Journey in the Dark - Specialist Deck Series
Next up for the Specialist Deck Series is a trip to Moria with Journey in the Dark.
For an explanation of the series and to see the deck for the first quest, look here: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/18970
This marks what might be the most difficult quest yet, with a community difficulty rating of 8. However, we are not playing in campaign mode, and for this particular quest I think that drops the difficulty quite a lot. We get to dodge the 4(!) Burdens which would otherwise be added in setup, and we can complete the scenario however we like with no penalty. With that said, I'm taking the opportunity to try out a few less popular cards.
What do we have to overcome in this quest? Well, the Balrog, basically. It's certainly one of the fiercest enemies in the game, and a lot of this quest revolves around the countdown to it's appearance. Other than that we will need to combat a good number of enemies and try to avoid other dangers in the great halls of Moria.
We'll be running a two-handed Fellowship again. While it would be possible to beat this quest before the Balrog shows up, it becomes less reliable to pull off as you add more players. So, in building the decks I assumed that we would need to deal with the Balrog's attacks, at least for a time.
I have been making use of an Eagles deck recently, and their strong combat ability seemed to make them a great choice for this quest. Plus like many others I find the imagery of Eagles wandering around underground very amusing. Radagast is the standard choice for a hero in an Eagles deck, with good reason. His abilities and those of his Staff are probably the best thing for boosting the Creature trait, that all Eagles share. For other heroes I looked to the sphere and went with Bilbo Baggins and Quickbeam. I talk more about the heroes in the deck description.
On the other side of the table, I started off with Dáin Ironfoot. No doubt one of the best defending heroes in the game and, most importantly, one who can take a hit from the Balrog. Dain is joined by Prince Imrahil, who has a natural synergy with the Eagle deck, and Glorfindel for his ever dependable combination of good stats and low threat.
This quest has a few effects that raise your threat and also a couple of shadow cards which punish threat of 35 or above. We also have good reason to want a lot of control over the enemies we engage, so in addition to wanting a reasonable starting threat, we have a good number of threat reduction effects included in the deck.
Full details of each deck can be found in their respective descriptions.
The Eagles deck does not have a complicated game plan. It will handle a good portion of the combat with a small bit of healing on top. Dain's deck will contribute most of the questing power and also threat management and location control. In ideal situations, the Balrog will be defended by Dain and by a buffed up Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Without the Burden cards, in particular the defense-blanking shadow effect, we can be fairly confident in the outcome of defenses against the Balrog.
While the decks are capable of defeating the Balrog, that will not be a priority, and instead we will plan for at most 3 rounds of needing to defend before escaping Khazad-Dum. In testing the decks were averaging about 3 rounds on Stage 1, 3 on Stage 2, and 3 on Stage 3. So depending on how many extra Doom, Doom, Doom tokens we are forced to remove, we might get away with only 1 or 2 turns of defenses, but we should be prepared in any case. We are strongly incentivised to avoid engagements during Stage 1. Not only will an optional engagement cause the Balrog to appear sooner, but keeping enemies in play will allow us to fulfil the conditions to progress stage 2B more easily.
As in the previous quest, I suggest Mountain of Fire Frodo Baggins, since there is no punishment for exhausting The One Ring and the resource generation is the most reliably useful ability. It's really handy for these decks to smooth out our resources and let's us get ahead of the encounter deck. The other Frodos can be of use, although the one from this expansion is a bit of a let down, since his defense ability is useless against the Balrog.
In my tests I won two games out of three. The first one I lost at the final stage because I couldn't muster enough questing strength to escape, and got location locked at The Great Bridge with many Many-pillared Halls in the staging area. At this point the Balrog ate his way through my forces until I was ultimately doomed. A better sense of how the quest plays out, a greater focus on and location control, and just a bit of luck got me safely through my other two attempts. As has been the case often in my experiences with this game it usually only takes a few extra points of to vastly improve your chances of beating a quest.