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Nightmare Preview: Return to Mirkwood

by on April 10, 2014

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Following on the heels of The Dead Marshes Nightmare preview, I’ll be previewing the final Nightmare pack in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle: Return to Mirkwood. With the next three Nightmare decks hitting game stores (covering the three scenarios of The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill), it should only be a matter of time until the Season 3 packs hit print on demand and become available to the general public. Until then, I’ll tide you over with some discussion of my experiences with Nightmare Return to Mirkwood and the most notable cards that are included with the pack. Generally, the expectation is that the final Adventure Pack in a given cycle will be uniquely challenging, enjoyable and impart an epic feel. For example, the Dwarrowdelf cycle concluded with a boss fight against Durin’s Bane in Shadow and Flame, while the Against the Shadow cycle came to a close with The Morgul Vale, which upped the ante with three bosses to face. Return to Mirkwood is a bit of a different beast in that it did not focus around a final enemy, but rather bringing Gollum to safety despite his best efforts at sabotage. The previous two Nightmare packs in this set, The Hills of Emyn Muil and The Dead Marshes, had a tough task in that they needed to not only make the quests more difficult but fix some glaring faults that ruined those scenarios. By contrast, Return to Mirkwood is a perfectly fine scenario and already quite challenging, especially for the solo player. In fact, if it could be said to have a flaw, it is that it was not very friendly to pure solo play. The main mechanic of this quest focused around choosing which player would guard Gollum (in objective form) at any given time, as many treacheries and shadow effects, not to mention other encounter cards, were keyed to this status. For example, Gollum’s Anguish raises the threat of the guarding player by a staggering 8! This is one of the Tantrum treacheries in the set that emphasized the difficulty of guarding a pesky creature like Gollum, and with Gollum himself raising the threat of the guarding player by an additional 3 each turn, threat management becomes crucial. In multiplayer, this threat gain can be spread out among the players by switching control of Gollum, but unfortunately in solo play all of this threat has to be absorbed by one player, which means that the quest must be defeated in a few turns to have any chance at success. Thankfully, solo victories are much more possible now that a larger card pool is available.

For whatever reason, though, Return to Mirkwood has never stuck out to me as one of my favorite quests to play and I rarely find myself going back to it. So my main interest in this particular Nightmare pack was seeing if they could up the fun factor as well as the difficulty. So how does the Nightmare version of this scenario change matters, and will it make me more likely to get it to the table in the future? Let’s take a look at the Nightmare set-up card first, which is often the key card in any Nightmare pack:

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This set-up card doesn’t have as dramatic an effect as some do, but it does add some interesting wrinkles to the quest. The first effect helps to undermine players’ action advantage and really focus in on the Tantrum theme:

Forced: At the beginning of the quest phase, the player who is guarding Gollum must either exhaust a hero he controls or resolve the “when revealed” effect of the topmost Tantrum card in the encounter discard pile.

In practice, this doesn’t fundamentally alter the scenario, but it does definitely reward the use of readying effects, such as those in the Spirit sphere or the one built into Tactics Boromir. Using readying allows you to simply pick the exhaustion option each turn rather tha the Tantrum effect. However, this does help to put continual pressure on players, and I like that it is a choice. This theme of giving players the devil’s bargain between additional Tantrum nastiness or something equally uncomfortable continues with the new treachery, Wickedness and Mischief:

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Unlike the effect on the encounter set-up card, it is much more difficult to simply pick the non-Tantrum option, as revealing 2 additional encounter cards is painful, particularly in solo play. Generally, the Tantrum effects are the nastiest in the scenario, from raising your threat by 8 to taking 4 points of damage. I found the most fortunate state of affairs to be when the topmost Tantrum card was Wasted Provisions, which discards the top 10 cards of the guarding player’s deck. This is not pleasant, but far more palatable than the other Tantrum effects, but while Wasted Provisions was a mere inconvenience in the original version of the scenario, I found myself during one game absorbing 3 or 4 occurrences of this treachery thanks to these recycling effects, so that my deck was absolutely wrecked and cut off at the knees. Even a well-built deck can be harmed if you lose 30 cards, as even some of the cards with 3 copies will be lost to the discard pile. It’s a good touch to see a formerly benign encounter card get some more teeth in this way (although it’s still a better option than the damage or threat).

The second effect on the set-up card automatically requires players to bring out a copy of Attercop, Attercop during stage 4, which requires you to defeat all enemies in play to win. This is a subtle effect but does help to add a nice bit of tension and difficulty at the end of the quest, as you may be struggling in terms of damage and threat by that point, and having to deal with the toughest enemy in the quest can certainly be a pain. In the original version of the quest, I was often able to deal with Attercop, Attercop (if it emerged) in the early rounds, leaving stage 4 as a mere formality.

Perhaps one of the more engaging and strategic aspects of the quest has always been the ability to switch which player guards Gollum at the end of the round. The new treachery, Isolation, adds a wrinkle into this process:

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Isolation continues the new trend of Condition attachments that are placed on the current quest stage (we’ve seen this in Voice of Isengard recently as well). This one prevents players from switching Gollum between themselves and removes the ranged and sentinel keywords from all characters as well. Obviously, this can totally ruin your strategy, and I did find myself thrown for a loop by this treachery on a couple of occasions, particularly when I was hoping to move Gollum away from my Tactics deck, which was soaking up threat at an alarming rate. In a welcome twist, this is a card that actually benefits pure solo players, in that it has no effect on them, even though it does surge. I like the thematic aspect of Isolation, in that it really hits on the feeling of players being cut off from one another for a time. Of course, this Nightmare quest isn’t just about treacheries, as there are also some new enemies included:

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The Web-spinner continues the theme of other Spider enemies in that it helps to sap the action advantage of players. In this case, it forces the guarding player to exhaust a hero, otherwise the Web-spinner gains surge. Many times this amounts to continual exhaustion, as the surge is usually too harmful to take. This is yet another reason to include readying effects against this quest, similar to the Nightmare version of Passage Through Mirkwood, but more difficult overall. As an enemy, this spider isn’t too tough to deal with, and its effect is the main danger.

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By contrast, this group of Orcs can be challenging, with their 3 defense and 7 hit points. The fact that they spread the nasty effect of shadow cards targeting the guarding players to all players doesn’t help matters. Of course, a Nightmare version of this quest would not be complete without a brand new Tantrum:

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Befouled Equipment forces the guarding player to discard all attachments! We’ve seen attachment hate before, but this is a whole ‘nother level and can absolutely wreck certain decks. If that wasn’t enough, all cards in the discard pile are then removed from the game, which means you can’t fetch your lost attachments back through cards like Erebor Hammersmith or Second Breakfast. Imagine your combat deck losing Gondorian Shield and all your weapons in one fell swoop or watching Unexpected Courage, Light of Valinor, and Asfaloth sail off to the West. This is a loss of power and sunk resources that takes time to recover from, setting the power curve of your deck back several paces.

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Web-wall is a brand new location that combines with the Nightmare set-up card to make sure that you see Attercop, Attercop as much as possible (as well as the new Web-spinner). With a terrifying 8 attack and the ability to always engage with the guarding player, this spider is the de facto boss of this quest, and the Web-wall makes it more of a threat. In my own experience, I found Attercop, Attercop to be more of a consistent threat, whereas in the past I often was able to avoid it or kill it once quickly and then never have to worry about it again.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Nightmare Return to Mirkwood, much as I did with the original quest. There is absolutely no doubt that this version is better. I did have fun squeaking out a few close victories with 48 or 49 threat and enjoyed having to face a final showdown with Attercop, Attercop each time. On the other hand, while The Hills of Emyn Muil and The Dead Marshes dramatically changed the feel and strategies of those scenarios, this one doesn’t have as noticeable an impact. Again, there is more challenge and more enjoyment to be had, but it is more of a subtle improvement. The encounter deck is tighter and feels more cohesively focused on the mechanics of Tantrums and exhaustion, but I don’t feel as thematically excited about the new additions. This quest is also probably even worse for pure solo players, but it wasn’t realistic or feasible to expect that flaw to be addressed by Nightmare. I will probably be more likely to play Return to Mirkwood than I did previously, and that is definitely a positive.

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From → Reviews, Spoilers

6 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    I think I tried this about 40 times solo and won once. Easier 2P for sure. What deck did you use solo?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      For original Return to Mirkwood, I used a mono-Spirit build (Frodo, Glorfindel, Eowyn) to beat it, as well as a Dwarf deck. I haven’t taken on the Nightmare version solo yet.

  2. I love reading these nightmare reviews just to see how far my deck building has to go before I can attempt to challenge them. This pack in particular looks devilishly hard for my poor hobbit deck.

  3. Glaurung permalink

    I try this quest once and i think is almost impossible solo for now. Really hard just to much things going on every round to manage that with only one player.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’m not surprised at all. I have yet to try this one pure solo, I’m going to give it a go soon, but I don’t expect much success.

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