The Line Unbroken – C18: Mount Doom

It has all led to this (please, no jokes about how this implies my blog is dying, it’s just a good line). The end of the saga campaign, in which we finally take the One Ring to Mount Doom. I don’t think I’d personally rate as my absolute favourite part of the campaign, but it is very good, and serves as an excellent capstone to the journey we’ve been on.

The subject I’ve left myself with regards to talking about this box is that of the story – fitting to leave that for the final quest of the saga. The only significant story problem I have in this box is to do with the ongoing campaign rather than the quests in the appearance of the Wraiths on Wings at Cirith Ungol, when in the books they are very definitely not there. In terms of the quest-specific mechanics, all three quests do a fantastic job of expressing the aspects of the story they are each portraying.
In Tower of Cirith Ungol, the representation of the Two Watchers as a location which becomes an enemy which raises threat (making it more likely you get caught) instead of dealing damage is solid. But what I really love is the mechanic whereby at the beginning of the quest phase on stage two you end up either spawning a new enemy or removing one which was already there, representing the massive fight going on between the two different groups of orcs.
The Black Gate Opens is I think my favourite bit of mechanics tying into the story in the box, possibly in the whole campaign – the simple fact that there is no way to win the quest, you can only try to last as long as possible to buy more time for Frodo to complete the quest to Mount Doom – exactly the plan Aragorn, Gandalf and the others are pursuing in marching their armies to the Black Gate.
Finally, Mount Doom has some slight difficulties, because the framework of this game can only do so much with challenges that don’t involve combat. So Frodo and Sam fight a few more orcs on the way to Mount Doom than they did in the book, and potentially Nazgul – but that being said for the most part the combat doesn’t feel so difficult, it serves more as a distraction from the more pressing concern of completing the quest to destroy the Ring before you run out of time (obviously there’s less pressure outside of campaign mode). The way you’re penalised for having more characters pushes players towards a more thematic small group trekking across Mordor, and while combat does come up, the primary concerns are more placed on continuing to make progress (on the quest) without being overwhelmed by the Ring (represented through Fortitude tests). It’s a shame that the end of the quest couldn’t force you to play out the sequence with Gollum, but I interpret Gollum’s interaction with Fortitude tests as the nod to that iconic moment, so it wasn’t ignored at least. The difficulties of adapting a story like this into a card game shouldn’t be understated and ultimately the quest does it rather well.

Which brings me to the question of my deckbuilding, or to put it another way, “How does one simply walk into Mordor?” Well as noted, while combat can’t be neglected, the primary challenges of this quest are more the questing (under time pressure) and ensuring you can pass Fortitude tests as and when they arise. Threat is a concern because while, like at Black Gate Opens, something else will almost certainly kill you before you threat out, higher threat makes the Fortitude tests harder. Between the fact your threat gets raised for non-Fellowship characters and the fact Fortitude tests can only be done by heroes, the quest pushes you towards few or no allies, and instead a focus on getting action advantage for your high willpower heroes. It’s worth noting that a lot of people would be inclined to try and boost willpower across the board, and that can certainly help, but in practice I think it definitely is feasible to have your willpower more focused in a smaller subset of your heroes who have multiple actions, especially when Galadriel+Nenya can share the willpower around.

I should note once again that I’ve been trying to avoid duplicating unique characters between the two sides of the campaign story, which notably means no Sneak Attack Gandalf here, as helpful as it would be. And as planned I’m diverting from usual Line Unbroken practice and not using Tom Cotton here because he’s really ill-suited to this quest.

Here at the end of all things

Sam Gamgee

Allies (2):
Rosie Cotton x2

Attachments (22):
Bow of the Galadhrim x3
Rune-master x3
Dunedain Mark x3
Dunedain Signal x3
Dunedain Remedy x3
Fellowship of the Ring x3
Orc Disguise x2
Friend of Friends x2

Events (27):
A Good Harvest x3
We Are Not Idle x3
Campfire Tales x3
Follow Me! x3
Feint x3
Halfling Determination x3
Raise the Shire x3
Wait No Longer x3
Speak Your Promise! x2
Brace of Conies x1

Thoughts: Thematic hero choices are of course quite difficult to come by on this side of the story – Sam is the one obvious choice. Mablung synergises with Sam since they both trigger off engaging enemies and 2 willpower is passable at least. Na’asiyah is perhaps an odd choice, but there’s definitely no thematic argument for her being somewhere else, and she’s a decent flexible combat option. If I were to disregard theme then I definitely could make stronger choices – e.g. Tactics Eowyn’s 4 willpower could be a big deal – but I’ve been trying to work around the story and I don’t want to drop that right at the end, regardless of how difficult the quest can be.
My one ally across both decks is Rosie Cotton. This deck starts at lower threat so I figure it can take the increased raises for the extra character, and Rosie’s ability to boost Sam or Frodo at key moments could be a big deal.
For attachments, Bows of the Galadhrim are of course to help Haldir do his thing in the other deck. Then a suite of Signals – the Dunedain Marks are again for Haldir, the Dunedain Signal shouldn’t be necessary as the other deck doesn’t plan on engaging enemies, but things don’t always go according to plan, so making Na’asiyah a Sentinel could be significant; and the Remedies are because I want healing from somewhere and given the problems with bringing allies to this quest I don’t have Wardens. Orc Disguise is in primarily because this is obviously the thematic place to use it, but it could also be pretty useful as essentially a pre-loaded Feint. Friend of Friends is likewise thematic and is also a cheap way of boosting Frodo and Sam’s willpower (the other stats could be useful but are a secondary concern). And Fellowship of the Ring of course is a great across the board willpower boost.
This being a rather tough quest with certain specific requirements, good draw to find those key cards is of paramount importance, hence We Are Not Idle, Campfire Tales and even Follow Me! The latter additionally could allow me to manipulate enemy engagements or change which deck will have to make the final Fortitude test at the end of the quest. Brace of Conies will also almost certainly be used for card draw if I find it, and Raise the Shire effectively functions as targeted draw as well, allowing me to dig out one of those key cards I really want. A Good Harvest is also a good choice when efficiency is of concern, allowing me to smooth resources between spheres so I hopefully don’t need to wait extra rounds before playing important Leadership cards. Feints and Speak Your Promise! both help ensure combat shouldn’t be a particular concern. Halfling Determination, like Rosie and Friend of Friends, is mostly in to boost willpower, but the other stats have the potential to be relevant. Wait No Longer is obviously a good fit as this deck wants to be engaging the enemies, and reducing the number of cards revealed in staging continues to be one of the most straightforward ways of dealing with a tough encounter deck.

If only the lady could see us or hear us

Cirdan the Shipwright
Haldir of Lorien

Attachments (37):
Nenya x3
Strider x3
Friend of Friends x3
Fellowship of the Ring x3
Orc Disguise x3
Ancient Mathom x3
Hobbit Pony x3
Light of Valinor x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Fast Hitch x3
Lembas x3
The Long Defeat x3
Sting x1

Events (15):
A Good Harvest x3
A Test of Will x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Gildor’s Counsel x3
Don’t Be Hasty! x2
Brace of Conies x1

Thoughts: On this side I’ve kept the hero lineup from Cirith Ungol. Haldir is great for keeping combat from being more than a distraction, while Cirdan and Galadriel bring a great combination of willpower and card draw – two things which I really want for this quest.
Nenya is the mulligan card for this deck. Galadriel being able to apply her willpower to any hero who is questing, making a Fortitude test, or preferably both makes a huge difference. Her willpower can then be boosted by Strider, which will always provide the +2 bonus as I will never control more than 5 characters. Friend of Friends, Fellowship of the Ring and Orc Disguise are here for the same reasons they’re in the other deck, but having them on both sides of the table obviously increases the odds of at least one deck drawing them in a timely fashion. Sting is just here for the stat boosts, and I put it in this deck rather than the other because this one has better card draw. Speaking of which, Ancient Mathoms and The Long Defeat are card draw that can be spread around. Long Defeat could also be used for healing in a pinch, but the intent is to use it for the card draw and leave healing to the other deck’s Dunedain Remedies and this deck’s Lembas. And of course we have all the actions advantage – obviously Unexpected Courages, Fast Hitches and Light of Valinor, but also Hobbit Ponies sort of work in that regard, because I want to keep heroes ready for Fortitude tests, which are triggered during staging by treacheries, which don’t add threat to the staging area so I don’t need as much willpower if I reveal one and I can spare it on the test; but if I don’t need to make a test then the Pony allows me to commit my Hobbit after the fact and have the willpower to overcome whatever other card I revealed.
A Good Harvest for the same reasons as the other deck of course. Test of Will is an odd one in this quest, because two of the four quest stages carry the text “The first treachery revealed each round is immune to player card effects and gains Surge,” and the final one just doesn’t let you cancel treacheries at all. But on reflection, one realises that still means for most of the quest I will have 2 cards each round which could be treacheries I *can* cancel, since the immune one will Surge. Daeron’s Runes for standard draw, but not Deep Knowledge as I’m concerned about threat. Brace of Conies will once again most likely be used for card draw. Gildor’s Counsel because once again, reducing the number of reveals is incredibly powerful. And finally Don’t Be Hasty!, for the same basic reasons as I described for the Hobbit Ponies but reversed – it means I can more recklessly send heroes on the quest, knowing that if I reveal a treachery which prompts a Fortitude test I can play Don’t Be Hasty! to ready someone who can handle it.

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