Star Brooch is a card I loved from the moment I first saw it, even though it's reception was pretty cold in the rest of the community (who doesn't seem to initially like cards unless they are OP and can apply to every deck/scenario). My first impression was how the card art, flavor text, and ability perfectly captured the spirit of the Dunedain, the wandering descendents of ancient Numenorean kings. It is steadfast and vigilant, yet concealed in it's power and heritage...which is displayed when engaging the foes of the West.

Thematic win aside, I also really love cards that have conditional value. It's like they are saying "I bring great value for cost, but you need to build a deck around me and find a way to unlock my power". I personally wish that the majority of cards in this game were designed in such a way, as it would make decks more unique and keep deck building fresh and interesting. But enough gushing, let's take a look at the actual mechanics of this card.

A permanent +1 boost is very good value no matter who you are. It out classes cards like The Favor of the Lady and Dúnedain Quest instantly in cost/value, although The Favor of the Lady is less conditional and Dúnedain Quest can be shifted, so those cards are probably more precisely "different but equal". The only card that really outmatches it completely in value is Celebrían's Stone. However, Celebrían's Stone comes with it's own limitations in that it is both unique and restricted, while Star Brooch is neither. Indeed, I think that these two cards are complimentary, and the decks that I build that include Star Brooch also tend to include Celebrían's Stone. The secondary ability definitely more conditional, as I can only think of a handful of scenarios that reduce willpower, but it really just adds more value to the card in highly conditional situations and is really, really nice on the rare occasions it applies!

Clearly, the primary home for Star Brooch is Dunedain decks. The condition of having an enemy engaged is not that restrictive in these decks, since a Dunedain deck really isn't pulling it's weight anyway unless it spends most of the game engaged to atleast 2 enemies. It does take a little bit of crafty building since Dunedain decks tend to be primarily and , and focused more so on combat than quest progression. However, I have discovered that Dunedain decks can also be quite good in the questing role, as long as you are able to keep atleast two enemies engaged and are able to deal with their attacks and shadow effects. Star Brooch pairs well in a deck with Warden of Annúminas, even though it can't directly attach to this ally. I have found that Halbarad is the best target for Star Brooch, as when engaged with enemies he enjoys the ability to quest without exhausting, and it gets crazy when Halbarad is loaded up with Star Brooch and Celebrían's Stone and is questing for 5 every round without exhausting!

Great card, and fun to build a deck around, and very thematic to boot.

One of my favourite cards from the Core Set. Pretty easy to explain why as well. The erstwhile Snowbourn Scout was for a long time the archetypal chump blocker, and sometimes you just need a wimpy ally to lay down their life for the cause. As the card pool has expanded and we've gotten more and better defensive options, that need for chumps has lessened, but even now good old Snowbourn can be hard to leave out. People tend to focus more on strong defenders now but sometimes plans go out the window and it's nice to still have something expendable to fall back on.

Beyond that, the only significant question is why the Snowbourn Scout was and sometimes arguably still is the best chump in the game? Well, first off, he costs 1. There are a grand total of 13 allies in the game at this point which cost 1. Two of them have that frustrating text "Cannot attack or defend" so they can't be chumps. So options are limited for really cheap chumps. On top of that, the Snowbourn Scout places a point of progress when he enters play, so he still serves a purpose even if he doesn't have to die. A purpose that can fit usefully into any deck that can play him, unlike some of the others who may be more specific. And because his ability is an enters play and his only stat point is 1 /1 you're not losing anything by getting him killed, unlike, say Henamarth Riversong.

Honestly, the only option to really compete with the Snowbourn Scout for the position of a dedicated chump flexible enough to fit into any deck that can play him is the Squire of the Citadel. But even there, while a lot of people would consider the Squire to have supplanted the Scout, I still prefer the Scout's point of progress to the Squire's extra resource. For one thing, the resource can only go to Gondor heroes, and you don't always have one. Granted, Steward is in the same sphere and gives the trait to anyone, but then there's a question of the sequence you draw things, and also if you have Steward do you really need the 1 additional resource? Even if you do have natural Gondor heroes, again Steward may well give you all the resources you need, so often I'd prefer the progress. A final niche point is that in an emergency you could just Sneak Attack your Scout to clear a location in a hurry. Certainly not something you plan for, but an extra option. That little bit of location control should not be underestimated and is worth paying for in my opinion, especially in the rich sphere.

So here's to the Snowbourn Scout. May he rest in peace.

#envoy —
Another cheap ally that can chump is the Envoy of Pelargir -- it costs two, but immediately returns a resource to a noble or Gondor hero, so can be used for resource smoothing. However, Envoy has 1 wp and 1 attack, so it is useful for more than chumping. —

One of my favourite early heroes, and a sorely under-rated one. The reason I like him is simple - I like it when decks work co-operatively together, and I like readying effects. The reason he's good is that those two things I just mentioned can be incredibly powerful.

Now there are ways to make Brand insanely powerful, namely by combining him with Merry on the other side of the table. They attack and kill something engaged with the Merry player, Merry readies Brand, Brand readies Merry, and they do it again. But even outside of this niche ridiculous case, the extra action you gain from Brand can often be key to finishing off one more enemy than you otherwise could, which I would consider more valuable in terms of establishing a foothold against the encounter deck than the 2 progress you'd get from Legolas (Brand's primary competition for the 3 Ranged slot). Of course this is not universal, sometimes you can kill everything anyway, but then, if the enemies are well under control, you can use Brand to ready characters like Denethor or Henamarth Riversong for scrying; Beravor for card draw; Argalad to throw a point of direct damage into the staging area; Warden of Healing for... well, for healing; Elrond for Vilya. There's a lot of value that can potentially be gained by getting an additional action even right at the end of the combat phase. Alternatively, if you use Quick Strike and Brand can get the kill on his own then you can get that action earlier, if perhaps you need another defender in a hurry. Returning to my earlier parenthesised comparison, I should make it clear that I definitely agree Legolas is good. The ability is powerful and he's low threat. But I do think he's a bit over-rated, and the case can definitely be made for using Brand instead in some contexts (especially because ally Legolas is a brilliant option for decks now).

The biggest knock against Brand is that unfortunately pretty much all of the best weapons are specific to elves. It wouldn't be unreasonable to make Brand an Elf-friend specifically in order to kit him out with Rivendell Bow and Bows of the Galadhrim since they fit perfectly with his ability and he's much more likely to get that kill if he has 8 . Without such shenanigans however, there's always Dagger of Westernesse (since you want enemies to engage other players, you may be deliberately keeping your threat down and therefore get the full +2) and the old faithful Dúnedain Mark, which handily is also not restricted, allowing you to either stack more boosts or get more potential readies out of Brand by giving him a Rohan Warhorse or two.

Building around Brand can potentially be a lot like building around Haldir of Lórien - you want enemies to engage everyone else rather than you so his ability will be useful. So keeping your threat down is obviously good, perhaps playing with engagement costs via effects such as Pippin, Take No Notice, Noiseless Movement, etc, other decks with engagement effects like Westfold Outrider, Tireless Hunters, The Hammer-stroke, etc, and perhaps also including more Ranged and Sentinel characters in your deck to just handle combat in general from the other side of the table. Brand is probably going to be at his best in a context where multiple players build co-operatively to have the engagements fall out the way you want and to ensure he has good targets for readying, but even without that he can still be well worth it if you build it right just on basic assumptions about other players' decks.

The art is weird and he inexplicably lacks the Noble trait despite being a King, but Brand Son of Bain (Son of Bard) is nevertheless a strong hero in the right deck and not to be underestimated.

Mostly made obsolete by Thror's Map, which is reusable and generally just better. The exception is that with this card, you can immediately get something out of the staging area if it's going to ruin your questing this phase (The Brown Lands, Branching Paths, etc.) Whether that's enough of a risk to justify using Strider's Path instead, in most cases, probably not. Sudden game-ruining locations aren't as common as the other types, and a lot of them have effects that can be dealt with in the travel phase. Maybe worth a second look if you have a lot of discard manipulation or are playing against a lot of attachment punishment.

As soon as I found out Thror's Map was errata'd to a Travel action, I mostly stopped putting it in decks. The whole point of Strider's Path is to get that 5 threat (or god forbid nightmare 10 threat) location out of the staging area and into the queue for progress tokens as soon as it's revealed. Whether that's worth doing depends on the quest, of course, but I find it more likely to be useful than post-errata Thror's Map. —
Depends on the quest I suppose. I may change my mind as I play more of the scenarios. —

Looks silly, but can be ridiculous if you get time to set up. My smoking deck has finished games with 0 threat and all cards drawn. Since there's only two pipes in the game thus far (Hobbit Pipe, Wizard Pipe,) Smoke Rings will pretty much only work in one kind of deck. At a minimum you'll want hero Gandalf, at least one Wizard Pipe, a couple of hobbit heroes, 3x Bilbo Baggins, and 3x Hobbit Pipe. Get 4 pipes out and each copy of Smoke Rings becomes "pay 2 for -4 threat and 3 cards." Cycle it with something like Galadhrim Weaver, and you can trigger it 6+ times per game, which gets increasingly easy as you draw through your whole damn deck. Coupled with Expert Treasure-hunter (a natural inclusion for hero Gandalf,) I've actually discovered the problem of not having anything to swap with using Wizard Pipe, so a Will of the West might be in order - though by that point you've probably won anyway.

Gotta love the image of Sauron's minions being unable to find the hobbits because they're obscured by a cloud of tobacco smoke, too.

Sample deck: ringsdb.com

I can see potential for Smoke Rings working really well with OHaUH Gandalf too. —
Is it really tobacco, though? ;) —
It is tobacco. Although Tolkien didn't use tobacco because it is a 17th century word. He always opted to use older Anglo-Saxon lingo. —