Rohan Rises Against The Shadow (Heirs of Numenor, 3rd Cycle)
This is the fellowship that successfully took me through the whole 3rd cycle (Against the Shadow). Let me just say, it wasn’t easy.
- Peril in Pelargir : I needed to learn the hard way that clearing The Leaping Fish on turn 1 is the first priority. Once you know that, it shouldn’t be too hard.
- Into Ithilien : Very difficult quest for this fellowship, because of the archery damage, the horrible Blocking Wargs treachery (surge + deal 1 damage to each questing character) in 4 (four !) copies, and the incredibly annoying Forest Bat (2 damage on questing hero + remove hero from the quest), for which I only recently learned that you can cancel it with A Test of Will (which I had only used for treachery cards). The only healing in this fellowship is Dúnedain Remedy, and it isn’t nearly as efficient as a good ol’ Warden of Healing.
- The Siege of Cair Andros : I usually beat this quest after clearing all 3 battleground locations (I say “usually”, but it’s more like 4 times out of maybe 8 attempts). Having Snowbourn Scout, The Riddermark's Finest and Ride to Ruin is key to clearing the most vulnerable one (The Banks) first. The siege questing means you’ll get a lot of leverage off Inspiring Presence. To note : The Master’s Malice (deal 3 damage an each character that doesn’t belong to a sphere of your choice) weighed pretty heavily on the choice to use mono-sphere decks. Note 2: chump blocking is good, unless you defend with Erkenbrand.
- The Steward’s Fear : It is Éomer’s turn to shine. Éomer can destroy enemies that are added to the staging after Underworld cards are explored with The Riddermark's Finest or Ride to Ruin during the planning phase, and he can do that while standing, thanks to Legolas. To top it off, if fully equipped, he can one-shot Daughter of Beruthiel in the staging area. Daughter of Beruthiel is the Villain who keeps bouncing back to the staging area. Because of the high starting threat of these decks, threat-ing out is still a concern, especially if you draw the Poisoned Counsels plot (raise threat by 2 at the end of each round).
- The Druadan Forest : I feel this quest is more about learning how to play the quest than about crafting player decks. After I learned not to spend my resources right away, the quest didn’t pose much of a threat. Nice change of pace in the cycle.
- Encounter at Amon Din (Nightmare) : The original quest felt way too easy, so I tried my hand at the Nightmare version, and wasn’t disappointed. Whether I win this quest seems to depend on whether I clear the Burning Farmhouse turn 1 (not unlike Peril in Pelargir). Otherwise, I have to draw 1 additional encounter card, and the bad stuff can quickly get out of control. This quest is an example where recycling Snowbourn Scout with Gúthwinë to die under the sword of Ghulat (hitting for +10, and immune to damage until you can put 15 progress tokens on the quest) was a game-saver. I believe this Nightmare quest is the only one where I encountered a Condition attachment. I included Power of Orthanc in the deck, but more out of reflex than anything else.
- Assault on Osigiliath : Easily the easiest wins of the bunch, especially if I draw Éomund and Ride to Ruin. With the Ancient Harbor in the staging area, The King’s Bridge as the active location, just defend all attacks, then use Ride to Ruin to explore The King’s Bridge (you can, since it is not in the staging area), then ready all Rohan heroes and claim The Ancient Harbor by exhausting 5 of them. Win turn 1 or 2.
- Blood of Gondor : For some reason, I seem to be drawing Hunting Party more often against this quest. It allows me to discard the dangerous Black Númenorean right away. When he comes back, I am usually more than prepared for him. This quest, at its best, illustrates how useful it is to have sentinel defenders across the board.
- The Morgul Vale : My first taste of this quest was tainted by very bad encounter card combos. In my first try, I drew 3 copies of Morgul bodyguards which considerably delayed my attempt to defeat Murzag. By then, it was too late. In my second try, I had Orc Vanguard consistently preventing me from spending resources. Combined with return to staging area effects and a swarm of enemies, it meant I was locked. In my third try, the Power of Mordor treachery shuffled Murzag back into the deck. After going through almost all the encounter deck, Murzag got discarded as a... shadow card. I threw in the towel and restarted the game. Finally I beat the quest by killing him turn 1 (thanks to Legolas adding +3 to the player), killing Lord Alcaron turn 2, and then fighting back against about all I could handle, including a Lieutenant of Mordor, 2 Morgul Spiders, an Orc Vanguard, and even a returning Murzag, with Erkenbrand manning the defense almost singlehandedly atop 2 Armored Destrier and 2 Dúnedain Warning (eventually 3), discarding the shadow card of the Nazgul turn after turn, in order to prevent him from escaping to the staging area, with some help from Théoden, Arwen Undómiel and Háma.
Big kudos to the designers for this cycle. Battle/siege questing gets players out of their comfort zone, while staying thematic. I’m thinking of using some of the quests as deckbuilding benchmarks (e.g., Steward’s Fear for questing and location exploration, Blood of Gondor for enemy swarms, etc.). I only noticed a couple weak spots (e.g., Encounter at Amon Din too easy, but saved by its Nightmare version).