After some time playing the regular versions of the quests, you might become bored with the game. You have played each scenario and have solved the deckbuilding puzzles that they pose to you. While it is difficult to imagine you being burned out with nothing to play while we have 9 cycles, 8 Saga expansions, and a dozen extra quests (4 of which allow you to constantly shift your encounter deck), you might still want a new challenge.
Luckily the community has been working hard to give people just that. There are various challenges you can integrate into your games to make them more difficult, or to limit yourself in your options. In this article, we will be going over the various challenges you can add on top of the game in order to extend your playtime even if you have beaten everything that the game has to offer. If these challenges are not really your cup of tea, then be sure to check out this article which includes different game modes and fan-made scenarios. Some of the suggestions there might entertain you as well now that official content is halted for an unknown period of time.
Let’s get the obvious challenge out of the way early. If you feel that the game isn’t hard enough, then getting the matching Nightmare pack will give each quest some extra mechanics, and 19 tougher encounter cards. On top of that, some easier cards are removed from the encounter deck, and an extra rules card either fixes exploits that the players discovered, or repairs some aspect of the base version of the quest. This is best represented in the first cycle, where the quests have been made more difficult to still pose a challenge to modern decks, while repairing some frustrating loops like discarding Athelas through shadow effects during A Journey to Rhosgobel.
The Nightmare expansions do not cover the entire set of scenarios though. The final 3 cycles (Haradrim, Ered Mithrin, and Vengeance of Mordor) do not have Nightmare expansions designed for them, and I doubt we will ever get official Nightmare packs for those quests. The same is true for the final two Saga expansions (though I am curious what a Nightmare Black Gate Opens would look like). Print on Demand quests have also not received any Nightmare versions, but those tend to be more refined quests that can still be very tough to complete.
It should also be mentioned that at the time of writing, the Nightmare packs are in high demand but very difficult to find. Now that many people have a complete cardpool, they are looking to get their hands on these packs to complete their collection and to be able to play the scenarios in a more difficult version. It might not be possible to obtain the Nightmare packs you are looking for, but remember that you can either proxy the cards or play the game on a digital platform which does have the Nightmare cards.
For the 10 year anniversary of this game in April 2021, the designers gave the community a list of challenges to complete. These eight challenges range from doable (Not playing allies is easy with the Three Hunters Contract), to brutal (Journey in the Dark with only Gandalf is rough). You can attempt each of these challenges and mark them off the list in order to show that you have really mastered the game!
I will not be listing all the different game modes in this article. You should check the link I shared in the introduction for that. But I did want to mention the progression mode again, as I think it is one of the easier challenges you can do once you have a full cardpool, and it takes away some of your more powerful cards until you reach the expansion that those cards were released at. Veteran players have done this mode since the beginning of the game, because they had to work with what they had at the time that early expansions were released. If you want to see other people beating the game in progression mode and learn from their experiences, check out this series by the Warden of Arnor or many different video series on Youtube (some last longer than others).
The mode is quite simple, as it forces you to only regard the expansions that were available to the players when the scenario was released. For example, if you want to play Foundations of Stone, you can build your deck with the cards of the Core Set, first cycle, Khazad-Dum Deluxe, and the first 5 APs of the Dwarrowdelf cycle, but not Shadow and Flame, as that expansion came out after Foundations of Stone. This restricts your cardpool a lot, but you earn new player cards whenever you beat a scenario this way. Players can go through the releases in chronological order (with or without the Saga expansions) and unlock the player cards of the next AP when they beat the quest this way.
There are some hurdles though, as some quests are very tricky to beat in Progression mode. The first hurdle is Escape from Dol Guldur, with which you only have a Core Set to work with. This will take a lot of attempts, but is not impossible. The next hurdle comes with the Heirs of Numenor Deluxe box. Into Ithilien and Siege of Cair Andros are two brutal quests that you have to beat back-to-back without gaining player cards between them. However, once you do beat the box, you get your hands on the Outlands cards from Steward’s Fear, and things get a little easier from there. You might still have trouble with difficult scenarios in future cycles, but by then you have a lot more options open up to you.
Minimum Purchase Challenge
Now we are getting into the more restrictive challenges when it comes to deckbuilding. For the minimum purchase challenge, you only get the expansions that you need to play the quest with, to work out a deck. That means that instead of getting every previous expansion, you only get a Core Set, a Deluxe, and a single matching AP to build your deck with. If you are trying to beat a scenario from a Deluxe box, you only get that plus the Core Set to work with. This massively restricts your cardpool and makes you depend on the strength of the cards in the Deluxe box and AP. This means that if your cycle’s Deluxe box doesn’t feature strong player cards (Voice of Isengard as an example), then you might have a really hard time.
This challenge can help you to understand how some new players could feel if they didn’t take any buying guides into account and only looked at the back of APs to see what they need. In practice, this doesn’t really happen that often, but this challenge forces you to make a functional deck with very few cards and almost no staples besides what you get from the Core Set.
RingsDB daily challenge
If you want to start a challenge with some clear boundaries but not as many restrictions to your cardpool, then head on over to RingsDB. This deckbuilding site should be bookmarked anyway, as it is the largest collection of decks for the game on the internet and you can easily copy the decks that seem interesting to you. For this article, their daily challenge is important. This challenge can be found at the top of the homepage, and changes each day. I believe the challenge is randomized, so sometimes the challenge will be brutal, while other days the challenge might be easy enough to consider. You get presented with a quest as well, so you don’t even have to worry about picking one yourself.
Though the draft format is easier to do online, you might still want to create a draft cube for this game. There are various formats for this, but the most commonly used formats are the Bear Draft by Hall of Beorn, and the online application that was used during Con of the Rings 2019. With these formats, you are handed packs that you need to select cards from. That way you can try and build a deck with the cards you get, but you are never sure what you are going to get. The only time I built a drafted deck it turned out to be a weird hybrid between Noldor and Rohan, but it did alright.
The real challenge is to beat as many quests with this new deck you create as possible. Obviously, some lower difficulty quests will be a good way to get to know the strength of your deck, after which you can push your luck against some tougher quests. This random way to building decks breathes new life into the deckbuilding part of the game, and you might get decks you would otherwise never play.
Random hero challenge
A lighter version of a draft challenge, where you can select your entire deck, except for your starting heroes. You have to roll a randomizer 5 times, and select 3 heroes out of those 5. Then, build a deck around it. If this proves to be too easy, you can also limit yourself to just 3 rolls, and having to stick with those heroes. This also determines what your starting threat will be, which can be higher than usual if you draw some high cost heroes. This is also a challenge for those looking to get better at deckbuilding, as you will have to find a way to get every hero to work. It can also have you use some heroes that otherwise are left in your binder, which may prove useful in the deck you are going to build.
The Deck of Pain
This challenge sounds rather ominous, but it is great fun to play. It was created by The Purple Wizard and can only really be played in OCTGN (unless you take apart various encounter sets). It is a separate deck that you can load into OCTGN with a bunch of nasty encounter cards. Think Trolls, but also Dreadful Gap from the Khazad-Dum Deluxe, and Secret Cultist from Danger in Dorwinion. The idea is to beat a selection of quests with your regular player deck. However, during setup, you add 3 random cards from the Deck of Pain to the encounter deck without looking at them. You will now run the risk of revealing these nasty encounter cards during your playthrough, which will give some quests some extra challenge.
I have played this challenge a few times during the LCG event in October, and it was great fun. In one game, we ended up with Beorn as a Secret Cultist, which proves just how tough that bear can be when he joins the opponents side.
I will share the official rules down below, you can download the Deck of Pain here and see what sort of encounter cards are in there.
If you own the Wastes of Eriador adventure pack, you are familiar with the Day/Night double-sided objective card. This one determines the flow of the game and interacts with the quest to either force enemies engaged with you, or leave them in the staging area at the cost of revealing more encounter cards. It was suggested by Caleb himself about a year ago that players should try and include this objective in other scenarios, and see how that changes the game.
During daytime, you can relax a little bit since enemies do not make engagement check, which is quite nice to see if you are playing a quest with low engagement cost enemies. You also return all enemies to the staging area when it becomes day, which may be a blessing and a curse. If you are unable to kill enemies in the staging area, and some of them have “When this enemy engages you, do X” effects, you will be triggering those more often (great fun with the Brigand enemies from Heirs of Numenor…not).
Nightfall is more tricky though. When it becomes night, player must reveal one encounter card. Solo players will feel the sting of this the most, as this doubles the number of encounter cards revealed that round. While the objective is flipped to Nightfall, you also cannot make progress on (side-)quest cards, which will slow your progress a lot. Finally, encounter card effects cannot be cancelled, leaving you vulnerable to nasty When Revealed effects. The objective switches every round, so you are stuck in a loop of one round needing to quest hard, and the other being dedicated to clearing enemies. I will suggest starting with an easy quest first with this objective, and then see what quests you can beat afterwards!
Designer challenge for Shadow of the Past
We stick to challenges given to us by the designers for this next one, as this challenge was created by Matt Newman for the start of the LOTR Saga. The full description can be read in this article from FFG. It boils down to you beating the quest in the most thematic way possible, and meeting new heroes along the way. The challenge includes a decklist that you must follow, and will give you new rewards for clearing certain stages. It is not too difficult, but might take a few attempts before you can clear it.
The new contracts that were released in the latest cycle also pose a different deckbuilding challenge if you are up for it. While these are more common in the community, if you are not caught up with recent releases yet, you can easily proxy the contracts and change your deck with it. You can get double the decksize, 1 to 4 heroes, losing all (non-unique) allies in the deck for more benefits, or get a secondary deck with some high end attachments to receive as you explore locations. These contracts really spice up your game, so you should definitely give them a try if you are looking for something new.
The game holds the lore of the books in high honor, but some cards aren’t very thematic when attached to certain characters. Fatty Bolger shouldn’t be able to become the Steward of Gondor, so you could include houserules during deckbuilding that prevents lore-breaks like this. This is most obvious with some of the unique attachments, like The One Ring only being able to go on Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. You can decide for yourself to include as many of these restrictions as you want, including when characters should actually have died. That means no playing Boromir after Breaking of the Fellowship. Of course, you are free to make your own story with the game, but for those that are looking to follow the books by the letter, then restricting your cardpool like this will be an interesting challenge for you.
If this list of challenges was too short for you or you have already beaten every single challenge, then I have a list of some more restrictive challenges here made by the Warden of Arnor. These range from limiting your cardpool, to limiting your deck by the first letter of each card in the deck! Give them a read and hopefully they can offer you another challenge to overcome: https://wardenofarnor.wordpress.com/deckbuilding-challenges/
Did I miss any challenges? What challenges do you play when you are bored with the base game? Leave them in the comments below so people can try your challenges as well. If I missed any popular ones, I will add them to the list later on.