The Line Unbroken – NC5: Nightmare Journey in the Dark

The Nightmare campaign comes at this point to in my opinion the first really iconic campaign moment – the fight with the Balrog and the fall of a hero on The Great Bridge. However you handle it, this is a part of the campaign you inevitably have to think through carefully and be prepared for.

Of course, as in standard difficulty, it is actually possible to get through the quest without a Fallen Hero. The Nightmare card stops you completing the quest without defeating the Balrog, and forbids reviving heroes from the discard pile, so the older and more obvious methods are blocked, but it is still possible to circumvent that by attaching Sword-thain to an ally and choosing that hero for the effect on The Great Bridge, thus retaining all your actual heroes. Of course since a Sword-thain has no threat cost this makes it harder to actually win the fight with the Balrog, but even without that, I wouldn’t be doing it. As in standard difficulty, I want to show what I would consider the expected experience of the quest, rather than circumventing an important aspect of it. So one of my heroes is going to die.

The question then is which hero I’m going to get rid of. Looking ahead, I want to do something different to the standard Line Unbroken campaign by taking the Skill boons from The Uruk-Hai rather than Beyond All Hope – so whoever dies will remain dead for the remainder of the campaign. Obviously I’m not getting rid of Haldir or Gandalf, since they have Permanent boons. Denethor I specifically included with the intention of potentially switching to his Leadership version once my progression-style card pool expanded sufficiently to make that an option. That leaves Balin, Beorn and Galadriel. The replacement hero I have in mind is Eowyn, which means I want to keep Galadriel – without Galadriel I would always want Spirit Eowyn, whereas with other (non-Gandalf) Spirit access I can switch between Spirit and Tactics as I like.
Which brings me to Balin and Beorn. As far as sphere access goes, I’m less concerned about relegating Leadership or Tactics to Gandalf-only. That said, Eowyn can be Tactics and Denethor can be Leadership, so I’ll have them anyway. It would be interesting thematically to pick Balin, so he does die in Moria, just somewhat later than in the books. On the other hand, Beorn having a dramatic last stand against a Balrog is a pretty epic mental image. Especially given the existence of the Flaming Sword which can give the Balrog Regenerate 4, there’s a practical concern that more damage from The Great Bridge might be needed to take down the Balrog faster – which would give the nod to Beorn for this 12 threat cost as opposed to Balin’s 9. Getting rid of Beorn would also allow me to go to a lower starting threat in future, even factoring in the permanent +1 for a Fallen Hero. So I think it’s time to say goodbye to the bear.

Beyond the Great Bridge question, what other concerns are there for this quest? Well, there’s really no reason not to bring a bunch of allies any more – indeed it’s a very good idea to bring a bunch of cheap allies, because someone has to defend the Balrog, and doing it with heroes would be very risky. The Balrog’s shadow cards can’t be cancelled and there’s a “Defending character does not count its defence” on one of the Burden treacheries. Of course there’s also a “Deal 1 damage to defending character” on a regular treachery, so I want 2 HP chumps and/or damage cancellation. Given that I’m looking more for chumps than powerful allies, the focus will still be more on my heroes, but there’s another consideration – killing the Balrog. The Balrog can only be attacked by the first player, so unfortunately I can’t pool the attack strength of Gandalf/Beorn/Haldir for a single attack. I need one deck to muster a lot of attack on its own, so I need some good attacking allies – though preferably still cheap ones, since they’re most likely only there to make one attack and will otherwise be superfluous.

Vigilance Against the Darkness

Heroes:
Gandalf
Beorn
Galadriel

Allies (16):
Honour Guard x3
Vassal of the Windlord x3
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Arwen Undomiel x3
Bilbo Baggins x2
Saruman x2

Attachments (23):
Bow of the Galadhrim x3
Gondorian Shield x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Light of Valinor x3
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Wizard Pipe x2
Shadowfax x2
Narya x2
Nenya x2
Glamdring x1

Events (11):
A Test of Will x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Feint x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x2

Thoughts: Since I’m bringing in more allies and may need some more attack to take down the Balrog it makes sense now for me to use Narya. I can also use it on Wardens of Healing, which is always a helpful option to have available. I’m also including Glamdring, as it’s the one Boon acquired from the previous quest which I expect to be useful.
Beside that the most notable changes are to the ally selection, which are very much aimed at handling the Balrog. I mentioned the potential need for damage cancellation so a damage to defending character shadow effect can’t leave me with an undefended Balrog attack, so here are Honour Guards. Then we have the good old thematic weirdness of Eagles in Moria, because since I only need extra attack for one attack in the whole game, Vassals of the Windlord are the most cost-effective option I have (Dunedain Hunters are cheaper in resources, and I considered them, but the extra enemy is also a cost). In the same vein, we have the unthematic for different reasons choice of Saruman – he only lasts one round, but hopefully one round and one attack should be all I need, and he has the highest printed attack of any ally in the game. He also pairs well with Galadriel, who lets him quest without exhausting, and his ability may come in handy since I’ll be playing him after the Balrog turns up and starts killing allies, meaning I’ll lose Fellowship of the Ring and so taking some more threat out of the staging area may be important to keep my questing at a good level.

All Strengths Combined

Heroes:
Balin
Haldir of Lorien
Denethor

Allies (15):
Elrond x3
Warden of Healing x3
Galadhrim Minstrel x3
Errand-rider x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3

Attachments (17):
Fellowship of the Ring x3
Steward of Gondor x3
King Under the Mountain x3
Celebrian’s Stone x3
Dunedain Mark x3
A Burning Brand x2

Events (18):
Daeron’s Runes x3
Gildor’s Counsel x3
Secret Paths x3
Sneak Attack x3
Campfire Tales x3
We Are Not Idle x3

Thoughts: The changes here are less significant. Galadhrim Minstrels and Envoys of Pelargir are my Balrog chumps of choice – because the Envoys are cheap, effectively costing 1, with flexibility to shift resources between spheres and indeed decks since I could put it on Galadriel; and the Minstrels are cheap and help the draw. Errand-riders can also serve as chumps in a pinch, and handily they have 2 HP so they don’t even need an Honour Guard on standby. The rest is all pretty standard stuff I think I’ve been using in the other versions of this deck.

https://ringsdb.com/fellowship/view/8692/thelineunbroken-nmjourneyinthedark
https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/15803/thelineunbroken-nmjourneyinthedarkdeck1-1.0
https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/15804/thelineunbroken-nmjourneyinthedarkdeck2-1.0

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