14 January 2016 | The Lord of the Rings LCG

Sailing Out of Mithlond

A Preview of The Grey Havens Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

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"When they had passed from the Shire, going about the south skirts of the White Downs, they came to the Far Downs, and to the Towers, and looked on the distant Sea; and so they rode down at last to Mithlond, to the Grey Havens in the long firth of Lune."
     –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is more than just another solo or cooperative game. As each of its deluxe expansions and Adventure Packs introduce new scenarios, they bring new challenges, new win conditions, and new mechanics. In effect, they become many different "games." They transform the core mechanics of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game more and more fully into a hub for countless hours of solo or cooperative gameplay in the fantastical setting of Middle-earth.

This variety is intentional, and even as the game's developers work carefully to make sure that each scenario maintains the flavor of Middle-earth and the sense of heroism it is due, they consistently seek out new possibilities, looking for challenges that fit the game's core themes even as they mark new departures.

These new challenges and new territories abound in the game's fifth deluxe expansion, The Grey Havens. The game's developers transport your heroes far from the shores of Middle-earth, tasking them to sail the uncharted waters west of Eriador. As your heroes board the expansion's new Ships, the developers explore new mechanics that make your seafaring adventures feel considerably different than those set on land, and the result is yet another startlingly new game experience that still bears all the familiar hallmarks of Middle-earth's heroic high fantasy.

Lead Developer Matthew Newman on Sailing the High Seas

As soon as we settled on the idea of telling a seafaring tale in Middle-earth, we knew that sailing had to be an important aspect of the expansion and its following cycle. Questing over the ocean had to feel different from questing over land, and we wanted to use some new mechanics to make players really feel like they were navigating the high seas.

In our announcement of The Grey Havens, we already showcased the expansion’s new Ship cards, which provide players with the foundation for their seafaring experience. In this preview, we want to introduce the other half of your nautical mechanics—the Sailing keyword, along with the heading card that will help your heroes set their course as they sail the oceans of Middle-earth.

There are three scenarios in The Grey Havens, and the first, Voyage Across Belegaer, is a seafaring trek that will take players all the way from Mithlond's harbor to a forsaken island in the middle of the ocean. As part of the scenario’s setup, the players are instructed to take control of one or more Ships, one of which must be the Dream-chaser (The Grey Havens, 80). Then, the players attach the new Heading card to the Dream-chaser, which is the lead ship in their fleet.

This card represents the heading of the ships in your fleet as they voyage across the sea. While attached to the Dream-chaser, only one of its four symbols will be showing at any given time. That symbol represents your heading. If you are on-course, sailing is smooth, and you will find your journey relatively peaceful. But, should you navigate off-course, your ships will end up sailing against the wind, and into hazards such as Waterspouts (The Grey Havens, 54), Winds of Wrath (The Grey Havens, 56), or even Corsair Scouting Ships (The Grey Havens, 22).

Each of this scenario’s many quest stages bear the Sailing keyword, which forces the first player to make a Sailing test at the beginning of each quest phase, before committing characters to the quest. This Sailing test represents the many tasks that must be performed on a ship in order to properly navigate the sea – finding a heading, altering the ship’s sails and riggings, and making adjustments to suit the weather. The more characters that contribute to this task, the easier it is.

Before committing characters, your heading is shifted one step off-course. This means your heading card is rotated counterclockwise, to a worse setting. Then, once characters are committed, the first player looks at a number of cards from the top of the encounter deck equal to the number of characters committed. For each sailing success symbol on those cards, you and your companions shift your heading on-course by rotating it clockwise, to a better setting.

For each symbol found on the encounter cards that you look at during a Sailing test, you may shift your heading on-course by one step. If you commit enough characters to the test, you might even find enough to adjust your heading from the worst "off-course" heading to the best "on-course" heading!

Throughout all the scenarios that utilize the Sailing mechanic, the heading card enables a very fluid and dynamic game state. While you are off-course, many of the encounter deck’s cards are powered up, bringing an unknown element of danger to your voyage. You may also encounter cards that force you to shift off-course or face terrible danger. Dedicating multiple characters to a Sailing test each round is painful, but optional—and even if you fail at this test multiple rounds in a row, a single round of skillful sailing is all you need to get back on-course.

Voyage Across Belegaer is the only Sailing scenario in The Grey Havens, but certainly not the only scenario to use these new mechanics. You will have more seafaring scenarios to look forward to in the Dream-chaser cycle!

Sailors and Nautical Equipment

You won't be alone in your voyage across the ocean. Joining you in your expedition is a new hero version of Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens, 2) and a host of Noldor-themed cards that interact with your discard pile. These cards serve as a capstone for the Noldor themes and mechanics introduced in the Angmar Awakened cycle, but they can work well in almost any deck.

The Mithlond Sea-watcher (The Grey Havens, 3), for example, is a meager ally for two cost, but becomes an extremely powerful ranged attacker while the top card of your discard pile is an ally. A dedicated Noldor deck can take advantage of this ability in many ways. For example, you could discard an ally with an Elven Spear (The Treachery of Rhudaur, 87) or Watcher of the Bruinen (The Watcher in the Water, 56). But you could also ensure that the top card of your discard pile is an ally simply by blocking a powerful enemy's attack with a token defender.

Another example of how we’ve developed this mechanic is with the four events in The Grey Havens, each of which has an effect that is duplicated for each copy of the event in your discard pile. One example is Elwing’s Flight (The Grey Havens, 13). For two spirit resources, you can ready a questing character and give that character a one-point boost to Willpower. At two resources, this may be only an "okay" deal, but Elwing's Flight becomes a much stronger card each time it is played, readying three characters and netting you three points of Willpower in its ultimate form. Clever players may even find ways to boost their initial uses of Elwing's Flight, perhaps using Círdan (The Grey Havens, 1) or Galdor to discard the first one or two copies they encounter, powering up the third copy without having to play the first two.

Additionally, while all of the player cards in The Grey Havens have a nautical theme, we made sure they were perfectly playable in any environment, and not just while sailing. The Lindon Navigator (The Grey Havens, 9), for example, is a great sailor due to her ability to commit to a Sailing test and then still commit to the quest even while exhausted. However, she can also be quite useful in any other quest, lending her abilities as an attacker or defender even after questing.

Just as the sea stretches outward for untold distances, we believe that the expansion's new Sailing mechanics and player cards open a tremendous amount of room for experimentation and exploration, and we’re very excited for players to get their hands on The Grey Havens. I hope you have as much fun sailing the high seas as we did crafting these new scenarios.

As always, good luck, and may the winds ever be at your back!

Find Your Sea Legs

Círdan is waiting for you, and your journeys aboard the Dream-chaser are soon to begin. The Grey Havens is now just a few weeks away. Head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy today!

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