Well, I'm referring to the variant characters in the deluxe edition.
I'm seriously not sure how this one passed muster as far as balance. There are so many ways for the fellowship player to screw the Shadow.
First off, the Shire got a net increase in power of 2, while the Shadow dropped by 12. Now, this is not a good indicator, as there are a lot of factors involved. But it does show the general trend.
Now, getting to abilities.
First off, Sam + Gandalf is ridiculous. Sam equals the opponents power, he plays Elven Cloak, and then Gandalf pops up for a +1 and auto kill. The retreat sideways card for the shadow is rarely an option, especially in the mountains. So this is pretty much an auto kill (twice if you use the magic card!),
Then, there is Smeagol. Who in the world is going to take Pippin over Smeagol? I've set up a brutal 3 way triangle with Smeagol, Sam, and Gandalf. The Shadow can't get to Gandalf, and whichever it attacks between Smeagol and Sam will result in a kill for the Shire. It is practically impossible to break without sacrificing a couple of characters (or using Wormtongue judiciously).
The only good counter to all this is the Wargs. But putting them in the front right off the bat is risky. Also, the Shire player can send a wrench into the works by an early strike with Treebeard. At strength 6 in Fangorn, he is another that can use the Elven Cloak for insta kills. Once he deposits himself in Fangorn, he will be extremely hard to dislodge. The Watcher is a logical choice, but even so, it is an even battle. An early strike by him will cut off the wargs from moving up and breaking the advancing triangle.
Finally, Elrond is an absolute power house in the late game. It is by far the best move to save your magic card as long as possible. But with Elrond ignoring it, he can wait till the Shadow has played his 4, 5, and 6, and then cut a bloody swath through the enemy, resulting in several kills before the cards are recycled.
Finally, allowing the powerful Sam to be the ringbearer after Frodo is far more powerful than the previous pair of abilities. It is true that Frodo doesn't have the instant retreat, but that was unusable in the mountains anyway, and often could be cut off by a canny Shadow Player.
Ignoring the text ability of the opponents card is almost as good, as you can retreat backwards easily enough.
One other minor thing, Aragorn spells doom for an attacking variant Witch King, Mouth of Sauron, and Saruman, or classic Black Rider, Flying Nazgul, and Warg; which is one third of the Shadow's forces.
Against this, the Shadow really doesn't have very much new stuff. The Witch King's ability is nigh useless. It turns him into a dark Frodo. However, unlike Frodo, the Witch King does not have any useful retreating abilities, nor a very useful retreat card. Also, he can be instantly killed by Merry, making a Shire sneak extremely difficult at best.
The variant Saruman is nice, but loses much of his potency because the variant Gandalf is usually in the back.
While FFG did talk quite a bit about the new "Shire-run" option, I have yet to see it successfully pulled off. For optimum speed, it requires sacrificing 4 strength points, plus the loss of your best hobbit killer (wargs). In fact, taking Gollum over the Wargs is going to spell doom for you. If the Wargs kill Frodo, the game ends. They are about the only thing that can successfully fight the Gandalf-Sam combo (and it is a close battle anyway).
Without Gollum, the Shire rush becomes much harder.
Thoughts? I personally see that the new Shire characters are far too powerful. The original game was a game of stealth vs strength. You had to kill just enough Shadow characters to make an opening for Frodo to get through, and it was going to be a close thing even if you did. Every game put the Shire player on his toes as he had to desperatly try to sneak through an opening against the Shadow's vastly superior forces.
With the variant, I feel like taking Mordor by storm.
I posted something much like this on the old boards, but it wasn't quite as extensive. I'm posting it again because I've played a number of games since then and am more convinced than ever that the Shire has received a much unneeded boost.
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Can't really comment on them being too powerful or not, since I've only tackled the classic game a few times. But I've been reading similar thoughts elsewhere as well. Will have to see once I play the Variant game. Personally though, I'm looking forward to playing random Draft games (just toss those counters in the air and pick whichever char is facing up).
A dirty mind is its own reward.
I played only Classic TC, but after reading (some) Variant & Draft Game rules, I still have doubts if Shire is overpowered, or even hard to beat for Shadow figures.
In Classic TC, there is a one, quite certain strategy for Shadow, allowing to win almost each game (Shire needs to be incredibly efficient in "guessing" what card you played in each combat and how you set your figures).
Just force the Shire to attack. Let it come to you. Then you will exactly know how to advance to overpower him.
This can be done very easily by using Shelob in Classic TC. Even if you lose that figure, you still have lots of possibilities and, probably, done your scouting by previous attacks.
Assuming that we are playing Variant game (only with Variant figures):
This should also work very well. Note that all important Shire text abilities (Sam, Aragorn, Smeagol) work only if Shire figure is attacked. I agree that strong figures like Aragorn, Theoden, Treebeard, and Gandalf give the Shire vide possibilities of offensive, but it is not difficult to counter them.
I'm delighted of new Shadow figure - Wormtongue. It is excellent to "burn out" Shire deck of cards, and should be really helpfull in defeating those stronger figures of Shire. I could say it works exactly like using Shelob, and even better, because you may use Wormtongue many, many times. And even you can suprise the enemy and make him angry, defeating his weaker figues by Wormtongue :-D
Generally, it is true that Variant game reverts the roles of both sides, but this IMO gives some (to not say: any) chances of breaking through the defensive of Shadow. And, it is nothing new - Classic game use the same strategies.
Assuming that we are playing Draft game (with mixed figures):
I don't know waht are the rules of "mixing", but if it's possible I could even entirely resign of some figures, eg. Witch King, Saruman, Frodo (???). Anyway, with this option, if you predict well what The Shire player will choose, you can reinforce well that defensive strategy mentioned before.
"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once."
I've only played the Classic game once, but I feel like strategising only gets you so far: the board is so small, and you are required to move every turn...there's a lot of random thrown into a game where nobody can tell who you are or how you're set up...it's like two big ships passing each other in the night. Most of the strategy actually seems to come down to in-the-moment tactics, when you figure out who you're dealing with. I dunno: I like the game, but I'm not sure how much table time it's going to get. I guess I'll have to play a few more times before I pass judgement, though: I like the concept of the game, and it does seem like there are lots of opportunities for clever things to happen, but it's over so quickly! Maybe if the board were bigger or something...
Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
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