Meneldor the Phoenix
Last fall, after the fun challenge of building a mono-Lore fellowship Green Anaconda, TritonWreck asked me if the same could be done with Tactics. I wasn't sure. I'd had friends who tried to make four player mono-tactics work and they never could figure out how. Questing couldn't get high enough (even with Theoden) and location lock soon followed, treacheries couldn't be cancelled and could be devastating, the lack of healing was a real problem, and there wasn't enough card draw to go around. But TritonWreck wanted to give a go and he convinced Carlosm88 and I to see what we could make with him. I'm glad he did, because what we came up with here is awfully enjoyable to play and very far from the beaten path.
Since my friends tried and failed to make 4P mono-Tactics work, there have been several new cards come out that make a well-rounded Tactics deck FAR more viable than it ever was before. Let's start with the first of those problems Tactics faces, location lock. In a four player game locations are inevitably going to pile up, forcing you to quest for higher and higher numbers each round. You need some way to explore them in the staging area to keep them down to a reasonable number. Tactics couldn't do that until Meneldor. (Arod helps some but will only clear one or two locations a game on its own.) We figured out early on that if we were going to be able to keep the staging area manageable, we were going to have to spam Meneldor in and out of play as often as possible. So we've got nine copies of him here along with six Flight of the Eagles and five Meneldor's Flight. We want to see him entering and leaving play at least once a round. That should clear an extra location on most rounds, usually the ugliest looking one, and suddenly the staging area isn't quite so threatening anymore. Having Meneldor pop around all the game while looking for ways ways to get him out of play just as quickly gave this fellowship its name. Shoot him full of archery, lose him to some evil treachery, chump him to some ugly enemy, Meneldor always comes back again. You can't kill him off!
While Meneldor is working on the staging area, Legolas keeps plugging away at the active location. He gets a couple Rohan Warhorse and a Support of the Eagles or two and he'll clear your active location before the round ends. Even if you do get location locked, he can give you a way to travel to a new location each round which can be invaluable.
So, location lock isn't the problem it once was for Tactics. How about questing? Théoden leads the charge there, but that means your heroes all have to go questing. Most of them would rather be fighting; they're Tactics heroes! But they've got to get used to it...this is their new lot in life. Still, with Theoden's help and all but a few heroes on board you can quest for almost 30 on the first round. That's wonderful! But tactics never really ramps up beyond that without resorting to some tricks. The new contract helps (Forth, The Three Hunters!) and there are a few allies worth questing with (definitely more than there used to be) but the main way we discovered to ramp up questing was to give a raging Gimli some Citadel Plates, a Support of the Eagles or two, and a steady supply of Grappling Hooks. Look out world!
Ok, next problem for Tactics. Treacheries. Not a ton of solutions there, but The One Ring does provide an option Tactics never had before, The Master Ring. You can at least pick the treachery this would devastate you most and cancel that now, and you can do that reliably in round one. It's not ideal but it should be enough to get you through some tight spots.
How about healing? Tactics is more about damage prevention and we have nine Honour Guards on life-guard duty here. Vigilant Guard spreads damage out by putting it on someone who wants it, like Gimli, who can also access healing once Forth, The Three Hunters! is completed. Magic Ring can also be used for healing. Like with treacheries, it's not enough to turn this into a strength, but there are enough options here to keep this weakness from being crippling in most games.
Last of the weaknesses was card draw. Tactics' best traditional solution for this is ally Legolas, but we decided we needed the hero version more and the ally would only have helped one deck anyway. Foe-hammer is great, but you have to have a weapon to make it work. The armory deck can hand out weapons to whoever needs them so that's not a problem. Each deck is also equipped with a copy of Gather Information. Beyond that, each deck has a different solution to remain functional.
~Beorn Airstrike is chock full of eagles so even one The Eagles Are Coming! can set it up for several rounds.
~The Three Armorers is the one most hurting for card draw, since it plays so many of its initial cards at a discount until the contract gets flipped. You'll be top-decking much of the game but using Ring of Thrór is essentially getting a free card draw AND resources every round, so if you've got that you should be fine.
Some general goals while playing.
~You want to play Meneldor every round, if you can, unless you're plumb out of locations, and find a way for him to leave each round too.
~Usually two of the three of Aragorn, Merry, and Brand son of Bain quest each round. The one that stays back is determined by which deck has Foe-hammer. If nobody has Foe-hammer, Aragorn is usually the best option for keeping ready.
~Try to involve Legolas in as many kills as you can each round. Rack up that progress!
~Don't begrudge the Three Armorers deck buying the guarded card Ring of Thrór! It really needs it and you'll all be better off for it.
~Magic Ring is the only form of healing outside of the armorer deck. The threat-raising to use it shouldn't be an issue unless the quest is very heavy on threat. Place it on whichever hero is hurting most, or on who most needs the readying. The resource it can get you might be a difference-maker too. So long as threat is doing fine, this is a high-priority purchase.
~Support of the Eagles is going to do some serious power-lifting here. You can put it on Legolas to make him a killing machine, Beregond to make him defend pretty much anything, or Gimli who can use it for questing with a Grappling Hook. Keep in mind characters CAN have more than one Support of the Eagles.
~Clearing a Gather Information is going to provide you some crucial decisions. Ask what WE need, not what you need. WE might need someone to grab Meneldor, an Honour Guard, a Magic Ring, another Gather Information, and/or something else entirely. The card YOU were hoping for might need to wait for now.
~That last principle applies to the rest of the game too. This is a fellowship built from the ground up to work TOGETHER. Ask what WE need; think collectively.
We've had the chance to playtest this fellowship four times, each with evolving versions of these decks.
1: A very tense victory over Intruders In Chetwood where we lost our hands to Lost In The Wilderness for several rounds and were inches from threating out, but we managed to top-deck enough solutions to hang in there and pulled out the victory.
2: An absolute cruise through the very-hard-in-four-player The River Running. This was where we knew we were on to something powerful.
3: A surprising, very strategical victory over The Battle of Pelennor Fields where Meneldor was rendered irrelevant by the quest, yet we somehow still pulled out the game.
4: A loss to Siege of Annuminas in epic multiplayer mode where the direct damage and certain treacheries proved to be too much to overcome. A hard fought game.
Every single one of these was a very enjoyable experience. When some of the basic things we're all so used to are pulled away (like A Test of Will and Warden of Healing) you have to find different ways to accomplish your goals, which makes this game feel fresh and fun. If any of you get a chance to play with these decks I hope you'll let me know how it goes for you! Check out each deck for detailed instructions of what to do with that deck.