I decided to strike out on my own coming off of our successful Passage Through Mirkwood, feeling confident that I was getting the hang of all the synergies in my deck and that I had some solid choices to counter any of the more disparaging shadow and reveal effects from the core set. I had heard rumors about what may lie in store for me in the second scenario, Journey Along the Anduin, but I decided to go into the scenario blind and not look at the Encounter Deck setup, or look ahead of time at any of the quest cards. As it turns out, that’s not generally a good idea in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (LOTR LCG).
Side A of the “To The River…” quest card has players draw one card from the encounter deck per player and add them to the staging area. I did so, which brought out a Goblin Sniper. While not overly powerful, the Goblin Sniper’s threat is so high that it’s generally going to stay in the staging area for quite some time, dealing one damage to one character at the end of every combat phase since you can’t optionally engage it unless it’s alone in the staging area. From what I’ve seen that rarely happens, so I would need to find some way of engaging him early, or find some way to deal with his small but consistent damage; without Sara’s healing to help me I already knew the latter would likely result in death by a thousand cuts.
Upon flipping the first quest card though to side B I found I had more pressing concerns: it had a fairly high progress rating of 8, and additionally spawned a Hill Troll and could not be defeated while the Hill Troll was in play.
The Hill Troll itself is a beast of a card, sporting 9 health and 3 defense, meaning slowly whittling its health down with attacks of 4-5 power each turn would be agonizingly inefficient. Perhaps worse, the troll’s attack is 6, which is enough to one-shot almost anything I had in play or in my deck, and since the troll’s threat is a paltry 30 it was coming for me on turn 2.
My starting hand would have been extraordinarily useful for completing Passage Through Mirkwood, but held very little for me in terms of progressing down the Anduin while the Hill Troll stood in my way. A Lorien Guide, two Northern Trackers, Guard of the Citadel, and a Snowbourn Scout filled out my ally options, and a Hasty Stroke gave me some protection against shadow cards. I could have taken a mulligan on the hand and started over in the hopes of getting a Gandalf or something else which might have helped me more against the Hill Troll, but I was (ironically as you’ll see it turned out) already feeling some despair so I decided to press on with what I had.
I decided to hold off on taking any actions in case I needed the resources for the following round, and I committed all of my heroes in order to make some early progress against the quest so it could fall as soon as the Troll died. The encounter flip was a Necromancer’s Reach, so I took my damage and then made 4 progress against “To The River…” Given that the Hill Troll was still in the staging area I wasn’t able to forcibly engage the Goblin Sniper, so my combat phase passed without incident and I took a damage from the sniper’s fire.
My draw the next round was no help, so I again took no actions in order to stockpile more resources and once again went in heavily on quest progress. Proceeding, I drew a Wolf Rider out of the Encounter Deck, and its Surge ability made me draw a second card which ended up being another Goblin Sniper. The combined threat in the staging area was enough to actually overwhelm my progress, pushing my threat counter up by 1 to 31.
Both the Wolf Rider and Hill Troll engaged me for the combat phase. Having higher threat the Hill Troll went first, drawing a Despair card to go along with my current feels. In normal circumstances I would have used my Hasty Stroke card to cancel out the Despair card’s effect of negating my defense, but with the situation I was facing I figured I may as well end things quickly. The Hill Troll killed Aragorn in one blow, and since he was the only character not still exhausted from questing the Wolf Rider did two undefended damage to Theodred.
I didn’t need to complete the next turn. I knew I had lost. It was clear to me that the deck build we had used to combat Passage Through Mirkwood was completely inadequate for the new challenges facing us in Journey Along the Anduin: what was called for was completely different, and we needed to focus on ways to take the Hill Troll out of action until we were strong enough to beat him. That meant a few things:
- We needed to reduce our starting threat by as much as possible. The Hill Troll’s threat of 30 isn’t very high, and my deck started at 29 and Sara’s deck was even a few points over that. That meant the Hill Troll would attack Sara on the first turn if nothing was changed, so we were looking at having to make some fundamental hero changes to both of our decks.
- Sara has certain cards in her deck that can either kick the Hill Troll back into the staging area, thereby buying us more time, or even rendering it completely helpless permanently using the same card we used to lock up Ungoliant’s Spawn in Passage Through Mirkwood. We needed to make sure Sara had the best possible chance of drawing those cards quickly, so we’d need to sub in anything we could that would help her draw cards.
- We needed to maintain the ability to do good damage but also make good quest progress. Even crippled the Hill Troll’s health and defense could slow our progress way down, and the longer we played the increased chances of getting overwhelmed.
We started with my deck, choosing how best to reduce my starting threat. This was particularly hard to do because my heroes had such good synergy: Aragorn could effectively quest and fight each round, Theodred quested every round and gave one other hero also on the quest a resource which generally helped Eowyn maintain enough Spirit resources to be useful, and Eowyn herself was immensely useful for making forward quest progress. In the end I decided Theodred’s resource ability was too versatile to lose, and Eowyn’s high willpower was really necessary since Sara’s deck didn’t have anyone with high willpower, so Aragorn didn’t make the cut. Removing him meant my starting threat was reduced substantially, and by replacing him with Gloin I had another character who had a way of generating extra resources.
In terms of deck makeup I really didn’t have many options with the core set, but I did want to add two A Light in the Dark which would let me return the Hill Troll to the staging area should we not be ready for him when he finally did engage. To keep my deck at the same card count and likelihood of drawing the cards I wanted I took out two copies of Valiant Sacrifice, though I may add them back in if it looks like Sara can get allies out quickly enough to make sacrificing them to draw cards a worthwhile strategy of finding what we need.
Sara’s deck ended up going through a more substantial change as far as hero composition was concerned. We decided Legolas had too much utility in terms of doing damage as well as advancing the current quest, so our only options were to remove Glorfindel, who we used for healing, or Gimli who was good at soaking and dealing damage. We ended up subbing out both and adding Denethor to give us a little more control over the Encounter deck, and Beravor who could help either one of us quickly draw more cards. Sara’s resulting starting threat was reduced from 32 to 27, giving us at least three turns to prepare for the Hill Troll.
Keeping with the card drawing theme we also decided to sub in two copies of Lorien’s Wealth, which costs three Lore resources and lets a chosen player draw three cards. It’s a little expensive, but since Sara’s hero lineup now included 2 lore heroes instead of 2 tactics heroes she’d be better able to make use of her Lore cards more quickly. In exchange, we subbed out a copy of Dwarven Axe which had less utility now that Sara didn’t have a dwarf hero, and one Blade of Gondolin.
With our parties remade and decks retooled, we were ready to try our luck together against the Hill Troll…
Stock card images from cardgamedb.com