Category Archives: Play Session

The Tale of Years

 

Happy Birthday!

6 years ago today, on 20th April 2011, Fantasy Flight Games released something new – Lord of the Rings the Card Game – a Cooperative, Living Card Game.

Gandalf.jpg

The LCG model was one they had been using for a few years – fixed distributions of cards rather than randomised boosters gave players a clearer idea of what they were buying, and went a long way to mitigate the problem where the player who spent the most money on cards had the best deck.

AGoT1I had come across FFG via their Game of Thrones LCG which, in turn, I had encountered after reading the Song of Ice and Fire novels. When I first discovered AGoT LCG, my Board Gaming was probably limited to a small handful of games – Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers, but I had found my way into a local gaming group, and even to a magical place called Board Game Geek.

I played Game of Thrones for a while – on a good day I wasn’t too bad at it, and made the cut in a few tournaments. Other times I failed dismally: there was no local play group, and whilst I subjected my wife (a big fan of the books) to many sessions of it, she was never interested in deck-building, and the games quickly became pointless and 1-sided as I knew every card in her deck, and she had little sense of what mine was up to.

A Cooperative game then, had a big appeal: we didn’t need to worry about it being too one-sided, and the fact that it was Lord of the Rings themed was a massive positive as well: Tolkien was one of my wife’s favourite authors (I think it was around this time that she introduced me to the Silmarillion), and this was a game that seemed to drip with theme.

 

The First Age

LotR CorePretty much on the day it came out, I went to fetch my first copy of Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game (tbh, I don’t remember the exact date, but 20th April is the date on the release article) – once we got past a few early mistakes (engaged enemies don’t contribute threat to the staging area, apparently!) it was a massive hit. We played the core scenarios to death, and picked up every expansion going – various friends were introduced to the game, and 2 or 3 played it dozens of times with us. We have successfully completed every single scenario in the first 3 cycles and all the Hobbit Sagas in all 4 player counts

In the early days I was very active on the FFG Forums. As time went on I discovered Podcasts about the game – first Cardboard of the Rings, and then the Grey Company. I designed my own custom cards for the game, discovered blogs, and even leant a bit of a hand to a guy who was putting together an entire custom expansion for the First Age.

By this time, I was heavily involved in the game and the community, and it was most of what we played, most of the time. When Cardboard of the Rings announced that they had a slot opening up for a new co-host, I was very excited about the chance to get involved…

About 2 emails later, I realised that joining us North-American Podcast from the UK would involve a lot of staying up until the small hours of the morning, and wasn’t going to be practical – I didn’t even bother submitting my audition. Instead, I decided to do the next best thing – I started my own Blog.

 

Reports from the Land of Bow and Helm

Dor Cuarthol launched in January 2014. I wanted Turin Turambar but that was already taken (Along with a few variations on it), so I opted for the Land of Bow and Helm, the place where Turin and Beleg lived for a while, harassing the forces of Morgoth.

The_Land_of_Bow_and_Helm

In February 2014 I started producing my first articles, and covered a fair range of topics over the first few years: lots about the Lore (why are all the Elves “Silvan” or Noldor” when most of them shouldn’t be?) a bit about deck-building (why bother with other readying effects when Unexpected Courage is so good) and, particularly in the early days, lots of custom card creations.

Over time, the blog seemed to collect a good following, no doubt thanks to Dan, and Ian at Hall of Beorn, and Tales from the Cards respectively who put links to this hidden corner of Middle Earth in their side-bars. Most people read in silence, but there were a few who commented, plenty of encouragement, and some responses to the hypothetical questions posed.

 

The Waning of the Age

Hill-Troll As I mentioned at the start, today is Lord of the Rings LCG’s 6th Birthday. The game has come a long way from the days of mono-sphere, 30-card decks when we could imagine nothing more terrifying than a Hill Troll. Where once there were only 12 heroes, now there are 80! (plus a handful of Bilbos, Frodos and Aragorns in the Baggins or Fellowship Spheres [it’s not a sphere!]) Beyond the heroes themselves, the possibilities for card combinations in decks is beyond calculation. The same character may appear multiple times, in multiple different guises (although only 1 of them can be in play at a time…)

It’s not just the player cards that have changed. Quests of today are very different from Passage Through Mirkwood or Journey Along the Anduin. The number of quests has grown just as the number of Heroes has, and today there are countless new keywords and mechanics to put a different spin on your adventures in Middle Earth.

Some things have definitely changed for the better: each Deluxe + Cycle of Adventure Packs now follows a far clearer and coherent narrative, with a story being told in the inserts. Encounter decks are generally leaner with far fewer generic, multi-purpose cards padding things out, making for a much less random experience.

 

Diminished

From my perspective though, there are also things that have changed for the worse. The difficulty of the game has ramped up significantly, and the stats on basic locations or enemies are a far cry from the early days.

It’s also clearer than ever that there is no One Deck To Rule Them All – whilst a good pair of decks could probably get you through the Core Box and all the Mirkwood cycle (aside from Rhosgobel, possibly) performing the same feat in a recent cycle would be far more impractical. Whilst this is good for players who like a puzzle to crack, it makes the game far less accessible – meeting up for a multiplayer game becomes an exercise in defeat, unless you can coordinate decks in advance. Even just playing at home, I need to decide whether I have my decks built ready for solo play, games with 2, or larger 3 or 4 player games – long gone are the days when someone could just suggest a game of LotR, and I could grab up 4 decks, knowing that we would have a good chance at, if not winning, at least having some fun.

Whilst having more cards is a good thing for a deck-builder, the card pool these days feels bloated – too many cards that are binder-fodder because other cards weren’t balanced with the benefit of prophecy. The fact that early player cards were over-powered, has brought a reaction in too much that is “immune to player card effects” – in recent releases the designers have been quite canny in finding ways around this, but the overall problem still remains.

The release of the Arkham Horror LCG last year brought into focus for me just how aged LotR LCG feels these days. Locations in Arkham – a separate set of cards, entirely distinct from the more focused deck of Treacheries and Enemies – show what LotR might have been with the benefit of hindsight. However, for me, the attempts in the Dreamchaser cycle to move towards this sort of system for LotR didn’t work either- there was just too much of a legacy of player cards designed to deal with locations randomly churned out by an encounter deck to make the switch.

Map

Both Arkham and the 2nd Edition of Game of Thrones have featured cards released very early in the game’s life with built-in restrictions and balances to pre-empt broken combos long before they start. Fantasy Flight’s LCG design team have clearly learnt a lot in 6 years, but not all of it can be used to the benefit of Lord of the Rings

 

Beyond the Horizon

The last 6 years has also brought a lot of changes to the world of Board Gaming at large. Even as someone who likes to keep fairly well up on the state of the hobby, I can’t claim to be in a position to offer an exhaustive view of this, but I can at least give a few personal insights.

From a personal perspective I can look at the games I have played recently: of the 15 games I have played the most times this year (6 sessions plus), only 2 (Zombie Dice and Race for the Galaxy) even existed when LotR LCG was released. Similarly if I look back at the games I’ve played more than 20 times since Christmas 2014, only Mapominoes and Dominion get added to that list. All of those are games that are feeling their age, and by-and-large, new is the future.

 

DoomBox As I look to the future, my feeling is that the direction of LotR is not particularly likely to recapture my imagination: the recent announcement of the final Saga pack hit all the wrong notes for me, with Yet Another Frodo, Yet Another Aragorn, Doom going up to 100, and more Epic Multiplayer mode –I’m not wanting to say that these things are inherently bad (I really liked the 1 game of Epic Anuminas I played, but realistically, getting that many people together is unlikely to happen often), and I’m sure many people were very excited by the announcement, but for me this game falters when it tries to go too big. I’ve been much more excited in the past fortnight by the announcement of the next Deluxe for Arkham, and for the absolutely gorgeous Legend of the Five Rings.

It feels to me like this game has more-or-less run its course. I could definitely see an argument for a second edition but, honestly, they’d have to pull something fairly spectacular out of the hat to convince me to buy it.

 

Going Into the West

I still love Lord of the Rings the Card game, and it’s almost certainly the game I’ve played most over the course of my life, and it’s still a game I play a lot – but these days that’s a couple of plays a month, rather than 3 or 4 a week. I’ll finish the current cycle of APs and get the final Saga box for completeness sake, but I’m not sure whether I’ll keep buying after that – I’ve got enough from recent months that hasn’t been played at all, and plenty from before that which has been played, but has plenty of scope to be revisited. Even if I never bought another LotR LCG product again, I’ve got enough cards to last me for years.

 

RelaxedNed As most people probably guessed from my last post, I became a father in February. Gaming time is more limited these days – Ned can’t really manage peekaboo yet, so I think LotR will be beyond him for a few years, and blogging time is harder to find as well. Lord of the Rings is already competing against Arkham, Zombicide, Pathfinder, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Marvel Legendary, Destiny, Dice Masters, and Mansions of Madness to name but a few, even before I decide whether to get into Runewars, Gloomhaven or Legend of the Five Rings. Honestly I can’t see myself getting back to a position any time soon where I’m spending enough time on Lord of the Rings to warrant writing a blog about it.

I’m not going to take Dor Cuarthol down, but I don’t anticipate writing much more here any time soon. If you’re interested in my thoughts on gaming in general, then I’d recommend following my newer, more general blog, Fistful of Meeples – it’s also quite quiet right now, but I generally manage to post at least one article a month. Maybe in time I’ll even post a Lord of the Rings article or 2 there.

 

Thanks again to everyone who has read over the past 3 years. I wish you many more hours of happy gaming.

 

This is the END.

I am going.

I am leaving NOW.

GOOD-BYE!

 

Decks of Autumn: The Old and the New

Denethor and Sons Revisited

Back in August, I shared that I had been attempting a tri-sphere Gondor deck that would make use of the talents of Denethor and his sons.

After a few early attempts, and a little bit of tweaking, this became my first ever deck to be posted onto Rings DB.

I only got 1 response to it, but it was a response that at least offered some good thoughts: the original version (which can be found here), was trying to do too many things, with a kitted-out Boromir comfortably able to take care of combat, alongside a good number of tactics allies that were duplicating the same job.

visionaryIt also struggled with questing, and threat –as I had Lore in there, there was the suggestion to just take a load of Ents, but I was trying to keep things thematic, so I opted instead for a string of cheap allies (Errand Riders, Squires of the Citadel, Envoys of Pelagir) and upping the quantity of Visionary Leadership in the deck.

This does still feel like a deck where Faramir has little chance to show his quality – threat control is a big part of that: you start at 30, and Boromir crashing around making noise leaves little opportunity for little brother to surprise enemies from the shadows. I did decide to add a copy of Wingfoot to the deck, which would allow Faramir to quest and aid in combat, and obviously action advantage is key to getting value out of a hero with such rounded stats. If this deck is still around when Race Across Harad is released, then a Steed of the North for Faramir feels like another good option.

healersI still think that this deck needs to be paired with something relatively heavy on Threat reduction (ideally a Galadriel deck that can use Elrond’s counsel to keep its own threat in line, and play Galadhrim’s Greetings / just use Galdriel’s power on the Gondorians.)

Getting this back to the table for more testing and then back again to Rings DB for feedback was a little challenging (all whilst trying to keep up the fortnightly publication rate). The current version on Rings DB has already been superseded with the release of Storm on Coba’s Haven, as I add in a couple of copies of Knife-Work, and one of The Houses of Healing (I still can’t decide on Ioreth), but I’m fairly happy with it, even if it has flown under the radar there.

 

Damage, Directly

I also built a direct damage deck. Direct damage has been around since the very dawn of the game, thanks to cards like Thalin and the Gondorian Spearman, and it’s often been something I’ve tried to make work, albeit with mixed levels of success. The inspiration for this particular deck was listening to the guys on Cardboard of the Rings raving about Argalad – he was a hero who I’d not paid that much attention to when he was first released, but the sheer level of enthusiasm they had made me take another look.

For those not familiar with him, Argalad is an elf who first appeared in FFG’s Middle Earth Quest, the game which brought us Thalin, Eleanor and Beravor. He entered the LCG mid-way through the Dreamchaser cycle, a Lore Hero with the Silvan, and Scout traits, 2 willpower, 2 attack, 1 defence, 4 hit-points, the Ranged Keyword, and the following rather unusual ability:

Action: exhaust Argalad to choose an enemy in the staging area. Until the end of the phase, that enemy gets –X Threat, where X is Argalad’s current attack. If this effect reduces the enemy’s Threat to 0, deal 1 damage to it (limit once per round).

argaladThis is pretty impressive: with 2 attack and 2 willpower, his enemy threat-reduction is just as powerful as his questing (provided you have an enemy in the staging area to target), and with low-threat enemies, he and Thalin together mean that you’re dealing 2 damage to an enemy the round it’s revealed. Given how many enemies there are these days with stupidly high defence values, being able to bypass that and go straight to hit-points is a big deal.

Obviously, to make full use of Argalad’s ability, you’ll need to find ways of boosting his attack, and it is disappointing to realise just how few attack boosts are out there that give you an unconditional increase in your stat: Rivendell Bow, Blade of Gondolin, Bow of the Galadhrim, and Dagger of Westernesse are all at their most powerful during an attack, which means that they have reduced effectiveness for this kind of ability.

spearsTo build a direct-damage deck, I started with Thalin and Argalad. A lot of the cards which followed were fairly self-selecting: Expecting Mischief, Goblin-Cleaver, 3 Spears of the Citadel, 3 Gondorian Spearmen, a few other tricks like Hail of Stones and Rain of Arrows.

To round things out, I added some quick strikes for those enemies which were close to death but wouldn’t quite be destroyed in defence, and some Ents to make up for a woeful shortfall in the questing department.

 

Quests of Christmas Past

For a first run-out, I took this into Khazad-Dum: Goblin-busting is definitely an ideal task for this deck, and I managed to fairly comfortably deal with all the enemies, although questing was a real pain (you know there’s something wrong when the new guy who only owns the Mirkwood cycle and has brought a mono-tactics deck is carrying the brunt of the questing).

gondoriansAs a note on the 3rd hero, this deck tends to go two ways, depending on the number of players and the quest. I started with Beregond, who can take a Spear of the Citadel for Free, and if you manage to give him a Gondorian Shield as well, can comfortably tank attacks from most enemies. Sadly, Beregond is a bit of a 1-trick pony, and in a quest without those big hitters, a more rounded option like Mablung is probably better: he still blocks for 4 with a shield on him, and provides some resource acceleration (making him a good target for a song of wisdom), and a questing option once your allies are set-up (the Mablung iteration also includes Wingfoot to try and find some action advantage.

For future runs, I was keen to explore other uses for this deck. At our FLGS meet-up the other day, my wife was using my Denethor and Sons deck, and ran into the sad situation of having Boromir’s attack and defence reduced to zero by a tentacle, which was something of a problem.

The direct damage deck generally tries to avoid having to do too much attacking, or having too many enemy attacks finish resolving, so it’s a nice way round forced effects. Watcher in the water in particular sees all those 3 hit-point tentacles turned into Calamari by a deck like this.

And Now…

As much fun as it is to go back to the Dwarrowdelf cycle and stomp all over the quests, there comes a point where you need to question the ability of a deck to hold its own in a more modern environment: what works on a Goblin may not be so effective against a massive Uruk-Hai Warband.

That said, as I noted above, defence has grown as well as hit-points, so I felt that there was still a place for this deck. Knowing that there are a decent number of Corsairs who only have 2 or 3 hit-points (as well as those which have 4 or 5), I decided that they would be the first ‘modern’ challenge for this.

tentaclesWe managed to beat Thing in the Depths using this deck (Beregond version) alongside the Denethor and Sons deck – the second half of Thing in the Depths feels a lot like an updated version of Watcher in the Water, and Argalad and co performed admirably. I’m still a little way behind on the Dreamchaser cycle more generally, so I may carry on with these two as we try to catch-up.

Once again, I’ve posted the deck to Rings DB. It seems to have passed unnoticed by the community there (I’m sure there are better Direct Damage decks out there), but it’s a nice way of recording it for posterity.

The Future?

I had somehow gotten into my head that Prince Imrahil would be arriving in Storm on Coba’s Haven, so was slightly surprised when I picked it up yesterday, and found Na’asiyah instead. I still haven’t quite figured out the best use for her, but overall, I’m just happy to be back building plenty of decks and actually testing them out against quests.

Doom

And he passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol, even as she had foretold; for a great Doom lay upon hm. – The Silmarillion

Doom5Particularly in his tales of the first Age, Tolkien seems to have held a fascination with Doom – great yet dark fates which awaited some of the mightiest figures of his Lore, and which could not be prevented by human hands.

The LotR LCG does not buy in to fated outcomes quite so readily – there is nothing your characters can do to change the fate of Lord Alcaron or of Iarion, but success or failure in a quest (well failure, at least) remains in your hand.

Doom in the card game is, rather, a question of threat. A card with the “Doomed” Keyword increases the threat of every player at the table – an untimely dose of Doom from the Encounter deck could see your threat rise in sudden and unexpected ways – that enemy you thought you could leave in the staging area might be coming to get you, that benefit you were getting from something have an engagement level higher than your threat could vanish, or you might find that secrecy card suddenly far too expensive to play. In a worst-case scenario, it could take you beyond 50 and see you eliminated from the game altogether. It often sits as a stinger on treachery cards, so that even if the particular “When Revealed” effect doesn’t trigger on that occasion, there is still punishment to be faced.

 

There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then let him beware! – Aragorn, Fellowship of the Ring

The Doom we carry inside

Gandalf Doom on Encounter cards has been with us since the days of the Core set, and has never really gone away. Everybody hates it, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Player card Doom is rather different.

There was one card way back in the days of the Core Set which could put people’s threat up – the Wandering Took, and there were a few Heroes early on that could boost it, specifically Tactics Boromir and Spirit Glorfindel. However, aside from the Wandering Took, these cards only ever raised the threat of the player controlling them, and given that they are probably the two heroes most often accused of being broken/over-powered, it clearly wasn’t a major issue, provided you knew how to build around things. The Gandalf from the Hobbit box was another example of a high-impact card, but with an added threat-cost to the controlling player.

Grima Then, in the Voice of Isengard, we started to get player cards which actually had the Doomed keyword printed on them. Effects much more powerful that you would normally expect to see on a player card of that cost, but which pushed players’ threat way up. I played around with this for a bit –there was a deck I built using Theodred, Lore-Aragorn and Grima, which could regularly get Hobbit Gandalf out on turn 1, and hit things hard from the get-go, before resetting threat on about turn 3 as it had already hit the high forties. It was fun enough in solo, but very-much a 1-trick pony which made all quests feel very similar if you survived, and which would die to certain quests that it just didn’t have the tools to deal with (i.e. anything which it couldn’t just hit in a high-aggro fashion.) It was an interesting diversion, but not really something which was going to keep its place in my decks.

That was it for a long time – I never really thought about Doomed player cards that much again. Until the rise of Rings DB. Judging by the cards I run into there, a lot of people are still using Doom, particularly for resource acceleration and card-draw (not so much love for Grima).

DeepLegacy Back just before Easter, when I was still playing the game quite a bit, but growing very frustrated in the process, I turned up at a game night at the FLGS with Seastan’s 2-handed Boromir deck. I had read the assertions that this could not only beat any current quest in 2-player, but also handle it with a 3rd player’s worth of cards coming off the Encounter deck, and built it. What I hadn’t done, I realised, was play-test it, or think at all about how it would go down at the table.

When we meet up for games at the FLGS, there’s a good chance someone will be playing Hobbits. Back then, I think it was mostly the Black Riders 3, although these days it’s more likely to be Spirit Merry.

Either way, however much I might want 2 extra cards, and a resource for every hero, it turns out that the Hobbit player doesn’t generally want you raising his threat by 5 on turn 1, especially if you do that before he gets a chance to play his resourceful.

That particular evening was a disaster on any number of levels (as a consolation, we did manage to escape from Tharbad), and I soon dismantled those decks for big-group play, but it left me with this lingering question: when is it ok to play Doomed?

 

Friends don’t let Friends do Doom

God_doom

Lots of decks I’ve looked at on RingsDB have had Doomed cards in them – Deep Knowledge seems to be the most common, followed by Legacy of Numenor, with a smattering of the other options. In real life, I’ve only ever really seen cards of this ilk hit the table in the form of allies that carry optional Doom.

HobbitTroll

Yes, that IS a lot of money, but it’s not going to make up for Sam getting killed on turn 1…

Broadly speaking, games of LotR I play fall into 2 categories – the ones where I build all the decks, and the ones where a variety of people turn up to play. For the first category, it’s not too bad – if I’m putting in Doom, I just need to make sure that the other decks can handle it, as well as paying attention to the quest: If everyone’s carefully balanced their deck for a starting threat of 28 on Journey Along the Anduin, then nudging everyone up into Hill Troll territory is probably a bad idea.

 

For “public” games though, it’s trickier. Is it ever ok to just turn up with Doomed? If you do, then you need to ask the question of what happens if you do have a player reliant upon low-threat, and your deck has been built so that it only really functions with those extra effects. I’m fairly certain that there’s absolutely nothing another player can do to stop you, if you insist on playing the card, but it could still very easily come back to bite you later on – for example when you need them to optionally engage an enemy, or do a spot of sentinel defending for you…

 

Final Thoughts

I think for me, the final position has to be that I just won’t play Doomed out in public – and by extension, I’m unlikely to play it at home, unless I’m custom building for true solo. All things considered, not doing it in public just feels like the most civil option, the one in keeping with the spirit of Fellowship (not doing it at home is just a matter of being too lazy to re-build decks all the time). That said, it feels a shame to have an entire sub-section of player cards, even if it is only a small one, out-of-bounds, simply because it might cause issues.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think on this? What approach do you take to using Doomed cards, particularly in decks that might be for pick-up games – do you tend to steer well clear? Or throw them in anyway? Have you encountered much resistance, or are people generally happy to get the cards/resources?

Of Battles Lost and Won

This year I’ve played the Lord of the Rings LCG about 25 times. As it’s only mid-February, that doesn’t sound like a bad total at all.

However, three quarters of those games came in a single 48-hour period, against a single scenario, after which the game didn’t make it out of the box in a fortnight, and I’m fairly sure I know why.

CarnDumThe Battle of Carn Dum was the penultimate adventure in the Angmar Awakened cycle, and it saw the heroes trying to fight their way past a literal army of Undead, Orcs and other nasties, in order to rescue their friend Iarion who was trapped inside: It combined epic-scale combat with a big-boss showdown.

In the life of this game, there have been many quests, but this one is far and away the most difficult that I’ve played (I haven’t played the Nightmare versions from Voice of Isengard onwards).

A lot of quests in this game are difficult – the numbers are high, and you need to amass a lot of stuff to deal with it. A lot (and this seems to be a growing trend) require you to custom-build your deck. Others skew significantly against particular player-counts: some are straightforward in solo mode but impossible in large groups, others practically require you to have a large group.

Carn Dum is different, it seems at first glance like you can approach it with groups of any size, and of any deck-type, and still get stomped. We’ve tried and failed this with Boromir decks, and Erestor Decks. Black Ridders Secrecy Hobbits, and Dain’s Dwarf Swarm. Dunedain Engagement tricks and Rohan questing surge. None have got us anywhere.

On one particular 3-player game, I had the Perfect start for my dwarf deck (Dain, Thorin, Ori) I had the 1-cost Lore ally in my opening hand, along with We Are Not Idle, Fili (or Kili – the Purple one…), and A Very Good Tale – by the end of turn-1 planning, I had 5 allies out, and we looked destined to bring the encounter deck to its knees with sheer weight of numbers… …until a Shadow card increased an attack by the number of allies I controlled, Dain died, and everything fell to pieces.

The Highlights

The problem with this quest is that it has everything:

  • High Threat Enemies and Locations – check
  • Destructive Treacheries – check
  • Surge – check
  • Shadows which make attacks worse – check
  • Shadows which throw out extra enemies – check
  • A Big Boss enemy who can kill most heroes in a single swipe – check
  • Intermittent Battle and Willpower questing – check
  • Effects which increase the threat in the staging area – check
  • Really high percentage of cards with Shadow Effects – check

If you take a small party against this, the threat is overwhelming (you have a minimum of 6 threat, Battle-Questing on turn 1, and probably need to fight at least one enemy). If you go with a bigger group, you remove any real chance of avoiding the particularly nasty cards that can end you in one turn.

Crunching some Numbers

To analyse it a bit more closely, you have a 48-card encounter deck, on which 9 cards have surge, and a further 3 have either conditional surge, or a surge-like effect, meaning that roughly one card in three will generate extra.

Orc-GruntsThere are 18 enemies – if you ignore the fairly small “Orc grunts” (on the basis that they have surge, and will be additional to whatever else you’ve encountered) no enemy has a defence/hit points total of less than 6, and some have significantly more. Most have high attack – several 4s and 5s, along with high threats that make it problematic to leave things lying around in the staging area. The side quest that gives all Orc enemies +1 Attack, Defence and Threat is basically a game-ender.

Where the Shadows Lie

Where this quests gets particularly brutal though, is with the Shadows. 38 of the 48 cards have a Shadow effect, and game mechanics make it quite likely that an enemy will have two or more shadow cards when you fight it. These shadow effects can increase the enemy’s attack, or make it attack again, meaning that even your stoutest defender can suddenly find themselves in trouble.

It’s also worth noting that most of the anti-shadow tech players have at their disposal is in Spirit or Lore, whereas the big defenders are in tactics or Leadership. (Anti-Shadow effects like Balin or Erkenbrand just won’t work in this quest, as the killer shadows are way too common).

thaurdir_captainWhilst all this is going on, you will also face a constant battle with threat: there are treacheries, shadows, and locations all of which can ramp your threat rapidly, not to mention the difficulty of breaking even on (Battle) questing in the early rounds.

 

All of this, of course, is just dealing with the generic cards of the encounter set. Thaurdir, the unique boss enemy of the quest starts at 6 attack, and may pounce on you at any moment.

 

Going Solo

After getting smashed in a variety of different ways by this, I set myself the task one weekend in January of beating this.

I tried a few of my own decks, and posted an appeal on BoardGameGeek for someone who had actually beaten this. There were a few suggestions which I built and tried out.

the-long-defeat

This card was much too apt for my liking…

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and one strategy I saw appealed to my inner Pippin: as this quest prevents unresolved Shadow-cards from being discarded at the end of the turn, try to get as many cards as possible turned into unresolved Shadows, and eventually the encounter deck will mill itself out. Aside from this far-distant goal, it also allows you to trigger various Dunedain effects like Amarthiul’s extra resource and Tactics icon, as well as the cost reduction and character readying abilities of some of the other recent cards. Knowing that you’re going to be resetting, you also take cards like Deep Knowledge to ensure you see the key pieces early enough

Using Lore Aragorn, Damrod and Amarthiul, you eat threat in the early rounds whilst you set up, then reset. Damrod guarantees you can afford a Forest Snare each round, whilst Amarthiul takes Steward of Gondor to become a mega-defender with Gondorian shield.

After a few false-starts (i.e. violent deaths), It was going well it was going well until I reached stage 2, which read “When Revealed: raise each player’s threat by X where X is the number of shadow cards in play. X was 23 (no Laura Kinney reference intended), and I was dead.

favor-of-the-valarI tried again with Favour of the Valar and a Test of Will thrown into the deck (relying on Aragron getting Celebrian’s Stone to play this, there was no point running 3 of). Again there were failed runs, and violent deaths. I finally got into stage 2 without threating out, but Thaurdir was laying waste to my allies, and I couldn’t get the bodies required to quest through. Finally, the Accursed Battleground re-appeared, allowing me to move back to Battle-questing. Amarthiul had Gondorian Fire and a whole stack of resources, and was able to heave us over the line.

So after nearly 20 attempts, I finally had a victory in solo.

What of the Fellowship?

The question though, was how to tackle this in multi-player? All the suggested approaches I had seen – this trapping tactic, a build centred around Frodo with Sentinel, Song of Wisdom (to allow him to have Burning Brand), Fast Hitch, Burning Brand and numerous other accessories – all relied on resetting your threat with Aragorn – fine for a single player, but much more problematic as a group.

I pondered this for a while: Decks lay gathering dust whilst I sank into dark gloom. And some things that should not have been forgotten, were lost. History became legend, legend became myth, and for two-and-a-half weeks, the Battle was forgotten.

 

GreyHavensAt length, spurred to action by Facebook angrily reminding me that it had been a while since I posted anything, and by the realisation that the new deluxe would be arriving next week, I dusted that cards off once more and rebuilt. I took the Burning Frodo deck that had been posted on BGG, and combined it with a Boromir, Glorfindel and Galadriel deck, designed to make maximum use of Boromir’s re-readying (hopefully balanced by Galadriel and Elrond’s Counsel) with Eagle-y support. I took as much “When revealed” cancellation as possible, but Shadows were still a major issue (I decided not to bother trying to pull off the Song of Travel on Boromir / Shadows Give Way combo, as Galadriel alone isn’t enough card-draw).

The first few attempts went the same old way – death, destruction and despair. Threat, swarming by enemies, a single knock-out blow, or good old-fashioned location lock all undid us in the early rounds.

Finally we got a bit of luck – Frodo managed to assemble his full collection of attachments: Steward of Gondor, Song of Wisdom, Burning Brand, Hobbit Cloak, Dunedain Warning, Gondorian Shield and triple Fast-Hitch. Combined with ally Arwen (obviously it took us a few rounds to reach this point) this enabled him to defend 3 or 4 times a turn anywhere on the table, without having to worry about the shadow cards.

Even then, this was only possible thanks to a fair slice of luck. My wife was playing the Boromir deck, and managed to get several Vassals of the Windlord to cover gaps during the early rounds of Battle-Questing, and once we had Asfaloth and a Northern Tracker in play, we were able to avoid the nastiest of the Active Location / Travel effects. The fact that Glorfindel had Light of Valinor and a Rivendell Blade can’t be underestimated either, and at least one of the early enemies was only dispatched thanks to a timely appearance from Fair and Perilous.

So eventually, battered and bruised, we staggered across the finish line. It had taken something like a dozen or more rounds of play, and we were exhausted.

 

After the Battle

Beating a quest – especially one that has been putting up a major fight, should come with a decent sense of triumph, or at least achievement. This didn’t it was simply relief that this could go back in its box, and stay there untouched for a long while to come.

MountGramThere are two quests in this past cycle that I’ve really played a lot. The first was Escape From Mount Gram, which is generally reckoned to be one of the easier quests in some respects, although it certainly poses a lot of unique challenges. It was also the most fun quest I can remember playing in a long time, and there are lots of other decks, combinations, and player-counts where I look forward to trying it out as soon as I get the time.

The second quest was this one, Carn Dum, which (as mentioned above) I believe to be the most difficult quest yet for the game. I played it a lot because I got fixated on beating it, and now I have. But at no point was it ever fun: we played with a resigned sense of impending doom, and the chances are that we made mistakes whilst playing, which could have prevented the win. I don’t care. This quest is going away now, and if I never see it again, I won’t be sorry.

The new cycle for this game will be here in a few days. I know there will be new mechanics, lots of ships, and more Noldor draw-and-discard shenanigans. I just hope the difficulty is pitched more sensibly so that we can actually get back to enjoying things.