So we’ve come to the end of another cycle. Time to take stock of what’s gone past, what new toys we’ve been gifted and which old ones have found resurgence.
So first, a general look at the player cards. Khazad-Dum was a big Dwarf extravaganza, so not so great if you don’t want to play Dwarves, but all the cards are good apart from Ever Onward. Then moving into the cycle, we got a decent amount of elf support – a couple of Noldor allies, the Rivendell Blade and Bow are still standards to this day, and a reason why some of the best combat decks use elven attackers like Legolas and Haldir who can use those attachments – and of course four of the six heroes in the cycle were Noldor. They really filled out the Rivendell lineup, with Hama as the odd man out. Otherwise, there were a couple more bits of Dwarf synergy, and the main theme of the cycle was Secrecy. Secrecy didn’t exactly work… it had some very powerful effects, but still not necessarily enough to make up for having only two heroes, which was the only reliable way to get Secrecy outside of Shadow and Flame. And one of the big problems with the Secrecy cards in the Dwarrowdelf cycle is that once you’re out of Secrecy they’re noticeably overpriced, so it’s always a bit of a gamble to depend on them. Secrecy can be a fun gimmicky sort of approach to the game, but it doesn’t consistently match up to what you can do with a regular three hero deck.
Overall, I’d say the designers had got more of a handle on how to balance cards by this point, they were through the period of finding their feet which I ascribed to the first cycle in my last wrap-up post, but at this point they still made some dud cards simply because I think they had some clever ideas which just didn’t work as well as they intended – better balance sense in basic general terms, but more complicated ideas ended up with some issues still.
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: Aragorn, Elrond.
My favourite other player cards: Timely Aid, Out of the Wild, Arwen Undomiel, Word of Command, Love of Tales, Path of Need, Hardy Leadership, Master of the Forge, Vilya.
My least favourite player cards: Ever Onward, Ravenhill Scout, Bombur, The End Comes, Short Cut, Glorfindel, Heavy Stroke.
Best designs for developing archetypes: Zigil Miner, Timely Aid, Resourceful.
Worst designs for developing archetypes: Taking Initiative for Secrecy, Watcher of the Bruinen for Noldor.
Most difficult to use well: Dwalin, Taking Initiative, Rider of the Mark, Bombur, Ever My Heart Rises, Heavy Stroke, A Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
Most under-rated cards: Dwalin, Song of Earendil, Grave Cairn, Love of Tales, Asfaloth (on heroes other than Glorfindel), Miruvor.
Bonus category – Cards which would never be released now: Sword that was Broken, Hama, Legacy of Durin, Erebor Battle Master, Warden of Healing, Glorfindel, Asfaloth, We Are Not Idle.
END OF EXTRA, BACK TO ORIGINAL POST.
Next, quests. One by one:
Into the Pit is fairly straightforward. Generally in the deluxe expansions I think they like to ease players in to a certain extent – though that’s more the case when they’re introducing new mechanics, which in this case they weren’t. But all in all, this quest is, as I say, straightforward. The only way I’ve ever lost this quest is if I didn’t get enough willpower down early on to clear the East Gate in a timely fashion, leaving me with a full staging area which would either leave me stuck unable to quest successfully or with far too many enemies once I finally cleared the Gate. Other than that, not a problem.
The Seventh Level I think is the first real enemy-swarm quest. I think depending on what deck you’re bringing it can take you by surprise – perhaps more so than quests which simply have tougher enemies, because obviously for any quest you expect to see enemies and so have plans for dealing with them however strong they are, strong defenders, chump-blocking, attack cancellation, whatever; whereas an enemy-swarm means you need more defences, either through action advantage or additional characters, rather than better defences (or more expendable ones as the case may be).
Flight from Moria is my favourite of the three quests in the deluxe expansion. If you’re the kind of person who likes to take time during the quest to appreciate the theme (which admittedly I’m usually not), it is nice and thematic, the cycling quests stages giving the feel that you’re stuck blundering around in the dark looking for the exit, with a Nameless Fear lurking in the shadows ready to murder you at any moment (and this would be enhanced further by playing with more players and thus increasing the chance of seeing A Foe Beyond). I like this one.
The Redhorn Gate as I said in the post for that pack is a quest which I enjoy, but which can have problems with the humorous scenario in which one manages to lose the mountains. Of course it worked out for me, rendering my inclusion of Shadow of the Past in my decks relatively pointless, but equally I could have had the experience the Progression Series had where they spent altogether far too long just waiting for the mountains to arrive. Other than that problem it’s a pretty fun quest though, with a bit of specialisation required of course.
Road to Rivendell should be a fun quest, nicely thematic, good mechanics, but that Sleeping Sentry x2 in the encounter deck just kills the whole quest for me.
The Watcher in the Water can be an interestingly mixed experience. If you have scrying covered (like I did in a test play for the Line but not in the actual playthrough), a lot of the effects in the quest you can just neatly sidestep, which makes it a lot easier, but I find it fun for all that, particularly with the Tentacle effects, because there it just lets you know if they’ll go off or not, you can’t stop them if they’re going to happen so it’s still a problem for you to deal with. If you don’t have scrying then the quest gets much more random because you just have to keep taking chances on all the tentacle effects, and dump a bunch of cards from your hand to have a chance at getting through the Doors; so obviously then it could be really frustrating or it could be fine, but it’s totally random which way it turns out.
The Long Dark is way way too random with the question of whether or not you even need to make Locate tests and then if you pass straight away or dump your entire hand to no avail. And even with that problem aside, it’s the most boring quest of the cycle. The fourth quest of a cycle isn’t doing too great so far, they’ve both been boring location-focused affairs (well, Long Dark isn’t so much location focused, but the first stage starts you out with a location and boosts all location threat, so there’s a bit of that).
Foundations of Stone is my favourite quest from the cycle. It really tests the consistency of your deck with the discard stuff, can present some nasty challenges with the randomly high attack values of the Nameless Things, and the whole sequence of splitting up and then joining back together again makes this one incredibly fun – so long as you know those things are coming and therefore bring decks which can cope on their own rather than depending on help from other decks round the table. Gets more interesting with more players, obviously. This is one I’d love to try four player some time, so all the different stage 4 quests would be in play, but I’ve never had a chance.
Shadow and Flame is thematically brilliant of course – who doesn’t love a Balrog fight? Mechanically, it can be very challenging, but unfortunately there are a few different ways that it can be broken (and a post dedicated to that subject is coming so I won’t go into more detail now). Regardless, I do like it and think it’s rather well put-together.
The hardest quests: Foundations of Stone, Shadow and Flame if you don’t break it. This was much harder to pick for than last cycle, none of the quests really stand out as harder than the others in the same way.
My favourite quests: Foundations of Stone, Shadow and Flame.
My least favourite quests: Into the Pit, The Long Dark
Quests which have aged least well: Seventh Level, as the enemy-swarm in there has become less of a challenge than it once was. Redhorn Gate obviously loses replay value with the release of every new good character with 0 willpower. And Shadow and Flame has become more breakable with the release of assorted more recent cards.
And now for my look at the player cards I haven’t used. Well, first let’s see which of the unused ones from last cycle I did manage to fit in for this cycle, and comment briefly on if they actually worked, either in a test play or the actual playthrough (assuming I remember).
Glorfindel definitely proved himself useful enough on Redhorn Gate for his willpower, and of course for Shadow and Flame he is actually better than his Spirit version.
Longbeard Orc-Slayer is great as expected with the boost from Dain and pitted against lots of Orcs.
Swift Strike and Stand Together both found their way into my Hama deck, though I don’t think I used either?
Beorning Beekeeper never made it onto the table, but I still maintain it could’ve worked out pretty well if he had. Born Aloft did get me an extra use out of Gandalf one time.
Parting Gifts and Infighting both worked out nicely to the point where I really wanted to fit them into more decks so they could have more chances to shine.
Rear Guard I never drew, and it probably wouldn’t have been that significant even if I had.
Dunedain Cache never hit the table and may not get another chance. Song of Mocking didn’t get used as I recall, but other experience has shown me it can work very well. Fast Hitch of course is fantastic.
Dain is ridiculous, ’nuff said.
Mirkwood Runner did make himself useful, as did Rumour from the Earth, though the latter only in a test play. Shadow of the Past of course allowed me to recycle the Dimrill Stair to impressive effect.
And now onto newer cards which have yet to make the cut:
Ever Onward is a card which I can see the use of, but only in solo. Being able to avoid the threat raise from questing unsuccessfully could allow you to strategically just not send anyone on the quest to have everyone ready for combat instead, That’s the only time I’d consider using it, if that’s a reasonable expectation. Including it as a ‘just in case’ doesn’t work for me, I’d rather include something that would help me avoid questing unsuccessfully in the first place, especially since questing unsuccessfully one round and spending 3 resources just to avoid the threat raise means I’m likely to be questing unsuccessfully again next round. So, this card is just not going to get used.
The Redhorn Gate
Taking Initiative is obviously very powerful if you can get it to work, but that’s a big if. I really wanted to try and pull it out in one of the last two quests, using Imladris Stargazer to set it up with 100% accuracy, but then for Foundations of Stone I was omitting Leadership, and for Shadow and Flame I had other more important considerations.
Ravenhill Scout I went over in the article – it’s just too expensive, even though the ability is an OK one. And since he’s from Dale, there isn’t any trait synergy on the horizon that could make him better. This one probably won’t be getting out of the virtual binder either.
Road to Rivendell
Lure of Moria is one more step along the path to ultimate Dwarf power, I’ve just left it out because I haven’t been playing with Dwarves.
Rider of the Mark is an ally I always kind of want to use, but he’s kind of expensive once again, both to pay for him in the first place and then to pay for his ability (which of course requires Spirit in both decks to be used to full effect).
The End Comes can have some niche uses, but in general is not that good. Even if you really want a way of reshuffling the discard pile, which sometimes you may, it’s difficult to trigger reliably.
The Watcher in the Water
Grave Cairn is an interesting card. As one-off attack boosts go, if you’re using Tactics and either Dwarves or a low threat approach, Khazad! Khazad! and Unseen Strike respectively are better options, but in Leadership and with no trait or threat restriction, Grave Cairn can work pretty well, with the primary effective option being a Sneak Attack Gandalf. I’ll probably find a place for this somewhere.
Watcher of the Bruinen sounds good on paper (or even on card ha ha what a hilarious joke) so long as you can draw a bunch of cards to keep him in play, but then you realise that with only 2 defence and 2 hitpoints he’s probably not going to live that long anyway. Trollshaw Scout works better because attack, especially with Ranged, can be stacked up where Defence can’t (barring use of Stand Together which is itself not such a great card)
Short Cut is just bad as far as I can see. Locations are generally the most innocuous things the encounter deck can be giving you in the first place, you shuffle it back in rather than discarding it so you have to expect to see it again sooner or later, and then you replace it with another card. On top of that you have to exhaust a character. For the same 1 Lore resource you could play so many better things, e.g. Secret Paths. I can’t think of a situation where this card would really be that useful, so I don’t think I’ll be using it.
The Long Dark
Fresh Tracks is an interesting card, albeit one which can struggle to find a place in decks. That said, I’m sure I can find uses for it, particularly if there are perhaps situations in which I may want to kill enemies in the staging area rather than pulling them down – this both starts me off with the first point of damage and stops them engaging me.
Foundations of Stone
Path of Need is an incredibly powerful card if you can get it to work, but it is by its nature somewhat temporary and unreliable, not to mention expensive. I imagine I’ll find a place for it some time though, possibly with recursion or means of switching round active locations to get multiple uses out of it.
Healing Herbs suffers from the standard problem for healing effects – it’s not the Warden of Healing. More specifically, full heals tend to be less useful than repeatable smaller heals given that damage will often get spread around rather than concentrated, and hit point pools don’t get that big in general – for instance say direct damage treacheries hit Eowyn a couple of times. Healing Herbs would only be as effective as one exhaust of a Daughter of the Nimrodel in that instance. Of course it is cheaper, but then it costs exhausting a hero, which in most cases is a fairly steep cost, and it only works once. Might find a place for it, but I’d usually never use it.
Shadow and Flame
Hardy Leadership is once again great with Dwarves so it’ll be turning up for the Hobbit quests.
We Are Not Idle – See above, though it can also be used in Leadership decks without Dwarves to effectively just make the deck 3 cards smaller for more consistency.
Hands Upon the Bow is great if you can power up a ranged attacker to the point where they can one-shot something, then use it in the quest phase to clear out threat and make more progress, as well as avoiding that enemy ever attacking. Liable to appear at some point with Legolas.
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! Potentially very powerful, even with the more recent errata which makes it only work on non-unique enemies. I didn’t see so much point in it for Shadow and Flame, and of course it may be a while before I pull out a Secrecy deck again, but if I do this could potentially come in very handy. We’ll see.
Peace and Thought has a steep cost but is incredibly powerful for all that. Paired with readying effects (Boromir being a fantastic option), it represents an incredible speed boost to a Lore deck, so I’m sure I’ll find occasion to pull it out.
And there we go. Cycle wrapped up, please leave comments if you have further thoughts/disagreements on the quests and cards. Now let us go back in time to the events of The Hobbit…