First Impressions: The Withered Heath

When this Adventure Pack at Gen Con 2018, we were all super hyped about getting it somewhere in August. For some strange reason, it appears that the pack is available in the Netherlands already, as I received the pack a week early last Thursday. So, here are my thoughts about the player cards and the quest that are in this pack. Some of the cards had already been spoiled (including the hero), so a lot of people have already tried some of these cards by proxying them into some decks. Other cards are completely new and unspoiled, until Gen Con earlier this month.

Player cards

Hero

Grimbeorn the Old

He’s bare, he’s bear, and he’s there! I was super excited to finally get my hands on Grimbeorn. I have used him as a replacement for Beregond in my Tactics decks, and he is working wonders. Being able to basically attack back for 5 after defending can get rid of some medium level enemies, and that is just his base attack and defence. Unlike his father, Grimbeorn can actually wield attachments, making his 0/3/3/5 statline just the beginning. I have found that Raiment of War isn’t bad on him, as he benefits from all of the boosts. Captain of Gondor is also an easy choice, as it boosts him to 0/4/4/5 after you just engaged an enemy. His ability does require resources on Grimbeorn so you will have to save a third of your resources for him alone. To counter this reduction in Tactics resources, you can run no other Tactics cards if he is your only Tactics Hero (a bit like Na’asiyah decks) or use cards like Proud Hunters/Mablung to generate resources for you. Readying abilities on Grimbeorn are also great, as he will be able to maul everything in his path, provided you have the resources. Unfortunately, no other characters can join in on the attack, meaning that his -2 defence debuff doesn’t affect any other attacks against that enemy. But if you play Grimbeorn right, there shouldn’t be an enemy left for you to kill after it attacked! I also love how his ability isn’t restricted to the combat phase. This implies that you can defend an immediate attack from say, Haradrim Elite, and then straight up kill them afterwards. It also nicely balances shadow effects that cause the enemy to attack again (not uncommon in Withered Heath). Your attack resolves before that enemy can attack again, making it no problem if you can kill him. I am looking forward to playing some more games with him and mauling attacking enemies with his ability.

Allies

Guardian of Esgaroth

(RIP Esgaroth trait, you weren’t long for this world) If an ally with the placename in its title doesn’t have the Esgaroth trait, I don’t know if we will ever see it again. But let’s move on to the actual ally. For 2 Leadership resources, you get a decent ally, with 1 for all his stats. However, playing a couple of free/cheap attachments on him can boost him to a 4/4/4/4, without calculating the boosts from the attachments. This ally can get crazy strong with incredible speed but will soak up some attachments in your hand. This prevents you from getting those attachments on other allies, decreasing their usefulness. You can of course always swap some attachments around, but I found this guy to be a hoarder. Which isn’t bad by the way, if this guy gets a Hauberk of Mail, Squire’s Helm, and another attachment of your choice (no Raiment of War, he isn’t a Warrior), he becomes a powerhouse beyond imagine. I regularly pick him for Arwen’s boost, creating a frightful ally with a potential statline of 5/4/6/7 and Sentinel. That is just amazing for a whimpy ally when you first look at him. He will definitely be a contender next to the Redwater Sentry for your defensive options. That is not to say that he does nothing else, 5 willpower with Brand son of Bain is also incredible. This just adds to his versatility and usefulness in any quest.

Beorning Skin-changer

I have been pleasantly surprised by this ally, it is a superb ally in many ways. First off, outside of a Beorning deck, he has 6 stats for 2 cost, which is rare. Allies of this cost in tactics tend to have only 4-5 stats, so he is a great purchase right off the bat.20180811_181100.jpg Then, he is only 1 of 3 allies in Tactics of this cost with a point of willpower. In Tactics, this is not bad, not bad at all. It is lacking characters with willpower, so a 2 cost ally that can quest is already great. Outside of these 2 factors, and the fact that his art is great, the Skin-changer really changes the Beorning archetype. He allows players to play any Beorning ally from your hand or discard pile to come into play during the combat phase. This comes at a cost of the Skin-changer himself. Note that you can only bring allies into play with a printed cost of 3 or higher, which is great, since that is all the allies we have at this point, except the Skin-changer. This means that you can play allies like Beorn for only 2 cost, and you get to resurrect him if he gets discarded. This also holds true for the Beekeeper and the Guardian, who both have discard abilities. Being able to reduce the cost of these allies, ánd getting a point of willpower on the board for the first half of the turn is amazing. The Skin-changer can even absorb a couple of points of Archery before leaving play because of his reasonable pool of hitpoints. He is definitely a strong ally who might just be worth the inclusion in any Tactics deck for his willpower, play a copy of Beorn in that deck as well, and your board will be able to take a lot the encounter deck has to throw at you.

Long Lake Fisherman

Of the entire pack, I think this is the only card I am not really hyped about. Sure, it is another Dale ally, and that should be good, but I don’t think he is on the same level as other cards in this pack. A 2 cost Spirit ally with 1 willpower and 2 hitpoints is pretty standard, and he will become a decent quester once you give him an attachment, but after he has done his thing, he becomes just another body. His response is quite nice though, being able to search your deck for a card, essentially “fishing” for such a card. Dale really needs card draw, and this guy offers just that, though you might miss a few times, in which case he isn’t too useful. He is a viable target for Sneak Attack, though I will rather take Gandalf for that. His ability to shuffle your deck is actually something that I found useful, as I sometimes don’t get the cards I need when I peak with Galadriel. He is a way to reshuffle the deck and increase the chances that I draw the card I need. This ally is also useful to search the top 5 for a card you need but didn’t find in your opening hand. Steward of Gondor and King of Dale are such cards that you might want to try and find as soon as possible. You can also search for an attachment for this guy, though you need to know what your cost curve is for your deck. In an Everything Costs 2 deck, he becomes super reliable.

 

Attachments

Squire’s Helm

I have been waiting for this attachment for a while, I feel it works great on so many allies that just need some more hitpoints. Sure, the similarity with Raiment of War is easily made, but you may need that second Restricted slot for something else. Take for example the Gondorian Spearman. Since Heirs of Numenor, he with a Spear of the Citadel has been a great combo, but he still falls prey to many effects that deal damage to characters. Give him the Helm, and now he is fine. Even better, he can now defend bigger enemies by himself, even if his damage doesn’t quite kill the attacking enemy. Obviously, there are other great targets for this Helm, even in this pack with the Guardian of Esgaroth. I feel like this attachment will find its way into many armoury style decks, being able to be played on a host of defending allies or allies that you want to keep alive from effects that deal damage to allies. Since it is not restricted to a trait, it can also be used to keep allies like Henemarth Riversong in play for longer, allowing him to be healed should he ever take damage. 1 Leadership resource for +2 hitpoints is a great trade to make. Funny how this Helm is an actual nonbo with the Squire of the Citadel since you want him to die anyway, why boost his hitpoints?

Woodmen’s Clearing

Four words: Threat reduction in Lore. That is all there is to this attachment and I personally think that is great. Lore doesn’t have that much threat reduction in the card pool up to this point, so getting it in the form of this neat attachment is great. It is a 0 cost attachment that players can attach to any location in play. Once that location has been explored, the first player can reduce his threat by 3. Combine this with a location control deck in solo, and you should be able to lower your threat pretty consistently. Of course, this effect isn’t as good as say, Elrond’s Counsel, but it is pretty unique and should tie in well with the new Woodman synergy. You can even draw back into this attachment with Erebor Hammersmith to keep the loop going. In multiplayer, this attachment will need some timing, but if you can snipe a location with Asfaloth, you should be able to lower your threat with ease. 3 threat reduction is actually quite decent and worth the inclusion of this card in a deck that can easily explore locations.

Grey Cloak

0 cost attachment, so it went straight into my Dale deck and replaced a couple of Spare Hood and Cloaks. It can attach to any Scout or Spirit character, which makes it widely available in many decks. Once in play, players can exhaust the attached character and discard the cloak to ignore an enemy during engagement checks. This is great for Secrecy and Hobbit decks if they have to contest with an enemy with ridiculous low engagement cost. It is cheaper than Noiseless Movement and can act as an attachment for Dale synergy when you are not using it. My best targets are the Lindon Navigator and the North Realm Lookout since they both don’t exhaust to quest. Remember that you will have to discard the cloak when you use it though, it is not a constant loop that you can do with a certain enemy. In order to retrieve the cloak, you can either use Dwarven Tomb or Erebor Hammersmith to keep the cloak lock going. I reckon this attachment will find its way into many decks that try to avoid enemies. It is also great for griefing enemies to other players since the enemy only doesn’t make an engagement check against you.

The Arkenstone

I don’t think many people saw this coming, I certainly didn’t. The Arkenstone is an incredible attachment that will boost the willpower of every unique character you control by 1. This by itself is a 3 willpower attachment (provided you don’t run Quickbeam) and gets better when you add unique allies. Dwarves, Noldor, Harad, and Rohan will definitely enjoy this attachment with their allies a lot. On top of this, you can run other effects like Sword that was Broken, and Faramir for even crazier willpower buffs. This is a great tool to help your characters survive things like Nightmare Passage through Mirkwood or Redhorn Gate. The ability to move this attachment around the board is nice, though I don’t see a lot of people who will be doing this. If you include this card in your deck, you should prioritise having a good number of unique characters in your deck as well. But if another player has more unique characters than you committed to the quest, I can see how this action can be used to make more progress. The Guarded keyword is also on this card (let’s not forget that you won’t get this right out of the gate) which will attach it to a location or an enemy before you can claim it. The same advise as Necklace of Girion holds, only play this if you can easily overcome the attached card. You can also grief other players by playing all the Guarded cards and flooding the staging area with encounter cards for them to stomach.

 

Events

Beorn’s Rage

I still have that awesome photoshopped Beorn’s Rave in my head, it still makes me chuckle. While this event is amazing with Grimbeorn, it also works with other Beorning characters, making them even more powerful against enemies. I will advise using this once you are defending with a Beorning since you will get both the -2 attack and -2 defence out of it. But even when attacking, this event turns into a one-time use of Rivendell Blade. The downside to this event is that it targets the enemy and not the attacker. This makes it useless against enemies who are immune to player card effects. In that case, you might actually be better off playing Blade Mastery (yeah, look that one up, old and forgotten) to boost the character itself. This event can really help the new Beorning deck that is being made during this cycle. The trait will be better suited to defend and attack any enemy when running this event. The 1 resource is a fair payoff to reduce the stats on an enemy by 4, rendering most enemies harmless.

The Hidden Way

This may very well be the most powerful solo player card in a while. This event can be played turn one in a deck with 2 Lore heroes, making a location active and then revealing no other cards during planning (usually, depending on the quest). This makes it a free pass for the deck to full-on quest and clear some locations if there are no enemies in play. Its usefulness is reduced a little in multiplayer, but for the first round, this card is amazing. Not all scenarios start with an active location, so you get to explore one right away, which is useful for quests like Assault on Osgiliath. It also bypasses nasty travel effects. If you see a terrible encounter card on top of the encounter deck by scrying it, you can also use this card and shuffle the deck in hope that it doesn’t find its way to the top for a while. The high cost of this event is reduced even further when you run it with Good Meal on a Lore Hobbit hero, you can get some time to set up and just explore some locations. It also gives you time to explore some side-quests in solo as you don’t have to keep anyone ready to deal with combat (again, provided that there is nothing in the staging area or engaged already).

 

The Quest

Again, I will reserve most of my in-depth thoughts about this quest for a separate article, but here are my experiences and thoughts on this Dragon Hunting quest.

First off, the theme is amazing. The quest has you look for signs of dragon activity, before confronting a “small” Cold-Drake. You must battle this dragon at the second stage, which is quite an early boss-battle. After you have damaged the dragon enough, it retreats and you have to find it again. While searching for more clues, the dragon heals, making it a race against the clock. Once you have gathered enough clues, you have to face the dragon again and kill it for good this time.

The mechanics of the quest involve Dragon Sign clues in the Caves deck from The King’s Quest. This can make the quest drag on a little in the early game, as you won’t be able to advance until you have enough clues. Side-quests will again be great in the first stage, as well as during other stages, since they don’t require too much progress to be cleared.

The dragon itself is protected Mumak-style by being able to only take up to 6 damage per round. This prevents pouring all your attack power into one attack and killing it immediately. You will be stuck facing the dragon for at least 3 turns, so don’t advance to stage 2 right away. Stalling can pay off in the beginning.

Gathering those Dragon signs will also dictate how strong enemies and other effects are. The Dragon signs are guarded, so players have the option to leave them in the staging area if they want to stall a little. Stalling on stage 3 is a bad idea, as the dragon will regain its strength and will take longer to kill. Definitely bring threat reduction to counter stalling so long on various stages, I got close to threating out several times.

More tips and tricks to this scenario will follow in a separate article on The Withered Heath when I get to it. I found the scenario enjoyable, but you do have to be able to withstand a dragon and clear locations consistently, so this looks to be a multiplayer friendly quest. It reminded me and a few others of Hunt for Gollum, with the clues and all. This could mean that the Ered Mithrin cycle will be a mirror image of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but with more dragons and better balanced. I don’t see that as a bad thing though, the scenarios are still different enough that I will still play the original ánd the new scenario.

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