Or indeed, “Why did we lose?” I suspect those two questions may be among the most frequently asked questions in the playing of this game. And it can be a difficult one to properly answer. Oh sure, you can pick out in very direct terms what caused your loss – either you were eliminated due to threat, all your heroes died, or you fell to some other scenario-specific loss condition. But that’s not the real reason for a loss. The question we want answered is what is the reason for the game slipping out of our control and leading to whichever loss condition happened. And along with it, answers to the attendant follow-up questions, “Was it my fault?” and “What could I have done to avoid it?”
This is where it really gets difficult to track all the way back to the prime mover in your eventual loss, because often it goes back a long way, and there can be a kind of butterfly effect with small, seemingly insignificant decisions early on snowballing unpredictably towards horrific and seemingly entirely disproportionate consequences.
Now, this isn’t the case all the time. Sometimes the answer is simple, e.g. “We lost because we had everything under control and then we revealed Watcher in the Wood and couldn’t cancel it so our threats destroyed us.” There are some cards which you can’t really plan for beyond including lots of cancellation and trying to finish the quest quickly before you see them (of course with Watcher in the Wood this potentially screws you over if you do see it, because sprint-questing probably means more questing characters). Some cards or combinations of cards can cause your board state to go pretty much straight from “Everything under control” to “Dead within the next two rounds”.
However, these detested ‘cancel or die’ moments are the exception rather than the rule, and I’d say that in general they’re getting rarer as the game goes on. Usually it’s a case of your board state having just gradually snowballed out of your control, little things piling up until you find yourself completely location-locked and/or faced with more enemies than you have defenders.
And it’s in these situations that generally the aforementioned butterfly effect has likely played a part. Perhaps you’re location-locked because 5 rounds ago you chose not to travel, or to delay playing your Northern Tracker in favour of something else. Or perhaps you could have avoided the massive build-up of enemies if you’d taken an undefended attack a while ago, because then you would’ve had enough attack to kill an enemy and there would have been less enemies in subsequent rounds. Little things at the time snowball into bigger long-term problems or solutions.
I have a specific example in mind here, something in particular which bought my ticket for this train of thought, and that was a recent Grey Company twitch stream which I watched after the fact, in which Dan(/Beorn) and Matthew were playing the new Helm’s Deep scenario from Treason of Saruman. In particular, they noted part-way through that for some reason Fellowship Aragorn was missing from the quest when they loaded it up, but were saying he probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the eventual outcome. Now, I can’t be sure, but I disagree at least to some extent, I think that having him in the mix would have made a definitely more significant difference than they seemed to think, because as I said, small things add up over time.
More precisely, they kind of got swarmed by enemies and wrecked by archery. And true, Aragorn couldn’t have taken all the archery or killed all the swarms of enemies by himself. But some archery on him means less on other characters – I don’t remember if they killed any allies by archery, but if so obviously that could have made a difference. And more particularly, one round they have an extra action from Aragorn which they didn’t have in the actual game they played. He either defends, freeing up another character from that defence, or attacks, making it quicker to kill one of those enemies, which may reduce the archery total next round and also reduce the number of defences you need, which frees up more characters next round for the counter-attack on top of Aragorn himself having another action and being able to ready another hero with his ability. Over time, the number of extra actions gained by having Aragorn there would have been far more than just him + his ability, because use of him and his ability early means more enemies die early and they have less chance to swarm, freeing up characters from defending so they can attack and continue to try and stop the build-up of the swarms.
Now, again, I can’t be sure this would have meant the difference between winning and losing. Helm’s Deep is a tough scenario regardless, and they had other difficulties to contend with (I seem to recall feeling like Dan’s deck had most of the good defensive options while Matthew’s had most of the attack power, which also inevitably threw up problems dealing with enemies in the absence of lots of Ranged and Sentinel). But it certainly would have given much better chances of winning, and so I think my point is made that the impact of a relatively little thing like having one extra character on the table can have an incalculably large impact on the game in the long run.
(I should also point out that I do not in any way mean this as a slight to Dan and Matthew. They’re both good and experienced players of this game and I enjoy all the content they’ve provided the community with. I just think that in this instance they underestimated the potential impact of having an extra powerful hero on the table from the start)
I’m not entirely sure if I have any point here beyond that one. I suppose the point is that the little things matter more than you think, and so when it comes to difficult scenarios you should not be careless about them, because while it’s difficult to calculate all the way backwards from the end, if it were I suspect many losses (or wins) could be eventually traced back to the decision to play this card instead of that one, to travel to this location instead of that one, or to defend this enemy and not be able to kill it instead of taking it undefended to keep your counterattack available. Think through these little moments more carefully with an eye to gaining control of the board state and you may well find your win % improves.