‘A Balrog,’ muttered Gandalf. ‘Now I understand.’ He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. ‘What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.’The Fellowship of the Ring
The definitive “Boss fight” quest (maybe rivaled by Smaug) was an awesome way to end the Dwarrodelf cycle and explore the power of this ancient entity in a way the books and movies never did.
On normal difficulty, it was hard enough, requiring lots of defense strength against at least 6 attack per player per round. Luckily, soon after its release Beregond and Gondorian Shield came up to help players build dedicated defenders, though it was never quite safe. Now, Galadriel allows you to avoid Durin’s Bane easily by keeping your threat at 0.
If you don’t want to “cheat” this way, the normal quest is still quite challenging today. However, stacking a defender with attachments and shadow cancellation as the most “fair” way to win allows for relative safety after some setup.
We can’t have that in Nightmare Mode, though! Prepare for some grueling matches where you try to keep your board intact while a Balrog smacks your chump-blockers and dedicated defenders alike. Prepare for even more focus on Durin’s Bane. Prepare for incredibly strong shadow effects. Prepare for shadow, prepare for flame.
Nightmare Shadow and Flame
- Found in: Shadow and Flame Nightmare Deck
- Size: 19 new encounter cards, 1 rules card
- Quest Cards: 3, as before
- Increase in Difficulty: Yes, of course. While there are not many new cards in the encounter deck, you will now rarely have weak reveals like Stray Goblin. Furthermore, there now is no way to ever truly and safely defend against the Balrog’s attacks. Moving too slow can grind you out as threat amasses in the staging area.
- Fixed Loopholes?: Gearing up one strong defender is definitely harder than before, and the new enemies are hard to ignore like the original quest’s ones. However, if you can stay at 0 threat, Durin’s Bane will still not attack you.
- New Mechanics introduced?: There is the new “Balrog deck,” which includes unique encounter cards that will only be used as shadow cards for Durin’s Bane. Other than that, the new cards simply focus more on keeping a bit of damage on the Balrog.
- Play this quest if: You like boss fights; You think the Balrog’s scenes are some of the most epic ones in the movies; You have a well-rounded deck to test out; You like a challenge; You want to play with Bond of Friendship.
- Solo or Multiplayer?: Durin’s Bane attacks each player, and since it is so hard to defend against it in NM, you should probably keep the player count low. There are some arguments in favour of playing in multiplayer, but the Balrog is SO deadly!
- What to look out for?: Surprise Attacks; Ridiculous shadow effects; Surprise engagements, and pretty strong secondary enemies. And, well, one of Middle-earth’s most powerful beings pursuing you. It’ll be fun!beings pursuing you. It’ll be fun!
You are again instructed to remove some cards from the encounter deck before playing to make space for the new Nightmare cards. There are multiple reasons why these cards were removed, but in general, most of them were just pretty unimpactful.
- 3x Goblin Scout (weak enemy, easy to engage with starting threat of 0)
- 2x Goblin Tunnels (not that many Goblins in the deck, new enemies aren’t Goblins either
- 3x Stray Goblin (very weak in low player counts)
- 3x The Mountain’s Roots (very weak in low player counts)
- 3x Ranging Goblin (weak enemy)
- 1x Fiery Sword (Second copy remains, if one was in play already the second copy would be a free reveal)
- 1x Many Thonged Whip (Second copy remains, if one was in play already the second copy would be a free reveal)
The removal of the two Weapon attachments was quite a surprise since both are terrible reveals. The problem with revealing a second copy rarely arises and could have been solved by conditionally giving them Surge. Still, we should be grateful that there aren’t more copies of these.
Now, this is the spicy part of this Nightmare deck. The Setup card has you shuffle the 10 new cards with the Attack trait together to make a new Balrog deck. Whenever Durin’s Bane would be dealt a shadow card, it is now dealt a card from the Balrog deck instead. The deck has its own discard pile and is reshuffled at least once each turn. All the Attack cards only have a shadow effect since they cannot be revealed. I will later cover teach of them, but you can already expect these cards to be formidable.
Other than that, there are no new rules. The structure of the quest is not changed much because of that and, it will play quite similarly to the original version.
Because the only new rules are about the Balrog Deck, the quest itself will be very similar to the original:
During stage one, you will mostly try to build up an at least half-reliable defense system, hopefully, a defender with at least 6 defense, so you can at least usually expect not to take any damage from Durin’s Bane.
Having a decent questing engine will also be good since the Balrog already has 4 threat. You want to advance as quickly as possible.
Stage 2 is a different story since you do not even need to quest successfully: The quest will add progress to itself as long as you commit at least one hero to the quest. You should watch out, especially for Inner Flame, since 9 attack from an enemy is near-impossible to absorb completely, even more so if that enemy attacks all players.
Your threat may begin rising higher during this stage due to unsuccessful questing, eventually forcing you to engage some additional enemies like the new Servant of Flame. The Galadhrim’s Greeting can hopefully negate that and reset your threat to 0, allowing you to skip one Balrog attack.
Upon revealing stage 3B, Dark Pit will be added to the staging area, and Durin’s Bane will immediately attack the first player. Be ready for that attack by readying your main defender or having a chump ready to go. Other than that, now is the time to damage the Balrog. Dark Pit works exactly the same way as before, requiring you to exhaust characters to discard cards from your deck and hopefully push your adversary into the abyss!
If a deck can reliably beat this quest, that is quite the achievement.
The Encounter Deck
- Due to 10 Attack cards, Durin’s Bane and Dark Pit being removed, there are now 47 cards in the encounter deck. Interestingly, there are few locations and enemies but many treacheries. This makes cancellation very useful.
- Average threat is around 1.28 due to some cards having Surge. Additionally, Orc Drummer can make threat in the staging area vary wildly.
- The chance to reveal a shadow effect is roughly 57%, but due to the Balrog deck, Durin’s Bane will always have a working shadow card! These effects can be simple attack boosts, reveal new cards and other fun things. If you have to draw an extra three from Flame of Udûn, many get very harsh if Durin’s Bane is the attacking enemy.
- Only the two copies of Massing in the Deep have Doomed 1. That being said, questing unsuccessfully is a very real threat that may lead to Durin’s Bane attacking you when you aren’t prepared.
- Progress cannot be placed on Second Deep while Durin’s Bane has no damage
- Great Cave-Troll is immune to ranged damage, and cannot have attachments
- Durin’s Bane has Indestructible, cannot have attachments and cannot leave the staging area
- The shadow effect on Blazing Grip cannot be cancelled
- Progress cannot be placed on Fiery Depths while it is in the staging area
The encounter deck only has 9 Nightmare cards and has only become 7 cards thinner, so there still are many different things that can happen. Luckily, there aren’t many new effects to keep track of this way!
Treacheries (The Balrog deck)
All new treacheries belong to the Balrog deck, so none have a When Revealed effect. None of the effects are incredibly innovative by themselves, but all of them can be a danger, depending on whether you chump-block or use a well-equipped defender. Each of these has two copies in the deck, so the chance to pull anyone is 20% for Durin’s Bane’s first attack each round.
Terrible Strength punishes you for chump-blocking: Excess damage from the attack must be assigned to another character you control. That character will then be exhausted. (Is there any way for multiple characters to be damaged this way?)
Of course, this card is mainly there to punish chump-blocking. If it actually triggers, there is probably 4-5 excess damage, just enough to kill most heroes. I assume that if the second character is killed, you would have to assign that excess damage to another character as well (since it still counts as damage from the initial attack). Just try to chump-block as little as possible, and things should work out.
The Dark Fire
Continuing the theme of the shadow-themed cards healing the Balrog (Inner Shadow), Dark Fire heals Durin’s Bane by the amount of damage it deals with the attack. This means that you may want to prioritize high defense over healing defenders so that damage dealt and therefore healing received from this card is minimized. However, as long as no Fiery Sword is attached, this damage should be around five at most anyway, meaning that this card is usually negligible.
This is the shadow card most decks will be scared of since it harshly cripples any built-up defenders. You have to discard all cards attached to the defending character and deal it one damage. Even worse, this effect cannot be canceled! While it might discard a copy of the awful Watchful Eyes, usually, it will just take away all your Armor and similar attachments that were meant to protect your defender. This often ends with said defender killed or at least mostly useless for a while.
Keep in mind that most of your attachments are temporary in this quest. Having a high printed defense, using healing effects as an addition to good defense value, and cards like Rosie Cotton can all work towards safer defending without the risk of Blazing Grip destroying everything in a hot (Heh.) second.
Here we have another card that punishes chump blocking: If the defending character is destroyed (or if the attack kills a character by undefended damage), Durin’s Bane makes another immediate attack. This will, of course, lead to another awful shadow card being revealed and possibly another character being killed.
It is quite easy to be safe from this card, though, since having a dedicated defender will make it impossible for it to do anything dangerous. It will only really be a problem if the Balrog already attacked this turn because your defender might be exhausted already. Other than that, there is not a lot of danger to Morgoth’s Bidding.
Flame of Udûn
Fun fact: “Flame of Udûn” is not a reference to the part of Mordor, but it is the Sindarin name for Morgoth’s and the Balrogath’s fortress Utumno. (see Tolkien Gateway)
After that totally fun bit of lore, let’s return to the card analysis. Flame of Udûn deals the Balrog three additional shadow cards from the encounter (not Balrog) deck. This lets it capitalize on the many shadow effects that mostly help Durin’s Bane.
Dealing with this card is difficult: You may want to either cancel Flame of Udûn whenever it comes up (but it might have whiffed) or cancel the worst individual effects from the three shadow cards (but you may not be able to cancel all). Flame of Udûn is always an exciting reveal because you never know what will happen.
There are only two new enemy cards, but both feature good stats and try to mitigate the ease of avoiding enemies due to players starting at 0 threat.
Servant of Flame (3 copies)
Servant of Flame features decent but not overly terrifying stats and a low engagement cost of 12. Furthermore, it continues the theme of forcing players to damage Durin’s Bane (see Second Deep) because it will otherwise turn into an actual big combat threat of 5 attack.
Due to the increased density of such cards, some repeatable direct damage effects can help you hurt Durin’s Bane temporarily (remember, it regenerates), so you can use the short time frame to deal with cards like Servant of Flame. Other than that, it is simply an enemy that can be dealt with as usual. Since you want to build up good attackers anyway, it should not be that big of a problem.
As for the shadow effect, Shadow and Flame cards include the Sword, the Whip, and Counter-Spell. All of these are attached to Durin’s Bane when revealed. Because Counter-Spell only does something once, it is usually a better choice than either of the awful Weapons.
Captain of Mordor (2 copies)
Sadly, the second new enemy is not called “Servant of Shadow.” What a shame…
Anyway, Captain of Mordor has high stats and a high printed engagement cost. It neutralizes the problem of enemies not engaging players by lowering each enemy’s engagement cost by 20. This brings it down to only 22 and allows, e.g., Goblin Swordsmen to immediately engage players. Bigger enemies like the Trolls also suddenly seem a lot closer, so killing the Captains usually is a good idea.
Again, these mostly behave like normal vanilla enemies once engaged. The fact that these are some of the biggest enemies in the deck means they are a good target for Fierce Defense and the likewise.
The shadow effect again punishes chump-blocking, making the attacking enemy immune to damage until the round ends if it destroys a character. This can also trigger for enemies other than Durin’s Bane, but there is no real way to avoid it if it happens. At least you often have two enemies engaged, so your attack power will often not be wasted.
The new locations do not have a real common theme, but they both try to prevent strategies that players can use instead of just being generally powerful cards.
Fiery Depths (2 copies)
Fiery Depths continues a common theme in this game, which is to have a location with high heat, low quest points, and a reason not to travel to it (see Gates of Carn Dûm). You also cannot place progress on it while it is in the staging area, so you mostly have to eat the travel cost, which requires you to first damage Durin’s Bane or endure five threat for the rest of the game.
Some solutions include cheating around travel costs (e.g., West Road Traveller) or the innocuous Heirs of Eärendil if you can meet the requirements. Just being prepared for high threat is a great solution too, and it helps in many cases.
Crumbling Stairs (2 copies)
The last new encounter card continues another theme and is quite similar to the removed Goblin Tunnels, having high quest points but punishing you if you don’t travel to it. Crumbling Stairs makes all events cost one additional (matching) resource to play from hand, making essentials like Hasty Stroke a steeper investment than intended and possibly preventing you from playing that one, much-needed Feint!
Here, slowly placing progress via location control probably is not the correct course of action. Instead, you will probably have to deal with the problem head-on, traveling to the Crumbling Stairs as quickly as possible and questing through it.
Lastly, there is also another crazy evil shadow effect on this card: If the attack destroys a character, the defending player has to discard all Event cards from their hands.
In general, many of the shadow effects in the encounter deck seem to be tailored towards Durin’s Bane getting a lucky Flame of Udûn…
Tips and Tricks
- Obviously, bring shadow cancellation. There are too many new shadow effects that will screw you up otherwise.
- Bond of Friendship can do wonders since you essentially get a fourth hero at no cost.
- As stated above, direct damage will help a lot for the effects that are based on Durin’s Bane being damaged.
- Try to spread out your defensive capabilities: Have multiple decent defenders and some healing to at least partially circumvent the new shadow card effects that can screw with you.
- Staying at 0 threat has not become much harder, so Galadriel helps a ton.
You can, as usual, find a few video playthroughs of the quest down below:
- https://youtu.be/8chK48eHrtA (two players)
- https://youtu.be/hb4ShEPtnnc (solo)
- https://youtu.be/zYf8ZISJjL4 (solo)
And thus, our analyses of the Nightmare Dwarrodelf cycle are finished! This is a well-liked cycle because of its innovative but not too complicated quests and all of the Nightmare decks simply add to the fun and theme.