Path Less Traveled: Raid on the Grey Havens

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. If I only had this box and the Core Set, would I still be able to save the day? 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. (If it works out, maybe I’ll go back to some of my previous articles and add them in there, too!)

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.

Dream-chaser-Location

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.

Feint

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.

Decklist

Hero (3)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Éowyn (Core Set)
Gimli (Core Set)
Ally (19)
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)
Attachment (7)
2x Dwarven Axe (Core Set)
3x Grappling Hook (The Grey Havens)
1x Horn of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
Event (17)
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

This deck on RingsDB

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.

Sahír's-Ravager

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.

Combo cards

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.

Complicated quests

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.

Final thoughts

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.”

4 thoughts on “Path Less Traveled: Raid on the Grey Havens

  1. The Lost Realm seems like a good choice. The quests are not too specialized for a new player, and are are a pretty good balance of fun, thematic, and relatively challenging. The player cards are not very powerful, though, since solo players typically don’t want to leave (multiple) enemies engaged with them. If you have some insights on how to use The Lost Realm’s player cards effectively with a very limited card pool, it could definitely help new players.

    Heirs of Númenor might be another good option. It’s probably the deluxe that adds the most in terms of strong player cards, but the quests are quite challenging (and not entirely representative, since willpower is less important in these quests). If you pick this, there’s a good chance you’ll need to play the second and third quests with easy mode. (You could also try semi-easy mode, where you remove the gold-ringed encounter cards but don’t get the extra resources. This eliminates “unfair” treacheries like Watcher in the Wood and The Master’s Malice but doesn’t accelerate your start, so they feel sort-of like normal quests. Mûmak is a thematically fun card, though, so losing it is a shame.) If you can do well against these quests (including with easy or semi-easy mode) then new players reading this series who like Gondor or the strong player cards in this box (The Steward’s Fear also has strong player cards for new players) might pick Heirs of Númenor as their first purchase.

    The Sands of Harad could be a decent option, but it may not be the best first purchase for a new player. The quests are good, but the player cards are not particularly strong. Legolas and Gimli duplicate core set heroes and work best together, leaving less room for creativity in deckbuilding. Four of the eleven (non-hero) player cards are only fully effective if you include a side quest in your deck, and The Storm Comes is the only side quest available.

    I’m less enthusiastic about The Voice of Isengard. While there are some cool player cards, Doomed is a bit more specialized, and the quests from this deluxe and the Ring-maker cycle did not rank well in the recent quest championship (http://challonge.com/lotrquest2016/standings) : The Three Trials was highest at 43.

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    • Good analysis! Lots to think about here.

      In the absence of input, I was initially thinking I would move on to Sands of Harad but I hadn’t noticed that the player cards are largely Side Quest focused. That actually sounds like kind of an interesting challenge to me, but would likely prove to be a disappointment for new players. I’d like to test that theory out sometime, but it might not make a great #2 for the series.

      The Lost Realm is a good suggestion. It’s a little later in the game’s life which means it has a few more unknowns. It’s still in stock right now, too, which is something I’d like to consider when choosing my Deluxes for the Path.

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  2. Nightmare Against the Shadow? You’re in for quite a ride my friend. There are some pretty interesting Nightmare scenarios there though, and it almost seems that the designers kept getting better at making Nightmare decks after those first few cycles.
    Nice deck by the way, it is basically a budget iteration of my favorite type of aggro deck. Quest aggressively with spirit and destroy all enemies in your way with tactics while keeping yourself safe with utility events.
    As far as deluxe expansions go have you thought about Black Riders? Or the Hobbit deluxes? They were made in the days of the early cardpool, so they might mesh well with a single core than better than some of the later deluxes. I am also very curious about what the next cycle’s deluxe will bring, because that may or may not be a good deluxe to try out with the Path as well.

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    • Thanks! “Budget aggro” is a perfect description of this deck, actually.

      The Saga Deluxes are definitely on the table for Path Less Traveled. My only hesitation is that I haven’t decided how I’d like to play them yet. As individual quests, or in Campaign mode? Would I include previous Saga boxes in the card pool or keep them separate? They’re technically independent of one another. Each way is interesting in its own right.

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