The Sands of Harad deluxe expansion ends with The Long Arm of Mordor, a quest which is mechanically unusual but very interesting, and thematically sets up not only the rest of the cycle but also the initial motivation of our heroes moving into the next deluxe expansion. Let’s take a look at it.
The third subject related to this deluxe expansion which I want to consider in this post is the general quest design. As with the player cards, this deluxe kind of broke a trend – in this case, for the first time since Dwarrowdelf, we weren’t being given a whole new mechanic that would recur through the cycle and therefore needed to be somewhat tutorialised in the deluxe (respectively Battle/Siege, Time, side-quests, and Sailing). There’s nothing like that here, just the mechanics of each individual quest making them interesting in their own ways. The progress removing mechanics from Escape from Umbar do of course reappear, but that’s just a mechanical link between enemies of a particular type, like the Corsairs all benefitting from stacking resources on them.
Sands of Harad I would say is also the most consistent deluxe up to this point in the game. Often deluxe boxes have noticeable spikes or dips in difficulty or quality between quests (a notable example, the two deluxes preceding this one both had the difficulty spike up in the third quest), but Sands of Harad to my mind keeps difficulty at a manageable level throughout, and all three quests are good.
As to the specific quest designs, the first two are fairly generic – the main mechanic in Escape from Umbar is just a feature of the enemies which will recur later in the cycle, while Desert Crossing’s big thing is the Temperature mechanic. I wouldn’t mind seeing Temperature come back, but it doesn’t do much to affect the way the game plays. Just to be clear, generic is not a bad thing. A lot of my favourite quests are ones which do nothing too weird, just stick to the base game mechanics and do them well.
But Long Arm of Mordor is where the weirdness does appear. Of course throughout the life of the game there have been a few different quests with mechanics based around taking away heroes, but each has done things a bit differently, and Long Arm of Mordor is no exception. As with other such quests, it probably doesn’t see a lot of play, because the mechanics necessarily kind of mess with how your decks play and that puts people off. But I do really enjoy the way the mechanics of this quest work, starting with the objective heroes and some bonus resources and having to choose what order to rescue your regular heroes based on how your deck functions and the state of the game at the time.
Which brings me to building decks for it. Now of course it’s entirely reasonable to just build more standard decks and throw them at this quest having to cope with the mechanics messing up the decks’ usual operation, but I do like to tailor to the quest a certain amount, if only to show some of the interesting things which are possible, and there are a few interesting things you can do with how this quest works. The first is the basic concept – your heroes are taken away and you take time to get them back. As a result, early in the quest it’s possible to take advantage of the cards from the previous cycle which play off controlling 2 or fewer heroes. The second is that your heroes are in the staging area and can take damage – and if they die they go to your discard pile as normal, from which they can potentially be revived, circumventing the intended quest mechanics.
Outside of those interesting points, firstly since side-quests are a big thing in this cycle I wanted to lean into that at least once in the deluxe and it works out to be here – it fits since it lets me stall for longer to get the benefit of the “2 or fewer heroes” cards as I build up at the start; and secondly since I’ve been going through the deluxe with the new Gimli and Legolas I figured it’d be interesting this once to show how they can potentially still work if put in separate decks rather than the same (of course with how this quest works, that also means I can start by rescuing both of them rather than getting one without the other).
Knight of the White Tower x3
Galadhrim Minstrel x3
Warden of Healing x3
Galdor of the Havens x1
Gildor Inglorion x1
Haldir of Lorien x1
Anborn (Ld) x1
King Under the Mountain x3
Steward of Gondor x3
The Road Goes Ever On x3
Vanish from Sight x3
Timely Aid x3
We Are Not Idle x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
The Houses of Healing x2
The Storm Comes x3
Gather Information x1
Send for Aid x1
Scout Ahead x1
Thoughts: First off, another point about the quest taking away your heroes is that you still get their threat costs. That’s the main reason for Pippin, he’s just a low threat option so I’m minimising the impact he has on me while he’s not actually usable. Keeping my threat down also means I can hopefully avoid engaging enemies early on when I’m still short on characters to deal with them. Beravor of course is generally good, especially when my strategy relies on finding certain key cards, but one significant reason for choosing her was as a potential target for Legolas – the issue with separating Legolas and Gimli is that players commit to the quest individually in player order, so when the Legolas deck is first player Gimli is not yet exhausted to be readied by Legolas. But Beravor can exhaust to draw cards and then be readied by Legolas, so she fits in nicely.
In the ally selection, the Wardens and Ioreth cover healing and can be exhausted to cheapen The Houses of Healing, while the Galadhrim Minstrels will be a great help to getting the deck going as this deck is very much built around a bunch of key events. The rest of the allies are all high cost high power and intended primarily as targets for Timely Aid.
King Under the Mountain is still great draw. I do feel the need more for Steward of Gondor in this instance, not least because I’ll be spending a while (deliberately longer than I have to) with less than my full complement of heroes so it’ll be helpful to ensure I don’t fall behind resource-wise. The Road Goes Ever On fits with the side-quest focus I’m having, though honestly choosing it over Dunedain Message is mostly because it’s a new card I haven’t used. It being free is a point in its favour, but it being an attachments means before I recover a Lore hero it uses up my one play without a sphere-match for the Planning phase where Dunedain Message could be played in a different phase and also be fetched by Galadhrim Minstrel. It should still work out fine though.
Skipping ahead to side-quests, The Storm Comes may be redundant to the quest allowing me not to need a sphere-match on the first card, but on the other hand I could lead with an attachment, event or side-quest and The Storm Comes will continue to apply on the third and fourth stages of the quest when I no longer have that benefit. The other three side-quests are just good generally, but in particular Gather Information works with my desire to grab certain key cards like Vanish from Sight and Timely Aid, while Send for Aid synergises well with Timely Aid (since basically it *is* just a better Timely Aid for all players).
And the events. The standard set of 9 draw events to dig down as quickly as possible to the important stuff. Houses of Healing as noted can allow me to circumvent the quest mechanics a little bit (plus I haven’t used it before). But the stars of the show, as I’ve already alluded to, are Vanish from Sight and Timely Aid. Timely Aid is the most straightforwardly powerful Secrecy card there is, and Vanish from Sight will allow me to play it with the Secrecy discount so long as I have 2 or fewer heroes – that is, once I’ve rescued Gimli and no-one else. This should allow me to amass a strong board-state quite quickly.
Veteran Sword-elf x3
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
West Road Traveller x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Raiment of War x3
Blade of Gondolin x3
Rivendell Bow x3
Bow of the Galadhrim x2
Light of Valinor x2
A Test of Will x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Dour Handed x3
Gather Information x1
Double Back x1
Thoughts: Once again Merry is included in large part because of his low threat cost – though I suppose it’s also worth noting that if I want to make use of the Houses of Healing idea, Hobbits are also easier to kill in the staging area. Arwen for reasonable threat, willpower and extra resources.
For allies, we have a couple of the usual suspects for cheap willpower, which can be quite important in this quest, since if you fall behind on willpower early on it’s difficult to catch up with less heroes to pay for cards. Then we have ally Glorfindel, great if I can afford to play him, and the Veteran Sword-elf, who a lot of players don’t like so much but I’m something of a fan of. A potential 1/3/3/3 who can have a Raiment of War is a pretty decent combat ally for 3 resources in my book. Plus, once again, a card I haven’t used before in The Line Unbroken.
The aforementioned Raiment of War is another card I haven’t used before in TLU, but it can go on Gimli as well as a second copy going to the Sword-elf so it fits in here pretty well. Strider will almost certainly be played onto objective hero Kahliel, giving me action advantage and bonus willpower early on. Meanwhile when he’s not necessarily expecting to always be targeted by Gimli, Light of Valinor makes sense for Legolas to let him quest and thus use his own readying ability while still being ready for combat. Unexpected Courage is something I haven’t felt I needed in the previous two quests where I’ve relied on other forms of readying, but here with the early shortage of characters and therefore actions, it could be rather more significant. And then we have a selection of weapons primarily for Legolas. It’s worth noting that Blades of Gondolin will consistently give an attack boost since there is only one enemy in the encounter deck which is not an Orc.
Most of the events are very standard – cancellation, card draw (including Foe-hammer which I don’t use so often but here maximising my draw is potentially pretty significant), threat reduction and Feints. But then we also have the new event from this box Dour Handed – since I’m somewhat basing my strategy around doing a bunch of side-quests, Dour Handed should reach the point where it will kill most enemies in the quest, which is a pretty great deal for 1 resource.
The side-quests are just the ones this deck could play, minus The Storm Comes because it’s in the other deck, and Delay The Enemy because it’s not very good.