Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim

When fans of J.R.R. Tolkien are asked to consider what scene is the most iconic in his legendarium, Riddles in the Dark easily ranks among them. This scene has it all; mystery, suspense, an eerie setting, the creepy Gollum, and the hero of “The Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins.  The game also contains all these, and a riddle mechanic to go with it.

Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim

  • Found in: The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill saga box, quest 3
  • Community difficulty: 6.4
  • Encounter Sets: Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim, Misty Mountain Goblins
  • Quest cards: 3
  • Play if: You are continuing your Hobbit saga playthrough, you enjoy the riddle mechanic and would like to get stuck answering them with Gollum, you want a quest where you are rewarded for building the deck specifically for the scenario.
  • What is different about this scenario?: Riddle mechanic, a lot of cards revealed per player, 2 quest cards in play at the same time, cannot advance to stage 3 until both quests have been cleared.
  • Can I run side-quests?: Since the players cannot beat stage 1 until stage 2 is also cleared, there is a window there to clear some side-quests. Boosting willpower with Rally the West will make it easier to advance stage 3 quickly, and using Keep Watch will make the many enemies in the game hit for less. There are some other side-quests here that can help you as well, but remember to first beat stage 1 so that you can advance the quest once you’ve answered your riddles.
  • What to look out for: Failing Riddles results in a dead Bilbo which you will want to avoid, a lot of surge and extra cards being revealed, enemies can swarm like crazy.

The Quest

Setup

To setup the game, the players do two things. One, they start the game as normal with quest card 1A, and two, create a riddle area which contains it’s own quest card, Gollum, Bilbo’s Magic Ring, and Bilbo Baggins.  This mirrors exactly what happens in the book, Bilbo gets separated from the party of Dwarfs and is stuck all alone matching wits with Gollum in a game of riddles for his life. 

Quest card 2: Riddles in the Dark – 9 progress

See here the art for the 2019 LOTR LCG playmat
Does it like riddles, precious?

When this card is flipped over, you find out about the riddle mechanic and to be honest, this may be my least favorite mechanic in the game.  The mechanic seems contrived and there isn’t anything players can do in game to help themselves.  The mechanic asks players to name some combination of player card type, cost, and/or sphere.  If the discarded cards match, progress is placed on the quest card.  So the challenge here is to design a deck that is streamlined for this mechanic.  Optimally, you’d love to have a deck that is monosphere, and made up of all allies that are the same cost.  I think this level of deck-teching is unreasonable, even with the current card pool, so a deck that hits two of the three.  The best deck would be a monosphere deck that has cards in it that fall around the same cost.  The most popular cost is 2 resources among all the spheres, but if you are going with a single sphere deck, 3 cost would not be horrible.  The more you ignore these requirements in deck building for this scenario, the more frustrated you will get because the players cannot interact with the riddle area, other than to just “answer” riddles. If you get a riddle “wrong” Gollum makes an attack against Bilbo, then Bilbo take a damage.  Once Bilbo takes his third damage, he dies and the players lose the game.

In playing the first part of the scenario, there are a few things you can do to help mitigate the frustration if you brought a deck that isn’t a monosphere, 2-cost ally deck.  First of all, consider which riddles to answer and which to pass by.  As you draw encounter cards, you have the choice to answer the riddles or to reveal the encounter card.  The riddle on the location, “The Warg’s Glade,” has you discard only one card but it only requires you to name a sphere.  If you are playing a trisphere deck, this may be one to let come out, or if you happen to be playing a monosphere deck, you may want to “answer” the riddle and try to use Bilbo’s resources to answer it a few times to get some progress.  On the other hand, the treachery, “Hiding in Trees,” has a riddle that allows you to discard three cards but you are required to name a card type and sphere, so it may be better to take the When Revealed effect instead of risking the attack on Bilbo.  In the end, this mechanic is mostly based on how well you know your deck and how well you build your deck, instead of how well you play your deck.

There are a few small tricks that you can use to make this part of the scenario a bit easier.  For one, Hero Gandalf.  The order of the mechanic says to name the feature(s) of the card, then shuffle your deck, then discard.  Gandalf doesn’t help with that unfortunately,  but he can help when deciding whether to use Bilbo’s magic ring to discard extra cards for the riddle.  Attach a Wizard Pipe to him, and you can really get some help from him. Other peek-cards like Imladris Stargazer and ally Gildor Inglorion work very nicely for this “should I continue answering the riddle?” question as well.  If you are playing solo and haven’t teched your deck for this quest, I would also suggest running Will of the West. It’s possible that your normal, run-of-the-mill saga deck could run out of cards so it’s nice to put them back in your deck, especially after six or seven rounds of deck thinning by playing cards.

The most frustrating part of the whole riddle mechanic is that you have to place NINE progress on the quest card.  When playing solo, that is an insane amount of your deck trying to get through the quest. (See Will of the West comment above!) I have found that more likely than not I will choose to “answer” riddles knowing my deck well enough to be able to be successful enough before Bilbo dies when playing true solo.  I can imagine that as the number of players increases, you can be more picky about which riddles to “answer,” and who should “answer” them.

Phew… that’s a lot about the Riddles in the Dark.  While I have been talking all about this, there is a whole other quest card in play that you are playing against!

Quest card 1: Out of the Frying Pan – 14 progress

Stage 1B has 14 quest points and requires you to riddle your way out of Stage 2B before moving on to the last stage in the scenario.  The issue is that you must reveal an additional encounter card PER PLAYER at this step!  That means solo players are probably doing okay here, but multiplayer games are going to get crazy.  Fortunately only one of the encounter cards have surge, but still.  I get it though.  There has to be a way for the encounter deck to keep up with the riddles and still put locations and enemies in the staging area.  The crazy number of encounter cards revealed forces players to make a decision about whether to riddle or to reveal.  Of the 36 cards in the encounter deck, 17 of them have the Riddle keyword on it so even if you pick all riddles instead of reveals, the encounter deck will still have a card advantage on you.  So to help mitigate all this, I think the old stand-bys are what’s going to help you with this quest.  Having a load of questing right off may not help, as clearing stage 1B only can happen when stage 2B is cleared.  So heroes that can both quest and defend or attack can be helpful.  Spirit Glorfindel and Hero Gandalf come to mind.  Also, allies that can pull double duty are great, too. Leadership Gimli is one of those that comes to mind.  Even the Dwarven Sell-Sword could be useful because of his multipurpose stat line.

Twelve of the 36 encounter cards are weaker (HP is 3 or less) orc enemies and with the potential to see several pop out a turn, the seldom used Longbeard Orc Slayer could be snuck in and out of play to do some damage. More traditional orc-slaying tactics could also be beneficial like Elladan and Elrohir allies or the Blade of Gondolin.

There is one enemy in the deck that is a bit beefy.  This is the Great Grey Wolf.  With five attack, its likely to be fodder for a chump, but know that it is not unique and does not have any victory points so you will likely see this baddie more than once a game, even when playing solo.  The tech for this guy is pretty normal.  Chump with someone, swing back with a bunch of allies and kill it.

The enemies in this encounter deck (with the exception of Gollum) have an engagement cost of 30 or lower. And most have a minimal threat.  So the way that this encounter deck plans to kill you is by swarming you with enemies that are forces to engage you.  The easy way to combat this?  Keep your threat low!  Again, Spirit Glorfindel makes this easier.  Plus it comes with in-sphere access to threat reduction like Elrond’s Council. Another option is to run hobbits, which gives you cards like Shirefolk.  A third is to run a Lore Secrecy deck.  But being able to optionally engage enemies as opposed to being forced to engage enemies is a great way to stay alive while you are trying to progress through quest stage 2B.  The important thing here is to get, and keep, your board state in a position to be able to quest successfully and fend off an enemy or three.

Since you cannot advance this stage while Bilbo is playing riddles with Gollum, this is also the ideal time to explore side-quests to give you an extra boost. Do this after you have place enough progress to explore this stage, as that means you can advance to stage 3 as soon as you have cleared the riddle portion of this quest.

Quest card 3B: Into the Fire – 16 quest points

By the time you get to quest stage 3B, it’s all down hill.  At this point you don’t have to draw two encounter cards per player, BUT treachery cards gain surge so at this stage 13 of the 36 cards in the deck have surge.  But, if you’ve made it this far, you probably are used to dealing with multiple enemies per round.

One of the things you may want to do is include healing in your deck for this point in the game.  It is unlikely that Bilbo can out of his ordeal with Gollum unscathed.  Have a Healing Herbs, a Warden of Healing, or Ioreth for when Bilbo rejoins your group can help alleviate concerns that he may get killed and fighting through all those riddles was for nothing.

You will have to deal with Gollum at this point, but he isn’t a difficult enemy to vanquish.  He’s just persistent.   Like the Great Grey Wolf, he also does not have victory points, so it’s possible that if you destroy him, you will see him again.  Because of the number of enemies that are trying to overrun you, you may also want to consider using Tactics Boromir for his Boromir Bomb, that action that no one ever remembers he has. Also, the suite of Tactics direct damage cards are great for getting rid of all the goblins you will see.  Cards like Gondorian Spearman, Spear of the Citadel, Dwarrowdelf axe, Goblin Cleaver, and Descendant of Thorondor can all make quick work of those puny goblins.  Again, the encounter deck is trying to overrun you, not putting out a boss enemy.  If you are looking for a hero to help you bring out all those tactics cards, Thalin and his one damage could be the answer. Hero Beorn with Honour Guard is another answer to pesky goblins. And Grimbeorn is also a good choice to help keep the Goblin swarm under control.

With so much surge added to the encounter deck at this stage, it isn’t unreasonable to have Lanwyn in your party. Her extra willpower or readying effect can come in useful and her Ranged can help out in a multiplayer game. If you have a Spirit resource match, you can also go for the Minas Tirith Lampwright, who can discard whatever card the surge keyword reveals if you guess correctly. He can also serve as a cheap chump for the Great Grey Wolf. He isn’t as useless in this quest as he is in others, so give him a chance!

Encounter Deck Statistics

  • The encounter deck is made up out of 36 encounter cards in Normal mode, and 27 in easy mode
  • The chances of hitting a shadow effect are relatively low, with only 50% of cards having an effect in Normal mode, and 44% in Easy mode
  • The average threat per card revealed is 1.5 threat/card in normal mode, and 1.7 threat in easy mode. Note that you will be revealing more cards per player than just one though!
  • Only 3 cards start the game with surge. However, the treacheries gain surge at stage 3, causing the number of surging cards to rise (to surge) to 16 max
  • There are no Doomed keywords in the encounter deck, but you are likely to raise your threat while trying to overcome the threat in the staging area
  • 17 cards in the normal encounter deck contain Riddles you can answer while at stages 1 and 2.
  • Immunity
    • Lake in the Cavern is immune to player card effects and cannot be travelled to
    • Not Fair! Not Fair! cannot be cancelled
    • What’s in my Pocket? cannot be cancelled

Curiously enough, the scenario specific encounter set does not have any shadow effects. This helps you with combat, as less shadows means that attacks can be defended more readily. The statistics above do not count the Lake in the Cavern, Bilbo’s Magic Ring, or Gollum, as those are never in the encounter deck.

Conclusion

This scenario, while low on my list, does change the way the game is played.  For that, I can appreciate its place in the game. That said, the riddle mechanic is frustrating for those who don’t want to deck tech and is overly grueling with having to place nine progress to get through it.  But, as long as your deck can handle the first onslaught of enemies, it’s likely to be able to handle the rest of the scenario.

Playthroughs

While the scenario isn’t very popular in the community, it is a hurdle for progression players which can lead to some playthrough videos for you to watch in preparation for your game.

This rounds out the final scenario from the first Hobbit Saga box. Next time Thorin and company venture into the forest of Mirkwood to battle some spiders and their unique Poison mechanic.

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