When the number of players are discussed for this game, solo and two player modes are the most commonly discussed, and while four players is always the goal to be achieved. But three is often the exact numbers of players needed to strike a balance between playing with your friends and the scenario accelerating too quickly for you all to keep up. Several of the quests seem to be balanced around three players, whereas others become more challenging when you reach that player count. Many of you may naturally find yourselves in a group of three regular players in your area. Others may stumble a new player, or have one stumble upon them, after a long time with only two players together, and now you both work together to teach this new player the ropes.
In any case, all that I have said before concerning the forging of friendships in the crucible of this game can be found in the previous article here. This remains true irregardless of the number of players you have and so I won’t force you to bear with me repeating myself. But as one much wiser than this author wrote long ago: though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Now I may hear you say: ‘well, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, let’s read something else.’ Hear me out though, because there’s a reason why I have included both versions of this quest is on the list, and it’s a very simple one, especially if you have a new player. Passage through Mirkwood is the first one everyone plays as soon as they open their Core Set. Journey along the Anduin is still one of the premier deck-testing quests and is frequently played. Escape from Dol Guldur is the third quest in the Core Set, and will probably be the one to frustrate new players the most. And so the reason this quest is on the list is to show new players how to handle the worst that the encounter deck can throw at you. Notice I did not say ‘How to beat the worst…’ or ‘How to beat the hardest…‘, because this is not the point of the lesson. Moreover this quest isn’t even the hardest in the game. But if you can learn here and now how to handle, emotionally speaking this is, how to cope with an encounter deck that doesn’t play fair, then you’ll be ready to enjoy the best this game has to offer.
And really, this scenario doesn’t play fair at all. Now yes some of the later quests play nasty, like Road to Rivendell or The Dunland Trap, or they can be savage like The Battle for Carn Dum or even Assault on Dol Guldur. But these scenarios can be strategized against because you can read ahead and you know what is coming. Road to Rivendell needs A Test of Will, and Carn Dum requires the most aggressive deck you can bring. With Escape from Dol Guldur, you have no idea. Because the encounter deck is relatively thick with almost no surge, solo players can theoretically go the whole game without having to reset the encounter deck.
And from thence stems the frustration: players can build their decks to be balanced around a certain effect or mechanic, only to be hit by something completely different altogether. Your heroes’ utility is restricted by the different Guarded Objective-Attachments, and even as a hero is stolen out from under you, your access to allies is choked off to a trickle. You can’t plan for it, not effectively anyway, so rolling with the punches becomes necessary, and no matter what happens, the result will not be clean.. Sometimes you will pull through and fight past the dirty tricks and underhanded plays to achieve a bloodied victory at the end. And sometimes, sometimes you need to walk away from the table without a win, nursing your wounds and your bruised ego. So why have I also mentioned the Nightmare version of this quest? Well that’s for veteran players, because everyone needs a slice of humble pie every now and then.
This was the first real boss fight quest of the game. Yes we had Conflict at the Carrock that saw you face a clutch of trolls, but that was a case of players dealing with four large and tough enemies all at once. And The Nameless Fear was central to Flight from Moria, but as the name of the quest suggests, the goal there was not to defeat the corrupted Maiar, but to run away and survive to fight another day. Here the players must either defeat the titular Watcher in the Water or try and solve the puzzle unlocking the Doors of Durin opening the way into the fallen Dwarven realm of Khadad-dum. The puzzle can be cheated past by exploring player side-quests, but that’s not why we are here, and even if you choose to go solve it the traditional way it is a bit fiddly and gimmicky to be relied upon. The general consensus, to which this author subscribes, is that it is much more satisfying way to play through this quest by taking to task the Watcher in glorious and cinematic combat.
The Watcher in the Water is no wee timorous beastie, but will require the efforts of your full party to bring him down. He has a wealth of hit points that lie safe behind a hefty defense and, which is worse, they start to regenerate back at the end of each and every round. Moreover, you cannot engage him while any of his tentacles are in play, so you will need to coordinate your efforts as a group to take care of them all first. Three players seems to be the sweet spot here, balancing titanic, eldritch combat with the sheer number of Tentacles that can and will hamper your progress at every opportunity. If you want to show a new player the ropes by giving them a quest that tells its own story in an extremely visual way, give them a combat heavy deck and take them to the silent pool outside the Hollin Gate of Moria.
If, on the other hand, you are wanting a gentler experience that still has some teeth, then consider this option. Widely regarded as one of the easiest quests in the game, Encounter at Amon Din tells a tighter story than Passage through Mirkwood, which granted isn’t saying much, and is gentle enough that you can bring most decks to this quest and still have a fighting chance of winning through. Players can use this to test their new decks, or new play partners, to see where they need to shore up various holes and weaknesses in your forces. Things get tougher with more players, which is why we have included this quest in the list, as you get more treacheries that add Villagers to the Dead pile, as well as more locations that increase the odds of becoming location-locked.
The central mechanic of this quest is exploring locations to save villagers. Of course the encounter deck is going to try and hinder you, and the more players there are, the more opportunities it has to get in your way and steal villagers out from under you. You are provided a safety net that players may appreciate in that undefended damage is meted out to the villagers instead of your heroes. Obviously this can’t be a long-term solution, but it can be helpful for players getting started to avoid losing a hero right at the start of the quest. The locations aren’t too terrible, the enemies aren’t overly vicious and most of the treacheries aren’t as nasty as in other quests. A large chunk of the encounter deck targets the villagers as opposed to the players, so the pressure isn’t as keenly felt as it might otherwise be. If you are wanted to help a new player flex their muscles or fancy a gentler quest for your group to take on, you can’t get much better than this.
There are three trials, so one player gets one trial each. On to the next quest… But in all seriousness, this quest seems to be tailor-made for three players. You start with the choice of three different quest stages to go to, each with their own unique Barrow, Guardian and Key randomly assigned to them. You must defeat said Guardian, explore said Barrow and claim said Key. Once you proceed to the final quest stage, all three Guardians return for a final showdown. I’m afraid there’s not much more to it than that. Each Guardian is stronger in different areas and each Barrow will hinder you in different ways. You will need to coordinate your decks with your allies so that all your bases are covered between you, especially being able to defend against all three Guardians at once at the climax. This is a fun, challenging quest for any player group who fancy a treasure hunt, and even for players who are just looking for a good quest to try their luck against, I would heartily recommend this one. However it is most definitely scaled around three players, so the inclusion on this list should come as no surprise to anyone here.
While The Three Trials saw the first Undead enemy we have been given since Escape from Dol Guldur, this is the scenario that saw them take centre-stage in a big way. Ok yes, there’s also Stone of Erech, but this here quest sets things up for the rest of the cycle. Your goal in this quest is chiefly to survive the hordes of Undead that are assailing you, typified in the notorious Cursed Dead that simply refuses to ever stay down. Ultimately you must cut your way through the skeletal ranks to Thaurdir and put him down, though down he will not stay and you shall see him again in later quests. This is one of those rare quests that does get harder in larger groups, but also manages to hold back from the point of being frustratingly so. There are a handful of encounter cards that scale up according to the number of players so you will need to watch out for those, but this quest can be much harder in low player counts as you try to not only fight through all the enemies that will keep flooding the board, but muster enough willpower to complete the scenario before time runs out.
Didn’t I mention that part? Well the twist of the quest is that if your deck ever runs out of cards, you are eliminated. The pressure is on to get moving, and to keep moving once your momentum is up. Do you have time to Seal the Tomb, confront The Power of Angmar or flee The Shadow World? Or do you need to keep pressing forward to completing the main quest card? Perhaps you are actually committing too many characters to the quest and will leave yourself open and vulnerable for combat, or even too few characters and now you have become location-locked. You face a balancing act here at all times, and the more players you have on the board then the easier it is to course-correct or compensate for one detriment or another. This isn’t to knock anyone’s ability to play the game, it’s just a simple matter of you benefit from having more tools for the job. Take a few friends to face this desperate for survival against the dead, lest you too join their ranks.
This is one of the most innovative quests of the game, where the locations are laid out in a map that players traverse from one end to the other to reach the eponymous temple while finding time to pick up a key to gain entrance. Apparently a spare wasn’t simply left under the doormat.. Along the way players will need to combat the Undead guardians of the temple as well as the very jungle itself. This one requires a little bit of set-up, so make sure you have at least one player who has read the rules on the insert before you start the game. Once you get going it is very innovative however, and you shouldn’t need to keep checking back to the insert as you go on, though it may be helpful to have a copy on-hand just in case. This mechanic will be familiar for anyone who has played the Arkham Horror LCG, which is not a coincidence as this is where creator Matt Newman tested out that system of location layout.
This is one of those ‘event’ quests that require a small bit of preparation to really make shine, but when they work it shall indeed be a memorable occasion as you watch your Fellowship trek across the map. This quest is better suited for more players as the number of locations in the staging area will not increase with the number of players. Be aware that the encounter deck will be composed entirely of enemies and treacheries however, so make sure you are prepared for this. Four players has the potential to overwhelm the group with these, but three players seems to be the sweet spot. Just remember that the nasty boss enemy you take the key from will return at the end of the quest again, and when he hits you, he hits hard. Have defenders ready, preferably with sentinel so that they can cover for the group as you search for the entrance to the Underwater Grotto. This is one of those quests that convey the narrative of the quest very effectively, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the map you have laid out in front of you.
So you remember how much you enjoyed having a hero stripped from you in Escape from Dol Guldur? Well how about taking all your heroes from you instead? This may not be the best way to sell this quest to new players, but then this quest probably wouldn’t be the best one to showcase the game to a new player, or one which would be too helpful for teaching them the mechanics of the game. Each player starts with all of their heroes captured, and instead they are given one of four objective heroes. The challenge of this quest is to get your deck up and running while lacking most of your heroes for the majority of your time. This is easier with more players because you get more objective heroes to help you on your way, and each player can help shore up each other’s decks.
The reason that three players is the sweet spot here though comes down to two of these objective heroes in particular: Firyal and Jubayr. In solitary mode, Khaliel might be the better objective hero to lean toward, and with two players it is a toss-up between Jubayr and Firyal to bring alongside Khaliel, I have heard convincing arguments for both and see merit in each. When you come to three players there is no excuse for taking both however, the arguments for which you can read more about in the article linked above. I’m afraid Yazan is the black sheep of the litter who, while fun to use, makes it hard to quite justify the accelerated nature of the relatively thin encounter deck put together for this quest. But the narrative is strong and the theme is palpable, making this an excellent quest for any group of players who are already familiar with the workings of the game.
Just as with The Temple of the Deceived above, this quest is an ‘event’ quest that is planned around. For those of you who have played through the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, The Withered Heath takes the concepts behind Hunt for Gollum and Hills of Emyn Muil and splices them together for this epic quest that you undergo, hunting through Wilderland for signs of a Dragon, before confronting it in a climactic clash of arms. This is a long quest that will test the limits of your deck’s endurance as you need to survive the harassing denizens of the wilderness as well as the elements, all while you search through the Caves deck for any signs of the Cold-Drake you are hunting. Its length does not detract from the quality of the quest however, unlike some other quests that can take their time, because there is an upper limit to how long things can be drawn out for [i.e. the depth of the encounter deck the Dragon Signs are hiding in] and the payoff for this marathon justifies the buildup. Once you come before the Cold-Drake in the final quest stage, you will need to resist the absolute deluge of attacks that will be coming your way, and will need to make the most of every round of the preceding game so that you are able to survive.
Players will need to balance willpower, location control and combat between them, and so three players is probably the ideal number. Four can see you overwhelmed with locations and detrimental treacheries, not to mention the fact that the dragon makes at least one attack against each player every turn. The result of the extra attacks is that the combat-focused player will need to plug more holes and have his action economy taxed even further than it would otherwise be. On the other hand, this is workable with two players but a solitary player will struggle to consistently balance everything, and consistency in your performance is key in a quest that takes this long. As I have already said this is an ‘event’ quest, so plan out your foray into the Withered Heath, break out the hot chocolates and flasks of brandy as you hunt the most dangerous of quarries within their own natural habitat.
This was the first of three quests we have yet received that can be played in ‘Epic Multiplayer Mode’, wherein you have multiple games happening concurrently with one another, all working towards the same goal. We are due to receive a fourth one in the form of The Hunt for the Dreadnought, but that has not yet been released. You can play it as a straightforward quest with all three players working as one on the same quest-line, or The Siege of Annuminas allows three teams of up to four players each work toward securing the ancient Dunedain capital against an encroaching army out of Angmar, with each team seeking to complete different objectives and missions to secure the city, such as manning the city walls, defending the gate, rescuing prisoners or leading a counterattack.
It is the broad scope of possibilities here that leads me to recommend this quest. The quest is certainly not an easy one, so all three players would certainly benefit from being able to pool their resources, shore up one another’s weaker points and emerge stronger for having worked together. This is certainly a quest that will test your mettle, because it is not merely yourselves your must keep alive, but the very city of Annuminas. Various card effects that can trigger will do damage to the city, and if you allow too much of this to happen then the city will fall and the players will lose the game.
Alternatively, if each player has their own copy of the quest, you can each take your very best player deck each, with no concern as to the uniqueness rule, and try to overcome each of your challenges individually. This may go against the grain for folk who prefer to play directly alongside their teammates but be under no illusions that this will cease to be a cooperative effort. The enemy Host of Angmar will progress from one players staging area to the next each turn, and players will need to concentrate their efforts to bring them down and avoid the City of Annuminas taking more damage each round than they absolutely have to. This mode of playing the scenario is a more desperate affair, but it more completely represents the efforts of defending against a determined and relentless foe attempting to take your stronghold by escalade. However you do it, attempting this quest is a special occasion, but the most complete way of doing so is undoubtedly by having players engage in all three different parts of the Siege of Annuminas.
And here is the obligatory Saga quest you were all expecting from me. And this is one of the best there are. Players are sundered one from another as they each try to survive until Frodo’s Choice is taken off the encounter deck, but each quest stage you are separated to granted the players as a group various benefits and advantages that can be shared out among the players. You will need to coordinate who gets which benefits, because the encounter deck that you will be up against will tax each and every player. Encounter cards are dealt into separate staging areas according to the different players, so other than Ranged and Sentinel effects, each player will be on their own as your Fellowship is broken. After Frodo’s Choice is revealed, the player who found it becomes the first player and advances to the final stage of the quest while everyone else remains at their particular Stage 3. Then the encounter deck accelerates, but your teammates have the abilities to syphon off enemies from the first player to allow them to escape and complete the quest. So why not 4 players then? Well the first stage of the quest prevents you from engaging enemies so they will just wait in the staging for you, building up faster and faster. Four players puts the foot on the accelerator just slightly too much for this to be a comfortable experience, but you still want to get as much of the experience of having your decks split off from one another.
You may think this strange for me to recommend a quest for multiplayer that deliberately splits players off from one another. But this quest forces you to be creative in how you work together, offering each other benefits that you yourself may want but know your teammate may need it more urgently. Self-sacrifice is the key to this quest, where players do better if their focus is not so much fend for themselves, but for each man to provide for their fellows. This is exemplified in the final quest stage, where players need to distract enemies from the first player for the greater good of collective victory, even if at the cost of sacrificing your own heroes. Ironically, the quest named Breaking of the Fellowship is the one where the strength of the bonds of your friendship will be the true test by which you find your path to victory.
And this last quest really exemplifies the true key behind playing multiplayer in this game. For often it is less much you can build yourself up that helps out your teammates, while that certainly is useful, and more about how many hits you can take for them. This not to say that you must neglect your own board state, for if you are powerless to help yourself then you are in no position to help others. But when you have the means, when you have the opportunity, then absorbing that Archery damage that they wouldn’t survive, using your Test of Will to cancel a treachery that would bring them to their knees or even using your allies to take hits that would kill off one of their heroes can mean the difference between your success or failure as a group. This may sound intuitive for many of us, but this runs contrary to human nature. In a world where everyone is out to get what they can for themselves, the ability to do something for others and the will to act upon it, even in something as trivial as a card game, is something to be valued and honoured. We must learn from the most humble of creatures, Master Samwise Gamgee, who was willing to sacrifice everything of himself so that his friend may achieve his purpose. For by this attitude, two small hobbits were able to achieve what none else would be able to. If we do likewise, building up friendships and relationships in accordance with what we prepared to do for each other, we will be stronger together than ever before. And if more of us valued food and cheer and song; and fellowship, above hoarded gold or resource tokens, it would be a merrier world.