Quote

"There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark." - Aragorn,The Two Towers

Monday, January 9, 2017

Print on Demand 5: Fog on the Barrow-downs


Victory on the Third Attempt!

The Recap

After a peaceful round in the house of Tom Bombadil, Fog on the Barrow-downs has your heroes travel within sight of the Hollow Circle. This piece, despite being set in broad daylight, gives off a sinister feel and seems like something out of a colorized Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Maybe it's the muted tones. Maybe it's the birds for scale.

So there are thematic hits in the fifth Print-on-Demand* pack, but there are also slight misses when it comes to the wights themselves. I say "slight," because it does not feel thematic to be facing powerful wights right off the bat but we do not know what Sam, Merry, and Pippin faced when it came to the wights. Were they attacked directly? Were they lulled to sleep and then entombed? We meet them in the story after the fact and the only bit of wight we see is an arm. So as a direct relation of the novel there is a miss, but as a plausible "what if" there is no thematic issue. And I'm unsure about the strength of the wights, who are powerful and feared but basically keep to themselves. Enemy power vs. hero power is an issue that often comes up for me. Strong enemies do force players to put a lot of thought behind their deck and their decisions, which is a plus. 

*Note: I did not title this Fellowship 2014 simply because I was not able to attend that event. Thus this is either A) A passive sign of protest and resentment or B) The result of the fact that I simply have nothing to say about the event itself. 

Now a note on strategy. My second attempt was pretty close to a victory but repeated visits to Stage 4 stalled me out and allowed the high number of threat-increasing effects in this quest to do me in. While your deck may not be able to deal with revealing a Great Barrow during the quest stage, you can hold off the start of that chain by avoiding travel to the Standing Stones until you have 16 quest points on stage 3. This will greatly increase you chances of only 1-2 trips to stage 4.

Fog on the Barrow-downs is tough. This is to be expected for a Fellowship quest. Community gatherings such as GenCon and Fellowship events are going to attract a higher concentration of established players and those players are likely going to bring strong decks. This is not a pack to pick up if you are a casual player looking for a quest to try out a quirky deck idea. If you are looking for strong, but not crushing, challenge then you are looking in the right place.

Final Scoring
9 Completed Rounds x10: 90
Ending Threat:44
Total Damage on Heroes: 0
Threat of Defeated Heroes: 0
Victory Display: -12
Total Score: 122

Campaign Resolution
Boon: Ho! Tom Bombadil! (added to hand)

Previous Campaign Resolutions
Boon: Mr. Underhill attached to Frodo Baggins
Boon: Old Bogey-stories (added to hand)
Burden: Gandalf's Delay added to staging area


The Deck

Sometimes I'm happy with my deckbuilding skills and other times not so much. Part of the blame is not taking the time to dive into the wider community. People have been brewing up powerful decks for LotR since the game's inception and there are some fun interactions and combos I have been missing out on. Fog on the Barrow-downs seemed like a good starting point for exploring a few highly-rated decks.

The goal this time around was to stick with my campaign heroes of Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Looking at the RingsDB Hall of Fame, the second option on the list met what I was looking for: Sting Like a Bee by Tales from the Cards. At its heart, this deck is a pretty straightforward Black Riders hobbit build. The path taken here is to get out large allies ASAP while keeping a low threat. My only additions were my campaign boons & burden, along with Frodo Baggins (Land of Shadow).

In hindsight, this is a great deck but not the right one for this quest. Fog on the Barrow-downs is not friendly to amassing allies nor keeping a low threat. I realized this after my first attempt with the deck an was considering switching to Beorn's For the Shire! to get much-desired access to the spirit sphere. Threat reduction and Thror's Key would have been fantastic! I also considered adding in a little more card draw via Rod of the Steward or Frodo's Intuition. But I ultimately figured it was worth it to give the #2 another shot and I ended up walking away with a victory.

Sting Like a Bee is indeed a well-tuned take on the hobbit deck. Worth taking for a spin when you want to leave the Shire and hit the road.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Side Quest: Arkham Horror

Departing the realm of Middle-earth, I took a detour tonight into the world of H.P. Lovcraft's Cuthulu Mythos. Even before it's release, Arkham Horror: The Card Game was receiving positive press and speculation that it heralded the downfall of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. The same designer (Nate French, along with Matthew Newman this time) took five years of lessons and combined them with a theme that is arguably more popular these days with the gaming crowd (at least publishers seem to think so). Now that is has been released, the word on the street is that Arkham Horror is indeed a strong contender for the title of best cooperative living card game published by Fantasy Flight Games.



My first impression? This is a fantastic game. The art does not appeal to me as much as LotR, and it has been years since I was into Lovecraft, but the gameplay itself was highly enjoyable. The designers directly state that they are looking to bring an RPG feel to the table and they succeeded. While not an open-world game, you are responsible for decisions that will not only impact the success or failure of the scenario but what that success or failure looks like. I found myself deciding between achieving a beneficial task or holding insanity at bay for my investigator. Either choice seemed positive and I had no idea which would have the bigger impact on future scenarios. That was exciting and refreshing: Having a list of available options that color the outcome of the quest instead of simply leading to a clean victory or defeat. Another positive was that the start deck I used was actually usable and able to defeat the introductory scenario (a sore point with LotR's own core set that frustrates 10/10 new players).

So has Lord of the Rings: the Card Game been made obsolete? No. I am not the first to state this, but Arkham and LotR are both very different types of games and neither should directly replace the other. Arkham does show lessons FFG has learned in designing living card game which would be great to see retroactively implemented in LotR. In fact, as has also been pointed out by others, you can see how different elements of Arkham were tested out in LotR over the past year (such as the travel mechanic of Temple of the Deceived and the how the ability on Galdor of the Havens is almost identical to the standard mulligan rule in Arkham). The basic fact in favor of LotR's continued existence is that, from what we hear, it is still making FFQ cold, hard cash. What I do think Arkham brings to the surface is the need for an LotR reboot. Five years of lessons can be used to make a smoother, more immersive experience. A way can be found to encourage more frequet social play (if not on a competitive front). And a re-boot allows new players an entry point into a game that has now grown very costly to complete.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Arkham Horror: The Card Game are both very welcome parts of my game collection. After I take time to discover the full Arkham core set, I have a feeling I will be quickly adding this to my LCG subscription and begin spending my game time hopping between the rich lands of Middle-earth and the mysteries of realms beyond.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fellowship 2016: The Siege of Annuminas

Victory on the fourth attempt!


11/11/16 @ The Wizard's Chest

For my first Fellowship Event this year, I headed down to The Wizard's Chest in Denver. The greater Denver area has a fairly consistent LotR scene, including a Friday meet up at the Wizard's Chest. Their attendance for last year's event went above and beyond the amount of kits they reserved (a problem they accounted for this year), so a good size group was likely this year. 15 players showed up, splitting into five different tables attempting the Standard Game Mode.

That's me in the (bottom right) corner, 
That's me in the camera glare
Loosing my ability to bounce elves



The Deck

My usual tendency is to go into a quest as fully blind as a I can. Being that this would be a multiplayer event with time for only a few attempts, I decided to take a few quick peeks and keep my ears open for community advice. The need for healing stood out so I started thinking along those lines. The interaction between Hero Elrond and Dunedain Remedy intrigued me and seemed to have a lot of possibility for multiplayer (spoiler: this was an all-star in both attempts). On a separate note, I had been playing with some Silvan bounce decks. It hit me that both archetypes could likely be merged, especially with Galadhrim Healer. Now I could bring the needed healing, but in what should be a fun shell that could  help with questing and (hopefully) taking out and enemy or two.

Silvan Bounce House of Healing

Heroes
Celeborn
Elrond (Shadow and Flame)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor's Secret)


Allies
Naith Guide x3
Orophin x1
Galadhrim Healer x3
Galadhrim Minstrel x3
Ioreth x1
Warden of Healing x2
Galadhrim Weaver x3
Defender of the Naith x2
Gandalf (Core) x2

Attachments
Dunedain Remedy x3
O Lorien! x2
A Burning Brand x1
Light of Valinor x1
Mirror of Galadriel x3
Unexpected Courage x1
Nenya x2

Events
A Very Good Tale x3
Feigned Voices x3
Sneak Attack x2
The Houses of Healing x1
The Tree People x3
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb x2
Fair and Perilous x2

RingsDB Link

Attempt #1

Knowing we were looking at over 12 people attending, I was hoping to get in a game of Epic Mode. How often are you going to have a chance to get 12 LotR players together at one time? But most tables were hesitant to take on what they anticipated would be a higher difficulty before they became familiar with the quest. I can understand and respect that. And if the Epic Mode is more intense than Standard Mode, we likely would not have had much of a chance. Our table barely got going on our first attempt before we threw in the towel. The main issue here were two decks misfiring, one of which was mine. Elves were very much not bouncing. I basically just contributed a Dunedain Remedy. We still gave it a valiant attempt, with one player defending just about everything the deck could throw at him. Once his defender bit the dust, that was our signal to re-start.

Attempt #2

Silvan's were firing on attempt two! Almost every round featured some level of elven shenanigans. In fact, everyone's decks seemed to be doing well. A little too well, actually. By decimating any enemies that showed their heads, we made traveling to the copies of Gate of Annuminas in the staging area impossible. Not a huge issue as long as enemies were decimated, but rough on the threat if we kept an enemy or two engaged and flipped a good number during the staging step. In the end, despite the strengths of our decks, threat is what did us in. The nice thing is we were able to handle any enemies the deck threw at us, which was satisfying. Once again, a very strong defender with action advantage was a crucial piece of the success we had (paired with other defenders and some strong attackers). But with that the event drew to a close and I barely had enough energy to drag my defeated bones back home.


11/29/16 @ Haunted Game Cafe

The Haunted Game Cafe up in Fort Collins, CO, is the store I began building my Lord of the Rings: the Card Game collection through. The very first LotR community event was a preview of The Hunt for Gollum which I played at Haunted Game Cafe back in the day. They then began a subscription service which is still going on. We were able to get three players together for another round of Standard Mode attempts!


The Deck

Healing was a definite need during the first two attempts. And we had some great success dispatching any enemies foolish enough to come across our path. But location lock was a problem, as were the unforgiving treacheries that popped up. My goal this time around was to focus on helping more with our location problems through questing and direct progress, while keeping the healing sub-theme and adding a few ways to deal with treachery cancellation. (Note: I totally missed that Halfing Bounder needed a completed side quest to trigger it's effect, but we actually had one towards the end of our winning trip, when the bounder did his best work).

Run

Heroes
Arwen Undomiel (The Dread Realm)
Eowyn (Core)
Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudar)

Allies
Ethir Swordsman x3
Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller) x1
Lorien Guide x1
Rhovanion Outrider x2
The Riddermark's Finest x3
Ghan-buri-Ghan x2
Ioreth x1
Ithilien Tracker x1
Quickbeam x1
Robin Smalburrow x2
Warden of Healing x3
Wellinghall Preserver x2
Treebeard x1

Attachments
Silver Harp x3
Thrors Key x3
Windfola x1
Asfaloth x1
Explorer's Almanac x3
Thror's Map x1

Events
A Test of Will x3
Strength of Will x3
Will of the Wext x3
Secret Paths x3
The Evening Star x3

Sets Used 
Core Set
The Hills of Emyn Muil
The Long Dark
Foundations of Stone
Over Hill and Under Hill
Heirs of Numenor
On the Doorstep
The Steward's Fear
The Antlered Crown
The Treason of Saruman
Across the Ettenmoors
The Treachery of Rhudar
The Dread Realm
The Grey Havens
Flight of the Stormcaller
The Drowned Ruins
The Flame of the West
Temple of the Deceived
A Storm on Cobas Haven

RingsDB Link

Attempt #3

The first couple of rounds honestly had a feeling of "Not again; this quest is brutal." I guess the previous attempts left a mark! But things started looking up rather quickly. While not giving the city any extra defense the first round, we were able to keep up with only modest threat increases and continued making our way through the quest. Questing was rough, though, even with my deck contributing 20-23 willpower for most of the final half (not amazing, but decent enough). What got us here was city damage. We seriously only needed 2-3 more strength on the city to have a victory in the bag. Rough to get so close and fail, yet encouraging that the end had been just within sight. Our evaluation was that we needed one deck to stay dedicated to attack & defense with the other two questing with as much power as they can.


Attempt #4

Taking our analysis from the last attempt, one player opted to bring a dwarven army to the table. This would likely help with our questing needs, but also be able to provide some strong attack if needed. We quested for all we were worth right off the bat, allowing us to get some needed strength onto the city. The rest of the attempt proceeded in a similar positive fashion to the third one. The quest tried to throw it's usual bag of tricks at us, but we usually had an answer (thank you, Halfing Bounder) or were able to suck up the effect. When we were towards the end of stage 3, I was waiting for that sudden turn of fate that would signal another defeat. But we ended up in a "Do you want to kill that guy or want me to kill him?" position of strength and attempt #4 ended in a sweet victory!




The Recap
 
The Siege of Annuminas does not pull any punches. You need to quest hard, but your questing heroes can easily be damaged. Enemies are either huge, small with downsides (attacking instantly or surging), or mid-size with archery. Or huge with archery. And taking care of enemies is good (and needed), but location lock is very real here. In a sense, most quests end up sounding the same ("The locations are tough! The enemies are tough! The stages are tough!") and it can be hard to capture the nuances that truly make one quest a breeze and another a nightmare. Anuminas is definitely the latter. As for solo play? That is going to go on the far back burner!

But what about the fellowship? Grabbing a few other players and tackling a beast of a quest, trying to work out the puzzle of victory, is always a blast. Without a lot of multiplayer opportunities in my world, Fellowship Events are a welcome addition to my life no matter how punishing the quest is.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Deckbuilding: Let's Use Spirit Pippin!

Three weeks ago I began a fantastic, brand new job that involves an hour-long commute each way.  It has been years since I last listened to Rob Ingles' amazing unabridged reading of The Lord of the Rings. The last time was on a road trip and I remember how enhanced the scenery around me seemed as I listened to Tolkien's rich descriptions of Middle-earth. My knowledge of the trilogy has grown a bit rusty since then and this new commute seemed like the perfect time to dive back into the world of hobbits and goblins.

And what better time to re-start my saga campaign? It was almost two years ago that I first began working through The Black Riders and, despite 5/6 saga boxes being out yet, I still have not finished the final quest of The Road Darkens. I won't spend a whole lot of time going over fresh attempts at quests I have already written up (nor will I really keep track of the number of attempts it takes), but I will put up the decklists and any memorable moments. I am still deciding how to break this up, but I will likely go through a saga box and then alternate with a deluxe expansion or a cycle. That should keep me making progress on getting caught up with the current releases while helping my campaign
stay exciting for me.

(P.S.- This was also a great time to begin listening to The Grey Company's book club, which I do on the drive home, and I highly recommend the series for those working through the books, the saga quests, or both).

A Shadow of the Past

My goal going into A Shadow of the Past was to be as thematic as possible. No Bill, no daggers, no Gandalf, no Merry. And this was to be a pure sprint, with our heroes having no time and no interest in taking on the Black Riders. So who to call on when you do not want to engage everyone? Who can help save the day when you fail a hide test? Who do I have a hard time coming up with situations where I would ever want to use him? That's right! His time is here!

Let's Use Spirit Pippin!

Heroes
Pippin (Encounter at Amon Din)
Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)
Frodo Baggins (The Land of Shadow)

Allies
Celduin Traveler x3
Elven Jewler x3
Escort from Edoras x3
Silvan Refugee x3
Farmir (Core) x3
Rivendell Scout x3

Attachments
Ancient Mathom x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Celebrian's Stone x3
Good Meal x3
Resourceful x3

Events 
Children of the Sea x2
Courage Awakened x2
Ride Them Down x2
Timely Aid x3
Frodo's Intuition x3
A Good Harvest x3
Hobbit-sense x3

Sets Used
Core
A Journey to Rhosgobel
The Redhorn Gate
The Watcher in the Water
The Steward's Fear
Th Druadan Forest
Encounter at Amon Din
The Black Riders
The Blood of Gondor
The Three Trials
Trouble in Tharbad
The Nin-in-Eilph
The Antlered Crown
Escape from Mount  Gram
The Land of Shadow

RingsDB Link

My first attempt with this deck was to build in all the hobbit shenanigans with Hobbit Pony (not the most thematic), Hobbit Pipe, Elevenses, and Smoke Rings. The goal was to portray our ill-equipped band strolling across the Shire and suddenly realizing their need to hide from the Black Riders. I also wanted to limit my allies to Noldor and a splash of Dunedain. It wasn't able to quite cut it, especially with 3-4 riders in the staging area. The next draft, above, featured some unthematic changes (Faramir, Celebrian's Stone, etc.) that still kept the general theme of the deck going and made it actually able to compete against the quest. Props to The Grey company for talking about Ride Them Down! in the context of The Black Riders. While it did not appear in my hand during this attempt, it was a solid addition to the deck and gave me a more thematic way of dealing with a Black Rider or two (meaning using willpower; not meaning the use of horses). The real all-star of this deck was the Celduin Traveler, though. Two of them coming down back-to-back in rounds 1 and 2 allowed me to quest just right to remain in the shire and get an early upper hand.

Hide tests really keep the game interesting. Even with overwhelming willpower, I still had to take a calculated risk on most rounds. Especially true for the round where I knew a Nazgul was coming up (thanks to the Timely Aid of the third Celduin Traveler), which would require a Hide 2 test, and yet I needed to make an additional Hide 3 test to get to Buckleberry Ferry.

Final Scoring
7 Completed Rounds x10: 70
Ending Threat: 28
Total Damage on Heroes: 0 (despite two copies of Have You Seen Baggins? out!)
Threat of Defeated Heroes: 0
Victory Display: 2 (Bag End, Mr. Underhill)
Total Score:100

Campaign Resolution
Choose Gandalf's Delay (burden)
Choose Mr. Underhill (boon) to stay attached to Frodo.



The Old Forest


My initial idea here was to use Spirit Pippin, Tactics Merry, and Frodo. Sam was going to be relegated to his ally form. This would allow me to get the martial benefits of tactics combined with secrecy benefits (and continue trying to make Spirit Pippin work). I was able to get to stage 3 and damage Old Man Willow enough, but the staging area soon got the best of me and it was a downhill battle from there. I played around with improving on this initial idea and ended up deciding to work on modifying Drop It Like It's Hobbit, the deck I used to first tackle The Old Forest. Spirit Merry was switched with his Tactics variant and Lore Pippin was swapped with Spirit. Lore cards were removed and a splash of Tactics cards were put in their place. This was just an initial draft, to be tested once and then refined, but it ended up making short work of The Old Forest.

Drop (Spirit Pippin) Like It's Hobbit!

Heroes
Merry (The Black Riders)
Pippin (Encounter at Amon Din)
Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)
Frodo Baggins (The Land of Shadow)

Allies
Beorn (Core) x1
Derndingle Warrior x2
Legolas x1
Bilbo Baggins x1
Glorfindel x1
Imladris Stargazer x3
Kili x1
Zigil Miner x2
Bill the Pony x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Fili x1
Keen-eye Took x1
Ered Luin Miner x3
Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill) x2
Treebeard (The Antlered Crown) x1

Attachments
Dagger of Westernesse x3
Good Meal x3
Wizard Pipe x1

Events
Unseen Strike x3
Elven-light x3
A Very Good Tale x3
Timely Aid x3
Frodo's Intuition x3
A Good Harvest x3
Hidden Cache x3

Sets Used
Core
The Hills of Emyn Muil
Khazad-dum
The Redhorn Gate
Foundations of Stone
Over Hill and Under Hill
The Steward's Fear
Encounter at Amon Din
The Black Riders
The Morgul Vale
The Road Darkens
The Antlered Crown
The Treason of Saruman
Escape from Mount Gram
The Dread Realm
Flight of the Stormcaller
Temple of the Deceived


RingsDB Link

The decks performance this first time around could be due to its actual strength or just due to the luck of the draw.  Here is how the planning stage of round 1 went: Played A Good Harvest, picking Spirit. Played Kili from my hand, fetching Fili and putting him into play. Shuffled. Played Timely Aid and put Treebeard into play (exhausted). Shuffled. Played A Very Good Tale, exhausting Fili and Kili. Discarded Ered Luin Miner (putting him into play), Imladris Stargazer, and Derndingle Warrior (put both of them into play, with the warrior exhausted).The next two subsequent rounds saw Beorn and Gandalf joining the team.

Strength aside, there is obvious room for improvement. At least one more Wizard Pipe and/or the return of Gildor Inglorion is required to help with moving needed cards from my hand to the top of the deck. An Elven Jeweler or Steed of Imladris would help make use of any dead cards in my hand (which I had plenty of by the end of the game). But I am a "win more" type of player (thus Land of Shadow Frodo is my ringbearer of choice) and this playthrough scratched that itch.

Final Scoring
4 Completed Rounds x10: 40
Ending Threat:36
Total Damage on Heroes: 0
Threat of Defeated Heroes: 0
Victory Display: 4 (Withywindle, Mr. Underhill, Old Bogey-stories)
Total Score: 80

Campaign Resolution
Earned Old Bogey-stories (boon)

Previous Campaign Resolutions
Boon: Mr. Underhill attached to Frodo Baggins
Burden: Gandalf's Delay added to staging area


Spirit Pippin Evaluation

The basic summary is that Spirit Pippin is as bad as you think he is.In A Shadow of the Past, he simply served as an emergency button for failed hide tests. In The Old Forest, he was there just for his sphere and to keep at least my hero selection thematic. And that's about it. I made these decks with him just to see what it was like but this beautiful art will likely sit in my binder until some errantra comes along.

Up Next: Let's tackle some Barrow-wights! The next step in the campaign and a quest I have yet to attempt.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Looking Back: Ringmaker Cycle


Celebrimbor's Secret and The Three Trials.

Not only is this the name of my new band, but these are the only two quests I really enjoyed out of the entire Voice of Isengard box + Ringmaker cycle. Part of that is my fault. In misunderstanding how Time X works on locations, I added a layer of punishment to the cycle that was not the designer's intention. I will add a little benefit to my doubt and classify this cycle as "My least favorite, but possibly better than I realize."

Note: Trouble in Tharbad was marked as a favorite quest as well, but that was more to do with the unique nature of getting your threat down to zero than anything else. I may consider changing that classification, or I may find that my new realization about Time X only solidifies my original choice.

Quest 36: The Antlered Crown


Victory on the Fourth Attempt?
Victory on the Seventh Attempt!

The Deck

Having picked up Flame of the West the week before my first attempt at The Antlered Crown, I tried my first attempt at a Tactics Eowyn / Spirit Beregond / Tactics Merry deck. No bueno. At least not the way I built it that time around (I have ideas for making that a stronger deck in the future). Location lock and floods of enemies were things during two attempts so I changed tactics (for Lore) and went in the direction of a Noldor/Dunedain willpower & action advantage route heavily supported by Tale of Tinuviel. Once again, a solid concept (I think) that just wasn't clicking right for me. One thing is that my allies were not full Noldor & Dunedain. In fact, I had some key Rohan support in there that I was reluctant to cut. Why not make that cheaper, helping to empty my hand, and use the Tale's spot to further support our Rohan friends? Putting Gamling to good use was on my back burner and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Santa's Antlers

Heroes
Theoden (The Treason of Saruman)
Arwen Undomiel (The Dread Realm)
Elrond (Shadow and Flame)

Allies
Gamling x2
Escort from Edoras x3
The Riddermark's Finest x3
Westfold Horse-breeder x3
Gleowine x1
Miner of the Iron Hills x1
Warden of Healing x3
Derndingle Warrior x3
Ceorl x1

Attachments
Herugrim x1
Light of Valinor x1
Snowmane x1
Steed of Imladris x1
Unexpected Courage x3
Asfaloth x1

Events
Dwarven Tomb x3
Elronds Counsel x3
Elven-light x3
Fair and Perilous x3
Helm! Helm! x2
Power of Orthanc x1
Ride to Ruin x2
Stand and Fight x2
The Evening Star x3

Sets Used
Core Set
A Journey to Rhosgobel
The Hills of Emyn Muil
The Watcher in the Water
The Long Dark
Foundations of Stone
Shadow nd Flame
The Voice of Isengard
The Treason of Saruman
Escape from Mount Gram
Across the Ettenmoors
The Land of Shadow
The Dread Realm
The Grey Havens
Temple of the Deceived

RingsDB Link

The Recap

So, there is a question mark up there next to the victory.  What is up with that?

The deck performed well. The quest was hard but under control. Finally, the end was in sight! I was engaged with a Dunland Prowler, a Raven Warrior, and the Raven Chief. The Raven Chief had six damage sitting pretty on him. With a copy of Fair and Perilous in my hands and an Unexpected Courage on Theoden, I needed to survive one round of enemy attacks and I could swing for well more than I needed. A Derndingle Warrior, with boosted defense,  takes on the Raven Chief. Shadow card? No effect. Theoden takes on the Raven Warrior. Shadow card? No effect, but Theoden still takes on two damage. Finally Chief Turch, with three damage on him, faces down a two attack Dunland Prowler. Shadow card? Raven Skirmisher. Shadow text: "Attacking enemy gets +X Attack, where X is the Time X value on the active location." What's the active location? Raven War-camp, with a Time X value of 3. Chief Turch dies. Game over.

I like playing Halo on the Legendary setting. You come up against skirmish after skirmish where multiple, sometime an agonizing number, of attempts are needed before you can move on (if your goal is to take all the enemies out instead of running past them in a mix of bravery and terror). And what happens when you fail all of those initial attempts? Back to the previous checkpoint with you! Sometimes that checkpoint is a ways back, but it is always a reasonable distance and you do not have to let one skirmish cause you to replay the entire level. Lord of the Rings: the Card Game is not like that and those moments are the frustrating ones. You can get a handle on the initial and even middle part of the quests, then one false steps or twist of fate sends you right back to the start. This was a major problem I had with The Dunland Trap, the first quest in this cycle, where there was a brutal transition point near the end that wiped away much of your earlier progress in amassing forces.

So I decided to give myself the win. This shadow could have easily belonged to the Raven Chief and brought about the end of the Derndingle Warrior. Chief Turch's attack was not even needed! Elrond w/Fair and Perilous + Theoden had this under control. And I realized I had already given myself quite a handicap in this quest (and in this cycle).

The First Handicap: The Death of Arwen. As the final round began, I looked up to the quest stage and realized I forgot to take off the final time counter at the end of the last round. That means the Raven Chief should have attacked again! I was pretty sure I had enough of a board presence to take that into account, but I could not remember exactly what I had in place during the previous combat round and how it would have played out (a downside of eliminating the detailed notes in my write-ups!). My threat was low enough to soak up the threat of not questing the final round (I hoped) and Arwen was not needed to take out the Raven Chief, so I decided to let her go.

The Second Handicap: Time X Locations. Early on in this final attempt I was dealt the treachery Raising the Cry, which has the text: "Remove 1 time counter from each location in play. Place X time counters on each location in play with no time counters on it. X is the "Time X" value on that location. If there are not locations in the staging area, Raising the Cry gains surge." I looked at it with puzzlement. When is a location ever going to have zero time counters? Does that mean a location will have twice as many time counters? That doesn't sound like a punishment, nor does it fit the title of the card. That would be more like "Delaying the Cry." Then it hits me. I run to grab my Voice of Isengard rulebook and the truth is revealed: I have been playing Time X on locations incorrectly this entire cycle. Taking cues from the quest cards, which typically have you re-ad time counters when you reach zero, I had been placing fresh time counters on my locations after they were all removed. No wonder I found Time X a crazy, overly-punishing mechanic! No wonder so many of these quests were missing an element of fun for me! I'll have to make a back-burner note in my mind to take another crack at this cycle in the future and see if some of the quests shine a little more for me.

What did I think of the quest itself? It was actually pretty decent. Not one that struck a "How many cool decks can I test against this?" sort of note, but it was a thematic and appropriately difficult final quest for the cycle. There are some very punishing and nightmarish scenarios that can pop up, with your board getting flooded by enemies out of nowhere, but once again that is a thematic note and goes with the assigned difficulty level of 7. I will go back and attempt it again some day, especially now that I understand what Time X locations really mean...

Final Scoring
8 Completed Rounds x10: 80
Ending Threat: 45
Total Damage on Heroes: 2 (Theoden)
Threat of Defeated Heroes: 8 (Arwen)
Victory Display: -7 (Location, enemy)
Total Score:128

Edit: Returned with Santa's Antlers and got a good lead the third time around with a Derndingle Warrior and Warden of Healing down early. Kept Theoden up most of time and he plus Chief Turch took care of most enemies (with a Riddermark's Finest helping on occasion). I had actually switched out Helm! Helm! x2 and Ride to Ruin x1 with three copies of Hasty Stroke, since shadow effects were making blocking with Chief Turch too risky, but I never had to use one.

(Updated) Final Scoring
8 Completed Rounds x10: 80
Ending Threat: 43
Total Damage on Heroes: 0
Threat of Defeated Heroes: 0
Victory Display: -7 (Raven Chief's Camp, Raven Chief)
Total Score: 116

 

Print on Demand 3: Stone of Erech

Victory on the First Attempt!

The Deck 

Choosing a strong focus for my decks is a weak point. Solo play necessitates doing all things well and I want to accomplish this using all of the neat tricks at my disposal. Too often the result is a mess pulling in too many directions and doing nothing really well. The idea hit me to try a template, where I boil down the key things I want to do, and then branch out from there.

I was one of the many super-excited when Tactics Eowyn was revealed. Brewing ideas began popping up in my head, with the foremost one being the mass-slaughter of trolls at the Carrock. For some reason, pairing her up with Spirit Glorfindel seemed like a natural fit (probably because paring anyone up with Spirit Glorfindel is a good place to start for a strong deck). Doing a little bit of basic math, I realized I could add in Galadriel and still stay in secrecy (and be greatly aided in staying there). After throwing a few ideas around, I settled on my template concept and ended up with this:

Super Secret Tech (draft)

Heroes
Eowyn (The Flame of the West)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor's Secret)
Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)

Ally
Derndingle Warrior x3
Galadriel's Handmaiden x3
Elven Jewler x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3

Attachment
Rivendell Blade x3
Rohan Warhorse x3
Ancient Mathom x3
Mirror of Galadriel x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Nenya x3
Resourceful x3

Event
Foe-hammer x3
Unseen Strike x3
Dwarven Tomb x3
Elrond's Counsel x3
Power of Orthanc x2 

Sets Used
Core
A Journey to Rhosgobel
The Redhorn Gate
Road to Rivendell
The Watcher in the Water
Foundations of Stone
Over Hill and Under Hill
Heirs of Numenor
The Voice of Isengard
The Dunland Trap
Celebrimbor's Secret
Escape from Mount Gram
The Flame of the West

RingsDB Link

Does it accomplish every last thing I want it to? No. Light of Valinor is an obvious addition to make. But this is a good start that should be able to handle most things a quest will throw out. A strong focus was put on equipping Glorfindel and Eowyn with fancy attachments, mainly because I want Eowyn to swing as many times as possible during her final showdown with the trolls.

Now to make the changes!

Elven Jewler is there to help solve the issue of "dead" unique cards in my hand. We do not need three of her. Ally Arwen can help my Derndingle Warrior's block even better and a Westfold Horse-breeder might be able to help fetch those much-desired horses.

Attachments gets quite a shake-up. Unexpected Courage can get Eowyn readying, so one Warhorse will be fine. I'll switch in Snowmane since I need her willpower (especially in that final round) and Asfaloth for the fun of it (since Galadriel can lay down the Lore once she has her ring). With my low threat, one Rivendell Blade and one Dagger of Westerness would be a good arsenal for Glorfindel. Light of Valinor is still needed and Nenya, while a necessary part of the operation, should be easy to find with the Mirror of Galadriel. One attachment spot is still open, after getting rid of both Blades, but I feel pretty happy how things are looking in this section. Instead I'll give that spot to events and throw in a copy of Daeron's Runes to help find the pieces I need.

Finally, the rest of the events. The White Council is in here to help with readying and resource fixing in a pinch, but the main function is to help get cards back to be fished out with Galadriel's Mirror (especially if they were discarded due to the Mirror's fickleness). Will of the West can help with getting those cards in a well, so we'll put in one of those. Power of Orthanc, Fair and Perilous, and Ride The Down all have uses in a deck like this. The Mirror can grab them for us, then Dwarven Tomb can give multiple uses of the one we need most. And now for The Hammer-stroke. A big hope for this deck is eliminating all four trolls in one turn. To do that, they need to be engaged simultaneously. We'll drop out another hammer to make it the right tool fit.

Now is this deck any less of a mess than the attempts I used to make? I think so. Starting with a template and making strategic decisions creates more of a toolbox than a disaster. Or so I hope...

Super Secret Tech

Heroes
Eowyn (The Flame of the West)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor's Secret)
Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)

Allies
Derndingle Warrior x3
Arwen Undomiel (Watcher in the Water) x1

Elven Jewler x1
Galadriel's Handmaiden x3
Westfold Horse-breeder x1
Envoy of Pelargir x3 

Attachments
Dagger of Westernesse x1
Rivendell Blade x1
Rohan Warhorse x1
Ancient Mathom x3
Light of Valinor x1
Mirror of Galadriel x3
Snowmane x1
Unexpected Courage x3
Asfaloth x1
Nenya x2
Resourceful x3 

Events
Foe-hammer x2
The Hammer-stroke x1
Unseen Strike x2
A Test of Will x1
Dwarven Tomb x3
Elrond's Counsel x2
Fair and Perilous x1
Power of Orthanc x1
Ride Them Down x1
Will of the West x1
Daeron's Runes x1
The White Council x2

Sets Used
Core
A Journey to Rhosgobel
The Redhorn Gate
Road to Rivendell
The Watcher in the Water
Foundations of Stone
Over Hill and Under Hill
Heirs of Numenor
The Black Riders
The Blood of Gondor
The Voice of Isengard
The Dunland Trap
Celebrimbor's Secret
The Antlered Crown
Escape from Mount Gram
Across the Ettenmoors
The Land of Shadow
The Flame of the West

RingsDB Link

So how did it work out? Four less trolls in the wild lands of Middle-earth! Two Unexpected Courages, a Rohan Warhorse, and The White Council gave Eowyn the action advantage she needed to get the job done.

Not saying it went perfectly. I could not find Nenya for the first 3-4 rounds for the life of me, which significantly hurt my ability to blow past through the first stage at the rate I wanted. The staging area started getting a bit concerned, but that was easily solved once Nenya was back on the scene.

And even with a win there are changes I would want to make. Galadriel's Handmaiden is a great card, but Galadriel herself + Elrond's Counsel provided more than enough threat reduction for this deck. Celduin Traveler would have been more of a welcome sight, allowing me to get a few peeks at the encounter deck. I would fully switch those out. And instead of taking out a copy of Nenya, let's leave all three of those in and take out a copy of Resourceful.


The Recap

After an exhilarating victory at the Carrock, I wanted to seek out a new challenge for this deck. Finishing up the Ringmaker cycle was a natural choice, but I was also naturally too lazy to put the encounter deck together (a new storage solution implemented since then should eliminate this excuse). Stone of Erech was sitting on top of my collection and won by the wide margin of, "Why not?".

This quest was a blast. Stone has a counter-strategy for every strategy. Such as lowering willpower, blocking events, dramatically raising threat, etc. It comes off as very well-rounded in its approach to hinder your progress but did this without seeming too brutal. When it turned out I could not use Eowyn's ability on the final boss, it was more amusing than frustrating. But was it the quest I enjoyed or was I simply really enjoying my deck? Hard to tell sometimes!

The progression from Dusk to Eventide to Midnight is similar to the Time X mechanic from the Ringmaker cycle. Even though the progression to each new stage is permanent, I found it less punishing and not as much of a joy-killer as Time X.

The final victory was satisfying, featuring a battle quest with 29 attack committed (Fair and Perilous x3, due to two Dwarven Tombs and help from The White Council). It just took me a while to get there! I intended on letting loose during round 10, but revealed Haunted Valley and all of my heroes lost the ability to sphere-match for the round. Round 11? Haunted Valley. Round 12? Shadow Man, stopping me from playing events for the round. Revealing a Vale of Shadows, with seven quest points at Midnight, was actually a relief!


Final Scoring
12 Completed Rounds x10: 120
Ending Threat: 21
Total Damage on Heroes: 3 (Galadriel)

Threat of Defeated Heroes: 0
Victory Display: -6
Total Score: 138