Many of us, including my good self, picked up this game because we were attracted to the fact that you could play this game by yourself. But many more purchased this game because it could facilitate two or more players, especially because it is a cooperative game. Now I am all for the Solo experience, and check out this article to see some quests that I think are particularly suited to one player. However it cannot be denied that this game truly shines when it is played by two or more people. We are social creatures, and thrive off of the shared experiences we are able to build up one with another, whether it is over food, a film or a road-trip. Conversely, when deprived of enough social interaction then our health, mental and physical, begins to suffer. That our game channels this into a cooperative struggle against a mutual (inanimate) opponent only serves to further strengthen the bonds of friendship forged in the fires of this game.
At times when you sit down with your opposite number to play this game, the question of ‘What shall we play?’ can prove to be a difficult one to answer. Or having someone to play with might be a rare occasion, and so you want to make the most of the time you have and play a quest that you might struggle with in solitary, or want to play a quest that lends itself to the social aspect of the game
For your consideration I have made some recommendations below of quests that might be particularly suitable for your two-player games. Everything I say in this article pertaining to difficulty and player numbers is suitable for individual players using two decks, but I will also be touching on the social aspects of playing this game with two players. Bear in mind this is just one person’s humble opinion, so if there are any you feel I have missed out, which I almost certainly have, then please let us know in the comments below.
Conflict at the Carrock / Nightmare Conflict at the Carrock
I would recommend either version of the quest for two players, depending on what you are looking for and how extensive your card pool is. If you want a casual game, or have a smaller collection of cards, then the original incarnation is an excellent choice for two players. This is a game of two halves, the first requiring stalling tactics to establish your board state as much as possible before launching your attack against the trolls. You can do this indefinitely until you feel you are ready, even waiting around to see if you can’t find the Grimbeorn Objective Ally, and then picking a pick with the trolls. This quest revolves around this fight, and the whole thing can devolve into one big scrap. Having a second player here is of great help to your efforts against these mighty foes, if for no other reason than it means you shouldn’t get swamped by all four named trolls all at once, unless of course you were to construct your deck to be able to withstand that much violence. This degree of specialisation is very difficult to achieve with only one deck. Allowing a second player to cover your weaknesses and play to your own strengths, together being able to quest harder and fight fiercer Your partner’s deck could then be focussed primarily on whichever area you are lacking in. The brawl with the trolls will get easier as more of them go down, but it is still an enjoyable puzzle to figure out whom you ought to be taking care of first.
If on the other hand your card pool is more complete, or you are seeking more of a challenge to be overcome, I can heartily recommend the Nightmare version of this quest. There is a hard time limit for how long you have before being forced into conflict with the trolls, as on the 7th round you progress to the big fight no matter what. So the quest becomes a race to getting prepared for the clash of arms that is to come with the trolls. And these trolls are not like the ones your grandpappy fought, these are bigger, stronger and meaner. What’s worse, each of them get stronger as their companions are killed off until you are faced with a monstrous 2-headed troll that can attack two different players one after the other. Now this may pose the question ‘Well what then is the point of having 2 players if both of them will be attacked by Rob and Bob anyway?’ I would say that having 2 players allows you to take on the trolls piecemeal, being able to better focus your attacks while preventing them from ganging up on one solitary player. But if we have too many players, then we are more likely to run into additional trolls, such as Troll Spawn or the infamous Hill Troll. 2 players seems to be the sweet spot here, and having a buddy to face down these trolls will create shared memories of titanic clashes of arms and the glory of bringing down these colossal foes.
The Seventh Level
From combatting trolls high on the Carrock, we come now to the deep dark under the Misty Mountains. If you and your partner want a quest where you are required to wade through hordes of enemies, this is the quest for you. Over half the encounter cards are enemies, and most of those enemies have a shadow effect that adds them to play. On top of that there are a plethora of effects that force you to reveal extra encounter cards, especially once you reach the second quest stage where extra encounter cards are revealed, so you can be sure things will heat up here very quickly.
Having a second player is helpful here because of the sheer number of enemies you will be facing. Many of them gain extra attack strength if they are allowed to slip in with an undefended attack, so having characters with Sentinel will allow you to cover each other when one is given more enemies than they can handle. Ranged too will be similarly important in order to take care of the stronger enemies in the encounter deck, such as the Cave Troll or the Chieftain of the Pit. Too many players though will accelerate the encounter deck to a rare that could be overwhelming, especially in the early game while your board state is being established. Ultimately though, this is a straightforward quest to set up and play, and is often a relatively short quest to complete. So if you and your partner have only a limited amount of time to be able to play together, you can certainly do worse than this.
The Steward’s Fear
This has long been considered the best quest of the Against the Shadow cycle, and indeed is one of the favourite quests in the entire game for a good portion of the community. While the previous quest is characterised by a swift and frantic escalation of combat as you are set upon by dozens of enemies seeking to overwhelm you by sheer weight of numbers, with the occasional cheeky Cave Troll thrown in there, this time you will be faced with a much slower and richer quest, full of atmosphere and flavour. If The Seventh Level was a Royale with Cheese to be enjoyed and consumed, The Steward’s Fear is the Sirloin Steak you relish and dwell on. Each card revealed sems to play into the narrative of the quest to a much greater degree than the vast majority of other quests, so it feels much more like a story that you and your partner are telling together.
The first two stages require that you explore at least four active locations, which will typically take you at least 8 turns to pull off if you draw a new location each turn. Two players ought to be able to keep a steady pace of locations coming where one player might struggle, while avoiding the deluge that might come from 3 or 4 players and might result in location lock. At each location you travel to there is a chance you may find a clue to help you, but most likely you will be faced by an enemy or two as you conduct your investigations there. Once you find out what dastardly plot the villains are enacting, the pressure begins to mount as extra loss conditions come into effect. Finally you will confront the villain in deadly combat, an encounter that either you or they shall not leave. Because the plot and the villain is randomised every time you play, this is a quest that will remain fresh and enjoyable for many repeat encounters. While not the most difficult quest on this list, it still has some teeth and you and your partner will need to work together to survive the machinations of the traitor within the White City.
The Fords of Isen
In contrast to the previous quest where you unfold the pages of a story, this quest has a rather different bent. Here you have one concern: survival. Or rather, Grima’s survival. From the beginning you will be swarmed by enemies that want nothing more than to cut your throat and rifle through your pockets for your lunch money. And you might think, ‘Okay, but we’ve already had a quest with swarms of enemies in this list. Have you forgotten or are you just out of ideas?’, to which I say neither. The Seventh Level is more of a casual game that can go wrong, easy enough to set-up, take down and muck around in. The Fords of Isen is a game that starts with things going wrong and keeps up that trend. For a start, it’s not just your skin you need to worry about, you and your colleague will also need to defend Grima’s life from the Dunlendings. And these guys are much bigger and meaner than the goblins you faced in the Dwarrowdelf cycle. Their stats are heftier, but they also gain bonuses and advantages every time you draw a card. And as if that wasn’t enough, if you don’t complete the first stage in 5 rounds, you lose the game. No ifs, ands, or buts, you lose. From there it gets worse as either you are dealt more direct damage as time passes, or more enemies come after you, hungry for your death.
This is another one of those quests that really flourish and find their sweet spot with a specific number of players. Given the amount of enemies that come off the encounter deck, if you go alone you may find yourself getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of combat. Or if you are specced out for combat, you might find getting the needed quest points to complete the different quest stages in time to be tricky. On the other hand, there are some cards that deliberately target players according to how many there are, meaning that higher player counts will experience a harder go of it. Two players here seems to be the ideal number, but that does not mean this will be an easy quest. Remember you get penalised every time you draw a card, so you will need to balance the pace of your deck carefully. If you take aggressive decks that get out allies and attachments fast to keep pace with the encounter deck, you may find the drawbacks from drawing those cards too fast more detrimental than the benefits you are accruing. On the other hand, if you come at it with decks that are slower than the pace of the quest, you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed and overcome. Here you will need to specifically build your decks for the quest, planning ahead to cover for each other’s weakness and deficiencies. Once you both come through it though, your bond will have been forged in the crucible of this intensively combat-soaked quest.
Wastes of Eriador
While the last two quests seem to represent the opposite ends of the spectrum one might expect a player to look for in quests from this game, that is rich story and theme that players can take their time with on one hand, and brutal intense combat under pressure on the other. Successfully marrying the two together, we are given this triumph of a quest in the form of Wastes of Eriador. Its unique Day/Night mechanic, evocative locations and treacheries and fierce lupine foes combine together to provide a challenge that players will relish, dread and shiver in the remembering of.
This quest has a rhythm to it, filled with motion and stillness, stemming from the Day/Night mechanic. When it becomes Day, all enemies return to the staging area, and no enemies make an engagement check against you. When it becomes Night however, you are forced to reveal an extra encounter card, you are not allowed to cancel any encounter Card effects, and progress can’t be placed on any quest card. The atmosphere this creates is outstanding as you genuinely feel hunted by the packs of wolves hiding in the encounter deck, who are just waiting for night to fall so they can close in under the cover of darkness. Timing is essential in this quest, as you need to be alternating your stance between aggression and defense. A second player can help as you protect each other, but once again there are some cards that scale with the number of players. This quest is not only suited to two players because of the mechanics of it, though it certainly does, but because this is a quest experience that is meant to be shared. This will be a long game though, as there are several encounter cards that can shut down your progress altogether, so make this a quest you plan around rather than a ‘pick-up and go’ quest.
The Thing in the Depths
On the other hand, if a casual quest that has a little bit of something for everyone is what you are after, you can’t go wrong with this quest here. Most aspects of your deck’s primary capabilities will be tested here as you start the game facing quite a number of Corsairs to fight and locations to explore as you try and capture the Stormcaller in a boarding action straight out of Master and Commander, Hornblower or Pirates of the Carribean. Then gears shift dramatically as a monsterous Lovecraftian monster attacks the very ship upon which you stand, taking after the tradition of the latter film series mentioned above. The quest then becomes a race to drive off the beast while desperately saving the ship from its various appendages and tentacles. To top it all off, remember those Corsairs you were fighting at the start? Well now they’re on your side, because nothing brings people together like a nightmares abomination from the darkest reaches of the ocean.
Despite the twist in the middle, this quest is not a complex one. It does throw a lot of enemies at you in quick succession, but the crux of it is exploring the different parts of the ship, moving from one area to another to take the fight to the enemy. Be prepared to face a lot of foes as you go however, especially in the latter half of the quest where all the Tentacle enemies have really low engagement costs. They will come for you all at once and not let up unless you have Secrecy-level threat or better. A second player can be vital in helping you to fight them all off, as well as being able to bring more location control to the table so that you can explore the different areas of the ship before everyone goes down with it. High willpower will also be helpful as you will need to quest over higher and higher threat as more tentacles attach to different parts of the ship, again something that two can do better than one. If you are looking for a fun game with plenty of cinematic moments, you can’t go wrong with this. Put on some Hans Zimmer, resolve to only speak with a pirate accent for the entirety of this game, and drink up me hearties.
The Crossings of Poros
From the small intimacy of a quest set entirely on the confines of a pirate ship, we come to one of the quests with the widest geographical ranges in the game. If you want to experience a whole cycle distilled into one quest, this is the one for you. As you race across Harad to escape across the river Poros, you will need to choose which path you take and which enemies you face from the entire cycle, be they Haradrim, Orcs or creatures of the desert. This is not a casual quest, nor indeed a fast one. This quest is an event, an ordeal, a challenge of stamina as much as style. I say this not as a derogatory gesture to the quest, but acknowledgement of the achievement that went into crafting such a quest successfully without it falling apart. We have seen other quests that are on the lengthy side that become repetitive and feel like they drag on too long, such as Nin-in-Eilph, The Long Dark or The Ghost of Framsburg. This quest here feels more like an epic, an odyssey rather than a slog. The pressure is on from the beginning and only continues to mount as The Black Serpent grows more dangerous with each passing quest stage.
This then is an event to be planned around, and you and your partner will benefit from planning which decks you will be bringing. That said, this quest is quite well balanced so that your average, well-rounded deck ought to fare reasonably well against this quest, but it is still better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. A strong force of willpower is needed to keep your deck questing successfully and avoid attacks from The Black Serpent, but you will be facing constant attacks from various enemies. The climax of the quest is a final confrontation at the titular Crossings of Poros, where there is the potential for several enemies to descend on you at once, so you must not neglect your combat capabilities either. But this quest particular suits two players because there are decisions that need to be made about the path which you follow in your escape from Harad. Unlike some earlier quests with branching story lines you have full control over which route you may take. It is not randomised, such as Passage through Mirkwood or Foundations of Stone, or dependant on pre-conditions being met, as found with Into Ithilien. This will determine what challenges you will face and which enemies you will fight. This means you will need to talk it over with your partner, because one deck may cope with a certain route better than another or be more vulnerable to certain effects than others. Cooperation, and sometimes compromise, will be more important in this quest than in many others.
Fire in the Night
Cooperative decision making is likewise important in this quest, where the consequences of disunity are much more immediate and severe. Here it is no mere warlord out of Harad whom you face, but rather a spawn of Glaurung; a fire-breathing drake out of the north. Your goal is not to slay the beast, not in this quest anyway, but rather to drive it off and save the settlement of Hrogar’s Hill. And you do this by completing enough side-quests to be able to damage Dragnir. The more side-quests you can complete then the more damage you will be able to inflict on the dragon. All of the side-quests are good to have completed, but some will have effects that will be more detrimental to certain decks than others. And they will almost certainly be coming off the quest deck faster than you can complete then, which may be something you want if you wish to be fully prepared for Dagnir coming down and engaging you both. Don’t wait too long to complete them though, or the dragon will burn down the town around you.
Players won’t necessarily receive any advantages by playing this with a partner, other than the usual caveat that they will be able to specialise their decks to a greater extent than in solo. The reason I would recommend this quest as part of this article is because of the discussion that should arise when you decide which side-quest to pursue, a discussion that obviously would be lacking in a solo game. And besides which, this quest is a milestone quest. It’s one of the quests that will have your first victory over it forever etched into your memory of this game, ranking up there with the first time you beat Passage through Mirkwood, defeated Durin’s Bane in Shadow and Flame, won the Battle of Carn Dum, found the murderer hiding in Bree, or cast The One Ring into Mount Doom. Looking back over nine years and upwards of 100 quests, it is a testament to the skills and talent of the designers that each of them have something to offer a player. Nevertheless, some quests stand above the others in terms of quality, theme and enjoyability, and Fire in the Night is one such quest.
If you noticed the name of this article’s author, then in all likelihood you were waiting for me to bring a Saga quest to your attention. And you shall not be disappointed. Helm’s Deep serves as the climax for the first half of the Saga Campaign, coming in as the 10th quest out of 20 if you include The Old Forest and Fog on the Barrow-downs. And what a climax it is. The normal structure of the quest is flipped on its head as instead of your deck questing against the encounter deck, here the enemy is questing against you. You must try and block their progress on the quest cards with your willpower, either amassing stronger and stronger questers while picking off one or two enemies when they come and engage you, or taking the fight to them and not letting one foe stand for more than a turn. Well if you have two players, you can do both. The amount of adversity thrown at you by the encounter deck can be overwhelming, and the simple matter of having an extra player to absorb some attacks or even help soak up Archery damage or having extra treachery cancellation could mean the difference between success and failure.
Helm’s Deep supplies pressure to players in ample quantity, forcing players to depend on each other’s mutual effort to resist the inexorable tide of Isengard slowly encroaching upon the Hornburg. And this scenario achieves this much more completely than it’s bigger and grander sibling ‘Battle of the Pelennor Fields’, which is an amazing and awe inspiring quest to be sure. But it does not possess the intimacy of Helm’s Deep, the claustrophobia or the desperation as your defenders slowly give way to the besiegers. In Pelennor, you are given so many free allies that they become just another soldier to enter into the fray of warfare. Here beneath the shadow of Thrihyrne, atop the Deeping Wall, every hand counts and every loss is keenly felt. If you really want to up the ante of this quest, try the Nightmare incarnation which tax your action economy even more severely and strip you of locations that can protect or aid you. Alternatively keep a tally of your respective kills and at the end of the game, the winner receives a celebratory cookie and bragging rights.
‘I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing.’ Such words were penned by a much wiser hand than mine, and so I shall fearlessly echo them. This world is indeed a dark, dreary and dreadful place without friends to cheer our hearts and lighten our burdens. The advice does not mention that friends need possess skill, nor even capability; only that you can trust upon them to stick by you, and that they go with you willingly. Choose such friends wisely, guard them and keep them close, for they shall prove the truest of all. And if this simple card game proves to be an experience over which you bond over as it demonstrates the need for mutual aid and companionship, then it is all the better. But that is enough advice from me. My heart forbodes that, ere all is ended, you will know more of these fell things than Red Spiderr. May Elbereth protect you!
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