Jul 10, 2017

LotR LCG: The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

And far away, its dark head in a torn cloud, there loomed the Mountain!
- The Hobbit, chapter X

Having made it over the Misty Mountains, sort of, in the previous instalment of our saga quests, it's finally time to take on the second Hobbit saga expansion, On the Doorstep.

John Howe: Roac, son of Carc, 1979


Flies and Spiders

Before we get to talk to ravens, there's only Mirkwood to get through, and that means spiders. To get into the spirit of the source material, there's a poison mechanic: some cards will poison your characters, and if enemies with the Venom keyword do damage, they inflict poison as well. Too much poison will knock characters unconscious until they're revived by a card effect or good old Bilbo Baggins.

So you basically have to quest through the woods and fight spiders, doing your best to not take too much damage. On our first three-handed shot, we got hit with Weighed Down for a couple of turns straight, which kind of messed with everything, and managed to draw a logjam of locations that raised our threat a bit before we could get them cleared. To top it off, I lost a hero to an attack that became undefended when a shadow card gave a Winged Guardian more venom than it could handle (i.e. any). This all gave us enough difficulties getting started that we threated out in the last quest stage.

We took a second shot with the same players, and despite getting off to a better start, we again fell just short of the mark. An easy quest this ain't. The key is intelligent use of Bilbo and his ring to revive unconscious characters; the difficulty is that you're not only racing the threat counter, but there's also an endless horde of spiders to fight off while the venom keeps accumulating.

This is a fun quest though! It's not too easy, can throw a nasty surprise or two at you, and above all really manages to capture the feel of the story you're re-enacting, so to speak. So a very strong start to this expansion!


The Lonely Mountain

The second quest sees our heroes burgling the dragon's lair and trying to not get murdered. There are several treasure cards under the Lonely Mountain, and after questing, the first player makes a burgling attempt. Succeed and you get to grab one of the treasures; fail, and Smaug attacks. Later on, you have to either quest enough to escape Smaug or destroy him.

This is a very, very silly quest. In the third quest stage, Smaug is considered engaged with the first player so he attacks every turn, but if he's dealt a shadow card with a burgle effect on it, he immediately attacks again. The initial attack of eight is unpleasant enough on its own, but multiples of it are complete madness. It's perfectly ordinary for Smaug to attack three or four times in a row. I don't know what kind of deck you need to succesfully defend that. Certainly none of us have one. Luck seems to play a ridiculously disproportionate part; if Smaug doesn't go on a frenzy, the quest itself isn't actually all that hard, but it's quite possible to draw an absolutely ridiculous run of burgle cards.

Admittedly Smaug attacking us something like eight times over a couple of turns was absurd enough to be funny, but when we tried this quest three-handed, practically all of our heroes were eaten by a dragon. The burgling mechanic has shades of the horrible riddles of Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim, and like that quest, this is one I don't think any of us will be interested in trying again.


The Battle of Five Armies

So, after being destroyed by rapid fire Smaug, we moved on to the last scenario, an epic battle. To convey epicness, there are no less than three simultaneous quest stages in play, with one requiring regular questing, one battle questing and another siege questing, leading to a final showdown with Bolg.

I've complained about battle questing before, and the Battle of Five Armies also has siece questing, to which the same applies. In effect, with the three quest stages, you have to quest, battle quest and siege quest, all while facing a horde of goblins being boosted by various in-play effects. So to an extent you're trying to do everything twice, and the good old snowball effect also works here: if you get going, things start to work out; if not, you'll be swamped. We gave it a couple of shots, and our experience was more of the latter kind.

I wasn't too sold on this quest, to be honest. The multiple quest stages and accumulating bonuses to the goblins are a decent stab at an epic battle, but for whatever reason I never felt it. The enemies and locations all feel generic and forgettable; the impression isn't so much of a great decisive battle as a huge flood of goblins. So it's like Khazad-dûm outdoors, without a good story.


On the Doorstep obviously comes with a bunch of player cards, and like the previous Hobbit box, they're all dwarves. Well, okay, you get Bard the Bowman, and a couple of neat archery cards in Great Yew Bow and Straight Shot, but other than that, it really pretty much is all dwarves.

So you know, get this for the player cards if you really like dwarves? Or the idea of using Great Yew Bow to shoot into the staging area with Legolas. I had a bunch of fun with that with one of my alternative decks, so I actually recommend it!


On the whole, though, we weren't terribly impressed with this saga expansion. The first quest is decent, rapid fire Smaug is ridiculous and the climactic final quest kinda wasn't. So after a good first Hobbit box, this was a disappointment. So in all honesty, I have to say I'd only ever recommend buying On the Doorstep if you want the player cards.


After making our way through this last Hobbit box and the Dream-chaser cycle, I remain quite satisfied with my deck. However, it can always get better, and over our past few games, I've identified two problem areas: healing and card draw.

To start with healing, I'm going to try including Ioreth.

As an aside, the Haradrim cycle is bringing us new side quests, but I'm not too sold on them. At six quest points and a cost of one, Explore Secret Ways is too marginal an ability - especially when my partner uses Core Legolas - to be worth it. The trouble with side quests is that they're very situational: there are quests where you most definitely want them, like, say, We Must Away, or any quest where you're not placing progress on the main quest, but in tougher quests you just don't have the time to spare for them. This is why I'm not sold on cards like Rider of Rohan, because if I'm playing a quest where side quests are impractical, I've paid three Spirit resources for a two-willpower quester, which isn't a good deal.

The other problem with side quests is manifest in the upcoming Spirit side quest, Rally the West. At one cost and six quest points, putting it in the victory display gives each hero +1 Willpower. Now, I can think of a couple of quests where this might be worthwhile - Redhorn Gate springs to mind - but most of the time, if you can spend a turn's questing to gain the bonus, do you really need it? So the questing-enhancing side quests don't really feel worthwhile to me, because they're "win more" cards.

Next, card draw. Since my brother's apparently given up on the Leadership/Lore deck that was still around for the first quests of this saga box, I can welcome back an old friend: Gléowine, the minstrel of Rohan.

One of the cards I've been using for draw has been Ancient Mathom, and while I like it and it goes well with my deck's location control theme, it can at times be a little tricky to set up. As an experiment, I'm going to try diversifying by bringing in another old Lore favorite of mine: The Long Defeat, which is perfect for my purposes as it provides both card draw and healing.

Also, just in case I run out of cards again, I'm throwing in a single copy of Lindir. He can even defend for 3 if I give him my spare Cloak of Lórien!

Finally, now that I'm in the business of adding single copies of unique characters to my deck, I'm having a copy of Mablung as well. Not only is he a two-cost, two-willpower quester, but since my deck is pretty heavily specialized toward questing and low on attack, we sometimes run into trouble if I end up engaged with too many enemies. Mablung gives me a way to get rid of at least one.

So I effectively now have an oversize deck packed with single copies of unique allies. This isn't great, because it means the deck will be inconsistent: it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to find my single copy of Lindir when I'm out of cards, or Mablung when I really need to get rid of an engaged enemy. But I'm okay with this. As long as the overall proportions of my deck are reasonable, I should be getting decent cards: if not Lindir, then some other questing ally; if not The Long Defeat, then some other card draw; and so on. Most importantly, this should let me get acquainted with some new cards, so I can figure out whether they work with my deck or not.

So far, my 56-card deck has done reasonably well in producing questing power, location control and healing, which is what it's there to do, and doing its bit in combat as well.

56 cards; 31 Spirit, 21 Lore, 4 neutral; 26 allies, 12 attachments, 16 events, 2 side quests. Starting threat 28.

Arwen Undómiel (TDR)
Idraen (TTT)
Rossiel (EfMG)

Allies: 26 (18/7/1)
Jubayr (TM) x2
Northern Tracker x2
Súlien (TCoC)
Lindir (TBoCD)
Rhovanion Outrider (ToTD) x2
Bilbo Baggins (TRD)
Galadriel's Handmaiden (CS) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Dúnedain Pathfinder (RAH) x3
Gléowine x2
Mablung (TLoS)
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Ioreth (ASoCH)
Gandalf (OHaUH)

Attachments: 12 (6/6)
Unexpected Courage x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x2
Light of Valinor (FoS) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x2
The Long Defeat (TBoCD) x2

Events: 16 (5/8/3)
A Test of Will x3
Elven-light (TDR) x2
Leave No Trace (EfMG) x2
None Return (AtE) x3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3

Side quests:
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)

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