A Journey in the Dark

Run time: 30:17, Watch the Video, Play with Error

Most Valuable Card: Oh, Sam. When will it be your day? Not this day. While he was great defending and attacking back while equipped with Sting, I think the better option here is Fellowship of the Ring. I already chose the Redbook of Westmarch, and while I am not explicitly not choosing a card twice, it think it makes sense to give this card it’s due. It wasn’t until this card entered play that I felt 100% comfortable that I was going to quest successfully each round and place enough progress on the locations and quest card to actually make it through the scenario.

Thematic Win: Beating the second cave troll with a group of characters. It’s a subtle thematic accomplishment, but in a scenario where Caleb has explicitly said that he wanted to break with the books here, at least a little, to provide the option for players to outrun the Balrog, it’s something. Especially since I decided to take Caleb up on his alternate universe option of outrunning Durin’s Bane. So having a small group of folks gang up and kill the cave troll felt pretty good.

First and foremost, I need to get this out of the way. I may have interpreted the rules incorrectly, but the Fellowship contract is vague about what happens during the saga with boons. And by vague, I mean it’s not mentioned at all. I was forced to interpret the rules and used the burden precedent that says to shuffle the burden into your deck after it hits the table. There is also a line in the Black Riders Rules document on page three that says that “…players may include any boon cards as recorded in the
Campaign Pool in their decks. These cards do not count against their deck minimum.” And while this doesn’t necessarily apply because the contract talks about a deck maximum, it does give some credence to my theory that boon cards don’t count when counting the number of cards in your deck. It may be a poor decision on my part, but if it invalidates all my wins, so be it. I chalk this up to it being a solo game and I can play it how I want. But, I am uncertain that adding two extra cards to my player deck, and sphereless cards at that, will greatly impact the outcome of my game play. If you have any insight into this rule, please leave a comment.

Next, I have to take the bigger view and talk about BOTH versions of this scenario I posted. For this entry, I’m not going to give you a behind the scenes run of the game but rather more of a report of the feel of these plays. I was so excited to put Thorongil on Fellowship Frodo to get a spirit resource and use him as a defender that I completely didn’t even read the card. And I would guess that we are all guilty of that. In fact, I made the same mistake again in a later scenario with, of all heroes, Spirit Aragorn. Don’t worry though, you’ll see that play as well. But I played these scenarios and it wasn’t until after they were edited and I had moved on that I was told that the Thorongil on a fellowship here is verboten. It was during our live play of Epic Multiplayer Helm’s Deep that Joseph Forster casually mentioned that Thorongil could only be played on “normal” heroes. I asked him to repeat what he had said and I also looked it up on Hall of Beorn. Lo and behold, it says it right there in plain English. I was crushed because I had already put this episode in the can. But, it definitely a big enough error that I knew it impacted the outcome. Spirit Frodo is a great defender. I used him as such. I needed to play it again. I was bummed.

But, surprisingly, I was able to win in much the same fashion as I did on my error video. I was able to get through fairly easily in just the perfect number of rounds. At the time, I thought the plays were very different. But as I look at them now, they are pretty similar. Also, the feeling at the end in outrunning the Balrog was the same.

Lastly, by outrunning the Balrog, it saved me from having to enter the “Do Balrogs have wings?” debate and just not including those scenes in the video.

So enjoy this weeks double feature.

The Ring Goes South

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.


Flight to the Ford

Run Time: 26:47, Watch the Video

Most Valuable Card: This is the shortest play to date, both by time and by rounds. At just under 27 minutes and at four rounds, the race to the Ford of Bruinen seemed so easy. Trust me, behind the scenes, I played this scenario a few times where I really struggled to get going. But, by a long shot, the reason I was able to do so well on this particular play was because of the timing of drawing Frodo’s Intuition. For two Fellowship resources I was able to get 5 cards and every Hobbit hero was able to get an extra willpower. This made my Hobbit heroes alone quest for 20. That’s some powered up questing. But the beauty of the card isn’t really its willpower boost, although in this case, it was amazing. The beauty of the card is its card draw. And yeah, so Gandalf coming out was nice, but I was only able to get to Gandalf by playing Frodo’s Intuition. And, because of the timing coming out in the last round, it really was the card that pushed me over the edge for the win.

Thematic Win:

Well, here we are. The first major weird decision I had to make because of the difference between the movies and the book. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, its Glorfindel who rides the injured Frodo to Rivendell in the book, but the Peter Jackson made the decision to instead use Arwen to carry Frodo. While it is never stated in the movie, I hope that the horse used was still named Asfaloth, but I digress. The decision then becomes do I take the same liberty as PJ or do I try, somehow, to keep with the book. The Tolkien lover in me decided to honor the book as much as I could. That means that as much as possible I didn’t show Arwen’s face in the clips, but rather showed her from the back. When I reached the Ford, it was unavoidable for one clip, or so I thought, but up to that time, you can’t really see the face of the elf on the horse. So, if you have never seen the movies and you are only using the Theatrical Campaign as a reference, it’s possible that you could mistake Liv Tyler’s Arwen for the Balrog slayer himself, Glorfindel. You see that in the second cut scene where I only show the sweeping horse shot from the back. It’s Glorfindel, right?

This play of Flight was quick. I was able to rush through it in four rounds. I’m sure it’s not a record, but I’m also sure that it’s pretty quick. There’s a reason that Caleb decided to put 15 life counters on Frodo and not just five or ten. It’s because players may need them. And there were a few plays were I did need them. But I was so surprised by this play. All the cards I needed kinda just lined up for me. But that happens when I play the scenario a few times and record a few times. The cards on the win line up well.

While I hated it, the first round Nazgul was a pain. I was grumpy that it came out and I obviously should have played it different, but you can never predict what the encounter deck is going to throw at you, so I had an odd sense of satisfaction by choosing not to get a Nazgul, but then getting a Nazgul anyway. It felt more like a chase with more Nazgul.

The other part of the scenario that would get me is that the Fell Rider, the one that starts in the staging area, has an engagement cost of 30. That limited my time I could turtle in the first stage because my threat was 25. If something crazy happens, 30 is right around the corner. At least once I remember being forced to engage him when I wasn’t ready, and it was because of its 30 engagement cost. It wrecked me. But again, I love highlighting how powerful Bilbo is because he can effectively cancel threat and also deal direct damage passively and softening up enemies is, in my opinion, an underrated strategy in the community. In this particular play, I was able to engage the Fell Rider in the second round, it already had two damage on it from Bilbo, and then Sam was able to kill the thing outright. And that’s great.

As the final rounds progressed, I was completely shocked that I actually was able to get through the second and final stage in one big YOLO quest. Like totally shocked. The willpower I’m able to generate from the Hobbit deck is good. Usually it’s not top tier, but in this case to use 6 characters and commit 24 to the quest is phenomenal. Some quick math means that each character was questing for four. That’s Eowyn and Gandalf level stats. And I knew I needed it for just the one round. So the mega push came at the right time, and while I knew I’d clear the location, clearing the quest came as a surprise.

I know that I cleared the Ford and the quest in the same turn and I didn’t have to kill off the Witch-king using the Fords response, but I just felt I needed to honor the designer here. It was so obvious that the whole point of the Ford was to destroy the Nazgul chasing you. I was able to do that. And it was good. I even tried to setup killing two Nazgul using the Ford, but I just didn’t feel comfortable keep two engaged with me. One silly encounter card where they make an immediate attack or a bad shadow card and I’m toast. So cooler head prevailed and while I didn’t wipe out the whole pack of nine riders, I was able to take out their leader.

For a short play, this scenario really packed some tension. I hope you enjoy!

A Knife in the Dark

Run Time: 45:25. Watch the Video

Most Valuable Card: I feel like this scenario was a real “share the load” sort of scenario. Many cards in play contributed to the win. Gaffer canceled a few attacks, Treebeard helps kill the Witch-king. rosie boosted a few different Hobbits. All of that said, I think I was most grateful not for one, but for two cards this time. In this case, the old standby combo of Sneak Attack & Gandalf. Finding both copies of Sneak Attack, albeit at different points in the game, coupled with both copies of Gandalf was fortunate. Yay, Sneak Attack & Gandalf!

Thematic Win: This week’s thematic win doesn’t come from the gameplay per se, but rather from the deck construction. Of course, I didn’t think about this beforehand, but when I was editing in the clips and I realized that there were four Hobbits in Bree and my deck contained four Hobbits, I was tickled about it. I get it. Fellowship Frodo counts as a fifth Hobbit and I’m sure that the designers considered this and were equally tickled about the possibility of *the* four Hobbits showing up to Bree, but for this week, I’m sticking to the four Hobbit hero deck being reflective of the literature. And it was nice to match the clip with the deck intro, too.

I was so excited that I was able to use the gatekeeper scene from Bree right at the beginning of this scenario. It mentally felt good know that I was going to be able to get some good clips to edit in, and you’ll notice the run time of this scenario is longer than the previous. Sure, I’m getting better at editing video, but sometimes the plays are just a little longer or maybe, just maybe there is a bunch of scenes to put in.

A first round kill of Bill Ferny? Yup. I wish it were solely because of the Hobbits, but alas, it was mostly due to a Sneak Attack/Gandalf in the first round that put most of the damage on him. But, you know that Bill was designed with 5 hit points so that the Sneak Attack/Gandalf combo couldn’t kill him right out the gate. But, combined with Bilbo’s 1 damage for questing successfully, I was able to kill Bill even before the first combat phase began. I remember a practice play that I was able to use Bilbo to deal all the damage to him. I was a little rougher because adding all that threat each round was inconvenient, but Bilbo was able to get the job done. Bilbo really is a star in many scenarios.

A first round kill of Bill Ferny? Yup. I wish it were solely because of the Hobbits, but alas, it was mostly due to a Sneak Attack/Gandalf in the first round that put most of the damage on him. But, you know that Bill was designed with 5 hit points so that the Sneak Attack/Gandalf combo couldn’t kill him right out the gate. But, combined with Bilbo’s 1 damage for questing successfully, I was able to kill Bill even before the first combat phase began. I remember a practice play that I was able to use Bilbo to deal all the damage to him. I was a little rougher because adding all that threat each round was inconvenient, but Bilbo was able to get the job done. Bilbo really is a star in many scenarios.

Okay, okay, okay. I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to find a “travel to the Prancing Pony” scene early on, but I thought it even cooler that instead of the traditional “A wizard is never later…” scene for Gandalf entering play, I was able to use a scene from The Hobbit when I paid full price for him in round 2 that showed Gandalf actually showing up to the Prancing Pony. Bonus points for theme that the two folks at the Prancing Pony resembled the enemies in play, one was squint-eyed and one was, indeed, shady.

What I found with this scenario is that early on it could have easily gone sideways and gotten out of control. But having an extra hero (even if it was just a Hobbit) helped keep things in control. I know I was lucky getting an opening hand Sneak Attack/Gandalf, but I was still able to kill three enemies in the first round and by the time I forced to engage the Nazgul, I was able to handle it pretty easily. I guess I can’t just attribute it to only the extra hero that the Bond of Friendship contract provides, but also the card draw that Frodo’s Intuition gave. Having all the options in my hand to handle the Nazgul really let me know by that time that I was likely going to win the scenario. That said, the end of the scenario does provide some challenge and I was purposeful in my journey in getting there.

As I moved along to stage two of the scenario, there wasn’t much of interest that actually happened, except that I was able to turtle and lower my threat and get just a little more set up for the inevitable. Which is the transition to the third stage. As I look back on the play, I was happy that it played out like it did for thematic reasons. The trudge through the Midgewater marsh was not a battle with a bunch of Nazgul or Traitorous Breelanders. It was a push through locations and while my play made it feel easy, the book and movie portray that leg of the quest as a real slog. From a game play perspective though, I was relieved to get set up for the third stage. Like I said in my announcement article, I always play the scenarios before so that I get a feel for the quest, and I usually played them for a win before I recorded. For this quest, I was happy I did so that I knew how to maximize my chances to win.

Through the second quest stage, I was fortunate to not add a set aside Nazgul to the encounter deck. And since we are talking about it, I am glad that all the card that add a set aside Nazgul have choices on it. If you were playing blind, you may choose differently, but by keeping those pesky Riders from Mordor out of the encounter deck, the third stage become really hard instead of nearly impossible. That said, three Nazgul coming at me is still pretty scary. I’m glad I wasn’t such a slave to the theme that I decided to add two more. I don’t think I’d have been able to handle the questing part of the game. I would have gotten overrun. Instead of location lock, would I call that Nazgul lock? I don’t know.

I was able to handle a few of the Nazgul because of Gandalf’s enter play effects. And I thought that there was a scene in the movie that was Gandalf fighting the Nazgul on Weathertop, a few days before the Hobbits arrive there. In the book it’s described like a lightning storm off in the distance from the perspective of Frodo. But however much I looked for the scene, I couldn’t find it. I chalked this up to Tolkien’s skill in writing and that he drew such a vivid picture for me with his words, that I visualized it all in my head. Ah, verisimilitude!

Oh, that pesky Witch-king. I was doing so well, getting rid of the first Nazgul in the combat phase immediately after flipping to stage 3. I was able to handle the second one during the quest phase, and then I was hoping to make short work of this scenario by getting rid of the Witch-king in the next combat phase. But I just didn’t have the strength. I needed more firepower. And that’s the problem with Hobbits. They are great; sneaky and stealthy. But if they don’t have a few key attachments, I get stuck not questing well, not attacking well or not defending well. So, the Red Book of Westmarch got me questing really well. With Rosie in play, I could defend, but since I wasn’t able to get double uses out of her, I was lacking in the attack category. So, no clean sweep for me. But that’s the price you pay for playing Hobbits.

As a point of interest and a misplay (but I don’t think it impacted whether I win or not) is that I forgot to discard Fellowship of the Ring. I chump blocked with Rosie at the end of the game and that should have forced me to get rid of the attachment. I didn’t do that, but I don’t think it made much of a difference in the outcome.

I think by the end, I had to keep the Witch-king engaged with me for 3 rounds before I could finally kill him. I was nervous about it, but staging was nice to me. I think it was Treebeard that really put me over the top here in the last round to give me the ability to vanquish the Witch-king. Thank goodness for Treebeard.

Fog on the Barrow Downs

Run time: 32:13, Watch the Video

Most Valuable Card: Through just the first few scenarios it’s hard to not just start picking Sam each time for the MVC. His 3 willpower and readying and all his tricks just make him so good. So with a standard that is already set higher than most other cards, Sam really was just his “normal” utility hero. So with him out of the running, I think the winner is probably Frodo. With the exception of A Test of Will early on, he was able to quest for 2 most rounds and also get rid of some of the nastiest treacheries in the game. Combined with the One Ring, this was amazingly helpful.

Thematic Win: Even though I played the Dagger of Westernesse early, in the second round, I only was using late in the game after reaching the third stage to attack the Wights. While this was not the most exciting way to score a thematic victory, it sure worked. I was able to defend with Treebeard and then use Sam with the dagger to score some hefty damage on those enemies. And not that I need to belabor the point, but I find it interesting the wights have higher engagement cost and the Dagger gets a bonus when attacking enemies with a higher engagement cost than your threat. It’s not just a hobbit “thing,” but also a wight “thing” too which scores a little extra in the thematic category. But mostly this is reflective of just plain ole thoughtful game design.

Another scenario that has very little content to splice in from the movies! I knew this was going to happen, but I just wanted to get to fun stuff. But, as the Ents would say to my beloved hobbits, “Don’t be hasty!”

You’ll also notice that the videos are getting shorter. I am pretty sure that it took me a few videos to get down the whole balance between editing for play and keeping the videos interesting enough to keep you engaged. I am pretty sure that this video was over 45 minutes long before a started editing it down. Quick math means about 25% of the play was edited out to help move everything along. As a more personal comment, I spend a bunch of time pausing and saying “so” and “uh” during recordings, and I cut all that out.

As the play of this scenario started, it was fun to use the clips that are reflective of the scenes in Bree; Mr. Underhill, and using the One Ring are just two of those scenes that helped to put the viewer at (roughly) the right spot in the books, and subsequently, the movies. I know, I know… the Barrow Downs aren’t Bree. But the Barrow Downs scene is what happens right before Bree in the book and I was happy to have some overlap in those clips.

It’s completely interesting to me how many times I saw the worst treacheries in this play. Frozen by Fear and Chill Fog are horrible cards. They can totally wreck your board state. And that I was able to deal with them as they came off the deck and didn’t have to feel the effects of them. It speaks volumes about the power of both A Test of Will and Black Riders Frodo. To just be able to say “no” to a card, whether it’s replaced (like with Frodo) or not (as with A Test of Will) just gives me a sense of comfort. You’ll see that happen throughout the saga as long as Frodo is fellowship hero.

As this play went on, I think I was pretty lucky to get through it as unscathed as I did. I don’t think I played this scenario several times to get through it and it seemed like this was just another scenario on the way to Mordor. That said, of course every scenario could go sideways. But during this play I was able to handle the enemies as they came off the deck, the locations as they arrived, and the split staging area mechanic was not an issue. I did get a little lucky transitioning from stage 3 to 4 by being engaged with an enemy and therefore not needing to discard Treebeard. I was also lucky that when Ancient Barrow flipped, I was able to easily “sacrifice” Bill the Pony to it and it caused little or no hassle to my board state. There have been moments in other scenarios where losing Bill meant I immediately lost two or more hobbit heroes because the lost his hit point boost. I also would have been crushing to lose Treebeard and lose the resources and advantage that I gained by playing him in the first quest phase. Bill cost nothing to bring into play and I exploited that twice in the scenario.

I wish there were more scene inserts that I could have made, but as I alluded to in the previous play, I didn’t want to use anything other than the PJ Lord of the Rings Films. So, with that, I look forward to the rest of the scenarios where with the exception of the Siege of Gondor, there is plenty of movie magic to insert.


The Old Forest

Run Time: 40:00, Watch the video

Most Valuable Card: Red Book of Westmarch is kinda the default here. There wasn’t much questing that needed to be done early on, but as the locations piled up and 18 progress required on stage 3B, it helped a ton to keep the quest phase managable.

Thematic Win: Seeing Tom Bombadil show up twice just randomly tra-la-la-ing through the Old Forest.

From the beginning I thought this scenario and the next were going to be a challenge to present the community with added movie clips. There wasn’t any video material from the movies that cover the exploration of the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs by the Hobbits. I thought of adding in scenes from the recently discovered Russian version of the Fellowship, but I wasn’t sure that those scenes would… ahem… make sense in just small snippets. I also thought of using scenes from Harry Potter. The Whomping Willow obviously has inspiration drawn from Old Man Willow, whether intentional or not. That also didn’t make much sense to me because I love and respect Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s work too much to include really poor derivatives in this presentation. So I stuck with just taking and adding bits from the player cards I was using.

Boy, was I not disappointed by that decision. Because of my choice to hold off including clips in The Black Riders until after set-up, I was able to start right away adding some great (and iconic) clips to the play. Gandalf’s Delay, The One Ring, Mr. Underhill all have their own clip and this provided a nice balance to a scenario that I knew was going to lack in clips.

As the game begins, I decided after the very first draw to use the ring. This was something that I didn’t use at all in the first scenario. I don’t know if I forgot about it or if I just didn’t need to use it, but for whatever reason, I didn’t use it then. But I’m glad I used it now! This is a great way to swap out enemies and treacheries to get those much needed locations.

I was also able to get Tom Bombadil in play a few times. When playing solo, there is no guarantee that an encounter ally like Tom or Gildor will enter play. The encounter deck is just too thick to make that a reliable happenstance. That said, I was happy to get the enigma himself on the table for a little bit especially given the source material and scenario. As a side note, I love that Tom Bombadil is an encounter ally and not an objective ally that starts the game in play. It really adds to his theme that he just pops up whenever. To get him in to play when I did while not the best timing game-wise, felt like a real thematic homerun.

This scenario also saw the first time playing both Odo Proudfoot and Rosie Cotton. Both characters have an enters play clip and leaving out the four second “ProudFEET!” moment would be practically a crime. Rosie’s clip is from the end of the movies but I thought it was the best scene that explains who she is and how important she is to Sam.

So, despite all the theme and that I was able to beat the quest fairly straightforwardly, I was a little disappointed that the second scenario of this campaign was light on movie content to insert. I also didn’t see very many enemies and Tom Bombadil, while awesome to see, didn’t really make an appearance when I needed him.

I hope you enjoyed this play, and join us again next week as I tackle Fog on the Barrow Downs, the other GenCon scenario that inserts itself into the campaign.

A Shadow of the Past

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!


Introducing the Theatrical Campaign

You know what the community needs? More proof of just how amazingly thematic the game is. So, for nearly a year, I have been playing the Lord of the Rings Saga Campaign. I have been capturing many of my plays on video. I have a set of successful plays recorded and ready to release to the community. I even have a few scenarios where I have multiple versions recorded and will release.

But what makes this different than other solo plays of the campaign?

There are two answers.

First, I am using the same deck through the whole thing. It’s a Hobbit Deck, using the Bond of Friendship contract. I love the deck and I love how there are tricks to help me through some of the sneakiest of scenarios. It is also sturdy enough to face some of the most challenging scenarios head on! (I’m looking at you, Journey to the Cross-Roads!) I also love how, when I had things line up in terms of theme, that certain scenarios were made easier. Spoiler alert: Sam with Sting makes Shelob much more tame.

Secondly, and this is what I am most proud of, each scenario has scenes from the movies edited in to it so that you can follow along with some of the most exciting parts of the source material in the game and see how it was represented in the movie. This has given me new respect for both the movies and, more importantly, for how the game represents some of the most seminole moments in the books. I have found scenes that represent characters entering play, leaving play, enemies entering play, ememies attacking, defending, questing, traveling, encounter cards entering the staging area, completing quest cards, exploring locations, and the list goes on and on. Now, I don’t interrupt every action in every scenario to bring a snippet from the movie. I try to keep the flow of the game play smooth and consistent.

The inspiration for this is from two places.

I have to give credit where credit is due. When I saw a few episodes of The Progression Series by Matthew and Mitch, whenever Gandalf entered play, Mitch cut the cartoon version of Gandalf saying, “I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!” whenever Gandalf entered play. I thought it was a great side bar to the game and added flavor.

My primary inspiration, though, lies in making videos. Actually, my passion for making videos is really why I started Card Talk. Yes I love the game, yes I love talking, but I love to edit the videos and I thought it was really a niche in the community that needed to be filled; a podcast that talked about the game on video. Actually, we only released videos for much of the first year because I wanted to stay true to the video format. Eventually I received enough messages from members of the commuity that they’d like to have audio shows, so now we do that, but know that video making was my first love.

It’s not that I’m an expert in the game. I’m no rules guru. I am not a spectacular deck builder nor am I a savant that has memorized the card pool and can immediately recognize card interactions. But what I do have is a passion for making videos about things I love. And I love this game and I love Tolkien’s world.

I’ve had this on my radar to do for the community for a long time. I wanted to finish (or at least play all) the saga scenarios live, with my friend. We were at The Battle of the Pelennor Field when the pandemic slowed our live plays to a halt. We were able to play through the Mountain of Fire box during a safe time in the pandemic when we were all vaccinated and outdoor play seemed reasonable. We still haven’t beaten Mount Doom, but we at least were able to play all the scenarios, so now I could work on this project. And I started it in May of last year.

Let me explain why almost a year later I am finally releasing this. First, I wanted to make sure that I got through the whole thing before I released it. I knew that my time was limited and this was going to take a while. I wanted to make sure that I could make releases regularly, so that meant I had to get through the whole thing before I released it.

Also, each video was produced in several parts. First, I had to play each scenario off camera to understand the triggers and make sure I could easily play through the game. Second, I had to record the winning play. For some of the scenarios, I won the first time I played on camera. For many, I played it at least twice to get a win, and for a few, I played many, many times to get a win for the camera. Once the win was captured, I then spent several hours editing the video clips into the play. Lastly, I would write my reflection about the play or about the behind the scenes stuff for the blog. Also, I didn’t want to get too far ahead because if I found a critical error in my play, I didn’t want future recordings to be invalidated. So most of the course of the campaign, I would be editing one video for a scenario and practicing for the next. Likely, I would only have two videos ready to edit at one time, and if I get too far ahead, I would spend time editing, catching up, so that I could play the next scenario.

Did I ever find an error that made me go back and have to rerecord a scenario? Yup. There are three scenarios (only two rules I broke) that I had to replay. It turns out that Thorongil can only be played on non-Fellowship, non-Baggins heroes. I played it on Frodo once and Aragorn once for some dramatic victories, but in the end, it was too much of a mistake for me to *not* replay them. But, I will release those videos for you to watch even though they aren’t part of the official Theatrical Campaign. And for the other, I missed a trigger on a location that totally changed the outcome of the game, so that was a bummer. But that play will also be released for you to see.

Lastly, there were a few rule conflicts that I worked out as best as I could based on input from other players. Most notably, how do you deal with earned boons in Bond of Friendship deck when the deck limit is set by the contract? Also, there are a few times when I know that I have to do really well on a particular scenario so that a future scenario is easier. For example, I do my best to maximize my success on The Siege of Gondor so that The Battle of the Pelennor Fields in a little easier. While I am giving an authenitic recording, I definitely am trying to play for victories that make my future plays easier and I did play a few of the scenarios for multiple victories to pick the best. I am not trying to “roll the dice” too much. That said, these plays aren’t perfect nor are they staged.

All of this is to say that I hope you enjoy this new presentation of what has always been the gold standard of game play within our community. It’s a campaign play through that’s recieved a glow up.

Next week we will start with the Black Riders box and the first scenario, Shadow of the Past. Please enjoy the video and the write-up that accompanies it. And check back each week for a new play and a new post!