Second Two Days of Gen Con: Black Riders Spoilers
Gen Con has effectively come to a close, and so it’s time to provide a quick recap of Day Three and Day Four (actually exclusively Day Three). Most notable from Day Three was that I had the opportunity to play through quest 2 and 3 of the new Black Riders expansion, and so I will take the time to provide my initial thoughts/impressions on these scenarios. If you are the kind of player who prefers not to have knowledge of scenarios before they play them, then you should probably not read the rest of this article, as heavy spoilers are contained ahead!
– A Knife in the Dark (Scenario 2 of the Black Riders): During the Cardboard of the Rings listener event, I played A Knife in the Dark along with Matthew D. from the COTR Progression Series, Beorn from the Hall of Beorn blog, and COTR listener Tim. The quest begins in Bree, with the Prancing Pony sitting in the staging area. This location is extremely tricky, as although you must clear it to move to the next stage, you must choose your timing carefully, as when the Prancing Pony is explored, it brings X enemies into play engaged with the first player (with X being the number of players in the game). Thus, in a 4-player game, you are looking at 4 enemies gang piling on one player! This ultimately forces you to bide your time until the first player token rests with someone who can handle these enemies, and when players in general have built up enough tools to handle this flood. On the other hand, if you wait too long, things can generally get worse.
One of the primary ways this can happen is that a central mechanic of this quest is that four Ringwraiths start the game out of play. Various card effects, including the starting enemy, Bill Ferny, as well as several treacheries, can shuffle them into the encounter deck one by one. This comes into play during the third stage, when all Nazgul in the encounter deck and discard pile are brought into play. Yes, you did read that right. ALL Nazgul are brought into play, and you can only win the quest when no Nazgul remain in play. Therefore, if you have managed to avoid having Ringwraiths brought into play, then you will be in a much better situation. To this end, we sniped Bill Ferny in the first round with a Sneak Attack/Gandalf and Ithilien Archer/Ranger Bow!
Our game ended up being an epic two-and-a-half hour game, as we struggled to clear the table of Nazgul, which is the ultimate victory condition for the scenario. Ultimately, we were victorious (for the curious, I played a Hobbit deck, Beorn and Tim were running ranger/trap decks, while Matthew ran a questing powerhouse deck featuring Eowyn, Aragorn, and Glorfindel). Caleb Grace, lead developer for the game, sat down to watch us play for a good chunk of time, and it was great to have the chance to ask him rules clarifications on the spot, hear the thought process behind some of the mechanics, and just generally have the chance to talk about the game. We also had the opportunity to meet Matt Newman, one of the other designers of the game, and talk with him a bit as well. Cheers to both of those guys for being involved with the community at the listener event and throughout Gen Con.
I have to say that it’s extremely difficult to judge scenarios after only one or two play experiences. Usually, it takes several games before you can truly get a sense of how much you enjoy a particular quest, as well as what works and what doesn’t function so well. That being said, as these Gen Con updates are all about first impressions, I will say that I really like the Black Riders box, including this scenario, and can imagine playing these quests quite often. A Knife in the Dark forces you to make many tough decisions, as you often have to choose between a nasty effect and shuffling a Ringwraith into the encounter deck (these kinds of decisions are what really make a good quest, in my opinion). You also must plan the right moment for exploring the Prancing Pony, as well as the Midgewater. I love how these scenarios make travel decisions extremely meaningful, rather than the pick-and-go that they have often been in the past. I will say that the quest bogged down quite a bit in 4-player, hence the two-and-a-half hours, as clearing the board of Nazgul is the victory condition, and they can keep jumping back into play, even after you kill them, through various effects. Still, overall, this is a solid quest, possibly my favorite from this expansion.
– Flight to the Ford (Scenario 3 of the Black Riders): This time, Matthew D., Beorn, and myself tackled the third and final scenario of the expansion. Flight to the Ford is the polar opposite of the second scenario, as it is a fast and furious sprint to the finish. Using a threat tracker to keep track of Frodo’s life after being stabbed by the Nazgul (starting at 15), you have to beat the quest before it hits 0. Various encounter card effects sap his life, in addition to it steadily depleting with the passing of each round. Unlike the previous quest, rather than start off slow and steadily ramping up the difficulty, this one throws one Nazgul per player onto the board right from the beginning. From there, you have to quest like crazy against the clock. Defeating all Nazgul is not necessary, but if any are on the board during stage 3, this adds 15 quests points to the quest card (for a total of 30, so obviously getting rid of them helps a ton, especially when Frodo’s life is slipping away). One of my favorite parts of the scenario has to be the Ford of Bruinen location. When you explore it, it discards ALL engaged enemies from play. How much more thematic can you get than the Ford washing away all enemies who have gotten too close to you! Ultimately, we were able to defeat the quest with Frodo having 4 life left. This was another entertaining quest, though decidedly shorter than the second one.
Despite having beaten all three of the Black Riders quests already, I don’t want to give the false impression that they are easy. They are all challenging in their own unique ways, and will punish you mercilessly for running the wrong decks or choosing the wrong strategy. These are also quests that require you to read through all the stages before you actually play. I look forward to giving this box a good work out over the coming months and beyond, as there’s enough there to prevent you from getting tired of them.
Gen Con as a whole has been a fantastic experience, primarily for getting the chance to meet with other members of the community in person, sharing games, jokes, and endless rants about the game. Of course, picking up the Black Riders and Blood of Gondor early has been nice as well! For those who are considering going next year, I would recommend it, and it certainly appears to me that this game is only getting better over time, so who knows what we will have to look forward to by that time.
Time for me to close, readers. Feel free to pepper me with questions, clarifications, and thoughts below. I am operating on little sleep, as seems to be usual Gen Con experience, so hopefully I haven’t forgotten too much. Upon my return home, usual TftC programming will resume!
Notable Encounter Card Gallery