In our previous stop along Beorn’s Path, we tuned our Leadership/Lore deck in preparation for a Journey Along the Anduin. Knowing that we have to face, and defeat, the dreaded Hill Troll has impacted our strategy. Specifically, we identified a need for more card draw to find our solutions to the troll, since he starts in the staging area and we only have a few rounds before he will engage us. Also, taking lessons learned from our first playtesting session, we decided to add more healing and location control in the form of an extra copy of Daughter of the Nimrodel and Snowbourn Scout.
Even though our Journey Along the Anduin will include some high-threat locations, like The Brown Lands, actually removing these locations with the Scout makes more sense than just canceling their threat for one round with Secret Paths. Also, because the second stage reveals an additional encounter card during the staging step, we want more allies in general to help form a questing army. Faramir’s ability in particular, will be all the more vital once we’ve defeated the Hill Troll and are ready to race to the finish line.
As for the troll, we do have a solution for dealing with him. If you’ll recall, his ability means that excess damage that he would deal, beyond the remaining hit points of defender, must be taken as a threat increase. This is something that we want to avoid at all costs, but his attack of 6 and high hit points make the troll a formidable foe. Unfortunately, we are relying on two cards for Troll-control, so we may not be able to get the full combo before our threat reaches 30 and we are forced to engage the troll.
Still, as long as we can trap the troll within our first few rounds we should be all right. To recap from our last article, the combination that we are looking for involves playing Son of Arnor to force the Hill Troll to engage us during the planning phase, then immediately tripping him in a Forest Snare. This would ensure that the hideous creature never gets a chance to attack. If we can pull this off, we won’t risk the loss of Aragorn defending, and as importantly, we won’t have to deal with the large threat increases that come from chump blocking this enemy.
Setup and Opening Hand
Drawing our opening hand of six cards, we find Gandalf, Sneak Attack, Son of Arnor, Secret Paths, Erebor Hammersmith and a Guard of the Citadel. While getting multiple uses from Gandalf might seem great, this hand is very uneven. With no card draw, healing, or resource generation, we will be hard pressed to establish any of our strategies for successfully completing this quest. Moreover, we are really hoping for a Forest Snare to have a solution in hand for the impending troll attack. So we will take a mulligan and draw a new hand of six cards. Our second hand is a close to perfect as we could want: Miner of the Iron Hills, Son of Arnor, Protector of Lorien, Daughter of Nimrodel, Faramir and Steward of Gondor. We will still need to scramble for that trap, but at least this hand gives us a lot more to work with while we do so.
For scenario setup we reveal one card from the encounter deck. Necromancer’s Reach is revealed, which fortunately has no effect since no characters are exhausted at this point. It’s always good to see treacheries like this revealed when they have little or no negative impact. As an added bonus the treachery means the only threat starting in the staging area will be the 1 from the troll. This is helpful because our decks starts slowing when it comes to questing. Completing the setup, since there is no Hill Troll in play, we search through the encounter deck to find one, then add it to the staging area.
Round 1: Stage 1B – Threat 28
After collecting one resource on each hero, we draw our first card of the game: Guardian of the Citadel. Nothing spectacular, but he should come in handy later, when we want our ally army to finish off the scenario. Moving on to planning we play Steward of Gondor on Denethor and immediately exhaust it for two additional resources. This allows us to and pay for Daughter of Nimrodel. After spending our entire Passage Through Mirkwood on a vain quest for repeatable healing, we have it in the first round of our latest quest. Knowing that Aragorn can afford to take undefended attacks from smaller enemies will free him up to counter-attack and should greatly ease combat.
With our resources spent, we move on to the quest phase. With the backup that healing provides, we can safely commit all of our heroes to the quest, using Theodred’s ability to fuel Aragorn’s ability so that the Dunedain is ready for combat. For staging we reveal Eastern Crows. The crows are puny, but they do have surge, so for the extra encounter card we reveal Banks of the Anduin. With 4 willpower against 3 threat in the staging area we place 1 progress token on stage 1 of the quest. Not a bad start considering all we want to do at this point is tread water until we can deal with the Hill Troll.
Next up, we will travel to Banks of the Anduin. Not all locations in the game have negative effects, and this card is a great example of an encounter card effect that can be used to your advantage. In a scenario like this, with cruel treacheries and big enemies running amok in the encounter deck, having an innocuous location that we can draw multiple times is a good thing. At first glance, it may seem counter productive to continually place 3 quest points worth of buffer between us and quest progress. However, when the alternative is cards like The Necromancer’s Reach, Evil Storm, or even a second Hill Troll, we will gladly slow our questing a bit to ensure a safer journey.
For the encounter phase, we will optionally engage the Eastern Crows, because we want to get them out of the staging area. In the ensuing combat, we will choose not to declare a defender, since we have Daughter of Nimrodel to heal whatever damage the crows deal. With much relief, we reveal the shadow card for the attack as the other Hill Troll! This is a great stroke of luck, with one Hill Troll in the staging area, and another just placed in the discard pile, we can now plan our strategy for the remainder of this scenario knowing that no more trolls will be accosting us. Aragorn takes 1 damage from the crows, then counter-attacks and kills them. When then exhaust Daughter of Nimrodel to heal the 1 damage on Aragorn. This is the advantage of having repeatable healing, it frees us to take undefended attacks from smaller, less powerful enemies, which then allows Aragorn to be ready for counter-attacking. After increasing our threat to 29 we are ready to move on to the next round.
Round 2: Stage 1B (1 of 8 progress) – Threat 29
After adding resources, we draw a Forest Snare. Perfect! Our deck seems to be making up for all of the bad luck in the first game; this time everything is playing out exactly according to plan. It’s good not to get overconfident, and we still need to quest successfully to keep the troll from engaging until we can prepare our trap. Since we want to save for next turns expensive combo, our planning this round consists solely of attaching Protector of Lorien to Aragorn. Because Aragorn’s ability means we will always try to commit him to the quest, any kind of willpower increase, even a conditional one like this title, is a good call. As an added bonus, we can pitch cards to make Aragorn a more effective defender against a nasty shadow effect.
With that done, each hero now has 1 resource and we move on to the quest phase. We will again commit all of our heroes to the quest, doing the usual Theodred trick to ready Aragorn. For staging we reveal Evil Storm, no effect. This treachery provides a great example of just how important it is that our deck has a starting threat of 28. Sure, in designing our deck, we could have included bigger, more powerful heroes, but that would have pushed our starting threat well over 30. That kind of design would be particularly problematic against a scenario like Journey Along the Anduin. Not only would a starting threat that high ensure that the Hill Troll engages us immediately, but it also would put is in range of treacheries like this.
If our threat had been high enough to meet the threshold for this card, it would have set our strategy back quite a bit. Not only would it have put 1 damage on each of our heroes, even the ready Aragorn, but it would have killed our Daughter of Nimrodel – the one character capable of healing. In any deck-building game, design is a matter of trade-offs, and this card highlights the advantage of sacrificing high-powered heroes for a more low-profile approach. Every scenario is different, and if we did not have an answer like Forest Snare the increased threat of a bigger hero like Glorfindel would make a lot more sense. As it is, our deck is all about starting slowly and building up an army of allies, rather than a more brute-force approach.
With 1 threat in the staging area for the Hill Troll, we make 3 progress which is just enough to explore the Banks of the Anduin. The Banks goes back on top of the encounter deck, which is great because we can plan our next quest phase knowing that nothing bad is going to happen to any characters committed to the quest. With nothing else to do this round, we increase our threat to the all-important 30 and move on to round 3.
Round 3: Stage 1B (1 of 8 progress) – 30 Threat
With our threat at 30, we know that, one way or another, we will be engaging the Hill Troll this round. After collecting resources, we have 2 resources on each of Aragorn and Theodred, and, thanks to Steward of Gondor, 5 resources on Denethor. Next, we draw Gleowine. This is a welcome sight, given that card drawing is the one strategic element that we don’t yet have working in our favor. We will want to get the Minstrel in play and singing as quickly as possible in order to help establish board supremacy.
During the planning phase, we finally get to pull off our long-awaited combo. First we pay 2 resources from Theodred and 1 from Aragorn to play Son of Arnor. After he enters play we will trigger his response to force the Hill Troll to engage immediately. It is worth reiterating, the fact that this works during the planning phase is very important; by trapping the troll before the combat phase, we will not have to deal with his massive, and potentially threatening attack. As an added bonus, this also removes 1 threat that would have been in the staging area during the quest phase. Now that we have him engaged, we will pay the 3 resources from Denethor to attach Forest Snare to the Hill Troll. The troll is now rendered harmless. Lastly, we will pay the 2 remaining resources on Denethor to play Gleowine. At this point, the superior resource generation of Steward of Gondor is plain to see.
Entering the quest phase, we have solved the Hill Troll problem, and we now have healing and card draw working as intended. As long as we play carefully but aggressively, we should have this scenario in the bag. Since we know the Banks of the Anduin is on top of the encounter deck, we can safely quest with Theodred, Denethor and Daughter of Nimrodel. We will hold back Aragorn because, at this point, the resource is more valuable than the 2 willpower. Theodred gives himself a resource. With treacheries like The Necromancer’s Reach, we ordinarily wouldn’t risk our healers on the quest, but in this case we know that it is safe. After Banks of the Anduin is revealed, we make 2 progress on the quest.
Next we will travel to Banks of the Anduin, so that we can do this same trick again 2 rounds down the road. Knowledge is power, and knowing what is coming from the encounter deck allows us to optimize our questing and combat decisions. Even so, this quest is starting to feel more like a Journey In Circles Along the Anduin. With no enemies capable of attacking, a shadow card will be dealt to the troll, and ultimately discarded, without resolving its effect. [Beorn’s Note: In playtesting, I mistakenly did not deal this shadow card, which would have been The Brown Lands. This obviously effects the flow of the game as that copy of The Brown Lands would not have been revealed again during staging in the next round. My apologies, dear readers – even bears make mistakes from time to time.]
For the counter-attack, Aragorn and his Dunedain brethren, the Son of Arnor, attack the Hill Troll and deal 2 damage to it. The trolls inevitable death of a million cuts paints a vivid mental picture. One can almost hear the lumbering and thrashing of the gigantic monster, screaming with its leg caught in a trap, its tree-like limbs thrashing uselessly as it is slowly hacked to death by a darting slashes of our intrepid pair of rangers. Grisly as this may be, our approach is much preferable to taking on the troll in a fair fight. That 6 attack is simply too much for anything in our deck to effectively handle. Before the end of the round we will use Gleowine to draw a Snowbourn Scout. We increase our threat to 31 and move to the next round.
Round 4: Stage 1B (3 of 8 progress) – 31 Threat
After collecting resources and drawing another Daughter of Nimrodel, we are faced with a choice of how to handle the rest of this quest stage. We have most of the necessary pieces in place for our deck to be successful. The last piece of the puzzle, Faramir, is already in hand. At this point we want to do two things: quest aggressively, and kill the troll. The reason it is important to move on the the next stage of the quest quickly is because we have limited means for lowering our threat in this deck. Unless Gandalf makes an appearance, we are still at risk of reaching 50 threat before we complete the scenario. With the game well under control, this would be an ignominious way to lose. For our planning phase we will play Faramir, allowing us to fully realize the strategy for this deck.
For the quest phase we will commit all of our heroes, readying Aragorn with Theodred’s help. For staging we reveal a Brown Lands. It’s 5 threat is obnoxious, but on the plus side, it will be explored the instant we travel there. With staging done, we will go ahead an exhaust Faramir to trigger his ability. Since we want to explore the banks of the Anduin this round, we will go ahead and use Protector of Lorien to boost Aragorn’s willpower. By discarding Snowbourn Scout we give ourselves the necessary willpower to explore the Banks of the Anduin. We could have waited, and used the scout on the Brown Lands next round, but it gets explore when we travel there, so doing this way is effectively the same, with the advantage that we can use that 1 resource on other, more effective allies.
With the Banks of the Anduin again on the top of the encounter deck, we give ourselves that much needed foresight for planning next round. It’s nice in this scenario, being able to know what is coming, and still use Denethor to help with other things. We travel to Brown Lands and it is immediately explored. Aragorn and Son of Arnor again hew another 2 damage into the Hill Troll, leaving it with 5 hit points remaining. With the Gleowine, we draw a Sneak Attack, which could come in handy later. Now if only a certain Grey Wizard will show up. We increase our threat to 32 and go to the next round.
Round 5: Stage 1B (3 of 8 progress) – Threat 32
After collecting resources, our deck rewards us yet again when we draw Gandalf. At this point I just want to take back every bad thing I ever said about our deck. In this scenario, our deck has drawn about as perfectly as you could ever hope to draw. For planning, we will play our second copy of Daughter of Nimrodel. At this point, the healing is not really needed, but her 1 willpower is always nice for those rounds when we know that it is safe to commit weak characters to the quest.
Speaking of which, with Banks of the Anduin about to be be revealed, so we quest with Theodred, who gives a resource to himself, and both Daughters of Nimrodel. Faramir then triggers his ability right away, since there is no danger of a treachery. This gives us 6 willpower to the 1 threat of newly revealed Banks of the Anduin. With a net of 5 progress, we have the 8 progress that we need to move to stage 2. Unfortunately the Hill Troll is still in play, and we can’t move to the next stage of the quest until we defeat him. We travel to Banks of the Anduin yet again. At this point, if any eagles happen to be flying overhead, they must certainly wonder why this silly group of adventures is aimlessly wearing a path around the same loop on the banks of the Anduin.
During the combat phase, we will sneak attack Gandalf into play, triggering his ability to lower our threat to 27. We don’t need his damage dealing ability at this point, and as nice as it would be to draw 3 cards, we have Gleowine to handle that. Since Gandalf is the only means in this deck for lowing our steadily increasing threat, we will use him for that. Gandalf, Aragorn and the Son of Arnor are then able to finally subdue the Hill Troll, which immediately moves us on the next stage of the quest. Gleowine then draws our second Steward of Gondor and we increase our threat to 28.
Round 6: Stage 2B – Threat 28
With resources gathered, we draw a second copy of Protector of Lorien. At this point, it makes sense to go all-in for the win. In retrospect, traveling to Banks of the Anduin might have been a mistake, since it buffers the quest stage by 3 progress. However, since the Grey Wizard was sneaky last turn, we have him back in our hand and ready to help with the quest. between Gandalf, Faramir’s ability, and Protector of Lorien, we should still be able to end the game this round.
For planning we will pay 5 resources for Gandalf and use his ability to 3 cards (Miner of the Iron Hills, Faramir, Erebor Hammersmith). We could have lowered our threat again, but the plan is to end the game this round, and I want to draw allies to help me do that, or at the very least fodder to be feed to Protector of Lorien. With that in mind we will also play Guard of the Citadel and Erebor Hammersmith. For giggles, we can trigger Erebor Hammersmith’s ability to return the Forest Snare to our hand. Though it isn’t really needed for enemies, it can at least be discarded to Protector of Lorien for an additional willpower.
For the quest phase, we will commit everyone except Faramir, Son of Arnor and a single Daughter of Nimrodel. With a little luck, this will be enough willpower to complete the quest, and the remaining allies along with Aragorn will be enough to kill any enemies that come at us. We will ready Aragorn and reveal 2 encounter cards for this stage. The two encounter cards revealed are another Banks of the Anduin and Dol Guldur Orcs. The Orcs require us to deal 2 damage to a questing character, which Gandalf takes with a laugh. After trigger Faramir’s ability we discard Steward of Gondor and Forest Snare to the Protector of Lorien attached to Aragorn. We now have a total of 19 progress, which is just enough to explore Banks of the Anduin and put the 16 progress that we need to complete stage 2 of the quest. This is where the ally army strategy can really shine, individually these allies seem frail and weak-willed, but with enough of them working in tandem with Faramir, you can very easily have game-winning turns like this.
Once we progress to Stage 3B, we have to reveal 2 additional cards from the encounter deck, then we will not have to do the staging step in this quest ever again. Lady luck is smiling on us today, as we reveal Gladden Fields and an Enchanted Stream. The staging area is now filled with locations, but our only concern is the orcs. All that we have to do is defeat the Dol Guldur Orcs to remove the last enemy in play, and we win the game.
With a threshold of 10, the Dol Guldur Orcs engage us. We will defend with our ready Daughter of Nimrodel, to free up Aragorn to kill the Orcs. Revealing the shadow card for the attacking Dol Guldur Orcs, we have Despair, which nullifiers her defense. Against a hero, with a troll attacking, this card is a death sentence. In this case, the Daughter was not going to survive the attack anyway. So we sacrifice an ally to avoid risking an undefended attack against one of our heroes. Aragorn then kills the Dol Guldur Orcs with one easy swipe of his sword. With no enemies remaining in play, and we have won the game!
Score and Recap
Even facing the terrible Hill Troll, our Journey Along the Anduin was much less difficult than finding a Passage Through Mirkwood. We completed the quest with no dead heroes, and not even any damage on our heroes. With a threat of 28 after 5 full rounds (rounds tally during the refresh phase) and 4 victory points for the defeated Hill Troll, our final score is:
28 (threat) + 50 (rounds) – 4 (victory) = 74
There’s not much more to say about this playtest session. Our deck drew perfectly and some lucky timing on treacheries meant were able to quickly build momentum. With resource generation running from round 1, we were able to quickly field our army of allies. Once the Hill Troll was dispatched, Faramir combined with Protector of Lorien and the power of a sneaky Gandalf allowed us to power through the quest.
Not every scenario will go down this easily, but it is important to recognize how critical design and tuning where in this victory. Of the cards that were essential to this victory, every single one has at least 2 copies in our deck. Consistency is very important, particularly for cards like Forest Snare that are our only solution to certain, rather large and hairy problems. In cases where you can’t put multiple copies of a card in your deck, using Gleowine and Gandalf to draw more cards is quite often an acceptable substitute.
That’s all for today, the Beornings are restless and need to let off some steam. I think I smell a Warg pack not far off, and its a perfect night for a hunt. Check back soon as we continue on our path through the core set scenarios. Next up we will be building a Spirit/Tactics deck to help us try an Escape From Dol Guldur with two decks.