Mar 14, 2016

LotR LCG: His foundations lie in the holy mountain

"This is the great realm and city of Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs."
- Gimli, the Lord of the Rings, book II, chapter IV

After tackling the Khazad-dûm deluxe expansion, the obvious next step was the adventure packs of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. In terms of player cards, the packs include some pretty important elves, but mostly we're expecting even more dwarves, in line with the deluxe expansion's focus on dwarves, dwarves and some more dwarves. So far, it's inspired two other players to experiment with dwarf decks, and admittedly I did consider a dwarf support deck with Nori, Oin and Thalin. I think I'll save it for when we all decide to play dwarf decks at the same time. I'll admit: I mostly find fantasy dwarves to be incredibly boring, unless they've got funny hats. The Dwarrowdelf adventure packs have been talked up a bit, though, and Moria is still really cool, so I was quite looking forward to the quests!

John Howe: The Company Approaches Caradhras, 1989


The Redhorn Gate - DL 6

The first quest sees our heroes tasked with escorting Arwen from Lórien to Rivendell, via Caradhras. Reading the relevant parts of the Lord of the Rings might make you ask exactly how smart this is, and playing this quest will leave you wondering why anyone would ever even try it. The quest starts off innocuously enough; there's some locations, a couple of enemies, but nothing too terrible. Then this treachery comes along:

Huh, a condition attachment that makes your hero useless for questing, we thought. Oh well, the Tactics guys don't really quest much anyway, so when two of these came up when my partner was first player, we attached them to Legolas and Boromir. Little did we realize that not only does reaching the third quest stage make Caradhras the active location, giving a further penalty to willpower, but also eliminates all characters whose willpower is zero or less. So advancing to the third quest stage not only wiped out most of my allies, but also the entire Tactics deck.


I carried on as best I could; Éowyn was tough enough to quest through the ferocious weather with a little wizardly help, and almost unbelievably, I managed to finish the trip. This is quite a harsh scenario, especially on the first playthrough, but even when you know what's coming, the willpower penalty and discarding of characters is brutal.

Having said that, we definitely enjoyed this adventure pack! The quest is tough, but thematically it does a brilliant job of conveying the feel of a punishing slog through a terrible mountain pass, freezing in a blizzard while wargs stalk you in the night. It's a different, challenging quest.

Card spotlight: Ravenhill Scout

Unless you're running a Hobbit deck, Redhorn Gate isn't great in terms of player cards. While Needful to Know is in my Silvan deck, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a rare bird indeed: a Dale character! As of this writing, there are precisely three of them: Brand son of Bain, Celduin Traveler (surely Fantasy Flight could decide how to spell traveller) and this card. Unfortunately, I agree with the Tales from the Cards blog that it's hard to see Ravenhill Scout as worth using, but the optimist in me believes that in the future, we'll get more cards to make up at least an interesting Dale contingent to a deck, if not a whole Dale deck in itself; it's a fascinating area of Middle-earth to explore, and I hope the designers take the opportunity. And since writing this, we've learned that we've got several Dale cards to look forward to in the Dream-chaser cycle!


Road to Rivendell - DL 4

Having made it past Caradhras (sort of), our heroes now need to escort Arwen north to Rivendell. There's a whole bunch of enemies and locations in the encounter deck; thematically, I thought including the Plundering Goblins encounter set was a bit odd, because coming across a Plundered Armoury on your way to Rivendell just seems strange. And now that I mention encounter cards...

Quite simply, if you don't have any treachery cancellation, this card will destroy you. You don't have to hesitate a second before using Eleanor's ability to get rid of it, because there's literally no way it can possibly get worse. On a three-handed attempt, a combination of Chieftain of the Pit and Sleeping Sentry's shadow effect wiped out the dwarf deck, leaving it with one hero. This meant that when Arwen had already taken one damage from Pathless Country's shadow effect, and was under the dwarf player's control when we drew Undisturbed Bones, it was game over for us.

If you don't get annihilated by Sleeping Sentry, then this is a pretty straightforward quest: collect a heap of progress and kill a fairly large number of enemies. Good enough fun, but nothing too memorable. I got two Northern Trackers into play, but ended up using them almost exclusively for combat; a bit strange on a quest that's meant to be about travelling! On the while, this is a decent quest; it's maybe a bit disappointing on the first run, as you sort of expect it to throw some kind of nasty twist at you, but it never does; the only nastiness here are the treacheries.

This quest has a difficulty rating of 4, which, remember, is the lowest possible rating for quests that are not Passage through Mirkwood or The Seventh Level. Saying this quest is "officially" harder than Seventh Level does quite strongly suggest that the difficulty levels are based on seeing combat against unexceptional enemies as inherently easier than questing. So if you have a deck that's geared more toward questing than combat, like mine, you'll find the difficulty levels are quite badly off.

Card spotlight: Song of Eärendil

For starters, it's another beautiful card. I don't draw enough attention to how visually attractive the cards themselves are; it makes the whole gaming experience so much more satisfying when you get to handle cards that are stylish and well designed. I'll have to take extra care when reading the Silmarillion to see if it specifies how Vingilótë was rigged. In terms of gameplay, the bulk of the threat reducing cards are in Spirit, so the ability to take on some of the other players' threat is very welcome. This is especially true with two players, where using The Galadhrim's Greeting on both is wasteful, but Elrond's Counsel only works on me. Song of Eärendil combines particularly well with Elfhelm, and lets me share some of the threat burden of using Boromir. For more complicated scenarios, head on over to Tales from the Cards; we haven't done anything particularly clever or innovative with it, but the general "threat smoothing" it provides is quite useful. A card definitely worth including in multiplayer decks.


The Watcher in the Water - DL 5

Now that we've succesfully escorted Arwen to Rivendell, Elrond has a small task for the heroes: he's asked us to scout the Mines of Moria on our way back to Lórien. "Scout the Mines of Moria", he says, like that's a thing that people just do. The last time we were in Moria, barely half of us made it out again. What's the average life expectancy of a murder hobo hero working for the White Council? Never mind, we're off to "scout" Moria. Getting in through the East-gate was kinda tough; how hard could the western route be?

For this leg of the trip, we were, appropriately enough, joined by a Leadership/Lore dwarf deck with Dáin, Thorin and Ori. Our first three-handed attempt, though, ended in dismal failure. It wasn't even the endlessly annoying wargs and the orcs and the giant seething mass of tentacles that did us in, but the Doomed 5 treacheries and various other lovely surprises.

Our next foray went better, even though the dwarf deck was still struggling to field so much as a single ally. This time, we weren't hit with quite so many horrible locations and treacheries as we had been last time, and we actually made some progress on the quest. The tentacles and other enemies were uncomfortably numerous and nearly overwhelmed us - but we had an answer:

Armed with the Spear of the Citadel, bearing a Gondorian Shield and fortified with Arwen's bonus, Boromir defended five enemies that turn, doing damage to each of them. This bought us enough time to finally get ahead in the quest, with everyone's threat uncomfortably high and beleaguered by a never-ending swarm of tentacles.

In the second and final stage, you need to both amass enough progress and have three victory points. There are basically two ways you can do the latter: either you defeat the Watcher, or solve the Doors of Durin:

Another way would be to use side quests or other player cards worth victory points like Black Arrow, but we weren't doing so great with the questing anyway, so that didn't seem likely - we did make an attempt at Double Back, and got a grand total of one (1) progress on it. My partner was actually hatching a plan to defeat the Watcher with Rivendell Blade, the Black Arrow and what have you, until Stagnant Creek turned up in staging and eliminated the Tactics deck. It would now be up to me and the dwarves.

I'd been drawing terribly all evening; not a single Galadhrim's Greeting or Song of Eärendil, or even an Elrond's Counsel to be seen while our threat kept mounting and mounting. Now, though, my deck made up for it by producing the one ally who could help us decipher the Doors of Durin: Henamarth Riversong. After staging, I used Henamarth's ability to scry the encounter deck, and lo and behold, the dwarf player had a card that matched. The Doors were open! Now all we needed to do was get through them.

After what we hoped would be one last desperate combat phase of holding off the tentacles, orcs, wargs and whatnot, we mounted our final massive questing push. Everyone who could, quested, with Durin's Song, cards discarded to Éowyn, everything we could possibly think of thrown in to get us through. And it worked: despite all manner of monstrosities showing up in staging, we made it into Moria. Some victory! This is one heck of a quest.

Card spotlight: Arwen Undómiel

What can I say about Arwen Evenstar that I haven't said already? A two-cost ally with two willpower and an excellent special ability, and a unique Noldor character to boot, giving you access to Elrond's Counsel. She was instrumental in my first ever successful solo playthrough of A Journey down the Anduin, providing invaluable questing and threat reduction. We'd never have gotten through We Must Away without a Sentinel Gandalf with a defence of five, courtesy of Arwen, and she made our epic Boromir defence possible. She's one of the best allies in the entire game; if you're running a Spirit deck, you can't not get this adventure pack.


The Long Dark - DL 7

Now that we're in Moria, we're, you know, gonna quest in it. I guess it makes sense that since we barely made our way past the Watcher, we're going to have to get out the other way, but in terms of theme, I couldn't quite work out what we were actually supposed to be doing now that we were here. The quest is a fairly simple two-stage affair that introduces a Locate test mechanic, where you have to discard cards to pass. There are some unpleasant treacheries like Foul Air and Vast and Intricate, but other than that, the encounter deck is just more goblins and tunnels; not terribly inspired. Straightforward questing will get you by. We beat this two-handed with my partner's Tactics deck, and although some Lost effects gave us trouble at first and we had to face down a fair deluge of enemies in the second stage, we squeaked through on a final questing push with my partner's threat at 49.

The difficulty level of 7 on this one is utterly baffling. I agree with the difficulty rant on Tales from the Cards again: compared to the Mirkwood cycle, the difficulty for this quest is more in line with Hunt for Gollum or Dead Marshes. Giving it the same value as Return to Mirkwood is just ridiculous. All in all, it's another Moria quest that's almost exactly like the middle phase of Into the Pit, or Seventh Level, with some nastier treacheries and occasional card-discarding. Forgettable, if not downright boring.

Card spotlight: Warden of Healing

If Arwen is the best questing ally in the game, the Warden of Healing is the best healing ally you can get. Cheaper and more versatile than the Daughter of the Nimrodel, having a couple of copies of the Warden in your Lore deck will not only make your life easier, but make you more popular in multiplayer games as well. This card made its debut in my deck on my Journey down the Anduin, and I was pleasantly surprised by how he managed to reduce a Goblin Sniper that hung around from the first quest stage to the very last turn of the game from a major nuisance to a technical afterthought. A staple for any deck using Lore, in my books.


Foundations of Stone - DL 6

Having survived trudging through Moria in the previous quest, we could next look forward to... more of the same. I know I said I'm basically a sucker for everything Moria, but honestly, at this point I think we were getting thoroughly tired of Goblin Swordsmen, Fouled Wells and Cave Ins. The beginning of Foundations of Stone is thoroughly nondescript questing against an encounter deck that's almost completely identical to Into the Pit, which is really not the most inspired design solution you could've come up with.

The beginning of the quest, however, is just marking time until you get to the money part, which you'll really want to experience in multiplayer.

What happens is that the players get separated and have to try to make their way through the unfathomable deeps of Moria on their own. It's a really cool mechanic that gives the quest a very distinct flavor; no doubt it's a bit of a waste of time solo, but four-handed it works great.

Our first four-player attempt at this quest turned into the most massively epic adventure since our four-hour Flight from Moria. Team Boromir and my Silvans took on the challenge with our Hobbit deck and an Éowyn-Eleanor-Idraen Spirit deck I'd built for questing and location control. We got off to a pretty good start, with tye hobbits engaging troublesome Goblin Scouts, Northern Tracker helping clear out a massive pile of locations, and the rest of us dealing with the endless horde of goblins. Our questing stalled for a while at Dreadful Gap, but eventually we managed to get the required nineteen progress tokens on it.

Like I said, the first part of the quest is so exactly a rerun of the Into the Pit encounter deck that it felt almost boring. We killed a whole pile of goblins, succesfully cave torched some locations, and even though I couldn't manage to draw almost any of Rossiel's victory display shenanigans, Out of the Wild did manage to show up at exactly the perfect time to get rid of Sudden Pitfall. In a spectacular run of bad luck, we at one point managed to draw three Goblin Followers in one staging - this, of course, when the Spirit deck was last player. We were still busy dealing with them when the floor gave way beneath us...

By this time, both the hobbit and Spirit decks had lost one hero. Next, they lost the other two, leaving the Silvan and Tactics decks to quest their way out. What happens is that each deck gets its own quest card and staging area, and has to make its way through that quest card to rejoin the others. There are four different quest cards, some better suited to some decks than to others, and in some respects we managed a pretty decisive mismatch. The two surviving decks, however, beat the quest, so in the end, we all won!

This is a properly epic quest. If Into the Pit is my favorite Moria quest, with three or four players I think this might actually be better. It can be very brutal, especially to decks that aren't very strong on their own if they end up with an unlucky quest card; how The Long Dark is harder is, again, completely beyond me. On the whole this is an awesome adventure that I think everyone who has the opportunity to enjoy this game three- or four-handed simply has to experience.

Card spotlight: Daeron's Runes

This is the best card draw effect in the game. Why have I not been using it in my decks? Because I misremembered the effect. This mistake has now been corrected.


Shadow and Flame - DL 8

Finally, in the last installment of the cycle, well, you can guess from the title.

This is a slightly strange quest. The theme is strong: you're doing your best to escape Moria and not be murdered by a Balrog. In practice, this means you need either chump blockers or Frodo to absorb the attack, or reliable threat reduction to stop it from happening. So there's basically a couple of ways to make this quest pitifully easy. Outside of them, if you can constantly block the Balrog's attack or feed it chump blockers, you'll be fine; if not, there's not a lot you can do. So in terms of difficulty, the question isn't so much how hard the quest is, but rather is your deck suited to it or not. As with Intruders in Chetwood, there's effectively a minimum direct combat requirement to play this quest, and I always find that a little disappointing. It's puzzling that the same cycle contains a much better bossfight: the Watcher in the Water! I'd get that instead if you're shopping for quests.

Card spotlight: Master of the Forge

There's a couple of these search cards; off the top of my head, The Eagles Are Coming searches for Eagle cards, Westfold Horse-breeder finds mounts and Bofur weapons. Westfold Horse-breeder has a wider search range, but of all these, Master of the Forge is definitely the least specialized, as you can find any kind of attachment you like. I'm thinking that when and if I return to my tri-sphere deck, I should try to make space for a couple of copies of this ally to fetch my attachments; that deck really suffered when I couldn't find my weapon attachments, and a Noldor forgemaster is less of a thematic clash than Bofur. Again, I wish there was a human equivalent of those two that you could use in Gondor and Rohan decks.


So, an overview. Compared to the Mirkwood cycle, I think the Dwarrowdelf quests are a lot more uneven. Part of this is probably the fact that the novelty of the game is wearing off, but while I thought all the Shadows of Mirkwood quests except the Dead Marshes were quite good, here I don't see myself returning to half of these any time soon. A large part of the problem is that the three quests in the Khazad-dûm expansion are so similar to the last three quests of the cycle, which begins to get a little wearisome. Then again, the only reason anyone remembers Road to Rivendell exists is Sleeping Sentry. If you're interested in quests, I wouldn't hesitate a second before getting The Watcher in the Water, and Redhorn Gate is excellent as well. If you play with three or four players, you have to try Foundations of Stone. The rest of them I wouldn't bother with.

As for player cards, Watcher in the Water is brilliant, making it such a no-brainer to buy. Redhorn Gate and Road to Rivendell aren't terribly impressive in this respect, although the latter does come with a real nifty weapon attachment, and anyone running a Hobbit deck may want to get Redhorn Gate. There's some secrecy and dwarf stuff throughout the cycle if you're into that kind of thing, but the big hooks of the cycle are Shadow and Flame for Elrond and his ring, or Foundations of Stone for Snorefindel and his horse Concorde. Of the two, I'd say Foundations of Stone has a much better quest, but the player cards in Shadow and Flame are more interesting. As you can see from my deck list, I haven't actually been using very many cards from this cycle.

Given that I also thought the Khazad-dûm deluxe expansion was quite good, I'd say that even if you're not interested in a Dwarf deck, a combo like Khazad-dûm, Watcher in the Water and either Redhorn Gate or Foundations of Stone would make for a pretty lovely little pile of living card game goodness.


The only change to my main deck from the Dwarrowdelf packs was switching Infighting for Song of Eärendil. I did think about Blood of Númenor, as it would have quite a few potential recipients in our multiplayer games, but my feeling has been that my heroes very rarely have much in their resource pools! I'm still considering both of these as we play. Infighting, in the other hand, remains an intriguing card, but I haven't ended up using it; since my deck has the bulk of the threat-reducing abilities, Song of Eärendil should prove more useful.

My partner came across The Voice of Isengard at a nice discount, so given our recent harrowing experiences with Freezing Cold, I decided we needed Power of Orthanc. Ways of getting rid of bothersome condition attachments are few and far between, and now that I also have Song of Eärendil handy, I think this option would be better in multiplayer than Athelas. And again, what a lovely card to look at!

I also couldn't resist the lure of Curunír, and included two copies, removing my third Northern Tracker to make room. After all, the game is set before the events of the Lord of the Rings, and who wouldn't want to have the head of the White Council and chief of the wizards helping them out? We really could have used his help with the Watcher! The Northern Tracker, on the other hand, is a bit expensive for my deck, and I'm not actually sure the third copy was worth including. I'll see if I regret this!

Another Spirit ally I find myself not using as much as I'd thought is Escort from Edoras. In a pinch, the Escort is an excellent quester, but somehow I'm just not really fond of these disposable allies. Because I've got this whole Amazon theme going, one of the first Ring-maker adventure packs I got was The Three Trials, for Idraen, but it also included Greyflood Wanderer.

Although three resources is a bit costly, that response ability could come in real handy. I like how the Doomed keyword is a sort of unifying theme for many of the cards from Voice of Isengard and the Ring-maker cycle; it's an interesting tradeoff, and with at least some threat reduction in my deck, it's one that I'd like to explore. Also, playing the Dwarrowdelf quests suggested a strange notion: I feel that I might not need three Wardens of Healing. From what I've understood of later quests, I may well change my mind when Archery comes along, but for now, I'm willing to experiment with only two Wardens. So I'm going to try dispensing with one Warden of Healing and my Escorts from Edoras, and replacing them with Greyflood Wanderer. I got to try them for the first time when we introduced a friend to the game, and I used a Northern Tracker - Greyflood Wanderer combo to wipe out all the locations in the staging area. I think this has potential!

Continuing our foray into the Ring-maker cycle's adventure packs brings us Celebrimbor's Secret, which I'd noted down ages ago as a future purchase. It includes not only Galadriel's Handmaiden, a useful questing ally who can lower your threat to boot, but also Wandering Ent.

Technically, the Handmaiden is almost identical to West Road Traveller: a fragile ally with 2 willpower for 2 cost. Given how rarely West Road Traveller's ability gets used, Galadriel's Handmaiden is simply a better ally, but for sentimental reasons, I want to keep my ladies of Rohan. So in practice, I'm torn between the Handmaidens and my Greyflood Wanderers. For now, the Wanderers win.

As for our tree-herding friend, at a measly cost of two, the Wandering Ent is a bargain. It has the same stats as Haldir of Lórien for half the cost; although Haldir's ranged ability is useful in multiplayer, I can rarely afford him. Similarly, Mirkwood Runner's ability to bypass an enemy's defence can be invaluable, but with only one Lore hero and no resource acceleration, even a cost of 3 is a bit steep. I'm going to try replacing both Haldir and my Mirkwood Runners with Wandering Ents.

The Amazons

53 cards: 32 Spirit, 14 Lore, 7 neutral; 3 heroes, 24 allies, 9 attachments, 14 events, 3 side quests


Allies: 24 (12/7/5)
Elfhelm (TDM) x2
Northern Tracker x2
Greyflood Wanderer (TTT) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Henamarth Riversong x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gandalf (OHaUH)
Saruman (VoI) x2

Attachments: 9 (4/4/1)
Unexpected Courage x2
Song of Eärendil (RtR) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Protector of Lórien x2
Song of Wisdom (CatC)

Events: 14
The Galadhrim's Greeting x3
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb x2
Hasty Stroke x2
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Power of Orthanc (VoI) x2

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

Solo sideboard:
add Resourceful (TWitW)
swap Gather Information (TLR) for Will of the West
swap Song of Eärendil (RtR) x2 for Forest Snare x2
swap Power of Orthanc (VoI) x2 for Athelas (TLR) x2


As it stands right now, though, I'm having far too much fun with my Silvan deck! I started using it for Foundations of Stone in this cycle, and haven't looked back since. Here's the current state of the deck after adding The Antlered Crown to our collection, which netted us Treebeard.

Another excellent addition was The Long Defeat from The Battle of Carn Dûm, letting me dispense with my unthematic Wardens of Healing while still providing healing for others, plus the added bonus of card draw for myself. Finally, we finished collecting the Ring-maker cycle with The Nîn-in-Eilph, which gets me Wingfoot for Haldir.

51 cards; 44 Lore, 7 neutral; 3 heroes, 17 allies, 12 attachments, 18 events, 1 side quest; starting threat 22.

Haldir of Lórien (TiT)
Mirlonde (TDT)
Rossiel (EfMG)

Allies: 17 (13/4)
Mirkwood Runner (RTM) x2
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Wellinghall Preserver (AtE) x3
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Henamarth Riversong x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x2

Attachments: 12
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x3
The Long Defeat (TBoCD) x3
Wingfoot (TNiE) x2

Events: 18 (15/3)
Out of the Wild (RtR) x3
Leave No Trace (EfMG) x3
Mithrandir's Advice (TSF) x3
None Return (AtE) x3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3

Side quests: 1
Scout Ahead (TWoE)

Next time, we go sailing!

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