May 9, 2016

LotR LCG: Ere we go again

Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse.
- The Hobbit, chapter II

Now that my Hobbit-reading project is complete, it's high time we return to the saga expansions of the Lord of the Rings LCG and finish the story of the Hobbit there as well. Last time, I tried all the quests in the first Hobbit expansion solo, and we managed to beat We Must Away four-handed - but missed out on the treasure. So first, we have to face the trolls again. In my previous post on Over Hill and Under Hill, I mostly talked about the quests in terms of solo play, and while I liked the first one, the second quest was a bit disappointing and the last one I didn't enjoy at all. This time, we'll be making our way through them in multiplayer, and then forming an overall impression of the first Hobbit saga expansion.

John Howe: The Great Goblin, 1988


We Must Away, Ere Break of Day

This is a quest that really needs two difficulty ratings: one for passing it, another for getting the treasure cards. We beat the quest itself on our first attempt, and once you know what's coming, it's not that hard. Getting the treasures, though, requires having Troll Cave in your victory display, and that isn't always quite as easy to arrange!

When I beat the quest solo, the key thing was a slow, methodic buildup, so I had enough questing and combat power to survive the trolls. We tried the same strategy with four players, and it failed entirely. In the end, it was No Campfire that sunk us: with four players, that card is brutal.

By the time we engaged the trolls, we had Troll Key, Troll Purse and Troll Camp in play, but an absolute deluge of treacheries and locations raised our Leadership/Lore deck's threat to 50, and we gave up shortly thereafter. Clearly the slow play wasn't going to work; however, taking a faster route to fighting the trolls ended in everybody being knocked out by threat in the very last quest phase before we'd have exhausted the encounter deck.

This is still a really good quest, but the threat gain when playing four-handed is merciless. It's perfectly doable if you're content to pass the quest, but during the time it takes to get ready for the trolls, unsack whoever needs to be unsacked, grab Troll Key and travel to Troll Cave, your threat will just explode. Eventually, we decided to move on; the trolls' treasures were going to stay in that cave.


Over the Misty Mountains Grim

For the next quest, I switched over to my Silvan deck, and we headed on up into the mountains.

I wasn't too impressed by this quest when I played through the expansion solo, but taking it on three-handed was a whole different story. For my lowish-threat, strongly questing Spirit/Lore deck, the mountains were just a little interval to build allies up; the three of us actually had to fight giants!

Questing through the mountains actually turned out to be kinda fun, with treacheries like Galloping Boulders and the always lovely Wind-whipped Rain stopping things from getting too easy, and, of course, the giants. As soon as we'd cleared the storm, though, we were dumped smack in the middle of goblins. Lots and lots of goblins.

With three players, what you get is honestly a pretty massive swarm of goblins, leading to a suitably epic fight. Thalin is simply superb here, especially in co-operation with his best dwarven buddy ever:

Sadly, by this time our Tactics deck was on the verge of elimination, so a final Boromir bomb wiped out a bunch of goblins, while a Longbeard Orc Slayer saw to the rest, leaving our surviving heroes to sprint for the exit.

As a side note, because these posts don't always strictly reproduce the chronological order we played these quests in, this was actually the first time I got to use Wingfoot on Haldir, letting him both quest and fight, and it was excellent.

I'll stick to my guns to the extent that this isn't a great quest solo, but with three players we had a heck of a time. The questing in the mountains is thematically well done, the giants are properly intimidating, and the climactic battle with The Great Goblin and his horde is excellent. Despite the fact that we'd just finished slogging through the endless goblin masses of Moria and the Dwarrowdelf cycle, this was a lot of fun.


Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim

In the last quest in the box, our heroes try to escape from the goblins' caves while Bilbo swaps riddles with Gollum. One part of the first quest stage is an ordinary quest, where you battle a horde of goblins, made appropriately hordey by revealing double the normal number of encounter cards per turn. The twist is that some of these card have riddles on them, which you can answer instead of adding the cards to the staging area. Answering them correctly gets progress on the second quest; wrong answers mean Gollum attacks Bilbo, and if you're wrong three times, Bilbo bites the dust.

While I like that the designers went for something different here, I'm not a fan on the riddle mechanics at all. They involve discarding a whole bunch of cards from your deck and guessing some combination of cost, type and sphere. A mono-spirit deck with Will of the West would no doubt find this easy; with my old Spirit/Lore Amazon deck, this was horrible. To do well here, you should figure out the odds of any particular card showing up from your deck and guess that, and I'm not particularly inclined to put together an Excel spreadsheet of my deck to get through this one quest.

Other than the riddles, you pretty much get a direct continuation of the previous quest, which honestly feels a bit repetitive. All in all, this is a really weak, even annoying quest that I don't see any of us wanting to revisit.


So the first two quests are pretty darn good, and the player cards aren't too shabby either. There's a bunch of dwarves if you're into that kind of thing, but also several utility cards that have become real standbys. A Very Good Tale is a staple of the Leadership ally horde, and this expansion's version of Gandalf can effectively serve threat-managing decks as an additional hero. He's saved my skin more than once! Tactics decks will still struggle to beat Foe-hammer for card draw, and they also get a bear.

So for a relatively modest investment, the Over Hill and Under Hill box gives you several excellent player cards, and more importantly, two really good quests, the first of which I think is one of the experiences in the whole game that you absolutely will not want to miss. If you're just getting into the game, and especially if you're at all interested in looking into a dwarf deck, I would put this fairly high on the shopping list; if you can get several people together to play the first two quests, I might even go so far as to suggest the very top. Even if you share my entirely negative opinion of the third quest, this is still a first-class expansion and tremendous value for money.


Over several games, I've found my Silvan deck has some third copies of cards that I rarely use that many times: there aren't always as many opportunities to play The Long Defeat as I'd like, and Out of the Wild is actually a bit expensive. Given that I now almost exclusively play with at least one other player, I guess I should take that seriously, so I'm going to try including two copies of Elf-friend instead.

The main goal is to spread some of that Silvan Tracker auto-healing around, a prime target being Boromir. While I'm at it, Elf-friend would also (appropriately enough!) let me give him a Cloak of Lórien. We'll see how it goes!

53 cards; 44 Lore, 9 neutral; 3 heroes, 16 allies, 13 attachments, 20 events, 1 side quest; starting threat 22.

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

Allies: 16 (12/4)
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x3
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Wellinghall Preserver (AtE) x3
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Gandalf (Core) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x2

Attachments: 13 (11/3)
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x3
The Long Defeat (TBoCD) x2
Wingfoot (TNiE) x2
Elf-friend (TToR) x2

Events: 20 (17/3)
Out of the Wild (RtR) x2
The Evening Star (TGH) 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)


And here's my brother's Leadership-Lore deck:

53 cards; 32 Leadership, 19 Lore, 2 neutral; 3 heroes, 23 allies, 13 attachments, 14 events; starting threat 28.

Aragorn (Core)

Allies: 23 (14/7/2)
Faramir x2
Longbeard Orc Slayer x2
Son of Arnor x2
Silverlode Archer x2
Guard of the Citadel x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Daughter of the Nimrodel x3
Gléowine x2
Miner of the Iron Hills x2
Gandalf x2 (Core)

Attachments: 13 (7/6)
Celebrian's Stone
Steward of Gondor x2
Dúnedain Quest x2 (AJtR)
Dúnedain Warning x2 (CatC)
Forest Snare x2
Self Preservation x2
A Burning Brand x2 (CatC)

Events: 14 (9/5)
Grim Resolve
For Gondor! x2
Ever Vigilant x2
Sneak Attack x2
Valiant Sacrifice x2
Lórien's Wealth x2
Lore of Imladris
Infighting x2 (AJtR)

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