As discussed yesterday, the game is structured around encounter decks, each of which give the expanding game an entirely new flavour. In the core set, there are three scenarios that work as introductions to the mechanics of the game.
Passage through Mirkwood is the first, and serves really just to introduce how the game works. The objective of the game is to, well, take a trip through Mirkwood – harassed by spiders and the like. It’s now thought of as a “training scenario”, with most experienced players using it to teach the game or test out new, outlandish decks. I do enjoy this one, all the same, and it’s always really nice to come back to after a break, some of these cards are classics! It’s also worth noting that the first scenario in the entire game was also the first to use the idea of multiple stage-cards, requiring players to choose a random one (such as Flight from Moria, for instance).
Journey along the Anduin is one of these scenarios that manages to hold itself up to the widening card pool. Again, some wonderful, classic cards – including the Marsh Adder, which dates back to the very first promotional article on FFG’s site:
Finally, we have Escape from Dol Guldur!
This is, again, one of the classics. During setup, a player chooses one of his heroes to be “captured”, and you’ve got to rescue the poor unfortunate. For quite a while in the meta, this scenario was the absolute worst, because of this impossible starting handicap. Even at the remove of three years, it can still be pretty brutal. There’s a really good blog here that discusses strategy, and another one here that details the cards you’ll be coming across, but it can still be an awful game – particularly solo.
Escape from Dol Guldur is the first scenario to use Objective cards. Over the course of the game’s development, the designers have used these Objective cards for a variety of purposes, so it’s interesting to see them here as real objectives that you need in order to complete the quest. To this day, I feel this third scenario is one of the most unique out there, and while I have yet to actually make good on my escape, I nevertheless hold this one in high esteem!
But the core set is only the beginning!
Of course, there are a whole host of expansions for the game (27 packs in general release, with 20 print on demand quests, as of October 2014), but I can’t take a look at each of the core set scenarios without looking at their Nightmare equivalents!
Back in 2012, Fantasy Flight brought Lord of the Rings into their organised play schedules through the use of “updated” packs of familiar scenarios. The initial idea seems to have been to make earlier quests harder, but the designers have since explained that Nightmare Mode is meant to simulate a growing card pool as would happen in a head-to-head game. From the summer of 2013, adjustable difficulty levels were introduced to the game, which makes it appeal to a wider group of gamers, I suppose. Anyhow – Nightmare Mode, while it was actually an official variant back in the original rule book, requires a set of cards that are produced on a print-on-demand basis, meaning you need to sleeve the encounter deck if you want to play. The cynic in me feels that players wanting a more testing experience are tested in more ways than one, but let’s not go there!
The three scenarios from the core set have all been updated, and all are suitably nightmarish in these new incarnations!
Passage through Mirkwood features a lot more spiders, so an arachnophobe such as myself has a whole other difficulty playing this one. I remember when I first played this in Nightmare Mode and being really shocked at how much the pressure was on, right from the off!
Journey along the Anduin sees yet more trolls, and generally more enemies to pile up in the staging area during stage 2b. And oh, the hilarity of the misprinted Brown Water Rats – I seem to remember a lot of players thinking the fact that virtually the entire game effect being missed out during printing card 8 in this deck meant you’d essentially have a free draw. Ah well.
Escape from Dol Guldur is even more vicious in Nightmare Mode, with a distinct flavour of its own. Nightmare Mode has seen a wonderful re-invention of many scenarios in the game, and this one is no different. What was already a brutal scenario becomes something of a race, as the mechanic of adding tokens to Dol Guldur locations is introduced – the Torture Chamber on the far left of this picture will cause the players to lose the game if four tokens are on it, for instance. Brutal!
The three core set scenarios are lots of fun, and are often maligned, in favour of the later releases, as being simplistic or whatever. But they’re the scenarios that helped to get all us fans into the game, remember, so they have something going for them! It’s always lots of fun to look back at them, whether a high-level glance as I’ve just done here, or getting the cards out for a game.
Which I feel I might just do now…