In part 1 of Beorn’s Path, we combined the pre-built Leadership and Lore decks from the Core Set and trimmed them down to a 40 card deck. We tried to choose cards that worked well together and covered a number of strategic needs, including resource generation from Leadership and healing and card draw from the Lore sphere. We also discussed the first scenario from the Core Set, since this is the first challenge that the deck will face. Now it is time to playtest our deck by taking into a Passage Through Mirkwood.
What follows is a play through of the first scenario from the Core Set. Fantasy Flight has given this scenario a difficulty level of 1, but their difficulty levels are notoriously unreliable, and should be taken with a grain of salt. By combining what we hope are the best of the Leadership and Lore sphere cards from the Core Set, the goal is for our deck to be able to successfully navigate the dark forest.
Setup and Opening Hand
After shuffling our deck, we place our three heroes into play and set our starting threat to 28. Next, we will draw our starting hand and decide whether or not to keep it.
This is a great hand. With Gleowine and Steward of Gondor, we have two of the three main aspects of this deck represented in our opening hand. The extra resources generated by Steward of Gondor will also help us pay for Gandalf, who is critical to help with combat and questing early on. Celebrian’s Stone is also great to have in the opening hand, after we attach it to Aragorn he will be questing for 4 willpower by himself, with only 1 willpower on each of our other heroes that extra 2 willpower makes a big difference. If our hand had not included Gleowine, or Steward of Gondor, or a strong combo like Gandalf and Sneak Attack, then we probably would have wanted to take a mulligan. In this case, we will keep our hand and move on to scenario setup.
The setup for Passage Through Mirkwood is simple, we add a copy of Forest Spider and Old Forest Road to the staging area. Before we start the first round, we should examine both of these cards because there are effects on each of them that will help us to determine our early-game strategy. With a threat threshold of 25, we know that the Forest Spider is going to be engaging us right off the bat. Fortunately, the Response effect on Old Forest Road is going to help us deal with the spider; as long as we travel there first, we will be able to ready one of our heroes. Between this effect and Aragorn’s ability to ready after he commits to the quest, we should be well prepared to deal with those nasty arachnids. On the other hand, with a combined threat of 3, and one unknown card being revealed from the encounter deck, questing is going to be difficult this first round. This highlights one of the deficiencies of our current deck design, until we get Gandalf or preferably Faramir into play, our deck is not great at questing. The good news is that, with 28 starting threat, we should have a few round to get some allies to help us. Until we can build up this ally army, these first few rounds will be critical as we simply need to withstand the initial rush of the encounter deck and survive until help comes. With our starting hand determined, and the scenario setup, let’s continue to the first round.
Round 1: Stage 1B – Threat 28
After adding one resource to each our of heroes we will draw our card for the resource phase. We drew a Radagast’s Cunning, which helps address our questing issues somewhat. Between this card and the Secret Paths in our opening hand, we have inexpensive ways to help deal with the threat in the staging area. Another way to think of these cards is +X willpower where X is the highest threat enemy, or location, in the staging area. Let’s move on to planning.
Steward of Gondor is an obvious first play as we want to get extra resource generation going as quickly as possible. Since we only have 1 Lore hero, we can be both strategic and thematically accurate by attaching Steward of Gondor to Denethor. We will then exhaust Steward of Gondor to add 2 more resources to Denethor’s resource pool. At this point Aragorn and Theodred are out of resources and Denethor has 3. We will use 2 of those to play Gleowine. So far, this deck is humming along, we have 2 of the 3 pillars of our design in play in the first round. Some healing would be nice, but hopefully the minstrel from Rohan will allow us to draw into some. We have 1 resource remaining on Denethor, which we are going to save for a our events.
Now that we are done with planning, we need to decide which characters to commit to the quest. Since we are planning on traveling to Old Forest Road and we can use the Theodred + Aragorn trick to make sure that the ranger can quest and remain ready, we will commit everyone to the quest except for Gleowine. He has 1 willpower, and his 2 hit points mean that he could survive a Necromancer’s Reach, but his ability to draw additional cards is too valuable for us to waste him on the quest at this point. So with 4 willpower committed to the quest, we reveal 1 encounter card from the top of the deck. It is Dol Guldur Orcs, not a very tough enemy, but they have a low threat threshold and a particularly nasty “when revealed” effect. Since Aragorn will most likely be taking an undefended attack in the near future, we will go ahead and have Theodred take the 2 damage from this card. We now have 5 threat in the staging area against our 4 willpower. We really don’t want to take any threat this early, and it’s a good idea to always try to make progress on the quest, so let’s pay the last resource from Denethor to play Radagast’s Cunning on the Dol Guldur Orcs. With their threat nullified for this phase, we are now 1 willpower greater than the 3 threat in the staging area, so we place 1 progress on the first quest stage.
For the travel phase, we obviously want to take a stroll down the Old Forest Road. After doing so, let’s ready Denethor to help with defending. For engagement, both the Forest Spider and Dol Guldur orcs are coming our way, with the spider receiving a +1 attack this round from its Forced effect. On to combat.
After dealing each enemy a face down shadow card, we need to assign blockers. Since the Spider now has a 3 attack, we will block them with Denethor. We could let the orcs attack undefended, but at this point we have Gandalf in our hand, so we know that help is on the way. Rather than risk an early hero death, which would probably mean a game loss, we will just hold our ground and assign Aragorn to defend the Dol Guldur Orcs. The spiders attack first revealing a harmless Eyes of the Forest as their shadow card, so Denethor is exhausted but takes no damage. Sadly, with Aragorn’s defense, we will not be so lucky.
We reveal the shadow card for the Dol Guldur Orcs, and it is Hummerhorns! One damage to each character definitely qualifies as a nasty shadow effect, but this also illustrates the risk that one takes letting attacks go unopposed. If we had chosen not to block the orcs, Hummerhorns would have done 2 damage to everyone and killed our Rohirrim, Theodred and Gleowine. With only one of these in the deck, it’s a bit of bad luck seeing it first turn, but fortunately its effect didn’t kill any of our characters. Aragorn’s defense of 2 is enough to handle the attack, and he is left exhausted so we don’t have anyone ready to counter-attack. Before ending the combat phase, we will exhaust Gleowine and draw a Son of Arnor; good timing, we can use another attacker to help clear out some of these enemies. So we ready all of our cards, raise our threat to 29, and move on to the next round.
Round 2: Stage 1B (1 of 8 progress) – Threat 29
With two enemies already engaged with us, we need to find some combat help, and quickly. Theodred already has 3 damage on him so it would also be good to find some healing. After adding resources and exhausting the Steward of Gondor, we have 1 resource each on Aragorn and Theodred and 3 on Denethor. Next, we draw a Common Cause, not the healing that we were hoping for, but it may still come in useful. With so much damage on our heroes, we really want to try and draw a Daughter of Nimrodel or Self Preservation, so we’ll go ahead and take the risk of using Gleowine before the quest phase. With treacheries that damage exhausted characters, this is a calculated risk, but healing Theodred has become a priority. We draw a Protector of Lorien, not what we were hoping for, but again, it may come in handy. To finish our planning phase, we will play Celebrian’s Stone and Protector of Lorien on Aragorn and save two resources on Denethor.
With planning done, and the staging area empty, we will commit Aragorn and Theodred to the quest, again using Theodred to add a resource to Aragorn, which we can then spend to ready Aragorn. Revealing the top card of the encounter deck, we have a Dol Guldur Beastmaster. With a threat threshold of 35, fortunately, we won’t have to deal with this bad-boy just yet. So, thanks to a certain elf-stone, we have 5 total willpower committed to the quest against the 2 threat of the Beastmaster. This means that we quest successfully for 3 progress, which is just enough to explore Old Forest Road. We could discard cards to Protector of Lorien, but at this point it wouldn’t even complete the quest stage, and many of those cards will be more useful in play than in our discard pile. Since we have no desire to optionally engage the Beastmaster, now comes the onerous task of combat. With 2 enemies still engaged, we definitely have our work cut out for us.
Since we know that another Hummerhorns can’t come up as a shadow card, and the biggest attack bonus on a shadow card in this scenario is +1, it looks like it may be time to take one of these attacks undefended. First of all, we will assign Denethor to block the Forest Spider, who is now only attacking for 2. Next we will let the Dol Guldur Orcs’ attack go undefended and cross our fingers. Revealing the shadow card for the spider, we have Great Forest Web, so Denethor again survives unscathed. For the Dol Guldur Orcs, we breathe a sigh of relief as another non-shadow effect is revealed. We will take the 2 points of damage from that attack on Aragorn. At this point our heroes are looking pretty beat up so we really need to get to some healing, urgently. Since Aragorn did not defend this time, he is ready to attack and he will kill the Dol Guldur Orcs with one swing of his sword. All that is left of round 2 is refreshing our exhausted cards and raising our threat to 30.
Round 3: Stage 1B (1 of 8 progress) – Threat 30
With our threat growing, and enemies massing, it looks like it’s time for the Grey Wizard to make an appearance. After adding one resource to our Leadership heroes, and 3 to our steward, we draw, and it is another Gleowine. We still can’t seem to draw the healing that we are looking for, and since we know that we can replace Gleowine if he is killed off, we will again take the risk and use his ability during the planning phase. Still no luck, as we draw a Secret Paths. Now is the turning point in the quest, we need to make a push to once and for all get ahead of the encounter deck so that we can get some momentum going. By paying 5 resources from Denethor, we play Gandalf, who immediately kills our engaged Forest Spider. With two Leadership resources we play a Guard of the Citadel who can help us with some much-needed willpower.
Now we come to the quest phase, it is dangerous to keep questing with Theodred while he has 3 damage on him, but we need Aragorn to keep standing back up, so it’s a calculated risk. With Gleowine drawing extra cards, the hope is that we will see one of the healing cards from our player deck before we see a Necromancer’s Reach from the encounter deck. We could hold him back, but with only 2 threat in the staging area, we need to really try to push through on questing. So we will commit Theodred, a readied Aragorn and a Guard of the Citadel. Gandalf is going to hang back so that he and the Ranger can handle the Dol Guldur Beastmaster. Time to reveal one card from the encounter deck, and it is, The Necromancer’s Reach! This kills Gleowine and Theodred, and things are looking pretty grim.
Hindsight is 20/20 and we could have done things differently to save Theodred, but there are always trade-offs. Without the extra resource from Theodred, Aragorn would not have readied, which means that he would have taken damage from the Necromancer’s Reach and we would not have had enough strength to finish of the Dol Guldur Beastmaster before Gandalf left play. Still, questing with Theodred was a mistake, and one that we should learn from. We also got a hearty dose of bad luck by not drawing any healing, which points to a deficiency that we should address when we make tweaks to our deck. So with 5 committed willpower against the 2 threat of the staging area we will make 3 progress. We now stand with 4 progress on the first stage of the quest.
We will optionally engage the Dol Guldur Beastmaster and assign Denethor to block him. The Beastmaster gets two shadow cards, one of which is a harmless Necromancer’s Pass and the other, a Forest Spider, forces us to discard our Protector of Lorien. With the Beastmaster defended, and Denethor unscathed, Aragorn and Gandalf quickly dispatch our engaged enemy on the counter-attack. So through bad luck and a mistake, we lost a hero, but the staging area is clear and hopefully we still have enough to push through and be successful on this quest. Only having 1 Leadership resource per turn is going to be a challenge. After refresh, we stand at 31 threat with our work cut out for us.
Round 4: Stage 1B (4 of 8 progress) – 31 Threat
With one less hero, our Steward of Gondor is going to have to carry an even heavier load. After adding a resource to Aragorn and Denethor we draw, and it’s still not any healing! Son of Arnor can be good, especially when paired with Forest Snare, but right now he is looking pretty expensive. With 2 of the 3 resources from Denethor we will go ahead and play our second copy of Gleowine. Since we still don’t have any healing, we will wait to use his ability until after the quest phase.
For questing we will send Aragorn, who does not ready, and our Guard of the Citadel. Catching a break for once, we reveal a lowly Forest Gate from the encounter deck. With 5 willpower against 2 threat, we will make 3 more progress, almost enough to complete this stage of the quest. Sadly, Protector of Lorien is sitting in our discard pile, otherwise we could pitch a Son of Arnor to finally move on to stage 2. After traveling, we get more good news as Forest Gate allows us to draw an Erebor Hammersmith and Faramir. The Hammersmith can fetch our Protector of Lorien back for us, but the younger son of Denethor is the really important card here. If we can save up to pay for Faramir, we will have the willpower that we need to push through the rest of this scenario. With no combat, we will use Gleowine to draw a Forest Snare. This will come in handy if we need to face Ungoliant’s Spawn. Also, since we did not need to use him for defending, we can finally use Denethor’s ability and look at the top card of the encounter deck. Oh look, another copy of The Necromancer’s Reach. With no healing anywhere in sight, it’s not a hard decision to move that to the bottom of the encounter deck. With everyone readied, our threat creeps up to 32. Faramir can’t come soon enough.
Round 5: Stage 1B (7 of 8 progress) – 32 Threat
With 2 resources on Aragorn, we know that we need to save up for Faramir, so he is not going to be spending anything in the mean time. After drawing we now have 2 Erebor Hammersmith’s in our hand. At this point it is obvious that our deck is taunting us, the Daughters of Nimrodel are doubtless having a party on the bottom of our deck, most likely accompanied by all of our copies of Self Preservation. In any case, we must soldier on and work with what we’ve got. We will spend all 4 resources from Denethor to play both copies of Erebor Hammersmith. With nothing in the staging area, the goal here is to push through the quest before our threat gets too high, our Dwarven friends also have the distinct advantage that they can block orcs without spontaneously combusting. As an added bonus, we can trigger the Response on one of the Hammersmith’s and return our Protector of Lorien to our hands. I’ll leave the thematic explanation of a Dwarf restoring an Elven Title to relevance as an exercise for the readers.
So moving on to questing, this ally army is all the more important because at this point we can’t afford to use Aragorn’s ability to ready him after questing. So a Dunedain, a Guard of the Citadel and a Dwarf from Erebor walk into a bar… err… commit to a quest. Let’s see what fun the encounter deck has in store for us this time. Caught in a Web! Oh boy, the hits just keep on coming. With Denethor still ready, and Steward of Gondor giving him 3 resources a turn, he is the logical choice to get tangled up. We may be able to manage this attachment, but another dwarf would be nice, since our deck doesn’t want to give us any elves. Miner of the Iron Hills is in this deck specifically to deal with cards like this.
On the bright side, we successfully quested for 6 progress which explores Forest Gate and finally completes stage 1 of the quest. Stage 2 has a measly 2 quest points so things are looking up. With no enemies to engage and no conceivable reason to exhaust Denethor for his ability when it would just get him tangled further, we are left with Gleowine and his card drawing ability. The minstrel sings us a fine song, bringing us: Miner of the Iron Hills! Yes, yes, yes. After 5 rounds of taunts and jeers, our deck has finally delivered. We now have a solution to the supremely annoying Caught in a Web, and we are on the cusp of playing Faramir to finally push our rag-tag army of allies onward to victory. With our threat at 33 we move on to round 6 with hope in our hearts.
Round 6: Stage 2B – 33 Threat
After adding resources we draw a Common Cause. Not the most exciting card, but it may yet come in handy. We know that Aragorn is saving up for Faramir, so the logical play here is to just have Denethor pay for the Miner of the Iron Hills. The Dwarf promptly untangles all of the cob-webs, freeing our steward to do cartwheels and hand-stands, and whatever other silly things one does as a steward of the greatest nation of men remaining in Middle-Earth.
For questing, we will again have Aragorn, a Guard of the Citadel, and one Erebor Hammersmith will commit to the quest. The encounter deck decides to be kind for once, revealing only an East Bright Patrol. At this point, this is a card that I much prefer to see as an enemy than an ill-timed shadow card. The pitiful 1 defense and 2 hit points on this card will mean that it is easily dispatched by a certain heir of Isildur. With 6 willpower against the 3 threat of the patrol, we easily complete stage 2. At last, we have reached the final stage of our quest, in this case one of two stages that is selected at random. Don’t Leave the Path has no quest points but will require us to fetch a Spider and defeat Ungoliant’s Spawn before we can claim victory. The other path, named after yours truly, is the better one because it has 10 quest points but we only have to fight Shelob’s ill-gotten spawn if she shows up before we finish the stage.
After shuffling the two quest cards and picking one at random, we have our final stage of the scenario: Beorn’s Path! Never could there be a more poetic ending. Our first attempt at playtesting will finish on a quest stage named after this very series of articles and your friendly neighborhood bear. We have to win this scenario now, Eru Ilúvatar has willed it.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves, we still have to deal with the East Bight Patrol. They will engage and we are going to have our ready Erebor Hammersmith block them. After an ineffectual shadow card (another Caught in a Web!) the Dwarf takes 2 damage, but survives to see another day. Next, we will play Common Cause and exhaust Denethor to ready Aragorn. The Dunedain then easily sends the orcs to whatever hellish after-life is the destiny of their kind. Before ending the turn we will use Gleowine to draw a Secret Paths. Depending on what comes next round, this card may come in handy. So, with grim determination, and indomitable will, we raise our threat to 34 and prepare for the final quest stage.
Round 7: Stage 3B (Beorn’s Path) – 34 Threat
Because we kept our cool, and didn’t wander aimlessly through Mirkwood like a bunch of tourists, we were rewarded with the easier of the two stages for the end of this scenario. Since we only have to fight Ungoliant’s Spawn if it is revealed, that is the only card (barring surge) in the encounter deck that can prevent us from using Faramir to power through this stage and win the game. Fortunately, we have a certain palantír-wielding madman to ensure that we not only know what the top card of the encounter deck is, but, if it happens to be something that we don’t like, we can put it on the bottom of the encounter deck.
After collecting resources and drawing a, now meaningless, Sneak Attack, we will use Denethor’s ability to peek at the top card of the encounter deck. It is another Dol Guldur Beastmaster. There is no need to temp fate, so we will leave him there on the top of the encounter deck. With the knowledge that 2 threat is going to be in the staging area, all we have to do is quest for at least 12 and we will win the game. For planning, all we will do is pay our hard-saved 4 resources for Faramir. In the questing phase we trigger Faramir’s ability, giving all of our other characters +1 willpower until the end of the phase. We will now commit everyone to the quest except Denethor and his son, who are exhausted. This gives us 14 total willpower against the 2 threat from Dol Guldur Beastmaster and we win the game.
Score and Recap
We completed the quest with Theodred dead, 3 damage on Aragorn and 1 damage on Denethor. With a threat of 34 after 6 full rounds (rounds tally during the refresh phase) and no victory points, our final score is:
34 (threat) + 60 (rounds) + 8 (Theodred) + 3 (Aragorn) + 1 (Denethor) = 106
At this point, we probably don’t need to be too obsessed with our score, but 6 rounds is not too bad for our first time tackling this scenario with a freshly-made deck. Also, our score is useful as a baseline after we make changes to our deck. If we decide to come back later to try this scenario again, we can see how our new deck compares to the old one.
So after some bad luck and an early, and costly, play blunder, we managed to successfully navigate a Passage Through Mirkwood. Aside from being more mindful of heroes on death’s door, one lesson that we can take from this playtesting session is that we probably need more healing in our deck. When we first designed it, 2 copies each of Daughter of Nimrodel and Self Preservation seemed sufficient. We actually got lucky when it comes to shadow cards (Hummerhorns aside) in that we avoided any enemy attack-buffs. Between the combat, treacheries like The Necromancer’s Reach, and shadow card nastiness, healing is a very dire need for this deck. This is especially true because leadership is not as good at combat as Tactics. In the next article, we will examine in greater detail how our deck performed, and see how we can improve it before we continue on to the next scenario.
Well my friends, that is all for today. The bread is rising in the oven, and my tummy is grumbling like a bear cub. It’s a little known fact that skin-changers have two stomachs, and we thus have to eat twice as much. It was a fun day killing orcs with you all, check back soon as we continue down Beorn’s Path in search of more adventures.