An army from Angmar marches on the Dúnedain capital of Annúminas. You rush to prepare the defenses as best you can before the Orcs reach the city.
The most recent Print on Demand quest from both GenCon 2016 and the 2016 Fellowship event, The Siege of Annúminas is best known for its Epic Multiplayer Mode, wherein teams of up to 12 players can play the quest simultaneously. But if we were to consign it to those rare occasions that we can get 12 LotR-playing friends together in one place, we’d miss out on what is still an excellent quest when played in normal mode. Far from being a multiplayer-only gimmick, The Siege of Annúminas scales all the way down to the solo experience quite well, which is a testament to the skill with which Caleb Grace & company designed this game.
The storyline of The Seige of Annúminas is relatively simple: A Sorcerer from Angmar is leading an assault on the city of Annúminas. The players have a little time to bolster their defenses before the hoards of Orcs arrive, after which it’s a desperate battle to keep the city standing. If the players survive long enough, they lead a desperate counter attack, stopping a battering-ram and cutting down the Lieutenant in order to route the enemy and win the day. In many ways, the narrative is similar to the Battle of the Hornburg, just moved West of the Misty Mountains.
The primary mechanic is that Annúminas itself has a health tracker. In the standard game, Annúminas starts with 20 health. The first stage of the quest, which represents the Heroes bolstering the city’s defenses, allows the players to remove 10 progress from the quest to add 10 to Annúminas’ health. At the end of each round, Annúminas loses an amount of health equal to the number of Enemies in play, and if the city’s health ever reaches zero, the players lose. The players get 3 turns at Stage 1 to try to rack up as much progress as they can before they’re whisked away to the second Stage, which represents the bulk of the siege.
Once the second Stage of the quest starts, two sets of cards are shuffled into the encounter deck: three copies of the helpful Objective-Ally Dúnedain of Annúminas, who even have a helpful Shadow Effect (which is a nice touch), and one to three copies of Host of Angmar (depending on the number of players), an especially nasty Enemy with 9 attack. The second stage requires a whopping 50 progress to complete, but for each Host of Angmar the players defeat that number is reduced by 10. Furthermore, while the players are at Stage 2, they have to take an extra attack from the strongest Enemy in the Staging Area each round or (if there are no Enemies in the Staging Area) reveal an extra card. It’s a good thing the players are given a few rounds to prepare, because Stage 2 can be really rough. There’s a small respite, though: at the end of each round, each player may heal 1 damage for free.
Should the players manage to survive to see Stage 3, they’ll be faced with the Battering Ram and Lieutenant of Angmar. The former is a nasty Location which deals extra damage to Annúminas each round and requires each player to reveal an extra encounter card to travel to it. The latter is a moderately difficult Enemy who is the key to victory: defeating the Lieutenant (who can only take damage once the Battering Ram has been cleared) causes the players to win the game.
In all, The Siege of Annúminas is a very tough quest, requiring players to quest hard and clear as many Enemies as possible from the board each round, all while dealing with a host of nasty Treacheries and Archery damage. Well-rounded decks will have the best chances at success.
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building the deck
The flavor text on the Quest cards paints the city of Annúminas as the capital of the Dúnedain. While it’s not entirely clear from the text of The Lord of the Rings itself that the Dúnedain had any capital city at all, it’s a fun extrapolation that I still think fits well within the lore. Ideally, then, I’d like to build a Dúnedain deck to beat this quest. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with that.
First and foremost, the core mechanic of the Dúnedain trait runs entirely counter to the core mechanic of the quest. While Dúnedain like to keep as many Enemies in play as possible to help grant them bonuses, the quest punishes this strategy by dealing damage to Annúminas each round for every Enemy left alive. Right from the get-go, Dúnedain decks are going to exist in a state of tension between wanting to keep those Enemies around and wanting to kill them off to keep the city safe.
Furthermore, Dúnedain decks tend to excel in the late-game, after they’ve built up a small menagerie of Enemies and had a chance to play down a few powerful-but-expensive Allies (many of whom cost 4). The Siege of Annúminas, however, rewards decks that can take advantage of those first three turns of the game, especially decks that can quest hard out of the gate. The highest willpower to be found among today’s Dúnedain Heroes is 2—which isn’t terrible, but it’s also not going to get me off to a strong start.
I gave a couple of different Dúnedain builds a try, but none of them seemed able to keep up with the demands of this quest on their own. I need something with a little more oomph in the questing department. Something like…
Yeah, Noldor fits the bill nicely.
Rather than abandon the Dúnedain theme entirely, I decided to keep a few key Dúnedain cards and Allies in the deck, while still pivoting the majority of it towards the much more well-rounded Noldor mechanics. I feel like Noldor and Dúnedain work well together anyway, thematically speaking, since Aragorn spent much of his childhood among the elves of Rivendell. Were it not for the aid of the elves, it’s possible that the Men of the North never would have survived as long as they did.
Deck: Northern Alliance
Theme: Dúnedain and Noldor
“Then Aragorn, being now the Heir of Isildur, was taken with his mother to dwell in the house of Elrond; and Elrond took the place of his father and came to love him as a son of his own. But he was called Estel, that is ‘Hope’, and his true name and lineage were kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon earth.”
—Appendix A, The Return of the King
Aragorn (Core Set)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Andrath Guardsman (The Mûmakil)
2x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Galadriel (The Road Darkens)
2x Galdor of the Havens (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
2x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Guardian of Rivendell (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Imladris Caregiver (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Lindir (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Ranger of Cardolan (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Warden of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
2x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Narya (The Grey Havens)
3x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
3x To the Sea, to the Sea! (The Grey Havens)
3x Captain’s Wisdom (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Ranger Summons (The Lost Realm)
3x Will of the West (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 52 Cards
This is an aggressive Erestor deck with a focus on powerful Noldor Allies.
The key card I mulligan for is To the Sea, to the Sea!. Once that’s in play, I can dump the rest of my hand to play one of the more powerful Noldor Allies like Glorfindel or Gildor Inglorion any time I happen to see them. Because of Erestor’s accelerated card draw, it doesn’t usually take long to get a large swarm of elves in play.
In the early game, I might use Aragorn as my defender, or even take attacks undefended. As soon as I can, though, I switch over to using a 3-defense Ally like Gildor or Guardian of Rivendell. Once the deck starts rolling, these Allies can defend twice per round for an impressive 5 defense with bonuses provided by Arwen Undómiel and Narya.
The Dúnedain cards in the deck are primarily used for Enemy management. If I’m lucky, I may be able to cancel an attack with the Andrath Guardsman‘s ability on the turn he enters play. Even if I’m not engaged with an Enemy at the time, though, he still makes for a useful chump blocker either before I get my more powerful Allies set up or for those particularly nasty Enemies with 8+ attack strength. Ranger of Cardolan can serve a similar role if I find myself in need of an emergency chump-block.
It’s worth noting that there are slightly fewer Lore cards in the deck than Spirit and Leadership. For this reason, I usually use Erestor’s resources to pay for the Neutral cards in the deck whenever possible. It’s also worth pointing out that both Círdan and Aragorn can become dual-sphere (Leadership / Spirit) through the use of their particular Attachments (Narya and Celebrían’s Stone) which helps to pay for some of those more expensive 2 and 3 cost cards later in the game.
As I’m playing, I have to pay close attention to the number of copies of Will of the West I have remaining in my deck. Whenever I draw into the last one, I make sure that I play it to shuffle my discard pile back into my deck for another go-around. I have found that I often need to do this at least once—sometimes twice—during a game to ensure that I don’t run out of cards before the end of the game.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 2 / 5
I didn’t quite achieve my initial target of winning 3 out of 5 games, but having tried several different decks against this quest with much less success, I’m still pleased with my two victories. This is one tough quest!
Most games—including both of the games that I won—I actually managed to dump 20+ progress on the first stage of the quest, granting me an extra 20 health for Annúminas. This turned out to be overkill, though, because when things were going well I never ended up needing more than 10 extra health by the end of the game.
The surprise MVP against this quest turned out to be Ranger Spikes. The second Stage of the quest became much easier once I had managed to trap one of the weaker Enemies in the Staging Area (it was the Angmar Warg Rider in both of my victorious games). By keeping a weak Enemy in the Staging Area at all times I ensured that I would take the extra attack each round rather than the extra encounter card reveal. The extra attack was a known quantity—and generally quite manageable. The extra encounter card reveal, however, could allow the encounter deck to outpace me.
The problem, of course, was that I never knew what I was going to catch with those spikes—I just had to play them when I had them and hope for the best. One of the games that I lost I managed to trap two copies of Savage Werewolf, one right after the other. I wasn’t quite set up to tank attacks of 5 round after round, especially with all of the other Enemies I had in play firing Archery damage at me left and right. My board state deteriorated quickly and a stray Shadow Effect took down Erestor. Defeat came shortly thereafter.
My second loss was due to an unfortunate draw order—I got all 3 copies of Will of the West before I saw any copies of To the Sea, To the Sea!; I was essentially stalled out all game with no good way to play down any of my expensive Allies. On my second pass through my deck I did manage to find it, but it was too little too late and I wasn’t able to regain my footing.
My final game was definitely the most thrilling, even though I lost. Everything went well during the first Stage of the quest: I had a few strong Allies out as well as Sword that was Broken on Aragorn. It didn’t look like questing was going to be a problem for the rest of the game.
But everything changed when the Host of Angmar attacked. My first encounter card reveal upon entering Stage 2 was the dreaded 9-attack monstrosity. I was doomed to take attacks from it round after round until I could bring it down. It whittled away at my board state, killing my defenders as soon as I was able to get them into play. For 9 grueling rounds I endured the Host as well as the countless other Enemies that came pouring out of the encounter deck to assail me. I had managed to put a little damage on the Host, but not enough. Things were looking grim.
Then, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon: I revealed a Dúnedain of Annúminas from the encounter deck! I happily paid a resource to take control of him. But of course, he still has the Surge keyword so I had to reveal a second card… which turned out to be a Ranger of the North that I had shuffled into the deck via Ranger Summons on a previous turn! But the Ranger of the North also has Surge, so I revealed a third card—which just so happened to be yet another Dúnedain of Annúminas. I have never before been happy to see 3 Surge cards revealed all in the same round. The Dúnedain had finally arrived!
With the help of my new pals, I was able to turn the tables on the Host of Angmar, sending it to the Victory Display where it belonged. Ranger Summons / Ranger of the North actually turned out to be really fun in this quest—it made it pretty likely that there would be a positive card coming off the encounter deck, something I always love to see. Alas, my victory against the Host turned out to be Pyrrhic in nature, since by that point the city of Annúminas had only 4 health remaining. I wasn’t even able to hold it long enough to clash swords with the Lieutenant of Angmar on the field of battle.
Filled with ups and downs, excitement and defeat, it turned out to be a memorable game even though I ended up losing in the end.
The Seige of Annúminas is a great quest, whether played solo or in a large group setting, and it still amazes me that the designers were able to pull that off. It’s definitely one of the more difficult quests in the game—not reaching the same intensity as Nightmare Escape from Dol Guldur, but certainly rubbing elbows with the likes of Nightmare Return to Mirkwood and The Battle of Carn Dûm. I think it’s more fun than all three of those quests, though, and it doesn’t rely on cheap tricks or unfair-feeling mechanics for its difficulty.
If you haven’t had a chance to give The Siege of Annúminas a try yet, or if you’ve been holding off on it because you thought it was primarily a 12-player thing, consider picking it up! You might be as surprised as I was at how fun it is.
For my next post, I’ll be heading back to my Path Less Traveled series to play through The Fate of Númenor, the second quest of the Grey Havens Deluxe box. See you there!