It is a common theme in this game to break into places we are not supposed to, and yet each time, the scenario feels different. Whether it is Dol Guldur, Carn Dum, or this fictional Orc Stronghold in the Ephel Duath, the mechanics make the settings fresh to attempt each scenario individually. Today’s article looks at our most recent prison break in and eventual escape from the Orcs that have captured Kahliel’s son. The quest has a neat Guarded mechanic that forces your allies to become trapped underneath locations and enemies, much like the Escape from Mount Gram quest. This time however, you are able to set up your boardstate without any second decks, and can start playing allies right from the start. The quest can be a long one, but will have you on your toes as you explore:
The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat
- Found in: The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat Adventure Pack, Haradrim cycle, pack 5.
- Official Difficulty: 7
- Community Difficulty: 6.8
- Encounter sets: The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat, Mordor Orcs, Harad Territory
- Quest cards: 3
- Play if: You want another prison-break style quest that is of medium difficulty, you have a deck that loves guarded cards and are looking for a scenario that plays with the Guarded keyword, you haven’t played this scenario in a while.
- What is different about this quest?: Allies get captured by encounter cards, middle stage forces you to avoid enemies, enemy swarm while you are outnumbered, Abaan objective ally, ally hate.
- Solo or Multiplayer?: You can go with whatever number of players you want, but playing this in high player counts means that more cards will capture allies. This can result in stages 1 and 3 lasting longer than they would in lower player counts. I have beaten this quest in true solo though, so I would suggest keeping the player count low enough to save some time.
- Can I bring Side-quests to this scenario?: You can, although the encounter deck will also have 3 side-quests ready for you to go up against. There is some time during the first stage to stall and clear out some side-quests of your own though. There is no preferred side-quest for this scenario, so use whatever you can include in your deck.
- What to look out for?: Captured allies leave you shorthanded, enemies with high threat will cause problems, long quest, optional boss-level enemy, ally hate, steep increases in threat.
The setup of this quest is a long one, but luckily not as long as the Escape from Mount Gram quest. You start with putting the Orc Chieftain out of play. He will join the staging area at stage 3. You then add the Captives of Cirith Gurat objective card to the staging area. This card acts as a rulesheet for the mechanics of this scenario. The details of this objective will be explained in the Objective portion of this article. You also add a single copy of the 1 threat Dungeon Cell to the staging area and attach the Abaan objective ally to the Dungeon Cell. The Cell doesn’t surge but will get +1 threat for Abaan. Since it will start in the staging area, the Forced effect on the Cell will go off each time an ally is destroyed. This is good though, since it allows you to revive that ally once you clear the Cell.
Each player searches the encounter deck for a different Orc enemy and adds it to the staging area. Then, the players have to start discarding cards from the top of their deck until they discard an ally. This ally then gets attached to an unattached enemy in the staging area. This discarding has some major setbacks, since you are not given the chance to recover those cards without using Reforged, Will of the West, Galadhrim Weaver, or other discard pile interactions. If you don’t run those cards, the cards you discarded for this effect will be gone forever. You should hope for an ally on the top of your deck, since you can otherwise end up with a large portion of your deck in the discard pile. Players who don’t run any allies in their deck are extremely unfortunate, since they will have to discard their entire deck. If they did not draw into a Will of the West in their opening hand, there is little chance of you winning this scenario since you only have 6 cards to play during the entire game.
As for the enemies you can select, you have to take all 4 sorts of Orcs in a 4 player game. In true solo, I prefer to take the Prison Guard, although he does get his defence boost. However, since he is already guarding a card, his other ability does not trigger. The other enemies are all bad and will hit hard. The Uruk of Mordor is a good option if you have a defensive hero in your lineup. The Jailer is good to take on early, as you might not yet have allies in play. The Warg-rider is probably my final choice, since that enemy can hit really hard when combining his ability with a nasty shadow effect.
With all of the enemies and the single copy of Dungeon Cell in the staging area, the players may flip the quest card and start round 1.
Quest card 1: Rescue the Prisoners – 10 quest points
As you may have noticed already, the quest starts with quite a lot of threat in the staging area. The enemies in there often have 3 or even 4 threat, and the growing Dungeon Cell isn’t helping either. This means that you may have to quest unsuccessfully in your first round. You can then travel to a location and engage enemies to clear out some threat for you to make progress during round 2. Travelling to the Dungeon Cell is probably the best play here, since it allows you to get Abaan quickly and gets rid of a potential 5+ threat location if you leave the location there during the combat phase.
During this stage, all enemies and locations guarding cards are immune to player card effects. This means that if you brought Bilbo or Faramir, you will have to wait until stage 2 to trigger their abilities. This protection means that locations cannot be interacted with while they are guarding cards, meaning that the only way to clear them is by travelling and questing successfully. Location control cards aren’t that useful in this quest anyway, since the Gate of Iron location prevents progress from being placed on locations in the staging area. The real problem starts with the enemies in the staging area that are guarding characters. These are also immune to player card effects now, meaning that their attacks cannot be Feinted and that their stats cannot be lowered to make it easier to kill them. Because of this, it is easier to boost your own characters in this early stage rather than debuffing enemies.
During the first few rounds, you will start rescuing characters. These are placed back in front of the players that control them and are exhausted once they have no more encounters on them. Rescuing characters this way causes the second ability on the quest card to trigger, where a new encounter card must be revealed whenever any number of characters are rescued. This means that the encounter card you just defeated will be replaced with a new one that might also capture allies. This cycle of encounter cards surging into each other when they are explored is only for this first stage, but can mean you become overwhelmed by encounter cards if you don’t also clear cards that don’t have guarded objectives on them.
This first stage requires 10 progress on the main stage to be cleared. However, the players cannot advance while there are guarded objectives in play. All characters must be rescued before the party can advance to stage 2. Because of this, it is advised to get the required progress on the main quest as quickly as possible. If after that, you are not able to advance yet, you can start going against side-quests that have either been played by the players, or put into play by the encounter deck. Try clearing those as well, while you rescue the remaining characters. This will take some time, but allows you to setup your boardstate for later stages. Stalling a little bit can allow you to have an easier time later on. After all characters have been rescued and the players have managed to place 10 progress on the main stage, they are allowed to move on to stage 2.
Quest card 2: Sneak Past the Guards – 15 quest points
With all allies now rescued, you need to start making your way back to the entrance of the dungeon in order to escape. While some players might rush their way to the exit, a more stealthy approach is required in order to pass beyond this stage. When the players advance, they must shuffle the encounter discard pile back into the encounter deck and discard cards until each player has discarded an enemy. Those enemies are added to the staging area. The perfect enemy for this is the Dungeon Warg, as you negate both its surge and its when revealed effect. The Mordor Warg is also a great enemy at this point, as it is rather weak and doesn’t attach to an enemy since it is added instead of discarded. Regardless, you will now have several enemies in the staging area, and your task is to sneak past them.
On the B-side of the quest card there are a few effects that have to be kept in mind during this stage. One important rule is missing though, the immunity that enemies and locations had at the last stage when they were guarding cards is no longer a thing. This means that you can more easily retrieve your characters should they get captured at this stage. You also no longer have to reveal a new encounter card whenever a character is rescued, which lightens the pressure of the encounter deck a little. Keep in mind though that enemies in the staging area cannot take damage with this new stage, meaning that direct damage effects can only target engaged enemies.
Instead, this stage has a passive ability that will help you out with your sneaking efforts. For each point of progress on this stage, you raise the engagement cost of each enemy in the staging area by 1. Note that this does not target enemies engaged with you, meaning that Hobbit decks will have to rely on their own effects like Halbarad to raise the engagement cost of engaged enemies for bonuses. This increase in the engagement cost of enemies makes sure that enemies are left in the staging area and that they don’t have to come down.
All of this does mean that you must start to bring more and more willpower to the quest, as you will be leaving more threat in the staging area. Failing to quest successfully forces you to raise your threat. With many other smaller threat raising abilities in this encounter deck, you might still be forced to engage enemies this way. So high willpower and threat reduction effects will be advised for this part of the scenario.
The reason you want to keep enemies in the staging area is that the forced effect on this quest stage will reward the players with a resource token on the main quest for each round that no enemies were engaged. This is tricky, as some enemies will have low engagement cost and will come down naturally. You might also want to engage enemies to reduce the amount of threat in the staging area so that you can quest successfully. Remember that if you take one enemy on this round, you might as well engage some more enemies since you will lose the resource for that round anyways. This gives your attackers something to do. You can also prevent enemies from coming down naturally with Advance Warning if you want to be sure that you get the resource this round. This effect allows players to clean up any enemies engaged with them and send their allies to the quest to be sure that all 15 points of progress are made on the quest.
On top of this restriction on your engagement, players must also reveal an extra encounter card at the end of the round before they place the resource token on the main quest. There are some good cards to reveal for this effect, especially Fear of Mordor. Since you are only revealing one encounter card regardless of the number of players, you will find this easier to take on in higher player counts than in solo.
This quest requires 15 points of progress on the main stage and 2 resource tokens, which represent 2 rounds of not engaging any enemies. You can place more than 15 progress on this quest, which will continue to raise the engagement cost of enemies. But if you are stalling to get those resources, you might also want to clear some side-quests if there are any in play. There is no restriction on advancing the quest while there are allies captured, so you will advance immediately after placing the second resource token or the final point of progress.
Quest card 3: Fight your way out – 10 quest points
Your attempts at sneaking through the dungeons have led you close to the exit, but the noise of your captured allies has alerted the guards. So we are back to good old combat for this stage. If the players have gone the past few rounds without engaging enemies, chances are that the staging area has been filled with them, so now it is time to engage them all and kill them. The stage starts with the players adding Uruk Chieftain to the staging area from out of play. Each player then chooses a hero they control, remove all damage and resource tokens from that hero, and strip the hero from all attachments. These heroes are then captured underneath an unattached enemy in the staging area and must be freed in order to win the game.
On top of losing a hero, each player makes a standard set of engagement checks at this point against all enemies in the staging area, in turn order. This acts much like the standard engagement phase, but there is a catch. Each enemy that is not guarding an objective has their engagement cost reduced to 0. This is only the case for these engagement checks, and not for any future engagement phases. This does mean that the players will be forced to engage all enemies that are not guarding allies, meaning that they will have their hands full during the coming combat phase. On top of that, the players might have to also engage enemies that have objectives attached to them if their regular engagement cost is still lower than the player’s threat. This can easily cause players to become overwhelmed by enemies if they are unable to defend or cancel the attacks. To make matters worse, the Uruk Chieftain will also be coming down to the player engaged with the most Orc enemies, providing an extra challenge. Once the engagement checks have been made, the players may flip this stage and advance to 3B.
The opposite side of the quest card informs you that enemies are no longer protected by the scenario if they have an objective attached to them. This means that you can still cancel their attacks, and deal damage to them even if they are in the staging area. The only effect that this quest card has is that at the beginning of the quest phase, players have to discard cards from the encounter deck until an enemy is discarded, and add it to the staging area. This thins the encounter deck a little, but will also place more and more enemies in the staging area for you to battle. In lower player counts, this is especially becomes a problem, since you are also engaged with several other enemies at this point. The good thing about this effect is that the enemies are discarded and then added. This means that both Warg enemies are not going to trigger their textboxes and will be excellent reveals for this effect. It is also nice to get rid of some nasty locations, treacheries or side-quests that might be on top. Remember that the encounter deck will reset if it runs out of cards before you hit an enemy though.
The quest will require that you make 10 progress on the quest stage. Now that enemies have been engaging you through the quest’s effect, there should be less threat in the staging area, so making the progress shouldn’t be too difficult. Once enough progress has been made, the players will also need to clear all locations and defeat all enemies that are guarding objectives. The players cannot win this scenario while there are people still captured. This can take a few more rounds, as the encounter deck will try and capture new allies, preventing you from escaping. During this time, you can try and clear some side-quests with your questers as well, but I would advise to go light on willpower once you have made enough progress on the stage. Try and beat the active location each round, but you will be better off saving your characters for combat. Should you clear all objectives and have enough progress on the main quest, you have escaped the dungeons with your entire team and are now on the home-stretch to Gondor and safety.
The Encounter deck
- The encounter deck for this scenario is pretty thick, with 42 cards in the normal encounter deck, and 32 in easy mode.
- The chances of hitting a shadow effect in normal mode are 52%, this is reduced to 46% in easy mode.
- Average threat per card revealed is roughly 1.6 threat per card, ranging from 0 threat treacheries to 4 threat enemies and locations.
- Surge is quite a common keyword with this encounter deck. 10 cards in the normal encounter deck can surge, and the quest cards will be bringing out even more encounter cards if you are rescuing objectives.
- The Doomed keyword is only active on the Taken Prisoner treachery if the first player cannot trigger the effect of the treachery. Besides that, there are several other effects that raise threat, so try to avoid bringing your own Doomed cards.
- There is no Archery on any cards in this scenario. There also isn’t too much direct damage, so healing is less of a priority.
- During stage 1, enemies and locations guarding objectives are immune to player card effects
- During stage 2, enemies in the staging area cannot take damage.
- Uruk Chieftain cannot have player card attachments and cannot be optionally engaged
- Locations have their own passive abilities that must be remembered.
These statistics do not include Abaan, one copy of Dungeon Cell, the Captives of Cirith Gurat or the Uruk Chieftain, since those cards are removed from the encounter deck during setup. The distribution of cards in the encounter deck is pretty well balanced, with just slightly more enemies than locations or treacheries.
- Abaan: This is the son of Kahliel, who seems to have come up with names in alphabetical order… Regardless, this ally is your mission for infiltrating the Orc Stronghold and you have to keep Abaan alive during this scenario. With little to no direct damage effects, it is not very difficult to keep him alive, as long as you don’t defend any unnecessary attacks with him. Abaan has decent stats for an objective ally, with 1 point in each attribute, but 3 hitpoints. He also has a Response where you can select any Harad character to get +1 to all stats (excluding hitpoints) until the end of the round. If there are no other Harad characters in play, you can select Abaan for this ability, causing him to double his stats. What is noteworthy here is that the ability on Abaan doesn’t have a limit. So if you find a way to exhaust him in order to trigger the ability, you can continue to boost Harad characters.
The best target for his ability is probably Kahliel, who can ready himself with his ability and use all of the stats from Abaan if he needs to. But Jubayr is another great target. Since the orcs in this quest require defenders with high willpower, Jubayr benefits from the willpower as well as the boost in defence. Combine this with other boosts, such as armor on him or with boosts from Fellowship or Narya, and you have a very solid defender on your side, which will be useful as you explore the Dungeons. Again, you must keep Abaan alive during the quest, as the players will immediately lose when he leaves play.
- The Captives of Cirith Gurat: This objective card acts as a rule sheet for the entire game. It does not interact with the other cards on the table but instead instructs the players on what happens when cards are attached to encounter cards. When a character gets attached to an encounter card, they are considered to be a guarded objective with a blank text box. This means that Bilbo Baggins is more useful in this quest, since his damage will double when targetting an enemy with a character attached to it. You can also use the Lore Faramir ally for this purpose, since the enemy has an attachment on him (also works for the Mordor Wargs). The attached character loses every attachment and token on it, meaning that Dale decks are at a disadvantage here. Since the ally doesn’t leave play, Bard cannot return the attachment to your hand. On the bright side, losing all counters means that you can in theory heal your allies by having them captured.
Whenever you defeat the enemy or clear the location/side-quest that was guarding a character, the owner of that character gets control over the character again but must exhaust it once it is free of encounters. At stage 1, this is also when you reveal a new encounter card.
Taking a break from the Haradrim in this cycle, the scenario only includes Orc and Creature enemies. There is a large variety in enemies for this scenario, so be prepared for anything. Be sure that your defenders also have enough willpower so that you can defend the Uruk of Mordor and the Uruk Warg-rider.
- Uruk Chieftain: This boss-level enemy remains unchanged from his previous appearances in The Long Arm of Mordor or Race Across Harad. The Chieftain is removed from the game for the first 2 stages, but comes into play at the final stage when you are trying to fight your way out of the dungeon. The Chieftain has well-balanced stats and will contribute 4 threat to the staging area. Not that it will remain in the staging area for long, since at the end of the encounter phase, the Chieftain engages the player who was already engaged with the most Orc enemies. While the engaged player has other Orc enemies engaged with them, the Chieftain cannot take damage. Combine this with the immunity to player card attachments and the inability to be optionally engaged, and this enemy turns into quite a pain to deal with. However, there aren’t any built in effects (other than some shadow effects) that force the Chieftain back into the staging area. This means that you can clear the other Orcs engaged with you, and then pile on the damage on the Chieftain. This may require some help of fellow players, but since you have so many enemies, they are bound to have some help to send your way. The Chieftain isn’t immune to player card effects though, and 3 defence can be overcome quite easily. Just remember that if you do kill all other Orcs first, the Chieftain might move to another player at the end of the encounter phase next round. Dealing all damage at once is highly advisable, which can include direct damage during planning or questing phase, if no other Orcs are engaged. Note that the Chieftain does not go into the victory display upon defeat and is not required to be defeated to complete the final stage, unless the Chieftain is guarding an objective.
- Uruk of Mordor: This enemy makes his comeback from the Race Across Harad scenario and is here to provide extra muscle to the encounter deck. The Uruk of Mordor has a base attack of 4, causing it to be deadly to allies if you were to defend with them. However, not every ally can defend against the Uruk, since his ability reads that only allies with equal or higher willpower than the Uruk’s threat can defend against him. This threat can be increased with the side-quest and the Warg mount to 5, at which point you will have almost no allies left to defend against him. Perhaps a buffed Guardian of Esgaroth can defend against him, but it will be difficult. The tech against this enemy is to either defend with heroes, or to be able to lower the threat of the enemy with cards like Secret Vigil. You can also buff your own characters by stacking willpower buffs like Sword that was Broken and Visionary Leadership on a Gondor deck. Playing The Free Peoples is also possible, readying all your characters and buffing their willpower during the combat phase. But that has more restrictions to it, and is better left for the quest phase anyways.
- Uruk Warg-rider: This enemy will probably be the one that hits the hardest in the entire encounter deck if you are not careful. The Warg-rider gets a boost to his attack stats based on the difference between his threat and the defending character’s willpower. This means that he is a 6 attack against a 0 willpower ally for instance, making him chew his way through your boardstate. Lowering his stats is a valid strategy, but if you are able to cancel his attacks, do so. This enemy can get even crazier if he gets a Mordor Warg attachment, causing him to attack for 10 if you are not careful. Direct damage and attack cancellation really are key here.
- Mordor Warg: The only non-Orc enemy in the Orc encounter set for this scenario, the Mordor Warg will be a dangerous card to reveal. This enemy has a when revealed effect that causes the card to attach itself to any Orc enemy and acts as a Mount attachment. The Warg causes the enemy to return to the staging area and adds its stats to the attached enemy. This makes any Orc enemy considerably stronger as they now hit harder and are tougher to kill. The added threat to the enemy also makes it very annoying to defend as the shadow cards will love a 6 threat enemy engaged with you. The best plan against this enemy is to simply cancel the when revealed. This places the Mordor Warg into the staging area where it is just a whimpy 2/2/2/2 enemy. Dunedain Lookout or A Test of Will can be used for this effect. Otherwise you will have to deal with a tough mounted Orc enemy and the Warg after you kill the Orc. You can also use cards like Valour of the North here that benefit you for enemies having attachments.
- Jailer of Cirith Gurat: At 45 engagement cost, you won’t have to deal with the Jailer if you are not ready for him, but if you can take him on in the early rounds, that would negate his effect. The jailer also has 4 threat, so leaving him in the staging area for long will dampen your ability to make progress on locations and quest cards. The trouble with the Jailer starts when he engages you, since that forces the player to attach an ally they control to the Jailer. This will likely end up being a quester, but you will want those back as soon as you can. During combat, the Jailer isn’t a huge threat. The 3 attack can be annoying, but can be blocked by most heroes quite effectively. Hitting the Jailer back will require a few characters to get past the 2 defence and through the 5 hitpoints. But with no immunity to anything, the Jailer’s only real power is his high threat that can combo with shadow cards to chain attacks or get buffs to his attack. What you will want to avoid is him going back to the staging area, as re-engaging him will cause you to lose another ally.
- Prison Guard: This enemy is actually stronger than you might think, as his 4 base attack can be annoying early on. The fact that the engagement cost of 30 is low enough to start engaging players early is also worrying, as this is one of the first Orc enemies you will be encountering during this game. The Dungeon Guard starts out with 1 defence, but will get a +2 to its defence whenever it is guarding an objective. This is made easier for him with the passive ability that causes him to capture an ally whenever his attacks damage one and if he isn’t already guarding an ally. This makes it so that the Prison Guard steals your ally whenever he damages it, and getting the ally back is more difficult now that the Dungeon Guard has 3 defence, 4 hitpoints, and possible immunity if the players are at stage 1. The counter to this enemy is Entangling Nets, causing him to lose 2 attack, making him weak enough to defend with allies reliably. He can also be killed with direct damage before capturing an ally, and if you defend with a hero, he is not going to capture an ally, so he doesn’t get his buffs.
- Dungeon Warg: The only new non-Orc enemy in this scenario, the Dungeon Warg acts as the low-threat, weak enemy that still ends up being annoying. Not only does this enemy surge, but it also has a When Revealed effect where the Warg makes an attack against the player with the most allies. This effect can be cancelled if need be, but a 3 attack enemy should easily be defended by the player with the most allies. Note that the enemy doesn’t engage, so it will still add its one threat to the staging area. Killing the Warg isn’t really difficult as it has little to no synergy with the encounter deck as long as your defender has at least 1 willpower. This is not the enemy to worry about and is an excellent card to add to the staging area when transitioning to stage 2.
The setting for this scenario are the dungeons of Cirith Gurat, and they are filled with the standard locations you’d find there. Cells, torture rooms, labour rooms, and plenty of gates that take some effort to explore. These locations all make the game much harder while they are in the staging area, as they not only have a lot of threat, but also passive abilities while they are up in the staging area. Location control is highly advised.
- Gate of Iron: At 3 threat and just 2 quest points, this location screams to be explored by Asfaloth. However, the text on the Gate of Iron provides a passive rule to all locations in the staging area where no progress can be placed on them. This is too bad, as you can now no longer clear more locations per round than just the one active location, but there are ways around this. First of all, this passive only goes into effect while the Gate is in the staging area. Travelling to it clears the way to placing progress on locations again, which is really useful during stage 2 to clear threat. You can also blank this location with Thror’s Key, making sure that the ability and the travel cost are now void. Heirs of Earendil is also a valid option to clear this location without placing progress, opening up the other locations again. Travelling to the Gate of Iron can be a priority if there is a player in your group that has location control that they can now no longer use. Travelling does come at a cost where the top card of the encounter deck must be discarded. Then, the first player is given the choice to either raise each player’s threat by 3 or to discard a card from the first player’s hand with a cost greater than the discarded encounter card’s threat. This is easy for treacheries and side-quests, but harder for the Guardroom and the Jailer. Scrying the encounter deck with Henemarth can help out here.
- Dungeon Cell: This location starts in play in the staging area, but players will probably encounter more copies as they progress. This 1 threat location will surge, which can lead to a surge train of these locations if the deck is stacked against you. The location starts out with 1 threat, but this can be increased when the location is capturing allies from players. This can be done through either other encounter card effects, or through the effect on the Dungeon Cell itself. This forced effect is only active when the Dungeon Cell is in the staging area and will force any ally that gets destroyed to go underneath the Dungeon Cell. The cell only has room for 1 though, since it can only trigger if there are no other objectives attached to Dungeon Cell. This means that this location cannot save all chumps from ending up in the discard pile. However, the threat of the Dungeon Cell can be increased. This is because the cell gets +X threat where X is the printed willpower on the attached ally. This tends to be more than 0, since your defenders will end up having some willpower to stand a chance against some of the Orcs in this encounter deck. A way around this would be to buff allies with willpower granting effects like Sword that Was Broken, since that doesn’t affect the threat of the cell. Exploring this location has to be done in order to regain control of the captured ally, but fortunately, the location has no travel cost. The 5 quest points might be a bit much though for lower player counts. Remember that this location will be immune to player card effects during stage 1 when it has captured an ally.
- Uruk Guardroom: At 4 threat, this location has the highest printed threat of any location in the scenario which makes for a good enough reason to want to travel here. Another incentive is the passive ability on the guardroom that will require all players to increase the cost to play each ally by 1. While it is not directly stated, I assume this means another resource of a matching sphere, which can be a big blockade for swarm-style decks. With 2 copies in the encounter deck, the ability will probably also stack if both locations are in the staging area, meaning that the players really should prioritize travelling to this location if they want to continue to play ally cards. Travelling here does come at a cost though, where the encounter discard pile has to be shuffled back into the encounter deck and cards are discarded until an Orc enemy is discarded. It then gets added to the staging area. During later stages, you might no longer want to go to this location since the scenario continues to pump out enemies against you, and this location increases the enemy swarm. Then again, in the last few rounds, you should have already played your allies, so the increased cost is not really a concern. Should there be no Gate of Iron in play, the players can also try and explore this location while it is in the staging area. Since this location is unlikely to guard an ally, it usually isn’t immune to player card effects, meaning that it can be explored in the staging area without travelling to the location if you want to.
- Mines of Cirith Gurat: With reverse stats of the Gate of Iron, the Mines of Cirith Gurat provide you with a location that focusses on threat. There are a lot of little threat-raising effects going on in this quest, so a tactic will be to bring threat reduction. This location tries to limit the threat that you can lower with its passive ability. While the Mines are in the staging area, all threat reduction effects are nerfed to lowering the player’s threat to only 1. This means that while effects like Galadriel and Elfhelm are still viable, the larger threat reduction effects like Shire-folk and Gandalf are no longer worth it. In order to regain access to these effects, you have to get the Mines out of the staging area, which can be done through either exploring it in the staging area (if no Gate of Iron is in play as well) or travelling to the location. Travelling comes at the cost of each player discarding the top 3 cards of their deck. For each ally they discard this way, they must raise their threat by 1, causing them to really need the threat reduction. You can also stack the deck in your favor with Imladris Stargazer before discarding cards, so that some players don’t have to raise their threat. Getting multiple mines in play at the same time usually means that threat reduction is no longer something you can rely upon, so keeping all copies of the Mines in the staging area and just soak the threat will be more worth it, since this allows players to go to other locations instead.
- Torture Room: This last location is the only one with a When revealed effect. Whenever this location is revealed, the first player must discard cards from the top of their deck until an ally is discarded. This ally is then attached to Torture Room and all other copies of that ally are discarded. This act of discarding all matching allies can be brutal, especially if multiple people are running this ally, like a Warden of Healing. Playing with only single copies of allies negates this problem, and this location can turn into a free way to play an ally from your deck. But before you claim the ally, you first have to explore this location. With 3 threat and 4 quest points, this isn’t the most threatning location of them all, nor is it the one with the most quest points. However, the passive ability on the Torture Room makes it a priority to clear since while the Room is guarding an objective, it will raise each player’s threat by 1 at the end of the round. Getting multiple Torture Rooms into play at the same time will see your threat climbing fast. This effect also applies when the Torture Room is the active location, though there is no Travel cost, so travelling here is usually not a big problem. Clearing this location as soon as it is revealed will allow you to not only lose 3 threat in the staging area, but also grants the first player their ally, and can be the final captured ally needed to advance stages 1 or 3.
When breaking into and out of an Orc dungeon, there are a ton of things that can go wrong. That’s represented by these treacheries. The new ones tend to focus on the new capturing mechanic, but the encounter deck also includes some nasty treacheries from previous scenarios.
- Injured Companion: With all the captured allies and ally hate in general, this treachery tries to pour salt into the wound that is your boardstate. When this treachery is revealed, you must either raise your threat by 1 for each character you control, or discard a character you control. Since you don’t have that many characters under your control in this scenario, I find that this treachery doesn’t hit as hard if you reveal just a few copies during your game. The threat option is probably best (depending on your boardstate) since you won’t have many characters in your control, so the threat wouldn’t be as bad. Discarding characters pushes you further back in terms of action advantage, unless you have a chump that doesn’t do a whole lot. The choice is yours, and may vary on the circumstances. The late game will see you with more allies and higher threat, so discarding allies would be a better call during those stages if you have allies you can miss.
- Enfeebled: What’s worse than having no allies in play? Having allies in play that are exhausted and cannot ready. This treachery tries to put you at a serious disadvantage when it comes to your characters being ready. When it is revealed, each player must exhaust a character they control. All exhausted characters cannot ready until the end of the combat phase. This means that you should trigger your Unexpected Courage and Fast Hitch on your questers BEFORE you start revealing encounter cards. This gives you at least some use out of those attachments. Even if the readied heroes aren’t great characters for the later stages, they can still be used to exhaust for this treachery. All characters will ready as normal during the Refresh Phase, after which you can forget about this treachery until the next one comes along. The shadow effect on this treachery deserves special mention, since it causes the defending character to remain exhausted until the end of the round, which is after it would have normally readied during the refresh phase. This character will likely remain exhausted for the entire next round, unless you have a readying effect during your next planning phase. This can be devastating for a hero like Beregond that should be defending multiple attacks each round, so cancellation on this shadow effect might be worth it.
- Fear of Mordor: To continue the trend of ally hate, this treachery lowers the stats on all allies in the game by 1 until the end of the round. This is a tough one to keep track off, since the -1 defence and -1 attack are often forgotten during the combat phase. This can really mess with your combat phase as even the willpower debuff can interact with the enemies and shadow effects in this scenario. Again, if you have a hero-focused deck, then this treachery won’t be as big of a problem, but ally swarms will be hurt a lot by this. Especially if you happen to draw into both copies of this treachery, you are in for a tough time. This one is worth cancelling if it means that your combat phase will be more challenging and if you would lose a lot of willpower this way. At least it doesn’t surge.
- Taken Prisoner: The title of this treachery explains perfectly what this treachery does, it captures one of the allies from the first player. This is not a great card to reveal since it could stall the players until after this ally has been rescued. The ally can be selected by the first player and isn’t taken at random. It gets captured by an enemy or location in the staging area that isn’t currently capturing a card. If all cards in the staging area are already guarding allies or if the first player has no allies to capture, then Taken Prisoner gains Doomed 2 instead. When selecting what location or enemy to attach the ally to, try and go for an encounter card that doesn’t get buffed by having captured cards on it. Prison Guard, Dungeon Cell, and Torture Room should be avoided if possible.
- Tormented by Orcs: The final treachery of the encounter deck is another boost to the threat of the players. When it is revealed, each player must raise their threat by the number of captured objectives that they own. While this usually doesn’t go beyond 3, it can still be annoying and I highly advise using different coloured sleeves to more easily tell what captured card belongs to what player. The raise in threat isn’t that big in most cases, so the treachery is pretty tame. However, if any player does not control a captured objective by the time this treachery hits, then the treachery gains surge. This surge will happen often as there will usually be at least one player in higher player counts that has claimed all of their allies already. This is less of an issue in true solo, where you are bound to have some captured characters, but the surge is offset by the higher raise in threat that this treachery will provide. Not often one you will want to cancel though, just soak the threat and hope it doesn’t surge.
Inside the Orc Stronghold, you shouldn’t be distracted by other causes than freeing your characters. But you might come across these three side-quests that might pursuade you to clear the side-quests first before going up against the main quest again. Try to clear these side-quests after you have placed enough progress on the main quest, but are not yet allowed to advance.
- In Enemy Territory: This side-quest is back to ruin the day of the mono-Lore player. Besides surging into another card when it is revealed, In Enemy Territory also requires all players to limit their handsize to 5 cards at any given time. Should you ever draw cards that push you over the 5 card limit (like at the start of every new round), then you must discard down to 5 cards. While this handsize limit is annoying at times, it is not too bad a side-quest in the later stages of the game. By then, you will have enough cards on the table that your hand should be around 5 cards, and even then, you are bound to have some duplicate copies of uniques to discard. However, if you still want to explore this side-quest, then it takes 8 progress to do so, which may take a few turns in lower player counts. But if you are stuck at any stage and cannot advance yet, then this is a good target to quest against to get your hand size back. You also get to draw a card when exploring this side-quest, which is a nice benefit to get.
- Uruks of the Eye: I always get flashbacks to Orc Ambush when I see this side-quest, but luckily, this side-quest isn’t as bad in my opinion. The side-quest will surge, which is a shame, but will only provide 2 buffs to Orc enemies in play. These buffs are a -5 to the engagement cost of Orc enemies, and a +1 threat to each Orc enemy that is engaged with a player. Note that this threat increase does not apply to the Orcs in the staging area. The side-quest also doesn’t target the two Warg enemies in the encounter deck, though they both have low engagement costs to begin with. The big problem with the +1 threat to Orc enemies comes when looking at the abilities of the Uruk Warg-rider and the Uruk of Mordor. Both have abilities that target their threat. So if that threat is boosted through the side-quest, the Warg-rider gets a +1 to its attack as well, and allies with a threat of 2 or less are no longer able to defend the Uruk of Mordor. This isn’t as bad if you are defending with your heroes, but if you have a deck where allies defend for you, this side-quest may be a problem for you. This can also trigger the shadow effects of Fear of Mordor, Jailor of Cirith Gurat, and the Uruk of Mordor more often, which is bad. Try to focus on this side-quest if you can, since it only takes 5 progress to clear. You can also try and cancel attacks and deal with enemies with direct damage if you don’t want to deal with the possibility of a more damaging attack and a nasty shadow card. This side-quest usually takes priority over the others for me.
- Captured!: This is the only new side-quest for this scenario and it has you capture an ally of your choice to the side-quest. Since you are not picking this ally at random, you can select a utility ally that has done their job already this round and the side-quest is pretty tame. Because that is all it does, it captures one ally per player and puts it underneath this stage. Should no allies be revealed by the when revealed effect of this card, then it is discarded and replaced by another card. Exploring this side-quest will allow you to rescue the attached ally and gets you to trigger the Forced effect where each player may lower their threat by the cost of the ally that they themselves rescued. Note that this stage MUST be explored before advancing stages 1 and 3. This is because those stages cannot be advanced until after all allies have been rescued, which includes the ones underneath this stage. You can also benefit off of this side-quest by capturing an exhausted Gandalf, which then comes back to you in a later round, exhausted. But he also allows you to lower your threat by (an additional) 5 for his cost. So you can either go for an ally that is worthless and you don’t mind losing (Galion), or chuck a high cost ally underneath this side-quest for a larger drop in threat when you rescue them. Either way, you have to make 5 progress on this side-quest to free them, and you’ll get them back in the same way as if the allies were captured underneath a location or an enemy.
Tips and Tricks
- Bring some Harad characters. This allows Abaan to use his effect on someone other than himself. I have found that the +1 defence is great for Jubayr, as the enemies in this scenario hit pretty hard. Kahliel is also a great hero to bring to this scenario, even beyond the thematic reasons. Remember that Abaan’s ability lasts until the end of the round and you might even get multiple uses out of his buffs.
- Buff willpower on your characters. This allows them to defend against enemies more effectively and allows you to progress through the stages when you might be low on questing characters that got captured. The Arkenstone, Fellowship, Sword That was Broken, and faction specific buffs are all great for this.
- All locations in this scenario have passive abilities while they are in the staging area. This calls for travelling each round and perhaps exploring locations in the staging area when you are allowed to.
- Bring cards that negate Travel costs, as a large percentage of cards have travel costs. The Hidden Way, West Road Traveller, Thror’s Map, and Ghan-buri-Ghan are a great tool to get through these locations faster.
- Be sure to include at least some allies in your deck for this quest. While there is a lot of ally hate in this quest, having ally cards in your deck prevents you from losing your entire deck at the start of the game.
- Other than the setup, it can be beneficial for you to never play an ally. That way they don’t get captured, and a ton of treacheries end up doing nothing. This does put you at an action disadvantage since you are only using heroes, but I wonder if a Forth, the Three Hunters! deck could win this quest if you include a single ally for setup and discard it after it is rescued.
- Watch out with your threat in this scenario, there are several encounter cards that will try and raise your threat with small increments but often. This can lead to you passing the engagement cost of the enemies sooner than you might be ready for it. Bring threat reduction for the team, as you will otherwise be swarmed when you progress to stage 3. Spirit ally Elfhelm is especially a good choice for this quest, if you manage to keep him from being captured.
- While you might think that Tactics Bilbo would be a great hero for this scenario with all these Guarded objectives in play, he is best left in your binder for this one. Stage 1 provides immunity to enemies with guarded objectives, and stage 2 blocks damage to enemies in the staging area altogether. Stage 3 will be a better time for Bilbo, but you will have to drag him for the first 2 stages without him doing much. You will be better off taking another hero in his place.
- Since the encounter deck tries to throw a lot of enemies at you during stage 3, it might be wise to remove some enemies from the encounter deck and put them in the victory display. This can reduce the number of enemies that engage for stage 3A’s effect. Out of the Wild, None Return, and Scout Ahead are all valid options for this, and will benefit all players.
This quest is not so popular with the community due to its length and difficulty. Still, here are some playthrough videos that will hopefully provide you with some entertainment.
- True solo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbMH3nJtlgM
- Three players: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuL4VCNeb40
That concludes this scenario where you have managed to run away from the Orc stronghold. The rest of this cycle will be completed in a random order, so I cannot say for certain what quests will follow next. But be on the lookout for The Mumakil and Crossings of Poros soon!