It’s been a while in coming, but The Crossings of Poros finally arrived and we had a chance to play it this week at our Austin LotR group. The wait was worth it as this quest is both unique and challenging. It uses several of the encounter sets from the Haradrim cycle, but unlike traditional quests, not all of the encounter cards are added when the scenario is setup. Instead, the heroes path to Gondor takes random windings and turnings, reflected in the cards which are added to the encounter deck.
One path leads through the Desert, adding the Desert Sands encounter set to the encounter deck, with its dunes, and sandstorms, and constant threat of dehydration. The alternative is for the heroes to take Kahliel’s refugees through the mountains of The Ephel Dúath reflected by the Mountains of Shadow encounter set. While this path avoids the scorching sands of the desert, it brings its own peril in the form of dangerous locations and a troublesome side quest which prevents threat reduction. Regardless of the path you take, The Black Serpent and his host are hot on your trail.
We went into our first play of the quest blind, and were fortunate that our decks had an ideal mix of strengths for many of the challenges we faced. Every location has a forced effect which punishes players for traveling. There is a very real danger of location lock in this scenario, and regardless of the path taken this pressure does not let up. Desolate Land, in particular is a brutal counter to the ally army which most questing decks employ.
Stephen’s location control deck helped us avoid the worst of these forced effects as Northern Tracker and Asfaloth could clear many locations from the staging area. Depending on the path taken, this scenario has counters for most common strategies. In the desert, Towering Duns will mitigate Northern Tracker and Rhovanion Outrider, and needs to be targeted first.
Luckily, we took the mountain pass through the Ephel Dúath so the location control served us well. Jeff saved his copies of Secret Paths for the few times that Desolate Land showed up. Once Jeff had Sword that was Broken on Aragorn, and we were able to consistently quest successfully and avoid location lock. That left enemies as the primary challenge, and in this quest that is a considerable impediment.
I played an updated version of my Bear on Vacation deck, mono Tactics with Beorn, Mablung, and Éowyn. At its heart, it is an Aggro combat-focused deck, but it includes a few tricks which proved useful. Vigilant Guard can in handy, as I was able to redirect damage from all over the table, including damage that Beorn took while defending. Stephen and Jeff were both running Warden of Healing to heal the redirected damage. Healing is essential choice as this quest features quite a bit of archery.
Another highly effective card was Azain Silverbeard. Regardless of which path is trod, the scenario features a large number of Harad enemies, and the other encounter sets include enemies that share a trait. During most rounds, there will be a valid target for Azain’s direct damage response, especially because it can target enemies in the staging area. Resource acceleration from Mablung and Proud Hunters helped pay for Azain’s ability.
On the final stage, Poros Garrison comes to the players’ rescue, while enemies pour into the staging area. Wait No Longer might seem like a counter-intuitive choice for such a situation, but events like Thicket of Spears and Oath of Eorl allow the deck to handle a large number of enemies. Many of the enemies in this scenario have “when revealed” effects and Wait no Longer allows you to add one of these enemies to play and avoid this effect. Thanks to this card we only had to reveal two cards on our critical round, which allowed us to hold back more character for combat.
This quest was tense and required coordination with a bit of luck, but that made for a thrilling victory. With the random branching structure of this quest, future games will take a very different track. This is a quest that may to some extent defy a single strategy deck archetype, because of this variability. Of all the quests in this cycle, The Crossings of Poros probably has the most replay value. It might have stretched out longer that anyone would prefer, but the conclusion to this cycle was a satisfying one.