At long, long last I finally got my hands on this first Adventure pack of the final cycle. While the pack was originally scheduled for the end of Q3 and would have been available at Con of the Rings, it took well over 2 months longer to finally find its way into my collection. But now that it is here, I must admit that the wait was worth it. This article will cover my first impressions of the player cards that we got in this pack, including the new Contract. I will also cover my impressions of the scenario itself after a few blind playthroughs.
Thorin III Stonehelm
We knew that this hero was coming thanks to an early spoiler from FFG with the full art promo cards, but it is nice to have this hero in our hands at long last. For those that think they have seen this hero before, you are not wrong. More than a year ago the two player collectors edition got released, and Thorin was one of the new heroes in that box. We did get a confirmation that Thorin and Gildor would appear in other expansions as well at some point. So it is save to say that Gildor Inglorion will be our final Leadership hero in this cycle.
But we are not talking about that now, we are talking about Thorin Stonehelm. He is a Tactics hero for the Dwarven mining synergy. At 9 threat, he is surprisingly cheap for a Tactics hero with 3 attack. 4 hitpoints is also nice, meaning that he will survive a hit in an emergency and can survive direct damage effects without need of healing. But Thorin’s main role will be that of an attacker, since his ability allows you to discard a card from the top of your deck whenever he is declared as an attacker. He then deals one damage to an enemy engaged with you. This can be the final point of damage that you needed on a different enemy that you attacked to kill that one, or it can just penetrate a high defence value on an enemy engaged with you. Since this response is not limited to any phase and can be triggered everytime that Thorin is an attacker, you can abuse this ability with cards that let you attack out of turn. Quick Strike comes to mind, where you can attack one enemy, and deal the damage to another one, potentially taking out 2 enemies before they would attack.
Of course, Thorin’s base stats will need a bit of a buff, but Dwarves have good weapons for this. Dwarven Axe and the Dwarrowdelf Axe come to mind. But this pack also includes a new weapon that Thorin can make use of for more damage on the enemies engaged with you. Readying effects are also very good on Thorin, with Rohan Warhorse being a nice fit. There are a ton of attachments that work well with Thorin, making for a strong hero in attachment heavy decks. I also like that we got our final named Dwarf in the game at long last (except for Dis, would have been cool to have a female Dwarf at one point).
Soldier of Gondor
Honestly, this is one of the cards in the pack that I was most excited about when he got spoiled a little while back. This 2 cost basic Gondor ally slots right into any sort of Gondor Swarm style deck and helps that deck a lot by drawing cards for the deck. The stats are not great, but with Visionary Leadership, Faramir, For Gondor!, and Leadership Boromir, the Soldier can work together with many other allies that you will have on the table. The response on the Soldier allows you to search the top 5 cards of your deck for any Gondor ally and add it to your hand. While this does only trigger when the Soldier enters play, it usually means you replace him in your hand with another Gondor ally for you to play either the same turn or next turn. This sort of selective card draw is something that Gondor was missing and had to include Lore for. But with this ally, you can keep a mono-Leadership Gondor deck and have all the extra’s that come with playing a mono-sphere deck. In my decks, this ally replaced the Guard of the Citadel and the Pelargir Shipcaptain as a 2-cost Gondor ally. The Guard is just an inferior ally thanks to it being a Core Set card, and the Ship-captain’s ability doesn’t see much use in my deck. Of course, you can run this ally alongside the others, but I think that the Gondor deck may be full of allies at that point. Still, that does make sure that the ability of the Soldier hits consistently. After you pass the 40 threat level, the ability on the Soldier basically turns into an Ent-moot/The Eagles are Coming for Gondor allies, where you add all Gondor allies you find in your top 5 cards of the deck to your hand. A great way for the deck to draw into new allies, keeping the board filled with little Gondorians.
We have been getting a lot of Hobbit cards at the start of this cycle, with the Lore ally in this pack being the latest addition to the trait. Like most Hobbit allies, this one does not boast very good stats, but has enough to be useful when played in a Hobbit deck with a bunch of other allies. The 1 defence pains me though, as you are probably never going to use it and I would have rather seen it as attack so that she would be a 3 attack Hobbit ally with Tom Cotton in play. Regardless, the 2 hitpoints are great, so that you won’t lose the ally at the first sight of a direct damage treachery. Luckily, the textbox of the Cautious Halfling isn’t blank, so we have more of a reason to play this ally. Whenever the Cautious Halfling enters play, you may look at the top card of the encounter deck. Then, if that card isn’t an enemy, you may draw a card. This is rather scenario specific, but in most scenarios, you have a roughly 65% chance of hitting this effect so that you may draw a card. The scrying is nice, but not repeatable. You also can do nothing with the card you look at, so I would rather play the Ithilien Lookout or Celduin Traveller in a Hobbit deck. The added card draw is nice, but I would think you play the Halfling back-to-back to be sure that you can draw the card. Still, there are better card draw and scrying options in Lore, and I don’t see the point in running her over Henamarth Riversong and Gleowine. There is also next to no synergy with the Hobbit trait as the card does nothing with engagement costs of enemies.
Tom Bombadil / Tom Bombadillo!
I will cover both cards here, as you really can’t talk about the ally without talking about the event that puts him eventually into play. This is the Lore encounter player card, which we have been waiting for since Tactics got their Eagle of the North. We now have 4 sorts of cards that can be put into the encounter deck, benefiting the players when they are revealed. Tom Bombadil is put into play through the 2 cost Tom Bombadillo! event in Lore. This is the same cost as Flight to the Sea in Spirit, which put Wind from the Sea into the encounter deck. The event can only be played if you control a Hobbit hero, meaning that you are a bit restricted in the sort of decks that play Tom Bombadil. But that is fine, as other archetypes have their own encounter player cards. The Hobbit requirement does open up Good Meal, making this event free, which is a much better deal than paying 2 Lore resources for it. When playing this event, be sure that there is no copy of the same event in the victory display. This prevents two players from playing Tom at the same time, which would mess with his unique symbol. As a planning action, you may put this event in the victory display in order to shuffle a copy of Tom Bombadil into the encounter deck. You then have to wait until Tom is revealed to benefit from him. Try to play this when the encounter deck is at its thinnest in order to benefit the most out of it.
When you eventually reveal Tom during the quest phase (or through other encounter card effects), you are greeted with a bulky ally that does not surge, making it superior to the Ranger of the North and Eagle of the North. Instead, Tom is a free encounter card for the team and has a When Revealed effect that will go off. The players now choose who gets Tom Bombadil. He joins that player as an ally while being ready and committed to the quest. This gives the players +3 willpower for that quest phase, which can mean that you might progress a quest when you didn’t mean to, but it can also be a big benefit when you were struggling to make progress. If you reveal Tom outside of the quest phase, then his willpower doesn’t matter. Instead, you get a 3/3/3/6 ally to pin most of the archery of that round on. The 6 hitpoints can also tank an enemy attack without you fearing that you might lose Tom. The 3 attack is nice, though I primarily use Tom as a defender and a pin-cushion. Still, if your Hobbit deck struggles to kill an engaged enemy, Tom’s 3 attack will help you a lot. Tom is also not immune to player card effects, meaning that you can use events on him to ready him or to do other things in case you need more use out of him.
At the end of the round, this all comes to an end. In an effect that cannot be cancelled, Tom and the copy of Tom Bombadillo! in the victory display are put aside out of play. This works roughly the same as Istari allies. Only after Tom Bombadil has left play, are other players allowed to play their copy of Tom Bombadillo! to shuffle their Tom into the encounter deck. All in all, I appreciate the designers putting in Tom Bombadil, as he was highly requested. The nods to the lore are great, but I don’t think I will be putting Tom Bombadil in many Hobbit decks. The 2 cost in Lore is pretty high, since you can also get allies like Gaffer Gamgee for that price, which is a more useful ally since he is more reliable than Tom. Still, for multiplayer and conventions, I can’t wait to reveal Tom from the top of the encounter deck.
Charge into Battle
The first ever 5 cost Tactics event is now a fact, and it has caused some debate in the community. Most people think that 5 resources in Tactics is too high a cost for this event, and I tend to agree. The only reason I get to play other 5 cost non-Neutral cards is through creating discounts or sneaking them into play. Charge into Battle does have its uses though, and I believe that once it is played, it will have a big impact on the round and probably the rounds to come. When paying the 5 resources, you get to make attacks against each enemy in the staging area after the staging step, but before quest resolution. This means that you can alter the amount of threat in the staging area before progress is placed. You also get to take out enemies that would otherwise cause problems when they engage (the Brigand enemies from Against the Shadow) or enemies that wouldn’t engage otherwise (Goblin Sniper). This can allow you to kill all enemies in the staging area, preventing the combat phase from taking too long. Certain combos are also allowed, but I found that many of those included some sort of Combat Action, which is not possible to trigger at this point. There are unfortunately not that many situations in which this effect is all that useful unless you are trying to win the game at the end. You will need a proper set of allies and built-up heroes to attack the enemies, else you would have only done some damage and ended up wasting 5 resources. You also will be down for the combat phase, meaning that if you end up not killing an enemy, you probably will have to rely on other players to kill those enemies for you. I can imagine this event being important during some big battles, where you have to make progress and engage as few enemies as possible, but the cost of 5 is still a big inhibitor. Horn of Gondor, Good Meal, and Proud Hunters can help with this though, so you don’t always have to pay the full cost for this event.
Pillars of the Kings
It is no secret that this cycle tries to revive the Valour archetypes from the Angmar Awakened cycle. One of the biggest complaints of the archetype was that it took a while to get to 40 threat unless you either brought high cost heroes or a lot of Doomed cards. But now, there is a much more flexible option to get you all the way to 40 threat and get some benefits by doing so. First off, the 4 cost in Leadership might seem like a high cost, but note that you only have to pay this cost if your threat it higher than 40. If it is lower, and you will be raising your threat this way, then the cost to play the event will be 0. This makes it free access to the Valour archetype if you happen to draw it early. But since this event will always set your threat at 40, it can also be used to lower your threat back down to 40 if you play this event while in Valour. This will cost you 4 resources, but can send you back down to 40 threat, which can be a decrease of 9 threat during the best case scenario. Compare this to Galadhrim’s Greeting (-6 threat for 3 resources), and you will see that the event is certainly worth it, especially in Leadership, where 4 resources can easily be generated. On top of the threat adjustment, players can also expect this event to draw them cards if they raise their threat through this ability. If you raised your threat by less than 10 points for this ability, you simply replace this event with a new card in your hand. However, if you raised your threat by 10 or more through this ability, then you get to draw 4 cards. This is a great way to draw into some more Valour cards for your boardstate, and allows Leadership to get some more card draw (though this cycle does give other options as well with Soldier of Gondor and Gildor Inglorion). This effect will be the cornerstone of many new Valour decks that hope to draw this event early, play it for free, and then draw 4 new cards when raising their threat to 40. I like that this event can also be used for threat reduction, making it a more Lore/Spirit card rather than Leadership, but I am not complaining. I am looking forward to the Valour decks that will be created at the end of this cycle.
Another Guarded attachment is not what we had expected to find in this cycle, since we got an even spread during the Ered Mithrin cycle. Still, here is Durin’s Axe, an all-purpose Tactics Guarded weapon for the decks that can’t run Sting since they have no Hobbits. Unlike that one, this attachments can go onto any hero and will give the hero +2 attack without any restrictions. This is a lot like the Glamdring and Orcrist attachments, and I am fine with that. Unlike those weapons though, Durin’s Axe can only attach to enemies, meaning that a Tactics player won’t accidentally reveal more locations. When the hero with Durin’s Axe destroys an enemy, they get to deal one point of damage to another enemy engaged with them. This combos well with Thorin Stonehelm, meaning you deal 2 damage to that enemy if you discard a card for his ability. In terms of strength, this is not really the same as Orcrist or Glamdring, since you need 2 enemies engaged with you for this to work and there are many competing weapons in this sphere that enter play normally. For Dwarves specifically, Dwarven Axe and Dwarrowdelf Axe might be better in your deck. Still, the extra damage can help out, and the +2 attack on any hero is very much worth it. This is great for mono-Tactics players that need more attack strength on heroes like Grimbeorn the Old. It reminds me a lot of Mighty Prowess, but will need more enemies engaged with you to pull it off. Great tool for counterin swarm style encounter decks such as those in the Dwarrowdelf cycle.
The Silver Circlet is probably going to be a card in this pack that will be widely used in any deck that includes a Spirit hero. This is a straight up improved version of Favor of the Lady, since it now boosts willpower by 2 at the cost of 2 resources. The catch is that the attachment can only go on Spirit heroes and is restricted. However, questers don’t often need their restricted slots all that much, so there isn’t really a downside to this attachment. The +2 willpower will go great on any questing Spirit hero, and also on heroes who use their willpower for other things. Galadriel + Nenya with the Circlet can boost willpower of any character by 6 instead of 4 now. You can also use this attachment together with Herugrim and Golden Shield in order to boost attack and defence on a character with their willpower. I can imagine this attachment being amazing on a Spirit Theoden with Snowmane, and either Herugrim/Golden Shield (or both with Golden Belt as well). The fact that this attachment is non-unique also makes it a decent stand-in for Celebrian’s Stone and Necklace of Girion. The attached hero doesn’t need to have the printed resource icon either, meaning that you can grant a hero the Spirit resource icon before playing the Circlet if you really want to. But the big questing heroes are mostly in Spirit, making the restriction on this attachment not that big of an obstacle. This is a great card for most decks and will help in most decks as a straight up bonus to your questing capabilities.
A brand new Master card for the One Ring decks out there, but instead of an event, this card is an attachment for the Ringbearer. This card is limitted only to the Ringbearer and limit one per hero, meaning that you can include just one copy and fish it out of your deck with the One Ring’s setup text if you want to. When attached, Inner Strength gives the hero +1 defence, which is a nice boost if you have the One Ring attached to a defender or a hero like Spirit Frodo. But the real strength of this attachment lies in the optional response that can be triggered. You can exhaust the One Ring and raise your threat by 1 to cancel a shadow card just revealed during an attack that the Ringbearer was defending. This gives you absolute certainty that the attack will not accidentally kill your hero and thus end the game. This attachment is a built in Burning Brand for your hero, which is a great tool to have if you are planning on defending often with that hero. Combine this attachment with other Spirit defensive attachments like Mithril Shirt, and you will have a hero that is very capable of dealing with enemy attacks. The downside to the shadow cancellation is that it requires the exhaustion of the One Ring, meaning that the ring cannot be used for any other effects that round. Since defences are usually late in the round, you might find yourself using the ring for other effects before using it to cancel a shadow effect. So have backups available if you are going to defend a lot with your Ringbearer, a couple of Hasty Strokes are great cards to fall back on if you needed the ring for something else that round.
The Burglar’s Turn
Out of all the contracts that have been spoiled so far, this one strikes me as the weakest of the bunch. The contract forces you to build a deck without attachments, and instead make a deck of 14 Item or Artifact attachments. These attachments then go onto a location whenever one is made active. This works in the same way as the Guarded keyword, where you get your attachment for free upon clearing the attached location. This does save you a few resources for getting cards like Citadel Plate or Ancestral Armor for free, but you never quite know when those attachments will pop up. Since this extra deck has to consist out of single copies of these attachments, chances are 1 in 14 that you get what you want as the first card. You also probably won’t be getting through your entire deck, unless you are playing a very long game. The restriction on items and artifacts also limits the utility for certain decks. Conditions, Titles, Mounts, Skills, and Signals are impossible to play with this contract, so you will have to tailor your deck accordingly.
On the bright side, your own deck can now contain more ally and event cards, allowing you to swarm rather effectively. Another benefit of this contract is that you can play Guarded cards without triggering their keyword, which can get those solid attachments on the table without getting more encounter cards in play. The contract will rely on you being able to find more locations in the encounter deck, so I think this will be a Lore/Spirit sort of contract, as those spheres have an easier time finding locations. I have built a mono-Spirit deck with this contract in mind, but have not yet played it, but I have no doubt it will get some good attachments into play eventually.
Again, a full analysis of the quest will be done eventually, but here are the first impressions on what I think of the quest in this pack. We knew from the start that this was going to be a reworked version of Assault in Osgiliath, much like how Danger in Dorwinion was a new version of The Steward’s Fear.
However, this quest is more streamlined than Assault on Osgiliath, forcing the players to either tank attacks from Ulchor or to get more locations in the staging area. Combine this with the tough Easterling enemies in the scenario, and you have a scenario that is quite the challenge. Early Archery really pushes you towards a strategy of swarming the deck with allies, though they need to be all-round allies that can quest rather well. The willpower is needed to advance through to stage 2, as you will need quite a lot of willpower to get through some of the active locations.
The restriction of no progress placing effects on the locations in the staging area hurts me a little on the inside, but that just because I personally prefer to play a location control deck. There are still plenty of cards that players can run that will clear locations that are active, or interact with other locations without placing progress on it.
The scenario also starts to scale upwards the more locations you control. The unique Gate of Dorwinion location becomes quite big halfway through the quest, and will need to be left in the staging area until the very end of the quest. I figure that this quest will become quite brutal in higher player counts thanks to more locations appearing in the staging area than players can clear in a single round. With that said, there are still actions that players can take to clear specific locations in the staging area. This helps to shift the balance a bit in favour of the players, but that balance is swiftly brought back to the middle with some of the locations having Forced effects that return them to the staging area. This is also what many of the other encounter cards focus on, so you will have to be very careful not to chump or lose control of certain locations.
Do I prefer this quest over Assault on Osgiliath? From my initial impressions, I would say yes, since there are no unfair enemies like Mumaks or Phalanxes that turn out to have 14 attack. However, this quest does have more moving parts and is less friendly towards side-quests than Assault on Osgiliath. I don’t think this quest will be the highlight of the cycle, but it is a good fix of the original quest. No Power of Mordor also helps a lot in making this quest more fair to all parties involved. I will not recommend players playing this quest with 4 players, but stick to 2 players to balance out locations and to take on the different enemies in this scenario.
With the pack now covered, City of Ulfast is next. Unlike Wrath and Ruin, it has not been delayed worldwide, so I hope to have the pack either this month or in early February. All the player cards in that pack have already been spoiled, and I have also proxied some of the cards, so I have enough experience with half of the contents already. Hopefully the quest will be as fun as the player cards!