Green anacondas are the largest snakes in the world, capable of eating prey as large and dangerous as a jaguar. With their powerful jaw they clasp on to their prey, coil their body around it, and squeeze it to death, eventually swallowing it whole.
I set out to build a full four player mono lore fellowship and was pleasantly surprised to find it operated in very much the same manner as the anaconda, constricting the encounter deck until there was no life left in it. It was great fun and quite a departure from the typical in this game we love. It requires multiple copies of certain cards so it's not easy to play in person, even with a full card collection, but on OCTGN or on the table if you ever get the chance to try it out I hope you do.
Here's how it works.
There are four main avenues of constriction happening. Let's look at them one at a time.
Victory Display. Three of the four decks are equipped with three copies each of The Door is Closed!, a way to completely cancel cards that come out of the encounter deck. The catch is you have to have another copy of an encounter card in the victory display in order to cancel it when it is revealed from the deck, so we want to get cards in the victory display as quickly as possible. The Heart & Stomach deck is the primary cause of this, using all of the victory display tricks in the game. All four decks are equipped with three copies of [Keen as Lances](/card/10037, a useful utility card that should be free for everyone a few rounds into the game. Getting enemies into the victory display powers up Rossiel, who intends to become the fellowship's best defender.
Side Quests Lore's other form of cancellation of the encounter deck comes in the form of the Halfling Bounder, a pint-sized dynamo who can be discarded to cancel the when revealed effects of an encounter card just revealed from the encounter deck. Once again, three of the decks come fully-loaded with three of these guys. The catch with this one is there has to be a completed side quest in the victory display before he can go to work. Thurindir ensures we can start the game with the side quest Scout Ahead in play. So we want to clear that as quickly as possible (which also helps our victory display and encounter deck manipulation). The halfling bounders can't negate an encounter card as completely as The Door Is Closed can, which just discards the card no matter what is on it, but it is more versatile and can help with treacheries we haven't gotten in the victory display yet. Completing side quests is also essential in powering up our attackers, as our primary weapon is the Legacy Blade. Thurindir and Thalion also gain valuable benefits from completing side quests.
Traps Traps play an essential role in both combat and in questing. Their direct purpose is harassing and restricting enemies, which they do quite effectively, but they have the additional benefit of empowering our Emyn Arnen Rangers, which once again three decks have three copies apiece. This is our best means of powerful questing, of outpacing the encounter deck, and the higher threat an enemy you can trap the better these guys get in response. A higher threat enemy also leads to more powerful uses of Interrogation, which leads us to our forth form of constriction...
Scrying and Manipulation Not merely content to just cancel whatever comes out of the encounter deck, we also have ways of making it give us what we want to see and avoiding the worst of it. Scout Ahead is the most powerful version of this, allowing us to look at the top eight cards of the encounter deck, remove one from the game, and re-order the rest any way we like. We have three copies of Scout Ahead in our fellowship and each use of this is good for us on all fronts. Once an enemy is trapped Interrogation allows us to look at the top few cards and re-order them, tossing the ugliest of them in the discard pile. Risk Some Light has a similar but slightly less powerful effect but doesn't require any set-up, so it can help us right off the bat. Gildor's Counsel allows us to draw one less card all together. And if we find Firyal she can look at the top card of the encounter deck when she quests and discard it if she so desires.
And those are just the systems, there are also individual cards also limit the encounter deck in many ways.
~A Burning Brand completely cancels shadow effects when attached to the defending character.
~Miner of the Iron Hills discards conditions.
~Advance Warning keeps swarms of enemies from engaging.
~Haldir of Lórien kills off enemies before they can even attack.
~The Houses of Healing can return a hero from death.
All of this has the effect of squeezing the life out of the encounter deck: 18 different cards (9 each of The Door is Closed! and Halfling Bounder) that can just cancel cards that are revealed, 12 cards that remove cards from the deck so Sauron only gets one use out of them, or none at all, 15 recyclable and debilitating traps for the enemies that DO come out, and ten different opportunities to re-order the encounter deck to our liking. Meanwhile, Elrond and Vilya are building an army to just plain old outnumber Sauron's forces, providing the muscle we need to overpower our prey. Once this anaconda is wrapped around the encounter deck there's not much Sauron can do about it.
The real challenge here is getting that choke-hold on the encounter deck. The first few rounds Sauron starts out on even footing, or even with us on the defensive, and is quite dangerous. The anaconda first latches on to its prey with its mouth and holds on tight, trying to wrap its body around the prey while the prey fights to escape. We've got to hang in there early on in order to give our mechanisms time to get to work. The first couple rounds are essential to victory, so there are several cards here that help us get that initial grip.
To start with, clearing that first Scout Ahead is crucial for several reasons. It is connected to three of our avenues of constriction. Do whatever you can to clear it the first round, if at all possible. Some of the primary means to that end are Risk Some Light, Secret Paths, Radagast's Cunning, and sending Treebeard in the quest round one. He'll feel a lot safer doing this if he has some Lembas so he can quest all-out and still be healed and ready for combat. We have nine copies of Lembas so hopefully somebody can get one on him right away. Ranger Spikes is usually the best trap right away and helps with both questing and combat. The Scales deck is set up to defend as strongly as it can right from the start. As long as it can keep afloat in combat and you can quest successfully, victory is attainable.
Now, there are some types of encounter decks that are particularly tough for this fellowship to tackle. Two of the decks do NOT want to engage enemies most of the time, so quests where enemies start engaged with each player are tough. Same with quests that have a boss who sits in the middle and attacks everyone each round. There are a few ways to handle these--it's not a hopeless cause--but it's going to be tough sledding. Similarly, quests where you simply cannot afford to complete a side quest early (or ever) are a problem. As a whole, the faster Sauron starts the tougher it will be to catch up, but that's pretty universally true so it's hardly a unique weakness. Some kinds of prey are just not on the anaconda's menu.
As mentioned, it's tough to playtest this fellowship because it requires so many copies of cards that even a complete set of player cards leaves you short. Here's the list of player cards you need more than three copies of:
I have been able to get a couple games in with it so far. It beat nightmare Passage Through Mirkwood pretty handily. Nightmare Journey Down The Anduin took three attempts to beat, as our first two had just insane starting rounds by Sauron. The third go was a good challenge and turned into a very satisfying victory. Hopefully I'll get more opportunities to test this out in the near future.
Somebody made a mono-Spirit fellowship a while back and it got my gears grinding on this idea. I'm glad it did. I've never seen or built anything quite like this before. Lore has TONS of tricks and this fellowship puts several of them on full display in a very cohesive manner. Most often what you find with lore in a fellowship is you'll have ONE deck committed to it. Maybe that's a trap deck and it's stocked with traps. Emyn Arnen Ranger turns into a beast, but he's only in that deck. Or you've got a Rossiel victory display deck but no other deck is carrying The Door Is Closed. Very useful decks but those fellowships don't explore the value they can bring fully. This one tries to and I think it succeeds quite enjoyably. I hope you can try it out yourself sometime.