The final scenario of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle is where things get a bit crazy. Not only is this the first time players have to traverse 4 quest stages, but they have to do so with Gollum kicking and screaming like a 4-year-old who got told that they can’t have all the candy from the grocery store. This attracts some attention from the local wildlife, which includes not only the toughest enemies you have faced during the cycle but also a massive non-unique spider that you won’t be able to avoid for very long. Combine this with the Tantrum treacheries and the fact that Gollum increases the rate at which you gain threat each turn, and you are in for quite the battle to get him to Thranduil. If you have been playing a purely solo campaign up to this point, this is where I would suggest you make a second deck and go in two-handed since sharing Gollum will greatly help during this game.
Return to Mirkwood
- Found in: Return to Mirkwood Adventure Pack, Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, pack 6
- Official difficulty: 7
- Community difficulty: 7
- Encounter sets: Return to Mirkwood, Spiders of Mirkwood, Wilderlands
- Quest cards: 4
- Play if: you enjoy a challenge against tough enemies while escorting Gollum, you want to play a 4 player game that is exciting and has varying effects going off, you want to experience the end of this cycle once again.
- What is different about this quest?: Lots of tough enemies, Gollum objective that increases threat, very punishing Tantrum treacheries, large changes of pace between stages, interaction between players.
- Solo or multiplayer?: I dare you, double dare you, to try and win this quest solo. This quest was designed to pass Gollum between players at least every round. As you add more players, the game will become easier. This is definitely not a quest to play on your own unless you are playing 2 handed. Else you are forced to take Gollum’s increase in threat each turn whilst also taking all his Tantrums with a single deck.
- Can I run side-quests for this scenario?: I would not recommend side-quests here. Players will want to get through stages 2 and 3 as fast as they can, and with Gollum’s threat increase at the end of each turn, there is no real incentive for you to stall. Waiting several turns for side-quests will also risk revealing more Tantrums or big enemies that you have to deal with by the final stage.
- Can I bring Guarded (X) cards?: Not the enemy ones. You will be facing Hill Trolls, Marsh Adders, Ungoliant’s Spawn, and the new Attercop, Attercop enemy, and you really do not want to reveal any more of them than you usually would. The locations are a bit tamer, but you can still run into location lock for this quest if you get an unfortunate combo. The Guarded cards are a good method of discarding the Tantrum treacheries, but that will require some scrying as well from your deck. So I would just leave these cards in your binder and focus on playing different cards.
- Player cards to avoid: Hero Smeagol once again cannot be used for this quest since Gollum is an objective in this quest. All other player cards are legal to bring.
- Optimal starting threat: Well, there’s the usual threshold of 30 again with the Hill Troll in this quest. You’d better stay under that level for the early game. At 32 you will be forced to deal with Ungoliant’s Spawn, and 40 is dangerous because of the Hummerhorns. I would have included 44 for Attercop, Attercop as well, but they always engage the player with Gollum, so there’s no point.
- Traits to add to the Victory Display: Creature, Spider, Insect, Forest, Mountain, Goblin, Orc, Troll, Wasteland, Tantrum
- What to look out for: Very big enemies, rapidly increasing threat through Gollum, Inability to play cards on stage 3, having to defeat all enemies at stage 4, Tantrum treacheries that hit hard.
- Any changes from the original cards?: None
The game starts with the players having to find Gollum in the encounter deck and deciding who gets to guard him. This is an important decision since Gollum will be attracting a lot of nastiness towards that player. The player guarding Gollum should be capable of taking 4 damage on a hero without losing a hero right away and should be ready to face off against the Attercop, Attercop enemies. Usually, you choose the player with the lowest starting threat, as that will be the main concern for people guarding Gollum. Remember that this decision only really affects the first round since players will likely swap guards on Gollum at the end of the round or after a Tantrum treachery. So the decision isn’t crucial here. In true solo playthroughs (good luck, btw), this decision is rather easy since there is only one player to guard Gollum.
Once a player has taken control of the Gollum objective ally, each player reveals the top card of the encounter deck to start the game with. This can vary a lot since the encounter deck is pretty thick with a lot of different encounter cards. In an ideal world, you hit a few treacheries that do nothing, like Despair, and perhaps a few locations. The worst-case scenario is that you reveal a bunch of heavy-hitting enemies like the Hill Troll, Ungoliant’s Spawn, Marsh Adder, or Attercop Attercop. Getting the tantrums early on is also going to cause a quick reset of the game since you won’t be able to cancel those treacheries yet. You will likely get a mix of everything and will have to deal with it at the start of the game. Once each player has revealed one encounter card and added it to the staging area, the quest card flips to side 1B, and the players can begin their first planning phase.
Quest card 1: Through the Forest – 12 quest points
Quest card 1B is empty, apart from some flavor text. Still, there are some things you should be doing at this stage to help yourself in the coming stages. First of all, prioritize having a lot of willpower on the table. Not only will this quest require 12 progress, which can be hard in lower player counts, but the next stage will demand the players quest successfully. Use this stage also to get most of your deck set up, as the other stages will make that a lot more difficult. It’s usually fine to stay at this stage for a few turns, and you can go to side-quests here if you want to, but keep an eye on your threat. The rest of the game will still take a few turns, and with the player guarding Gollum getting +4 threat each turn, you don’t have too long before that becomes an issue. Generally, 3-4 turns at this stage is enough to get going with a boardstate strong enough to take care of the rest of the quest.
During this stage, it is important to keep the threat in the staging area low. The use of location control is highly encouraged since many locations will have 2 quest points, making it super easy for a pair of Northern Trackers to clear all locations in play. Enemies should also be handled quickly, either with direct damage effects or by engaging them. It’s fine to keep them engaged with players for a while, though note that all enemies will eventually have to die in order to win the game.
Before advancing to the next stage, make sure that each player has the ability to quest for a good amount. The next stage will hinder you in this, which gets extremely dangerous in two-player games. Swap Gollum to the player with the least willpower before moving on.
Quest card 2: Escape Attempt – 3 quest points
Stage 2A does nothing special, but 2B is where things get tricky. The player guarding Gollum cannot commit characters to the quest unless they are the only player in the game (in which case they likely have other problems). This means that fewer players now have to overcome all the threat in the staging area. This is why it is so important not to let the staging area grow out of control during the first stage.
The stage only has 3 quest points, so it can be beaten in a single turn without too much effort. Still, it is important that players do send everything they have at the quest since questing unsuccessfully will result in Gollum escaping the players, thus losing the game for everyone. This is pretty rare, but it can take players by surprise if they didn’t know this was a thing. It is also why cards like the Brown Lands are so dangerous, as they can add a lot of threat to the staging area all of a sudden. Sending enough willpower to the quest is important here, as well as having backup plans with heroes like Spirit Eowyn to adjust willpower if needed. Advance quickly past this stage so that you do not have to worry about questing unsuccessfully anymore.
Quest card 3: To the Elven King’s Halls – 7 quest points
Stage 3 can take a little longer as all the players prepare for the finale of the quest, focusing more on getting their combat characters ready to fight. Well, all players except the one guarding Gollum, as this quest stage will prevent them from playing any cards from their hand. This not only includes cards played during the planning phase, but that player also cannot play events from their hand! The only way to circumvent this is by playing cards from your discard pile if you have the option to (Noldor decks can usually do this). The other players will have to carry the player with Gollum through this stage, usually clearing it in 1-2 turns. To help, the players should prepare enough characters with Ranged and Sentinel to be able to deal with enemies attacking any player. Another thing that helps out a lot during this stage is to kill all enemies in play, which will make the final stage a lot shorter. The more time saved this way, the lower your final threat will be, and the more space you have to spend a round longer at the final stage.
Quest card 4: Ambush – 2 quest points
It’s not really an ambush if you managed to kill every enemy before advancing to this stage, but otherwise, the player who is guarding Gollum better get his defenders ready. At the beginning of the combat phase, all enemies engage the player who is guarding Gollum. You will be able to choose who to have all of these enemies engage if you have a Wood Elf Path in the staging area where you can travel to in the Travel Phase. Dunedain decks will be good options as they benefit a lot from having enemies engaged with them. Having a lot of Mirkwood Bats in play at this point can cause the player guarding Gollum to lose at this point; try to kill these bats with direct damage before they engage. The rest of the quest is simple, kill everything in play and make 2 progress to win. However, you will have the chance of revealing more enemies if you need another round of staging. Having Tactics Legolas in play to put 2 progress on the quest is important to prevent this. It is also thematically a home run (literally, as you are near his home). Having sufficient Ranged and Sentinel characters on the board will allow the player guarding Gollum to survive the onslaught of enemies engaged with him.
Once every enemy is dead, you have won the game and have delivered Gollum to Thranduil. This brings an end to your adventures in Wilderland for the next 6 cycles.
The Encounter Deck
- The encounter deck is made up of 53 cards in Normal mode, which is trimmed down to 35 in Easy mode. Luckily Gollum does not escape into this massive encounter deck!
- Shadow chances are relatively low again, at 38% in Normal mode and 34% in Easy mode. This matters for the Warg enemies, who have a roughly 2 in 3 chance of going back to the staging area.
- The average threat on cards revealed by the encounter deck is 1.3 threat/card in Normal mode and 1.5 threat/card in Easy mode. This can vary a lot, though, as there are 5 threat cards in the deck, but the average is brought down by the number of treacheries in the deck.
- Surge appears on 5 cards in the deck, so you can end up with a few more cards than number of players in your game.
- Doomed does not appear on any cards, but keep in mind that Gollum will raise the threat of the player guarding him each turn. There are also several other effects that raise your threat, so be careful not to start too high.
- No cards are immune to player card effects.
There are a lot of locations in this quest, though the quest lacks cards that take advantage of this to push players into a location lock. You’d also rather have the locations in this game than any of the enemies; trust me on that! In easy mode, most of the treacheries are also removed, making it a little easier for the player who is guarding Gollum.
- Gollum returns as an objective in this scenario. This time, however, he is a fully fletched objective ally that is incapable of questing, attacking, and defending. Besides that, he is able to be targeted with effects and is under the control of the player guarding him. This means you are able to exhaust him for effects like King Spider. He has no willpower, attack strength, or defence strength, which will not allow you to increase those numbers. He does have hitpoints though, which are able to be healed. Damage from undefended attacks must be dealt to Gollum. This means that if you find yourself swarmed with little enemies, you will have to defend them all or risk Gollum taking damage. If he ever has 0 hit points, he is dead, and the players lose the game. Alternatively, if all the heroes of the player guarding Gollum die, that player is defeated, and the game is also lost. All in all, the player guarding Gollum has to be careful not to die, which is a real possibility with effects like Gollum’s Bite and Attercop, Attercop. The final Forced effect on Gollum is one of the reasons why you should run this scenario in multiplayer and change the player guarding Gollum on a regular basis. At the end of the round, when you would normally add 1 threat to your threat meter, you must raise your threat by an additional 3 points. This is a total of 4 threat each round. That is one Elrond’s Counsel and a Galadriel ability per round worth of threat. To lower your threat consistently, you will have to play Galadhrim’s Greeting time and time again. The increase in threat will make combat more difficult and presents the players with the real threat of getting to 50 threat quickly. Getting higher threat costs will have enemies like the Hill Troll and Hummerhorns engage you early, making things very difficult for the players. I would advise starting below 25 to buy yourself some time and run some threat-reduction effects. Lore Aragorn can really shine if he is timed right.
All those tantrums made by Gollum are attracting the attention of all of Mirkwood. This means you will be facing some of the toughest enemies you have encountered before, on top of two new enemies that you will want to try and avoid as best you can. You can’t escape combat in this scenario, so you’d better be prepared against all the horrible things that this quest throws at you.
- 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 have exactly enough characters to deal with combat this round. And with this quest focusing on damaging exhausted characters, it can lead to a quick death. 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 by 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 counterattack 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: You should be familiar with the Hummerhorns by now, perhaps having lost a hero or two to them over the course of this cycle. You will want to try and avoid engaging the enemy early on. 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 card pool (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 are 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 a Halfling Bounder 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 actually to 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 cheeky 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 the next round. Cancellation of this shadow effect or threat reduction will save you here.
- Wolf Rider: Hobbit and Secrecy players must be alert when playing this scenario, as the Wolf Rider enemy has a sub-20 engagement cost. Any deck with a threat of 10 or higher will be engaging this enemy so that it won’t stay in the staging area for very long. When the Wolf Rider is revealed, it will automatically surge, even if Thalin deals a damage to him. The surge is annoying, as it means that on top of the next card you reveal, you now also have a 1 threat enemy sitting in the staging area that is going to come down soon. However, this is probably the ideal way to reveal the Wolf Rider, as its shadow effect will be worse (we’ll get to that). In combat, the Wolf Rider is pretty pathetic. With an attack of 2, it can easily be defended by most allies, and it only takes 2 attack to kill it. With 0 defence, any hit towards the Wolf Rider will damage it and will most likely kill it as well. 0 defence also opens up Straight Shot, in case you don’t want to deal with this enemy at all. But the best way to get around the Wolf Rider will be direct damage. 2 hitpoints are easy to get through with just one or two direct damage effects. Gondorian Spearmen with Spear of the Citadel will be a proper defence against this enemy, but you can also use effects like Goblin-cleaver if you want. Even without tricks, the Wolf Rider is just annoying and not really a threat. Shadow: The shadow text on this enemy is quite unique and quite lengthy. When the Wolf Rider is revealed as a shadow card, it will turn into an enemy and attack the defending player. That player can declare a defender. The Wolf Rider gets its own shadow card (don’t worry, it’s not another Wolf Rider. There is only 1 copy in the encounter deck). After the combat phase, the Wolf Rider is returned to the top of the encounter deck. This means that you will be revealing it next round with the surge keyword. However, since the Wolf Rider will be engaged with you, you can still kill it. If you do, its game text is no longer in play, so he won’t be returned to the top of the encounter deck.
- Hill Troll: Yes, the Hill Troll is back again, though for the last time (until the Ered Mithrin cycle). The Hill Troll’s most important stat is actually its engagement cost, which is 30 threat. This means that you should either keep a low threat or increase the engagement cost of the Troll in order to have enough time to build up your boardstate. A starting threat of 27 is ideal in my eyes, as that gives you some wiggle room in case you have to raise your threat by a few points during the quest phase. But you will still have enough stats on the table with your heroes to deal with the Troll without having to rely on a host of allies. The threat of the Hill Troll has a value of 1, so you will be able to quest over the Troll without too much trouble. While the Troll is in the staging area, you can start to chip away at its health using direct damage effects if you get those early. While no single effect will place enough damage on the Troll, you can make it easier to kill by using a couple of Ranger Bows or using Hail of Stones a few times. If you get ally Gandalf in play early, this may be a tempting target, so if there are no other more immediate threats (Wargs would be a priority for me), use Gandalf on the Hill Troll to save yourself some time and probably characters. You can also take this time to dig for events like The Great Hunt, Put Off Pursuit, and Hunting Party that can potentially get rid of the Hill Troll from the staging area. If you don’t go through the encounter deck in one go, you shouldn’t see it again (there is another copy that you might see, though. But these cards are a good solution to the immediate threat).
If you have not dealt with the Hill Troll before your threat reaches 30, he will engage you. Make sure that this is the only enemy engaged with you so that you can dedicate all of your attention to him. His attack of 6 is pretty big but gets worse when you realize that the Hill Troll’s game text punishes you for chump blocking with smaller allies. Any damage dealt beyond the defence and remaining hitpoints of the defender is instead dealt as a threat increase. Since this quest has some hard limits to what your threat can be before things go from bad to worse, you will want to avoid raising your threat unnecessarily. So defence should be done by a strong defender like Spirit Dain (who can take no damage from the Hill Troll without needing any tools) or Beregond (ideally with a Gondorian Shield). You will need a solution for the Hill Troll quickly since your deck will likely not survive an ongoing assault by the Troll, especially if you get nasty shadow cards.
Attacking back should be a top priority so that you can get rid of the Troll as quickly as possible. This is where any direct damage you dealt to the Troll will come in clutch. 9 hitpoints is a lot to overcome, especially with a defence stat of 3. But it is not impossible. Some big, one-time effects like Eowyn and Black Arrow will be useful, as well as any other players who can help with ranged attacks. Killing the Hill Troll will put it into the Victory Display, allowing you to breathe a little easier (until the next one arrives).
- Goblin Sniper: While the stats of the Goblin Sniper aren’t much, its textbox provides the main reason why this enemy is a dangerous reveal from the encounter deck. The Sniper has just 2 threat, but with a 48-threat engagement cost, you will probably not engage this enemy naturally in your game (except when playing a Valour deck, but even then, 48 is living on the edge). Optional engagements seem like the logical solution, but the textbox on the Sniper prevents players from optionally engaging this enemy while there are other enemies in the staging area. This means that there is a real chance that there will be a Sniper in the staging area for a long time unless the players can counter it. A double Goblin Sniper in the staging area locks both versions down, with the one preventing the other from engaging. This is bad because they also deal 1 point of damage to a character of each player at the end of the round while they are in the staging area. A natural counter to these enemies is direct damage effects like Arrows from the Trees, Hail of Stones, or Galadhon Archer. Stacking these effects will get through the 2 hitpoints of the Sniper in no time, clearing the board of the menace. Players being able to attack into the staging area is also a great tool to have. Haldir of Lorien, Hands Upon the Bow, or the Rohan synergy of attacking the staging area will clear these enemies out as well. Target other enemies in the staging area so that it is the only one left. A single Warden of Healing will take care of the damage of both Snipers; you only have to deal with the threat.
- Marsh Adder: This enemy will serve as another boss-level enemy that tries to increase your threat. There is only one copy in the encounter deck, but despite this, the Marsh Adder is not unique, meaning it is vulnerable to several player card effects that can only target non-unique enemies. The Marsh Adder is not an immediate threat, as it has an engagement cost of 40. However, it has 3 threat, meaning that in some situations, you will want to engage it earlier to remove the threat from the staging area. But do be careful with this, especially if you are close to one of the threat thresholds (29 and 34). That’s because the Marsh Adder is quite aggressive and will cause you to increase your threat each time it makes an attack. The obvious solution to this is to cancel the attacks with Feint and Feigned Voices. Not only will this negate the game text on this enemy, but you also avoid the 4 attack, which can be substantial for many decks. Killing the Marsh Adder isn’t as easy as other enemies, thanks to its 7 hitpoints. 1 defence isn’t a lot, but the Adder will soak up a lot of damage. You do need to commit a lot of attention to this enemy, but fortunately, when you defeat the Adder, it is removed from the encounter deck and placed in the Victory Display. I will advise killing the Marsh Adder as quickly as possible so that you don’t have to deal with the threat increase every round. Forest Snare is also a decent solution for this enemy during this quest.
- Wargs: The warg enemies in the game are often decently threatening, but they are most famous for their annoying tendencies to hop between being engaged with players and sitting in the staging area. This is the very first enemy that started that trend, simply named: Wargs. They have a relatively low engagement cost of 20 and decent all-around stats. They suffer a little in defence and hitpoints, making them a common target for Gandalf. These enemies are annoying because each time they attack, they return to the staging area if their shadow card had no effect. And since the quest has about a below 40% chance of getting a shadow card with an effect, you are bound to return the Wargs to the staging area at some point. The Wargs having a shadow effect themselves lowers your chances even further! The trick is the same as with the Marsh Adder, don’t let them attack. Their attack strength isn’t really frightening, but if they do not attack, they cannot trigger their Forced effect. They will still get a shadow card, but you don’t really care whether or not it has an effect. Cancelling their attacks is just a temporary solution but should keep them engaged with you, allowing your characters to kill the Wargs. You can also slowly chip away at their health, though you will likely need several effects to kill off the Wargs. As I mentioned, their defence is not very strong, allowing you to kill them with just 4 attack. This enemy can prolong your games at the end, so try and kill the Wargs whenever you see them. That helps you to end the game faster. Shadow: The shadow effect on the Wargs themselves is pretty basic. It is a straight-up boost to the enemy’s attack by 1. However, if you are taking the attack undefended, you are looking at a +2 buff. This is quite substantial, as it can more easily kill a hero. And since the quest features quite a few weaker enemies, you might be tempted to take an attack undefended. This shadow effect punishes that hard, so be sure your heroes can take the hit of +2 and have a healing option down the line.
- Mirkwood Bats: More Bats this cycle, though these are pretty weak enemies compared to the other enemies mentioned so far. With a stat line of all 1’s, the Mirkwood Bats might not seem that big a deal. But their problems come from their Forced effect, which triggers whenever the Mirkwood Bats engage a player. This can be pretty soon after they enter play as well since they only have an engagement cost of 22. When they engage any player, the player guarding Gollum must deal 1 damage to each character they control. This includes their heroes, allies, and Gollum himself. With 4 copies of this enemy in the deck, you already know that this is going to wreck your boardstate over time, even if only 2 of them damage the same player. Therefore, players should find a way to avoid engaging the Mirkwood Bats at any cost. Easier said than done since these enemies will engage a lot sooner than, say, the Hummerhorns. But the solution lies in the single hitpoint that these bats have. This allows cards like Fresh Tracks, Thalin, and Argalad to kill the bats in the staging area. That way, they don’t engage a player, and no extra damage will be dealt. One thing to note is that the Bats also surge, though if you kill them with Thalin, the same rules apply as with the Eastern Crows, where they are defeated before the Surge keyword triggers. If you do end up engaging these enemies, try to time it with whoever has the best chance of taking 1 damage on all their characters. If you have the option to go to Wood Elf Path during the travel phase, you can change the player guarding Gollum, preventing a Silvan or Hobbit player from taking too much damage to lose their allies or even most of their heroes.
- Attercop, Attercop: I saved the best for last, as this final enemy is the one that will give you nightmares for a long time to come. These massive spiders are not only pretty tanky with 4 defence and 6 hitpoints. But the biggest threat coming from these enemies is their massive 8-attack stat! This is enough to cut through solid defenders like Beregond in the early game and will even kill allies like Gandalf. Luckily, there is no penalty for having excess damage dealt to characters, like it is with the Hill Troll. So chumping is a possibility against these spiders, but with 3 copies around, it won’t be long before you run out of allies to defend with. What’s worse is that Attercop, Attercop will engage the player guarding Gollum at the beginning of the encounter phase regardless of their threat. This also prevents players from trapping the enemy with Ranger Spikes since the Forced effect does not require an engagement check. So the player who guards Gollum must be able to take on these enemies and somehow find a way to bring them down. If you are not keen on losing allies, then cancelling the attack will save them. Feint or Feigned Voices will cancel the initial attack, and players can use Forest Snare during the next planning phase to cancel any future attacks. But this is really only a temporary solution, and with stage 4 requiring the players to kill all enemies, you must have a plan ready to deal 6 damage to these spiders. This won’t be easy, but if the other players can focus on any other enemy that got revealed that round or provide Ranged support, it should be a little easier. Unfortunately, there are several copies of this enemy, and they also do not go to the Victory Display upon defeat (unless the players use None Return). This can mean that if players stall too long, more copies might appear from the (reshuffled) encounter deck. In the late game, if you manage to find yourself engaged with these enemies, you can also consider using the Valour Combat Action on Fierce Defence, which allows you to discard the enemy before it makes an attack. This can only happen if you have more than 40 threat, as you otherwise just deal 3 damage to the enemy. But if you were to combine that damage with other sources of direct damage, you might also find a way to deal enough damage to the spiders to not have to deal with their 8 attack.
The forest of Mirkwood once again becomes the setting for this scenario. It comes with many familiar locations that you have faced during the previous scenarios in the cycle, but there are also 4 new locations in the encounter deck for you to explore. Most of these relate to Gollum and who gets to guard him. Make sure you understand the consequences of having these locations active!
- 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 are 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 traveling 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 are 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. Note that revealing the additional encounter card also allows you to dig for Athelas a little faster, especially compared to a solo game. 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 traveling to.
- The Brown Lands: Out of all the cards in the encounter deck, this is the one with the most threat that you can reveal out of a single card. With 5 threat, you will lose a lot of progress that round, possibly preventing early progression to stage 2. The most important thing is that you still do quest successfully, as raising your threat will be less than ideal. But there is good news as well: apart from the 5 threat upon you revealing the card, the location is quite tame. This is due to its single quest point, which allows you to explore the Brown Lands in the staging area easily. The best tool for this is Warden of Arnor, as the attachment straight up discards the location after it is revealed. Other good cards to use are Spirit Aragorn and Asfaloth. Do note that Spirit Aragorn will need to have at least 5 willpower to place the progress on this location. If you do not have access to these fancy location exploration cards, don’t worry. The location clears itself when the players decide to travel to it. This makes it the best target to travel to in the travel phase. However, if The East Bight is also in the staging area at the same time, then the players have to travel there first, leaving The Brown Lands in the staging area for the next round. There you can explore it with Rhovanion Outrider or Northern Tracker, but if you cannot clear it or travel to it, then this location will be a big obstacle towards your progress. If you can travel here, do so. It places one point of progress on itself, which is enough to clear it (unless players used Elf-stone or Put Off Pursuit). If the location clears itself, then players are not able to travel to any other location unless a travel action is used, like South Away!, Thror’s Map, or Ghan-buri-Ghan. The best remedy against this location is to just have some progress-placing cards ready to get rid of this location.
- The East Bight: The mirror image of The Brown Lands is The East Bight, which does not have a lot of threat, but does take a lot of willpower to clear. While you would be tempted just to leave it in the staging area, the textbox on The East Bight forces the players to travel there if they have no other active location. This puts a buffer of 6 quest points between the players and making progress on the quest card so that you will need more willpower next round. This effect also blocks the players from travelling to more threatening locations like Brown Lands. If this goes on for too long, the players might end up with a location lock because of this. There are some ways that players can get past the East Bight more easily. The first is to make progress on it regardless of questing successfully. If you can guarantee to place progress on the location each round with effects like Lorien Guide and Map of Rhovanion, then the quest points become easier to overcome. Players can also find a way around the location by returning it to the staging area and making another location active. This can be done through The Hidden Way or West Road Traveller. This allows players to travel to other locations at the cost of returning the East Bight to the staging area. But since the location only has 1 threat, it is much easier to overcome this way. Spamming out willpower next round can also help, as you will need a big quest push to get through the location in one shot.
- The Spiders’ Ring: The first new location is the one with its art on the cover of the pack. The Spiders’ Ring is a decently common location for this quest, with 4 copies in the encounter deck. It sports the highest threat from the new locations added to the quest, though the 3 threat is obviously still less than the 5 threat from the Brown Lands. With 2 quest points, the location is quite easy to explore in the staging area if you brought any progress-placing effects. You can even use cards like Strength of Will to explore it as soon as the Spiders’ Ring becomes the active location. You will want to do that since this location comes with quite a negative effect as long as it is the active location. Should the players travel here, then the player guarding Gollum cannot be changed. This overrules the effects on Gollum himself, as well as all the other treacheries that force you to change guards on him. It means that one player will be stuck with Gollum and all the misery he brings for at least another round unless players manage to clear the Spiders’ Ring in the combat phase. As long as players can explore the location quickly, there’s usually not a huge problem with one player being stuck with Gollum for a little while longer as long as other players can take the heat for a while afterwards. But aside from the 3 threat this location adds to the staging area; there is actually no need to travel here if you don’t want to. Better explore the more pressing locations before going here and being forced to take Gollum on for longer. This is one location that actually does not do much in true solo since one player is already stuck with Gollum for the rest of the game. Shadow: Should you take an attack undefended (with the damage going on Gollum afterwards), the shadow effect will force you to return the active location to the staging area, making the Spiders’ Ring active. This can be a bit unexpected and will add to any location lock that might be happening in the staging area. You also are now being forced to keep Gollum for a little while longer, which can be bad if he’s with the wrong deck at the moment, which really cannot handle him much longer. It’s a shadow effect worth cancelling if the situation demands it.
- Dry Watercourse: Somehow the art reminds me of the Oakwood Grove from A Journey to Rhosgobel, so I connect a positive feeling with this location. Oh, how wrong I am. This location is probably the worst to have active in a multiplayer game, as it will force each player to undergo the same suffering as the player guarding Gollum when it comes to the Tantrum treacheries. That means that each player will have to deal 4 damage to a hero, discard their top 10 cards from the deck, or raise their threat by 8 when such a treachery comes up. Other effects targeting the player guarding Gollum do not affect each player. Examples of this are Attercop, Attercop’s engagement, Gollum’s threat increase, and most notably, the shadow effects on the Tantrum treacheries. Also note that there’s not really a necessity to go to this location, as it only has 2 threat, and its 2 quest points can be explored with relative ease in the staging area. You can also just risk going here and hope to clear the location in the combat phase. If you have been using scrying effects to check the top cards of the encounter deck, and no Tantrums are coming, then this is also a relatively safe destination.
- Woodman’s Glade: This is the actual beneficial location that you should be going to if you get the chance. While this does nothing for the player guarding Gollum, the Response allows all other players to lower their threat by 2. This is a welcome reprieve during this quest, where threat can be a real issue. It basically gives the players a free Galadhrim’s Greeting, except for the player guarding Gollum. The one caveat is that there is a Travel cost with this location, and if things didn’t suck enough for the player guarding Gollum, they are the ones who are going to have to pay that travel cost. They must exhaust a hero they control in order to travel here. With the right hero lineup, this is probably not a huge deal, and since you can swap the player guarding Gollum before you explore the location naturally next turn, the player currently guarding him can benefit from the threat reduction next turn if they find someone else to guard Gollum for a while. But the phrasing of the Response makes it that it is not a requirement that Woodman’s Glade is explored as the active location in order to lower the threat of most players. You can still explore this location in the staging area and have each player not guarding Gollum benefit of the -2 threat! It’s pretty easy, too, since the location only requires 2 progress, which can be easily obtained with location control cards.
- Wood Elf Path: This is a rather useful location that you should keep in the staging area for when it really matters. With 1 threat, there’s no rush in going here, but it is the optional Response that makes this location so useful. When the players travel to the Wood Elf Path, the players may choose a new player to guard Gollum. This can help during the combat phase if other players are better equipped at handling any copies of Attercop, Attercop that got revealed this round. It can also serve as a way for the player guarding Gollum to avoid the extra threat gain at the end of the round if they somehow got Gollum’s Anguish in the quest phase but couldn’t move Gollum to another player because of the Spiders’ Ring. Keep this location around for when you need it, and in the meantime, explore other locations that are more important. Remember that it is not a requirement to change the player guarding Gollum to travel here; it’s merely a possibility.
Three treacheries will be familiar to you; luckily, they are not the worst ones from this cycle. But the three Tantrum treacheries that complement them will be the main target of your cancellation events during this quest. Better bring a few extra copies of A Test of Will; you are going to need 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 canceling 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 canceling this treachery. However, there will also be times when 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 them. 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 canceling 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. 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 who would be the best target. The 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, whose purpose 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 Boromir, Gwaihir, Sam, and Leadership Imrahil, who all have built-in readying effects.
- Despair: It will be a good day when you reveal this from the top of the encounter deck. Not because the When Revealed effect is beneficial to the players, but just so you know, there is a lower chance of having this card pop up as a shadow card later on. The When Revealed effect on Despair is quite tame. The biggest thing that Despair does is remove progress from the current quest card. It does this to a maximum of 4 progress tokens, or all if you have fewer than 4 on the quest card. Note that this targets the current quest, so if you have 6 progress on stage 1 but have selected a side-quest for this phase with no progress on it, this treachery does not remove any progress since the side-quest is the current quest card. But even without side-quests, this treachery is not much of an obstacle during this quest. The lack of surge makes this treachery pretty underpowered, and it is often not worth wasting cancellation on. Especially since there are a lot of other treacheries in this quest that will be more worth canceling, you should have plenty of willpower to make up for any lost progress. Shadow: That is not the case with the shadow effect, though, which has taken the lives of many heroes over the years. Despair causes the defending character not to count defense for defending this attack. That means that the damage dealt is equal to the attacker’s attack strength. And if that attacker happens to be a big enemy, you can probably say “goodbye” to your defender, as it is unlikely they have 4+ hitpoints left. If you are comfortable defending with Dain or Beregond, which have a ton of defence built up, then it is all nullified by this shadow card, and any Troll can one-shot them both with this. Always have cancellation ready for this shadow effect, and keep track of where the two copies are in the encounter deck/discard pile. It just might save your hero from an early demise.
- Gollum’s Anguish: The first new treachery in the encounter deck is the first of three “Tantrums” that Gollum can have. These treacheries have a lot in common with each other and target the player guarding Gollum (if Dry Watercourse is the active location, it targets all players). Players also must change the player guarding Gollum after the Tantrum treachery has resolved unless the active location is The Spiders’ Ring.
For Gollum’s Anguish, this treachery focuses on increasing the threat of the player guarding Gollum. 8 threat is a lot in any scenario, but in this quest where you really have to focus on keeping below the engagement costs of certain enemies, it can end the game right then and there. 8 threat is just a lot to handle, especially later in the game if that player has also been increasing their threat by Gollum’s Forced effect at the end of the turn (if they were guarding him). Luckily, players should be bringing threat reduction to this quest, so you have a weapon against this threat increase. The best card, aside from canceling this treachery, is Free to Choose. This lowers the player’s threat by the amount it was just increased. If that saves you from gaining 8 threat, it is well worth the inclusion in your deck! The good news is that you can immediately choose another player to gain control of Gollum so that you do not have to raise your threat again at the end of the turn. Shadow: A common theme for the shadow effects of these treacheries is that they are weaker versions of their When Revealed effects. They will still target the player guarding Gollum, but it’s far better to get the shadow effect than the main body of text on the treachery. For Gollum’s Anguish, instead of raising their threat by 8, the player guarding Gollum must raise their threat by 4. This is easier to solve with threat reduction than other the 8 threat you otherwise would have taken. And since the encounter step has already been resolved for the round when the shadow appears, you do not have to worry about getting engaged by more enemies this round.
- Gollum’s Bite: This next tantrum is, in my eyes, the worst one since it forces players to bring a hero with at least 5 hitpoints. When this treachery is revealed, the player guarding Gollum must deal 4 direct damage to a hero they control. This will kill a good portion of all heroes in the game, except a few like Aragorn and Dain. Luckily, there are tools to avoid getting a dead hero early on. Hitpoint-increasing attachments like Ancestral Armor and Citadel Plate might be expensive, but they will help to tank a few copies of this treachery. Damage cancellation or redirection is also useful, with the Valour action on Honour Guard being able to negate all damage dealt by this effect. Still, these are usually some late-game effects that the players have access to, so to protect yourself against the Bite early on: bring a 5 hitpoint hero and have some cancellation ready to go. Shadow: Again, the shadow effect deals damage to a hero controlled by the first player, but only 2 this time. This is nice since most heroes can afford to take 2 damage and be ok (apart from some Hobbits). This damage is also a lot easier to cancel with effects like Mithril Shirt and the regular Response on the Honour Guard. Just make sure that going into the combat phase, the player guarding Gollum has healed up their heroes before attacks are resolved.
- Wasted Provisions: Out of all the Tantrums, I feel that this is the least troublesome one. It can even benefit Dwarf or Noldor decks! When this treachery is revealed, the player guarding Gollum must discard the top 10 cards from their deck. This reduces the number of cards you can play during the game, but in all honesty: it’s rare to draw through your entire deck anyways. Unless you are building a deck designed to draw quickly, in which case you will have a copy of Will of the West in your deck somewhere. Players are also not punished if their deck is ever empty, meaning that this treachery just screws with your options a little, but it’s better compared to the other treacheries. Noldor players will benefit from having more cards in their discard pile, and Dwarven mining decks are designed for discarding cards from the top of their deck, so they can have tools like Dwarven Pipe to return discarded cards to their deck. In any deck, a few copies of Hidden Cache or Ered Luin Miner can help you out after this treachery as well! Shadow: The Shadow effect is again a weaker version of the regular When Revealed effect. Instead of 10 cards, you just have to discard 5 cards from the top of the deck of the player guarding Gollum. This isn’t horrible unless you just had your 5 cards set up with an Imladris Stargazer. Save your cancellation for other effects.
Worst cards in the encounter deck
- Hill Troll
- Ungoliant’s Spawn
- Marsh Adder
- Hummerhorns with a threat higher than 40
- Attercop, Attercop
- The Brown Lands/The East Bight combo
- The Spiders’ Ring
- Gollum’s Anguish
- Gollum’s Bite
- Shadow effects
- Gollum’s Anguish
- Gollum’s Bite
- Ungoliant’s Spawn
- The Spiders’ Ring
Tips and Tricks
- Gollum is a Creature ally and can, therefore, be healed by Radagast. This will prevent Gollum from dying from a lot of undefended attacks. Other healing options are also good to include. Make sure you take as few undefended attacks as possible to prevent damage on him.
- Try to change the player guarding Gollum whenever you can so that all players raise their threat evenly. The increase of 4 per round will really hurt if a single player happens to be the player guarding Gollum at the end of every round. However, if that player brings Lore Aragorn, he can drop his threat to the starting level at the refresh phase. This will keep everyone’s threat low enough by having 1 player take all of the threat and then dropping back down. Adding Desperate Alliance to the deck will allow this effect to be repeated between players.
- A lot of locations have 2 or fewer quest points before it is explored. Bringing Asfaloth or Evening Star will clear a lot of these. This will prevent you from getting swarmed with locations in the Staging Area.
- Thalin has got some great targets for his ability with the Mirkwood Bats; they will not surge if you kill them straight away. You will also not have to engage them, so no damage will be dealt to your characters.
- Have each player start the game with a hero that has 5 or more hitpoints. This is to protect yourself from an early Gollum’s Bite taking out a hero. Later on in the game, you can invest in damage cancellation and increasing hitpoints with various attachments.
- Threat reduction is important for this quest, especially if you are taking your time to go through each stage. Constantly playing Galadhrim’s Greetings and Elrond’s Counsels will get you a lot further while also avoiding the engagement costs of several enemies for a bit longer.
- Bring enough willpower to go through this quest quickly. The longer you wait, the more horrible encounter cards can appear from the deck. If you were to stall for a while, do so on stage 1, where there is no active punishment to the player guarding Gollum.
- Ranged and Sentinel can be pretty important during the final stage and for dealing with Attercop, Attercop. If players can help each other out, the burden for the player guarding Gollum is a lot less.
With this being arguably the hardest quest of the cycle, it is not uncommon to find people revisiting this quest with more modern decks. Progression series are also faced with a tough quest to overcome before they are allowed to advance to the Dwarrowdelf cycle.
- Progression style, true solo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KalCkblYteY
- Progression style, true solo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKdOAkUQzIg
- Progression style, 2 players: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWJZO1oZ9_k
- Progression style, 4 players: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3bL6yN3dWs
- 2 handed, modern card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCeVpYB0m1Q
That completes my revisit of the first cycle of the game. I started this project in order to bring the older articles in line with the more recent articles published on the blog. I believe that from the Dwarrowdelf cycle onwards, the articles are much more in-depth than they were at the beginning, which has been rectified over the past year. My focus will now shift back to the Nightmare articles in the hope of completing several cycles next year since that is the last big thing really remaining for the blog. I hope you have enjoyed this revisit to the game’s origins and that you’ll continue to enjoy the new content coming to you in 2023.