With the release of the Lost Realm Deluxe expansion and the accompanying Angmar Awakened cycle, the players were introduced to a new type of card: Side quests. These side quests appeared in two forms, one for the players to add to their decks, and one for the encounter deck to hurt the players with new rules or buffs for enemies. In this article, I will take a look at the Player Side Quests and how that archetype evolved from being a bit “meh” to a viable strategy within 4 cycles.
What are Player Side Quests?
Player Side Quests function like any other type of player card and can be added to your deck. Note that some of the side quests are limited to one per deck so you will have to dig for them. Dunedain Message or The Road Goes Ever On can help with this, allowing you to get (more) side quests out quickly. While in your hand, you will have to pay the cost of the card (if any) to play the card into the staging area or next to the encounter deck. Players can decide as a group to quest against either the main quest or any side quest at the beginning of the quest phase. This choice cannot be switched halfway through except for encounter card effects. In order to make progress on a side quest, any active location must be cleared first before any progress may be placed on the side quest. Once there is as much progress on the side quest as there are printed quest points on the card, the side quest is explored and added to the Victory Display. This triggers beneficial effects for the players that are either a one time effect (Gather Information, Double Back) or provide lasting effects that are usually not interacted with by the encounter deck (Keep Watch, Rally the West). Exploring these Player Side Quests will help your board state in the early game, so try to clear as many as you can on the first few rounds. Note that any leftover progress on the side quest is discarded, this does not spill over to the main quest or to other side quests.
The question of whether or not you should run side quests depends on the scenario you are going up against. Quests like The Morgul Vale, Assault on Osgiliath, and The Hills of Emyn Muil lend themselves perfectly to side quests, as they do not need much progress on the main quest. Scenarios like Conflict at the Carrock and The Drowned Ruins are best handled by stalling on the first stage before progressing. In order to avoid making unwanted progress on the stages, quest against side quests for added benefit. But there are also quests that are next to impossible to stall, and thus side quests are a poor choice for them. Think about racing quests (Flight of the Stormcaller, Race Across Harad) and quests with the Time keyword. There are also quests with side quests of their own that will likely have higher priority to defeat instead of your player side quest. On every analysis article on this blog, you can check if bringing side quests is a good idea.
Be aware that this archetype requires some coordination with your team members on whether to stall or go up against the main quest. Usually, you have the time to explore 1 or 2 side quests per game, but since the entire group is questing against the same side quest, it is important everybody agrees to quest against them.
Side quests are relatively new, and only 2 cycles have focused on this mechanic so far. Angmar Awakened gave us a few side quests to play with, but the archetype was still sorely lacking support. This changed in the Haradrim cycle, where more player cards and even a hero were dedicated to the mechanic. Couple this with 5 new side quests and the archetype grew strong.
- Lost Realm Deluxe Box
- Angmar Awakened cycle
- The Sands of Harad Deluxe Box
- Haradrim cycle
This archetype is quite flexible when it comes to spheres. There are at the moment 2 side quests for every sphere and 2 Neutral side quests which can fit in any deck. The side quests build upon the strengths of that sphere, further enhancing the capability of a mono sphere deck. Lore side quests focus on staging area manipulation and scrying/victory display shenanigans. Leadership pumps out more allies and allows Leadership to draw more cards to play if you are the first player. Tactics either discards enemies engaged with players or provides a very useful -1 attack debuff to all non-unique enemies in play. Spirit increases the willpower of heroes and allows players to drop their threat by a large amount if you complete its side quests. The Neutral side quests allow players to find any 1 card in their deck and provides a very useful resource smoothing effect for dual or tri-sphere decks which allows them to play more allies.
While the player side quests are distributed evenly across the spheres, Lore tends to synergize best with this mechanic. This is due to Thurindir, who is great with side quests, but Lore also features cards like The Road Goes Ever On, East Road Ranger, Legacy Blade, and Halfling Bounder. With that said, you will want to go multisphere if you really want to make the most out of your side quest deck. More spheres gives you access to more side quests and more player cards that work with the mechanic.
There isn’t much synergy with the side quests, they can work on their own just fine. You can just toss in 1 or 2 side quests in any deck and you will benefit from it if you can clear them. If you are looking for a dedicated side quest deck though, the synergy will be to explore at least one as quickly as you can to turn on any of the allies that benefit from having a side quest in the victory display. Then, you can go nuts and try to explore them all. This powers up cards like Thurindir and the Legacy Blade to immense levels and players will be constantly able to search their decks for cards, lower their threat, and do all kinds of other things. The important thing with side quests is that you get them into your hand. Thurindir, The Road Goes Ever On, and Dunedain Message can help with this. Try to explore Gather Information first, as this allows every player to look through their deck for a card they need for their combos to work. As a side quest deck, you can find a new side quest and keep the ball rolling. For more side quest fun, you can also explore encounter side quests, which can fuel some cards as well. Across the Ettenmoors will be a very fun scenario to tackle with a side quest deck.
Synergy with other traits
Like I said, this mechanic can be used in a variety of decks, but there is one trait that works well with the side quests. A lot of the cards from this mechanic share the Dunedain trait. Thurindir, Vigilant Dunedan, and East Road Ranger will be better in a dedicated Dunedain deck. This also makes things like Dunedain Message easier to pay for. The go-to side quest for this synergy will definitely be Keep Watch, as engaged enemies will have a lower base attack. Try it out some time.
A lot of great cards are in this mechanic, and almost every side quest is powerful in its own right. But some are just more powerful and easier to pay for than others. Gather Information has become an easy include in many decks, as it not only requires as little as 4 progress tokens to clear but is also a 0 cost Neutral side quest. You can play this anytime with any deck. Its effect is also very useful, as you can get a copy of a card you haven’t found in your opening hand. Or if you need an extra copy of an event or ally for the next round, just go and find it.
For a respectable side quest deck, Thurindir is key. Not only will he allow you to fetch a side quest from your deck during setup, but he also grows limitless when more and more side quests are explored. His static buff of 1 willpower per quest in the victory display makes him an incredible quester in the late game. This high willpower can then be used to clear more side quests quicker which keeps things going. Using attachments like Wingfoot and Steed of the North can even ready him after questing to attack any engaged enemy. Get some Legacy Blades on him (in sphere) to absolutely wreck an engaged enemy.
“Bad” Side Quests
There are also a couple of duds among the side quests, though that depends on the scenario. Side Quests like Double Back are great, but not if you are unable to lower your threat due to an encounter card effect. Delay the Enemy is probably the least played side quest, as it requires a lot of progress to clear. Not only that but having it be a Battle quest (quest with attack strength) can really throw off your game if you are not ready for it. The ability to discard a non-unique enemy engaged with players is nice, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. That does not mean it doesn’t have its uses though. Escape from Umbar becomes a lot easier if you can discard engaged enemies with this side quest.
Explore Secret Ways is also a bit underwhelming, as its effect will rarely trigger in most games. In multiplayer, this side quest becomes better, as location lock will be more of an issue. But there aren’t many cases where you are stuck with multiple copies of the same location in the staging area. At most, this side quest will remove 6 threat or so from the staging area. Compare this to Rally the West in multiplayer, and you will quickly see which is the better option to break out of the location lock. Still, there are some corner case scenarios where you have 2 high threat locations in the staging area, travelling to 1 will also nullify the other. Think of Zigil Mineshafts from the Dwarrowdelf cycle.
There are a variety of fun decks that explore this mechanic. Try these out sometimes or tell me what deck you would feature in this article.