On to the Adventure Packs in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, The Redhorn Gate can be a tough quest, as there are a lot of high threat locations, quite a few enemies that are not pushovers, and the quest has some nasty effects to weaken your willpower. Also, you may be relieved to learn that, since this quest includes an Arwen Undomiel objective ally, that I can’t play the Arwen hero this time. But I think this is a fun quest.
Looking at this quest, there are a few tough things to deal with, but they mainly focus on high-threat locations and lowering your willpower. High willpower is great, if not necessary to have in this quest, just to avoid effects that may discard your characters at certain points. So, I originally thought to use Leadership Aragorn, since it would mean easy access to Sword That was Broken and Celebrian’s Stone. A global willpower boost, and a +3 willpower boost overall to Aragorn; surely that would be ideal. But the more I thought about it, the more I moved away from that route.
I went instead for Lore Aragorn, because I wanted to play a Lore – Spirit deck, and take a little different approach to amassing willpower, defending, and other things. One of my first thoughts was that Aragorn would likely be my defender, as I didn’t plan to include a hero that is typically dedicated to that task, like Beregond or Erkenbrand. So as a defender with only 2 defense, and with no access to the typical defense-boosting cards that you usually see, I had to think of a different strategy.
Lore offers plenty of healing, and I know most enemies in this Encounter Deck have 3-4 attack on average. So first I included a means of reliable healing: Self-Preservation (lovingly typo’d in the text box as “Self-Presevation”). With one attached, I don’t necessarily need the defense buffs as Aragorn can take at most, a 6-attack hit without dying, and heal 2 every turn. Even better, getting a second one attached means 4 healing per turn, which is plenty. (You can’t rely on healing allies like Ioreth or Warden of Healing because of their low willpower.)
Now, of course there is a way to boost your defense in Lore, thanks to the Protector of Lorien attachment, and I felt this was a cool addition as we’re traveling from Lothlorien with Arwen. Aragorn won’t be questing much, unless he gets some Unexpected Courage attached, so the willpower boost won’t be a major necessity on him, but I can certainly attach the extra copies to my other heroes. Also, since I’m including Protector, there’s no reason not to throw Elven-light in as a form of card draw, if I can get that combo online.
The final defensive attachment is A Burning Brand, which though the errata isn’t official yet, you’ll see in my gameplay that I basically play it as such: exhausting it to a cancel one shadow effect, as opposed to all shadow effects, and treating it as Restricted. Call this practice for me playing with the official errata at some point in the future. With these attachments, Aragorn can handle any enemy in this quest, and fulfill the role as trying to protect and guide Arwen through the mountains!
Since I settled on Lore Aragorn, I was looking for ways to have a lot of willpower on the table, and the thought came to me to use Side Quests. Mainly, I wanted to delay on Stage 1, so I could set up my willpower and all my good attachments, and then quickly get rid of Stage 2B and Caradhras, avoiding the reduced willpower as much as I could. So, Thurindir is making his return to the series. Frankly, I love the Side Quest archetype!
As is mostly the case, Thurindir is purely a questing hero. You can ramp his willpower by completing your side quests. So with Thurindir, there are a number of side quest staples. First is Gather Information. There are a few targets for this card, and one is Light of Valinor for my third hero. Otherwise, I may look for one of those attachments that Aragorn will need to defend effectively. But, the flexibility can’t be beaten. Next, and probably the 2nd most important is Rally the West. This side quest gives the blanket willpower boost to heroes, and will actually increase Thurindir’s willpower by 2.
Third, The Storm Comes is tossed in for fun, as with only 1 Spirit hero, it’ll help pay for some of the Spirit allies, allowing me to smooth resources for that first ally I play in a turn. Finally, Scout Ahead is ever useful, and a fun idea of Aragorn scouting the pass before them to ensure it is safe. If all side quests can be completed, that would put Thurindir at a crazy 7 willpower.
My third hero, Spirit Glorfindel, is back mostly because I like pairing him with Lore Aragorn, since you get some real bang-for-your-buck on Aragorn’s threat lowering. A starting threat of 25 is awesome, and there is an enemy I’d like to avoid until I’m set up to deal with it: Mountain Troll (which honestly, kind of looks like a shark in the face). Also, Glorfindel can bring along Asfaloth to help with location clearing. Since you start with Caradhras in the staging area, and can’t travel to it at will, it’s good to put progress on it until you get to 8, and leave it, so when you do travel there by the quest effect, it’s easy to clear. Also, several high-threat locations come with 2 quest points, so Asfaloth can get rid of them immediately.
Fitting into the side quest archetype, Glorfindel will be my main attacker, equipped with the Legacy Blade. Hopefully he has Light of Valinor attached, so he can quest and attack. It is not overly difficult to get him to the maximum 6 attack with one Blade attached. It’s also fun to put one of these on Aragorn, if he already has an Unexpected Courage, and can serve as another attacker.
For allies, most are Spirit, and they’re mostly just for questing. The Ethir Swordsman, of course, is hyper-efficient when you get multiple in play. One that fits the side quest archetype is the Rider of Rohan, which won’t exhaust when you have a side quest in the victory display, and honestly, Gather Information should be there before you can play this guy, anyway. A toolbox addition is the Dunedain Lookout, simply because the Black Uruks have a When Revealed effect that I do not like. And, for good measure, I tossed in one copy each of Elladan and Elrohir, which felt fun and thematic. Lastly, of course, is Gandalf.
Opening Hand and Strategy
First of all, I’m going to choose Gather Information as my starting side quest every time. It’s flexibility is too good to pass up, and you can always use it to grab a 2nd side quest if you have everything else you need at the time that you complete it. For everything else, I will try to get one of Aragorn’s defensive attachments, primarily Protector of Lorien or Self-Preservation. Even if you don’t get A Burning Brand, or Protector, Self-Preservation can keep him alive long enough to draw one of those two for added help. Any time I play Glorfindel, I want to see Light of Valinor in my opening hand. Some form of card draw is nice too, whether the Dunedain Pipe or Daeron’s Runes, and it’s not bad to get one of the Secret Paths in hand early, to blank Caradhras.
It can be possible to get location locked or swarmed with enemies, as the Warg Lair will add a Mountain Warg to the staging area. So it’s better to get Aragorn capable of defending as soon as possible. Willpower can be tough in the early going. I want to stay on Stage 1B for a while, so that I have time to build up my willpower by completing side quests and getting allies into play. For a Lore deck, you can find yourself without much card draw if you don’t get Protector of Lorien and Elven-light into play early, and you may need to rely on a Gandalf play, just to draw some cards, but that’s not the worst thing.
Once I’m happy with my willpower numbers and attachment setup, I’ll jump to Stage 2B and hopefully, clear it and get Caradhras in play where I can power through that location in one go, even with the willpower reduction. This is why it’s nice to place progress on it incrementally with Asfaloth, leading up to it becoming the active location. If you only need 1 progress to clear it, that’s fantastic, and puts you in less danger.
I will also save the Scout Ahead side quest for when you reach Stage 2B and have to shuffle in Snowstorm. At only 1 player, you’re shuffling in two copies, so it’s nice to try and get one out of the game. But, you could also try earlier and eliminate a copy of Freezing Cold. This is the worst treachery in this quest, and at 3 copies, it is what I’m holding onto A Test of Will for, as it can really do some damage. You can even include Power of Orthanc, if you play this deck/quest, for removing the card, but I risked it and went without!
All in all, you should easily be able to muster tons of willpower at the end, and have plenty of victory points thanks to the side quests, to complete Stage 3. The 5 victory point requirement pretty much means you have to explore a second unique location, alongside Caradhras (Fanuidhol or Celebdil). Just think, if you weren’t playing side quests, and saw both of the unique mountains as shadow cards, then you could be sitting there cycling the Encounter Deck forever, hoping to see one of them. You don’t want to be stuck in the mountains for that long, trust me!