Let’s talk about rules. Rules can be useful tools to govern human interaction in a way that is acceptable to all involved. Some might go so far as to tell you that rules are the thread that holds together the fabric of a civil society. Hopefully, we can all agree that they have their place. But the question I want to ask is “what is that place in Lord of the Rings: the Card Game”?
Outland Fun with Flag
3x Anfalas Herdsman (The Steward’s Fear)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
3x Ethir Swordsman (The Steward’s Fear)
1x Faramir (Core Set)
1x Forlong (The Drúadan Forest)
1x Galadriel (The Road Darkens)
2x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Hunter of Lamedon (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Ingold (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Knights of the Swan (The Steward’s Fear)
3x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)
3x Warrior of Lossarnach (The Steward’s Fear)
1x White Tower Watchman (The Drúadan Forest)
2x Banner of Elendil (The Flame of the West)
3x Lord of Morthond (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Sword of Morthond (Assault on Osgiliath)
1x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Tome of Atanatar (The Blood of Gondor)
2x A Good Harvest (The Steward’s Fear)
1x For Gondor! (Core Set)
2x Rallying Cry (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x Strength of Arms (The Drúadan Forest)
3x Valiant Sacrifice (Core Set)
In a competitive game, rules are a pact between competitors to ensure that everyone is on an even footing. But in a cooperative game like this, who is the competitor?
Is it the encounter deck? If so, that’s just a pile of cardboard and it’s in no position to make claims on me, nor would I be inclined to honor those claims even if it were.
Is it the developers? I certainly don’t think so, and if it were, it would hardly be a fair competition given that they are responsible for providing me with the tools with which to beat them. If they really wanted to compete they wouldn’t have any trouble at all winning, so the fact that on occasion we don’t lose gives the lie to the idea that they’re our competition.
No, I’d argue that our primary competition is against ourselves, as we take a puzzle and challenge ourselves to defeat it. And if that’s the case, if we are our true competition, then rules are nothing more than an agreement we make with ourselves, and as such that agreement is subject to change should we wish it.
Today’s deck is against the rules. It includes Fellowship cards, which is a no-no outside of Saga quests. But it also includes Leadership Aragorn, which is a no-no inside any Saga quests that also include Fellowship Aragorn. It uses Good Harvest to play those Fellowship cards, which has been ruled illegal. There are precious few quests where this would be a “legal” deck to play.
And this gets to the heart of my question about what place rules have in LotR:LCG. What is this pact you make with yourself? Is this pact subject to renegotiation?
If it’s not, then that’s a worthwhile conclusion, and today’s deck merely served as the catalyst on your journey of self-discovery. Perhaps this was something you already knew, or perhaps this is something new you unearthed through careful reflection and consideration. But this knowledge has value, and the deck, by extension, has value, illegal or not.
If it is subject to renegotiation, then I think today’s deck is a delightful and subversive look at how we conceptualize “theme” in a card game that’s positively dripping with it. Theme typically means something like a uniformity of traits, and this deck has the most cookie-cutter, (and most-hated), example of that uniformity in the Outlands faction.
But in reality, “theme” is not so limited. Theme is merely a unifying element, and that element can be a common race or a common point in time. It could be a story that is being told or a task that is being accomplished.
Or it could be flags. Today, the theme is flags. Banner of Elendil, Rallying Cry, For Gondor, Strength of Arms… all flags. Outlands superficially presents as the theme, but that’s a red herring; Outlands is merely the canvas. They are the tool used to derive benefit from a bevy of flags of all sizes, shapes, and colors, snapping briskly in the wind.
I mean, what a delightful idea! I think so many times theme is viewed with such seriousness and inflexibility. And serious / inflexible themes have their place. But what a whimsical reminder that theme can be anything we want it to be.
When I look at cards anymore, I see what they can do and where they can be useful so much that most of the time I no longer see the card itself. I could have played this deck a dozen times without ever realizing that there was such an overabundance of flags had the deckbuilder not made plain the game from the beginning.
I want to see the game through this deckbuilder’s eyes again. I want to notice cards for what they are as much as for what they do and to make connections and leaps along dimensions other than just the game mechanics or the source material. This is the kind of deck that inspires me to look at the game a second time for the very first time.
Maybe you don’t feel the same way, and that’s fine. This game is beloved because it can be so many different things to so many different people, and the CotR Deck Spotlight series is in part a tribute to and celebration of that diversity.
But maybe you do feel the same way. If so, this is to you, my fellow rule-breakers. This is to you who are inclined to let your freak flag fly. Today is your day to raise your banner high. Today is your day to run it up a flagpole and see who salutes.
Or, at the very least, to see who decides it’s something that’s worth a closer look…