“A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day.” So said Aragorn, and so it was on our fourth playthrough of the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (LOTR LCG)!
To recap, we had lost three previous games of the Passage Through Mirkwood introductory scenario, though the last defeat was primarily due to some very unlucky card draws from the encounter deck that really stacked up the most wicked enemies in the deck very quickly, and then accompanied them with cards bearing nasty shadow or reveal effects. Our decks, I was sure, were solid for what the adventure required and only needed another chance to show their true qualities: my deck, composed of leadership and spirit spheres with Aragorn, Theodred, and Eowyn, and Sara’s deck containing lore and tactics with Gimli, Legolas, and Glorfindel. What’s more, my artscow shipment of custom drawstring game bags had arrived, including one for keeping all the LOTR LCG chits in, and what could possibly bring more luck than new board game bling!?
Our starting hands were a good mix of allies and events/attachments, and Sara was
immediately able to bring out a Veteran Axehand card to bolster her attack capabilities. We assigned sparingly to the quest hoping to make some good headway while not crippling our ability to fight, and it paid off resulting in two progress made right off the bat since only one encounter card was a monster (another Forest Spider), and the other was Necromancer’s Reach which dealt one damage to each of our exhausted characters. Sara and I each decided to take a spider, and were both able to deal a bit of damage to our respective foes.
We continued to play conservatively for the next couple of rounds, keeping enough resources for cards in our hands we might potentially need in reserve (like my Hasty Stroke card which would let me ignore the effects of one shadow card dealt during combat). Sara was able to dispatch the spider assigned to her, and I brought out a Longbeard Orc Slayer which let me start dealing some damage back to my spider while blocking all of its attack with Aragorn. My resource generation strategy also started ramping up, using Theodred’s ability to give one resource token to another hero assigned to a quest to pump up Eowyn’s spirit resource pool, and my Steward of Gondor which let Aragorn generate an additional two resources per turn just for tapping the Steward card.
Things were going so well I knew it was inevitable the game would turn on us at some point, and low and behold Ungoliant’s Spawn with its nine health decided to make an early appearance. Sara’s deck, though powerful, starts with a pretty high threat, so Ungoliant’s Spawn was definitely going to engage her this round. This time, however, we were ready. Confident in our small forces and what we had held in our hands, we had gone in heavily on the quest and generated a huge 10 progress points AFTER the encounter cards were flipped. That ended phase 2 and kicked us into the second phase of the Passage Through Mirkwood scenario which had no special traits and only takes two progress to beat. When Ungoliant’s Spawn went for Sara she played her Forest Snare which permanently stops a monster from attacking until the attachment is removed. Not only did that effectively take Ungoliant’s Spawn out of the game, but Sara was able to start dealing damage to it in case the third scenario phase necessitated we kill it.
Hummerhorns, which was my death knell during two previous games, came out the following turn accompanied by the Caught in the Web card which ensnared Gimli so Sara would have to pay two resource tokens just to ready him. Hummerhorns luckily has a threat of 40 so we were able to leave it in the staging area, but its ability to deal five damage immediately to a single hero once it engages a player was going to hang over us unless we were able to figure out a strategy to deal with it. Sara decided Legolas would be the one who would take the brunt of its attack should it get the chance to engage, equipping him the following action phase with the Citadel Plate card with gives the attached hero four additional hit points. That gave Legolas a total of eight, which would be enough to survive the Hummerhorns.
During this turn’s combat Sara used our small respite to deal some additional damage to Ungoliant’s Spawn to get it ready for killing, and we used Legolas’s ranged trait to add his attack in with mine to kill the Forest Spider still sitting in front of me. Thanks to Legolas’s Response ability which allows him to place two progress tokens on the current quest if he participates in an attack that destroys an enemy, we were able to complete phase 2 and move on to phase 3!
We flipped the final card and found we had gotten Beorn’s Path which we had not encountered in previous games. Rather than just needing to kill Ungoliant’s Spawn which was conveniently queued up and teetering on death without the ability to fight back, Beorn’s Path needed ten progress to beat and we still had to kill Ungoliant’s Spawn to get it out of the play area. At this point we decided it was time to blitz the final objective; unlike some cooperative games where you have to make sure you survive to the end of the entire turn in order to win, in LOTR LCG you win the second the final quest objective is completed. So, burn time on Ungoliant’s Spawn it was.
The encounter card flip was a particularly nasty one, equaling out what we had assigned and queuing up in the staging area another one of the most powerful cards in the scenario, Chieftain Ufthak, along with the Necromancer’s Pass location which contributed three threat.
We were able to make five progress towards the final quest since I was able to assign all three of my heroes and then use Aragorn’s special ability to ready him again in case I needed him, and after the aforementioned encounter cards were revealed we decided to travel to the location to get its threat out of the staging area. Sara discarded two relatively useful cards to do so, but ones which we probably wouldn’t need since we intended on finishing the game within the next couple of turns.
We had Chieftain Ufthak engage Sara and sacrificed her Veteran Axehand who had served us valiantly throughout the game. This allowed Sara to use both Gimli and Legolas against Ungoliant’s Spawn and deal enough damage to kill it, which also finished the location card and exposed the quest to progress again (Yay Legolas!). We knew we had won at this point: an all-in the next questing round meant we could overwhelm anything that possibly came out of the encounter deck, and doing so resulted in our first win against The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game!
So what did we think about Passage Through Mirkwood? It does a good job of making you learn the ropes through trial-by-fire without being so difficult that you just can’t see any possible way of winning using the cards from the core set. Newcomers who aren’t as familiar with building decks for LCGs or TCGs may still find the learning curve a little too steep for their tastes, and that’s totally understandable, but if you fall into that category I’d really encourage you to hang in there and seek some online assistance in figuring out the ins-and-outs of beginner deck building -a good starting point may even be to try what we did here. I enjoyed the scenario a lot thematically as well, with the card selection really making you feel like you’re battling through the dense darkness of Mirkwood. The possible split endings is a nice touch as well, as both require slightly different strategies to beat but don’t require you to go into the game with completely different strategies just hoping for the right end quest.
After playing this first scenario I will say I’m a little concerned about the inconsistency The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game displays from match to match; having randomness coming both from your own deck as well as the Encounter Deck can really make the difficulty swing to extremes, and I can see problems with that down the road if we’re trying to complete special challenges like winning an adventure series from start to finish without losing. That said, with a few losses and one win under our belts I think we’re starting to get the hang of how things work. It’s essential to think ahead and not just play cards as you get them, saving up certain cards for very particular circumstances which may arise for specific cards in the scenario’s encounter deck. It will be interesting to see how the future scenarios affect our deck compositions, but I think what we have now is a pretty solid start for any scenarios strategically similar to this Passage Through Mirkwood.
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