You Bought the Core Set. Now What?
Hello everyone. This is Card Talk’s first ever hybrid show. You will find (roughly) the same content written here as will be in the video below. This is because a buying guide makes more sense in written form, but also, as we talk about the products, it’s always good to see them, that way you know what you are getting. It may make the most sense to read along as you watch the video.
This is a link to our audio episode.
Today, we bring to you a buying guide. With the recent influx of new players for myriad reasons, I see many folks asking, “What should I buy next?” I hope to take time to answer this question as best I can for you. Also, realize that there are many folks who have opinions on this that I respect. You can see Daan Prins AKA Durin’s Father’s opinion of what to buy on his blog, Vision of the Palantir. Or you can use Ian Martin’s new player buying guide he developed over on Tales from the Cards. But everyone has an opinion, and the more information you get, the more likely you are to make the best decision for yourself.
Before we get started, it’s important for new players to understand the structure of the content. You have purchased the core set, but there is so much out there, it could be overwhelming. So, let’s start at the top. There are three major types of content for the game. The first is something called a cycle. This comprises a deluxe box followed by six adventure packs, what we abbreviate as APs. The core set is considered the deluxe expansion for the first cycle, Shadows of Mirkwood. Each cycle has a name and usually has some theme that holds together the cycle as one overarching story, loosely at first with the earlier cycles and more tightly with later cycles; so much so that the products will include actual stories in the rules insert for each scenario. These are the scenarios that take place in the 60 years in between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. There are nine cycles in the game.
The second type of product is Saga expansions. Each of these boxes are all similar in size and scope to deluxe expansions, but these follow the story of both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. They all contain 3 scenarios, and are all thematic homeruns in terms of following the stories that we know and love. And keep in mind that they follow the books and not the movies, so if you are expecting to find a Tauriel objective card in the Hobbit saga or a Haldir’s Elf-Army Objective at Helm’s Deep, you are mistaken. That said, one of the glorious things you can do is bring an elf deck of your own to bring to Helm’s Deep or to pair with a Dwarf deck to play the Hobbit Sagas. The choice is yours!
The last general type of product to purchase is a called Print on Demand, or what we abbreviate as PODs. This includes special encounter scenarios that were released at conventions like Gen Con and another, more difficult, playmode called Nightmare. This buying guide will not include much POD stuff because many times this only comes with one specific scenario or will impact one specific scenario, so by the time you are looking at PODs, you will probably already have a good feel for what you want.
A few last notes before we begin in earnest is that this buying guide will include player card spoilers, but not include any spoilers for the scenarios. And, this guide is only good if reprints of the game continue and, as far as anyone knows, there is no reason why the game is not going to continue to be reprinted.
So let’s get started!
There may be a few products that the community is always clamoring for. If these products come available, you may want to pick them up just because they can be hard to get otherwise:
- The Steward’s Fear – The first AP of Against the Shadow, the third cycle. This pack has a “deck in a pack” with the Outlands cards, so folks are always looking to scoop this up
- Foundations of Stone – The fifth AP of Dwarrowdelf, the second cycle. This pack contains one of the most OP heroes in the game, Spirit Glorfindel (Show, Card). It routinely sells out because of this.
- Shadow and Flame – The last AP of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. This pack includes what seems to be the perfect confluence of a high power combo, Elrond (Show, Card) and Vilya, with one of the most thematic battles in the game.
- Black Riders – The first of the Lord of the Rings Saga Boxes, this seems to be out of print often, and my guess is because of how amazing the Saga experience is and because this box gives you a Hobbit deck out of the box.
- Flame of the West – This is the fifth saga box in the LOTR saga and seems to be popular not because of the quests, but because it contains a surprising hero, Tactics Eowyn (Show, Card), which is quite possibly one of the best heroes in the game.
Others that may be out of stock and hard to get because of popularity are:
- Dead Marshes – The fifth AP of the Shadow of Mirkwood Cycle. This pack has a Boromir (Show 1, Show 2, Card) hero, a fan favorite. It also contains Fast Hitch (Show, Card), a hobbit staple making it fairly popular for many.
- The whole of the Dwarrowdelf Cycle. For some reason, it seems that this is out of stock more often then it is in stock, so if you see it, pick it up.
You have the core set and you want to buy something next. What should it be? Well, I think the first purchase you should make is to fill out the rest of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle by buying the six APs that go along with it. One thing for new players to note when really diving deep into the game is that the player cards in a whole cycle are developed together, as one big pool and then split up into the deluxe box and the APs for the cycle. So, by getting the whole first cycle this does a few things:
- It introduces you to a broader card pool with the ability to build a more effective deck.
- Introduces you to a few more scenarios to see quest effects and ways that the encounter deck can try to defeat you.
- Scenarios like Conflict at the Carrock is still, after nine years, an awesome scenario.
- Some scenarios have mixed reviews in the community, but I think it’s important to get them to find out which is your type of scenario. Scenarios like The Hills of Emyn Muil and A Journey to Rhosgobel draw out some pretty strong opinions, but if you don’t play them, how will you know if you don’t like them? That introduction to the variety is why the first cycle is important.
In the first cycle of cards you will get some pretty popular player cards that are still used today. Cards like:
- Dain Ironfoot – a staple in building a solid dwarf deck.
- Fast Hitch (Show, Card)- Was mentioned above, but is a necessity if you are building a hobbit themed deck
- Boromir (Show 1, Show 2, Card) – Again, mentioned above, gives a huge advantage to early deck building.
- Eagles – There are a bunch of eagles in this cycle. They are great allies and help new players understand some of the more complex combos and interactions in the game.
- Great basic attachments – Early in any card games life, there has to be cards that just improve overall game play. Songs that allow heros to gain each of the spheres is one type and attachments that allow heros to increase their stats is the other type.
If the first cycle of APs is not available, just move on the next set of purchases and come back to these when you get a chance.
You can choose three ways to go after the first cycle.
The first way to go is to move right along in order to the Dwarrowdelf cycle and it’s six APs. This is what many folks want to do since it follows along with the timeline of the game’s release. And why not? The quests are great fun, they have some recognizable scenarios like Shadow and Flame and Watcher in the Water, and it comes with pretty decent player cards. The player cards start to expand on the dwarf trait, of which Dain Ironfoot from the previous cycle is key. Other player cards from the cycle that are of note include:
- Elrond’s Counsel (Show, Card)- From the Watcher in the Water, the third AP of the cycle. This is probably the king of 0 cost cards in the early card pool and plays so well with the next card on the list.
- Spirit Glorfindel (Show, Card), coupled with Light of Valinor, both from the Foundations of Stone AP. This was the first combo out of the pack that many in the community thought was broken.
- Asfaloth – Another card from Foundations of Stone. This card is probably singly responsible for changing how many quest points locations have in every scenario after it was released.
- Daeron’s Runes – Again, a staple card drawing card from Foundations of Stone. Such a great card on so many levels.
- Arwen Undomiel – From the Watcher in the Water scenario is maybe one of the best allies in the game, at the very least, for those with a limited card pool.
At the end of the day, this cycle really hits on most of the stuff players want to get their hands on, great quests, great player cards and an overall great gaming experience.
The second way you can go is to move right to the Hobbit Sagas. The Hobbit Saga consists of two big boxes, Overhill and Underhill and On the Doorstep. These quests, from my understanding, were also playtested pretty heavily with people who own just the core set. As the player card pool expanded and more scenarios were introduced to the game, it eventually becomes less likely that new scenarios and player cards were tested with everything in mind. But this was released early on in the life of the game that players can really enjoy “playing through the books.” The mechanics are fresh and unique, they foreshadow what future quests will hold in terms of mechanics, and the player cards can really fill out a dwarf deck to the max.
All of that said, some in the community say that a quest or two fall short of the mark mechanically, but my impression is that most people want to play these particular boxes because of the theme, and these saga scenarios do not miss the mark on that. If you go with the Hobbit Sagas, you won’t get quite the campaign feel that the Lord of the Rings Saga gives players, but there are plenty of opportunities for the players to feel like they are continually following in the footsteps of Bilbo.
When you get the Hobbit boxes, you can expect (as is the theme!) that you will fill out the dwarf archetype quite nicely. Using just one core set and these scenarios, you can build a pretty stout dwarf deck. If you have completed the Shadow of Mirkwood cycle, then you have Dain Ironfoot, which only makes the Dwarfs that much stronger. Some of the best cards in these boxes are:
From Over Hill and Under Hill
- A Very Good Tale – This card is amazing both in game play and thematics. It represents how the dwarves entered Beorn’s Hall two by two after leaving the goblin king’s realm. Fantastic card
- Beorn (Show, Card)- The first hero you may get that throws off normal mechanics. He’s a beast and you can spend hours making decks around this guy. Actually, our friend at the Hall of Beorn, Dan, has a whole category of cards on his site dedicated to Beorn Support.
- Foe-hammer and, to a lesser extent, Goblin-cleaver – As you build a tactics deck, these cards always seem to come up for consideration and I particularly love the moment in the movies when the goblin king says their names, of course referring to Glamdring and Orcrist.
- Thror’s map – This card is crazy good even after it was errata’d. You can avoid a lot of heartache and grief from travel effects. Know that there are a bunch of travel effects on cards that you will want to avoid.
From On the Doorstep
- King Under the Mountain – While this card doesn’t seem to be amazing to many new players, give it play or two. It really helps to buff out your characters.
- Black Arrow – It’s not a game changer in terms of gameplay because of its limit one per deck, but it is just such a thematic win that it needs to be included.
One final note, if you are wondering where the named cards are for a huge thematic victory, they are in there. But I just can’t spoil where and how. But trust me when I say that it keeps in line with the books..
The third option after you complete your Shadows of Mirkwood cycle is to move to the more recent Ered Mithrin cycle. This cycle is the 7th cycle in the game. This is a great way to go for relatively new players for a few reasons. First, the scenarios are more finely tuned. The designers of the game have been doing the good work for a long time, so some of the swingy mechanics have been eliminated and if you lose very quickly, it’s usually not a feel bad situation. Secondly, the deluxe box, The Wilds of Rhovanion, comes with a new archetype, Dale, that is almost self contained in the deluxe. Dale is strong enough to beat some of the really challenging quests this cycle will throw at you, but also flexible enough for you to customize it with cards from a shallow card pool. Lastly, Dragons.
One reason against this purchase is because of the narrative the designers are trying to tell. There is an ongoing story from the previous cycles that gets told here. If the only reason you are playing the game is strictly for the narrative, then this may not be the place to go.
Some cards that you can expect to get lots of use out of in this cycle are:
- King of Dale, Bard son of Brand, Brand son of Bain – Found in the Wilds of Rhovanion deluxe box, these cards are the fuel for the aforementioned dale archetype.
- Guarded Cards (Playlist, Cards) – These cards are found throughout the cycle and are very powerful attachments but come at a cost. They are fun to play, but some folks are hesitant to pull out the extra encounter card.
- Reforged – From The Fate of the Wilderland AP, the sixth AP in the cycle. This card gives new life to those attachments that get discarded, either on purpose or by encounter card effects and boy is it good.
- Spirit Dain Ironfoot – From the fourth AP in the cycle, The Ghost of Framsburg, this version of Dain gives us a hero to play for the dwarf mining archetype.
So many other good cards in this cycle. It’s like Christmas morning every time you open a pack, especially in terms of new, creative decks to build.
After you have purchased some or all of this, you are well on your way to being a completionist in the game. This may be the time to purchase a second core set if you are playing live with more than two people, you don’t feel comfortable using Brok Ironfist (Show, Card) as a proxy for Unexpected Courage (Show, Card) or you just want to have complete encounter decks ready to go without putting together the separate encounter sets.
At this point you may also want to consider buying the Limited Edition 2 Player Starter if it’s still in print. All the cards in the box, including encounter cards, are expanded art alternates to the original cards. Also, the quests are fun and by this time in your buying, you’ll probably want to start branching out to get some alt art “stuff.”
The next purchase after any or all of the above can take you in two directions. The first direction is to start purchasing and playing the Lord of the Rings saga boxes. I’m not sure many players are ready for this when they start, but once you do start, it’s hard to put down. Widely regarded by the community as the showcase of the game, you should have enough cards in your deepening card pool to make a pretty good crack at the campaign mode. While each scenario can be played independently and not connected, campaign mode provides a new way to progress through the quests that allows for carry over between each. If you are looking for that thematic experience, this is it. But, it can be a challenge to beat some of the quests with a limited card pool. Fortunately, there are some pretty good player cards in each of the Saga boxes to get you on your way.
Also, it is likely that you may start the LOTR Saga and will want to finish buying it up because it is just that good. The player cards are on point, but each of the scenarios is also spot on. Where the Hobbit Saga has a few hit or miss moments, the LOTR Saga is always a homerun, providing an experience that is new and exciting in each of the 20 scenarios. I know, you’re doing some quick math and you only come up with 18 scenarios. After all, there are 6 saga boxes and 3 scenarios in each. But, there are also two POD quests that fit into the saga campaign that should be purchased if you are going to play the saga. The Old Forest and Fog on the Barrow-Downs are their names and should be purchased with the Black Riders box. Again, the PODs don’t have any player cards in them, but at this point do you really care if one or two packs don’t have player cards? You are looking for the complete experience and this will give it to you!
Cards to look for in the LOTR saga boxes include:
In the Black Riders box
- Sam Gamgee (Show, Card), Pippin (Show, Card), and Merry (Show, Card) – These staple hobbit heroes make a great hobbit deck that can survive for a little while in the sagas.
- Dagger of Westernesse – One of the most used weapons in the game and works remarkably well on, you guessed it, hobbits.
The Road Darkens box
- Hero Gandalf (Show 1, Show 2, Card)- This is the hero that we didn’t know we needed. The only neutral hero, he can grease the wheels of most any deck. Included in this box are his toys as well. Gandalf makes a great hero for deck building.
- Ally Boromir – For some reason I really like this guy. Maybe its because he fits into a hobbit deck so well.
The Treason of Saruman box
- Ally Gimli (Show, Card) – This card is good on most levels. He’s expensive, but he can really help out in most deck types. He isn’t restricted to a dwarf deck
- Ally Legolas – Arguably the best version of this character in the game. He gives you much needed card draw in tactics but also isn’t restricted to playing only in a Silvan or Elf deck.
- What has three attack in lore and can help your game out? Quickbeam ally, of course. He’s a great asset to most decks
Land of Shadow box maybe the weakest of all the boxes and provides support for many deck types but doesn’t have much in the way of stand out player cards
Flame of the West box:
- Tactics Eowyn (Show, Card) – As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, she is one of the best heroes in the game and you may buy this box just because she is in it.
- Spirit Beregond – Not to be overlooked as probably the best defender in the game
Mountain of Fire box
- Rosie Cotton (Show, Card) – For anyone interested in making a hobbit deck that really sings, she is the card of the box.
If you aren’t quite ready for the Saga boxes, then go for the Dreamchaser and the Haradrim cycles. This has the storyline that was continued in the Ered Mithrin cycle and can also be a great place to have some very well thought out quests. Also, I like that these quests aren’t the normal, run of the mill, fight in a cave or forest quest. The Dreamchaser cycle takes place on boats primarily and the Haradrim cycle takes place on the desert, two of the least likely places that Lord of the Rings may take you. But, the theme works. Actually, many in the community see the Dreamchaser as the best cycle for its mechanics and game play. This is definitely worth the hype, if you aren’t quite up to the LOTR saga for some reason.
At this point there isn’t much left to recommend. I think that of the remaining cycles, Angmar Awakened is next to get. It contains one of the hardest quests in the game, The Battle of Carn Dum. The sixth AP, The Dread Realm, contains hero Arwen Undomiel who is regarded as one of the strongest heroes in the game and fuels the Noldor discard archetype. And the Treachery of Rhudaur, the fourth AP in the cycle, brings us Erestor (Show, Card), another one of those heroes that turns deckbuilding on its head. The cycle builds upon the Noldor archetype and you can see some really fun deck building opportunities by getting this cycle.
It wouldn’t hurt to throw in here that buying a few nightmare packs would be reasonable at this point. Maybe just the core set nightmares to make Passage Through Mirkwood a challenge and quite fun. It’s also a chance to see if you actually like nightmare content.
Then it’s really up to you in what order you want to get Against the Shadow and The Ring-maker. All of these quests are fun but not necessarily “notable.” Although there are a few community favorites contained here. As mentioned at the beginning of this, The Steward’s Fear is tops on many folks list
Lastly, it’s the Vengeance of Mordor cycle. By now you are buying product because it’s fun and you are a completionist. While this cycle is the most rich in player cards, seeing the introduction of a regular use The One Ring card which is a fun thematic play. You can imagine other characters from the books have possession of it and play as if you are guarding it with your life. Also, this cycle sees the introduction of contracts, a card that constrains your deck building but gives you benefits in other ways. But, all of the player cards aside, the scenarios are HARD! They are unforgiving and the designers made it that way on purpose. This cycle is designed as a sort of love letter to the community for years of support. It’s a love letter that is supposed to be played over and over again.
So there you have it. My ideas on what to buy and in what order to get them. But, the best advice I can give you on buying the game is to have fun. There isn’t another game out there like this and take the time to enjoy this beautiful work of art for what it is, the best game I’ve ever played.