The Line Unbroken – The Two Towers Wrap-Up

So with Treason of Saruman and Land of Shadow done I am through The Two Towers. Of course these two boxes were something of a shift in the nature of the campaign since they were entering the section where the action is split between two locations, following Aragorn on one side and Frodo on the other. They also, as I’ve already mentioned, inevitably meant that the designers had to make one or two thematic compromises to make the mechanics fit, and this of course continues into Flame of the West and quite possibly Mountain of Fire as well – adjusting timing and our heroes being at places they kind of shouldn’t be going by the actual book events. Fun though.

As usual for saga wrap-ups, I’m not going into detail on the player cards, but for a general overview – Treason gave us Gimli and Legolas as just general stuff and then the rest was Rohan for Theoden and Ents for Treebeard. Land of Shadow had some Ranger/Hobbit related stuff but also a couple more bits of Rohan and Ent synergy because obviously there was more for those than they could fit into one saga expansion whereas there was less from the Frodo side of the story to actually make cards out of, leaving a bit of additional space. Of course knowing about those cards while playing Treason made it a little frustrating building decks progression-style and having to omit those cards, but never mind. The Rohan trait definitely got bolstered by those additions, though still perhaps not enough, while Ents were already great and continued to be great. The Ranger/Hobbit stuff works reasonably.

Now, quests. I feel like up to this point, Treason of Saruman was the most consistently high quality saga expansion in terms of the quests. I don’t know how I’d compare Flame of the West as I haven’t played the quests yet, but I think Treason still stands a good choice. Black Riders I’ve never been as fond of the quests – Hide tests can get very frustrating in particular. Road Darkens has Journey in the Dark, which is my favourite quest in the campaign so far, but it also has The Ring Goes South, which I find much less interesting, albeit still good; Road Darkens is also I would say the peak of the weird scaling into multiplayer which is kind of a general problem with a lot of the campaign quests. Treason of Saruman all the quests are good, though admittedly two of them have very specialised mechanics so they’re not ones I’d want to play all the time. Finally Land of Shadow has a bit less interest in Passage of the Marshes; a difficult and frustrating twist on the mechanics in Journey to the Crossroads, plus the reverse scaling problem, it’s kind of bad for solo; and finally Shelob’s Lair can have issues with the whole resources cancelling damage thing (you can deal with it obviously, but if nothing else it kind of limits what decks can manage the quest). On to specifics.

The Uruk-Hai is a quest I’m unlikely to play if I’m not specifically playing through a campaign, because if it’s just a random game then I don’t have so many decks I can use which can easily cope with operating in the absence of one of their heroes for the entire game. If you are prepared for that though, this is a great implementation of the whole captured hero idea. The presence of Aragorn does a lot to mitigate the problems, since in addition to providing his own actions he can also spend resources to ready heroes, and the deficit of actions tends to be the most problematic aspect of being down a hero. The mechanic of the Pursuit value being the quest points really nailed the right feel for the quest in my opinion.

Helm’s Deep is an excessively popular quest, and while I might not agree with the level of popularity it has (The Quest Championship on the FFG forums voted it the number 1 quest), it can’t be denied that it is very good, and fits the theme of the chapter it re-tells very well. The whole idea of reversing the questing mechanics was fairly inspired and really makes for a unique, if sometimes frustrating, experience. Of the three quests in Treason of Saruman, this is probably the one with the most potential for the multiplayer scaling to get out of whack and screw the players, and on top of that with how different it is to regular quests it can be difficult to get into the right strategic mindset for it – but when you get this to go right, it’s amazing.

Road to Isengard is the normal quest of the box, with recruiting the Ents being the one really significant deviation from normal gameplay, and even that’s not too out there in terms of how it impacts the game. It’s very well-polished though, it does the basic things well, Saruman is a suitably difficult opponent to deal with and it’s generally pretty satisfying.

Passage of the Marshes I would say is the least interesting of the six quests we got for this book. Gollum worked very well, but he was only a part of this quest which was more focused on the undead enemies and significantly trudging through the marshes, which as has been noted elsewhere, is generally not a particularly compelling experience.

Journey to the Crossroads certainly gave us something interesting with the inability to leave enemies in the staging area without losing them to The Black Gate, though this has the potential to be rather frustrating since optional engagements are limited, and in particular this means the quest has serious issues in solo. In contrast to most people I don’t really have a problem with the Oliphaunts, as frustrating as they can be to deal with, just the potential awkwardness with the mechanics (though as I noted in the post for that quest, it’s mostly only a big problem if you’re paying in campaign mode).

Shelob’s Lair on reflection has a certain amount in common with Battle of Lake-Town. Shelob isn’t actually the only enemy in the quest like Smaug in Lake-Town, but she is the one all the focus is placed on. The orcs aren’t too big an issue, the Nazgul are but are rarer, and of course there are a few shadow effects with the qualifier “If attacking enemy is Shelob” really emphasising that focus. Which is of course as it should be for this quest really going by the theme, but stretching it that little bit to allow a few enemies other than Shelob and Gollum makes the quest a bit more interesting and variable, and means that generic combat decks don’t have a lot of their tricks automatically negated like they do in Lake-Town. There’s still something of a formula for beating the quest, but there’s more randomness to deal with (albeit as we saw in my plays of the quest, at times that randomness can seem a bit much). The mechanic of placing resources on Shelob was the first instance of something which has been used a few times now on boss enemies, and I think it’s the most frustrating instance of it, the primary reason why it hasn’t ever bothered me that much being that I’ve been aware of it and chosen/built my decks accordingly any time I was playing it.

The hardest quests: Helm’s Deep, Journey to the Crossroads.
My favourite quests: Helm’s Deep, Road to Isengard.
My least favourite quests: Passage of the Marshes, Journey to the Crossroads.
The most thematic quests: The Uruk-Hai, Helm’s Deep.

I was tempted to add Shelob’s Lair to hardest and/or least favourite based on how the plays actually went, but in the past it has been less of a problem for me so I’m viewing the TLU results more as outliers and sticking with my initial picks.

And now, general thoughts on how The Line Unbroken has progressed. Of course there’s been less of a gap between saga wrap-ups this time, though that’s been somewhat mitigated by the interpolation of a cycle of Nightmare quests.

Of course, since The Road Darkens I’ve gone through all the old videos and annotated every mistake I noticed that I made, and shifted the decks on to RingsDB. I haven’t annotated the mistakes for anything since the end of the Ring-maker cycle and I haven’t got the decks onto RingsDB from the one cycle of Nightmare I’ve done. Of course I’m going to have an issue with the question of my mistakes soon as youtube are for some stupid reason removing the annotation editor. I suppose I can just try to start checking my videos for mistakes before uploading them, but that will be a bit frustrating to have to immediately rewatch a game I just played when what I really want to do is get the video up right away.

The number of packs from which I’ve used every single card at least once is 13 – I don’t think that’s actually changed since Road Darkens but I didn’t give an exact number then. The number of cards I haven’t used is still 6 from the first cycle which I’m pretty sure I’m never going to use (Gandalf’s Search, Beorn’s Hospitality, To the Eyrie, Keen-eyed Took, Meneldor’s Flight and We Do Not Sleep); 7 from Dwarrowdelf which I should be able to get down to 4; Late Adventurer from Over Hill and Under Hill is the most recent card that I’m sure I’m never going to fit into a deck, everything since then I feel I should be able to find a place for, with a question mark over Don’t Be Hasty.

As far as my hero usage stats go, the bias towards the first cycle and the campaign remains pretty solid. The impact of the campaign is most notable in Merry and Pippin, who have each been used 11 times in the campaign and once outside of it (in Standard difficulty) – of course if I hadn’t been constantly using them for the campaign I might have used them more in other quests though probably not quite so much. Galadriel has had a fairly meteoric rise – I used her for Celebrimbor’s Secret obviously, but then I brought her back for Antlered Crown, used her for two of the three Lost Realm quests and then added her to the campaign in Land of Shadow, meaning she’s been in my decks for seven of the last eleven quests I’ve played in standard difficulty. I’m still managing to avoid having any heroes used only once, twice is my lowest.

In the Fellowship of the Ring Wrap-Up I noted that sometimes my custom-building for a quest made it too easy and thus less interesting (and didn’t show off the quest mechanics so well) so I thought maybe I should do it a bit less. On the other hand, I think what happened with Deadmen’s Dike may have been a bit too much of a step in the opposite direction, where my desire to keep doing different things (combined with my fatigue of using the same Spirit heroes all the time) overwhelmed my focus on actually beating the quest perhaps a bit more than it should have, leading to a somewhat less impressive showing against a rather challenging quest. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but if nothing else I should probably try to confine some of the quirkier stuff to easier quests rather than always indulging my strange whims since I guess some people do look to this series to get some ideas of how to beat quests.

Looking at how the game has developed I’ll mostly just reiterate what I’ve said before – Against the Shadow had good quests with a few wacky cards but did less well on the player card front, while Ring-maker did better on player cards but less well on the quests. Lost Realm onwards I feel the designers were hitting the right notes on everything. Interesting mechanics on both sides of the equation, good balance and a good mixture of difficulties for the quests. In terms of particular archetypes being developed in the player cards, Silvans worked out great, Ents started well (and continue well, spoiler alert), Rohan despite boosts from Treason of Saruman and Land of Shadow remained a bit behind, Dunedain turned out well though. Dunedain weren’t so well received to start with as I recall, but I think that’s at least in part because people seriously underestimated how feasible it can be to keep enemies engaged with you to reap the Dunedain benefits, and indeed how potent those benefits were (which is very).

So that concludes The Line Unbroken’s trip through The Two Towers. The campaign will now be on hold for quite a while, but the series will of course be continuing strongly as I head back to Angmar Awakened and then either onward or backward into more Nightmare, either way I have plenty to do and I hope you guys will be sticking around to see it.

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