It is often that newer players ask what packs they should buy to get a strong base of their collection without spending too much on the game initially. This article will guide those players to a selection of expansions that either have amazing player cards in them, or have some of the best experiences in terms of quests. This list can also be used by veteran players who are looking to pick up additional copies of expansions in order to get more copies of staple cards for their collection. There are a fair number of cards that you would want to include in all of your decks, so perhaps buying a second copy of an Adventure Pack will be worth it.
This list was made with the help of over 20 community members who filled in the poll I sent out a few weeks ago. The list is not a complete buying guide to each pack though. For that, please go and check out this guide at Tales from the Cards: https://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/new-player-buying-guide/
This list will only include the packs that you should prioritize for the great player cards or for the amazing scenario in the pack. I will cover the expansions by type, going from Deluxe, to AP, to Saga, and finally Print on Demand. This list assumes that the player already has bought their initial Core Set, which is required to even start the game.
Also, please remember that this list is based off of the opinions of community members and might not allign with your own opinions. Please respect these opinions and you can leave your suggestions for adjustments on the list in the comments below. Should your additions to this list be found on the same level as the packs on this list, then I will include them. In the meantime, the airquotes in the title should cover the fact that this list is opinion-based.
These boxes will always include more new player cards than Adventure packs but are also must-buys to gain access to the scenarios in their cycle. You cannot play a quest from an Adventure pack without its accompanying cycle. So if you bought a few APs from this list and are looking for a Deluxe, then prioritize the Deluxe that goes with the Adventure Pack.
The Deluxe boxes also feature 2 new heroes and 3 scenarios each, making this a product that you will get more playtime with than a standard AP. Based on the cards in each box and the scenarios included, these are the Deluxe expansions you will want to pick up.
Second Core Set
Wait, hold on, don’t buy this one right away. While you should already have a Core Set that got you into the game, you might consider buying a second one. After all, it grants you access to 3 and 4 player games and gives you more tokens. But you are not getting anything new, which is why I would suggest going for any other Deluxe first (except maybe Heirs of Numenor). Once your collection has grown however, it is advisable to get a second copy of a Core Set, especially if you can get it second hand or for cheap.
A second Core Set grants you more multiplayer options if you want to play with more friends. However, the main reason players tend to buy second Core Sets is for access to more copies of staple cards that got introduced in this box. These include:
- A Test of Will
- Steward of Gondor
- Hasty Stroke
- Sneak Attack
- Unexpected Courage
- Celebrian’s Stone
- Henamarth Riversong
- and many others
These cards are vital to your victories and just one Core Set doesn’t give you a full set of these cards. Even 2 Core Sets won’t give you enough copies of each card, but at least you are doubling the amount of staple cards in your collection. The second Core Set also gives you the original 12 heroes again, which can be used to have 2 decks ready at the same time without having to swap over heroes. The two decks can’t be in the same game together because of the uniqueness rule, but it still streamlines the deckbuilding aspect of the game.
The second Core Set also grants you extra copies of encounter cards. These cannot be used on top of the set you already have, but hang on to these encounter cards for now. The Ered Mithrin cycle has two scenarios that use encounter sets from the Core Set as well, meaning that you can use these duplicates for those scenarios without having to go back to your box of Shadows of Mirkwood encounter decks. This makes it somewhat easier for people with modular storage.
Speaking of storage, if you manage to grab an old style Core Set (the larger box), you get some more space to store your cards in. These boxes served me well for storing my initial collection until I outgrew them. 2 Core Set boxes allows you to use one for player cards, and one for scenarios.
Despite all of this, I will say again that you should not get a second Core Set as your first purchase after your first one. There is more value in buying other expansions with that money since you’ll be getting different cards and different scenarios you can play. The Core Set is also one of the most expensive boxes in the game, and with the money you could get a different Deluxe and an AP. This more than doubles the number of quests you can play, and can give you the start of some decks with synergy.
For most players, this is the first actual Deluxe box they buy. And for good reason too. While the cards in the box might not be everyone’s favourite, they are still powerful and provide a good base for a Dwarf deck. If you have also gotten some of the Hobbit Saga boxes and you got Return to Mirkwood, then you already have a Dwarf deck that is capable of winning most quests. This Deluxe box adds some glue to the archetype with Bifur, who is a great hero even outside of the Dwarf decks.
Other great cards in this box include the Zigil Miner, which has been the main resource generator for Spirit. The Erebor Recordkeeper is also a great ally for Dwarf decks, as it allows them to get to the 5 Dwarf threshold a lot faster with a simple 1 cost ally that still quests for a lot with Dain Ironfoot.
The cards in this Deluxe box are solid, but if you are not interested in Dwarf decks or have grown tired of them, then there is still a reason to get this box. The three quests in this Deluxe expansion are amazing for testing decks against. Into the Pit is my standard decktesting quest and can still be a challenge if you are not careful. For those of us that are more into killing a lot of Goblin enemies, the Seventh Level gives you plenty of that. This makes that quest also good to test direct damage decks against, or mono-Tactics decks that rely on Legolas to make progress. Flight from Moria introduces a threat to your decks that cannot be overcome, resulting in a deperate dash to the exit of the mines before you are crushed by the Balrog.
Other than the quests in the Khazad-Dum box itself, the Deluxe also opens up the chance to collect and play the 6 adventure packs from the Dwarrowdelf cycle. As I will discuss in a minute, the packs of that cycle contain some powerful cards and have a few very enjoyable quests. This is the key to one of the best cycles in the game, so picking up this box will be logical next step after the Core Set and the first cycle of Adventure Packs.
The Grey Havens
While the other Deluxes before this one can be a good entry point for the game, the Grey Havens is the first one after the Khazad-Dum box that comes highly recommended. In combination with a few other packs, this box can allow you to make a solid Noldor deck, which is a more modern archetype to play with. Outside of further developing the Noldor trait, this box also grants the players control over Cirdan the Shipwright, who is another 4 willpower hero who grants some accelerated selective card draw for Spirit. This box also gives you one of the Elven Rings of power, Narya, which is meant for Cirdan or for Gandalf. This ring gives you some good action advantage, as well as boosted stats on allies.
Besides Noldor related cards, this Deluxe box also helps location control decks with the inclusion of Explorer’s Almanac, Mariner’s Compass, and the Evening Star, which all combine very well to clear locations in the staging area. But the biggest archetype developed in this box is still the Noldor one, getting 2 good heroes, a couple of decent allies, and their cost-reducer.
This box opens up 9 of the best quests in the game to this day (according to the opinion of the community through various polls). The quests in this box are already pretty great, with an introduction to both the sailing mechanic, and the double sided locations. The box also includes a very difficult third scenario that will keep you busy for a while. But the box also opens up the Dream-chaser cycle which contains some of the most popular quests in the game. Try to get the APs of this cycle as soon as you get the Grey Havens Deluxe box, and you will have plenty to play with for a long time.
The Wilds of Rhovanion
If you want a deck that you can pick up right out of the box and add a few Core Set cards to to make a powerful deck, then this Deluxe is for you. This expansion started the Dale trait, which up to that point hadn’t received any love. The cards in this pack combine to make a powerful Dale deck right out of the box. It will need a few Core Set cards to get to 50 cards for a legal deck, but this expansion is probably the best self-contained box out of them all. This makes it a very easy expansion to pick up right after your Core Set, and has a few other advantages as well.
The quests in this Deluxe box might however be somewhat of a letdown for players who only have a Core Set (and maybe the first cycle). The setting of the scenarios in this Deluxe is also the Anduin valley and Mirkwood, with only the third quest taking place in a new setting. This makes 2 of the quests reworked versions of the first 2 quests of the Core Set, which may sound repetitive. This isn’t helped by the fact that these quests use some of the same encounter cards as the Core Set. However, the quests are very different and pose much more of a challenge than the original versions. There surely are parallels here, but the quests do stand on their own.
If the player cards in the Deluxe weren’t enough to convince you to get this cycle, then maybe the cards in the Adventure packs of this cycle will help with that. Not only did we get some of the bigger names of the legendarium in this cycle, we also got very powerful Guarded cards and further development for the Dale, Beorning, Hobbit, and Creature traits. The quests in this cycle are also great, though some may drag on a little longer than they should. Getting this cycle also puts you more in line with the current meta of the game. It also allows you to start and catch up with the current products being released if you move on from this cycle to the next one.
Two player limited edition starter
In 2018, FFG came with a two player collectors edition bundle to promote both this game and the digital format in the same package. While the bundle is very expensive, if you are interested in both game, then it might be worth picking up. You can also look to sell off a few items in the bundle to others to have the card game components left over.
Once you have the box itself, you will find that it contains 2 fully crafted decks that you can pick up and play with even if you do not have a Core Set. The decks aren’t the best around, but they do contain some powerful cards that are worth having more copies of. The decks also introduced 2 new heroes, which are now being released in the nineth cycle of the game. You get a new style of layout on all cards, setting them apart from the rest of your collection.
The thing you actually want to get this box for are the two quests inside. While there is one quest less in this box than the usual Deluxe boxes, both quests are excellent for newer players. Both are used for introducing new players to the game and for decktesting. The Oath isn’t very difficult but has more encounter synergy than Passage through Mirkwood from the Core Set. The second quest in the box, the Caves of Nibin-Dum, cranks up the difficulty, but not to insane levels. Both quests are beatable with the cards you get with the Collectors edition, and both quests won’t be available in printed form any other official way. This is the only way to play those quests outside of going on OCTGN or printing the cards for yourself.
If you are looking to get a second Core Set, try and get this box instead. This also allows you to play the game with 4 players, and fills out some of the staples you might want extra copies of. The 2 new quests are also a better purchase than the encounter decks of the Core Set again, which won’t give you any more of a challenge. However, since this bundle can only be bought via FFG directly, the chances are slim that you will get this expansion for cheap, especially if you are living outside of the US and have to pay nearly double for shipping. The expansion is nice, and should you ever get the chance to buy one for less than $50, then I would advise you go for it! (Or don’t and tell me where you get the deal so that I can complete my collection).
If you don’t have enough money to buy a Deluxe set, or if you already have the accompanying Deluxe, you may want to look into getting an Adventure Pack with a fun quest and great cards. The following packs are very much worth your money.
Note: You cannot play the quest of an adventure pack when you do not yet have the accompanying Deluxe box. Make sure you have the bigger box first before buying these Adventure Packs. The exceptions to this rule are the Shadows of Mirkwood Adventure Packs, which can be played with a Core Set.
Shadows of Mirkwood cycle
I have mentioned these expansions a few times now, and will advise new players who don’t have that much money to spend on expansions to look into getting these 6 Adventure packs first. This is a relatively cheap purchase, but it will provide you with new scenarios and more player cards that you can use right away.
Since these adventure packs use the encounter cards from the Core Set, you don’t need to buy any other expansion to play these scenarios (assuming you have the Core Set). The quality of these scenarios are a bit hit and miss, and mostly misses, but the scenarios are iconic and it shows you how the game has grown over the years. Compare these scenarios to those of the recent cycles, and you will find that those are more streamlined than these. Still, the scenarios were designed to be beatable with just the player cards of the cycle and the Core Set, so you will be able to have some fun with these scenario packs.
The player cards in these packs are also a must for anyone who is looking for a foundation for their collection. The Dunedain signals help you with distributing stats across heroes, and the Songs help you to more easily pay for expensive cards in multi-sphere decks. On top of these cards, each pack also includes Eagle allies, and there are some staples to be found in this cycle as well, such as Dain Ironfoot, A Burning Brand, and Fast Hitch.
There is no need to buy this game in order of release, but to those interested in the older days of this game, pick up the packs from this cycle and you will be able to attempt a progression style playthrough of the game.
The Watcher in the Water
We all remember the fight against the slimy Watcher in the Water from the movies, and this quest tries to replicate that fight. This was done before the game would eventually tackle this fight again during the Saga’s, but this quest is laser focused on the fight. The enemies are mostly Tentacles that you need to defeat in order to get to the head of the beast. Alternatively, you can also try and uncover the secret password to opening the Doors of Durin, which is a somewhat controversial mechanic.
But the real reason you want to pick up this pack is for the player cards. This was the so-called “Aragorn pack”, where we got our first second version of a hero. Aragorn is still a decent hero and his effect is really powerful even to this day. The reason this pack is usually referred to as the Aragorn pack is that the pack also includes two new attachments that can be used on him. We would see more of these kind of attachments in the future, but this pack mentions Aragorn by name a lot.
The other cards in this pack are also staples, ranging from one of the best allies in the game (Arwen Undomiel) to probably the best Secrecy card (Resourceful). Dwarf decks also get help with Legacy of Durin, and Elrond’s Counsel is one of the most popular events for any deck containing a Noldor character. There are a few cards in this pack that are not really worth it, but that is massively offset by the great cards here, which makes this a great pack to buy for newer players. Remeber that you do have to own the Khazad-Dum Deluxe box to play the scenario.
Foundations of Stone
If Watcher in the Water is considered to be the “Aragorn pack”, then the Foundations of Stone expansion can be considered the “Glorfindel pack”. This hero was top-tier for a long time because of his very low starting threat. It is still the second lowest threat of any hero in the game, except for Smeagol. But back in the day, this hero was huge and found in nearly every deck that tried to be the best around. On top of Glorfindel and his amazing stats, the pack also includes Light of Valinor, which is a very helpful tool for Noldor heroes (and especially Spirit Glorfindel) to commit to the quest ánd have something else to do during the round. This attachment countered the negative textbox on the hero in this pack, making it an auto-include as well. In more recent times, the Light is still used for many Noldor and Silvan heroes to get them to remain ready when committed to the quest.
This pack also introduced Asfaloth, which can place progress on locations every round. Attach this mount to Glorfindel, and you can start sniping locations out of the staging area which relieves the players from a lot of threat up in the staging area. This mount attachment (and maybe Northern Tracker) is the reason that locations got a buff in quest points and more immunity after this cycle. The other Lore card in this pack is also fantastic and still in many decks this day. Daeron’s Runes is a free event that allows you to draw 2 cards and discard one card from your hand. This doesn’t have to be picked from the two you just drew, but can be from your entire hand. This allows players to throw away extra copies of unique cards in their hand, and provides them with more options.
And we haven’t even covered the quest in this pack yet! Obviously you will need the Khazad-Dum box for this quest, since the first 3 stages only use encounter cards from the Deluxe. Only after the halfway point are you going to start to encounter the new Nameless enemies while you try to get back to the higher levels of the mines. This quest is fantastic for decktesting, multiplayer games, and introducing new players to the game. It ranks in the top 10 and probably top 5 of the favourite quests of all time, and is very much worth picking up early.
Shadow and Flame
The final pack of the Dwarrowdelf cycle gave us our revenge against the Balrog that we escaped during Flight from Moria. This is a boss-battle that is very rare to the game, where the enemy far outmatches you and starts in play right away. Your task during this fight is to push the Balrog into a canyon, so that you can properly finish it off during the Saga campaign. Still, this scenario is far from easy, but does help players a little by starting them at 0 threat at the beginning of the game. This allows for Secrecy cards to shine, and for more expensive heroes to be in the same deck while keeping a low threat.
This pack is the “Elrond pack”, which gave us the powerhouse that is Elrond. His healing ability and the ability to play allies from any sphere make him a common sight in modern decks. We also got our hands on our first Ring of Power, Vilya. Combined with Elrond, the two cards can play any card from the top of your deck at no cost. This has led to some powerful decks, including one that can beat every scenario in the game. Other than the Elrond cards in this pack, we also get Master of the Forge, which is a staple in most decks that run a lot of attachments. This includes Woodmen, Trap, and Armoury style decks. We also got cards that lets us attack enemies in the staging area, and Dwarves got a buff to their hitpoints with Hardy Leadership in this pack.
These three adventure packs of the Dwarrowdelf cycle make for a very powerful collection of cards that still hold their own to this day. Getting these packs early gives you a set of great heroes, good buffs for the Dwarves you got in the Deluxe, and plenty of other strong cards to help out. The other packs of this cycle are also good, though their heroes aren’t as powerful. Completing this cycle does give you access to Warden of Healing, which by itself is nearly worth the price of the Long Dark expansion.
The Steward’s Fear
Stepping away from the Dwarrowdelf cycle, the developers were still wanting to get more strong cards in a single pack. This results in what is possibly the pack with the highest quality in cards overall. Like, there is not a single card in here that is never used, which some of the Dwarrowdelf packs do suffer from. But let me start at the beginning.
This pack is the “Outlands pack”, and Outlands is one of the strongest archetypes in the game, especially at the time and throughout the rest of the cycle. This pack gave us 4 Outlands allies, each boosting a different stat whenever they are in play. We also get Hirluin the Fair in this pack, who gets the boost as well, making him a very strong hero when you get the allies out on the table. His ability to pay for Outlands allies of any sphere is also the glue that the archetype needed to get all allies out quickly.
The other cards in the pack are also fantastic. Gondorian Shield should have been in the Deluxe, but is certainly still a staple. The cheap +2 defence on Gondor heroes has carried a lot of games over the years. The neutral event A Good Harvest is a great card for getting some off-sphere cards in play when playing a mono-sphere deck or if you want to simply play Steward of Gondor in a deck without a Leadership hero. Gaining Strength and Mithrandir’s Advise are both great tools for accelerating resources and card draw respectively. The only card that doesn’t see a ton of play at the time was the Ring of Barahir. But with recent increases in the number of Artifact attachments, even that card is great!
And then there is the quest. This one is another quest that ranks in the top tier of quests in this game, with it often being an example of a quest that has a ton of replayability, but also some brutal combos. The quest even got a second version with Danger in Dorwinion being very much inspired by this quest. You will be asked to hunt down a conspiracy to kill Denethor, but you uncover a much larger plot, setting you up for a cycle-long story in the lands of Anorien and Ithilien.
Trouble in Tharbad
While players looking to improve their Silvan decks will also want to pick up The Dunland Trap, Trouble in Tharbad should be their next purchase afterwards. This pack makes the list for both its quest and the excellent player cards, so let’s discuss the cards first.
As I mentioned, this is another Silvan-heavy pack, which is common in the Ringmaker cycle. This pack contains a very good event-fetching ally, the Silvan trait’s cost reducer, the main defender for the trait until much later, another return event, a healing option, and an excellent Lore hero. Haldir of Lorien is great, even outside of a Silvan deck. He allows you to attack any enemy as long as you didn’t engage an enemy this round. This makes him ideal for players who want to keep away from combat, but still help their fellow players out a little. Lembas is also in this pack and is often included in decks that contain at least one Elf. It both heals the attached hero significantly, and readies them, making it ideal for defenders to take multiple defences per round.
Other than Silvan stuff, the pack also contains Herald of Anorien, a Doomed character that allows you to quickly get more allies into play. This is very useful for Swarm-style gameplay. The pack also gave us Gwaihir, our first Eagle character since the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. While Gwaihir isn’t very good if you don’t have other Eagles in your collection, he is a familiar face to many players, plus you are bound to have some more Eagles in your collection soon, as a new player. The Spirit cards in this pack are on the weaker side though, but can be useful if you include them in your deck because you don’t have that many options.
The quest is one of my personal favourites, as it allows for having a lot of high threat heroes, as well as Secrecy stuff during the later stages of the game. Trouble in Tharbad has you running and hiding from Orcs across rooftops and buildings while you lower your threat with the progress you make. Sure, Nalir is a terrible objective ally, but dragging him across town is better than letting the Orcs get him. The quest is relatively easy, but perfect for newer players to the game. The only problem is that you will need the Voice of Isengard expansion to play the quest, and that Deluxe isn’t recommended to newer players. Still, if you want to explore the Silvan trait, get this pack early!
Another great pack in the Ringmaker cycle is Celebrimbor’s Secret. Not only do I play this quest a lot for decktesting, but the theme of the quest is also quite nice. You are trying to find a ring mould amidst the rubble of Ost-in-Edhil. But you have to be faster than the Orcs, else you will suffer a lot of Scour effects which will make the scenario significantly more difficult. The quest is well paced and concludes with a nice little boss-fight. The time mechanic in this quest isn’t as terrible as the other quests in the cycle, as long as you can maintain a clear boardstate.
In terms of player cards, this pack can be considered to be the “Galadriel pack”. Not only does this pack include her, it also features her ring Nenya. Without Nenya, Galadriel is just a passive hero, providing card draw and action advantage, but with Nenya you make her a dual-sphere hero, as well as allowing her to use her 4 willpower. Galadriel is a pretty popular hero in many decks, and is found often in Silvan decks. But for general decks, she is still fantastic, allowing access to 2 spheres, offering threat stabalization, and drawing cards.
Besides Galadriel, the pack also includes her Handmaiden, which is an important Silvan ally to the trait. She offers good willpower and threat reduction, making her a common ally even outside Galadriel or Silvan decks. The Mirror of Galadriel is also in this pack, which can be a very controversial card again. Yes, you can draw a card 10 cards deep into your deck, but you run the risk of discarding the same card from your hand. The Mirror is a very fun card to play with though, and is exclusive to Galadriel. Besides those cards, there are some more Silvan cards in this pack, including some ally recursion. The pack also introduces new players to the Ent trait, with the Wandering Ent being a generic Ent, offering good stats all around, but at the cost of his first turn being worthless. The Tactics cards in this pack are less popular, but have their places in the card pool. But those shouldn’t be the reason why you pick up this pack. Galadriel and her toys are the main reason, and you get a great quest on top of that.
The Dread Realm
Out of the entire Angmar Awakened cycle, the Dread Realm deserves special mention. The quest isn’t really all that exciting, but the player cards of this pack are an absolute must for Noldor decks and most other decks as well. The Spirit cards in this pack are some of the best ones we’ve seen so far, and really tie in with the Grey Havens Deluxe box that followed after. The quest itself is not really the climax of the cycle, but allows you to finally wrap up your quest in Angmar before heading down to Mithlond. The quest does focus a lot on Condition attachments and has a neat Reanimated Dead mechanic that turns your own deck against you. But it isn’t the highlight of the cycle or this pack.
The highlight of the pack is the hero, Arwen Undomiel, who up to now was only in the game in her ally form. While the ally form is great, many debates have been had on whether or not her hero version is better. This is one case where the uniqueness rule is really important, else people could easily play both of these versions in the same deck. The effect on Arwen is pretty simple, but oh so effective. You can discard a card from your hand for her ability to add a resource to any Noldor hero or to Aragorn. This provides both resource generation and resource smoothing in a Noldor deck. It can also make sure that you can pay for 4 cost Spirit cards right away if you are running a mono-Spirit deck with Arwen. This ability works well with the Noldor’s archetype of playing cards from your discard pile or discarding specific cards from your hand. She is one of the staple heroes even to this day, and will be a great addition to your card pool.
The other good cards in this pack include Elven-Light, which is a great target for Arwen’s ability to discard. This event can only be played from your discard pile, and will offer card draw in Spirit, which is something that the sphere doesn’t normally have a lot of. The pack also brings out more synergy between the Noldor and the Dunedain archetypes, with Tale of Tinuviel being a very powerful card when timed right. And if you feel like you didn’t have enough heroes to start with, now you can have one additional hero with your starting lineup by promoting a unique ally to hero status with Sword-thain. This generates you more resources, and allows the former ally to equip attachments only meant for heroes. This pack started off a very effective archetype that had to be nerfed soon after, since the combination of the cards in this pack with another Spirit hero proved to make it possible to keep playing free allies over and over again. But even without all of those cards in your collection, this pack should be high on your list.
Flight of the Stormcaller
While all of the packs in this cycle are worth picking up, the very first one deserces special mention. The Flight of the Stormcaller is famous for several features, so let’s start with the quest. The quest in this pack is unique, as you are chasing down the enemy through several quest stages. With 2 ways to win and a new way to lose, this scenario ranks high in the lists of best quests in this game. Chasing down the Stormcaller and fighting off an armada of pirates is a lot of fun, and the quest can either be over in 3 turns, or result in a long chase sequence, followed by a boss-fight at every stage. The replayability of this quest is pretty ok, there isn’t a lot of variety in the quest mechanics, but the players can attempt to beat the scenario in different ways, offering a new challenge.
When it comes to the player cards in this pack, it is difficult to know where to begin. So let’s start with the hero of this pack. This expansion features our third version of Denethor, and the second actually usable version of him. Denethor is unique, as he allows you to get going much faster at turn one as he starts with 2 additional resources during setup. This allows you to play more cards or more expensive cards during the early stages of the game, which gives you a much needed boost during some high-paced quests like the one in this pack. Denethor is still a staple today and he can also be used to splash in some Leadership in your decks if you need to. His second ability allows you to move resources away from Denethor to other Gondor heroes, giving you some good smoothing of resources and more flexibility with the cards you play. If you don’t happen to have another Gondor hero in your line-up, don’t worry. This pack gives you In Service of the Steward, which grants anyone the Gondor trait, opening up this resource smoothing with any hero in the game (except Beorn and Smeagol). Don’t forget that Steward of Gondor also grants the Gondor trait, though the attached hero probably won’t need more resources from Denethor at that point.
Other than those cards, this pack has some highlights in other spheres as well. Lore gains Heed the Dream, which is a great replacement of Daeron’s Runes or Deep Knowledge if you don’t have those cards or if they are in other decks. This event allows you to dig a little deeper in your deck for more selective card draw, which can help you find the key combo pieces for your deck. Spirit gains the ally version of Glorfindel, which can replace the hero in Noldor lineups. Even outside Noldor decks, this ally is very useful, as he can be played from the discard pile, allowing you to resurrect him if he is killed. A built in readying effect and great stats help this ally out a lot. Noldor decks will be able to afford him easier with To the Sea! To the Sea! which is in the Deluxe that you need for this quest to be played.
Skipping over the rest of the Dream-chaser cycle, in which all packs are great but no single one really stands out, we move on to the Haradrim cycle. This cycle introduced the Harad trait, and most of what you need is right here in this pack. The pack contains Kahliel, the only Harad hero and he is able to pay for Harad characters of any sphere. A good thing too, as the other unique Harad characters in the game are not in Leadership. These three allies are often called “the Big Three” and are the cornerstones of the Harad synergy. But splash them into any deck, and they will do great. Jubayr is an amazing defender for Spirit, and is often used in mono-Spirit builds to have at least some measure of defence on the board. Firyal has a lot of willpower and has a built in scrying effect that can save you from the top card of the encounter deck at no additional cost. Yazan has some more competition in his sphere, but beginning mono-Tactics players might want to pick him up if they don’t have allies like Legolas yet. The Harad trait is given an extra boost with Kahliel’s Headdress, which is both willpower and recursion for the archetype. Much like the Steward’s Fear, this pack contains most of what you need for a basic Harad deck, with the other packs in the cycle providing more tools for the deck.
In terms of other cards in this pack, some are very useful, like Wait No Longer. This allows you to take an enemy from the top 5 cards of the encounter deck and engage it before staging, and saves you a card during the staging step. In solo, this can mean that the encounter deck doesn’t reveal anything for the round, making questing a lot easier. In multiplayer cards like these are also appreciated. Dwarf Pipe is also nice if you are going to go with the Dwarven Mining route, though new players are advised to try the Dwarf swarm archetype first, since that is better contained in a few packs.
The quest in this pack is fantastic, as you are searching the jungles of Harad for Mumaks to capture. This has a lot of replayability and isn’t as difficult as other scenarios in the game, despite the Mumaks that you will have to encounter. There are some dangerous cards in this pack though, with tigers and giant centipedes being quite a problem if you aren’t expecting it. The setting of the quest is also very unique, and the enemies are something other than Orcs or Haradrim, which is a nice change. The quest is very well paced and can be used to introduce newer players to the game. Be sure to pack some weapons though, as the Mumaks won’t go down easy.
Fire in the Night
Halfway through the Ered Mithrin cycle we had our first encounter with Dagnir, of whom we have slain 2 dragon-children from by the time. Now she comes to take her fury out on us, who happen to be in a wooden town… Let’s just say that the odds are not in your favor at the start of this scenario. But the scenario is very different from most other scenarios in that you have a random quest deck that pumps out a side-quest every round. This provides debuffs and extra rules for the game, and it is up to you to start clearing these side-quests. Do this often enough, and the Dragon start to take notice of you, which is when the real fight starts. All the while, Dagnir is trying to destroy the town you are in, and Orcs and Goblins are trying to pin you down. The theme of this quest is amazing, and it is only helped further by the great artwork on the encounter cards. Make no mistake though, this quest is tough. You have to be able to take on 2 dragon attacks per round if you want to do it well, so players may want to wait until they have a good deck before picking up this pack.
The big draw of the pack besides the epic fight with a dragon other than Smaug are the player cards in this pack. At long last we finally got our hands on the first card with Thranduil on it. This hero is a proper defender in the Silvan trait, which is something that the trait was lacking up to now. He comes with a very useful ability to make quad-sphere Silvan decks possible and even has plenty of toys in this pack to get more uses out of him. The Elvenking is a readying attachment for any Silvan character, opening up easy readying to Legolas or Haldir for more attack, or more defences with Thranduil himself. The cost of taking back an ally to your hand is made easier with the 0-cost Galion ally, who is useless after his first round in play anyway. The pack also contains another event that returns Silvan allies to your hand, making sure you can keep recycling them for their abilities. Other than Silvan cards, this pack contains Orcrist, a guarded attachment that is a great Weapon for many heroes. The pack also contains Thalion, which holds special status in the community as the art is inspired by the lead designer at the time. All in all, this pack is great for those looking for a fun challenge, and for those looking to expand their Silvan decks beyond the Ringmaker cycle.
The Fate of Wilderland
The final pack in the Ered Mithrin cycle contained one of the most-wanted heroes of the community, Radagast. Sure, he had an ally version in the very first cycle, but that one is not as good (and that is putting it lightly) as the hero in this pack! Radagast is the center of the Creature sub-archetype, and mainly the Eagle trait. He and his staff make it possible to play Eagle characters much faster than you normally could. Players who want to expand their Eagle deck beyond the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle should definitely look at this expansion next.
Beyond Eagles, there are many other creatures in Middle Earth, and this pack tries to give you a few more options for Radagast to play with. Loyal Hound and Messenger Raven are great allies to help Radagast in his deck, and offer their own abilities as well. The pack also includes Mithril Shirt as a Guarded card, which is not the best of the bunch, but is still a useful attachment for your defender. You also get a pretty good Tactics ally with the Bywater Shirriff, who can be a 2-cost 2 willpower ally in Tactics, which is rare. Reforged is a great little event for being able to play attachments of any sphere from your discard pile as long as you have a Spirit hero and enough resources for the event. This allows some great combos. You will need a way to assure certain attachments make it to your discard pile, but the Noldor synergy, the Dwarven Mining archetype and Core Set Eowyn can help you with that. The other cards will require some slightly more specific decks, but still offer great value.
The scenario itself may not be as impactful to players who haven’t played the entire cycle, but the quest is a lot faster than some other ones in the Ered Mithrin cycle. It is very combat orientated, and can result in a victory as quickly as stage 1 if you are lucky. The quest is a tug-of-war between the goblins and your fellowship, and you will have to kill at least 5 enemies before you can try and take down their boss. All the while, the goblins are trying to advance the quest and you lose if the thrid stage is advanced. This timer really puts you under pressure, making this quest pretty difficult if you either get too many enemies, or too few. Still, it is not impossible to defeat, even for new players. Just remember that this quest does require the Wilds of Rhovanion Deluxe box to play.
To those that want to follow the narrative of the books more closely, the Saga expansions have you covered. I will go ahead and recommend all of them based on quests alone, but these boxes also include some very strong player cards and often have a synergy in the box. These boxes contain some of the most important heroes, and should be high on your buying list. I will not mention the two Hobbit boxes in detail, as their quests aren’t as good as they could be. But for any player looking to get their Dwarf decks to the next level, both boxes are great for that archetype.
The Black Riders
What better way to start your Saga collection of the Lord of the Rings campaign than with the very first Saga expansion for that line. The Black Riders is easily one of the best purchases for new players as it too contains a self-contained deck inside the box, much like the Wilds of Rhovanion Deluxe. Only this time, the box contains everything you need to start with the Hobbit trait. The box contains 4 new Hobbit heroes, 3 of which aren’t Fatty Bolger, so there is worth in that. The rest of the cards heavily focus on the Hobbit trait, making for a solid Hobbit deck with just this box and the Core Set. To further improve this deck, you can also use some cards from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, as well as other expansions like The Mountain of Fire and Mount Gundabad for more cards for the Hobbit deck. This makes the trait very self-contained at first, though you can explore different hero lineups and sphere distributions if you want.
While the Hobbit trait is focused on in this expansion, some cards work well even outside of a Hobbit deck. Sam Gamgee is one of the easiest heroes to throw in any deck that needs a Leadership hero, as he has a built in readying effect and decent stats for his low threat. Other great cards include the Dagger of Westernesse, which is a common tool for killing enemies with higher engagement costs. With the recent Woodmen deck, this expansion is also a must, as it contains Elf-Stone, which is a common attachment in those kind of decks.
Besides the great player cards and the mostly self-contained deck, this box also features 3 scenarios. These can be played through normally, but also start the Lord of the Rings Campaign, for which additional rules and cards apply. The rules of the campaign are all explained in the box itself. But that does also explain why there is a fifth hero and a fifth sphere in this set. This box introduced the Fellowship sphere and gave us one of the better Frodo heroes. These cards can only be used in Campaign mode though. The quests closely follow the narrative of the Hobbits’ journey to Rivendell and the foes they meet on the way. The first scenario has you hiding from the black riders, while trying to escape to Bree. The second scenario goes from Bree to Weathertop, where you face most of the Nazgul at the same time. The last scenario is a sprint to the finish while Frodo’s life is fading away. This box does not include the Old Forest or Fog on the Barrow Downs chapters, but those scenarios are available through POD scenarios and can be slotted into the campaign for more Boons!
All in all, this is one of the best expansions to get for new players. The quests are recognisable, the heroes familiar, and the player cards are very strong. This box does go out of print often, probably since it is so popular. Get this box if you can, and afterwards you can decide whether or not you want to continue the Saga line of expansions. Not all future boxes are as good as this one though.
The Flame of the West
But I did want to include another Saga box on this list, as the player cards in these boxes feel stronger than those we get in APs. The Flame of the West covers the journey of Aragorn and company during the first half of the Return of the King books. The scenarios will have you traverse the Paths of the Dead, where phantoms haunt your steps and try to raise your threat. With the Army of the Dead under your control, you save Pelargir in your next quest from the Corsairs of Umbar. This quest has to be completed as quickly as possible, as the number of rounds matter for the final scenario in the box. That is the Battle of Pelennor Fields, which is an iconic moment in the books and in the genre. The quest is long, but flows with ups and downs in who is in control over the quest. The Rohirrim charge is epic and if you manage to beat the previous quest quickly, Aragorn and his forces help you out during the final battle. This is one of the favourite quests in the game according to polls and has to be experienced by every player at least once. You will have to battle legions of Orcs, Nazgul on wings and on land, Mumaks, and even mini-bosses like the Black Serpent of Harad.
But to help you out in these quests, the box contains some of the best cards we’ve seen so far. Especially when it comes to heroes, few dare to oppose Tactics Eowyn for her claim of the top spot (which will be a future poll). She is a staple among staples and will be a big help in overcoming foes and quests in any scenario. The Spirit version of Beregond is also great, offering both defence and threat reduction across the board. Spirit has got plenty of decent defensive tools for him as well, some of which are included in this box. Allies like Grimbold, Ghan-buri-Ghan, and Prince Imrahil are also common sights in decks these days, so you will get some value out of your player cards apart from the heroes. Tactics and Spirit get the most love in this expansion though, so if you are a Lore or Leadership kind of player, other expansions may prove a better purchase.
Print on Demand scenarios
For every event that has been around since the creation of the game, FFG have created single scenarios that have their own gimmick and can be pretty tough to beat. These POD scenarios are about the same price as an AP, but do not include any player cards. They only include an alternate version of a hero if you attend the events themselves, but buying these through regular retailers only gets you the scenario. The scenarios are a lot of fun though, introducing 12 player modes, competitive modes, a murder mystery version, and even addendums to the Saga. These scenarios aren’t really required for your collection, but if you want to give them a try, here’s a list of the ones you should prioritize.
Murder at the Prancing Pony
Out of all the Print on Demand scenarios, Murder at the Prancing Pony is the only one that really stood out in the polls. While you could argue that the two Saga PODs are important for your campaign, this one is the best self-contained adventure for those looking to get into the POD expansions. This scenario is unique because it sets you in a relatively peaceful environment, but then throws a murder mystery at you to solve. This involves finding out who the killer was (Johnny Goblinfinger 90% of the time), and where the villain is hiding. This is done by eliminating potential killers and locations from a list given. You can search through a deck to cross out any cards you come across, but you might not see all of the cards in that deck, leading to your team guessing at the culprit or his exact location.
This scenario is really engaging as the team must discuss over various options presented to them. They can stall at stages to find more clues, and travelling to different locations opens up more options. This is a team-effort though, and proper communication is required to make sure that the right cards are eliminated from your list, resulting in a final battle where you try to capture and kill the villain.
The quest is pretty tough though, with location lock being a problem that I personally seem to get caught in from time to time. But having to guess at the final stage who the mystery killer is and the realization that you have done great detective work in Middle Earth is a spirit that no other scenario to this day has captured. I will not advise this scenario to new players, as you should put that money into expansions that grow your card pool. But if your collection is of decent size, and you want a fun game night with friends, get this expansion and try to uncover the plot in Bree.
(Again, this expansion does not include any player cards. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are going to get the alt art Legolas in here as well. He was only a part of the Fellowship 2015 event and packs containing him are only found on Ebay.)
If you have advanced beyond the newer player level and are looking for more of a challenge, then you can try your luck against the Nightmare versions of some quests. I will not advise these to newer players, as the normal versions of quests will give you a hard enough time. But if you are dipping your toe into the Nightmare packs, these are ones you will want to pick up first. Note that all Nightmare packs are about half the price of an AP, since they only include 20 Nightmare cards, and no player cards.
Any Shadows of Mirkwood Nightmare pack
Honestly, you cannot really go wrong with any of these. The first cycle of the game was very hit or miss with the quality of the quests. Recent player cards (and even older ones) could make some quests hilariously easy, removing any challenge. These loopholes got patched in the Nightmare versions of the quests, adding more rules and tougher cards to the encounter deck. If you are getting your first Nightmare pack, try getting Passage through Mirkwood. This adds some more of a challenge to that quest, since it is so easy. An exhaust mechanic is introduced that puts you somewhat on your toes for the scenario. It is still relatively easy for Nightmare standards, but serves as a great introduction.
The other packs of this cycle also fix some issues that you might have had during your playthroughs of the normal versions. They are more balanced, but really add some teeth to these scenarios. Like introducing a new stage for Conflict at the Carrock, introducing more enemies for Emyn Muil, and making Gollum an even bigger pain in the behind during Return to Mirkwood. All of these are worth it, although NM Escape from Dol Guldur is pretty much impossible to beat. If you want a quest that will destroy you 50 times out of 50, get that one. That way you will always have a challenge for you to try and beat.
For more buying advise on Nightmare expansions, please check out this buying guide: https://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/nightmare-buying-guide/ . I do not have that much experience with these packs, but I am trying to get around beating the ones I do have.
Thus ends the list of recommendations I have to those of you that are looking to buy some of the most popular and most powerful expansions. I hope this has given you a good start to your collection, and if you have any further questions, feel free to post them to the community, many people are willing to help you out with your questions.