The Line Unbroken – N3: Nightmare Escape from Dol Guldur

And thus we round out the nightmare version of the Core Set with Escape from Dol Guldur. This is a quest which I would say was in sore need of the nightmare treatment, because while it may have presented a bit of a challenge on the original release, and certainly issues remained for solo players for a while, in general the difficulty of this quest rapidly diminished with the expansion both of the card pool and players’ experience in how to deal with it. This was kind of a problem because this (at least in my opinion) is a quest which really should be difficult.

I’ll explain my reasoning on that. Mechanically, this quest is a problematic one – taking away a hero (even temporarily) on the one hand and only allowing one ally per round on the other screw with the proper functioning of whatever decks you bring against it, which is not especially fun because you want your deck to be able to work as intended. The only appeal of these mechanics, and by extension the quest in general, is that they present a challenge to be beaten, so what’s the point if it’s not actually that challenging? Meanwhile thematically speaking, one of your group of heroes has been captured and is being held in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, featuring a boss fight against a Nazgul, so it really should be a dangerous and harrowing quest to deal with going by the theme. So both mechanically and thematically this quest really should be a big challenge for it to be properly satisfying.

Thus the significant question for the nightmare version is whether or not it does provide that truly nightmarish level of challenge? And I would say in general, yes, it does. It’s one of the most challenging quests we have in this game. Now, that doesn’t mean I agree with all of how the nightmare quest is designed, there some nightmare cards I distinctly take issue with for the level of excessive randomness they bring to your potential horrible demise. Before I talk about any specific cards though, let’s talk some general mechanics.
The jump to nightmare fixed the problem of the difficult from having a captured hero not scaling into multiplayer by making the number of captured heroes be one less than the number of players to a minimum of 1 (though for some reason they felt the need to specifically spell out the exact numbers for different player counts rather than sum it up like I just did); and it left alone the aspect which did get more difficult at higher player counts, that being the limit of one ally played per round. As frustrating as it is, I’m OK with this being part of the unique challenge of the quest. On the other hand, what they also did nothing to change was the sheer randomness of the setup, which also doesn’t scale with player count since there are always 3 objectives regardless of how many players there are. So you always have a setup of three random cards being revealed, which can vary from some treacheries which will actually do nothing to some high threat cards which may be rather difficult to quest past, and the nightmare deck exacerbated this problem by introducing some even higher threat cards and a highish threat card which will surge. So setup remains very swingy. I suppose it would’ve been hard to change that, but it’s still worth observing.
One thing I’m fairly surprised they didn’t do for the nightmare version is make a newer and more dangerous version of the Nazgul of Dol Guldur, who really hasn’t stood the test of time particularly well as a boss enemy. They gave us a nightmare version of Ungoliant’s Spawn for Nightmare Passage, which to my mind seemed less necessary since Ungoliant’s Spawn hasn’t aged so poorly and Passage isn’t supposed to be so super-challenging anyway (also it feels a bit weird to me that there’s a nightmare version of Ungoliant’s Spawn which only shows up for that one quest and the regular non-nightmare version still appears in Dol Guldur and Return to Mirkwood). So why not a nightmare Nazgul, especially since getting rid of the Nazgul is the secondary condition for victory on stage 3? I definitely feel like it would’ve made more sense to give players a bigger challenge with the Nazgul rather than punishing them for not claiming the objectives fast enough, or for just randomly drawing a particular combination of encounter cards in the wrong order and thus staring down an insurmountable wall of threat behind which their imprisoned hero is going to be tortured to death (The latter hasn’t actually happened to me, at least not badly enough to cause a loss, but I’ve come close enough to be acutely aware of the possibility).
It’s worth noting I think that the list of cards in this nightmare pack which really bug me doesn’t actually reach down to the treachery which makes you discard down to 2 cards in hand. Or if I were to put it on, it would be for the fact it makes each player who already has 2 or less cards in hand reveal another encounter card rather than for the forced discard itself. There’s enough bad in this deck that discarding most of my hand is actually more palatable than enough of it to form a list. Specifically:
Torture Chamber is a card I actually quite like in isolation. Where it becomes a problem is when it’s combined with Dungeon Labyrinth and potentially other effects which add resources to Dol Guldur locations. Just those two are enough to cause an issue, though, and the problem lies in two places – one, Torture Chamber adds to all Dol Guldur locations, not just itself, and more significantly two, Dungeon Labyrinth adds resources equal to the number of players rather than just one. So if you get the two together in 2 player, then either you travel to Torture Chamber to avoid the prisoner dying, but then Dungeon Labyrinth will be 4 threat against you, or you go to the Labyrinth first, but it’ll be 7 quest points. And if because of the high values of threat and quest points you don’t explore your chosen location immediately then the Labyrinth will be up to 7 threat and 10 quest points the following round. Of course this goes up even faster with more players, and then Eru forbid, while you’re dealing with this issue you could get more resources added by a Torture Master or Catacomb Inspection. You could get another Labyrinth for even more ever-increasing threat, or the other Torture Chamber to leave you with absolutely no margin for error. As a sidenote also, the shadow effect on Catacomb Inspection has never done anything to me because I’ve consistently either not had a Dol Guldur location in the staging area or spent all my resources, but under the wrong circumstances that one shadow effect could instantly lose you the game to a Torture Chamber.
Torture Master I mentioned above for its resource-adding, but in practice that hasn’t caused me that many problems. The issue is just that it’s 5 threat. Given that we have a couple of things which punish us for questing unsuccessfully (Dungeon Jailor, Sentinel of Shadow) and the above-mentioned locations can make it imperative to be consistently exploring the active location, the potential for 5 threat out of nowhere can be a massive problem. By contrast, the shadow effect has never done anything to me because it has never come up on an attack which damaged a hero – but if it had it’s incredibly punishing. The divergence between unexpected 5 threat screwing my questing and a shadow which does nothing to me makes for some very luck-dependent moments.

And finally, anyone who follows the Warden of Arnor facebook page will have seen when I mentioned a couple of days ago that Spider of Dol Guldur is trying really hard to become my most hated encounter card of all time. So for our obvious start, 3 threat enemies should not surge. Surge is for treacheries which do nothing or potentially do nothing, or low threat cards. Given the aforementioned 5 threat Torture Master throws off questing calculations, obviously the fact the Spider is 3 threat likely plus another card does similarly. In fact you could get the two together, for 8 threat from one card of your X card staging. If you’re really unlucky you could get 14 threat from that one card by having all the Spiders surge into each other, then a Torture Master. That’s unlikely, but the principle stands, 3 threat enemies shouldn’t surge. And then there’s the shadow effect. +3 for each unclaimed objective?! 3. Seriously. So that’s potentially +9 attack from that shadow effect, which will outright kill any hero in the game except Beorn without even taking into account the base attack of the enemy this is dealt to. As a general principle I would be inclined to say anything which is +X per Y should have X=1. 3 is right out. A potential +3 attack shadow effect I could stomach, though in the early-game it’d still be rough. +9 is just cancel or die if you’re defending with a hero.
While as noted above I would much rather have a new nightmare Nazgul instead of this nonsense, I suppose I understand the reasoning – the nightmare decks partly try to counter common strategies for beating the original quests, in this case that of ignoring the objectives until the very end to dodge their negative effects. In principle I could maybe accept that principle being applied if it weren’t done in quite such a horrible way – have the Spider gain some other nasty effect rather than surge, make the shadow +1 per unclaimed objective rather than 3. That said it still has a bit of an issue in that it’s the wrong way round. The hardest part of the game is usually the beginning, with things becoming easier as you progress and build up a board state, so encounter card effects should in turn really be designed to get worse as the game goes on to counteract the players’ advancement. This by contrast is at its most devastating at the very beginning of the game when it doesn’t need to be, and drops off later on. A classic and very comparable case would be the Spirit of the Wild in The Three Trials, which gets +1 to all its stats for each Key the players control, so it starts off at 1/1/1 to start with but once you reach stage 3 of the quest will be 4/4/4. This is scaling the right way. Also, it’s all very well to say you want the players to claim the objectives sooner rather than leave them sat there for however long, but since all the objectives start off guarded it’s actually impossible to claim them straight away, so for probably the first 2-3 rounds you’ll be totally at the mercy of that surge and massive attack-boosting shadow effect, either of which could easily lead to you dying before you even have access to the strategic choice of when to claim the objectives.

OK, I didn’t really intend this to turn into a full review of the nightmare cards, so that’s enough of that. What remains is to discuss how I built decks to beat it. Given that I wanted to try and do things properly, including randomising my captured hero, it seemed like one of the simplest solutions would be to build two mono-sphere decks to ensure I couldn’t just lose a sphere entirely. Of course mono-sphere options were not quite so well developed at the point in the card pool from which I’m operating here, but I can still put together something reasonable in mono-Spirit and mono-Tactics. Unfortunately this leaves me light on card draw, meaning I’ll be a bit more at the mercy of luck than I would already be just based on the quest. I’m writing this after already recording the playthroughs, so I’ll mention here that had this not worked out I was debating switching in an approach based around the Gloin/Elrond/Warden of Healing combo. I generally try to avoid anything so overtly overpowered as that, but this quest is a reasonable place to take a “no holds barred” approach if ever there was one. Happily though, I did not find it necessary to resort to this expedient, the two mono-sphere decks worked out alright in the end.

Having fun storming the castle


Allies (18):
Bofur (Ta) x3
Defender of Rammas x3
Gondorian Spearman x3
Veteran Axehand x3
Winged Guardian x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3

Attachments (18):
Blade of Gondolin x3
Citadel Plate x3
Rivendell Blade x3
Rivendell Bow x3
Song of Mocking x3
Spear of the Citadel x3

Events (15):
Behind Strong Walls x3
Feint x3
Foe-hammer x3
Goblin-cleaver x3
Hands Upon the Bow x3

Thoughts: Given the random captured hero, one of my big concerns was to include redundancy. Thus the allies include both attackers and defenders, and Gimli of course can be a substitute for either (though in the long run he’ll be better as an attacker). Handily of course Rivendell Blades and Bows can be played cross-table onto Glorfindel as well as onto Legolas. Beyond that it’s all a lot of standard stuff, and everything x3 for maximum consistency given my shortage of card draw. Of course also given my shortage of card draw it may be easier to afford to pay to keep Winged Guardians in play, which is why I kept them rather than the Vassals of the Windlord, which I cut to make room for Hands Upon the Bow. In retrospect Quick Strike would’ve been another good card to include as an additional means of avoiding an attack, since a sufficiently powered up Gimli can kill anything in one hit.

Walking into darkness

Frodo Baggins
Glorfindel (Sp)

Allies (20):
Arwen Undomiel x3
Elfhelm x3
Escort from Edoras x3
West Road Traveller x3
Gleowine x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3
Gandalf (OHaUH) x2

Attachments (12):
Ancient Mathom x3
Light of Valinor x3
Miruvor x3
Unexpected Courage x3

Events (18):
A Test of Will x3
Dwarven Tomb x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Hasty Stroke x3
Stand and Fight x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x3

Thoughts: Once again I have redundancy, since if Beregond is the prisoner Frodo can take up a lot of the defensive load (preferably buffed by Arwen). Obviously I brought as much willpower as I could, and a full suite of cancellation including Dwarven Tomb to recycle it, or to recycle all my threat reduction, which is significant with all the threat raising in this quest not to mention that from Frodo, Glorfindel and potentially Gandalf. Likewise given all that threat-raising from the quest Elfhelm is going to be potentially very helpful. Once again everything except Gandalf is x3 for consistency, a lot of the cards are standard, with the main oddity being Gleowine, who of course I can only bring in by discarding him to Eowyn and then using Stand and Fight (which of course handily doesn’t count against the “one ally per round” restriction since it’s not technically playing him). Miruvor was a late addition but a really useful one because I really can’t depend on drawing Unexpected Courage, but readying may be very significant at some points in the game.


Youtube: Nightmare Escape from Dol Guldur

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2 Responses to The Line Unbroken – N3: Nightmare Escape from Dol Guldur

  1. Qwaz says:


    Given how rough this was 3 player (with an unrestricted card pool!) I’m glad you managed to knock this out without resorting to Gloin shenanigans. I wondered when you started doing the Nightmare Unbroken if this might be a stumbling block, but apparently not!


  2. Pingback: Design Debates – Multiplayer Scaling | Warden of Arnor

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