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Lord of the Rings: The Dead Marshes

Dead Marshes

Dead Marshes

Continuing the Shadows of Mirkwood saga, The Dead Marshes adventure pack is the fifth in the cycle, and finds the heroes trying to corner and capture the creature Gollum in the treacherous mires, before he escapes for good. It has a difficulty rating of 5, putting it roughly in the middle of all of the scenarios thus far in the series.

For this adventure the developers have again devised a new mechanic: the escape test. At the start of the game, the Gollum card is placed in the staging area, and at various times (including the end of each round) the players are required to pass a test, similar to the standard questing: if they pass, nothing happens, should they fail, some tokens get placed on Gollum (and depending on situation, their threat level might rise). Enough tokens on Gollum, and he disappears into the deck.

Whilst this is thematically quite pleasing, the challenge being to prevent Gollum from escaping your clutches, there are enough of these tests in the game to make it fairly likely that Gollum will disappear. Which makes the rest of the game a potentially very long slog to try to find the card again, and doesn’t preclude the card appearing only to be discarded again (for example as a shadow card). In one of our games we managed to cycle through the full deck three or four times, and still didn’t get a chance to complete the mission before losing to a high threat value.

Some players consider this a thematically very fitting mechanic and far more exciting than the variations included in The Hills of Emyn Muil or even A Journey to Rhosgobel. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky, but I found this scenario simply dull. There is only one new enemy in the set, although some of the larger ones from the core game reappear (Wilderlands encounter set), which at least give your characters something to do once you’ve lost Gollum. The expansion probably gets harder the more players are present, at least in as far as some of the Treachery cards require each player to perform an escape test, although this would also allow the deck to be cycled much quicker and might make losing Gollum less of a fiasco.

The player cards in this pack are similar to what we’ve come to expect from the previous ones. The hero here is Boromir for the Tactics sphere, whose dual abilities allow him to ready himself at any time for an increase in threat, as well as go down in a blaze of glory, dealing damage to all enemies engaging one player before being discarded. Definitely a worthwhile hero, with a second ability that is quite situational, but could at the same time be a life saver. Apart from that, Tactics gains another eagle ally, and their song card; the Spirit sphere gains two more Rohan related cards; Leadership features an ally with a one-off chance to negate shadow card effects, and another stat-enhancing attachment, this time giving a hero the ‘ranged’ attribute; Lore have a Silvan ally useful for questing, and a hobbit attachment, probably the weakest card in this set.

Overall, I found this to be the weakest adventure pack in the series, the solid player cards aside. Whilst I appreciate the new mechanic and enjoy the added variety, I felt that the scenario was very repetitive and potentially unbeatable should Gollum disappear, and this unduly dragging the game out to an eventual fizzle rather than an exciting climax. Of course, it may be possible to have a lucky turn of cards, but then the scenario would also likely finish in a few turns.

Lord of the Rings: The Hills of Emyn Muil

Hills of Emyn Muil

Hills of Emyn Muil

The Hills of Emyn Muil is the fourth adventure in the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs which expand The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. The story pits the heroes exploring these barren and dangerous hills, avoiding pitfalls, and continuing their quest to track down the creature Gollum.

This expansion is unique in many ways. In terms of the number of players, it is probably more difficult, the more players are present, which is something of a rarity. The quest features only one card, and this requiring only one progress token to complete, with the adventure rather based around exploring locations and collecting a certain number of victory points. It has a difficulty rating of 4, putting it on a par with “Journey Down The Anduin” from the original set, and the first expansion The Hunt for Gollum. However, if players have been playing the adventure packs in sequence, with the extra cards they should much more easily be able to tailor their hands to suit the job in hand, and as such I found this quest much easier than “Journey Down The Anduin”, for example. Nevertheless, that alone can’t be used as criticism, and indeed the lighter difficulty comes as a pleasant refrain from the challenges of the previous adventures.

Still, the most common complaint about this adventure is that it is seemingly monotone. Depending on what sort of player you are, this scenario might feel extremely barren and uninteresting, but on the other hand if you managed to read The Lord of the Rings without skipping over the endless songs and descriptions of walking through the landscape, it might be far more up your alley. Despite being location-heavy, some of the larger enemies from the core set are present, as is a new enemy whose attack strength increases according to the number of locations present, and in particular there are some extremely exasperating Treachery cards to keep you on your toes and prevent this adventure being a walkover. Yet by way of design the adventure throws its ‘big guns’ at you in the opening volley, and if you survive the first few rounds you might find yourself having an army of allies standing around with little to do by the eventual end.

One of my biggest criticisms of the adventure packs thus far has focused on the player cards, which were often released in an entirely pointless order. By this stage, however, if you’ve been buying the packs in order, most of the cards start to come into their own, and the ones in this set offer a pretty good selection, including a few which are obviously useful to this scenario. The hero in this pack is “Brand, son of Bain”, a character similar in stats to Legolas, but whose ability is very coop oriented, a nice addition for people not playing the game solo. The Tactics sphere gets another pair of eagle cards, Spirit continues in a Rohan vein and gets their song card (resource generator), Lore has an extremely powerful ally, whilst Leadership gets… well, arguably the most useless card in the game so far. By and large though, the cards make excellent additions and can prove very useful for this scenario in particular.

As one of the easier expansions, it’s somehow a shame that this adventure wasn’t earlier on the list. Whilst some might find it dull, if it doesn’t bother you that the enemies are very sparse, it offers a nice break and a bit of variety, without being a complete walk in the woods. The design is a little flawed in that it tends to start off hard and gradually get easier, and the lack of any progression in the storyline leaves exploring the locations relatively monotonous, but these factors are arguably made up for by the usefulness of the included player cards.

Lord of the Rings: A Journey to Rhosgobel

A Journey to Rhosgobel

A Journey to Rhosgobel

If you’re playing the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs in order, A Journey to Rhosgobel is the third stage, coming after the brutal Conflict at the Carrock. The story has our heroes encounter a wounded eagle, which needs taking to see Radagast at Rhosgobel to be treated with the medicinal herb Athelas before it is too late.

The second adventure pack to feature an ally in the enemy deck, A Journey to Rhosgobel revolves around the eagle character Wilyador, who unlike Grimbeorn from Conflict at the Carrock, joins the players immediately and swaps ownership each turn. With 20 hit points he certainly seems a tough cookie, but he also weakens at the end of every round, a nice mechanic which puts pressure on the players and forces them to attempt to complete the quest quickly, rather than hanging back and building up their forces. There are relatively few new enemies in this set, but a handful of dangerous Treachery cards which can have devastating effects.

This scenario is definitely a breath of fresh air, with a very specific mission which thematically fits rather nicely. Nevertheless it is still a bit of a mixed bag. The most common complaint is that this mission is, moreso than normal, extremely dependent on the luck of the draw. Healing Wilyador essentially relies on finding Athelas cards mixed in the enemy deck. Whilst there are a few locations which can help, the proportion of these cards is still very small. I haven’t played it solo, but I can imagine that only drawing one card from the deck would make it even more difficult. The scenario has a difficulty rating of 6, which puts it marginally easier than Dol Guldur and Conflict at the Carrock, but I would argue that the rating depends entirely on how the cards fall. A good shuffle, and you can find all the healing cards you need for Wilyador in the first few rounds; a bad shuffle, and he’ll die long before you find a single one, and there’s virtually nothing you can do about it.

In terms of the player cards, this set offers a fairly decent selection. The hero in this pack is Prince Imharil (Leadership), a character very similar to Aragon both in terms of stats and ability, and overall a useful alternative, if perhaps fairly bland. There’s no song in this pack, rather a neutral ally, Radagast, who collects his own resources which can be spent on bringing creature allies into the game, or healing ones already there. If you’ve been playing these adventures in sequence, there are also a few more cards here which will make some of the earlier inclusions more useful, such as the two cards which allow you to look through the top X cards in your deck for an eagle or Rohan card from The Hunt for Gollum adventure pack.

Overall this is a decent expansion pack, which adds some useful cards to the player decks, and offers a unique adventure with some nice mechanics that add tension, and force the players to consider their moves carefully. Unfortunately, it’s rather more luck-dependent than previous adventures, and could probably have had more playtesting and a little tweaking to hit the note. This is one of those adventures where players will find themselves honing a deck specifically to the case in hand, and may even then still fail because they cannot find an Athelas card, or too many Treachery cards appear in a bunch. If the luck of the draw is one of the things that put you off this Lord of the Rings card game, it might be worth skipping over this particular pack.

Lord of the Rings: Conflict at the Carrock

Conflict at the Carrock

Conflict at the Carrock

Second in the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs, Conflict at the Carrock packs a serious punch, with a difficulty rating of 7 (the same as the final adventure in the original set). Where The Hunt for Gollum sees players dealing with a very location-heavy deck, this time round the focus is very much on the fighting, culminating in a tense battle, as four trolls challenge the heroes.

Firstly, the scenario itself while certainly hard is by no means impossible, and lends itself to multiple strategies. Given the prominent role fighting the trolls plays, there’s a lot of tension here. Aside from the trolls in the new deck, the hill trolls from the original game can also play an ominous cameo role. This quest can see heroes being captured, very similar to the prisoner in the “Escape from Dol Guldur” adventure in the core set, which only adds to the difficulty should a hero get ‘knocked out’ at a critical stage. An interesting addition, this is also the first adventure to feature a player ally in the enemy deck itself, who whilst very expensive, lends himself to fighting the trolls, and can be all that is needed to draw victory from the jaws of defeat.

In comparison to the quest, the player cards are more of a mixed bag, though are still a better selection than in The Hunt for Gollum. The hero in this pack is Frodo Baggins, who is a decent addition to the game, with a relatively cheap starting cost and an ability that makes him virtually invincible (converting damage to threat). There are then two cards per sphere, usually an ally and an event/attachment, plus a song which generates one lore resource per turn. All but one of the cards here can find their uses even without extra cards from other adventure packs.

Aside from the usual gripes which are inherent to the nature of this card game, there are a couple of minor problems with this adventure. First, it doesn’t scale quite as well as the previous one, which although it doesn’t make it unplayable, shows it was clearly designed with two players in mind. The second issue is simply a question of paying attention, but there are quite a few cards which alter the values of other ones in the game, particularly when the four trolls come into play, and it’s easy to overlook these extras. The first time we defeated this adventure, we’d actually missed the fact that our threat level should have risen and killed us, so it pays to be vigilant when reading the card text!

Ultimately, Conflict at the Carrock is a very worthwhile expansion to the core game, offering a challenging and exciting new adventure, very action packed, with a selection of decent player cards. The hero, Frodo Baggins, adds some versatility to the way you play the game, whilst the addition of a player ally hidden in the enemy deck is an interesting twist, and thematically in keeping. If you like the core game and don’t insist on playing the adventure packs in order, this is one of the better ones in the Shadows of Mirkwood series.

Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum

The Hunt for Gollum

The Hunt for Gollum

The Hunt for Gollum is the first adventure pack in the Shadows of Mirkwood series for the base game The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. As with all of these adventure packs, it includes a new hero, extra player cards and a new scenario replete with enemies, locations and treachery cards for the players to face.

The scenario is a fairly decent one, albeit not one of the best. Rated difficulty 4, it’s comparable to the “Journey Down The Anduin” scenario from the core set. Where this adventure improves on those in the core set, is that it does a decent job of adjusting itself to the number of players, with a lot of cards relying on the number of players or allies in the game. In general, the enemy deck is fairly location heavy, which means there is relatively little fighting here, and no particularly large enemies to face.

As to the player cards, unfortunately this aspect of this adventure pack is fairly weak. The hero card, Bilbo Baggins, is fairly ‘expensive’ for his ability, although he suits players who like to play the game solo. There is the first of many ‘song’ cards here, which allow players to cheaply earn specific resources, as well as the first of a number of ‘mark’ cards, which adjust heroes’ stats. However, there are also a couple of cards here which only show their true worth once you’ve bought some more of the adventure packs. If you aren’t set on playing these adventures in the order in which they were released, it might make sense to take one of the later releases first, or at least to buy more than one at once.

Overall if you enjoyed the main game and want to breath some new life into it, this is a reasonable little adventure, not too challenging, yet satisfying at the same time. It’s not one of the most exciting scenarios, but it scales well, so makes playing solo or with 4 players equally challenging. Unfortunately, some of the player cards only prove their worth later, so if it doesn’t bother you to play out of order, and you only want to buy one, it would be worth picking up one of the later adventure packs first.

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