Your party is scouting the Mines of Moria, searching for signs of Orcs. Dark tunnels and twisting passages spread out in all directions, a labyrinthine maze that you could wander in forever if you take the wrong path.
The second half of the Dwarrowdelf cycle sees the players back inside the twisting passages of Moria in The Long Dark. The plot of this quest is straightforward: the Heroes are in Moria searching for signs of Orcs… and that’s it. There are no narrative twists, no big boss Enemies. Just lots and lots of dark passages.
The fairly generic setting leaves me with a lot of choices as to which characters I decide to send on this quest as I try to fit it into Tolkein’s narrative. They merely have to have some reason to enter Moria and watch for signs of Orcs. We can be fairly certain that the members of Balin’s company did this at some point, and we know the Fellowship did so as well. And in theory, practically anyone could have done this after the events of the War of the Ring, too. My options are wide open.
So I’ll turn to mechanics to help me pick my narrative. The recent release of The Sands of Harad gave us two new Hero versions of Legolas and Gimli with an interesting built-in synergy that I haven’t had a chance to try out yet. I’m going to take this as an opportunity to build a “Three Hunters” deck—”The Three Hunters” being the name Aragorn gave to himself, Legolas, and Gimli during the events of the first chapter of The Two Towers when they were hunting the Uruk-hai across the plains of Rohan.
Just for fun, I’ll set this quest after the events of the War of the Ring, giving myself a little more narrative freedom. So here’s my scenario: Gimli asks his good friends Legolas and Aragorn if they’ll accompany him on a scouting mission through Moria now that the Balrog is dead. They want to know how many Orcs remain there, and determine how much will be required for the Dwarves to reclaim their ancestral home.
The mechanics of Moria
The key gimmick of The Long Dark is a mechanic called “Locate Tests.” Certain cards in the encounter deck ask the players to “make a Locate Test.” This involves discarding a card from hand and then discarding the top card of the Encounter deck. If the discarded encounter card has the word PASS printed on it (and about one-third of the cards in the Nightmare deck do) then the players succeed. Otherwise, they can continue to discard cards one at a time until they either find a PASS card or give up. If they give up, they generally must trigger all Lost effects in play, all of which are bad things that appear on various other cards in the encounter deck. All Lost effects in play are also triggered every time the players quest unsuccessfully.
The first quest stage, which has 13 quest points, starts the players off with a Location in the Staging Area and gives all Locations +1 threat, marking this quest as one of the more Location-centric ones. Fortunately, our good friend the Cave Torch makes another appearance in this quest, ready to help out by placing 3 progress on any Location in exchange for the possibility of revealing an extra Enemy. The second and final stage of the quest forces the players to make a Locate Test upon reaching it, but otherwise just has 17 quest points.
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building the deck
I have already decided that I’m going to give the new Spirit Legolas and Leadership Gimli from The Sands of Harad a try, and that my third Hero will be Aragorn. The big question is: which Aragorn? There are three spheres to choose from. This turns out to be a pretty easy decision, though. In a Location-focused quest, willpower is at a premium. The best card in the game for generating lots of willpower is Sword that was Broken. But at a cost of 3 resources, Gimli would probably take too long to pay for it by himself—so Leadership Aragorn it is.
After choosing the Heroes, I usually start to think about which Allies I want to put in the deck. With a trait-based theme like “Noldor” (for example) it’s usually pretty easy to know what fits the theme and what doesn’t. But with a theme like “The Three Hunters”, things are a little less clear. I’ll start by including Unique characters who are close friends or relations of the titular hunters—like Arwen and Glóin—but there aren’t really enough of those in Leadership and Spirit to fill out a whole deck, so I’m going to need to dig deeper.
If I roll with the whole “this takes place after the War of the Ring” narrative, it’s conceivable that each of the three Heroes could have brought friends and allies along to help them on this task. In that vein, I think I’ll expand my search to include the more generic Dwarf, Silvan, and Dúnedain Allies as well. That gives me plenty of options.
For the rest of the deck, I’ll try throwing in some of the newer cards that I haven’t yet had a chance to play with much, just to try them. Here’s how it turned out:
Deck: The Hunt
Theme: The Three Hunters
“But come! With hope or without hope we will follow the trail of our enemies. And woe to them, if we prove the swifter! We will make such a chase as shall be accounted a marvel among the Three Kindreds: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Forth the Three Hunters!”
— Aragorn, The Departure of Boromir, The Two Towers
Aragorn (Core Set)
Gimli (The Sands of Harad)
Legolas (The Sands of Harad)
2x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Dunedain Pathfinder (Race Across Harad)
3x Galadriel (The Road Darkens)
1x Glóin (On the Doorstep)
3x Longbeard Elder (Foundations of Stone)
3x Naith Guide (The Dunland Trap)
3x Weather Hills Watchman (The Lost Realm)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Dúnedain Mark (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Dúnedain Remedy (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
2x Dwarven Shield (The Sands of Harad)
2x Ever My Heart Rises (The Long Dark)
2x Mirkwood Long-knife (The Sands of Harad)
3x Rune-master (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
3x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Elwing’s Flight (The Grey Havens)
3x Unlikely Friendship (The Sands of Harad)
Player Side Quest (2)
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)
1x Prepare for Battle (The Mûmakil)
3 Heroes, 51 Cards
This is a Hero-focused deck which turns resources into action advantage.
There are two key Attachments in this deck: Sword that was Broken, the deck’s primary source of willpower, and Rune-master, which makes the Signal Attachments essentially free. I look for either one of those or Elven-light (to help me draw them) in my opening hand.
It takes a few turns to get itself established, but once this deck gets going it runs like a well-oiled machine. Every round, all three Heroes can quest. Aragorn uses his resource to ready himself. Legolas uses his resource to return Elven-light to my hand, and then discards it to ready Gimli. If I end up engaged with an Enemy, Gimli can defend it and use his resource to ready Legolas for a counter-attack.
I don’t need to ready every Hero every turn—especially in the early game when I’d rather use those resources to establish my board presence instead—but I have the space to ready up whomever I anticipate needing in any given round. No card in the deck costs more than 3 resources, and Gimli often has an extra one lying around from the previous round. That means that I can generally play at least one card every round as needed.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 3 / 5 (60%)
Even though I lost twice, I would still call this a pretty easy quest. Some games I was able to get away with only ever making a single Locate Test, leaving any cards with nasty Lost effects with essentially blank text boxes. Other times some effect or another forced me to make a Locate Test or two, but either the consequences weren’t too dire (“Discard an Ally from play”) or I was able to pass the test easily. The Enemies in this quest generally had Engagement Costs commensurate to their attack values, meaning it was generally possible to leave the especially nasty ones in the Staging Area and just quest past them until I was ready to deal with them.
One of the games I lost was due to a particularly nasty combo from the encounter deck. On round 3, I engaged a Cave Spider, whose Forced effect allowed me to draw a card, but then forced me to discard 4 cards, leaving me with no cards in my hand. Gimli was plenty capable of tanking its measly 2 attack, but the Shadow Effect on Lost and Helpless is what did him in: “If you have no cards in your hand, discard defending character from play.” Ouch. Needless to say, things went downhill fast after that, as is common with early-game Hero losses.
Lost and Helpless was a problem in one of my other games, too. It was my first encounter reveal, attaching to Aragorn and adding a Lost effect that would discard him from play if I ever failed a Locate Test or quested unsuccessfully. This made the game particularly tense. Any wrong move would mean a lost Hero! Fortunately, I was able to use Elven-light to keep my hand full so I could pass my Locate Tests, and Aragorn managed to make it out of the mines unscathed.
My second loss was due to an unusually large number of Enemies being revealed over the course of the initial few rounds. Worse still, they got Shadow Effects that exhausted my attackers or returned the Enemies to the Staging Area after their attacks, meaning that even though I had enough attack power to kill them I wasn’t actually able to do so. I ended up spending too many resources on readying my Heroes for combat with nothing left to build up my board state, and eventually I started failing to quest successfully, triggering Lost effects which ultimately led to my demise.
In all, though, my wins were fairly decisive, and my losses felt like they were due to atypical encounter card orderings. I suspect that my win ratio would increase if I were to play more games. Unfortunately, like some of the Location-based quests that came before it, The Long Dark seems to suffer from a weakness to simply questing aggressively, which can make it feel a little too easy.
Gimli clapped his friends on the shoulder. “King Stonehelm will be pleased to hear what we have learned today! We will soon reclaim these mountains, and mithril will once again flow forth from Khazad-dûm. The crafts of my people will be renewed.” At this Aragorn smiled. “And what will you build with this mithril, my friend, once you have traded your war axe for a smith’s hammer?” A glint came to Gimli’s eye. “Many things, I am sure, my lord. But I think I shall start by building Minas Tirith a new front gate.”
Last week, I mentioned that I hadn’t played The Long Dark in so long that I couldn’t remember it. This week, I found out why: it’s a forgettable quest.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad quest. It’s just kind of standard. The Locate Test mechanic is fine, and I like the idea of the consequences of failing such a test changing unpredictably over time as the board state changes, but in practice it didn’t have a big enough effect on the game to have much of an impact. In the end, the quest was really just about run-of-the-mill combat and questing hard.
The fact that the quest fell a little on the easier side of things didn’t help. I wonder if the Nightmare version of the quest would have been better if they had removed the Cave Torch from the game. I used it to my advantage a few times, but it never felt integral to what the quest was doing as a whole. Perhaps removing it would have made things a little harder (and more interesting).
What do you think, readers? Any love for The Long Dark? Is it better in multiplayer? Let me know in the comments section.
Next weekend is my birthday, so I’m going to take the time off to hang out with friends and enjoy adult beverages. I’ll be back the week thereafter to tackle Nightmare Foundations of Stone, the penultimate quest of the Dwarrowdelf cycle and a fan favorite!