Riddles in the Dark

Wong sort of Riddle?

Wrong sort of Riddle?

Recently, I’ve been dealing with what I believe is the king of the “must custom-build for” quest: Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim.

Coming as the third quest in the first Saga Box, this quest see players following the parallel stories of Thorin and his dwarves as they battle Goblins and try to make it out of the caves alive, whilst Bilbo and Gollum play their game of riddles.

The Challenge

First up, I want to say that this is a really difficult quest. The main staging area sees players faced with a location that is immune to player card effects, cannot leave the staging area, and contributes X threat, where X is double  the number of players in the game. In what is already a fairly surge-heavy encounter deck, players also reveal 2 cards each, making for a minimum of 8 cards coming off the deck each round in a 4-player game.

Lake-in-the-Cavern

Whilst this stage is hard, mechanically it’s pretty standard. Reveal lots of cards, kill the enemies, make progress. The big twist in this quest comes from the other quest card, representing Bilbo, Gollum and the Riddles.

Many of the cards in this encounter set have riddle effects. A riddle requires a player to shuffle their deck, then name various characteristics, as demanded by the riddle – sphere, type and cost, etc. finally, they discard a given number of cards from their deck, hoping to find a match – for each match, they can place a progress token on the quest stage.

GollumThis is the only way to place progress at this stage, and in all our recent games, it has taken us significantly longer than the regular quest. If you fail to get a match, Gollum will attack Bilbo, so three failed riddles means dead Bilbo, and the players lose the game. Gollum and Bilbo are the only cards at this quest stage, and become immune to player-card effects, so there’s no way to kill Gollum, bolster Bilbo’s defence, heal him, or even re-ready him to defend an extra attack.

All of the above should make it clear that failing to answer a riddle is not something you want to do. However, for a normal deck, failure is the exception rather than the norm. To take the most extreme example, how confidently do you think you could predict the type, sphere and cost of the top card of your deck, without looking? I tried this quest recently with a set of decent decks- a 2-ish sphere dwarf swarm, a mostly mono-Lore Elrond deck, and a mostly Leadership Aragorn questing machine: we cleared the normal stage easily, but Bilbo was dead by round 3.

Custom-Building

We tackled it again with custom decks. The dwarves were out, the leadership and Lore decks were now properly mono (aside from Gandalf), no tactics Ents, Vilya, Elrond’s Counsel, no more Arwen. I built an entirely brand-new tactics deck in which no card (except Gandalf) cost more than 2, and it was mostly allies.

With a lot of damage and copious use of cards like Mighty Prowess to take out the goblin-swarm, we made it through – it was still a relatively close call, as we were losing our decks rapidly, and taking damage left, right and centre. We did at least manage to avoid losing more than one riddle. We were still very vulnerable though, particularly to the treachery that makes each player add a goblin to the staging area, and for our four-player assault on this quest, I added a mono-spirit deck, focused around cancelling hideous effects like this, and recycling cards with dwarven tomb and will of the west. If anything, this quest gets slightly easier with four, just because you already know that all the goblins are coming out, and you can cover all the bases, whilst remaining mono-sphere.

Difficulty

Thinking about the difficulty of this quest overall, I think it’s difficult at the best of times, and impossible when not. A “one deck to rule them all” is likely to see Bilbo get riddled full of holes, and regardless of how many players you have, I think it’s all going to be down to blind luck.

When you start to custom-build, the quest becomes possible, but it’s still a challenge. Crucially though, I think you start to see more nuance across player-numbers. Solo is harder because you’ll struggle to cover the bases mono-sphere, and are more susceptible to being overwhelmed with an untimely surge or two. Two or three player you start to be able to get on top of things, but the sheer number of cards you’ll be revealing (surge is almost guaranteed, as is the goblin-fetcher) make it hard to plan. Weirdly, at four it’s almost easier: the uncertainty has gone, as provided you’re prepared to throw half your deck on riddles, you can probably survive. That said, the fact that the Island in the Lake is now 8 threat, and at least one of your decks probably sucks at questing doesn’t help.

Ratings:

General Deck – Solo: 10, 2-player: 10, 3-player: 10, 4-player: 10

Custom-Build – Solo: 8, 2-player: 6, 3-player: 7, 4-player: 6

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