As I wander along my Path Less Traveled, I suddenly find myself Lost in Mirkwood. The second quest of the Wilds of Rhovanion box echoes the first quest of the Core Set both thematically and mechanically. The major difference is that Passage Through Mirkwood sometimes plays like a tutorial, while Lost in Mirkwood is much harder.
But how much harder is it, exactly? Can it be defeated with nothing more than a Core Set and The Wilds of Rhovanion? Or would I be forced to wander down to my local Game Store to buy more cards?
Let’s search for the answer together!
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.
I’m so lost without you
Lost in Mirkwood takes the idea of branching quest paths to the nth degree: there are two different choices for each of the Stages 2 through 4. Each one has an “A” version and a “C” version. Which of the two versions you visit is determined whenever you travel to one of the Quest’s four Objective-Locations. Finding and traveling to one of these Objective-Locations is the only way to advance between Quest Stages. (It’s also worth noting that when these Locations say to advance to the “next” Stage with a particular letter, you always increase the Stage number—many people play this wrong the first time and find themselves in an unwinnable state).
Since it’s so important to find these Objective-Locations, the quest provides a way for you to locate them in the form of Searching for a Way Out, an Objective that uses progress made against the main Quest to help you dig one out. It’s not all helpful, though, since Seaching for a Way Out also makes Objective-Locations and the cards guarding them immune to player card effects like the one on Northern Tracker.
Stage 2 turns out to be really important, because it sets the tone for the entire rest of the quest by shuffling one of two set-aside encounter sets into the encounter deck. One sends you too far North, pitting you against the exhaustion-inducing effects of the Spiders of Mirkwood. The other sends you too far South, pitting you against the direct-damage dealing Dol Guldur Orcs. Each of these encounter sets has a slightly different mechanical focus, changing the way you have to address the remainder of the Quest.
Each playthrough of this Quest is going to feel a little different depending on which Stages you end up encountering. Some Stages demand more combat prowess, while others put pressure on you in other ways. There are a lot of secrets hidden under the boughs of Mirkwood. You never know exactly what you might find—or what might find you—there.
You can see everything the quest has to offer over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building a deck
I’ll be honest—the Dale archetype is so strong that I could probably re-use the deck I built last time and crush this quest with it. But I want to test out a theory, so I’m going to go a different direction for this one.
My theory is that the cards from The Wilds of Rhovanion are great additions to the Core Set even if you don’t build around the Dale archetype.
So I’m instead going to focus on what these cards can do for a different Core Set Hero: Dúnhere. His ability to attack into the Staging Area is pretty unique, but he can be hard to make work with a small card pool (especially in Solo) because of his relatively low attack score of 3. He definitely needs a Weapon or two to be more effective at what he does, but the Core Set only offers the pricey Dwarven Axe or the unreliable Blade of Gondolin. The Wilds of Rhovanion adds a third Weapon into the mix in the form of Bow of Yew.
Another problem is that none of those Weapons are in-sphere for Dúnhere, meaning that he’s traditionally paired with a Tactics Hero. But neither Dúnhere nor your standard Tactics Hero are good at questing, leaving you pigeonholed into a strong quester like Éowyn for your third Hero. That deck can work just fine, but it would be nice if there were other options. Enter Bard son of Brand, who can grant access to Tactics Weapons without the need for a Tactics Hero. Paring him with Dúnhere leaves the third Hero slot wide open!
Another problem Dúnhere has is just how reliant he is on getting those Weapons early. When he has them, he can do fine, but the longer he has to wait to find them, the higher his threat gets, and the less likely it is that there are still Enemies left in the Staging Area. With my third Hero slot open to anyone I like, I’m free to choose Beravor to help super-charge my Dúnhere deck and get him the Weapons he needs to be successful, as soon as possible.
This leaves me with a Spirit / Lore Dúnhere deck, something of a novelty for a deck type that has been locked into Spirit / Tactics for so long. With two Spirit Heroes, I can have access to some of the more expensive Spirit Allies, which will help my questing along somewhat, and with access to Lore I should have no problem locating the cards that I need.
Let’s see how it plays!
Bard son of Brand (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
Beravor (Core Set)
Dúnhere (Core Set)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Lórien Guide (Core Set)
3x North Realm Lookout (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
2x Wandering Took (Core Set)
2x Blade of Gondolin (Core Set)
3x Bow of Yew (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
2x Forest Snare (Core Set)
3x Map of Rhovanion (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Necklace of Girion (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Protector of Lórien (Core Set)
2x The Favor of the Lady (Core Set)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x A Light in the Dark (Core Set)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
1x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
2x Radagast’s Cunning (Core Set)
2x Secret Paths (Core Set)
3x Stand and Fight (Core Set)
2x Strength of Will (Core Set)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Check out the RingsDB description for info on how to play the deck!
The play’s the thing
Victory on: Normal mode
This was a really fun game! Beravor retrieved two Weapons by round 3, getting me up to peak efficiency pretty quickly. I was almost sad when I won on the first try—I had a good time with this quest and if I had reserved time for more than a trial run that night I would have happily given it a few more goes.
Give me the details!
My threat climbed a little faster than I would have liked in the early game (although that’s pretty normal for this quest, since Stage 1 has some threat-raising effects and prevents you from lowering your threat). This reduced Dúnhere’s effectiveness somewhat, although thanks to The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Gandalf I was able to get it back down below 35 for the whole game, allowing me to still use Dúnhere’s natural powers to deal with the worst baddies that the quest had to offer.
My Stage 2 took me along the Spider route, which was fine by me. There’s nothing like using Dúnhere to negate Hummerhorns, the Enemy with one of the worst engagement effects in the game! Stage 3 took my hand from me, but Beravor laughed at that and quickly built me a replacement hand. My engine got rolling pretty quickly, and by the end of the game it was fun to watch 3 Lórien Scouts use their 3 Maps of Rhovanion to consistently clear the Active Location, no matter how nasty it was.
My final challenge was to get past a souped-up Chieftain Ufthak. By that point I had plenty of Allies out that I could use as chump blockers, so it wasn’t actually too big of a deal to engage and kill him when the time came to deal the killing blow.
In all, it was a pretty dynamic game. Even when things didn’t go as expected, my deck rolled with the punches well; it was fun to find solutions to all of the problems that the encounter deck threw at me. It would be fun to go back and see how future runs against this quest would go if I took a different path. While the quest certainly has the potential to throw a few curveballs, I suspect I’d still be able to pull out a win most of the time.
I had a great time with this quest, even though it’s a little on the easier side of things. It’s just challenging enough to be fun, and you’re bound to have something different and interesting happen with every fresh playthrough.
It’s worth noting that there are a handful of gotchas that require a firm understanding of the rules to properly execute, though. Many people are confused by how Quest progression works, and it’s easy to miss the fact that the Guarded keyword works a little differently from the Guarded (X) keyword in that the former triggers only on reveal but the latter triggers whenever the card enters play. Furthermore, keep in mind that an Objective-Location with Guarded (Location) cannot be guarded by another Objective-Location.
If you can get around those rules quirks, though, Lost in Mirkwood is probably my favorite quest from the Wilds of Rhovanion box—and that remains true even with a limited card pool.
But what about the final quest? The King’s Quest? How does it fare in a limited card pool? And how is the Wilds of Rhovanion overall as a companion to the Core Set? That will be my subject of inquiry next time!
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”