Greetings — Quickbeam here.

Playing cards sounds like a fun, relaxing pastime. Yeah, right.

When you have this much money and such huge prizes at stake… you can bet things will get hairy. Today in Norfolk there were 95 finalists in the Lord of the Rings TCG World Championship who concluded their second day of competition. At the end, only sixteen were left. Getting that far was arduous for some of them.

When two particular players started to loudly disagree with each other, throwing their arms up in the air, the judges came over to restore order. One of these fellows, Mike Long, has a reputation in the world of tournament play. He used to be a leader on the Magic: The Gathering circuit but encountered controversy with allegations of shady playing. This kind of behavior might follow you around for years. Today he was in a critical match against Josh Cornwell-Mott, as both players were in the running for qualification for Day 3 (the Finals).

There were several heated outbursts, with Mike showing his nerves as things got down to the wire. There are all kinds of itchy little things players might do to cause his opponent to lose focus, to throw them off their game, if you will. Josh would have none of it. The whole match was covered with tension so thick you could slice it with a butter-knife. One judge stood rooted to the table to monitor the players through to game’s end.

There was some talk throughout the Con about this — namely that LOTR players as a community don’t want competitive tournament play to deteriorate with the kind of stunts we saw today. That’s not what this is all about; and it’s certainly atypical of the environment that Decipher and the DGMA has created. These gaming event are totally comfortable and everyone enjoys themselves. But in this instance, I understand how intense these players feel about their game.

There was one fellow in particular who was unstoppable today. He won every single game (that means no losses, no ties, and no games called on time). I sat down to talk with the beast that is Efridge Engelhardt. Young yet very casual and self-composed, Efridge hails from Huntsville, Alabama. He is the player that your mother warned you about.

Quickbeam: So, Efridge, what brought you to the LOTR card game?

Efridge: I have played the Star Wars game for about a year or more until Decipher lost the license. I still play it but not as seriously. Then they started publishing the new LOTR game and I picked up on it pretty fast. I was okay at it, I just played it for fun first. Not competitively.

Q: How long have you been in the professional circuit?

E: This summer, I decided I wanted to play at the upcoming DecipherCon. So I started preparing and playing more competitively with my friends. My buddy Ben Lacey and I built a deck that was broken. It was unbeatable, for the most part… the chances of it losing where significantly less than anything I had seen. We took that deck, driving around to territory and state level championships in order to qualify for today — Day Two of the World Championships. I won in Georgia — we were pretty much all over Southeastern states.

Q: What kind of strategy is most appealing to you when you build a deck?

E: Good consistency. Uruk-hai are undoubtedly the most solid Shadow cards but Moria are more fun to play.

Q: Did your friend build the deck you used today?

E: Yes. His name is Andy McClure. It’s really good. I had seen it in action and decided it was a “machine.” I was going to play the Star Trek TCG tournament today but I know this game better and decided differently.

Q: Wow, what a fateful choice, especially with you being this much closer to the top prize. What would you tell a casual player to focus on, if he seeks to improve his game?

E: Balance. Work with the numbers. Just because you built a deck and it doesn’t work 100% doesn’t mean you should throw it out. You should work with it and improve it until you’re comfortable with it. The player should stop daydreaming about what the “perfect scenario” would be for his cards. He should go for efficiency, because those ideal conditions for certain card combos will rarely happen the way you want them to.

Q: Is there any hope for the Sauron culture becoming really viable with the cards that are currently available (not including new TTT cards).

E: I think Sauron is competitive now. I have a friend who has a deck that works really well. There’s only a few really good Sauron cards that I would bother with. Orc Bowmen, Under the Watching Eye, Hate. And of course Orc Ambushers.

Q: Where are you going to drive first if you win the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the $7,000?

E: Hooters!

What can I say to that? Their hot wings really are good, I admit, but I think I’d rather go to Disneyland.

So much more TTT coolness was revealed today! I had the chance to interview those great guys from Decipher RPG Studio in Los Angeles, Christian Moore and Owen Seyler. If you enjoyed the fantastic new LOTR Core Book that was released in August you can blame them. Role players have been able to recreate their own adventures in the Middle-earth setting with the introductory Fellowship of the Ring RPG (with the players going through the Mines of Moria) and now with the Core Book, nearly any possible scenario can be drafted. Now they’ve got something brand new to crow about. The Two Towers RPG is another introductory product that allows beginning players to experience Helm’s Deep with a select group of four characters (Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas). We were all sitting at a large round table where Christian and Owen opened up the never-before-seen boxes, with new maps, dice, character sheets, and Guidebook. I had to ask about this cool new game:

Quickbeam: How long have you guys been working on this new game?

Owen: We’ve been working on this particular product for about 5 months, 6 if you include time for printing.

Q: What is the first thing that would turn on a new player with this game? Assuming there are some Tolkien fans out there who are not experienced gamers, what would be the first thing they would enjoy?

Christian: The chance to step into the world and actually be the characters. To experience it from the inside.

O: Right. If you were Gandalf what would you have done in the Mines? Made a different decision? In this product, at the dramatic conclusion of the scenario, the players face the invading forces of Saruman’s Uruk-hai as they besiege the Hornburg. You would get to play each of the four characters leading a different faction of Rohan’s forces to protect the keep. Rohirrim Infantry, Archers, and even Elven Archer reinforcements.

Q: Sounds like it’s following the movie storyline which many fans consider apocryphal. We know that there aren’t really any Lorien Elves at Helm’s Deep, but the idea makes perfect tactical sense to me, personally.

C: The distinction to be made is that the beginner’s level Adventure Game products are film-based only. While the actual full RPG you have with the Core Book (and subsequent products to come) are based more fully on the original books.

Q: I know there are Tolkien fans who don’t fully speak the “gamer language.” Does this new TTT Helm’s Deep game really fall into the category of “difficult” for the non-experienced gamer?

O: I would say not at all.

C: The game is geared for ages 12 and up. And the rules in this new boxed set include a lot of hand-holding.

O: It makes learning the game rules a gradual process; the player learns quickly as the storyline progresses. The “Fast Player” Rules are only 4 pages long, and represents a quick distillation of everything that is in the scenario gamebook. A participant who plays the full scenario will learn different segments of the rules as they are introduced during play. The Character Sheets assist this process by explaining each character’s abilities. Gandalf’s Sheet explains his spells, his abilities, and some of background history (and dialogue) to encourage more creative role playing.

Q: The maps look really fantastic. What do you have to decide ahead of time, to produce a certain staging area for the action?

O: At points in the story where there are many physical episodes of action, like a battlefield, or a clearing, or an underground dwarf kingdom — anything where the physical environment becomes more critical for the story, we look at that.

C: Yes, the story dictates that. In TTT we picked three encounters.

O: There’s a field where the Three Hunters meet the Riders of Rohan for the first time. If the heroes were to happen to catch up with the Uruk-hai sooner than they did in the story, it could lead to a battle.

Q: So someone playing could actually alter the course of the War of the Ring, just by catching up to Merry and Pippin sooner and rescuing them?

O: Presumably, yes. That’s what they are out to do at the beginning. These adventures don’t always have to follow the book perfectly. It is a tricky thing for the designers to provide for complete open liberty with the story as the players progress, for there is also the need to think ahead and see how this gaming scenario will affect future events in The Return of the King. Our job is to try to give a “guiding hand” while ensuring the player feels his autonomy has not been restricted.

Q: Do you recommend this as a fun introduction to roleplaying in general? Meaning is it something that a gaggle of Tolkien fans can just open up and dive into at a party (or a hobbit picnic)?

C: That’s precisely what it was designed for.

O: There are sections of the game where the Narrator and the players have scripted dialogue, yet the players can easily go off in various, unexpected directions depending on the tone of voice and the general flavor that each player brings to the table. Improvisation is key to making this game a lot more fun.

There you have it, folks. This new boxed game is very cool and I recommend you get a closer look at it.

That’s today’s report from DecipherCon 2002. A day that will be talked about for months to come among the world’s gaming community. Tomorrow is the final showdown between the top sixteen players in the world.

I will be here for the final lap and also more interviews with the LOTR designers!

Much too hasty,


For the other reports in this Series:

DecipherCon Day One[click here]
DecipherCon Day Three[click here]
DecipherCon Day Four[click here]