Welcome, readers. I invite you to a read the first of many articles by a new guest author: Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs. While he isn’t busy making war upon the Eldar, Gothmog enjoys writing strategy articles about The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I hope that you appreciate his unique perspective as much as I do. –Beorn
I am Gothmog, lord of all Balrogs, slayer of Feanor, right hand to Morgoth, and high captain of Angband. My terror is of legend both sides of Belegaer. My evil has left Middle Earth, but I live on vicariously through the evils Sauron (of which I would like it to be known, was Morgoth’s LEFT hand man, history has that one all wrong) unleashes unto would-be heroes through the encounter deck. Being as the core set has been examined a million times by others, I would like to start my journey of evil with the first expansion quest: The Hunt for Gollum.
Puts on reading glasses, pulls up spreadsheet
Let us start our endeavor by looking at the numbers. As a Balrog, I love numbers more than Gandalf loves hobbits. Tasty, delicious hobbitses.
This particular quest is made of three encounter sets: Sauron’s Reach, Journey Down the Anduin, and, of course, The Hunt for Gollum. These combine to a total of 48 cards: 4 objectives, 13 enemies, 16 locations, and 15 treacheries. Of these cards, 23 of them have a shadow effect. We can learn a few things from this. First, the chances of any given attack having a shadow card is essentially a coin flip. Second, we see that this deck is very balanced in terms of types of encounter, meaning you’ll always have to be prepared for all three types of encounter. Diabolical, I love it! Seemingly contradictory to what I just said, this encounter has a relatively large amount of treacheries. About 1/3 of the encounter deck is treacheries, which is balanced in terms of raw numbers, but higher than the amount you’ll see in some other quests. This could be a boon or a burden for the puny adventurers, we will look into that later!
However, the ratios and numbers of an encounter deck are like a Maiar’s appearance– not really that important. Let’s look at how that encounter deck is used by observing closer the scenario cards. The Hunt for Gollum is three stages, coming in a linear three cards. First opinion of these cards shows a bit of a double edged blade across the three, let’s look closer. The first stage, The Hunt Begins, has a forced effect causing the players to, after questing successfully, look at the top three cards of the encounter deck, choose one, reveal and add that one to the staging area, and discard the others. At first sight, this seems relatively brutal; an extra card revealed each turn could be very helpful for the evil forces to defeat these wanna-be heroes. The secret, though, comes in the form of the objective cards. This pseudo-scrying effect allows players to find clues as to where Gollum has been much more efficiently and reliably than would otherwise be possible. The 8 progress it takes to advance past this stage is simply not very many, but a smart adventurer would likely want to take his or her time on this stage and try to gather a few clues.
The second stage, A New Terror Abroad, is pretty much the same as the first, except for instead of picking one of the top three cards after questing successfully, it’s at the start of every quest phase. This is slightly harder, as you could possibly be adding threat to the staging area, but adventurers would handle this the same way.
The third stage is where things get interesting. On the Trail has you finally chasing Gollum, and is a straight forward quest with 8 progress to be made. There is a catch though– only players who control at least one Clue objective can commit characters to quest, and if there are no Clue objectives attached to a hero, you have to go back to step 2. This sound delightfully demented, but in practice is slightly underwhelming. However, when you do lose to an increase of threat due to inability of your teammates to quest it is just so infuriating that it makes me happier than Earendil at sea.
The final part of our look into the encounter deck has me most excited! I’ll look at my favorite of each type of encounter card. Let’s not waste any time and kick it off with my favorite enemy.
Hunters from Mordor carry 6 health and 2 defense, making them no pushovers! If you remove them from the deck, the average one-round toughness of a monster (the average of defense plus health) is a mere 2.625. A 3 attack hero can single-handedly keep an adventurer afloat. Then come these guys, with more to offer than their 8 one-round toughness. Their 2 threat and 2 attack scale with clues– for each clue they increase both by 2. If you’re playing a 4 player game and want everyone to quest in round 3, you’re looking at a 10 threat, 10 attack behemoth with no simple way to take down. This enemy is the most threatening in the encounter deck, and while, perhaps seemingly a little lack luster, there are 5 copies of this beast. The number of copies, mixed with the potentially huge amounts of threat and damage, make this my choice for enemy to watch for. They also carry a shadow effect that damages the Clue holders. Being as there are 5 copies in the deck, it’s great to think that the heroes might be combo’d out from your chump blocking.
In the location department, this quest is sadly lacking. There are no 10 threat locations or locations that mess with you in the staging area, only reasonably low quest point locations that have “when this location is active” effects. In fact, the average quest points per location is only 2.8, with an average threat of only 2.35 (with a minor skew due to two “X” threat locations). None of those statistically are very delightfully diabolical, and that makes me cry a single flaming tear. I still chose one to look out for, and my choice is The West Bank. This location has 3 threat and 3 quest points, and when it’s active it increases the cost of both attachments and events by 1. This is a minor inconvenience, sure, but it could mess up the hero’s momentum and prevent that key Feint from being played.
The treacheries in this quest are okay. Some of them are a little weak for my liking, I’d prefer one that says “immediately deal 15 damage to all heroes,” but I’ll take what I can get. Overall, I would say that a treachery is a welcome sight in most cases with this quest, they’ll help a stray group of fools from being location locked. There is one that I like a lot though; Old Wive’s Tale. This treachery exhausts any hero without resources. The fact that this treachery exists, and in multiple copies no less, makes you think twice about spending all of your resources on your primary defensive and offensive heroes. Whenever my mortal enemy of whom I hope always loses to the quest (is that what humans call a friend?) plays this, he seems to always have this card in the back of his mind. By definition, that makes this my treachery to watch for.
Let’s now look at shadow effects. We have already taken the numbers, 47.9% of the cards have a shadow effect. However, not all shadow effects were created equally, let’s look at my favorite. Bar none, the most potentially devastating shadow effect is The Old Ford. This card discards from play every ally with a printed cost lower than the number of Riverland locations. That means that those low threat locations that you’re leaving in the staging area simply because they have a bad effect if they become active are soon going to wipe your entire ally line. Seeing something like that would really get my whip a’flamin.
For my last observation, I’d like to switch things. I want to observe a card from each sphere that an underdog hero might bring into battle– one that his puny friends might mock him for, but would be especially effective against this particular quest.
My choice of card from the lore sphere is the Ravenhill Scout. While the ability to move progress from location to location is normally not amazing, this quest contains almost exclusively quests that have “when this is the active location” effects. Ravenhill Scout lets you move progress that you’re placing on perhaps a not very scary active location and clear staging area locations, so that they never have to become active. Smart.
My choice for Leadership is Dunedain Watcher. Normally I find this ally underwhelming, as it’s kind of everywhere (including in my mouth, I love roasted Dunedain). However, with a quest being so spectacularly balanced in the types of encounter cards, you need to be prepared for everything. Dunedain Watcher can quest or defend depending on whether you’re under pressure from locations or monsters, and it can even cancel a shadow effect if needed. A smart adventurer might play Dunedain Watcher with the intent of chipping away at a quest, and take the added bonus of canceling a key shadow effect with open arms.
Desperate Alliance. A card that’s coastered for most quests. This recommendation is mostly for 3 or 4 player games, but could be useful in a 2 player game as well. On phase 3 when a player cannot commit to questing unless they control a clue, this can be life saving. A player could commit his or her heroes, then play this card, giving the hero with a clue to another player who doesn’t have a clue, who can then commit his or her heroes as well! Sure it’s a bit finicky, but I can see it winning a game easily enough.
None. I am choosing no spotlight here. It’s not that Tactic’s isn’t useful in this quest, but it seems there aren’t any odd-ducks in the sphere that really stick out. I think that will be a bit of a common theme with Tactics as we look into more encounter sets, as Tactics is the most “one trick pony” of the spheres. The staples are still good, but those that are rubbish are still, mostly, rubbish.
This quest, while enjoyable, is not the most innovative or difficult quest ever released (good one, Sauron. Why don’t you just go ahead and destroy the ring yourself if you’re going to make it this easy). Because your staple cards are still staples, and a standard deck will fare well, I give this encounter deck an overall evil of 4/10.