For the sagas I’m going to be doing a wrap-up post at the end of each book, so here is one. As I established with the Hobbit wrap-up, I won’t be delving into assessing player cards as specifically, but I will include some more general thoughts on how The Line Unbroken has been progressing.
The player cards for Black Riders and Road Darkens are easily summarised – the former is mostly for Hobbits, and the latter is mostly for Gandalf; though Road Darkens also gave us some nice unique allies, and Black Riders had Dagger of Westernesse and Elf-stone, plus the fact that the Hobbit heroes can be very easily splashed into non-Hobbit decks and they can obviously bring some of those Hobbit-specific goodies with them. Gandalf is less splashable, not least because of all his specific goodies which it’s hard to justify leaving out if you’re using him.
Now to the quests:
A Shadow of the Past I made most of my big points about in the Design Debates – Tests post, because it really is all about those Hide tests. Aside from that there’s also the problematic 3rd stage where you can easily get stuck for a while as you continue revealing more locations (especially a problem with more players). Has its fun points but also too much potential to be randomly swingy for my liking.
The Old Forest would be my pick for the best location-focused quest released up to this point in the card pool. Has enough combat that you don’t get totally bored of just repeatedly revealing locations and treacheries, the Wall of Trees is a great card for helping with the flood of locations, the cycling quests stages add some more variation, and you get a boss fight at the end as well.
Fog on the Barrow Downs is a quest I know a lot of people have issues with, but it’s a favourite of mine, and in my opinion contended with Massing at Osgiliath for the title of best GenCon/Fellowship event quest up to this point. I will however freely admit that it can totally screw with a lot of standard deck strategies, which accounts for a fair amount of the frustration people feel with it. Since I custom-built for it I obviously dodged that problem in The Line Unbroken. I suppose it’s also worth noting that I like the challenge of more difficult quests – what others might take as table-flipping frustration and incitement to give up and never play a quest again I take as a challenge to refine my decklists and teach the quest who’s boss.
A Knife in the Dark began the trend which continued for the first four LotR saga boxes of the second quest having the highest potential to just brutalise you, with the swarm of Nazgul at stage 3. It’s also one of those quests that can be really tough if you play it blind and don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, but on the other hand it’s pretty obvious to anyone that adding more Nazgul to the encounter deck is bad even if you don’t know you’ll eventually have to fight them all at the same time. Once again your chances against this quest definitely benefit from some customisation to deal with swarming Nazgul and Bill Ferny mostly, which may just be a general trend of campaign quests, because campaign mode allows you to alter your deck(s) between quests. It’s a lot of fun regardless though.
Flight to the Ford would I think be my pick for the most thematic of the three quests in the Black Riders box. It’s exactly what it should be – a desperate race to the finish line, while pursued and harried along the way by the Ringwraiths. Now of course the particular approach I took made it look less challenging than it generally is, but that was I think a very high risk strategy – I was basically guaranteed to either win very fast or lose in spectacular fashion as the Riders massacred my hobbits. Fortunately I got the first rather than the second. Either way, once again, I like this quest a lot.
The Ring Goes South is less interesting than all the other saga quests in my opinion, and can get a little swingy with the setup as well, but it’s still a perfectly reasonable quest, and usually more challenging than how I did it since I custom built my decks specifically to avoid the main challenging shtick of the quest, that being accruing damage on locations.
Journey in the Dark is as I said in the post for it, the main event of The Road Darkens. It also very clearly continues the aforementioned trend in second quests brutalising you – what better way to brutalise the players than with two Balrog attacks per round? In general this is just an all round challenging and fun quest, demanding that the players be strong in all areas, first sequentially and then concurrently, all the while encouraging them to go fast while making it hard to do so, raining down direct damage galore, and finally throwing out one of the best and certainly one of the most iconic boss fights in the game. Journey in the Dark is not only the best quest in The Road Darkens in my opinion, it’s also among the best quests in the game full stop.
Breaking of the Fellowship I once again can’t really describe better than I did in the post for it, it hits you in all the same ways as Journey in the Dark, but to even greater extremes early on and without the Balrog. The players getting split up makes this the epitome of the tendency of campaign mode to require all decks to be somewhat solo viable as well as multiplayer (begun with Shadow of the Past demanding willpower from everyone for Hide tests, Fog on the Barrow Downs splitting up players if you chose to include it, and that treachery in Knife in the Dark which shuffles in a Ringwraith unless you remove 2 heroes from the quest; also comes up in Journey in the Dark where only the first player can attack the Balrog)
The hardest quests: Fog on the Barrow Downs, Journey in the Dark.
My favourite quests: Fog on the Barrow Downs, Journey in the Dark.
My least favourite quests: Shadow of the Past, Ring Goes South.
Quests which have aged least well: The further I get with this series the more difficult and less relevant this category becomes – partly because I get closer to the present and thus the quests have had less time in which to age, poorly or otherwise; and partly because the quality of quests has gotten better as the game has gone on, so it’s much harder to pick ones which have aged badly because in general they really haven’t. All this serves as a preamble to the fact I don’t have a good answer to this. For example Shadow of the Past has problems, but it had those problems on release and they haven’t really changed. Knife in the Dark maybe because Tactics Aragorn counters Bill Ferny pretty hard, and going further, the broken Aragorn(T)/Merry(T)/Pippin(Lo) deck really takes the challenge out of the final Nazgul confrontation. That’s a very specific thing though, involving a deck which can trivialise a lot of other quests as well, and in general the challenge remains. I might have to rethink this category before the next wrap-up post.
Speaking of which, this is a saga wrap-up post so I’m going to give some general thoughts on how The Line Unbroken is going and thoughts for the future (if you’ve forgotten, I decided this would be what I’d do in the Hobbit wrap-up post because covering unused player cards in more detail seemed less worth it with the comparatively small numbers in the saga boxes so I continue to save that for the ends of cycles).
So, as I just said, I may have to rethink the “aged least well” category for quests because it’s becoming less applicable. I’m sure I had ideas a while back for other categories I could add, so if I remember what any of them were maybe they’d work as replacements.
I’ve noted that on one or two occasions the particular strategy I’ve brought to a quest has made it much easier than it usually would be, so I’ve been thinking I may want to build less specifically for the quests as it gets less interesting. That said, that’s not always what I’m doing, sometimes I’m building around some particular hero or player card combo that happens to counter the quest really well (e.g. powering up Dunhere against Morgul Vale).
A definite one is that although I am continuing to keep track of how much I’ve used each hero, I want to try and stop taking those numbers into account when deckbuilding. Because the whole point is to track my own tendencies in choosing heroes, and I’ve been skewing the data by deliberately using my less-used heroes to try and keep the numbers more even.
That said, there are still some interesting points on my hero usage. Eowyn is still winning, and there’s still a massive bias towards the Core Set heroes. There are 7 heroes I’ve used a double digit number of times, those being the 6 heroes I used for the Core Set, and Frodo. 4 other Core Set heroes make it into my top 17 (with 7+ uses each), with only Dunhere and Glorfindel falling further down. The rest of that top 17 is made up of heroes I’ve used for my campaign, and Bifur. There’s also somewhat of a preponderance of Spirit near the top of the rankings, which reflects the point I’ve commented on that early on Spirit didn’t have a great selection of heroes that could just slot in anywhere, thus leaving me using Eowyn, Frodo and Eleanor over and over again.
It has occurred to me that the way I do The Line Unbroken inherently means the hero choices won’t exactly match my more general preferences. Because forcing myself to always use the newly released hero and trying to use as much of the card pool as possible will naturally push me towards heroes who are just generally useful in any context, and perhaps also towards support/glue heroes who will help me pull off the weird ideas I’m trying to do (heroes such as e.g. Bifur).
So after in the Hobbit wrap-up post I picked out some cards that I didn’t think I would ever use, I’ve now used two of them (Power in the Earth and Blade Mastery). I stand by the fact I don’t think I’m going to be using the others though.
Heirs of Numenor, On the Doorstep, The Steward’s Fear and The Road Darkens have joined the list of boxes where I’ve used every single card. Road Darkens is the first where I’ve used all the cards in the box immediately for the quests in that box, though that’s not very surprising since they are, as mentioned above, just a few nice unique allies and then all of Gandalf’s toys, so since I was using Gandalf, obviously I fitted them all in.
While I still have lists of cards I don’t think I’ll ever use from the first two cycles (albeit the Mirkwood list is now two cards shorter), and the Hobbit boxes gave me Late Adventurer which I don’t think I’ll ever find a place for, there are no cards from the Against the Shadow cycle or the LotR saga boxes thus far which I don’t think I can find a place for.
The list of cards I’ve used for The Line Unbroken which I think I’d never used beforehand has expanded to include Brok Ironfist, Power in the Earth, Blade Mastery and Ravenhill Scout.
And looking in general at how the game has developed, at this point I’d say we’re very much to a point where quality has become more consistent. My feeling tends to be that Against the Shadow had very good quests that were perhaps still a bit too random at times, while the player cards were more mixed – in particular a lot of them are rather niche as opposed to those things which had come before which were more general purpose. By contrast I love the player cards in the Ring-maker cycle by and large but have more question marks over the quests (they do tend to be more consistent experiences though). The LotR saga stuff is just all round good in spite of the few negative points I brought up about some of the quests.
Going back to player cards, of course we got snippets of Gondor trait synergy and Outlands, and some mono-sphere stuff. The mono-sphere stuff wasn’t overly compelling though there are a few gems in there, I hate Outlands but they do admittedly serve their purpose of being an easy option; and Gondor was less than people hoped for but I think better than it got credit for (the fact Visionary Leadership wasn’t released until Morgul Vale probably didn’t help that impression). Personally I take the fact that Gondor didn’t turn out like Dwarves as a positive because Dwarves were ridiculous. The only issue then is that because Gondor didn’t get that kind of development, Dwarves remained at the top of the pile. But it’s the Silvan stuff in Ring-maker where I really start to feel that yes, these are traits being developed well.
Finally since I’m talking about the series I just want to reiterate something I mentioned in the post for Dunland Trap – my feeling that this series benefits somewhat from a bit of distance in perspective. Analysing the effects of a changing card pool is easier if there’s been more time for people to adjust to the cards I’m talking about and so I can speak from actual experience on how they’ve impacted deckbuilding. Similarly while it’s interesting to play a quest when it’s new, for this series I’m trying to look a bit more closely at what makes each quest tick and that’s a lot easier to discern when said quest has been around for a while and you’ve gotten used to it. I’m not sure exactly how much distance, but I feel like I want to stay at least one cycle behind current releases. With that in mind, and especially since I want to take this series through nightmare quests as well, at some point I’m definitely going to take a break from the regular run to do some nightmare and get some more distance from which to analyse. I’m not sure exactly when that’ll be – it’s certainly not now, but it’s not out of the question that it could be at the end of the Ring-maker cycle. We’ll see. Either way, I hope you’re enjoying the series, and will continue to do so as I proceed ever onward!