The Line Unbroken – C17: The Black Gate Opens

Here we are for the penultimate quest of the campaign, The Black Gate Opens. This is the infamous unwinnable quest. Honestly this is one of my favourite bits of design in the whole campaign for how well the mechanics tell the story.

That being said, here I want to just talk a little purely about the special mechanics for the quests and not the story or their interaction with it. Now the first quest in the box is mechanically very standard. The second and third quests though introduce the Dire keyword on their quest cards, which does a lot to create an epic feeling in the quests, in large part just for how unique it is, in line with the different ways to push the players’ threat up of course. Fortitude tests in Mount Doom are kind of a revisit of Hide tests from way back at the start of the campaign – I’m on the record as not a big fan of Hide tests, but I like Fortitude tests a bit more, I feel they’re a more refined take on the idea, and it is nice that the campaign is kind of bookended like that. Also if they make everything really challenging, well that’s appropriate and clearly intentional.

I feel like I should have more to say but I don’t want to procrastinate writing this any longer than I already have.

So honestly, the challenge presented by Black Gate Opens is actually pretty straightforward – you just need to be ready for a lot of combat, without neglecting questing too much, but accepting that ultimately you will probably end up questing unsuccessfully after a while. The thing is, at least in my experience, rising threat is very much a secondary concern in this quest, because you have to manage the combat first in order to live long enough for your threat to become a problem. Maybe in the late game you can say that you could last an extra round with more willpower to overcome the staging area, but you don’t survive that long if you focus too hard on acquiring that willpower because the swarming enemies will just kill your heroes.

That said, it’s still not the easiest task to actually build decks here, possibly exacerbated by me pursuing a certain amount of faithfulness to the book over potential power. Since he was released in this box of course I have to use Leadership Eomer here, and for story reasons I really have to keep Gandalf, Pippin (but not Merry since he is at the Houses of Healing at this point in the book), Legolas and Gimli. And then the obvious choice for the final hero slot is Prince Imrahil. But then to suit sphere balance and my own personal preferences I end up with Leadership Gimli, Spirit Legolas and Tactics Imrahil, which gives me a lot of things I need to work around.

Fair and Desperate

Pippin (Lo)
Legolas (Sp)

Allies (16):
Arwen Undomiel x3
Curious Brandybuck x3
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Warden of Healing x3
Ioreth x2
Ghan-buri-Ghan x1
Bilbo Baggins x1

Attachments (15):
Unexpected Courage x3
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Wizard Pipe x3
Shadowfax x2
Banner of Elendil x2
Anduril x1
Glamdring x1

Events (21):
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
Heed the Dream x3
The Evening Star x3
A Test of Will x3
Hasty Stroke x3
Inspiring Presence x2
Justice Shall Be Done x1

Thoughts: Aside from the fact Leadership/Tactics and Spirit/Lore are pretty natural sphere combinations, it made sense to put the lower threat heroes together with Gandalf, and also I had to have Spirit in the deck with Gandalf so I could have the option of using Inspiring Presence to full effect. Trying to make Spirit Legolas’ ability useful to me may be a little haphazard, but in principle action advantage is a pretty big deal in this quest so it definitely should be worth a card unless my hand is really good. Even if my hand is really good, this is very much a case where you sometimes have to sacrifice the long term for the sake of the short term otherwise you don’t last long enough to have a long term.
The allies in this deck are all here for willpower and healing. Additionally, Bilbo’s pipe search will help slightly thin the deck, or get it going faster if I draw him before the Wizard Pipe, and Arwen’s defence boost will be very useful of course. Curious Brandybucks are a very nice inclusion for this quest actually, because their Forced effect only sends them to the bottom of your deck when the active location is explored, not when it is discarded – which is what happens in this quest if you quest unsuccessfully.
For attachments, the two boons could be significant in helping me deal with combat if I draw them – particularly Anduril as it saves on actions if Aragorn can defend something and kill it at the same time. The Banner of Elendil I thought was OK to have at 2x because on the one hand willpower is a lesser concern to combat as noted and on the other between it and Sword that was Broken I actually have 4 cards across the two decks which serve the purpose of a sizeable willpower boost, so the chances of finding one of them is reasonable. Wizard Pipe assists with smooth running of Gandalf, Gandalf’s Staff assists with smooth running of everything. And then action advantage is a pretty big deal when I may get swarmed by enemies while also being under questing pressure and I have some pretty strong and flexible heroes.
For events, we start with card draw to get the decks up and running as quickly as possible. The Evening Star is my only bit of location control, but it’s a good one for a quest like this, where I’m less concerned about trying to clear out all the locations over time (that would be very difficult to achieve anyway) and potentially more about quickly removing one or two annoying locations at key moments. My cancellation includes Hasty Strokes here as well as Test of Will, because as noted, combat is a really big deal – if anything, it would’ve made more sense to cut Test of Will for Hasty Stroke, since cancelling treacheries will cause the Mouth of Sauron to attack me, and early on I can’t really deal with that, whereas the threat of shadow effects is present right from the start of the game. Inspiring Presence is more of a thematic choice (actually it’d be a better thematic fit for Pelennor Fields but it wasn’t released at the time of that box, so here we are), but it still has potential to let me make some big plays. Finally, this is the perfect thematic and mechanical moment for Justice Shall Be Done – thematically this is the moment in the story where one group of heroes is willing to sacrifice themselves so that the other can succeed, and mechanically in the unwinnable quest where you just want to last as long as possible, the boost offered by a well-timed Justice Shall Be Done could be enough to push you through to the end of a round which would otherwise have killed you so you can last just one more. For both those reasons, I’ve included 1x Justice Shall Be Done in each deck.

White Horse and Silver Swan

Eomer (Ld)
Gimli (Ld)
Prince Imrahil (Ta)

Allies (24):
Envoy of Pelargir x3
Errand-rider x3
Dwarven Sellsword x3
Herald of Anorien x3
Veteran of Osgiliath x3
Elfhelm (Ta) x3
Galadhon Archer x3
Beorn x1
Boromir x1
Deorwine x1

Attachments (17):
Steward of Gondor x3
Dunedain Mark x3
Gondorian Shield x3
Firefoot x2
Roheryn x2
Sword that was Broken x2
Guthwine x2

Events (9):
Feint x3
Legacy of Numenor x3
Captains of the West x2
Justice Shall Be Done x1

Thoughts: The potential difficulty in the hero lineup for this deck is that all the hero abilities cost resources to use. Of course Eomer’s ability may not be that useful, at least not often, which removes the resource cost of repeatedly triggering it but leaves a hero with effectively no ability. Gimli’s is pretty OK because a lot of the time I can figure out in advance whether I need to trigger it or not, plus he’s one of two heroes and will get Steward of Gondor. Timrahil’s ability is one which I love, it’s very suited to this quest as another instance of producing immediate short term infusions of power without really contributing to a longer term which probably won’t exist. But it’s tricky to afford it when he’s your only Tactics hero, and it does require a certain amount of building around in terms of ally selection and deck proportions.
With that in mind, the deck is almost half allies, and every single one of them shares either the Gondor or the Warrior trait with Imrahil. The single copy each of Beorn, Boromir and Deorwine are obviously not intended to ever be played from hand but if they appear in the top 5 when I trigger Imrahil’s ability then that’ll give me some great options for that Combat phase. Veterans of Osgiliath are another pretty great one however they enter play, because while the rules for the Dire keyword explicitly move the Valour threshold to 80 threat instead of 40, the Veteran doesn’t actually say Valour, just “while your threat is 40 or higher.” Envoys of Pelargir are low stats but cheap and allow the shifting of resources, Errand-riders allow me to move resources around to where they’re needed, especially once I have Steward in play, and Heralds of Anorien allow me to skip some of the resources I would otherwise have to spend. Galadhon Archers are probably the most obvious target for the Heralds, though also maybe some of the allies in the other deck, depending on circumstance, particularly Arwen – but this deck has more potential to be sapped of resources by the aforementioned hero abilities. And also by Tactics Elfhelm, who of course will only ever be entering play temporarily, either by Imrahil’s ability or his own, to throw more combat bodies onto the table. Dwarven Sellswords are another instance of something which can give a quick infusion of short term power while being long term inefficient – but also if I get Steward set up I may well be able to afford keeping one in play for a while if need be.
For attachments, Steward will obviously fund a lot of other cards, and also increase the benefit of the Gondorian Shield, so between that and Arwen in the other deck I can get Gimli up to a consistent 5 defence. Firefoot and Guthwine can get Eomer up to a high level of attack, while Roheryn allows Aragorn to attack pre-emptively; and the Dunedain Marks can buff either of them further, so early on maybe Eomer can kill an enemy or two in the staging area using his ability, and/or at any point Aragorn may be able to kill an enemy immediately after engaging it with Roheryn, or immediately after defending it with Anduril. Realistically getting all of this to work out isn’t super likely, but having multiple options makes it likely I’ll get at least one of them to work, and I don’t need all of it in the same game. Sword that was Broken obviously gets a bunch more willpower out of whichever deck has Aragorn on a given round. Notably absent is Celebrian’s Stone – I would rather reserve Aragorn’s second Restricted slot for a Gondorian Shield, especially since even without any other cards, the Mountain of Fire version of Aragorn has in-built action advantage.
Finally, events. You can immediately see that I very much meant what I said about threat not being a concern in this quest – often the Doomed 4 of Legacy of Numenor is off-putting, but here it’s not only included, it might be my mulligan card, because the threat doesn’t matter that much, and getting a fast start could be crucial to my ultimate survival. Justice Shall Be Done I talked about in the other deck, Feints are standard. And then Captains of the West is, like Inspiring Presence, more of a thematic choice (especially since it was released in this box), but it has the potential to be pretty strong, since as noted, action advantage is significant, as important as combat is willpower still can’t be neglected, and five of the seven heroes I’ll have on the table are Nobles.

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