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Playing MECCG

Copyright Nigel Buckle ©2003

Edited by Nicholas H.M. Caldwell for The Guild Companion

Introduction

Many articles written about MECCG detail decks and possibly where to play the resources and how to use the hazards. However not much has been said about actually playing the game. In my opinion, a good deck is only half the battle; a good player using an untuned deck can often beat a weak player who has a strong deck.

Unlike some card games, MECCG has a hand-replenishing mechanic, and you draw cards in your movement phase and your opponents'. This means players often have to discard cards - and I believe it is this that many players find difficult.

The rest of this article is split into six sections:

  1. Resource Play
  2. Hazard Play
  3. Combat
  4. Untap, Organisation, Long Event, Site& End Phases
  5. Character Draft
  6. Tournaments

Parts 1,2 & 3 have been covered in previous months. This month, we will look at the Untap, Organisation, Long Event, Site & End Phases.

Untap Phase

In this phase, you untap your characters, or heal those wounded. It's worth remembering that you untap your agents (played as hazards) during this phase too.

Organisation Phase

There are a number of things you can do:

  • Play or discard a character
  • Shift your characters between being controlled by general influence and being controlled by direct influence
  • Reorganize your characters at the same Dark/Haven into any number of companies
  • Split your characters into different companies (all but one must move)
  • Attempt to remove corruption cards
  • Attempt to remove other hazard permanent events played on characters (if applicable)
  • Play appropriate resources
  • Transfer items between your characters at the same site (a corruption check is required for the character giving up an item)
  • Store items or other applicable resources from your companies at a Dark/Haven site or at sites specified on the card (a corruption check is required for the character giving up an item)

Finally, you have to select a new site for those companies you wish to move.

Play or discard a character/Shift your characters between GI & DI:

Usually you want to play characters if you can, however you might not want to if your General Influence is going to be reduced too much. I try to keep at least 4 GI free, to give some protection from hazards that benefit from low General Influence (such as Call of Home, Muster Disperses, News of Doom, etc.) and also influence attempts from your opponent (either by an agent or by a wizard or ringwraith). You may want to free up a character's DI if you plan to use it in the turn.

Reorganise/Split Companies:

You need to consider how many companies you're likely to be using when designing the deck - most will have at least 2, and some have more.

You might want to change the composition of your companies, either to move characters around to get a better balance of skills or to deal with a hazard, or if you think you're at a stage where you can start another company. The number of companies is limited by the number of characters you have. You don't really want to have single character companies as your opponent gets a hazard per character to a minimum of 2 (so a single character company gives your opponent an advantage). Often you'll be deciding between either a big company or two smaller companies - which you do will depend on your deck design. On the face of it, two companies are better than one as you've doubled your chance to obtain marshalling points. However some decks are designed to do multiple things in the site phase (such as use Lucky Search or play resources that don't require an untapped site, or attack your opponent, etc.) so the more characters you have in the company the better. Also it's not often that your opponent can play more than 4 or 5 effective hazards, so a large company is unlikely to have your opponent playing hazards up to the limit - but 2 small companies give your opponent the chance to refill their hand (with more hazards) between their respective movement/hazard phases. It's going to also depend on your opponent's hazard strategy - some strategies need a big hazard limit to work effectively, and some can benefit from multiple small limits (play enhancers on one company, and then the creatures that benefit on the other).

Attempt to remove corruption cards/other hazard permanent events

You should always attempt to remove hazards if you can - some hazards just require a roll, some require the character to tap. The former you should always attempt, the latter you need to decide if the hazard really needs removing or the character really needs to be untapped. With corruption you can always elect to try to remove the hazard without tapping (and taking a -3 penalty to the roll), again the decision to take the penalty or tap needs some thought.

Saying that, if you have a hazard that isn't really affecting a character (such as Foolish Words on a character you don't intend to use for an influence attempt) then you could decide to leave the hazard alone. Once it's discarded there's a danger your opponent can retrieve the hazard and play it on a character where it will have a bigger effect.

Play appropriate resources

Some resources need to be played in the organisation phase - there is little reason not to play all such resources you have in your hand (for example: "Belegaer", "Fair Travels in ...", etc). If nothing else it gets the card out of your hand and getting through your deck is important.

The only time I wouldn't do so is if your opponent is likely to benefit more than you from the play of the card. There are other resources that could be played in the organisation phase too. Again, unless there is some sort of penalty (such as requiring a character to tap) there's little reason not to play these as well, and in some cases it's preferable to play them outside of the movement/hazard phase.

For example, if you intend to remove a Nazgul Permanent event (with a Marvels Told/Voices of Malice), if you do it in the organisation phase there's nothing your opponent can do to respond. Do it during the movement/hazard phase and they could respond by tapping the Nazgul for the effect or to sideboard.

You need to consider carefully the play of environment cards. Twilight can be played at anytime, by either player - and if you play a card that allows your opponent to respond with a Twilight and it's outside the movement/hazard phase then they're getting that card play for 'free' (not counting against the hazard limit). However if your opponent was going to play a Doors of Night, playing environment cards outside of the movement/hazard phase stops that.

Transfer/Store Items

Normally you only want to do this if a character needs the item, or you want to remove a source of corruption from a character (because you plan to play another item later in the turn for example). Remember the character giving up the item has to make a corruption check, so there is a risk doing this. Storing things is generally better than transferring them, as the item/event is then relatively safe from being discarded (and some events need to be stored to gain the MPs or the effect) - however be aware that some hazards can target stored cards (such as "Neither so Ancient Nor so Potent")

Site selection

This part of the phase is very important; this is where you (in effect) plan for the rest of the turn. Knowledge of your deck is vital - you need to know what sites your deck is designed to use, and there is nothing more annoying for a player than having an opponent spend an age sorting through their site deck trying to decide what they are going to do this turn. Ideally you'll have resources in hand that will dictate what site(s) you wish to move to this turn; if you've got the Rangers of the North then you probably want to move to Bree to play them, if you've got a greater item then you need to visit a greater item site to play it. Some decks allow you to play cards at 'unexpected' sites - such as using "Lucky Search" to play items, or "Black Rain" to gain rings.

But what do you do if you have no playable resources in hand? This might be because you can't reach the right site from your current site (such as holding the Southrons when you're more than 4 regions away from The Southron Oasis and you're not at the site's nearest haven to use starter movement), or you just don't have MP cards in your hand. In this case, you have a number of options:

Stay put - you'd only want to do this if moving the company is an unnecessary risk or you have something you can play at your current site, as you're not going to draw cards for movement.

Move to a haven - this means you can heal next turn (and play characters) and hopefully be in a situation to move next turn, even by starter movement which allows you to move more than 4 regions (unless you're playing Balrog or Fallen Wizard).

Move to a non-haven site - this might be for a favourable card draw, or in the hope you draw a playable resource. If it's for the latter reason, you're better off moving to a site where you could play a number of your resources rather than one specific one, as the chances of you drawing exactly the right resource aren't high (unless your deck is nearly exhausted). For example if your deck has 2 greater items and 3 major items it's better to move to a greater item site as there are 5 items in the deck you could play there - if you moved to a major item site you could only play a major item, not a greater. Of course if you drew a major item then you'd be 'wasting' a greater item site - but I believe it's better to do that and actually do something in the turn (and score some MPs) than do nothing.

Of course a specific deck might have a plan that overrides these guidelines. If you're playing a deck that needs your companies to move far away from the starting sites, then you might want to move immediately to the next haven even with a playable resource in hand, rather than get distracted and move in the wrong direction, and waste time later in the game. Or it might be you have a deck that needs specific cards played before you want to risk moving (such as 4 hobbits needing a "Stealth"), but these are likely to be the exception and you'd be aware of this, as it's an integral part of the deck building process.

As well as selecting a site you should consider what regions you want the companies to move through (unless you're using starter movement). Normally you want to reduce the variety of regions you move through as that limits the types of hazard your opponent can play. There are exceptions to this - if you've seen double and triple wilderness creatures being played you might want to avoid moving through many wilderness regions, similarly if you've had a Lure of Nature played, or you've seen hazards that target particular regions you might want to avoid those (such as Shadowlands if you've seen "Seized by Terror"). Again some decks will dictate what you do here - with a Radagast speed deck you may decide to move through 4 wildernesses when you could get to the site with a shorter route.

Long-Event Phase

You have to follow this sequence (unlike the organisation phase when the order isn't so rigid):

  1. Remove all of your resource long-events already in play
  2. Play any new resource long-event cards.
  3. Remove all of your opponent's hazard long-events

This is what makes resource long-events rather weak - you have to play them in the long-event phase and they hang around for a turn to help your opponent. When you draw a long-event (resource) you have to hold it until your next Long-Event phase to play it. For this reason I recommend not playing with resource Long-Events unless it is very beneficial for the deck. Some decks are built around long-events (such as "Fog").

Site Phase

You have to decide if your company intends to enter the site. You only want to do this if you have a resource that you can play at the site this turn, your opponent can only reveal an 'On-guard' card if you enter the site and you only have to face the automatic attack (and an agent) if you enter the site. Consider the risks of facing the automatic attack - there's little point entering the site if it's likely all your untapped characters will have to tap (or be wounded/killed) by the automatic attack as you won't be in a position to play anything in the site phase.

If you have more untapped characters than the automatic attack has strikes you need to decide which characters will face the strikes (and which if any will take a -3 modifier and remain untapped). This decision is going to depend on the prowess of the characters, what support resources you have in hand and what you intend to do in the site. If you want to play a faction then you're probably going to want to keep your character with the largest unused DI untapped (or the character with the most bonuses to recruiting the faction).

If you're in a position where you have a choice of what to play at the site then you should pick the resource that gives you the most benefit. If it's a choice of items then the item that gives the most MPs is probably the best bet - although you might want an item for the effect it has, rather than just the MPs (such as a weapon), but you have to weigh up the risk of corruption if the items have different corruption points. Also uniqueness needs consideration, if you have a unique item and a non-unique item you might want to play the unique item first to prevent your opponent playing it before you. Finally you need to consider the victory conditions for the end of the game, you need a balance of types of MPs - so even if you could play another item for more MPs it might be better to get the ally to stop your opponent doubling that category. Again the decision about what you play in the site phase will depend on the deck.

End Phase

In this phase you get the opportunity to discard a card and then draw back to your hand size. Note it's in this order - often players return to their hand size (following card play in the site phase) then discard, then draw. This is illegal; you have to discard before drawing any cards.

Unless you have a 'perfect' hand, you should take this free discard - you should take every opportunity to move through your deck you're given. Some players don't do this because they can't decide what card to discard. I've covered this decision making earlier, but to recap you should discard a card that you don't anticipate being able to play next turn or the turn after - unless it's critical for the deck.

Note some cards give you more possible actions in the end phase - such as "Safe from the Shadow" which allows you to store items/events in the end phase.

Finally it's during this phase of your turn that you have to decide to call the council to end the game (if you're playing Hero or Fallen Wizard).

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