Like Conflict at the Carrock, A Journey to Rhosgobel feels like a side-quest during Aragorn’s search for Gollum. The story goes that our illustrious heroes happen upon an Eagle named Wilyador, who has been shot with a poisoned arrow on the edge of Mirkwood. The primary focus of the quest is to prevent the eagle from succumbing to his grievous wounds while we transport him to Rhosgobel.
The quest starts with the Objective-Ally Wilyador in play, with 2 damage on him and 20 total hitpoints. A Forced effect on Wilyador deals 2 damage to him at the end of each round. His passive text prevents him from healing more than 5 damage from any single effect. The Location Rhosgobel starts in the staging area, and until you travel to it you aren’t allowed to heal Wilyador at all. Its Travel effect requires that you complete Stage 1 of the quest, which takes 8 progress.
Stage 2 requires 12 progress, and upon completing it the quest plays a nasty trick on first-time players: Stage 3 heals Wilyador 5 damage for each Athelas Objective found while playing the quest, and then declares victory only if Wilyador has zero damage, and failure otherwise. This often results in a surprise loss for anyone who didn’t read the cards ahead of time.
The encounter deck itself features a bunch of Enemies with an interesting mechanic completely unique to this quest: they can only be defended or attacked by characters with the Ranged keyword or the Eagle trait. All of these enemies have pretty low stats, never swinging for more than 2, but many of the shadow effects in this quest punish you for taking undefended attacks, so they can cause quite a bit more damage than you bargain for. You’re forced to decide between using your valuable Ranged attackers as meat shields or braving the dangers of undefended shadow effects.
This quest also packs a lot of cards that deal direct damage—both Treacheries and shadow effects. All of that is to say: bring some healing. Actually, bring lots of healing. Just note that Stage 2 removes any cards that heal Wilyador from the game after they’ve done their thing, so you should probably leave Hero Elrond at home.
The Nightmare version of the quest also starts with a Goblin Eagle-hunter in play, presumably the one who shot the poisoned arrow in the first place. In addition to having awesome art, the Eagle-hunter sports some fairly beefy stats at 2 / 5 / 3 / 5 (and it gets more hit points the more players there are). The Eagle-hunter has a Forced effect that deals an extra 1 damage to Wilyador at the end of the combat phase, ensuring you’re on a short clock from turn 1. It has an engagement cost of 48, so you can leave it in the staging area and just deal with the extra damage, or you can buy yourself a little more time by trying to kill it early.
The Nightmare card also gives the first Creature Enemy revealed each round Surge, since most of the Creatures in this quest are pretty weak. Of course, Ungoliant’s Spawn also happens to have the Creature trait, so there’s that. You can also look forward to some Condition Attachments aimed specifically at Wilyador, making it even harder to get use out of his piddly 1 / 1 / 1 stats or making it harder to heal him.
This quest’s unique focus on throwing damage around like candy from a piñata, combined with its abrupt surprise ending make it a very memorable quest from the early days of the game. Some love it, others hate it; but either way, I’ve heard enough war stories about this quest to know that it has left its share of scars. Let’s see if we can begin the healing process.
Building the deck
The Quest cards don’t actually mention anything about Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum, so I considered leaving him out of this one. However, after considering my other options, I eventually opted to keep him around after all for his Dúnedain trait, of all things. Specifically, I needed him so that I could play the Athelas player card, which I wanted for several reasons:
- Thematically it fits, since the whole quest is about searching for Athelas
- It is one of only a handful of “heal all damage on a character” cards, and I need as many of those as I can get
- It is Condition removal in Lore, and there are a lot of different Condition Treacheries in this quest.
- It has an interesting interaction with a few of the encounter cards which interact specifically with “Athelas” cards, and I wanted to see how that affected the quest
Okay, so Aragorn can come as long again as he brings his Athelas with him. Unfortunately I think I’m going to have to go with his Lore version yet again, since I need all the Lore I can get for this quest. Who should I pick as my other Heroes? Ideally they’d be Ranged to help me deal with those birds and bats that can only be attacked by Ranged characters.
Well, Rhosgobel is on the edge of Mirkwood, so I can always bring the Mirkwood Elves along to the party—there are plenty of Ranged options there. I haven’t used Tactics Legolas in a little while, and he fits thematically, so he’s in. My third Hero should ideally be Lore also, to help me pay for all of the healing effects I’m going to have to jam into the deck. Haldir is Silvan, but he’s explicitly from Lórien, so it seems like the more ambiguous Argalad would make a slightly better thematic fit.
From there, it’s just a question of squeezing in as many cards as I can that can heal Wilyador. Hall of Beorn’s card search is always of great help in dire times such as these.
Deck: The Hands of the King
Theme: Aragorn’s healing lore (featuring the Elves of Mirkwood)
Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Argalad (The Drowned Ruins)
Legolas (Core Set)
3x Galadhrim Minstrel (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Silvan Tracker (The Dead Marshes)
3x Athelas (The Lost Realm)
3x Blade of Gondolin (Core Set)
1x Bow of the Galadhrim (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
2x Elven Mail (The Three Trials)
3x Healing Herbs (Foundations of Stone)
3x Lembas (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Song of Wisdom (Conflict at the Carrock)
1x Wingfoot (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Deep Knowledge (The Voice of Isengard)
2x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Goblin-cleaver (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Hands Upon the Bow (Shadow and Flame)
3x Heed the Dream (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Lore of Imladris (Core Set)
3x The Evening Star (The Grey Havens)
2x Waters of Nimrodel (The Antlered Crown)
Player Side Quest (1)
1x Scout Ahead (The Wastes of Eriador)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Legolas is responsible for placing the vast majority of progress on the quest—as such, I mulligan for Blade of Gondolin. In the early game, I typically quest with Aragorn and Wilyador until the Eagle has taken a little too much damage for comfort (since being exhausted makes him more vulnerable to several Treacheries in this quest). Later in the game I might have an Ally or two down to help quest, but generally I’m just treading water during the quest phase until Legolas finds something to shoot.
I can typically deal with the early game Eagle-hunter using either Goblin-cleaver or Hands Upon the Bow (combined with a little direct damage from Argalad) so that I never have to take an attack from it. Lembas goes on Aragorn in case he has to surprise defend a big attack, but most of the time I take attacks from smaller enemies undefended and try to heal the damage off, either with my many healing cards or by spreading it out among my Silvans and letting the Silvan Tracker do all the heavy lifting.
The trick is to quest through stage 1 as quickly as possible, unblocking my ability to travel to Rhosgobel so I can start using my healing cards on Wilyador. The deck has plenty of card draw, so I can usually outpace the damage on Wilyador once I’m allowed to start healing it off. If the damage is racking up too fast, I can always use The Evening Star to clear Rhosgobel while it’s in the staging area.
It’s not too hard for me to control the pace at which I make progress, especially since Legolas’ response is optional. Thanks to Aragorn’s ability, threat is almost never an issue. If I need to stall on stage 2, I can simply quest unsuccessfully until I’m sure I can get Wilyador down to zero damage.
This deck has two weaknesses:
- I don’t really have a good answer to Ungoliant’s Spawn. It’s possible to kill her, but the cost to my action economy, card usage, and the damage I’ll take in the process make her appearance perilous at best. I’m hoping to get through the (relatively thick) encounter deck without seeing her one copy, or to only see her as a shadow card.
- Due to my low willpower output, I’m somewhat vulnerable to location lock. Legolas needs Enemies to make progress, so if all I’m getting are Locations I might be out of luck. The Evening Star helps to mitigate this, and there’s plenty of card draw to help me dig for it when I need it, but it’s something I need to watch out for.
I’m not sure I’m happy with how many 1x cards there are in the deck, since that usually indicates that the deck will be inconsistent. They’re here because I have found each of them to be the difference between victory and defeat from time to time. The deck has a lot of card draw to help maintain consistency, and Heed the Dream digs for exactly what I need when I need it, so it all seems to work out fine in practice.
I said my theme included “the Elves of Mirkwood”, but it really came out being more generically Silvan-themed. Galadhrim Minstrel and Waters of Nimrodel are more closely associated with Lórien. Most of the Silvan cards in today’s card pool hail from the Golden Wood, though, so in the face of sparse options it felt okay to bring them along. Both cards provide some vital functions, event-fetching from the Minstrel and board-wipe healing from Waters, so I felt I needed them.
The other card I feel a little weird about is Foe-hammer. That’s technically a translation of “Glamdring”, Gandalf’s sword in The Hobbit. But we don’t actually have a Glamdring card that we can use outside of the Saga expansions, so the Event always feels a little out of place. That said, Gandalf makes an appearance in the deck (albeit minimally) and Glamdring was itself a Blade of Gondolin, so I think there’s enough cohesion here to give it a pass.
Win ratio: 4/5 (80%)
These were exciting games, since I never fully felt like I was in control of the board state. It was always a push and pull—back and forth—but even when things were looking grim I could usually dig through my deck and find the right card to turn things back around. I was somewhat fortunate, since the dreaded Ungoliant’s Spawn never showed up as an encounter reveal in any of my five games.
In my one loss, the encounter deck seemed dead-set on dishing out as much damage as possible. My Heroes were all at max damage, and Wilyador’s hit points were dwindling away. I was able to clear up most of the board, but just one bad Treachery reveal and it would be game over for me. Given the state of the staging area, I clearly wasn’t going to be able to clear Rhosgobel before Wilyador died from his wounds.
I had one possible solution, though—I already had one copy of The Evening Star in the discard pile, I had a bunch of Lore resources, and I had a copy of Waters of Nimrodel in hand. All I needed to regain control of the board was to draw my second copy of the Evening Star, use it to clear Rhosgobel, and then play Waters of Nimrodel to wipe the board clean. Unfortunately, victory just wasn’t in the cards for me. Despite drawing 7 cards and playing 2 copies of Heed the Dream, The Evening Star never appeared and after two tense rounds Wilyador finally succumbed to his wounds.
My final game was really exciting. I almost lost due to Location lock—Locations with 3+ threat appeared one after another for the first four turns in a row. I actually started committing Legolas to the quest, just to stall a little longer, desperately digging for a copy of The Evening Star. My threat skyrocketed due to questing unsuccessfully, and I had to use Aragorn’s ability much earlier than usual. Gandalf’s 4 willpower took the pressure off for one turn, and his card draw drew me into my first copy of The Evening Star. My second copy appeared shortly thereafter and I was able to dig up my third copy with Heed the Dream. Over the course of the next several rounds I was able to slowly regain some semblance of a board presence, pulling through with a comeback victory.
It took quite a few tries to get the deck right, but once I had something that worked it made for some very exciting games. More than once I was able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and I could never quite feel secure until the game was over.
Next week Aragorn will resume his search for Gollum in the Hills of Emyn Muil. The original version of that quest is often maligned for being long and boring, but the Nightmare version of the quest is an entirely different story.