Capture Gollum! This quest is not very memorable, and is quite easy. In testing, I actually beat this quest in two completed rounds (two and half of the third round). So, needless to say, there isn’t much to overcome here, but there is a unique mechanic (at the time), that drives construction for the deck.
The Dead Marshes introduced the “test” mechanic, where players have to effectively quest a second time each round. Gollum forces you to make an Escape Test, where characters have to compare their willpower to the Escape value on some Encounter cards. This was really fleshed out in later quests, notably A Shadow of the Past in the Black Riders saga box. But, here, instead of hiding, you must prevent Gollum from escaping.
This is the first appearance of Leadership Aragorn, a.k.a Coragorn, in The Book of Elessar. He feels particularly suited to this quest because of his ability to spend 1 resource to ready himself after committing to the quest. This means that he can obviously quest normally, then ready so as to perform an Escape Test, or fight in combat, etc.
Of course, because Leadership Aragorn is included, I had to include his two main artifacts, The Sword that Was Broken, and Celebrian’s Stone. Both increase his own willpower, and Sword that was Broken increases the willpower of the other characters in the deck. With both in play, Aragorn can quest and perform Escape Tests with 5 Willpower, which equals the highest Escape value on any card in the Encounter Deck.
In addition to those two main artifacts, I’ve also included The Ring of Barahir, mostly just to give Aragorn the Lore icon. So, if lucky to get all three attached, Aragorn will be able to smooth resources for each sphere that is represented here, since this is the first tri-sphere deck of the series. The ring also boosts Aragorn’s hit points by the number of artifacts, so he could wind up with 8 hit points, which is not very necessary in this quest, but is good insurance.
As usual, Arwen Undomiel comes along after a brief reprieve. But, with Leadership Aragorn included, she can really fuel his ability every turn, instead of just accelerating resources to play cards. But, of course, she will help pay for Sword that was Broken sooner. The flexibility she offers is too good to pass up, and she will have 4 willpower with Sword that was Broken in play. Also, with Light of Valinor, she will be able to quest without exhausting, allowing her to participate in the Escape Tests.
Appearing for the first time in the series is the Dunedain Beravor. She is an incredible card draw hero, and she will help the deck move along. I enjoy the Lore sphere, so I wanted to keep that around so I could make use of card draw. She also has good balanced stats that will make her versatile along the way.
I didn’t really need to lean on allies for this quest, other than some specialists like Henamarth Riversong and the ever-useful Gandalf. Henamarth is very useful in solo, as you always know the card you’re facing in the quest, or for this one, you could peek at the first card in the Escape Test, whichever feels more necessary at the time. It’s just a great ally to have, and I’ve loved Henamarth since the beginning of playing the game. An interesting inclusion is Galadhrim Minstrel, who just lets me search for an event when they enter play. This is just a nice to have ability for things like Test of Will or Sneak Attack, primarily.
Escape Tests and Strategy
Since Gollum is trying to escape your clutches, at the end of each quest phase, you must make an Escape Test, which discards the top two cards of the Encounter Deck, and you compare the Escape value on those cards to the willpower you committed to the test. If your willpower is less than or equal to the Escape values, you will fail the test, which will make Gollum harder to capture at the very end.
Because of this, you have to balance questing willpower with Escape Test willpower. There’s no real secret, the decision on who will quest and who will attempt the Escape Test depends on how much threat is in the staging area at the start of the quest phase. The two-willpower allies are helpful to do one or the other, and sometimes I can quest only with allies, or vice versa. This is where Henamarth Riversong really shows his value, as you can see what card will be revealed, and how much willpower you need for questing, then you can commit the other characters to the Escape Test.
Overall the plan is to quest fast enough to avoid making very many Escape Tests at all. However, there are treacheries and things that require you to make additional Escape Tests. These effects are often less punishing than the Escape Test effect on Gollum. For instance, Nightfall requires you to make an Escape Test, but failing it only places 1 resource on Gollum, and raises your threat by 2, as opposed to placing 2 resources on Gollum by failing the test on his own card. So I often purposely commit nobody to those quests, so I have the necessary willpower to pass Gollum’s own Escape Test.
For this quest, Aragorn will really do everything, as he can quest and commit to the Escape Test every turn. Add another ready on him, and he also is fighting in combat, but by quickly speeding through on willpower, I hope to avoid combat at all costs. Which brings me to another new card for the series: Tale of Tinuviel.
I’ve included Tale of Tinuviel for an extra ready effect on Aragorn in a pinch. With Light of Valinor, Arwen won’t be exhausting to quest, and may be ready, if she didn’t commit to an Escape Test, to ready Aragorn for a possible combat in which he has +3 to all of his stats. It’s very situational, and may not prove useful, but it’s a fun and thematic insurance against enemies, or to boost Aragorn’s willpower for Escape Testing, if I find I was unlucky and didn’t commit enough willpower to an Escape Test. Though, this is a rarity.
Plainly, in my opening hand I have to see Sword that was Broken and/or Celebrian’s Stone. I prefer Sword that was Broken, since it is a greater willpower boost across the board, but an early Celebrian’s Stone is great, as well, since it makes Aragorn such a strong willpower hero. Elven-light is also quite good to see starting out, but with Beravor, is not necessary, since she can draw cards each turn.
That being said, the only other card, besides Sword that was Broken and Celebrian’s Stone that I consider great to start is Unexpected Courage. Of course, I’ll attach this to Aragorn so I don’t have to spend a resource on his ability any longer, but could also go on Beravor, in order to get her card draw, and use her for questing or Escape Tests. Light of Valinor will also enable Arwen to quest without exhausting, thus leaving her available for Escape Tests.
Starting out with Henamarth Riversong is also extremely powerful, as it can really set up the tempo of the game and allow you to know what willpower to invest in questing. But, above all, boost that willpower as soon as possible!