The boon and burden cards are the primary thing which distinguish playing the LotR saga quests in campaign mode versus just playing them regularly. Which boons and burdens you take can affect your strategy and deckbuilding for all the quests after you earn them, or even before. A fair number of people I’m sure will go into a campaign with a very specific plan for how they’re going to distribute their boons and burdens, as certain choices synergise incredibly well with certain playstyles and deck choices. With that in mind I thought I’d just go through all the boons and burdens we have so far and talk about how the decision between them (and indeed the knowledge that they’re coming however many quests down the line) can alter your approach to your campaign:
Gildor Inglorion/Mr. Underhill & The Ring Draws Them/Gandalf’s Delay
Both choices after Shadow of the Past are between one card that gets shuffled into the encounter deck for subsequent quests and one which is a static bonus or penalty. I know a lot of people when faced with these decisions prefer to take the static options, as they’re more predictable, you always know what you’re getting. Whereas the encounter deck shuffled options could come out at any unexpected moment or equally could fail to appear all game or go as ineffectual shadow cards. Realistically the encounter deck options are more likely to crop up the more players you have so they get better and worse respectively, but even in solo, having one beneficial card in the encounter deck is nice (not to mention the potential to use Shadow of the Past and negate staging for multiple rounds); and even in four player, sometimes that treachery is not going to be that big a deal, because either there aren’t that many enemies, or you wanted to engage them anyway (and you probably have Ranged/Sentinel). And with four players, hopefully someone can cancel it if it’s that big a problem. I suppose this whole spiel makes it clear which side of the debate I sit on.
Regardless, if we’re talking about planning a campaign, Mr. Underhill can potentially shore up decks that start out with less good defences, and likewise those decks probably don’t want to risk The Ring Draws Them. On the other hand, if you’re generally set to take enemies from an early stage, you may prefer to have your full opening hand and chance the enemies; meanwhile Gildor potentially feeds into an encounter deck manipulation strategy where you use Shadow of the Past to recycle him. This could be combo’d up with Ranger Summons as well, plus maybe some victory display cards to thin out the harmful part of the deck and increase the chances of getting your beneficial cards. Eleanor also could work with this, as she gets you through the deck a bit faster, and Denethor likewise because you can sink nasty cards to the bottom of the deck and get yourself closer to the nice ones.
Old Bogey-stories & Ho! Tom Bombadil!
There’s no decision to be made with regards to getting these two obviously (well, I suppose you make a decision as to whether or not you put all the damage on Old Man Willow, but I’ve never found myself in a position where I’d have to delay my final victory to do it, so it’s always been a case of well, why wouldn’t I?)
Where there is a decision, however, is in how you use them.
Old Bogey-stories there’s the choice of where you put it in a multiplayer game – it potentially supports a deck that’s really dependent on getting a specific card in its opening hand by giving them a second mulligan. Alternatively if you give it to a deck that has pretty good card draw you can be fairly confident that deck will manage to still have 6 cards and thus be able to trigger Old Bogey-stories later in the game.
Ho! Tom Bombadil! on the other hand, while it can be saved up and saved up for an emergency, never used until you feel really desperate (or maybe for the final quest of the game we’ll be standing at the cracks of Mount Doom and call Tom Bombadil in to help us destroy the ring), equally I know some people at least may plan to most likely use it at a specific point – say during Journey in the Dark to cancel Fool of a Took! if they want to get through before the Balrog turns up. Personally I tend to the “save for an emergency” option. In my two player campaign I used it up at Helm’s Deep, in my solo campaign I still have it going into Road to Isengard.
Noble Hero/Valiant Warrior/Tireless Ranger/Skilled Healer
Now this is where we get to the really meaty decisions. It’s entirely possible, and even fairly reasonable, to choose heroes for a campaign entirely based on the existence of these boons and where you want to put them. Even if you just arrive with a random hero lineup there’s always going to be something you can do that’ll be helpful, but there are some heroes who will particularly benefit either from the trait or from the particular stat increase. Let’s take them one by one as I give examples.
Noble Hero – Mablung benefits from the Noble trait as it gives him access to Heir of Mardil so he can ready when you engage an enemy. Any hero with good attack and defence potentially benefits as it gives access to Anduril later. And besides the obvious questing benefit, the willpower boost would also work nicely for any hero intending to make use of Herugrim or Fair and Perilous.
Valiant Warrior – The Warrior trait gives access to Captain of Gondor. Thematically, this could allow Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality. Mechanically, it’d fit reasonably on any decent combat hero who benefits from engaging enemies, so Faramir (Ld), Mablung, or Sam Gamgee. It also gives access to Glamdring later.
The attack boost on the other hand is obviously great for any attacking hero, especially if they benefit from getting kills, but especially if they’re liable to attack alone, so Dunhere and Haldir are great options.
Tireless Ranger – I’m going to cover the defence boost first. Obviously any defensive hero benefits, so Beregond, Denethor, Boromir, etc. Makes The Day’s Rising more reliable.
The trait though? Well, the Ranger trait allows you to use them for Quick Ears, so that could be an OK setup, exhaust Tireless Ranger Boromir to shuffle a Nazgul back into the deck and reveal a different card instead, it helps a few other events that probably aren’t that significant, it lets you attach the Weather-stained Cloak which could be good in some quests, and the big one: Wingfoot.
Attach Tireless Ranger and then Wingfoot to: Spirit Merry, so every enemy revealed for the rest of the game lowers your threat by its threat. Or Eleanor, so every treachery that’s not Peril you can just cancel and replace with the next card if you want. She can also be a good defender (so can Spirit Merry given a Hobbit Cloak with how much you’ll be lowering your threat).
Skilled Healer – The Healer trait is basically pointless except for the later boon after The Uruk-Hai. Two extra hit points though? Aside from the obvious archery sink/defender uses, there are three incredibly effective possibilities: Gloin, Gimli, and Treebeard. All of those three would love to start the game with an extra two hit points no other attachments required.
Weight of the Ring/Fear of Discovery/Eaten Alive!/Panicked/Overcome by Terror
This is another case where obviously there’s no choice, it’s totally random, but which burden(s) you get may influence some of your strategy moving forwards. If you get Weight of the Ring you may place additional emphasis on condition removal for those quests with Nazgul (since those are the ones which punish you for having the One Ring exhausted). Fear of Discovery may leave you scared to quest with the Ring-bearer. Eaten Alive! may lead to additional emphasis on healing and concern about chump-blocking without shadow cancellation available. Panicked… I don’t know that Panicked really causes any significant issues you’d want to build around. And Overcome by Terror I suppose could make you more wary to exhaust the One Ring, or as a more general thing (and this could apply to Weight of the Ring as well) it could affect your choice of which Frodo to use, since you do have a choice, and all those “if the One Ring is exhausted” effects really are only an issue for Black Riders Frodo, since the other two you’d wait until at least after staging before triggering them.
Once again, there’s no choice to be made about earning these, however the choice of whether or not to continue using them and where to attach them can be a rather impactful one. The thematic options are good for all of them, though some people prefer not defending with Frodo and so might prefer to put Sting elsewhere and not bother with the Mithril Shirt. Putting Sting on Sam or Fatty also works pretty well as those two can be good defenders. Glamdring is basically just your standard weapon only the +2 is consistent rather than conditional. The card draw is an added bonus. Anduril going on other Noble heroes is an interesting one. One idea I’ve toyed with is making Sam a Noble Hero after Knife in the Dark so he can dual-wield Anduril and Sting. Anduril’s ability helps any character who is both a good defender and can muster a significant amount of attack alone. There’s potential in comboing it with Herugrim since that can get some big attacks; or alternatively given that the Noble trait synergises somewhat with resource generation (Heir of Mardil, and Leader of Men later in the campaign), Gondorian Fire is an incredibly potent (and fun) option.
Lust for the Ring
This one is really a non-issue in my experience. It could be a bit of a problem if you earn it, but since you only earn it if it’s actually attached, just bringing along some condition removal solves the problem neatly. Even if you get it, stick it on a combat hero and all you have to worry about is the threat raise, and the ring doesn’t necessarily need to exhaust that often.
Overcome by Grief/Grievous Wound & Shadow of Fear/Pursued by the Enemy
Now, while I’d be very interested to hear alternative perspectives, this is one where I really don’t feel like it’s a choice in practical terms. Overcome by Grief and Pursued by the Enemy are strictly the superior options to choose as far as I can see – blanking text boxes can be devastating, whereas the immediate attacks are only an issue if you haven’t been keeping your enemies under control, not to mention the shadow effects – extra attack might mean throwing someone under the bus, but doesn’t count defence means a dead hero; and realistically, you can avoid characters getting destroyed most of the time, while heroes taking damage is pretty much inevitable. Of course essentially the choice is actually between taking all four or taking the (relatively) nicer two and killing a hero.
So, I can think of a couple of possible exceptions – if you’re running Gloin then maybe you take Grievous Wound because he can just generate resources with it. Or if you’re running a general Dwarf strategy then maybe you get Dain the first bit of hero damage so he takes the Grievous Wound and then just never exhaust him if you can help it. Those are the only cases which occur to me, and I can’t imagine a situation where I’d change my mind on Shadow of Fear/Pursued by the Enemy.
Regardless, the treacheries are random reveals so they’re not really going to influence your strategy that much. The Shadow of Fear shadow effect may push you more towards chump-blocking if you don’t have shadow-cancellation. The objectives on the other hand, obviously Grievous Wound emphasises healing, while Overcome by Grief discourages chump-blocking.
Phial of Galadriel/Three Golden Hairs/Lorien Rope/Leaf-Wrapped Lembas
Like Ho! Tom Bombadil!, these being one use only may well simply be saved up for the rainiest of all rainy days. Personally I know in my two player campaign we’ve often just used these to satisfy effects which force us to discard an attachment we control. Which you choose is more likely determined by your general strategy rather than influencing it – you choose the boon you think will either shore up a potential weakness for you or which will work best with your general approach to the quests.
Ill Fate/Followed by Night
This one is more even. That being said, the existence of Overcome by Grief immediately makes Ill Fate sort of potentially more appealing since you’re already being pushed into avoiding chump-blocking. On the other hand, if you think you may still have to chump from time to time, then maybe you want to minimise how much you’re punished for it, and Followed by Night isn’t that horrible an effect.
Beyond All Hope/Leader of Men/Intimidation/Forewarned/Hands of a Healer
The choice between taking Beyond All Hope or the skill boons (assuming you have a fallen hero to target) varies with number of players – more players encourages the skill boons instead, since that way everyone gets something rather than just one player getting their hero back.
Beyond All Hope itself is certainly something people are liable to plan for, probably deliberately throwing the relevant hero off the bridge in Moria, and they may well have that in mind before they even begin the campaign. It obviously plays somewhat into a strategy whereby that particular hero becomes kind of a superhero with all the stat boosts. Readying effects would be greatly encouraged.
The skill boons on the other hand are quite varied. Leader of Men synergises again with Heir of Mardil, making for quite the powerful combo once you get this far (though it’s probably not going to be much help at Helm’s Deep). Intimidation, just like Valiant Warrior, works especially well with heroes who tend to attack alone, such as Dunhere or Haldir. Forewarned fits perfectly on any defender and thus works with the defence boost of Tireless Ranger, since it’s essentially a once per round Burning Brand. Hands of a Healer is problematic since it requires exhausting the hero, so it fits best either on a hero who can get multiple actions easily enough or one whose actions aren’t going to be so useful in general. Maybe this could be another one for Dain, who can wait until all the other Dwarves are done questing and attacking, then exhaust to heal when his bonus is no longer required.
If you choose to take Poisoned Counsels it’s going to be a massive influence on your future strategy, since you will then have to either accept that you may randomly lose your hand at an unfortunate moment, or include effects like Gather Information, Mirror of Galadriel, etc, specifically to get it into your hand through a means other than drawing it. Gather Information is obviously the simple solution for everyone in a multiplayer game, but then you’re spending an entire round of questing simply to avoid a penalty you imposed on yourself by taking the easy option at Helm’s Deep, and missing out on the chance to use Gather Information to actually find something useful to improve and advance your board state.
Saruman’s Voice/Palantir of Orthanc
Saruman’s Voice is an interesting one. If you get stuck attaching it to a do-everything sort of hero then either you need to remove it, change your strategy, or resign yourself to repeatedly dumping your hand. On the other hand, if it goes on a hero who only quests (like say Eowyn), then it can just be one card per round, which isn’t necessarily so bad. Perhaps you mitigate it with Silver Harp and/or ally Galdor or perhaps you just accept it, especially since unlike the majority of Burden treacheries, it doesn’t surge.
The Palantir on the other hand is a one-shot Gildor’s Counsel under the right circumstances. Nice to be sure, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Certainly not something I imagine people will plan around, though maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong on that.
The Searching Eye
It’s easy to debate which is worse between this card or Poisoned Counsels, since they function in a similar fashion. Either way, this is bad. On the other hand though, you can avoid this by taking the threat increase. Decks built around low threat (e.g. Dunhere, Hobbits, Secrecy) will probably want to take the burden and thus may want to place extra emphasis on readying effects in future, unless they’re OK with just having an extra card revealed on occasion.
Brace of Coneys
I don’t think this really alters strategy particularly, it’s just a nice bonus, especially because it offers a variety of effects. I suppose the one thing I can say is that the existence of cards like this, Sting, Anduril, etc, kind of incentivise effects which allow you to search your deck (or part of it) to find them, like Master of the Forge/Galadhrim Minstrel, Mirror of Galadriel(+Silver Harp), Word of Command, or Gather Information.
A Heavy Burden
Obviously an influence on future strategy. Either you invest in additional threat reduction or readying effects; or you learn to manage without the help of the Ring-bearer.
So there we go. That’s my thoughts on all the different boons and burdens we have thus far and the ways they can influence your strategy once you get them and your planning in advance. Personally I think the most interesting are the boons at the end of Knife in the Dark which may well influence initial hero choices, and the prospect of Beyond All Hope influencing the decision back in Journey in the Dark of who to sacrifice to the Balrog. There are a fair number of interesting decisions to be made, though, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how some of those decisions play out as we move towards the end of the campaign.