After almost a year of delay, Balrog has shown up quite unexpectedly on the shelves. I have a feeling that this set will be pored over quite a bit due to the lack of any other new material in almost a year. This article will take a quick look at the new set, and go over some basic and stand-out cards. As a disclaimer, this article is not intended as a full spoiler or a card-by-card dissertation. The spoiler is located on Iron Crown's website at www.ironcrown.com.
The first thing we need to look at is the Balrog. The player of the Balrog is a minion player, and any card or rules text applying to a Ringwraith will also apply to the Balrog. His text reads:
The Balrog (20 GI)
6DI, Warrior/Ranger Balrog
Unique. Manifestation of the Balrog of Moria. Discard all other manifestations of Balrog of Moria when this card comes into play. +3 to the roll for his company to move between adjacent Under-deeps sites. The Balrog's prowess is only modified by -1 when not tapping to face a strike. He may not have any followers and may not use region or starter movement.
As you can see, the Balrog is a big, bad dude. Conveniently, he has the ranger skill, which will allow him to move about easier when he pops out of the Under-deeps. Most of the cards in the set revolve around the Balrog, and how he will go about getting items, allies, factions, destroying Dwarf-holds and becoming the new master of the One Ring, believe it or not. The card that allows him to win with the One Ring is called Challenge the Power. Depending on the roll, the Balrog can be eliminated, Challenge the Power can be discarded, or you can gain 2 marshalling points AND the Balrog can use the One Ring. The Balrog running around and using the One Ring can be a really frightening prospect. Finally, if the roll is right, the Balrog can win the game by playing Challenge the Power.
Most of the set deals with the Balrog and the Under-deeps, but there are a few new utility, theme, and character cards. For example, there is a new manifestation of Aragorn II called Strider. Mike Reynolds went over this card briefly in Issue 1 of the MECCG Newsletter. An online copy can be viewed by visiting www.therealm.org or email James Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org for a printed copy. The Balrog can only use Orc or Troll characters. All of the minion characters presented in ME: The Balrog are either manifestations of unique Troll creatures, such as Buthrakaur, and Umagaur, new characters that have been previously associated with Moria, such as Azog and Bolg, or no-name utility characters like Crook-Legged Orc, Hill-Troll, and Mountain-Maggot. All of the new minion characters are Balrog specific, which means that they cannot be played by any other alignment. Unfortunately for the Balrog player they are limited to Orcs and trolls with a mind of less than 9, unless the character states that they are Balrog specific. This means no Lieutenants, but it does mean the Balrog player can still use characters like Snaga, Burat, Tuma, and Wuluag.
At first glance, both Buthrakaur and Umagaur appear to be the characters of choice. Like the Looeys (Lieutenants) they are both leaders, have a mind of 9 and give 3 marshalling points (MPs). Unlike the Looeys, Buthrakaur and Umagaur both have three skills. Buthrakaur is a Warrior/Scout/Ranger Troll with a prowess/body of 8/9, while Umagaur is a Warrior/Diplomat/Sage Troll and has a prowess/body of 7/9. Azog and Bolg are both leaders as well, and they have a mind of 7 and give 2 MPs. Azog is a Warrior/Diplomat Orc with a prowess/body of 6/9, while Bolg is a Warrior/Ranger Orc with a prowess/body of 7/9. In order to get any of these leaders together, you can either play Orders from Lugburz from MEAS, or the new card Orders from the Great Demon. Orders from the Great Demon is similar in playability to Orders of Lugburz, but it allows an additional leader to be played who does not count towards the party size maximum.
Concerning resources, there are six hero resources that offer both utility and theme. Four of the hero resources offer a deck a little bit of everything. Crept Along Carefully allows a hero company to reduce their hazard limit by one, to a minimum of two, and the ability to cancel company vs. company combat by discarding Crept along Carefully. The restrictions for Crept Along Carefully include moving a maximum of 3 regions, the inability to use starter movement, or move to an Under-deeps site, and the cancellation requires a successful roll.
For the deck manipulation enthusiasts, Longbottom Leaf allows a player to take two resources from the sideboard and place them in his play deck, but he must then remove Longbottom Leaf from the game. Show Things Unbidden can give Galadriel another boost in the playability category. It forces your opponent to choose three non-environment hazards and put them back into his play deck. If your opponents do not have three non-environment hazards then the card allows you to look at your opponents' hand and then he must place whatever non-environment hazards he has into his play deck. Rumors of Rings allows you to place up to two ring special items off to the side and it gives you the ability to play either of those two ring items as if they were in your hand. A player can even start with Rumors of Rings in lieu of playing a minor item.
The two theme cards that really give promise to storyline decks are Elven rope and To Fealty Sworn. Elven Rope is a minor item that allows a ranger bearer to tap, allowing his company to move an additional region. Also instead of eliminating a creature that the bearers company has defeated, the creature can be placed under Elven Rope. The creature must have a normal prowess less than eleven to be placed under Elven Rope. The card simulates Sam using the rope on Gollum. The Elven Rope can then be stored along with the creature for three miscellaneous MPs. If the bearer of the Rope is ever wounded, you must discard the creature captured. Finally, there is To Fealty Sworn, one of the best theme cards yet, and according to all the local players I have spoken with it is their new favorite card. To Fealty Sworn is playable on a Hobbit in the same company as Return of the King or during the same site phase that his company plays a unique hero faction at a free-hold, besides Bag-End. A few of the possible factions are the Blue Mountain Dwarves, Riders of Rohan, or Ents of Fangorn. Once any one of these factions is played, To Fealty Sworn can be played on a Hobbit. The affected Hobbit receives +2 prowess and +5 direct influence against Hobbit factions and characters with Bag End as a home site. It cannot be duplicated on a given Hobbit, but just imagine Bilbo and Frodo playing the Ents, an Ent-Draught, and then two of these cards. Uber-Hobbits!
For the Minions, there are a plethora of new cards to use, both generic and Balrog specific. I'll briefly go over each type of resource.
There is only one new faction to speak of, A Few Recruits. It is a non-unique faction that is worth one MP and it is playable at a tapped or untapped non-dragon's lair Dark-hold, Shadow-hold or Ruins & Lairs. However it cannot be played at an Under-deeps site or at a surface site of an Under-deeps site. Well, even considering the number of Under-deeps sites these days there are quite a few sites where this faction can be played. The possible sites include Amon Hen, Bandit Lair, Barrow-downs, Buhr Widu, Cirith Ungol, Dead Marshes, Dimrill Dale, Ettenmoors, Framsburg, Geann a-Lisch, Gladden Fields, Haudh-in-Gwanur, Hermits Hill, Himring, Isengard, Isles of the Dead That Live, Lossadan Cairn, Minas Morgul, Mount Doom, Nurniag Camp, Ost-in-Edhil, Ruined Signal Tower, Sarn Goriwing, Shelob's Lair, Stone-circle, Tharbad, The Stones, The Worthy Hills, The White Towers, Tolfalas, Urlurtsu Nurn and Weathertop. The trick is getting up above the Under-deeps and traversing the regions to bring the faction into play. Dimrill Dale is a good candidate since it is in the same region as Moria.
There are four allies in MEBA, and all of them are solid. The Cave Troll is non-unique card worth 1MP and it has a 4/8 prowess/body, a +1 to controller's movement in Under-deeps, and it is NOT Balrog specific. Evil Things Lingering is unique card that is Balrog specific, but it is worth 2MPs with a 9/9 prowess/body and Evil Things has the sage skill! The Great Troll is a non-unique card that is Balrog specific and worth 1MP. The Great Troll allows you to assign strikes to him like a noble hound for The Balrog. He has a 6/8 prowess/body. Nasty Slimy Thing is the last ally and it is a unique card that is Balrog specific. Nasty Slimy Thing is worth 1MP and it can be tapped to cancel a Drake attack. This ally has a 4/9 prowess/body. All of the above allies are playable in the Under-deeps.
There are only two new items in the set and both of them are specifically for The Balrog. Both Stabbing Tongue of Fire and Whip of Many Thongs are playable by The Balrog at a tapped or untapped non-Darkhaven Under-deeps sites. Stabbing Tongue of Fire gives +1 prowess to The Balrog when he taps to face a strike, as does Whip of Many Thongs, but Stabbing Tongue gives +1 to all body checks for failed strikes against the Balrog. The +1 to all body checks also applies to defending characters when the Balrog successfully attacks in company vs. company combat. Whip of Many Thongs can be tapped in company vs. company combat to cancel all effects from a single weapon of your choice, in the opposing company's possession, until the end of the combat.
Most of the other various marshalling point sources scattered throughout the set are from permanent-events designed around the siege of various border and free-holds, including the two Dwarf-holds of, Blue Mountain and Iron Hill Dwarf-hold. Re-creating the disaster of Moria, the Balrog can continue his desecration of the Dwarves by tunneling up from below the two Dwarf-holds. He can begin his grievous siege of the Dwarves with the play of Breach the Hold, which allows The Balrog to move to the surface site with ease. The set has introduced a few new Under-deeps sites, including the Drowning-Deeps and the Rusted-Deeps, which are the Under-deeps sites for the Blue Mountain Dwarf Hold and the Iron Hill Dwarf Hold respectively.
After playing Breach the Hold, worth 2MPs, the Balrog can then turn that
Under-deeps site into a Darkhaven with the play of Roots of the Earth. The Roots of the Earth is worth 1MP or it is worth 3MP if it is played on the same site as Breach the Hold. The Balrog can then travel up to the Dwarf-hold and after facing a large number of attacks, play Invade Their Domain. Invade Their Domain discards all unique factions playable at the Dwarf-hold and it gives another 3MPs to the player. Finally, the Balrog can play Lord and Usurper, which not only gives 5 big MPs, but it will again cause the discard of all unique factions playable at the site. The site then becomes a Shadow-hold, loses all Dwarf auto-attacks, and cannot have any factions playable there. All other versions of the Dwarf-hold then gain the following automatic attack: Orcs, 4 strikes at 7 prowess. Wow! Talk about cleaning house!
The other resource events vary from utility cards to theme cards. Basically these cards promote the theme that the Balrog is a big, bad dude who's apparently got something to prove. A few interesting cards worth mentioning are Prone to Violence, Whispers of Rings, Sauron, and Ancient Secrets. Prone to Violence allows any minion company without a Ringwraith to attack another minion company without a Ringwraith, and the attacking company may contain the Balrog. Whispers of Rings is a minion copy of Rumors of Rings which was described earlier in the article. Sauron is basically another version of The Lidless Eye, but it gives a +10 to general influence (GI) instead of +7 GI, you cannot look at another player's hand, and there is no limit to the number of characters you may bring into play. Finally there is Ancient Secrets, which is a fun card to play. It can allow you to tap a Ringwraith/Balrog to discard one hazard permanent-event, including environment permanent events, or you can tap your Ringwraith/Balrog to take up to two resources from your discard pile and place them in your deck.
Finally there are the Demon Fana cards, Flame of Udun, Great Shadow, and Strangling Coils, for the Balrog. For purposes of play, they work very similar to Radagast's Shapeshifter cards from the White Hand. Flame of Udun gives the Balrog +3 to prowess, -2 to DI, and +1 to all body checks resulting from failed strikes against the Balrog. The +1 to all body checks also applies to your opponent's body checks when the Balrog is attacking in company vs. company combat. Great Shadow gives +6 DI; -2 prowess and -1 body, the scout skill, and allows the Balrog to have followers. During the end-of-turn phase, you may also take one non-short-event resource or character from your discard pile and shuffle it into your play deck. In addition, Great Shadow allows the Balrog to tap to cancel an attack against his company. Strangling Coils give +3 DI, -1 body, gives the Balrog the diplomat skill, and allows him to have followers. Strangling Coils also allows you to untap all tapped character in the Balrog's company one time during the movement/hazard phase. The Balrog must then be tapped if he is untapped.
The hazards from the Balrog contain a few new and interesting creatures, one of my favorites being Carrion Feeders. Carrion Feeders is playable in wilderness, shadow-lands, ruins & lairs and shadow-holds. It will give each unwounded character in the company a strike at 9 prowess, and all body checks resulting from successful strikes are at +1. Each untapped character in the company may tap to cancel a strike against a wounded character. The number of animal enhancers floating around can make life ugly for your opponent when Carrion Feeders is played against them during the movement/hazard phase. Like most hazards, their effectiveness relies on impeccable timing. Wake of War, Full of Froth and Rage and Shelob can give these big bats a total prowess of 13. Definitely time for a can of RaidTM.
Thanks to Craig O'Brien, we also now have bear creatures in the game. Beorning Skin-Changers are animals, men and bears. Beorning Skin-Changers are actually useable creature. Against minions, it's a creature with two strikes at a prowess of 10, keyable to double wilderness, Anduin Vales, Western Mirkwood, Wold & Foothills, and to sites in those regions. Against a moving hero company, it's playable as a short-event. Unless that company contains Beorn or an untapped warrior with prowess greater than 4, it must return to it's site of origin. Hobbit roadblock anyone?
There are a few Spawn hazards that perpetuate the theme of the set, such as Monstrosity of Diverse Shape, Spawn of Ungoliant, and Ungoliant's Foul
Issue, & Ungoliant's Progeny. Each of these cards act as permanent-events that add a fairly nasty automatic-attack to various Under-deeps sites, as well as provide a separate hazard effect. Thankfully all of these Spawn cards are unique. Monstrosity of Diverse Shape gives the Drowning-Deeps and the Remains of Thangorodrim an addition automatic-attack of Spawn - 2 strikes with 15/9 prowess/body. Additionally, once per turn the hazard player may use one against the hazard limit to play a Wolf or Animal hazard creature from his discard pile. The Wolf or Animal card must have already attacked the company this turn. Which, as I am sure you have just realized, exactly how does this card remember attacks? Since Beorning Skin-Changers is both an animal attack and short-event, would Monstrosity remember that Skin-Changers couldn't be brought back against a hero company. If it worked the first time, there'd be no need to bring a hazard from the discard pile, but still, it's the principle. Or would it specifically have to have attacked the company in question regardless of alignment or effect otherwise? Something to think about and I'll have to ask Craig.
Spawn of Ungoliant gives the Pukel-deeps and the Gem-deeps an additional automatic-attack: Spawn - 3 strikes of 15/8 prowess/body. In addition, it gives a +1 to all body checks for Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Dunedain, and Men resulting from Spider attacks. Hey, that makes Giant Spiders even more gruesome then it was before Spawn of Ungoliant. It used to be all you had to do was tie the body of the affected character to discard them, but with this effect you can even roll 1 less than the body to discard them. Ungoliant's Foul Issue gives Ancient Deep-hold an additional automatic-attack of Spawn - 2 strikes of 17/7 prowess/body. In addition, non-unique Spider creatures can be keyed to Under-deeps Ruins & Lairs and Under-deeps Shadow-holds. Ungoliant's Progeny gives The Wind-deeps and The Rusted-deeps an additional automatic-attack: Spawn - 2 strikes with 16/8 prowess/body. In addition, for each Spider attack your opponent faces, you can choose for it to be at +1 prowess and detainment.
Continuing the spider deluge, we have Shelob's Brood, which is a Spider attack, with 4 strikes at 8 prowess, keyable to an Under-deeps site or a surface site thereof. Unabated in Malice is playable on an automatic-attack or an attack from Shelob and it doesn't count against the hazard limit. It gives the attack +1 strike/+1 prowess/-2 body, and the first attempt to cancel the attack cancels this cards effect. Needless to say, I don't think I need to tell anyone what type of hazard strategy to play against the Balrog.
The last few hazards that I will mention revolve around the various Spawn cards being in play of which there are currently eight Spawn cards, Shelob, Spider of the Morlat, Balrog of Moria, Nasty Slimy Thing, Monstrosity of Diverse Shape, Spawn of Ungoliant, Ungoliant's Foul Issue, and Ungoliant's Progeny. Darkness Made By Malice is a short-event playable on a company at or moving to a Ruins & Lairs or Under-deeps site. IF there are more Spawn cards in play than the number of characters in the company, the company must do nothing during its site phase. Desire All for Thy Belly is playable if you discard a Spawn card from your hand and unfortunately all of the Spawn cards are unique. You then reveal to yourself a number of cards from the top of your opponent's deck equal to the number of Spawn cards in play. Choose one of those cards and reveal it to your opponent who must then decide either to remove that card from the game or decrease the number of cards he can hold in his hand by one for the rest of the game. Then shuffle the revealed cards and place them back on the top of his deck and remove Desire All for Thy Belly from the game. The Reek is playable on a company at or moving to a Ruins & Lairs or Under-deeps site if you discard an animal or spider creature from your hand. Tap all untapped characters in the company with a mind less than 2 plus the number of Spawn cards in play. The Reek does not affect Wizards, Ringwraiths, or the Balrog. There are only 8 Spawn cards possible so the highest mind affected by this card is 9, which is everyone but Elrond. Right now my favorite of these is Desire All for Thy Belly. The ability to make an opponent choose is hard to resist.
In summary, the entire Balrog set adds not only another alignment, but also another entirely different feel to the game. It will be interesting to see how this new alignment factors into an already complex game.
Until next time!