Today on Game Day, I’m going to return to an old favourite, and look at the first deluxe expansion released for the Lord of the Rings LCG: it’s time to head into Khazad-dûm!
This box was released in January 2012, and was possibly one of the most-anticipated games for me ever! I had gotten the base game earlier in 2011, and had been enjoying the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle (and Massing at Osgiliath) excessively, so was really ravenous for more content. I seem to remember a time that, when it didn’t arrive before Christmas, I was distraught for a short time – it was really that anticipated!
As might be expected, this expansion is heavy on Dwarf cards, with two dwarven heroes to add to the mix, as well as a host of tricks and stuff to enjoy. It was this expansion that actually led to the Dwarf deck becoming the main archetype for a long time – more so than Rohan or Eagles, if I remember correctly. No discussion of this expansion would be complete without mention of the Zigil Miner controversy, either. This ally card allows you to name a number, then reveal the top two cards of your deck; if the cost of either matches the number named, you gain that many resources for a hero you control. Suddenly, players were almost spamming their decks with high-cost cards, and using scrying cards to see what cards were on top of their deck before naming the number, pulling all manner of resources. I personally thought this tactic was wonderfully balanced in Foundations of Stone, and elsewhere (I’ll talk about this more when I review the Dwarrowdelf cycle!), but the card was soon errata’d to cap the resources you could gain to two per-use. Things like this do distress me, as I primarily love this game for its theme, to the extent that I sometimes feel power-gamers who would be looking to abuse cards like this have no business playing this game! But I digress.
More important (to me) than the player cards, however, we have three new scenarios!
This is really what sets Lord of the Rings LCG apart from pretty much any other game out there, for me. With other LCGs (and other card games in this model), the monthly packs just give you new player cards to use to spice up your deckbuilding. Lord of the Rings LCG gives you new games each month, as each scenario plays different, with different keywords and effects that spice up more than just your player deck. The deluxe expansions have given us three new games, meaning there are just so many awesome options for this game! It’s a model that is really just fantastic, and is one of my absolute favourite aspects of the entire thing.
Into the Pit
The first new scenario is a combat-oriented thing, where you have a prescribed route through the great Dwarf city of Khazad-dûm, which is effected by locations being set aside before the game begins, and which are brought in by exploring the previous location.
There is a sense of real foreboding created by this first quest, as the first stage doesn’t allow you to engage enemies until you have cleared the East Gate from play – so you can have enemies piling up in the staging area just waiting for you to clear the gate before they leap on top of you! Once it’s gone, you proceed to the First Hall, before moving to the iconic Bridge of Khazad-dûm, where you cannot play cards! Gah! It’s a very specific kind of quest that makes some very specific demands of your deck, not least because the Encounter deck is big for this one! 50 cards from four encounter sets, not including the special cards above, which make for a lot of enemies, a lot of treacheries, and a lot of locations!
However, it’s not all bad, because you get the Cave Torch objective to help you through! This card is one of the aspects of the quest that make it super-thematic: you can exhaust the torch to place up to three progress tokens on any Dark location, a new keyword that features on 13 of the 16 location cards in the deck. However, if you do exhaust it, you must discard the top card of the encounter deck which, if it’s an enemy, will go right into the staging area, as the goblins are attracted to the light!
Speaking of goblins, there are hundreds of them in here! Well no, there are actually 14 enemy cards, though they all have an incredible synergy to create the sense of an endless swarm. Shadow effects and When Revealed effects abound here, creating a really nicely put-together deck that just hates you! A tough, but very enjoyable scenario all the same!
The Seventh Level
Seventh Level is one of my favourite quests. It’s actually quite nondescript as far as these things go, as you’re basically fighting orcs and goblins again, and discovering more of the dark of Moria, but it somehow feels good all the same. Possibly because it feels quite small-scale. Although one of the enemies in this deck is the Cave Troll!
The defining card of this scenario is the Book of Mazarbul, which is attached to a hero of your choice and allows that hero to quest while unexhausted, though said hero cannot attack. It’s perfect if you have a high-willpower, high-defense guy in your lineup, or if you have Spirit Glorfindel but no Light of Valinor, but otherwise it’s a bit of a meh card.
However, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I’m almost obsessed with the theme of a game, and allowing me to give the Book of Mazarbul to a questing hero is just fantastic, no matter what effect results!
Flight from Moria
Rounding out this box is another really iconic quest, the Flight from Moria.
This scenario is just amazing. For starters, it’s the first time in the game where we can encounter a Balrog, albeit one that just looms ominously from the staging area, and cannot be engaged by the players.
Victory Points are not a new thing in this game, but here they take on a whole new horror, as the Nameless Fear’s attributes are all based on how many points are in the Victory display. This will always be a minimum of two, as the first Quest card is basically put into the display once it is flipped to 1B. However, there are half a dozen other cards throughout this deck with VP values, and all manner of horrible things can happen to circumvent the does-not-engage rule.
Again, four encounter sets are used, largely because the unique set to this scenario is primarily treachery cards. Roughly half the deck is treachery cards. The fun in this scenario comes from the second quest stage – that is to say, the seven different Stage 2 cards in the quest deck! The basic premise is that you’re trying to find the way out of Moria, which is represented by drawing a random ‘Search for an Exit’ card from the quest deck. All of these have different effects, but only one will allow you to escape – however, an escape can only be effected if you have claimed the Abandoned Tools objective from the encounter deck!
It’s a really fun scenario, despite the fact that it pummels you without mercy. Definitely one of those that feels like it’s really expertly put-together. I’ve only managed to escape from the mines once, other times have seen me drawing either Heading Up or Heading Down almost alternately, which makes for some hilarious experiences, albeit ones that end in tragedy for my party. It’s definitely one of those that you need to experience for its awesome.
Throughout this box, also, there is some wonderful art, which I hope has been shown by the card selections in this blog. Specific mention should be made of Watchful Eyes, which is in the first two scenarios, and is something of a nemesis for me. I have never yet been able to avoid this card, which adds the top card of the encounter deck to the staging area if the attached hero is exhausted at the end of the encounter phase. Bah! I really hate it… It’s like the new Caught in a Web or something. Truly horrible.
There are, of course, also Nightmare Mode decks available for the scenarios of Khazad-dûm, which I shall now show you, some of them being really enjoyable variants for the main game. I was a beta tester for these scenarios, so I might be a little biased, but still!
I mentioned Nightmare Mode in my run-down of the Shadows of Mirkwood decks, of course. Basically a tougher version of the standard mode, each deck adds 20 new cards to the deck, and removes a corresponding number from the standard deck.
Nightmare Into the Pit is one of my favourites, as it introduces a whole world of hate for the Cave Torch – predominantly through the Setup card itself, which gains a damage token whenever the torch exhausts, and forces the discard of the torch when there are five tokens there. Other little treats, such as the Patrol Sentry who attacks you as soon as you exhaust the cave torch, or Narrow Fissure, which cannot have progress tokens on it if the torch is ready, add to the torment, and really heighten the experience for me.
Nightmare Seventh Level is one of those quests that is improved exponentially in this manner. Remember I said this scenario was pretty nondescript? Well, it now has some crazy effects thanks to the idea of adding resources to goblin enemies to bulk their stats. We also have a boss-style enemy to combat in the shape of Overseer Maurûl. We suddenly have a really tight-knit scenario that forces you to try and breeze through it, and having the Book of Mazarbul attached to a hero is actually a severe handicap, as you’re one potential fighter down for stage 1B… It’s still a fairly straightforward scenario, don’t get me wrong, but it can be a real nightmare…
And finally, as if the standard scenario wasn’t bad enough, we have Nightmare Flight from Moria. We have three new quest cards, one of which gives us an alternative path to victory, though at a potentially terrible price. A new treachery card, An Evil Fortune, serves just to ruin our day by increasing threat and bulking out the Victory display, along with one that will break down willpower by the amount of VPs in the display. We also have a second enemy whose attributes work off the display! It’s generally quite terrible, but then, this is nightmare mode!
All in all, these scenarios are pretty damn great, and provide hours of fun with the game. One of the more noteworthy aspects is the claustrophobic feel the designers have succeeded in imparting to the game through these cards, where the artwork and the effects come together in a perfect synergy to create some really wonderful – and really terrible! – games. The player cards alone allow you to create some really extraordinarily powerful dwarf decks, and some of these cards are still staples over three years after their release. But the scenarios are where this box truly shines, and are heartily recommended to you all!