So much has been released and announced in the past month that it would take me another month of writing to give it all its full due: the 2018 Gen Con quest, the limited edition collector’s bundle, the digital living card game, the Withered Heath adventure pack, and the upcoming 2018 Fellowship Event.
Today, I’m going to move on to discuss what personally has been one of my most anticipated releases since it was spoiled (second only to Thranduil, of course): Grimbeorn the Old!
Most fans of Tolkien’s works probably similarly find the beornings somewhat mysterious, and at least in part due to that, alluring. It’s often those things that lie on the borders of our experience, some within and some without, flirting with the unknown beyond, that draw the most interest. Beorn and his kin definitely fit that description for me. So little is said about them and their origins within the texts themselves. They are wild folk, definitely not bad, but definitely not fully sympathetic to the wider causes of good. To put is simply – they are cool!
“‘Indeed,’ said Glóin, ‘if it were not for the Beornings, the passage from Dale to Rivendell would long ago have become impossible. They are valiant men and keep open the High Pass and the Ford of Carrock. But their tolls are high,’ he added with a shake of his head; ‘and like Beorn of old they are not over fond of dwarves. Still, they are trusty, and that is much in these days.'” — The Fellowship of the Ring
I have long been a fan of the hero version of Beorn in our card game. Granted, I’ve played him less and less as the average attack of enemies has gotten higher and higher. Nevertheless, Beorn has gotten a sweet new array of toys somewhat recently (not least of which is the event Beorn’s Rage from this same adventure pack). So when I set out to make a deck with Grimbeorn, naturally I tried to stick him in a deck with his old man (bear?), since I am a fan of “theme.” I quickly found out that both heroes actually do the same basic thing – defend and attack, with rather high stats for both – which immediately made me think of a third favorite among the legends of the Tactics sphere: Boromir! So to begin, I would like to compare and contrast Grimbeorn to his father, Beorn, and also to Boromir, as I believe the three have a lot in common.
Being a Tactics hero, and having no willpower, Grimbeorn’s obvious use here is combat. Like Beorn, Grimbeorn features the sentinel keyword, which given his ability, is pretty good if your friends are relying on you for most of the combat. Now, Beorn’s ability is that he does not exhaust to defend. He too has sentinel, making him one of the most awesome defenders you could imagine – except that he has one point of defense. He makes up for it by having ten hit points, but he is immune to player card effects, so not only can you not play armor or signals on him, but you cannot heal him either. A classic trick involves letting him die, but using Landroval to bring him back, basically resetting his hit points. Landroval costs a whopping five resources, but for the payoff, it seems worth it. Another more recent-ish trick involves using Honour Guards to cancel damage to Beorn. He is immune to player card effects, but damage being assigned to him is not. Finally, anything that reduces the enemy’s attack, rather than raising Beorn’s defense, works. The new event Beorn’s Rage is good for this, as is the side quest Keep Watch. Interestingly, even though Beorn’s Rage comes in the same pack as Grimbeorn, it’s much better suited for Beorn. Grimbeorn can already reduce the enemy’s defense – what he really needs are things to boost his own attack to deal with those four plus hit point enemies. In summary, what Beorn brings to the table is built in action advantage which huge stats and the ability to defend anywhere on the board.
Switching gears for a moment, Boromir, while not a beorning, fills a similar combat role. Before the famous/infamous errata (depending on your perspective on the matter), Boromir was the combat powerhouse. Truthfully, he was much better at combat than even Beorn, though I often played both of them in the same deck (because, why not?). The classic tricks here are to load Boromir up with resources using Steward of Gondor, combined with Gondorian Fire and Blood of Númenor, to defend and attack with absolutely unbelievable stats (ever want to one-shot the Balrog?). Combined with the signals that grant ranged and sentinel, Boromir can always block and kill everything on the board, for the simple price of raising one’s threat. So he too brings to the table action advantage combined with huge stats, but whereas Beorn’s big stats are built in (five attack, ten hit points), Boromir relies on some setup.
Moving back to Grimbeorn, with the right setup – which we’ll get to in a moment – I believe Grimbeorn does basically the same things as Beorn and Boromir, but in the current meta, he actually does them better. Grimbeorn already comes with slightly better stats than Boromir, but he can virtually improve them to Beorn’s level (at least in attack) through activating his response. Three attack with minus two defense to the enemy isn’t quite the same as a straight five attack, but it gets you a good bit of the way there. Like I already alluded to, Beorn’s Rage doesn’t actually do us much good here, because chances are the enemy only has two or three defense to begin with. What really helps out are the signals that boost attack and defense.
So Grimbeorn can have big stats, especially with some setup. Like Beorn, he also has sentinel, which is an improvement over Boromir already (since Boromir already requires other setup). Grimbeorn also has action advantage, however, in that after he defends, he can spend a resource to ready and immediately attack. If you’re defending an enemy engaged with another player, this essentially grants him ranged as well. It’s a similar, but slightly different flavor, of action advantage. The real trick, though, is to mount Grimbeorn up on a Rohan Warhorse or two (you can either picture this as a man with a foot on each horse, or as the second horse beefing up the first horse, but yes, it’s kind of weird). With some extra attack pumps from signals, Grimbeorn can defend, spend his resource to ready, kill the enemy, exhaust a warhorse to ready himself, and do it all over again. If you have another enemy you can kill, another resource, and another warhorse, you can even do it again. I would contend that because Grimbeorn has higher defense than Beorn but still has sentinel and is not immune to player card attachments, that Grimbeorn actually does almost exactly what Beorn does – just a little better! I would further contend that because Boromir is now nerfed to once a phase, that Grimbeorn is once again better, due to the built in sentinel, and the fact that you could defend and attack up to three times in the combat phase. Such a feat would require two Rohan Warhorses, which are restricted, but it’s fortunate that the signals are not. It would also require three resources a turn, but fortunately there’s this thing called Steward of Gondor . . . coincidence, I ask?
Some further tricks I’ve come to enjoy with Grimbeorn revolve around combining him with Tactics Aragorn and Thurindir. Tactics Aragorn further reduces enemy defenses (further reducing the value of Beorn’s Rage in this deck), allowing you to focus on increasing Grimbeorn’s attack. Thurindir lets you put out the Keep Watch side quest, which grants a universal nerf to the attack of engaged enemies. Keep Watch seems to work better with Beorn than Grimbeorn (my early version of this deck had Beorn rather than Aragorn), but it’s still pretty good to allow for Grimbeorn to defend multiple attacks a round with minimal damage. Again, Honour Guards are better with Beorn than Grimbeorn, but they’re still good here too. Captain of Gondor gets good use here as long as you optionally engage. Steward of Gondor obviously goes on Grimbeorn, because more resources equals more action advantage.
Without further ado, the deck list is below (and on ringsdb here):
Readers, what do you think of Grimbeorn the Old? Have you come up with other good combo pieces to use with him? Bonus points for including him in a dwarf deck!