Run Time: 39:01. Watch the video.
Most Valuable Card: It’s getting much harder to *not* pick Sam as the most valuable card, but I still feel strongly about spreading the love around and it seems that in this play, Thorongil really showed its value. Yes, Sam was towered up and was able to defend a few things and kill off a few things, but without Thorongil giving me access to Tactics Merry, I would have been really hard up for a heavy attacking character. So, in the end, it wasn’t Sam who gets the nod, but rather Thorongil. I’m sure that both will come in clutch in several scenarios, so we will see how that goes.
Thematic Win: The best part of any scenario is when the play lines up with what the books give you. And, this was perfect. And it wasn’t just because of how the scenario was designed, but how the encounter deck randomly worked to line up particularly well to the book. In the first stage, all that was flipped we locations. In that stage of the book, the fellowship was really just trekking through Middle-earth. Getting four locations early on and then not really seeing many after that just felt right for the scenario. I guess I am cheering the encounter deck, then? Go Caleb?
This was the first scenario that I remember playing several times, not only to get the mechanics down, but also to get a win. I guess I may be exaggerating by saying “several” but I know that I didn’t play the scenario just twice. It seemed that I would always get stuck early on with the surging wargs. Whether it was luck or not, I was glad it worked out the way it did.
The first stage of this scenario is pretty unique up to this point in the game. To get such a crazy amount of choice and options after the first planning phase is ridiculous, but I always keep in mind if the game gives, it will take away. So I was fortunate to get such a great bunch of cards at the Counsel of Elrond. A first turn Rosie, with a hobbit cloak, coupled with the Thorongil I played in planning means that I have a defender (Sam) that can easily defend most attacks and and an attacker (Merry) who can really do some damage. And with Rosie’s flexibility, those characters can get even beefier. It’s a crazy good start for this deck and for the scenario. The only thing I think may have been better is if I saw a Red Book of Westmarch show up somewhere.
As I progressed through the second quest stage, I was thankful to keep damage off locations and that I was getting locations at all. Like I said above, it was cool that the flow of the scenario from the encounter deck seemed to favor the flow from the book. But I was legitimately worried that I was going to get location locked, but even as more locations flipped, then I started to think that I was going to see a raft of enemies show up. It was a vicious cycle that I was nervous about. And it took several rounds to clear the stage. Yes, turtling is good. But sometimes it does not work out. But, by the end of the second quest card, I felt pretty good about my board state.
As an interesting note, I ended up putting a second Unexpected Courage on to Merry (17:07) instead of giving it to Sam. As I said at the beginning of this process, I sometimes miss some moves or make bad decisions. I am not the perfect player. But the decision to give Merry a second UC and let Sam stick with just the one Fast Hitch is an interesting choice. I would love to know what others would do. I don’t think that was a bad decision because another UC gives Merry the ability to quest, ready, use his spirit ability, ready, then attack and use his Tactics tricks. That’s a pretty good use. But, putting the UC on to Sam would allow multiple defenses, and since he was equipped with Sting, it’s possible that his defenses kill the enemy before it even attacks. So the dilemma there was real and because I didn’t know the future, I chose what I thought was best. It turned out okay, but this particular decision is interesting enough for me to ask for your opinion.
Also, right after this, I had a little bit of a misplay. I engaged the Crebain and that should have put a damage on the location. Then, the Redhorn Foothills would have forced me to discard a card from my hand and that could have been any one of the four cards. . Then, immediately afterward, I forgot to place damage on Eregion. Had I remembered, it likely would have impacted my decisions right then, but I do go back and correct it. Its still a little frustrating because I think the game was designed that those decisions effect the choices that are made now. I engaged the Warg without a care in the world, not thinking about the damage. I may have made a different decision had I remembered the trigger.
Something that never happens, at least when I’m playing the Sagas, is Frodo defending. He’s just too fragile. But, it happened here (27:35). With a Mithril Shirt, that gives him 3 defense and 3 hit points which makes him a reasonable defender, especially against smaller enemies. Sure, he’s not going to take a swing from a Hill Troll, but he can handle a Warg attack. So good for Frodo. And it serves as a gentle remind that Frodo can be much more that just the Ring Bearer and quester. Also, just as a side note, during this same time in the play, notice that Bilbo took care of another enemy in the staging area. I can’t overstate how great Bilbo can be. Not always. But sometimes he is invaluable.
I was able to zip through stage three quickly enough and move on to stage four, the Watcher in the Water stage. One of the pieces of trivia I have picked up from being deeply involved in the community for so long is that the Watcher capturing Frodo was not part of the original design of the scenario, but rather a suggestion by Ian Martin. Of course I know that Ian was part of the Grey Company and runs his blog, Tales from the Cards, I didn’t know how deeply he was part of the behind the scenes from beginning. He must have either been play testing this scenario for FFG or was part of a super secret spoiler. Either way, was a cool addition and speaks volumes to the humble nature that Caleb has in designing games.
Stage four was pretty trivial at this point. I made a small error in math with my damage on the Watcher. Since Frodo was captured, Merry only attacked for five, so only 7 damage should have gone on the Watcher, but that error was trivial. I was able to YOLO quest the next round and enter the mines practically unimpeded. Yay me!
Off to our Journey in the Dark and as a spoiler I’ll say that you shouldn’t hold your breath to see a Balrog.