pure Hobbit deck.