This is my favorite quest from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, which isn’t saying much because I find most of these quests to be a little boring, or slogs (Emyn Muil, coming soon), but this one is a neat little puzzle! If you’re unfamiliar with it, you have to fight four unique trolls once you get to stage 2 of the quest. When my wife and I started playing, this was a quest that took us a few attempts to crack the code, so to speak. Since then, it’s incredibly fun.
For this quest, I’m switching to Tactics Aragorn. Since I’ve had a complicated past with the game (many starts and stops), my collection was fairly slim for a long time, and until quite recently, I didn’t even own Tactics Aragorn. This is honestly my first time using him! And let me tell you, he absolutely murders this quest, if you don’t get massively unlucky with the encounter deck or your own card draw.
Tactics Aragorn is nice for this quest because he grants access to the weapons you want to have to face the trolls, and he brings along some good companions, namely Legolas and the Dunedain Hunter. These are my only two Tactics allies for the deck, and if I owned more Beornings, I would’ve used some, but alas. Also, the two weapons are Daggers of Westernesse and Rivendell Blades. With these two weapons in play, nothing can stand up to your attacks in this quest.
Aragorn’s ability will reduce all enemies’ defense by 1, and a Rivendell Blade on Legolas, or Glorfindel, means every time you attack an enemy with one of those characters, that enemy will have 0 defense, except for one of the trolls, and only while you’re at the Carrock location. Three copies of Feint round out the Tactics contributions to the deck.
Also, for the first time, I’m including one of Aragorn’s artifact attachments, The Ring of Barahir. Aragorn gave this heirloom to Arwen while in Lorien, when she accepted his marriage proposal. This attachment gives Aragorn the Lore icon, which means I also have copies of A Burning Brand, which can then attach to Aragorn. This allows Aragorn to be a defender during the early game against some of the random enemies that come out, and negate their shadow effects. I could have included Hasty Stroke, but the ring and brand were far more thematic.
The Shadow effects I’m mostly concerned with are those on the Muck Adder. This is one of the ways you can get really unlucky early on while you try to set up. A +1 attack (from the Wargs, for example), -1 defense (from the Adder’s own Shadow effect), or a Despair totally negating your defense, means you can entirely lose a hero to such a weak enemy; and since Aragorn is my defender until Treebeard comes into play, if the Adder damages him, and discards him, it’s game over. Time to reset.
Arwen Undomiel and Glorfindel return to aid Aragorn in this quest. Because this quest is a little bit of a puzzle, Glorfindel and another low threat hero allow the deck to solve the puzzle without much trouble. But, I’ll get to that. There isn’t much in the Spirit sphere that differs from the previous quest’s deck. But, because of some of the unique challenges of the quest, I’ve added some specific cards to combat those threats.
Power of Orthanc is here to specifically combat the Sacked! treachery, of which there are two copies in the Encounter Deck while playing true solo. This card is awful, and combined with another treachery, can be an auto-loss if you get unlucky. So Condition attachment removal is a necessity, and Power of Orthanc is the only Spirit card that accomplishes this. I also include the Dunedain Pathfinder again, to find locations to explore, which can slow me down at Stage 1, so he’s quite useful. Also to slow me down, are two side quests.
Gandalf and Treebeard return for strong allies, and Treebeard, like his role in Journey Along the Anduin, is able to defend the trolls. Again, I would’ve liked to have some Beornings to include instead, for theme, but Treebeard will have do.
The basic gist of this quest is: Do not complete the first quest stage too quickly. The first stage requires only 7 progress, and with strong questing heroes like Glorfindel and Arwen, this is very easy to achieve solo. When you advance to stage two, you have to immediately add the trolls to the staging area. If your threat is 34 or higher at this time, you’re in for a tough fight.
So this deck strategically avoids that possibility in a few ways. One, the starting 26 threat means I’m 8 threat away from the level that would force the trolls to engage me. This buys me a lot of time to set up. In addition, Elrond’s Counsel, and Gandalf’s threat-lowering ability add to this, and that is the option I almost always choose when playing Gandalf here. With such a low threat, I want to stay at stage one for as long as possible.
To help with this, if I get lucky to draw them, I have two side quests: Gather Information and Double Back. The former can help me find a specific card, like Power of Orthanc if a hero is sacked, Ring of Barahir (since I only have 1 copy in the deck), or something else that I really need. Double Back will lower my threat by 5, which is incredibly helpful.
So, once I inevitably have to advance to Stage 2, and each troll enters the staging area, it’s time for Aragorn to shine. Sometimes, if I am engaged with another enemy when the trolls emerge, I can kill that enemy, and then use Aragorn to engage a troll, thus reducing the threat in the staging area that I have to quest against next turn. Then, when it’s time to just take the trolls down, I just have to kill one, pick out the next, and in that way, I take only one attack from a troll each round.
Aragorn’s -1 defense ability to all engaged enemies negates the +1 defense that the Carrock gives the trolls. As well, the Rivendell Blades drops their natural 2 defense to a 0, so I always attack with Aragorn and Legolas, or Glorfindel in some combination. This way, the trolls have 0 defense at all times. Usually, I wind up able to kill two trolls in a round with the help of some allies, and the Daggers of Westernesse make Aragorn a 7 attack against the trolls, and that means he only needs Legolas or Glorfindel’s help to bring one down.
The order in which I engage the trolls matters as well. Since Louis raises your threat after he attacks, I always engage him last, or after killing another troll, in a situation where I know I can kill him, so that he doesn’t attack at all. Raising my threat by 3 could mean the other trolls automatically engage me. So, that’s bad. I usually will take Rupert first, who shuffles in Sacked! cards from the discard pile, as that is the least punishing effect. The others give a +1 Attack, or +1 Defense buff to themselves.
So, with that, the deck consistently beats this quest, and quite easily, but my starting hand is still quite important. Light of Valinor is always key with Glorfindel, as it means I don’t have to raise my threat when questing with him, but since I want to “turtle” on Stage 1, often, I will only quest with Arwen, and risk some threat increase. The worst threat the Encounter Deck can add is 5, with the Brown Lands. Aragorn always wants to see a weapon, but Legolas in my opening hand is great to see, as with Arwen’s ability, I can play him on turn 2, if I can afford to discard cards; and of course, if I have Elven-Light, this is easy to do.
Other than that, Treebeard in my opening hand gives me some relief, as it means I know I can defend the trolls. The longer I go without seeing Treebeard, the more nervous I get, but also, Feint works just as well. There are Hill Trolls in this Encounter Deck, so Treebeard can defend that as well!
There are many opening hand options, and few mean you’re totally in a bind from the start, but the above are those that get you off on the right foot. You can see the full list below on ringsdb, and the gameplay and continuing narrative will be coming soon!