The next obstacle in my Path Less Traveled is the perilous Desert Crossing, the second quest of the Sands of Harad deluxe expansion. I’ll be facing sweltering heat and dangerous desert creatures among the endless dunes of the Harad desert. Can my Heroes survive the trek with only a Core Set and the clothes on their backs? Or will they perish in the heat?
Grab your sunscreen and fill up your waterskins, because we’re about to find out!
What we’re up against
As always, I’m going to do my best to avoid story spoilers. If you’re the sort of person who also wants to avoid spoiling the quest mechanics, you can skip over the collapsed sections of this post.
If you can’t stand the heat
The key new mechanic in Desert Crossing is the addition of a Heat Tracker, represented by an extra threat dial. This number starts at 10, and in many ways functions very similarly to threat, increasing by 4 at the end of each round and causing the players to lose when it reaches 60. Several encounter cards like also increase the heat dial, making it hard to predict precisely how many turns you have left before your party burns to death out in the desert.
But the Heat Tracker isn’t just another way to lose if you take too long to complete the quest—many of the encounter cards also get significantly worse as the heat increases. They take their values from the tens digit of the Heat Tracker, starting off relatively benign in the early game and becoming significantly more threatening towards the endgame. This helps to keep things tough, allowing the encounter deck to ramp up in difficulty as your deck begins to establish a better position, and always keeping the pressure high.
Other than that, the quest mechanics tend to be pretty straightforward. If you can clear all 3 quest stages before the Heat Tracker reaches 60 (as well as fetching and defeating a Were-worm during the last quest stage) then you’ve won!
You can see everything the quest has to offer over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building a deck
I want to give the new Legolas and Gimli Heroes another try against this quest, since it’d be a shame if I got through the whole box without getting a chance to showcase what it is that they do. Having learned my lesson from a failed Three Hunters deck I tried against the first quest of this box, I’m going to try using a different third Hero to complement the dynamic duo this time. But who should it be?
The biggest problem I ran into the last time was that I ran out of resources, meaning I was only able to fuel my Heroes’ abilities and not play anything else down on the field. So instead I’d like to use a Hero that synergizes better with these two, ideally adding fuel to their fire. That means I need someone like Théodred who can help me generate resources for Gimli, or someone like Beravor who can draw extra cards for Legolas. And given the choice between the two, card draw is probably the better bet, since it will help me draw into Steward of Gondor to give me the best of both worlds!
With that decision being made, it looks like I’m going to be building a tri-sphere deck. That might give me the opportunity to showcase The Storm Comes from this expansion as well, making it easier to pay for Allies of any color, and enhancing all of the Side Quest-related cards from this expansion as well.
From there, I might as well just throw in most of the Sands of Harad cards that match my chosen spheres, turning this into a Sands of Harad showcase deck of sorts. Then all I have to do is fill in the corners with all of my favorite Core Set staples and I’m ready to take it for a test drive in the desert!
Beravor (Core Set)
Gimli (The Sands of Harad)
Legolas (The Sands of Harad)
3x Erebor Guard (The Sands of Harad)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
2x Faramir (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Gléowine (Core Set)
3x Greenwood Archer (The Sands of Harad)
3x Halfling Bounder (The Sands of Harad)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
2x Lórien Guide (Core Set)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
3x Dwarven Shield (The Sands of Harad)
3x Mirkwood Long-knife (The Sands of Harad)
2x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Radagast’s Cunning (Core Set)
2x Secret Paths (Core Set)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Unlikely Friendship (The Sands of Harad)
3x Well Warned (The Sands of Harad)
Player Side Quest (3)
3x The Storm Comes (The Sands of Harad)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Leading the deck
This deck aims to make maximum use of Legolas and Gimli‘s abilities.
Every round (until perhaps the late game) I use Beravor’s ability to draw cards, and then send both Legolas and Gimli on the quest. Then I discard a card to fuel Legolas’ ability, readying Gimli so that I have someone ready for defense should I need it. In the event that an Enemy comes out, I use Gimli’s ability to ready up Legolas to kill it. Easy peasy.
Ideally I want to see either The Storm Comes or Steward of Gondor in my opening hand. Fortunately, there’s plenty of card draw to be found in this deck—Unlikely Friendship, Gandalf, and Gléowine, to name just a few of my many options—so locating any particular card isn’t too hard even if it doesn’t turn up right away.
Best case scenario, I’d like to clear The Storm Comes early on, both to help me play down my Allies more quickly and to activate the Halfling Bounder‘s superpower. It’s not strictly necessary, though, as long as I can manage to draw enough options to use the resources that I have when I need them.
Steward of Gondor goes on Gimli to help power his ability, and also to help him afford expensive Leadership cards like Faramir.
My favorite combo in the deck is to exhaust Beravor to draw cards, and then use a Greenwood Archer to ready her back up again. Then I can use her stats wherever I need them, assisting during the Questing phase or the Combat phase as necessary.
In all, it’s a pretty well rounded deck. It’s fun to watch Legolas and Gimli do their thing, questing for 4 and then covering the combat phase too! And the fact that they have the Ranged and Sentinel keywords makes me think that this would make a fun multiplayer deck.
The play’s the thing
Victory on: Normal Mode
It took me a game to figure out the best strategy for playing my deck, but even after I knew what to do it was a close game. I won, but I was only a turn or two away from certain defeat. It’s probably about as difficult as Escape from Umbar: tough, but not so hard as to seem punishing.
Give me the details!
In my first game, I managed to make it to the third Quest stage, but I wasn’t able to place progress on it fast enough to close out the quest before I succumbed to the Heat Tracker reaching 60. The problem was that I got Location locked early on as a result of not being able to quest fast enough—and I made the critical mistake of sending Beravor on the quest instead of using her to draw cards most rounds. If I had used her to draw cards instead, I probably would have been able to fetch the Allies I needed to dig myself out of my willpower shortage.
I was careful not to repeat the same error in my second game, using Beravor to draw cards almost every round. Things went much better. Steward of Gondor was in my opening hand, and several Gandalfs helped me to place that much-needed progress on the quest. I got somewhat lucky in that none of the dreaded Were-worms showed up except through the final Quest stage’s effect. I was able to use a boosted Legolas along with yet another copy of Gandalf to help me take it out quickly, clearing my path to victory.
I ended the game at 54 Heat, so there’s no guarantee that I would have survived to the end of another round. It was a good game!
Desert Crossing isn’t the most memorable quest ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. With simple, down-to-earth mechanics and a moderate difficulty curve, it’s definitely worth a few plays. Speaking as someone who has the entire pool of quests available to me, I don’t think Desert Crossing is going to hit my table very often—but if I only had the Core Set and Sands of Harad, I think I’d return to it much more frequently.
So that’s two out of three quests in The Sands of Harad that are winners so far. That’s a pretty good start! But will the third quest be good enough to earn a recommendation for after the Core Set? We’ll find out when I next return to the Path Less Traveled.
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”
I’ll be returning to my Thematic Nightmare series to finish up the Against the Shadow cycle with Nightmare The Morgul Vale. I remember this one being pretty difficult in Normal mode back when it first came out—I can’t wait to see how its Nightmare version compares!