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The Road Darkens: Events Review

by on October 29, 2014


The review of The Road Darkens player cards comes to a close as we take a look at the events in this expansion. There is actually only a single event included, and it happens to be the final element of the emerging Gandalf hero deck. While there may not be a ton of events to discuss, we can spend some quality time with the Flame of Anor, as we determine whether it lives up to the headline spot.


* Flame of Anor (Neutral Event, 1 cost):


First off, what in Eru’s name is Anor, and what does a flame have to do with it? The phrase comes from the legendary scene in which Gandalf confronts the Balrog: “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor.” Unfortunately, Tolkien never shed light on the exact meaning of “Flame of Anor” (or fortunately, as this is part of Tolkien’s writing and world-building style where not every little detail is spelled out for readers). Anor happens to be the Elvish word for the Sun, so the phrase could quite literally be interpreted as Gandalf using the light of the Sun as a weapon, with the Sun itself originating with Laurelin, one of the two trees of Valinor. This interpretation makes sense, as the classic conflict between light and darkness is one of the central elements of Tolkien’s legendarium. We can see this with Ungoliant, who was said to be an incarnation of darkness and consumed the light of the trees of Valinor, with Sauron and Morgoth, both of whom dwelled in places of darkness and used it as a weapon, and with the Balrog itself, which is said to be a creature of shadow and flame. It therefore makes sense for Gandalf to confront Durin’s Bane with the power of the Sun, as an incarnation of light itself. Even Peter Jackson in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, placed this duality front and center, with Gandalf using the light from his staff to hold off the encroaching darkness of Sauron, with the latter stating: “There is no light, Wizard…that can defeat darkness.” Interestingly, though, notice that Gandalf uses the words “flame” and “fire”, both of which can also be associated with the Balrog. While light and darkness occupy opposite poles of an endless conflict, fire can be both a creative force used to spark life itself and chase away the shadows, or a weapon of evil and torment designed to solidify the reign of darkness.

Leaving such philosophical musings aside for the moment, Flame of Anor is thus a card that is meant to represent the core of Gandalf’s power as a Maia incarnated in physical form (if you’re not familiar with the term, you can think of a Maia as a kind of demigod):

Action: Add Flame of Anor to the victory display and discard the top card of your deck to ready an Istari character you control. That character gets +X until the end of the phase where X is the discarded card’s cost.
Flame of Anor has the spell trait, which dramatically increases the “cool factor” in my book. I’ve mentioned before that unlike most other fantasy writers, Tolkien had a rather understated take on wizards and magic. Gandalf does not casually shoot out fireballs over his morning tea, and even a power-mad wizard like Saruman doesn’t churn out spells with abandon. Rather, magic in Middle-earth is certainly present, but not easily discernible. Magic, for example, keeps Lothlorien beautiful and unchanging, preserving it against the ravages of time, but it doesn’t necessarily incinerate the first Orc that crosses a boundary line. Similarly, I’ve read comments by those who aren’t familiar with Middle-earth to the effect that Gandalf wasn’t much of a wizard because he never seemed to use magic. This fundamentally misunderstands the role of magic in this particular world, as Gandalf’s “magic” was the way in which he was able to inspire even the smallest of beings to the greatest feats, and could stave off despair and restore hope in people like Theoden. Thus, I’m pleased that we haven’t seen a whole assortment of spells in the game, and even Gandalf’s Staff grants more subtle powers than overt ones. Flame of Anor, however, represents Gandalf marshaling every last bit of his power and magic to face an immense foe, and it makes sense that it would have the spell trait. Here, the attack boost and readying perhaps shows Gandalf using light and the fierce flame of his own spirit in a concentrated way, a “spell” if you will, to fight the darkness of an enemy and scorch it with a divine radiance.
The real gameplay question is whether this card is worth including in a hero Gandalf deck. There really are 2 separate effects here: readying and and an attack boost. The latter likely will get the lion’s share of the attention, but I find the former to actually be the more crucial. Gandalf has amazing, well-balanced stats, with 3 willpower, 3 attack, and 3 defense, and readying is absolutely necessary to get the most out these attributes so that the high starting threat is actually justified. While there are plenty of other readying effects that Gandalf can easily access thanks to his ability to gain resource icons, such as Unexpected Courage, extra readying can never be harmful. It also helps that Flame of Anor is neutral, which means that any hero can pay for it, even a Fellowship hero when playing a Saga quest. When I have Flame of Anor in hand, I can safely use Gandalf’s 3 willpower for questing, knowing that I can also have him available for defending or attacking, if needed. Even with Unexpected Courage attached, Flame of Anor allows me to potentially use all 3 of Gandalf’s stats in a single round. Of course, an event like Swift and Silent could accomplish the same effect, as could The White Council, which is also thematically appropriate, but then Flame of Anor does also bring the attack boost along as part of the same package.
The attack boost from Flame of Anor is actually quite good, as it can boost Gandalf’s attack up to a maximum of 9 (since 6 is the most expensive player card currently available), possibly even higher if weapons are added to the mix. This boost is also pretty easy to control and customize to the needs of the moment, since it is based off the cost of the top card of the player deck, which is always known if you are using hero Gandalf. By using the Wizard Pipe, you can switch a card from your hand to the top of the deck, possibly getting rid of a duplicate unique card or simply choosing the exact amount of attack you need to get the job done. Of course, it could be argued that this attack boost is not quite as consistent as that provided by a weapon, as it is dependent on the cost of the cards you have in hand (and the one on top of your deck, of course). It is conceivable that you could be stuck with only o or 1-cost cards and not get much of an attack boost at all. Still, this doesn’t happen too often in practice, and you can always do some careful deck building to reduce the likelihood of this occurring. For example, loading up your deck with 3-cost cards could ensure that you always get at least an attack boost of 3, which is quite substantial, and there are plenty of 3-cost cards floating around. Effects that let you re-arrange the top cards of your deck, such as Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion, could up these odds even mroe. Alternatively, you could swing for the fences and include several copies of a 6-cost card like Brok Ironfist or Beorn, specifically for the purpose of discarding for Flame of Anor. Even without such plans in place, Gandalf decks tend to draw plenty of cards, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be stuck without at least 1 card that has a moderate cost. Thus, you’re looking at a one-time attack boost that is better than most weapons (which usually top out at 2) on average and can be amazing if you are able to set up the +5 or +6 boost.
Flame of Anor combines quite well with Quick Strike, as Gandalf could hulk up to 6, 7, 8, or even 9 attack and then smash through an enemy before it can launch an attack of its own. This event also could work spectacularly for battle questing, as Gandalf could boost his attack during the quest phase to make progress during a particularly crucial round, and he would also be ready for combat later on (although he wouldn’t benefit from the attack boost once the quest phase was finished). There also is always the possibility that Gandalf could combine the bonus from Flame of Anor with another attack boost, perhaps from a weapon like Dagger of Westernesse or an attachment like Support of the Eagles, in order to take on the biggest of enemies, like the Balrog itself. Since Flame of Anor can target any Istari character, it also isn’t restricted to use with the hero version of Gandalf alone. Core Gandalf has amazing stats, even better than those of hero Gandalf, but generally can only ever help with one area of play. With Flame of Anor, you could get double duty out of Core Gandalf along with an even higher attack value, although you would be less likely to be able to control the exact bonus, unless you were using something like Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion. The OHaUH Gandalf could also benefit from this event, and would make for an even more consistent play, since that Gandalf can stay in play longer until Flame of Anor emerges. Even Radagast could be transformed into a strong attacker, although this wouldn’t be as potent as any of the versions of Gandalf. Still, all of these uses with Istari other than hero Gandalf are open to debate, as although they could work quite well, how much deck space are you willing to sacrifice for essentially a one-time combo?
Overall, I would submit that Flame of Anor is a must-include for hero Gandalf decks, with at least 2 copies being advisable. Getting readying and an attack boost in one card is quite valuable, even if you have other forms of these effects in your deck, and the fact that it is Neutral makes it even better. The designers included a crucial weakness, which is that Flame of Anor is added to the victory display so that it cannot be recycled, but this isn’t a huge deal and only serves to prevent the card from being overpowered.  When you’re “paying” 14 threat to use hero Gandalf, why wouldn’t you include a card that hits the theme right on the head, is always useful, and features some great artwork? More importantly, how can you resist the opportunity to throw this deck onto the table dramatically, yelling, “You cannot pass!”

Versatility: ♦◊◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊


The Road Darkens player cards have been thoroughly reviewed and analyzed, and while there weren’t as many as players may have liked, there also wasn’t a single coaster in the bunch. Hero Gandalf in particular has made a huge splash, introducing a powerful new deck type that is just in the early stages of being pushed to its limits, and will likely rival even the most powerful of decks in the long run. Still, while the player cards have come to an end, this doesn’t mean that TftC’s coverage of The Road Darkens is finished. No, there is still the pressing matter of continuing the Campaign Mode series I began with The Black Riders, coming soon to a screen near you!

Readers, what are your thoughts on Flame of Anor? Will you use it? What are your best/worst Flame of Anor stories so far?


From → Reviews

  1. I’ve been using a Gandalf Elrond Glorfindel deck for the Road Darkens – I’ve included Saruman in my deck (I’m not a thematic player !!!) who’s attack of 5 can get insanely high with The Flame of Arnor (11 attack anyone?). I find the Stargazer is a must have for a Gandalf deck, combined with his Pipe, you can arrange things exactly how you want them. Indeed the options become a bit mind boggling at times!! I did swap out the Flame for the Power of Orthanc as I needed condition cancellation more than the attack boost……. But maybe I’ll build it back in and remove Sting and the Mithrill shirt, which don’t get much use……….

    • Yea, I played a Gandalf/Elrond deck and Flame of Anor came in VERY handy. I used it to discard excess copies of Vilya so many times and ready Gandalf so he could defend and attack and the attack boost helped guarantee the kill, even with just +2 attack because the readying allowed me to keep some allies ready to help out.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I forgot about old Saruman, but Flame of Anor would definitely work well with his orientation towards attack. It would probably be best used, though, if you had multiple Istari characters (like your Gandalf deck), as if you just had Saruman, Flame might just end up as a dead card.

      I too have used Imladris in almost all of my Gandalf decks, especially when he is paired with Elrond/Vilya. The level of control and ability to cycle through your deck is just ridiculously powerful.

  2. It seems like core Gandalf + Flame of Anor + Sneak Attack + Quick Strike (not to mention a card costly enough to warrant it) would be one of those combos that I would try, but Anor and Isil would just never align in order for it to happen.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It is a lot of pieces to get to work together, so it would probably only work once in a blue moon, but if you pair that with Gandalf’s 4 points of direct damage, he could certainly do some damage

  3. Alex permalink

    personally i find the Gandalf hero to be overpowered and similar to Elrond where you can break scenarios very easily solo or two player. Probably only good for MP where he is more balanced.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      He is definitely on the powerful side. When you pair him with Elrond, it’s fair to say that he is overpowered. I tend to get bored of the most powerful decks over time (like Dain/Dwarves, for example), so I’m curious how long it will take for me to tire of using Gandalf.

  4. Stoian permalink

    Sorry,but I have another question.In Bamfurlong .What is on the fence?Two pumpkins and a cat?Where are the mushrooms?What is in front of the fence?There are carrots in front of the house?

  5. egyptian permalink

    Playing the Shadow and Flame scenario, at 49 threat, and Gandalf uses the Flame of Anor to kill the Balrog. It might have been /the/ most satisfying game we’ve played up to this point.

  6. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Great artwork, neutral, thematic, and features 2 very useful abilities. Who can argue?

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