Deckbuilding: Escape from Mount Gram

After having made our way through The Wastes of Eriador in the last article of this series, we now have arrived at Mount Gram. There, our heroes have been captured, split apart and thrown into the dungeon, from which they need to find a way out.

While this sounds like a tough premise, Escape from Mount Gram is actually one of the easier quests of this cycle. It has a unique design, where all but one hero and a large portion of a players deck are “captured” and not available to a player in the beginning. While this restricts deckbuilding, this is a good quest to tech for and becomes a lot easier if you do so. All this also makes for a really thematic quest, giving you the feeling of starting as a single hero and finding your allies and stuff over time until you finally make your way out.

With all this in mind, I wanted to bring this time a deck that fits both mechanically and thematically for this quest. While I normally don’t care about theme in this series, given the easier nature of this quest it seemed doable to defeat this quest with a more thematic and less powerful deck.

Initial Deckbuilding

Looking at thematic options to bring to this quest, I was immediately drawn to the different Dunedain Signal attachments for a couple of reasons. First of all, the whole story of this cycle is focused on the Dunedain and so it makes sense that they would be imprisoned at Mount Gram. The second reason is the theme of signals itself. While it sometimes seems a bit strange how a signal can buff certain stats of a hero, here they just fit perfectly. Being separated in different parts of a dungeon, the prisoners would look for way to communicate with one another, leaving marks at certain walls and doors and maybe even try to get a message to the outside to get help from other Rangers of the North.

And last but not least, the quest only captures ally, item, artifact and mount attachments. So in general you want to have some other cards remaining in your deck, and the signal attachments fall into this category. That way you have some cards to draw from your deck and having a thinner captured deck also lets you find your other heroes faster.

Because all signals are in the Leadership sphere, we want to start with a Dunedain Leadership hero; and who could be a better fit than their captain himself, Aragorn? With his self-readying ability, he can be used for both questing and combat, and with some signals on him, can cover the early game on his own. While we won’t bring his horse into the Dungeon this time, he still has some other great toys available like Sword that was Broken and Celebrian’s Stone.

Our other heroes will be Halbarad and Amarthiul (who even gets mentioned in the flavor text in the rules for the quest), sticking with both the Dunedain theme and the Leadership sphere. This is what our first draft looks like:

The ally selection of this deck is strictly thematic, using only Dunedain and some Elves from Rivendell that are scouting the region. Having our starting threat lowered to that of our starting hero, we can use the benefit of the secrecy keyword on them, as well as on Dunedain Wanderer (I don’t know when I last played this card) and Resourceful. The other allies are not the most efficient ones stat-wise, but their abilities can be useful, fishing for signals with Weather Hills Watchman, taking advantage of encounter sidequests with Thalion, or canceling some terrible shadow effects with Dunedain Watcher, like the one on Tunnels of Mount Gram that could capture all the signals we built up on a hero.

The attachments include most signals except for the multiplayer ones that give ranged or sentinel. Rune-Master is our mini Steward of Gondor and can be triggered most rounds. Strider is our final tech card, starting with only one hero we can take advantage of both of its benefits in the early game.

This deck is rather low on events, but some good leadership ones like Timely Aid or A Very Good Tale are focused on getting allies out of your deck and are therefore useless here. Being able to rescue cards continuously means you don’t really need the card draw from cards like Valiant Sacrifice or We are not Idle, and I think we should be able to win without the always powerful combo of Sneak Attack + Gandalf.

Playtesting

In my first game I had a great opening hand, having Strider and Rune-Master in my top 3 cards. Strider gave me a big early game boost, being able to clear locations with the extra willpower while having Aragorn still ready for combat. Rune-master kept my economy going and I was getting out a signal pretty much every turn. I revealed two copies of Feeble and Weary early on that didn’t spread much damage out, but with no threat added I was worried I might advance to stage 3 and the fight with Jailor Gornakh before I was ready for it. Luckily, I managed to rescue both my other heroes during the first stage, so when I arrived at the showdown with Jailor Gornakh I was still able to take him out right away after sacrificing a Weather Hills Watchman to him. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Dungeon Aragorn found The Sword that was Broken, claimed it, and with it in hand, led a large number of prisoners out of the Dungeon.

My second game I lost, but only to a wrong card text on OCTGN ( I was playing there cause it makes the otherwise annoying setup much easier). I revealed an early Cruel Torturer, that reads on OCTGN “when it damages a character by an attack, capture it under Cruel Torturer” while the effect actually only triggers when it damages an ally (the same mistake is on the Shadow effect of Captive of Gornakh). Therefore I lost Aragorn to the Torturer and with him the game. I realized this mistake only when I looked at the cards on Hall of Beorn while writing this article, so I played yet another game.

While this mistake was annoying, I want to say here that I’m very happy to have Octgn available. It helps to get a game up much faster and allows me to play with players from the whole world, something even more valuable during this pandemic without local meetings. A big thanks to everyone who helped program this game into Octgn, your general work is overshadowing mistakes like this, and also to Hall of Beorn for being an awesome resource. 🙂

So let’s move on to game 2.1, where I had a bit of a rougher starting hand, with Resourceful being the only one of my key cards. Thankfully, I revealed an early sidequest with Stop the Executioners!, that allowed me to turtle on stage 2 and gave me a bunch of cards once I explored it, making the exact amount of progress needed just before the last time counter went off. I was even happier about that when I realized Halbarad was underneath it! With him, I once again had all 3 heroes in play, and Halbarad took his revenge when he helped kill Gornakh once again immediately after advancing to stage 3. From there it took some time to make enough progress without having Sword that was Broken in play and revealing a bunch of locations, but my victory was never in danger.

Game number 3 I started with double Resourceful, and therefore once again took a slower approach. With the additional resources I was able to summon a large group of Rangers that managed to escape from the Dungeon without much issues, despite not being able to rescue Halbarad this time.

The only sad thing in all these playthroughs is that while I shuffled in a total of six copies of Ranger of the North, not a single one showed up as a non-shadow card. It seems like my signals didn’t manage to get out to someone to come to the rescue, but at least I didn’t waste resources because of Rune-Master when playing the Ranger Summons.

Adjustments

While I don’t need to change the deck with 3 wins, I want to suggest an improvement that could make the deck stronger, or you might take as advice when building your own decks. Given how the early encounter sidequest helped me turtling, you might bring your player sidequests along with Dunedain Message to have another signal to fetch them. This is probably a more viable strategy in solo than in multiplayer, where you want to be able to catch up to other players and normally should have more time before advancing. A card to cut would be the aforementioned Ranger Summons or Andrath Guardsman, whose ability I didn’t use because I was able to kill enemies when they engaged me.

Conclusion

That’s it for Escape from Mount Gram. While I found the quest a bit too easy for my taste, it was a welcome break after Wastes of Eriador. This also allowed me to build a thematic deck, and playing it with yet another thematic quest in this cycle was a great experience. It’s interesting that more unique but easier quests like this are often in the middle of a cycle, other examples are Encounter at Amon Din, Trouble in Tharbad and Temple of the Deceived. But I guess it makes sense to start a cycle with something more generic and end with the harder and more epic quests like Battle of Carn Dum, The Dread Realm or Storm on Cobas Haven.

My advice for general deckbuilding is to use those easier quests to build some more unique and thematic decks, it’s refreshing to leave power cards and heroes in the binder for once and use something more niche.

The next quest in this cycle, Across the Ettenmoors, has a similar difficulty as this one. Stay tuned to read what unique strategies I might be able to defeat that quest in another article.

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