Campaign Mode: Shadow of the Past
Let’s be honest, while many of us love the new stories and scenarios that have been created for this game, most of us were originally attracted to it because of our deep connection with the epic story contained in The Lord of the Rings itself. The arrival of The Black Riders expansion has given us all a chance to experience Frodo’s journey for ourselves, while creating some alternative history and stories along the way. One of the things about The Black Riders that had me most excited, when it was announced, was the introduction of Campaign Mode. This new addition to the game allows players to experience the three scenarios of this expansion, not as separate quests, but as a continuous campaign, with positive boons and negative burdens being earned along the way. Even better, this long campaign will continue through all of the Saga Expansions covering the events of The Lord of the Rings, meaning that the journey we begin now will continue, likely over the course of several years, until we conclude our journey, presumably at Mt. Doom. The one thing I have felt that this game has been missing is RPG-like elements that allow characters to “level up” and for past decisions to have a lasting impact. Thus, Campaign Mode is a dream come true for me.
This article is the beginning of a longer series where I bring readers along on my journey through Campaign Mode. During this process, you will get a chance to see the decks and strategy I use to tackle these challenging quests. It also should hopefully be entertaining, as you accompany my heroes on their quest to defeat the Dark Lord once and for all. I will be following all of the Campaign Mode rules, and if you haven’t had a chance to look through those yet, I will summarize them here for you:
* If a hero is in its controlling player’s discard pile at the end of any scenario, that hero is considered to be “fallen”, meaning that it cannot be used for the rest of the entire campaign.
* If a player has to replace a fallen hero with a replacement hero, each player suffers a +1 penalty to their starting threat for the rest of the campaign.
* If a player wants to voluntarily replace one hero with another, then each player suffers a +1 penalty to their starting threat for the rest of the campaign. Note that a replaced hero can be subbed back in later, as long as they are not “fallen”, but that would add another +1 penalty.
* Cards within a deck can be freely changed between quests.
* Boons and burdens that are earned are kept throughout the campaign. A boon or burden with the “permanent” keyword is attached to one hero, and stays on that hero for the duration of the campaign. It cannot be discarded, and leaves play if the attached hero leaves play.
I really like these campaign rules in that they instantly add a level of gravity to hero death that is not present otherwise. If I’m playing an individual scenario and can win by sacrificing poor Pippin, for example, I will think nothing of that choice, because there is no reason not to, except for the fairly inconsequential scoring system. However, in campaign mode, I will strive my hardest not to lose a hero, as not only is a penalty to starting threat quite punishing, I also don’t want to lose the service of a hero for the rest of the campaign. At the same time, imposing a penalty for simply replacing a hero also means that I have to choose my heroes with the knowledge that they will have to be up to the task of facing future scenarios, the contours of which are completely unknown. Fortunately, the cards within decks can be completely altered, which does give me quite a bit of leeway.
The article that follows deals with the first step of my campaign, which is Shadow of the Past, the opening scenario of The Black Riders. I will follow the same format I previously used with my strategy guide for the Battle of Lake-town. Part 1 will cover general strategies for beating the scenario, Part 2 will provide an overview of the two decks I will be using throughout the campaign, while Part 3 will outline a detailed session report.
Part 1 – General Strategies
Shadow of the Past recreates the flight of Frodo from Bag End to Bucklebury Ferry. This was always one of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings, as the serene and peaceful Shire is transformed into a place of terror by the hunt of the Black Riders. The mechanics of this scenario faithfully reflect the dangers the Hobbits faced in having to hide from the Nazgul, and striving to stay out of sight of these foes is the main focus of the quest. In my opinion, there are three main keys to victory, and one minor one.
1) Hide tests are public enemy number one
This scenario can effectively beat you within the first few turns, if you go in blind and fail to prepare for hide tests. The reason why is that when a hide test is failed by a player, any Black Riders in the staging area immediately engage and attack that player. This attack is in addition to the normal attack in the combat phase. Obviously, in the opening turns of a game, when you haven’t built up your forces yet, this can be absolutely devastating, and you might not have enough character actions (not to mention hit points) available to handle such carnage. The solution is to plan to pass almost every hide test that comes your way. How can you do this?
First, we must understand exactly what a hide test entails. When a card with the hide keyword is revealed, the revealing player must exhaust characters to participate in the test. The willpower of these characters is compared against the threat of cards discarded from the encounter deck (the number following the hide keyword is the number of cards to be discarded). If your willpower is equal to or higher than the threat, then you pass. This is quite similar to the escape tests from The Dead Marshes quest, but are actually much more difficult, as there is more threat to go around than there were escape values in that scenario.
In order to pass hide tests, you need two things: willpower and readying effects. The former obviously allows you to pass the tests, while the latter makes sure that you can use the willpower of characters to both quest and participate in hide tests. If you don’t include readying effects, then you will face the tough choice of sacrificing quest progress to play it safe on hide tests, or fail hide tests because you were too aggressive during questing. In my experience, it is a smart strategy against this quest to include at least one hero with a high willpower, along with some form of readying effect that will attach to them. Including low-cost, high-willpower allies is also extremely valuable. Finally, including events that can boost willpower is useful, as it allows you to modify your willpower after cards have been discarded from the encounter deck during a hide test, in order to turn failure into victory. In the decks that I have used, Halfling Determination is a good example of such a card.
2) Each deck should have at least one strong defender
The good news about this quest is that the only enemies of note you will face are the Black Riders. The bad news is that they each have 5 attack (with the possibility of shadow attack boosts), which can quickly decimate allies and heroes if you are not suitably prepared. Fortunately, there are some really strong defensive options in the current card pool. Note that the Spirit version of Frodo is not one of them, as you are compelled to use the Fellowship version for this quest instead.
The first great option is Gondorian Shield. This fantastic attachment, perhaps one of the best cards to come out in the Against the Shadow cycle, can transform Beregond, Denethor, or a variety of other Gondor heroes into a reliable tank. Blood of Numenor is also a strong option, especially when paired with Steward of Gondor, as it allows a Dunedain or Gondor hero to soak the vicious attacks of the Nazgul, for a cost of 1 resource each turn. Looking at just the cards contained in The Black Riders box itself, Hobbit Cloak, combined with Sam’s natural stat-boosting ability, provides the possibility that a Hobbit deck can serviceably defend against strong enemies as well (add in Ring Mail for even more security). Looking further back in the card pool, Support of the Eagles, combined with Winged Guardian, is still a great option to turn a Tactics hero into a superstar defender.
Certainly, chump blocking is also a viable defensive alternative for this scenario, especially since there aren’t a ton of enemies to worry about or shadow effects that punish you for destroyed characters. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are a few shadow effects that enable enemies to make multiple attacks in one turn. This is why I prefer focusing on building up one hero as a tank, with the hope that I can get a copy of Unexpected Courage on them (or some other readying effect) as soon as possible. I do think, though, that adding allies that can also serve as defenders, or at least chump blockers, provides valuable insurance against Black Riders that suddenly gain extra attacks.
3) Attack-boosting effects and strong attack values are a must
With each Black Rider boasting 4 threat, you won’t want them to sit around in the staging area too long, especially if multiple copies start stacking up. This means that you will need to engage them sooner or later, and while you may be able to tank them for awhile, it’s important to be able to destroy them as quickly as possible. One, this prevents the possibility that you may get overwhelmed with Nazgul. Second, it limits your exposure to shadow effects, which lowers the probability that you will be hit with those nasty ones that initiate multiple attacks. Since each Black Rider has 4 defense and 6 hit points, you need to include at least one hero that can serve as an attacking powerhouse, probably in conjunction with weapons or attack-boosting effects. Since actions are often at a premium in this quest, focusing on a few high-attack characters rather than a swarm approach to offense is usually preferable. Merry from The Black Riders box itself is an obvious candidate, but so are such heroes as Beorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn (among others). Events that boost attack, defense, and willpower, such as Durin’s Song, Halfling Determination, and For Gondor! are superbly useful in this quest, as you can use them flexibly for hide tests, tanking, or Nazgul destruction.
4) Location management is helpful, though not essential
The three previous strategies are close to essential, while this fourth one falls into the “something to keep in mind” category. Location management can prove useful in this scenario for two purposes: clearing out the treacherous Stock Road as soon as possible, and nuking locations in play during the third stage so that you can travel to Bucklebury Ferry. Regarding the former, Stock Road is a location, of which there are 3 copies in the deck, that adds 2 to the total of all hide tests you have to take while it is in the staging area. This can be quite punishing, and, since hide tests are our major concern in this scenario, we want to get Stock Road out of the staging area as soon as possible (I would like to add that this location is nicely thematic, as it should be hard to hide if you’re merrily skipping and whistling down a road in broad daylight!). Including effects that place progress tokens on locations works for this purpose, as Stock Road only has 3 quest points. If you happen to get stuck behind another active location, then anything that lets you switch a staging area location, such as Stock Road, into that spot can also be invaluable (Strider’s Path, West Road Traveller, Thror’s Map, etc.). Also, keep in mind that the Stock Road forces you to make a hide 1 test, with its penalty in effect, in order to travel to it, so switching effects are useful to bypass that condition as well.
As far as the second use for location management is concerned, the final stage of the quest requires you to explore Bucklebury Ferry, but you can only travel to it when there are no other locations in play (it is also immune to player card effects, by the way, so you can’t just drop progress onto it in the staging area). With more locations possibly coming out each staging step, even if you manage to clear some out through questing, more may appear to replace them. Fortunately, the quest itself provides help in this department, as every time you pass a hide test during this quest stage, you are allowed to place X progress tokens on any non-unique location in play (X is twice the number of players in the game). Still, having Asfaloth or The Riddermark’s Finest, for example, is helpful to supplement this bonus (or in case no side tests occur) so that you can travel to Bucklebury Ferry sooner rather than later.
Part 2 – The Decks
Players often vary in how slavishly they keep to theme, with some refusing to include any characters or cards that clash with established lore, while others have no problem bringing zombie Thorin Oakenshield with them to Gondor. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, and I often enjoy the exercise of trying to fabricate some plausible reasons for why a character would show up in a quite unexpected time and place. You’ll certainly see plenty of that in my session report. However, for the Saga Expansions, I tend to try to stay closer towards appropriate thematic choices, while making some concessions to strategy. I am playing through Campaign Mode two-handed, as that is my preferred method of play, so in this section, I will explain the thought process behind each deck. The first deck was fairly easy to construct, because as soon as I grabbed my copy of The Black Riders at Gen Con, I knew I wanted to build a Hobbit deck. It felt absolutely wrong to me to play through these quests without the Hobbit company we know and love, and I was eager to try out this new deck type. The deck I used at Gen Con is fairly close to the one you will see here, with a few minor tweaks. It was a bit more difficult to decide on a second deck. I knew I wanted to use something revolving around Aragorn, as that is the most appropriate thematic choice, other than Hobbits, for this section of The Lord of the Rings. I also wanted to include a Spirit hero, as my Hobbit deck is a Lore/Tactics/Leadership build, so I decided to run with Glorfindel, who did show up at the Ford, so I could stretch the lore a bit to justify his inclusion. However, my last hero choice was completely motivated by gameplay considerations, specifically a desire for maximum willpower, and this is how Eowyn ended up in one of my campaign decks. This Aragorn/Eowyn/Glorfindel deck was also inspired by seeing Matthew D. from the Progression Series run a similar deck during our games together at Gen Con.
This hero load-out is designed with the unique challenges of this scenario in mind. In particular, the hide tests that I will face, combined with questing requirements, means that I need to include a lot of willpower. It will also be handy to include heroes that can both quest and be available for the hide tests. Glorfindel is a natural fit, as Light of Valinor will allow him to contribute 3 willpower to questing while still being ready for combat or tests. Aragorn’s natural readying ability will do the same, and he will be the resident defender of this deck, with his 2 defense and 5 hit points. Eowyn’s 4 willpower, as always, will be integral for either questing or hiding, and the ability to discard cards to boost her willpower might prove incredibly handy as well. At the same time, since I am playing campaign mode, I have to keep in mind that these heroes will need to be versatile enough to face a variety of threats, and I’m fairly certain that they can, although the biggest weakness is the lack of a huge tank defender. The great thing about this trio is that, with Aragorn and Glorfindel included, they can handle themselves in combat as well. Thematically, the hero choices are satisfying, with both Aragorn and Glorfindel playing a part in the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, although Eowyn is obviously a compromise to strategic needs. Finally, the starting threat of 26 will at least give me some breathing room.
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
Kili (OHaUH) x1
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Fili (OHaUH) x2
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x3
Silvan Refugee (TDF) x3
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Faramir (Core) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3
Arwen, as usual, is a key factor in this deck, enabling Sam to be a strong defender (and providing sentinel as well). Ethir Swordsman, West Road Traveller, Escort from Edoras, and Silvan Refugee all are included for maximum willpower, either for questing or hide tests. While the Escort and Silvan might seem like they work at cross-purposes, playing them strategically will minimize any conflicts. What is nice about the Escort is that they can participate in hide tests with 2 willpower without being discarded, and then eventually commit to a quest when I really need a big push. Fili/Kili provide some quick bodies for defensive purposes (or to help out with attack). Faramir is a beast, raising willpower for questing and/or hide tests.
With my heroes needing to be available for multiple purposes in any given round, Light of Valinor and Unexpected Courage are both automatic inclusions. Sword that was Broken turns this deck into even more of a questing/willpower machine. Steward of Gondor will usually be placed on Aragorn to enable him to use his ability as often as possible, pay for expensive Leadership cards, and get the most out of Blood of Numenor. Speaking of the latter, this Spirit attachment is included to enable Aragorn to block big, nasty Nazgul attacks. Ancient Mathom provides much-needed card draw that is otherwise absent.
Elrond’s Counsel is here for threat reduction and a little willpower boost. A Test of Will/Hasty Stroke are just automatic Spirit adds to deal with treacheries (or “when revealed” effects in general) and shadow effects, and are even more necessary against some of the horrid cards that The Black Riders has in store. A Very Good Tale is just an immensely useful card that I find it hard to do without, as it will enable me to quickly get allies into play for no cost, allowing this deck to get running much more quickly. A favorite combo is to put Fili/Kili into play, then exhaust them to activate A Very Good Tale. Since each costs 3 resources, they can put 2 allies into play that are worth 6 resources total.
Deck One’s main role is to take on most of the questing load and be able to confidently handle hide tests. Since Deck Two is a Hobbit deck, which is able to handle some combat but not all of it, Deck One will also need to be able to take on some combat duties as well. Thus, these two decks really move outside of a combat/questing dichotomy and are more balanced. Still, in what may seem like a bit of a strange and unexpected dynamic, the Hobbit deck will take on a greater share of enemies, while Deck One really concentrates on plowing through quests as quickly as possible (when appropriate). The most integral cards to draw early are Light of Valinor, Steward of Gondor, and either Sword that was Broken or Faramir (preferably both). I do worry that there may eventually be quests in the Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions that eschew traditional willpower questing in favor of battle/siege, but I’m not going to worry too much about that right now. In terms of hero roles, Glorfindel will be a quester/attacker, Aragorn will be a quester/defender (although he will participate in attack when possible), and Eowyn will be a quester/hide test expert.
This is my preferred Hobbit trio, for thematic, as well as gameplay reasons. In order to deal with the tough Nazgul that populate this quest, I need a strong attacker who can actually deal damage to them. This means that Merry is an automatic include, and since Deck One doesn’t include any Tactics, this choice looks even better, as I will gain access to the all-important Feint. Sam Gamgee is also a fairly easy choice. As discussed in the Deck One entry, the presence of hide tests means that I need high willpower heroes who can take on multiple roles in one turn. Sam fits the bill perfectly as he can either quest or participate in hide tests, while still being available for defense if an enemy with a higher engagement cost is pulled down. For my final Hobbit hero, I could choose Fatty Bolger, however Deck One already gives me plenty of Spirit, and I like both Pippin’s abilities (card draw and bumping up enemy engagement cost) and his access to key Lore cards (such as Fast Hitch and Asfaloth for Glorfindel). This hero load-out starts with a low threat of 20, which is perfect, as it allows time for the deck to get rolling and strategically engage enemies one at a time. In terms of hero roles, Pippin will be a quester, Sam will be a defender/quester or hide test expert, while Merry will be an attacker.
A few of these allies choose themselves, as they fit in so nicely with a Hobbit deck. Bill the Pony and Barliman Butterbur cover a bit for the Hobbits’ vulnerability, while Farmer Maggot can help Merry add attacking teeth to the deck (as well as some handy direct damage). The Rivendell Minstrel is actually a deceptively vital part of this deck, as she not only fetches songs, which help smooth out the resource blues in a tri-sphere build, but she also provides 2 willpower, which can be key for questing or hide tests. Gildor Inglorion is certainly expensive, especially in a tri-sphere situation, but the intention is that he will be put into play for free by Elf-stone. The Defender of Rammas was included to provide some extra defensive support when things really get hairy (and I don’t mean the Hobbits’ feet!).
Song of Wisdom (CatC) x1
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3
Celebrian’s Stone (Core) x2
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Song of Kings (THFG) x1
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x3
Elf-stone (TBR) x3
Song of Battle (TDM) x1
The three songs are included, as previously mentioned, to smooth out resources amongst the heroes. Hobbit Cloak is essential, as it allows Sam to defend against the Nazgul with some confidence. The Dagger of Westernesse is equally important for Merry, enabling him to turn into a real killing machine, which is vital as he shoulders a lot of the attacking responsibilities in this deck. A couple of the attachments are included for the benefit of Deck One, as Asfaloth goes on Glorfindel for location management, while Celebrian’s Stone makes Aragorn an even stronger willpower machine. One of the best attachments that can pop up in an opening hand is a copy of Fast Hitch. With one, two, or even three of these in play, I’ll be able to get multiple actions out of my Hobbit heroes, allowing them to commit to the quest more often, while still being available for hide tests (Fast Hitch also helps Merry to attack multiple enemies or Sam to defend twice or defend and attack). One of my new favorite attachments, and an extraordinarily powerful card, is Elf-stone, which allows an ally to be played for free (from the first player) when the location it is attached to is explored. Generally, this will be used to play Gildor for no cost, but Gandalf is also a great target as well.
It’s hard to ever leave out the Sneak Attack/Gandalf combo, and I will not do so here. Halfling Determination is a versatile card that can provide a willpower cushion during hide tests/questing, crucial defensive boosts to prevent Sam’s destruction, or attack buffs to provide just enough damage to kill an enemy. Frodo’s Intuition gives this deck amazing card draw and a dose of willpower support. Finally, Feint is a must-have when facing a deck full of powerful Black Riders.
Deck Two is a fairly balanced deck, as it can provide decent questing support, while also engaging in combat. This Hobbit build will look to strategically pull down enemies one by one (specifically those with a higher engagement cost), using Sam and his stat boosts to defend, and Merry to destroy them. The key to getting this deck running is to put a Hobbit Cloak on Sam and a Dagger of Westernesse (or two) on Merry as early as possible, while Fast Hitches play an important part as well. This deck actually is more hero-focused than ally-heavy, as the allies play more of a supporting role, often being sacrificed for the greater good when necessary. When possible, once I have Gildor and Elf-stone and hand, I will pull off this combo to get the statistical equivalent of a fourth hero into play.
The Cutting Room
As always, there were quite a few cards left on the cutting room floor when building these decks. Here’s a brief sampling:
* Gondorian Shield: This would have been nice to include in the Hobbit Deck to build up Aragorn into a tank. However, I couldn’t spare the space in Deck Two, and I replaced Gondorian Shield by putting Blood of Numenor in Deck One instead.
* Secret Paths/Radagast’s Cunning: I would have liked to put a few copies of these Lore events in Deck Two, but there just wasn’t enough room, and I’m relying on the willpower strength of Deck One to compensate for their absence.
* Take No Notice: I do really like this event, which can be played for free in an all-Hobbit deck to add 5 to each enemy’s engagement cost. This obviously works very well with the Hobbit style of play, but I didn’t find it essential during my play experiences, and thus had to cut it for more essential cards.
* Good Meal: This is a criminally underrated card that will likely get more attention with the sudden proliferation of Hobbit heroes. However, Deck Two does not include any expensive events, so Good Meal couldn’t find a place. I do, however, suggest that Hobbit decks that are using high-cost events include Good Meal (it works especially well with The Galadhrim’s Greeting).
Part 3 – Session Report
The journey to bring the ring to the fires of Mt. Doom must start somewhere, and so we find ourselves in Bag End, facing the daunting prospect of dodging the nine Black Riders on the way to Rivendell. This is the second ever TftC session report, with the first being a battle against Smaug himself. However, things are a little bit different this time around, as we are embarking on a longer path through Campaign Mode. The decisions we make here will have to carried through until the end, whatever that may be. As a reminder, it will be important to avoid hero death, as according to the campaign rules, replacing a hero will incur a permanent penalty of 1 starting threat (as well as not being able to use that hero again). Not knowing what the future may hold for this set of 6 heroes, I must focus on the present. Without further ado, it’s time to face the Shadow of the Past!
–> Note: Text in green denotes my attempts to provide some flavor text describing how I imagine the adventure playing out based on the cards. It is also my opportunity to be a bit silly. Take these sections for what they are.
–> Note: In these new Saga Expansions, there is a new rule for staging. During this step, starting with the first player, each player takes turns revealing one card. If a card has the “peril” keyword, only that player/deck can interact with that effect (this includes cancellation). If a card says “you”, this refers to the player who revealed it.
The quest begins, as it should, with Bag End as the active location. A burden called Gandalf’s Delay sits in play, and forces both decks to start off with one less card in their starting hands. On the plus side, Frodo starts off with a boon, Mr. Underhill, which can be placed in the victory display to prevent an enemy from attacking. This will come in handy against the tough Nazgul that plague this quest. Speaking of which, a single Black Rider starts out in the staging area, searching through Hobbiton for the name Baggins.
DECK ONE (Starting Threat – 26)
Heroes: Eowyn, Glorfindel, Aragorn
Starting Hand: Elrond’s Counsel, Blood of Numenor, Light of Valinor, Arwen, Steward of Gondor (1 fewer card drawn due to Gandalf’s Delay)
Thoughts: I’m extraordinarily pleased with this starting selection, particularly having both Steward of Gondor and Light of Valinor from turn one. That’s not all though, as I also have Arwen, which will provide both sentinel and a defense boost, along with Elrond’s Counsel for threat reduction and Blood of Numenor to help turn Aragorn into a tank. I couldn’t really ask for a better start for this deck.
DECK TWO (Starting Threat – 20)
Heroes: Merry, Sam, Pippin
Starting Hand: Song of Wisdom, Gandalf, Halfling Determination, Barliman Butterbur, Elf-stone (1 fewer card drawn due to Gandalf’s Delay)
Mulligan: Gandalf, Halfling Determination, Dagger of Westernesse, Dagger of Westernesse, Bill the Pony
Thoughts: My first starting hand is not up to snuff. While I do like the Gandalf/Elf-stone combination, I’m missing some of the key attachments that are important for Deck Two. So I’ll opt for a mulligan. My second starting hand is not exceptional, but I do draw two copies of the all-important Dagger of Westernesse. This means that Merry will soon be a dual-wielding Hobbit badass. Gandalf waits to play his part, while Bill the Pony can be put into play for free, thanks to Sam’s presence.
Encounter Deck Set-up
1) Gandalf’s Delay sits in the staging area
2) A single Black Rider is added to the staging area (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points)
3) Bag End is set as the active location (0 threat, 3 quest points)
Thoughts: There’s no random draw here, so I don’t have much to be happy or unhappy about. My biggest concern is obviously the Black Rider, and his 4 threat, that is sitting in the staging area, sniffing around for the ring. My early goal will be to get Deck Two prepared to take on this enemy as soon as possible.
ROUND 1 (4 threat in staging area, 0/1 progress on 1B, 0 victory points, Active Location – Bag End [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Black Rider**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 26 Threat
Resources: Eowyn – 1, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 1, Frodo – 1
Draw: Escort from Edoras
New Hand: Elrond’s Counsel, Blood of Numenor, Light of Valinor, Arwen, Steward of Gondor, Escort from Edoras
Planning: I like drawing the Escort, as it will provide help for hide tests and for questing, when the right moment arrives. My planning choices are pretty simple here. I want Light of Valinor immediately on Glorfindel, so I will pay 1 resource from his pool. As Blood of Numenor is free, I have no problem immediately attaching it to Aragorn. Everything else is too expensive to play at the moment, but I’m looking forward to getting Steward of Gondor into play next turn.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 1, Glorfindel – 0, Aragorn – 1, Frodo – 1
In this alternate history, Aragorn brings Glorfindel along from Rivendell, as he heads into the Shire to try to meet up with the ring-bearer before it is to late. They are accompanied by Eowyn, a young noble from Rohan, who has absconded from her home in search of adventure. The power and legacy of Numenor and Valinor radiate from Aragorn and Glorfindel.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 20 Threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Draw: Barliman Butterbur
New Hand: Gandalf, Halfling Determination, Dagger of Westernesse, Dagger of Westernesse, Bill the Pony, Barliman Butterbur
Planning: Butterbur will be useful for defensive purposes once I am able to save up enough resources. I could pay 1 Tactics resource to attach a Dagger to Merry now, but I actually want to keep it available in case I need to play Halfling Determination. This event could be essential for any potential hide tests or combat. So I’ll content myself with playing Bill the Pony for free.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Frodo sits in Bag End, with his friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, not suspecting the danger outside his doorstep. Fortunately, they have been preparing for Frodo’s departure, and Sam has brought along a new pony named Bill to help share the load. Where Sam got the creature, none can tell, but they all are grateful to not have to carry everything on their backs.
Deck One will use Elrond’s Counsel to raise Glorfindel’s willpower up to 4, which will make him a powerful participant in questing and potentially a hide test. This also drops Deck One’s threat down to 23. Deck One will commit Glorfindel (4 willpower) and Frodo (2 willpower) to the quest. I’m actually going to keep Eowyn back in case of a hide test, while I can’t afford to spend Aragorn’s resource to ready him after questing, as I need it for Steward next turn, so I’ll hold him back as well. For Deck Two, I will only commit Pippin (2 willpower) and Bill the Pony (1 willpower). Sam and Merry will stay back for hide tests. Currently, there is a total of 9 willpower committed against 4 threat in the staging area. Generally, a conservative approach to the first couple of rounds is important to prevent a failed hide test and premature Black Rider attack. It also is helpful to delay progression to stage 2 sometimes, as another Black Rider appears at that point, so I’m aiming to clear out Bag End but not quite advance yet. This is obviously tricky since stage 1B only requires 1 quest point, but I’ll do my best.
Card 1: Lure of the Ring [Surge] – This treachery has the dreaded surge keyword. It forces the first player to either exhaust the One Ring or raise their threat by 3. I don’t want any early threat increases, so I’ll exhaust the One Ring. This means I won’t be able to use Frodo’s ability to cancel any encounter card effects this turn.
Card 1.2: Pathless Country (2 threat, 3 quest points) – I’m happy to see this location. It gets 4 extra quest points while in the staging area, preventing location management shenanigans, but other than that, it’s fairly harmless.
Card 2: Crawling Towards Him [Peril, Hide 2] – This is exactly what I was worried about: a first turn hide test. This treachery forces you to make a hide 2 test, then, if you have failed any hide tests this phase, including this one, you have to remove all of your characters from the quest. While this is nasty, I’m more worried about failing the hide test, as that will cause the Black Rider to come down and immediately attack. I will exhaust Sam (3 willpower) to participate in the hide test. I could throw Merry into the mix as well, but I’m confident, since I have Halfling Determination available to boost Sam’s willpower if necessary. I flip the top 2 cards from the encounter deck, with 2 threat discarded. Fortunately, I have passed the hide test, and the “when revealed” effect on this treachery is now meaningless.
My total of 9 willpower against 6 threat in the staging area (Black Rider and Pathless Country) yields a modest 3 progress. Fortunately, this is just enough to clear out Bag End, which earns me 1 victory point, without advancing to stage 2. More importantly, Bag End has a beneficial effect when it is explored: each player may draw 1 card for each Hobbit hero they control. This is a bonanza for Deck Two, which draws 3 cards: Barliman Butterbur, Elf-stone, and Asfaloth. [Note: I made a small mistake here, as Deck One should have drawn one card since it controls Frodo at this point. However, this is something that hurts me, rather than helps me, so it is what it is.]
As the Black Rider closes in on Bag End, and with Gandalf nowhere in sight, the Hobbits set out. Meanwhile, Aragorn and company are rushing as fast as they can to Hobbiton, fearing the worst. As the company of Hobbits stroll through the sunny fields of the Shire, Sam is suddenly struck by a sense of foreboding, and he ushers everyone into the foliage. They are just in time, as a Black Rider stops at the position they just left, slowly sniffing and crawling on the ground towards them. Frodo is struck by the lure of the ring, almost putting it on, but Sam stops him at the last moment. Fortunately, the Black Rider gives up and rides away.
With only one location in play, the heroes decide to travel to the Pathless Country.
The Hobbits move into an unfamiliar area of the Shire. Even Pippin, who is most familiar with the lands around them, seems uncertain of which path to take. Aragorn and co. pick up the Hobbits’ trail at Bag End, and they now have the unenviable task of trying to find them in the pathless backwoods of the Shire.
Although the 4 threat of the Black Rider in the staging area is substantial, neither deck is ready to engage with it yet. Both decks will forego their optional engagements.
There is no combat this round.
ROUND 2 (4 threat in staging area, 0/1 progress on 1B, 1 victory point, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Black Rider**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 21 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 2, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 2
Draw: Rivendell Minstrel
New Hand: Gandalf, Halfling Determination, Dagger of Westernesse, Barliman Butterbur, Barliman Butterbur, Elf-stone, Asfaloth, Rivendell Minstrel
Planning: With 2 Tactics resources available, I can now safely spend 1 to attach a Dagger of Westernesse to Merry, still leaving 1 for Halfling Determination, if necessary. I will also spend 2 to put Barliman Butterbur into play. Elf-stone was certainly an option, but ideally I want to save it for Gildor or a more opportune moment. I also was tempted to play Asfaloth on Glorfindel, but with no big location problems at the moment, I can afford to hold off. Instead Butterbur will provide some defensive help against potential enemies
Resources After Planning: Merry – 1, Sam – 2, Pippin – 0, Frodo – 2
Traveling through the backwoods of the Shire, the Hobbits are surprised to run into a large barkeep from Bree. He introduces himself as Barliman Butterbur, and explains that he has come to deliver a letter to a Mr. Underhill. He apologizes, explaining that he had completely forgotten about the letter until recently. Fortunately, he had gotten lost on the way to Hobbiton and happened to run right into Frodo.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 24 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 2
Draw: Ancient Mathom
New Hand: Arwen, Steward of Gondor, Escort from Edoras, Ancient Mathom
Planning: The time has now come to put Steward of Gondor onto Aragorn, who will immediately exhaust it to recoup the 2 resources. It also makes sense to get Arwen into play, who will provide an important dose of willpower, as well as a defensive boost.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 1, Glorfindel – 0, Aragorn – 2
While Aragorn does not have a friendly relationship with Denethor, the current Steward of Gondor, he still has connections to prominent individuals in Minas Tirith, thanks to his time as Thorongil. This allows him to marshal important resources and allies. This would come into play later, but more importantly for the moment, as Aragorn walks through the hills of the Shire, pondering the White City, his beloved, Arwen Undomiel, arrives to help in the search for Frodo. She immediately begins exchanging frosty glances with Eowyn.
The Black Rider, with its 4 threat, is still sitting in the staging area. Deck Two will commit Frodo (2 willpower) and Pippin (2 willpower), with Sam staying back once again for hide tests. Deck One will commit Glorfindel (3 willpower), Aragorn (2 willpower) and Arwen (2 willpower). Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. Eowyn will stay back for hide tests, while Aragorn pays 1 resource to immediately ready. Altogether, the 2 decks are committing a total of 11 willpower.
Card 1: Black Rider (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) [Hide 2] – I’m not going to accept this at all. Not only would this mean that I would have to face another Black Rider in the staging area, but I would also have to make a hide test. I’ll pay 1 Fellowship resource and exhaust the One Ring to cancel this card, shuffle it back into the encounter deck, and draw another.
Card 1.2: The Marish (3 threat, 4 quest points) – I’m always happy to see a location instead of a Black Rider or a treachery. This one shuffles a Nazgul enemy from the discard pile into the encounter deck if a player fails a hide test. Fortunately, I’m not planning on failing any.
Card 2: Black Rider (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) [Hide 2] – Wouldn’t you just know it? I dodge the first Black Rider, but have had the bad luck of drawing another one, and I can’t do anything to stop it this time. Since this card was revealed by Deck One, it has to make the hide test. I will exhaust Eowyn and her 4 willpower, knowing I can always discard cards if necessary to boost her willpower. I flip the top 2 cards from the encounter deck, with 3 threat being discarded. This test has been passed.
I manage to break even this turn as my 11 willpower goes against 11 in staging area (Black Rider, The Marish, Black Rider). The Pathless Country is not cleared out, but with only one other location popping up this turn, I’m not bothered too much.
The Hobbits (along with Butterbur), barely recovering from their first close encounter with a Black Rider, suddenly hear a screeching wail. The company manage to hide once more, quaking in terror as it rides past. Aragorn and co. are not so fortunate, as the Rider comes upon them as they struggle to catch up with Frodo. However, Eowyn shows tremendous courage, distracting the Nazgul’s attention so that everyone else can escape into the underbrush. The Rider shows little interest in the mortal woman, and rides on its way. Meanwhile, the Hobbits near The Marish.
With the Pathless Country still sitting in the active location spot, no travel is possible.
The time has now come for enemy engagement, as I can’t afford to leave 8 threat worth of Black Riders in the staging area, and I should be able to handle at least one of them. Deck Two will optionally engage one of the Black Riders. As its engagement cost is higher than Deck Two’s threat, Pippin allows me to draw 1 card, which happens to be the Defender of Rammas. Sam will also gain a +1 boost to all his stats.
Poor Bill the Pony will exhaust to defend against the Black Rider. Butterbur is an option, but I would rather save him for later, especially since I actually paid resources for him. I won’t use Sam, as I need him for the counter-attack. There is no shadow effect, and Bill the Pony is destroyed.
Merry (4 attack + 2 attack from the Dagger) and Sam (2 attack) mount the counter-attack. This is a total of 8 attack. I will then pay 1 Tactics resource for Halfling Determination, which will boost Sam’s attack for a new total of 10. Against the Black Rider’s defense of 4, this means 6 damage is dealt, which is enough to defeat it.
NAZGUL KILL COUNTER = 1
Hoping that their encounters with the Black Riders are behind them, the Hobbits decide to take a more risky direct route, hoping to quickly escape from the threat of their pursuers. The gamble does not pay off as a Black Rider mounts a surprise attack, its blade flashing through the air. Fortunately for the Hobbits, Bill the Pony is standing in the way, and it heroically dies in a noble sacrifice. Enraged, Merry and Sam charge rather foolishly at the Black Rider, the young Brandybuck wielding a mysterious dagger he had found in an old trove in Brandy Hall. The Rider is wounded by the dagger and taken aback by the Hobbits’ boldness, and it flees into the darkness of the trees, screeching in rage and pain.
ROUND 3 (7 threat in staging area, 0/1 progress on 1B, 1 victory point, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Black Rider and The Marish**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 25 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 4, Frodo – 2
Draw: Silvan Refugee
New Hand: Escort from Edoras, Ancient Mathom, Silvan Refugee
Planning: At this point, I will glady take the cheap willpower provided by the Silvan Refugee. Later in the game, I will probably be dropping Gandalfs and Escorts to handle questing and combat needs, so I’d better get use out of the Refugee before that happens. I will also pay 1 Spirit resource to attach Ancient Mathom to Pathless Country, which will hopefully provide some needed card draw for Deck One if I’m able to clear out the active location this turn.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 1, Glorfindel – 0, Aragorn – 2
Still on the Hobbits’ trail, Aragorn is disturbed to hear the wail of a Nazgul in the distance. At the same moment, a band of wandering Elves happens across their path. One of them, a younger Elf, decides to adventure for awhile in the company of Glorfindel and Elrond’s daughter.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 22 threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 3, Pippin – 1
New Hand: Gandalf, Barliman Butterbur, Elf-stone, Asfaloth, Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Feint
Planning: There are a few options here, but I either don’t have the resources available to play them (Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Asfaloth) or they won’t be too useful at the moment (Elf-stone affects the first player, and Deck One doesn’t have much valuable in the way of allies at the moment). There will be no planning for Deck Two this phase.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 1, Sam – 3, Pippin – 1
The Hobbits continue on their journey, with Pippin assuring them that they are nearing The Marish and Bucklebury Ferry.
Deck One will commit Glorfindel (3 willpower), Aragorn (2 willpower), Arwen (2 willpower), Silvan Refugee (2 willpower), Frodo (2 willpower), and Eowyn (4 willpower). Aragorn will pay 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. I’m making a big quest push here, and including Eowyn this time, as I have both Aragorn and Glorfindel available for any potential hide tests. Deck Two will commit only Pippin (2 willpower), with Sam being held back for hide tests and Merry for attack. Both decks are contributing a total of 17 willpower against 7 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Black Rider (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) [Hide 2] – After just getting rid of one Black Rider, I certainly don’t want to face another. I will pay 1 resource from Frodo and exhaust the One Ring to try my luck again. Hopefully this decision will turn out better than last time.
Card 1.2: Evil Crow (25 engagement cost, 2 threat, 0 attack, 1 defense, 2 hit points) – I’m pretty pleased with this draw. The Evil Crow makes hide tests harder when engaged with a player, but it has moderate threat and is easily dispatched.
Card 2: Crawling Towards Him [Peril, Hide 2] – These Nazgul sure do like to crawl! Since this card was revealed by Deck Two, it is up to it to pass the hide test. I will exhaust Sam and Butterbur for a total of 4 willpower. The 2 cards discarded from the encounter deck add up to 0 threat. The hide test is passed.
My 17 willpower goes against the 9 threat in the staging area (Black Rider, Evil Crow, The Marish). This yields 8 progress, with 3 clearing out Pathless Country, while 5 goes on stage 1B. Since the location is explored, Ancient Mathom activates, and Deck One draws 3 cards: Fili, Fili, and Ancient Mathom.
With enough tokens on 1B to advance, I now move onto stage 2. Unfortunately this means that a new Black Rider must be revealed, which also entails another hide test, this time for the first player. Deck One exhausts Glorfindel and Aragorn for a combined willpower of 5, with 2 threat being discarded from the encounter deck. Stage 2 also states that 1 is added to the discarded threat during a hide test for each ally you control. Since Deck One controls 2 allies (Silvan Refugee and Arwen), 2 more is added to the discarded threat for a total of 4. Fortunately, the test is still passed, showing the value of having high willpower heroes that can contribute both to questing and hide tests.
Aragorn, Eowyn, and the band of merry Elves manage to make up ground on the Hobbits, while being careful to look out for Riders. However, an evil crow is marking their position, secretly reporting to the Nazgul about their movements. While the Hobbits are taking a short rest, they are almost ambushed once again by a Rider, perhaps even the same one, but Sam and Butterbur are vigilant in their watch and manage to get them cleared out of camp just in time. With the Hobbits moving closer to the Ferry, the Black Riders are rushing to close off escape. Glorfindel and Aragorn are in their element, finding paths that keep them out of harm’s way and the watchful eyes of the Enemy.
With the Pathless Country finally cleared out, and no other locations in play, it is an easy decision to travel to The Marish.
The Hobbits finally reach The Marish, hoping to lose their pursuers in the marshy ground. Aragorn and company are not far behind.
Once again facing 2 Black Riders in the staging area and 8 threat, Deck Two will optionally engage one of them. Since the Black Rider has a higher engagement cost than Deck Two’s threat, Pippin will draw one card, which is Frodo’s Intuition, and Sam will earn his stat boosts. Note that normally the Evil Crow, with its 25 engagement cost, would engage with Deck One. However, Pippin’s ability is actually boosting its engagement cost up to 28 at the moment, meaning that it can be left in the staging area. This is great news as Deck One is all tapped out, so I will choose to leave the pesky crow there for now.
Deck Two plays Feint on the Black Rider, nullifying its attack. This allows me to preserve my chump blocker (Butterbur) for another day, while having enough attack to deal some damage.
Merry (3 attack + 2 attack from the Dagger) and Sam (2 attack) will attack the Black Rider. 7 attack against 4 defense deals 3 damage. The Black Rider is not defeated, but at least its threat is out of the staging area.
The marshy ground proves to be not as big a deterrent to the Black Riders as the Hobbits hoped. A pursuing Rider finds them and mounts another attack. Merry and Sam are stout once more, beating back the first charge, but the Rider circles them, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
ROUND 4 (6 threat in staging area, 0/14 progress on 2B, 1 victory point, Active Location – The Marish [0/4 progress])
**Staging Area – Black Rider and Evil Crow**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 23 threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 4, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 2
Draw: Rivendell Minstrel
New Hand: Gandalf, Barliman Butterbur, Elf-stone, Asfaloth, Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Frodo’s Intuition, Rivendell Minstrel
Planning: First, I will pay 1 to attach Elf-Stone to The Marish. With Gandalf in hand and Deck Two as the first player, it makes sense to get him into play for free. I then will pay 2 Fellowship resources to play Frodo’s Intuition. With 4 Hobbits under my control, this card provides ridiculous value, allowing me to draw 4 and granting +1 willpower to all Hobbit heroes. I draw the following 4 cards: Song of Wisdom, Fast Hitch, Farmer Maggot, and Gildor Inglorion. This is a great draw, as not only do I get a copy of Fast Hitch, but I also now can put Gildor into play with the Elf-stone instead of Gandalf. I play the Song of Wisdom and Fast Hitch on Sam, allowing him to participate in even more parts of play and use his accumulated pool of resources to help pay for Lore cards.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 1, Sam – 3, Pippin – 0, Frodo – 0
As the Black Rider continues to circle their position, Sam stops to pull a handy bit of rope out of his pack. Certainly, if there is any situation that calls for some rope, it is this one. Softly, almost absent-mindedly, he begins singing an old song that Bilbo taught him, something to steel his courage for the Rider’s second charge.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 26 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 6
Draw: Steward of Gondor
New Hand: Escort from Edoras, Fili, Fili, Ancient Mathom, Steward of Gondor
Planning: There are a few options I could play here, but none seem appealing at the moment. Ancient Mathom will draw cards for Deck Two, when I really need them to go to Deck One, so I will hold off on that play for now. I could play Fili (and Kili), but quest stage 2 penalizes you for each ally you control during hide tests, so I’m actually aiming to keep my number of allies low at the moment. For a similar reason, I will not play the Escort from Edoras. So for this turn, I will forego planning.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 6
Not pausing to rest and fearing the worst, Aragorn pushes the company forward into the swampy ground of The Marish.
Deck Two will commit Sam (3 willpower + 1 willpower from Frodo’s Intuition), Pippin (2 willpower + 1 willpower from Frodo’s Intuition), and Frodo (2 willpower + 1 willpower from Frodo’s Intuition). With Sam now in possession of a Fast Hitch, I can safely commit him to the quest, while still having him ready in case of a hide test. To this end, I will immediately exhaust this attachment to ready Sam. Deck One commits Arwen (2 willpower), Silvan Refugee (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower), Aragorn (2 willpower), and Eowyn (4 willpower). Aragorn pays 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides a +1 defense boost and sentinel to Sam. Aragorn and Glorfindel are both ready to handle hide tests, so I can send Eowyn on the quest, and I really want to push through stage 2 quickly so I can start pumping out allies again. I am committing a total of 20 willpower against 6 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Pathless Country (2 threat, 3 quest points) – I love seeing this card. Give me more.
Card 2: Stock Road (3 threat, 3 quest points) – On the other hand, this location can be punishing. While it is in the staging area, I have to add 2 to the total threat of cards discarded during a hide test. Combined with the penalty for allies already imposed by the quest stage, any hide tests I undertake right now will be quite difficult.
My total of 23 willpower compares quite favorably against the 11 threat now in the staging area (Black Rider, Evil Crow, Pathless Country, Stock Road). This is a total of 12 progress. Wanting to move as close as I can to advancement, I will use Eowyn’s power, with Deck One discarding a redundant copy of Steward of Gondor, while Deck Two discards Rivendell Minstrel, for a new total of 14 progress. 5 tokens go to clearing out The Marish, while 9 are placed on 2B. With The Marish explored, the Elf-stone activates, and Deck Two can put an ally into play for free. Gildor is tempting, but at the end of the day, I choose to put Gandalf onto the table and use his damage-dealing ability to destroy the Black Rider engaged with Deck Two.
NAZGUL KILL COUNTER = 2
With the Rider poised to strike again at any moment, Frodo feels certain it is time to act. He gives the signal and the Hobbits make a break for it. The sounds of the Black Rider’s pursuit grow ever closer, its horse’s hooves sloshing in the wet ground. Just when it seems that all is lost, a blinding light flashes behind them. They turn and stare in shock as the Black Rider is fleeing into the distance and Gandalf is standing before them. A few miles behind, Aragorn and co. spy a flash in the distance, not knowing what to make of it.
I really want to travel to the Stock Road to get its horrible effect out of the staging area, but it requires the first player (Deck Two) to make a hide 1 test to travel to it. I would probably be able to pass it, but the penalties from Stock Road and stage 2B will make it more difficult, and I probably would have to exhaust Merry and/or Gandalf to help, when I want to keep them ready for attack (my goal is to destroy the last Black Rider this turn). So I will travel to Pathless Country instead.
“We must not take the Stock Road,” Gandalf declares as they reach the end of The Marish. “It is too exposed.” The Hobbits are certainly disappointed to have to journey through yet another stretch of unkempt land rather than the smooth surface of the road, but they know that the wizard’s words ring true.
With a ready Gandalf and an eager Merry, now is certainly a ripe moment to finish off the last Black Rider remaining in play. Deck Two will thus optionally engage it. Pippin’s ability allows me to draw 1 card for this engagement, which is another copy of Elf-stone. It looks like Gildor will soon be coming anyway. Deck Two has a couple of ready heroes, and thus will engage the pesky Evil Crow.
Butterbur declares as the defender against the Black Rider, who gains +1 attack due to a shadow effect. Poor Butterbur is destroyed by this monstrous attack of 6. On the other side of the board, Aragorn defends against the Evil Crow, and there is no shadow effect.
Merry (4 attack + 2 attack from the Dagger) and Gandalf (4 attack) combine for 10 attack. With the 4 attack of the Black Rider subtracted, it suffers 6 damage and is defeated. Glorfindel (3 attack) attacks the Evil Crow. Its 1 defense still leaves 2 damage to be dealt, and the Evil Crow is smashed.
NAZGUL KILL COUNTER = 3
The Black Riders continue their relentless assault on the Hobbits. Another Nazgul decides to try its luck, striking down poor Butterbur, who stands heroically in its path. However, it doesn’t count on the presence of the Istari, whose blade combines with Merry’s to send it back from whence it came. Meanwhile, Glorfindel spies that evil-looking crow out of the corner of his eye once more. He sends his sword spiraling through the air, and all that’s left of the crow is a puff of feathers.
Gandalf is discarded, which means that the Silvan Refugee must be discarded as well.
With the Hobbits almost to Buckland and the Black Riders seemingly routed, Gandalf carries Butterbur away to receive some healing attention. The Silvan elf traveling with Aragorn and co. decides to leave and rejoin her brethren once more, apparently having her fill of endless tracking and bird murder.
ROUND 5 (3 threat in staging area, 9/14 progress on 2B, 1 victory point, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Stock Road**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 27 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 3, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 8, Frodo – 1
New Hand: Escort from Edoras, Fili, Fili, Ancient Mathom, Gandalf
Planning: With Deck One the first player, I will play Ancient Mathom on the active location. Now that the Silvan Refugee has been discarded, I can also safely play Escort from Edoras without boosting my hide test penalty from what it was before, and without having to worry about a conflict with the Refugee if I use the Escort’s questing ability, which causes it to be discarded. Still, I must hold back on the Fili/Kili combo, and I will also forebear on playing Gandalf until I really need him.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 1, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 8, Frodo – 1
As Aragorn and co. leave The Marish, they are intercepted by a lone rider. Fortunately, he is not of the Nazgul persuasion, but rather is an escort sent from Edoras to bring Eowyn back home. However, she refuses, and asks him to help their cause instead. Not wishing to defy the wishes of a tough-looking elf lord and ranger, as well as a determined lady of Rohan, he defers to her judgement.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 24 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 4, Pippin – 1
New Hand: Barliman Butterbur, Asfaloth, Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Farmer Maggot, Gildor Inglorion, Elf-stone, Elf-stone
Planning: With a few locations in play now, including a Stock Road that I would love to nuke as soon as possible, I will now play Asfaloth on Glorfindel, spending 1 resource from Pippin and 1 from Sam, who makes good use of his Song of Wisdom. I will spend a further 2 from Sam to bring Barliman Butterbur back into play.
Resources: After Planning: Merry – 2, Sam – 1, Pippin – 0
The Hobbits stare in wonder as a sleek, white horse charges past them. Not knowing what to make of this sight, they are even more stunned when Butterbur comes walking towards them, bandaged and bruised, but none the worse for wear. Gandalf has gotten him the help he needed and sent him back to look after the Hobbits while he scouts ahead. Meanwhile, Asfaloth rushes to find its master, and Glorfindel is overjoyed to see how quickly the horse has answered his call.
Deck One commits Frodo (2 willpower), Escort from Edoras (4 willpower), Arwen (2 willpower), Aragorn (2 willpower), and Glorfindel (3 willpower). Arwen provides a +1 defense boost and sentinel to Sam, while Aragorn pays 1 resource to ready. Deck One’s questing machine is in full operation and is an impressive sight to behold. Deck Two commits Sam (3 willpower) and Pippin (2 willpower). I will exhaust Fast Hitch to ready Sam. Between the two decks, I have committed 18 willpower against the 3 threat in the staging area. I’m hoping I won’t face any hide tests this turn, as the Stock Road and ally penalty from stage 2B will be a tough combination to overcome. To this end, I have decided to hold Eowyn back from questing, so that she can handle any hide tests that come my way.
Card 1: Black Steed [Surge] – This treachery attaches to a Nazgul enemy in play, but fortunately I have dispatched them all. This is one of the benefits of keeping Nazgul off the table when possible: it prevents Morgul attachments from finding a target. Either way, it surges.
Card 1.2: Crawling Towards Him [Peril. Hide 2.] – The most popular treachery of the quest so far rears its ugly head once more. Deck One revealed this card, so it must make a hide test. I could cancel this treachery using the One Ring, but I’ll take my chances in case something nastier is revealed later during staging. I exhaust Glorfindel (3 willpower) and Eowyn (4 willpower), hoping my 7 total willpower will be enough to pass this tough hide test. Unfortunately, I discard a massive 6 threat from the encounter deck. Normally, I would pass the test, but I also have to add 2 threat for the Stock Road + 2 for the 2 allies I control, all adding up to a new total of 10. I fail this hide test spectacularly. Fortunately, there are no Black Riders in play, so I don’t have to suffer an engagement and immediate attack, but I do have to activate the text of Crawling Towards Him, which removes all characters Deck One controls from the quest. That means a loss of 13 willpower. Ouch.
Card 2: Black Steed [Surge] – Again, there is no target for this card, and it surges.
Card 2.2: Black Rider (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) [Hide 2] – I now feel quite pleased that I chose not to use the One Ring to cancel Crawling Towards Him, even though I failed the hide test. Now, I can cancel this Black Rider instead, and I will certainly do that, as not only would it negate my hard work of clearing the table of Black Riders, but it would also force Deck Two to make a tough hide test, just like the one Deck One just had to face. Even worse, if I failed that test, Deck Two would be immediately engaged and attacked by the Black Rider. So I will spend 1 resource from Frodo and exhaust the One Ring to mulligan this encounter draw.
Card 2.3: Green Hill Country (2 threat, 3 quest points) – This is muuuuch better. I’m really starting to love this One Ring; you could even say that it’s precious to me. Green Hill Country is actually a positive location and the polar opposite of Stock Road in that it provides a willpower bonus during hide tests.
The 5 willpower I have left, all from Deck Two, just breaks even against the 5 threat in the staging area (Stock Road, Green Hill Country). This is troubling, as not only does it mean I’m still stuck on stage 2, but I also can’t get Stock Road out of the staging area. Fortunately, I have the newly found services of a certain horse, and I will immediately exhaust Asfaloth to place 2 progress on Stock Road. This will allow me to clear it out next turn. The poor Escort is discarded without contributing anything to the quest.
Aragorn and co. have increased their pace, hoping to reach the Hobbits at last, but they fail to hide in time when a Nazgul finds them. Forced to separate to confuse the Rider’s pursuit and lead it away from the Hobbits, they lose precious time. Taking one look at the Black Rider, the Escort from Edoras realizes what he has has signed up for, apologizes to the group, and rides off back for Rohan.
Pathless Country is stuck in the active location spot, so there is no travel this round.
There are no enemies to engage this turn.
There are no enemies in play, so there is no combat this turn.
ROUND 6 (5 threat in staging area, 9/14 progress on 2B, 1 victory point, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Stock Road and Green Hill Country**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 25 threat
Resources: Merry – 3, Sam – 2, Pippin – 1, Frodo – 1
Draw: Halfling Determination
New Hand: Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Farmer Maggot, Gildor Inglorion, Elf-stone, Elf-stone, Halfling Determination
Planning: Still stuck on the ally-unfriendly stage 2B, I will forego playing one of the available Tactics allies. I will however spend 1 resource from Sam to attach Elf-stone to Pathless Country. If questing goes better this turn, I should be able to clear it out and use the Elf-stone to put Gildor into play for free.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 3, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1, Frodo – 1
The Hobbits, being led once again by Pippin, head through a country without roads in search of Bucklebury Ferry. Pippin finds a small stone lodged in the dirt and pauses to inspect it. It’s almost as if someone left it there as a sign or warning of some sort…
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 28 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 10
New Hand: Fili, Fili, Gandalf, Faramir
Planning: I am quite overjoyed to draw Faramir. Even though, in general, I am looking to avoid playing allies during this quest stage, I did lose the Escort from Edoras last turn, and Faramir can provide support for hide tests, as well as questing. Therefore, I will pay 4 resources to play him. I will also take this opportunity to exhaust Asfaloth to put 1 more progress token on Stock Road, clearing it out of the staging area.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 2, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 6
Aragorn’s call for aid and connections in Gondor have not been for naught, as Faramir, son of Denethor, has answered his summons. They pick up the Hobbits’ trail, heading off into unmarked land. Glorfindel decides to take Asfaloth and ride down the Stock Road, taking away some of the attention from both parties and hopefully leading a few of the Black Riders on a fruitless chase.
Deck Two commits Sam (3 willpower), Pippin (2 willpower), and Frodo (2 willpower). I will exhaust Fast Hitch to ready Sam. On the other side of the board, Deck One commits Aragorn (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower), and Arwen (2 willpower). Aragorn will pay 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. With low threat in the staging area, I can afford to hold Eowyn back to prevent any more failed hide tests. My total of 14 willpower goes against 2 threat (Green Hill Country) in the staging area.
Card 1: Lure of the Ring [Surge] – This time, I will choose to raise the threat of the first player (Deck Two) by 3, rather than exhausting the One Ring. As past experience has shown, I may need it to cancel something terrible.
Card 1.2: Black Steed [Surge] – With no Nazgul in sight, this Black Steed will ride off to the discard pile. It does surge though.
Card 1.3: Piercing Cry [Peril]. This is one of the worst treacheries in the encounter deck, as it forces you to search the encounter deck and discard pile for a Nazgul and either put it into play in the staging area or engaged with the first player (Deck Two). I could cancel this with the One Ring, but I should have the firepower available to deal with it. In addition, since the card text “adds it” or “puts it into play”, rather than “reveals it”, I won’t have to make a hide test for the Black Rider. Therefore, I will take a Black Rider from the encounter deck (so it won’t pop out later during a staging step) and put it into play engaged with Deck Two. Pippin’s ability allows me to draw 1 card, which is Defender of Rammas, while Sam gains his stat boosts.
Card 2: Stock-brook (1 threat, 5 quest points). This location isn’t the worst card that could be drawn, but it is annoying. It immediately becomes the active location and puts Pathless Country back into the staging area. This not only adds threat to the staging area, but more importantly, it means I won’t be able to activate the Ancient Mathom and Elf-stone attached to Pathless Country this turn.
My total of 14 willpower goes against 4 threat in the staging area (Pathless Country, Green Hill Country) , for a total of 10 progress. 5 tokens clear out Stock-brook to the victory display, while the remaining 5 go onto stage 2B for 14 progress, which is just enough to advance to stage 3!. This final stage of the quest adds Bucklebury Ferry to the staging area and reveals a Black Rider. The first player (Deck Two) must make this hide test, so I will exhaust Sam (3 willpower), holding Merry back for combat. Fortunately, Stock Road is gone and the ally penalty from 2B is now out of the picture as well. Sam’s willpower should hopefully be enough, and I do have Halfling Determination to add 2 to my total, if necessary. As it happens, a total of 0 threat is discarded, and I easily pass the hide test. Unfortunately, Sam won’t be available for the battle against the Black Rider.
A familiar piercing cry rouses the Hobbits from a short rest. They immediately gather their belongings and set out once more. Meanwhile, Aragorn shakes his head in dismay as they come across Stock-brook. “We have gotten turned around, and must now retrace our steps to find the Hobbits’ trail once more.” Glorfindel rejoins them at this point, and they trudge back the way they came. The Hobbits make good ground, with no sign of Black Riders to disturb them, and after awhile, Pippin stops short. “I know exactly where we are, and Bucklebury Ferry is not far at all now!”
Bucklebury Ferry (3 threat, 9 quest points) must be cleared to win the game, but it cannot be traveled to until there are no other locations in play. Thus, I will travel to Pathless Country. Green Hill Country provides a bonus to hide tests while it is the active location, but at this point, I’m more interested in getting all locations explored as quickly as possible. Pathless Country gains 4 extra quest points while it is in the staging area, for a total of 7, which makes it fairly impervious to Asfaloth. Also, I would like to get my hands on the goodies provided by Ancient Mathom and Elf-stone, both of which are attached to it.
Unfortunately, caution rules the day, and the Hobbits can’t simply take the straight route to the Ferry. Instead, they keep to the country and away from the roads.
One Black Rider is engaged with Deck Two because of Piercing Cry. I will choose not to engage the Black Rider in the staging area, as I can’t handle two at once.
I could sacrifice Butterbur once more, but with the quest coming to a close, I still have the boon, Mr. Underhill, available, which allows me to cancel an attack (similar to Feint). I will use it now, as there is no reason to go through a whole quest without playing it, and shadow effects can be unpredictable. I put Mr. Underhill in the victory display, and the Black Rider cannot attack.
Merry (4 attack + 2 attack from the Dagger) attacks the Black Rider alone. This attack of 6 against the Black Rider’s defense of 4 deals 2 damage.
The sound of approaching hooves alerts the Hobbits that the onslaught will soon continue. Merry, thinking quickly, organizes them into an impromptu ambush. They hide in the bushes and pounce on the Rider from all sides when it appears. Merry deals a nasty wound to the leg of the Rider’s horse, and the horse and Nazgul crash to the ground.
ROUND 7 (9 threat in staging area, 0/- progress on 3B, 3 victory points, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Bucklebury Ferry, Green Hill Country, and Black Rider**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 29 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 3, Glorfindel – 3, Aragorn – 8, Frodo – 2
Draw: Escort from Edoras
New Hand: Fili, Fili, Gandalf, , Escort from Edoras
Planning: Fortunately, the ally hate of stage 2B has been left behind, so I will now pay 3 Leadership resources for Fili, which allows me to search my deck for Kili and put him into play as well. I could play the copy of Escort from Edoras I just drew, but I will save it for the big quest push once Bucklebury Ferry is the active location.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 3, Glorfindel – 3, Aragorn – 6, Frodo – 2
Once again on the Hobbits’ trail, Aragorn and co. come upon a remarkable sight. Two Dwarves are rifling through an ancient mathom that has been left in a small storehouse. They are the spitting image of Fili and Kili, but of course they are not them, as those two died heroically at the Battle of Five Armies. The Dwarves greet the company in typical Dwarven fashion, “Bili, at your service,” said one, “Wili, at your service,” offered the other. They are residents of Erebor on a treasure hunt, but agree to help because of the general respect for Hobbits that all Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain possess.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 29 threat
Resources: Merry – 4, Sam – 3, Pippin – 2
Draw: Frodo’s Intuition
New Hand: Rivendell Minstrel, Defender of Rammas, Farmer Maggot, Gildor Inglorion, Elf-stone, Halfling Determination, Defender of Rammas, Frodo’s Intuition
Planning: There are a bevy of options available at the moment, but only a few that seem truly worthwhile. There is already an Elf-stone on the active location, and that will go to Deck One if the location is cleared, so I want to wait until Deck Two is the first player. The Defender of Rammas could provide some added defense, but I will instead opt for attack, paying 3 Tactics resources for Farmer Maggot, who will deal 2 damage to the Black Rider. I will also pay 3 Lore resources for the Rivendell Minstrel, which will provide some added willpower for questing and hide tests. She will fetch a Song of Battle, as I have quite a few Tactics cards in my hand.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
As the Black Rider rises to his feet once more, a trio of dogs come tearing through the brush, barking and leaping on the hapless Nazgul, bearing him to the ground once more. None other than Farmer Maggot comes panting after them, staring in astonishment at the sight of the weary Hobbits, the burly barkeep, and the strange shape being mauled on the ground. The scene becomes even stranger as a Elf wanders into the clearing as well, singing a strange song. She had been sent by Elrond to…ah, screw it, I got nothing!
Deck One will commit Aragorn (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower ), Frodo (2 willpower), and Arwen (2 willpower). Aragorn will pay 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. Deck Two will commit Sam (3 willpower), Pippin (2 willpower), and Rivendell Minstrel (2 willpower). I will exhaust Fast Hitch to ready Sam. This is a total of 16 willpower against 9 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: The Marish (3 threat, 4 quest points) – Deja vu strikes as The Marish returns. This is unfortunate, as it means there is yet another location that I have to explore before I can travel to Bucklebury Ferry, but it’s not the worst draw in the world.
Card 2: Rode Like A Gale – This treachery returns all engaged Nazgul to the staging area. Normally, this would be incredibly annoying, as it adds the 4 threat of the engaged Black Rider to the staging area during questing, but in this case, it’s not that big a deal. If anything, it means Deck Two can engage it again, gaining an extra card and a boost to Sam’s stats.
My total of 16 willpower goes against 16 in the staging area. I will exhaust Faramir to add 4 willpower to my questing total, giving me just enough to put 4 progress tokens on Pathless Country, fully exploring it. This captain of Gondor has shown his quality, indeed. Ancient Mathom is activated for the first player (Deck One), which draws Arwen, A Test of Will, and Silvan Refugee. It’s nice to finally see a copy of A Test of Will, and that makes me feel fairly confident of racing towards victory with some security in hand. The Elf-stone also triggers, and Deck One will use this opportunity to put Gandalf into play, who promptly zaps the damaged Black Rider out of existence. I could have had Deck Two engage with it again to gain an extra card, but I’ll play it safe here and simply get rid of it. Finally, I will take this opportunity to exhaust Asfaloth to put 2 progress on The Marish.
NAZGUL KILL COUNTER = 4
The Black Rider successfully pushes the dogs off him and rises once more. Before turning his wrath on the Hobbits, there is another piercing cry in the distance, and he suddenly jumps on his wounded horse and rides into the distance. Unfortunately for the Nazgul, Gandalf is there waiting and hits him with a mighty blow that sends him to the ground once more. The Black Rider has had enough and rides straight out of the Shire. With the invaluable aid of the skilled ranger, Faramir, Aragorn and co. close ground on the Hobbits, and they are finally in sight for the first time, far off in the distance.
The Marish will soon be cleared out by Asfaloth, and I still can’t travel to the Ferry, so I will move Green Hill Country to the active location spot.
With the Black Rider routed, Farmer Maggot leads the Hobbits into the settled land near the Brandywine, a country of green hills and settlements. Everyone is still confused as to why the Rivendell Minstrel is there.
With a very ready Gandalf in play, Deck One will take on the remaining Black Rider. It’s finally time for Aragorn and co. to participate in the Nazgul destruction.
I will declare an expendable Kili as the defender against the Black Rider engaged with Deck One. Its 5 attack against Kili’s 1 defense deals 4 damage, which destroys the Dwarf.
Deck One will counter-attack with Gandalf (4 attack), Aragorn (3 attack), and Glorfindel (3 attack). A total of 10 against the Black Rider’s 4 defense is enough for 6 damage. The Black Rider is defeated.
NAZGUL KILL COUNTER = 5
Aragorn and co. are surprised to meet up with Gandalf, who has just finished dealing with another Black Rider. His grand plan has been to pull the attention of the Nazgul away from the Hobbits. Another decides to try its luck, and Gandalf, Aragorn, and Glorfindel make short work of it. The Black Rider rues the day it picked a fight with an Istari, an elf lord, and an heir of Numenor.
Gandalf is discarded at the end of the round.
After the Nazgul is dispatched, Gandalf stops to talk and gives Aragorn and co. an update as to the status of the Hobbits, then rides off to scout the nearby area once more.
ROUND 8 (6 threat in staging area, 0/- progress on 3B, 3 victory points, Active Location – Green Hill Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Bucklebury Ferry and The Marish**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 30 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 2, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 2
Draw: Sneak Attack
New Hand: Defender of Rammas, Gildor Inglorion, Elf-stone, Halfling Determination, Defender of Rammas, Frodo’s Intuition, Song of Battle, Sneak Attack
Planning: With Deck Two being the first player, it now is a perfect opportunity to play Elf-stone on Green Hill Country and to reap the card draw bonanza from Frodo’s Intuition. The latter reaps Bill the Pony, Gandalf, Hobbit Cloak, and Barliman Butterbur. I would have loved to see Hobbit Cloak crop up earlier, but I will immediately put it on Sam anyway. It also doesn’t cost anything to put Bill the Pony into play, so I will take advantage of that as well.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 2, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Farmer Maggot leads the Hobbits to his house, where he not only provides a hot, steaming meal, but some sturdy cloaks as well. Sam, in particular, takes a fancy to them, and puts one on right away. He also provides another pony to replace the one that was lost, and Bill the Pony 2.0 joins the party.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 30 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 4, Glorfindel – 4, Aragorn – 8
Draw: Escort from Edoras
New Hand: Fili, Escort from Edoras, Arwen, A Test of Will, Silvan Refugee, Escort from Edoras
Planning: I will go ahead and play the 2 copies of Escort from Edoras, as I can use them for hide tests, and then have them available for the big quest push at the end of the game as well.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 4, Glorfindel – 0, Aragorn – 8
The rider from Rohan who fled so quickly from danger returns in shame to Aragorn and co., perhaps encouraged by a second Escort who has been sent from Theoden King.
Deck Two exhausts Sam (3 willpower), Pippin (2 willpower), Rivendell Minstrel (2 willpower), and Frodo (2 willpower). I will immediately exhaust Fast Hitch to ready Sam. Deck One commits Aragorn (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower), and Arwen (2 willpower), leaving Eowyn and the Escorts back for hide tests. Aragorn will pay 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. The two decks combine for a total of 16 willpower against 6 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Woody End (1 threat, 1 quest point) – Yet another location has entered play, but at least this one only has a mere 1 quest point. It provides a nice bonus to hide tests by reducing hide X values by 1.
Card 2: The Ring Draws Them [Surge] – This is the special burden treachery that is included as part of the encounter deck. It forces each enemy in the staging area to engage the first player (Deck Two) at the end of the phase.
Card 2.1: Have You Seen Baggins? – This is a potentially nasty treachery that attaches to a hero and causes that character to be discarded if a hide test is failed by either player. Fortunately, I’m in a strong enough position that I’m not counting on failing any hide tests in the future. I will go ahead and attach Have You Seen Baggins? to Eowyn,
Card 2.2: Lure of the Ring [Surge] – I will exhaust the One Ring, as I’m not anxious to raise Deck Two’s threat.
Card 2.3: Black Steed [Surge] – There are no Nazgul in play, and this card continues the surge chain.
Card 2.4: – Pathless Country (2 threat, 3 quest points) – Ugh. This is a harmless location, but it is also yet another barrier between me and Bucklebury Ferry.
I will take this moment to exhaust Asfaloth and clear out The Marish from the staging area. The reason why I waited until this moment to use Asfaloth is because I find it beneficial to wait until after staging, so that I can use it against the most appropriate target. My total of 16 willpower stands against 6 threat in the staging area (Bucklebury Ferry, Woody End, Pathless Country). This is a total of 10 progress. 4 tokens clear out Green Hill Country, while the rest are lost, as none can be placed on the quest stage. The Elf-stone on Green Hill Country is triggered, which allows Deck Two to finally bring out Gildor for free. Better late than never.
The Hobbits leave Farmer Maggot’s home and begin the final stretch of the journey towards Buckland. The sound of hooves has them scared for a moment, but they are overjoyed to see an Elf overtaking them instead. It is Gildor Inglorion, and it was he who had left the Elf-stone earlier that Pippin had found. Meanwhile, taking a cue from Gandalf, Aragorn and co. forego meeting up with the Hobbits and instead try to explore the nearby area and pull away the attention of the Black Riders. While the others are off scouting, a Nazgul happens upon Eowyn. Instead of attacking her, he asks a simple, haunting question, “Have you seen Baggins?”. She shakes her head and stands resolutely before the Black Rider, who pauses for what seems like an eternity before riding off.
There are 2 locations left to clear (Pathless Country and Woody End) before I can travel to Bucklebury Ferry. I will travel to the one with the slightly higher threat, which is Pathless Country.
Aragorn and co. take to the back areas of the Shire once more, seeking to lead the Nazgul on a merry chase.
There are no enemies in play, and thus no engagement.
There are no enemies in play, and thus no combat.
ROUND 9 (4 threat in staging area, 0/- progress on 3B, 3 victory points, Active Location – Pathless Country [0/3 progress])
**Staging Area – Bucklebury Ferry and Woody End**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 31 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 5, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 10, Frodo – 2
Draw: West Road Traveller
New Hand: Fili, Arwen. A Test of Will, Silvan Refugee, West Road Traveller
Planning: I have several options here, and could put both the Silvan Refugee and West Road Traveller into play, but at this point, I am enough in control that I will hold back, at least for now.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 5, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 10, Frodo – 2
The company of Elves and Men led by Aragorn continue resolutely through the lands of the Shire, determined to keep the Hobbits safe at all costs.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 31 threat
Resources: Merry – 3, Sam – 2, Pippin – 2
New Hand: Defender of Rammas, Halfling Determination, Defender of Rammas, Song of Battle, Sneak Attack, Gandalf, Barliman Butterbur, Feint
Planning: As with Deck One, I will choose to play nothing and stay the course.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 3, Sam – 2, Pippin – 2
The Hobbits, inspired by the knowledge that they are nearing the end of their journey, find a new well of energy and resolve.
Deck One will commit Aragorn (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower) and Arwen (2 willpower). Aragorn will pay 1 to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. I will hold everyone else back for potential hide tests, and I know I don’t need much to overcome the threat in the staging area and clear out the active location. Deck Two will commit Frodo (2 willpower). Pippin (2 willpower), Sam (3 willpower), and the Rivendell Minstrel (2 willpower). Altogether, I have 16 willpower committed against 4 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Crawling Towards Him [Peril. Hide 2.] – This treachery seems to love me, but I’m getting awfully tired of these Nazgul crawling around all over the place. Since Deck One revealed this card, I will exhaust Eowyn for a total of 4 willpower. 0 threat is discarded from the encounter deck, meaning that the hide test is easily passed. This is actually quite good news, as the text of stage 3B states that whenever a hide test is successfully passed, I can place X progress tokens on a non-unique location in play (X being twice the number of players, 4 in this case). I could clear out the Woody End, but Asfaloth can take care of it, so I’ll put the progress tokens on the active location, Pathless Country, fully exploring it.
Card 2: Hunting for the Ring [Doomed 2.] – Starting with the last player, each player has to make a hide 2 test or return an engaged enemy. Since there are no engaged enemies, I have no choice but to take the hide tests. Usually, I could actually purposefully fail the tests in order to avoid exhausting characters, since there are no Black Riders in play to punish me, but since Eowyn has Have You Seen Baggins? attached, she would be discarded, and I would lose her for the whole campaign! For Deck Two, I will exhaust Gildor Inglorion (3 willpower) and Merry (2 willpower) for a total of 5 willpower. 3 threat is discarded, which means the test is passed. With this successful hide test, I will clear out the Woody End, meaning Bucklebury Ferry is now free for the taking! Deck One exhausts Aragorn (2 willpower), Glorfindel (3 willpower), and one of the ready copies of Escort from Edoras (2 willpower) for a total of 7 willpower. 2 threat is discarded, which means this test is passed as well. The flurry of hide tests has been weathered!
My 16 willpower easily defeats the 3 threat in staging area (Bucklebury Ferry).
Aragorn and co. have a couple of close calls with Black Riders, but are able to successfully evade them while distracting their attention away from the Hobbits. Meanwhile, Gildor helps the Shire-folk find the right paths to avoid the hunt for the Ring.
There is one last obstacle to traveling to Bucklebury Ferry: The first player (Deck One) has to pass a hide 3 test. Unfortunately, the many hide tests I’ve had to undergo this turn have exhausted most of my characters, making this test a risky proposition with Eowyn’s possible demise in mind, if I fail. However, sometimes you have to gamble in this game, and I’m feeling lucky (I also know that several Black Riders sit in the discard pile, meaning I’m not likely to draw 4 threat cards). If I wait, then other locations may pop up next turn and I’ll be stuck in the same situation as before. Therefore, I’ll exhaust the remaining Escort from Edoras (2 willpower), Fili (1 willpower), and Faramir (2 willpower) for a total of 5 willpower. Only 2 threat is discarded, which means I pass the test, and can travel to Bucklebury Ferry.
The Hobbits close in on the Ferry, so close they can see it through a grove of trees. They crouch down in the foliage, scanning the area for Black Riders. There’s nothing, but that doesn’t mean the area’s safe…
There are no enemies in play, thus no engagement.
There are no enemies in play, thus no combat.
ROUND 10 (0 threat in staging area, 0/- progress on 3B, 4 victory points, Active Location – Bucklebury Ferry [0/9 progress])
**Staging Area – Empty**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 33 threat
Resources: Merry – 4, Sam – 3, Pippin – 3, Frodo – 2
Draw: Celebrian’s Stone
New Hand: Defender of Rammas, Halfling Determination, Defender of Rammas, Song of Battle, Sneak Attack, Gandalf, Barliman Butterbur, Feint, Celebrian’s Stone
Planning: I’m really in great position to finish off the quest this turn. To that end, I’ll pay 2 Leadership resources to place Celebrian’s Stone on Aragorn. This will provide even more willpower for the final push.
Resources After Planning: Merry – 4, Sam – 1, Pippin – 3, Frodo – 2
Having shaken their pursuers and with no sign of Black Riders, Aragorn and co. prepare for a big sprint to catch up with the Hobbits once and for all. In a quiet moment, Arwen gives Aragorn a precious stone, and he feels a surge of determination flow through him.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 33 threat
Resources: Eowyn – 6, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 12
Draw: Ancient Mathom
New Hand: Fili, Arwen. A Test of Will, Silvan Refugee, West Road Traveller, Ancient Mathom
Planning: I should have everything I need to complete this quest, so I will stand pat.
Resources After Planning: Eowyn – 6, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 12
With no sign of remaining Black Riders, Aragorn decides to finally meet up with the Hobbits. Aragorn and co. tear through the open ground, covering the miles quickly between them and Bucklebury Ferry.
One big quest push is all that separates me from victory, as once Bucklebury Ferry is explored, the game is over. I have assembled enough questing firepower that only a truly nasty set of circumstances would stand in my way now. Deck Two will commit Sam (3 willpower), Pippin (2 willpower), Frodo (2 willpower), Gildor (3 willpower), and Rivendell Minstrel (2 willpower). I will exhaust Fast Hitch to ready Sam. Deck One will commit Aragorn (2 willpower + 2 willpower from Celebrian’s Stone), Glorfindel (3 willpower), Escort from Edoras (4 willpower), Escort from Edoras (4 willpower), and Arwen (2 willpower). Aragorn will pay 1 resource to ready, while Arwen provides +1 defense and sentinel to Sam. This is a total of 29 willpower against 0 in the staging area.
Card 1: Rode Like A Gale – This treachery forces engaged Nazgul back to the staging area, but since there are none in play, it simply surges.
Card 1.2: Black Rider (35 engagement cost, 4 threat, 5 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) [Hide 2] – It’s only fitting that I would face a Black Rider at the end. I could exhaust the One Ring to cancel this card and redraw, but I prefer the devil I know at this point. So I will exhaust Merry (2 willpower), Farmer Maggot (1 willpower) and Butterbur (1 willpower). I’ll keep Sam back in case another hide test arises. I’ve committed 4 willpower to the hide test. Only 2 threat is discarded from the encounter deck, and the hide test is passed. Only one card stands between me and victory now.
Card 2: Green Hill Country (2 threat, 3 quest points) – I breathe a sigh of relief as a harmless location is revealed!
My staggering 29 willpower completely destroys the 6 threat in the staging area. The 23 progress I earned clears out Bucklebury Ferry, and the game is won.
As the Hobbits reach the Ferry, suddenly a shape slinks from the shadows and rises up before them. It is a Black Rider! Suddenly, shouts and battle-cries ring out behind them and startle the Hobbits. Several strange Elves and Men are charging down the lane, and the Black Rider turns and flees upon spying them. The man who seems to be in charge of the group stands in front of Frodo, saying, “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and if by life or death, I can save you, I will.” With the two parties united, they set off on the Ferry, heading off towards Buckland and the edges of the Shire…
The Shadow of the Past scenario has been defeated, and all my heroes have survived the trip to Buckland. I also racked up an impressive Nazgul kill count, with 5 Black Riders meeting their end at my hands. To be honest, both decks worked almost perfectly during the course of the game, even though I didn’t get a Hobbit Cloak attached to Sam until the end. Key chump blockers like Bill the Pony and Barliman Butterbur covered well for this weakness, and Merry and Sam, together with some crucial Gandalf appearances, were able to destroy the Black Riders fairly easily. The questing power of Deck One was also essential, as was the ability to devote high willpower characters to hide tests as well. Following most of the key strategies I originally outlined enabled me to be in control for most of the scenario.
There is a final order of campaign business before I wrap up this quest. I have the choice of carrying over one burden between Gandalf’s Delay and The Ring Draws Them. This is a crucial decision, as whichever one I choose will follow me to the end of these Saga Expansions. Gandalf’s Delay is painful because it means I will start every scenario with only 5 cards instead of 6. On the other hand, The Ring Draws Them mixes into the encounter deck and could potentially be devastating if it pops up at the wrong time. I have terrifying visions of multiple Nazgul sitting in the staging area when this treachery is drawn during a future quest, forcing a massive rush that destroys my heroes. With this in mind, I will choose Gandalf’s Delay as my burden.
I also have a choice between two boons: Mr. Underhill and Gildor Inglorion (the objective version). This decision is actually fairly easy. While the objective version of Gildor is useful, I’m planning on making frequent use of the Lore ally version in my Hobbit deck, so there would be too much conflict. Thus, I will choose Mr. Underhill, as this boon is extremely useful, basically serving as an extra Feint during each scenario.
Well, readers, this concludes a long and exhausting Campaign Mode article! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it. Look forward to the next edition, when Frodo and company cavort in the Prancing Pony and seek to reach Weathertop in one piece. Will I end up regretting the day I ever chose Gandalf’s Delay? Will Mr. Underhill bail me out of a hopeless situation? Tune in next time to find out!