I feel like I’ve been talking about it for months, but the day has finally arrived for me to tilt my theme-loving lance at Nightmare Heirs of Númenor! I’ll be leaving the dark pillared hallways of Khazad-Dûm far behind me as I travel across the wide lands of Gondor and its neighbors. Gone are the days of deck after deck of Noldor, Silvans, and Dwarves; now is the time for the Mannish tribes!
Thinking back on when I first played this cycle, I distinctly remember two things about it. First of all, it was really hard. Or, at the very least, it was really different in a way that made it feel like it was hard at the time. Decks that worked well for the previous two cycles didn’t work here. We had to go back to the drawing board and build new decks from scratch.
This is largely owing to the new Battle and Seige keywords, which force characters to use different stats during the quest phase—Attack and Defense, respectively. When the current quest has one of these two keywords, Willpower becomes basically useless. In many of these quests, Tactics takes the place of Spirit as the ultimate questing sphere, which was a paradigm shift that took some time to grok.
The second thing I remember about Heirs of Númenor was that this was the point in the game where the designers really started to double down on the storyline that tied the quests together. Rather than just tossing together a flimsy plot to get the Heroes from point A to point B, Heirs of Númenor and the Against the Shadow cycle have characters who follow us through the story, and the progression of goals from quest to quest actually makes sense as a cohesive narrative rather than merely as a series of discrete play experiences.
It might be fun to try playing through the storyline of Heirs of Númenor and the Against the Shadow cycle in a pseudo-campaign style, highlighting the cycle’s narrative by bringing the same set of Heroes from quest to quest. That’s not going to be my focus for this series. Ideally, I want to explore lots of different types of theme decks, and I can’t do that well through campaign-like play. Just like I did with previous cycles, as I play through this one I’ll strive for some level of thematic cohesion between my deck and each quest on its own, irrespective of whatever I did in previous quests.
Since the storyline starts to matter a little more here, it’s probably worth calling out that I’m not going to go too far out of my way to avoid story spoilers in my Thematic Nightmare series. I’ll try not to spoil the storyline of later quests in the cycle before I get to them, but each article is going to go in-depth on both the theme and the mechanics of each quest. If you haven’t played these quests yet, be warned: there are spoilers ahead!
Now, with that out of the way, let us begin. It all starts in a tavern in Pelargir called The Leaping Fish…
Peril in Pelargir
Inside the tavern, Lord Alcaron looks nervously toward the door as he hands you a scroll bearing the seal of Gondor. He asks that you deliver it to Faramir in Ithilen, but the brigands who just entered look intent on taking it from you.
I have always thought of Peril in Pelargir as “the bar fight quest”. Technically, it only starts as a bar fight, and it quickly becomes a chase through the streets of Pelargir—but there’s something especially memorable about the thought of Celeborn breaking a barstool over some ruffian’s head. And then, Elrond manages to get himself into some Local Trouble—men of Gondor don’t take kindly to green-blooded pointy-eared Elves, after all… but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The quest begins with The Leaping Fish as the Active Location, and with Alcaron’s Scroll attached to a Hero. Alcaron’s Scroll is an Objective Attachment, and serves as the macguffin and core mechanic for this quest. Many encounter cards get worse when the players control the Scroll—The Leaping Fish, for example, gains an ability that dumps extra Enemies into play at the start of the Quest phase. When the Hero that has the Scroll is damaged by an Enemy attack, it is moved to that Enemy instead, and can only be claimed by killing it and then exhausting a Hero to pick it back up.
In the non-Nightmare version of the quest, there wasn’t really a penalty for losing the Scroll, you just had to claim it again before you could beat the quest. That meant that often the best strategy was to let an Enemy keep the Scroll for most of the game, weakening several of the Encounter cards. You would only pick the Scroll back up near the end of the game to meet the game’s final victory conditions.
This exploit has been patched in the Nightmare version of the quest, however: Enemies in control of the Scroll collect progress tokens during the Refresh phase, and if an Enemy ever has 3 progress the players lose. The Enemy with the most defense picks up the Scroll automatically at the end of the Combat phase, too, if one of their allies happened to let it fall to the Staging Area.
Several of the Nightmare cards interact with this mechanic, moving the Scroll around the table and placing progress tokens on Enemies to keep things unpredictable. Not only is this a huge mechanical improvement, but it’s a major thematic win too since it really does make the quest feel like a frenzied scramble to regain control over the Scroll!
The first two stages of this quest have the Battle keyword, but the third does not. This can cause a bit of trouble since it’s pretty easy to build a combat-focused deck that can coast through the first two stages but stalls out at the very end.
What to watch out for
This quest has a few dirty tricks up its sleeve to be aware of. The most memorable, at least to me, is Local Trouble, a Condition Treachery that attaches to the Hero with the highest threat cost. Once attached, it forces you to raise your threat by 1 every time that Hero exhausts, readies, or triggers an ability. This ends up being a huge tax on using that Hero at all, especially if it comes out early in the game. I’d also like to point out how the art on this card does a great job of portraying the rather abstract concept of “local trouble” in a single image. Well done, Ryan Barger!
The other major problem this quest throws at you are Enemies who do something nasty when they engage you, and something extra-nasty if the engagement wasn’t optional. The Zealous Traitor deals 1 damage to each Ally you control on an optional engagement, or 2 damage on a non-optional one. This can easily be a board wipe if you’re not ready for it. Worse still is the Umbar Assassin, who deals 3 damage to a Hero on an optional engagement, and discards a Hero on a non-optional one. Talk about mean! The Nightmare version of the quest even adds a Location called Dockside Street which prevents optional engagements until you travel to it, just to add insult to injury.
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building the deck
The first question I asked myself when I set out to build a deck for this quest was: “Who, of all the Heroes we have, would get involved in a bar fight?”
After skimming through the list, though, I was left with pretty slim pickings. I can almost imagine Merry or Pippin engaging in fisticuffs if they were caught off guard by the proper insult, but it’s hard to imagine what they’d be doing all the way over in Pelargir. The Dwarves suffer a similar problem, so I’m going to want to bring Men along for this one.
But even among the Men, most of them seem too noble to be involved in something as base as a bar fight. Would the Prince of Dol Amroth really be found throwing his weight around in a bar? Or the Steward of Gondor himself? I can almost imagine Boromir (Captain of the White Tower though he may be) roughing up ruffians in the seedy part of town if I squint hard enough and picture him as Sean Bean.
But out of all of the Heroes available, there’s one I just have to use—one Hero who would definitely be found at a bar fight in a little harbourside inn in Southern Gondor: Na’asiyah.
Maybe she’s the hired muscle or a paid informant, out to do a job that nobody else can. Her ability costs a lot of resources, so her funds probably have to come from the Steward of Gondor himself. Once she has been granted the Gondor trait, she can receive payment directly from Denethor as needed, neatly turning the Wealth of Gondor into cracked heads.
As for the rest of the deck, I’ll fill it in with Gondor-themed cards. Nothing too fancy, since Na’asiyah is the star of the show here. I’ll intentionally skew my sphere balance hard towards Leadership, since Na’asiyah doesn’t like to share her resources.
Deck: Have you tried mercenary work?
Theme: Na’asiyah, mercenary for hire
“But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand.”
—The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, The Return of the King
Boromir (Heirs of Númenor)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)
Na’asiyah (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
2x Anborn (The Land of Shadow)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Númenor)
2x Guard of the Citadel (Core Set)
1x Ingold (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Knight of the White Tower (The City of Corsairs)
3x Pelargir Ship Captain (The Morgul Vale)
3x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)
3x Veteran of Osgiliath (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Gondorian Fire (Assault on Osgiliath)
2x Rod of the Steward (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Visionary Leadership (The Morgul Vale)
2x Captain’s Wisdom (The Thing in the Depths)
2x Common Cause (Core Set)
3x Feint (Core Set)
3x Quick Strike (Core Set)
3x Valiant Sacrifice (Core Set)
3x Wealth of Gondor (Heirs of Númenor)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
This is a Battle-questing (or combat) deck that focuses on using Na’asiyah to kill an Enemy every round, regardless of how big it is.
The key card in the deck is Steward of Gondor, which goes on Na’asiyah. The extra 2 resources per round that come from Steward help her to quickly build up a stack of resources big enough to kill whatever might come out of the encounter deck.
I also make good use of the often-overlooked secondary ability of Steward to grant the Gondor trait. Once Na’asiyah has sworn allegiance to the White City, Denethor can target her with his ability, passing his resource over to her if she happens to need it. It also makes her an eligible target for Wealth of Gondor, although I usually find that Boromir is in greater need of an emergency resource than she is. After a few rounds go by, if Na’asiyah’s stack of resources gets a little out of control, I can use an Errand-rider to smooth things out again.
Most of the Allies are for questing or chump blocking. With Boromir‘s hearty +1 attack boost, they can add up to quite the tidy sum. Boromir usually accompanies the Allies on the quest, although I might hold him back for the combat phase should dire need arise. I usually hold back Denethor as a defender, or to give an extra action to Na’asiyah via Common Cause.
This deck is a little short on readying, since I tried to stick pretty closely to a Gondor theme. Rohan Warhorse would make an excellent addition to the deck to help get a little more use out of Na’asiyah’s incredible combat potential.
The original version of this deck involved putting Steward of Gondor on Denethor instead of directly on Na’asiyah. I used In Service of the Steward to give Na’asiyah the Gondor trait to enable all of the combos necessary to pass resources to her. This was primarily for thematic reasons; it just felt right having the resource tokens start on Denethor and having him physically “pay” for Na’asiyah’s help.
Unfortunately, it was just too slow to get started, even with 3x of each card. There’s not much card draw in Leadership and Tactics, so it took too long to get my 2-card combo into play. Once I finally did get it into play, the buildup of resources on Na’asiyah was still too slow for the deck to do what I wanted it to do.
So I begrudgingly cut In Service of the Steward from the deck and decided to play Steward of Gondor directly on Na’asiyah instead. Thematically, I think it made the deck a good deal weaker (I feel especially weird about giving the Rod of the Steward to Na’asiyah, for instance) but mechanically it lifted the deck up from being a neat little novelty deck to something a little more competitive.
I often feel a little conflicted about Steward of Gondor, for a lot of different reasons. I’ll probably write a full blog post on it some day.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 3 / 5 *
Back in the day, I don’t remember having too much trouble with Peril in Pelargir. That’s probably due in part to the fact that we discovered the strategy of dropping Alcaron’s Scroll (and leaving it on the floor) right away. This time, in Nightmare mode, I had a lot more trouble with it.
You’ll notice the little asterisk I put by my win ratio up there. In general, I think of my Thematic Nightmare series as a personal deckbuilding challenge. The purpose of the ideal “3 out of 5” goal that I set for myself was meant to allow me to feel confident that I had indeed built a theme deck that could consistently beat the quest—that my wins were the result of good deckbuilding and not just good luck.
As I’m preparing to write a Thematic Nightmare post, I spend a fair amount of time iterating on my deck design. I keep track of my wins and losses as I go, but I reset the counter any time I make a nontrivial change to the deck itself. This makes it easy for me to know when I’ve built the finished deck—because it’s the version that successfully achieved my intended ratio.
This quest was different, though
In most of the quests up to this point, the majority of the challenge was in building a suitable deck capable of overcoming the obstacles that the encounter deck threw at me. In Nightmare Peril in Pelargir, however, it was more about discovering the best play strategy to beat the quest than it was about merely building an effective deck.
So, back to that asterisk by my win ratio. I actually played 12 total games with effectively the same deck—a few card counts tweaked up and down, perhaps, but overall the deck didn’t change much over those 12 plays. What ended up evolving between my plays was my strategy. I did something differently in my last five games than I had done in the previous seven, and that turned out to make all the difference.
It’s all ’bout that Scroll
The Nightmare version of the quest adds a new penalty for leaving Alcaron’s Scroll lying around on the floor. In my first seven games, I took this to mean that I should be doing everything in my power to hold onto that Scroll—but that meant weathering the extra Enemies from The Leaping Fish each round, as well as wasting precious Hero actions on picking the Scroll back up whenever I accidentally lost it.
But after seven losses, I knew I had to try something different. I felt like the deck would work fine if I could just buy myself a little time to build up in the early game, so I changed my approach. Instead of trying to hold on to the Scroll, I decided to take an undefended attack on Boromir in the first round, allowing him to drop it right away. That turned off the Forced effect on The Leaping Fish, buying me the extra breathing room I needed to build up a bit.
The consequence of this, of course, was that I had to kill Enemies basically as quickly as they came out. But that’s precisely what the deck was built to—quickly dispatch Enemies, regardless of how big they are. Once I made this change to my strategy, everything fell into place.
Well, it was still pretty difficult
My losses were pretty decisive. One of them was due to an early game Umbar Assassin, who was protected by Dockside Street. He sat in the Staging Area, pinging my Heroes with Archery damage while his friends harried me, and ultimately I succumbed to my wounds before I could regain control. My other loss also involved the Assassin, who softened me up for a few rounds. I was actually able to kill him this time, but the next round, an ill-timed +2 attack Shadow Effect brought down Denethor. I wasn’t able to recover.
In another game, the encounter deck dealt me two consecutive copies of Pelargir Ringleader, who digs a crony out of the discard pile when he engages. Fortunately, the Staging Area was otherwise clear at the time, so I decided to let a few quest phases go by without sending any characters on the quest. It was pretty damaging to my threat, but it turned out to be the right call, since I was able to regain control of things in two rounds.
But when I was nearing the end of that game, my threat had climbed up to 47. I had a copy of Local Trouble attached to both Boromir and Denethor at that point, but I was on the final stage of the quest. I needed 6 more progress on the quest, and I had to decide: do I risk it all to send them both on the quest (at +1 willpower due to Visionary Leadership) or do I hold them back and try to last one more round? I eventually decided to play it safe—and I’m glad that I did, because I would not have made enough progress otherwise. The next round I was able to squeak by with only 1 progress to spare, and, having sent Denethor on the quest this time, I managed to nab victory from the jaws of defeat with a final threat of 49.
The new mechanic in the Nightmare version of this quest is definitely a welcome addition, adding a whole new layer of strategy that the original quest lacked. In fact, it was nice to have strategy be the sticking point of the quest for a change, rather than primarily focusing on deckbuilding. I wonder if the other quests of this cycle will prove to have a similar strategic depth? I’m looking forward to finding out soon!
Expect my next post to be for my Path Less Traveled series, followed by Nightmare Into Ithilien, wherein I’ll surely come face-to-face with this cuddly fellow!