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Campaign Mode: The Ring Goes South (Part 1)

by on October 31, 2014

ring goes south

It’s been almost a year since I signed off on my official TftC Campaign Mode playthrough. The one downside of the current pattern of Saga releases is that some of the momentum of a campaign is lost due to the mere passage of time between each expansion. Still, while some argue that waiting to embark upon a campaign until all the Saga expansions are released is the best policy, I personally remain committed to playing each part of the campaign as it is released. For one, I’m just too excited to continue the story, and Campaign Mode is one of my favorite innovations for this game ever, so there’s no way I’ll be waiting several years to play the game in this way. Second, I like the idea of being surprised by each installment of the campaign, not knowing if my hero choices or burden/boon resolutions will come back to bite me in the end. Therefore, after playing the scenarios in The Road Darkens with a few different decks, it’s now time to pick up the two decks that I used to complete The Black Riders portion of the campaign and continue the journey. For those who followed the original series of articles, you probably remember that I divided each quest into three parts: part 1 covering strategy, part 2 outlining any deck changes, and part 3 diving into the actual session report. This time around, I plan on condensing part 1 and part 2 into a single article, as in-depth strategy for these scenarios is probably not essential for readers, and any deck changes will not be too major as we go along to necessitate their own piece. Thus, each quest will be divided into 2 articles. Part 1 of The Ring Goes South will thus briefly cover strategy before revealing how my decks have changed since a year ago.

For those who didn’t follow the original articles in this series, you can catch up on them here under the “Saga Campaign Mode” heading. It’s not essential to read them all to understand The Road Darkens articles, but it surely can’t hurt to get the complete picture! To summarize briefly, last time around I used a pair of decks against The Black Riders. Deck One used Leadership Aragorn, Spirit Glorfindel, and Eowyn and placed a heavy emphasis on willpower and questing. Of course, Aragorn and Glorfindel are no slouches when it comes to combat so the deck was fairly well-balanced overall. While I do like to include as many thematic elements as possible when playing the Saga quests, I also am not necessarily tied to the theme completely, as I will often include more pragmatic elements if I think this gives me a chance at victory, with Eowyn being a great example. Deck Two was a slightly more cohesive and thematic build, centering around the new Hobbit heroes introduced in The Black Riders, specifically Lore Pippin, Sam, and Merry. In many ways, it was very similar to the Sting Like A Bee deck I spotlighted fairly recently, although this was an earlier version of that deck type. Deck Two could contribute to questing adequately, but actually was mostly designed to handle a great deal of combat, and it did so with aplomb, dispatching countless Nazgul before all was said and done. Ultimately, I was able to complete all three quests without losing a single hero, although I did gain the burdens Eaten Alive and Weight of the Ring from the Flight to the Ford scenario, along with Gandalf’s Delay from Shadow of the Past. On the other hand, Glorfindel got his hands on the Valiant Warrior boon, while Sam became a Skilled Healer. I also ended up choosing Mr. Underhill as my boon from Shadow of the Past. It now remains to be seen how this balance of boons and burdens will affect my adventure through The Road Darkens.

Part 1 – Strategy

Overall, it is clear that The Ring Goes South is the easiest of the three scenarios in The Road Darkens. This doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a simple walk through the Shire, but it doesn’t pose the same level of challenge as Journey in the Dark or Breaking of the Fellowship. With this in mind, I won’t be devoting a ton of attention to strategic considerations, as most players will be able to manage victory on their own without much advice. Still, in the interest of completeness, I’ll offer a few pointers.

* Location management is helpful

Most scenarios introduce some type of new mechanic to make it different from those that have come before. The Ring Goes South revolves around the concept of damage being placed on locations. When a location is explored, this usually triggers a nasty effect that is keyed to the number of damage tokens on the location. In this way, clearing out each location is a bit more painful than it normally is in most quests. For example, Eregion forces the players to discard X allies among them when it is explored, where X is equal to the number of damage tokens on the location. Losing allies is never a good thing, but losing them to some two bit location is even worse. The final stage of the quest forces you to clear the Doors of Durin to escape, while handling 2 active locations when possible (and players automatically lose if the Doors have 9 damage!)

Eregion

What all this means is that location management is quite helpful in this scenario. Classic effects like Asfaloth, Northern Tracker, etc. can get locations out of play more quickly, which decreases the chance of damage piling up on them. Keep in mind that the forced effects on this location trigger whenever they are explored, not just when they are explored as the active location, but usually only the active location tends to stockpile damage tokens from various interactions. Therefore, clearing out locations in the staging area is still a valid strategy for the most part. You can also choose to leave particularly egregious locations in the staging area, like Eregion, and never travel to them, perhaps using Secret Paths to cancel out the threat. Avoidance is also possible if you use cards like the brand new Celduin Traveler, assuming you can handle enemies and treacheries instead. Still, while location management is helpful in this scenario, it is not strictly essential in most cases. You can simply include a bunch of willpower and blow through locations and the quest quickly before damage can get out of hand.

* Threat reduction is your friend

Threating out can actually be a greater danger in this quest than being destroyed by enemies. This is especially true for decks that begin with a high starting threat. A location like Hills of Hollin raises the threat of each player by the number of damage tokens on it, while Bitter Cold can force players to raise their threat by the number of allies they control (or choose to discard them instead, which could be even more painful). The latter can be especially damaging for those decks that rely on armies of allies. Thus, threat reduction of any kind, whether it’s traditional staples like The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Elrond’s Counsel, or Core Gandalf, or other means, from Nori to Hobbit Pipe, all can be useful to avoid threating out. Effects that prevent or mitigate threat increases can also be equally effective, such as Elfhelm and Free to Choose. Of course, outright treachery cancellation through A Test of Will can at least take care of Bitter Wind, and, as mentioned before, a “rush” approach that aims to burn through the quest as quickly as possible can also do the trick, as these effects only become truly dangerous given time and opportunity.

* Keep one eye on the ally hate

This scenario actually features a fair bit of ally hate, more than many other scenarios. Eregion forces the players to discard X allies among themselves, where X is the number of damage tokens on it. Bitter Cold requires players to choose between discarding all their allies or raising their threat by the number of allies they control. There are a few ways around this ally hate. One is good old-fashioned treachery cancellation through A Test of Will or Eleanor to deal with Bitter Cold. Eregion is a forced effect, so you would have to use Thror’s Key to blank its text box or simply avoid exploring it altogether. An alternative strategy is to use a deck that can quickly pump out allies, so that even if you lose some, they can be quickly replaced (although this approach can lead to a sizable threat increase due to Bitter Cold). On the other hand, you can minimize the role of allies and use a deck that focuses heavily on attachments and building your heroes up to superhuman strength.

Bitter-Cold

* Keep your other eye on enemy engagement costs

This quest features quite a few effects that either subtract from or add to enemy engagement costs. With so many modifiers going on at once and no easy visual indicators, it’s easy to lose track of what enemies are coming down when, and suddenly find yourself swamped by packs of ferocious wargs ready to tear you to pieces. To deal with this situation, I suggest using some kind of tracking system when playing this scenario. Since neither progress tokens or resource tokens are placed on enemies in this quest, you can use each progress token to represent -5 engagement cost. If the engagement cost is actually higher than the printed value, you can use each resource token to represent +5 engagement cost. Every effect in this scenario uses increments of 5, so this should work out nicely, unless you use Lore Pippin, whose partial values may muck this up a bit. Still, this provides an easy way of tracking everything visually. Alternatively, you can simply use dice as well.

Beyond the logistics, you can deal with enemy engagement costs by including your own effects that add to these costs, such as the aforementioned Lore Pippin or Take No Notice, or employ cards that simply trap enemies in the staging area altogether, such as Fresh Tracks, Advance Warning, or Ranger Spikes. On the other hand, you can simply use a combat-focused deck that has the defensive and offensive capabilities to handle a potential swarm of enemies.

Part 2 – Decks

I mentioned in the introduction that I used two decks for The Black Riders, one deck centering around Leadership Aragorn, Eowyn, and Spirit Glorfindel and one focused on Lore Pippin, Sam, and Merry. Both decks worked out quite well and I was happy with how both functioned, as I earned three great victories. Thematically, most aspects make some measure of sense as well, although there were quite a few moments when I had to stretch the narrative quite a bit to come up with some plausible explanations for a particular character’s presence. I could probably keep both decks roughly the same and have a fighting chance against the quests and establish some continuity for the campaign. However, as is true of most players, I love to integrate newer player cards and constantly tweak my decks, so it would be a shame to leave things completely unchanged. Also, although Campaign Mode usually penalizes hero substitutions with a permanent +1 to starting threat, the campaign card for The Ring Goes South actually allows players to freely change heroes. So I should probably use this opportunity to make any hero changes now, since I don’t know if I’ll ever get this chance again. There also is the little matter of a certain wizard appearing in hero form for the first time in this very same box…

DECK ONE

I just can’t resist the temptation to bring in hero Gandalf here. Not only is he featured in The Road Darkens, along with his toys, but he played such a key role in this part of the book (up until his battle with the Balrog) that it doesn’t feel quite right to leave him out or reduce him simply to his ally form. The question is who he will replace. Aragorn has to stay, not only for thematic reasons (how can you leave out Aragorn?!), but because he is the sole Leadership hero and pumps up questing quite a bit with Sword that was Broken. While including Gandalf will imply some major changes, I don’t want to completely alter the decks, as this kind of undercuts the feeling of a campaign. I could take out Glorfindel, but then I would be looking at a starting threat of 35. That’s obviously not going to happen. So I’ll take out Eowyn, who was the main theme offender anyway, and replace her with Gandalf.

Hero (3)
Glorfindel (FoS) x1
Aragorn (Core) x1

Added: 

Gandalf (TRD) x1

Removed:

Eowyn (Core) x1

Eowyn bites the dust for the greater good. This leaves me still with 1 hero each in Spirit and Leadership, with Gandalf being able to flexibly pay for either sphere. I lose a bit of willpower, but Gandalf still boasts 3, and the deck gets a huge boost in the combat department. It now potentially can devastate enemies, with Gandalf, Aragorn, and Glorfindel all being heavy-hitters (and Glorfindel has the Valiant Warrior boon too). Overall, this substitution means that both decks will be quite strong in combat, and Deck One will still be able to carry much of the questing load, even with Eowyn removed. 

Ally (22)
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Silvan Refugee (TDF) x3
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Faramir (Core) x2
Dunedain Watcher (TDM) x3

Added: 

Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x3
Erestor (TLD) x1
Galadriel (TRD) x2

Removed:

Gandalf (Core) x3
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x3

Using hero Gandalf means that the ally version has to be removed. I also need to make room for the Bilbo ally in order to fetch the Wizard Pipe, and this is absolutely not negotiable. I will remove 3 copies of Escort from Edoras to accomplish this, as although I like the willpower dose it provides, it is a bit more expendable than other allies in the deck because of its temporary nature. Bilbo Baggins will provide a more steady 2 willpower, so I feel good about this switch. With the loss of Gandalf, I have 3 open slots in my deck for allies. I will include 2 copies of Galadriel, as she will have a high chance of hitting in this attachment-heavy deck, and with her temporary 3 willpower, also serves as a replacement for Escort from Edoras as well. With the 3rd slot, I will fit in Erestor, who can help with card draw and provide extra willpower. More importantly, with Gandalf along for the ride, it is easier to pay for expensive Leadership allies. 

Attachment (19)
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Blood of Numenor (HON) x2

Added: 

Wizard Pipe (TRD) x1
Gandalf’s Staff (TRD) x3
Expert Treasure-hunter (OtD) x3
Fellowship of the Ring (TRD) x1

Removed:

1 copy of Sword that was Broken, Steward of Gondor, Blood of Numenor
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3

First off, I’m certainly not going to include hero Gandalf without including his toys as well. So I’ll throw in 3 copies of Gandalf’s Staff and 1 copy of the Wizard Pipe (Bilbo serves as 3 extra “copies” of the Pipe). The combination with Expert Treasure-hunter is also far too good to pass up, so I’ll include that Lore attachment as well. With this better card draw in place, I can feel free to remove Ancient Mathom. I have far too many attachments now, so I’ll remove 1 copy each of Sword that was Broken, Steward of Gondor, and Blood of Numenor, taking them down to 2 copies instead of 3. This is feasible because between Gandalf and Expert Treasure-hunter, I should have enough card draw to mitigate the loss of these third copies of key cards. I don’t want to remove the third copy of Light of Valinor, as I still really want to increase the probability of drawing that card in my opening hand. Finally, I will add 1 copy of Fellowship of the Ring, which combines well with Sword that was Broken, but is not essential enough to clog up the deck with more than 1.

Event (9)
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3

Added:

Flame of Anor (TRD) x3

Removed:

Dwarven Tomb (Core) x2

The core trio of Elrond’s Counsel, Hasty Stroke, and A Test of Will is still too solid to change. I do want to add Flame of Anor, though, so I’ll cut the 2 copies of Dwarven Tomb. I may add them back in later against quests that really put a premium on treachery cancellation (I generally use the Tomb to recur A Test of Will). Given that this deck now starts at 31 threat instead of 26, I would like to include The Galadhrim’s Greeting for extra threat reduction, but unfortunately there’s just no room.

 

DECK TWO

Unlike Deck One, the three heroes in this deck are really designed to work together, and there’s no shiny, new Hobbit heroes, so I won’t be mucking with things here too much. I’ll just make a few tweaks to integrate what I’ve learned about running this type of deck compared to my relative inexperience when The Black Riders was released.

Hero (3)
Pippin (TBR) x1
Sam Gamgee (TBR) x1
Merry (TBR) x1

As I said in an earlier installment of this series, I love my Hobbit heroes and they aren’t going anywhere!

Ally (20)
Bill the Pony (TBR) x2
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x1
Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x3
Defender of Rammas (HON) x3
Beorn (Core) x1
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x2
Haldir (AJtR) x1
Bofur (OHaUH) x2

Added

Boromir (TRD) x1
Dori (OHaUH) x2
Elrond (TRD) x2

Removed:

1 copy of Bill the Pony
Gandalf (Core) x3

Generally, I’m happy with the ally assortment here, but I do have to remove the 3 copies of Gandalf that used to be part of this deck. I also will take away 1 copy of Bill the Pony, as I’ve found that 3 is generally excessive. From there, I want to add in some allies to replace what was lost. I definitely want to include 1 copy of Boromir, who is tailor made for a Hobbit deck of this nature and perfect for the theme as well. I can’t wait for him to pop up during the campaign. With Elf-stone lurking around, I can always add in some more unique allies as targets, and I’ll throw in 2 copies of Dori. Although he serves the same purpose as Barliman Butterbur in a Hobbit deck, and so I used either one or the other in the past, now I feel it’s a good call to include both. With potentially more difficult challenges ahead, having multiply ways to save my fragile Hobbit heroes seems like good sense, and Dori helps contribute some attack power as well. Finally, I’ll add in 2 copies of the new Elrond ally, who can make sure that I have a way of dealing with condition attachments, can heal a hero (especially handy for Sam in his defender role with Skilled Healer or one of the heroes from Deck One), and also gives some extra willpower to this deck beyond the heroes.

Attachment (16)
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3
Celebrian’s Stone (Core) x2
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x3
Elf-stone (TBR) x3

These attachments have served me well, and nothing has been released in the past year that really demands inclusion. I did consider adding in Gondorian Shield for some additional defense boosting for Sam, but I won’t be able to use the Steward of Gondor synergy (as Deck One will be making use of that attachment, probably on Gandalf, since he has the most flexibility in terms of what he can pay for) and between Hobbit Cloak, Arwen, his ability, and the extra hit points from Skilled Healer, he should be able to get the job done.

Event (15)
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Halfling Determination (TBR) x2
Feint (Core) x3
Frodo’s Intuition (TBR) x3
Radagast’s Cunning (Core) x2

Added:

A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x2

Removed:

1 copy of Halfling Determination and Radagast’s Cunning

Again, I’m pretty happy with the events I had before, with Frodo’s Intuition being particularly powerful as a form of card draw in an all-Hobbit deck and Radagast’s Cunning often coming in handy. However, with so many high-cost allies, and Elf-stone and Sneak Attack both providing means of cheating them into play, I want to take advantage of some synergy to get even more allies into play. I’ll thus include A Very Good Tale, which will give me an opportunity to chain allies gained from Elf-stone/Sneak Attack into even more allies for very few resources. Timely Aid is also a possibility, but not very consistent given that I start at 20 threat and don’t have threat reduction available anymore without Gandalf. To make room for 2 copies of A Very Good Tale, I will remove 1 copy each of Halfling Determination and Radagast’s Cunning.

The final decks look like this:

DeckOneDeckTwo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

—————————————————————-

With one major change, and a few minor tweaks, these two decks are now ready to continue the campaign. The Nazgul have been defeated, at least temporarily, and the ringbearer lies safe within the walls of Rivendell, but the road will soon darken. Hopefully, with these decks primed and ready, I will be able to face the challenges ahead.

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9 Comments
  1. Nice! Looking forward to the next article already! Glad you sent Eowyn away on Witch-King hunt!

  2. Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

    Very intriguing decks! At times I feel I love theme simply too much. Nonetheless, I did manage to win all three quests with just the Galadriel, Elrond, Bilbo, and Bill allies . . . After much trial and error.
    Which quest in your favorite, TftC? Mine is A Journey in the Dark, mainly because I had an awesome experience slaying the Balrog with Gandalf AND by utilizing a card I have always overlooked, Fall of Gil-galad, to avoid damaging the score.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Journey in the Dark is my favorite as well. The tension of it is just palpable, and that decision about the sacrifice is just what it should be. It’s a pretty simple quest, all things considered, but it works perfectly.

  3. Pengolodh permalink

    Can’t wait to see how the campaign turns out! I myself have not tried The Road Darkens in campaign mode. However, I was wondering: to get the sense of having the Fellowship, will you pretend that Haldir is Legolas or Dori is Gimli?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      The first quest is finished, The Ring Goes South; I just need to find the time to type up the sessions reports, which take quite awhile, but are fun to make. My take on the campaign is really an alternate history one, so we’ll have to imagine what would happen if Haldir was sent to the Council and took a spot in the Fellowship or if Dori went in place of Gimli.

  4. I’ve only skimmed through the article so correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that you increased your starting threat by one for changing out a hero in Deck One.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      The campaign card for Ring Goes South allows you to switch out heroes freely without the threat penalty, so I took full advantage!

      • Ah, I see. I haven’t played that scenario yet and hence didn’t know about this detail.
        Thanks for the clarification 🙂

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