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Encounter Card Set Review: Spiders of Mirkwood

by on March 20, 2013

Here we are with yet another edition of TftC’s Encounter Card Set Reviews. I hope you don’t have arachnophobia, because this next encounter set will have your skin crawling. Bring on the Spiders of Mirkwood!

Quests Included In:

Passage Through Mirkwood

Escape from Dol Guldur

A Journey to Rhosgobel

Return to Mirkwood

Card Breakdown (12 cards total):

2x King Spider

1x Hummerhorns

1x Ungoliant’s Spawn

2x Great Forest Web

3x Mountains of Mirkwood

1x Eyes of the Forest

2x Caught in a Web


Statistical Breakdown:

Locations: 42%

Enemies: 33%spiders of mirkwood

Treacheries: 25%

Cards With Shadow Effects: 33%

Average Threat of All Cards (Treacheries count as 0): 1.5

Average Threat of Enemies and Locations: 2.0

Average Attack Value of Enemies: 3.3

Average Defense Value of Enemies: 1.0

Average Hit Points of Enemies: 4.5

Average Quest Progress of Locations: 2.6

Set Description:

Thematically, the Spiders of Mirkwood set represents the dangers posed by the spiders of Mirkwood forest. At this point in the game’s lifespan, we might all be feeling a bit spider-ed out when you consider that the Core Set, Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, and newest Hobbit box all include spiders. However, this set was the original item, and still holds up in providing interesting challenges for players. Compared to some of the other ones we’ve looked at so far, this is a pretty well-balanced set, with a roughly equal amount of treacheries, enemies, and locations, and a mix of detrimental effects that can be unleashed on players. I have to say that this is one of my favorite sets from the Core Set for that reason, as well as because it provides some challenging situations to overcome. (How am I going to deal with those Hummerhorns that are coming down from the staging area soon? What if Ungoliant’s Spawn and its willpower-sapping effect is revealed this turn?)

Individual Card Breakdown:

ENEMIES

King Spider (2 threat, 3 attack, 1 defense, 3 hit points): This royalty of the spider family is deceptively dangerous. Its “when revealed” effect forces each player to exhaust one character they control. Depending on when it emerges, this effect can range from fairly harmless (if it is later in a game and you have managed to build up an ally army) to downright deadly (if it forces you to exhaust your last defender, for example). Since it is an enemy with a very low engagement level of 20, the King Spider has a good chance of capitalizing on its own “when revealed” effect, leaping on a weakened player with an attack value of 3, which is high enough to cause a fair bit of trouble. Fortunately, the King Spider can be dispatched fairly easily with only 4 damage required to finish the deed. In terms of strategy, it makes sense to include A Test of Will or Eleanor when facing the Spiders of Mirkwood set, in order to deal with an early or especially debilitating appearance of the King Spider’s “when revealed” effect. Another possibility is to include plenty of readying effects to nullify the effect. Once the King Spider gets to grips with a player, it shouldn’t pose too many problems, as it is fairly flimsy, but those decks that are on the weaker side in terms of combat ability might struggle a bit.

* Hummerhorns (1 threat, 2 attack, 0 defense, 3 hit points): Hummerhorns are a walking (or flying) dilemma. As soon as they hit the table, players are faced with a ticking clock because of their forced effect. When they engage with a player, they deal 5 damage to a hero, which is enough to kill every herohummerhorns currently in the game (except for Beorn, so including him is one way to survive a Hummerhorns attack). The good news is that the Hummerhorns’ engagement level of 40 means that players will probably have at least several rounds to prepare for this effect or find some way to preemptively kill the Hummerhorns. So what are some options to prevent one of your heroes from suffering the ignoble fate of being stung to death by wasps?

– Kill the Hummerhorns in the staging area with direct damage effects (you need 3 points of damage total). Core Set Gandalf can do the trick and is probably the go-to option. Hands Upon the Bow combined with any ranged character (hero or ally) with at least 2 attack will also work. Hail of Stones is a possibility, but at the heavy cost of exhausting 3 characters. Still, if you’re creeping towards that threat threshold of 40, the cost is probably worth it if you have no other options. A couple of Descendants of Thorondor will work as well, but the possibility of drawing two and being able to pay the 8 resources required to put them into play lowers the feasibility of this option (however, a Sneak Attack solves this issue quite easily). If you throw Thalin into the mix, a single Descendant of Thorondor will suffice.

– Absorb the damage with Frodo. Frodo’s damage-canceling ability can come in quite handy here, but you will be eating 5 threat, so hopefully you have some threat-reduction effects lying around.

– Use Dori’s ability. He can exhaust to take the damage upon himself, sacrificing his own life to save one of your heroes. Good ol’ Dori!

– If you have a hit point buff on one of your heroes, like Citadel Plate, Ring Mail, or Boots of Erebor, then they could conceivably take the 5 damage and survive to tell the tale.

Whether or not you’re able to neutralize the Hummerhorn’s effect, they are not that formidable a foe in regular combat if they do manage to engage with you,. With no defense and only 3 hit points, a single swing from a 3-attack hero or ally can take care of the Hummerhorns. They also have a fairly low attack of 2, which means that most heroes, and quite a few allies, can defend against them without worrying too much. Overall, this is an enemy that is far more dangerous for its forced effect than its combat ability.

Ungoliant’s Spawn (3 threat, 5 attack, 2 defense, 9 hit points): This is the original boss fight of LOTR LCG. The “when revealed” effect of Ungoliant’s Spawn is pretty nasty, taking away 1 willpower from each character committed to the quest. This can singlehandedly turn questing success into defeat, and ungoliants spawncompletely wrecks questing plans/calculations (its high threat of 3 also doesn’t help matters). For example, in a recent game I was playing on OCTGN with Beorn from the Hall of Beorn blog and friend of TftC, shipprekk, we pulled an Ungoliant’s Spawn during questing that caused us to go from breaking even to losing the quest by a whopping 7! Needless to say, this was painful. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to prepare for this effect. One is to draw and keep A Test of Will in hand to cancel it if the effect is going to be too detrimental to ignore. Another is to include Faramir in your decks, as his ability will effectively cancel out that of Ungoliant’s Spawn (however, remember that this only holds true for one player in a multiplayer game). The third option is any effect that allows you to add Ungoliant’s Spawn to the staging area instead of revealing it (like the “Don’t Leave the Path” version of Quest Stage 3B of Passage Through Mirkwood). Leaving aside the “when revealed” effect of Ungoliant’s Spawn, this spider is an enemy that can do some damage under the right circumstances, as it boasts an impressive attack of 5. Fortunately, it doesn’t have any harmful effects that trigger during combat, so once you’re engaged with it, all you have to worry about is throwing chump blockers in the way, using Feints or Thicket of Spears to stop it from attacking, blocking it with an uber-hero, or tossing a Forest Snare on top of it. However, with 2 defense and 9 hit points, it takes a total of 11 damage to send it back to the darkness. This means that this giant spider can tie up your characters in attacking and possibly defending for quite some time. In the grand scale of baddies, Ungoliant’s Spawn has diminished in stature as more powerful enemies have emerged, but an early reveal can still pose a challenge, especially since it has a fairly low engagement level (32) for its strength.

LOCATIONS

Great Forest Web (2 threat, 2 progress): Spiders need somewhere to live, and the Great Forest Web is the perfect playground for those eight-legged freaks. The travel requirement of this location is simple and to the point: each player has to exhaust 1 hero to travel to it. This is not an insubstantial ask, as having to exhaust a hero, rather than just an ally, and mandating that all players have to meet this criteria makes traveling to the Great Forest Web a pain. Therefore, dealing with the Great Forest in an alternative way other than travel seems like the best approch. Its moderate threat of 2 means that you can leave it sitting in the staging area for awhile, as long as the staging area is not too crowded. More importantly, a low progress requirement of 2 gives you a wealth of options for exploring the Great Forest Web in the staging area without ever having to travel there. Horses are seemingly impervious to the webs these spiders weave, as Asfaloth and The Riddermark’s Finest can both dispatch this location with haste, with a single exhaustion of the former or discard of the latter doing the trick (personally, I don’t think I would ride a horse through a forest of webs, but what do I know!). Other cards that allow you to put progress on locations, like Snowbourn Scout or Ride to Ruin can be similarly effective here. Finally, Northern Tracker can get rid of the Great Forest Web all by itself in only two turns. Overall, I would have to say that this location is on the easy side of the difficulty scale, as there are so many options to explore it quickly.

Mountains of Mirkwood (2 threat, 3 progress): There are mountains to be found in the forest of Mirkwood, and they are represented by this card. Like the Great Forest Web, this location also has a mountains of mirkwoodtravel requirement that is not pleasant. In this case, players have to reveal the top card of the encounter deck in order to travel here. I would say that this is actually worse than the Great Forest Web, as anything that makes you reveal an extra encounter deck is hideous in my opinion. This means that you should probably use the tricks mentioned in the Great Forest Web entry to explore the Mountains of Mirkwood while it is in the staging area instead of ever traveling to it. However, the fact that it requires 3 progress to explore instead of just 2 means that you will probably have to use multiple cards or effects to get rid of it. The Mountains of Mirkwood does give you a benefit for exploring it (allowing you to search the top 5 cards of your deck and choosing one to put in your hand), but remember that you get this bonus even if you explore it using card effects instead of the normal placing of progress tokens through questing.

TREACHERIES

* Eyes of the Forest: This treachery represents the unsettling eyes that sometimes watch those who travel through Mirkwood forest. Its effect causes all players to discard all event cards in their hand. This can be highly annoying, particularly if you have been saving up A Test of Will for a certain “when revealed” effect or if you have a Feint in hand that you were hoping to use to nullify that Ungoliant Spawn’s attack (there are a bunch of other examples that I could possibly give here, but you get the idea). Still, in the grand scheme of treacheries, I do have to say that I would rather draw this one than most others. Certainly, it would not be worth canceling this effect in the great majority of cases.

* Caught in a Web: This is a condition attachment, which tend to be some of the most annoying encounter card effects to be found in the game, as they stick with one of your characters (usually a hero) throughout a game, instead of punching you in the face once and running away. Caught in a Web caught in a webrepresents the constraining effects of being trapped in the spiders’ clutches, and it prevents a hero from readying during the refresh phase unless he or she can pay 2 resources. This card does have to placed on the player with the highest threat, but beyond that stipulation, the targeted player can choose which hero it is placed on, which at least gives you useful measure of control. Generally, you want to place this card on a hero that will either not be exhausted that often or that is the least critical to your efforts. For example, putting Caught on a Web on the hero who quests every turn is probably not a good idea, nor is slapping it on your key defender. Generally, I tend to choose my designated attacking hero as the recipient, as defending and questing are generally more essential functions than attack. If you happen to be lucky enough to be running a hero with an in-built readying effect (Leadership Aragorn, Prince Imrahil, Tactics Boromir, Elladan, Elrohir) then the choice is easy, because this condition attachment only prevents the normal readying during the refresh phase, not readying from a card effect. You can also take advantage of that fact to make use of readying attachments like Miruvor, Cram, or Unexpected Courage to mitigate Caught in a Web’s effect. Another possibility is that a hero who has Steward of Gondor can simply pay the 2 resources each turn to ready, but this is the least desirable approach as it wastes valuable resources. Finally, facing the Spiders of Mirkwood set and thus Caught in a Web means that you should run some Miners of the Iron Hills, as they are currently the only option in the card pool to remove condition attachments (however, do note that since the attachment process itself is part of a “when revealed” effect, that it can be canceled by Eleanor or A Test of Will).

Shadow Analysis:

Only the enemies in this set have shadow effects (just 4 out of the 12 total cards), which means the shadow frequency for Spiders of Mirkwood is fairly low. However, the shadow effects that are present are downright ugly and encourage the use of shadow-canceling effects like Hasty Stroke, Balin, Dawn Take You All, and A Burning Brand.

The shadow effect of Ungoliant’s Spawn causes the defending player to raise his or her threat by 4 (8 if the attack is undefended). How meaningful this threat increase is depends on the game situation and the kind of deck you’re running, but it is certainly not pleasant. You definitely don’t want to see this shadow effect during an undefended attack, as a threat gain of 8 is horrific and possibly game-ending. This means that you should be especially cautious about taking undefended attacks when facing the Spiders of Mirkwood set, as even though there is only 1 copy of this particular effect, the other shadow effects in the set similarly increase their punitive effects if you don’t declare a defender. If you are climbing towards 50 threat, and Ungoliant’s Spawn has not yet been revealed or discarded, it might be wise to avoid undefended attacks altogether, unless you have a shadow-canceling effect available. There is a benefit to seeing this card emerge as a shadow, though, and that is that you know that it won’t come up during staging (barring a re-shuffle of the encounter deck). In addition, while threat increases are highly dangerous, at least this shadow effect does not affect the combat outcome itself.

I talked earlier about the nastiness of the Hummerhorns, and the shadow effect attached to it is similarly harmful, causing 1 damage to each character controlled by the defending player. The good news is that at least the damage is dispersed instead of being concentrated into one burst of 5 damage like the normal Hummerhorns effect, but the bad news is that this shadow effect can wipe out your allies in one fell swoop and potentially some heroes if they are flirting with death. If you happen to be taking an undefended attack when this shadow effect shows up, you are in even more trouble, as the damage increases to 2 per character. This will kill many, if not most, allies and potentially some of your heroes, especially the more flimsy ones like Bilbo. Again, as with Ungoliant’s Spawn, if you are facing the Spiders of Mirkwood set and have not yet seen Hummerhorns revealed or discarded yet, you probably want to avoid undefended attacks if at all possible, and you should keep some shadow-canceling effects ready just in case this card appears as a shadow.

Finally, the King Spider exhausts 1 character the defending player controls when it shows up as a shadow, or 2 characters if the attack is undefended. This seems like it is the least harmful of the three shadow effects in this set, and this is certainly true in many situations, but it also can be quite dangerous. An ill-timed appearance of the King Spider shadow effect can force you to exhaust your last remaining ready character, forcing you to take the next attack undefended. It also can take away the character(s) you were holding back for attacking purposes, delaying your counter-strike and possibly leading to a build-up of enemies. With this in mind, I will provide a few tips to dealing with this particular shadow effect (besides simply canceling it). If you know that having a certain amount of characters ready is essential to your defense plans, you might want to keep an additional character ready just in case the King Spider exhausts one during shadow resolution. Also, it is a good idea to delay readying a character using an effect like Unexpected Courage or Cram until after shadow effects have resolved, as you will be highly annoyed if you ready Gimli in anticipation of a huge counter-attack, only to have to exhaust him because King Spider showed up as a shadow on one of the attacks (trust me, I’m speaking from experience).

Overall, knowing that you are facing the Spiders of Mirkwood set means that you should definitely include some shadow-cancellation in your deck(s) and that you should also avoid undefended attacks when possible, unless you are willing to take the calculated risk this entails.

Final Verdict:

A mix of painful shadow effects, tricky enemies, and an action-sapping condition attachment makes Spiders of Mirkwood a challenging set that rewards strategy. By far, the greatest threats found in this set are the Hummerhorns, Ungoliant’s Spawn, and all of the shadow effects.  Facing the Spiders of Mirkwood means that you should to include tricks for dealing direct damage, effects that place progress on locations, a decent amount of attack power (for Ungoliant’s Spawn) and shadow-cancellation.

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12 Comments
  1. Eleanor does not work on King Spiders.
    The contemporary Dunhere is good against Hummerhorns & Beorn can soak the damage (assuming he is full health, which is unlikely).
    You should always cancel Eyes of the Forest as you lose “A Test of Will” either way.
    The locations can both be worked around as there are often lulls when you have a spare hero or minimal danger in staging but yeah they can be risky otherwise. Thror’s map is still good against both of them as they only have a bad travel effect.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks for the catches! I try to give as exhaustive a list of options for dealing with cards as I can think of, but being truly exhaustive is becoming more and more difficult as the card pool expands. So I might as well take this opportunity to list a few more that I thought of after posting: Great Yew Bow can effectively deal with the Hummerhorns (in a similar way to Dunhere), and Infighting is another option as well (since the Hummerhorns only have 3 hit points, you just have to pile 3 damage on some other enemy and transfer it over). For the locations, the card that I recently spotlighted, Strider’s Path, can deal with them quite easily, and remove their threat from the staging area right away as well. As you mention, Thror’s Map can do this as well, although ever since the errata that card is dead to me (I kid, I still think it has some use).

      The Eyes of the Forest situation is an interesting one, and I think it depends on what you have in hand. If you have a bunch of good event cards in hand, then you’re right that it definitely would probably be worth using A Test of Will. If you only have A Test of Will and some events you don’t really care about, then maybe you just want to save the Spirit resource for something else, depending on how valuable those are to you at the moment. Although Eleanor can also cancel Eyes of the Forest, I would almost never use her ability against it, as I don’t see the effect as bad enough that I would risk revealing something potentially worse (of course, there are always exceptions, if you have an event in your hand that is key to your current strategy, then it might be worth it).

      I’ll edit the Beorn part, for some reason I always forget about him and his 10 hit points.

  2. Chris permalink

    Great write-up! One thing to note, you mention including Eleanor to deal with the King Spider’s ‘When Revealed.’ Her ability only works on treachery cards FYI, not all When Revealeds.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! You are of course correct, Eleanor works only on treachery cards.

      • Chris permalink

        No problem! You ever thought of posting some playthroughs of OCTGN on youtube like COTR does? Id like to see some of the new Hobbit quests and they wont be there for awhile.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        Honestly, I haven’t considered it, mostly because of time and tech unfamiliarity, and also because the Progression Series is doing a great job of covering that ground, but I haven’t altogether ruled it out for the future.

    • Matthew permalink

      we’ve actually already recorded the Hobbit quests, so we’ll be there before you know it! 🙂

  3. Am I wrong in thinking that Hummerhorns effect does not activate when you optionally engage it? After all, the effect says “when it engages you”.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It actually is kind of a poorly-worded effect, and I think your reading is the common sense one. Unfortunately, according the rulebook, even if you optionally engage an enemy, it counts as having engaged with you, and thus the Hummerhorns effect gets triggered.

      • Fair enough, thanks for the clarification!

        As much as I love this game, there are some cards that are pretty poorly worded and open to interpretation.

  4. Glaurung permalink

    i already got nightmare pack and replace cards from this set with nightmare version. Very cool new spown and Caugh in the web.

  5. DukeWellington permalink

    Straight shot is also now a good way to kill Hummerhorns

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