My path has led me to the final quest of The Grey Havens Deluxe Expansion, Raid on the Grey Havens. In this quest, the Grey Havens are assaulted by Corsairs, who begin setting fire to the boats moored there. If I only had this box and the Core Set, would I still be able to save the ships? Or would I end up scuttled and sunk to the bottom of the sea?
Let’s find out!
What we’re up against
As usual, I’m going to do my best to avoid story spoilers in this post. I’m going to be talking in-depth about the mechanics of the quest, though, so some spoilers are inevitable.
I’m going to try something new this time, though, and hide the most mechanically spoilery sections behind these handy little “details” tags. That way if you’d like to go into the quest with some surprises left intact, you can just skip to the parts that remain visible.
Set my heart Aflame
Most of the Locations in this quest represent ships rather than locales, and they feature the new Aflame X keyword. Aflame Locations are burning down, and their numerical value is how much damage they can take before they’re lost for good. At the end of each round, each Location in the Staging Area is dealt 1 damage, and if its damage is ever greater than or equal to its Aflame value, it is flipped face-down and placed behind a card called The Havens Burn. The players then reveal another encounter card to replace it, so there’s rarely any incentive to just let a bad Location burn down in an attempt to get it out of the Staging Area.
This quest has a few additional loss conditions. If enough Locations (the exact number of which is determined based on the number of players) burn down, then the game is lost. Furthermore, the game starts with The Dream-chaser in play, an Aflame 12 Location that can’t be traveled to. If The Dream-chaser burns down, the players lose.
Several of the cards in the encounter deck interact directly with the Aflame mechanic, as well. Quest Stage 1 deals damage to a single Location in play equal to the number of Enemies in play each round. Many of the Enemies and Treacheries in the quest deal damage to Aflame Locations, too. All of these cards add up to put a lot of pressure on the players to keep clearing Locations before the fires get out of hand.
O Captain! My Captain!
The other major obstacle in this quest shows up once the players reach the second and final Stage: Captain Sahír and professional badass Na’asiyah join the party and immediately start wrecking face. Both Enemies are given a number of resources equal to the amount of damage sustained by The Dream-chaser up to this point, and they each use these resources differently. For Sahír, the resources are a sort of shield, each one being discarded to cancel a single point of damage he would have taken. Na’asiyah, on the other hand, gets +1 attack and +1 defense for each token on her, losing one resource every time she attacks or defends.
Each Enemy has their own way of replenishing those resources, too: Sahír gets 2 each time he attacks (or 4 if he kills someone) and Na’asiyah discards all events in your hand whenever she engages you, getting a resource fore each one. It’s particularly important to take Na’asiyah’s ability into account when planning to fight her. It makes her particularly difficult to Feint, which is unfortunate since she often has an astronomically high attack value.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that neither Enemy is immune to player card effects, something we players can take advantage of. In a world full of immune-to-fun dragons and Balrogs, it’s nice to have a boss Enemy you can just toss in a net once in a while.
You can see everything the encounter deck has to offer over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building a deck
This is one of those quests that demands a lot from the players starting from round 1 in both the Questing and Combat phases. As such, I’m going to build a deck that combines the two spheres with the most raw questing and combat power: Spirit and Tactics.
My first attempt at such a deck was focused around Skyward Volley, using Éowyn, Thalin, and Legolas as my Heroes. I was hoping to be able to use it to showcase how some of the player cards from The Grey Havens can be used to fill in a more focused direct-damage deck. Unfortunately, when I started testing the deck it was immediately apparent that it didn’t even come close to meeting the willpower demands of this quest, so I had to scrap it and go back to the drawing board.
I decided to retool the deck balance to lean more towards the Spirit side of things, bringing in Círdan the Shipwright with his 4 willpower and opting for the more well-rounded Gimli in place of the other Tactics Heroes.
My next goal was to fill the deck with as much willpower as I could muster, so I grabbed all of the Spirit Allies I could find. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of cheap willpower to be found among the Allies of the Core Set—even in the Spirit sphere. That’s where Grappling Hook comes in handy. A fully-damaged Gimli with a Grappling Hook can contribute a whopping 6 to the quest. If he happens to have a Dwarven Axe attached, too, that goes up to 8. That’s definitely enough to turn the tides during an important quest push.
After that, I filled the rest of the deck with the standard Core Set staples from each sphere, stopping once there was nothing else I wanted to put in. This is a pretty tough quest, so I didn’t want to bring along anything I didn’t absolutely need.
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Éowyn (Core Set)
Gimli (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Gondorian Spearman (Core Set)
3x Lórien Guide (Core Set)
3x Mithlond Sea-watcher (The Grey Havens)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
3x Sailor of Lune (The Grey Havens)
2x Wandering Took (Core Set)
2x Dwarven Axe (Core Set)
3x Grappling Hook (The Grey Havens)
1x Horn of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Blade Mastery (Core Set)
3x Elwing’s Flight (The Grey Havens)
2x Feint (Core Set)
2x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)
2x Quick Strike (Core Set)
2x Stand and Fight (Core Set)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 43 Cards
Piloting the deck
This deck is incredibly straightforward to play. Éowyn always quests, Gimli usually does not, and Círdan usually quests unless I anticipate needing his 2 defense or 2 attack to help deal with a troublesome Enemy.
I like to take a risk on an undefended attack early in the game so that I can power up Gimli’s ability. Once he’s damaged I just leave him that way all game so he can quickly Hulk Smash any Enemies to keep them from hanging around too long.
This deck’s best defense is a well-timed Feint or Quick Strike, but if those cards aren’t available then I generally fall back on chump blocking. For that reason, I usually look for one of those two cards in my opening hand.
The goal is simple: quest hard and fast in an attempt to win quickly and decisively before the deck burns itself out from taking too much damage.
The play’s the thing
Attempts: 7 (Normal), 1 (Easy)
Victory on: Easy mode
Raid on the Grey Havens is one tough quest, even with the full card pool. In this playthrough, I ended up giving it 7 tries before deciding to switch to Easy mode, which I won pretty decisively. With some patience and good luck, I think it would be possible to win at Normal difficulty with this limited card pool as well.
Give me the details!
I spent the first several games learning various strategies to help me get farther and farther in the quest. The game begins with a copy of Sahír’s Ravager, a fairly tough Enemy, in the staging area. In my first few games I left the Ravager there until I was ready to deal with it, but more often than not I just got swarmed by Enemies in the late game and they killed me.
I eventually decided that my best strategy was to engage the Ravager on turn 1, take his attack undefended to buff up Gimli, and then kill him as quickly as I could. Once I learned this trick, things seemed to go better.
The biggest problem I faced during this quest was when Aflame Locations burned down before I even had the opportunity to travel to them and try to clear them. The fact that they reveal an additional card often led to other Locations taking more damage, sometimes also burning them down, creating terrible chain reactions from which I could not recover. There’s a surprisingly large amount of Surge in this quest, too, which doesn’t help.
In Normal mode, I only managed to get to Stage 2 once. I did a good job of keeping anything from burning down all game, but it had taken me so long to clear the first stage that Sahír and Na’asiyah entered play with a whopping 9 tokens on them. They made short work of the few Allies I had left, and although I was able to use Gandalf‘s direct damage ability to kill Na’asiyah in one hit, I wasn’t able to keep up with Sahír’s attacks and those from the other Enemies coming off the encounter deck.
After 7 attempts on Normal with no wins, I decided to give Easy mode a try. It still wasn’t a walk in the park, but removing some of the scarier Enemies from the deck definitely made it easier to keep those boats floating. Fortunately, all of the strategy I had been building up over the previous 7 games still applied. I even used the Gandalf trick again to take out Na’asiyah early so I only had to suffer one attack from her.
In all, Raid on the Grey Havens is an entertaining quest. I like how it demands a level of strategic play that isn’t always required for other quests—it takes a few play-throughs to get a handle on how best to tackle it, which is a fun exercise.
The final verdict
So, would The Grey Havens make a good purchase immediately after the Core Set? I think it depends on what type of player you are.
The player cards in this box tend to encourage combo decks, making them a little less straightforward than what you might find in the earlier cycles. They’re certainly not lacking for power, they just require a little more deckbuilding and nuanced strategy in order to use effectively.
If you like combo decks or get a thrill from finding interesting synergies, The Grey Havens might be a good choice. If you’d prefer something a little more straightforward, you might want to look elsewhere.
Like the player cards, the quests in this box are a little more complicated than in earlier cycles. This is especially true for the first quest of the box, Voyage Across Belegaer. The second and third quests also have some complicated new mechanics, but I think it’s only the first one that I would hesitate to suggest to new players.
If you’ve got a strong grasp of the rules and are looking for something a little more interesting than what can be found in the Core Set, The Grey Havens might be a good choice. If, on the other hand, you already have trouble keeping track of the board state and find yourself forgetting rules often, you might find that this box just adds to the confusion.
Victory can be yours
A common concern about buying quests out of order is that it might not be possible to win if played with a reduced card pool. That does not seem to be a problem with the three quests of The Grey Havens. If you can get past the mechanical complexities, the first two quests are reasonable challenges on Normal mode. The final quest in the box is quite difficult, but is certainly within reach on Easy mode—and probably winnable in Normal mode as well for the determined player.
I don’t see any reason to avoid the box on the grounds of difficulty.
That concludes my first whole box for the Path Less Traveled series! The next time I return to the Path I’ll pick up a different Deluxe expansion and run through it the same way. Feel free to leave any suggestions on which Deluxe you’d like to see me play through in the comments below!
But before I do that, I’ll be digging into Nightmare Heirs of Númenor. Will it be as grueling as it was back when it was first released? We’ll find out soon.
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”