Two months ago, Seastan announced a forum game wherein players would place bids on Heroes in the form of starting threat. After some time passed with no bids on a particular Hero, that Hero would become “locked in” at that starting threat. Once all of a player’s Heroes were locked in, they were to build a deck with those Heroes without knowing what three quests they would be playing against.
I won Elladan for 9 threat, Elrohir for 9 threat, and Arwen Undómiel for 10 threat (only a 1 threat reduction overall). I built a loosely Noldor-themed deck with the three, which I called “Celebrían’s Pride”. You can read some of my design thoughts about the deck in my post on it, or just check out the deck list on RingsDB. Note that I included a 6-card sideboard (as permitted by the rules). I opted for the classic standbys, 3x Feint and 3x A Test of Will.
Now it’s time for the final part of the challenge:
Playing the quests!
The three quests are:
Easy: Choice between Flight to the Ford or The Mûmakil
Medium: The Steward’s Fear
Hard: The Wastes of Eriador
Since the game is just for fun, there are no rules about how to play the quests. I can use any level of difficulty I like. I’d like to get a few plays out of this deck, so I think I’ll play each quest two times: once on Normal difficulty, and then again on Nightmare (if I win the first game) or Easy (if I lose the first game).
Since there’s no Nightmare version of The Mûmakil yet, I’ll play Flight to the Ford as my first quest.
Flight to the Ford
I’m not sure I agree with the characterization of this quest as “easy”. Maybe it’s my play style, but I find the large number of hard-hitting Enemies to be rather tough to deal with. Combined with the ever-ticking clock that is Frodo’s life counter, this quest puts the pressure on early and doesn’t let up until you clear the Ford of Bruinen at the end.
I decided to pull my entire sideboard into my deck, since this quest has both hard-hitting Enemies and Treachery cards that bring those Enemies into play. I removed 3x Revealed in Wrath, one copy of A Hasty Stroke, and both Side Quests to make room.
Attempt #1 (Normal Mode)
My first game was incredibly close. Elrohir wasn’t finding enough of his defensive Attachments, and damage was building up pretty fast. The burden that I turned over as a result of the Travel effect on The Last Bridge was Weight of the Ring, basically neutralizing Frodo‘s Response for the rest of the game. By turn 4, I was engaged with 2 Fell Riders, and I was having trouble mustering enough attack power to kill them.
Eventually I managed to kill those two Enemies and quest past a Ringwraith that I was just leaving in the staging area because Elrohir couldn’t take another hit without dying. A timely Gandalf defended the Witch-king for me so that I could discard him through the Response effect on The Ford of Bruinen, and all I had to do was place 15 progress on the final quest stage and kill the one remaining Ringwraith to win. Frodo’s health was getting dangerously low, and my willpower output wasn’t quite as high as I wanted it to be, but I had a chance: I had managed to put 4 damage on the Ringwraith with Gandalf earlier in the game, so Elladan and his weapons could kill it in one hit. I couldn’t safely defend, though, so I had to accept that I would lose a Hero in the process.
By the time I had made enough progress, Frodo had only 1 life left. It was now or never! I engaged the Ringwraith, and opted to take its attack undefended. It got two shadow cards because The One Ring was exhausted, but I had A Hasty Stroke in hand—I figured I should be fine. Alas, it turned out not to be enough—the shadow cards were Pain Assailed Him and The Enemy is Upon Us!, either of which would have resulted in a loss on their own. Able to cancel one of them, but not both, the day was lost as poor Frodo succumbed to his wounds.
Attempt #2 (Easy Mode)
The extra resources I got from Easy mode really made a huge difference. I was able to hit the ground running with a turn 1 Ally Galadriel. My Burden this time was the much more tame Eaten Alive!, which set me up for a much smoother game. I once again used The Ford of Bruinen to clear out the Witch-king, this time using it to take out one of his friends as well. I ended the game with 4 health left on Frodo.
9 Turns. 6 Damage on Heroes. Final Threat 35. 9 Victory Points.
Final score: 122
The Steward’s Fear
I have a lot of fond memories of The Steward’s Fear—the quest is absolutely bursting with the theme of hunting through a city to root out a secret conspiracy. Progress in the quest can only be made by clearing Locations or finding Clue cards, which is an interesting departure from the normal fare. With multiple possible combinations of Plot and Villain Objectives, it’s a fun quest to come back to time and time again.
I decided to use my deck as-is for this one, leaving the sideboard out entirely.
Attempt #1 (Normal Mode)
I didn’t have any access to encounter deck manipulation cards in my deck. That meant that I was at the encounter deck’s mercy to throw me enough Locations to be able to beat the quest in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, it seemed that Sauron’s servants had it out for me. It wasn’t until round 10 that I received enough Locations to even clear quest stage 1 and reveal my Plot card, which turned out to be Poisoned Councils, causing my threat to go up by an extra 2 each round. Arwen had already gotten herself into some Local Trouble, so my threat was climbing pretty fast.
To add insult to injury, most of my threat reduction cards were hiding on the bottom of my deck, so despite having cleared a copy of Prepare for Battle early in the game (giving me an extra card draw each round) I only ever saw one Gandalf and Elrond’s Counsel each. Talk about rotten luck! With a shuffle like that, I never stood a chance.
I managed to cling to life for a full 14 rounds before hitting 50 threat. I never even found out who the crafty Villain was.
Attempt #2 (Easy Mode)
My second attempt went a little better, with more Locations finding their way out of the encounter deck, but unfortunately it still wasn’t enough. My plot was once again Poisoned Counsels, putting threat at a premium. Just like my last game, I was able to draw most of my deck (leaving me with only 11 cards left at the end) with only a single Gandalf and Elrond’s Counsel making an appearance the whole game. I was one token away from revealing the Villain this time, but after 15 turns I still threatted out.
I don’t remember ever having quite this much trouble with this quest before! Never send the children of Elrond to investigate a conspiracy in Gondor, I suppose. They attract too much attention. Perhaps their skills are better suited to the wilds than the realms of men.
The Wastes of Eriador
I was a bit surprised by this quest’s characterization as “the hard one”. Wastes of Eriador is no slouch, to be sure, but when I looked at the list, I remember thinking this was the easiest of the bunch. Once again, it probably comes down to playstyle—this quest’s unique day/night cycle, with good things happening during the day and bad things happening at night, fits with the sorts of tempo decks that I tend to play.
For my first attempt against the quest, I opted to play the deck as-is, with no substitutions from the sideboard. On my second attempt, I decided that a little bit of attack cancellation would have been nice, so I swapped in 2 copies of Feint in exchange for 1 copy each of Gather Information and Hasty Stroke.
Attempt #1 (Normal Mode)
It was a little tough to make progress for the first few rounds of the early game, but dealing with the Enemies wasn’t a problem. Elrohir could tank 1-2 Wargs per round with ease, and between the Amarthiúl Objective Ally and Elladan, killing at least 1 per round was pretty much guaranteed. I put my Prepare for Battle Side quest down a little too early, since the quest punishes you for having extra quests in play. Once I was able to get down a little more willpower I was eventually able to clear it, netting me an extra card each round. Then things were smooth sailing for a while, with the brothers doing their thing while their sister made quick work of the first quest stage.
It took a little longer to muster my willpower than I would have liked, so I started to worry about threat a bit. Other than that, though, things were pretty much under control—until the very last round when everything fell apart. I already had the 5 progress required for the final stage, and all I needed to do was engage the Pack Leader and kill it. Easy peasy. I quested hard enough that I didn’t have to worry about threatting out if I failed, but held the rest of my characters back for the final confrontation. First reveal: Wolf of Angmar, which has Surge. Second reveal: Blood-thirsty Warg. Now I had to deal with 3 Enemies, which was only a problem because of the Forced effect on the Pack Leader which exhausts a number of characters equal to the number of Wargs engaged with me.
I had some chumps available (as well as Ally Glorfindel, who could re-ready himself if I discarded a card) but I did the math, and after exhausting 3 characters I wouldn’t have enough actions left to defend all 3 attacks and still kill the Pack Leader. Plus, a copy of Cold From Angmar had recently attached itself to the quest, meaning that as soon as Elrohir took any damage, he’d lose his +2 to defense making him effectively useless. It was now or never—I had to win this turn or it was game over.
I knew what I had to do. I blocked the Blood-thirsty Warg with Elrohir. The Wolf of Angmar I took undefended, putting the 4 damage on Elrohir (which he survived due to his trusty Elven-Mail giving him +2 HP). The Pack Leader I also had to take undefended, and this time it was going to kill a Hero. I needed Elladan to land the killing blow, and I needed Elrohir to ensure he got his +2 to attack, so the dubious honour fell to Arwen to take one for the team.
Grief-stricken, Elladan got his revenge on the Pack Leader (with a little help from Amarthiúl and Glorfindel) securing me my victory.
12 Turns. 4 Damage on Heroes. 1 Dead Hero (Arwen -10). Final Threat 46. 4 Victory Points.
Final score: 176
Attempt #2 (Nightmare Mode)
Nightmare mode is a whole different sort of game. My deck performed admirably, but its inability to muster willpower quickly is what ended up doing me in. It took me too long to clear the starting Location, and soon I was Location locked by 4+ threat Locations like Warg’s Den and Shrouded Wilderness, both of which I drew early on.
My Heroes dealt with Enemies handily, but I couldn’t maintain control over the staging area and after 8 rounds I threatted out.
This was a really fun challenge! It’s always nice to have some artificial constraints to help liven up the deckbuilding process and keep the creative juices flowing. The deck I built was fun to play, even though it struggled a bit to muster enough willpower to complete quests quickly. I think it would work fine as a fairly versatile multiplayer deck though, perhaps taking on slightly more of a combat role.
If the community ever does this game again, I think I’ll try to get more of a discount on my Heroes. Threat was way more of an issue than I thought it would be, causing 3 of my losses in games where I otherwise might have been able to get a foothold to turn things around.
Special thanks to Seastan for the time and energy he put into hosting this challenge!
Next week I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled program with Nightmare Watcher in the Water. Until then, I’ll try my best to keep Arwen out of local trouble.