After the long wait between Harad and Rhovanion, I finally received the new Deluxe this week. It starts the Dale trait off with a new synergy, and will the basis for the Ered Mithrin cycle. In this short article, I share some of my first thoughts on the cards and the Dale trait out of the box. Up front I was really excited about this box, as it will focus solely on the Dale trait, making it a very contained box to buy right out of the gate. Many of the player cards also remind me of some Core Set cards or cards that were found in the early life of the game. Whether this is because of a change in developers between then and now, I don’t know, but the cards are a nice update to those outdated cards.
I will save my review on the trait in general for a dedicated trait article at the end of this cycle. We are bound to find more Dale cards in the cycle, based on the spoilers for the first two Adventure Packs. With that said, let’s dive right into the box.
Brand Son of Bain
These names are getting hard to keep track off, but this is the same Brand as the Tactics hero we got during the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. His Leadership version is a lot stronger in my opinion though. Not only has brand earned the Noble trait, he is the same global booster to Dale as Leadership Boromir is to Gondor, Celeborn to Silvans, and Dain to Dwarves. He has a passive ability that grants each Dale character with a player attachment +1 willpower. This includes heroes, so you are already getting your monies worth when playing attachments on him.
Besides his incredible willpower boost to the archetype, Brand also allows you to keep drawing new attachments and allies with his effect. Whenever you play an attachment (doesn’t have to be an Item) on a Dale character, you draw a card. This does not have a limit on it and is insane for a Leadership hero. In the early game, his card draw will allow you to get your deck on the table as quickly as possible, funding the drawn cards with Traffic from Dale. Note that his card draw effect only counts when playing attachments from your hand on a Dale character who does not have a player card attachment yet. Using Long Lake Trader to shift some cards around will allow you to always have a target to play the attachment on.
I tend to use Brand as an attacker or as a quester. He makes for a good target to use Spare Hood and Cloak on if you need his 3 attack strength. Other than that, he can exhaust to defend in emergencies, but having just 3 hitpoints makes that a risky move.
In the end, Brand is a very solid addition to the Dale archetype and will be the cornerstone to the synergy. His card draw would actually make more sense if he were in Lore, but I am not complaining as his sphere matches with allies like Knight of Dale and Redwater Sentry.
Bard son of Brand
This is the great-grandson of Bard the Bowman and can be played together with him as their titles are different. Bard is very much the armourer of the Dale deck and will allow you to play any attachment in the card pool with his resources. He is considered to have all of the sphere icons as printed when playing attachments so you can use all of the attachments in this box with his ability. This makes him the hero who will need the most resources as well, so cards like Steward of Gondor or Necklace of Girion fit well with him.
In order to prevent attachments from ending up in the discard pile, Bard also has an ability where you return all attachments to your hand after a character with attachments leaves play. This is useful when defending with a beefed up defender who then dies to an untimely shadow effect. You still get the attachments back to play the next turn on your new defender. This is an unlimited ability and allows the Dale engine to keep running instead of stalling after a few turns.
His stats are distributed equally, making him a jack of all traits. You can specify his purpose with your choice of attachments, but I have often used him as a quester. Necklace of Girion and Celebrian Stone transform him into a rock solid 5 willpower hero (provided his father is in play). You will also be able to change him into a Defender or Attacker, but that will require some more cards.
We have had a trickle of Dale allies over the years, but nothing really stood out. Rhovanion Outrider finds its way into many of my heavy Spirit decks or location control decks, and Celduin Traveller is nice to have in a Secrecy build. Besides those, Dale hasn’t really been popular, with cards like Ravenhill Scout being stuck in many a binder for years now. This expansion supplies players with 1 ally for each sphere to play with. They all interact with attachments, thereby supporting the Dale synergy.
This is probably my favourite ally, just because he can become a great defender once you get some Armour on him. His base stats are a bit meh, but his ability to reduce the cost to play Armour on him by 1 makes sure you will be able to boost him out of the gate. Once you outfit him with an Armour attachment, he gains +1 defence and the Sentinel keyword. This keyword makes him globally useful, but also grants him an additional boost from Hauberk of Mail and allows you to use effects like Hold Your Ground! to ready him.
Good attachments for this ally are Hauberk of Mail and Raiment of War which can be played simultaneously. This gives him a total stat line of 0/1/4/4 with the Hauberk or an amazing 0/2/5/6 with both the Hauberk and the Raiment. This ally goes toe to toe with a Hill Troll for 3 turns while wearing a Hauberk and still live (if no shadow effects were triggered). If there are any nasty shadow effects, consider packing Sterner than Steel to cancel it. You will need a Tactics resource match for this though, so perhaps in a Beregond deck, this combination could work.
North Realm Lookout
This ally is just a great quester, no other things to really say about him. When played directly from your hand, he is a basic ally for 2 cost who only commits 1 point of willpower to the quest. But if you give him an attachment, he becomes a solid 2 (or 3 with Brand) willpower ally who doesn’t exhaust to quest. This protects him against Necromancer’s Reach (which makes a return this cycle!) and allows you to exhaust him for encounter card effects or travel costs. His 2 hitpoints also make him sturdy enough to survive a small hit from direct damage, something that would kill similar allies like Galadriel’s Handmaiden and Ethir Swordsman.
Good attachments for this character are the Map of Rhovanion and the Mariner’s Compass. This will help you with controlling the locations in either the active slot or in the staging area. Being a Scout, this character synergises well with Lanwyn, who can pay for Scouting Party. This party is complete if you add in the Rhovanion Outrider and Celduin Traveller, which both are Dale and Scout as well.
Warrior of Dale
Much like the Rewater Sentry, the Warrior of Dale reduces the cost to play Weapon attachments instead of Armour attachments you play on him by 1. When he does get a Weapon attachment on him, he gains plus 1 attack and the Ranged keyword. This makes him a solid character with 3 attack that he can shoot across the board. However, he is not as strong as the Redwater Sentry in my opinion. There aren’t yet a lot of weapons that he can wield without being a Dwarf or an Elf. He will be able to wield a Citadel Spear, but that would be a bit counter-intuitive. The bow of Yew is obviously the best attachment here, which makes the Warrior of Dale a bit like Yazan, dealing another point of direct damage to the defending enemy.
Long Lake Trader
I was the least excited about this character and would have preferred to have seen a healer instead. But having played with the Trader for a couple of games, I have quickly learned how important he is. The Trader allows you to spread the attachments you have played among your characters. This makes sure you play all your attachments on the table as soon as possible and swap them to the correct allies when they eventually hit the table. This ally only allows you to swap Item attachments, so Dunedain Signals are a no go for him. This restricts him a little, but there will still be enough utility you can gain from including him.
Note that his ability does not trigger Brand again and again as you swap the attachments around. This would be insane and would quickly get patched. Instead, the Trader only moves attachments between characters, which is not the same as attaching it to them. I tend to use the Trader without all too much attachments on himself, which always gives me a target to play an attachment on, draw a card with Brand, and then exhaust the Trader to move the attachment to its destination if said destination already had an attachment. There is a lot of management with this guy, but it does feel a lot like trading attachments. If I am not using this guy to swap attachments, he can still quest for 1 and attack for 1. These stats aren’t great but might make the difference in the end.
The attachments (mostly Items) take centre stage in the box, with the Dale trait focussing on getting attachments on all of your characters, including allies. Up to this box, the players have had little choice for playing attachments on allies, besides niche cards like Raiment of War. This box introduces 5 new attachments, 3 of which can work well on allies too!
Hauberk of Mail
This card is great. Full stop. This attachment is an Item version of Dunedain Warning but with the Armour trait as well. This makes it a great (free) attachment on Redwater Sentry, as he reduces the cost to play Armour by 1. Not only does that give him the +1 defence boost from the attachment, his own ability triggers as well, granting him +1 defence extra and the Sentinel keyword. This, in turn, grants him an additional hitpoint from the Hauberk. To top things off, Brand also gives him a point of willpower, which is nice to have to defend against enemies that cannot be defended against with low willpower characters. Granted, it won’t do much, but it still helps.
Back to the Hauberk. It is a good fit for any Dale ally, as the Item trait will help so many characters to get started. You can also swap it back to your defender with Long Lake Trader if you haven’t found the correct ally yet. Brand’s boosts and card draw more than make up for its 1 resource cost. In the future, it will be a great attachment together with Squire’s Helm. The two attachments will boost many characters into fine defenders. Try this attachment alongside a Raiment of War (which is possible, since this attachment isn’t Restricted!) for even more defensive boosts.
King of Dale
Props to the developers by including Bard the Bowman’s Esgaroth trait for this one. I think this might pursuade some people to play him more often again. With that said, this attachment I tend to play on the other Bard instead. Bard son of Brand is the focus of my deck, and King of Dale helps tremendously. The attachment allows you to play your first ally without resource match, and it reduces the cost to play that ally by 1 for each different attachment on that hero. King of Dale alone will reduce the cost by 1. Play other attachments on that hero such as Dunedain Remedy or Spare Hood and Cloak to drop down even further. This will allow you to play more expensive Dale allies like Knight of Dale and Ravenhill Scout more easily.
The attachment is crucial to get out early, so I tend to play with 2 Spirit heroes in case I draw into it with my opening hand. Try to play this attachment on the hero who you think will end up with the most attachments. Usually, this is Bard son of Brand for me, as I make him a good quester with Necklace of Girion and Celebrian’s Stone. Note that the attachment only targets the first Dale ally you play from your hand. So you will still need a resource match for your second ally. This attachment also allows you to cut The Storm Comes from your deck, as it basically does the same thing.
Bow of Yew
This attachment isn’t called Yew Bow since we already have such an attachment when we received Bard the Bowman. This Bow of Yew is strong as well though. Being a 0 cost attachment in a Dale deck allows you to play it instantly on any Dale or Warrior character. It plays a little like the Dwarrowdelf Axe, but then without the +1 boost to attack and without the Dwarf restriction. The Bow will do 1 point of direct damage to the defending enemy, allowing you to still do some damage against enemies with a high defence value. More importantly, this Weapon is included in my decks because it allows me to boost the stats on Warrior of Dale, granting him the Ranged keyword and a +1 to his attack value. This makes the Warrior a very respectable character, with 3 Ranged attack plus 1 direct damage to share across the table.
Since the Bow of Yew is a Weapon, it also benefits from effects like Sterner than Steel and Foe-Hammer. However, since you have to exhaust the Bow for its effect ánd to trigger either event, it will be the one or the other. I tend to not run either event since the Dale deck is already kind of full without it. My card draw is also not a concern, as I can draw cards with Brand. Sterner than Steel is good, but I am not running a Tactics hero (yet).
It is also possible to dual wield the bow for more damage on an enemy, I have not yet tested that, but it would be great to at least do 2 direct damage in an attack. Enemies like Trolls and the Watcher come to mind for this kind of strategy if you haven’t got enough attackers to pierce their defence.
Map of Rhovanion
The parallels to the Core Set just keep on coming with this attachment. The Map of Rhovanion grants any Dale or Scout character the ability from the Lorien Guide. After the attached character commits to the quest, you can place 1 progress on the active location. This can become powerful with the new Woodman trait from Roam Across Rhovanion, as this allows you to clear any active location with the Woodmen’s Path attached.
Besides that, the Map allows for some free progress against certain locations, which is nice to have. It opens up the location some more, allowing more progress to spill to the active quest card. There are enough Dale and Scout characters where this attachment can go on. I have found it very useful in an Idraen deck, where you run the chance of clearing the active location when triggering this attachment in combination with other location control cards. Rhovanion Outrider is another excellent option, as it allows you to place 2 progress when it commits to the quest. North Realm Lookout is probably the character I have played it most on. The ally becomes a 2 willpower ally (3 with Brand son of Bain) and does not exhaust to quest. Now it also makes an additional point of progress on the active location!
Since it is a 1 cost attachment, it can be brought into play with ease and serves as an active 1 willpower ally that always makes progress on the active location. This Map is also a great tool to clear the active location if you are in a location lock and can’t place (enough) progress when questing. Also, I have a map just like the one in the picture, so that makes the card even better in my eyes.
Necklace of Girion
I had to check my eyes again when I read this attachment because its effect is amazing once you actually claim it. The Necklace grants you a combination of Resourceful and Celebrian’s Stone, neatly tied up in one attachment. The attachment keeps getting better when Brand son of Bain is in play, who makes the attached hero quest for +3! I tend to play this attachment mostly on Bard son of Brand, as he is my main quester. He also can use that additional resource well as I tend to play King of Dale on him as well. The two attachments really work well together and accelerate your deck a lot. Not only does it allow you to pump out any ally, but also any attachment.
The big keyword on this player card is the Guarded keyword. This is the first time we have seen it and acts as an additional cost to the card. When you play this attachment, you play it into the staging area and then reveal a guarding encounter card. This card must be an enemy or a location. Treacheries are discarded, so this is a good tool to potentially thin the encounter deck of treacheries if you can stack the deck in your favour. Once the location has been explored or the enemy defeated, you are free to claim the attachment and attach it to any hero in the game. Since the rules state that the Guarded card is first discarded and then added to the Necklace, it is not revealed. This allows you to bypass some nasty when revealed effect on an enemy or location if you know it is coming.
In reality, I have found that the added threat of the guarded card really depends on the scenario and the board state you have at the moment you play this attachment.
The events of this deluxe box also interact with player attachments and do not restrict themselves (for the most part) to Dale only. This makes them usable in other decks as well. The attachment focus is still there, so if you do plan on including some of these cards, add some attachments to your deck.
Traffic From Dale
No wonder this card is limited to once per round. Traffic from Dale is an excellent card to find in your opening hand if you can also get some attachments out on turn 1. The event will then serve as a good method for smoothing resources between heroes. When playing Easy mode, this card will be even more powerful on the first few turns, as you will have more allies out with more attachments. Since Brand son of Bain is keeping your hand filled with cards, Traffic from Dale more than makes up for any lack of resources you might have. This is an excellent alternative to Steward of Gondor.
I usually run 2 or 3 copies of this card in my deck, but players could start recurring this event once per round for a big boost in resources. The fact that it costs 1 to play kind of offsets the benefit. But as long as you have more than 2 characters with attachments, you should nett a nice bonus. Of course, wait with this event after you have played all the allies/attachments you can for maximum benefit.
How many arms do you have? To Arms! This event harkens back to the Core Set card Ever Vigilant which allows you to ready an ally. This time, the event is free, but the ally must already have a player attachment on it. This is easy to pull off in a Dale deck and will allow you to ready most of your characters for no resources. The event is a Spirit event, which is not only fitting with the sphere, but it also makes it easy to play in a Dale deck, since both Bard son of Brand and Lanwyn are in sphere. I have found any defender with Hauberk of Mail or/and Raiment of War to be an excellent candidate for this event. Extra defences are always welcome. It also allows you to quest with certain allies, and then ready them for combat. Note that the event does not restrict itself to Dale allies, any ally can be used to trigger this on, as long as they have a player attachment on them. This will also enable you to do tons of trickery with bouncing around Spare Hood and Cloak, but I won’t go down that rabbit-hole.
Valour of the North
Bring this if you are running a Trap deck. Holy **** this card is amazing for your Trap decks. This event grants a boost to your attacker/defender of +3 attack AND +3 defence when attacking or defending against an enemy with an attachment. These attachments can include Traps but also guarded objectives like in The Black Serpent, encounter attachments like in Shadow and Flame, and even when guarding player attachments like the Necklace of Girion. This is a beefed-up version of Blade Mastery and will make sure that you can handle an enemy attack with ease or destroy an enemy and claim what it was guarding.
There are some other points to mention though. First off, this event is a response that is triggered before revealing shadow cards. It cannot be played after those have been revealed, if you want that, try Tides of Fate. Second, this event only boosts the stats of the character for that attack alone, not until the end of the round/phase. This cripples its utility a little, as in most cases it will be either defence or attack. A three point boost is still great though. Third and final, this card will work with Grimbeorn for both his defence or his own effect where he attacks. Can’t wait for Withered Heath!
In practice, I have used this card in my Trap deck where Mablung is the main defender with a Gondorian Shield on him. The event can be situational when in defence, but if you end up not needing it, you can use it for your attacker afterwards. The card is very versatile and a great tool for correction or panic button. Also, it is not restricted to only one copy per attack. You can stack the effects of multiple copies if you would like to. Bit ticked off that this card does not have a Valour response though, seems fitting with a title as that.
More like Bard-ering (ok, I’ll stop with the puns, but look at that guy’s face!). This is the event that I haven’t used yet, but there are certainly some good decks to make with this event. Bartering will allow you to make your attachments cheaper by returning previously played attachments to your hand. I can see this being useful in combination with other cost reducers like Redwater Sentry, Warrior of Dale, and of cource Beregond. You will be able to play a Spear of the Citadel on him on the first turn for free. Then, on the second turn, return the spear with Bartering to lower the cost of the next attachment by 2. Then play more expensive attachments like Citadel Plate on him with a reduced cost of 2 for the event, and 2 for Beregond’s ability. This gives you a free Citadel Plate that you could hand over to other characters with Long Lake Trader. I can expect some decks to benefit off of that, allowing you to save resources for other allies and attachments.
There are no side-quests for the players or the encounter deck. This is a nice break from the Harad cycle with that awful Champion card. It does make you wonder if side-quests are going to be a viable archetype for this cycle. Guess we will have to wait with our Thuridir decks for the Adventure Packs or the next cycle.
Final thoughts on the Dale Deck
It is a really refreshing archetype to play as, and there are a lot of tricks you can pull to boost the stats on your characters. I quickly found myself at 50 cards in the deck, as any cheap attachment will be a good addition to the deck. Questing is no problem since Brand is boosting (mostly) everyone’s willpower. Allies like Rhovanion Outrider, Celduin Traveller, and North Realm Lookout are all questing for 3 most of the time. Defending is taken care by Redwater Sentry with a Hauberk and/or Raiment of War. His stats get boosted significantly with those attachments that he can stand up to a Hill Troll multiple times and live. Attacking back is done by the Warrior of Dale supported by your heroes. I have found that Lanwyn with a Black Arrow is both thematic, and works well within the archetype. Just make sure she gets another attachment after she has spent her Arrow.
The deck is not perfect though, and much can be improved still. Dale is missing Healing, which is crucial since most of your heroes aren’t good at taking direct damage or a surprise attack. Dunedain Remedy helps, and even draws a card with Brand after you first play it. Cancellation is also a problem, but if you cut some cards from your deck, you will have enough space for your Tests of Will. Since you are bound to play a Spirit Hero, you will have access to those. Threat reduction will also be an issue. While your starting threat will be decent, you have no in-trait ways to lower it. You will have to either add a Noldor character to your deck for Elrond’s Council or add in other cards like Free to Choose or Galadhrim’s Greeting (pretty thematic with the narrative of the first scenario).
When making your Dale deck, I will advise using the two heroes from this box (obviously). As a third hero, there are some options you can explore. Bard the Bowman allows for more aggressive decks, perhaps get some other Tactics allies and attachments in the deck. Beregond can go nuts with all the different Armour and Weapon attachments and allows for more cost reduction. However, I have come to love Lanwyn and her versatility in the deck. Her Ranged gives you access to Black Arrow, her Spirit resource match allows you to play Spirit cards while keeping resources on Bard son of Brand for attachments. She also quests decently when equipped with a Map of Rhovanion and has the potential to ready. Her Scout trait also grants you the option of Scouting Party along with the other Dale Scouts. This can allow you to get a lot of willpower, very quickly. Having all of your heroes as Dale heroes is also nice to have if you want a thematic deck. She also gives you the possibility to play King of Dale on turn 1, which looks to be a very critical play in the early game.
This box takes us back to where our journey began. Since then, we have become more powerful, so the quests scaled accordingly. I love how the developers have made good use of cards that already existed in the card pool of this region, makes you feel a bit nostalgic.
The box also features enough cards to make a dedicated Dale deck with this expansion and the Core Set. I will recommend this box to be purchased after players have completed the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, as the player cards are strong and do not lean toward Dwarves (yet). The Ered Mithrin cycle will also improve other traits like Eagles that the players might already have some cards for. The only downside is that players will be stuck in Rhovanion for a long time if they buy this directly after the first cycle. You might want to explore other regions first before turning around and heading to Dale.
All in all, I am really happy with this box and the upcoming cycle is looking to be an excellent addition to the game. The developers are continuously finding new ways to make scenario’s and player card archetypes interesting, and Dale is no exception. Bouncing attachments between characters is a lot of fun, though you might want to analyse the quest beforehand for any attachment hate. Druadan Forest is such a quest, where Leaves on Tree will absolutely shut your deck down.
I might cover the quests of this expansion in a different article, but I didn’t have the time to play them yet.
Here are some victories against older quests in the Rhovanion region. I did not have the time to test the new quests yet, I first wanted to make the Dale deck work. The decklist can be found here: http://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/8954/dale-won-t-fail-1.0