Race Across Harad is arguably the most difficult scenario in the “Haradrim Cycle”, depending, as always, on player deck matchup of course. After escaping from tribute collecting orcs with Khaliel and his tribesmen into the jungles of Harad, your party has now captured some Mumakil and prepare to set out across the vast deserts to Gondor. Along the way, your journey is greatly “complicated” by the arrival of the marauding orcs and their wargs on the hunt for the remainder of the Haradrim tribe. This is a tense and difficult scenario that does a remarkable job of creating tension and the sensation of racing against an overwhelming enemy to safety. Despite its difficulty for many decks, I have found it to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding quests in the game, and this is one from this cycle that I will find myself returning too.
Race Across Harad
- Found in: the 2nd scenario of the Haradrim Cycle
- Official difficulty: 6
- Community difficulty: Not yet rated by I’m going to take a stab and say higher than 6
- Encounter sets: Race Across Harad, Desert Sands, Mordor Orcs
- Quest cards: 2 sets: 4 stages for the players and 4 stages for the Encounter deck
- Play if: You are looking for a challenging, tense, and nail-biting experience that should feel like completing a marathon when you beat it, or maybe you liked Flight of the Stormcaller and want the roles reversed!
- What is different about this quest: Orc quest cards, Orc’s Area (separate staging), Tamed Mumak Objective ally, multiple staging areas
- Solo or Multiplayer?: Any quest with a boss enemy is usually going to be a little more difficult in solo since boss enemies rarely scale well and are easier to combat with more players/dedicated combat decks. With that said, I played solo and the quest works just fine, so either works great. In multiplayer you will have a lot more early willpower to commit, which is very useful at that point.
- Can I run Side-Quests for this scenario?: No. This is probably the very worst scenario to run Side-Quests in. It is constantly challenging you to stay ahead by putting as much progress as possible on the main quest quickly. There is no way you have enough time to handle side-quests besides the regular quests.
The Orc’s Area and Quest Stages
The defining mechanic of this scenario is a separate quest deck and staging area for the encounter deck, an idea that was first pioneered in “Flight of the Stormcaller” from the previous cycle. I loved the mechanic then and I love it now, mostly because it closely mimics a competitive LCG and gives the feeling of a human opponent. It adds a unique sense of urgency and tension. Unlike Flight of the Stormcaller though, you are now no longer the hunter but the hunted. This means you will have to outpace the Orcs on your Mumaks.
It basically works like this. When you are at a separate stage then the Orcs, then they are effectively out of play; they don’t contribute threat to the staging area, cannot be engaged, and don’t interact with player card effects. They pretty much do one thing, and that is put progress on their specific quest card. This progress is generated from the Uruk Chieftain’s threat + the threat of any other encounter cards in the orc’s area + the threat on one random top deck draw/discard from the encounter deck. This can add up quite fast and the scenario has mechanics baked in to help the orcs “catch up” if the players get too far ahead.
When the orcs are caught up at the same stage as the player, the Orc’s area functions as an extension of the staging area for most intents and purposes. Encounter cards contribute staging threat, enemies can be engaged, locations can be travelled to, and player card effects can interact. The one exception is that unless otherwise moved, encounter cards in the Orc’s area stay in the Orc’s area even if the players pull back ahead to another stage. This provides an incentive to engage enemies and travel to locations from the Orc’s area while at the same stage to remove them from said area and thus slow down the Orc’s quest progress.
Although not unique to this scenario, this recurring boss enemy plays a central role in it. He is the “Harasser in Chief” and the primary driver of progress on the Orc’s quest stages. When at the same stage, he puts pressure on the players by engaging and delivering a powerful attack every round and then returning to the Orc’s area to make more progress to attempt to overrun the player. He is immune to player card attachments (but not his own attaching warg enemies of course!), cannot be optionally engaged, and for most of the quest can’t even be damaged. In short, he is an EXTREMELY annoying pain in the @$$.
Players are instructed to set the River Harnen and one Uruk Warg-rider out of play. They then set up the orc quest cards and create a separate Orc’s area and put the Uruk Chieftain in it. Flipping to 1B, players than each select an encounter deck location and add it to staging, introducing the quest’s first of many decision points. I have found that it’s not really much of a decision, and pretty much can be read as “add Desert Oasis to the staging area”. Not only is it the most benign location in the game, but it also provides you with a unique source of Mumak healing, and is definitely a location you will want to see. I can’t think of a single tactical reason to choose another in solo play.
Once this location is chosen, the player is instructed to move to stage 2A, effectively transitioning from setup to gameplay as well as giving the player(s) a 1 stage head start on the orcs.
Quest card 2 – Racing North – 15 quest points (Orc Quest card 1 – Setting Out – 10 quest points)
With the first effective quest card of the game, you are instantly hit with a “when revealed” effect that introduces the first “real” decision point of the game. Remember that Uruk Warg-Rider you set aside? You now have to decide what to do with him. Your options are to either add him to the Orc’s area or the Staging area. This requires a bit of discussion about Orc staging progress to analyze the best course of action for this decision.
With the Orc’s area as is, assuming no additions to it by card effects during the staging step, you are pretty much guaranteed 1 round of peace from the Uruk Chieftain, and maybe even 2 if you get lucky (no staging step adds to Orc’s Area and top decking treacheries (no threat) for the “random draw” at the end of the quest phase. There is one encounter card that can wreck this, the thematically appropriate Harad Road, but thankfully there are only 2 copies and you just have to cross your fingers not to see it on the first draw. It’s basically a “Second Hill Troll” draw when it happens.
The math changes pretty dramatically when you add a 3 threat enemy to the Orc’s area. Now the 2nd to 3rd turn stage “catch up” and engagement to the Uruk Chieftain turns into a 1st to 2nd turn “catch up” instead. It’s pretty much a coin-flip whether it happens in the first turn and a guaranteed certainty in the second.
On the other hand, adding him to the staging area gives you a 3 threat enemy and a 2 threat location resulting in 5 staging threat before the draw, and a fairly tough enemy for the early game. It’s a legitimately tough decision, either get a chance at making some real quest progress at a much increased risk of seeing the Orc Chieftain in turn 1 (and the Orcs making progress toward their victory condition!), or buy yourself a turn of peace at the expense of a troublesome enemy that you may not have to necessarily engage but will slow you down.
I have found that in general, adding him to your own staging area for a turn of peace as well as one extra turn that the orcs aren’t making progress on your own quest stage is the best option, and the first deck design challenge of this quest is to have an answer for this initial “mid-level tough” enemy as well as strong enough initial willpower to quest past him and make some progress. This game tends to reward decks that can deal with taking the “hard” decision up front for an “easier” board state later This is no exception, as an essential goal of the quest is to keep the Orc’s quest progress as low as possible. An exception to this might be if you are confident that you can place 10 progress on 1B without the 3 staging threat, and can handle a possible first turn 5 Attack then it might actually be worth it to place the Orc in the Orc’s area to get a better head start.
Well, now that we are past that in-depth discussion, we can actually get to the gameplay. Quest 2B effectively makes the Orc Chieftain immune to taking damage and places a hard limit on how fast you can quest past it (with the Mumak able to mitigate this a bit). The Orc quest 1B basically just gives instructions on how to add progress to the Orc stages at the end of the quest phase (which will be a feature of all the Orc quest cards). Every quest phase establishes this rhythm; you quest than the orcs quest.
Quest Card 3 – Hunted in Harad – 20 quest points (Orc Quest card 2 – 15 quest points)
Quest 3A begins with a reshuffle of the discard pile back into the encounter deck, followed by discarding down to an enemy and adding it to the Orc’s area. If the players are already at stage 3 when the Orcs get to stage 2, Orc Quest card 2D also instructs the players to discard off the encounter deck to add an enemy to the Orc’s area. This is a recurring theme throughout the quest, as the players get ahead, the encounter deck has a built-in mechanic to “catch the orcs up” ensuring that the players never pull too far ahead. 3B punishes the players for pulling ahead of the orcs by revealing an additional encounter card during the questing step to slow the players down.
It becomes clear in this stage why this scenario is more about pace than anything. Go too slow, the orcs catch up and threaten their victory condition. Go too fast, and the orcs get extra boosts to the Orc’s area to speed them up, or the staging area fills up faster slowing the players down. The ideal is probably to allow the orcs to briefly catch up to the same stage for one turn before the players advance to the next stage. This not only keeps the additive effect on the Orc’s card 2C from triggering but also allows the players to engage enemies and travel to locations in the Orc’s area, thus slowing the Orcs’ progress gain down before moving to the next stage. (at the expense of taking an attack from the Chieftain of course if you engaged any orcs).
This is what really makes this quest great, that there is an optimal rhythm to find and a desirable pace you want to outrun the orcs with, and that it is preferable to just outright dumping willpower and trying to sprint. It’s very good design to avoid the potential for cheesing the quest with willpower as was possible with some of the sailing quests in the previous cycle. You also have to always take into account the factor of being limited to 10 progress per round (or 5 if the Mumak is fighting).
Orc Quest card 2D is pretty standard, locking the Uruk Chieftain in the Orc’s area if at a different stage than the player, and bouncing him back there to make progress if at the same stage.
Quest card 4 – The Ford of Harnen – 20 quest points (Orc quest card 3 and 4 – 20 quest points each)
4A begins by adding the River Harnen to staging and discarding to add another Orc enemy to the Orc’s area. On top of the usual quest limitations of 5/10 progress, this card additionally adds progress to the Orc’s stage for every character destroyed by an enemy attack, effectively punishing chump blocking and discouraging players from throwing out a few chumps and sprinting. This stage is deceptively tricky, because not only does it actually require 30 progress with the River Harnen added in, but you actually have to “complete” the quest progress “before” you can even travel to the River Harnen. What this means is that with OPTIMAL conditions, being plenty of willpower, a dedicated Mumak, and no other active location; you are still going to spend a MINIMUM of 3 turns at this phase. It takes two turns to make 20 progress against the main quest, travel to the Harnen, and hopefully make 10 progress on the third turn. I can’t tell you how many times that I have lost this quest while the River Harnen was the active location. The times that I have won it, I’m usually one turn away from losing. The 3 turn minimum in this stage is absolutely brutal and almost always guarantees a really tense victory where the game can go either way right up until the last progress token is placed.
When the orcs make it to stage 3, they get to discard to add an Orc to the Orc’s area if the players are a stage ahead, as is standard at this point. 3D additionally punishes the players for being a stage ahead by giving a +1 boost to enemy staging threat, as well as the usual mechanic with the Uruk Chieftain and Orc’s area. When the orcs reach stage 4, the pattern shifts. The Uruk Chieftain gains damage immunity while the River Harnen is still in staging making it very difficult to actually kill him (since by the time you travel to the Harnen, you are usually doing everything you can just to make progress and finish). Also, Orc progress switches from the Orc’s area to Orc enemies engaged with you, so everything that is attacking you is now also making progress towards their own victory condition! If the Orcs put up 20 progress before you explore the River Harnen, they win! It makes it really tough to balance since you are trying to make as much progress as possible while simultaneously trying to kill the orcs and wargs harassing you to decrease their progress.
This last stage is very tough, super tense, and winning is extremely exciting. You can literally feel that sense of relief and ease of tension wash over you as you cross that river Harnen. This scenario is really difficult, but so fun and rewarding when you beat it, and Caleb deserves a salute for such a well-designed masterpiece of a scenario.
The Encounter Deck
- After setup, the encounter deck consists of 38 cards in normal mode and 28 in easy mode
- Shadow effects are present on just over half of encounter cards (51%)
- Average threat on cards revealed varies between 1.3 and 1.2 between Normal and Easy mode.
- Surge can be pretty bad in this deck, found on the 3 Racing Warg enemies and conditionally found on 4 Uruk Pursuers for a total of 7 potential surging enemies!
- Doomed is present only on the 2 Pursuers from Mordor treacheries (doomed 2). I have found that threat very rarely a major problem in this quest
- The Uruk Chieftain has conditional damage immunity for what will amount to most of the game and cannot have player card attachments.
The statistics above do not count the unique enemies and locations. The objective Mumaks are also not counted, as well as the single Uruk Warg-Rider you have to remove for setup. There is a very equal spread between treacheries, locations, and enemies in both modes. This makes Wingfoot very situational in solo, but in a multiplayer game, you are bound to reveal at least one card of the named type.
This objective ally not only thematically functions as your personal ride across the desert of Harad but also introduces a series of interesting tactical decisions. One of the most enjoyable parts of this quest is deciding what you want to use the Mumak for on a given round. On rounds that are focused on sprinting ahead, you need him questing to bypass the hard-baked limit of 5 progress on the quest card (extending it to 10). On rounds where you are being overwhelmed by engaged enemies, he can be effectively used as an attacker (his 5 attack “one-shots” a few of the quests annoying enemies), or even as a tank to take a punch while others are focused on attacking and questing…although beware, he CANNOT be healed by player card effects and it’s game over if he goes down. (He CAN be healed by encounter card effects, however, more on that later!) It’s important to keep this in mind given that he takes ALL undefended attacks in this quest. Be aware that his immunity also cancels out the effect on Radagast, which would have been a nice card to bring in that case. Hopefully, Radagast gets his quest to shine some day.
The enemies in this quest combined with the low willpower defender hate of the Mordor Orcs set while adding to its extremely annoying theme of “attaching” warg enemies. In addition, the Race Across Harad set also introduces enemies that jump right to the Orc’s area to make progress. The number of enemies combined with the constant presence of the Chieftain makes this feel like a very aggressive quest for combat.
- Uruk Chieftain: We have mostly discussed this guy above, as he is not just an enemy but one of the central mechanics of this quest. He’s almost impossible to kill, provides constant high attack pressure against the player, can’t be trapped, and engages via forced effect against the player with the most orc enemies. He more than any other card really amps up the difficulty of this quest
- Uruk Warg-Rider: This is one of those all-around enemies that is annoying both for moderate staging threat as well as moderate attacking, which can get pretty high against low willpower defenders. The good news is that there is only two of them, the bad news is that one is put into play directly after set-up and is probably the first enemy you are going to have to deal with. Luckily, their combined armour/hp of 6 means that while not squishy, they are killable.
- Uruk of Mordor: This orc hits pretty hard and cannot be blocked by any defender with less than 2 willpower, which means he is a potential hero killer (or in this quest Mumak killer) early on. The good news is that his engagement cost is fairly high and staging threat is reasonable meaning that he is probably best left in staging until you can comfortably deal with him, or at least defend his attack. The biggest danger of leaving him in the staging area is him acquiring a Mordor Warg attachment, which makes him truly formidable and a large problem to deal with.
- Mordor Warg: My first impressions of this enemy was “meh” until I realized that he is FAR more annoying that he looks at first glance. His “when revealed” effect makes him an attachment that can turn any of the scenario’s other enemies into an absolute monster with +2 to every stat. Because this effect is “when revealed”, it goes off before most player card effects against enemies in staging (since he never really adds to the staging area) making this effect pretty hard to stop. Even if you do manage to kill the tank of an enemy he creates, he himself goes back to the staging area (and is probably coming right back down in the encounter phase due to low engagement cost) to plague you individually. A very annoying enemy that I was really only happy to see when I could attach him to a forest snared orc.
- Racing Warg: Literally the smaller brother to the Mordor Warg, giving a universal +1 boost. He certainly less problematic than his meatier counterpart, except for of course the surge; which sometimes allows you to get both in the same turn. These attaching wargs can really add up in a bad way. At least he is extremely squishy once you get him sorted off from the enemy he attaches too.
- Uruk Pursuer: This is the enemy that is less about fighting the player and more about accelerating the scenario’s loss condition. The fact that he surges when at a different stage as the player is very aggravating since he will add even more threat to the staging area and the Orc’s Area. This in turn accelerates the Orcs catching up to you. Between him and the Racing Wargs, this quest can cause some surge nightmares when orcs and players are at a different stage. The good thing about this card is that his armour and hitpoints add up to 5 making him a one-shot kill from the Mumak.
The locations in this quest tend to have moderate to high staging threat combined with moderate to high quest points, making them very effective at slowing down the players. The upside is that the quest is heavier on enemies, which at least makes location lock less common. The other upside is the presence of an actual HELPFUL location!
- The River Harnen: This location is very good at causing you to lose the game. As mentioned above, the real problem is the requirement to clear quest card 4 before you can even travel to it! It is one more barrier to keep you from breezing through the last quest phase too quickly and ensures that you are going to have to spend at least 1 extra round in the game – and one round can be extremely bad considering the number of enemies you tend to have engaged with you at this point in the game, contributing their threat to progress on the Orc’s quest stage.
- Harad Road: A terrible location with very high staging threat, and requiring 5 quest points to clear. It’s bad when you are at the same stage as the orcs, blowing up the staging area with 5 threat, and it’s even worse when you are at a different stage, as it’s “when revealed” effect sends it to the Orc’s area to blow up their progress. This is the one card mentioned above that can cause a first turn “catch up” even if you do place the beginning warg rider in the staging area. Thankfully there is only 2. Reminds me of the Ithilien road…what is it with super dangerous roads in this game?
- Blistering Erg: This is the scenario’s token scaling location. As the quest phase progresses, the erg get’s “hotter”? Probably more representative of the fact that being out in the desert for longer, your condition gets worse and worse. Staging threat and damage dealt after becoming active location-scale to the quest stage. Have I mentioned I hate this new trick in this cycle of giving locations forced: active location triggers instead of travelling costs, making it harder to bypass the effects?
- Expanse of Harad: This location largely functions as another mechanic to prevent the players from getting too far ahead of the orcs, and slowing them down when they are ahead of a stage. The Forced effect of raising threat by 2 isn’t great, but I don’t find threat to be that bad of a factor in this scenario. Too many other things are trying to kill you faster.
- Towering Dunes: Very annoying location. Good at blowing up the staging area and replaces itself with another encounter card after being travelled too. I found it’s global effect in staging to be fairly minor, as you can always direct location tech against the Dunes themselves. The worst part of this card is the forced effect.
- Desert Oasis: Wonderful card. I LOVE it when they introduce interesting locations that can actually have a helpful effect. This is the best location to grab for setup, and it’s low enough threat that you can keep it around in the staging area until you need to heal your Mumak (and this is the only means to do it!). Don’t fall so deeply in love with this card, that you forget about the forced exhaust effect.
This set of treacheries introduces a combination of effects from direct damage to directly speeding up the orc’s progress and slowing down the players. I’m pretty happy with this treachery set, as there is really no “playtest of will or scoop” treacheries, even though there are definitely ones that you do not want to see at certain stages of the game. It’s nice that we are given a bit of a break on treacheries, given how brutal every other aspect of this scenario is.
- Sandstorm: This is the type of treachery I love, it basically punishes you for having a large hand of cards, but it does so in a way that can be mitigated and gives you options, so it’s usually not a one-stop game ender treachery like the ones that tended to plague the game early in its life. It can be pretty tough to see in the early game though when your hand is full and board state is not established. At that point discard really isn’t a viable option and 5-7 damage really hurts. On the other hand, it can fizzle as well on an empty hand. Also, you will have to play this song whenever this treachery hits.
- Heat Exhaustion: Pretty simple, exhaust a character, deal it a damage. The only hook on this card is to have a character with more than 1 hit point standing when you draw it…or no characters at all, at which point it fizzles.
- Fear of Mordor: Basically a generalized -1 stat de-buff on allies. Clearly meant to slow down progress if a player relies too much on allies for willpower. Combos a bit with enemies that get bonuses for having higher threat than defender willpower, but other than that, this is usually the card you’d “rather” draw every round.
- Pursuers of Mordor: The sole doomed card of the pack, although I don’t think that Doom hurts as bad as usual. This scenario moves so fast and has so many other pressing problems, that threat is usually not one of them. The effect is doubling down on the theme of getting Orcs in the Orc’s area to increase their progression toward player loss condition.
- Howling at their Heels: This is probably the worst treachery of the lot, and can be pretty bad at the wrong time….and in fact, it even cost me a game or two. Its danger level corresponds with its timing, and can really slow down your progress in a bad way if it lands at a crucial moment. A lot of times, it can shut down progress completely if drawn while Orcs are at a different stage. Love the theme of this card though.
Like the treacheries, not too bad in this scenario.
- Find Water: I’m usually more than happy to see this sidequest because it doesn’t surge into another encounter card, and if your deck isn’t reliant on readying effects, can mostly be ignored…which is good. This is NOT the quest where you want to have to waste time completing side quests.
- Uruks of the Eye: This one is a bit nastier. I find it a bit odd that this is the one with surge, when it’s effect is more universally nasty. It basically increases the likelihood of getting an unplanned engagement with a nasty Orc enemy and synergizes with the enemies that benefit from having higher threat than defender willpower.
Tips and Tricks
- Recognize that this is a very demanding quest that a lot of good decks are going to struggle with and some decks will find unbeatable. Make sure that you bring a deck with lots of early willpower. Either version of Eowyn, as well as other 4 and 3 willpower heroes, are good. Ents are probably best left at home for this one. You need the willpower now and not later.
- As mentioned previously, this quest is all about pacing and timing. You have to move through the quest stages REALLY FAST, but the mechanics have lots of tricks for slowing you down and even punishing you if you get too far ahead. It’s generally best to pace it so that you get right up to the verge of completing a stage, and then let the Orc’s catch up for one turn. This will give you an opportunity to “clear out” the Orc’s area (which you want to do to offset gains toward loss condition) before going to the next stage, as well as avoid the nasty effect of adding an enemy to the Orc’s area of you are already a stage ahead when they complete a previous stage.
- Make sure that you have some good defence strategies. You need to be able to consistently tank a 5 attack from the Uruk Chieftain (who is going to engage frequently) as well being ready to occasionally get a bit swarmed enemies. Don’t forget to make sure that your defenders also have the willpower to defend against certain orc enemies. Protector of Lorien is a great card for this.
- Learn how to maximize your use of the Mumak. Every round you should be making a decision whether to try and push progress or clear enemies. If you are making a push that you think you can reasonably get more than 5 progress on the main quest than commit the Mumak to the quest. Otherwise, he is generally better to hold back for combat, either killing enemies or tanking attacks (or both in the case of undefended). Again, I found that there is a bit of a rhythm here. I would try to use one round to fight back enemies and maybe clear out staging/orc’s area, and then use the next one to make a hard quest push. It seemed to work well if you alternate these rounds. Also, make sure and hold back the Desert Oasis locations for when you need them, as they GREATLY enhance your ability to defend with the Mumak and take undefended attacks by healing it.
- Try to keep the Orc’s area as cleared up as possible. You’ve only got a set number of rounds to make a whole lot of headway, and extra threat in the Orc’s area greatly diminishes this if left unchecked. If you allow the Orc’s area to build up, it decreases the number of turns you have to win. You want to be able to go into the last quest phase knowing that you can both win in 3 turns and that the orcs CAN’T win in 3 turns (the minimum you can get through it with progress limits and River Harnen location).
- Don’t try to complete side quests. You will get too far behind. Leave Thurindir and his Legacy blades at home for this one.
- When defending against the Orcs from this scenario, you will find that low willpower characters are less ideal defenders. That is why you should definitely include cards that give global willpower buffs to your characters in order to have them available to defend for you. Faramir and Sword that Was Broken are some of the general ways to do this. Trait-specific ways to buff the willpower on allies include heroes like Dain, Celeborn, and Brand son of Bain. Visionary Leadership and Lords of the Eldar are also great cards for this. Stacking these effects will allow you to make use of the better defending characters who generally don’t have a lot of willpower.
- I used my Faramir/Trap deck to beat this one. http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/9113/ye-new-ranger-trap-deck-peak-faramir-1.0.
I found that my trap deck actually worked surprisingly well. If you could get a “Followed” (or even better double “Followed”) on the Uruk Warg-Rider that starts from setup, then that is a -3 to -6 threat hit against staging threat from the very beginning of the game. Play an Emyn Arnen ranger or two and combined with Tactics Eowyn, now you are doing some serious questing pretty rapidly. I did have to sub in some Gondorian Shields to handle the frequent large attacks, and Faramir ended up playing a far more defensive role than is usual for this deck. Another great trick with my trap deck was to drop the attaching warg enemies on orcs that were already trapped! The only thing you have to watch out for is in that last phase, everything that is forest snared suddenly contributes it’s threat to Orc Stage progress, so might have to kill some of your trapped orcs in that last stage. I don’t know how many times I got overrun in the last stage, sometimes at the River Harnen with only a few progress to go!
- 3 player, progression style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmKfteR4QLE
Well, that wraps up Race across Harad. I found this to be tied for the hardest quest in the entire cycle. The only other one that might have given me more trouble was the last one, Crossings of Poros, and that’s mostly because my trap deck didn’t match up as well against that one. This is a very well designed quest, and a thematic homerun to boot. Couple that with its pretty intense challenge and it is one that I will definitely be coming back to!