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LOTR Rants: Difficulty Rating

by on September 16, 2013


For those of you who don’t know me personally, which is everyone reading this, I need to get something off my chest. Actually, as a personality trait, I constantly need to get a lot of things off my chest. I am like one of those angry stand up comedians; I like to complain and I complain the most about the things that I like the best. It can sometimes make it hard to get along with me, but it can also lead to funny insights, when I am willing to say what other people are thinking but too polite to speak out loud. So, I am going to try my hand at a series of articles where we drop the polite facade and describe some of the annoying things about this awesome game.

Understand, complaining is not a bad thing (as it is often portrayed). Complaining is a sign of passion. Grumbling is bad when it leads to nothing but strife. A personality perpetually focused on complaining, therefore, is bad because if there nothing that is ever good enough for you, then you end up miserable and you make everyone else miserable as well. Complaining constructively is different. If you complain about your favorite sports team, it’s because you want them to win. If you complain about the balancing between factions on a MMO, it is because you are passionately engaged with the drama of conflict between clashing styles and that’s what makes the game fun. Complaining, a solutions oriented mindset, is good because it motivates your imagination to produce tangible improvements that make you happier. Do you know what I think about all those things I don’t complain about? Nothing–because I don’t care about those things.

With that being said, its time to begin my first LOTR rant! Does anybody know how the difficulty ratings were assigned for the quests in LOTR LCG? My guess is a dartboard. Maybe it was a drunken game of “pin the quest on the difficulty donkey”. It certainly wasn’t by playing the quests; that much is clear. There is so much to hate about the difficulty ratings that I just shake my head. Well, this article is going to try and correct this gross injustice and set things right in the world of Middle-earth.

john_howe_middle-earth_gandalf the grey

First off, what is up with the fact that the numbers 2 and 3 vanished from existence? There is one quest–the introductory “Passage Through Mirkwood” quest–that is given a rating of “1”, and then all other quests must be at least 4 (except, inexplicably, for The Seventh Level). I don’t understand this. By the way, I did some research in preparation for this article (as well as testing the quests to get par levels for competitive play) and there is no question that Passage Through Mirkwood is NOT the easiest quest. It’s easy, sure, but you can actually lose against it. Some other quests–most notably “The Hills of Emyn Muil”–are so easy you can sleep walk through them. Yet they are given a higher difficulty? By three points? I am baffled.

Secondly, what exactly does “6” mean? Is it 6 out of 9? Is it 6 out of 10? Can we go Spinal Tap and make it 6 out of 11? Maybe the card pool will just get bigger and bigger and the quests harder and harder, so that eventually it is 6 out of 1,252? This is not just some random question. I want to know, for instance, how the new Nightmare scenarios compare to the standard quests. I want some sense of what I have actually accomplished. Yet, because the difficulty ratings are so mysterious and open-ended I have no idea what to expect. Will later quests against Sauron reach 10 or 12? I have no clue.

Yet, let me ask the question again from a different angle. What exactly does “6” mean? Some quests, like “Conflict at the Carrock” or “The Watcher in the Water” are nearly impossible until you figure out the “trick” and then they are pretty easy. These quests can be considered difficult because they require specialized deck building instead of just a standard all-around deck. Does that make them more difficult, or just more rare? Other quests, like “A Journey to Rhosgobel” or “Peril in Pelagrir” can defeat you even when you specifically build a fine-tuned deck in order to beat it. This is because those quests, no matter their difficulty, have randomly brutal cards thrown in. I have found that quests that are more predictable are difficult because of scenario specific challenges, while more random quests are difficult because of the generic cards that fill the encounter deck space. The scenario “Road to Rivendell”, for instance, is one of the easier quests–all things considered–but a random Sleeping Sentry will totally destroy you out of nowhere. Does Sleeping Sentry make the quest more difficult, or just more random? It’s hard to say because I don’t even know what difficulty ratings mean exactly. Is a quest harder if it takes longer to beat, or if you end up with a lower win percentage? So, if I beat a quest consistently on turn 3, but I only win 40% of the time, is that quest easy or hard?

Lastly, difficulty ratings are notoriously unreliable when considering multiplayer vs. solo play. The special Gen Con scenario “Massing at Osgiliath” is a relatively difficult quest when you are playing solo. Then, it completely changes when you add more players. Additional players make certain effects more dangerous. It makes it harder to clear away locations, so that you get buried. It makes it more likely that a player will be overwhelmed by a lot of enemies all at once. Multiple players make it far more difficult to pursue a slow control strategy with a lot of threat reduction, because you have to reduce everyone’s threat. On the flip side, a quest like “Return to Mirkwood” is actually easier with multiple players. It’s easier because the objective card, Gollum, punishes the player who guards him. In solo play this can be extremely brutal, but when players can share the load, it isn’t so bad. The bottom line is that, again, difficulty ratings don’t tell the full story.

Enough general theory! It is time to get specific. I am going to run through each quest in order and complain about the official rating. I will then give my own rating. These ratings will be based on a sliding scale that takes into account various factors:

-First, I will give a basic level between 0-4. This is simply a rating of the general difficulty of all the cards and quest effects in a vacuum. If enemies have a higher than average attack power and health level, then the quest will get a higher number. Also, quests that take longer to defeat, on average, will be higher.

-Second, I can add up to 3 points for specialized challenges, which are quests that require you to build a specific deck to beat it. A generally good all-around deck focuses on card draw, resource acceleration, high willpower, threat level control, and a decent amount of combat and/or treachery mitigation. Any deck that focuses a lot on things like healing or location control, or any deck that ramps up the emphasis on combat or another important area, I consider a specialized deck. The mark of a specialized deck is that when you try it out on quests other than the one it was designed for, it fails badly. If a quest lacks specialization, then there is a higher chance that you can beat it on a first play through with your basic deck.

-Third, I can add up to 3 points for randomness. This means that if a quest has several game-ending effects that can randomly destroy even the best decks, then I will add points. Every quest can potentially have these effects, but sometimes they won’t come up, as when the most powerful effect is a shadow, for instance. If these effects are rare enough, I won’t add points.

-Fourth, I will rate the quest separately with a multiplayer level of 0-2. A “0” means it is easier with more players. A “1” means it is essentially the same with more players. A “2” means that it gets significantly harder with more players. Now, I will note that the game itself simply gets harder with more players. So, potentially I could just give all scenarios a 2, but I want to save a 2 for those quests that increase in difficulty at a higher rate.

I will then add all the points together and give a final score. That means that a quest can have a final difficulty rating between 0-12. All my ratings are comparative, so they might change as more quests hit the scene. I am also totally ignoring Nightmare quests for now–saving them for a later time. I also do not currently own the two latest Gen Con released quests, so they will not be included.

Here we go:

1. Passage through Mirkwood– Official rating 1

I have no clue why this quest has a rating of 1, when every other quest only goes as low as 4 (again, except for The Seventh Level). It makes it seem like any old drooling newb with a three color song deck can breeze through this thing without a problem. That’s not actually true. This quest has several random tricks that can make you lose. For instance, you might exhaust most of your characters to quest, then have Ungoliant’s Spawn hit the table. That’s okay–you think–because you have a chump blocker ready and you defend. The problem is you get the Hummerhorns shadow effect, which kills your chump blocker, sending the Spawn through undefended. Bye, bye hero. Then, when you do lose, you feel like a complete dork–so ashamed. Nice going FFG! I am not saying that there are not answers to this scenario (like Frodo), I am just saying that making this the only quest with a rating of 1 seems odd. I think people just ignore it because it is supposed to be an “introductory” quest.

My rating: 1 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 2 out of 12

2. Journey Down the Anduin– Official rating 4

Official rating 4? Are you insane? Even after playing this thing like 200 times with many different decks and a larger card pool, I still lose to that nasty troll on the hill. That is why I was so excited that I could play it in Nightmare mode (sarcasm), because I needed an even harder version of this thing. Why is this quest so hard? First, as I already said, that Hill Troll is hard, especially right out of the gate. Are we agreed on that? Second, an additional copy of the Hill Troll on the first or second turn is even worse. Yeah, it is unlikely, but it happens. Beyond that, you have dozens of random bombs or infuriating combos (East Blight followed by Brown Lands anyone?) that destroy you so fast you are left checking the book several times just to make sure you didn’t read the difficulty rating incorrectly. In other words, you are so focused on the Hill Troll that everything else ends up killing you! I personally developed some deep special hatred for the Dol Guldur Orcs. They always seemed to kill my best questing ally at just the wrong time. Then, the quest wasn’t exactly a cake walk after the Hill Troll was dead; most of the time I died due to threat level because I couldn’t quest with enough willpower. The quest is really a combat quest with a brutal middle section that demands a lot of cards with high quest stats. You want to go mono tactics, but unless you have this deck, you are probably not going to win. Now this quest supposedly has a silver bullet in Forest Snare (which is why it got the 4 rating, I think) but even that could be unreliable. It cost three green. Maybe you wouldn’t see it in time, etc. If you ever thought you were playing wrong because the quest was so hard, give yourself a break. This quest is nasty.

My rating: 3 basic, 1 specialized (forest snare/direct damage), 3 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 8 out of 12

3. Escape from Dol Guldur– Official rating 7

The fact that this quest is rated as harder than Journey Down the Anduin is almost a total head-scratcher. In my opinion and in my experience, this quest is much easier. This could mean several things. Perhaps this quest was supposed to be harder, because it has a Nazgul in it, so the rating was more of an artist touch. Perhaps the FFG guys undervalue combat threats and overvalue travel and location threats. Perhaps they focus more on the quest specific cards and less on the cards that just fill space. I’m not sure. This quest is significantly easier if you play a mono-color deck with some kind of resource acceleration. If you do, then the fact that one hero is a prisoner is not even that big of a deal. Now, you could end up getting screwed right at the beginning because each of the objectives is guarded, but a lot of times its not that bad. Once you get established, the quest is predictable and not that dangerous. After you rescue your imprisoned hero, the quest starts feeling like a breeze. The mighty and terrifying Nazgul kills one or two chumps and then dies in one hit. The final stage, where you have to fight your own face down cards, has always been nothing more than a formality as you sprint quest past and ignore combat. The quest becomes easier with more players as the imprisoned hero becomes less and less important.

My rating: 2 basic, 2 specialized (mono-color/ resource acceleration), 2 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

4. Hunt for Gollum– Official rating 4

So, officially this quest is about as hard as Journey Down the Anduin? Perhaps there is some other dimension visited by Doctor Who in which that is the case, but in this world it’s a complete joke. The Hunt for Gollum is basically the easiest quest in the game, with one or two very random ways that it can become suddenly very hard. On the whole, I would say that it is easier than Passage through Mirkwood, but also slightly more random. It ends up with a higher total rating, but only because it is significantly more difficult with more players.

My rating: 0 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 3 out of 12

5. Conflict at the Carrock– Official rating 7

For the first time, I actually pretty much agree with the rating. This is a hard quest. The problem is that it is also rather predictable, and ends up feeling more like a puzzle than an equal foe. Once you have mastered this quest, you will beat it literally every single time. This means that the rating of 7 is basically a “first play through” rating. This quest is a lot of fun for new players. You tease them with Passage Through Mirkwood and then show them the “7” rating. They play along saying, “I think we got this. Actually, it seems pretty easy.” Then, bam, the trolls all hit at once and you watch as shock comes over your victim. Yeah, it’s not so easy, is it? In my opinion that is when the quest is at its best. After you master it, it goes stale pretty fast.

My rating: 4 basic, 2 specialized (threat reduction/combat/leadership resources), 0 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 7 out of 12

6. A Journey to Rhosgobel– Official rating 6

I hate this quest–in a good way. Just like Conflict at the Carrock, this quest is impossible to defeat on a first play through. Unlike Conflict, it remains challenging even after you figure out how to beat it. The real challenge of this quest is that it defines my idea of “specialized”. There are so many weird and rare things that you have to do. First, you have to either have a blazing fast and lucky deck, or you need some healing. Basically I never include healing in my decks, but suddenly I find myself putting every healing spell I can find into a single deck. Second, you absolutely must scry. Exhaustion alone demands it. Third, there are all these enemies that you can only attack with Eagles or ranged characters. Okay, that’s annoying. Finally, your threat level essentially means nothing. The game is on a different kind of clock, so all those cards that lower threat are now dead. This one quest makes the “one deck to rule them all” a whole lot more challenging. Basically, when I build such a deck I say, “This deck shall rule them all–except Rhosgobel!”

My rating: 2 basic, 3 specialized (healing/ranged damage/scrying), 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 7 out of 12

7. The Hills of Emyn Muil– Official rating 4

Again, how can this quest and Journey Down the Anduin have the same rating? It’s bonkers. Other than that, however, I must admit that 4 is right around where this quest should be. Like The Hunt for Gollum, this quest is very easy with random, potentially game-ending effects like Rockslide. That effect is especially nasty if it happens to combine with Rauros Falls. Other than that, however, this quest is unremarkable and tedious–you can’t usually beat it quickly. The only other thing I will say is that with multiple players you will absolutely require Northern Tracker. That makes it a little specialized.

My rating: 0 basic, 1 specialized (location management), 1 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 4 out of 12

8. The Dead Marshes– Official rating 5

This is trying to be innovative and fun, but it ends up suffering a lower difficulty rating because it is so very standard. The innovation it introduces is an “escape check”, which is essentially a mini quest phase. If you build your deck to be good at questing, then you will both be good at questing and good at escape checks. As a result, this quest also ends up being very predictable. The “bombs” in this quest lack knock-out power. Even the dreaded Hill Troll has lost it’s terror, because when he comes out you are almost always set up and ready to deal with him quickly.

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 0 random, 1 multiplayer

Total 3 out of 12

9. Return to Mirkwood– Official rating 7

Now this is a tough quest. You look at Gollum and read “At the end of each round, raise the threat of the player guarding Gollum by 3.” You think that maybe that means 3 instead of the normal 1, but it’s not. If you are guarding Gollum, you raise your threat by a total of 4 each round. That is quite a bit. By the way, you can just straight up lose if you don’t quest well enough on the second or third stage. On top of that madness, you have Gollum’s Anguish. That’s fine, you think, because you will just build your deck around threat reduction. You will play aggro style and ignore all the enemies, just trying to win without combat. Well, you’re wrong, because on the fourth stage you have to kill all the enemies in play. That means that if this terrifying spider hits the table, you have to kill him. We have the opposite of Journey Down the Anduin, because this is a questing deck that forces you to have some combat power.

My rating: 4 basic, 1 specialized (threat reduction), 3 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 8 out of 12

10. Massing at Osgiliath– Official rating NA

FFG has said unofficially several times that the difficulty of this quest is an 8 or 9, but we have no official rating. Regardless, this is a tough and fun quest, especially when you go multiplayer. It has a challenging start with some mean enemies. Then it is tough because of the travel restrictions on locations. Then it is tough because of that Witch King guy. The Witch King is mainly dangerous because he can cause such a sudden increase in threat level. It prohibits people from going with high power, high cost heroes. One card that particularly annoys is Cut Off, which doesn’t look all that bad, but in actual game situations it always seems to deal a heavy blow. The shadow effects on this quest can be rather harsh, all leading to a higher random rating.

My rating: 4 basic, 1 specialized (shadow effect control/location management/combat), 3 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 10 out of 12

11. Into the Pit– Official rating 5

I think that 5 is a solid difficulty rating, lulling us into a false sense of security, as it appears that as this game has gone on, these guys have gotten a lot better at assigning difficulty ratings. I don’t have too much to complain about since Conflict at Carrock, so maybe I have overreacted. In any event, this quest has a nice mix of tough locations and creepy orc enemies (with a random Troll or two tossed in). The main reason this quest is easier instead of harder is that it is pretty standard.

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 4 out of 12

12. The Seventh Level– Official rating 3

Official rating 3? Whoa! I didn’t know that quests could be that easy. This must be a chump quest, easier than The Hunt for Gollum or Emyn Muil. Oh, wait; it’s not. Those other easy quests are more location heavy, making them standard (willpower and quest-focused) and non-violent. The Seventh Level is a brutal combat-focused orc slugfest. The surge on the annoying Horn Blower combos with the shadow effects on Goblin Spearman and Goblin Swordsman to ensure that no matter how fast you sprint for the finish line you will eventually be overwhelmed with pesky enemy threats. Why on Middle-earth would they reserve a 3 rating for this quest? It makes no sense. Maybe if this game was a combat game then this would be reasonable, but this is a questing game. and combat intensive quests are rarer and just harder, by nature, than traveling quests because they kill you! I would go so far as to say that this quest is harder than Into the Pit. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that this quest is super challenging. I am saying, instead, that this quest is more challenging because you have to build a combat-focused deck, which is more specialized, and because this quest can just catch you off guard. Even if you manage to handle the endless flow of orcs into the staging area, one or two Cave-trolls at the wrong time and you are sunk.

My rating: 2 basic, 1 specialized (combat), 2 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

13. Flight from Moria– Official rating 7

Apparently 7 is their favorite number to rate with. Also, the 7 rating on this quest makes me think that the rating is more of a poetic touch then an actual assessment of difficulty. In other words, when you set this quest up for the first time and prepare your deck, you are more likely to get pumped up and excited because the quest is a 7. It is supposed to be a 7 because of the terrifying Balrog. The rating works better for the story, better for the atmosphere. The reality, however, is that this quest is fun and unique, with some interesting effects, but it is not really that hard. It is annoying that you have to find Abandoned Tools and Search for an Exit but that’s about the hardest thing about the quest. You might lose a hero to a Foe Beyond but if you have a Test of Will then you just get a free turn. You may need a greater focus on threat reduction, but that is easier than combat. Now again, don’t exaggerate what I am saying. I am not saying this thing is a cake walk like The Dead Marshes, but it is not a 7.

My rating: 1 basic, 1 specialized (threat reduction/treachery control), 1 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 5 out of 12

14. The Redhorn Gate– Official rating 6

This scenario is challenging in the same way A Journey to Rhosgobel is challenging. The quest requires very specific elements in your deck or you will just flat out lose. You have to make sure that you have heroes (and probably allies) with 2 or more willpower or your heroes will die when you hit the Mountain’s Peak because Caradhras must be made the active location at the end of the second stage. The Freezing Cold can also kill your heroes. Bottom line, this is another specialized quest.

My rating: 2 basic, 3 specialized (willpower/treachery control), 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 7 out of 12

15. Road to Rivendell– Official rating 4

Personally speaking, this happens to be one of my favorite quests. It is an easy combat-focused quest with several truly nasty effects including, most famously, Sleeping Sentry.  You can play the quest in one of two ways. First, you can just sprint to the finish, do what you can to ignore the enemies, and cross your fingers that crazy effects will not even come up. Second, you can play slowly with a lot of threat reduction and scrying and just avoid and control all those crazy threats. Both ways are fun. The aggro style, in my experience, has more success. One of the strangest cards to consider, in terms of difficulty rating, is Wild Bear. This card looks like a total chump, and in-game he usually is. However, if the grizzly ever actually engages you, he can be quite a bear (yuk yuk). The big body, extra attack, and the harsh shadow effects (like on Ruined Road) in the quest make the bear strangely infuriating. I resolve the issue by giving a lower rating on the basic level, but increase the random rating.

My rating: 1 basic, 0 specialized, 3 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 5 out of 12

16. The Watcher in the Water– Official rating 5

This is a great quest that also happens to be another specialized one. The thing you need here is scrying. On a basic level, this quest has some extremely challenging elements, but once you get your scrying online, those mean-looking opponents fold like a napkin. The most devastating random effect is on Thrashing Tentacle. You can either hold your nose and attack, or you can scry and know for certain if your attack will be redirected back on you. The Doors of Durin also becomes extremely easy with a scrying effect. Unfortunately, this reliance on scrying makes this quest more predictable, and once you learn how to beat it, you should generally be able to win every time. The only wrinkle on that is the fact that scrying is more difficult with more players, making this one of those quests that gets significantly harder in multiplayer.

My rating: 3 basic, 2 specialized (scrying), 0 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 7 out of 12

17. The Long Dark– Official rating 7

Here we have another official 7. I have absolutely no Middle-earthly idea why this quest is rated so highly. It is just not that hard. I mean it actually is a cake walk. First of all, it is completely standard. I would predict that most experienced players would beat it on the first try. Second, the “lost” effect is almost a complete dud. Basically, there are so few lost effects that you can basically ignore the effect. Even if you do face a non-dreaded lost effect, the “punishment” you suffer is generally about as harsh as a wet noodle thrashing. I just play a totally standard game and generally smash face. The only difficult card is Foul Air, but many times you will not see it or you can cancel it, or pass it by pure luck. All things considered, this quest has a lot more bark than bite, and even the bark is kind of pathetic. 7? Huh?

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 0 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 3 out of 12

18. Foundations of Stone– Official rating 6

Am I the only one who thinks that The Long Dark and Foundations of Stone are basically the same quest? It is very easy to get the two confused with each other. Both have vaguely moutainish generic names. Both have a sort of “lost in the dark” theme. Both are rated far more difficult than they actually are. Both have “scary” effects that just don’t deliver on the pain. When I play this quest I usually defeat it around turn 5 or 6. One of the funniest things about this is that there are all these Nameless Things (the terror!!), but you can’t even encounter them until the last stage, which you often just sprint past. I mean, maybe those Nameless Things could be difficult to deal with, I guess, but I wouldn’t know because I never have to deal with them. Again, I think the key reason these quests are so easy is the fact that they are so standard. Without any knowledge of the quest whatsoever, you can just build a strong questing deck and smash this thing. I don’t get it.

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 0 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 3 out of 12

19. Sword and Flame– Official rating 8

A difficulty rating of 8! Whoa! We are back and fighting the Balrog once again! When I got this quest I was so excited, because I could not wait for the intense challenge that would be this epic battle. I set up the encounter deck and read with wide eyes all the rules and challenges. In utter shock I read that each player reduced their threat to 0! JEEEZ, the quest is SO HARD you have to lower your threat to 0 JUST TO MAKE IT FAIR! Awesome! Then… I beat the quest… on my first try… and it wasn’t even that hard. What? Did I read it wrong? Did I play wrong? Nope, it is just that easy. All you really need is Frodo, or chump blockers, or Feint effects, or threat reduction to stay at 0 threat, which is actually pretty easy. There are tons of ways to make this quest easy as pie (switched it up from cake walk). I have actually gone back and replayed this quest several times, convinced that I didn’t remember it correctly. Sometimes I lose, usually right away in the first two turns (which is just randomness), but most of the time I stabilize and win easily. The rating of 8 on this quest is a huge joke.

My rating: 3 basic, 1 specialization (threat reduction/feint effects/chump blockers), 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

20. Battle for Laketown– Official rating NA

This quest is the quest that Shadow and Flame should have been. This quest is brutal. It has the same general structure and theme of the Shadow and Flame quest, but with much better execution of design. Essentially, there is one big baddy that you have to fight. He is so massive and cruel that you must build a deck specialized to target his weaknesses, and he is immune to card effects! There are no minions to distract you from the single target. That doesn’t mean you can just hold back one chump blocker and be fine, because maybe he will attack multiple times. Threat level and threat reduction don’t really matter that much. This is all about enduring and throwing down major damage. In addition to this effect, there is also an encounter deck filled with locations that burn. The encounter deck and the separate dragon deck mean that you have to overcome two dangers and not just one, stretching your resources thin. My favorite way to win is with a dwarf deck and a crazy huge Erebor Battle Master but even that can fall apart. Bottom line, this is a fun and challenging quest.

My rating: 4 basic, 3 specialized, 2 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 10 out of 12

21. We Must Away, Ere Break of Day– Official rating NA

I have a confession to make: the Hobbit Saga quests are my favorite. I like it when story takes center stage. The Hobbit Saga quests seem to be less focused on a “trick” that you have to solve in order to master the quest, and more about creating an epic journey feel. There is a lot of variety in mechanics in the quests, even within the same quest, and the quests seem longer without getting tedious. One of the best things, in my opinion, about the quests is that beating them is not the most important thing. For instance, in this first Hobbit quest, the real challenge is recovering the treasure cards. Beating the quest–in the strictest sense of the word–is not actually all that challenging, but “beating” the real quest is far more difficult. I think this is why FFG did not bother to include any official difficulty ratings. I, however, do not feel the same restriction. I will note, though, that my ratings are based on fully defeating the quest, not just beating it on a minimal level. This particular quest feels a lot like Conflict at the Carrock with a new twist. I will also note that I think all the quests in the Hobbit Saga are intentionally designed to be defeated by one deck, probably of a dwarf variety with the OHaUH Gandalf, so that all of them will rate lower on the “specialized” category–assuming everyone plays the quest with a standard style deck.

My rating: 4 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

22. Over the Misty Mountains Grim– Official rating NA

This is a great aggro style quest that rewards racing for the exit. Many times you can beat it on turn 4 or 5. The entire time you are sprinting, however, you feel like you are on the edge of a knife. After you beat it a few times, you scratch your head in bewilderment, wondering how the quest is so easy with those Stone Giants and all that. I don’t know. It is just that easy, yet still fun.

My rating: 1 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 2 out of 12

23. Riddles in the Dark– Official rating NA

This is a very complex and elaborate quest with a lot of different moving parts and effects. It has some random reveal effects, reminding us of The Watcher in the Water, but this time you shuffle before the reveal so that scrying does not help. You might think that a special deck design is needed to increase your chances of success at the riddles, but I have never found this to be necessary. You just need to know your deck and you need to spend a lot of yellow resources to get extra chances. At the same time you are fighting some orcs, but they are relatively easy orcs and the quest, again, puts story ahead of challenge. This is another easy and fun quest.

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 2 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 4 out of 12

24. Flies and Spiders– Official rating NA

Well, at the risk of being repetitive, this is another story driven quest with less difficulty. There are some interesting and unique challenges with venom and unconscious characters, but mostly the enemies and locations are a breeze.

My rating: 2 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 4 out of 12

25. The Lonely Mountain– Official rating NA

Here we come to another one of my personal favorite quests, if not my favorite quest, period. This quest is high in flavor and story, with difficulty taking a back seat. This time, however, the quest is also kinda hard. As with Ere Break of Day, the real challenge is not defeating the quest, which is technically easy. The real challenge is stealing all of that treasure from the dragon. In my opinion, you haven’t beaten the quest until you have stolen every last treasure card, but that is just me. The thing that makes it so difficult is that each time you steal a treasure you release more of that 12 threat on the mountain. In addition to that, you just might tick off Smaug, who then goes on a rampage, making potentially an infinite number of attacks. Even the most high powered dwarf decks start getting scared. The most annoying card award, however, goes to Dragon Spell; man, that card is aggravating. In the end, it’s all worth it for the treasure (sort of).

My rating: 3 basic, 0 specialized, 2 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

26. The Battle of the Five Armies– Official rating NA

Well, after stealing all that treasure from the Lonely Mountain, you are ready to use it to the fullest benefit! For one entire quest! I jest, but the treasure does make it difficult to rate this quest, which is probably why FFG didn’t bother. You see, if you have all the treasure, this quest is chump sauce drizzled generously over easy pie, but if you don’t have the treasures, it can be a steaming bowl of nasty. Which meal will you have for Second Breakfast? I don’t know; that’s not up to me. Regardless, the challenge of this quest is that it is a normal quest, plus a battle quest, plus a siege quest, so you have to be good at all three. Which characters are best at all three? Oh, dwarf characters, of course… and Gandalf. So there you go. This is definitely one of those “downhill” quests. It is kinda tough at the beginning, but once you get rolling you just crush. The yellow resources and treasure help you get rolling right from the first turn.

My rating: 3 basic, 2 specialized (treasure), 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 7 out of 12

27. Peril in Pelargir– Official rating 5

So here we are at the infamous Heirs of Numenor quests. The first of these quests gets an official rating of 5. Yeah that seems right on the money… NOT! That rating is so off, I went to the 80’s to get my joke. Seriously, did anybody play-test this thing before giving it a 5? This quest is so nasty, so random, so totally unlike every other previous quest, that most players will struggle to beat it in the first five tries. Even after you say, “Forget this crap, I’m going Beorn and eagles all the way!” you STILL lose if you hit a random Collateral Damage with that innocent looking Harbor Storehouse in play. And almost nothing exists that makes you want to throw furniture more than a well timed Lost in the City shadow effect. Yet, it gets worse. After building your pure combat deck and say, “It’s about time red decks get some love!” they torture you with that third stage where you have to quest normally. What gives? Sorry, Radagast and tactics Bofur ain’t enough to make the escape. It’s a cruel world. By the way, using tactics Boromir or spirit Glorfindel to pull the thugs out of the staging area by raising your threat counts as specialization in this article.

My rating: 3 basic, 3 specialized (high attack/ combat/ direct damage), 3 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 10 out of 12

28. Into Ithilien– Official rating 4

I seriously cannot read the official rating of this quest without laughing to myself. I don’t know if it’s because this brutal quest got one of the lowest ratings in the game or if it’s because it got the same rating as Journey Down the Anduin. I just imagine this new player who has only been able to play two quests, Down the Anduin and Into Ithilien. What would that player think? He would see the 8 difficulty on Shadow and Flame and crap his pants. I truly do not understand what episode of temporary insanity drove FFG to rate these quests as so easy. I know what it is; I bet this quest was rated a 4 because you have the advantage of some ranger guys helping you out, right before they die–which is almost instantly. Then the stages just get harder. Once again, you build a deck that sells out to combat, only to run into normal questing to mess you up, plus some sweet accelerated threat increase on the third stage just to make it even more painful. This quest has it all. The only glimmer of hope I get is that they probably rated it low, in part, because the playtesters had access to a larger card pool. After traps and stuff come out, maybe this quest will be a 4… but I doubt it.

My rating: 3 basic, 3 specialized (combat/ ranger/ traps), 3 random, 0 multiplayer

Total: 9 out of 12

29. The Siege of Cair Andros– Official rating 7

Is this just another run of the mill 7 difficulty quest? Nope. This is the hardest quest released so far. You basically must go all out siege specialization or Outlands synergy, which I personally have found to be too slow (and off color punishment wrecks it). If you try to tackle this challenge with anything other than a fine tuned deck dedicated to beating this beast you will get roasted on a spit. One of the problems is that it starts out with such a tough starting position. You have to siege quest into what seems like 50 threat, just hoping you don’t get any more off the top of the deck (which you will). There are scores of random bombs that blow up lands or punish off colors (Orc Vangard for any non-tactics deck is crazy… just, game over!) or hit you with archery damage, or bring back killer treacheries. This quest comes to the face with some knuckles–no open hand slap! The card I most love to hate is Mumak. That oiliphaunt scares me more than a Balrog and he is usually harder to kill. Most of the time I just resign when he hits the table, but maybe I just need to calm down and throw a Forest Snare on him like the good old days with the Hill Troll. Oh wait, I can’t, because Mumak can’t have attachments! Aarg! Some will note correctly that Mumak is also in the Into Ithilien quest, but in this quest he seems all the more potent, like how a power hitter in baseball is even worse when he gets into a lineup full of other power hitters. Despite the difficult starting position (which is mitigated with partners) his quest is still harder with more players because there are not enough tactics cards to go around for most teams and because there is no deck space for location control so lands like Orc War Camp can become total back-breakers. This is a truly awe inspiring quest.

My rating: 4 basic, 3 specialized (mono red/ siege/ combat), 3 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 12 out of 12

30. The Steward’s Fear– Official rating 5

When I saw that this quest had a rating of 5, and when I played it and found it brutal, I thought, “Maybe this is the new normal.” Maybe quests are just a whole lot tougher than before. The Steward’s Fear is nasty for two main reasons. First, just like in Peril in Pelargir, the Brigands are brutal because of their effects when they engage a player. Second, the underworld mechanic punishes players for clearing lands by puking out additional enemies. This can really mess you up because you have to quest and then somehow also fight. Your deck needs to be specialized in readying effects as well as direct damage (the direct damage allows you to kill Brigands in the staging area to avoid high armor and engagement effects). I find that this quest is very similar to Peril but with a lot more consistency. This means that you are not going to get as many random death combos, but it also means that you are a lot more likely to see Umbar Assassin every time. Also, am I the only one who thinks that Gandalf should be immune to betrayal? This has a higher basic difficulty, but a lower random. As with any location-heavy quest, it is harder with more players.

My rating: 4 basic, 2 specialized (ready effects/direct damage/location management), 2 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 10 out of 12

31. The Druadan Forest– Official rating 6

After playing the new, tougher quests from Peril to Steward’s Fear, I was starting to stress when I saw the 6 difficulty rating on this one. It turns out, FFG just randomly gives difficulty ratings that make no sense. The Druadan Forest quest is simply easier than any of the quests in the Heirs of Numenor, and it is also clearly easier than The Steward’s Fear. I cannot begin to understand how this is not obvious. I think that FFG greatly overestimated the pain caused by “prowl”, which is not that big of a deal. The truth is that The Druadan Forest doesn’t start out with such an extremely hard position at the beginning. Instead, it is slow and allows you to actually develop. By the time you get to the “hard” part at the end, you are more than ready. You can breath a sigh of relief or boredom, realizing that the quest difficulty has fallen back down to Middle-earth.

My rating: 2 basic, 1 specialized (resource acceleration), 1 random, 1 multiplayer

Total: 5 out of 12

32. Encounter at Amon Din– Official rating 5

The trend continues with this quest, which is also much easier. The thing that makes this quest so easy is that, once again, it is standard. You can just defeat it with any old questing deck you have lying around. You don’t need to fine tune your deck or put in specific cards as silver bullets for specific threats. I suspect that most people familiar with the game would be able to beat this on their first try.

My rating: 1 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 4 out of 12

33. Assault on Osgiliath– Official rating 8

With our second 8 level difficulty in the history of the game, I was expecting… who knows? I was not disappointed. I beat this quest on my very first try with my standard questing deck. Now I have played it more since then and I realize that I got pretty lucky. The quest is harder than my first impressions. Still… the first try? The key component to the challenge of this quest is the restriction “Player card effects cannot place progress tokens in the staging area.” That is combined with the mechanic where locations return to the staging area. If you are ever buried in locations, you are done. This makes the quest much harder in multiplayer and it makes some underused location control effects viable, like Thror’s Key and Thror’s Map. So, I don’t want to say that this quest is easy as you pleasy. What irks me is that they officially declared this quest as harder than Siege of Cair Andros. What? I mean, I’m sorry, but there is no possible way that is true. This quest is hard, especially in multiplayer, but it is far more standard fare.

My rating: 3 basic, 0 specialized, 1 random, 2 multiplayer

Total: 6 out of 12

Whew, I made it through 33 total quests. I hope you all found my analysis interesting and helpful. I hope that a lot of my ranting resonated with your own experience. However, I also know that many of you will disagree with me, some passionately. Well, if I think I can complain about FFG, then you can certainly complain about me. After all, it just means that you care about me, right? Let me know in the comments below where I am totally off. Let me know what you think are the correct difficulty ratings. Thanks a lot for reading.

Until next time, delight yourself in the slaying of spiders,



From → LOTR Rants

  1. I haven’t read through all of your article yet, but I already disagree with your rankings of Journey and Escape. Journey is easy once you realize that you need to keep the Hill Troll in the staging until you can deal with it. In our family, we have always beat this one and we haven’t tuned our deck for it. I would give it a 6 (2/1/2/1). Meanwhile, for Escape, randomness has to be the max since the opening staging could completely kill you before you even start. Add the Nazgul and a lack of attachments and it seems to me that it should be at least an 8 (3/1/4/0) if not a 9. Similarly, Hunt for Gollum also has some randomness that can kill you – a bunch of clues and then a bunch of Hunters and your Staging is full of threat and the Hunters can kill with a look. I would give it more randomness, so that it has a 4-6 rating.

    • ishallcallusting permalink

      I am glad that you jumped right out and disagreed with me. This article will generate a ton of disagreement because 1,000 people will have 1,000 different ratings, especially with over 30 quests!

      Your method for defeating Journey is excellent, and it is specialized, in my opinion. Also, you can run into nasty situations where all the OTHER stuff kills you, which is why I rated it so highly. I am glad you found a way to master it, but that doesn’t make it an easy quest. It makes you a good player 🙂

      As for Escape, I concede that a bad setup could just kill you, but to me, that makes the quest more random then hard and I put less emphasis on a setup kill. The quest itself, after setup, is still pretty easy. I personally have never had problems with the Nazgul because I have always been more than prepared by the time he enters the game. Perhaps that is a rare case of luck on my part, but I doubt it. I stand by my ratings.

  2. Boot permalink

    Wow. What a comprehensive review, well done. I disagree with some, but I think that is moot. That fact you provided an objective standard for debate is awesome. Ffg take note

  3. Glowwyrm permalink

    No ratings for the Nightmare quests? 😉 Just kidding. The article was a huge undertaking and turned out great!

  4. Karlson permalink

    Great Difficulty Assignments. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought most of the Gondor-related quests are much harder than their difficulty assignment would suggest – sometimes I can be doing quite well and then literally one or two encounter card effects will be game-ending for me; I find that very frustrating.

    I’m still a fairly new player, with just a couple months clocked in as being a fan, but I’ve played it quite a bit in that time. I believe the fun factor for me comes from the thematic and unique quests over the insanely challenging ones with brutal treachery cards. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I lose as long as I have fun, but in all reality, I don’t have that much fun if I’m losing left and right.

    I agree with you that the Hobbit quests are some of the best in the game and not because they’re outrageously difficult (though sometimes they can be pretty hard,) but because they’re so thematic, and you really feel some cool vibes going on when you have double dwarf decks ascending the Lonely Mountain!

  5. TalesfromtheCards permalink

    I want to take a moment to commend Sting for this great piece of work! The difficulty ratings for this game have needed some attention for awhile.

    To participate in the discussion, there are only a few ratings that I would disagree with: Foundations of Stone and The Druadan Forest. In my opinion, the former gets much more difficult and specialized in multiplayer, as you have to make sure that all decks are able to quest and survive when the players are split up. The latter is also extremely specialized, requiring lots of healing (although sometimes you get lucky) and gets more difficult in multiplayer, as the encounter deck really works well together when multiple cards are revealed during staging.

  6. SgtWinters permalink

    I agree that the ratings for this game can sometimes seem a little skewed. It’s almost as if the evaluating-lens got a new prescription between adventure packs. I’m still a fairly new player, and have only made it through the first series of Adventure packs, and I’ve learned that playing a quest through once is a much more accurate way of measuring difficulty than merely trusting the label.

    Great piece of work!

  7. Volstruis permalink

    Ratings will drive you bonkers, nuts and round the bend. Regularly. Up and down the Anduin, into and out of ithilien and back and forth from Moria.

    My humble suggestion: ignore them completely.

  8. Fantastic topic and thought-provoking article — thanks!

    I am also primarily a solo player so I largely agree with your rankings, though recently I’ve had the chance to play more dual and multiplayer games and really experience how the scaling is totally different for each quest. Drúadan Forest becomes brilliantly fatal while Massing at Osgiliath becomes quite beatable.

    The difficulty level questions seems like something that needs to be crowd sourced to be really accurate and that simply can’t happen before scenarios are released. This message board thread at BBG did an excellent job of taking the multiplayer scaling question to the masses:

    I’d be curious to see the results of a similar poll regarding the difficulty levels.

    Once again, thanks for such a thorough article on such a worthy topic!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I definitely agree. It’s almost impossible to get a truly objective and accurate assessment of difficulty ratings, factoring in how different the game is with more or less players, people’s varying playing styles and preferred decks, and the whims of fortune. Still, it’s certainly fun to try, and I think crowd-sourcing is ultimately the best bet.

      • I’ve really enjoyed having these ratings – it is refreshing to have a more in-depth look at them, even if we can disagree over some specifics. They are a lot clearer and more understandable than the “almost-random” number that is given as the official guide.

        @Master of Lore: I think I accidentally found Massing at Osgiliath easy single player, and horrendous multiplayer. Using a Aragorn/Glorfindel secrecy deck I found I had very little to worry about single player. You start 10 threat away from anything other than the Snaga Scouts engaging you, So you can just take your time and set up. If you are close to being engaged you can reset with Aragorn, I found scrying (Riversong and Risk a Little Light) amazing for getting just enough willpower to win/break even and then you can loiter in the set up phase for as long as needed. Our equine friend deals with the locations – and all in all things run smoothly.

        Combining the same deck with a Son’s of Elrond deck was a disaster multiplayer, as I wanted to loiter and the other deck really really couldn’t – and we have struggled every time. I think this is a bad combo of decks pulling in different directions (and I doubt it would work with any quests).

        But I think my first foray into secrecy was accidentally easy – I look forward to beating this quest in a more satisfying manner – tension and risk make the game fun, accidental puzzel solving only goes so far.

  9. tomtomiszcze permalink

    Completely disagree with some ratings; it probably comes from different perspective that we look at some scenarios (I play almost exclusively two-handed solo). Personally, I rate scenarios in relevance with currently used decks by answering two questions: can I beat scenario consistently (like about every 3 out of 4 tries) and how much deck management is required to achieve that level of success. Looking that way, I find JDtA not even close to your 8/12 rating, because the encounter deck simply does not have enough in the tank to make it serious. There are of course some unlucky combos to be drawn, but they don’t drop my success rate significantly.
    On the other hand, FoS sometimes becomes real PITA in stage 4, because there’s nothing I can do against unlucky quest card assignment.
    And HoN ratings – man, was it supposed to be a joke or you meant to provoke some heated discussion? PiP is by no means harder than Into Ithilien; it’s difficult, annoying and fun, but it certainly does not force you to some not only heavy but mind-boggling deck tweaks that the II screams for. One can take his all purpose decks, smooth it out a bit and be consistent in beating the hell out of those Thugs.
    I also would put SoCA as a little bit les ridiculously hard than II. Both of these quests require a ton of encounter and shadow cancelation to the point where you exchange Glorfindel for Eleanor, but with SoCA deck being slightly bigger, there’s a slightly bigger chance for lucky encounter deck draw that allows for some power curve building. Into Ithilien practically demands the players to be tough as Glaurung from the start and even that astronomical level of toughness does not protect from some combo like Watcher In The Woods surging into Blocking Wargs surging into whatever…

    Pretty good post, anyway. I enjoyed thorough reading of it.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It’s always intriguing to me to see how people’s experiences of quests can vary so radically. For me personally, Into Ithilien is the most difficult quest around. I had an easier time with Battle of Lake-town and Massing at Osgiliath than II. I think it probably holds my record for the most attempts before victory.

      • I don’t know if I’d say that Into Ithilien is my most difficult scenario (Battle of Lake-town was absolutely brutal for me) but I can definitely relate to your early experiences with that one. With subsequent AtS cards (ahem *Gondorian Shield*) it has gotten a lot more manageable, but when it came out Into Ithilien took me a long time to beat. Some of the worst cards in that scenario can still be game-altering if not game-ending (Southron Support, Watcher in the Wood). I’m glad that Blocking Wargs received errata because my first experience with Into Ithilien involved that card shuffling into the deck several times and killing all of my heroes.

  10. Wrobel Swirek permalink

    Do you consider the numbers of the rating do be for 2 players? Or you judge it from solo 1 deck play point of view?

    For example I have only core set, and beating Hill Troll in 2nd scenario in 1 deck seems impossible for me 😦

  11. Tiandes permalink

    Nice idea,

    My main critic about the process is that you add difficulty point for multiplayer. Meaning playing multi will never be easier then solo.

    That is a big flaw since some quest are way easier in multi then solo, taking the infamous Escape that can kill you right off the bat very often if it hits the wrong hero.

    As oppose to Journey that is pretty easy in solo, even in my first play trough since I always go for low threat hero package.

  12. Hi Sting and Tales… (Hum, sound’s like a Sonic-esk duo)

    Been reading some of the LotR blogs for a while now, always very entertaining. But yesterday and today I have had a big catch up of this blog as I’m in Uganda for 1/2 a year working with Global Care; but I have brought my LotR cards with me. As well as catching up on reading my wife and I played our first games since we can to Uganda at the start of August. Good to play again.

    Anyway I just wanted to share the experience, and say hi. I had fun making my first Secrecy deck, Spirit Glorfindel and Lore Aragorn; I assume they are an obvious choice, and I’ve never played around with them before; I have all of the Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf (sp?) cycles and the Hobbit Saga packs… But have only played through Mirkwood and Most of the Hobbit; the reason being back in England we would usually play 3 player, and very rarely solo. I played Massing at Osgiliath for the first time, and it turns out secrecy is excellent at it; pluss the witch king got to beat up Gandalf, only to have Glorfindel wade in with “O! Elebereth! Gilthoniel!” to banish him away at the end. 😀

    From reading these blogs I’ve concluded that solo play seems a very different kettle of fish – whenever we* make up decks (*we is my friend Matt and I, My wife Hannah mainly says “I want a deck that kills things” so we make one for her) we make all three to complement each other; which is very satisfying, and quite fun. In relation to a previous article we tend to make a decks thematic but with interesting combo’s. Because 3 player so many more of your bases are covered (his deck will quest, mine can murder, this one can support etc.) I’ve found it easier to explore some aspects of the game and cards that would usually not make it.

    (hum this is turning into an essay – hope you don’t mind) We haven’t got to play with many of the heroes from the Dwarrowdelf expansion because we undertook the journey to the lonely mountain over several Saturday afternoons leading up to coming to Uganda; And of course Dwarves are the order of the day – but keeping with theme we do not have Dain in our three decks; we are going to make a 4th deck: Dain, Beorn and Bard (and introduce a new player to the game) for the battle of the five armies as a finale! It should be a blast.

    I want to rave about how fun my deck was for a bit. The premise was to support the other combat and questing dwarf decks. To this end I got to use Bombour (who’s fatness is amazing!), Ori and Thorin – So just a Erebor Record Keeper away from draw and resources, which pretty much sets me up. The Thorin would get some Hardy Leadership, give out (or keep if needed) a King under the Mountain then Lure of Moria whenever needed. We are not Idle would cause chunks of resources for other players, or to Erebor record keeper the others with. But my favourite parts were the toys! The rest of the deck was some more card draw (Runes, Legacy, Bifur, Gandalf) and lots of 0 cost attachments to hand out (Cram, Herbs, Boots & Treasure hunter) fished off with some Hammersmith’s* and second breakfasts to keep the cram and herbs coming! (*I also noticed his stats are awesome for his cost). A few surprising things were discovered, or at least things that seem obvious now, but I’d never planned for. While most decks would never bother with Boots from Erebor, being able to give out extra hit points helps loads a lot with damage thresholds, and combo’s brilliantly with the Hardy leadership and Hannah’s Ring. What’s more the full heal of Healing herbs is fantastic under these circumstances. We’ve often made the Gloin Engine with Self Preservation… but it was a beautiful thing to witness Gloin become a money making machine! Throw some citadel plate on him, some hardy leadership and those boots; 10hp – 14 with a second set of plate… He just stands in front of the hordes yelling come and ‘av some, then the healing herbs are applied and he is, like the 2nd death star, fully operational with all the money. Unforeseen, but unsurprising if you think about it stacking hit points and full healing effects is fantastic. The wild wargs became a printing press. Good times!

    I am genuinely surprised how much fun the “facilitator” decks can be, just watching how much more other decks can do given access to more pieces from more spheres. And even in a focused deck, in multiplayer we find it fun to add sections to our decks that will let other decks blossom. Often those dwarves axes are coming Throin’s way, or it’s Gmili becoming unexpectedly courageous from across the table.

    Anyway, what inspired me to write something today is a solo deck Idea I’ve tried out; it’s fun in concept and I’m glad I’ve done it… but it’s a little tedious to play through at the end. I’m sorry if this has been done before, completely missed it! Basically I adapted my Aragorn/Glorfindel deck to be more streamlined with the goal of completely destroying the encounter deck by taking it all “out of the Wild” and into my victory display. It ended up being Elrond & Glorfindel – it was mightily satisfying to have the entire Massing at Osgiliath amassed in my victory display, baring the two rangers! We waltzed into Minis Tirith to have tea with Denethor and explain how there used to be an army coming out of the black gate.

    Obvious combo I discovered; peace and thought + unexpected courage; I think it could make a great addition to hobbit decks (with fast hitches).

    Question: I’ve noticed that almost always (e.g. not for poor Bilbo) a character’s threat is the sum of his willpower, attack, defence and hit points. It this generally realised?

    Anyway I will finish now, I can post the deck if you want, I’m sure it could be improved upon – but for now I’ll leave this essay of a post.

    God bless,

    Ps I’m sorry this isn’t quite the right topic to comment on; but I don’t know where to leave a comment so unrelated – just saying hi an the fun I’m having – so it goes here; the most recent thread I have read through. BTW I like your difficulty scaling a lot.

    • 🙂 Love the essay, James! Thanks for sharing!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks for the comment, James, I definitely enjoyed it! I’m glad that TftC can help catch you up on things while you’re in Uganda. Solo and 3 or 4 player are very different experiences. I’ve been able to play more 3/4 player games in the past few months, thanks to OCTGN, and it definitely opens up some deck building options, in that each player can be very specialized if they want, and not worry about covering all based. Playing solo, you really are much more limited because you have to do a bit of everything (or most things).

      The stats of a hero adding up to their starting threat is the general rule, although there are a few exceptions, with Spirit Glorfindel being the most obvious example.

      Finally, Sting and Tales definitely sounds like it could be a 90’s cartoon or old platformer game!

      • Thanks! Yeah it really helps me catch up. I’ve found that the Lord of the Rings blogs are interesting and stimulating-and having so much back matter is great. The other forums & websights I’ve read since being abroad just aren’t as interesting and stimulating as these discussions. Keep up the good ork! ahem, Work!

  13. ishallcallusting permalink

    Great comments guys! I enjoy the back and fourth. I can clarify a few things in the comments. My target audience for this piece were people like Karlson, SgtWinters, and especially Wrobel. You see, difficulty ratings are mainly for new players to judge whether or not they are “getting” the game. People, like tomtomiszcze or me, I feel like we are going to beat the quests no matter how hard they are, and our personal difficulty ratings are merely an evaluation of how long it took us to master the quest.

    Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a new player come into LOTR LCG, all excited to play, and then that player runs into a level 4 quest that he thinks is darn near impossible. That player will, as Karlson said so well, eventually end up saying, “I don’t have that much fun if I’m losing left and right.” The player will naturally assume that he is the one who is at fault. That player will assume that he is playing poorly or doesn’t understand how to play, and may give up. If Karlson saw that a quest had a high difficulty rating and he was SUPPOSED to have a hard time beating it, then it might be different, but playing a supposedly easy quest and getting your butt handed to you? Again and again? Not fun. This game is hard; that is part of what makes it great. It is okay to let new players know how hard it actually is.

    We can disagree over styles and specific numbers, but the thing that is most important is that we want more people to play this game, because it is so great. If you are having a hard time with the Hill Troll on Down the Anduin, that is not because you suck, It is because that quest is WAY harder than they said it was. I do think, Wrobel, that Down the Anduin is basically impossible with just a Core. Partly they want you to buy more cards. That’s just being honest. They did the same thing with the Heirs of Numenor quests. They tell you, “this quest isn’t so hard” because you are hoping that the next few expansions will give you the cards you need to master the challenge. You might think that is kinda slimy, but I personally don’t mind. If I were making the game I would do the exact same thing, but maybe I would say it openly and honestly 🙂 Anyway, the later packs DO give you the cards you need, which is why they now need Nightmare expansions to make the old quests more fun. FFG delivers on its promises, and the game just keeps getting better and better.

    I encourage new players to look over the guides provided on this site because Tales has done a great job of telling you how to wisely spend your money if you don’t want to just buy it all or can’t afford it. You can still play the quests in easy mode and you can use my difficulty guide here to give you a more accurate idea of what quests are going to be more difficult for you and which will require that you buy more cards and make more powerful decks.

    So, to clarify, the difficulty ratings I provide are largely reflective of my experience, mostly as a solo player. The difficulty ratings assume that a player is running a STANDARD all purpose, good at everything, kind of deck. That is a sort of “one deck to rule them all” kind of deck. Such a deck must be good at the aspects of the game that are ALWAYS good–card drawing, resource acceleration, lowering your threat, and high willpower for questing. If a quest requires you to adjust your deck a lot in order to beat it, then that deck will be rated as more difficulty.

    The biggest weakness in my approach, as confirmed by the comments, is my lack of experience in multiplayer. I play multiplayer as much as I can, but I have about 10 times more experience in solo play. I am guessing that most of the disagreements arise from this fact. Other players like tomtomiszcze who play two handed would probably have a much different experience.

    I really enjoyed the essay from James and I have to admit I never thought of using O! Elebereth! Gilthoniel! on the Witch King before. That is a sweet idea that I will definitely explore further 🙂

    Thanks for reading!

    • raynor2013 permalink

      I actually play most games 3 player and your ratings and commetary rang true. This whole subject has always been a thorn in my enjoyment of the game. For a product so extravegantly POLISHED, beautiful, and fun the ratings don’t seem rooted in reality at all. Its an anomoly and an irritating one at that. Thanks for the in depth look into this seemingly ignored portion of our favorite game.

    • Legolas of Darkwood permalink

      Great job, fascinating read! There are several exciting parts I could and maybe will comment on later but this is the most important to me:

      “Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a new player come into LOTR LCG, all excited to play, and then that player runs into a level 4 quest that he thinks is darn near impossible. That player will, as Karlson said so well, eventually end up saying, “I don’t have that much fun if I’m losing left and right.” The player will naturally assume that he is the one who is at fault. That player will assume that he is playing poorly or doesn’t understand how to play, and may give up. If Karlson saw that a quest had a high difficulty rating and he was SUPPOSED to have a hard time beating it, then it might be different, but playing a supposedly easy quest and getting your butt handed to you? Again and again? Not fun. This game is hard; that is part of what makes it great.”

      Altogether I had four friends that started playing LotR. In our group I have the most cardgame experience. I played strategy games all my life and several years of semi-professional Magic. My friends have a more casual approach than most people reading this blog. I guess they have been playing like one game per week on average, prepared a couple of decks once and rarely modified them. We met to play LotR wirh two to four players in different constellations at least every second weekend. At first we all were fascinated by the game.

      After the initial hype a dark shadow fell upon our group. Difficulty! We were all struggling with most scenarios. The hill Troll in JdtA clubbed us dead more often than I can remember (there has always been a player with a starting threat of 30 or more). We rarely ever made it to the second stage. If the second hill troll showed up people gave up and said it’s badly designed. It was really good to read your review on that one! To make the story short, one by one stopped playing LotR, because of just one reason: freaking difficulty. The game may provided a good challenge for people who spend constantly a lot of time on it, but for people who don’t have that much time and energy to spend on a game (because they work, have family or other hobbies besides LotR) it is actually pretty foreseeable they will get frustrated very soon. I did what I could to keep them in the game by sending links on good articles and help with deck modifications. However at times I was struggling and getting frustrated too. My last companion (who actually was reading the ffg forum too) dropped the game after getting Heirs of Numenor… I remember we were trying the first two quests on a weekend scession. At the start we were happy and motivated, after losing BIG like 10 games we felt like we never wasted a sunday that bad! We were so angry about the game and the designers – I think we would have gone to prison, if we had met them that day. While I recovered he is still so pissed that he gets mad whenever I mention LotR. Whenever we meet we play something else now.

      This is the story of how I lost my LotR comrades. I hope you can now understand why difficulty is a problematic issue for me. LotR could have been a great game, if they only had scaled it for the average players. The whole topic makes me real sad.

      I critizise the games difficulty approach because of my experience and the fact that I still care about the game. However I too have been on the edge of quitting because of difficulty several times.

      Designers? Can you hear me? I am the voice of the many people who can’t be heared anymore because they left.

      • ishallcallusting permalink

        Wow, Legolas, that comment hit the nail right on the head and I am really glad you said what you said. I hope that this site, my article, and the articles to come, will encourage you not to quit and maybe encourage your friends to come back. I will respond to your comment in more depth in my next article, I promise 🙂

      • Have you tried playing on easy mode since it was introduced?

      • heavykaragh permalink

        “LotR could have been a great game, if they only had scaled it for the average players.”
        Then it would be boring for the ¿harcdore? players.

    • ” If you are having a hard time with the Hill Troll on Down the Anduin, that is not because you suck, It is because that quest is WAY harder than they said it was. I do think, Wrobel, that Down the Anduin is basically impossible with just a Core. Partly they want you to buy more cards.”

      I just don’t see that. I use JDtA as a testbed for new decks because it is so easy. *Any* deck can defeat it as long as you don’t attack the Hill Troll right away. That is a strategy piece that new players need to learn and, once they learn it, then they can apply it to other quests. In so many of the quest writeups, you’ll see the author debate “I can take on the enemy now or leave them in the staging area” and that knowledge comes with experience.

      In the end, though, I agree that we need to come up with better difficulty ratings so that new players can understand what they may or may not have done wrong. If the quest is rated easy by experienced players and you keep failing it, then you can look into deck composition or into your play strategy. On the other hand, being defeated over and over again by Into Ithlien shouldn’t depress you since all of us have trouble with that.

      To me, the difficulty ratings probably shouldn’t have been wrapped up into one number. Your breakdown works much better as an indication of the quest and how it will affect you. At least, breaking it down into one number for how difficult the locations/enemies/threat are and one for the randomness of the quest would be useful. It might also be useful to provide a ranking of how later packs will simplify the quest or not.

      For Escape to Dol Goldur, the randomness is so killer and that needs to be told to new players so that they understand it’s not the game nor their decks, but just the luck of the draw. It might very well be an easier quest than others, but if you don’t get a lucky setup, you’re done before you start. Saying “JDtA is a 4 and EfDG is a 7” doesn’t tell enough to the new player.

  14. Mike permalink

    Excellent article! I couldn’t agree more – I would love to hear the creators of the game try to justify the scores they gave for each quest. Into Ithilien as a 4 makes me think they didn’t even play the game, as that – in my opinion – is the hardest quest from HofN.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      One thing to keep in mind is that the design team of the game has changed a few times during it’s lifespan, and I have to believe that may be partially responsible for the discrepancy.

  15. Amen! I hope the game creators read this and revise/explain their difficulty rankings in the future.

  16. Drew permalink

    Thanks a bunch for the article. Makes me feel much better about the 12 or so times that I’ve attempted Journey Down the Anduin and gotten horribly destroyed. I thought at first that official difficulty descriptions seemed rather vague since it took me about 3-4 attempts after actually learning the game to completely finish Passage Through Mirkwood, so it’s good to have another opinion on ratings that’s so detailed.

  17. heavykaragh permalink

    Excellent article. I have to disagree on The Lonely Mountain specialization. Because Smaug is “Immune to player card effects”, Feint, traps and co. are useless. I’d say is a specialized 2.

  18. fouilloux permalink

    Well, I might do the advocate of the devil here, but I do not fell the Down the Anduin quest is that hard, because of one card: Banks of the Anduin. I might have been lucky, but most of the times (maybe not so many I agree) I tried this quest, I found myself exploring over and over this location. And apparently I am not the only one . It is a real advantage to know what is the next card you will draw, at no cost. So it ‘s true that you have some nasty other cards, but I found that the sole presence of this card make it much easier.

    To be completly honest, when I started playing the game, I stopped for a year because I found the game too hard. With the core set I could not defeat Dol Guldur (still haven’t manage to do it, with all my decks) and the hunt for Gollum. So, More than the rating, it’s the overall difficulty of the game that might be an issue for beginners. (I was a real beginner: never done any deckbuilding game before, except Dominion but that does not count)

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Wow, you’re certainly not alone in that experience, as there are plenty of stories of players quitting the game because of the difficulty. Fortunately, you have come back to the game, but it can definitely be intimidating, especially for players who are new to deck building games in general. Hopefully, with the introduction of easy mode and the development of a strong community, new players today have a bit of a better time of it.

  19. Dimitar permalink

    Great piece! I sympathize with your frustration and agree about complaining. Only if my wife would see it this way when it comes to watching movies together! 🙂

    I think your idea for ratings is a good one. I like your categories — base difficulty, specialization, randomness, number of players — but… I don’t think it really makes sense to add these scores up in the end. Rather, I think a difficulty matrix will be more appropriate:

    | base difficulty | specialization | randomness
    solo | | |
    multiplayer | | |

    It does make sense to add the base difficulty and specialization, but I am not so sure about randomness. As with many other variables in the game’s quests, it depends on your deck, but a high randomness may mean an unusually easy time too. Or in any case, higher fluctuations in difficulty, which I wouldn’t necessarily consider a higher difficulty overall. Having to manage the randomness to achieve a better win ratio does make the quest more difficult, so I see your rationale for adding this score to the final one, but reporting the randomness score separately might give a better idea about the quest. Adding the multiplayer score to the final just makes the final score more useful for multiplayer games, IMO, since the 0-2 scale really denotes nominal categories. I don’t think a difficulty matrix is that much harder to read than a single score, and it’s more descriptive.

    Sorry if someone already posted about this. I didn’t have time to read all the comments after the post.

  20. Dimitar permalink

    Hmm, it seems like the matrix whitespace isn’t display, so feel free to remove it and change the preceding sentence to: Rather, I think a difficulty matrix with ‘base difficulty’, ‘specialization’ and ‘randomness’ columns and ‘solo’ and ‘multiplayer’ rows will be more appropriate.

  21. errorjustinJustin permalink

    Hey! Love the blog. Just a heads-up, though – On Flight From Moria you wave off Foe Beyond, noting that A Test of Will deals with it. But Foe Beyond specifically notes that the damage can’t be canceled. So once you have ~5 VP in place, it’s essentially an insta-kill for one hero. It’s a huge encounter deck bomb.

    There’s also a treachery that shuffles Foe Beyond back into the deck. Nasty!

  22. Divide the total threat of all location and enemy cards by 50. Treachery cards Are worth 5, with treachery cards with keywords worth 10 (doomed, surge, etc.). The result is the scenario level rank. Round down.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s an interesting solution. I’ll have to try it out of curiosity to get an idea of what kinds of ratings it gives for different quests. The only hard part would be that some treacheries are much more difficult than others.

  23. Well, my guess is that the difficult number could be a “how much the quest could be random?”. I explain it better (keep in mind so far I’ve only played Core Set and Hunt for Gollum, I’m a n00b in this game). While with friends we always won Core quests on the first try (even replaying them), Gollum saw our first defeat. This because, like always, we start new quests ignoring what we’ll face (i.e. we never read Quest cards or enemy ones in advance). So we realized Gollum AP needs lot of Questing points. Also it has some nasty cards like the one increasing Threat according to allies number or the enemy that hit like a truck if too many clue cards are in play.

    Second game we barely beat it, and only one of us was doing quest research in the third phase as we were unlucky enough to find only one clue (but lucky enough to get good quest allies). We never had any problem with core quests (and I agree with you on the fact that assigned values looks a bit random).
    So it may be that the number they assign to quest is not an absolute difficulty level but how much the quest may change according to luck. Does it make any sense? 🙂

  24. I really enjoyed your openjng discussion around construtive criticism. I am like that too. The things I like the most I am able to tear down with complaints but doing so helps me over come and change what I can, accept the things I can not change and most importantly of all, find beauty in those things I love.

    I read the opening paragraphs to my wife so she could understand my personality better. A testament to how well you presented yourself (and my personality).

  25. edvandofilho permalink

    This is your best article. You really should update with the new quests and maybe comment in some old ones if needed!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Glad you enjoy it! This was actually written by one of my guest contributors in the past, but I can see about updating it with the newer quests.

  26. GopherJoe permalink

    I second above… saw that you updated the new buyers guide… updating this document would be very helpful.

  27. Iceman1200 permalink

    Way too many of these you think are too hard. Journey down the Anduin and Peril in Pelagir are SUPER EASY. Into Ithilien should be a twelve because it is harder than Siege of Cair Andros. Speaking of which, I beat Seige of CA on my first try. Any encounter is beatable with the right deck, and specialized decks can easily defeat the encounter it was built for.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Difficulty in this game is extremely subjective. The guest writer, Sting, who wrote this did a fine job explaining his ratings, but I disagree with quite a few of them, as I’m sure he’d disagree with some of how I would rate the quests. It’s just too difficult, in my opinion, to encapsulate how difficulty varies in this game, based on number of players and decks used, into one number.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I definitely agree that any quest can be beaten with the right deck and building for scenarios dramatically reduces difficulty. But that just underlies the difficulty in rating the quests. Do you rate quests based on how difficult they are for the “average” deck, whatever that may be? Or do you rate them based on how difficult they are for the most specialized deck? Or maybe on how much specialized deck building they require?

  28. I think there should be 2 separate difficulty ratings: one for solo and another for multiplayer (or 2 player). It cannot be simply a +1 or +2 DF for multiplayer because some scenarios are easier the more players there are and there are some scenarios which are harder the more players there are. I agree that randomness also affect the perceived difficulty of the scenario. But instead of +1 or +2 DF, I suggest instead a +/- adjustment, ie. a range, to take into account the wild swings that could happen in the game. That way, players can see that, a scenario, on the average, could be moderate difficulty, but has a +/-1 DF and could slightly be easier or harder depending on the draw of the encounter deck.
    Lastly, I disagree with the notion that specialization required should play a role in the DF because:
    1. Players are expected to adjust: their playing strategy, their deck, and whatever else that may need to be adjusted in order to succeed.
    2. I don’t subscribe to the notion that the “one deck to rule them all” is expected to have a fair chance to succeed in whatever quest and that if it does not (say, because the scenario requires certain player cards which the ‘one deck to rule ’em all’ does not currently have in the deck) the scenario should be given a DF modifier for ‘increased’ difficulty because ‘specialization’ is required. ‘Specialization’ is part of the expected player adjustment mentioned in #1.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Personally, I wonder if a usable difficulty scale could be constructed from using labels instead of numbers. So “requires extensive specialization”, “can be beaten with general decks”, etc. for the specialization category, “becomes harder with more players” for the multiplayer description etc., and then these labels simply give information about the quest in a more specific way.

  29. thecardgamegeek permalink

    I find that playing a Path of Need on The Citadel in The Siege of Cair Andros makes it significantly easier, granted this is not guaranteed on a game-to-game basis.

  30. ScoopsUK permalink

    This is an interesting post and the comments are really useful. I have the core set and only played a few time both single handed solo and 2 player. A lot of this has been fumbling through the rules of course but there is a lot to like about this game. There was a YouTube rant (can’t remember which user) about the difficulty and that seems to be a recurring theme among gamers. What are your thoughts about using the easy difficulty level? Does it mean you miss any of the game? Slightly aside looking at the game as of now, the way ahead seems rather daunting – so many expansions, deluxe expansions, sagas and adventure packs it is difficult to know where best invest your money!!

  31. Patrick Wullaert permalink

    One of the best sections in this blog ! A real pity it doesn’t get updated.
    Thanks a lot !

  32. Your tips regardings quests was an immense help!
    These tips are very useful, because they give me some ideas to how to build my deck while not being too specific like most guide that tells you exactly how to build a deck for scenario.
    I wish you keep updating them for further quest…
    Maybe even repost them as quest guide for new players.

  33. Wichura permalink

    I got LOTR LCG for two months already [Core + 4 LotR Saga expansions] and I stuck on Journey Down the Anduin. I was thinking that I`m not ready to go with further expansions until I beat this one which is 4 in line with manual. And now you says that this is one of the difficult quest out there… Good then I will go into Gollum hunting now 😀 hurray…

  34. lukeariel permalink

    I’m going to be that guy. My wife and I started LotR a couple months ago (our card pool is 1 core, all Mirkwood packs except Hunt For Gollum and Emyn Muil, the Black Riders and The Road Darkens).
    Like you, we found Anduin pretty darn challenging. I think it took us 7 attempts. Dol Guldur, however, knocked us flat on our backs. I think it took over a dozen attempts over the course of 2-3 weeks to finally squeeze out the win. And then we hopped into Conflict at the Carrock and won first try. (Granted, we had some very good luck. Our fitest 6 encounter cards were all locations, we incidentally had 8 resources ready to grab Grimbeorn as soon as he came up, and the one time we were hit with a seriously bad treachery, I happened to have some cancellation in hand.) I guess my point is, even with the most thorough criteria for difficulty, sometimes it just comes down to randomness.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I definitely agree. Difficulty can vary so much from player to player depending on player count, playstyle, decks used, etc. Pinning down difficulty becomes extremely difficult for this reason.

  35. benfrohlich permalink

    Any chance of getting ishallcallusting back to rate the rest of the encounter sets?

  36. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to say that this has been immensely helpful. It’s great for deciding what quests to tackle when I want a challenge, want a breather, or want to play a quest with a deck that is equipped to deal with it (like a slow-building healing-heavy deck against Druadan Forest), but also for figuring out where I went wrong – i.e. did I build a terrible deck, or is this just a quest that most people consider really hard. I definitely would quibble with some of the exact ratings, such as rating Siege of Cair Andros as harder than Into Ithilien (II is IMO the hardest quest I’ve played, and I’ve tried it over a dozen times – it seems like every single card in it is brutal), but that would be true of any similar list. Overall, this was very interesting AND helpful.

    Would love to see similar analysis of newer quests as well.

    (Just for laughs, after testing a new solo tactics deck against The Long Dark (FFG rating 7) and Foundations of Stone (FFG rating 6), stomping them into the ground, I tried it against Into Ithilien. Since it was rated 4, I should have found it pathetic, but obviously having read this and also having tried it a few times already, I knew better. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for the encounter deck literally destroying all of my heroes on turn 2. Turn 2, 3 dead heroes. Crazy.)

  37. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Oh man! I love this article so much I have it on a quick link on my phone’s desktop. I like to look at it after a quest to get another perspective on whatever I just played

    I just finished the Heirs of Numenor quests and it was brutal ! I was hoping they got a little less brutal but I see (without reading to spoil ) that Stewards fear is another 10! But they seem to calm down after that some. I like a challenge but that goes beyond! I can only imagine what the nightmare versions are like?!

    I’m sad to see this article end! I hope there is a part 2 and 3!

  38. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Other people commenting disagree on some. It’s interesting how depending on what decks people use, how many players, what cards do and don’t come out, and a million other factors make one persons experience totally different from another’s !

    I feel like I’ve been smacked around by some quests others thought was mild, and for instance I’ve played watcher in the water maybe only 6 times but I’ve always beat it handily! But Rhosgobel took more than that to finally secure my first victory!

    It’s very interesting

    Anyway thanks!

  39. Thank you for this article! I am the new player with the single Core Set who plays Anduin solo, loses badly ten times, finally manages to beat it consistently (thanks to a lot of reading online), and then thinks: “Whoa, this was a level 4? And I struggled for weeks? I don’t even start Dol Guldur until I buy all the expansions, for sure.”

    And then I read this article and see that what I actually did was reaching a level where I beat a level 8 quest with the single Core Set every 3 out of 4 times. Self-esteem reassured! On to Dol Guldur!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Quests Revisited: Flight from Moria | Tales from the Cards
  2. Passage Through Mirkwood – Planning – The Road Goes Ever On
  3. What I’d actually like to see errata for: Difficulty Ratings – Rant Pants
  4. The Long Dark: Planning – The Road Goes Ever On

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