Ah yes, the first, but definitely not the last time we get a test during our scenario’s. This first adventure into the Marshlands just north of Mordor is all about trying to capture Gollum. This quest has the tendency to be either over in a few rounds or dragging on forever as you try and find Gollum in the encounter deck, only to have him escape into the discard pile over and over again. The Escape tests will be discussed in detail later, but let us first take a look at the smelly, stinking bog that is:
The Dead Marshes
- Found in Shadows of Mirkwood cycle: Pack 5
- Official Difficulty: 5
- Community Difficulty: 3.8
- Encounter sets: The Dead Marshes, Wilderlands, Sauron’s Reach
- Quest cards: 2
- Play if: You want to capture Gollum by means of lucky draws from the encounter deck, you haven’t played this quest in a while, you like tests.
- What is different about this quest?: Escape tests, Gollum objective, resetting quest deck
- Solo or Multiplayer?: Multiplayer would be best. That way you can have enough willpower to commit to the quest, and pass any tests that come up. Be sure that every player can beat an Escape test.
- Can I bring Side Quests for this scenario?: No, if you do, you will be forced to make more tests, which will inevitably put more resources on Gollum. Not only will this make the second stage more difficult, but you also run the risk of shuffling Gollum into the Encounter deck.
At the start of the quest, players are to find the Gollum objective card in the encounter deck and add him to the staging area. Then, each player reveals a card from the top of the encounter deck and adds it to the staging area. This will result in a couple of points of threat in the staging area at the start of the game. If you are unlucky, you will have to make an escape test during setup if you reveal any of those treacheries. This can limit your questing power during the first turn, especially if every player has to make such a test. After this setup, players flip the quest card and move into stage 1B.
Quest card 1: Into the Marshes – 12 quest points
There is quite a lot of flavour text on this side of the card, but nothing else that changes the quest. Remember that Gollum himself will force you to take Escape tests at the end of each quest phase so it would be a good idea to leave a couple of characters ready for these tests. Characters that do not have to exhaust to quest, like from effect of Light of Valinor, Galadriel, and Lindon Navigator will be able to both quest, ánd be ready for the test. You would want to pass this stage before the resources on Gollum get out of hand. I would recommend questing hard from the moment he gets over 4 resources. Otherwise, the second stage will become more difficult and your game can last forever. The 12 quest points shouldn’t be much of a problem if you have plenty of willpower to pass the quest and the tests.
Quest card 2: The Capture – 3 quest points
This stage will first require you to place 3 progress on it. Remember to make Escape tests at the end of the Quest phase on this stage as well! Once you make the progress (probably the following turn), the First Player may choose a player to make an Escape test. You will want to choose a player who has the most willpower left standing. Therefore, it might be a good idea to discuss beforehand who is going to do this test. That player should commit as little willpower as possible to the quest. For this Escape test, you must deal X cards off the top of the encounter deck, where X is the number of resources on Gollum. Hopefully this is around 5 or lower, otherwise, this test can prove to be difficult. If you manage to win this Escape test, you have successfully captured Gollum and are now ready to escort him back to Mirkwood.
However, it might be the case that you fail this test. In that case, the quest deck resets to stage 1B. This will drop you right back where you were at the start of the game. This has a couple of disadvantages.
- The quest will take longer than you might have intended. Be sure to sit there for at least another 15-30 minutes depending on the number of players and the speed with which you play the game.
- More resources on Gollum. You will have to make more tests which can cause Gollum to gain more resources. This makes the second stage even harder.
- Gollum can get over 8 resources. Worst case scenario here. Gollum gains 8 or more resources and flees into the encounter deck. You will have to find him again and pray to everything holy that he doesn’t come up as a shadow card. If he does, you will sit there for a long, long time revealing every card of the encounter deck before reshuffling and hoping that he shows up as a regular card again. Bring Shadow of the Past if this happens.
- Combat. You may have put all your eggs in one basket when you committed to the escape test, even though you have a Hill Troll engaged with you. This combat phase will be horrible and can cause some heroes to die. You can prevent this by having enough 0 willpower combat orientated characters ready in case you fail the test.
The Encounter deck
- The encounter deck starts with 53 cards in normal mode, 36 in Easy mode
- Chances of a shadow effect are 19% and 17% in Normal and Easy mode, this is quite low when compared to previous quests.
- The average threat per card revealed in this deck in 0.8.
- Surge is printed on 4 cards, giving you 7.5% chance of revealing extra encounter cards.
- Doomed is not present on any cards, but you may be raising your threat because of failed tests.
- No card is immune to player card effects or attachments, go nuts.
- The average Escape value on a card that you reveal is 1.4 and 1.3 in Normal and Easy mode. Be aware that these values go up to 2.4 and 2.3 per card if Heart of the Marshes is the active location.
The quest has quite a lot of treacheries in the encounter deck, so bringing cancellation will be a sure way to cancel over 30% of all cards in the encounter deck. The average threat is because of this quite low. There are also very few Shadow effects that will go off, so be prepared for bouncing Wargs back and forth.
Gollum is finally found and is the only objective in this scenario. He is not an ally, as he will be during later quests, so he cannot take damage or be used for any action. Gollum will force you to make Escape tests at the end of each quest phase. You will have to deal 1 card per player for this test. However, the entire party may commit characters to this test, which makes it easier. If you fail the test, you are forced to put 2 resources on Gollum. Between this effect and a couple of treacheries and locations, resources tend to pile up on Gollum. If he ever has 8 or more resources on him, you will be forced to shuffle him into the encounter deck. You will now have to find him again. If he happens to be revealed during staging, he loses all his resources. This makes the second stage of the scenario very easy.
While there is only 1 new enemy included in the Dead Marshes expansion, there are plenty of nasty enemies to make your life difficult. The Hill Trolls are back, and if you reveal them during staging, you really have to watch out that your threat stays manageable. The Marsh Adder feels right at home in this quest, but can be a real pain for the unprepared. Drawing any of these enemies during setup or when your board is unprepared can be dangerous. Wargs can also provide you with problems. The number of shadow effects in this deck is quite low, so it may take a while before you can kill them.
- Giant Marsh Worm: Yep, you won’t be battling undead spirits in this scenario, but more Creatures. The worm will stay in the staging area, for the most part, contributing just 1 threat to the total. However, in combat, this worm may prove hard to kill. The 6 hitpoints will be regenerated by 2 at the end of each round. It is vital you kill it in 1 go, or you will have to face its 3 attack strength again and again. The 2 defence opens up options for Straight Shot if you are packing Marksmen of Lorien, or any other defence reduction.
The scenario has got a couple of locations which will stretch the game out longer than it should. This is done by having a crazy amount of quest points on them. A good example of this is The East Bight. These locations will also make the tests harder and will provide Gollum with more resource tokens.
- Impassable Bog: This bog sure is impassable, 12 required quest points is more than a lot of quest cards in the entire game. For those of you who want to stretch the game in order to find Gollum, this is your go-to location. For everyone else, don’t bother travelling here. The 1 threat in the staging area isn’t that hard to overcome. The When Revealed effect on this location is punishing, as you are forced to put 1 resource on Gollum for each location in the staging area. This will ensure that he has a healthy amount of resources on him at all times. This also means that location control is vital to win this quest. Having to put 4/5 tokens on him at once can be enough to shuffle Gollum into the deck. Try to cancel this When Revealed effect with A Test of Will. For those of you who keep score, 7 victory points is quite nice, especially since this means that you won’t reveal the card again after you have explored it.
- Fens and Mires: A standard 2/2 location that is easy fodder for location control decks that might have a hard time with the previous location. The forced effect will have you place 1 resource token on Gollum if you travel to it. This implies that you really shouldn’t travel to this location, as more resources spell trouble in the later phases of the game. Use location control to get rid of this one, it’ll save you a lot of problems.
- The Heart of the Marshes: This location is tricky. At 3 threat it is worth travelling to, as there are multiple copies in the encounter deck. However, the boost to all escape values can mean the difference between winning or losing. The effect will not trigger on the Gollum test if you manage to clear it in the next round. But it will make any test from a treachery more difficult. The choice is yours.
The new treacheries all revolve around making more Escape tests. This can be troublesome as you will struggle to pass at least 2 tests and make some progress on the quest. The other treacheries put resources on Gollum, so be prepared to cancel some of those. The regular treacheries will punish players harder if they have a threat of 35 or higher, keeping your threat below this is advisable.
- Nightfall: This is probably the most basic of the new treacheries. Only the First player must make an Escape test revealing 2 cards off the top of the encounter deck. If you fail this test, you must raise each players threat by 2 and put 1 resource on Gollum. This treachery will mean that the first player will likely not contribute much willpower to the Gollum test at the end of the Phase.
- Through the Mist: This is the same as Nightfall, only this time the first player contributes attack strength instead of willpower. The rest of the test remains the same. If this test is failed, you add 1 resource to Gollum and raise the threat of each player by 1.
- The Lights of the Dead: This is probably the worst to reveal in a 4 player game. Not only does the first player have to make an Escape test, every other player must make a test too. If any player fails one of these tests, they add 1 resource to Gollum and raise only their own threat by 1. Revealing this card for an Escape test is also tough, as it has a value of 5 (6 with Heart of the Marshes).
- A Wisp of Pale Sheen: I believe this is one of the community’s most hated artwork, though I think it is not too bad. This treachery does not require the players to make a test but instead puts 2 resources on Gollum immediately. Any player is able to exhaust a Lore Hero to reduce this effect to 1 resource, which in my opinion is definitely worth it. That hero will not be contributing to the game a lot this round, but it did prevent another resource on Gollum. The escape value of 4 on this card can be tough to swallow at times, but at least you don’t have to resolve the When Revealed effect on this card.
This quest introduces the players to the many tests that are in this game. The Escape Test in the Dead Marshes is meant to represent Gollums attempts to escape capture. The test will take place at the end of the questing phase if Gollum is in play. You can also be forced to make an escape test because of a treachery card that got revealed during staging. In order to perform an Escape test, players must first commit characters who are using their willpower for this test (or attack power with Through the Mist). For Gollum‘s effect, every player may commit characters to the test. But there are some tests where only the first player may commit characters. Be sure to leave some characters ready if you are the first player. Even if you are not the first player, you must still have at least some characters ready in case Lights of the Dead get revealed, forcing every player to make a test.
Then, players are instructed to discard a number of cards from the top of the encounter deck. For Gollum, this is equal to the number of players in the game. Players then compare the commited willpower to the Escape value on the revealed cards. Not all cards have this keyword, so they are considered to be Escape: 0. This can get boosted with The Heart of the Marshes. When comparing the values, if the players have committed more willpower than the Escape Value, they pass the test and nothing happens. If they manage to get willpower lower or equal to the Escape Value, they fail the test. Each card that forces you to make a quest has an effect that resolves if this happens. Usually, this means that you must place resources on Gollum, and in some cases raise your threat.
Try not to commit everyone to these tests, unless it is the final one. If you happen to reveal a treachery during staging which forces you to make a test, do not send every character you have. You will have to make another test at the end of the quest phase as well.
Characters that work well with these sort of tests are: Galadriel (both her effect and her high base willpower), Cirdan the Shipwright (high base willpower), Spirit Eowyn (you are able to increase her willpower accordingly), Lindon Navigator (can quest and test), Rider of Rohan if there is a side quest in the Victory Display (can quest and test). Also, consider using ally Faramir to boost your characters for both the quest and the test. Readying effects like Light of Valinor and Unexpected Courage are good attachments to have in case you need to do multiple tests.
Tips and Tricks
- Bring a lot of high willpower characters. Characters that do not have to exhaust to quest are also highly advisable, as they can help with the quest ánd with the test.
- Do not commit everyone to the escape test if you have to make one because of a treachery. Remember that you have to do another test at the end of the questing phase. Each player should have characters ready to commit to these tests in case a treachery comes up.
- Plan for the final escape test who is going to attempt it. That player should keep as much willpower back from the quest in order to pass the test.
- Bring Shadow of the Past if you manage to lose Gollum and he gets revealed as a Shadow card or is discarded with another effect. This will allow you to save a lot of time milling the encounter deck for him before shuffling the discard pile back in. Scrying for Gollum, in this case, can also be very effective.
- Location control is important to limit the effect on Impassable Bog. Try to clear as many locations to prevent resources piling up on Gollum. Bring a Test of Will for the Bog to cancel the When Revealed effect.
- Galadriel shines in this quest with her high willpower and ability to keep allies ready when they commit to the quest.
This leaves just 1 more quest in this cycle to be discussed, Return to Mirkwood. This one will probably take a while to make, so look for it next weekend. Attercop! Attercop!