For the first quest in my Path Less Traveled series, I’m going to be tackling Voyage Across Belegaer.
If I had to pick one word to describe Voyage Across Belegaer, the first quest from the Deluxe expansion The Grey Havens, I think I would go with “Nautical”. It is the first of several quests in the cycle to utilize a brand new Sailing mechanic, complete with each player selecting their very own Ship to pilot across the open seas. What might happen if this were my first purchase after the Core Set? Let’s dive right in and find out!
Our new toys
The player cards from The Grey Havens box are meant to build up the Noldor archetype, whose key mechanic is discarding cards from hand to power different card effects. We get two new Heroes in the box, both Noldor, and both featuring abilities that drop cards in the discard pile: Círdan the Shipwright and Galdor of the Havens.
Both of these Heroes have different ways of helping you filter through your deck to find the cards you’re looking for. Círdan’s ability lets you look at an extra card when you draw cards at the start of the round, but only lets you keep one of them. Over the course of the game, you end up seeing more of your deck, letting you pick whatever’s most useful at the time rather than just hoping for good draws. Galdor’s ability, on the other hand, is more about setting you up for a successful early game: instead of a mulligan, he lets you dump the parts of your hand that you don’t want into your discard pile and then draw back up to 6. As an added bonus, he lets you refill your hand back up to 6 cards if you run out once per game.
The name of the game with the Grey Havens Heroes, then, is consistency. Players who feel like they often lose due to bad luck might consider picking up this box to see if these Heroes help them even the odds.
Another key mechanic found among the Grey Havens player cards are a bunch of Allies who get significantly better if you have the right type of card on top of your discard pile: Warden of the Havens (who gets +2 defense and Sentinel if it’s an Attachment), Mithlond Sea-watcher (who gets +2 attack and Ranged if it’s an Ally), and Sailor of Lune (who gets +1 willpower and becomes immune to direct damage if it’s an Event).
These cards are fun to play with, but can be difficult to use reliably without the right set-up. When I am using them I typically want a way to drop cards into my discard pile on-demand (using Éowyn or Protector of Lórien, for example) as well as a steady supply of card draw so I can ensure I always have the right kind of fuel to throw on the fire. When these Allies are powered up, they’re pretty good value for their cost, but they’re somewhat fragile in the sense that something as simple as playing an Event or chump blocking can ruin your carefully-laid plans.
Players who enjoy combo-y sorts of decks will probably get a kick out of these Allies. They take a lot of effort to use well, but when they work they’re very satisfying.
The Grey Havens also includes a set of four events—one from each sphere—which get more powerful if you have other copies of that card that in your discard pile. Each one resolves once when you play it, and then once again for each discarded copy of that card, so potentially you could end up triggering their ability thrice at once. Anchor Watch allows you to declare exhausted characters as defenders, Skyward Volley deals 2 damage to an engaged Enemy, Elwing’s Flight readies a questing character and gives them +1 willpower, and The Evening Star places 2 progress on a Location.
The nature of these Events is that they’re only okay at best in the early game, but they can become game-changers late in the game once there are a few copies in the discard pile. They’re much less fiddly than the aforementioned Allies, but they still form the basis for a sort of combo deck that involves paying much more attention to your discard pile than is usual.
…and all the rest!
There a few other good cards in the box, some of which help with controlling problematic Locations, providing some willpower production for Tactics decks, and reducing the cost of Noldor Allies. If you’re not yet familiar with them, it’s worth taking a quick peek at them all over on the Hall of Beorn.
What we’re up against
A note for those who like to avoid spoilers: I’m going to be talking in-depth about the mechanics of the quest, but I’m going to do my best to avoid story spoilers.
Come sail away with me
As I mentioned above, Voyage Across Belegaer is the first of many Sailing quests in this cycle. Sailing quests add a whole bunch of new mechanics to the game, the most obvious of which is that each player starts the game with a Ship-Objective (or two in the case of solo players). There are four ships to choose from, but one player must always choose The Dreamchaser. Each Ship has stats like a character, is immune to player card effects, and grants the player some special bonuses which vary from Ship to Ship and have a pretty large impact on the game.
The players, as a group, also have to keep track of their Heading, which is represented by a card with four weather symbols on it. The sun symbol represents On-Course and anything else represents Off-Course with the lightning bolt being the worst Heading. At the start of the Quest Phase, the players shift their heading one level Off-Course, and then the first player exhausts any number of characters to commit them to the Sailing Test. The players then discard the same number of cards from the top of the encounter deck, shifting back On-Course for each of those cards which has a little captain’s wheel symbol printed on them.
Many encounter cards interact with the players’ Heading. Several of them are pretty mild as long as the players are On-Course, but get much more punishing when Off-Course. Other cards reserve their special punishment for when the players are at the worst possible setting. This really puts the pressure on for players to keep their Ships sailing straight.
The players aren’t the only ones with Ships, though. Sailing quests also contain a number of Ship-Enemies, which also have a set of unique mechanics associated with them. Chief among them is the Boarding X keyword. Most of these quests do not contain any normal Enemies in the encounter deck itself (only Ship-Enemies), instead putting the normal Enemies in a separate “Corsair Deck”. When the players engage a Ship-Enemy from the staging area with the Boarding X keyword, they also engage X regular Enemies from the Corsair Deck. It’s worth noting that these numbers can be quite high (up to 3 in this quest), so players need to be prepared to either keep their threat low to avoid engaging Ship-Enemies or be ready to deal with many Enemies simultaneously.
Furthermore, Ship-Objectives can only be declared as attackers or defenders against Ship-Enemies (not normal Enemies), Ship-Enemies can only be defended by Ship-Objectives, and undefended attacks from Ship-Enemies have to be placed on a Ship-Objective rather than a Hero. If any player’s Ship-Objective is eliminated, they lose the game—and since Ship-Objectives are immune to player card effects, they can’t be healed, meaning you really have to protect them!
Okay, so let’s actually talk about the quest
This quest has four Stage 2 cards, the order of which is randomized at the start of the game. If the players are On-Course when they clear each Stage, they get to choose one of the next two Stages to remove from the quest deck (effectively shortening the journey by a whole quest stage), but if they remain Off-Course for most of the game they’ll end up going through all four of them. Each Stage does slightly different things based on the current Heading, either granting bonuses for staying On-Course or dealing out negative effects for being Off-Course.
The final Stage of the quest dumps a bunch of Ship-Enemies into the Staging Area and gives the players a choice: either place 10 progress on the quest, or defeat all of the Ship-Enemies in play. Either goal grants the players victory.
That’s about it. The key focus of the quest is on learning all of the new Sailing mechanics, with a special focus on pressuring the players to stay On-Course.
You can see everything the encounter deck has to offer over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building a deck
There’s a lot to keep track of in Sailing quests like this one, but the key takeaway from a deckbuilding perspective is that it takes a lot of characters to be able to pass Sailing Tests. I generally like to commit at least 3 characters per point of Heading that I’m hoping to achieve, although that’s a fairly cautious rule of thumb—you can usually get away with less when the need arises. The good news is that Sailing isn’t actually tied to any particular stat, so the lowly Snowbourne Scout is just as good at it as Beorn would be—better, in fact, since Beorn’s beefy stats would be wasted on such a menial a task.
The Grey Havens box also comes with an Ally purpose-built specifically to help with Sailing Tests: Lindon Navigator. The Navigator’s superpower is that she can commit to the quest while exhausted, so even if I use her to help with the Sailing test, I can still get good use out of her 2 willpower. The cost is that any time I resolve a quest that she committed to, I either have to discard her from play or discard a card from my hand; which may or may not be a problem, depending on how much card draw I have available.
I want to make use of the Lindon Navigator in this quest, so I’m going to need Lore. The other sphere that’s good at dumping down lots of Allies quickly is Leadership—which works out well, since the resource acceleration of Leadership helps play all of the extra cards that Lore lets me draw. In many ways, these two spheres are a match made in Valinor.
Rather than starting from scratch, I’m going to stand on the shoulders of giants (giant bears, that is) and adapt the Core Set deck that Beorn built in the first few posts of his Beorn’s Path series. His deck uses Aragorn, Theodred, and Denethor, and it’s pretty good at dumping down a bunch of Allies fairly quickly, so it seems like a good place to start. You can find the starting decklist on RingsDB, if you’d like to see the whole thing.
I’d like to use some of the new cards from The Grey Havens, though, so I’m going to do a little tweaking. Denethor’s ability to look at the top card of the deck is less useful to me here, since I usually want to do it at the end of the round (after I’m sure I won’t need his defense) but because this is a Sailing Test, the only thing he’ll end up telling me is whether or not the top card of the deck has a captain’s wheel icon on it. That’s not nothing, but it’s not enough to spend a whole Hero slot on.
Instead, I’ll switch him for the new Galdor of the Havens Hero. Galdor’s selective mulligan and card draw abilities are just generally useful, and his 2 willpower won’t go to waste in this quest.
To make up for the loss of a defensive strategy, I’ll throw in 3 copies of Warden of the Havens. I’ll also toss two copies of the new card Mariner’s Compass into the deck to increase the number of Attachments I have so it’s easier for me to keep my Wardens fully operational and battle-ready. The Compass may come in handy anyway, since there are a bunch of nasty Locations in this deck that I may want to switch out for more benign ones.
The only other major change I want to make is to remove the two copies of Son of Arnor from the deck. His ability to engage Enemies isn’t as useful here where most of the Enemies are big old Ships, and I’ve found that it’s usually better to avoid engaging them whenever possible. It’s not hard to do an optional engagement whenever I need to, and I’m never going to find myself wanting to engage two Ship-Enemies at once because of how brutal the Boarding keyword can be.
That should just about do it. Raise anchor and hoist the main sail, we’ve got a long voyage ahead of us!
Aragorn (Core Set)
Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
Théodred (Core Set)
3x Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core Set)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
2x Faramir (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Gléowine (Core Set)
3x Guard of the Citadel (Core Set)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Lindon Navigator (The Grey Havens)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
3x Warden of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
2x Forest Snare (Core Set)
2x Mariner’s Compass (The Grey Havens)
2x Protector of Lórien (Core Set)
2x Self Preservation (Core Set)
2x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
2x For Gondor! (Core Set)
2x Radagast’s Cunning (Core Set)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x Valiant Sacrifice (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 44 Cards
Piloting the deck
I didn’t realize it when I first built it, but this ended up being a combotastic deck with a lot of moving parts.
There’s the classic Théodred + Aragorn combo, wherein Théodred’s extra resource allows Aragorn to trigger his ability to ready most rounds. There’s also the classic Sneak Attack + Gandalf that everybody knows and loves (and I can combine it with Valiant Sacrifice for even more fun).
The other combos center around the Grey Havens cards. The Warden of the Havens is the best defensive option in the deck, so it’s usually best to try to keep an Attachment on top of the discard pile. This is generally done through either Protector of Lórien or Lindon Navigator, but it also helps to use Galdor’s mulligan to start the game with an Attachment on top of the discard pile. Whenever my Attachment gets covered up by something else, I can use Erebor Hammersmith to pull it back into my hand so I can discard it again. Efficient!
Steward of Gondor is meant to be played on Galdor to help offset the high cost of some of those Lore cards.
Early game, my goal is to get down as many Allies as quickly as I can so that I can succeed at Sailing Tests. To that end, either Dawn Star or Nárelenya make good Ship choices for this deck. Late game, I’m hoping to get Faramir down to help me quest quickly and close out the quest. Ideally, I’d prefer to engage as few Ship-Enemies as possible, opting to quest past them instead.
The play’s the thing
Attempts required: 1½
I suppose I should explain the 1½ thing. The reason I denoted it that way was because I conceded my first game—not because I was losing, but because it was just taking so long and I got bored. I had chosen Silver Wing as my second Ship, thinking that the +1 attack it gave each of my Heroes would help them to kill the big Ship-Enemies. Once I started playing, however, I discovered the folly of that logic: I generally wanted Théodred and Galdor to be questing, meaning that I was really only getting the benefit of that +1 attack on Aragorn. Furthermore, the deck was better set up for questing than combat, and after engaging a few Ship-Enemies I regretted how much they set my board state back.
To make matters worse, I made a bunch of errors while playing the quest that I kept having to go back and try to correct. After over an hour of treading water I decided to scoop the game and start from scratch with a clearer understanding of what I wanted to do (and with a better Ship this time, too: Dawn Star).
Even in my second game, though, I made a lot of non-ideal plays and made some rule mistakes that had to be rewound and fixed. These included:
- Forgetting to trigger Galdor’s selective mulligan.
- Forgetting to trigger Galdor’s “refill your hand” ability.
- Forgetting to draw an extra card due to Dawn Star’s ability.
- Forgetting to add the bonus willpower to my Ships while On-Course during the first Quest Stage.
- Forgetting to skip over Stage 2 cards while I was On-Course.
- Forgetting to trigger the Archery keyword on the Corsair Warship.
- Forgetting that I needed to keep an Attachment on top of my discard pile even though I knew that I had to defend against an Enemy that round with the Warden of the Havens. (This led to more than one preventable chump block).
- Forgetting that I could quest with the Lindon Navigator even while she was exhausted.
- Forgetting to discard a card even when I remembered to quest with the Lindon Navigator.
- Triggering Henamarth Riversong‘s scrying ability just before a Sailing Test, giving me basically no useful information (when I could have just committed her to the Sailing Test instead).
In short, there was kind of a lot going on.
Even so, the quest itself was pretty fun, and not too difficult. It did drag on a little long, partially due to the 10 rounds I needed, partially due to the mental overhead of everything that was going on between the complexity of the encounter deck and my own combos. I think it may have gone faster with a simple “keep your head down and just keep questing” deck with a lower starting threat. Even so, it was nice having easy access to so many Allies that by round 3 Sailing Tests were a breeze.
When I first played through The Grey Havens box with my partner in 2-player, we absolutely loved the Sailing quests. I still enjoyed the Sailing mechanic this time around, but with nobody here but me it was markedly harder to ensure I didn’t miss anything, which was something I hadn’t considered as a factor before now.
The player cards in this box are a little more nuanced, too, and can require some pretty complex strategic reasoning. They’re powerful and useful when used well, just a little fidgety at times.
So far the complexity of the new quest mechanics and the nuanced nature of the player cards gives me pause about recommending this box to new players. It definitely has the potential to be overwhelming to anyone whose only prior experiences with the game are from the Core Set. That said, it could also be very fulfilling to any Jenny / Johnnies out there (if you’ll excuse me borrowing a bit from Magic: The Gathering) who are looking for something to really sink their combo-loving teeth into.
We’ll see if this observation continues to hold true for the remaining quests of The Grey Havens and as I try out different deck concepts.
Did anybody out there purchase The Grey Havens as one of your first expansions to the game? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
Next week I’m planning to attempt Siege of Annúminas for my Thematic Nightmare series, after which I’ll be back to Path Less Traveled with The Fate of Númenor.
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”