After my grueling battle against Escape from Dol Guldur, it’s nice to be back to a milder challenge in the form of The Hunt for Gollum. This quest follows the beginning of Aragorn’s search for Gollum in Mirkwood, as revealed by Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. The Hunt for Gollum provides a well-rounded challenge, not leaning too hard on either questing or combat.
The key focus of this quest is trying to locate at least one of the Signs of Gollum Clue Objectives somewhere in the encounter deck, and then questing through all three stages. The primary wrinkle is that the more Clues there are in play, the stronger the Hunters from Mordor Enemy becomes, getting +2 to attack and threat for each Clue in play. The Hunters from Mordor quickly becomes the strongest Enemy in the deck, frequently reaching at least 6 attack and threat by the end of the game.
Fortunately, you’re not left to the mercy of the game to throw Clues your way, since the first two Quest stages provide effects that allow you to filter through the encounter deck. Stage 1, which has 8 quest points, reveals an extra card of your choice from the top 3 after you quest successfully. Stage 2, which has 10 quest points, reveals an extra card of your choice from the top 2 at the start of the Quest phase. You’re only allowed to send characters questing on Stage 3 if you currently control a Clue Objective. Placing 8 progress on Stage 3 wins the game.
The Nightmare version adds a new mechanic: Mordor enemies (which for the most part means “Hunters from Mordor”) now pick up any Clues that you haven’t claimed by the end of the Refresh phase, and you lose if they ever obtain all four. I really like the flavor of this — it does make it feel like the Hunters are actually trying to find Gollum as well. In practice, I have never felt terribly pressured by this change except that it gives me a reason to have to kill the Hunters from Mordor rather than just leaving them stranded in Traps like Forest Snare or Ranger Spikes.
There’s one other interesting addition to the Nightmare version of this quest: Ravenous Hawk. Ravenous Hawk has a Forced effect unlike any other I have seen in this game: it enters play engaged with you if you happen to see it when you’re peeking at cards on the top of the encounter deck. Its 3 attack, 3 defense, and 3 hit points often give me pause in the early rounds of the game, and sometimes I opted to intentionally fail the quest while at stage 1 just in case Ravenous Hawk was among the 3 cards sitting on top of the deck. It also provides an interesting counter to scrying effects like Out of the Wild, which might otherwise be a fantastic card in this quest for thinning the number of Hunters from Mordor in the encounter deck.
Building the deck
I have always wanted to take an Aragorn deck through The Hunt for Gollum, so now seems like a good time to try it. In the book, Aragorn embarks on this quest alone at the behest of Gandalf. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any support in the current card pool for single-hero no-Ally decks, so I’m going to have to stretch the narrative a bit.
All the same, I’d like to use as few characters as possible and with the release of Strider 2-Hero decks are becoming viable. Compared to other Nightmare quests, this one isn’t too punishing, so I can probably get away with going 2-Hero here. I know that I want Aragorn to be one of my Heroes; who should be the other?
I considered Gandalf, since he was the one who sent Aragorn on this mission, but I couldn’t seem to get a decklist together that I liked, so I eventually landed on Arwen. Sure, she wasn’t there in the original narrative, but I like the idea of her and her partner trekking through the woods on a grand adventure together. It has a Beren and Lúthien sort of feel to it.
Now that Gandalf isn’t a Hero in the deck, I can use him as an Ally instead. The other Allies in the deck should be either representative in nature (“Elrond represents some advice or teachings he gave to our Heroes”) or possibly Woodman Allies, because I can see Aragorn having stopped to ask directions from the locals at some point. In any case, I want to try to keep the number of Allies low; this is a stealth mission after all.
A happy side-effect of using only a few Allies is that it takes the bite out of The Old Ford, which has X threat, where X is the number of Allies in play. I didn’t plan that, but it happened to work out nicely.
Deck: In Pursuit of Gollum
Theme: Aragorn’s search for Gollum
Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
2x Elrond (The Road Darkens)
3x Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Mirkwood Explorer (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Mirkwood Pioneer (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Entangling Nets (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Forest Snare (Core Set)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)
3x Strider (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Deep Knowledge (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Desperate Defense (The Flame of the West)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Quick Ears (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Radagast’s Cunning (Core Set)
3x Tale of Tinúviel (The Dread Realm)
2 Heroes, 52 Cards
The key cards here are Light of Valinor, Strider, and Gandalf. Due to the low Ally count there’s a pretty low ceiling on how much willpower this deck can put out at once, so I can’t afford to let Enemies or Locations build up in the staging area. The earlier I get Gandalf out, the better chance I have of being able to both quest successfully and kill enemies as they appear. He’s expensive though, so Light of Valinor and Strider help to keep my Heroes ready in the early game until I can afford to put him down.
The number one biggest threat the encounter deck has to offer are Hunters from Mordor, especially as the game runs on. Since there’s very little healing in this deck I can’t afford to tank big attacks more than a few times, and the only chump blocker I have is Mirkwood Pioneer. It takes Aragorn, Gandalf, and one other character with at least 1 attack to be able to reach the 8 required damage to kill the Hunters the round they enter play, so they can be difficult to take down. Quick Ears is great insurance against the Hunters, and when I have it in hand I save it exclusively for them.
I often strategically underquest in stage 1 to avoid getting overwhelmed with extra encounter reveals too quickly. That generally changes around the time I manage to get Gandalf down; as long as I have found a Clue by that point I quest as hard as I can until I reach stage 3, when I no longer have to deal with extra reveals.
Once Signs of Gollum is attached to a Hero, it counts as a Condition Attachment, which makes it possible for Elrond to discard it. I used this trick a few times to reduce the number of Clues in play, making the Hunters from Mordor much less harrowing.
I save Elrond’s Counsel and Resourceful for the mid-to-late game, after Gandalf has been in play for a little while. Once my threat is somewhere in the range of 42-45, I use Aragorn’s ability to reset it, and only then do I drop my threat into Secrecy using Elrond’s Counsel so that I can play down a Resourceful or two to help carry me over the finish line.
Win Ratio: 4/5 (80%)
This was a really fun deck to play against this quest. The games were always close, but rarely spiraled out of control. In all of my wins, I was able to get Light of Valinor, Strider, and Gandalf down before things got too far out of hand in the staging area. The card draw in this deck really helps to keep it consistent. In one of my wins, I was able to quest so fast (with the occasional use of Quick Ears) that I managed to avoid seeing any Hunters from Mordor at all! In most games I had to deal with only one copy.
In the one game that I lost, the reveal during Setup was Old Wives Tales, exhausting both of my Heroes right from the start. The first encounter card reveal was a Hunting Warg, whose attack I had to take undefended and which brought some Hunters from Mordor into play. The next few reveals brought in two Signs of Gollum, boosting the Hunters up to 6 attack. Despite using Tale of Tinúviel to buff Aragorn’s defense two turns in a row, I ended up taking too much damage to be able to keep everyone standing.
As much as I savor a challenge, I also really like Nightmare quests like The Hunt for Gollum, in which the focus is on tightening up the theme rather than making the quest more punishing. Quests like these allow for a broader range of deck choices. For this quest, I was able to play a low-Ally deck, a significant departure from my normal style. I really enjoyed the chance to try something new.
Next week I’ll be taking a moment to discuss what makes a powerful versus a niche thematic card, and some strategies I use to get a little more thematic mileage out of my card pool. After that I’ll move on to Nightmare The Conflict at the Carrock. Stay tuned!