Heirs of Numenor: First Adventures, First Impressions (Theme and Strategy)
In this article, I will continue Tales From the Cards’ review of the Heirs of Numenors expansion. Last time out, I reviewed the player cards, this time I will focus on the scenarios themselves with an eye towards theme and strategy. After struggling and building some decks, I successfully beat all three quests in HoN, and had an absolute blast playing them all. I now feel excited and inspired enough to try to beat the quests with some other types of decks, which is a good sign for the replayability factor. Here are my overall thoughts about the three quests as whole. Following that, I will be posting individual strategies for each quest in separate articles. First, for Into Ithilien, then Peril in Pelargir, and finally the Siege of Cair Andros (I know the order is wonky, but they will all be out soon!).
Note: I know that some people like to play new quests completely blind, if that is the case I must tell you that there are massive SPOILERS in this article and in the next three strategy articles. Do not keep reading if you want to be totally surprised (then you can come back and read it afterwards for the strategies).
Overall Theme: Simply put, the theme of this expansion is fantastic and conveyed admirably by the encounter cards, scenarios, and new mechanics. This box is all about battle and combat, simply put. If that’s not your cup of tea, you might not enjoy it as much, but I would have a hard time imagining any fan of the source material or this game not having fun playing these quests.We find ourselves in Gondor, right before the War of the Ring, and I really enjoy getting a chance to explore this part of Middle Earth during this time period. In the books, we get a general sense of the peril that Gondor is under but don’t necessarily get to see it firsthand until the war is well underway. In the movies, Gondor actually plays a very small part, and we don’t get to see or hear much of anything about it until the third film. However, in these three quests, players get to experience the mortal danger and stage of siege, both literal and figurative, that Gondor is under. The enemies in this expansion really give you the sense that you are no longer battling against individual monsters in the depths of Moria or Mirkwood. Rather, you are now facing large forces and even entire armies with cards like “Southron Company” and “Siege Raft”. The three quests are also well-connected in terms of story, all having to do with the delivery of vital information to Faramir as the heroes travel from the port city of Pelargir ultimately to Cair Andros.
Theme Rating: ♦♦♦♦
Overall Strategy: Let’s get ready to rumble! Simply put, don’t expect to take the decks you used in the past two cycles into Gondor and be successful. The quests are very focused on combat, and the majority of encounter decks will be enemies. In addition, the new mechanics of battle (questing with attack) and siege (questing with defense) require you to carefully select your heroes and allies to achieve a nice balance between the three attributes. Decks tailored to achieve high willpower for questing (such as Spirit-heavy decks), which usually suffer in the areas of attack and defense, will suffer greatly here. For example, I often include West Road Traveller in my questing-focused decks, as she is a relatively cheap (2 cost) ally that contributes 2 willpower. However, she also has 0 attack and 0 defense, so I found myself chucking her out the window for these new quests. At the same time, if you overcompensate too much and leave willpower completely by the wayside, you will not be able to progress through the quest stages that do require willpower. I also found this out the hard way in the second quest, Into Ithilien. Quest stage 3 requires traditional willpower questing, and at the same time enemies pile up in the staging area as you cannot engage enemies optionally and no engagement checks are made. Without including enough willpower in my new combat-focused decks, I drowned in this sea of enemies and lost the quest. So finely-tuned decks that are well-balanced are especially key. On the surface, looking at the number and severity of treacheries, you might be tempted to think that treachery cancellation is not as important as in the past. This is a mistake, include some forms of treachery cancellation. Even if you were to go mono-Tactics, I would recommend splashing some Spirit using Song of Travel just to include Test of Will (as well as Hasty Stroke, shadow effects can be extremely nasty, more on that later). Threat management is also as surprisingly vital as ever. I actually found that most of my defeats were the result of threating out, and not being killed by enemies (though that did happen as well). So while Spirit is not the all-powerful force it has been in the past, it still has an important place in these quests. Actually, I find that all four spheres play a key role in defeating these quests, which is a nice change of pace from the past, when this hasn’t always been true. The last thing I’ll mention in this overall strategy section is that two of the three quests allow for strategic decision-making as to which quest stages should be faced and which should be avoided. This adds great replayability to the quests, as well as an added layer of strategy, and I hope that this continues in the future.
Strategic Rating (how much strategy is required): ♦♦♦♦
Some general strategies for all three quests, with the usual grain of salt that your play style and preferences might be different than mine:
* Pick your allies for a balance of all three stats: Leaving aside their abilities, carefully choose your allies in order to achieve a balance of willpower, attack, and defense. Because you need to get allies out quickly to survive the swarm of enemies that are present in all three quests, I suggest that most of them are 2 cost or lower, with a smattering of important 3 and 4 cost allies. Those that are balanced are useful (like 1 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defense), but don’t forget to achieve an overall balance by including cheap specialists in a certain area (Vassal of the Windlor, Defender of Hamas, etc.). At the end of deck construction, count up the combined values of all three stats and see how well prepared you are for any of the three possible quest types.
* Manage that encounter deck and threat!: This is partially a personal preference, but Gildor’s Counsel can be your best friend in this set. The less encounter cards that come off the top, the better. This is true of all quests, but is particularly true in this case. Use Ranger Spikes whenever you can to neutralize enemies, and Secret Paths and Radagast’s Cunning to remove threat from the staging area. All of this will lead to blowing through quest stages much faster. You don’t want to spend time hanging around on any of these quests. Which brings me to…
* Lore and Tactics are your best friend: Again, maybe a reflection of my own personal style, but these two spheres really stand out to me as key in this set. Tactics gives you battle, siege, and combat prowess, while Lore manages the encounter deck and enables faster questing. In general, the two decks I ran are Lore/Leadership (2 Lore heroes, 1 Leadership) and Tactics/Spirit (2 Tactics heroes, 1 Spirit).
* Consider Dwarves: I know some people don’t like using Dwarves in this set for either personal or thematic reasons, but they are incredibly effective because they are balanced. If you use Dain, all Dwarves get boosts to both attack and willpower, and a zero-cost card like Khazad! Khazad! gives a quick +3 buff to battle questing. I will post my Dwarf decks in a later post, but I had great success with them because of the possible synergies. Not innovative, I know, but rewarding.
* Killing enemies is not the priority: This sounds weird in a set focusing on battles, and I usually get great joy from clearing enemies quickly from the board, and a key part of past success has been killing those who engage very quickly in order to prevent any numbers disadvantages. However, because battles and sieges take up some of your key warriors, you will find yourself choosing between using them to quest or to clear out enemies. In general, I recommend prioritizing questing. Again, the quicker you progress, the better. I chose many times to let enemies build up, and have to sacrifice allies or inflict damage on my heroes, if it meant being able to commit more characters to the quest. That being said, there are times when you need to strategically clear out certain enemies. Just pick your battles wisely.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for individual strategies and discussions of theme for each scenario. What strategies have you found useful so far? What decks have led you to success in HoN?