Escape from Dol Guldur: There and Back Again

“In the midst upon a stony height stands Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling.”

Welcome back to the third, and final, quest of the Core Set – the infamous ‘Escape from Dol Guldur’.

I’m very happy to see a difficult quest, but as anyone knows, ‘Escape from Dol Guldur’ is just nuts solo and IMHO should never have been included in the Core Set as it’s crippling difficulty might well have put a lot of prospective players off buying the game. My version replaces a captured hero with a captured unique ally. Now you could say I just nerfed the whole quest by doing this, but from bitter previous experience, it’s just not a good quest for solo, and endless defeats time after time in the Core Set doesn’t sit well with me. To try and balance this then I’ve tweaked Quest 2B too so that you need to keep the captive alive until the end of the game -otherwise it was all a waste of time anyway!

Quest specific changes

This is the text from the new Quest cards:

Escape from Dol Guldur: Quest card 1B ‘The Necromancer’s Tower’ – When Revealed: Select 1 unique ally card from your deck and place it facedown next to the Quest deck. Remove all copies of that ally from your deck and place them out of play. The ally is now considered a “prisoner”, cannot be used or be damaged until “rescued” (as instructed by card effects) later in this quest. The players, as a group, cannot play more than 1 ally card each round. Players cannot advance to the next stage of the quest unless they have at least 1 objective card.

Escape from Dol Guldur: Quest card 2B ‘Through the Caverns’Response: After placing any number of progress tokens on this card, put the “prisoner” ally card into play with 1 damage token on it. The ally has been “rescued” and may now be used normally. If the rescued ally is killed at any time, the players instantly lose the game. The players, as a group, cannot play more than 1 ally card each round. Players cannot advance to the next stage of the quest unless they have rescued the prisoner and have all 3 ‘Escape from Dol Guldur’ objective cards.”

I’m also ruling that the ‘player card’ Orc guards from Tower Gate location and Quest card 3B do have the ‘Orc’ trait (this means that Legolas with a trusty Blade of Gondolin will come in more useful than ever).

To balance this a little, I am going to make an Encounter card tweak:

Image result for dol guldur art

Nazgul of Dol Guldur: Becomes Unique (and use the official errata where you can’t play attachments on it).

(So it is not affected by my wounding non-unique enemies rule as befits a ‘boss’ enemy, as well as providing a  little variant on how the Nazgul enters play if my Dol Guldur stronghold is used)

Playthroughs

The Heroes I chose for this quest were an experimental mix of 3 Spheres with Beravor (with Song of Travel as an attachment), Eowyn (with Song of Wisdom) and Legolas (with Blade of Gondolin). I chose Beorn as my captured ally but chose not to use a Haven yet so my starting Threat was 28. When I was constructing my deck, because I had 3 Spheres, I made sure that as many cards as possible were low cost so that they could be afforded easily. Needless to say that I didn’t use my Dol Guldur Stronghold as this quest is difficult enough already.

https://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/12272/therebackagainescapefromdolguldur-1.0

I had to have a few goes, but I BEAT the quest! This was the first time I’ve done this, so using my Story Mode rules and card tweaks seems to have brought down the Difficulty of the Quest to something more enjoyable. It’s still a fiddly quest with a lot of things to remember like the Nazgul, Objective cards, Orc guards etc. When I did beat it on my fifth attempt, I think I just got very lucky with how both the player and encounter deck played out.

The best tactic is to get Gandalf’s Map first and attach it to your Questing Hero (Eowyn obviously) as it has little effect. Then try and engage the Nazgul on Quest 2B if you can – before picking up the Shadow Key and the Dungeon Torch. This means that you can quest through 2B and then 3B with less problems and as quick as possible. I made sure I got Self Preservation onto Beravor before she picked up the Shadow Key too.

Even doing this it can be tough going against the Nazgul without a few allies he can gobble up! You can’t use Forest Snare on it so Feint plus a Gandalf or two were the way to go.

Having another, Rohan-themed, attempt, I had a Spirit/Leadership deck with Eowyn, Dunhere and Theodred and was a modified version of the deck I used for ‘Passage Through Mirkwood’. Starting attachments were Song of Kings on Eowyn, Song of Battle on Dunhere and Song of Travel on Theodred. I used Edoras as a Haven so my Starting Threat (including Edoras) was 27. This time, poor old Gleowine was my captured ally.

I think I was very lucky the first time I played it through as I had Unexpected Courage in my opening hand which made a huge difference. The encounter deck was kind and I managed to finish off the Nazgul of Dol Guldur with Gandalf and a concerted attack. Speed is so important and it came down to the last round or Dunhere would have died with the Shadow Key. Since I had no healing cards in my deck it was a desperate last-minute charge! When I tried the quest again with the deck I got stomped on fairly quickly.

Favourite card combo: One combo I think you must have in this quest is Legolas with a Blade of Gondolin as he hacked up all the Orc guards and made great progress. My ‘Ranged’ rule also really helped here as Legolas took them all out as they came down on me (though I didn’t add the +1 Attack from the Blade).

A Hero’s Story –Thalin: This dwarf is another FFG Middle Earth: Quest import and damages any enemies he encounters when questing. I see him as a tough, younger Dwarf who is impulsive, edgy, restless and quick to anger. So he’s very eager to swing his axe at anything that moves when he is searching ahead.

I was very pleased with my success through this very thematic ‘rescue the prisoner’ quest which, unusually for this particular one, was a very enjoyable experience.

And that’s it for the Core Set! I have to say that my Story Mode rules and card tweaks have made playing the LCG a much more accessible and pleasurable game that meant I didn’t get totally beaten up every time, nor did it get too easy or too fiddly. I also think playing the Core Set with the ‘Shadows of Mirkwood’ player cards in your card pool is also the way to enhance your initial experiences with the game.

Change in rules

I have also slightly modified my Story Mode rules as below:

Starting the Game: Each Hero may start with a non-unique attachment (matching their sphere or neutral) with a cost 0 or 1. You draw 7 cards for your hand. You are allowed 1 Mulligan.

Drawing Cards: I have now eliminated this rule as things got out of hand very quickly and unbalanced play. I have reverted to drawing 1 card per round and 1 card from the encounter deck as ‘normal’ solo rules.

Hero Tokens: Each Hero has 1 Hero token at start of game. A Hero token may be spent as a normal resource OR to heal the hero 1 damage OR to draw a card OR to ready the hero OR remove a Condition attachment OR the hero gains +1 Willpower OR +1 Attack OR +1 Defence until the end of the phase.

Restricted: Characters are only allowed to have 1 Mount, 1 of each Armour type card (armour, shields, helms etc) although only Shields retain the ‘Restricted’ keyword. No Creature character can use any Armour or Mount Attachments

Story Mode vs Easy Mode: I think overall my Story Mode ranks about the same as the official FFG Easy Mode rules. In Story Mode all the Encounter cards are in the Encounter deck which makes it considerably harder than Easy Mode, but this is mitigated by my Hero tokens, starting attachments and an extra card at the start of the game. The Hero tokens are much more powerful than the extra resource allowed in Easy Mode, but I think is necessary for the solo player. I added the quite powerful ‘remove Condition’ ability for the Hero tokens as at this stage in the early life of the game there was only 1 Player card that could do this – Miner of the Iron Hills – and having him in every deck to overcome cards such as Caught in a Web is hardly thematic.

I think my wounding of non-unique allies and enemies is only a slight benefit for the player and the Ranged and Sentinel tweaks again should have been modified anyway for solo play. My slightly modified rules for Encounters and Making Camp are a benefit but this is again mitigated by me modifying the Restricted keyword to reduce the abuse it had with 2 Citadel Plate cards allowed on 1 Hero. Haven and Stronghold cards balance each other out and since these are optional anyway, a player can use these to slightly tweak the difficulty of individual quests when required.

As I head out into the individual Adventure Packs, I’ll share my favourite new Player card from each as they are introduced. I’m very excited to now start hunting for that sneaky and tricksy Gollum…

“The Road Goes Ever On…”

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