We continue Sands of Harad with Desert Crossing. I haven’t revisited this quest anything like as much as Escape from Umbar, but that’s not because of any problems with it, just it hasn’t necessarily occurred to me repeat it. Actually that may be a bit of an ongoing theme for my engagement with this whole cycle.
Continuing to divide up my subjects fro the deluxe expansion, here let’s talk a bit about the player cards which came in Sands of Harad. Once again there are some interesting points to note here.
So the most obvious interesting point about the player cards in Sands of Harad is that it’s the first deluxe expansion since the start of the game not to be somewhat focused around a single trait archetype – sequentially we had Dwarves, Gondor, Rohan, Dunedain and Noldor, but now Sands of Harad breaks the trend. We have some cards which are clearly designed partly to specifically work with the two heroes in the box but which also have more general applicability, including the introduction of the cards which pairs of traits to use; the start of the additional side-quest support this cycle brings; and a couple more allies each corresponding to the sphere of one hero and the trait of another, but otherwise unconnected, just generic good allies.
The heroes are interesting. If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think they’re particularly strong choices in general, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, strength isn’t everything in this game. They certainly are fun to play with, which is more important. The multi-trait events are a really interesting idea, encouraging a more diverse selection of characters rather than sticking to a single trait – and they do a better job than the mono-sphere cards in Against the Shadow of sometimes encouraging players to sometimes modify their deckbuilding specifically to use those cards. And then there are side-quests. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you should be aware that I love side-quests – so I was very happy to see them get more support in this cycle, but annoyed at the various people who would talk about how the additional support ‘made side-quests good’. No, they were good already, you just weren’t using them. Short rant aside, the different design of this cycle’s side-quests is an interesting change – allowing 3 per deck but limit one in the victory display. This, allowing them to be more consistent, is one of the big things people liked about this cycles side-quests, but honestly I like both versions and I think they both make sense – the Angmar Awakened side-quests are all powerful one-time effects so you don’t want them to be easily repeatable but it’s OK for it to be possible to do them multiple times in multiplayer; whereas the Haradrim side-quests activate constant effects which you either don’t want to be stackable or stacking them would have no effect, but also they’re things you’re much more likely to want to build a deck around, so you want to let them be that bit more consistent.
I’d also note that if anything I think some of the side-quest related cards in this cycle are arguably kind of overpowered, the Vigilant Dunadan being the first example, but on the other hand fun being more important than power level works in both directions, and of course I’m going to use them regardless.
So, Desert Crossing. Having just talked a bunch about side-quests, this quest is not the best place for them, as the temperature acts as a timer towards your loss, so you can’t afford to take too many rounds off – and there are already side-quests in the encounter deck to worry about. Aside from that, the most significant concern I’ve found in this quest is healing. There are direct damage effects in the encounter deck, there are the Sand Vipers who can’t be defended leading to undefended damage, and most significantly there’s the effect on the second quest stage forcing players to deal damage among their characters every round. As I think I’ve observed elsewhere, Waters of Nimrodel can be a good card for this quest, because it turns out having water is important when crossing a desert. Who knew, right?
Beyond the desire to have good healing, I mostly figured out my deckbuilding based on trying to fit in cards which I hadn’t used before, both old and new.
Weather Hills Watchman x3
Gandalf (Core) x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3
Arwen Undomiel x3
Curious Brandybuck x3
Elven Jeweller x3
King Under the Mountain x3
Dunedain Mark x3
Dunedain Warning x3
Dunedain Remedy x3
A Test of Will x3
Sneak Attack x3
Unlikely Friendship x3
We Are Not Idle x3
Thoughts: This hero lineup also occurred to me when I was considering options for Escape from Umbar but I was concerned Theodred’s 1 willpower might not be enough. My willpower’s still a bit low here, but here a lack of progress won’t immediately lose me the quest so it’s OK to start a bit slower. The neat thought regarding Theodred is that his extra resource can either provide Gimli the resource he’ll need to ready Legolas later in the round, or provide Legolas with a resource to draw back the Elven-light discarded to ready Gimli.
Let’s start with the events since they’re all pretty simple. Tests of Will and Sneak Attacks are obvious, and then we just have the extra bits of draw, including obviously Elven-light which works well with Legolas.
Moving up to the attachments, in considering the need for healing I came to consider the Dunedain Remedy, and that led me to the general Signal/Rune-master approach which I quite like as it’s just that bit different. King Under the Mountain of course is just really good draw.
In the allies, the Watchmen help me draw the Signals, Gandalf is generally great, Envoys are nice cheap and can redistribute resources. Arwen is generally good of course but she’s also critical to part of my strategy which I’ll come to with the second deck. The Curious Brandybucks and Elven Jewellers are handy sources of hit points to take direct damage and willpower which don’t cost resources, allowing me to save more Spirit resources for Elven-light (of course the Jewellers also give me another way of discarding it) and, as it turns out, Sulien. Sulien was a late addition to the deck when initial attempts had seen me getting location locked. I didn’t want to make big changes to the decks, but putting in Sulien to allow me to potentially drop the threat in the staging area significantly was a very quick and easy option, plus she’s a card I’ve never used before. Affording a 4-cost Spirit ally with only one Spirit hero is a lot more feasible than it sounds between Theodred, Rune-master, Envoys of Pelargir and Unlikely Friendship, plus the limited number of other places to spend those Spirit resources.
Vigilant Dunadan x3
Honour Guard x3
Master of the Forge x3
Warden of Healing x3
Halfling Bounder x3
Envoy of Pelargir x2
Ranger Spikes x3
Entangling Nets x3
Poisoned Stakes x3
Weather-stained Cloak x2
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
Gildor’s Counsel x3
Shadow of the Past x3
Waters of Nimrodel x2
Thoughts: The hero lineup here was entirely determined by other cards I wanted to put in the deck. In considering cards I hadn’t used yet I found the Entangling Nets, hence Damrod. I wanted to have 2 Lore heroes so Waters of Nimrodel would be feasible, but with no other particular requirements Bifur’s just a good generic option. Also he can suck up unneeded resources from the other deck or Mablung. Speaking of which, Mablung was chosen mostly because the extra resource gain made the Vigilant Dunadan much easier to justify.
So let’s start there. The Vigilant Dunadan is a new ally from this box and an incredibly powerful one. He’s the reason ally Arwen is particularly important to my strategy – I’m particularly thinking here of the Were-worms, which each make an extra attack when they engage, which can be a real drain on character actions without something like the Dunadan who doesn’t exhaust to defend. I’ve also got the Halfling Bounder in here, also from this box, also working based off a side-quest in the victory display – and yet I have no side-quests in my decks. What I said about side-quests not being the best idea in this quest still applies, but of course crucial from that argument was the fact that there are side-quests in the encounter deck as well – so I’m banking on getting at least one of those before reaching the final stage of the quest. I think the odds are reasonable.
Other allies – Envoys are mostly just filler, though once again the ability to redistribute resources can be handy. Master of the Forge of course is a key ally for Trap decks. And then we have damage cancellation and healing. Ioreth was another reason why Bifur seemed a good idea – if I need that healing, in combination with Bifur I can trigger it so long as I have a free resource anywhere on the table, rather than needing to save one ahead of time.
Attachments, mostly Traps. Ranger Spikes are great of course, especially if I hit a low threat enemy I can just ignore for the rest of the game. Poisoned Stakes can avoid the need for a certain amount of combat power, letting me kill enemies without attacking them or possibly even without engaging them. Entangling Nets is an amazing card which likewise makes combat easier, and handily can potentially actually be paired with Poisoned Stakes to get an enemy with little to no attack power which will eventually die if left alone. The one non-Trap attachment is another card I hadn’t used yet, the Weather-stained Cloak. This quest has direct damage treacheries, damage is a potential concern in general, I have two Ranger heroes to wear the Cloaks, seemed a good place to bring them out.
Finally, events. Daeron’s Runes, Deep Knowledge and Feint need no explanation. Waters of Nimrodel I mentioned as a great pick given the significance of healing in this quest. Depending on what other healing I get out and how quickly I progress through the quest, it might be unnecessary, but if the damage starts piling up then having a reset button available could be crucial. And then the rest is encounter deck manipulation – I have developed a habit lately of putting Gildor’s Counsel in pretty much any deck with at least two Lore heroes, because it’s really good, but here of course I’m going further. Interrogation is another card I haven’t used before and it’s very powerful scrying, and then Shadow of the Past can work really nicely particularly with Traps.