During the Vengeance of Mordor cycle, the developers introduced a new card type that not only influences the way you play your deck, but also influences the deckbuilding process itself. These new Contract cards limit the players in some areas, like restricting certain cards from your deck, but grant you benefits in other places. The contracts are limited to one per player, but multiple of these can be in play at the same time if they are controlled by different people. The first of these contracts was released in the Deluxe box and was named after one of the most famous groups of people (and a pony): The Fellowship.
This double-sided card will start in play and is uneffected by any player cards or encounter cards. Only when certain parameters have been met, can the controlling player flip this card to go to side B. The contract starts on side A, which tells the player that they cannot play non-unique characters, or put them into play. You can still include them in your deck, but there is no point in doing this, other than to have cards to discard for Protector of Lorien and such cards. I don’t recommend this, unless you have a very small collection and not enough cards in your deck otherwise. At that point, you might want to grow your collection until you have at least 6 different unique allies in order to play this contract.
On this side A, the player will start the game as normal, with the only restriction that they don’t play or put into play any non-unique allies. The player will slowly start to grow their boardstate, until they have 9 unique characters in play at the same time, this included heroes and unique objective allies. The player then immediately flips over this contract card to side B.
Side B prevents the player from playing any allies, or putting any into play. This includes unique characters, locking you in at 9 characters. Should you ever lose a character, you flip back to side A until you control 9 unique characters again. In order to compensate your lack of swarming capability, the contract grants every character you control a +1 to willpower, attack, and defence. Note that this does not include hitpoints.
This contract will never leave play or be blanked by encounter card effects, so once the player gets to 9 unique characters, they can rely on the buff as long as they maintain that number of characters.
This contract (and the other ones as well) limit the player in some way during their deckbuilding process. For Fellowship, this is the fact that you cannot play or put into play non-unique allies. This means that you can’t just throw the contract onto any deck, you have to build around it. The first thing you will have to do, is to remove your non-unique allies from the deck, since there won’t be a way to use them. This means you lose out on some awesome effects, like Master of the Forge, Honour Guard, Warden of Healing, and tons of other characters. However, you do still get access to nearly 100 unique allies that you can throw into your deck.
These allies will make up for things that your heroes might be lacking. Allies like Gleowine can offer cheap card draw, while Ioreth is great for a Fellowship deck as she is a free unique character that counts towards your nine, as well as being a good sink of Lore resources that she converts to healing. So while you will be missing out on multiple copies of some great utility allies and some solid combat allies, the deck can cover all of its bases with unique allies. On the combat front, the lack of multiple similar allies is balanced by giving all unique characters a +1 to attack and defence. This can help you to defend some attacks with allies that usually aren’t meant for combat, but who are quite decent with the added buff.
Another drawback to this contract is that the contract flips whenever you lose a character. If this puts you under the 9 character limit that side A requires, you lose your buffs halfway through the round. It is important to have ways to sneak allies back into play in case this happens. Not only do you get an extra body on the table, but it also give all of your characters the +1 to all stats again. Sneak Attack, Stand and Fight, or even hero abilities like Hirgon can help you to regain your contract’s buffs again, but you do need to have these emergency allies at the ready in case this happens. Otherwise, you might be a few stats short in the combat phase.
The early game is the tricky part with Fellowship, as you need to get your allies out quickly. Try to get some events to help you with this, as well as cheap allies and plenty of card draw to find those cards. If you can get the contract to flip during round 3 or earlier, you should be ok, depending on the quest. Fellowship isn’t a contract to use for fast-paced quests, as you will need the action advantage and the characters that a non-Fellowship deck offers. If you are given time to set up against a slow quest or with fellow players covering for you, then you will get the most out of this contract.
It isn’t all doom and gloom with this contract, as there is a lot to love as well. The contract is pretty thematic as you assemble your own fellowship of unique characters to take on the quest. This allows you to recreate some scenes with your own cast of characters. Besides the thematic fun you can have with this contract, you also get a lot of value out of your unique characters once the contract flips. The added +1 willpower will give more uses to allies like Henamarth, Galion, and Ioreth besides any ability they might have. They now have extra willpower to send to the quest. Your heroes and other allies also have this boost, which gives you a lot of extra progress on the quest. This +1 is also nice for quests like Redhorn Gate, where players are punished for having low willpower characters. Stacking this willpower with other cards like Leadership Merry or the Arkenstone can make any ally a questing powerhouse. For decks that run Golden Shield and Herugrim, this ability also boost attack and defence for the attached hero.
The +1 attack is nice for the more combat focused characters. This makes them even better during the combat phase without having to rely on Weapons. Obviously, this is also great for Battle quests, but those are pretty rare. You can get extra benefit out of this with heroes like Dain Ironfoot and Leadership Boromir, who grant allies an additional +1 attack if certain conditions are met. A +2 attack on any character makes them amazing for combat, even if they had no attack strength before.
The additional point in defence is also greatly appreciated for allies that take on a defencive role in your deck. Allies like Jubayr don’t usually get a lot of buffs to their defence thanks to their weird trait. Fellowship doesn’t discriminate though, and allows Jubayr to defend for 4. The added defence boost is also amazing for Siege questing, which is again rare, but it can allow for some more progress in those scenarios. Extra defence helps to prevent characters from getting damaged quickly, which is good, as you are going to be a bit short on healing and damage prevention in a Fellowship deck.
While most decks will survive against easier scenarios if you play the Fellowship contract and get it online, there are certain archetype that have an easier time with this contract. A synergy of stacking buffs on your characters can make them insane, questing with +6 willpower in some cases. Archetypes with plenty of unique allies will also get a benefit with this contract, as it is easier to make a full lineup of unique Dwarf characters than unique Dale characters for instance. This segment will go over the several archetypes that will benefit most from this contract.
The first deck that many people will make with this contract is a deck that tries to recreate the Fellowship of the books. This does force you to pick Frodo and Aragorn as heroes, but with plenty of allies to choose from, you can build a strong deck. It is sad that you can’t have all 9 walkers ánd Bill the Pony in play at the same time, but if you use Core Set Gandalf, a spot will open up for Bill anyways. The synergy with the original Fellowship is a bit weird, but you do get some nice cost reduction on ally Sam if you have Frodo in play. This then allows you to play Bill the Pony for free, which accelerates your ally spam towards the 9 unique characters. The deck will have decent willpower, especially if you bring Sword that was Broken on Aragorn, but the deck will also have good combat potential with Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir. Having characters from many different races also allows you to play Free Peoples for action advantages and bonus willpower! Restricting yourself to just the official members of the Fellowship will mean that you only have a maximum of 21 allies in your deck, but if you use Gandalf for his card draw, and manage to find the remaining characters quickly, then you have a fantastic thematic deck.
The next archetype worth considering is Dwarves. While you won’t be able to get all members of Thorin’s Company in play at the same time, there is a built in engine for swarming allies with the Dwarves. This originates out of the early Dwarf-swarm archetype, which really helps you to get to 9 characters with this trait. Allies like Fili or Kili will drag out the other one, getting you extra allies rather quickly. And once you pass the 5 Dwarf-limit, many heroes and allies will give you extra abilities. Dwalin becomes a very cheap Sentinel defender, and Gloin will get you most of your resources back. On top of this, Dwarves can receive more boosts than just the contract. Having Leadership Dain Ironfoot on the table will give all Dwarves +1 willpower and attack while he is ready. Hardy Leadership will also buff hitpoints, making your Dwarves less likely to leave play. Dwarf decks also get cheap readying with Lure of Moria, and have plenty of strong characters to choose from. Narvi’s Belt can help getting allies from any sphere, and King Under the Mountain is a solid card draw engine for the deck. The biggest issue with a Dwarf Fellowship is that the allies are rather expensive. Most cost 3 resources, making it hard to get to 5 Dwarf characters, after which is will be easier to get to 9 characters. But the early game for such decks is tricky, and will require resource acceleration to get extra bodies on the table.
The Noldor archetype is also a popular choice for Fellowship decks. The archetype has a great resource engine, plenty of card draw, and even has a cost reducer for its allies with To The Sea! To The Sea! On top of that, there are several unique Noldor characters that are amazing to have on the table. Glorfindel, Gildor Inglorion, Elladan, and Elrohir all have great stats, which are improved even more by the contract. The archetype also has strong events like Lords of the Eldar, which can be used to double the contract’s bonus for your allies. Having Cirdan the Shipwright in your starting lineup also opens up Narya for added combat bonusses, and readying, which really helps you during the combat phase, especially when you are engaged with multiple enemies.
Besides these archetypes, there are numerous others that will benefit from this contract. But the greatest fun can be had by combining certain archetypes with a Fellowship deck. Get some cheap unique allies out from other traits, while centering your combat focus on one specific archetype. Get creative and you will have a lot of fun with this contract.
Going beyond 9 characters
The Fellowship contract is designed to cap out at 9 characters, but there are several ways to go beyond 9 characters receiving the buff of the contract. While most of these tricks work best in multiplayer environments, there are still tricks you can use that push your character count beyond 9. This has several advantages. First of all, the extra characters will receive a buff to all their stats, which makes them better, unless they have an ability that requires them to exhaust. Second, you get to flip the contract back to side B as soon as you have to flip it to side A if you lose a character. Since you are still in control of at least 9 characters (as long as they are all unique) you don’t lose out on the B-side buffs.
The first thing you can do is to play allies that go into the encounter deck. Then, if you reveal the card during the planning phase, you get to control the character, buffing the character and getting you past the 9 character limit. Tom Bombadil, Eagle of the North, and Ranger of the North are all good targets, though Bombadil will leave at the end of the round. Eagle of the North will be more tricky to play, as it will require you returning an Eagle to your hand. Since you can only play unique characters, that will end up being either Gwaihir, Landroval, Meneldor, or Wilyador. Wilyador is the best target, as he is cheap and can easily be played again next round. In return, you will get a strong non-unique Eagle ally once you reveal it from the encounter deck. Ranger of the North is easier to play, but will require a Dunedain hero to be under your control. In return, the Ranger of the North will be a very solid all-round ally for your deck.
These allies don’t start in your deck, and are thus able to be played with the Fellowship contract. If your are playing a multiplayer game, then others can also include these allies and hand them over to you once they are revealed. Other players can do much more though, as they can play allies for you. Emery can be played by anyone and be given to you right away. As another unique ally, she will ensure that you can flip the contract back to side B if you lose another unique character, since you will control 9 again with her. Other allies like Rider of the Mark, Soldier of Isengard, Wandering Took, Ceorl, and Blue Mountain Trader can also be given to you by other players. This can push you even further beyond the nine characters that you yourself can play.
Scenarios will also sometimes have objective allies of their own that can be given to you. Besides the many unique objective allies, there are also a few non-unique ones like the Ents of Fangorn from Road to Isengard, and the Ranger allies from both Massing at Osgiliath and Into Ithilien that can eventually fall under your control. With all of these allies entering play without your direct influence, you can get a ton of stats on the table, making the game a lot easier for yourself. It does require some setup, and even some communication beforehand as to what other players are going to send your way, but it can be very effective with this contract!
The following tips should help when playing with the Fellowship contract.
- When playing multiplayer, go through your deck together with fellow players. Since you run a lot of unique characters, you may end up having a conflict with one of their heroes. Have some unique characters in your side-board like Gleowine, who won’t clash with anyone.
- Use cards like A Very Good Tale and ally cost reducers to get a lot of allies out quickly. This can easily flip the contract a round earlier than you otherwise would have.
- If you have a Secrecy Fellowship, then Timely Aid is essential for getting out strong allies for cheap.
- Since you will only have 9 characters, it is important to have some way of readying characters for quests that require a lot of action advantage. The Fellowship can quickly fall apart if you are suddenly engaged with extra enemies, and if your defender is exhausted. Strength of Arms, Grim Resolve, Need Drives Them, To Arms!, and faction specific readying effects are all great to include.
- Your early game will be the point where you are the weakest, so it is vital to get your boardstate together quickly. This means that you must find 2-3 allies in your opening hand and some form of card draw or ally swarming tools. Try to get the contract going by turn 4, else you might struggle against some tougher scenarios.
- Scenarios with objective allies will get you to flip the contract faster, but consider that one of the nine characters has to be the objective ally. This can be great in quests where you get Na’asiyah or Amarthiul as objective allies, but is far less useful in quests with Nalir or a Tamed Mumak (as it is immune).
- Should you lose an ally during the middle of the round, which ends up costing you your buffs, then consider running Stand and Fight to bring an ally from your discard pile back into play. Other emergency buttons like Horns! Horns! Horns! and Sneak Attack will also work.
- Note that these emergency buttons only work when you are on side A of the contract. It is impossible to play or put into play allies by yourself when on side B. You will have to rely on the encounter deck or fellow players in that case.
- Since all your characters will be unique, it might be wise to bring The Arkenstone and Leadership ally Merry in your deck. These cards will buff willpower even further. Stack this with the contract and other effects, and you can easily overquest swarm-style decks.
- Avoid Outlands decks with the Fellowship contract, you won’t have a good time desinging one.
There are a lot of Fellowship decks already online, as this is the oldest contract out there. Use some of these decks to get a feel for the contract and to get some inspiration for your own decks.
I hope this article has been helpful to those that have just opened their copy of the Deluxe. We will be bringing out more articles on the other contracts in the future, detailing what cards are used the most, and what strategies work best for each contract.