Escape from Dol Guldur

Completing our trifecta of Core Set quests, we have Escape from Dol Guldur. This quest comes with a warning from the entire veteran community to new players: Skip this quest and go back to it later when your card pool has expanded. This quest can be brutal with just Core Set decks and still proves to be a challenge with more modern decks. This is because the quest takes away a lot of your action advantage, and doesn’t allow you to build up an army of allies. Combine this with a rough early game with 3 encounter cards in the staging area, and you are in for a challenge! It gets easier in higher player counts, but even then an untimely treachery can cause players to lose without mercy.

If you are more familiar with the game and would like to finally beat this quest, then this article is for you! While a victory will be rare during your first 5 playthroughs, you will eventually get better over time, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get past the first stage. This article is a rewritten article of my first Dol Guldur strategy guide. That one did not match the length and depth of the more modern VotP articles, so I have rewritten the scenario analyses for the entire Core Set now with the full card pool in mind. If you want to read the original article, see this link.

Escape from Dol Guldur

  • Found in: Core Set, scenario 3
  • Official Difficulty: 7
  • Community Difficulty: 7.7
  • Encounter Sets: Spiders of Mirkwood, Dol Guldur Orcs, Escape from Dol Guldur
  • Quest cards: 3
  • What is different about this quest?: Hero taken prisoner at the start of the game, limited possibilities to play allies, guarded objectives that must be claimed to advance, Nazgul final boss
  • Solo or Multiplayer?: The quest become easier with more players, and I will recommend playing two-handed before I would recommend true solo. That way you still have several decks that have all their heroes at the start of the game. Higher player counts will mean that the players have to properly communicate who will be playing the ally that round. It can make for some interesting discussions.
  • Can I run side-quests for this scenario?: There is no out-right punishment for it, but this is a quest where you will want to get through at least the first stage rather quickly in order to rescue the hero. From there, you would like to complete the quest as soon as possible. So side-quests won’t really help too much here.
  • Can I bring Guarded (X) cards?: You start with 3 Guarded objectives in the staging area, so cards like Tactics Bilbo already have a suitable target (assuming one is guarded by an enemy). There are some big enemies in this encounter deck that you will want to avoid, so perhaps with scrying you can get some Guarded (X) cards in play. But I wouldn’t risk it in lower player counts. If you really want to play with Guarded (X) cards, I advise the Burglar’s Turn contract, which can get you the attachments for next to nothing. The attachments will really help out, like Mithril Shirt cancelling the damage from the Shadow Key, and various other attachments helping out with questing in the early game, and dealing damage to the bigger enemies.
  • Player cards to avoid: The Grey Wanderer contract. It is an auto-loss when your only hero becomes captured like that. With the added ally limit, it is definitely a contract to avoid.
  • Optimal starting threat: Since this quest features the Hummerhorns, I would recommend starting below 40 (noteworthy if you are considering Bond of Friendship to get around the captured hero). This also saves you from an early engagement by the Nazgul as soon as you rescue the prisoner. There are some other tough enemies that you will want to avoid initially, so keeping your starting threat below 32 will give you some time before you have to deal with them. This is important, since there is a real chance some of these enemies will enter play during setup.
  • Traits to add to the Victory Display: Creature, Forest, Orc, Undead, Dungeon
  • What to look out for: A lot of starting threat in the staging area at the beginning of the game. Being one hero down and having limited access to allies means that early progress is difficult. Objectives will actively harm you when attached to heroes, but are required to progress. Some nasty enemies can come out very early. Final boss-fight against Nazgul needs to be over quickly, else you are discarding heroes rapidly. Some low engagment cost enemies can surprise stealth-decks.
  • Any changes from the original cards?: Yes, there are a few cards in the encounter deck that have gotten an errata since the first release of the game. For a full list, see this link. One of the larger changes was that the Nazgul no longer can be trapped in a Forest Snare.

The Quest

Setup

The start of this quest is one that you are going to see quite often. That’s because you need quite a bit of luck in order to stand a fighting chance, especially in lower player counts. To start the game, find the three objective cards, and place them in the staging area in any order. You then put the Nazgul of Dol Guldur aside, out of play, before resolving the Guarded keyword on each of the objectives. To do this, shuffle the encounter deck and reveal the top 3 cards. Those three encounter cards go to the assigned objective. If you happen to reveal a treachery through this effect, resolve it as normal before discarding it (you can also cancel the effects). Enemies and/or locations attach to the objectives and must be defeated in order to be able to claim the objective. Locations must be explored, either by making it the active location and exploring it organically, or by clearing it in the staging area with location control. Enemies must be defeated in any way you can before the objective can be claimed. All of the encounter cards guarding the objectives will add their threat to the staging area, which means that there are certain nasty cards that can make the early game difficult.

Some bad cards to get during setup are:

Some good encounter cards to get this way are:

Once you have revealed one encounter card per objective (not counting surge), you can flip over the quest card and start the first round.

Quest card 1: The Necromancer’s Tower – 9 quest points

When flipping over the quest card, the players are instructed to randomly select one hero that the players control, and flip that hero over. I suggest using dice or a random number generator for this, but the important part is that you do not get to choose which hero is getting captured. This means that your deck should be prepared to function at only 66% capacity in the early game. The captured hero is now called “the prisoner” and has several restrictions that come with the new title. They cannot be used (quest, exhaust, attack, defend, trigger an event, or anything), cannot take damage (so they aren’t a target for Hummerhorns or Dol Guldur Orcs), and do not collect resources until they are rescued. That “rescued” part is not important right now, as you can only rescue the prisoner at stage 2.

You only have one prisoner per game, so in a 4 player game, 3 players are able to run their deck at max efficiency, and support the player who is down one hero. This imbalance between player counts is something that gets rectified in the Nightmare version of this quest, but for the normal version of this quest, you should try and bring as many people to this at once in order to stand the best chance.

After overcoming the shock of losing a hero, you are free to start your first turn. You will notice (especially in lower player counts) that you are up against a lot of threat in the staging area, which will make it difficult to make progress early on. Building up a boardstate is also tough, as you will not be able to play more than 1 ally per round as a group. This means that players must really discuss among themselves who the best ally is to bring in each round. For the early rounds, I would advise someone with a lot of willpower or willpower-raising abilities. Faramir, Rosie Cotton, Pelargir Shipwright, and Sulien are all excellent early game allies for this quest, as they can help you to get past that initial blockade of threat in the staging area. After getting a grip on the threat situation, you can look at getting more combat allies into play, or more utility-allies like healers. The limit of 1 ally per round will last throughout the first 2 stages of the game, so you have to plan ahead a little.

While the quest card prevents players from playing ally cards, it does not prevent players from putting allies into play through card effects. There is a subtle difference in that, but it can allow players (especially in solo) to more quickly assemble an army for this quest. Cards like A Very Good Tale, Timely Aid, Vilya, and Sneak Attack can put allies into play without taking up the slot of 1-ally-per-round. That is only taken up when players play allies directly from their hand (including effects like Hirgon and Thranduil).

As I mentioned, the early game is all about making sure you have enough progress to clear locations and start chipping away at the 9 quest points on the main quest. Try to travel whenever you can, as that will free up more threat from the staging area and allows you to maybe get rid of some of the cards that are guarding objectives. Take some time to set up somewhat of a board state (as best you can with the ally restriction) before advancing.

In order to advance from stage 1, the players need 9 progress on the main quest, and need to control at least 1 objective. If the objective takes a little longer to obtain, use the spare time to clear locations and maybe a player side-quest if anyone brought any. Don’t get the objectives before you make the 9 progress though. All three of the objectives have harmful effects, so it is in your best interest that the objectives are only attached to heroes when you need them to advance or when they are under threat of a Dungeon Jailor. If given the option between all three objectives, go for Gandalf’s Map first, and attach it to a questing hero. That one is the least threatening of the bunch, you’ll need some other cards in place if you are going to attach the other two cards for long.

Quest card 2: Through the Caverns – 15 quest points

There is nothing significant that happens when you transition to the second stage of this quest, as there is no extra ability besides the limitation to allies on the quest card. However, the 2B side of this quest does give you the option to rescue your prisoner! After the players place any number of progress on this quest card, they may flip over the hero’s card. The hero has been “rescued” and can now be used by its controller again. This does come at a cost though. The first is that the hero enters play with a point of damage. This is generally not an issue, but if you had a Hobbit hero captured, they may be close to death if an untimely Necromancer’s Reach comes out. The second cost is much more severe. With the prisoner now rescued, the Nazgul of Dol Guldur moves to the staging area. This adds 5 threat to the staging area and a potential enemy to come down if players are getting towards that 40 threat threshold.

Because of you needing to add the Nazgul to the staging area as soon as you place any progress on the main quest, it is advised that you try and make a big push at once to get as much progress on the card as possible. That way, you don’t get trapped in the dungeons by the Nazgul and his threat. Making 10 progress or more can lead to a swift escape, especially if you have also cleared the other two objectives from their guarded cards.

In order to proceed to the final quest stage, the player will need a total of 15 quest points, while this isn’t easy to get once the Nazgul is in play, the players can optionally engage the Nazgul during this stage once they have rescued the prisoner. That removes the threat from the staging area and removes another hurdle that will prevent completing the quest in the next round. If you do not have any other enemies in play, engaging the Nazgul will be a good idea, assuming you have all the pieces in play to take it out quickly. If you do not, then leave the Nazgul in the staging area and try to clear threat by engaging other enemies and travelling.

To complete this stage, you also need to control all of the objectives on top of the 15 progress. Again, I advise to pick these objectives up after you have made the required progress on the main quest. This is because you will have to raise your threat to claim these objectives, and they actively harm your deck by dealing damage, raising threat, and preventing a hero from attacking or defending. On top of all of this, each objective is also Restricted. In a true solo game, this is quite tricky, as it will take up a total of 3 of your 6 (more if you have the Bond of Friendship contract, Forth the Three Hunters contract, Golden Belt, of find another way to gain extra heroes). In higher player counts, most players can just take one of the objectives to spread them out a little.

With all objectives claimed and all progress placed, the players immediately advance to the next quest stage. If you don’t like to advance during the quest stage but want to advance when you feel ready, leave one of the objectives in the staging area and claim it after having placed enough progress. Speed is of the essence though, so try to hurry up and get out of there.

Quest card 3: Out of the Dungeons – 7 quest points

The final quest card of the quest has the players battle out of Dol Guldur. The A-side of the quest has nothing but flavor text, but the B-side of the quest card is where your final obstacles are. There are no direct punishments to flipping to this quest side, but the quest does force the players to put the top card of their deck facedown in front of them at the start of each quest phase. These cards are known as Orc Guard, and have the same stats of the Orc Guard that the Tower Gate location puts into play. These enemies are very weak, and will die quickly, so they shouldn’t really be a priority during the combat phase. However, it is important to remember to put a new Orc Guard into play at the beginning of each quest phase. This means that if you take too long at this quest stage, you might become overwhelmed with these smaller enemies.

The quest stage also has a major benefit, players are no longer restricted to playing one ally per round as a group. This means that players can start playing allies again as normal, and that swarm decks can finally start working again (a bit late to the party if you ask me). The reason for lifting this restriction is to not have solo players start to discard heroes for the Nazgul’s effect if they do not draw into allies that round. This ability to swarm allies is nice, but will only make completing this quest a little easier in the final rounds.

The goal of this stage is to make 7 progress on the main quest, which shouldn’t be too difficult after having placed 15 progress in the previous round. If players have already defeated the Nazgul before transitioning to stage 3, then they can quest with everyone and hope to win the scenario in a single round. If players have not yet defeated the Nazgul, then the focus should really be aimed at killing that enemy, before questing through. As long as you can keep the threat in the staging area low enough, you can leave behind some characters for combat, and then quest through harder once you have defeated the Nazgul.

The Nazgul itself will take some effort to bring down, but as it is only immune to attachments, players can use plenty of events and abilities to bring down this enemy without too much trouble. Focus on cancelling attacks to avoid having to discard characters. Players can also use some big one-shot attacks like Black Arrow and Tactics Eowyn to deliver a swift final blow to this enemy. Once the players have defeated the Nazgul, it goes into the encounter discard pile. This means that you really should quest hard to clear the quest card afterwards, so that you don’t run the risk of having to reshuffle the encounter deck and revealing the Nazgul during staging. This is pretty rare, but can extend your game by a few rounds. Having the progress already on the quest stage will allow you to win as soon as you kill the Nazgul. This is probably the better approach, if you have the willpower to do it (assuming you didn’t kill the Nazgul during stage 2).

After the Nazgul has left play and the players have obtained 7 progress on the main quest, they win the game. It is quite a feat and is worthy of celebration, especially if you manage to do this with Core Set decks or in low player counts. Up next is the first cycle of adventure packs, starting with the Hunt for Gollum.

The Encounter deck

Global

dol guldur
  • The encounter deck includes 37 cards in Normal mode. This is reduced to 26 in Easy mode.
  • The chances of hitting a shadow effect are low, at 35% in Normal mode, and 46% in Easy mode
  • Average threat per card revealed clocks in at 1.4 in Normal mode, and 1.5 in Easy mode.
  • Only 2 cards in the encounter deck have the surge keyword (both copies of Endless Caverns). Driven by Shadow can also surge if there are no other cards in the staging area.
  • Doomed is a much more common keyword, with 4 encounter cards having Doomed 1. With more threat raising effects appearing in the encounter deck, it is not advised to bring a Doomed deck of your own.
  • Immunity
    • The Nazgul of Dol Guldur cannot have attachments
    • While Enchanted Stream is the active location, players cannot draw cards
    • The hero with Gandalf’s Map attached cannot attack or defend
    • During stages 1 and 2, the players as a group can only play 1 ally per round.

These statistics do not take the objective cards and the Nazgul of Dol Guldur into account, as those cards do not start the game in the encounter deck. The easy mode of this quest removes quite a lot of treacheries and enemies. The locations aren’t a big threat in general, so Easy mode will indeed make your life a lot easier as you try and beat this quest.

Objectives

There are three objective attachments to be earned in this quest, and all three start the game in the staging area. In order to advance the quest, players will need to secure these attachments and clear them of any guarding cards. For the first stage, you only need one objective to advance to stage 2, and you need all three objectives in order to advance to stage 3. It is advised to pick up these objectives as late as possible, as they have harmful effects that you do not want to deal with for long. We will go over each of the three objectives here.

All objectives share the fact that they have both the Guarded and the Restricted keywords. I have explained the Guarded mechanics during the setup of the scenario, and the Restricted keyword should be pretty familiar to players. It means that characters cannot equip more than 2 attachments with this keyword at once without having to resort to Golden Belt and the Three Hunters contract to give them more restricted slots. Once both Restricted slots have been filled, heroes can still wield non-restricted attachments, so don’t limit yourself in that way. In true solo, the Restricted keyword on these objectives is a bit problematic, since it will prevent you from playing a lot of your own attachments on your heroes. 3 objectives means that you will only have half the usual slots available for you, which is sometimes a problem.

Once any objective has been cleared of its guarded card, the a player may raise their threat by 2 to claim the objective. Should the objective ever become unattached, then the objective is returned to the staging area, but does not receive a new card guarding it. Players will have to raise their threat again to claim the objective though.

  • Gandalf’s Map: The first objective we will discuss is a map that Gandalf made years ago when he went into Dol Guldur to explore and find Thrain. The Map is probably the least harmful objective out of the three, as it only restricts the attached hero to not being able to attack or defend. So the solution to this objective is quite easy: put it on a questing hero. You will probably have a hero who isn’t going to do much in combat anyway, so putting this objective on that hero is not that big of a deal. Alternatively, you can also stick this attachment on a hero who you exhaust for their ability, like Galadriel, Beravor, Argalad, and Spirit Aragorn. If all your heroes are all-rounders, then just put it on whatever hero needs the fewest Restricted slots. This is probably the best of the three objectives to get early on, as it doesn’t do something at the end of the round.
  • Dungeon Torch: The Dungeon Torch isn’t as nice as the Cave Torch that you will get in the Dwarrowdelf cycle. The extra light from this torch helps you to find your way around the dungeons, but also attracts a lot of unwanted attention. The player who has the Dungeon Torch attached to their hero must raise their threat by an additional 2 points at the end of each round. This is on top of the one threat you usually take at the end of each round. This means that you will quickly be going up in threat, and will start to engage more and more enemies as the game drags on. Having enough threat reduction can help, but you will need to dedicate a lot of resources towards threat reduction to keep your threat stable. Spirit ally Elfhelm will be a great tool for this, as he will reduce the threat you take from the objective by 1. He will probably be ready at the end of each round, so you can half the threat you take with him. Still, it is a priority to take this objective very late in the game, and make sure you get through the scenario quickly in order to not threat out.
  • Shadow Key: The final objective you can try and get is the Shadow Key. This key looks infused with some necrotic magic or something, and will drain the life from whoever wields it. The attached hero will take one point of damage at the end of each round from the key. This gives most heroes 4 to 5 turns before they are destroyed, but luckily you are allowed to heal the hero or cancel the damage. The best strategy against this key is to have the hero equip the Mithril Shirt guarded attachment. This reduces any damage that the hero take by 1. It nullifies the damage that the hero takes and can protect it from other direct damage effects like Necromancer’s Reach or the Hummerhorn’s shadow effect. That way you are certain that you can hang on to this key until the end of the game. Other effects are also useful, like Self Preservation to keep healing your hero. Put this attachment on a hero with plenty of hitpoints, and pick it up as late as possible if you do not have access to healing or damage cancellation yet.

Enemies

The enemies in this scenario will be a common sight by now. Two of the three encounter sets have been used before, during Passage through Mirkwood. You should be familiar with these enemies by now, but I will give the analysis of them anyway. We also have several other enemies that are unique to this scenario.

  • King Spider: First up is another 8-legged monster that we’ve encountered during Passage through Mirkwood already, the King Spider. This one has a nasty When Revealed effect that exhausts a character when it is revealed from the encounter deck. This can throw your plans out the window if you had exactly enough characters to deal with combat this round. This is especially problematic early on in this scenario, when you do not have that many characters to begin with. The fact that this targets each player is pretty brutal too. The 20 engagement cost means that this spider will engage early on. During combat it will always hit for 3 attack, requiring a dedicated defender to take care of this enemy. The King Spider is a little easier to kill though, requiring just 4 attack. This can be done be individual heroes, but can also be easily achieved by a few allies should you have some out already. Shadow: The King Spider has a shadow effect that will mimic its when revealed effect. The defending player must exhaust one character they control. This can ruin your plans to counter attack the enemy, meaning it will remain in play a little while longer. If you took the incoming attack undefended, then you are even more out of luck, as you will have to exhaust 2 characters. This can also be problematic if you revealed this shadow card first in a series of attacks, and now have to exhaust the character you were hoping to defend the other enemy with. Readying effects will be important for this shadow card.
  • Hummerhorns: The Nazgul might be considered the boss of this scenario, but the Hummerhorns take the crown when it comes to annoying encounter effects. The enemy has the highest engagement cost of any enemy in this encounter deck at 40, which is a blessing, but if you end up with the Hummerhorns defending an objective, you are going to have to engage it at some point. You will want to try and avoid engaging the enemy early on though. That is thanks to the effect on the Hummerhorns. Whenever it engages a player, that player must deal 5 damage to a hero they control. This will kill every hero in the cardpool (with the exception of Beorn) without any hitpoint granting attachments. There is also almost no way to avoid this effect if your threat is equal to its engagement cost, except for Revealed in Wrath during the encounter phase. The 5 damage will automatically delete a hero from the game, and although you can revive them through various player cards, it will be an expensive trick to pull off. In combat, the Hummerhorns aren’t as powerful as their effect, only hitting for 2 and needing 3 attack to be defeated. But it will be rare to face these wasps in battle. The best way to deal with them is to either ignore them and keep a low threat, or to kill them in the staging area. Leadership Eomer or Dunhere are great heroes for this, but direct damage effects can also quickly cut through the Hummerhorns’ hitpoints. The good thing about defeating the Hummerhorns is that they have a Victory score. This means that once you defeat them, you no longer have to deal with them again. Shadow: Revealing the Hummerhorns as a shadow effect isn’t much better than engaging it unfortunately. This shadow effect is by far the most brutal in the scenario and a Hasty Stroke should be kept in reserve for this effect in particular. If the Hummerhorns are revealed as a shadow effect, the defending player must deal 1 damage to each character they control. This targets both exhausted and ready characters, and flat out deals 1 damage to every character from that player. If this shadow effect kills the defender (like Defender of Rammas), then the attack is considered undefended. This does not trigger the second part of the shadow effect, which only happens if the attack was undefended to begin with. If that is the case, then the damage is doubled to each character. 2 damage dealt directly to allies will kill the majority of the cheap allies, especially if they were already damaged from treacheries earlier. This effect must be cancelled at all costs, or the player can be considered out of the game for a while as they try to build up again.
  • Ungoliant’s Spawn: The Ungoliant’s Spawn is quite a big enemy, and while it was the “boss” in Passage through Mirkwood, it is just a regular enemy in this scenario. When it is revealed, each of your characters that is committed to the quest gets -1 willpower, putting a big damper on your progress that round. You can avoid this by cancelling the When Revealed effect with Eleanor or the Dunedain Lookout. You can also counter this loss in willpower by using Faramir or Free Peoples to boost your willpower again. On top of the When Revealed effect, you also get this lovely spider enemy in play, adding 3 threat to the staging area. But don’t worry, it won’t stay up there for very long. The engagement cost of the Spawn is only 32, meaning that mid-game decks will likely have to engage it earlier than they would like, especially if other enemies were revealed that round. In combat, the Spawn hits very hard for 5, which requires players to have a dedicated defender, or a chump blocker for this enemy. Try to avoid chump blocking though, as you won’t get the chance to play a ton of allies, so it would be a shame to throw some of the allies away like that. Attacking the Spawn back will take some effort. With 2 defence and 9 hitpoints, the Spider will take a lot of punishment, and you might need several turns to actually kill it. Don’t forget that it isn’t immune to anything, so you are more than welcome to use all your tricks on it to deal more damage and prevent it from attacking. Rivendell Blade into Straight Shot is a very cheaky way to defeat the Spawn. Shadow: This boss level enemy has the possibility to show up as a shadow card, and you will wish for some cancellation when you get it. The Spawn will raise the defending player’s threat by 4, but if the attack is undefended, it is increased by 8. This is a massive leap in terms of threat, and will put you closer to the engagement cost of tougher enemies for next round. Cancellation of this shadow effect or threat reduction will save you here.
  • Dol Guldur Orcs: These are some of the weakest Orc enemies in this scenario, but can still pack a punch if you are not careful. The Orcs have a very low threat, meaning that if you are unlucky, you can get swarmed pretty early by these enemies. Especially with Orc Guard and the Cavern Guardian in play, you might end up engaging more than you bargained for. They also have a When Revealed effect that is quite annoying, as it will deal 2 damage to a character committed to the quest. The first player gets to select this character, but if that character dies because of the direct damage, their willpower is removed from the total. This makes it quite annoying to reveal this enemy multiple times in quick succession, especially in lower player counts where there aren’t as many characters committed to the quest. With an engagement cost of 10, these enemies will engage nearly all decks right away, except for the early game Grey Wanderer decks. While engaged, the Orcs aren’t that big of a problem, but due to their low engagement cost, you do not get the option to leave them in the staging area. This can cause you to be overwhelmed by lower engagement cost enemies early on, requiring you to dedicate more characters to defense. Killing the Orcs is no problem though. They do not have any defence, meaning that every point of attack you can spare will result in them taking damage. It also means that Straight Shot can discard them immediately. Shadow: The shadow effect on the Orcs is a pretty basic one. The attacking enemy gets +1 attack for this attack. Should players have taken the attack undefended, then the enemy gets +3 attack, which can be deadly for an undefended attack. It even turns enemies like the orc Guard into a 4 attack enemy that you took undefended. The best way to deal with that case is to have DoriWhite Tower Watchman or Barliman in play, so you can redirect the damage you would otherwise take on your hero. Cancelling the shadow effect is of course also an option.
  • Chieftain Ufthak: This is another single-copy enemy in the encounter deck, and the only other enemy aside from the Dungeon Jailor and Hummerhorns with a Victory score. Chieftain Ufthak is an enemy that you don’t want to leave around for too long, and you should prioritize him whenever he is engaged with a player. At 35 engagement cost, you have some time to prepare for him, though higher starting threat decks might need to prepare quickly. Ufthak has a well-rounded statline of 2/3/3/6 and he has a special ability that allows him to collect tokens. He gets one resource token from the bank each time he attacks. He then gets +2 attack for each token on him at that moment. This happens before the damage is calculated during the attack, meaning that he will attack for 5 during his first attack, 7 for his next attack, and so on. Save your Feints for this enemy as well as the Nazgul, since he doesn’t get a resource token if he doesn’t attack. Killing him should be a priority before he becomes too big. Use some one-time abilities like Black Arrow and Tactics Eowyn to defeat Ufthak quickly. He will be added to the Victory Display upon his defeat. You should exploit his lack of immunity to player card effects so that you can maximize damage dealt to him, while avoiding his attacks.
  • Dol Guldur Beastmaster: The biggest threat of this enemy is that it has quite a lot of hitpoints, making it tough to defeat in the early game. At 5 hitpoints, the Beastmaster can even survive a direct hit from Gandalf‘s damage ability. This means it will be very likely that you are going to have to suffer through at least one of the Beastmaster’s attacks. This can be quite dangerous. Not because the Beastmaster has so much attack, 3 attack is quite standard, but because of the ability on the Beastmaster. When he attacks, he is dealt an additional shadow card. This can be a problem, as you can potentially get 2 shadow effects buffing his attack or doing other nasty things like discarding attachments or raising your threat. To circumvent these shadow cards, you can either focus all your direct damage on the Beastmaster to kill him before he makes an attack. Events like Quick Strike are also a good solution if you can manage to attack for 6 with a single character. Alternatively, you can also make sure that the Beastmaster won’t attack, thereby not triggering either shadow effect. Feint is a great tool for this, but you can also get creative with a Reforged Forest Snare. With 35 engagement cost, you will have some time to prepare for this enemy before it comes down. You are also helped by the fact that the chances of seeing a shadow card on this enemy is relatively low, let alone getting both cards with an effect. But if you are not willing to try your luck, there are several options mentioned earlier that will help you to get around this enemy.
  • Dungeon Jailor: This mean looking Orc enemy is unique to this scenario and is quite a strong defender. 3 defence and 5 hitpoints really stand out and will prevent you from dealing a lot of damage tho the Jailor at once. Sneaking in Gandalf won’t even kill this enemy, but luckily you only have to deal with both copies of this card once (if at all). The Dungeon Jailor also doesn’t have to come down immediately as he has 38 engagement cost and a threat of only 1. However, players might want to priortize engaging the Jailor, as he can shuffle objective cards back into the encounter deck. This only triggers if the Jailor is in the staging area, the players have unclaimed objectives in the staging area (objectives without Guarded cards), and the players have quested unsuccesful that round. Only then is one objective shuffled into the encounter deck, which will often see the players lose, as they try to find the final objective to advance to stage 3. Should the objective be discarded through some effect or turn up as a shadow card, then the players must either use Shadow of the Past, The End Comes, or wait until the encounter discard pile is shuffled back into the deck, by which time they will have likely threated out. However, if by some miracle, the objective does end up being revealed again, the Guarded keyword does trigger again, and players have to get rid of the guarding card before claiming the objective.
    To avoid all of this, you can simply engage the Jailor early, or make sure you have no unclaimed objectives in the staging area. Engaging the Jailor has no immediate downsides, other than the fact that you have to defend an attack of 2, and have to find 8 attack to defeat this Jailor. However, when he is defeated, he is placed in the Victory Display, so he won’t turn up again (though his second copy might…). This is an enemy that you will probably need more than one round against to get through that tough defence. Lowering the defence with Rivendell Blade will be a good strategy to deal some more damage to him, or you can pile onto this enemy with Ranged support from other players if there are no other major threats engaged at the moment.
  • Nazgul of Dol Guldur: Speaking of major threats, the Nazgul of Dol Guldur is the boss-level enemy for this scenario, and only enters play when the players rescue the prisoner. The Nazgul has some big stats, but also comes with some horrible game text that will make you want to kill him as fast as possible. The first thing that will strike players as the Nazgul enters play is the 5 threat on the enemy. This will outweigh whatever hero you just rescued, so you will need to quest pretty hard next round to get out of stage 2. The engagement cost of 40 will mean that the Nazgul can stay in the staging area for a little while, though various Doomed effects can put you close to that engagement cost. You will need to defeat the Nazgul to win the game, so you can either engage it early or only engage it during stage 3 and kill it once you have all the progress on the quest stage. Engaging the Nazgul doesn’t do anything right away, but will mean that you have to start defending its attacks. The Nazgul attacks for 4, and will trigger a Forced effect every time a shadow effect dealt to it resolves. This means that the shadow card on the Nazgul must have an effect, and it wasn’t cancelled by the players. If this is the case, the engaged player must discard 1 character they control. Make sure that the engaged player has allies to throw away for this effect (which is tricky during stage 2) otherwise you run the risk of discarding heroes. You can also use heroes like Erkenbrand and Balin to cheat around the shadow cards, or you can cancel the attack of the Nazgul. The one thing you cannot do against the Nazgul, is to play attachments on it. This was an errata that was put into place pretty early on, so you might see a Nazgul card without this restriction somewhere, but the legal version of this enemy cannot have attachments on it. This targets Forest Snare primarily, which would negate the Forced effect of the Nazgul alltogether. But as the Nazgul is not immune to other player card effects, you can use them all to try and take down this enemy. With 3 defence and 9 hitpoints, it will take a lot of effort and will require Ranged support or cards like Unseen Strike to greatly boost attack. When the Nazgul is defeated, it is placed in the encounter discard pile and not the Victory Display as you might expect. So there is a slim chance of seeing the Nazgul again if you are not fast enough. However, if you have all the progress on stage 3 and only then take down this enemy, you win the game.
  • Cavern Guardian: I tend to forget that this enemy exists in the game, much less in the Core Set (I play Dol Guldur that often…). The Cavern Guardian is an easy enemy, though its low engagement cost of 8 will mean that it can engage you alongside another enemy if your threat is high enough. Engaging multiple enemies in the early game will be tricky, as you won’t have that many defenses prepared for them all. However, the Cavern Guardian isn’t the worst enemy to get engaged with you. It does have Doomed 1, so you will be raising your threat when it is revealed. While engaged, the Cavern Guardian will attack you for 2 but will take only 3 attack to kill. This can be done by some allies on their own, and heroes shouldn’t have a hard time dealing with this enemy at all. Shadow: The shadow effect on the Cavern Guardian is much more troublesome than the actual enemy. You will be forced to choose and discard one attachment you control or all of them if the attack was undefended. During the first and second stage, this might mean that you will not have enough objectives to proceed to the next quest, and will have to claim the attachments again by raising your threat. If an objective attachment is discarded through this shadow card, the objective is sent back to the staging area, but does not trigger it’s Guarded keyword again.
  • Orc Guard: I included this enemy on the list even though you won’t be revealing it from the encounter deck at any point. Better yet, it is not really an encounter card either. Instead, the quest has you create some of these Orc Guard during stage 3 and after travelling to the Tower Gate. The Orc Guard are facedown cards taken from the top of your encounter deck, and will be discarded to your own discard pile upon defeat. This means you might lose out of some cards from your deck, but unless you are running the Council of the Wise contract, that shouldn’t matter too much. Once you get to stage 3, you can probably survive while losing out on at least 1 card from your deck.
    The Orc Guard itself is an enemy with no threat and an engagement cost of 0, though it will never enter the staging area unless the players use tricks to get them there. The other stats on the Guard aren’t that impressive either, having just 1 attack, 1 defence, and 1 hitpoint. This makes the Orc Guard a perfect target for Gondorian Spearman or defenders equipped with the Spear of the Citadel. This will kill Orc Guard before it can really attack, removing a nuisance engaged with you. The enemy isn’t really that deadly, though taking the attack undefended might leave you vulnerable to some nasty shadow effects, so be sure to at least dedicate a defender to this small fry. Killing the Orc Guard is easily done, though if you are playing a Dunedain deck, this is the perfect enemy to keep engaged with you for your bonuses.

Locations

The Forest locations that we’ve seen during Passage through Mirkwood make a return, and are accompanied by the new Dungeon locations unique to this scenario. While not the worst locations in the deck, they can still be a nuisance when they are revealed.

  • Great Forest Web: Our first location on this list is the Great Forest Web. This location sounds pretty bad, but when you look at the stats, you see that it isn’t too terrible. 2 threat and 2 quest points is pretty average for this quest, and low when comparing it to other scenarios. The biggest problem with the Web is its travel cost. Each player must exhaust a hero in order to travel here. If any player cannot exhaust a hero, then the players aren’t able to travel here and they must instead go somewhere else if able. This location is usually left in the staging area, as it is not worth travelling to. You reduce the threat in the staging area by 2 in exchange for needing 2 more progress next round to clear it. The cost of exhausting a hero per player is usually too high, except if each player either has a way to ready their hero, or doesn’t need their hero for the rest of the round. This can happen if no enemies were revealed that round, in which case the Web can make for a proper destination during the travel phase. It is recommended to just clear the Web in the staging area with the use of player card effects. 2 quest points is easy to overcome with effects like Asfaloth and Evening Star, and even effects that place just 1 progress are already halfway there.
  • Mountains of Mirkwood: There is a lot happening with this location, both good and bad. To start with, the Mountains of Mirkwood have 2 threat and 3 quest points. They also have a travel cost that will require you to reveal the top card of the encounter deck to travel there. Should you have no encounter cards left in the encounter deck after the quest phase, then you cannot travel here, since the deck is only reset in the quest phase. It is usually a good trade-off to travel to this location, especially if you haven’t got any enemies in play at that point. You can potentially get an enemy this way and will have something to do during the combat phase. However, if you feel that you are getting overwhelmed by the encounter deck, then it is probably better to travel somewhere else. There is a benefit to defeating this location though. Once the Mountains of Mirkwood have been explored, they allow each player to search the top 5 cards of their deck for any one card and add it to their hand. This helps players to set up more easily, especially if they don’t have scrying or card draw (yet). This is basically a free use of Heed the Dream, which can be great for people looking for specific cards. Note that this benefit triggers when the location is explored, not discarded. This means that cards like Distant Stars won’t trigger it. But it can trigger when players explore the location through player card effects placing progress on it in the staging area. You don’t have to travel to it in order to get the benefit. This location is a case of risk versus reward, and can be quite enjoyable to debate travelling to.
  • Necromancer’s Pass: This location now makes a lot more sense than during Passage through Mirkwood, as you work your way into the fortres. At 3 threat, this location has the highest threat of any location in this encounter deck. And since 3 isn’t that high compared to other scenarios, you get a feeling for the difficulty of these locations (it’s low, very low). The Pass can be cleared in the staging area by just placing 2 points of progress on it with player card effects. Alternatively, the players can travel to the location if there is no other active location during the travel phase. This will demand that the first player discards 2 cards at random from their hand. If they have 1 or no cards in their hand, the players cannot travel here. I tend to clear the location in the staging area unless I feel that I have a high enough chance to discard some cards from my hand that I don’t mind losing. The location isn’t too much to worry about, and you can generally get away with travelling somewhere else. However, if you are in a situation where location lock is becoming a threat, then travel to the Pass, as it lowers the threat in the staging area the most.
  • Enchanted Stream: Out of all locations in the encounter deck, this is the only one for which I would warn not to travel to but instead clear it in the staging area. That is not only because it is quite easy to clear in the staging area, requiring just 2 progress, but also because of the passive rule that is on the Enchanted Stream. While it is the active location, players cannot draw cards. This means that players not only lose the card they get every resource phase, but they also cannot draw from other effects. Card draw events like Deep Knowledge become useless, but even utility allies like Master of the Forge and Bofur cannot draw you specific cards anymore. This stalls your deck’s development unless you have plenty to play from the cards in your hand. Decks that run Erestor (and usually Noldor decks in general) will struggle as they lose most of their hand and cannot draw extra cards. Since this only happens when the Enchanted Stream is the active location, I would suggest leaving it in the staging area, even if it is the only location in the staging area during the travel phase. It is not worth losing your ability to draw cards, unless you can be sure to quest through it before you could draw a card again. With it only having 2 quest points, cards like Legolas and Strength of Will can clear it without costing you too many cards. Blanking the textbox of this card with Thror’s Key can also solve the issue, but only if you really want to. Usually there are enough other options to travel to during the travel phase.
  • Endless Caverns: One of the new locations is the Endless Caverns, and it is not really that big of a deal compared to some of the other locations in the game. It has 1 threat, and a completely empty textbox aside from the surge and Doomed 1 keyword. The Doomed 1 is annoying, as it will put you slightly closer to engaging some enemies a little earlier than anticipated. But raising your threat by 1 isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. The Surge is annoying as well, but only if the location itself was a threat by itself. It really isn’t that big of a deal, as it has 1 threat and needs only 3 progress to clear. Because of its low threat, I would prioritize to travel to other locations, and have this location sit in the staging area for ever. Even if you were to get a Driven by Shadow treachery, it only boosts the Caverns to 2 threat, which is not that much. In higher player counts, I would even suggest to keep the Endless Caverns in the staging area forever and not even dedicate any progress placing cards to it. Exploring this location would put it in the discard pile, and gives it a chance to pop up again if the discard pile is ever reshuffled into the encounter deck. This location is only threatening when it is revealed, but needs little to no attention when it is in play.
  • Tower Gate: This location has even lower stats than the Endless Caverns, but at least has 2 threat. The 1 quest point and no immunity to player card effects really stands out though. Effects like Warden of Arnor or Spirit Aragorn can clear this location even before the total threat in the staging area is calculated, making this a free encounter card. If such options aren’t available, perhaps other location control cards like Northern Tracker and Rhovanion Outrider can explore it in the staging area, because there isn’t really a reason to go to this location. Traveling to the location only brings out more enemies, and unless you can benefit from doing combat that round (though you will probably have other enemies in play already), I would just keep the Tower Gate in the staging area. But if there aren’t any better alternatives and you want to go here anyway, then the Forced effect on Tower Gate triggers as soon as the players have travelled to it. Each player then places the top card of their deck facedown in front of them. These cards act as Orc Guard with the same crappy stats as the Orc Guard from stage 3. Killing these enemies shouldn’t be a problem, but you really shouldn’t be triggering this Forced effect anyway if you can clear the location in the staging area.

Treacheries

Dol Guldur isn’t a particularly friendly place, so expect to see plenty of treacheries. Some of these have become staples by now, like Necromancer’s Reach, which will damage the small fellowship you are forming. There are also some treacheries in this deck that are unique to the scenario, which will bring new horrors with them.

  • Eyes of the Forest: This is a rather rare treachery, considering there is only one copy in the encounter deck in Normal mode, and it is removed in Easy mode. Is it that brutal then? Well, not really. When this treachery is revealed, each player must discard all event cards from their hand. While this is annoying for some players, it will be rare to have a hand full of events that you really want to play. Only decks that run Council of the Wise will really be impacted by this treachery. However, as weird as it may seem, this treachery is worth cancelling with Test of Will. This is because you will be discarding the event card anyway, so you might as well save all others by spending the resource and cancelling this treachery. However, there will also be times where you won’t have any event cards in your hands, meaning that the treachery whiffs. With no surge or other keyword, this treachery doesn’t do that much and is often a free encounter card to reveal during your quest phase. The lack of a shadow effect also makes it have no impact during the combat phase, which is nice. Do note that if you happen to have to resolve this treachery, you cannot play Actions beforehand on your events. This means that you cannot trigger cards like Elrond’s Counsel before you would discard it. Trigger such events before the staging step to make sure that you won’t have to discard them. Responses can still be triggered before the resolution of this treachery, so cancelling the When Revealed effect with A Test of Will is still legal.
  • Caught in a Web: Where there are spiders, there are webs, and the webs are sticky. This treachery is the first of many treachery cards that transform into an attachment on one of your characters. When this treachery is revealed, it will attach itself to a hero of the player with the highest threat. If there is a tie, discuss with the other player on who would be the best target. First player makes the final call, but there is usually an optimal target for this treachery. While attached, the Condition attachment will now prevent the hero from readying during the refresh phase unless two resources are paid from that hero’s resource pool. This does not discard the attachment. Also note that you would ready before you gain your resources for the next round, so you would have to have 2 resources in the pool of that hero before you enter the refresh phase. This usually isn’t worth it, and those 2 resources can be put to better use in the form of a Miner of the Iron Hills, who’s purpose it is to discard Condition attachments like this. This will free up your hero and you will still get the Miner’s stats to use. Other options are also available to discard Condition attachments, so be sure to pack some for this quest. There are two copies of this treachery in the encounter deck, which makes it difficult for solo players if both copies hit your heroes. The treachery doesn’t specify if both copies can go on the same hero, but if they can, you would have to spend 4 resources in order to ready. It can often be worth having readying attachments like Unexpected Courage or Heir of Mardil on the hero, so that they can still ready outside of the Refresh phase. Some heroes are also ideal targets, like Tactics BoromirGwaihirSam, and Leadership Imrahil, who all have built in readying effects. For this specific scenario, especially in solo, this is one of the worst treacheries to hit early on. Escape from Dol Guldur is a quest where you rely heavily on your heroes at the start of the game, as you cannot play a lot of allies and are down a hero. If other heroes get caught in a web, it is basically game over unless you can remove the attachment. Cancel this treachery if possible to save yourself from a lot of problems.
  • Driven by Shadow: There are two scenarios for this treachery. Either it does next to nothing, or it is the worst card you could have revealed, making your location lock a lot worse. When this treachery is revealed, each enemy and location currently in the staging area gets +1 threat. This does effect any encounter cards that were revealed before this treachery, but not those that are added after this treachery. Should there be no locations or enemies in the staging area at the time this treachery is revealed, then it surges into the next encounter card (which also doesn’t get +1 threat). The impact of this card scales with the number of cards in the staging area, and it will be less terrible if you managed to keep it clean. However, in higher player counts, this is not always possible and Driven by Shadow can easily add 5+ threat to the staging area. But in higher player counts you will have sent more willpower to the quest, so it usually balances out. It is often not worth cancelling the treachery, but it is often depending on the situation. There is only one copy of this treachery, so you do not have to worry about it triggering more than once. Shadow: The shadow effect on the treachery can be annoying, as it will discard an attachment from the defending character. If this character has no attachments, the shadow effect does nothing. But you will otherwise lose an attachment, which can cause you to take more damage if you have to discard something that boosted your defence. Should the attack be undefended, then the shadow effect discards all attachments you control. This can be devastating for some decks late in the game, and should serve as a reminder to not take undefended attacks. Note that Caught in a Web can be targetted by the shadow effect if the attached character is defending, but won’t be discarded if the attack is undefended since you do not control the attachment, the encounter deck does.
  • The Necromancer’s Reach: This next treachery is probably the most remembered treachery from the Core Set and has been remade in many different formats over the years. But this classic card still invokes an audible groan across the table when it is revealed, followed by: “Can anyone cancel this?”. The When Revealed effect on the Reach is brutal in its simplicity. Each exhausted character gets dealt one damage. They do not have to be committed to the quest but can also be exhausted from triggering their effects before the staging step (GleowineMaster of the ForgeBofur) or be exhausted from other effects (Ents that were just played for example). Each exhausted character is dealt one damage, which can destroy lower cost characters with just one (remaining) hitpoint. If these characters were committed to the quest, they no longer contribute their willpower to the quest, and you have to recalculate after the staging step. This effect can lay waste to some decks like Silvans and Hobbits, so it should be cancelled if possible. Getting this card multiple times in the same quest phase is not impossible, as there are 3 copies in the encounter deck in Normal mode. Multiple triggers of this treachery in short succession can often lead to dead heroes and to a reset of the game. Cancellation is important for this one, but another way to avoid having to take so much damage is to ready all your characters before the staging step. Cards like Grim ResolveNeed Drives ThemFree Peoples, and Strength of Arms can ready a lot of characters while keeping them committed to the quest. Healing can also help, provided there is enough time between copies of this treachery to heal everyone.
  • Under the Shadow: The first of two new treacheries in the game is Under the Shadow. The art is quite menacing, but the effects aren’t the worst you will see in the game. When the treachery is revealed, the players raise the total threat in the staging area by X, where X is the number of players in the game. This lasts until the end of the phase, so if you hit this treachery during setup, it does absolutely nothing. In the quest phase, this is probably a better encounter card to reveal for the players than Driven by Shadow, as the treachery can only add a maximum of 4 threat to the staging area and won’t surge. In a 4 player game, this can easily be overcome as you have 4 players with questing characters. Even in true solo, this treachery is a blessing to reveal, as it doesn’t linger in the staging area like a 1 threat enemy or location would. Save your Test of Will for something else, because you can usually let this one go off. Shadow: The shadow effect on Under the Shadow is perhaps a little nastier. The defending player must raise their threat by the number of enemies engaged with them. This has the potential to whiff if you are blocking for somebody else with the Sentinel keyword and you do not have engaged enemies. For regular defences, you are bound to increase your threat by at least a few points. The enemies in this quest tend to have low engagement costs, and with stage 3 putting Orc Guards engaged with you, you might end up raising your threat by more than you would like. It is probably not a deadly shadow effect (unless your threat is approaching 50) so save your cancellation for other effects.
  • Iron Shackles: The final treachery on this list is a rather unique one. There aren’t that many cards in the game that interact with your deck, much less put the cards in your deck themselves. When this treachery is revealed, the first player must attach Iron Shackles ot the top of their deck. There it counts as a Condition attachment that forces the owner of the deck to discard Iron Shackles next time he would draw any number of cards. It doesn’t care whether you draw 1 card or 4, you end up with no new cards in your hand and have to discard Iron Shackles instead. The treachery doesn’t outright harm you, but if you have been top-decking for a while or are playing an Erestor deck, then this card is a lot more serious and next round will be difficult. However, if you have plenty of cards to play and can afford not drawing cards once, then this treachery isn’t that big of a deal. It adds no threat to the staging area and has no keywords, so this is a lot better to draw than some other cards in this deck. Only if you really want to, would I consider cancelling this card. But you can quickly discard it by using a card draw effect or wait until the next resource phase. If Gleowine is in play, have him draw you a card, thus discarding this Condition attachment. Shadow: The shadow effect on the treachery will do the same as the When Revealed effect. The fact that this triggers during the combat phase makes it a little closer to the resource phase, so you might not have anything in place yet to discard it with. Again, the shadow effect could have been a lot worse, so I wouldn’t start cancelling this, unless you really rely on drawing new cards each round.

Worst cards in the encounter deck

Tips and Tricks

  • Swarm decks are out of the question for this quest. The first two stages limit you to playing just one ally per round for the group. While this doesn’t exclude putting allies into play, a true swarm deck will not do well against this quest. Focus on a more ally-light deck.
  • Since you are struggling with action advantage in the early game, it would be wise to bring some action advantage. This helps to send more willpower to the quest while keeping heroes ready for the combat phase.
  • As big as the Nazgul may seem, it is not immune to player card effects, has no victory points, and is not unique. It is only immune to attachments, but that leaves plenty of options to get around this enemy without having to deal with its attack. Direct damage, defense reduction, and attack cancellation will all be useful tools against this boss. You can also straight up discard the Nazgul by using The Great Hunt or Hunting Party as it is not immune and not unique.
  • Keep in mind to have enough allies in play to feed to the Nazgul. If you are down to only heroes, then you must find a way to cancel the attacks or prepare to sacrifice a hero you no longer need.
  • If you are playing this quest in multiplayer, consider running the Forth, the Three Hunters contract. This way you do not have to worry about your allies, which is nice for your teammates as well. Do make sure that you don’t have the imprisoned hero and don’t engage the Nazgul, as that can ruin such a deck.
  • Since your deck needs to be able to work while you are down a hero, it is advised that you play a mono-sphere deck. That way, all your cards are either neutral or belong to a single sphere, allowing all your heroes to pay for the cards. If you don’t do this, make sure that you have some way to pay for cards belonging to spheres you don’t currently have access to. A Good Harvest and the sphere-granting Song cards can help out with this.
  • If you have a hero with the Mithril Shirt Guarded attachment, it will be good idea to attach the Shadow Key to that hero. Not only is the shirt not restricted, but it will also cancel out any damage taken by the objective. This makes it a harmless objective that you can pick up as soon as you manage to get the Guarded attachment to put on your heroes.

Playthroughs

As this is another Core Set quest, it is a common hurdle for the progression series on so many channels. There are quite a few videos out there about this quest, though fewer than the other two Core Set quests as this one isn’t replayed as often. For those of you owning just a Core Set, check the progression style videos, as that won’t include cards that you do not have.


With this article now released, I feel a lot better about the quality of the Core Set articles. I will eventually get to completing the rest of this cycle in a remastered series of articles. But I will focus my attention on the Vengeance of Mordor cycle and the continuation of the Nightmare series after this article. I recently got the Khazad-Dum Nightmare pack, and those three quests are worth exploring next, as they are nice upgrades on the original quests.

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