This week’s What We’ve Been Playing sees the team adventuring in fantastical lands from beloved franchises! From the latest set for Magic: The Gathering based on The Lord of the Rings franchise - Tales of Middle-earth - to an unofficial book for Dungeons & Dragons 3E inspired by the Final Fantasy video game series, the Dicebreaker team have been indulging in the whimsical and the epic in their tabletop gaming experiences this week.
If you’ve been enjoying Tales of Middle-earth, or any other tabletop game, recently, or if you’re planning to crack into anything tabletop this weekend, please let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @joindicebreaker. We’d love to hear your thoughts!
What We’ve Been Playing - June 23rd 2023
Magic: The Gathering - Tales of Middle-earth - Food & Fellowship Commander deck
We were so happy to receive the new Lord Of The Rings set of Magic The Gathering cards, so massive thank you to Wizards of the Coast, Bastion, and YRS Truly for sending those over for us to check out.
I’ve been really excited for this set ever since it was first announced, so coming in to find the cards sitting in the office Thursday morning absolutely made my week. We instantly cracked into the four Commander preconstructed decks of hobbits, Mordor, Rohan and the elves. I had my eye on the hobbits as soon as I saw the first few cards and their mention of food, so of course I picked the deck with Frodo and Sam. These cards are partnered, which means you can have them both in them both in the Command Zone together, and luckily they’re both very cheap too so getting them out is pretty easy.
Led by them, the deck’s mechanic is around generating food tokens to gain life. Sam creates food at the start of every combat and Frodo uses life gained from it to be tempted by the ring and therefore get more powerful. Right from the start the deck works really well together, I found it powerful and fun without having to swap any cards out. The touch of black in there even adds a little spice with cards such as Sanguine Bond that means opponents lose life whenever I gain it.
Although I have now cracked a few booster packs and am excited to start tinkering too. Especially as I’ve found some beautiful versions of cards already in the deck. Which is a point I definitely want to highlight - the Tales of Middle Earth set has some absolutely outstanding art. For every card I drew in the game I had to take a minute to appreciate how fun or thematic it was. From hobbits enjoying second breakfast, to beloved characters rendered in a new style, this set has been a fantastic fresh take on The Lord of the Rings. All except Pippin that is. They’ve given him a dudebro haircut that I will never forgive them for. Heartbreaking.
Overall I would highly recommend this set to Lord of the Rings and Magic fans alike. There are some really fun mechanics at play from orc army ammassing to elven voting, so I’m looking forward to playing more and seeing what decks can be built beyond precons too.
Final Fantasy RPG 3E
To try and scratch my Final Fantasy itch before FF16’s release this week, I’ve recently taken a dive into a number of tabletop RPGs like Fantasy Fantasy - from light inspiration to ambitious attempts at faithfully adapting the storied Japanese RPG video games.
I’ve written about my recent discovery and love for Fabula Ultima before in this column, a love letter to Final Fantasy and other JRPGs that sits beautifully between imitation and invention by mixing familiar parts of the genre with fresh tabletop roleplaying ideas and systems.
On the other end of the scale is Final Fantasy RPG 3E, an impressive fan effort to adapt not just one Final Fantasy, but the entire decades-long series (up to FF12 in this edition, at least) - including both its main instalments and spin-offs - into a tabletop RPG.
The result is the closest thing that Final Fantasy has to an official tabletop RPG yet. There’s the option to play as classes ranging from the familiar Black, White and Red Mages to deeper cuts, such as the Rune Knight largely confined to the Final Fantasy Tactics games. All of the familiar Final Fantasy species make an appearance, too - if you’ve had the hankering to roleplay as a rabbit-like Viera or even a Moogle, this is the RPG for you.
The highly faithful character options and straight-from-the-games concepts are paired with a percentile dice system, closer to Call of Cthulhu than D&D. Players roll d100 (that’s two d10 to calculate a 100-point result), modifying their rolls with a staggering numbers of attributes, status conditions and attributes, keeping combat close to the effect-driven battles of buffs, debuffs and affiliations seen in the video games.
While Final Fantasy RPG 3E’s sheer complexity and dedication to being a true Final Fantasy roleplaying experience (at the cost of a more usually-pleasing presentation) likely makes it one for hardcore fans only - Fabula Ultima or Beacon are more approachable and polished options for TRPG newcomers - it’s still a testament to the passion of fans and variety of tabletop games. If that’s left you curious, go and take a look.
Magic: The Gathering - Tales of Middle-earth - Elven Council Commander Deck
Like Maddie, I also had the opportunity this week to get my hands on the newest set released for the trading card game, Magic: The Gathering - Tales From Middle-earth. Based on The Lord of the Rings books written by JRR Tolkein, the brand-new set is the latest release in the Universes Beyond series for Magic: The Gathering - which is designed to bring in various franchises outside of the TCG’s own original setting into the card game.
Obviously, this set being based on The Lord of the Rings - a beloved piece of pop culture royalty - means that it was always going to catch people’s attention. However, the sheer level of hype around Tales of Middle-earth, not harmed by the hunt for the one-of-a-kind The One Ring card, cannot be understated. All of this excitement could have resulted in the eventual product proving underwhelming. Instead, the Tales of Middle-earth set has lived up to every expectation - with strong theming, extraordinarily beautiful artwork and some fun gameplay mechanics thrown in.
For this week’s stream, Dicebreaker competed in a four-player game of Magic: The Gathering - Commander, a format that has become incredibly popular in the team. Unlike standard Magic: The Gathering, Commander is a format that requires decks made-up of 100 cards, with one legendary creature serving as a player’s chosen commander. Players are able to summon their commander onto the battlefield by paying the card’s cost in mana, rather than having to wait to draw the card from their deck. Should a commander ever be exiled, defeated or removed in any other way, it will return to the player’s commander zone ready to be summoned at a slightly higher cost.
The pre-built Tales of Middle-earth deck I played was called Elven Council and featured classic The Lord of the Rings’ characters such as Elrond, Legolas and Galadriel. Though Galadriel was the default commander card for the deck, I chose the alternative - Gandalf - as my commander because I thought his ability to copy spells - which are any cards except for land - from other players’ decks would be fun.
The deck was themed around Middle-earth’s elves, with various cards incorporating combos around summon elves and scrying - which enables players to look at the cards coming up in their deck. The other main gameplay mechanic for my Commander deck was voting, which had various cards - such as Galadriel - having players conduct a vote for a particular outcome, both involving the active player and all the other players. Though the mechanic was fun and silly, it wasn’t necessarily very strong - with my opponents often opting for the option that wasn’t so beneficial for me. There were cards in the deck designed to push votes more into my favour, but I wasn’t lucky enough to draw them.
One of the major gameplay mechanics introduced in the entire Tales of Middle-earth set is that of being tempted by The One Ring, with every Commander deck coming with a One Ring token card that can be placed on a creature card to produce benefits to the player. I didn’t really get to use this mechanic at all thanks to the fact that I didn’t really draw cards that triggered it, but it looked like a nifty little mechanic when my opponents employed it.
Overall, the thematic strengths of this latest set are strong enough that any issues I might have with the mechanics can’t detract away from its strengths.