Dec 14, 2015

LotR LCG: The mines of Moria

There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here at one time and every one of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too!
- Sam Gamgee, in The Fellowship of the Ring

The first deluxe expansion released for the Lord of the Rings living card game was Khazad-dûm, and since we not only kind of like the idea of going through these in roughly chronological order but I also wanted Arwen in my deck, it was also the first deluxe expansion we bought. Moria! The dream of every dwarf and Minecraft player! Deep, dark mines long abandoned by dwarves, now infested with orcs and trolls and haunted by a Balrog. Wait, why did we buy this expansion again?

Into the Pit - DL 5

The first quest sees our heroes sent to Moria to make contact with Balin's lost dwarven colony. In a nice touch, we're entering the Mines from the opposite direction as the Fellowship of the Ring did, so the quest starts with East-gate as the active location. This comes with the special condition that enemies can't engage you nor you them, which can mean that as soon as you clear the gate, you get swarmed by a horde of goblins - or that the threat in the staging area gets so high that you never even clear the first location. If you do, then it's on to the First Hall and across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm with you!

There are lots of awful locations in Moria (*cough*Zigil Mineshaft*cough*), and as an additional interesting wrinkle, you're given a Cave Torch to help clear them.

In practice, the Cave Torch adds an element of randomness: if you're unlucky, using it will summon up a horde of enemies; if you're obscenely lucky, you'll be discarding horrible encounter cards while placing progress on locations. The mechanic of taking bigger risks for more progress is thematically excellent, but I'm not sure I'm overly fond of the wide range of randomness that comes with it.

The scenario itself is quite tough, with three very different quest stages. You need to move quite quickly to avoid being overwhelmed by locations with nasty threat-increasing synergies, and, of course, hella goblins. Our first three-handed swing at this ended in massive location lock. I've since beaten it both solo and with another player running a Leadership/Lore deck, with Northern Tracker unsurprisingly playing a key role.

My first two-handed attempt together with my partner's revamped Tactics deck was a pretty intense emotional rollercoaster. First, of course, we struggled mightily to even get past East-gate. This really is the only quest I've seen where it's perfectly possible to fail to clear the first location! We were lucky to get Dreadful Gap at this point, though, sparing us from ever having to travel to it. Things looked a bit grim until Gandalf stopped by to nuke the Patrol Leader in the staging area, and I got a Northern Tracker into play. We were also quite lucky with our Cave Torch use, getting no extra enemies in play. Still, by the time we raised our threat to travel to the First Hall, with no progress on the quest card yet, it was high enough for Goblin Scouts to engage both of us. I'd also lost one of my two Galadhrim's Greetings to a Fouled Well earlier, which didn't make our lives much easier.

Eventually we cleared First Hall as well, and Northern Tracker saw to Bridge of Khazad-dûm; we were really inside Moria now! I'd played a copy of Elrond's Counsel on myself and a Galadhrim's Greeting on my partner, but both our threats were already well over 40 by the time we hit the second quest phase. To be honest, I didn't think we had a chance in hell. We were both fighting several goblins at this point, giving me ample reason to be grateful for both Arwen's defence boost and A Burning Brand. In order to buy at least a little time, and because we needed so many of our characters to fight, I played Gather Information: completing it got me Dwarven Tomb, which I used to retrieve a Galadhrim's Greeting, and my partner Secret Vigil. They helped!

We managed to thin out the goblins, both got a much-needed wizard intervention to lower our threats, and made liberal use of our torch to blast locations from the staging area. I also started getting a sizeable questing force into play, with our torch luckily discarding several treacheries that would have wiped them out. Where I'd be without West Road Traveller, I don't know. Finally we had amassed enough questing and dispatched all the goblins, so that when Legolas killed the last Patrol Leader standing, we fulfilled both victory conditions for the second quest phase simultaneously! But at grave cost: Boromir fell in battle against the orc horde.

Despite our heavy loss, we moved on to the last stage, where there was nothing left to do except quest like hell, and against all odds, we made it! This was one of the most harrowing experiences I've ever had in the game; at one point, my threat was 48 at the end of the turn, meaning a single treachery in the previous staging would've knocked me out. On the one hand, we were lucky: our cave torch use mostly discarded treacheries rather than summoning enemies, and we were able to avoid some of the nastiest shadow effects. Hell, even the Patrol Leaders took damage almost every time. On the other hand, if so much as a single Warden of Healing or Hasty Stroke had showed up in my hand, Boromir would have made it.

So it could have gone better, but it could also have gone much worse. This is what I mean by the cave torch introducing a wider range of randomness: if we'd been hitting more enemies when discarding encounter cards for it, those treacheries would also have been hitting us in staging.

This is a pretty good quest, though. The combination of location lock and hordes of goblins can destroy you in the beginning, if you even manage to get past East-gate, and the last stage of the quest has a nice little twist to it as well. The whole experience is also thematically strong: there's a definite feeling of despair at the horribly creepy underground locations and the constant threat of orcs. After the hopelessness of East-gate, you'll feel lucky to have gotten in, only to begin to suspect you're never going to get out again...


The Seventh Level - DL 3

Here's a real mystery for the ages: as far as I know, this is the only quest in the entire game with a difficulty level between 1 and 4. Why that is, I have no idea. Admittedly this is a fairly straightforward quest, but there are even more goblins, they're tougher and they surge; you have to quest pretty hard and fight them off. My initial solo attempts ended in complete failure, so if there is some point of view from which this is easier than Hunt for Gollum and considerably easier than Dead Marshes - or indeed Into the Pit - I don't share it.

Having barely managed to get into Moria in the previous scenario, we recruited a third player to run a Leadership deck (Core Aragorn, Théodred, Prince Imrahil), which you'll find at the end of this post, and made a three-handed attempt at The Seventh Level. Suddenly all those Goblin Swordsmen don't seem so tough any more, and I can kind of see where the difficulty level of 3 comes from. To put it simply, if you can handle a constant stream of goblins, this quest is easy. If not, then you can't beat it. It's almost like the exact opposite of Emyn Muil. With the Leadership and Tactics decks smashing goblins left and right, the quest was a total walkover.

In fact, it was so easy we decided to move on to the last quest in the expansion. I mean, how hard can it be?


Flight from Moria - DL 7

Four hours and one Balrog later...

We got a pretty good notion of what we were in for when revealing encounter cards for the scenario setup. We drew Fouled Well, and our Leadership player decided he liked his opening hand so much he was going to refuse to discard anything. So Fouled Well surges into Massing in the Deep, which raises our threats and reveals three more cards, one of which is Cave In, which has no progress to remove, so it surges... You get the idea.

So we kicked off the quest with a pile of locations and a horde of goblins in the staging area, not to mention, well, Durin's Bane. I quite like the way they've depicted the Balrog in this quest: we never fight it directly, but are instead trying to run away from it as fast as we possibly can, while its threat constantly grows. It's an excellent mechanic that leads to a truly nail-biting quest.

There was nothing to do except get down to clearing the staging area and getting some progress on the quest. While we were still more or less busy getting some of the initial cards sorted, poor Boromir was defending an attack from a Goblin Swordsman, who drew Chance Encounter as its shadow card; since my partner was the first player, and Boromir was already wounded, we lost our first hero. It didn't get much easier from there.

I also need to remember to write this one down for the history books: I used West Road Traveller's Response! We drew Dreadful Gap, which immediately became our active location. With our Leadership deck amassing its army of allies, we'd never manage to clear that damn thing ever - until my West Road Traveller swapped it for Plundered Armoury.

Somehow or other, we made it to the second quest stage, down to eight heroes. The second stage is quite clever as well: instead of a single quest card, there's a quest deck, consisting of a whole bunch of second quest stages, all with identical 2a sides, and they only get flipped over to reveal the business side when staging begins, so even as you're committing characters to the quest, you don't know which quest it is! Only when you find one of the quest cards that represents a way out can you win the scenario.

By this time, treacheries like Undisturbed Bones and Dark and Dreadful were taking a steady toll on our allies, including the only Warden of Healing I'd managed to draw. Galadhrim's Greetings, Secret Vigils and Double Back were barely keeping our threat manageable as the looming shadow in the darkness grew and grew...

We struggled through several quest stages looking for an exit, to no avail: we piled up quest stages and even a Great Cave Troll in the victory display, but all we seemed to be able to do was raise the Balrog's threat. Both Thalin and Eleanor were lost to A Foe Beyond, leaving us with six heroes standing. My partner soldiered on with just Legolas and Radagast, but when we finally reached a quest stage that promised us an exit and set Prince Imrahil to digging our way out, a horrifying combo of several enemies and Orc Drummer put over thirty threat in the staging area, which knocked my partner's threat well over 50. The rest of us managed to hang on for a few more harrowing turns while we dug our way out, barely escaping with a horde of orcs at our heels.

So we won! But what a victory. Nine heroes went into Moria, five came out. One more setback would almost certainly have destroyed us completely. This really is one hell of a quest: finishing it took hours, and we were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted by the end. But it was worth it. I especially like the way in which the quest ramps up the difficulty constantly, rather than by throwing huge enemies with massive stats and card immunities at you. Even when we draw a truly dismal initial staging, we still had a chance to beat this, unlike something like Return to Mirkwood where drawing a gigantic spider, or two, or two and a Hill Troll in the first couple of turns is pretty much the literal equivalent of revealing an encounter card that says "You lose". Top-notch work, this, and absolutely brilliant in terms of theme. The whole expansion is thematically strong, and Flight from Moria is especially awesome. This epic three-player saga is one I doubt any of us will soon forget.


So, why did we buy this expansion? Well, like I said, so I could get Arwen in my Amazon deck. We got that, but what we also ended up with is an excellent deluxe expansion. I'll admit I'm biased: the chapters in Moria in the Lord of the Rings have always been among my favorites, so I'm kind of a sucker for this one. But it really does deliver. I love the fact that the first quest in the Khazad-dûm expansion is a hopelessly desperate effort to get into Moria, and the last quest is a far more hopeless and desperate effort to get out again. To me, the quests and encounter decks in this expansion do a great job of conveying the feel of Tolkien's Moria. The second quest is quite uninspired and either frustratingly overwhelming or trivially easy, but Into the Pit is excellent, and to date, Flight from Moria is my best experience playing this game. Even if you don't care for the dwarf-themed player cards at all, this is worth buying for the quests alone, especially if you get to play multiplayer.


I'm serious about the player cards, by the way. Literally every one of them in the damn thing has something to do with dwarves. I'm not complaining; in fact, I think I'd complain if Khazad-dûm cards weren't heavily dwarf-themed! But as it happens, I don't now have, nor do I think I've ever had, a single card from this expansion in my deck. Back in the core set days, I did use some dwarf cards, and I have nothing against them, but since Arwen is a pretty key ally in my Amazon theme, I feel it'd be thematically better to not mix elves and dwarves in the same deck. For what it's worth, my notion of some kind of fluff explanation for my deck is that Arwen has come south via Lórien, bringing a contingent of elves and Dúnedain with her, who've met up with Éowyn and Eleanor's Rohan-Gondor bunch. To me, dwarves don't fit in here. That's why I skipped doing any card spotlights, too: we're not using any!

In cards we do use, we continued our foray into the Angmar cycle with Escape from Mount Gram, netting the excellent Spirit side quest Double Back. I wish I could include more of the victory display trickery from that expansion in my deck, but I can't think of much anything I'd be prepared to part with to make room for them. I really do have to build that Rossiel deck!

After my latest experiences both solo and in multiplayer, I also decided to dispense with Gléowine's services. The minstrel of Rohan's been around since the very beginning, but to be honest, I've kept finding better uses for my Lore resources. If I regularly pick the same card to discard to Éowyn's ability or Protector of Lorien or whatever, I think that's a sign to consider leaving it out altogether. This may be a mistake based on getting lucky in drawing Unexpected Courage early in several games and attaching it to Beravor to maximize her card draw; I'll have to see how this works out! With Gléowine gone, I added a copy of Double Back.

The biggest change to our card pool during our Moria adventures was my partner's acquisition of a second core set. This put me in a bit of a quandary: I'm actually quite happy with my deck right now, but at the same time I'm painfully aware that the optimal solution is to include three copies of non-unique cards. Since we're not playing the game competitively (hell, we never even keep score!), there's no reason in the world why I should care about this, but there it is: I do. Given that I've got Eleanor and A Burning Brand, and despite my experiences in Moria just now (!), I'm going to take a chance and stick with only two copies of Test of Will and Hasty Stroke for now. I instead added a third Northern Tracker, a second copy of Unexpected Courage, Henamarth and Dwarven Tomb, and a third Galadhrim's Greeting. To make room, I dropped both copies of Westfold Horse-breaker, Radagast's Cunning and Secret Paths. None of these cards had seen much use lately, even though both Radagast's Cunning and Secret Paths can be very powerful at the right moment. That's the thing with deckbuilding; only rarely will a card be so obviously terrible that you can leave it out of your deck with no compunctions. I like this! I also swapped one copy of Over Hill and Under Hill Gandalf for the core set Gandalf.

We also qualified for a discount at our retailer, having collectively spent quite a bit on boardgames and this LCG, and used that to grab a copy of On the Doorstep. I have high hopes we'll finish our Hobbit saga by the time my Let's Read project is done!

For now, here's the current incarnation of my Amazons:

The Amazons

52 cards: 29 Spirit, 18 Lore, 5 neutral; 3 heroes, 23 allies, 9 attachments, 14 events, 3 side quests


Allies: 23 (12/8/3)
Elfhelm (TDM) x2
Northern Tracker x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x2
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Haldir of Lórien (AJtR)
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Henamarth Riversong x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gandalf (OHaUH)

Attachments: 9 (2/6/1)
Unexpected Courage x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Athelas (TLR) x2
Protector of Lórien x2
Song of Wisdom (CatC)

Events: 14 (12/2)
The Galadhrim's Greeting x3
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb x2
Hasty Stroke x2
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Infighting (AJtR) x2

Side quests: 3 (1/1/1)
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)
Gather Information (TLR)

Solo sideboard:
swap one Warden of Healing (TLD) for Resourceful (TWitW)
swap Gather Information (TLR) for Will of the West
swap Infighting (AJtR) x2 for Forest Snare x2


Here's my partner's Tactics deck:

Team Boromir

53 cards; 49 Tactics, 4 Neutral; 3 heroes, 22 allies, 14 events, 13 attachments, 1 side quest

Boromir (TDM)

Allies: 22 (18/4)
Descendant of Thorondor (THoEM) x2
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Bofur (OHaUH) x2
Honour Guard (TWoE) x2
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3
Radagast (AJtR)

Events: 14
Feint x3
Quick Strike x2
Goblin-Cleaver (OHaUH) x3
Foe-Hammer (OHaUH) x3
The Eagles are Coming! (THfG) x3

Attachments: 13
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x2
Dwarven Axe x2
Blade of Gondolin x3
Horn of Gondor x2
Secret Vigil (TLR) x2
Black Arrow (OtD)

Side quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR)


And finally, this is the Leadership deck we ran the last two quests with:

59 cards; 53 Leadership, 6 neutral; 3 heroes, 25 allies, 11 attachments, 19 events, 1 side quest

Aragorn (Core)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)

Allies: 25 (19/6)
Erestor (TLD) x2
Faramir x2
Ingold (TWoE) x2
Longbeard Orc Slayer x2
Dúnedain Watcher (TDM) x3
Silverlode Archer x2
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG) x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Gandalf (Core) x3
Ranger of Cardolan (TWoE) x3

Attachments: 11
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Celebrían's Stone x2
Dúnedain Cache (TDM) x2
Steward of Gondor x2
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3

Events: 19
Grim Resolve x2
Dawn Take You All (RtM) x2
For Gondor! x2
Campfire Tales (THfG) x2
Second Breakfast (CatC) x2
Sneak Attack x3
Valiant Sacrifice x2
A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x2
Parting Gifts (AJtR) x2

Side quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR)

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