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Encounter Card Set Review: Escape from Dol Guldur

by on May 7, 2013

The Core Set will soon be left behind for good, as TftC’s Encounter Card Set Reviews finally tackes Escape from Dol Guldur. While sweet freedom may be in sight, first we need to escape the clutches of the Enemy and ensure that we don’t spend the rest of our days rotting away in some forgotten dungeon. The third Core Set scenario became notorious for its difficulty soon after release, and it is still not a cake-walk, especially for pure solo players. Will the accompanying encounter set prove responsible for this difficulty, or is it much ado about nothing? Read on and find out!

Quests Included In:

Escape from Dol Guldur

Card Breakdown (15 cards total):

2x Dungeon Jailor

1x Nazgul of Dol Guldur

2x Cavern Guardian

2x Under the Shadow

1x Iron Shackles

2x Endless Caverns

2x Tower Gate

1x Gandalf’s Map

1x Dungeon Torch

1x Shadow Key

Statistical Breakdown:

Locations: 27%

Enemies: 33%dolguldur

Treacheries: 20%

Objectives: 20%

Cards With Shadow Effects: 33%

Average Threat of All Cards (Treacheries count as 0): 1.1

Average Threat of Enemies and Locations: 1.9

Average Attack Value of Enemies: 2.4

Average Defense Value of Enemies: 2.2

Average Hit Points of Enemies: 4.6

Average Quest Progress of Locations: 2.0

Set Description: The other encounter card sets that were tied to specific scenarios (Passage Through Mirkwood, Journey Along the Anduin) turned out to be a bit lackluster. However, with Escape from Dol Guldur being the toughest of the three scenarios, it is no surprise that this particular set is not altogether lacking in punch. It boasts the big bad Nazgul of Dol Guldur, and while he doesn’t appear as fearsome now that we’ve fought his colleague, the Witch-King, and such huge foes as Smaug and Durin’s Bane, this doesn’t mean that he should be taken lightly. Overall, this is a fairly balanced set, with a roughly equal number of enemies, locations, and treacheries (with a slight bias towards enemies). It also possesses the first objectives to be found in the game. What really sticks out when looking at the enemy statistics is the relatively high average defense (2.2) and hit points (4.6) combined with a moderate attack (2.4). This indicates that any deck that takes on this set should include a fair amount of attack power.

Individual Card Breakdown:


* Dungeon Jailor (1 threat, 2 attack, 3 defense, 5 hit points): The Dungeon Jailor is most notable for his toughness, with 3 defense and 5 hit points. This means it takes a whopping 8 hit points to kill him, quite significant for just a regular garden-variety enemy (for comparison’s sake, the Nazgul takes 12 damage to kill, only 4 points more). The good news is that the Dungeon Jailor has an engagement cost of 38 and a low, low threat of 1, which gives you all the incentive you need to leave it sitting in the staging area until you are ready to deal with it. However, it does have a forced effect that renders this a tad risky, as if you quest unsuccessfully while the Dungeon Jailor is in the staging area, you have to shuffle one of the three objective cards back into the encounter deck, making victory all the more elusive. Obviously, you don’t want this to happen, as it prolongs a quest that you want to progress through quickly. There are a few ways of dealing with the Dungeon Jailor. First, if you are confident in your questing ability, you can simply leave it in the staging area, as I previously mentioned. Second, you can include cards that have a scrying effect like Risk Some Light, allowing you to hopefully bring the objective back out as quickly as possible, if needed. Third, you can include either weapons or attack-minded allies that will allow you to engage with the Jailor and have enough attack power to kill him in one or two turns. Although his 2 attack is defended fairly easily, even enemies with 1 or 2 attack power can harm you if they stick around for long enough, as shadow effects render any combat unpredictable. If you happen to be fortunate enough to have A Burning Brand in play, then this becomes a non-issue.

Nazgul of Dol Guldur (5 threat, 4 attack, 3 defense, 9 hit points): When I first had the chance to tangle with the Nazgul of Dol Guldur, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was an opportunity to take on one of the most fearsome foes present in Tolkien’s world! The Nazgul is certainly a terrible package in this game.nazgul Not only does he possess a high attack value of 4, but his defense of 3 and 9 hit points require 12 hit points to overcome. While this attack of 4 is not as immediately awe-inspiring as the Hill Troll’s 6 or the Great Cave Troll’s 7, it is high enough that it can wear down your defenses through killing off allies or inflicting damage on your heroes. This is exacerbated by the Nazgul’s forced effect, which requires the defending player to choose and discard 1 character if it has a shadow effect resolve. In essence, this means that the longer the Nazgul stays engaged with you and mounts attacks, the quicker your supply of allies will be depleted, meaning that simultaneously your defensive options are decreased and your ability to counter-attack is reduced. Since you cannot win the Escape from Dol Guldur quest with the Nazgul being in play, how exactly can you defeat this foe? With the card pool now having as many options as it does, it would be impossible for me to go over every available possibility. Instead, I will choose a few to highlight:

1) Denethor + A Burning Brand + Protector of Lorien: I particularly like this combo for a few reasons. One, blocking with a strong defending hero like Denethor (with a defense of 3), means that you won’t be sacrificing allies as chump blockers and thus putting your questing and combat power on the decline. Second, A Burning Brand not only eliminates the dangers of regular shadow cards, but prevents the Nazgul’s forced effect from triggering, which again preserves your allies (and heroes, if you have no allies in play). Third, Protector of Lorien can be used to boost Denethor up to 4 defense, and thus he can take the Nazgul’s effect without suffering any damage (something like Dunedain Warning is also a possibility). Note that Denethor is not the only game in town. A 3 defense Lore hero like Elrond can also fill this role, as can Bilbo with some hit point buffing. Beregond and his 4 defense is a possibility, but you need to put a Song of Wisdom on him in order to use A Burning Brand. Hopefully with defense taken care of, you can mount enough attack power with the rest of your characters to finish off the Nazgul.

2) Gimli Dwarven AxeKhazad! Khazad!: There’s nothing like raw attack to simply smash the Nazgul to pieces in the first or second round after it engages. The shorter its stay on the table, the less likely it will be to lay waste to your characters. I gave one possible combination of effects here, which can provide the punch you need. If Gimli has 4 damage on him, has the attack bonus of 2 from the Axe, as well as the bonus of 3 from Khazad! Khazad!, he will have a total damage potential of 11, meaning that an extra point of attack from an ally or another weapon should allow you to kill the Nazgul in one hit. There are of course other possibilities. An Erebor Battlemaster combined with a Dwarf-heavy deck can certainly have a similar effect. Boromir combined with Support of the Eagles and a charged-up Eagles of the Misty Mountains can also do some damage. However, I find this particular combination to be rather efficient and elegant in its simplicity.

3) O Elbereth! Gilthonial!: This is a rather tricksy way of dealing with the Nazgul. There are some players who delight in such things, while others spit in distate at this kind of approach. Whatever your inclination, I would feel remiss in not mentioning this possibility. O Elbereth! Gilthonial! is a Spirit event that, for a cost of 4 (o if you’re at secrecy), places an enemy on the bottom of the encounter deck after it attacks. Thus, after the Nazgul mounts an attack, you could play this card to stick it back in the encounter deck. This would satisfy the victory condition of the Nazgul not being in play, granting you the victory, once you’ve made enough progress, without having to actually defeat it in combat.

* Note that it was originally possible to use a Forest Snare to neuter the Nazgul. However, this was thankfully rectified by a FAQ entry, meaning that this is no longer an option.

Cavern Guardian (2 threat, 2 attack, 1 defense, 2 hit points): There’s not too much to say about the Cavern Guardian, as other than the “Doomed 1”, there is nothing particularly special about this enemy. It only takes 3 damage to destroy the Cavern Guardian, with its 1 defense and 2 hit points, meaning that any cavern guardianhero (or ally for that matter) with an attack of 3 can take it out with a single swipe. On the other side of the equation, its 2 attack can be handled without too much trouble (as much as that can ever be said about combat when shadow cards exist). What all this means is that the Cavern Guardian is an enemy that you won’t be too worried about encountering, in fact it might even be a welcome sight compared to other possibilities. Extra threat in the form of doomed is never a good thing, but since it avoids the dreaded “doomed” and “surge” combo, the Cavern Guardian is overall not a troubling package. The one situation where this enemy may prove a nuisance is when you are already engaged with a bunch of other foes, and its low engagement cost of 8 brings it down immediately when you are not adequately prepared. On a thematic note, this is the only “undead” enemy we have encountered so far, and I do like it for that reason (I’m still holding out hope for an official romp through the Barrow-downs one day).


Endless Caverns (1 threat, 3 progress): As a pure location, I’ll take Endless Caverns all day (and with the “endless” in its name, the required progress of 3 is a bit underwhelming, I must say). However, the presence of that loathsome “doomed” and “surge” combination that we mercifully avoided with the Cavern Guardian shows up in full force here. So altogether you are taking on an additional point of threat to your total, another point of threat in the staging area, and another encounter card. Thankfully, as previously mentioned, once the Endless Caverns are in play and those other effects have been dealt with, it is pretty benign as a simple location. With only 1 threat, many times I will simply leave these Caverns in the staging area, taking on other locations that contribute more meaningfully to the total threat. The fact that it has a lopsided threat-to-progress required ratio means that this is even more tempting, as it actually proves more of a buffer to quest progress when it is the active location. If I can eventually get rid of it through Asfaloth, Northern Tracker, etc., then that is a bonus, but otherwise I’m not too bothered.

* Tower Gate (2 threat, 1 progress): The Tower Gate is a unique location in the sense that it actually tower gategenerates enemies (if you travel to it, that is). Granted, these enemies are weak 1 attack, 1 defense, 1 hit point minions represented by the top card of your player deck, but this still is a cool mechanic. With only 1 progress needed to clear this location, however, the travel effect may never come into play. Progress-placing effects like Asfaloth, The Riddermark’s Finest, and Northern Tracker can easily take care of the Tower Gate without breaking a sweat. Heck, even the lowly Snowbourn Scout can hande it all by its lonesome. Therefore, with only a threat of 2, it often makes a lot of strategic sense to simply leave the Tower Gate in the staging area and explore it through one of these effects when possible. On the other hand, if Legolas is in play, it may actually be of benefit to travel to the Tower Gate just so you can use the weak Orc Guards as fodder for his ability, enabling you to rack up some bonus progress tokens (this is particularly true with multiple players, as he will have more targets over the space of several turns, or even one turn with a readying effect).


Under the Shadow: Some compelling art and an intriguing name can’t mask the weak effect of this particular treachery. This card adds X threat to the staging area for the duration of the phase (with X equalling the number of players), meaning that you are looking at an extra 1-4 threat. While extra threat is  not beneficial by any means, the fact that here it comes in a temporary form with no other nasty strings attached is a plus in my book. By contrast, it would be much worse to draw an enemy that not only contributes threat in the staging area, but also stays in play until destroyed and can engage in combat as well (not to mention any harmful “forced” or “when revealed” effects). This treachery is even preferable to a location, as the same logic applies regarding permanence and additional effects. Overall, revealing Under the Shadow during staging should put a smile on any player’s face.

Iron Shackles: I find this treachery to be quite thematic and it has an interesting mechanic, as it sits on top of a player deck and is discarded instead of drawing a card the next time that player has an opportunity to do so. In essence then, Iron Shackles deprives the first player of a card (possibly more than one card, if the next draw is triggered by some other effect that draws multiple cards). How damaging this turns out to be really depends on the current balance of force between the player(s) and the encounter deck, how many cards the affected player has in his or her hand, and how desperate he or she is to draw additional cards. I have found that in most cases Iron Shackles is annoying, but not debilitating. The worst case would be if it was revealed when you are in desperate need of a Gandalf or ally to push you towards victory (or at least away from defeat). However, overall this is another treachery that rates as a “lesser evil”. One simple way to counter-act its effects, if you are really concerned about Iron Shackles, is to include multiple forms of card draw in your deck.


I will treat the objectives a bit differently from the other encounter cards, as is only fair considering their unique mechanics and role in the scenario. What is most important about these particular objectives is that each one of them has a different harmful effect once they are attached to a hero (in addition to the threat gain of 2 required to attach it in the first place). You need to have one attached to pass the first shadow keystage, and all three attached to pass the second stage. Due to the harmful effects I mentioned, I generally wait until I have all the progress I need to clear the first stage before attaching the first objective, and then full progress on the second stage before I attach the others. This allows me to minimize damage on my heroes and additional threat gain. The negative effects of the three objectives are as follows:

Gandalf’s Map – Prevents attached hero from attacking or defending.

* Dungeon Torch – The player who holds this objective has to raise their threat by an additional 2 at the end of each round.

* Shadow Key – The Shadow Key deals 1 damage to the attached hero at the end of each round.

In general, the time-tested strategy is to attach Gandalf’s Map to pass the first stage, since it can easily be placed on a questing hero who never engages in combat anyway. Then the Dungeon Torch and Shadow Key can be attached to pass the second stage. Obviously, if a choice is possible, the Dungeon Torch should be assigned to the player with the lowest threat and/or the most threat-reduction effects in their deck. The Shadow Key should be attached to the hero with the most remaining hit points.

Shadow Analysis: In this set, only the Cavern Guardian and the two treacheries have a shadow effect. Out of these, only one can be said to be truly bothersome while the others are on the lower end of the harm scale when it comes to shadows. 

The shadow effect on the one copy of Iron Shackles is rather straightforward: you simply resolve its “when revealed” effect. Consulting the entry on Iron Shackles above, you can see that I don’t think much of its power as a treachery, so this mean it’s shadow effect, which is identical, is not that worrisome as well. The Under the Shadow shadow effect forces the defending player to raise their threat by the number of enemies engaged with them. Since this is immediate threat gain rather than threat added to the staging area, Under the Shadow is actually worse as a shadow effect then as a treachery. If you happen to be swamped with enemies and flirting with danger when it comes to your threat, this shadow effect could push you out of the game. Other times, it may have a less dramatic effect. Keeping this in mind, it is good practice to bring threat reduction effects when facing the Escape from Dol Guldur set. Not only will these counter-act the effects of this particular shadow effect, but also the threat gain causes by the objectives and the “doomed” keywords that are present.

Finally, the Cavern Guardian has probably the worst shadow effect of the bunch. It forces the defending player to choose and discard an attachment of their choice. However, this has to be one they control, so discarding a “condition” attachment is not an option. The one fortunate aspect of this effect is that you get to choose the attachment, so if you have a fairly disposable one in play then it can serve as shadow fodder. However, if you are caught with your pants down and only that single, essential Steward of Gondor or Light of Valinor in play, then things could get a bit more ugly. I outlined several possible strategies for dealing with such effects in the Passage Through Mirkwood article, but I’ll summarize them here: include attachment-recursion effects, include shadow-cancellation, and make sure to keep at least one disposable attachment in play at all times. One alternative option that is present in this scenario is that you can discard one of the objectives, if you have it attached, and it will simply go back to the staging area. Particularly during the third stage, when you no longer need to hold onto objectives, this shadow effect can easily be resolved by getting rid of an objective. As a final word of warning, I must emphasize that if this comes up during an undefended attack, you must discard all attachments. For this reason, if both copies of the Cavern Guardian have yet to come into play or been discarded, and you have no shadow-cancellation, I would strongly advise against taking undefended attacks at all costs. If you have no worthwhile attachments in play, then of course this advice is moot.

Final Verdict: While perhaps not the most challenging encounter set that we’ve reviewed so far, Escape from Dol Guldur does have some interesting elements. The three objective cards add an extra layer of strategy, while a few of the effects, like those found on Iron Shackles, Tower Gate, and Dungeon Jailor are fairly unique in the encounter card pool. Of course, the greatest threat in this set is the Nazgul of Dol Guldur.  It’s tempting to say that everything else is essentially a side note. As far as strategy is concerned, facing the Escape from Dol Guldur set means that you should bring threat reduction effects in spades, possibly some card draw, and a solid strategy for dealing with the Nazgul (having a plan B couldn’t hurt either). Also, bringing at least one, preferably more, characters with at least 3 attack is helpful in dealing with the enemies in this set.


Well that’s it for now. Next time, we will move on from the Core Set and take a look at the Hunt for Gollum encounter card set!

  1. I enjoy these encounter set reviews, but the fact that they don’t include the quest and other encounter sets, we don’t really get the full picture of how nasty everything will be when we quest. Of course, that’s not the point of these reviews, since the encounter sets are for mixing with other encounter sets to create a quest. Anyway, I love the numerical analytics (I’m a math kinda guy). Keep it up.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, you are right about the tension between encounter set view vs. whole quest view. So far I’ve set up the Encounter Card Set Review page so people can link to all the set reviews for a particular quest. It’s a bit unwieldy, but the best way I’ve thought of for handling it so far. I’m glad you’re enjoying them so far!

  2. Another Random Mike permalink

    I’m late to discover the LOTR: TCG, but I’ve enjoyed reading through a lot of your articles on my lunch break to decompress. The buying guide was the gateway article someone on the FFG forum recommended me to your site with. I’m trying not to read too much to avoid too many spoilers, so I like browsing the older articles.

    Thanks for writing these.

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