Run Time: 51:10, Watch the Video
Most Valuable Card: It was a close call here between Tactics Bilbo and his threat management ability and Gaffer Gamgee and his ability to cancel attacks. To be able to eliminate four threat from the very beginning of the scenario almost makes questing trivial. In the same vane, to cancel attacks from the boss enemies almost trivializes the combat phase. The winner here? I think I have to vote for Gaffer.
Thematic Win: Gaffer actually canceling the attacks of the Black Riders, much in the same way that he does in the book. In fact, his art is reminiscent of that exact moment.
The beginning of any saga campaign starts here and my first solo plays of this quest using Hobbits well over a year ago really made me consider thematic deck building versus functional deck building. Hide tests are no joke. But, if I’m not mistaken, I played the scenario five or six times and lost five or six times before The Fortress of Nurn dropped releasing the Bond of Friendship onto the world. So I had a “standard” Black Riders Hobbit deck that I had modified using the contract for regular play, and then I modified that deck to hopefully get through the Sagas by adding a few cards that wouldn’t normally go into a standard Hobbit deck. Cards like ally Elrond and, of course, a few cards from the fellowship sphere.
With this play of A Shadow of the Past, I knew I was going to be alright. I may not do anything crazy awesome, but I knew that I could get through hide tests and I could use Tactics Bilbo to cancel the threat of that pesky initial Black Rider. And actually, Bilbo became a star in a few quests and for that I was thankful. During my test play, I was actually somewhat surprised at how well Bilbo was softening up the Nazgul throughout. I was also happy with the performance of this deck knowing that I would need to be able to eventually engage and kill the black riders while still being able to explore locations. By the middle of the game, I knew I had the tools to beat this quest with little frustration.
What I wanted to surprise people with who watch the play is the insertion of the movie clips into the play. It’s well into the campaign set up, about 8 minutes, that all of the sudden Bilbo pops up with his iconic “I’m going on an adventure!” line. Granted, this is from the Hobbit, but what more appropriate way to kick off a Hobbit play of the saga than by using that clip? Also, using Tactics Bilbo gives me some leeway to use interesting and appropriate clips from those movies. I avoided using some of the more iconic clips that appear in later scenarios mainly because I wanted you, the viewer, to have your interest piqued by this version of the play.
As I watch the play myself, I can safely say that I am not the most observant or best player in the game, by far. There was a point in the early to mid-game (27:15) where I had two Black Riders in the staging area and I was targeting one with Bilbo. As I decided on whether to engage a Black Rider, I decided that I shouldn’t because I only had 9 attack strength, and these Black Riders have 4 defense and 6 health. In the moment, I didn’t even consider engaging the one that I was targeting with Bilbo, despite him having one damage on him, allowing me to kill it. It just never occurred to me. I was so focused on the “other one” that it didn’t dawn on me to engage the one that was already softened up a little by Bilbo, which would have beautifully demonstrated my point that Bilbo’s value is being able to soften up enemies before the are engaged. Also, it would have made this scenario just a little easier to beat.
As you watch the scenario play out, you’ll notice that the Hide Test clip used the first time was a bit shorter than the clip I used for the rest of the scenario. I had planned to just use editing software to grab the clip each time and insert it into the play, but I realized very early on that I was going to have hundreds of clips to go find, so this is the (very minor) result of that change. I decided to record the clip I needed for each insert, and then I could just grab a clip from my library and insert it. Yes, some clips are only used during one scenario, but it made it much easier to use the clips in successive plays. The best example that is used from the very beginning is the “Gandalf enters play” clip. To have that in my library and to insert it in to any play, be it The Black Riders or The Black Gate, makes my compulsion for “sameness” satisfied. I left the Hide Test clip different as sort of an Easter Egg for those that are really interested in the very minute details of production.
Also, it was about midway through the editing of this scenario that I realized just how amazingly representative of the source material the game is. Of course the movie is an adaptation and isn’t always representative of Tolkien’s own work, but the movies are works of art based on Tolkien’s Middle-earth. And even the most staunch opponent of the films realize their contribution to introducing folks to Tolkien. Even playing solo, you really get a flavor of how exceedingly thoughtful Caleb was when developing each scenario. I play each scenario at least twice, once to brush up on mechanics and the other times for the recording, so that really contributes to the feel I get for the design. With the plays of this scenario, I found that the first play added to the second play and put me more into Middle-earth. In fact, it was such a good experience that if I see someone ask about playing solo through the campaign in social media, I will recommend that they play each scenario twice to get the full flavor. Of course, that may change when I get to some of the more difficult scenarios, but for now, I’m all about it!
In that same vane, I also felt that many of the things I considered “out of place” for this project actually became no-so-out-of-place. The best example I have is Treebeard. When he hits the board in this, the first scenario of the saga, it mentally seems disjointed as Treebeard doesn’t appear until much later in the story. But when I played the finished product back, it seems to fit so much more thematically in my own mind. Who would have thought that a four second clip of Treebeard saying his name would make it seem okay for him to help the Hobbits get out of The Shire?
And can you believe it? I was hunted in this scenario by five black riders! So the win here was well earned. I had to use many of my tricks, a little Sneak Attack/Gandalf, some Thorongil’d Merry, some Gaffer. All of it is a great introduction to how this deck has a bunch of ways to counter the encounter deck. Often times I hear the word tricks when it comes to how you handle the encounter deck, but I feel like that implies some shenanigans on the part of the player. In the case of this playthrough series, this deck wasn’t designed to trick it’s way to winning, it was designed with these cards in mind to handle the encounter deck, so for this play, I’ll just call them options.
As the scenario ends and my hobbits have to make a break for Buckleberry Ferrry, I thought it was pretty thematic that I still had one engaged with me. The video inserts and the game play make for a great climax to an amazing quest.
And lastly, a note on gameplay. And this exemplifies how I can sometimes screw the rules up. When playing with Sam, normally you wouldn’t ready him with readying effects because his passive ability allows for readying, but in this scenario was was pretty sure that if you want to commit characters to a hide test, you do not have an opportunity to ready the hero before the hide test. To make sure that I overcame my own short comings in the timing effects, by the end of the game, I was using Unexpected Courage to ready Sam before the Hide Test would even trigger. I may have lost his action advantage for later in the round, but I thought that the Hide Test was important enough to make sure I get it right as opposed to seeing the comments later about how I played it wrong.
Thanks for watching and reading. Make sure you check back next week as we travel into the old forest and take on Old Man Willow!