After I have played with this box for a while now, I have managed to beat all three scenarios and wanted to share my thoughts on them. This is not going to be an in-depth article, and I will try to steer clear of the narrative spoilers in the booklet for anyone who hasn’t played (some of) these quests. I will likely be doing the in-depth articles on these individual quests later on, at this rate somewhere in November, but don’t quote me on that.
First, let me start off by saying that I like the idea of bringing back Core Set cards. It really feels like going back home after spending a few years abroad. Seeing some neutral or even beneficial cards from the old days is a very nice break from some of the harder cards in these encounter decks. Seeing the enemies again puts them in a totally different light. It also feels like the developers were improving two of the old Core Set scenarios. Journey Up the Anduin shares 3/4 of the encounter cards of the original Journey Along the Anduin. Lost in Mirkwood straight up absorbs all of the encounter cards from Passage through Mirkwood. So the developers had to do something to make the quests feel unique enough but still find a good place for these old cards. And in my mind, they succeeded very well.
Before we start with a short paragraph on each quest, let me just mention that each quest official difficulty is labelled as 5. I did not find this the case, though that may be personal opinion and experience. I have struggled against Journey Up the Anduin a couple of times while beating Lost in Mirkwood and The King’s Quest in one shot. But the official difficulty has never really been accurate, so I’ll let it slide. Seems like someone threw 3 darts on the exact same side of the quest-difficulty-dart-board.
Journey Up the Anduin
AKA The Return of the Hill Troll quest. This quest uses the Wilderlands encounter set from the Core box in a unique way. All the enemies are shuffled in a separate deck known as the Evil Creatures deck. When instructed to, players need to add cards from this pile to the staging area or engaged with players. This sees the return of some frustrating enemies like Wargs, Goblin Sniper, and the notorious Hill Troll. Over the years, we have had more tools to deal with these enemies, so be sure to pack them. There is a real threat of a double Goblin Sniper lock, so Hands Upon the Bow, direct damage or Great Yew Bow should be in your deck to take care of them. Alternatively, Dunedain shenanigans with Tactics Aragorn and Halbarad can pull them down. Note that any enemy from the Evil Creatures deck is placed in a separate Evil Creatures discard pile, even if they should go to the victory display. This prevents you from only having to face each Hill Troll once, and then never seeing it again.
The strategy for the early game is to get a foothold against the encounter deck. Side-quests will help a lot since you will otherwise advance too early or reveal more enemies from the Evil Creatures deck. You can also quest precisely, but with a lot of Surge in the deck, you may find yourself revealing more threat, and thereby raising your threat. Scrying will be important in that case.
This is definitely a quest for lower player counts, as there are a lot of effects that force players to get more enemies or locations. However, in true solo, it can be difficult as well since you have to deal with all the evil creatures and still quest hard enough to get past the stage. Luckily, you get the Haldan objective halfway through, so you get another 2 willpower and a decent attacker for the rest of the game.
For stage 3, I would have liked a Grimbeorn objective guarding the Ford, but his appearance in the Withered Heath will make up for this in the future. The final stage comes down to killing everything that walks or slitheres towards you and then clearing the Old Ford. I did find the quest a bit challenging, and it took me a few attempts to beat. There are some combo’s here that are just game ending, so cancellation and location control is advisable.
Lost In Mirkwood
Let me just start by saying that they might have had to make a Haldan card for this one, as you are instructed to take control of him at the start of the game, but the card is not part of the encounter deck. You’ll have to fish him out of Journey Up the Anduin.
The quest can be quite long, but it is very replayable. The players start at stage 1 and then, depending on what locations they explore, they progress to either a stage 2A or 2C. They then do the same with stages 3 and 4 for a total of 8 different paths the players can take to escape the forest. I have not yet tested all paths, but I have managed to win at least 3 of them. I like how this split path takes you back to the Passage through Mirkwood quest a little, only this time you don’t really get to pick unless you stall. Depending on where you travel, you either face more Spiders and Creatures or Orcs. Some stages force you to let Heroes get captured (Escape from Dol Guldur anyone?) and on others, you can get a terrible enemy get even bigger and becoming the Nemisis that you must beat in order to clear the quest.
You can bring a wide variety of decks to this quest, as the majority of the enemies are not too threatning (not talking about any unique enemy or that Mirkwood Patrol). Depending on your path, you may need to bring more willpower than attack strength, though a healthy combination of the two is advisable. I have won a few times by stalling on the first stage and clearing some side-quests. Side-quests in general are great against this quest, as the majority of the main stages requires no progress. In fact, getting progress on them forces you to reveal more cards, so side-quests are the way to go. Just stall until you find one of the 4 objective locations, and then clear the card that is guarding it. Traveling to these locations advances your quest stage. If more of these locations are revealed, you will have some control over what stage will be next, unless you are going in blind.
Location control can also be a life saver in this quest, as a lot of locations can be revealed during your playthrough. But be careful since those Twilight Halls will get beefier the more Forest locations you explore.
The King’s Quest
Now, this quest is unlike something we have seen before. It deals with uncovering a Fire-drake in the Halls of the Iron Hills. This quest introduces us to the new Deep keyword that will be in some of the cycle scenarios (Withered Heath is already confirmed). This mechanic deal with swapping active locations with an unknown location from a Caves deck. This can either be a beneficial location or it will be hurting your board state. In order to clear the first stage, 3 locations with victory points must be in the victory display. This shuts down any tricks with Scout Ahead or Leave no Trace. This also reminds me a little of The Drowned Ruins, only with slightly more gentle locations.
Side-quests are again very useful in this quest, as the main stages will not be taking much progress to clear. By getting some side-quests in the victory display, you can make things a lot easier for yourself.
Having little control over what locations you go to makes for interesting gameplay. I nearly completed all the locations in the Caves deck, except the X/X location which can be the death to many Swarm decks. So pack Ghan-buri-Ghan for some massive boost in willpower. After the first stage, a Fire-drake shows up and new encounter cards are added to the deck. Once you manage to find the Hoard of the Dragon you get to advance to the final stage. Here you must kill the Dragon in order to win. Killing the dragon is not as easy as it sounds (which it doesn’t in the first place). The two treachery cards that become attachments on him make the dragon immune to damage or a really big counter to swarm decks.
In the end, I really like the quest for how it tries to be an easier and shorter run of Ruins of Belegost. The dragon theme will be recurring in the cycle, so we will have to get our decks ready to stand against the fiery (or cold) serpents of the North.
These quests are really refreshing and have me pumped for the cycle. There are a very large number of encounter sets in this box, so we will see more diverse encounter decks and perhaps quests a lot like Crossing of Poros, where encounter sets are added as the game progresses. The quests are difficult for the most part, but not unbeatable. I like how they go back to their roots and build off of the Core Set encounter sets. The second quest is highly replayable, but I feel like the third is my favorite, although I haven’t played it as many times as the others. Side-quests are a big deal in this box, as you will have a lot of opportunities to clear them consistently. I like how this changed public opinion of side-quests over the years. I have really come around to those and now have even got a dedicated side-quest deck.
What are your thoughts? Do you like the quests? I will be returning to my regular articles shortly, after my Rhovanion hype has died down a little. Since I have started work this week, I will have time for the blog inbetween to do some writing and updating on the site. I am happy to announce 4 new authors who will be posting their content on the site as well, so go and check out their articles too!