Once again we come to the end of a cycle, the fifth cycle in the game. The Ring-maker cycle I noted was interesting for me since it was around when I started getting particularly into the game – well the Angmar Awakened cycle was interesting because it was the first cycle to come after I started this blog. Of course it also hit a bunch of thematic points which really appealed to me, set itself apart as my favourite cycle yet, and to my mind is where the game’s design really hit the high plateau of quality on which it still resides.
As I’ve noted throughout the cycle, the player cards in this cycle covered a lot of different areas. The biggest focus was Dunedain of course, which came out in force in the Deluxe expansion and then the last few pieces fell into place as the cycle went on. Dunedain decks didn’t entirely grab the hearts of the player-base right away, the need to stay engaged with multiple enemies proving difficult to manage, but they were immediately powerful once figured out.
Noldor also jumped into the spotlight in a big way in the second half of the cycle with the arrival of Erestor and Arwen, but the support began before that with the Elven Jeweller and Steed of Imladris, it was just less noticeable before those heroes and Elven-light recontextualised those cards and the Noldor archetype. This was another one which was pretty instantly powerful – unsurprisingly, since the central mechanic of the archetype revolves around card draw.
The two Saga expansions gave us some Rohan goodies – not enough to make Rohan top tier, but certainly welcome additions – and some Ent support which spilled over into the cycle to make Ents an overwhelming force to be reckoned with. Land of Shadow also gave a little bit of support to Rangers and Hobbits, but it wasn’t really a focus.
This cycle introduced the victory display deck as a focused concept, with all the key cards, and that worked out pretty well with some kinks – it’s very much a multiplayer thing, Rossiel benefits from the archetype but doesn’t really support it, and it’s a bunch of cards that are pretty much locked in leaving less room for anything else you might want – but it’s a very satisfying deck type if you make it work. The cycle also introduced Valour, which I would say is less a focused deck archetype and more a subtheme you splash in, but once you find the ways to use the cards sensibly they can do a lot. Final new theme was side-quests, which I know a lot of people were more negative about until the additional support they got in the current Haradrim cycle, but I’ve always liked them and have gotten into extensive arguments about their merits. Delay the Enemy is a bit of a dud (though it has some uses), but the other side-quests from this cycle are amazing and you can do great either putting extra focus on them or just throwing them in speculatively.
That’s still not everything, as we also got some more minor bits of support to various pre-existing deck types and a few generic cards. This cycle really went all over the player card pool, and the design is good pretty much everywhere.
My favourite heroes: Merry, Amarthiul.
My favourite other player cards: Ally Legolas, Sarn Ford Sentry, Heir of Valandil, Secret Vigil, Gather Information, Honour Guard, Scout Ahead, Derndingle Warrior, Send for Aid, The Door is Closed!, Hour of Wrath, Tale of Tinuviel.
My least favourite player cards: In the Shadows, Rallying Cry, Dori, Delay the Enemy.
Best designs for developing archetypes: Theoden for Rohan, Entmoot for Ents, Damrod for Traps, Heir of Valandil and Descendants of Kings for Dunedain, Keen as Lances for victory display, Hope Rekindled and Hour of Wrath for Valour, Erestor, Silver Harp, Arwen and Elven-light for Noldor.
Worst designs for developing archetypes: In the Shadows for Hobbits/Rangers, Tireless Hunters for Dunedain, Rallying Cry for Valour, Delay the Enemy for side-quests.
Most difficult to use well: Helm! Helm!, Warden of Annuminas, Rallying Cry, Curious Brandybuck, Distant Stars, Dori, Reinforcements, Doom Hangs Still, Lords of the Eldar, Quick Ears, Sword-thain.
Most under-rated cards: Arod, Faramir, Staff of Lebethron, Ranger Summons, Star Brooch, Rossiel, Dori, The Long Defeat.
The favourite heroes list is actually kind of weird here, because I’m actually not that enamoured of any of them. I like all the heroes from this cycle and two sagas, but none of them are on quite the same level as my real favourites. Once again the more negative categories are more difficult to think of cards for, while the many cards I want to praise make me worry about the amount of card reviewing work I’m making for myself, but all these cards are ones I have things to say about – indeed in some cases I was looking at a card I really wanted to review and trying specifically to find a category I could slot it into so I could do a review.
Now, onto looking at the quests. I’ve said elsewhere that I felt Against the Shadow had good quest designs but hit-and-miss player cards, while Ring-maker had great player cards but hit-and-miss quest design; and Angmar Awakened was the point where everything was good. I absolutely stand by that sentiment, though the one fly in the ointment I would point out is that this cycle does seem to have the largest concentration of cases where the quests particularly discourage the mechanics of the player cards released in those packs/the same cycle. I’ll point out these cases as I go, but aside from those specific issues all the quests are very good. I think that this cycle is also, on the whole, the most difficult we’ve had.
Intruders in Chetwood is the side-quest tutorial and it does its job well. It’s also a pretty solid all round quest which I’ve sometimes used as a deck tester. There’s really not that much more to it – it’s possible for varying encounter draws to give widely divergent experiences with it, largely defined by if/when the side-quests show up, but that’s true for many quests, and in general it’s fine.
The Weather Hills although it does have its own particular mechanics is mostly just a very solid generic quest, and it’s another one I’ve used as a deck tester. The requirement to kill enemies in order to advance the quest is the first of a few mechanics in the cycle which directly interfere with the Dunedain deck archetype they were developing on the player card side of things, but for most deck types that’s not a problem. The whole mechanic with the Orc deck was sort of a streamlined version of the Underworld mechanic from Steward’s Fear – rather than searching locations for clues about the conspiracy and coincidentally finding enemies as well, the enemies are the thing we’re specifically looking for. And then flipping the whole thing round with the Orcs making a counterattack on stage 2 was very interesting as a setup, giving us the resources on the Mission as an additional resource to be managed and giving a good chance for some tough choices by putting us so much on the defensive. Obviously things all going to hell when you advance the quest is fairly standard, but I feel like this is one of the more extreme instances of that.
Deadmen’s Dike stands out from the other two quests in the deluxe for me by being less generic, more likely to randomly screw you over especially if you haven’t built for it, generally harder, and the fact that I don’t like it as much. That said, I’ve never actually had that much trouble with it until I did it for The Line Unbroken, which is probably partly why I had trouble – I underestimated it the quest and let myself get more carried away with weird dumb ideas than I should have.
Interestingly, although it’s a big part of the quest’s mechanics, I’ve rarely had an issue with the additional failure-state of running out your deck. My experience of this quest has generally been that in early rounds you have little choice but to tread water and try to establish as much board-state as you can, then push through to victory quickly if you can. It takes a lot of card draw/deck discarding to actually empty your deck even with the quest pushing you that way as well and often the decks which could be most at risk of it are also highly efficient and thus able to complete the quest faster so the game doesn’t last long enough for it to be a real issue. That’s not to say it can’t be an issue, just that I’ve found it to be less of one than one might expect, especially when compared to the more standard loss condition of being killed by all the Undead enemies (In particular the Cursed Dead I think may be cursed more by the players than whatever necromancer raised them from the grave).
Wastes of Eriador certainly kicked off the cycle with something of a bang. It’s a tough quest, sometimes to the point of feeling cruel, but the Day/Night mechanic worked superbly for setting a mood and I’m pretty fond of the quest in general. Given the level of difficulty, this is a quest which can be very punishing if you advance too quickly without building up sufficient board-state, which in turn means you spend longer on stage 1 and have to deal with the extra threat raise for longer, making threat a potentially significant concern for the quest – but that’s interesting and thematic in itself. The inability to make quest progress at Night makes side-quests that much more of a problem since each one you choose to do will cost you two rounds rather than jut one as usual, making the decision that much harder to make – but difficult decisions tend to be the most interesting parts of this game. That said, it kind of discourages player side-quests, just as Daybreak returning all engaged enemies to the staging area discourages Dunedain.
Escape from Mount Gram gets a lot of love from people with a fondness for prison break stories. I personally am not as enamoured of it as most, but it’s still a very good quest, and it does tend to capture the right feeling as you start out with pretty much nothing and gradually rebuild your power as you rescue the various cards from your deck until you’re prepared to just rush out of there. As I think I noted in the Line Unbroken playthrough, it’s possible to get kind of stuck if you’re just unlucky in what cards you find to rescue, in particular if you don’t get a useful ally out of the initial Prison Cell, something which the Nightmare version of the quest potentially does a bit more to fix, thought there’s still some definite luck involved. Of course the way the Captured deck works and the free threat drop into Secrecy gives a lot of scope to custom-build for this quest, though there’s potential for things to get a bit too boring if you lean too hard into that as the quest isn’t that tough, and using a deck not specifically tailored to it keeps a bit more of the feeling of challenge alive (though tailoring to it in a specific way/under restrictions, such as that deckbuilding challenge I did, can still be interesting). It tends not to be overly difficult, but it is very satisfying to build up from basically nothing to victory, and given most of this cycle, it’s good to have an easier quest or two.
Across the Ettenmoors is kind of interesting in that thematically it’s basically the same concept as Wastes of Eriador but the gameplay works out very differently and much easier. Though that said I suppose there is a parallel to be drawn between the duality of Safe location or not versus Day or Night. Safe locations once again mess up Dunedain decks a bit, and side-quests are a dubious prospect here. The fact this quest turned out a bit on the easy side (though with some potential for random difficulty spikes) was a little disappointing as the idea of trekking across the inhospitable Ettenmoors and hiding from Trolls and Giants seemed like something which could have been an interesting challenge – and indeed it is interesting, just not necessarily that challenging.
Treachery of Rhudaur is yet another quest from this cycle which I’ve used frequently for testing new decks, as it covers all areas of the game and is pretty consistent in its level of challenge. It’s finally a deviation from the apparent trend of the fourth quest in the cycle always doing something with locations, instead choosing to do something interesting with side-quests. The structure of stage 1 is a simple enough idea, but it offers a huge amount of scope for interesting strategic decision-making. Do you focus on just one quest or spread out between them? Do you really try to get through the side-quests or just tread water and focus on amassing your board-state so you’re ready to deal with Thaurdir on stage 2? Potentially you could just bring out a player side-quest and do that to avoid any of the negative effects and either rely on the extra effects to get through or accept the additional quest points on stage 2. This is also I think my favourite use of the Time keyword we’ve seen in the game.
Battle of Carn Dum is, as I’ve observed many times, the most difficult quest in the game. The seemingly impossible, suicidal attack on the nigh-insurmountable forces of Angmar. Our final confrontation with the wraith Thaurdir who’s been chasing us the whole cycle, and we face him both in his capacity as the Captain of the army and as the Champion of the evil country’s dark undead ruler. I recently picked Thaurdir as being one of the best villains in the entire game, so obviously I think a lot of this confrontation. Some people don’t like this quest because of how brutally hard it is, but others among the playerbase, myself included, actually appreciate that – and as I’ve noted elsewhere, the quest feels harder than earlier brutal quests, but also (mostly) fairer. One additional good thing here is that although there’s potentially a lot going on with this quest, certainly a lot of bases to cover if you want a chance of winning it, I’ve never found it to feel overly convoluted and hard to keep track of the board-state, which is a big point in its favour since you may want to be concentrating more on figuring out your best strategy rather than requiring a bunch of focus just remembering all the different effects and triggers in play. I don’t play this quest too often because it is very hard to beat, but when I want high difficulty I enjoy this quest a lot.
The Dread Realm is a definite step down in difficulty from Carn Dum, but still no slouch in that department, and the transition is welcome – going from a massive pitched battle to a more claustrophobic vibe with the more personal confrontation with Daechanar in the catacombs. The ubiquity of the Sorcery trait really sells the feeling that we’re confronting a necromancer, as of course does the repeated appearance of Reanimated Dead – both also make up a significant portion of the quest’s difficulty of course. The fight with Daechanar can be frustrating, but being at least a bit prepared for it I’ve never found it to be that bad, and I prefer it to the somewhat comparable Shelob boss fight in Land of Shadow, not least since a few of the Sorcery cards have other means by which they can be removed from play. Fun challenge, great theme, an all-round excellent ending to the cycle.
Ruins of Belegost I’ve praised many times for managing to stay fun even when I’m losing, a sentiment I stand by. It’s also a quest I think it would be hard for me to get tired of – after playing it a double digit number of times first while testing my Line Unbroken decks, then while recording and then re-recording because of mistakes, I still would have been entirely happy to play it again a few more times. The Discover keyword works incredibly well to capture the classic dungeon crawl feeling the designers were going for with this quest, the variance of what Loot you find and the branching quest stages help to keep things fresh, not to mention the extra boosts you can get by grabbing the Loot are satisfying to have, Naurlhug appearing and disappearing keeps a sense of impetus to keep moving forwards… the whole thing is just very well crafted, and makes for a fun if often very difficult quest.
Murder at the Prancing Pony is another favourite. Both it and Belegost are a bit different to any other quest in the game (more so than usual, that is) and so of course it stands out. I don’t love it as much as some, and I’m always cautious about trying to make sure I bring the right sorts of decks to it (i.e. make sure I have good threat reduction), but it is again always a lot of fun. I would say it’s not as hard as Belegost, but that’s no bad thing, and there’s still plenty of scope for the quest to mess you up. The randomly selected Suspect and Hideout give a lot of variation to how the quest can play out and the moment of making the accusation is always tense if you haven’t managed to acquire perfect information.
Once again, all these quests are good. Picking quests out for my list of categories here was rather difficult – too many I want to pick for hardest/favourite/thematic, too few for least favourite. In the end I’m just including all the ones which come to mind as being noteworthy in each category and the least favourites I will qualify by saying that of course it’s relative and they lose out only due to the high quality of quests throughout the cycle.
The hardest quests: Deadmen’s Dike, Wastes of Eriador, Battle of Carn Dum, The Dread Realm, Ruins of Belegost.
My favourite quests: Treachery of Rhudaur, The Dread Realm, Ruins of Belegost, Murder at the Prancing Pony.
My least favourite quests: Deadmen’s Dike, Escape from Mount Gram.
The most thematic quests: Wastes of Eriador, Escape from Mount Gram, The Dread Realm, Ruins of Belegost.
And now the usual final section for a wrap-up post, taking a look at the player cards I have and haven’t managed to use. I’ve got quite a lot to cover because of course in terms of new packs there are two Saga boxes I’m slotting in with this cycle and in terms of previously unused cards I’ve found a place for one or two got in for the Nightmare quests I played before this cycle. So let’s go first into the past cards I’ve managed to tick off the list:
Healing Herbs finds its place in Journey to Rhosgobel (NM) like the other full heal effects. It was great there, though there’s little chance of me using it anywhere else.
A Elbereth! Gilthoniel! worked out pretty great in Wastes of Eriador in the end as a backup solution to an unwanted enemy getting engaged.
Harbour Master was kind of superfluous since I could just get Rossiel to cover my defensive needs, so maybe I should try to find a better place for this particular awkward card. It’s a difficult proposition though.
Small Target I didn’t actually get to use as I recall, but in principle it could’ve worked out in NM Hunt for Gollum if things had lined up the right way.
Smoke Rings finally made its appearance for Prancing Pony. The willpower boost turned out to be superfluous but just having it as another threat reduction option was useful.
Knight of Minas Tirith fit in nicely when I went mono-Tactics for The Uruk-Hai. Forest Patrol I don’t recall if I actually played, but in principle Forest Patrol and Infighting have a lot of potential in a Trap deck, especially with high HP enemies like the ones in Across the Ettenmoors.
The Hammer-stroke also found its place in Ettenmoors rather unexpectedly. It’s a card I always assumed would be much more for higher player counts, but obviously with a Dunedain deck it works great. Anborn (Lo) did get preceded by his Leadership incarnation but then I did manage to slot in the Lore version nicely since he’s pretty useful if you’re focusing on using Poisoned Stakes and Ambush.
Lay of Nimrodel was a decent idea for NM Dead Marshes since the boost could potentially double up (with readying) for both questing and Escape tests.
Elven Mail just needed a decent elven defender, which role was neatly filled by Rossiel. Leaf Brooch needed maintainable Secrecy and was perhaps less impactful, but it worked out OK for Wastes of Eriador.
Free to Choose didn’t do a whole lot, but it was still a totally valid inclusion as another means of threat reduction costing 0 and not needing a Noldor.
Celduin Traveller was of course great in Secrecy. More for the cheap willpower than the ability, but neither goes amiss.
Heir of Mardil was good for The Uruk-Hai as I had resource generation and kind of needed all the readying I could get. Henneth Annun Guard was a mostly speculative choice for Mount Gram but certainly could’ve worked. Wandering Ent obviously turned up in Treason of Saruman for thematic reasons.
Booming Ent See Wandering Ent. Ride Them Down was a decent idea for Prancing Pony since I really wanted to avoid a potential enemy swarm. Shadows Give Way was planned to be used for Carn Dum as soon as I put any thought into it. Don’t Be Hasty was an odd one, but it worked out alright in Ettenmoors. Waters of Nimrodel could have been crucial in Ettenmoors had things worked out differently and the damage gotten more out of control. Treebeard is amazing with or without other Ents and it’s a bit surprising he’s turned up as little as he has, but then I’ve had specific ideas I’ve been working with. At some point I’ll do a proper Ent deck with a wider selection of Ent allies.
And finally the cards from more recent packs which I haven’t found places for yet. I managed to get through everything from Treason of Saruman, but missed at least one card from every other box.
The Lost Realm
Expert Trackers is a pretty great card and goes particularly well with Idraen – it just happens that I kept putting Idraen in decks without Lore access, and the one time I put her in a deck with Lore access it was specifically designed with the intent that it would never engage an enemy. At some point I’ll put Idraen in a more standard Spirit/Lore context and it’ll work, and/or I’ll be looking for more of a location control focus.
Land of Shadow
In the Shadows is a difficult one to justify in general. In the right deck it can be free, but even so, it’s hard to justify the deckspace for an event which will slightly weaken your engaged enemies rather than something to permanently improve your defences or attack power.
Wastes of Eriador
Ingold will most likely get his chance when I do another Gondor deck, though he has the potential to fit into other decks a well so long as they have resources to spare.
Rallying Cry is a card which I’ve never really found a great use for outside of its applicability in game-breaking combos. It’s overpriced outside of Valour and tends to be superfluous in Valour, so I’m not really sure what to do with this one.
Escape from Mount Gram
Derndingle Warrior is a crazy good defensive ally in general and at some point I’ll want to do a proper Ent deck anyway.
Boomed and Trumpeted Once again, Ent deck. Or this could also work in a hero Treebeard deck.
Across the Ettenmoors
Ranger Provisions has always been a tricky one. In principle it’s good, but Leadership has so many resource generation cards that fitting this one in can be difficult to figure out.
Longbeard Sentry can be a pretty solid defender and there’s some definite utility to the whole Dwarven deck-mining mechanic so maybe I’ll give it a proper outing at some point.
Fair and Perilous suffers the same fate as a lot of event-based attack boosts in being passed over for attachments, but there are enough cases where you want to just once or twice boost a single character’s attack into the stratosphere, and there are some decent candidates among the elves so I’ll get it in somewhere.
Treachery of Rhudaur
Reinforcements mostly has the issue of needing mono-Leadership (or shenanigans for the equivalent), and I couldn’t really accommodate a mono-Leadership deck in my late cycle plans. I’m sure I’ll manage it at some point though.
Elven Spear can be a pretty great fit for a Noldor combat deck, and I’ll have my chance to really dig into Noldor when I move onto Grey Havens.
Galadhrim Weaver works with Silvans and also works with discard-based mechanics be they Noldor, Rohan or Dwarven mining, so plenty of opportunities will come up.
Elf-friend is a trickier proposition, but there are plenty of elf-specific benefits which it can be nice to share around so I should think of something.
Battle of Carn Dum
Doom Hangs Still is potentially a very good card in the right context, but the difficulty is finding that context, having enough room in a deck after putting in all the things required to reach the point where it becomes useful, and then being able to play it.
Beechbone is yet another great Ent for when I do a proper Ent deck at some point.
Hold Your Ground! An easier Valour prospect, since the non-Valour option can still be pretty useful with a strong defender, so I should be able to fit this in.
Lindir is a pretty good Noldor ally, so he’ll be good when I go Noldor for The Grey Havens.
Lords of the Eldar Another great Noldor card which I’ll be bringing out for Grey Havens.
Quick Ears is a trickier prospect, but avoiding enemies (or specifically avoiding a particularly bad enemy) can be a valid enough concern in a few quests so I’ll try to find a suitable one.
Favour of the Valar makes for an interesting take on threat reduction. It ends up being similar to Galadhrim’s Greeting only Neutral, so in principle is definitely worth it for a deck which has no issues getting up to really high levels of threat, and has the advantage over standard threat reduction of being pre-emptive so you don’t have to worry about the right time to use it. It’s an odd card which I don’t use that much, but I should be able to use it well enough.
The Dread Realm
Eothain unfortunately missed out on my Rohan deck since Dread Realm was released a while after the Fellowship events, so I guess I’ll have to try another one at some point. He should fit in well with the archetype though.
Sword of Numenor is kind of Dunedain Mark plus if I’m not bothered about my Restricted slots, so I’m sure I’ll find a place for it.
Galadhrim Healer is likely to find a place when I revisit Silvans at some point.
Weather-stained Cloak is a trickier one since it’s quest-specific and also requires a specific trait. That said it’s a fairly common category of encounter card effects and a fairly common trait, so I expect to see an opportunity somewhere.
Sword-thain might be one of the most difficult cards for me to find a use for. I really want to, because it’s very interesting, but other than pushing Caldara into overpowered territory there aren’t a lot of really obvious uses for this card. It often represents the kind of shenanigans which are harder to fit into a 2-player game and it’s a hefty tempo loss to pay 4 for the attachment which probably won’t show much return on investment immediately, though it can certainly be worth it in the long run.
And all that concludes the Angmar Awakened cycle. With both player cards and quests hitting all the right notes, good balance, challenge, story and interesting mechanics, it is easily may favourite cycle I’ve covered in The Line Unbroken thus far, and probably still my favourite full stop even now. It’s also the first cycle which started after I started this blog, so reaching it in this series is a big landmark. Things just continue to be great from here, but for the moment I’m going to take The Line Unbroken back to Nightmare quests for a while before heading onwards. Hope you enjoy!