Mar 12, 2018

LotR LCG: Against the Shadow cycle

"If a man must needs walk in sight of the Black Gate, or tread the deadly flowers of Morgul Vale, then perils he will have.
- Aragorn, in the Lord of the Rings, Book II, chapter 2

It's been ages since I've done one of these posts! I've been taking a bit of a break from the Lord of the Rings LCG, but the Wilds of Rhovanion announcement got me excited to play again, and while we were waiting for the Haradrim cycle adventure packs to turn up, we finished working through the Against the Shadow cycle, where our heroes become involved in Gondor's war with Sauron.

John Howe: The Witch King, no date given.


The Steward's Fear - DL 5

In the first adventure pack of the series, our heroes have been sent to investigate a conspiracy in Minas Tirith. The setup is a little fiddly, with an encounter deck, an underworld deck and a secret randomly selected villain and plot. The fiddliness is worth it, though, for the extra replay value, since each combo of plot and villain will be different. The quest itself is fairly straightforward; you fight off various brigands and whatnot, and advance by exploring locations. Funny how people hate Hills of Emyn Muil because it's all about clearing locations, but The Steward's Fear is very popular and the key mechanic is... clearing locations.

We first tried this three-handed with a friend's hobbit deck, and had a blast. It's like Peril in Pelargir, only better, and because of both theme and replayability, I'd give it an edge over Escape from Umbar as the best urban quest in the game. Highly recommended!

Card spotlight: Gondorian Shield

Outlands are all well and good, but where would we be without Gondorian Shield? Buff Beregond up to a ridiculous defense of 6 for free, give good old Eleanor a respectable 4 defense, or best of all, turn Boromir into a monster defender. Such an excellent, straightforward little attachment that's never gone out of use since it turned up.


The Drúadan Forest - DL 6

After uncovering the plot in the last scenario, our heroes are pursuing the conspirators into the Drúadan Forest, the home of the Wood-Woses. The first stages are hard questing, harassed by Woses who use the Prowl mechanic to steal all your resources. Soon enough, you find the villains you were looking for: riddled with wose arrows, as you're about to become. At one point, we managed to soak up a ridiculous 12 points of archery damage! If you survive, the last quest stage is a siege quest, where you quest using Defense, and as a surprise twist, use Willpower instead of Attack.

We enjoyed ourselves! Jubayr was excellent here with his shadow-discarding ability, and a surprisingly welcome contributor to the siege questing in the last stage. If your decks can handle archery, this is a pretty good quest. Hobbits, I imagine, would pretty much be mowed down immediately. DL 6 feels a bit high, but maybe our decks were particularly well suited to the challenge. In terms of both theme and mechanics, this is actually what the Dunlending quests in the Voice of Isengard and the Ring-maker cycle should have been like.

Card spotlight: Mighty Prowess

The big theme of the player cards in this cycle was mono-sphere, so most of the cards in this adventure pack and quite a few in the others ones as well are tied to decks with heroes from one sphere only. The most noteworthy exception here happens to be the one we've made use of: Mighty Prowess. Since most quests tend to have enemies that share a trait or even two, you'll tend to find a recipient for the damage, at least in multiplayer games. Combine it with Thalin and any kind of readying to wipe out weaker enemies with ease.


Encounter at Amon Dîn - DL 5

On their way back to Minas Tirith, the heroes come across a nobleman, Lord Alcaron, busy trying to defend some Gondorian farmers from ravaging orcs. Obviously our heroes help out.

This is a fairly simple quest, with just two quest stages and a focus on saving villagers faster than the orcs can kill them. I know commenting on the official difficulty levels is kind of pointless, but DL 5 is a particularly egregious overstatement even for them. This quest is in the top 3 easiest quests in the game on the Quest Companion and for good reason; I'd have considered something like DL 2 myself. There's a couple of unpredictable shadow effects and it's not impossible to fail at protecting the villagers, but at least decently built decks should have an easy time of it.

This is a fairly thematic quest, though, and some of the encounter card art is quite nice. Because it's also quite easy, this really wouldn't be a bad quest for new players to try out. In the end, I think the fairly thin encounter deck and rather uninspired quest deck keep this from being a particularly good quest, but there's really nothing wrong with it either.

Card spotlight: Ithilien Archer

There's not a whole lot of ranged attack outside Tactics or Leadership, which immediately makes this a useful card to have in multiplayer games. Only 2 attack isn't much, but with several players, it's what you combine it with that counts, and it's that much more likely that you'll get to make use of the ability as well. If I ever get around to building one of those trap decks, I'm pretty sure I'll be including this guy in it.


Assault on Osgiliath - DL 8

After rescuing villagers, our heroes take part in the fighting around the ruins of Osgiliath. Another slightly different quest, this one revolves around trying to claim locations from the enemy and defend them.

We gave this a few shots, and it's not a bad quest; it's fairly combat-focused, with some pretty tough enemies, but DL 8 still feels a bit high. The weird thing about this quest is how random the actual difficulty can be; because the victory condition is holding every Osgiliath location in play, games can end very quickly if there are only a couple. Especially solo games can end very suddenly, while multiplayer games can degenerate into massive slogs through hordes of enemies. Unpredictability aside, this isn't a bad quest, but perhaps a little more like the huge battles of the Heirs deluxe than we'd like.

Card spotlight: Palantír

The most interesting card in the game that I've never gotten around to using. When I eventually get bored with my current deck,I'm going to come up with something focused on encounter deck manipulation, and it will definitely include a Palantír.


The Blood of Gondor - DL 7

With Osgiliath retaken, our heroes pursue the retreating enemy into Ithilien, with the help of Lord Alcaron and Objective Ally Faramir. With both battle and siege questing on offer, this is another fighty quest where you get ambushed by orcs through a hidden card mechanic. Special bonus points for very atmospheric card art.

This is a fairly straightforward quest, and either we got very lucky, or the difficulty level is a bit on the high side, because we passed this on our first go, despite losing a hero early. The hidden card mechanic isn't bad, but the enemies are oddly lackluster for this cycle, and the whole thing feels a bit short and sort of like a missed opportunity to do something more interesting.

Card spotlight: Caldara

Not every hero in this game gets a deck type named after themselves, but Caldara decks are an entire world of their own. All you need is a reliable way to get lots of expensive Spirit characters into the discard pile, Sword-thain for an extra hero and ally Imrahil to fill in while Caldara's gone, and you're in business.


The Morgul Vale - DL 7

In the climactic finale to the cycle, Faramir has been captured by the orcs, and our heroes pursue them into the valley of Minas Morgul itself. There, they must fight their way past three end bosses I mean captains to free Faramir.

This is a somewhat combat-heavy quest, but it's well executed and pretty atmospheric. We threated out on the last quest stage, but definitely enjoyed ourselves! A proper end to the cycle, and a fitting bookend to the Steward's Fear.

Card spotlight: Spear of the Mark

I don't know why Dúnhere decks are so much fun, but they just are. There's something deeply satisfying about charging into the staging area to beat up on an enemy that can't attack back, or trigger some horrible ability contingent on engaging you. Because Dúnhere's attack isn't actually that high, he needs some help to knock out tougher enemies, and that's why you get this spear. Simply an indispensable accessory to a fun deck.


So, that's an adventure pack cycle. We didn't particularly enjoy the Heirs of Númenor deluxe expansion, with its heavy emphasis on combat, but the associated cycle is much better. The Steward's Fear is an excellent quest, as is the Morgul Vale, and Encounter at Amon Dîn is a fun enough adventure for less experienced players. So there's something here for everyone. Definitely a pleasant surprise after the deluxe!


Finally, my deck. It's been so long I can barely remember what's in it! One thing I'm sure of, though, is that now that we've got a copy of the last saga expansion, the Mountain of Fire, there's no way I'm not including Elladan and Elrohir in my unique character -themed deck. Other than that, I'm quite happy with what I've got.

56 cards; 29 Spirit, 23 Lore, 4 neutral; 26 allies, 12 attachments, 16 events, 2 side quests. Starting threat 28.

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

Allies: 26 (17/8/1)
Jubayr (TM)
Northern Tracker x2
Súlien (TCoC)
Elrohir (TMoF)
Lindir (TBoCD)
Rhovanion Outrider (ToTD) x2
Bilbo Baggins (TRD)
Galadriel's Handmaiden (CS) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Dúnedain Pathfinder (RAH) x2
Elladan (TMoF)
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: 2
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)


And here's my partner's mono-Tactics deck.

Team Boromir Mk.4 (57)

Boromir (TDM)
Legolas (Core)
Éowyn (TFotW)

Allies: 15 (11/4)

Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x2
Honour Guard (TwoE) x3
Winged Guardian (ThfG) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Gandalf (Core)
Radagast (AjtR)
Steward of Orthanc (RAH) x 2

Events: 16 (12/4)

Wait No Longer (TM) x3
Feint x3
Foe-Hammer (OhaUH) x3
Sterner than Steel (TFofW) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3
Justice Shall Be Done (ASoCH)

Attachments: 24 (21/3)

Support of the Eagles (RtM) x2
Vigilant Guard (ASoCH)
Great Yew Bow (OtD) x2
Spear of the Citadel (HoN) x2
Captain of Gondor (TAC) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x2
Grappling Hook (TGH) x3
Mighty Prowess (TDF) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x2
Rohan Warhorse (TvoI) x2
Black Arrow (OtD)
Favor of the Valar x3 (TboCD)

Side quests: 2 (1/1)

Keep Watch (BtS)
Gather Information (TLR)

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