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The Race Against the Shadow

Lord of the Rings divinityofnumber

What? A LOTR tournament? Yes, you are reading that correctly. There is a fun and lively tournament format for the LOTR LCG, and you should give it a try! The Race Against the Shadow format provides a competitive venue for our favorite cooperative Living Card Game, The Lord of the Rings. This article provides a brief overview of the format and a tournament report for a recent Race Against the Shadow event held at the FFG Game Center in Minnesota.

Introduction to the Format:
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In a Race Against the Shadow tournament, players are told which scenario or pool of scenarios to prepare for slightly in advance of the event, and then build decks as teams designed to complete the given scenario(s) in the fewest possible number of turns. A chess clock is used, on which each team is granted a set amount of time (30 or 45 minutes is plenty). This helps to prevent long, drawn out turns. It does not force teams to rush, but provides some motivation to keep things moving, since running out of time counts as a loss (but I have never seen it happen).

Each turn is broken into three phase groups:
1) Resource, Planning
2) Quest Travel
3) Encounter, Combat, Refresh

Teams determine randomly which team goes first (i.e., the team that wins a coin toss or a die roll gets to choose whether they want to go first or second). The first team starts the chess clock, and completes Resource and Planning, and then hits the clock. The second team them completes resources and planning, and so on. Essentially, the first team to complete the scenario wins, and if both teams complete it during the same phase group, the team with the lower score wins. For the scoring specifics, please reference the official rules document, located HERE.

Recent Tournament:
All together, 10 people braved the harsh winter winds and drifts of snow to play in the Race Against the Shadow tournament at the FFG Game Center on Sunday, January 26th. Journey Along the Anduin was the scenario chosen for the event. There was a good mix of decks and the afternoon was filled with very close games. I will post the names of the players and their heroes of choice below, before moving on to report the results of my team's play.

Team 1 - 2 win, 1 loss
John (Sam Gamgee, Merry, Pippin *lore*)
Mark (Glorfindel *spirit*, Dunhere, Beregond)

Team 2 - 1 win, 2 loss
Sarah (Legolas, Hama, Beregond)
Jacob (Eleanor, Eowyn, Glorfindel *lore*)

Team 3 - 1 win, 2 loss
Mike (Thorin, Ori, Bombur)
Jason (Eowyn, Dunhere, Eleanor)

Team 4 - 1 win, 1 loss, drop
Lukas (Bilbo, Beravor, Theodred)
Zoe (Aragorn, Eowyn, Glorfindel *spirit*)

Team 5 - 1 win, stand-in
Caleb (Eowyn, Eleanor, Glorfindel *spirit*)
Jason (Legolas, Beregond, Thalin)

Round 1: versus John (Sam Gamgee, Merry, Pippin *lore*) and Mark (Glorfindel *spirit*, Dunhere, Beregond)
We got off to a great start, but, due to our threat getting raised due to The Brown Lands (5-threat location) hitting the board (we thought we had quested enough), Sarah could not use her Unseen Strike (+3 attack) event on the Hill Troll, which left it with 6 damage on it going into the second turn. If I am remembering correctly, Sarah and I killed off the Hill Troll on the second turn, and were able to move on to the second quest card on turn 2. Both teams seemed to slow down a bit, slogging through some tough reveals by the encounter deck as we tried to get 16 progress tokens on that second quest card. On turn 5, both teams moved into the final quest card, but our opponents hit a nice string of treacheries, and had an enemy or two less to contend with in that final staging area (although they had had their share of bad luck from the encounter deck earlier). In the end, they killed off all of their enemies, and Sarah and I came so close; we killed all but one enemy in that last combat phase, narrowly losing the round. The round lasted for five turns.

Round 2: versus Mike (Thorin, Ori, Bombur) and Jason (Eowyn, Dunhere, Eleanor)
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This was another very close game. I quested like a boss and Sarah was able to kill the Hill Troll with no problem during the first turn. Our opponents got off to a slower start, and so we were feeling pretty confident going into turns 2-4. We were doing a great job keeping the staging area clean and questing heavy, while our opponents struggled for a turn or two to get rid of their hill troll. But, once they passed that first quest card, our opponents were able to surge ahead with amazing speed due to the virtual army of Dwarves that one of them had amassed. They were able to quest hard and get rid of that second quest card, and then ready all of their dwarves to take on their staging area full of enemies. They had some nasty luck during the final turn; things with surge kept hitting the board, and they ended up quite flooded with enemies. And, to make matters worse, they had done a good job of keeping their threats low, so they were unable to engage with all of the enemies, requiring them to need another turn, whereas Sarah and I had no problem cutting through all of our enemies on that turn. So, we narrowly won that round.

Round 3: versus Caleb (Eowyn, Eleanor, Glorfindel *spirit*) and Jason (Legolas, Beregond, Thalin)
After our second game we played a casual game against Caleb and Jason. Despite losing Beregond on turn one to a nasty shadow card (we took a well-reasoned chance, but had awful luck - we chose to let one attack go undefended, and had a nasty +3 attack strength shadow effect on a 2 attack strength enemy), and flipping a second Hill Troll on turn 2, we managed to finish the scenario on turn 5, the same amount of turns that it took our opponents. But, having lost Beregond, and piled up some damage on our other heroes, we lost due to the score being the tie-breaker. Even though we lost via tie-breaker, this game was one of the most fun games of LoTR that we have played. Seeing Beregond die on turn one, and then another Hill Troll come out on turn two made us want to scoop up our cards and call it a game. But, we buckled down and played our hearts out, and managed to keep pace with our opponents and finish on the same turn. The last quest card was flipped due to Legolas' effect during the second to last combat phase of the game. And, seeing that there were a bunch of enemies in the staging area, and that one of them was a Goblin Sniper (threat check of 48), and that neither of us had anything on the board that could target the staging area, I figured we were done for, since it was obvious that our opponents were going to be able to clear out their enemies on the following turn. Then, in a moment of genius, Sarah says, "Wait…we don't need any progress on the quest card to win…and we need to be able to attack that Goblin Sniper…don't quest anything! The amount of threat in the staging area right now will put me at 48 if we don't quest at all, and then I can kill him." Brilliant indeed. Again, we managed to finish on the same turn as our opponents, but lost due to the tie-breaker rule. It was a true test of ingenuity and perseverance.

Final Results:
After playing three rounds, Sarah and I were at 1-2. But, we felt proud of that, given such great competition and the fact that one of our losses was due to having only one enemy left in the staging area that we just barely could not kill, while our opponents did clear out their staging area that turn, and our other loss having been determined by tie-breaker rules, since we finished on the exact same turn as our opponents. We made a couple of minor play mistakes, but overall played solidly. Some things were not so much play mistakes, rather bad luck from the encounter deck or shadow cards that could not reasonably have been predicted. Like all games of chance, you make informed choices based on probabilities, and sometimes you just have bad luck, even though your choices made perfect sense at the time.

So, after an afternoon of fierce competition, Mark and John took home the title of LoTR Race Against the Shadow Champions. We noted that, since other metas do not seem to be running Race Against the Shadow events, they are technically the reigning World Champions. They are very skilled veteran players, and, like the rest of us, had put much thought into how to best get through the Journey Along the Anduin. Our game against them was tense and a lot of fun; a Warg bouncing back to the staging area due to no shadow effect kept us from going to tie-breaker to decide the winner in our match against them. That Warg was left alive, but all else was cleared from the staging area. But, even had we managed to kill that Warg that turn, Mark and John would still have won the round, due to their decks' ability to keep their threats remarkably low. Mark and John are great deck builders, and solid players. Congratulations on the awesome win!

General Thoughts:
First, this format for LoTR is a lot of fun, and I would encourage other groups to give it a try. LoTR is at heart, of course, a cooperative game. But, although the teams compete, it remains a cooperative game in this format. The event feels like a big group of friends all gathered, sitting alongside each other, questing through the same scenario. Everyone tries to do their best, and Race Against the Shadow, hoping for a win. But, at the end of the day, it just felt like an afternoon of fun and not like other competitive card tournaments. Everyone who showed up was very good at this game, and most of the matches were very, very close. At times I felt frustrated with what was coming off of the encounter deck; it is tough to see huge enemies and cards with surge keep hitting the table, while your opponents get a nice string of Treacheries that essentially have no effects (e.g., cards that only impact the board if players have threats of X or higher, etc.). But, there were an equal number of times where I felt bad, watching our opponents get pummeled by the encounter deck while we sat back with a manageable staging area. In the end, it was a really fun roller coaster ride through a dangerous part of Middle Earth, and an afternoon of playing a game that we all love.

My pieces of advice for others who wish to try out this format are:

1) 30 minutes on the chess clock for each team seemed to be enough (this could vary depending on which scenario is chosen for a given event, however).

2) Do not worry about this type of event turning your beloved cooperative game into a high-intensity competitive monster. LoTR is a cooperative game by nature. And, in this fun tournament format, it is STILL a cooperative game. The tournament, in a way, is a collective group project; you pick a scenario, and then compete to see who can stomp it the hardest. Consider it a fun change of pace and a new way to experience the game with a larger group of people.

3) Either announce which scenario will be played only a week or so ahead of time, or announce a pool of possible scenarios. I do not think it would be as fun if people had 3 months, for example, to tech against one specific scenario. A week or two is plenty of time. In fact, I would prefer announcing a possible pool of 3-5 scenarios, some of which require different sorts of strengths, forcing players to build well-rounded decks. But, the problem there is relying on everyone who shows up (or is thinking about playing) having and bringing those scenarios. If the pool of scenarios is spread quite widely across the entire card pool, newer players may shy way.

4) Play across from your partner, and have the two of you each sitting next to one member of the opposing team. This way, the chess clock is convenient and in the middle of everyone, and it is easy to glance over and see your opponents' play area.

Thank you for reading! This format is a lot of fun. Give it a try!

Post your thoughts about the format and your successes and horror stories with the Journey Along the Anduin in the comments!
  • slothgodfather, scwont, dangmovie and 7 others like this


Wait, you joked that Mark and I are reigning world champions? Well, I'm not going to take off this giant "World Champion" belt, Jacob. You'll have to win it from me. ^_^
Feb 05 2014 02:54 PM

Wait, you joked that Mark and I are reigning world champions? Well, I'm not going to take off this giant "World Champion" belt, Jacob. You'll have to win it from me. ^_^

By "we" I didn't mean my team, I meant that all of us reflected on the fact that you two are the reigning champs. I wouldn't worry about having to take the belt off any time soon. You and Mark built some amazing decks and brought things to a new level with respect to competitive play.

Your decks were great because:
1) They were fast, which is the obvious goal of the format
2) You were able to keep threats low, giving yourselves the freedom to choose how you handled the staging area, but...
3) You also were able to not let things pile up in the staging area.

You two constructed great builds for the scenario at hand and for the format generally; you could bob and weave where you needed to, but also deliver some strong offense where that was required.
    • jrogers625 likes this
Great article! It really sounded like everyone had a lot of fun. Thanks for the tips in running the event. What ap did you use for the chess clock?
very awesome read and some interesting decks! the decks I was planning on taking but brothers schedule changed so wasn't able to was one deck - Sam, Pippin (lore), and Bilbo and second deck - frodo, bard the bowman, and Beregond fun synergy decks and been doing well with them.

Seeing the Lore Glorfindel being played is interesting.
I also understand why used a core quest for this, but I feel a harder quest would be more fun and would have fewer tie games.
    • Kennon likes this
Feb 06 2014 03:42 AM

Seeing the Lore Glorfindel being played is interesting.

Thanks! I really like Lore Glorfindel. The Spirit version is tempting. But, I think that Lore has a lot to offer a Spirit deck.
He is good just for 12 threat I always seem to have a better option

You also were able to not let things pile up in the staging area.

Thanks for the great writeup, BTW. Meant to say that originally, and of course I'm kidding about the belt!

I do have to say that the RatS format really made us think hard about deck-building. Lots of decks can beat JdtA, but the difference between a four turn win and a five turn win is all that matters in RatS. I am surprised Sam, Merry Pippin, Glorfindel, Dunhere, and Beregod did as well as they did, but the MVP award really goes to Dunhere. It's all about killing those Goblin Snipers somehow!
Feb 06 2014 03:13 PM
Yes, Dunhere did put in some work that day for sure. We initially tried him a few times, but then thought that the Goblin Sniper wasn't too big of a deal; we had enough attack strength to take on two enemies per turn, so we usually had a pretty clear staging area. But, as you mention, in those final moments of a game, sometimes being able to interact directly with the staging area is really helpful.

I also understand why used a core quest for this, but I feel a harder quest would be more fun and would have fewer tie games.

Yeah, for the first time running a tournament like this, I think the only choice was to have everyone playing the same quest. Since everyone had to bring a copy of the quest, the only way to be sure that everyone could be included was to choose a Core Set quest. JdtA is a great quest, so I think the only complaint that can be raised is that we have all played it too many times. After the tournament, I don't think I'll need to play JdtA again for a few years. :)

As a quick comment about the difficultly the quest, I don't know that it would really matter. Given that a single quest is selected ahead of time for the tournament, everyone participating is going to have tested their decks against that quest before the event, and they are going to be able to beat it. The real fun of that tournament format is how it encourages everyone to really push the limits of deck design to a certain quest for speed. So a quest being more difficult may in fact make deck design more fun in general, but, in this format, the "race" aspect is doing the same thing.

This all assumes a tournament using a single quest. I think that the real potential of this tournament lies in some interesting metagame around which quests should be played, but I haven't given that enough thought to write anything intelligent yet.

Great article! It really sounded like everyone had a lot of fun. Thanks for the tips in running the event. What ap did you use for the chess clock?

For our games we used a physical chess clock (because there is no school like old school), but there are a lot of great software clocks available for iOS and Android. A favorite of mine that allows timing for multiplayer (not just two player) games is "Game Time" available for iOS (http://simpletomato.com/gametime).
Feb 06 2014 08:30 PM

I do have to say that the RatS format really made us think hard about deck-building. Lots of decks can beat JdtA, but the difference between a four turn win and a five turn win is all that matters in RatS.

That was my favorite part as well. As you say, many decks can beat the scenario, but the focus on speed really makes people push new boundaries with deck building. Not only that, but, if the decks are fast enough, you don't need to worry about most of the things we usually worry about: damage on heroes, dead heroes, threat levels, and victory points. We are still, obviously, concerned with the number of turns that it takes to complete the scenario.

For example, in RatS, if you finish before your opponents, ending threat does not matter, dead heroes do not matter, damage on heroes does not matter. That is a much different dynamic than regular play, where those things are the main determinant of how "well" you did.

But, it is cool that those factors still come into play. My team misjudged just how often they would come into play and focused almost completely on sheer speed. Your team was able to converge on builds that were just as fast, but also took care to keep threat low, which really helps in close games that have the potential to go to tie-breaker scoring.

The format forces a lot of innovation and new ways of thinking about the game, which I really enjoy.