Campaign Mode: Journey in the Dark (Part 2)
With the Ring finally on its way South, the true dangers of the journey have only just begun. Our erstwhile fellowship now finds themselves heading into the deep, dark of Moria and terrifying dangers and unspeakable evil await them. In Part 1 of the Journey in the Dark installment, I outlined some basic strategy tips for the scenario and detailed some major changes to each deck in response to the hefty challenge posed by this difficult scenario. However, there is only so much tinkering and planning that can be done before it’s time to throw oneself into the fire (metaphorically speaking, I hope). Frodo and his brave companions have yet to face so stern a test, and who knows at what cost victory will be bought?
Part 3 – Session Report
Nine members of a fellowship set out from Rivendell: Aragorn, Gandalf, Glorfindel, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, Boromir and Dori on a quest to send the Ring back to the fires of Mount Doom. A fell power seemed set against them as their initial plan to travel over the Redhorn Pass was stymied by the bitter cold of an evil storm. Despite Aragorn’s reluctance, Gandalf decided to follow Dori’s suggestion of seeking a path through Moria and hopefully encountering Balin’s lost colony along the way. However, the way south was not an easy one, as packs of Wargs hounded the fellowship’s trail, launching several attacks that sapped the fellowship’s health and resolve. Arwen joined the fellowship in their time of need, although Aragorn seemed initially set against the idea. Atop a rugged hill, the fellowship made their stand against the Wargs and their Chief and emerged victorious. However, they still had to break through a final cordon of the foul creatures, but the Wargs were ultimately persuaded to give up their chase through the cold diplomacy of harsh steel. With the Wargs left behind, Gandalf was left to puzzle the mystery behind the Doors of Durin, which refused to open. Meanwhile, the large, fetid pool of water in front of the doors concealed an ancient creature, who soon attempted to seize Frodo. Through the heroics and martial skill of the assembled company, Frodo was rescued and the beast was held back just long enough for Gandalf to solve the riddle…with a little help from Dori. The fellowship rushed into the dark of Moria, thankful, at least temporarily, to have found refuge. Arwen, however, had been foraging in the hills around Moria, but had been delayed by a sudden storm, and had not rejoined the company in time. Aragorn could only hope that she could find safety as they took their first few steps into the dark…
The scenario begins rather simply, with 10 damage tokens place on Doom, Doom, Doom to represent the impending arrival of The Balrog. Each player also chooses 1 different location to place in the staging area. In this case, I’ve placed Many-pillared Hall and Mines of Moria in the staging area. Since I’m playing Campaign Mode, I also have to add Overcome by Grief and Grievous Wound to the staging area. These are two very tough burdens, with Grievous Wound being particularly horrific, as it causes the attached hero to take 1 damage every single time they exhaust! Pursued by the Enemy and Shadow of Fear, two other burdens, this time in treachery form, are shuffled into the encounter deck. With all this setup complete, it’s time to begin!
* Note: Anytime during combat that I don’t mention the shadow card, it means that there was no effect.
DECK ONE (Starting Threat – 31)
Heroes: Gandalf, Glorfindel, Aragorn
Starting Hand: A Test of Will, Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Faramir, Sword that was Broken, Wizard Pipe (1 fewer card drawn due to Gandalf’s Delay)
Thoughts: The first priority is to find as much help with questing and willpower as possible to attempt to blow straight through the quest at full speed. With this in mind, Sword that was Broken is a perfect opening hand pull, and I’m happy to see Wizard Pipe this early as well.
DECK TWO (Starting Threat – 20)
Heroes: Merry, Sam, Pippin
Starting Hand: Bill the Pony, Sting, Asfaloth, Halfling Determination, Waters of Nimrodel (1 fewer card drawn due to Gandalf’s Delay)
Thoughts: I want to keep this hand for one main reason: Waters of Nimrodel. Although I’m missing key attachments like Dagger of Westernesse and Hobbit Cloak, Waters of Nimrodel is a key weapon to fighting all the direct damage in this scenario. Therefore, I’ll keep this hand, and having Bill the Pony and Asfaloth to start isn’t bad.
ROUND 1 (4 threat in staging area, 0/14 progress on 1B, 0 victory points, Active Location – None, Doom Doom Doom – 10/10)
**Staging Area – Many-pillared Hall, Mines of Moria**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 31 Threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 1, Frodo – 1
Draw: Elrond’s Counsel
New Hand: A Test of Will, Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Faramir, Sword that was Broken, Wizard Pipe, Elrond’s Counsel – Envoy of Pelargir on top of deck
Planning: Getting a cheap chump blocker out on the table early, especially one that will help to start drawing through my deck, isn’t a bad first play, so I will pay 1 from Glorfindel and Frodo for Envoy of Pelargir from the top of my deck (using Gandalf’s ability). I will put the resource from the Envoy back onto Glorfindel. I will then pay 1 for Wizard Pipe, attaching it to him.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 1, Frodo – 0
In the entrance way to Moria, Glorfindel pulled an old parchment out from one of the fellowship’s bags. “What is that?” asked Dori with curiosity. “An ancient map of this realm, delivered to Rivendell by an envoy not too long before we departed. I felt it was wise to be prepared for any route we might take.” Gandalf smiled and lit up the room by lighting his pipe, staring thoughtfully at the map.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 20 Threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Draw: Gildor Inglorion
New Hand: Bill the Pony, Sting, Asfaloth, Halfling Determination, Waters of Nimrodel, Gildor Inglorion
Planning: First, I will play Bill of Pony for free. There’s really never a good reason not to make this move. I will then remove a resource from Sam and Merry to play Sting on Sam. With willpower being a top priority, boosting Sam’s willpower up to 4 is the best move at the moment. I will save Pippin’s resource so that I can get Asfaloth out as soon as possible, as this will help with faster questing.
Resources: Merry – 0, Sam – 0, Pippin – 1
Bill the Pony 3.0 had made it into the mines along with the rest of the fellowship, but he snorted with fear at the dark. Sam Gamgee still carried Sting, which he had brandished against the strange creature outside. He moved to give it back to Frodo, but the other refused, shaking his head. “You keep it for now, Sam. I fear I’m far too weary and you’ll make better use of it than I will.” Sam started to protest but Frodo would hear none of it. There was the faintest hint of a bluish tint to Sting’s blade…
The name of the game here is speed. Combat takes second priority, as optionally engaging enemies will remove counters from Doom, Doom, Doom, which I will avoid at all costs. I also want to save enemies for stage 2, so that I can quickly kill them to progress. With that in mind, I will commit as many characters as I can. Deck One will commit Frodo (2 willpower), Aragorn (2 willpower), Gandalf (3 willpower), and Glorfindel (3 willpower) for a total of 10 willpower. Deck One has to raise its threat up to 32 because Glorfindel doesn’t have Light of Valinor yet. I can afford to go all-in because I have the Envoy available as a chump blocker in case an Uruk from Mordor shows up. Deck Two will commit Pippin (2 willpower), Sam (4 willpower), Merry (2 willpower) for a total of 8 willpower. Between the two decks, I am committing 18 willpower against 4 threat in the staging area.
Card 1.1: Weight of the Ring [Surge] – This old burden from the Black Riders is the first to appear. It attaches to Frodo and forces me to make the choice at the beginning of each quest phase whether to exhaust the One Ring or reveal an additional encounter card. It’s safe to say that I’ll be exhausting the Ring each round, which is fine, as I don’t plan on using Frodo’s ability all that much. This card then surges into…
Card 1.2: Uruk from Mordor (34 engagement cost, 2 threat, 4 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points) – This is exactly why I played the Envoy of Pelargir, and I’m definitely glad to have her here as a safety valve, as the Uruk from Mordor makes an immediate attack against Deck One. I will declare the Envoy as the defender and she is destroyed (4 attack – 0 defense = 4 damage). Since a character has been destroyed, I must attach Overcome by Grief to a hero. Frodo is the best choice, as losing his action is the least impactful (well, Pippin is also a good choice, but you’ll see why I didn’t choose him soon). In the future, if a character that Deck Two controls is destroyed, Frodo will have to exhaust and remain exhausted until the end of the round.
Card 2: Uruk from Mordor (34 engagement cost, 2 threat, 4 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points) – Now this is the kind of luck that will keep you up at night. I have no available defenders, so I will pay 1 from Glorfindel instead to use A Test of Will to cancel the “when revealed” effect. It’s a shame to lose my cancellation so early, but there’s no choice.
My 18 willpower against 8 threat would result in 10 progress. I will use Elrond’s Counsel to boost my willpower by an additional 1 and lower Deck One’s threat to 29. Thus, the final outcome is 11 progress tokens. 4 of those go to exploring Mines of Moria in the staging area, while the remaining 7 are placed on the quest. A token is then removed from Doom, Doom, Doom with 9 remaining.
After a moment to ponder and gather themselves, Gandalf began leading the company through the long dark of Moria. He set a frantic pace, driven by some nameless fear or foreboding. Frodo struggled to keep up, but Sam helped him along the way, and Gandalf held up the group several times when he noticed the burden that seemed to be weighing him down. Although there were no signs of Orcs, Sting began to glow brighter and brighter as they pressed forward, signaling the presence of unseen foes all around. It was perhaps only the straight and true course set by Glorfindel’s map that allowed them to escape immediate danger.
I will travel to Many-pillared Hall so that it doesn’t start chaining with other copies in the future.
The fellowship soon found themselves in a seemingly endless hall filled with countless stone pillars that reached into darkness far above their heads.
Despite their threat, I will leave the Uruks from Mordor in the staging area, as I don’t want to remove any tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom unless I absolutely have no choice.
ROUND 2 (4 threat in staging area, 7/14 progress on 1B, 0 victory points, Active Location – Many-pillared Hall [0/6 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 9/10)
**Staging Area – Uruk from Mordor, Uruk from Mordor**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 21 threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 1
Draw: Sneak Attack
New Hand: Asfaloth, Halfling Determination, Waters of Nimrodel, Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack
Planning: I will now play Asfaloth on Glorfindel, which should help to move things along.
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 0, Frodo – 1
Since the fellowship had set out, a beautiful white horse had been walking beside Bill the Pony 3.0. Glorfindel now threw himself astride it. “It is foolish to ride in the dark and narrows of Moria,” Dori counseled. “There are unseen pitfalls and worse.” Glorfindel simply smiled. “Asfaloth is no ordinary steed, and he will not so easily be cowed by the dark.”
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 30 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 2
Draw: Steward of Gondor
New Hand: Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Faramir, Sword that was Broken, Steward of Gondor – Light of Valinor on top of deck
Planning: I’m pleased to see Light of Valinor so soon, so I will pay 1 from Glorfindel to immediately attach it to him. I will then pay 2 from Aragorn to attach Steward of Gondor to him, and I should be able to get Sword that was Broken on him next round, which will dramatically increase my willpower potential.
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel – 0, Aragorn – 2
Glorfindel and his horse both seemed to Frodo’s eyes to glow with a strange light. It seemed almost as if no dark force, even the Enemy himself, could bring him to harm. While Glorfindel moved to scout ahead, Aragorn used his experience to help Gandalf gather the rest of the fellowship for the perilous passage through the many-pillared hall. Foes could be just beyond their sight, and constant vigilance was their only defense.
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. Deck Two will commit Frodo (2 willpower), Pippin (2 willpower), and Sam (4 willpower) for a total of 8 willpower. I will hold Merry back in case I advance to stage 2, as I will want to start killing enemies as soon I can once that happens. I also am wary of We Cannot Get Out, which deals damage based on the number of exhausted characters, which can be deadly for a Hobbit deck with such squishy heroes. Deck One will commit Aragorn (2 willpower, using a resource to ready), Gandalf (3 willpower), and Glorfindel (3 willpower) for a total of 8 willpower. This is a grand total of 16 willpower against 4 threat in the staging area and I need 13 total to pass to the next stage (including the active location).
Card 1.1: Moria Orc (38 engagement cost, 2 threat, 3 attack, 1 defense, 3 hit points) – This enemy forces me to either remove a token from Doom, Doom, Doom or reveal an additional encounter card. Usually, my policy is always to avoid the extra encounter card in most scenarios, but this scenario is a whole different story, so I will take the extra card.
Card 1.2: We Cannot Get Out – This treachery is the bane of my existence and can whittle down characters quite quickly, especially when making large quest pushes. I’m actually appreciative (in a masochistic sort of way) of this elegant game design, as the scenario punishes you for questing with a bunch of characters, when that’s exactly what you need to do to avoid The Balrog. In any case, Deck Two has 3 exhausted characters, and thus I will place damage on Bill the Pony, Sam, and Pippin. Since a hero was damaged, I now have to attach Grievous Wound, so I will place this one on Pippin, as he is probably the least essential hero (this is why I didn’t want him to have Overcome by Grief, as forced exhaustion would make a poor pairing with this burden!). He now will have to take 1 damage anytime he exhausts. Deck One has just 1 exhausted character, thanks to readying and action advantage, so I will place that 1 damage on Glorfindel.
Card 2: They Are Coming! [Doomed 2] – The encounter deck is really bringing out the big guns now. Each deck’s threat is increased by 2, which raises Deck One up to 32 and Deck Two up to 23. I then have to shuffle the discard pile into the encounter deck and discard cards until I hit upon 2 enemies (fortunately, these are added to play and not revealed). After discarding a ton of cards, I finally hit upon 2 copies of Moria Archer (42 engagement cost, 2 threat, 3 attack, 3 defense, 3 hit points) [Archery 2]. I’m fortunate enough to avoid the direct damage from their “when revealed” effect but now will have to deal with 4 points of archery in the staging area. Things have gotten ugly quickly. The one bright spot is that I should have a good base of enemies to target when it comes to destroying enemies for stage 2!
Altogether, there is 10 threat in the staging area and I committed 16 willpower to the quest. Before resolving the quest, I will exhaust Asfaloth to add 2 progress to Many-pillared Hall. I then will place the 6 progress tokens. 4 are enough to finish exploring Many-pillared Hall, while the remaining 2 are placed on the quest. One more damage is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom with 8 tokens remaining.
Gandalf hurried the fellowship forward, wary of the dark on all sides. Soon, they knew they were not alone, and not just from the urgent blue glow from Sting, but also from the pattering of countless bare feet on the cold stone. The fellowship soon moved from a walk to a jog. Suddenly, loud hisses emerged from the dark as countless arrows flew towards them. A few of the company were grazed and slashed, but Pippin got the worst of it, as a long-shafted arrow buried itself in his leg. He cried out in pain and fell to the floor in agony, a grievous wound opened in his side. Boromir moved to pick up the fallen Hobbit as the fellowship continued their flight. “We must leave this hall!” called Gandalf. “They are coming!”
Although my rule is to avoid optional engagements during stage 1, I can’t afford to leave 2 Archers in the staging area to pile archery damage on my characters at leisure. Thus, I’ll swallow removing 1 more token from Doom, Doom, Doom (7 remaining) and have Deck Two engage one copy of the Moria Archer. This readies Sam Gamgee and Deck Two draws Bill the Pony.
A smaller Orc wielding a bow leaped from the shadows, tackling Sam Gamgee to the ground. He quickly threw the creature off and rose to his feet with a determined countenance, holding Sting before him.
First, I have to assign 4 archery damage. I will place 2 on Glorfindel and 2 on Aragorn.
Sam will defend against the Moria Archer. I discard an encounter card to see if Sting deals damage, but it is unfortunately a treachery, so the Archer remains unscathed. The shadow card boosts the enemy’s attack by 1, which means Sam takes 2 damage (4 attack – 2 defense = 2 damage).
I will use Merry (4 attack) and Bill the Pony (1 attack) to attack the Archer. This won’t be enough to kill it, and I really need to get rid of its archery, so I will pay 1 from Merry to use Halfling Determination to boost his attack by 2, which is enough to destroy the Archer (7 attack – 3 defense = 4 damage).
More arrows emerged from the dark, and one lodged itself in Aragorn’s arm. Glorfindel returned from his scouting mission adorned with several arrows of his own. Meanwhile, the Orc pulled out a nasty looking dagger and attacked Sam savagely. The Hobbit defended himself ably, if clumsily, with Sting, but received a small gash to his arm in the process. Bill the Pony 3.0 rushed to his defense, kicking the Orc to the ground. Merry quickly jumped on top of it, attempting to strike with his own dagger. The Orc was surprisingly strong and almost got the best of the wrestling match, but Merry mustered every last bit of determination and buried his dagger in the Orc’s throat. He rose grimly from the scene and the fellowship hurried forward once more.
ROUND 3 (8 threat in staging area, 9/14 progress on 1B, 0 victory points, Active Location – None, Doom Doom Doom – 7/10)
**Staging Area – Uruk from Mordor, Uruk from Mordor, Moria Orc, Moria Archer**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 33 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 2, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 4 [with Steward], Frodo – 2
New Hand: Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Faramir, Sword that was Broken, Glamdring – Ethir Swordsman on top of deck
Planning: I now have enough to pay for Sword that was Broken and we can finally get down to some serious questing. I don’t have any Fellowship cards in either hand, so I will use Frodo’s 2 resources to attach Glamdring to Gandalf. Finally, Gandalf will use his 2 resources to play Ethir Swordsman from the top of the deck.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel – 1, Aragorn – 1, Frodo – 0
The situation seemed grim as Orcs closed in from all sides and arrows continued to fly. Aragorn was a figure of inspiration, though, and his kingly visage and commanding voice urged them on through all pain and woe. Gandalf held his sword, Glamdring, aloft, hoping that it would make as much of an impression on these Orcs as it had on their brethren in the past. Boromir thought back to Minas Tirith and the land of Gondor that he had left behind, so far from the realm he found himself in now, and he drew strength from the memories, herding the Hobbits before him, ready to defend the Ring at all costs.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 24 threat
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 2, Pippin – 1
New Hand: Waters of Nimrodel, Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Errand-rider
Planning: Errand-rider can help to get things going for Deck Two by spreading the resources around where they are most needed. I will thus pay 1 from Sam for the rider.
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Sam had gathered a great many supplies in his pack for the journey, including some supplies and items that the casual observer might have dismissed as worthless. However, as the riders and messengers had gone to and fro in Rivendell, Sam had been busy collecting spare bits of news and information, as well as any useful knick-knacks that anyone was willing to spare. It soon would be seen if his preparation would be of any use in such dire straits.
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. Deck One now has the benefit of +1 willpower to all characters due to Sword that was Broken and will commit Frodo (3 willpower), Aragorn (3 willpower, using a resource to ready), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower) and Glorfindel (4 willpower) for a total of 13 willpower. I will hold back Gandalf in order to handle combat duties, as hopefully I will advance to stage 2 this round. Deck Two will commit Pippin (2 willpower) and Sam (4 willpower) for a total of 6 willpower. Pippin takes 1 damage from Grievous Wound, but I need the willpower. Unfortunately, this will be the last time I can use him for anything, unless I get some healing. I have committed a total of 19 willpower against 8 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Orc-chieftain (40 engagement cost, 4 threat, 4 attack, 3 defense, 6 hit points) – This is a bit of an unfortunate draw. Normally, you have to pull this guy out in order to satisfy the Chamber of Mazarbul’s travel effect, but in this case I already will have him out on the table now and will have to add some other enemies to the party in addition when it comes time to deal with that location. The Orc-chieftain is a nasty bit of business, mainly because allies cannot defend against it.
Card 2: We Cannot Get Out – The direct damage continues with no respite. Fortunately, though, neither deck has a ton of exhausted character. Deck One has 2 and so I will place 1 damage on Frodo and 1 damage on Aragorn (2/5 hit points remaining). Deck Two has 2 character exhausted as well, so I will place 1 damage on Merry and 1 damage on the Errand-rider.
My 19 willpower against 12 threat yields 7 progress, which is enough to advance to stage 2 – Drums in the Deep. Chamber of Mazarbul is added to the staging area and I can only progress to the next stage if I destroy 6 enemies. In addition, if the staging area is ever clear of enemies at the beginning of the quest phase, I will have to reveal an additional encounter card, but that doesn’t look like an issue at the moment. Another damage is now removed from Doom, Doom, Doom (6 remaining).
In the distance ahead, the fellowship began to see a faint light, which hinted at the end of the seemingly eternal hall. However, the footsteps around them grew louder. Orcs leaped out from the shadows, only to be beaten back or dodged as the fellowship charged forward. Pippin summoned every ounce of resolve to keep up with the others despite his wound, but eventually had to be carried once more by Boromir. He looked behind them to see particularly fierce looking Orc leading a pursuing pack just on their heels. Arrows continued to shoot out from the dark, barely cushioned by the durable travel clothing and spare bits of armor they wore. As the fellowship neared the end of the hall, a more ominous sound rose like a thunderclap: drums in the deep. The shock and force of it nearly shook Frodo out of his skin. The first few peals were replaced by a steady drumming and the floor beneath them trembled, only to be accompanied by the fierce and gleeful shrieking of the Orcs all around.
I’m tempted to delay traveling to the Chamber of Mazarbul, as there already quite a few enemies in the staging area. However, time is of the essence and I should be able to handle the situation…hopefully. Therefore, I will travel to the Chamber, pulling out 1 Moria Orc and 1 Uruk from Mordor and adding them to the staging area.
The hall finally came to a sudden end and the source of the faint light was revealed: an open set of doors led to a wide chamber. Gandalf led the fellowship into this chamber and Aragorn and Boromir rushed to close the doors on the oncoming Orcs. Frodo could see they were in some kind of tomb, and this was confirmed when Dori let out a cry of anguish. “These runes…they say this is Balin’s resting place!” The fellowship could see the skeletal remains of several Dwarves scattered around the tomb and it was clear what fate befell them…the same fate that awaited them if they failed to make an escape. The drums seemed to increase in intensity at the same moment as doors began to shudder from blows from outside. “Prepare yourselves!” Aragorn cried. Gandalf, Glorfindel, and Aragorn stood at the head of the fellowship, facing the doors, while the Hobbits stood behind near the tomb. Frodo felt himself trembling, as doom seemed near.
Now it’s time to kill enemies as quickly as possible so that I can advance, but I also have to be careful of not taking on too much. This is a situation where I could easily get overwhelmed. At the beginning of the encounter phase, the Orc-chieftain engages the first player, which is Deck One. Deck One will then engage the Moria Orc, while Deck Two engages the Moria Archer (I really want to get the remaining archery off the table). This readies Sam Gamgee and Deck Two draws Unseen Strike.
The doors to the chamber gave way and several Orcs rushed into the room. At the head of the pack was the vicious looking Orc that Pippin had spied earlier. Its face was crossed with old scars and it was much larger than the rest.
First, I will place the 2 points of archery from the Moria Archer, placing 1 damage on Aragorn (1/5 hit points remaining) and Glorfindel (1/5 hit points remaining). The direct damage is definitely starting to wear and hopefully I will see healing soon. I will then send Mr. Underhill to the victory display to cancel the Orc-chieftain’s attack.
With the Orc-chieftain neutralized, I just need to worry about the Moria Orc as far as Deck One is concerned. It is a bit of a risky strategy, but I really need all my attack power to kill the Orc-chieftain this round, which is my main concern, so I will take the Moria Orc’s attack undefended. The shadow card has no effect and so I will place the 3 damage on Gandalf (2/5 hit points remaining). Sam will defend against the Moria Archer, discarding Many-pillared Hall for Sting’s effect. This means that the Archer takes 1 damage from Sting. Sam Gamgee takes 1 damage from the attack (3 attack – 2 defense = 1 damage) and he has just 2 hit points remaining (6 hit points total with the help of Bill the Pony and Skilled Healer).
It’s now time to do some damage and hopefully get out of the chamber alive. Glorfindel (3 attack + 1 attack from Valiant Warrior) and Gandalf (3 attack + 2 attack from Glamdring) team up to kill the Orc-chieftain (9 attack – 3 defense = 6 damage), which places 1 resource token on stage 2B (1/6 enemies killed so far). Deck One then draws a card through Glamdring’s effect, which is Light of Valinor. Aragorn then exhausts to attack the Moria Orc, dealing 2 damage ( 3 attack – 1 defense = 2 damage). On the other side, Merry (3 attack) and Bill the Pony (1 attack) will team up to dispatch the Moria Archer, with a copy of Unseen Strike being used to finish off the deed (7 attack – 3 defense = 4 damage). This places another resource token on stage 2B (2/6 enemies killed).
The Orc-chieftain took a moment to scan the room and when he spied Frodo, he seemed to head right for him, ignoring the others. This gave Gandalf and Glorfindel an opening and they struck the huge Orc from either side. Glamdring cleaved through the Orc-chieftain’s skull and he fell to the ground lifeless. Another Orc took this opportunity to strike at Gandalf, landing a blow to his back. However, Aragorn moved to intervene and quickly drove the Orc backwards. Meanwhile, an Orc Archer, with a crude bow strapped to its back and a nasty, curved short sword in hand, jumped on top of the tomb and tackled Sam to the ground from that position. Merry, however, was quick to react and stabbed the Orc in a flurry until it moved no more.
ROUND 4 (8 threat in staging area, 0/9 progress on 1B, 2/6 enemies killed, 1 victory point, Active Location – Chamber of Mazarbul [0/4 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 6/10)
**Staging Area – Uruk from Mordor, Uruk from Mordor, Moria Orc, Uruk from Mordor**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 25 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 2, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 1
Draw: Dagger of Westernesse
New Hand: Waters of Nimrodel, Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Dagger of Westernesse
Planning: The Dagger has arrived just in time to help Merry destroy enemies more quickly, so I will pay 1 Tactics resource to attach it to him. I will then exhaust the Errand-rider to move a resource from Sam to Pippin. This is all in preparation for playing Waters of Nimrodel to heal all damage from characters in play. I had been saving this card for the right moment and with several heroes close to death’s door, further delay could be fatal. Now, I’ve essentially hit the “reset” button and given myself a fresh start at a crucial moment. This does have the added cost of Doomed 3, raising Deck One’s threat to 37 and Deck Two’s threat to 28, but this is a small price to pay for survival.
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 0, Frodo – 1
Merry brandished his dagger fiercely, mustering his bravery against the horde of Orcs. Sam saw the many wounds and weariness assailing every member of the fellowship. Suddenly, he remembered one of the items in his pack that he had been given by one of the Elves at Rivendell. Hastily, he pulled out a flask and began passing it to each member of the company. Although it might have seemed a strange moment for refreshment, none were in a position to question, and they each took a drink, tasting the clearest and most invigorating water of their lives. The Elf had told Sam that it was the waters of a special river in a hidden Elven land, and the drink seemed to arouse everyone back to their full health and vigor in moments.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 37 threat (with the Doomed from Waters of Nimrodel)
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel – 2, Aragorn – 3 [with Steward]
New Hand: Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Faramir, Galadriel – Steward of Gondor on top of deck
Planning: I am a bit torn here, as part of me wants to save resources for Faramir to add to my willpower potential. On the other hand, Galadriel could contribute 4 willpower herself this round (with the bonus from Sword that was Broken), while potentially bringing out a useful attachment like Gandalf’s Staff or even Fellowship of the Ring. Being a bit of a gambling man, I’ll roll the dice and play 3 from Aragorn for Galadriel. Looking at the top 5 cards, Fellowship of the Ring is there! I’ll immediately put it into play on Frodo and this is a great boost for my questing. I also get to re-arrange the remaining cards, putting Gandalf’s Staff on top. This allows me to pay 1 from Glorfindel and 1 from Gandalf to play the Staff. Finally, I will exhaust Gandalf’s Staff to add 1 resource to Glorfindel, then I will pay the 2 resources from him to play Galadriel’s Handmaiden, lowering Deck One’s threat to 36. This has been a great planning phase for Deck One!
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel 0, Aragorn – 0
The time taken to drink Sam’s draught had given the Orcs an opening to mass even further within the chamber. However, Gandalf strode forward, holding his staff aloft, and a blinding white light emanated from it, driving the Orcs backward, at least temporarily. Realizing that the Orc-chieftain had gone straight for Frodo, as if guided by unspoken orders, the fellowship formed a protective circle around the ring-bearer, and each set themselves to protect him at all costs or perish in the attempt. From somewhere deep within his mind, Gandalf sensed a great power and soothing presence, and it was as if all the darkness gathered to destroy them was being contested by a hand from afar. He took comfort in this thought and braced himself for the next skirmish.
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. All heroes now have +1 willpower from Fellowship of the Ring. Deck Two will commit Frodo (3 willpower), Pippin (3 willpower) and Sam (5 willpower) for a total of 11 willpower. Pippin will take a damage from Grievous Wound, but I need to make a big quest push to try to advance from this stage as soon as possible. Deck One still has the benefit of +1 willpower to all characters due to Sword that was Broken and will commit Galadriel (4 willpower), Galadriel’s Handmaiden (3 willpower), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower) and Glorfindel (5 willpower) for a total of 15 willpower. I need to hold back Aragorn because he doesn’t have a resource available for his abilities, and I need his help in combat. The same is true of Gandalf. I have committed a total of 26 willpower against 8 threat in the staging area.
Card 1: Many-pillared Hall (2 threat, 6 quest points) – This is a fairly harmless location at the moment, so I’m happy with this draw.
Card 2: Deep Fissure [Peril] – This treachery forces Deck One to remove a character from the quest. I also have to discard the top card of the encounter deck and if threat of that card is greater than the removed character’s willpower, that character is discarded. This is really a no-brainer here, as since Galadriel leaves play at the end of the round anyway, she will be the least missed if she happens to fall victim to the Fissure. So I will remove her from the quest, lowering my total committed willpower to 22. The discarded card happens to be another copy of Deep Fissure, which means Galadriel survives.
22 willpower against 10 threat results in 12 progress. 4 of this progress clears the Chamber of Mazarbul, while the remaining 8 are placed on stage 2B. The Chamber of Mazarbul gives me 4 victory points. I will also exhaust Asfaloth to place 2 progress tokens on Many-pillared Hall. Finally, another token is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom with 5 remaining.
As the fellowship held the Orcs at bay, the drums in the deep continued to beat and the chamber began to shake from some unknown source. Suddenly, a deep fissure opened in the ground, and Gandalf barely managed to jump back in time to escape its clutches. The fissure now separated most of the Orcs from the fellowship, and those that were left on the right side seemed disconcerted, so the fellowship took this opportunity to flee to the far side of the chamber. There, they discovered another set of doors! They seemed to be wedged shut, but as Aragorn and Gandalf covered their escape, Glorfindel, Boromir and Dori pulled mightily until the doors opened with a satisfying gasp. In an instant the fellowship were out through the doors and out of the chamber. Gandalf, however, gave a final uneasy look back into the chamber, as he sensed a powerful and malign presence approaching. The arrival of something dreadful had caused that fissure to open and he prayed that they would not discover exactly what that something was.
I will keep traveling to keep the staging area clear, so I will move to the Many-pillared Hall.
Outside the chamber, the fellowship found themselves in another large hall filled with tall stone pillars. Frodo wondered for a moment if they had gotten turned around somehow but knew that was impossible.
Deck Two will engage the Moria Orc, readying Sam and drawing Beorn. Deck One will engage one of the Uruks from Mordor. This gives it 2 enemies to face, in addition to the previously engaged Moria Orc.
Just a few steps into the hall, a smaller group of Orcs, separate from the main group set upon the fellowship, calling to their fellows as they did so.
Sam will defend against the Moria Orc. The card for Sting is We Cannot Get Out, which means the Orc takes no damage. The positive here is that I’ve gotten rid of a copy of We Cannot Get Out, though. Sam takes 1 damage from the attack (3 attack – 2 defense = 1 damage). Meanwhile, Aragorn will defend against the Uruk from Mordor, taking 2 damage (4 attack – 2 defense = 2 damage). I will take a gamble again and have the Moria Orc’s attack go undefended. There is no shadow effect, and I will place 3 damage on Glorfindel.
Time to strike back! Merry will attack the Moria Orc, destroying it with little effort (6 attack – 1 defense = 5 damage). This adds 1 resource to Drums in the Deep (3/6 enemies killed). Glorfindel will attack the Uruk from Mordor (4 attack – 2 defense = 2 damage), while Gandalf will destroy the Moria Orc (4 attack – 1 defense = 3 damage), drawing Arwen Undomiel. This adds another resource to stage 2B (4/6 enemies killed).
One smaller Orc scampered towards the Hobbits, but Merry and Sam worked in tandem. Sam deflected its blade with Sting, while Merry quickly felled the Orc. Meanwhile, two other Orcs attacked from the other side. Aragorn took on the larger one, and his bright blade clashed against its foul weapon. After an exchange of blows, neither seemed to have the advantage. However, Glorfindel smashed a nasty gash in the Orc’s side. In return, Glorfindel was the victim of a sneak attack from a smaller Orc, who buried its dagger just under his arm. However, Glamdring arrived in a sweeping arc to sever the Orc’s head from its body.
ROUND 5 (4 threat in staging area, 8/9 progress on 1B, 4/6 enemies killed, 5 victory points, Active Location – Many-pillared Hall [2/6 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 5/10)
**Staging Area – Uruk from Mordor, Uruk from Mordor**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 37 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 3 [with Steward], Frodo – 1
Draw: Envoy of Pelargir
New Hand: Faramir, Envoy of Pelargir – Steward of Gondor on top of deck
Planning: I will exhaust Gandalf’s Staff to grant 1 resource to Aragorn, who will then use his 4 resources to play Faramir. The full willpower machine is now operational. Next, I will exhaust Wizard Pipe to put Arwen on top of my deck, moving Steward of Gondor to hand. I will then pay 1 resource from Glorfindel and 1 resource from Gandalf to play Arwen.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel 0, Aragorn – 0, Frodo – 1
In the dark hall, still battling the small group of Orcs, the fellowship braced themselves as two cloaked figures rushed into the light. Boromir moved to strike when a familiar voice called him to halt. Throwing back the hood of his cloak, Faramir greeted his brother with a nod and smile. The other figure followed suit, revealing the weathered yet still youthful face of Arwen Undomiel! Aragorn was still engaged in battle and did not notice her arrival. “How?” Frodo said with wonder. “I found her lost in a storm,” Faramir answered. “We found another way into these mines, a back door in some lost cave used by the Orcs.”
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 29 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 2, Pippin – 1
New Hand: Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Beorn, Asfaloth
Planning: There will be no planning for Deck Two this round.
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 2, Pippin – 1
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. All heroes have +1 willpower from Fellowship of the Ring. Deck One still has the benefit of +1 willpower to all characters due to Sword that was Broken and will commit Arwen (3 willpower, +1 defense and sentinel to Faramir), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower) and Glorfindel (5 willpower) for a total of 11 willpower. I could commit more, but I don’t want too many exhausted characters in case We Cannot Get Out shows up. Deck Two will just commit Sam (5 willpower) for a similar reason. Together, I have committed 16 willpower against 4 in the staging area, which should be enough to get the progress I need without exposing myself to too much direct damage.
Card 1: We Cannot Get Out – It looks like my instincts were right on the money. Deck One has 2 exhausted characters, so I will place 1 damage on Arwen and 1 damage on Frodo. Deck Two just has 1 exhausted character, so I will place 1 damage on the Errand-rider.
Card 2: Darkened Stairway (4 threat, 2 quest points) – This is a high threat location that can possibly summon another location when it is explored, but right now I’m just happy to get a brief break from the enemy swarm.
My 16 willpower against 8 threat leads to 8 progress. I will use Asfaloth to add 2 progress to Many-pillared Hall before quest resolution (I could explore the Stairway, but want to avoid pulling another location into the staging area, especially Mines of Moria). 2 of my progress from resolution explores Many-pillared Hall, while the remaining 6 are enough to clear stage 2B…but I still need to kill 2 more enemies. 1 more damage is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom, taking the total down to 4. The battle with The Balrog is now inevitable.
Aragorn knew that they must keep going in order to prevent the Orcs from catching up from behind and surrounding them. The arrival of more Orc arrows from the dark signaled that his fears would soon be realized if they did not break through quickly. He turned to see Arwen standing there and gazed in wonder, smiling brightly but briefly, before returning to the fray.
I will travel to the Darkened Stairway to gets its 4 threat out of the staging area.
The front guard of the fellowship pushed the Orcs aside and strode forward. To their left was a darkened stairway, so absent of light that it would have been easy to miss if it were not for Dori’s Dwarven eyes. The fellowship hastened towards it.
Deck Two will engage one of the Uruks from Mordor, readying Sam and drawing Defender of Rammas. The other Uruk from Mordor will engage with Deck One.
Two large Orcs ascended the stairway to meet the fellowship head on.
Merry will use 1 resource to play Feint on one of the Uruks from Mordor engaged with Deck One.
Faramir will defend against the Uruk from Mordor engaged with Deck One, taking 1 damage (4 attack – 3 defense = 1 damage). Sam will defend against the Uruk from Mordor. Sting reveals yet another treachery, dealing no damage once again! The good news is that it is Pursued by the Enemy, which is one of the nasty burdens in this set. Sam takes 2 damage from the attack (4 attack – 2 defense = 2 damage).
Gandalf will destroy the damaged Uruk from Mordor engaged with Deck One (5 attack – 2 defense = 3 damage), drawing Steward of Gondor. Glorfindel and Aragorn will then finish off the other (7 attack – 2 defense = 5 damage). This places 2 more resource tokens on stage 2B, advancing to stage 3 – The Bridge of Khazad-dum. 2 more damage tokens are removed from Doom, Doom, Doom with only 2 remaining. The Great Bridge is added to the staging area and 2 encounter cards have to be revealed. The first is Mines of Moria (2 threat, 4 quest points) and the second is the eternal pain in my backside, We Cannot Get Out. This one is horrid right now, as I have so many exhausted characters this late in a round. Deck One has 6 exhausted characters. I will place 1 more damage on Faramir, 2 more on Aragorn (1/5 hit points remaining), 2 on Gandalf, and 1 more on Glorfindel (1/5 hit points remaining). Deck Two only has 1 exhausted character, so I will place 1 damage on Bill the Pony. With that all sorted out, I will finish my attacks by sending Merry (5 attack), Bill the Pony (1 attack) , and Pippin (1 attack) against the Uruk from Mordor, destroying it (7 attack – 2 defense = 5 damage).
Faramir stood in the way of the first Uruk, blocking its attack while Glorfindel and Aragorn quickly finished it off from either side. One of the Orcs that they had swept aside before caught up with them, but Gandalf brought it low with the help of Glamdring. Even the Hobbits did their part, as Merry, Bill the Pony 3.0, and the wounded Pippin led a furious charge against the other Orc in the fellowship’s way, bowling it over and down several steps, stinging it with their small daggers until it was lifeless. With the path free, the fellowship began racing down the steps, only to be met with arrows from somewhere down below.
ROUND 6 (7 threat in staging area, 0/15 progress on 3B, 5 victory points, Active Location – Darkened Stairway [0/2 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 2/10)
**Staging Area – Mines of Moria, The Great Bridge**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 30 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 3, Pippin – 2, Frodo – 2
New Hand: Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Beorn, Asfaloth, Defender of Rammas, Hobbit Cloak
Planning: Sam has finally gotten the defensive help he needed with Hobbit Cloak. It’s quite late in the game now, but it should hopefully give me a measure of safety for the last few rounds of the game. Thus, I’ll pay 1 from Sam for the Cloak. I will also use Errand-rider to move 1 resource from Sam to Pippin, in preparation for playing Gildor.
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 1, Pippin – 3, Frodo – 2
Sam was grateful that he was wearing a sturdy traveling cloak, as the arrows struggled to find purchase in the surprisingly tough fabric.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 38 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 3 [with Steward]
Draw: Bilbo Baggins
New Hand: Envoy of Pelargir, Steward of Gondor, Bilbo Baggins – Galadriel on top of deck
Planning: I could play Galadriel here, but with The Balrog arriving soon (an unexpected arrival could happen with a treachery like Fool of a Took!), I really want to get some chump blockers out, as well as some permanent willpower. Therefore, I’ll pay 2 from Aragorn for the Envoy of Pelargir, placing the resource from the Envoy back on Aragorn. I then will exhaust the Wizard Pipe to pull Galadriel into my hand and put Bilbo Baggins on top of my deck. Then, I will pay 1 resource from Gandalf and Glorfindel to play Bilbo.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel 0, Aragorn – 2
Gandalf had a moment of doubt as the fellowship pauses on the stairs, beset by arrows, pursued by endless foes, and dogged by some powerful force. Yet, a flash of memory overtook him, and he remembered another time many years past when he faced down danger in the dark under the Misty Mountains with a different Baggins in tow. The thought gave him comfort and courage and he pressed the group on. “We must keep going!” he called to the others. “We will survive this day yet!”
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. All heroes have +1 willpower from Fellowship of the Ring. I can only make 5 progress each round due to the text on stage 3, but I need to make sure that I make this progress each round, so that I can escape the quest in 3 rounds. Deck Two will commit Sam (5 willpower) and Frodo (3 willpower) for a total of 8 willpower. Deck One still has the benefit of +1 willpower to all characters due to Sword that was Broken and will commit Arwen (3 willpower, +1 defense and sentinel to Gandalf), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower), Galadriel’s Handmaiden (3 willpower) and Glorfindel (5 willpower) for a total of 14 willpower. Again, I do need to be mindful of exhausting too many characters in case further copies of We Cannot Get Out emerge (the encounter deck has been re-shuffled by this point). I have committed 22 willpower against 7 threat in the staging area, which should be sufficient.
Card 1: Many-pillared Hall (2 threat, 6 quest points) – This location is just fine at the moment.
Card 2: Moria Archer (42 engagement cost, 2 threat, 3 attack, 3 defense, 3 hit points) [Peril][Archery 2] – I’m not as big a fan of this reveal, as taking on more direct damage is the one thing I really don’t need at the moment. First, the Archer forces Deck One to assign 2 damage among its characters. I will place 1 damage on Bilbo and 1 on Gandalf (2/5 hit points remaining). Then, I will have to deal with its archery damage later in the round.
I committed 22 willpower to the quest and there is now 11 threat in the staging area. This means I have 11 progress to place. 4 are used to explore Mines of Moria in the staging area, 2 more explore the Darkened Stairway, while the remaining 5 are placed on stage 3B. I discard the top card of the encounter deck to satisfy Darken Stairway’s forced effect and it is a Many-pillared Hall. There are now 2 of these in play, which makes them a bit more problematic, although I should have the willpower for the job. I will exhaust Asfaloth to place 2 progress on a copy of Many-pillared Hall. One more damage is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom with only 1 remaining. This means that The Balrog will be arriving next round!
The fellowship ignored the arrows and peril and raced down the stairway. A large arrow buried itself in Gandalf’s arm, but he seemed to be oblivious to the pain and continued leading the company. Finally, they reached the end of the stairs.
If I’m going to destroy The Balrog, then I need to time my travel to The Great Bridge carefully. This will allow me to make the big sacrifice to remove the “Indestructible” keyword so that I can finish the job before I defeat the quest. My goal is to only take 2 burdens from this quest, rather than the full 4, following my general campaign strategy of avoiding burdens whenever I can, so letting The Balrog survive is not an option. For this round, I will travel to Many-pillared Hall.
At the bottom of the stairs, the fellowship emerged into a huge cavern that stretched to either side as far as the eye could see. Arrows continued flying at them from all sides, and there was no way to tell how many Orcs lurked in the shadows. Just ahead of them was a great bridge spanning an unfathomably deep chasm that cut the cavern in two. It was clearly the only way across, but the way would be perilous, as the path was narrow and the archers in the dark would have free reign. Still, there was nothing for it but to forge ahead. Aragorn was sent ahead first, with the Hobbits just behind him. Gandalf came last, and as he took his first step onto the bridge, the dark foreboding in his heart suddenly crystallized into a firm terror. Just behind them, at the top of the stairway they had descended, he felt a presence of pure malice appear. He could not see anything yet, but he knew it was there, and he called for those ahead to quicken their pace.
Deck Two will engage the Moria Archer, which readies Sam and draws Feint.
I need to assign 2 archery damage from the Moria Archer among my battered character. I will place 2 on Merry. This would normally be enough to kill him, but Bill the Pony boosts Hobbit hit points by 1, which keeps him alive. This does mean that I will have to keep Bill the Pony alive at all costs, but I’m running out of better options.
Sam will declare to defend against the Moria Archer. I discard the top card of the encounter deck for Sting, which turns out to be a copy of Many-pillared Hall. Its threat is 3 given that there are 2 copies in play, so 3 damage is dealt to the Archer and it is destroyed! Sting finally has worked its magic.
One Orc was brave enough to meet them on the bridge. It was small and nimble enough to dodge past Aragorn, but it ran straight into Sting, which Sam held stretched out before him. The Orc was skewered and toppled off the bridge with a great scream.
ROUND 7 (8 threat in staging area, 5/15 progress on 3B, 5 victory points, Active Location – Many-pillared Hall [0/6 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 1/10)
**Staging Area – The Great Bridge, Many-pillared Hall**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 39 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 5 [with Steward], Frodo – 3
Draw: Unexpected Courage
New Hand: Steward of Gondor, Galadriel, Unexpected Courage – Hasty Stroke on top of deck
Planning: I will pay 3 from Aragorn for Galadriel. Looking at the top 5 cards of my deck, I am able to put Anduril into play on Aragorn! This is great timing, as it gives me extra willpower, attack, and defense when I need it the most. I am actually not intending to use Galadriel for her willpower, substantial though it is, rather she is sadly meant to be Balrog fodder, as she is a temporary ally anyway. I will reorder the remaining cards to put Unexpected Courage on top of my deck. This allows me to pay 1 from Gandalf and 1 from Glorfindel to play Unexpected Courage, placing it on Gandalf.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel 0, Aragorn – 2, Frodo – 3
Aragorn pulled Anduril from its scabbard once more, ready to face any more Orcs that decided to tempt their fate on the bridge, and determined that none should make it past him. As Gandalf began to grasp just what kind of creature they might be facing, oddly he felt the fear slip away from him, replaced by the glowing courage he had felt before back in the chamber.
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 31 threat
Resources: Merry – 3, Sam – 2, Pippin – 4
Draw: Hobbit Cloak
New Hand: Gildor Inglorion, Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Beorn, Asfaloth, Defender of Rammas, Feint, Hobbit Cloak
Planning: I will exhaust Errand-rider to move a resource from Sam to Pippin. I now can pay the hefty 5 resources for Gildor Inglorion.
Resources: Merry – 3, Sam – 1, Pippin – 0
Gildor had been relatively silent throughout the journey through the dark, but he suddenly seemed to rise to great alertness. He looked back the way they had come in fear, and his eyes met Gandalf’s. A shared understanding grew between them, and Gildor hovered protectively closer towards Frodo.
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. All heroes have +1 willpower from Fellowship of the Ring. Deck One still has the benefit of +1 willpower to all characters due to Sword that was Broken and will commit Aragorn (5 willpower, paying 1 resource to ready), Frodo (3 willpower), Arwen (3 willpower, +1 defense and sentinel to Gandalf), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower) and Glorfindel (5 willpower) for a total of 19 willpower. I could commit more, but I want to leave several bodies back for chump blocking against The Balrog, which is especially important in case it gets multiple attacks. This also helps protect against We Cannot Get Out. Deck Two will just commit Sam (5 willpower). I have committed 24 willpower against 8 threat in the staging area, which should be more than sufficient.
Card 1: Mines of Moria (2 threat, 4 quest points) – Normally, this location can be a real pain, sucking progress away from the quest, but I have enough willpower going at the moment that this doesn’t really concern me.
Card 2: Great Cave-troll (36 engagement cost, 3 threat, 6 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points): This, on the other hand, is something I really didn’t need, as my combat capabilities will already be under strain from The Balrog and now I will have to deal with a huge cave troll as well. I’m tenderly walking the tightrope between victory and defeat here.
24 willpower against 13 threat yields 11 progress. This won’t be quite enough to get 5 progress on the quest stage, so I will exhaust Faramir to add a further 5 willpower/progress. 4 of this progress clears out the Mines of Moria. Another 6 explores the Many-pillared Hall, while 5 more are placed on stage 3B. I will exhaust Asfaloth to place 2 more progress on the copy of Many-pillared Hall that already had progress on it. I could win the game next round through questing, but if I want to destroy The Balrog, I will have to do some careful pacing here. Speaking of which, the final damage token is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom and The Balrog comes into play! It takes an immediate swing at Deck One. I will declare the Envoy of Pelargir as the defender and she is smashed into pieces (8 attack – 0 defense = 8 damage). This removes Fellowship of the Ring from play and triggers Overcome by Grief on Frodo. He is already exhausted, but this means he won’t be able to ready until the end of the round. The shadow card is We Cannot Get Out, which forces me to assign 1 damage among Deck One’s characters (the number of enemies engaged). I will place this on Galadriel and am glad to see a copy get discarded this way.
The fellowship had covered about a third of the span of the bridge when the drums in the deep seemed to rise to a sudden crescendo. A crowd of Orcs had assembled at the bottom of the stairway, but they suddenly parted and the dark force behind them stepped into the cavern. All could feel its presence and paused for a moment to turn and face it. It was as if all light in the room was drawn towards it to be extinguished and so it could barely be seen, but it seemed to be man-shaped, although much greater. In one hand was a flaming sword, and in the other was a long whip. Its mane blazed like a great fire and a black shadow deeper than any night grew around it like wings. The Orcs seemed to cower in fear at its presence and a strange light came into Glorfindel’s eyes. “A Balrog!” he cried. “A Balrog of Morgoth is here!” Gandalf seemed to sag for a moment, as if taken by a great weariness. “Now it is clear,” the wizard said. “Now I understand.” He turned to find the others frozen in place. “Fly, you fools!” he shouted, jolting them to action. “This is a foe beyond any of you!”
I will now travel to The Great Bridge, as I will aim to make the great sacrifice next round to destroy The Balrog.
Deck One can’t afford to take on both The Balrog and the Great Cave-troll, so Deck Two will engage the latter, readying Sam and drawing Defender of Rammas.
As the fellowship reached the halfway point of the bridge, they were forced to halt once more as a huge cave-troll charged towards them from the other side. It seemed barely able to maintain its footing, as the bridge was just wide enough to hold it, but it seemed heedless of danger, or perhaps it simply didn’t have the presence of mind to care. Now finding themselves caught between the fearsome Balrog and the mammoth troll, utter destruction seemed inevitable, and Frodo felt himself overcome with grief and weariness and sagged to the ground.
Fortunately, Deck Two has a Feint in hand and this is a real life-saver at the moment. I will pay 1 from Merry to Feint the Great Cave-troll.
Galadriel will defend against The Balrog for Deck One. The shadow card thankfully has no effect and Galadriel is destroyed (8 attack – 0 defense = 8 damage).
Aragorn (4 attack), Glorfindel (4 attack), and Gandalf (5 attack) will take on The Balrog, dealing 4 damage to it (13 attack – 9 defense = 4 damage)(21/25 hit points remaining). On the other side, Sam (3 attack), Merry (5 attack), Bill the Pony (1 attack), and Gildor Inglorion (2 attack) will combine to destroy the Great Cave-troll (11 attack – 4 defense = 7 damage).
With a great leap, The Balrog was upon the bridge and stood before Gandalf. Suddenly, the wizard found Glorfindel just behind him, a fiery determination in his eyes. Gandalf moved to protest, but Glorfindel spoke first. “This is not a foe beyond me.” And with that, Glorfindel rushed past Gandalf and swung his blades fearlessly at The Balrog. Its sword rose to block each blow, but it was momentarily pressed, which gave Gandalf the opening he needed. Gandalf thrust Glamdring past the Elf and into the shadowy leg of The Balrog. From behind, Aragorn also charged into the fray, and the three exchanged places on the bridge in a graceful tandem as they faced the demon, raining blows upon it. The Balrog, however, soon regained its position and beat them back with the huge sweeping arc of its sword and crack of its whip.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fellowship, Gildor stood before the Hobbits as the cave-troll advanced. He strode towards it, calling loudly to gather all its attention to himself. The troll roared loudly and swung the huge club it was holding towards the Elf. He moved with lightning reflexes to dodge out of the way, and the club smashed uselessly into the stone of the bridge. Gildor used the club as a ramp, running up its length and leaping to the other side of the troll. He stabbed the troll with his slender blade, which caused the creature to ponderously turn around in a rage. This left it completely open to attack and Merry and Sam cut the flesh and tissue in the back of its knees. The troll’s legs gave out beneath it, and it plummeted horribly into the depths below.
ROUND 8 (7 threat in staging area, 10/15 progress on 3B, 5 victory points, Active Location – The Great Bridge [0/5 quest points], Doom Doom Doom – 0/10)
**Staging Area – Many-pillared Hall, The Balrog**
DECK TWO PREPARATION (First Player) – 32 threat
Resources: Merry – 3, Sam – 2, Pippin – 1, Frodo – 4
Draw: Ithilien Tracker
New Hand: Sneak Attack, Bill the Pony, Beorn, Asfaloth, Defender of Rammas, Defender of Rammas, Ithilien Tracker
Planning: The Defender of Rammas can serve as a perfect chump blocker, so I will pay 2 resources from Merry to play it. I will then exhaust the Errand-rider to move 1 resource from Sam to Pippin so that I can play the Ithilien Tracker. Getting cheap blockers out onto the table is the main priority at the moment, and I’ve at least been able to accomplish that at least.
Resources: Merry – 1, Sam – 1, Pippin – 0, Frodo – 4
Two men appeared on the side of the bridge the troll had come from, and Faramir greeted them with joy. “Members of my company,” he explained to the others and the two men met them on the bridge. One was wearing full armor, while the other was dressed in a similar fashion to Faramir, with a long cloak covering most of his body.
DECK ONE PREPARATION – 40 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 5 [with Steward]
Draw: Naith Guide
New Hand: Steward of Gondor, Unexpected Courage, Naith Guide – Hasty Stroke on top of deck
Planning: The Naith Guide is actually a great draw here, as she can allow Gandalf to quest without exhausting this round and can potentially serve as a chump blocker later. I will thus pay 2 resources from Aragorn for the Guide. I will then use the Wizard Pipe to switch Hasty Stroke into my hand, placing Unexpected Courage on top of my deck. I will pay 1 resource from Gandalf and Glorfindel to play Unexpected Courage on Aragorn.
Resources: Gandalf – 0, Glorfindel 0, Aragorn – 3
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. Fellowship of the Ring is no longer in play. I actually have to walk a fine balance here, as I don’t want to quest too much and accidentally win the game before I kill The Balrog. On the other hand, under-questing could cost me sorely if I don’t manage to explore The Great Bridge, which will allow me to sacrifice a hero to deal damage to The Balrog and remove its “Indestructible” keyword. Deck Two will not commit anyone to the quest. Deck One will commit Aragorn (4 willpower, using 1 resource to ready), Arwen (3 willpower, +1 defense and sentinel to Gandalf), Gandalf (4 willpower, using Unexpected Courage to ready) and Glorfindel (4 willpower) for a total of 15 willpower against 7 threat in the staging area. This means that I can reveal 3 threat and still explore The Great Bridge. However, I also have Asfaloth and Faramir available in case anything crazy happens.
Card 1.1: Moria Orc (38 engagement cost, 2 threat, 3 attack, 1 defense, 3 hit points) – This enemy isn’t too much trouble on his own, but since there are no more tokens on Doom, Doom, Doom, I am forced to reveal another encounter card.
Card 1.2: Uruk from Mordor (34 engagement cost, 2 threat, 4 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points) – Now this is a bad draw, as it means that Deck Two will have to take an attack from the Uruk, when it needs all of its bodies for combat against The Balrog. Fortunately, I’ve given Gandalf sentinel and an additional point of defense from Arwen, so I will declare him as the defender against the Uruk for Deck Two. The shadow card is harmless and Gandalf takes no damage (4 attack – 4 defense = 0 damage). That was a close call.
Card 2: Deep Fissure [Peril] – This is a bit of a nervous moment as I could potentially lose a hero here. Instead, I’ll risk a valuable ally and have Deck One remove Arwen from the quest. The top card of the encounter deck is the Many-pillared Hall. This is not enough threat to discard Arwen, thankfully.
My 15 willpower against 11 threat in the staging area yields 4 progress, which is just 1 token short of exploring The Great Bridge. I will exhaust Asfaloth to finish exploring the Many-pillared Hall in the staging area, which removes 2 threat from the staging area. Now, I have 6 progress to place, which is enough to explore The Great Bridge, earning 5 victory points! I also can place 1 progress on stage 3B, but haven’t finished the quest yet. With The Great Bridge explored, I now have to make the fateful choice of which hero to sacrifice. It’s really a matter of choosing between Aragorn and Gandalf, as they are the only ones on the table with high enough threat to deal the damage I need to The Balrog. Choosing Gandalf is the safer bet in terms of making sure I have enough damage from the job, and I also started the campaign with Aragorn, whereas Gandalf is a newcomer with The Road Darkens, so I will select Gandalf as the sacrifice. With a great sense of sadness, I will discard Gandalf from play, along with all his attachments to deal 14 damage to The Balrog (7/25 hit points remaining). It also loses the “Indestructible” keyword. There’s now the small matter of Deck Two defending against The Balrog, and I will use the Defender of Rammas for this task. The Defender is destroyed (8 attack – 4 defense = 4 damage).
With the troll out of the way, Gildor tried to lead the fellowship forward once more, but it was slow going, as The Balrog aimed its whip beyond the defenders at the rear, seeming to aim for the Hobbits, and it took everyone’s concentration to avoid these strikes. As their pace slowed, a group of Orcs started massing at either end of the bridge. Gandalf saw clearly that unless they could make a run for the exit now, they would never escape, and it would be impossible to do so with The Balrog at their backs. This thought was made even more urgent as the demon’s many-thonged whip wrapped around the legs of one of Faramir’s men. With a savage pull, the soldier was ripped off the bridge into the chasm below. The legs of this poor soul collided into Arwen as he fell, and she momentarily lost her footing, her body tumbling forward towards the edge of the bridge to her left. It was only her nimble feet and reflexes that saved her in the end, as she barely regained control, grabbing onto Aragorn’s shoulder for support. Gandalf stared into Aragorn’s eyes and they both knew what must happen next. Aragorn began to step forward, but Gandalf shook his head sadly, and the wizard saw the future of the pair in front of him unfold before his eyes like a tale of the coming years. With renewed resolve, he moved past Glorfindel, pushing the Elf behind him, and slammed the bottom of his staff into the stone bridge in front of The Balrog. “You cannot pass,” he said simply. “I am the servant of the secret fire. You cannot pass. Go back to the shadow! You cannot pass!” The last he said with a fierce shout, as he held his staff aloft. A blinding sphere of light erupted from Gandalf, consuming both himself and The Balrog. The fellowship turned to see what had happened, but had to shield their eyes from the light. When it finally dimmed, Gandalf’s body was lifeless on the cold stone of the bridge, but The Balrog was motionless just beyond as well. Frodo cried out in anguish and Aragorn and Glorfindel stood horrified. Gildor called from the front. “We must press on! All will be for naught if we let the Orcs gather!” With that, Aragorn and Glorfindel hurried the stricken Hobbits forward.
Deck One will engage the Uruk from Mordor, since Deck Two will be busy with The Balrog. I can leave the Moria Orc in the staging area, as its engagement cost is boosted up to 42 by Pippin’s ability (the normal +3 plus an additional 1 from Frodo).
The Ithilien Tracker will defend against The Balrog for Deck Two and is completely destroyed (8 attack – 0 defense = 8 damage). Deck One will use the Naith Guide to defend against the Uruk from Mordor, and she is destroyed (4 attack – 0 defense = 4 damage).
Sam will pay 1 resource to use Sneak Attack to put Beorn into play. This is my secret weapon against The Balrog and the combination that I have been patiently keeping in hand for the right moment. I then will attack The Balrog with Merry (5 attack), Beorn (8 attack, triggering his ability), Sam (2 attack), Bill the Pony (1 attack), and Gildor Inglorion (2 attack). This is a total of 18 attack, which is enough to deal 9 damage to The Balrog, destroying it! The Balrog has fallen and I earn 50 victory points! On the other side of the table, I will exhaust Glorfindel (4 attack) and Aragorn (4 attack) to destroy the Uruk from Mordor (8 attack – 2 defense = 6 damage). To end the combat phase, Beorn returns to Deck Two’s hand.
As the fellowship neared the end of the bridge, Aragorn and Glorfindel moved past the others to take the lead, spying what could only be shafts of daylight just up a set of stairs ahead. With a savage anger, the two flew into the horde of Orcs, swatting them aside like leaves. One large Orc stood fast, but Glorfindel felled the Orc quickly to its knees, while Anduril ended its life with a sharp flash of steel. The remaining Orcs backed away and some even began to flee at this display, having witnessed the fellowship destroy a Balrog and cut down the toughest among them. However, just as escape seemed nigh, Faramir’s other man let out a loud yelp as a fiery sword cleaved through his body. With great horror, the fellowship turned to find The Balrog still alive. However, the fire in his mane had dimmed to a pale light and his stature seemed much diminished. Whatever spell Gandalf had wrought seemed to have brought The Balrog to the brink of destruction, yet it still remained a peerless foe. Its long whip reached for Frodo, but Sam and Merry cut the many ends of the whips, severing them one by one. Meanwhile, a large man appeared from the stairway ahead. He was huge and his countenance was awful to behold and the Orcs let out cries of fear at his presence. Frodo, in a daze, saw his approach and recognized him as the strange man, so alike to the one Bilbo called Beorn, who had rescued them before. He watched in awe as the man’s form began to twist and mold into the shape of a colossal bear. As the fellowship rushed off the bridge, the bear charged heedlessly into The Balrog, tearing its shadowy form with its claws. All was flame and shadow and teeth and claws for several moments, and then the bear took what appeared to be The Balrog’s neck in its great jaws and closed on it with great force. The Balrog fell lifeless to the ground once more, shattering the bridge beneath, and it tumbled down into the boundless depths below the bridge. The fellowship could only watch mutely as Gandalf’s lifeless form fell into the dark as well.
ROUND 9 (2 threat in staging area, 12/15 progress on 3B, 60 victory points, Active Location – None, Doom Doom Doom – 0/10)
**Staging Area – Moria Orc**
DECK ONE PREPARATION (First Player) – 41 threat
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 5 [with Steward], Frodo -5
Draw: Elrond’s Counsel
New Hand: Steward of Gondor, Hasty Stroke, Elrond’s Counsel
Planning: There will be no planning for Deck One.
Resources: Gandalf – 1, Glorfindel 1, Aragorn – 5, Frodo – 5
DECK TWO PREPARATION – 33 threat
Resources: Merry – 2, Sam – 1, Pippin – 1
Draw: Warden of Healing
New Hand: Bill the Pony, Asfaloth, Defender of Rammas, Warden of Healing
Planning: I will exhaust Errand-rider to move 1 resource from Sam to Pippin so that the latter can play Warden of Healing. This should give me a bit of breathing room in case of further direct damage. Therefore, I will exhaust the Warden to heal 1 damage from Sam and 1 damage from Glorfindel. Then, Merry will pay 2 to play Defender of Rammas.
Resources: Merry – 0, Sam – 0, Pippin – 0
At the beginning of the quest phase, I will exhaust the One Ring due to Weight of the Ring. Now it’s all about simply putting the last progress tokens on stage 3 and winning the game, while hoping to avoid any last direct damage from something like We Cannot Get Out that might prove troublesome. Deck One will commit Arwen (3 willpower, +1 defense and sentinel to Aragorn, Aragorn (4 willpower, using 1 resource to ready), Ethir Swordsman (3 willpower), Galadriel’s Handmaiden (3 willpower), and Glorfindel (4 willpower) for a total of 17 willpower. Deck Two will commit Sam (4 willpower) and Gildor (3 willpower) for a total of 7 willpower. This is a grand total of 24 willpower against 2 threat in the staging area. Obviously, this is a bit of overkill, but I’m leaving nothing to chance. Before staging begins, I will play Elrond’s Counsel to lower Deck One’s threat to 38, also adding 1 willpower.
Card 1: Great Cave-troll (36 engagement cost, 3 threat, 6 attack, 4 defense, 6 hit points) – This would normally be a bad enemy, but it shouldn’t matter at this point.
Card 2: Deep Fissure [Peril] – It looks like there will be a final Deep Fissure to make things interesting. Deck Two will remove Gildor from the quest and discard Moria Archer from the top of the encounter deck. It looks like Gildor will survive.
22 willpower against 5 threat results in 17 progress, which means I can place the final 3 tokens on stage 3 to win the game!
At the sight of the bear and the terrible warriors in the fellowship’s midst, the final group of Orcs that had remained resolute fled to the shadows. Aragorn led the company forward and up the stairs and they found themselves blinded as they emerged into the light of day. After running for several minutes, he called the company to a halt and nearly all fell to the ground in a mixture of weariness and boundless grief. Frodo clutched the ground sobbing, while Pippin whimpered softly at Merry’s side. Glorfindel and Gildor spoke briefly in Elvish, and then looked with bereft eyes into the distance. The bear had resumed the form of man once more and surveyed the group with confusion, which soon turned into realization. “Where is Gandalf?” he asked Aragorn. The latter could only shake his head with a grimace, and the great man let out a loud roar of fury. His shout echoed through the lands once more and then all fell back into silence. “He sent me,” the man explained to Aragorn. “He sent me to the other end of the mountains to meet you here…in case of need.” “Well, as in many things, his foresight proved wise,” Aragorn replied, mustering a sad smile. After letting the fellowship rest for several minutes, Aragorn called them to their feet once more, “Come, we must put some miles between us and the mountains before night falls.” “Where shall we go now?” Frodo asked. His eyes were red with anguish but he stood once more, and clutched the ring at his chest with a silent determination. “To one of the great realms of my people,” Arwen answered. “The way is just ahead!” And with that, the fellowship continued their journey, although the sense of loss followed not far behind.
That was a fittingly epic experience. There is a reason why Journey in the Dark is one of my favorite scenarios of all time, and it is because almost every game ends in a tense fight to the finish, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much. This has been no exception and the stakes were definitely high given the implications for Campaign Mode. Ultimately, I’m happy to have destroyed The Balrog, but pained to have sacrificed Gandalf. I hardly knew the wizard, only getting to use him in two quests, including this one, before losing him. I’ll have a tough decision to make before the next quest, as I decide on a replacement for Gandalf, but, like the fellowship itself, first I will need a much-deserved rest! Some readers might wonder why I did not include Fortune or Fate to potentially bring back the sacrificed hero, but this was really an emotional decision based on thematic reasons. I really enjoy the key decision moment of this scenario and I feel that simply bringing the hero back with an event undermines the emotional heft of it completely. Now, this doesn’t mean I judge anyone for using Fortune or Fate in their own campaigns, as this is simply a personal preference at the end of the day.
Really, if I have to pinpoint a key moment or card in this game, it has to be Waters of Nimrodel. This event allowed me to rest all the damage on my characters at a key moment, allowing me to suffer a ton of further damage afterwards. If it wasn’t for Waters, I would never have won. Of course, Sneak Attack/Beorn is never a bad combination when push comes to shove either, as has been proved several times in this campaign. Ultimately, the basic division of labor between Deck One as the questing machine and Deck Two as the combat specialist has held up over time. The combination of Faramir/Sword that was Broken/Fellowship of the Ring was potent and helped to generate the impetus I needed to make it through each stage of the quest. However, as the breaking of the fellowship nears, we will see if this holds.
Until then, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Campaign Mode installment. See you next time!
* I’ve gotten a rules clarification about something I was unsure about, namely what you count as threat for the Many-pillared Hall when it is discarded for an effect like Sting or Deep Fissure. In this report, I counted its threat based on the boost from the other copies in play. However, the correct ruling is that you simply count the printed threat of 1 only. This would not have had an effect on this game. The only significant difference would have been that the Moria Archer would not have been killed by Sting, only wounded. However, its shadow card had no effect and Sam would have defended it easily, while I had several characters available to destroy it. Thus, the small error had no effect on gameplay, but it is good for readers to know this ruling for their own games!