The Line Unbroken – Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle Wrap-up

The Line Unbroken has finished everything to the end of the first cycle. A nice milestone, and so this is the time to take a bit of a look back at what I’ve done so far, and indeed what I’ve not done. The primary idea here is to cover all the player cards up to this point which I haven’t used yet, but I figure it’s also a good place to do a bit more of a general cycle wrap-up.
Let’s start with player cards in general. Obviously the Core Set was a very mixed bag, with some crazy powerful stuff, some overpriced stuff, some OK but nothing special, and some coasters. Moving onto the cycle, we got the Songs, which while not used too much are still somewhat standard. Leadership gave us the Dunedain attachments, generic but very useful for all that, though the Quest and Cache are kind of overpriced. Tactics gave us Eagles, Spirit gave us Rohan, and I talked through both of those in my post for Return to Mirkwood. Lore was the one sphere which only got a random smattering of cards with no single theme being developed.
Overall the cards introduced were still a fairly mixed bag. The designers were still finding their feet somewhat, getting the hang of how to balance this game, of what was useful and what wasn’t, how to cost things, etc. A lot of them don’t see that much use any more, but some are trotted out still on a fairly regular basis, and a bunch of the others are still good if perhaps somewhat niche.

EXTRA ADDED LATER – When I reached the end of the Against the Shadow cycle I decided to pick out my favourite/least favourite/other categories player cards from the cycle. A while later I went back and picked them out for the first two cycles as well, so here are my choices for this cycle:

My favourite heroes: Beravor, Frodo Baggins, Brand Son of Bain.
My favourite other player cards: Snowbourn Scout, Sneak Attack, Unexpected Courage, Gleowine, Campfire Tales, Gildor’s Counsel, Elfhelm, Shadow of the Past.
My least favourite player cards: Glorfindel, Faramir, Brok Ironfist, A Test of Will, Gandalf’s Search, Beorn’s Hospitality, Beorning Beekeeper, Radagast, Keen-eyed Took, Dain Ironfoot.
Best designs for developing archetypes: Dwarven Tomb for recursion, Escort from Edoras for Rohan, The Eagles Are Coming! and Eagles of the Misty Mountains for Eagles.
Worst designs for developing archetypes: Beorn’s Hospitality for healing, To the Eyrie, Meneldor’s Flight and Radagast for Eagles, We Do Not Sleep for Rohan.
Most difficult to use well: Stand Together, Born Aloft, Infighting, Descendant of Thorondor, Mirkwood Runner, Shadow of the Past.
Most under-rated cards: Eleanor, Beorn, Horn of Gondor (post-errata), Wandering Took, the resource Songs, Second Breakfast, Parting Gifts, Infighting, Brand Son of Bain, Dunedain Cache, Dunedain Signal.
Bonus category – Cards which would never be released now: Faramir, Steward of Gondor, Northern Tracker, Unexpected Courage, A Test of Will, A Burning Brand, Boromir, Dain Ironfoot.


Next up, the quests. Let’s be a bit more systematic for these.
Passage through Mirkwood is the tutorial level of the LotR LCG. Once you learn the rules and have any passable deck, there’s really no way you should ever lose it.
Journey Down the Anduin is somewhat generic like Passage, but has a bit more challenge to it so it’s not so boring. Makes it a fairly decent testing ground for newly built decks.
Escape from Dol Guldur has much more of its own character than the other two Core quests, with the captive hero and the restriction on playing allies. It remains pretty brutal for most decks in solo play, though with more players naturally the problem of a single missing hero starts to carry less weight. Not one I return to that often though. The ally restriction forces most decks to operate a bit differently to normal, and as interesting as the captive mechanic can be, generally when you build a deck you want to be able to use all of your heroes, so taking one away can detract from the fun.
Hunt For Gollum is again somewhat generic, but I might also describe it as elegant in its simplicity. The downside is that unless the encounter deck is seriously stacked against you, it’s really easy.
Conflict at the Carrock is, as I noted in my post for that scenario, my preferred troll-fighting scenario. And while they’re not the most dangerous trolls in the game, they’re still big enough that this scenario can still be a bit of a challenge at times, on top of being still fun. One of my definite favourites from this cycle.
A Journey to Rhosgobel is a quest I’ve never really liked that much. The very bloated encounter deck, the horrible treacheries, the unusual healing focus making it unsuited to most decks, and the fact that questing too fast can actually make you lose all add up to a quest I don’t like coming back to.
The Hills of Emyn Muil is, as noted, the most boring quest in the game.
The Dead Marshes is not a quest I come back to so much, though I’m less sure why. I can’t think of a particularly compelling reason why I wouldn’t want to replay it. I mean, escape tests can be troublesome, especially early on when you have a limited amount of willpower on the table, but that’s just a challenge particular to the scenario that you have to overcome.
Return to Mirkwood is the most challenging quest of the main cycle, which since the cycle is mostly pretty easy makes it one of the most replayable because it remains a challenge. It still has the general flaw found in all the Shadows of Mirkwood quests of the over-large encounter deck, but the mechanics are solid and it’s not a walk in the park, so the inconsistency is a bit more palatable.
Massing at Osgiliath is of course not part of the cycle, but I’m lumping it in here, and it is in my opinion the most replayable quest of this set without delving into nightmare decks to increase the challenge. Don’t get me wrong, like the others, this scenario has gotten easier with more recent player cards (Asfaloth cares not one whit which side of the river you’re on), but it still has the power to seriously screw with you. While it does have its own particular mechanics in the East/West Bank and the objective allies, it is another somewhat generic quest, but unlike the other more generic quests, it still poses a challenge. So one can appreciate the simplicity of it while still needing to actually pay attention to stay in the game.

So overall, the hardest quests: Massing, Return.
My favourite quests: Massing, Carrock.
My least favourite quests: Rhosgobel, Emyn Muil.
Quests which have aged least well in my opinion: …honestly, most if not all of them. The larger, encounter decks endemic to this cycle make the quests play so much less consistently than the more streamlined ones from around Heirs of Numenor onwards. If I had to actually pick I think I’d say Hunt for Gollum has aged the least well, because it wasn’t so bad to begin with (unlike HoEM and Rhosgobel), perhaps a touch on the easy side, but now a lot of decks can just completely crush it without trying, possibly even if they get some of the potential nasty encounter card combos.

And finally, a detailed look through the player cards which I haven’t used yet. Some of them I know when I’m going to use them for a specific purpose. Some of them I know I’m never going to use. Some I’m not sure. Let’s take a look:

Core Set

Glorfindel. I think I have unfairly maligned Glorfindel thus far, because while his ability’s not so great, he can be worth it just for the powerful statline – at this point in the development of the card pool, 3 willpower is a big deal. So I possibly should’ve included him at some point. That said, I know one point at which I’m definitely going to bring him out, because it’s the one quest where ‘Corefindel’ is better than his more commonly used Spirit counterpart. Where your starting threat doesn’t matter. Also where he can be paired with Elrond to make his ability a bit more effective. Shadow and Flame.

Son of Arnor is a useful enough ally, perhaps a touch over-costed (or under-statted) but on the other hand getting attack equal to cost is rare outside of Tactics. I’m sure I’ll find an occasion when I want to be able to engage normally unengageable enemies, and then in will swoop this guy to save the day.
Silverlode Archer is over-costed. I think the designers may have overestimated the usefulness of the Ranged keyword. When Silvan synergy turns up, I’ll probably use this guy.
Longbeard Orcslayer is good for dealing with lots of weak Goblin enemies, and is very powerful with Dwarf synergy. What’s that? The Khazad-Dum expansion contains lots of weak Goblins and Dwarf synergy. Well, guess you know when this guy’s making an appearance.
Brok Ironfist is over-costed to encourage you to get him into play via his response instead. But that means killing one of your heroes, so I’m disinclined to do it. With Dain in play he’s more worth it, and Leadership does have all the resource generation along with a limited selection of Dwarf allies to spend them on, but I’m probably still leaving Brok out. At some point though I do want to try and fit him into a deck intended to kill off a Dwarf hero for Brok and then bring back said hero via Fortune or Fate or Landroval.
Ever Vigilant is a card which I’ve never used, though I have started to see more appeal in it lately, since there are enough powerful allies in the game to make use of it. I think if it was free rather than 1 cost I might actually use it, but as it is I think I’m still leaving it in the virtual binder.
For Gondor! It surprises me that I haven’t used this card yet, because there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m sure I will use it at some point. In a Gondor deck circa Heirs of Numenor if not before.

Horseback Archer is just as over-costed as the Silverlode, and 1 defence is less useful than 1 willpower. I might consider this ally as a means of powering up for a big Rumil play, when every Ranged guy counts. But still only maybe.
Blade Mastery is flexible, sure, but you’d need readying to get the full benefit and more often you just specialise and get permanent boosts.
Rain of Arrows could come in handy against swarms of enemies, but more often you’d rather kill one enemy than damage multiple.
Thicket of Spears is powerful but requires mono-tactics (or pretend mono-tactics with songs). When I use a mono-tactics deck I’ll include this card.
Swift Strike can be some decent direct damage. When I want that, I might throw this in.
Stand Together is really situational. Since you can’t rely on having it consistently, you have to assume you won’t and so build up a single powerful defender (or expect to chump-block). At which point it doesn’t seem so useful. The one time I do like the idea of using this card is for what I call the Spearman Swarm – defend one attack with multiple Gondorian Spearmen and/or characters with Spears of the Citadel attached to hit the attacking enemy with a whole load of direct damage before they get their hit in.

Power in the Earth is a coaster.
Fortune or Fate is only worth including if you plan for a hero to die or be discarded. Otherwise I’d rather include cards which would help avoid that hero death in the first place. So, wait for Caldara to see this one played.

Gandalf’s Search is a card I’ve always found interesting, but the thing is that for a comparable cost I’d rather just draw more cards. Rarely if ever am I swimming in enough Lore resources to get a good use out of this.
Beorn’s Hospitality is just never as useful as repeatable targeted healing, especially for that prohibitive cost. If it affected characters rather than just heroes then maybe, but still only maybe.

Hunt for Gollum

Song of Kings is the least useful song. Forgive me, CotR Brandon, but it’s true, unless you want Leadership cards in a deck that doesn’t actually use Leadership heroes. If you have a Leadership hero, then the way you get more Leadership resources is to use resource-generating effects rather than by resource-fixing one of your other heroes. And there’s no other benefit to having the Leadership sphere. Spirit, a couple of deluxe expansions down the line will give access to Silver Lamp. Tactics gives access to Support of the Eagles. Lore gives access to Burning Brand, which is amazing. The only Leadership-hero-specific attachment I can think of is Hardy Leadership, and while it is certainly useful, it doesn’t matter who you put it on, so again, if you have a real Leadership hero there’s no need for the song.

Conflict at the Carrock

Second Breakfast tends to get passed over in favour of the Erebor Hammersmith, since it’s rare that multiple players are that bothered about recycling a discarded attachment all at the same time, and the Hammersmith is also an ally. This card can be pretty useful under some circumstances though, so if at some point I really want to load up on attachment recycling, this may well make the cut.
Beorning Beekeeper is somewhat on the expensive side for an ally you’re intending to discard, but he may potentially have his place if pitted against a quest which swarms you with weak enemies, and then maybe you pair him up with Thalin. Could try it for Khazad-Dum, Seventh Level in particular, and just try to kill all the 2HP Goblins in the staging area.
Born Aloft is a card I’ve never actually used even though I know it can be useful. Maybe I should try and put something together based around recycling allies and fit this in.
Nor Am I a Stranger is the one I missed from this pack that I really think I might struggle to fit in anywhere… or so I would have said before Treason of Saruman was released. Now, I’d say Herugrim potentially provides a good enough incentive to want to give a hero the Rohan trait. Can also be used for fun times with Forth Eorlingas if you can get that to work, so it may make an appearance, but not any time soon.

Journey to Rhosgobel

Dunedain Quest is the worst Dunedain attachment. 2 cost for 1 willpower compared to 2 cost for 2 willpower from Celebrian’s Stone (plus resource-fixing for Aragorn) or 2 cost for an ally with 1 or 2 willpower? I do not like this card.
Parting Gifts can be handy, redistributing resources is useful, and we’re a cycle away from the release of the Errand Rider (so I guess if I want to use this I should use it soon).
To the Eyrie is too expensive and difficult to set up. I saw on the forums someone trying to work out something based around using Hama to recycle To the Eyrie, and To the Eyrie to recycle Eomund to repeatedly be able to re-ready all Rohan characters. I applaud the effort, but it still seems like too much effort to make it work contrasted with simpler, more standard strategies.
Infighting is a card I find intriguing, because I’m sure there could be interesting ways to try and use it, but I’ve yet to come up with one myself.

Hills of Emyn Muil

Keen-eyed Took: Cast it into the fire!
Rear Guard would be decent if its effect applied to characters rather than just heroes (which is how I initially misread the card and couldn’t understand why everyone said it was bad). I would happily discard a Snowbourn Scout to gain the benefit of Ally Faramir for a round. With it only affecting heroes though, it’s not worth the deckspace.
Meneldor’s Flight is only good if you’re focusing really hard on recycling the Descendant of Thorondor. Otherwise, Born Aloft is better.

The Dead Marshes

Dunedain Cache: Although I don’t really see why it costs 2 instead of 1, this is useful. Ranged can be really important, particularly for example in situations where you build up one super-powerful attacker (e.g. Gimli with a ton of damage on him).
Song of Mocking can be great for Gloin and Gimli. Will probably use it for them.
We Do Not Sleep is far less useful than it sounds since the combat Rohan allies aren’t very good at questing and the questing Rohan allies aren’t very good at combat. Definitely not generally worth the 5 resources.
Silvan Tracker I really wanted to fit in but of course I had fairly specific ideas for my decks in the last couple of scenarios. I’m sure this will turn up sooner or later, at the latest when we get Silvan synergy in the Ring-maker cycle.
Fast Hitch will make an appearance as soon as I use Frodo again.

Return to Mirkwood

Dain Ironfoot was, as noted at the time, only omitted because I really wanted to go Eagles and Rohan for RtM. Since Khazad-Dum is all Dwarves, it’s the perfect time for him as well.

Dawn Take You All is a tad costly, more something you pull out on very specific occasions like to deal with Smaug in The Lonely Mountain. I might use it there, maybe. Probably not.
Mirkwood Runner is apparently a pretty good blog. Tales from the Cards added it to his blogroll at the same time he added mine so it keeps good company at least. In card form, pretty much copy and paste what I said about Silvan Tracker. I will use this card soon enough I’m sure.
Rumour From the Earth I’ve never gotten to work as well as I’d like. It’s rare that you have a glut of Lore resources to spend on this, and Henamarth Riversong is just much easier. I might give this another try some time though.
Shadow of the Past I actually really like, though by far my favourite use of it is when I’ve used it to recycle an objective ally which doesn’t happen often. I guarantee I’ll be using it for Redhorn Gate to make sure I don’t lose those mountains, and quite possibly in some other quests.

So there you have it. A nice little end of cycle review. Any further thoughts or disagreements on the quests or the cards (both the ones I used and the ones I didn’t), please leave comments. Now onward, to Moria!

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