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Campaign Mode: Journey in the Dark (Part 1)

by on January 22, 2015

ring goes south

A bit of time has passed since I tackled The Ring Goes South, the first quest in The Road Darkens expansion, and there’s a couple of reasons for this delay between installments in my Campaign Mode adventure. One has been the struggle to keep up with the player cards reviews as the Ring-maker cycle stormed to a furious close. The other, and more important reason, is that Journey in the Dark has proven to be the biggest challenge these two decks have yet faced. While some of the quests in The Black Riders could be challenging, and while The Ring Goes South gave me a small scare due to threat problems, I was able to defeat everything in the campaign so far without too much trouble. Journey in the Dark, however, has been a whole other story, and it took quite a few attempts before I was finally able to carve out a victory. This was actually a welcome experience and is part of the reason why I rate Journey in the Dark as one of my favorite quests of all time. Interestingly, this is a good example of the unique challenge that Campaign Mode can present, as I likely would have been able to build a tailor made set of decks to defeat this quest much more quickly, but instead had to work within the framework of the heroes I originally chose. This kind of limitation actually adds drama and interest to a quest, and I’m glad to see Campaign Mode developing in this way, which is of course intensified by the boons and burdens that are beginning to pile up.

In Part 1 of the Journey in the Dark entry, I will investigate the strategies that lead to success against this tough scenario, as well as the changes I made to my decks in order to ultimately achieve victory.

Part 1 – Strategy

While The Ring Goes South doesn’t necessarily require a ton of strategic thinking in order to defeat, and is generally on the easier side of the scale, Journey in the Dark definitely is a quest that you have to learn how to beat. It demands high levels of questing power, but also requires strong combat prowess as well. Overall, playing smartly and building decks wisely is the only way to escape the Mines of Moria with your skin intact!

* Stock up on willpowerDoom-Doom-Doom

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the thrill of potentially facing down The Balrog in an epic showdown, but forgetting to bring along enough willpower is a crucial error. This is because, like the time mechanic of the Ring-maker cycle, Journey in the Dark punishes any attempts at turtling. At the end of each quest phase, a damage token is removed from the Doom, Doom, Doom objective, with The Balrog being put into play when the tokens run out. Since The Balrog is a fearsome foe that will quickly chew through your characters, it is imperative to limit the amount of time you have to face him. It is also possible, although extremely difficult, to defeat the quest before The Balrog even appears, and this is in fact one of only two ways to avoid having to add all four burdens to the campaign pool during resolution. The other is to destroy The Balrog, which entails sacrificing a hero. Whether you’re aiming to escape the Mines before The Balrog can appear or simply to beat this quest any way you can, packing enough willpower into your decks to clear locations and advance stages every couple of rounds is imperative. High threat enemies/locations and a location that can soak up progress (Mines of Moria) stand in your way at every turn.

How much is enough willpower? It’s difficult to give definitive numbers, but the key is to think about the amount of willpower you bring along for a “normal” quest (whatever that is) and add more. Global willpower boosting effects like Fellowship of the Ring, Faramir, and Sword that was Broken can all play a pivotal role in quickly jacking up the questing numbers each round. Adding in cheap allies with at least two willpower (the Spirit sphere has an abundance) can also help, and these allies can also be fed to The Balrog later on, if necessary. Of course, if you’re not adverse to complete power gaming over theme than Outlands or Dwarves can quickly reach ridiculous numbers. Location management is not strictly necessary in one or two player games, as long as you bring along enough willpower to quickly clear active locations and any copies of Mines of Moria that pop up, but should be brought along for three or four player games.

* Prepare for combat

While willpower is crucial, shortchanging combat can also lead to a quick demise. Really, there are two layers of combat that you have to prepare for here: the battle with The Balrog and handling regular enemies. The Balrog is a fierce foe, arguably the most fierce the game has yet produced, that attacks the first player twice each round with eight attack. If that wasn’t bad enough, this big baddie is completely immune to player card effecs and so are its shadows, so there’s no way to stop it from attacking or dodge its blows. Unless you have a next-level uber defender on hand (i.e. Beregond with Gondorian Shield and Support of the Eagles, etc.), you’re probably going to have to count on chump blocking once The Balrog hits the table. This means that all decks involved in the quest will need some cheap, disposable allies that can pull their weight in the early part of play, but be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice when necessary. Unfortunately, chump blocking is punished through shadow effects (and remember that these cannot be canceled when paired with The Balrog), including one that actually could cause an enemy to attack again. If this show up with The Balrog, then it can really ruin your day. Ultimately, though, decks that can pump out allies quickly to serve as meat sponges will have a decided advantage. You can also defend a few times with your heroes and then use healing to patch them up for further attacks, although this is a decidedly riskier strategy. Having cards like Close Call or Gondorian Discipline in reserve that can cancel damage are a good way to get around The Balrog’s immunity to shadow cancellation and allow heroes to defend for longer, as they can target damage itself and negate it.Orc-chieftain

It’s easy to focus on The Balrog but forget that there are a bunch of other enemies in the encounter deck, unlike Shadow and Flame. Some of these, like the Orc-chieftain and Great Cave-troll are fierce enemies in their own right and can severely damage an unwary player. The Orc-chieftain in particular is problematic, as he engages the first player each round and can only be defended by heroes. This means that Journey in the Dark is somewhat unique in requiring players to include both strong defending heroes and chump blockers in order to be successful. Defense is not the only concern, though, as the second stage of the quest forces players to kill a certain number of enemies in order to advance. This is a cool thematic connection, representing the fellowship’s frantic battle to escape the Chamber of Mazarbul, but it also a way to force players to make “progress” through combat rather than willpower. Since you are still under the gun of the ticking Doom clock at this point, you must be prepared to kill enemies as quickly as possible, meaning direct damage and/or high attack values are welcome.

Action advantage can help with both attack and defense, as defenders can guard against swarms of enemies  (as well as the Uruk from Mordor, which attacks during staging), while attackers can ready to help eliminate multiple enemies in the same round. Being able to take on more enemies at once, both defensively and offensively, means that you can advance out of stage 2 more quickly, which is certainly crucial. A final quirk to combat in this quest is that you are punished for optionally engaging enemies during stage 1. This isn’t too much of a problem if you can make it through stage 1 quickly, but enemies can pile up if you are delayed for any reason, and the Moria Archer can become troublesome if he is left to pick off your characters bit by bit. Including enemy management effects, like Westfold Outrider or Son of Arnor, can help to deal with this problem, as these don’t count as optional engagements. Direct damage geared towards the staging area can also be of use.

* Bring along the healing

While healing can sometimes be optional against certain quests, this is definitely not one of them. Journey in the Dark is rife with both archery and incredibly punishing direct damage effects. The worst is We Cannot Get Out, which forces each player to place X damage on their characters, where X is equal to the number of exhausted characters. This is designed to directly counter the strategy of piling characters onto the quest in order to blow through the scenario. One way to minimize this damage is to load up a few characters with willpower so that they can carry the load and lower the number of exhausted characters during staging. It’s also important to always keep in mind that this treachery could show up and compare the number of exhausted characters you plan on having during staging against the amount of damage that you can soak up without heroes dying.

Even with mitigation strategies and cancellation around, you’re probably going to need healing at some point. It’s not really too important which healing you bring along, as everything from Warden of Healing/Elrond to Silvan Trackers to Healing Herbs can do their job, so much as that you bring some healing along and in sufficient quantities to keep up with the damage. Doing so will keep your characters fresh and undercut one of the biggest challenges posed by this quest.

* Always avoid removing tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom

Several encounter cards in the deck will give you a choice between removing a token from Doom, Doom, Doom or fulfilling some other horrid effect, like revealing another encounter card. As much as I hate to add more cards during staging, I will always pick that option, and any other option, over taking tokens off of Doom, Doom, Doom. Regardless of whether you are trying to escape without facing The Balrog or take it on, facing The Balrog prematurely is a recipe for death. Since stage 1 removes tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom anytime you optionally engage an enemy, I avoid optional engagements at all costs until I hit stage 2. This means that I will pour characters into questing to try to blow through stage 1 as quickly as possible before enemies pile up, while keeping enough defenders back to cover for any Uruks from Mordor that appear. The only exception is if several Moria Archers start to gather in the staging area. In this case, I might optionally engage one if I feel the archery will be too much to handle.

Part 2 – Decks

Due to the trouble I had with this scenario, you’ll find a great deal of changes to my decks from where they ended at the close of The Ring Goes South. In fact, these are the greatest changes so far in my Campaign playthrough (besides the big Eowyn/Gandalf swap). You’ll notice that I did integrate some newer cards, although there were some that I would love to have added, but didn’t quite fit the theme for me. Although I do love to stretch my narrative chops by coming up with justifications for characters appearing in the story that have no business being there, I do want to save some of the fun for later. So while I would love to add Ents to my Hobbit deck, which has worked awesomely in my non-Campaign play, I am saving them for a later part of the campaign that feels more thematically appropriate. So sadly I must report that Ents will not be showing up in Moria to battle The Balrog! In the main, these changes are really just geared towards beating the scenario. I also found that some bloat was creeping into the decks between new Fellowship sphere cards like Fellowship of the Ring and the addition of the new Rivendell boons like Glamdring and Anduril, and I decided to cut the fat to prioritize consistency. So some of the cards in these decks were cut to make room for these new additions and to make sure I am putting my best foot forward going forth. It will be interesting to see how the deck size issue does or does not become an issue as more boons are added to the campaign pool.


I enjoyed watching this deck perform against The Ring Goes South, but Journey in the Dark is a much greater challenge. As such my goal here was to really be relentless in tightening up the deck in terms of balance and functioning, while being ruthless in removing any dead weight or potential dead weight.

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

There’s no reason to change heroes here and I’m looking forward to seeing this trio test their mettle against Journey in the Dark after they slammed The Ring Goes South.

Ally (21)
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
Galadriel (TRD) x2
Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x3
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Faramir (Core) x2


Naith Guide (TDT) x3
Galadriel’s Handmaiden (CS) 3x 
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) 3x 


West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Silvan Refugee (TDF) x3
Erestor (TLD) x1
Dunedain Watcher (TDM) x3


The five allies that I kept (Ethir Swordsman, Galadriel, Bilbo Baggins, Arwen Undomiel, and Faramir) are in many ways the core of this deck, at least in terms of allies. They all provide a strong basis of willpower that, when added to the willpower of the heroes, allows for this deck to serve as a potential questing powerhouse. In addition, Bilbo Baggins and Galadriel help to fetch key attachments. Beyond those five, though, I felt that their was a sphere imbalance going on in terms of allies, with the Spirit ones proving crucial while some of the Leadership characters sat in hand unused. The Dunedain Watcher and Erestor, in particular, weren’t pulling their weight due to expense, and I always needed to use the Leadership resources from something else, especially if Steward of Gondor failed to show up. Thus, I added in 3 copies of Naith Guide as a replacement for the Watcher. This Silvan ally might seem out of place in a non-Silvan deck, but she is cheap and has a useful ability to help one of the three heroes quest without exhausting if their attachments fail to show up (Gandalf without Unexpected Courage, for example, or Glorfindel without Light of Valinor). I cut out Erestor’s slot completely, dropping the ally count by one to combat bloat. In terms of the Spirit allies, the West Road Traveller has now been replaced by a superior competitor: Galadriel’s Handmaiden. I’ve used the Traveller traditionally as a cheap two cost two willpower ally and never really use her ability. The Handmaiden gives me the same cost-to-willpower ratio but with a more useful ability: lowering threat. Finally, while the Silvan Refugee is helpful with questing, I need allies that will stick around, especially against this quest, and I still want to adjust for any sphere imbalances, so I’ve added in Envoy of Pelargir. The Envoy is cheap, can help transfer resources, will serve as a chump blocker, and can be paid for by any of the three heroes.

Attachment (19)
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x3
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Fellowship of the Ring (TRD) x2
Wizard Pipe (TRD) x1
Gandalf’s Staff (TRD) x3


Sword that was Broken (TWitW) – Added 1 copy
Steward of Gondor (Core) – Added 1 copy
Fellowship of the Ring (TRD) – Added 1 copy
Anduril (TRD) x1
Glamdring (TRD) x1


Blood of Numenor (HON) x2
Expert Treasure-hunter (OtD) x3

As far as attachments are concerned, the word of the day is consistency. Against a tough quest like Journey in the Dark, I wanted to increase the consistency at which I would see certain attachments, particularly those that are focused on boosting willpower. This was not just about making sure they popped up in a game, but popped up early enough to make a difference. I thus added in 1 copy of Sword that was Broken, Steward of Gondor, and Fellowship of the Ring. This meant I needed to make space for these extra copies, and also needed to cut some fat to lower the overall deck size as well. I cut out Blood of Numenor, which was a good pick in theory, but never ended up getting much use, with Gandalf often serving as the main defender. Expert Treasure-hunter was an incredibly tough choice to eliminate, as this attachment is absolutely perfect for a Gandalf deck and provides some invaluable card draw. However, it fell into the bubble of “non-essential” for this particular quest and I really needed to make room for the crucial pieces. Part of this equation was making room for two new boons that I earned last quest: Anduril and Glamdring. These are both fantastic items and worthy of a place in my deck, but I didn’t want to bloat the size of the deck too much by simply throwing them in. Since boons do not count towards the minimum deck size of 50, this means that the lowest I can get is 52 (counting the boons), which is what I am aiming for, rather than something in the mid-50’s.

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





There was really no reason to change things here, as I need the treachery/shadow cancellation and threat management more than ever, while Flame of Anor is key for Gandalf both to have action advantage and to be able to contribute to any battles with The Balrog.

FINAL DECK SIZE: 52 (50 without the boons)


Deck Two has received far fewer changes along the way than Deck One and has been relatively stable, with a few minor tweaks here and there depending upon the scenario. I thought it worthwhile to take a look and update it based on any new cards that might be relevant from The Ring-maker cycle. Deck Two has also usually been the main combat deck, or at least the one with the most elevated attacking potential, and if I find myself in a fight with The Balrog, I’m going to need as much of that strength as I can get.

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

Nothing to see here, this trio is inseparable.

Ally (20)
Bill the Pony (TBR) x2
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x1
Defender of Rammas (HON) x3
Beorn (Core) x1
Bofur (OHaUH) x2
Boromir (TRD) x1
Elrond (TRD) x2


Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Errand-rider (HoN) x2
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x2
Beorn (Core) – Added 1 copy


Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x2
Haldir (AJtR) x1
Dori (OHaUH) x2

Although the idea behind this deck has always been to prioritize high-cost unique allies that can be dumped into play for free using Elf-stone and Sneak Attack, in practice I’ve found that this approach can end up stalling out or taking too long to develop against a scenario that demands speed. Journey in the Dark is unforgiving in this regard, so I’ve decided to cut out a few of these higher cost uniques like Haldir and Dori, while leaving in key ones like Gildor and Beorn. The other part of this issue besides cost is the difficulty at times of getting the resources where I need them in a tri-sphere deck, so I’ve added in two copies of Errand-rider. Besides resources and balance, a major priority for this quest, given the crazy direct damage and archery that it features, is healing. Elrond can help somewhat, but I need more consistent and repeatable healing, so I’ve included three copies of Warden of Healing. To make room for these new allies, I’ve cut the two copies of Erebor Hammersmith and three copies of Barliman Butterbur. The Hammersmith is a great ally for its cost, but I don’t find myself really recycling Elf-stone all that often, which was the main intention. Butterbur would seem to be a perfect sacrificial lamb for The Balrog, but anyone can fill that job really and switching out a two cost Lore character for a one cost Leadership character that can move resources will vastly help some of the resource imbalance (Sam/Leadership often ends up with many resources while Pippin and Merry struggle to save up). Finally, I’ve replaced the two copies of Dori I cut with two copies of Ithilien Tracker and the one copy of Haldir with an extra copy of Beorn. The Tracker is not only cheaper, but can also help with questing. Deck One has been the main quester so far and Deck Two sometimes doesn’t pull its weight, and I can’t really afford that luxury against Journey in the Dark, so the Tracker is a way to add “willpower” through negating threat. He also helps save deck space by being an ally and doing the job of Radagast’s Cunning (kind of). The extra copy of Beorn is necessary just to make sure I see him, as his eight attack could be vital in the final showdown.

Attachment (17)
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3
Celebrian’s Stone (Core) x2
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x3
Elf-stone (TBR) x2


Sting (TRD) x1
Mithril Shirt (TRD) x1


1 copy of Elf-stone

The attachments are all pretty essential, each providing a different piece of the puzzle, from readying to willpower to combat to location management, so big changes are off the table. Still, I do need to make room for some of the extra events I want to include to meet the specific challenges of Journey in the Dark, so I will remove one copy of Elf-stone. Note that I still think Elf-stone is a fantastic attachment and it has been useful throughout this campaign, yet I don’t need a bunch of copies to show up to put many different allies in place. Rather, I usually just need one to show up to cheat Gildor into play (or maybe Beorn, but he’s usually the Sneak Attack partner). Thus, two copies should be sufficient. As a final note, I’ve added the Sting and Mithril Shirt boons to the deck, which don’t count against the minimum, but will increase my overall deck size. As with Deck One, I’m aiming for a tight 50, not including the two boons, for a total real size of 52. Sting will be amazing on Sam and while I’m not a huge fan of the Mithril Shirt, I can’t resist including it for thematic reasons.

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


Unseen Strike (TRG) x3
Waters of Nimrodel (TAC) x2


1 copy of Frodo’s Intuition
Radagast’s Cunning (Core) x2
A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x2

The old list of events is fine, but the problem is that I want to make room for two very specific events. First, I want to include three copies of Unseen Strike. This will be a great way to push my attack power up against The Balrog or even deal with enemies more quickly during stage 2. I also want to add in two copies of Waters of Nimrodel from The Antlered Crown. This might seem like healing overload, but I’ve found the direct damage dealt by Journey in the Dark to be so severe, possibly to the point of being the main threat of the quest, that I want a variety of healing around and Waters of Nimrodel is the “reset button” that I just might need at some point. Making room is tough but Feint, Frodo’s Intuition, Sneak Attack, and Halfling Determination are all non-negotiable for either questing or combat purposes. I can cut out Radagast’s Cunning, though, as I’ve replaced it neatly with Ithilien Tracker, and A Very Good Tale is a tough one to lose but not necessarily fundamental. Finally, I’ve cut one copy of Frodo’s Intuition to get the deck down to 50 (without the boons). This was tough to do, but the Hobbit deck should be fine on card draw with the two copies left behind and with Pippin and Fellowship of the Ring should make up for the absence of the extra willpower.

FINAL DECK SIZE: 52 (50 without the boons)

The final decks look like this (not including the boons):

campaign image 2campaign image 1
















With the strategy set and changes made to both decks, it is now time to face the greatest challenge our heroes have yet faced. Deep in the dark of Moria, there lies a foe beyond reckoning. Will our heroes escape in time or will they face the dreadful demon of Morgoth down in combat? Will they survive to continue the journey? And at what cost? Find out soon!

From → Strategy

  1. Stoian permalink

    Is ok that you can vote once per day in the poll?Or is a mistake?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Hmm, I’ll have to take a look. The polling has always been a bit iffy I think, but I’ll have to see if there’s a way to block it after voting once.

  2. Really interested that you cut Blood of Numenor. I actually used that to power up Aragorn in my game, and block the Balrog. (However, you need to get like 10 resources on it, just in case.)

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I do like Blood of Numenor and it has worked in the past. The problem is that I don’t find myself getting the resources built up on Aragorn that I need to really make it worthwhile, because he uses them to pay for other stuff as well as his own ability. In the end, I had to prioritize consistency of grabbing the other attachments over one that is sometimes useful.

  3. Futonrivercrossing permalink

    Blood of Numenor is great for this quest!! Put it on Boromir with the +2 shield and you can defend both Balrog attacks each round, direct damage goes on the Ents, which get more and more powerful and boom – the Balrog is dead in a couple of rounds!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I certainly think Blood of Numenor has its place. However, one key thing to understand is my aim is to quest as quickly as possible, throw a few chumps in front of The Balrog, and then annihilate it almost immediately. So building up an uber-defender isn’t really that important to me, compared to making sure that I get out willpower attachments like Sword that was Broken and Fellowship of the Ring more quickly.

  4. Pengolodh permalink

    All of the times I’ve played Journey in the Dark, Sam becomes my main defender. Yes, it does take a little while to build him up, buts twice he has boasted eight defense. It usually takes some Ring Mails, a Hobbit Cloak, and a few Dunedain Warnings. Also, Sting always goes on Sam if I draw in it Campaign mode. It’s just better on Sam than Frodo. For theme’s sake, I’ll say that Frodo, in turn, gave it to Sam for safe-keeping in Moria.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, as I mentioned above in regards to Blood of Numenor, I think the uber-defender route is certainly viable and a good way to go. I’ve take a bit of a different route and am aiming for all-out questing, throwing a few chumps in the way of The Balrog, and then blasting it into space as quickly as possible. So I’ve cut defensive options in favor of willpower and attack basically.

  5. Michael permalink

    I adapted both of these decks for our Journey in the Deck today (no 2nd Core set, some APs missing) and a friend of mine and I had a blast. Thank you a lot for sharing your ideas!

    We defeated the Balrog in turn 10, still had only ~40 threat and even some allies survived the chump blocking festival. It was the first time for me that I did not go the uber-defender/uber-attacker route (a mass attack with For Gondor! put plenty of damage on the Balrog–because I didn’t have Unseen Strike). Looking forward to read your play through and I will be curious to see who you sacrifice and who will be the replacement!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Awesome! I’m glad they worked out! I should have the play report out relatively soon.

  6. When seeing the title I directly thought of another game I play sometimes, Descent Journeys In The Dark 😛

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