Magic and Mayhem (v2)
I'm currently using this Fellowship as I play the Angmar Awakens cycle for the first time. My earlier iteration of a similar fellowship took too long to set up, especially the Rossiel deck. That one was fun against Intruders in Chetwood but couldn't hold up to the other quests in the Lost Realm box. This fellowship brings Secrecy to the Rossiel side, which has helped accelerate set-up with Resourceful and Out of the Wild. There are minimal changes to the Gandalf / side.
Though the decks are complimentary, both are functional without direct support from the other, so click through to the individual deck descriptions for notes on how each one plays. There's a few obvious places where they help each other out; specifically getting and Unexpected Courage onto the side, and Gandalf's Staff helping the / side with card draw & resources. Also, Aragorn obviously triggers early and often to pull enemies away from the other player, so it can focus on staging control rather than combat.
The most critical cross-deck synergy comes from Noiseless Movement in secrecy. Because the side is so high in threat, recycling Noiseless Movement is key since you'll want to play it early and often (sometimes multiple times per turn). Use it to hold all but one enemy in staging, and then Aragorn can then pull the rest in one at a time later in the combat phase. Between NM and Feint, I will regularly dispatch 3-4 enemies in a single turn while only defending once. Also, Rossiel can take some of the combat load, defending for 5 with Arwen Undómiel and the right Victory Display cards. Arwen also gives her sentinel, though typically you'll want to engage the enemy to trigger Pippin's card draw, and then have Aragorn pull it over for the side to finish off.
Because of the strength of the other heroes and allies, Gandalf often will have an extra action thanks to Shadowfax and Unexpected Courage. When this happens, a really nice play is to use Narya to ready the Mirkwood Explorers, so they can play their progress tokens on the same turns that they quest. You lose the and boosts, but those are rarely needed anyway. Readying the Wardens of Healing is also a great play if you have an extra Gandalf action.
Boosting Gandalf's with Flame of Anor and then playing Hour of Wrath in Valour is ridiculously powerful, easy to pull off, and a ton of fun to play. This is a self-contained combo within that deck, but worth calling out here because of how satisfying it is. :)
Intruders in Chetwood
I played this quest 10+ times while tweaking this Fellowship. At this point, it almost feels like cheating to play these decks against this quest, since enemies never do forced engagements. (This also means you can drop Noiseless Movement). Once Aragorn and Imrahil have their Warhorses, you will coast to victory, especially if Rossiel can be buffed to 4 early. Within a few turns, you should be able to cancel multiple cards during a single staging phase with The Door is Closed! + A Test of Will, which makes the rest of the game a snap.
The Weather Hills
Unlike Intruders in Chetwood, this quest is a big challenge for this fellowship. Even with a few allies out, the Rossiel side is light on hitpoints, so the direct damage treacheries are very dangerous. And since both decks rely heavily on hero abilities rather than ally swarms, the Cold From Angmar attach-to-quest treachery ("Blank text boxes for damaged heroes") can be downright crippling when it lands on the 1B 30 point quest card. The surging Weather treacheries further compound problems. It took me at least six tries to beat this quest, and I had to bring some Dwarven Tombs to recycle A Test of Will, as well as extra healing with Elrond. In all cases, I'd either lose a hobbit hero early, or eventually get location locked after getting crushed by Cold from Angmar and / or Bitter Wind. I strongly considered giving up and playing easy mode. Eentually I did beat it, though it took a pretty lucky opening hand on both sides.
The winning game came when I was able to set up the Rossiel side on turn one with Out of the Wild and a free Risk Some Light to dodge Cold From Angmar. I also had Gandalf set up with Shadowfax, the pipe, and the staff by turn 2. So things were going well early but got dicey about 4 turns in as I had yet to draw any healing cards. It looked like I'd need to scoop due to massive damage all over the board, but then I was able to draw into Narya and Dúnedain Remedy on the same turn. I passed the Remedy around like 8 times during that planning phase, which saved the day. It still took a LONG time to finish, as I didn't have many questing allies out and needed to keep spending resources on healing, but I eventually made it through.
I have to say, I don't like this quest at all, at least against this fellowship. It felt less thematic than Nin-in-Eilph, while having similarly frustrating lost-in-the-wilderness mechanics. I much prefer enemy swarms over location/treachery slogs!
This is the quest that caused me to abandon my earlier attempt at this fellowship, and I was quite pleased with how the new iteration performed. It took three attempts, but the first loss came due to threating out, never pulling Favor of the Valar even though I drew through more than half my deck. The second loss was a quick location lock after pulling like 8 non-enemy encounter cards to open the game. So I'm blaming both losses on poor luck, at least partially.
The winning effort was super fun and stuck to the fellowship's consistent pattern of a slow start followed by a fast finish. I didn't get a location into the victory display until late in the game, and I was really hurting for those extra two . Fortunately, I was able to stay in secrecy the whole game and probably played Noiseless Movement at least 6 times, which helped offset some stacking locations. Thanks to Noiseless Movement + Feint, at one point I had 5 enemies in the staging area, and only needed to defend ONCE. A couple Risk Some Lights near the end made it kind of anti-climactic, and I was able to clear the entire staging area and sprint to victory. On each of the last couple turns, I had 3-4 unused character actions!
Wastes of Eriador
This one took me a couple of tries, since the day/night mechanic badly tripped me up in my first attempt. I enjoyed the effect thematically, but it took me a few turns to figure out how to switch up strategies for each phase. I location locked after a few turns, which is a common way to lose for this fellowship.
For the second attempt, I swapped out Battle-fury (which is useless for this quest as enemies return to staging during the day) for Tireless Hunters. Tireless Hunters was critical to my success, and I now consider it a must-have card for Aragorn on any quest which has a "skip the engagement phase" mechanic. Again, for the winning effort, I struggled initially...I was on the first quest card for 8-10 turns as enemies and locations slowly accumulated in staging. But then I was able to play Tireless Hunters during the day, and clear two locations in one turn with Mirkwood Explorers. By the next turn, the staging area was completely empty and I beat the next two quest cards in a total of 3 turns. Not bad!
Escape from Mount Gram
I went with Gandalf & Rossiel as my starting heroes. I muffed the rules on the first attempt, missing the part where the 2nd "captured" hero gets placed on the top of the capture deck. Assuming I'd rescue the hero on a quest effect later in the game, I played through the quest and won easily. My mistake made the game harder, so I figured that the win was a fluke thanks to being able to play Risk Some Light on each of the first two turns + Feint against the Jailor at the end. I played two more times, and only later realized I was still flubbing the rules: each time I gave my starting hero 2 resources and skipped giving the one on the first turn. It didn't matter, I cruised through the quest and went 3 for 3, quickly, and never felt at risk of losing.
Because all allies are removed from the deck to start, Imrahil is probably one of the worst heroes to bring on this quest. Gandalf is also problematic, as none of his toys will be in-hand early, and he can't pay for most of the events unless they are on the top of the deck. Further, the main benefit of hobbit heroes, low threat, is entirely negated by the structure of the quest. And a dual-sphere deck shouldn't work all that well, since you'll only have access to one initially. I know Escape from Mount Gram is not rated particularly difficult by the community. Even so, why the heck are these decklists, which seem so ill-suited to this quest, so successful against it? (The only modifications I made were to remove Favor of the Valar, Vigilant Guard, and Elrond's Counsel, as the threat reduction doesn't help.)
Here's why I think this fellowship worked so well: The biggest drawback of the tactics side is the high threat, which isn't really an issue in this quest. And having a hero with 5 that can take an attack (or two) undefended on the first couple turns is critical when trying to accelerate through the first stage quickly. Additionally, since the tactics deck is mostly allies & attachments that get captured, cards like Feint and Flame of Anor are almost assuredly going to be drawn early, even without a mulligan. If Aragorn is rescued early, that's 5 more , and Imrahil is no slouch at 2/2/2/4 even if his ability is useless until you find Wizard Pipe. So the tactics side is successful because it is a set of high-threat heroes with accompanying strong stat lines, in a quest where threat doesn't really matter. That you'll likely be able to cheat in one or more high-cost allies, thanks to the Prison Cell response, also helps quite a bit, and makes up for Gandalf being a Neutral hero.
The Rossiel side is the opposite: Most of the cards are events and attachments that do NOT get captured, which means the deck functions mostly as-intended even before cards get rescued. Obviously staying in secrecy isn't a problem, so the only real challenge is if you end up heavy in cards early. Needing to wait for Merry to play Light of Valinor and Unexpected Courage is tough. Fortunately, the thinned deck allows a more consistent draw into the key Secrecy cards (especially Risk Some Light and Out of the Wild), which balances out the downside pretty well.
The biggest danger is getting location locked on the Rossiel side, especially since you alway are going to need to keep enemies in the staging area for the first couple turns, if they show up. The one time I was at risk of locking up, (due to Patrol Room), I was able to drop a location into the victory display with Out of the Wild, which gave me enough to tread water until Gandalf and the calvary arrived.
In all three games, by the time I got to the jailor I had at least 5 heroes, plenty of cards in hand, and a couple allies in play on both sides. I'd also been able to clear the staging area of enemies immediately upon merging, thanks to recovering Aragorn in all attempts. Even without recovering the wizard pipe in 2 of the cases, I was able to coast to the finish.
Overall I loved the theme and mechanics of this quest, I just wish it had been a bit more of a challenge. The "capture" keyword works really well and I loved the sense of discovery when seeing what I'd recovered. I suppose if I wanted to make it extra hard (without trying nightmare) would be to try Imrahil & Pippin instead of Gandalf & Rossiel. For now, I'm taking the 3 for 3 record and moving on to the Ettenmoors.
Across the Ettenmoors
My first attempt ended prematurely after an astonishing encounter card sequence:
A few turns in, I was set up pretty well with most of Gandalf's gizmos, a couple cards in the victory display, and a pretty clean staging area. I was feeling very confident despite the side having 43 threat, especially since I had Favor of the Valar in hand, ready to play on my next turn. Then things went sideways. I drew the encounter side quest which has a persistent effect of dealing one damage every time a character spends resources. Hmm, Gandalf only had one hit point left. No big deal, I have plenty of time to clear this quest and/or heal one measly from Gandalf before I threat out. At the end of my turn, my threat increases to 44, I'm not worried.
Next turn: I get the "no healing allowed" side quest. Pfft. Bummer. I didn't quite clear the previous side quest, but I'm handling enemies & locations no problem, so still no problem, right? 45 .
Next turn: I get the "put every card in your hand under this quest card" side quest. Eep, there goes my Favor of the Valar. I cleared the damage-causing quest, but now I'm getting pretty low on health elsewhere and I don't have any threat lowering cards (or any other cards, for that matter). 46 .
I decide it is too risky to try to clear the healing quest and instead quest to get my cards back. I've got tons of resources, good control over the staging area thanks to 2x Mirkwood Explorers, and a few turns to clear this wimpy 4-point side quest. OH NOES it is the "Pressing Needs" treachery, which forces me to switch quests. (The card give an alternative option to instead draw a side quest out of the encounter deck or discard pile, but all 6 were either already in the victory display or staging area!) I clear the other side quest instead. 47 . tick, tick, tick. Favor of the Valor is RIGHT THERE UNDER THAT @#!$&^! QUEST CARD.
Next turn: Draw a "Doomed 2" treachery, which puts me at 49, which means I'm going to threat out before the next planning phase. Even if I recover FoV, I'm toast. Ooooof.
It kind of sucked in real time but looking back on it, this was one of those hilariously unlucky draws that you just have to laugh about. An opposing player would have had a hard time stacking that deck so well against me on purpose. (Also in hindsight, I think I forgot the rule about blanking quest card text boxes for part of the quest while at "safe" locations. So maybe I would have won after all, but it was my own fault for messing up if so.)
The next attempt actually ended up playing out kind of similarly with 3 side quests in play at one point. Though I drew into a safe location during that time, which made it manageable. I ended up winning pretty easily after making it through that stretch, fortunately drawing most of the tougher enemies as shadows or discards. I enjoyed both playthroughs so I set up a 3rd time, and coasted through it after surviving a rough sequence of enemies early. I attribute the win to staying in Secrecy almost the whole game, thanks to early Risk Some Light which set up Merry, as well as getting Arwen Undómiel out early for Elrond's Counsel. In secrecy, I ended up playing Noiseless Movement every single time there were multiple enemies were in the staging area, so I never had to defend against more than one of those big troll / giant attacks per turn. At one point I chewed through several 10+ in a row, thanks in part to the legendary Hour of Wrath + Flame of Anor + Wizard Pipe combo, which had Gandalf swinging for 8.
Overall this was a super fun quest, one of my favorites so far of the cycle. This surprised me, because I found the Weather treacheries super difficult to deal with in The Weather Hills, and frustratingly tedious in Wastes of Eriador. They weren't so bad here, I think because the AtE encounter deck is pretty thick, so the really bad ones (Cold from Angmar and Biting Wind) cycle through more slowly. Obviously the Safe locations help mitigate them as well. (Also I've learned how effective Dúnedain Remedy can be in against direct-damage encounter cards.) The giant & troll enemies were very well designed: while I never lost a hero, I definitely had some close calls. With all those hitpoints, it was truly satisfying to one-shot the big baddies.
I think that first loss was a bit of a fluke and overall this fellowship matches up very favorably against this quest. It wasn't nearly as much of a cakewalk as Escape from Mount Gram, and I could definitely see myself playing this one several more times with other decks, to see how tough those giants & trolls can be. My guess is they would put up more of a fight.