Ringmaker 2P Fellowship
I'm starting the Ringmaker cycle and wanted to stay thematic with Ent, Silvan, Rohan, and Doomed cards (with a touch of Dunedain -- Idraen is much better than I was anticipating!). Some Ent & Rohan cards inevitably leaked in from the Sagas to help round out the decks.
I'm writing quest-specific notes on changes to the specific decks as I go (especially the Tactics/Lore one), so click the deck details to see those.
Fords of Isen and To Catch an Orc
Fords of Isen required a rebuild because Grima is an objective ally -- so much for Doomed but I stayed on the Ringmaker/Silvan theme with Haldir of Lórien. Once I got the hang of these decks and made some tweaks, they hummed along nicely and were able to beat both quests in the first few tries. Also Doomed (which I used extensively in To Catch an Orc) is a much more fun mechanic than I was expecting, especially during early turns when it really makes a difference establishing the board quickly.
Between these two quests, I much preferred Fords of Isen. I replayed it even after the win, because I thought the story was compelling and the balance was really good. To Catch an Orc was OK too, but the search mechanic for the Out of Play decks makes it a little too swingy for my tastes.
I lost the first attempt badly when I drew The Forest's Malice during setup, and ended up with 5 Huorns in play by the end of the 2nd turn. I agonized for a bit over some deck changes before giving it another shot. The second time, I didn't see any Huorns in the first couple turns, and cakewalked through the quest in 4 turns total. I tweaked the decks a bit in between but really it had more to do with luck of the encounter deck draw than anything else.
(Update! I realized I had forgotten all about the "Hinder" keyword and wasn't removing progress tokens for my 2nd game, so I replayed it. I won this time fair and square, though the encounter deck was more balanced this time so I had to be careful in deciding when to engage the higher-threat Huorns and when to let them stick around in the staging area. It made for a nifty puzzle, though not as thrilling as some other quests. For fun-factor, I rate this quest about average: The Huorns were an interesting change of pace as enemies, but not interesting enough to make we want to play the quest a 4th time.)
The Dunland Trap
Funny thing: I got off to what I thought was a bad draw, unable to get the mounts and weapons I wanted active into play in the first few turns. I was getting punished for card draw, so unable to stall any longer, I forged ahead with a decent set of Ent allies but not much else. Little did I know, I would be forced to discard all my items and mounts anyway!
I had some close calls as I progressed, especially on Galadriel's side, since I had to engage more enemies than that deck is prepared to deal with. Unexpected Courage came up midway through the game while I was bogged down with enemies; putting it on Celeborn (a first for him!) changed the tide and I started to fight my way out. The darkest moment was an ill-timed Frenzied Attack treachery, which I misread and thought it forced me to discard all my allies from play, not from my hand! That would have resulted in a loss as my heroes didn't have enough health to withstand another attack from the Boar clan. Upon a third read of the card, slower and more carefully, I breathed a sigh of relief: my Chump Questers would stay on the board until the Combat Phase. I wasn't out of the woods, but next came a fortuitous forced draw of Gandalf while I had Sneak Attack in my hand, allowing me to clear the last truly troubling enemy by dropping a quick 4 damage on it. (The wizard shows up just in time again!) A turn later I was able to use Westfold Outrider to double-engage the boss during the planning phase, which dropped the timer to zero. A quick chump block against Chief Turch and the heroes survived the Dunland Trap!
This quest was definitely exciting: With a bit less luck (both with my late-game draws and with shadow cards), I would have failed the final stage -- at one point I would have insta-lost if I had pulled a +1 shadow card. But it didn't feel like luck was the driving factor overall...the win felt earned and very satisfying. I could definitely see myself coming back to this quest if I was in the mood for a fun & challenging one-off. (Though maybe knowing the item & mount wipe is coming ahead of time ruins it a bit?)
In hindsight, this would have been a good game to try out The Wizards's Voice and Rohan Warhorse for the first time, as I often had multiple enemies engaged with each deck. (Éomer can ride two horses at a time, right?) It also is making me consider adding some ranged or sentinel support to the Rohan deck, to better help out the more quest-focused side if it gets bogged down. Or maybe I just need to more aggressively lower my threat. Don't Be Hasty! saved the day at least once, as overquesting on the final stage was easy to do. Being able to pull back a character to pitch in against a newly-staged enemy was a big help.
The Three Trials
Another win on the blind first attempt! I started off with a Doom-heavy hand and decided to lean into it, playing 2 x Deep Knowledge and Legacy of Númenor, plus a Doomed & buffed Isengard Messenger to bump my threat by a whopping 9 by the end of the first planning phase. Since I was playing blind I thought this was a huge risk. It turned out to be an awesome choice as there's only a few non-guardian enemies and they are all 28 , so I would have been forced to engage them anyway. (Plus they are super wimpy attackers until you start finding keys.) The extra card draws resulted in Eowyn having Golden Shield right away (and unexpected Courage on turn 2), with the extra resources helping me quickly establish a pleasantly crowded board of Ents and Silvans.
I picked my quest stage 2 randomly, and lucked out with the weaker guardian and the Trial of Intuition, which is pretty stall-able. I used Eowyn's special ability to help knock out the Guardian quickly and had a pleasant walk through Dunland poking around for the key while prepping for the next trials. I breezed through #2 and #3 without incident and was starting to feel a little disappointed with the level of challenge until I got (surprise!) swarmed at the end. That added a little tension, but (thanks to Feigned Voices and a large host of Silvans), I was able to mostly avoid attacks and/or chump block through the second wave of Guardians with little risk to my heroes. I took out all three before traveling to the final location, which made for a rather anti-climactic ending.
I liked the idea of this quest better than the execution, which felt a little long-ish without creating any real excitement except for the a turn or two on the final stage. However, my deck build & card draw happened to work perfectly against this quest, which significantly reduced the challenge: Without early access to Golden Shield and the Mirror helping me dig out all 3 Feigned Voices, it would have been a much different game. The big Doom burst at the beginning turned out to be a huge benefit without much downside: Of the 4 times I got Gandalf into play (2 via Sneaks), he only lowered my threat once, and I ended the game in no danger of threating out (42 & 43). Of course, Galadriel was working her threat reduction throughout the game and I also played The Galadhrim's Greeting once.
I imagine this quest is a big challenge when playing true solo, and will probably circle back to it with a solo build when I finish my Ringmaker campaign.
Trouble in Tharbad
Stage 1 of this quest has a unique mechanic where, instead of placing progress on the quest, you drop your threat by that amount. When your threat is 0, you advance. There's a catch though: if you use a player card to lower your threat, it must be removed from the game. My initial thoughts were: 1) Doomed is not going to work well in this quest, and 2) Uh no, I can't use Galadriel for card draw! But I decided to give it a go without adjusting the decks, and I'm glad I did. I realized if the Doomed cards are used to accelerate questing, they'll "pay" for their own threat quickly. For Galadriel, I was just going to have to hope to find Nenya early.
After taking a muligan for each deck, I ended up with great starting hands. Playing Keys of Orthanc, O Lórien!, and Legacy of Númenor in the first planning phase set me up with enough early resources to never feel like I needed the Steward. (Which was good because I never found it.) I was able to quickly build up my Ent team and a couple chump questers, and was also fortunate to draw Nenya in that first hand. So I coasted pretty easily through the first stage (though I took one -10 elimination penalty, because card effects advanced the timer faster than I was expecting) and had a good set up coming into the 2nd and final stage. We had to fight through a couple orcs with 4, 4. Skinbark absolutely chewed those guys up, which was fun.
I like that the 2nd stage gives a few options for how to deal with Bellach's pending attack on Nalir: 1) Quest hard to finish before the timer runs out; 2) knock out Bellach and send him back the encounter deck; or 3) boost Nalir so he can defend himself. I considered #1 as the attack loomed, but it was a risk since a high-threat encounter or bad treachery would have left him vulnerable. In no danger of threating out, I decided to play conservative and held some allies back from the quest, putting Ent Draught on Nalir so he could survive Bellach's attack. One turn later we all strolled out of Tharbad towards the marshes. Another win on the first try!
I enjoyed the mix of player-friendly and player-hostile location effects in this quest, which enhanced the theme of a haphazard dash through an unsavory town. At times the mechanics got a little fidgety and I probably missed a threat raise or two, though I don't think it mattered. I was a little disappointed that overall the quest wasn't more of a challenge, though if I kept score I would probably enjoy replaying this one a few times, trying to beat my previous scores. (Also, without early access to Nenya and that well-timed Ent Draught, the game may have been much tougher.)
I just barely survived the swamp on my first try. Lacking the Steward, O! Lorien, and the Mirror, I could neither find the cards I needed, nor pay for them when the popped up. Except for Ents, the other deck wasn't much better on the draw. With no weapons coming up -- other than an early Dagger of Westernesse, which, in hindsight, was a mistake to put on Idraen -- I had multiple dead copies of Foe-hammer and Glamdring in hand. I guess I was due for some bad draws after my previous few games of relatively smooth sailing. The Nin-In-Eilph clearly was not going to be a walk through the park.
We soldiered onward through the swamp, soaking up lots of damage from "Low on Provisions" but handling early Neekerbreekers without much trouble. Nalir was pushing our threat into dangerous levels by Stage 3, and I had a to balance using Galadriel to help quest vs lowering threat, as Unexpected Courage was nowhere to be found. As we neared the end of Stage 3, Nalir and every hero -- except Grima -- was one damage from death. Grima himself had two hitpoints left, and was "In Need of Rest", which causes damage whenever a Time counter is removed. Holding onto one resource as we set out again to quest, Grima would be able to play Waters of Nimrodel on the following turn, pushing everyone's threat into the high 40s but wiping at least 20 damage from the board. From there, I figured we could quest hard and escape, battered but all alive.
Alas, it was not to be: A treachery advanced an extra time counter, and Grima was lost to exhaustion. The entire party would have been lost to yet another "Low on Provisions," but Galadriel spent her last resource on A Test of Will to rally us forward. Bravely, the weakened heroes quested onward, and watched in horror as the Ancient Marsh-Dweller rose again in Stage 4. Celeborn and the last Booming Ent were struck down. Idraen, too exhausted to defend, selflessly sacrificed herself to a lowly Neekerbreeker as Nalir, near death, cowered behind Galadriel's remaining (though exhausted) Handmaiden.
As the serpent prepared to strike once more, Éowyn alone stood tall to defend: spurred back to action by Snowmane, she raised her Golden Shield and invoked the magic of Protector of Lórien, discarding now-useless Lore cards in exchange for a boost. Barely surviving the Ancient Marsh-Dweller's attack, she let out a fierce battle cry as she readied herself for a final desperate charge. Éomer had held himself just out of the fray, astride Firefoot, patiently awaiting an opening. He joined his sister's attack and together they destroyed the evil monster that had felled so many of their companions. As its ruined body sunk into the swamp, the heroes dragged unconscious friends from the muck to safety, and watched sadly as a host of splintered Ents disappeared forever among the reedy waste.
I can't say I really enjoyed this quest, because the different swamp effects meant I could never settle in with a specific strategy. I prefer fighting off swarms of enemies to being ground down by treacheries and location effects. But, as is obvious from the above description, that I found the theme to be very well represented. After a couple relatively easy quests, it was nice to have a heart-pounding finish. It also made it apparent that I have been quite reliant on Steward of Gondor + O Lórien!. Lacking either card, I completed the game with a half dozen Silvan allies in hand that I could not get into play. This was partially my own fault as I jammed in The Tree People and a third Snowmane, as well as a couple Thrór's Key's as I figured (rightly) there'd be some nasty locations. With a deck of ~58 cards, even playing multiple copies of Deep Knowledge, I wasn't able to find the staples.
1st attempt: I scooped on turn 2. Locations had jammed up staging early, but overall was feeling confident with many strong attachments in play. Eowyn (with Snowmane and Golden Shield) had 1 damage and was defending for 5 against a lowly 3 enemy. Boom: shadow card which gave +1 per location in play. Down she goes and I started over.
In the 2nd time around, I got off to a similar start, but since I now knew that shadow card was in encounter deck, I was a little more careful with my heroes. After a having played at least a dozen quests with this Fellowship, I have now settled into a consistent groove: Get key attachments and cheap allies out on one side, and build up a wall of Ents on the other. If I don't find the exact cards I need in the first hand, I can at least usually get Deep Knowledge (or the The Seeing-stone to look for it), Mirror of Galadriel, and/or Master of the Forge early to help me dig. As long as I can avoid engaging too many high enemies on the Galadriel side, I've had a good shot at winning every time I sit down.
The player decks cooperated with me and I progressed pretty easily to the 2nd stage, only triggering a single Scour before moving on. The 2nd stage picked up in intensity, with locations again piling up in the staging area and the orcs threatening to overwhelm both hands. (Skinbark helped immensely; he is proving to be an essential ally in these orc-heavy quests late in the cycle). After a couple turns where I was just barely able to raise enough to clear the active location, some well-timed Feigned Voices and Feint events freed allies from defense duty just long enough to make a huge quest push. Finally able to engage Bellach, Eowyn used her special effect, boosting that hand's threat to 48, but guaranteeing victory against the orc boss and giving me a satisfying win on the 2nd attempt.
I really appreciated how Celebrimbor's Secret used "The Orc's Search" to force a slow and dramatic build in intensity throughout the quest. Most quests have a tension between forging ahead vs stalling to build; the scour effects in this one make this choice especially satisfying and interesting. The theme was enjoyable, with some neat locations, challenging orc enemies, and well-implemented card effects contributing to the feel of a desperate search or race. I felt the first attempt loss was a little cheap, but at least it happened quickly. I'm not sure if I'll revisit this one, as the quest may feel a little weird to play standalone outside of the cycle, though it was definitely fun in context.
The Antlered Crown
I can't decide how I feel about the Dunland encounter effects that penalize card draw. On one hand, they are an interesting change of pace, but on the other they completely ruin the basic strategy to achieve deck consistency, so the result is that the quest result is very heavily impacted by your initial hand. For my first attempt on this quest, I ended up with mostly high-cost allies and not enough of the attachments that either deck needs to really work. I muddled through to Stage 2, taking a lot of damage, and then drew the "Draw 3 cards / can't play Events" treachery followed immediately by a card which forced each player to dole out 1 damage per card in hand. I lost 5 heroes and scooped.
On the second try, I got most of my important attachments and cheap allies in the initial hands, and kept my hand size <= 3 the whole game. It still wasn't an easy win, as my tactics deck got hit over and over again by the "discard an attachment" shadow. By mid-game I had equipped and then lost: Keys of Orthanc, Snowmane, Golden Shield, and Firefoot. Eomer kept Blade of Gondolin over Firefoot, and twice this worked in my favor as I ended my quest phase with 1 progress missing from the quest, while 1 timer remained on it. Both times, I skipped travel and used the Blade's bonus progress token to move on to the next stage. This had an added benefit of putting enemies into the staging area after the encounter phase, though my staging area was filling up with locations.
By the final stage, I was low on attachments but had a good set of allies for both hands. We took a turn to clear out the lesser enemies and then, with timers running low on 4 different staging area locations, we travelled to the camp. Gandalf made a timely entrance, and we took a risk to quest hard to clear it in one turn and beat the Raven Chief before a bunch of location timers tripped. Questing for 26 , we ended up with 15 in the staging area to just barely explore the Camp, which has 9 quest points. (To avoid a big staging threat burst, I had to cancel a treachery using a bonkers Legacy of Númenor+Dwarven Tomb+A Test of Will combo, which put both players' threat in the high 40s.) Treebeard blocked the Raven Chief's attack and Eomer + a buffed Booming Ent took him down.
Most quests are finished after the boss is defeated, but this one says "If the Raven Chief is in the victory display at the end of the round, the players win." So my work wasn't done. A bunch of timers went off during the refresh phase, and given some of the encounter card effects, it was theoretically possible for both players to threat out at this point, which would have been a tough loss. That didn't happen, though we lost Galadriel and Idraen to undefended forced attacks during the refresh phase. Badly battered, the heroes sacrificed all to ensure Chieftan Turch emerged victorious!
I liked the idea of an enemy-specific encounter deck for this quest, and overall the challenge level was perfect based on my two plays. Unfortunately, the theme got overshadowed by all the timer mechanics: they didn't always feel very connected to the quest itself and at times it felt more like a bookkeeping exercise than an epic battle. Also, story-wise the quests which focused on Saruman's mission had a more compelling story (IMO) than the plot about the warring tribes. The Antlered Crown wasn't a bad end to Ringmaker, but it was a bit of a letdown compared to some of the earlier quests.
Cycle Final Thoughts
This was a fun Fellowship to play and I'd definitely recommend it for folks who are building on primarily Core+Ringmaker cards, especially if they can splash in some Saga cards. This was the first full cycle I've played through other than SoM, and the first time I've kept consistent decks throughout. I was planning on building new decks and tackling Dreamchaser next, though now I'm considering taking this Fellowship to SoM simply because I'm not tired of it yet. For potential changes, one could easily convert the tactics deck to be more Rohan focused, and/or add more ranged & sentinel characters to change the overall feel without needing to disrupt the Silvan deck.
I like the overall cycle narrative and it got me excited to continue exploring the game. Here's my final rankings for the quests:
- Most Difficult: The Antlered Crown
- Easiest: Trouble in Tharbad
- Most Thematic: The Nin-In-Eilph, Celebrimbor's Secret
Overall ranking for fun factor:
- Celebrimbor's Secret (good thematic feel of a desperate search, and interesting quest-vs-stall choices)
- Fords of Isen (which has the fun aspects of tAC, while being faster to play, more thematic, and not as crushing)
- The Three Trials (pretty unique feel, fun theme)
- Trouble in Tharbad (easy and fun romp through town)
- The Nin-In-Eilph (great theme, good challenge)
- The Dunland Trap (decent challenge, nice "twist", but not as memorable quest as some of the others in the cycle)
- The Antlered Crown (great challenge but loses some points for being too fidgety)
- To Catch an Orc (OK quest but too swingy)
- Into Fangorn (this was OK theme-wise but the Huorn effects didn't do it for me)
I'd group 1 & 2 together as highlights, the middle four as enjoyable, and the last three as ones I'm unlikely to play again unless I do another full-cycle campaign.
Overall deck performance: 6 losses over the 9 quests, plus extra wins on replays of Into Fangorn (rules mistake), Fords of Isen, and Trouble In Tharbad (for fun). Two losses came on Fords of Isen, which I'm sure I could now beat consistently, knowing the encounter & player decks better. One loss each on To Catch an Orc, Into Fangorn, Celebrimbor's Secret, and The Antlered Crown.