Player card review: Return to Mirkwood

After cornering and capturing Gollum in The Dead Marshes, the heroes must now escort the creature north, through Mirkwood forest, so that he can be held and interrogated at King Thranduil’s palace. The journey will not be easy, however: Mirkwood is always a dangerous place, the Dark Lord’s forces are eager to take Gollum for their own purposes…and Gollum himself is eager to escape.

Gotcha! You finally caught that little, slimy beast. After so long you can bring Gollum before King Thranduil for interrogation. But you have to also survive the full of hardship journey through Mirkwood. Yes, that Mirkwood where you spend your first journey. But this time, not only giant spiders and bloodthirsty orcs will endanger you. You have also to pay attention to treacherous Gollum for a whole time. He will utilize every occasion to escape from you. He will rage. He will waste your supplies. He will bite. He will actually sabotage all your effort to fulfill your mission successfully. And because such a malevolent and resounding creature may attract the attention of other wood inhabitants… you must be prepared to struggle for your life.

Before we will hit the road, for each of adventure pack or expansion I announce these categories of cards:

  1. TOP CARD – the best card, which really is a success and you should try to include it to your decks
  2. SHEEP CARD – the opposite of TOP CARD. The weakest card, which really isn’t a success and you should try to avoid it
  3. MOST ENRICHED SPHERE – sphere, which profits from the new set of cards at most. Heroes are not included in this category.

Summary review

Hero

Leadership sphere

Tactic sphere

Spirit sphere

Lore sphere

Neutral sphere


Hero

Dáin Ironfoot

Who wouldn’t know one of the most iconic heroes of the whole Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, named Dáin Ironfoot, King of the Dwarves? Return to Mirkwood is the grand finale scenario, where you need to manage every activity you remember. You must take full control over the questing and making progress. You must count with nasty treacheries. You must have a good army and deal with horrible enemies. You must hire strong and resistant heroes. You must deal with threat acceleration. And there are many things you should manage. Well, this analysis doesn’t concern with scenario strategy. But it shows, in which conditions enters Dáin Ironfoot onto the scene. It is the environment, where only the strongest may win.

I think that Dáin’s 11 starting threat, 1 less than Aragorn or Gimli, is more than good. The stats of Dáin Ironfoot are following: 1 Willpower, 2 Attack and 3 Defense with 5 Hit Points. Besides the first two stats, which are (under)average, the defending potential is enormously quality. Only the most powerful enemies like Attercop, Attercop (who by the way is able to kill even the mighty Gandalf) can endanger this hero. The others we have already met (Hill Troll, Ungoliant’s Spawn, Trolls from Conflict at the Carrock) can hurt Dáin Ironfoot, but not mortally (if non-boosted). And many enemies won’t get over that 3 Defense at all. In this person, we have a massive wall against creatures of darkness, which moves only under the toughest attacks. Of course, you can upgrade his defense potential by some few available attachments like Dúnedain Warning, Protector of Lórien, or even Citadel Plate.

When you have a king on your side, the morale of soldiers grows. This is nicely presented by Dáin’s fantastic ability with global effect. Each Dwarf character on the board gets +1 Attack and +1 Willpower, if Dáin Ironfoot is ready (it influences even Dáin himself). When you read this text for the first time, your chin will drop. No limitation is present. Every single Dwarf is boosted by these stats. And so Gimli grows into a beast with 3-3-2-5 default stats. Glóin gains similar stats, 3-3-1-4. Longbeard Orc Slayer (1-3-1-3) and Veteran Axehand (1-3-1-2) become a combat expert. Erebor Hammersmith (2-2-1-3) outperforms even himself. And even Brok Ironfist (3-3-1-4), difficult to play and maybe difficult to accept his existence, becomes a very expensive, but almost full-blown hero. There are few other Dwarfs we have already met and many, many Dwarves, which are awaiting us in the next expansion. Dáin Ironfoot is actually the vanguard, the leader, who comes before his Dwarf army. Can something stand against such huge boosted army? Well, you will see.;)

One precondition for boosting Attack and Willpower is set, just one… but very, very key. Dáin Ironfoot must stay ready. If he is ready, Dwarves get a boost. If not, they remain with original stats. Very simple, but sometimes also hard to fulfill. There aren’t many occasions when Dáin would exhaust just before Combat phase. Dáin Ironfoot himself has only 1 Willpower, so he doesn’t worth it for committing to a quest, besides other Dwarves would lose their +1 Willpower boost, and that is non-sense. Maybe encounter cards can force you to exhaust Dáin before the Combat phase, like King Spider, Old Wives’ Tales or Rauros Falls. When I am talking about encounter cards, Dáin is, by the way, the best target for troublesome Caught in a Web. While he stays most of the time ready, the effect of Caught in a Web won’t affect him significantly, if at all.

The necessity of defending with Dáin is another chapter. You can’t simply overlook that amazing 3 Defense and 5 Hit Points – it’s a solid wall against enemies. But as we know, defending precedes attacking, so when you defend with Dáin, you also lose +1 Attack boost for all Dwarves in the next step. It may sound you weird, but this hero is the perfect target for Unexpected Courage. He may act as a defender, as well as Attack and Willpower booster. Moreover, any treacheries, which would cause Dáin’s exhaustion, don’t have to bother you anymore – Unexpected Courage will guarantee you the proper functionality of Dáin’s ability.

The last hero of Shadows of Mirkwood deserves a big portion of respect. Not only because he is the king. He strengthens the army of Dwarves and makes from them redoubtable and irreconcilable soldiers. You will need his power of personality. Because the next expansion called Khazad-dûm and affiliated Dwarrowdelf cycle will be not only full of Dwarves but also full of new, nasty and dangerous enemies. Dáin belongs to the best precondition, how to manage with these pitfalls.

Final rating


Leadership sphere

Dúnedain Signal

Dúnedain Signal is the last attachment with Signal trait in Shadow of Mirkwood cycle. At the same time, it closes the circle of cheap Leadership attachment with minor, but quite useful effects.

We have got every stat adjustment – Attack (Dúnedain Mark), Defense (Dúnedain Warning) and Willpower (Dúnedain Quest). Dúnedain Cache (which belongs among “Dúnedain attachments”, but it lacks Signal trait) was adding Ranged keyword. Maybe you already know, which keyword adjustment will follow; Sentinel. For 1 cost you attach Dúnedain Signal to a hero, which gains Sentinel. You are not also deprived of Action, which allows you to move this attachment from one hero to another by paying 1 resource from hero’s pool. Everything is clear, now let’s discuss Dúnedain Signal more deeply.

For a long time, I was overlooking this attachment very significantly. I was blinded by the idea of building a strong army with offensive power as much as possible. Yeah, I believe I wasn’t alone in this way of view things. But everything can’t be won by the pure Attack power. I mean, for some scenarios this tactics can be suitable and desired, but you need to play more cleverly. Among one of the important things belongs the defending. And as I have already said in the review of Dúnedain Warning, defending precedes attacking. In other words, if you want to assure quality attack, firstly you have to assure quality defense – you must protect yourself against the attack of enemies. First survive, then attack. From this point of view, defending has a bit more important priority than your offensive skills.

Adjusting Sentinel can use naturally good defenders. The first one to think of me is well-known Denethor or in this adventure pack newly incoming Dáin Ironfoot. 3 Defense means the natural defensive wall against most of the enemies. Be able to protect any player with high Defense I consider for very significant advantage, which you surely utilize in any scenario. Dáin Ironfoot has even to attaching Dúnedain Signal closer because he belongs to the same sphere of influence. But you also may create a good defender – just add attachments like mentioned Dúnedain Warning, which increases +1 Defense. So even Bilbo, with attached Dúnedain Signal, Dúnedain Warning and A Burning Brand can reliably deflect hits of many enemies. The same strategy concerns Beravor, or any hero, who has also attached Song of Wisdom. However, this is a little over-combined, in practice, you hardly get each of these attachments to one hero during the single game. Sentinel can also utilize Dwarves Gimli and Glóin, who welcome each opportunity of “being damaged”.

In Dúnedain Signal we are getting the hiding and inconspicuous treasure. If you need to add some flexibility in defending and you wish to cover the whole battlefield, this attachment is for you.

Final rating


Dawn Take You All

When the light of dawn appears, creatures from darkness are banished. There is no place for treachery shadow. In these words, I could thematically describe new, and to many players unknown and forbidden Leadership event, Dawn Take You All. It is one of the player cards, where during quick sight I don’t remember, what it can do. Dawn Take You All spends the whole time in my cardpool because I didn’t find a proper occasion to play it. So excuse me, players, my analysis will be carried in purely theoretical spirit.

Let’s begin with its cost, which reaches the value of 2. This means Dawn Take You All is the most expensive Leadership event in whole Shadows of Mirkwood cycle (excluding Core set). It clearly shows, how low-cost Leadership events are. You may play this card only during a specific moment – after shadow cards are dealt to enemies, but right before attacks of enemies have resolved, that means before you declare defenders. At that moment the Combat Action triggers: “Each player may choose and discard 1 facedown shadow card from an enemy with which he is engaged.” If we play this effect without any combo possibility, you actually take a guess, from which enemy the potential shadow effect would hurt you at most. I can’t skip Hill Troll – he is a typical enemy, where you pray for not having any shadow effect, namely which boosts Attack (shadow effects from Wargs, for example). Discarding of shadow card from him would surely calm you that you don’t have to expect something unexpected.

Shadow cards make from enemies unpredictable and frightening beasts. Some scenarios hide the good portion of shadow cards you don’t want to encounter. Shadow effect of Hunters from Mordor from Hunt for Gollumtears away from you the main goal, Signs of Gollum. Many shadow effects from A Journey to Rhosgobel will significantly hurt not only your characters but even Wilyador, who needs to be in the best condition. And cards from Return to Mirkwood, such as Wasted Provisions, Gollum’s Anguish and Gollum’s Bite, are not only very awful treacheries but also nasty shadow cards affecting player guarding Gollum. You see that in these scenarios shadow cards can hurt you so much that using Dawn Take You All as prevention is easy to understand.

!SPOILER! And that’s nothing compared to the shadow cards, which await us in the next expansions. For example, Sleeping Sentry actually means automatic game over, if you play too careless.

However, even this event covers each player in the game, so in 4 players you may get rid off up to 4 shadow cards from enemies, the weakness is obvious: your choice is random. When you reveal that shadow card hasn’t any effect or has a very weak effect, any good feeling from well-done work is totally out of place. At the same time, if you don’t hit the right shadow card, which can get you into real trouble, things can be even worse. Like many players, I don’t like uselessly played cards. But how to otherwise make Dawn Take You All more effective?

For this situation, I would mention one a little bit overlooked card from the Core set: Dark Knowledge. It creates the natural combo with Dawn Take You All. With it, you look at one chosen shadow card and accordingly you can make a better decision. Still, Dark Knowledge, if you don’t have all three copies on the board, reveals just one shadow card. That’s not enough if you face more enemies. Additionally, with more players, the situation is even worse. Therefore, the effect of Dawn Take You All is quite risky, with possibly wrong output. I would play this card willingly only in the case if I plan to let some attack undefended. Shadow effects of undefended attacks tend to be the worst, so even if the discarded shadow card hasn’t shadow effect, the potential danger prevails the cost of this event.

Before I finish this analysis, let me remind two things. Firstly, when you discard shadow card from Wargs, this enemy doesn’t trigger its Forced effect = Wargs stays engaged with the player (on the contrary of “cancellation effects”, like Hasty Stroke). Secondly, when I have already mentioned Hasty Stroke – can Dawn Take You All compete with other cards, affecting shadow cards? Well, the output of Dawn Take You All is weakest and most uncertain – Hasty Stroke, A Burning Brand and even Dúnedain Watcher do their work better and more effectively. Dark Knowledge allows you to only scry the given shadow card, but it is an attachment, which you can use repetitively. And because of that, each of these cards has a higher chance to appear in the deck than Dawn Take You All… although I don’t question it can be helpful in some situations with more players.

Final rating


Tactic sphere

Eagles of the Misty Mountains

Return to Mirkwood introduces the elite among the Eagles. It comes in handy because in the last scenario of Shadow of Mirkwood you will face such bad guys as Hill Troll, Ungoliant’s Spawn or the worst and the strongest enemy, Attercop, Attercop. If you want to assure true offensive power, call Eagles of the Mountains into your services.

It’s no secret anymore you encounter the last Eagle ally of the whole cycle. Unfortunately, he maintains the cost-standard of Eagles, because you must spend 4 Tactic resources for playing this ally. However, Eagles of the Misty Mountains worth it for 4 cost. 2 Willpower is very good for Tactic ally. Next, 2 Attack is a nice starting point, for which this Eagle needn’t be ashamed. And 2 Defense with 4 Hit Points will stop many enemies from one-hit KO – it reminds the value of hero’s defense (like Prince Imrahil) than ally’s. Purely from the overall stats strength (=OSS) view, he is the second strongest ally of the whole cycle (first is Gildor Inglorion with 3-2-3-3). Underlined – Eagles of the Misty Mountains will impress you by its magnificent stats quality. You may utilize his versatility in many situations, including committing him to a quest.

As you see, Eagles of the Misty Mountains isn’t a simple card with short game text. He controls one Response and one passive effect, consequent to that Response. First I begin with Response (you then understand the sense of passive effect :)). When Eagle character leaves play, you may put it facedown to Eagles of the Misty Mountains. And now the most important effect is coming; for each facedown card Eagles of the Misty Mountains gains +1 Attack and +1 Defense. Maybe I should repeat it: +1 Attack and +1 Defense for each facedown card on Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Do you know, what it actually means? Under your hands, the terrifying beast is growing. Imagine the boost you can possibly acquire. If you include to your deck all copies of every Eagle, then a single Eagles of the Mountains can become a true bearer of destruction with apocalyptic power – 16 Attack and 16 Defense!!! Of course, these values exist only in theory. In practice, you will be glad for 2-3 Eagles under your champion. Still, permanent adjusting +2 (+3) Attack and +2 (+3) Defense seems very solid – with that, this Eagle overshadows the majority of your ally-forces.

When you decide to play with Eagles of the Misty Mountains, you should remember one thing: adjust your strategy according to his ability. Firstly, assure the sufficient receiving of Eagles. More Eagles in your decks mean better “feeding” of Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Fortunately, the precondition of only destroyed Eagle characters is missing – you are free to put facedown Eagles, which leave play due to their own forced effect (like Winged Guardian or Vassal of the Windlord), or due to the effect of other cards (Sneak Attack). Secondly, and that’s also my critics, you must count with many spent resources. I mean, in a really big style. Eagles of the Misty Mountains itself costs 4. Only Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian cost less than 4 resources. Other Eagles cost 4-5 resources. Add Radagast for 5 (neutral) resources, who can summon Creatures from own resource pool (he might help you with playing Eagles, but you also have to acquire extra resources for paying him.). You know, where I’m going. Such packet of resources must be highly-generated by attachments like Steward of Gondor (in pure Eagle decks I consider it for a necessity), Horn of Gondor, from characters Glóin could help you. You will be permanently fighting with resources. That’s not a theory, but a sad reality – Eagles need a huge supply of resources. Count with that and customize your deck accordingly, or you will cry over the resources shortage.  

Eagles of the Misty Mountains is fantastic Eagle, able to destroy any enemy in sight. He also can make a deadly combo with Support of the Eagles (but I’ll talk about that in its own review). For this striking offensive power you must pay, pay and pay again by many resources. Without the elaborated strategy concerning the quality resource management you rather shouldn’t include this Eagle into a deck. He will help you… but only if you pay him as a professional mercenary.

Final rating


Support of the Eagles

And we don’t rest from Eagle’s theme even at the second Tactic card, Support of the Eagles. Though this attachment lacks Eagle trait (so you can’t find it due to the effect of The Eagles Are Coming!), you will use this card only in Eagle decks for sure.

And even this Tactic card won’t delight us by its 3 cost, unfortunately. Additionally, if you tend to play dual- or trisphere decks, pay attention to whom you are attaching Support of the Eagles – only Tactic heroes may carry it. Or heroes with attached Song of Battle. Look at its surely interesting Action: “Exhaust Support of the Eagles to choose an Eagle ally. Until the end of the phase, attached hero adds that ally’s [Attack] or [Defense] (choose 1) to its own.” You immediately realize this attachment serves to stat-boosting of attached hero, and it does through a quite original way. Instead of using event (Blade Mastery) or the ability of some character (Dáin Ironfoot), Support of the Eagles uses the strength of the given Eagle ally and redirects it to attached hero. Evidently, the stronger character gives the better stat to attached hero, so you should take care about, which Eagle will become “the intermediary”.

I think that we don’t have to pay great amounts of resources for Eagles such as Descendant of Thorondor or Landroval. They cost too much and for exchange, they would give only unsatisfying stats. Cheaper alternatives seem to be more interesting and available. Vassal of the Windlord – 1 cost, 3 Attack. What should I say more? The perfect exchange says everything. If you need to boost your attack, this Eagle you shouldn’t miss. Or do you need some boost in Defense? No problem, Winged Guardian will arrange it for just 2 resources. Extra 4 Defense will reliably stop many “non-elite” enemies. The good consequence of that is you don’t have to use these Eagles in combat on their own, so they won’t be discarded after attacking/defending of a boosted hero.

However, if you mean it at least a bit seriously with Support of the Eagles, the best mediator is undoubtedly Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Non-boosted, they don’t worth for it, but with some facedown Eagle cards under this ally, your hero can control even the bigger power than Eagles of the Misty Mountains itself. It’s enough when Eagles of Misty Mountains has +3 Attack and +3 Defense, it means 5 Attack and 5 Defense in overall. Add one of these stats to a hero and enemies will please you for mercy. Nobody, really nobody would stop fully damaged Gimli with the strength from decently boosted Eagles of the Misty Mountains. From suitable heroes, also Boromir is a good target for Support of the Eagles due to his ability.

The main disadvantage of this attachment is evident. If you want to use Eagles of the Misty Mountains as the primary intermediary of stats for your heroes, then you have to assure resource income. I mean, you really need to produce high numbers of resources. Without it, your strategy will come to grief, because the encounter deck will overcome you faster than you will have time for the building of your great ”mediator”. Unless you decide to use far cheaper Eagles like mentioned Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian. Their stats will also serve you well.

Final rating


Spirit sphere

West Road Traveller

The Rohan family is growing by another member, named West Road Traveller. 2-cost Spirit ally will please us by 2 Willpower, which worth for committing to a quest. No points in Attack and Defense and just 1 Hit Point confirm his role of the quester. Finally, we have got a good quester with a good exchange of resources for Willpower, who stays in the play at the same time. By this I want to point that Escort from Edoras has even more advantageous exchange (4 Willpower for 2 cost), yet he leaves the play after quest resolving. If you need a significant boost in Willpower and/or you need to push hard through the questing, Escort from Edoras hasn’t a competitor. But if you need someone more permanent and reliable, who can do its work well ceaselessly, West Road Traveller is a clear choice. I think that the best thing you can do is include both allies to your Spirit deck. It is valid at least in Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. These two allies are a great support in questing, and if you plan to play in non-progression style, then you can run through every scenario almost without any problem (of course, you still have to assure other aspects of the game, like combat, decreasing threat, avoiding nasty treacheries, etc.).

Back to West Road Traveller. Her Response allows you to switch active location with a location in the staging area after he is played. Well, this Response is a very effective tool against such locations like The East Bight or Impassable Bog (they could cause you a problem if you get stuck by “location lock”). Surely it would be a great help to switch The Carrock with any other location, thus Trolls wouldn’t get +1 Attack and +1 Defense boost. However, look at its passive effect Immune to player card effects. It means West Road Traveller, as other player cards, can’t touch this location unless you put progress tokens on that location due to common questing.

!SPOILER! Remember that, when you get other expansions and adventure packs. Market Square or Secluded Glade are other examples, where West Road Traveller’s ability is ineffective.

The Response of this ally can effectively “bypass” the negative travel effects of some locations (Necromancer’s Pass, The Highlands, Woodman’s Glade). It reminds the effect of Strider’s Path, which serves to the same purpose. Of course, when no location is active, Response won’t trigger at all. I also often solve one issue, which prevented me to include West Road Traveller to a deck for a long time. It’s quite funny, but I thought that this ability MUST be triggered. So when I played West Road Traveller, I had to switch active location for some in the staging area. If there wasn’t any location, I couldn’t trigger his ability, so I actually couldn’t play this ally. This assumption is false, fortunately, rulebook said it quite clearly: “Responses are always optional…” (p. 23). So no need to force yourself into senseless restrictions.;) I also add here the extract from FAQ (1.7) about word “switch”: “ In order for a switch to occur, switched items must exist on both sides of the switch.” (1.26, p. 5).

As Rohan, West Road Traveller can work with Astonishing Speed. You can also search for West Road Traveller by event Mustering the Rohirrim. Other events with Rohan synergy from Shadows of Mirkwood don’t fit the nature of this ally too much. I would hesitate to discard him by Ride to Ruin’s effect. And We Do Not Sleep doesn’t make any sense, when West Road Traveller hasn’t any Attack or Defense potential.

The last adventure pack gives us finally the good (and normal) quester. 2 Hit Points would fit him better because with only 1 Hit Point she is vulnerable to damaging-treacheries. But this is maybe the only disadvantage I can come up with. In any cases, West Road Traveller becomes desired and reliable ally in all Spirit decks.

Final rating


Astonishing Speed

From all stats, we lack for some real Willpower booster. Rear Guard, Dúnedain Quest or The Favor of the Lady… all these player cards are from different reasons disadvantageous for us. Well, Astonishing Speed is undoubtedly the best Willpower booster from Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Still… it has some own restrictions.

At first, prepare 3 Spirit resources for this event. Then call on the board as much Rohan characters as possible. Why Rohan, do you ask? Because Astonishing Speed demands them. They all get +2 Willpower until the end of the phase. You must admit that this event has a very useful effect with the global impact. Naturally, more Rohan characters mean more power. Note that I don’t say “Rohan characters able to quest.” Actually, Rohans don’t need any point in Willpower for the proper functioning of Astonishing Speed. Even 0-Willpower Rohan characters, like Snowbourn Scout, will get +2 Willpower boost. And what about real questing professionals like Escort from Edoras (4+2) or West Road Traveller (2+2). If you send the sufficient number of Rohans (and other players will also send some), then the massive pushing with a high probability of success is expected. I would bring sand to the beach if I tell you that Astonishing Speed works excellently during “location lock”.

Still, this event often remains in my hands unused. Why? It depends on several things. For example, when I get this event. Astonishing Speed doesn’t fit in the early game – the combination of 3 cost and requirement of at least several Rohan characters on the board makes from it a “dead card” in hands. And even during mid- and late game, the right time for Astonishing Speed may never come. At the moment, when Escort from Edoras and/or West Road Traveller appears on the board, their questing skills are enough for success, so Astonishing Speed is surplus. The good conditions would happen, if you control Rohan characters with low Willpower – Théodred, Snowbourn Scout, The Riddermark’s Finest or Westfold Horse-Breaker. They are all good as targets for Astonishing Speed because they are cheap and/or lack good Willpower. Still, I don’t remember a game, where this situation happens.

In theory, I like this card and see the good potential in it. Almost always, when I’m listing through cardpool of Shadows of Mirkwood, I stop at Astonishing Speed and think, man, such a useful card with great boost, why I’m not using it more frequently? I include this event to a deck, start to play… and the game is over before I can utilize that card. I start another scenario, and the result is the same – Astonishing Speed stay in my hand or in a deck. I don’t know if I make a fault somewhere and I don’t prepare adequately for playing this event. The truth is… I don’t need this card. Allies resolve my problem without any Astonishing Speed, for which I need to save 3 Spirit resources, what isn’t few. And I think that you will have similar feelings about this card.

Final rating


Lore sphere

Mirkwood Runner

You can be surprised, but from Mirkwood forest aren’t coming only destruction and death. Even forces of good are present there. One of their members appears in last adventure pack, ready to help us in a fight with forces of evil – the Lore ally Mirkwood Runner.

3-cost Mirkwood Runner has slight 1 Willpower, so questing doesn’t belong to his strong side. 2 Attack is good standard value for an ally. And with 0 Defense and 2 Hit Points, you hardly defend anyone. As a 3-cost ally, you also won’t use him as chump blocker, for that he is too expensive. Underlined and summed up, the Lore sphere offers us quite a costly ally with not-best-not-worst default stats. From the current (meaning in whole Shadows of Mirkwood cycle) Lore attackers, he is, however, the cheapest one. Haldir of Lórien costs 4 resources and he has 2 Attack as well. Truth is, he additionally controls Ranged keyword. And the unique Gildor Inglorion with 3 Attack costs even 5 resources, but for that, we got a massive pile of all stats.

As I have said at the beginning, this ally comes from Mirkwood. And because he knows well the surrounding forests, at least equally well as the enemies, he can ambush them unexpectedly and hurt them considerably. This attribute is illustrated by his passive ability. If Mirkwood Runner attacks enemy all by myself, the enemy won’t count his Defense. Wow. Bypassing Defense of an enemy can be extremely useful, especially if an enemy has high Defense and low Hit Points.

!SPOILER! In Shadow of Mirkwood, however, there is no classic representative with such stats. But in the next expansions, there are several enemies, who have either high Defense and low Hit Points, or they have between 1-2 Hit Points, so Mirkwood Runner would kill them myself in one strike. I mention some of them: Goblin Spearman, Orc Drummer or Stray Goblin. Strange, that Mirkwood creature can help you even in deep mines and dungeons of Khazad-dûm.;)

Before deeper analysis of options of his ability, I want to remind you one perhaps ridiculous, but also an important thing. Mirkwood Runner’s ability doesn’t mean you have to attack in Combat phase only with Mirkwood Runner at all. Choose an enemy and if Mirkwood Runner attacks him, he should attack alone without help from others, if you want to trigger the ability. But in that same Combat phase and with other enemies, you are free to attack them with as many characters as you wish.

Okay, so when is the best time to attack with Mirkwood Runner? He is a pure soloist – he doesn’t like a company. He is also something like partisan – he will be falling behind in the combat in the open field. Under pressure of many enemies, he will hinder you and cause you chaos among your lines. From the points above you may deduce that he might excel in the earlier game when there are not many enemies on the board (depends also on revealed opening encounter cards). In your engagement area should be as many enemies as you are able to defend them properly. And enemies shouldn’t be too strong – it’s maybe nice that Mirkwood Runner can exterminate Attercop, Attercop in 3 rounds by myself, but during that time you also lose 3 characters. That’s not a very wise, economic and strategically advantageous solution. You should defend given enemy without any problem, and this enemy shouldn’t be too dangerous as well – in Shadows of Mirkwood, there are not many enemies which would fit this characteristic, but in non-progression mode, Mirkwood Runner will gladly encounter Dungeon Jailor, Forest Spider, or one of the Troll from Conflict at the Carrock, trapped by Forest Snare. I would recommend you to bring with you some attack boosters, like Blade Mastery.

Completely bypassing of enemy’s Defense is a cool new mechanic, how to deal with enemies. Mirkwood Runner is a precious weapon in more “guerilla” combats when the board is occupied by only several, defendable enemies. You, of course, can use him as a normal attacker and join him to common fights. But it would be a waste of his talent. However, he won’t fit in every environment. When enemies are encountering you on a mass scale, it’s better to call cheaper attackers than spend 3 precious Lore resources for Mirkwood Runner, who likes more “intimate” environment.

Final rating


Rumour from the Earth

The 0-cost player card in Lore sphere looks like a sheer revelation. In the beginning, Rumour from The Earth arises a curiosity. What can this event offer us in the sphere, where you save resources for almost every card strenuously? The answer is short: scrying. Its Action allows you to look at the very first card from the encounter deck. That’s all. But if you pay 1 extra Lore resource, you return this event to your hands. The zero-cost don’t take too much seriously. Yes, you don’t have to spend a single resource for playing this card. But for maximizing of its potential, you should save 1 Lore resource per single-use. Still, it’s far agreeable cost than Longbeard Map-Maker was showing. That was pure extortion.:)

I welcome the “scrying-mechanic” in tough scenarios, where every revealed encounter card can have a significant impact on my plans. We have already faced the pitfall of Escape from Dol Guldur. Without one hero (who plays the role of prisoner), it very, very depends, what comes at you from the encounter deck. If Ungoliant’s Spawn awaits you, you certainly should know that. In A Journey to Rhosgobel, the nasty treacheries like Exhaustion, Festering Wound or Swarming Insects can potentially eliminate half of your army. Scrying is virtually the requirement for this scenario. And if you move to the current Return to Mirkwood scenario, it contains no less dangerous for you. Is Attercop, Attercop lurking on you from the top of the deck? Or will Gollum hurts you painfully through the treachery Gollum’s Bite, which is able to KO over 70% of all present heroes? You see, Rumour from The Earth can help you to eliminate the uncomfortable surprise, which results from unreadiness and ignorance. It’s a matter of course that scrying excels in solo games, but loses its sense with each extra player.

Rumour from the Earth is similar to Henamarth Riversong – with the difference that the ability of Henamarth Riversong doesn’t require cost in sense of resources, but in sense of exhaustion. From this point of view, I prefer ally more – his ability is permanent and more economic. The bigger difference is also between Rumour from The Earth and Denethor – he may directly get rid of the scried card.

And that’s all – honestly, there is nothing more to tell you about this Lore event. 0 cost is fine, but it’s not the final cost if you want to use Rumour from The Earth effectively. 1 Lore resource for each use can, in the end, cause you issues in resource management, like at Glorfindel, who heals 1 damage for 1 resource. However, heroes may or may not suffer from damage, so Glorfindel’s ability needn’t be used in every round. Contrarily, once you draw this event, you should utilize its effect and scry the encounter deck at every occasion. And for that, you must have a sufficient supply of resources.

Final rating


Neutral sphere

Shadow of the Past

All Song attachments with “gaining specific resource icon” are out. We have already met Neutral allies, Gandalf and Radagast. But Neutral event? That’s completely something new. And the first Neutral event shows us some ancient patriarch (he looks like Gandalf in some way), who is becoming younger (see his gold full beard). Shadow of the Past can get us to recent history and repeat it again.

At first glance, this event looks like unusably. Well, judge for yourself: for 2 cost you “move the top encounter card from encounter discard pile to the top of the encounter deck”. New players could think: why the hell should I voluntarily return some encounter card to the top of the encounter deck and additionally pay for this non-sense 2 resources? For what it can be good?

Let me show me some good examples. Return to the third adventure pack, A Journey to Rhosgobel, where you fight with time. Wilyador is dying. You need as many Athelas as possible. But one was now discarded as a shadow card, and time is running out. Shadow of the Past intervenes and return Athelas on the top of the encounter deck. Next round you have assured one incoming Athelas, therefore your chances to heal fully Wilyador increases. Continue to another scenario, The Dead Marshes. Gollum is very desired goods here. In other words, if you put on him 8 resources, he disappears in swamps and you must find him in the encounter deck. There is nothing worse than if Gollum sneaks off around you as the shadow card. You could search for him forever (or at least, until you hit 50 threat). At that moment, Shadow of the Past can save you many, many rounds, because it pulls out Gollum from the encounter discard pile and returns it to the top of the encounter deck. Bingo!

This neutral event doesn’t need only specific scenarios. You can utilize it due to many occasions. In general, encounter cards with weak effect or with effects, which wouldn’t influence you significantly, can become suitable targets. Evil Storm, if you have less than 35 threat. Roasted Slowly, if no hero has attached Sacked!. Slick Footing, if locations lack progress tokens. And many weak locations and enemies, which you rather face than something worse. Everything depends on the given situation.

With Shadow of the Past, you are also to able to “scry” even in 2-players games. How exactly? For example, scry through the effect of Rumour from the Earth. You know 1 incoming card. Use Shadow of the Past and return from encounter discard pile one encounter card to the top of the encounter deck. Now you know 2 encounter cards, which await you, and you can prepare on them. A very elegant solution, how to manipulate with the encounter deck to own image.

I have named only a few examples. But you see it worth for universal using. Certainly, you may build the whole strategy based on Shadow of the Past, yet I’m convinced it can help you in any scenario.

Final rating


Summary Review

Hero

Bringing the Dwarf king himself with you on the journey means great help. Dáin Ironfoot shows you the right way through the Mirkwood, but what seems as one-time assistance, surely will change in the permanent alliance with the new expansion arrival.

But I won’t jump ahead from now. At this moment you know this thing: Dáin Ironfoot is a really powerful fellow. Passive ability, which distributes +1 Willpower and +1 Attack to all Dwarves on the board, belongs to the strongest we have seen yet. If you include some Dwarves to your deck, you can’t go wrong. Gimli, Glóin, Thalin, Veteran Axehand, Erebor Hammersmith and other Dwarves: they all strengthen, but still for the same cost. Enemies start to be smaller and weaker somehow. You just must remember one important condition: Dáin Ironfoot must stay ready. If it is possible, don’t send him to a quest, don’t attack with him and don’t defend with him, if it isn’t crucial. When you use him in some of these actions, all Dwarves lose boost. It’s unfortunately limiting – Dáin Ironfoot is an excellent defender and can stop many strong enemies. Either you include and attach to him Unexpected Courage, or design a clever plan, where Dáin’s exhaustion won’t hurt you too much.

Final rating


Allies

The choice of allies belongs to the strongest from all adventure packs (maybe excluding A Journey to Rhosgobel, where Escort From Edoras, Landroval, Radagast, and Haldir of Lórien hit the scene). Look on the Tactic sphere on the last Eagle from Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Eagles of the Misty Mountains can boast off very good default stats. However, primarily his ability makes wonders. If you fill your deck by Eagles and assure the perfect resource management, Eagles of the Misty Mountains can’t be stopped. +1 Attack and +1 Defense for each Eagle, which attaches Eagles of the Misty Mountains, feeds an untamable beast, able to kill EVERY enemy. But… that resources. It will cost you many, many effort and resources to call so many Eagles to a play. West Road Traveller from the Spirit sphere will become the basic scout of your each Spirit deck. 2 cost for 2 Willpower just can’t be ignored, especially if he controls “side-ability”, which may or may not be utilized, depends clearly on you. And Lore sphere has introduced two very mighty, but also unique and expensive allies-attackers, Haldir of Lórien and Gildor Inglorion. Mirkwood Runner is at least a bit cheaper than both of them. His 2 attack won’t interest so much as his ability, which allows you to bypass the Defense of enemies and touch a raw nerve. Of course, Mirkwood Runner won’t probably beat to resistant enemies with a high pool of Hit Points. It would last an almost whole eternity. He is the expert for killing enemies with high Defense and low Hit Points, or generally these with low Hit Points.

Except for the Leadership sphere, which has no representative here, every sphere was enriched by the ally. You surely choose own champion among them.

Final rating


Events

Let’s move to events. They don’t belong to the greatest events we have ever seen, but some jewels we find here. The biggest surprise is certainly Shadow of the Past. At first glance, you may look at this event with skepticism. However, you may influence the incoming cards from encounter decks (to some extent). With scrying cards, such as Rumour from the Earth, you have the advantage of knowledge, which 2 encounter cards will await you. In a game with 2 players, that’s incredibly valuable help, with 3 players you “know the truth” from 75% and with 4 players from 50%. In any case, you know more than if you use classic scrying technique only. On the other hand, Astonishing Speed looks like a strong card with a massive boost – +2 Willpower can’t be overlooked. However, it aims only Rohan characters and it costs 3 resources. While in theory it might work, in practice when you get in play some Rohan characters, you actually don’t solve the lack of Willpower issue. Rohans like West Road Traveller, Escort From Edoras or Éowyn mostly generate sufficient Willpower for successfully questing. Astonishing Speed then naturally face the problem of a dead card in hands. Finally, Dawn Take You All aims on shadow cards, like Dúnedain Watcher or A Burning Brand. The problem is, you actually don’t know, if you hit the right shadow card, which you discard. I see it as the main weakness of this event, which needs the assistance of Dark Knowledge to proper functioning.

Final rating


Attachments

The last member of “Dúnedain family” does credit to other Signal attachments – it’s a cheap and minor utility, however, very handy. Gaining Sentinel is useful for many good defenders as Denethor, Dáin Ironfoot or Gimli. If you want to improve their Defense, you can attach to them Support of the Eagles. From this attachment also can profit attackers. Actually, every hero can become unbeatable defender or attacker, because Support of the Eagles enables it. If you want to use Eagles of the Misty Mountains as the main intermediary of stats, prepare a great number of resources you must spend. Although you can boost your hero by unimaginable strength, I think that even Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian can serve as the suitable and much cheaper alternatives.

Both attachments belong to useful cards, albeit in a slightly different way. The Leadership attachment has far more universal use, while the Tactic attachment needs Eagles in a decent number. Maybe they aren’t pivotal cards, yet they have indisputable value.

Final rating


Overall evaluation

Questing, defending, attacking, fighting with the increasing threat, with nasty treacheries and other nasty effects. If you want to try to build the most powerful deck you can, now you have the occasion. Return to Mirkwood will test your skills at a maximum rate because you must handle all named aspect of the game at the same time.

No wonder, we got one of the strongest heroes in this adventure pack, just when we need him at most. Dáin Ironfoot provides such a great help that we will surely meet him in the future, where he will make the synergy with all Dwarves. I think it would be a bit odd if the king wouldn’t be claimed as TOP CARD. But he deserves this title absolutely right.

Something new has happened here – it’s quite difficult to point at evident SHEEP CARD because Return to Mirkwood lacks downright trashy cards. Each of them can work properly, depending on a deck and situation. I think that the biggest poor devil is Astonishing Speed, yet I will totally understand if someone has a different opinion on that. Why I choose the event with +2 Willpower to all Rohan characters? The reason doesn’t lie in the rate of usefulness (or uselessness). I just think you can absolutely cope without Astonishing Speed and you won’t miss it. Good Rohan questers, like West Road Traveller or Escort from Edoras or Éowyn, resolve it themselves, without issues. They just don’t need a boost for such cost.

The last part is the hardest. Every sphere can boast off some quality card(s) and gain the title of MOST ENRICHED SPHERE. Leadership sphere has got Dáin Ironfoot, Tactic has got both cards with Eagle-synergy, Spirit has got an excellent quester West Road Traveller, Lore sphere has got Mirkwood Runner and Neutral sphere has got a big surprise, the event named Shadow of the Past. The winner can be one. After some consideration, I see the Leadership sphere as MOST ENRICHED SPHERE. The aura of the mighty king is strong and his passive effect even stronger. I cannot count, how many times he takes control over the game and helps me out from troubles. However, I must admit that Dúnedain Signal is more useful than it seems at first glance. And even Dawn Take You All, which has the inbuilt risk of failure, can save you a character. Sometimes the potentially wasted 2 cost worth it, if we are talking about the life of a hero.

Return to Mirkwood brings us the quality group of player cards, which should encounter the toughest scenario of the whole cycle. This adventure pack is essential for us if we search for cards to Eagle decks, Dwarves decks, decks with encounter deck manipulation and nice quester decks.

Final rating


TOP CARD

DÁIN IRONFOOT


SHEEP CARD

ASTONISHING SPEED


MOST ENRICHED SPHERE

LEADERSHIP SPHERE (DÁIN IROFOOT + DÚNEDAIN SIGNAL + DAWN TAKE YOU ALL)

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