Having downed two trolls and overcome our pursuers we finally reached the woods of Lothlorien, and were soon tasked by the Lady Galadriel herself to investigate enemy activities around Dol Guldur. I’d like to say that our adventures in the core set are on the verge of coming to an end, and that we’ll soon get to move onto the first adventure pack in the Mirkwood cycle, or maybe onto The Hobbit Saga Expansion to really expand the card pool we have access to for deck building, but either way we’re too familiar with the game now to think that’s going to happen immediately coming up on the last, and supposedly hardest, scenario in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game’s (LOTR LCG) core box: Escape from Dol Guldur.
The premise of Escape from Dol Guldur is that one of our fearless heroes was captured while trying to carry out Lady Galadriel’s request, and now we have save our companion from the dungeons. The scenario starts with separating out 3 objective cards which function like keys to unlocking subsequent quest phases (but at a price, and with a burdensome upkeep), and drawing one Encounter card to guard each objective. The Encounter cards count towards threat in the staging area, meaning we’d start this scenario not only down one random hero, but with a potentially crippling amount of threat already in the staging area; I’m not one to cry foul often, but it frankly seems a little rigged to put players at the mercy of two completely random setup elements, either of which had the potential of making the scenario nearly impossible to beat from the get-g0. But we’ll cover that more in the retrospective, whenever it happens.
We ended up attaching a Tower Gate to Shadow Key, Enchanted Stream to Gandalf’s Map, and a Dungeon Jailor to the Dungeon Torch, putting the starting threat in the staging area at five. The Dungeon Jailor clearly needed to be our first order of business: if we let him stay in the staging area and failed questing he’d shuffle one of the unclaimed objective cards into the Encounter deck, potentially making us have to go through the entire Encounter deck just to find the card again to progress. As such we’d need to engage him quickly, and even though his attack and health stats aren’t hugely impressive, the Jailor’s three defense makes him hard to kill in one go of things.
We decided to try the scenario with the decks and heroes we used for Journey Along the Anduin: me with Eowyn, Gloin, and Theodred, and Sara with Legolas, Denethor and Beravor. We were lacking in heavy combat which I figured may cause us problems with this scenario, but our decks had proven very good at quest progression and cycling Sara’s deck to get the cards we really needed.
Our initial hands weren’t terrible but we didn’t get any of our most powerful cards right off the bat, and bringing out allies would be a slow, laborious process due to the first quest card’s stipulation that we could only play one ally total between the two of us each round. Still, we could have done way worse, and being one hero down would already slow one person’s ability to bring out allies so we each decided to keep our cards.
We knew we’d be in real trouble if either of the lone Tactics or Spirit heroes were the ones captured, but flipping the first quest over to its active side we ended up randomly choosing Denethor, and followed by a sigh of relief we turned him face down. For my starting draw I got a Strength of Will, and Sara received Quick Draw, neither of which was really of immediate benefit to us. I started as first player, bringing Snowbourn Scout into play thanks to his low resource cost, and his ability immediately finished the Tower Gate card attached to one of the objectives, reducing the staging area threat to a somewhat more manageable three. Sara attached her Protector of Lorien to Beravor to give us some additional questing power when we needed it, and we committed Eowyn and Beravor to the quest for a total of 6 Willpower.
Our plan was to use our remaining heroes to quickly dispatch the Jailor, but the first Encounter card, King Spider, put the kaibosh on that by making us each exhaust a character; Theodred and Legolas were both out. The second card added to the staging area was a Mountains of Mirkwood, bringing the threat total to seven. Sara discarded her Quick Strike card to gain an extra Willpower, bringing our Willpower to seven and ensuring the Jailor’s effect didn’t trigger. We then traveled to the Mountains of Mirkwood which added the powerful Ungoliant’s Spawn to the staging area.
In retrospect we could have optionally engaged the Jailor to take him out of the staging area at this point, but we were confused about whether the cards guarding the objectives stayed in the staging area permanently until dealt with, or whether they just acted like normal cards and the objectives followed them around. That misplay meant we only engaged the King Spider, which killed my Snowbourn scout but took one damage from Gloin.
For round 2 we were showered with luck, both drawing Gandalfs. Due to a lack of resources on Sara’s part she skipped her turn, and I brought out my Gandalf to deal four damage to the Jailor. Now we had an important choice to make: commit Gandal’s four Willpower to the quest to make sure the Jailor didn’t activate, or risk it and save him to actually help deal damage to the Jailor during combat?
We decided to risk it, again using Eowyn and Beravor to quest. The first Encounter Deck reveal was a Great Forest Web with two threat, and a Necromancer’s Reach came out next dealing one damage to each exhausted character. We were two short on Willpower for questing, so to avoid taking threat and triggering the Jailor I discarded my Son of Arnor, and Sara discarded her Blade Mastery.
I engaged the Jailor, blocking him with Gloin and generating a resource in the process, and Gandalf blocked the King Spider. Neither combat resulted in a shadow card with an effect, so I came away relatively unscathed and countered with Theodred against the Jailor. Legolas joined from afar giving us enough power to kill the Jailor and contribute two progress towards our active location.
My draw the next round was Faramir- a good ally with a great deal of utility, but not one of the cheaper ones in my deck-, and Sara acquired Gleowin who could exhaust to let any player draw one card. I skipped my turn to recoup resources from my expenditure on the grey wizard to give myself a shot of bringing out either Northern Tracker or Faramir within a turn or two, and Sara brought out Gleowin and used her ability immediately to draw a Daughter of the Nimrodel. Once again, Eowyn and Beravor bore our team’s questing burden, and Sara went ahead and discarded her Citadel Plate to add an extra Willpower for a total of seven which we were certain would still fall short.
Chieftain Ufthak came out of the Encounter deck next, taking his place alongside Ungoliant’s Spawn in the staging area. Another Mountains of Mirkwood finished our Encounter draw, leaving quite a disparity of 11 threat vs. our 7 Willpower. Sara discarded thicket of spears to give us another Willpower, and I discarded my Power in the Earth for a total of 9. We took our two threat, and decided to leave Ufthak and the Spawn in the staging area for the following round since we had no clear path to victory against them at this point.
I defended against the King Spider with Gloin, but the spider’s shadow card draw gave it +1 attack, dealing three damage against Gloin and killing him. I attacked with Theodred with Legolas helping, killing the King Spider, but we figured the loss of Gloin pretty much signaled the end was near. Finishing the active location with Legolas’s ability let us search the top five cards of our decks and each take a card, so I picked up a Silverload Archer to potentially help Sara in combat, and Sara got a Forest Snare which would help us deal with at least one of the powerful enemies facing us down next turn. Unfortunately, getting to choose a card and then shuffle the rest back in kind of screwed us as far as Sara was concerned- she had a second Forest Snare on the way, as well as her second Gandalf; it would have been better for her just to draw them normally.
Heading into the next round I drew a Dwarven Tomb, and Sara drew a Blade Mastery. Sara exhausted her Gleowin to draw a Horseback Archer, and she expended all of her resources to bring out Gandalf and deal four damage to Ungoliant’s Spawn. I was out of resources from the previous turn’s festivities, so I passed. We were showing 11 threat in the staging area and were looking again at only Eowyn and Beravor being able to quest. Sara discarded her Blade Mastery and Horseback Archer to add two Willpower to Beravor, but that still only brought out total to eight.
Our Encounter Deck draws were an Endless Caverns, which added one threat to each of us because of its “Doomed 1” ability, and its surge effect brought out a Cavern Guardian which also had Doomed 1. The second actual Encounter card was a King Spider which made us each exhaust one character, meaning neither of us had any characters available for attack or defense, but our threat was so high stuff was coming for us anyway: As first player Sara got stuck with Ungoliant’s Spawn and the Cavern Guardian, and I got the King Spider.
We traveled to the Enchanted Stream and I played a Strength of Will card to immediately get it out of the way, but we were in seriously bad shape heading into combat. Sara defended against Ungoliant’s Spawn with Gandalf, but the Cavern Guardian’s shadow card made her discard all attachments on all of her characters, doing away with Protector of Lorien and our ability to generate additional Willpower on her side of the table, and dealt two damage to Legolas since the attack was undefended. The King Spider on my side of the encounter dealt two undefended damage to Theodred, and we passed into the next turn.
I got another Faramir to add to my hand of excellent, but expensive allies I couldn’t really use, and Sara drew a Swift Strike. We didn’t have much in the way of choices at this point, so I recruited my Archer and played Favor of the Lady on Eowyn to give her an extra Willpower, and Sara passed, sending Eowyn and Beravor to quest while discarding my Dwarven Tomb to add an extra Willpower to Eowyn. The flip did not go well, with Necromancer’s Pass coming out and dealing damage to exhausted character, and Dol Guldur Orcs which also dealt damage to questing heroes and killed Eowyn. We took +9 threat for the round, and the subsequent battle buttoned things up nicely for the game.
I’ve read about people beating this scenario with cards only from the core set, but I’m curious how many defeats it will actually take us to get a handle on the scenario and eek out a win. Although the Hill Troll in the Journey Along the Anduin adventure was a beast, that was really the main threat for that entire adventure; for Escape from Dol Guldur, however, we’ve got a very nasty Nazgul to deal with after getting past the first stage. Just to keep things moving along I’m thinking we’ll try the adventure once, maybe twice more to allow for unlucky setups, and then proceed to either The Hobbit saga expansions, or the Passage Through Mirkwood cycle adventure packs. For our next attempt of saving our captured friend from the depths of Dol Guldur, however, we’re definitely subbing back in Aragorn for Gloin, and Getting Gimli back in the mix for Sara.
Where would you like to see us go after we finish the last scenario in the core box?
Stock images used from cardgamedb.com