The Dead Marshes

After a long search, we finally catch up with Gollum in The Dead Marshes. Now we just have to grab the slippery creature and hold onto him long enough to get him back to Thranduil’s Palace in Mirkwood. Of course, Gollum being Gollum, that’s a task easier said than done.

The core mechanic of this quest is the escape test, which happens at the end of each quest phase and sometimes as a result of other card effects as well. When making an escape test, the players must exhaust some of their characters, committing them to the test. Then they discard a number of cards from the top of the encounter deck. If the total willpower of characters committed to the test is greater than the total escape value printed on the discarded cards, then the test is passed. Otherwise, the test is failed, causing something bad to happen, usually in the form of placing resource tokens on the Gollum Objective in play. Once Gollum accumulates 8 resource tokens, he is shuffled into the encounter deck, and the players must wait patiently until the encounter deck decides to bring him back into play again.

To win, the players need to place 12 progress on stage 1, then 3 progress on stage 2, and then pass a final escape test with Gollum in play. The trick, then, is finding a way to make progress on the quest while also reserving enough high-willpower characters to pass escape tests.

The Nightmare version makes a few tweaks to the original quest. First, it flat-out prevents the players from reducing their threat, so you can’t keep searching for Gollum forever if you happen to lose sight of him. It also adds a Location to the staging area at the start of the game, The Mere of Dead Faces, which collects resources in Gollum’s stead after he has been shuffled into the deck, and moves them to him once he re-enters play. This prevents a strategy of letting Gollum go in the early game to avoid having to worry about escape tests until the end of the game. The last major change is that Gollum is shuffled back into the encounter deck if he ends up in the discard pile (if he showed up as a shadow effect, for example). This is more of a bugfix than anything, as without this change games can drag on forever.

Of course, it also adds a higher percentage of cards with escape values, some of which are really high. It also replaces most of the Enemies from the original quest with Undead Enemies, tightening up the theme considerably. In all, the changes in the Nightmare quest place a much greater emphasis on escape tests, adding to the fundamental conflict of this quest: which characters should be committed to the quest, and which characters should be reserved for escape tests?

Building the deck

Just like last time, the locale of this quest is closer to Mordor than any other inhabited area, making it hard for me to use that as a thematic guide. Instead, I’ll fall back once again to my favorite tribe: elves. They have naturally high willpower, and access to readying cards like Light of Valinor should make them a good fit for this quest.

We’re still hunting for Gollum, so I’ll start with Aragorn—although I admit I’m looking forward to starting with a different Hero once I reach the next cycle. Leadership Aragorn fits well, since we’ll probably want to use his Broken Sword again, and his ability to ready himself means that he can both quest and commit to escape tests.

Hero Arwen synergizes well with Leadership Aragorn, both mechanically and thematically, so we’ll bring her along again as well.

My third Hero should be an elf, preferably one with high willpower. Spirit would be good, since it will help me get more willpower down more quickly. Ideally, we’d like some form of action advantage too, so how about Galadriel? She’ll keep some of my Allies ready even after questing so that they can still contribute to escape tests! Perfect.

Deck: By Sheer Force of Will

Theme: Aragorn and the Elves

Hero (3)
Aragorn (Core Set)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
Ally (18)
3x Elrond (The Road Darkens)
3x Galadhrim Weaver (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Lindir (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
Attachment (17)
3x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Miruvor (Shadow and Flame)
3x Nenya (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x Star Brooch (The Lost Realm)
3x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
Event (15)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Children of the Sea (The Blood of Gondor)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Tale of Tinúviel (The Dread Realm)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards

This deck on RingsDB


This is a rush deck, through and through. The primary goal is to quest through as quickly as possible before the encounter deck has a chance to do anything of consequence.

There are several ways to count characters’ willpower towards both the quest and escape tests:

  • Galadriel allows Allies to commit to the quest without exhausting, leaving them ready to commit to escape tests
  • Aragorn can pay a resource to ready after committing to the quest
  • Light of Valinor allows Arwen to commit to the quest without exhausting
  • Nenya allows Galadriel to add her willpower to another questing and ready character
  • Tale of Tinúviel allows Arwen or Galadriel to add their willpower to Aragorn’s, readying him as well

I mulligan for Nenya, but otherwise my goal is to get down as much willpower each round as possible. I aim to commit at least 5 willpower to each escape test if possible, but I prioritize the escape test at the end of the round over any mid-phase ones brought on by Treacheries or the like, since the one at the end of the round is worth 2 resources on Gollum and others are generally only worth 1.

By questing fast and hard, and passing as many escape tests as I can, I should be able to outpace the encounter deck before it knows what hit it.

Play notes

Win ratio: 5 / 5 (100%)

By far, these were the easiest wins I have achieved against a Nightmare quest to date. None of my games took more than 4 rounds to win, and I never felt in any danger of not succeeding. The closest I came to disaster was a string of encounter cards triggering extra escape tests which resulted in Gollum having 5 resources on him by the end of the game. I was able to play down most of my hand and commit more than 20 willpower to the final test, though, so I was still able to win it with ease.

It seems that this quest has not aged nearly as well as the other Nightmare quests from this cycle. The modern card pool has too many answers to the challenges it poses—primarily ways to ready high-willpower questing characters, I think—for it to have any real teeth anymore.

Fear not! The next quest, Nightmare Return to Mirkwood, is much more formidable a foe, rivaling even Escape from Dol Guldur when played solo. I’m looking forward to cutting my teeth against another fierce challenge.

One thought on “The Dead Marshes

  1. Pingback: Nightmare Wrap-Up: Core + Shadows of Mirkwood (part 1) | Darkling Door

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