After escaping from the Watcher in the Water your fellowship finds itself in darkness of Khazad-Dûm. They soon become aware that the Dwarven colony has suffered some sinister fate and got beset by the goblins of Moria. But there is a greater danger in these halls. A Balrog is lurking in the shadows, waiting for its chance to attack the heroes…
It was difficult for the designers of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game to make this quest into an innovative experience, considering the fact that the players could already encounter the Balrog twice in Flight from Moria and Shadow and Flame respectively, but they managed to deliver. The most unique thing about this quest is probably that it has different victory conditions. You might make it out of the mines before the Balrog is able to catch up with you; you might make for a daring escape across the Great Bridge leaving Durin’s Bane behind you; or one of your heroes might sacrifice themselves to give you a shot at defeating the Balrog in outright combat. Other than this, the scenario plays around with enemies. In the beginning they will amass in the shadows of Khazad-Dum, being difficult to engage without drawing attention to yourselves. On stage two you will have to fight yourself out of the Chamber of Mazarbul, before finally trying to escape across the narrow bridge leading out of the mines.
Journey in the Dark
- Found in: The Road Darkens saga expansion
- Official Difficulty: N/A
- Community Difficulty: 7.9
- Encounter sets: Journey in the dark
- Quest cards: 3
- Play if: You want to play a quest with different win conditions, you enjoy trying to unlock “achievements”, you want a very challenging solo experience, you want to properly kill off the Balrog after the Dwarrowdelf cycle.
- What is different about this quest?: Different ways to end the scenario, the Doom, Doom, Doom card acting as a sort of timer on the quest, playing around with engaging and defeating enemies, limited progress on stage three, the Balrog as a powerful boss enemy.
- Solo or Multiplayer?: While most of the mechanics in the quest are quite balanced to the number of players (the effect of stage two in particular), there is one aspect of this quest that makes it a lot harder in solo. Once the Balrog is in the staging area, it will attack the first player twice each round. With its attack of eight, you will likely have to resort to chump-blocking both attacks. In solo this means you have to get out two chumps each round, while the hate gets more spread out in multiplayer games, making it significantly easier the higher the number of players is. The same goes for defeating the Balrog. Since you need to sacrifice a hero to be able to kill the Balrog, this is more manageable in multiplayer. Being down a third of your heroes is simply more punishing than being down a twelfth of your heroes.
- Can I run Side-Quests for this scenario?: With Doom, Doom, Doom acting as a timer on the quest, you will want to progress through the stages quite quickly, so that you are quite far ahead already when the Balrog comes out. This means side-quests are generally not the greatest idea in this scenario. However, since you will need to defeat a certain amount of enemies to be able to beat stage two, you could clear some side quests there, if you don’t already have a lot of enemies around (meaning you will beat the stage quite quickly).
Doom, Doom, Doom
You will start with the looming threat of the Balrog catching up on you in the staging area. During setup, you will put ten damage tokens on Doom, Doom, Doom. At the end of each quest phase, you will remove one token and once there are no tokens left you will add The Balrog to the staging area. This is a formidable enemy with a whopping eight attack, that will contribute a constant five threat to the staging area, is completely immune to player card effects, indestructible and considered to be engaged with the first player. To make matters worse, once you cannot remove any damage tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom, the Balrog will make an additional attack against the first player at the end of the quest phase. (The order of the forced effects on the card also means that this will happen in the round that you add it to the staging area). These two attacks per round are especially hard to manage in true solo and become progressively easier to deal with the more players are in the game because of them having multiple rounds available to get their replacement chumps out. Since there are only a few characters that can survive more than one attack from the Balrog (Beregond or Redwater Sentry with their respective attachment loads being the prime examples.), you will want to deal with the Balrog as late as possible and then either be able to defeat it quickly using the hero sacrifice granted by the Great Bridge or quest out of Khazad-Dum to leave this foe behind you entirely.
This is not made any easier by the fact that there are effects in the quest that may force you to remove damage tokes from Doom, Doom, Doom, letting the Balrog catch up to you even faster. During stage one of the quest, you will have to remove a token every time you optionally engage an enemy. With engagement costs being relatively high (a range from 34 to 42), you will either have threat amass in the staging area or draw the attention of Durin’s Bane towards you. This stage also provides an interesting choice in the way that you don’t want to get overwhelmed by staging area threat, but likely want to keep some enemies around to defeat when you need to do so in order to progress from stage two. Nevertheless, you will have to have some system in place to be able to deal with at least some of these enemies without optionally engaging them. There are of course different ways to deal with this and most of the enemies are not that dangerous. One option would be to raise your threat quickly, possibly even starting with a relatively high threat. You can always play a bunch of Doomed cards (no pun intended!) to raise your threat and speed up your early game and then lower it back down once your past stage one with the ability of Loragorn. While this could be a valid strategy depending on your deck(s), it’s also an inherent risk, because the most dangerous enemy, Great Cave-Troll, only has the second lowest engagement cost of 36. Since there are only two copies (or one on easy) in the encounter deck, you might be willing to take that risk, especially with Legacy of Numenor allowing you to get some beefier allies out faster, but you might still end up in a situation where you are overwhelmed by a troll before making it far into the mines. Other options are direct damage effects. The more common enemies, Moria Orc and Moria Archer, actually die to a Sneak Attack Gandalf, while the tougher enemies like the aforementioned troll or the Uruk from Mordor might take some more work. Either weaken them with something like Galadhon Archer or Argalad and then drop your Gandalf or use Hail of Stones, which can be especially useful if you are able to get your army of Balrog chumps out early. Ride them Down is probably not the best idea because you won’t be able to put progress on the quest this round. Hunting Party can still work but is not really an efficient way to deal with the threat in the staging area, because of the replacement encounter card. It works excellently against the Cave-Troll though. A final way to get damage on enemies in the staging area are staging area attacks. Dunhére, Haldir, Leadership Eomer and Hands upon the Bow all provide good options to manage those enemies and Haldir coupled with two Rivendell Blades and possibly Straight Shot can even take care of the troll quite easily. Of course, you do not need to damage the enemies in the staging area if you have other ways of engaging them. Son of Arnor, Westfold Outrider, Knight of Minas Tirith, ally Mablung, Tireless Hunters and Tactics Aragorn all give you the option of engaging enemies on your terms without technically optionally engaging them. The Aragorn option is more limited though because if he is your only way to do this, you will often still have to optionally engage that first enemy. The last option available to you are traps. The ones to look at in particular for this quest are Ranger Spikes, which mean that you don’t have to worry about the threat and can keep the enemy around to kill on stage two, Poisoned Stakes, which provide another way of getting the enemy out of the staging area with direct damage, and Ithilien Pit, which gives you the option of attacking that enemy with anyone while in the staging area.
There are even more card effects that will have you remove damage tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom. Moria Orc will offer you the choice of either revealing and additional encounter card or remove a damage token. Generally, you should just treat this enemy as if it had Surge, which will be its de facto state after all damage tokens are removed from Doom, Doom, Doom anyway. Fool of a Took! on the other hand will just straight up remove a damage token (or lets the Balrog attack a third time this round), with the only way to prevent this being straight up cancellation.
The effect on Doom, Doom, Doom becomes particularly interesting when considering the different win conditions of this scenario. It is possible to beat this scenario without the Balrog ever appearing. To be honest, this is more a matter of luck than your skill in either playing or deck-building. While you can build decks that can make sure to relatively quickly have the right amount of willpower available to quest through the quest points in this scenario in six or the minimum of five rounds (Seastan’s 100 Willpower deck comes to mind), you can still get screwed by the effects of Moria Orc and Fool of a Took!, although cancellation is definitely an option. You can also run into potential difficulties on stage two if you are just not revealing enemies to kill in order to advance. This, of course, can also be mitigated by playing Wait no Longer or Dunedain Hunter, but both can whiff and it will be hard to balance these effects with your questing power, which in turn means you’re looking at at least two-handed play, which means you need to kill more enemies and remove more damage tokens when you get to stage three, and I’m sure you can see the problem. It is possible to achieve this if you build for it and in some lucky cases even without doing so, but you are pretty much banking on the encounter deck going your way. In your average playthrough of this scenario, you should plan on having to deal with the Balrog at some point on stage three through and should do everything in your power to not have to deal with it earlier.
Aside from adding Doom, Doom, Doom to the staging area and setting a couple of cards aside, each player will have to add one different location to the staging area. Since there are four non-unique locations in the encounter deck you will have one copy of each in the staging area at the beginning when playing with four players. In this case, you are looking at eleven threat before your first staging. The first one you want to exclude at three players is probably Darkened Stairway because of its high threat and a forced effect that can lead to or contribute to location lock, which is generally more likely in higher player counts. If you are able to get rid of it while in the staging area quickly (think Asfaloth/Glorfindel or Evening Star, but other forms of location control can also work.) it can still be an option, but it’s likely not your best bet. For two players I usually choose Mines of Moria, because a strong early quest push (which is easier to pull off in this quest because you’re not likely to have to engage a lot of enemies early) can just get rid of it while still in the staging area on your first turn, and your choice of Many-pillared Hall or Ancient Guardroom. The former has a lower initial threat, but it can escalate quite quickly if you are either unlucky or cannot quest fast enough, while the latter has higher threat and can put some pressure on your threat level, but is easier to clear. The passive effect will often not come into play at this stage since you will try to avoid engaging enemies optionally early on. Which you choose will depend on your decks, but none is a clear bad choice. In solo, Ancient Stairway can still be a good option, although that early quest push is going to be more difficult, so consider your starting willpower carefully. If you can clear it first turn, it’s still the best option.
Stage 1: The Long Dark of Moria – 14 quest points
Just like when the fellowship entered Khazad-Dum, not a lot happens on this stage. Avoid engaging enemies at all cost, as pointed out above. If you feel getting threat-locked is a big risk, which can especially be the case in multiplayer games, pick your options of engagement shenanigans, direct damage or staging area attacks to get rid of some of the enemies. This is particularly important because you want to quest through this stage quickly. It is the only stage that does not have a limit on how fast you can progress through it and this is the stage where you can actually build up a decent lead on the Balrog, making it less likely that you will lose to some unlucky encounter deck draws on the next stages.
Stage 2: Drums in the Deep – 9 quest points
Now you will reach the Chamber of Mazarbul (read: add it to the staging area), where you will relentlessly attacked by the orcs of Moria. This stage is interesting because it prevents you from advancing from it until you have defeated a certain number of enemies, which is three times the number of players. Because of this, it is generally a good idea to keep a certain number of enemies around on stage one, because now you can safely engage and destroy them. You can, however, get unlucky and just not reveal enough enemies; either on stage one or on this stage, which might limit your progression quite a bit.
Luckily, the quest provides some ways to mitigate that risk. The first one is the effect on the quest card itself. At the beginning of the quest phase, if there are no enemies in the staging area, the first player has to reveal an additional encounter card during the staging step. This is kind of a double-edged sword. It can provide you with more enemies to kill, but you can also add quite a bit of extra threat or suffer from a nasty treachery and with roughly a third of the encounter deck being comprised of enemies, you can still look at a couple of rounds until you reveal enough enemies by yourself. From the player’s perspective, there are a couple of ways to increase the chance of seeing enemies as well. I already mentioned Wait no Longer or Dunedain Hunter above and both are excellent options, especially if played by multiple players. Since the stage halts your progress for a while anyway, you can also play Scout Ahead to remove a non-enemy card and put the enemies on top, but any encounter deck manipulation can work. Risk Some Light and Interrogation work particularly well, but your usual effects like Lore Denethor, Firyal and Celduin Traveller (Discard any location you see. Ithilien Lookout does not really work in this case, because will only know that an enemy is coming and usually won’t like to discard it.) will also work, albeit more limited in their manipulative power. Although relatively expensive, this scenario might also warrant the inclusion of Shadow of the Past for the likely scenario that you are discarding an enemy as a shadow card. (But you should think twice before adding that Cave Troll to the top of the encounter deck.)
The other way of getting some enemies into play offered by the scenario is the Chamber of Mazarbul (and to a lesser extent the possibility of revealing They Are Coming!). Once you travel to it, each player will search the encounter deck and discard pile for an enemy to add to the staging area. Coupled with some enemies from stage one this can jumpstart your enemy kill count quite a bit. It is tempting to travel to this location straight away to get some options of enemies and remove the four threat from the staging area. However, because you will have to add Orc-chieftain you should time your travelling to it at least a little bit. The Chieftain is not the most dangerous enemy, having only four attack, but it’s relatively high hit point/ defence value could mean that he might be around for a while, annoying the first player on a consistent basis. If you know that you won’t be advancing this or the next round, you might want to hold off of travelling to the Chamber to not get overwhelmed by enemies and be able to make sure that the first player can reliably defeat this enemy quickly.
Stage 3: The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm – 15 quest points
In order to make your escape from Moria, you will have to cross (read: explore) the Great Bridge, which you will add to the staging area at this point and which also offers the Balrog-killing achievement which I will go over later. In addition, each player will remove a damage token from Doom, Doom, Doom, making it quite inevitable for higher player counts to add the Balrog to the staging area now or at least at the end of the quest phase, and reveal an encounter card. Both the Great Bridge and the Balrog have five threat and are immune to player card effects. Couple that with the possible amount of threat revealed by the encounter cards, it means you will possibly have a lot of threat in the staging area at this point. Since the quest stage prevents you from placing more than five progress on it each round, you will have to quest through a lot of threat for at least (and hopefully only) three rounds.
Usually you want to travel to the Great Bridge right away, since you have to clear it anyway and can remove the five threat from the staging area, but especially in multiplayer games, where the effect of the quest stage can location-lock you single-handedly, you want to have your location management either in place or ready to go. Recurring Evening Star can be great for this. As is having Thror’s Key in play to prevent getting possibly locked by Many-pillared Halls. Having a Mirkwood Explorer with a lot of progress on it in play is also a good option to remove some of the locations with higher quest point values like the aforementioned Halls or the Mines of Moria. Sulien can be a fantastic tool to quest through that high threat value more easily. Similarly, you will want to manage the active location carefully. There’s nothing more table-flipping annoying than only being able to put four progress on the quest because the active’s quest point was just too high or you were not able to get through that copy of Mines from Moria in the staging area as well, meaning you now have to take an extra turn to complete the quest, which especially with the Balrog in play on lower player counts can be very dangerous. The standard options to achieve this are Lorien Guide, Map of Rhovanion (especially coupled with the Rhovanion Outrider for some staging area progress) and Steed of Imladris. Having ways to boost your willpower up after staging, like Protector of Lorien, Astonishing Speed, Untroubled by Darkness (all the locations are underground), Eowyn, Galadriel (with Nenya) or Faramir, are also welcome and of course nothing prevents you from playing with less fleeting willpower boosts, like Sword that was Broken, Banner of Elendil (which is a good way to spend fellowship resources if you are running any version of Aragorn) or Visionary Leadership.
At the same time, you will often have the threat of the Balrog coming up from behind you. This is more likely to happen at the beginning of this stage in multiplayer games, where you will remove more damage tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom, but even lower player counts should expect Durin’s Bane to show up some point during this stage. With its attack value of eight, there is not much you can do against that except for chumping the two attacks each round and hope for the best until you either leave the mines or are able to defeat the Balrog.
Achievement unlocked: Defeat the Balrog
While you don’t have to defeat the Balrog in order to beat the quest (Very thematically you only have to make it out and sometimes making for a daring escape can be just as satisfying as defeating the monster of shadow and flame.), it functions as a challenge for the players to beat. In campaign mode not having the Balrog in the staging area at the end of the game, either by way of avoiding it or beating it, is also the only way to avoid some of the burdens of this quest.
The (amazingly thematic) way it works, is like this: Generally, the Balrog is indestructible. This means, you can put damage tokens on him (as many as you want!), but it will never actually be defeated, so Durin’s Bane is completely undefeatable by normal game means. However, The Great Bridge location has game text that allows you to discard a hero to deal damage equal to that hero’s threat cost to the Balrog and removes the indestructible keyword from it. After that, the first player can defeat it with normal attacks, but no other ways, because the Balrog is immune to player card effects and that is not a keyword. In some cases, depending on how your game went before, the Balrog could even outright die from the sacrifice damage, because nothing was stopping you from piling massive amounts of damage on it before.
Since you will have to explore the Great Bridge to beat the final quest card of this scenario, you will always get the option to sacrifice a hero and trigger the effect. Doing this properly is, however, not that easy. The ideal way (and this might not always be possible) would be to pile 25 minus the threat cost of damage on the Balrog, the Great Bridge being the active location, having ten progress on stage three and then questing for enough to be sure to explore the Great Bridge and put the last progress on stage three, killing the Balrog with the one hero you held back and then immediately ending the game. There are a couple of reasons why this is hard to achieve.
First of, even when you are planning to sacrifice a high threat hero like Gandalf or Elrond, getting the remaining damage tokens on the Balrog is incredibly hard, since it has nine defence, is immune to player card effects and only the first player can declare attacks against it each turn. The best way to achieve this is probably a Dunedain or Gondor hero that you supercharge with Gondorian Fire (or even double Gondorian Fire). Another option for a multiplayer game is to include lots of ranged attackers across all players so you can still pool your attack strength. Of course, an army of attacking allies (maybe charged with For Gondor!) can also get the job done and Tactics Eowyn’s ability is great to push you over that last bit of needed attack strength.
Secondly, while it would be ideal to save the Balrog killing for last so that you aren’t one hero down for the remainder of the match, sometimes this is not possible. You might have the Balrog have come out early and having it tear through your army of allies is not an option or you might just need to get the threat of the Great Bridge out of the staging area to prevent getting location-locked. In that case, it is, of course, an option to forego the achievement and try to beat the quest using conventional means, but if you want to defeat the Balrog, especially in campaign mode, you have to think carefully about the hero you can spare. If you sacrifice heroes that are central enablers to the deck you are playing (think heroes like Dain Ironfoot for dwarfs, Damrod for traps or Brand and Bard for Dale) are likely not your best option. Likewise, there are heroes that you will not want to discard because doing so would cripple some part of your game too. If you rely on readying effects on Beregond or Sam Gamgee for most of your defence and you still have some ways to go in the scenario, discarding them here could be suicide. On the other hand, discarding “weaker” heroes (like Folco Boffin, you are not actually likely going to have him in play at this point, but he serves as a good example) you will not put a lot of damage on the Balrog, making it more difficult to defeat him, but it still is often a better option than getting rid of more important heroes. Especially good are heroes that enabled your early game but are less useful in the late game. Examples include Grima (Sidenote: I love the thematic implications.), Beorn or Spirit Merry. You should also consider whether you are able to get enough damage on the Balrog before the sacrifice or not because that informs your decision with regards to still having to overcome the threat of the Balrog until doing so. This means, discarding questing heroes is easier if the five threat just go away after exploring the Bridge. It should also be noted that these points are more of an issue in a solo game than a multiplayer game because having only two instead of three heroes is obviously worse than having eleven instead of twelve.
The Fellowship Hero
Outside of campaign mode, where you need to be generally more careful, no effects in the encounter deck punish having the One Ring exhausted, so you can safely use any kind of fellowship Frodo. Black Riders Frodo is often the best choice because he allows you to avoid Great Cave-trolls, Deep Fissures and Fool of a Took!. His Mountain of Fire iteration is great as well because he would allow you to generate more resources to bring out more allies to possibly throw in front of the Balrog. (Also, I completely missed that his ability is a planning action in the earlier quest analyses. Thanks for pointing that out. While this makes his ability somewhat less great in the earlier quests of the saga, it doesn’t really matter for this scenario.) On the other hand, Road Darkens Frodo does not provide as much utility. While he is great for defending against an early Cave-troll (which you might just have gotten rid of with Black Riders Frodo), the other enemies in this quest don’t pose enough threat that you need this extra emergency defender and the Balrog itself is immune to player card effects which makes Frodo’s targeted ability useless. If you want to build your defensive strategy around him (which is possible), you can do so, but outside of that, he’s not that great. Similarly, Land of Shadow Frodo is also somewhat limited. With Fast Hitch, he can contribute decently to multiple phases, but in the early stages of the scenario, questing for specific values and his questing control is less useful. His ability could come in handy if you find yourself short of putting five progress on the quest on stage three, but with this limitation, the first two options will probably better inclusions in your deck.
The Encounter Deck
- Without the cards removed from the encounter deck at the beginning of the game, the encounter deck encompasses 34 cards. Easy mode will bring that number down to 26. Campaign play, as always, will mean more cards, as well as more Surge.
- 55% of the cards have shadow effects in normal mode; in easy mode, that number rises to 58%. Shadow effects get nastier when a character is destroyed (which is particularly nasty, because shadow cards dealt to The Balrog are immune to player card effects) or when your threat is above 35. They also play around with the number of enemies engaged with you.
- The average threat is around 1.5 per card in normal mode. I say ‘around’ because I counted Moria Archer as having two threat as it would have with two players and only used the singular threat of two for Many-pillared Hall. The number slightly rises to 1.6 on easy.
- No surging cards outside of campaign play, but you will usually treat Moria Orc as having that keyword.
- They Are Coming! has Doomed 2 and Fool of a Took! Doomed 1. The travel effect on Ancient Guardroom also has the potential of raising your threat quite a bit, as does the shadow effect on Moria Orc.
- The Balrog, Chamber of Mazarbul and The Great Bridge are all immune to player card effects. For the Balrog, this includes all shadow cards dealt to it. The Great Cave-troll is only immune to attachments.
- Fool of a Took! will force you to remove a token from Doom, Doom, Doom or let the Balrog attack. Moria Orc gives you the option of removing a token. If the Balrog is already in play it will simply Surge.
The encounter deck itself is quite balanced across the different card types and offer several challenges. You will especially have to be prepared for combat and ways to get out of location-lock are also very useful.
In this scenario, each location on its own does not have a too punishing effect. Combined, however, they can quickly escalate into some nasty location-lock combos. The cards to look out for specifically with regards to this are Mines of Moria, Many-pillared Hall and Darkened Stairway. Because of this, having some manner of controlling locations is key to success, especially in multiplayer games. Thror’s Key can be clutch to blank the effect on one of those three cards in order to prevent their combo-ing from escalating and Heirs of Eärendil and Mariner’s Compass are great to get you out of a jam if some combination of these cards prevents you from making meaningful progress. Short Cut and Strider’s Pass can also save you from some possibly devastating game state after staging.
- Chamber of Mazarbul: One of the central pieces of stage two, you usually will want to travel to it relatively quickly to remove its four threat from the staging area (because of its immunity there are no other ways to achieve this) and get some enemies into play in order to advance. However, there might be situations where you will still have too many enemies around to travel here safely, particularly because there is no way to avoid engaging the Orc-chieftain. In multiplayer games and when the Chieftain is already around, good enemies to choose are usually all enemies except for the Great Cave-troll. The troll itself is quite a nasty enemy and choosing one of the others has the added benefit of avoiding a when revealed effect by simply adding the enemy to the staging area. Lastly, you should not forget that the travel cost allows you to look at the remaining cards in the encounter deck, even if you won’t be choosing any of these cards.
- The Great Bridge: You will have to travel to and clear this in order to win the game. Most of the time, you want to get rid of the five threat quickly to make sure you can put five progress on stage three each round. However, this might not be the case, if the Balrog has not shown up yet, but surely will, and you want to defeat it either to “unlock the achievement” or to avoid the burdens in campaign play. This will usually be fine, however, because the threat only really becomes dangerous when coupled with the Balrog’s six threat.
- Mines of Moria: This location is somewhat of a mixed bag. The ability to just get it out of the staging area with enough questing power frees up the travel phase for other locations so you can get rid of more threat each turn. This is particularly useful in multiplayer games, where you will often reveal more than one location each turn. In solo, this location (assuming high enough willpower) will often mean four less progress on the main quest, which can be annoying on stage three, but often will just clear itself. The biggest threat this location can have is when you are on the verge of location lock. The four progress you will have to put on it first might mean not being able to clear the active and not being able to travel to another location this round, which might just give you the last nudge into location-lock. In that case, Short Cut or Strider’s Path, as outlined above, might just save you from this. Another way to prevent this would anything that places progress on the active location like Lorien Guide, Steed of Imladris or Map of Rhovanion.
- Many-pillared Hall: First of, this card boosts itself, so it will always have at least two threat. Second, this is a dangerous multiplayer card. In solo play, you would be really unlucky to have more than two of these around, but the escalation of threat coupled with its high quest points can lead to some horrible location lock in higher player counts. You can, of course, use Thror’s Key to blank it, meaning it would only have its printed threat of one, but it would still boost the other Halls in play. Switching it to the active slot won’t work either. While you would get its own threat out of the staging area, it would still buff the others. The best tech against it is probably either Short Cut or Distant Stars. Mariner’s Compass can also work, but you will likely have problems for at least one quest phase until you can remove it in the following travel phase.
- Darkened Stairway: What makes this location so annoying is the luck involved in it. It is easy to clear (and even straight out of the staging area with something like Evening Star or Asfaloth), but it might just make everything worse by adding the wrong location to the staging area. Especially if you try to nuke it out of staging, consider using some encounter deck scrying in order to prevent this location from throwing you into instant location-lock.
- Ancient Guardroom: This is a great card to have around when you are planning to engage and defend (and kill) a lot of enemies on stage two as it will make mustering up the defense much easier, particularly if you combo it with something like Scorpagorn or Knife-Work to make the counterattack also easier or something like In the Shadows, Horn’s Cry or Keep Watch to debuff the enemies even more. It also affects the Balrog, but if you are not using a buffed up uber-defender the change from eight to seven attack is unlikely to make much of a difference. It has a potentially dangerous travel cost though. Since you will often try to avoid raising your threat above 35 as to not triggering some of the shadow effects in this quest, discarding a high-cost card here, can make matters a lot worse for you. There are of course player deck scrying effects like Hero Gandalfor Imladris Stargazer, but considering there are only two copies of this location in the deck, teching against it is probably overkill. Instead, you should include some more generally useful threat reduction effects in your decks.
Most of the enemies in this quest are relatively weak and have high engagement cost. The biggest danger coming from them would be removing damage tokens from Doom, Doom, Doom on stage one by ways of optional engagement and them taking up valuable defender spots after the Balrog has shown up. In order to prevent the former, you can use a lot of ways that I already outlined above. The latter is more of an annoyance, but something to keep in mind when planning your turns ahead, so that you won’t let a goblin get the jump on you.
- The Balrog: I have already talked a lot about this enemy so I won’t go into any more details here. Still, let me point out again that immune to player card effects is not a keyword and won’t be removed after your Bombur (or whoever) has heroically thrown himself in front of him. This comes up on the various community boards with some regularity, so it’s worth pointing out again here.
- Orc-chieftain: With an attack value of only four (three with Ancient Guardroom) it is relatively easy to defend against this enemy that you will have to encounter on stage two. The fact that he automatically engages the first player and cannot be defended by allies can still make him dangerous if targeting a player that is not at all prepared to handle combat. To prevent this, you can include heroes with sentinel. On stage two you can also time travelling to the Chamber of Mazarbul accordingly, but this, of course, won’t work when encountering the Chieftain normally during staging. Without having a combat-prepared player engaging him or enough ranged on the table, chewing through the combined defence/hit point value of nine could also take a little more time, so be prepared to have several players engage him. Lastly, he is non-unique and not immune to player card effects so you can use all sorts of engagement shenanigans like pushing him back to the staging area with Fastred or A Light in the Dark to discard him with Hunting Party, or have the combat player engage him with Tireless Hunters or Hammer-Stroke in order to take care of him.
- Great Cave-troll: As is often the case with trolls, this enemy will punish you for chump-blocking; this time by removing progress from the quest, which in a quest where you want to encounter the Balrog as late as possible can be quite nasty. Of course, it also means the usual anti-troll tactics will work. (Anti-modern troll that is. You can’t Forest Snare it, because of the immunity to attachments.) This includes two Rivendell Blades with Straight Shot, Hunting Party or your usual beefy defender like a Beregond or Redwater Sentry if you are going the ally route. It certainly is the most dangerous non-Balrog enemy in this quest and you should never choose it for the Chamber of Mazarbul’s Last but not least: If you are not shouting “They have a Cave Troll” when you reveal this enemy, you are probably playing the game wrong.
- Uruk from Mordor: The biggest of the small ones; the greatest threat of this enemy aren’t its stats (four attack and the two defence/five hit points combination should be very manageable at least by the early mid-game), but its when revealed effect. The attack of four means that you are just past the point where you can’t take it undefended even with five hit point heroes. This means you will have to exhaust a defender or sacrifice an ally, which in turn can mean not having enough defenders against the Balrog, which will usually spell doom (doom, doom?) for a hero. This makes a variety of options of tanking several attacks a turn even more important. Of course, cancelling could also be an option, but using a Test of Will here, when there are often more important options in the encounter deck, might not be the wisest choice except if you know that you would lose a hero later in the turn. Outside of Test of Will, Quick Ears could be an option against this threat.
- Moria Orc: One of the two measly goblins in the encounter deck, the big difference to your adventures during the Dwarrowdelf cycle is that this orc has three hit points so you won’t be able to use the Thalin/Gondorian Spearman combo you got to love during Into the Pit. Still, you could throw a Spear of the Citadel on your spearman and have the same effect. Apart from this, there is not much to say about this enemy, except that it surges. Before the Balrog appears it will surge because you will (as in: should) choose the additional encounter card. After the Balrog appears you will have to choose an option that has an effect on the game state, which means you have to choose the additional encounter card.
- Moria Archer: In high player counts, the when revealed effect on this enemy warrants the inclusion of healing alone. It’s also the enemy that you want to snipe out of the staging area during turn one particularly, so you can avoid the archery in the long turn. While both staging area attacks and direct damage effects can work here, the latter is especially useful because of the relatively high defence value of three.
The treacheries in and of themselves are not the most dangerous part of this scenario, but the effects are still something to think about in order to not get screwed over by them completely. They all target different areas of the scenario, so there really is no way to tech against them as a whole outside of the usual cancellation.
- They Are Coming!: In solo, this card can actually be nice to see. You will only add one enemy to the staging area (thus, only replacing the card) and avoid the when revealed effect on some of those enemies. The Doomed 2 will still trigger of course, but bringing threat reduction is recommended anyway. In higher player counts, this treachery can spiral out of control quickly, as treacheries scaling like this tend to do. While it can still be useful on stage two, either having the cancel in hand or being prepared to deal with hordes of enemies is a must. At least you will avoid quite a few when revealed effects.
- We Cannot Get Out: Remember when I talked about healing while talking about Moria Archer? Here’s another good reason why you’ll need it. This treachery can absolutely wreck some archetypes like Silvans, where most of the questing allies will have only one hit point. You can still assign damage to questing heroes, but they can only take a limited amount of hits as well. The best way to counter this is using questing allies with more than two hit points and healing them back up when they get damaged (or throw in some copies of Anfalas Herdsman to keep your Ethir Swordsmen alive). Alternatively, you could rely on allies that are so cheap that they are easily replaceable.
- Deep Fissure: This will almost always be a gamble. The only naked heroes that can be sure of surviving this are Eowyn and Cirdan. (Technically Galadriel could, but since she cannot quest she cannot be affected by this treachery. You can, of course, boost another heroes willpower up to four or more with willpower granting attachments like Celebrian’s Stone, but in most cases, it will probably be best to take the chance of sacrificing a less needed questing ally.
- Fool of a Took!: Very thematically appropriate his treachery will raise the Balrog’s awareness of you. Both things that could happen are nasty because getting the Balrog into the staging area too early is quite dangerous and suffering a third attack in a turn can make short work of your defensive plans, particularly in a solo game. Sadly, there is not much you can do to counter it, so this will usually be the treachery you want to keep your cancellation in hand for.
Tips and Tricks
- Location control is key. Some of the locations can combo among themselves leading to dangerous situations. When a combo is about to trigger you don’t need to explore the location, you just need to get rid of it so cards like Mariner’s Compass and Short Cut can work nicely.
- In order to get through stage one without getting threat-locked by enemies, you might want to include some direct damage or staging area attacks so you can avoid the punishing optional engagements.
- You need chump blockers. Especially in solo where you will suffer two strength eight attacks each turn after Durin’s Bane shows up, you will just have to throw characters under the bus. You can potentially get someone like Beregond to seven defence with Gondorian Shield and Hauberk of Mail, but most decks will just not be able to handle attacks this high without sacrificing allies. Be prepared to suffer those “when this attack destroys a character” shadow though.
- Some cards in the encounter deck can raise your threat by quite an amount. This includes both shadow and encounter effects. Because you want to ideally keep your threat below 35 to avoid some of those shadow triggers, bringing some threat reduction is advised. An often overlooked card that can work wonders against those measly orcs in this quest is hero Dwalin.
- When Moria Orc gives you the option to remove a damage token from Doom, Doom, Doom just don’t. In almost all cases suffering the additional encounter card will be worth it. Although I could justify it if you are on the verge of location-lock and don’t have any ways to get out of it.
- High willpower is fantastic in this quest. The further you can extend your lead on the Balrog, the better. Don’t ignore your capabilities of handling enemies though, because you also want to progress through stage two quickly.
Campaign Play: Burdens
Khazad-Dûm is an ill place and thus it is only appropriate that there are no boons to collect here. Instead, you will start with two burden objective cards in the staging area and two additional (surging, of course!) treacheries in the encounter deck. If you end the game with the Balrog in the staging area you will have to earn all of those burdens (instead of choosing one of each). This makes killing or avoiding the Balrog pretty important in campaign play because escalating burdens in the encounter deck will make your later adventurers much harder, especially because they all surge. If you’re planning on killing the Balrog, you can consider including cards like Fortune or Fate or Houses of Healing in your deck to bring the hero back, be able to use him further and avoid the +1 threat penalty. (You cannot use Landroval here, because discarding a hero is not the same as that hero being destroyed.) If you do this, you might miss out on a very cool moment later in the campaign, however. In case you are playing blind progression, I won’t spoil anything here, but, I mean, you probably know the plot of The Lord of the Rings.
- Shadow of Fear: It is difficult to describe the horror of blank text boxes to someone, who has not experienced it. Simply put, this treachery will in almost all cases wreck your plans for the rest of the round. There are some heroes that don’t rely much on their game text (for example Tactics Beregond’s and Cirdan’s abilities are only used before you get to staging), but since it also affects all of your allies (goodbye, Outlands swarm), it will usually be horrible. The bright side is that your attachments will still work, but other than building a deck particularly designed to not be affected by this treachery (not really feasible) you will either have to suffer it or cancel it. This treachery can also offer the unique chance of healing Beorn.
- Pursued by the Enemy: Because this treachery does not affect the Balrog, it is relatively harmless in this scenario. Most of the enemies can be dispatched pretty quickly and suffering one additional attack by a non-Balrog enemy will be manageable in most cases.
- Overcome by Grief: One of the cards that start the game in the staging area, this one can easily be dealt with by attaching it to a questing hero. Because characters will get destroyed only after exhausting them to commit to the quest, it will not have an effect on those heroes. Should you plan on using a hero for multiple things each round, however, you should include some condition removal against this.
- Grievous Wound: Did someone say condition removal? This attachment is the reason, you should definitely include it in campaign mode. Dealing damage to a hero will likely be unavoidable during the course of the quest and with attacks, Moria Archer and We Cannot Get Out happening to you. By including some damage cancellation like Honour Guard or Close Call you might be able to avoid it for a while (remember that cancelled effects never happened even if the card says “after a character is damaged”, creating some sort of weird time paradox), but in the end you should plan on this being attached to a hero. Sure, with enough healing you can avoid being punished by it too severely, but the easiest way to deal with it is honestly just removing it after it attaches.
- Which to choose?: Should you manage to defeat or avoid the Balrog, you will have the option to only advance to the next scenario with one of each burden. In my opinion, it is relatively clear which you should pick. Pursued by the Enemy will in most cases be easier to manage than Shadow of Fear, so it seems like the best option for your pick of treachery. While it might come back to punish you quite a bit in a quest like Journey to the Crossroads, losing your hero abilities will not be pretty in that quest as well. Still, you have a choice and depending on your hero lineup, Shadow of Fear could be the better options. On the other hand, Overcome by Grief is certainly the better pick between those two condition attachments. Again, it somewhat depends on your hero lineup, but you usually will have a hero that is somewhat dedicated to questing and not having to constantly worry about getting your healing out immediately (which is what your life will be like when picking Grievous Wound) is definitely nice. However, since you will accumulate quite a few condition attachments over your campaign, bringing condition removal will start getting more important anyway, so you can already plan ahead for that here.
- 3 player, updated card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v63aiHLs9Hc
- True solo, Campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RwQnzXJLUo
- 2 player, progression style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrQe0OW8lgA
- True solo, updated card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5QvYHuAo0E
- Two player, thematic campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsEeChTrxG8
What happened in your playthrough of Journey in the Dark? Did your fellowship sneak past the Balrog or had to make for a daring last-minute escape? Did Fatty Bolger throw himself in front of the Balrog for Merry to deliver the killing blow? Whatever happened, your journey will continue in the next scenario Breaking of the Fellowship.