Week in Review
After accidentally skipping Innsmouth in favor of Dunwich before, this week remedied this by going after In Too Deep, a frantic scenario where we have to flee the city while being under heavy pursuit and also trying to uncover as many about the village as possible. Of course, this also meant tackling two Innsmouth encounter sets: Syzygy adds two fairly impactful cards that interact with the two primary timers in this campaign, doom and flood. The Locals offers insight into the people of Innsmouth and into how little they appreciate us snooping around.
For next week, we got an invitation to a dinner party. Should be good fun 🙂
I started on writing up a comparison of the LotR and Arkham LCGs last week, and realized while doing so that this would take a bit more space than anticipated. So i split up the whole thing, today i’ll pick up where i left off.
Continuing my list, still in no particular order:
- Treacheries: Both games have interesting and varied treacheries that do the major work for setting the stage and the general feel of the scenarios they are in. But LotR runs into a problem here. Every player has three heroes and while enemies are certainly able to immediately give something to do for a blocker and at least one attacker, this isn’t necessarily the case for treachery effects which still need to produce enough of an effect to keep the players (and their armies) busy. What happened in LotR then is that its treachery cards are completely out of control 😀 Massive effects that swing the game around, discard multiple cards at a time, defeat heroes out of the blue or dump several enemies into play at once. Frankly, it’s a bit silly. Treachery cancellation in Arkham is a nice thing that can help a lot. In LotR, it’s the bare necessity to even stand a chance. And even then, you will get buried in Surge effects… because man, does LotR love using Surge as another tool to get the treacheries up to the task of challenging the heroes. I feel like Arkham found the sweet spot with its treachery design here. It’s much less swingy. For all the memes we have about drawing cultists into Ancient Evils, it never quite reaches the levels of Crebain into Orc Ambush into Sleeping Sentry. Yes, all three of those cards are from the same encounter set. The first one makes it so you can’t cancel anything. The second one puts all Orcs from the discard back into play. The third one exhausts or kills everything you have so those Orcs will likely tear you apart in the combat phase… are we having fun yet? 😀
- Mythos phase: One neat thing in LotR is how their equivalent of the Mythos phase is not positioned in the beginning of the turn like in Arkham. In Arkham, Mythos happens, players draw their encounter cards and then can spend their whole turn dealing with it. In LotR, players need to decide on which heroes to commit to questing (very roughly equivalent to searching clues; advancing the game) *before* they draw their encounter cards. And then have only the non-commited heroes and allies available to deal with the fallout. This decision point is one of the most interesting in the whole game in my opinion and it’s a bit of a pity that Arkham has nothing quite like it.
- Randomization: Both games do realize that having the results of everything being predetermined makes for a solvable and ultimately boring game when giving players so much freedom of building decks. Arkham of course uses the dreaded chaos bag to influence everything, adding random outcomes and drama to most things the players do. The only thing that LotR has in this vein is the concept of Shadow cards. Whenever an enemy attacks, it gets assigned a card from the top of the encounter deck. After declaring who blocks what, these cards are revealed and take effect. As with the encounter cards, there are some really disgusting shadow cards around and knowing about the possible effects is every bit as important as knowing the encounter cards themselves. The big flaw of this system is that it only applies to combat, though.
Both systems are fine for their respective games, but i do like the chaos bag more because it is so broadly applicable and also because it is a better source of player agency.
As a related aside, the lack of such a randomization feature is one of my biggest complaints about Marvel Champions and the reason why it feels so incredibly mathy compared to the other two games.
- Flavor: Both games have fantastic backdrops (Pulpy Lovecraft vs Lord of the Rings) and I couldn’t possibly choose one over the other. Both games also execute on their premise equally well. Just high marks all around.
- Art: Yeah sorry, i do like the Arkham art but the illustrations on LotR cards are just something very special. Like, don’t get me wrong. I like the art on Roland Banks or Daisy but i could hardly believe they are from the same artist that also did Legolas, Galadriel and Eowyn. To be honest, the asset reuse from the other Arkham games also gets a bit to me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Let me be clear though: I am not saying that Arkham has bad art. I am saying that LotR has exceptional art.
There’s probably more that could be said, but that’s all i got for now. I am sure i will think of something important once i hit Submit 😉 To come to some sort of conclusion, there is no inherently better game between these two. Personally, i like Arkham more because i think the chaos bag, the campaign system and the locations are great concepts that enhance the experience a lot. But the deep and rich deckbuilding that LotR has is magnitudes more interesting than the somewhat plug and play decks of Arkham. LotR is also an insanely pretty and more thematically consistent game, perfectly feeding off its source material.
I’ll also add a few words on the third wheel, Marvel Champions. Marvel is mechanically a lot closer to LotR than it is to Arkham, ditching physical locations and going back to LotRs system with the schemes, except dumbed down to the point where there are only three or four different ones. It also does the same exhaust/ready thing with the heroes, forcing them commit to either attack, defend and quest each turn although they did change the order of operation to be less punishing. This change coupled with the removal of any random element from action outcomes means that players rarely have to decide anything with incomplete information, though. There are no scenarios, instead the game is pulled together from a plug and play system of combining a villain with a sidescheme. This makes it lack any thematical coherence right from the start. To be blunt, i don’t see anything that Marvel does better than LotR, it looks to me like a big step back. I suppose it isn’t as swingy with its treacheries which might be a plus? Even that is arguable. I do own the game, i don’t regret getting it and a couple of extra heroes and villains. But every time i play it i feel like it’s missing something more stimulating. As for the art… it’s existing art from the comics, with all their inconsistencies and fluctuating art styles over the decades. I wouldn’t call it a pretty game, but it’s what’s to be expected considering the source.
My suggestion, if you are considering to get into Marvel Champions: Unless you are getting it strictly for the Marvel theme, see if you can’t pick up a LotR collection on ebay or something. It’s just the better game. By a lot.
Alright, enough chatter for one day. See you next week 🙂