Time for the next installment of my Nightmare Campaign! So far I am really enjoying the art, mechanics and increased difficulty of the Nightmare Saga Campaign. Admittedly I have only just begun on this Journey and things will probably get a lot harder and potentially more frustrating as I go but I have high hopes for the rest of the Nightmare Campaign and hope that the designers have kept the difficulty at a somewhat reasonable level throughout!
After eventually achieving a win against A Shadow in the Past it was time to move on to the next scenario. It was a difficult decision whether I should include and play The Old Forest and Fog on the Barrow-downs in my Nightmare Campaign but I ultimately decided it would be somewhat incomplete without doing so. Also Old Bogey-Stories and Ho! Tom Bombadil! are extremely useful boons and both have the potential to be the critical difference between victory and defeat in any given scenario so it would be foolish not to earn them.I will just quickly touch on my experiences with these quests as ultimately these articles are about the Nightmare Saga Quests and neither of these quests have Nightmare versions.
I lost my first attempt at The Old Forest after arriving at Stage 2 a little bit too early and consequently having two heroes fall in battle thanks to Old Man Willow and multiple copies of Long Trailer in the staging area. This was such a close game as I had already cleared Withywindle and had 6 or so progress on Stage 3. I had very little damage on Old Man Willow however so would not have earned Old Bogey Stories had I hung on and managed a victory that game. Second attempt went far better and not only did I earn Old Bogey Stories with ease but I was also able to easily fend off Old Man Willow’s attacks and take my time beating the quest. As much as you can get somewhat stuck or seriously delayed on Stage 2 thanks to various effects discarding locations from the victory display this is usually fairly beneficial (especially if you want to earn Old Bogey Stories) as it gives you more time to prepare for Old Man Willow and his vicious attacks. You do need to be very careful of your threat level however as Old Man Willow not only packs a serious punch (attacks against each player every combat phase with 5 attack strength) but also raises your threat with every attack he makes. Fairly happy with both decks performance and their ability to beat this quest handily on the second attempt.
Funnily enough Fog on the Barrow-downs, which normally gives me way more trouble than Old Forest, was beaten on the first attempt. By taking my time and only traveling to key locations such as Hollow Circle and Standing Stones at points in the game where it would be the least damaging or most manageable was key to my victory. I traveled to Hollow Circle only once I had cleared as many wights as I could from play so that the two that are brought into play once you travel there (already engaged!) did not overwhelm me. Similarly I only traveled to Standing Stones once I was ready to take on and escape from a Great Barrow with the right deck (I did not want to discard several powerful allies because of the effect on Stage 4).
Standing Stones is a little bit more tricky however as you need to travel there quickly so that you don’t have to clear too many copies of Great Barrow. Stage 2 does somewhat punish you for not traveling to Hollow Circle quickly as you have to raise threat by an additional point at the end of each refresh stage while you are still at Stage 2 but with some threat reduction you can combat this fairly easily whereas a copy of Great Barrow appearing at the worst possible moment can be game ending for sure. Only had to clear a single Great Barrow (this is one of the only times I have ever had to clear only one copy) which made things very easy and I even managed to put all 16 progress on Stage 3 before even traveling to Standing Stones and before any copies of Great Barrow entered play. This was extremely helpful as it meant as soon as The Last Elven Host cleared Stage 4 and added Great Barrow to the victory display I immediately won the scenario.I had a powerful board state set up with both decks so even had I faced a second or even third Great Barrow I still likely would have held on and won.
Essentially both of these quests were a walk in the park compared to the slog that was A Shadow of the Past and do not compare to Nightmare Saga quests at all!. Time to move on to A Knife in the Dark; the second of the Black Riders quests that features an epic battle with the Witch King himself. I knew as soon as I starting setting up for this quest that it was going to be a hard one and that the showdown at the end was going to be much tougher and would also feature more Nazgul than the original quest. Then I looked at all the various effects and cards this Nightmare quest introduces and realized there is much more to this Nightmare quest than just extra Nazgul. Not only are there new cards that make the final battle much harder as well as new cards that try to shuffle extra Nazgul into the encounter deck (from the set aside Ringwraiths) which is one of the main mechanics from the original version but there are also some pretty intense threat increases, several new cards that punish you for the one ring being exhausted (another mechanic in the original) and even new effects that bring extra spy enemies into play! Bill Ferny bceomes immune to player effects while in staging and the new version of Weathertop not only has to be cleared before The Witch King can be dealt a single point of damage but it also exhausts the one ring when you travel there and you cannot ready the one ring until it is cleared!!! This means all of the various effects that trigger when the one ring is exhausted will be a serious threat while Weathertop is the active location. Bill Ferny now being immune means you can only deal with him once he engages you normally as he cannot be optionally engaged, dealt damage or really be dealt with in any way at all while he is in staging. There goes Sneak Attack Gandalf and Hands Upon the Bow destroying him first turn!! This Nightmare quest may honestly be even tougher than the last one I faced and I think it is about time I find out!
Wow this one was another doozy and it was no easy task getting my eventual win. I lost at least 9 or 10 games before I managed to defeat this Nightmare quest! I actually didn’t get to Stage 3 once during all my losses as I would either get overwhelmed on Stage 1 or 2 or would simply not be happy with how things were going and would concede if things looked too grim. It took a fair while before my decks were able to achieve an epic victory and I even made a last minute swap during my last game that ended up being key to my win. Essentially I had some very lucky reveals during the first few stages and cancelled several nasty treacheries with multiple copes of Test of Will (including one I got back from my discard pile with Dwarven Tomb) to really slow the encounter deck down. Both decks were able to build up allies and attachments (as many defensive and readying attachments on Gimli and Elrond in preparation for the showdown on Stage 3!) at an incredible rate and by stalling massively on Stage 2 (placing tons of progress on the actual quest stage but leaving Midgewater in staging for several turns) and using several large threat reductions to keep both decks in play I was able to arrive at Stage 3 well prepared to crush some Nazgul! It only took me three turns at Stage 3 to defeat all enemies in play and the tactics event Hour of Wrath was key to defeating the last two Nazgul and the Witch King in one combat phase. Here is a photo of my final board state upon victory:
An early copy of Fornost Bowman was an absolute champion in this game as were several strong allies on the other side of the board such as Orophin, Haldir and Glorfindel. Galadriel helped out with threat reduction during Stage 2 massively and helped with questing even more so once I got Nenya in play. Faramir as always was a huge boost to questing and allowed me to keep extra characters back for combat which was also a huge boost to combat and without getting him out early I would not have stood a chance at all. I managed to get Armored Destrier on both Gimli and Elrond in this game (normally I put Elven Mail and the second copy of Gondorian Shield on Elrond) by giving Elrond sentinel first with Elven Mail and they were both unstoppable walls of defense against the many Nazgul and spies I had to face. I managed to get Gimli more pumped up in almost any other game I’ve played and by the end he had Armored Destrier, Steward and Shield, all 3 copies of Dunedain Warning and Unexpected Courage attached. When I used Hour of Wrath on the last turn Gimli defended 6 attacks and did not take a single point of damage and was then also able to join in the counter attack against every foe as well! For sure alongside Elrond he was the most important hero of the game.
Much like when playing the normal version of this quest one of my key strategies was to stop any additional Nazgul being added to the encounter deck by always choosing other effects whenever possible. Only during a single game was I forced to shuffle a Ringwraith into the encounter deck because of an effect I could not avoid but I never even reached Stage 3 in that game so it didn’t matter in the end. By keeping the amount of Nazgul you must face at the end to the minimal amount you clearly stand a far greater chance at victory. I took this strategy so seriously that a few of my losses were likely because of the other options I chose rather than shuffling extra Nazgul in. In these games however my mindset was that if I could not handle the current board state and face those effects what chance would I stand later on against the Witch King and extra cronies?
I lost due to threating out on a few occasions but hero deaths or me simply conceding was the main cause of most of my losses. The first few rounds of this quest are absolutely critical and you need to get some powerful cards out quickly that will help not only with the showdown on Stage 3 but also against the many foes you will encounter on the road there. The Prancing Pony is also a pretty critical location and carefully deciding when to both travel there and clear it are key to victory as it can easily overwhelm you with the extra enemies it brings into play.
Now that I have gone over my various games and the key strategy to my eventual win here is each Nightmare card with a breakdown based on my experiences:
Featuring the same gorgeous art as The Old Road the front side of the Nightmare Setup card simply lets us know that Bill Ferny is immune to player card effects while in the staging area. This means that until one deck gets to 38 threat he cannot be engaged or dealt with in any way. He is going to be raising your threat/shuffling Nazgul into the encounter deck until you get to this threat level, engage him and then defeat him. In the Nightmare quest he is now much more of a threat than ever before.
The back side of the Nightmare setup card as always lets us know what cards to remove from this quest when playing the Nightmare version. No Nazgul enemies are removed so the amount of Nazgul that will appear at Stage 3 has been increased by at least 2 due to the inclusion of x2 Menacing Wraith. Cards that are removed are more or less harmless (Pathless Country), have beneficial effects (Weather Hills) or are still featured in the Nightmare version just with less copies (Unwanted Attention).
Not only does this card have some of the best Nazgul art in the game but it is also a seriously nasty enemy as well. It has a high four threat, impressive combat stats, is hard to kill and has one hell of a nasty effect. If the One Ring is exhausted Menacing Wraith engages the first player and makes an immediate attack. Not only does the Wraith not need to be engaged in the first place (whether in staging or engaged with another player/deck the Wraith will always engage and attack) for his ability to trigger but this is a quest where you are going to be forced to exhaust the Ring pretty often. Not only due to effects like Weathertop and Lure of the Ring but also if you ever want or need to use the Ring and Frodo’s ability to cancel an encounter card, shuffle it back into the encounter deck and reveal another. I managed to avoid extra attacks from these foes most of the time but did have to face their forced effect on a few occasions and at least once this was a key part of my downfall. Any time a Menacing Wraith was in play it was my key priority as far as dispatching enemies was concerned. During my win I destroyed these Nazgul when arriving at Stage 3 leaving the Witch King and the Riders of Mordor for last.
Southern Spy is a deceptively awful card. It doesn’t seem so bad but in reality is just horrid. Not only are you forced to defend against a four strength attack when it enters play (or shuffle a Ringwraith into the enounter deck but nuts to that!) but this enemy has a fairly high 3 threat and extremely low 25 engagement cost. This means the vast majority of times this foe appears it will perform two attacks the round it enters play (both at 4 attack strength which is no joke) as well as contribute its three threat to the staging area. The shadow effect on this card is awful as well especially since reducing a defenders defense stat is almost always worse than buffing an attacking enemy’s attack value and a whopping -3 to defense will harm even a buffed up mega defender if they are defending against enemies like Nazgul and the Witch King himself. The only part of this card that is not just awful is that the Southern Spies are not that hard to kill and do not have a ton of defense or hitpoints. I faced many copies of this card during my games and many times this card of all cards was key to my defeat. Revealing more than one copy of these guys in a single round happened a few times (due to surge effects and whatnot) and was often devastating creating multiple additional enemy attacks that I was not prepared or planning for. Honestly these guys are just as much of a threat as the Nazgul in this quest and are not a foe that should be taken lightly.
Weathertop or Amon Sul is an extremely well known location in the world of Middle Earth and is the hilltop/ruined watchtower where Aragorn fends off the Nazgul and Witch King while they try to take the Ring from Frodo. They ultimately stab and wound Frodo with a Morgul Blade during their attempt to take the Ring and Aragorn then chases/fights them off. Lets compare the original version of Weathertop and the new Nightmare version. The original has a beneficial effect (-1 threat to enemies in play when it is explored and in the victory display) and requires you to exhaust the one ring to travel there. The Nightmare version has the same requirement but keeps the ring exhausted until it is explored and also does not have a beneficial effect but instead has the awful new text: “The Witch-King cannot be damaged.”. Until you explore Weathertop you aren’t doing a single point of damage to the Witch King and the Witch King gets -30 engagement while the One Ring is exhausted so he is going to take you on pretty much as soon as you travel there. Keeping the One Ring exhausted is a pretty nasty effect as well as this buffs several other cards in this quest. The new version even has an extra 2 quest points… All in all a much more fearsome version of this iconic location with a few painful effects that can easily seal your doom if you cannot clear it quickly.
The Weather Hills isn’t too punishing under the right circumstances and is possibly the least threatening of the new Nightmare locations. It cannot have progress placed on it while you are at Stage 1 however so it is definitely a location you want to see after you have reached Stage 2. When it appears early game it just clogs up the staging area with threat (especially if the one ring is exhausted) and can be a massive detriment to moving ahead in this quest. During a few games this location certainly helped the staging area spiral out of control forcing me to concede or threat out.
The Old Road isn’t the worst location in this quest either but it is definitely one you want to clear very quickly. If the three resource tokens run out it forces you to shuffle an out of play Ringwraith into the encounter deck which as we all know also increases the amount of Nazgul you will be forced to face during Stage 3. It does have a very high 8 quest points required to clear it though so it can seriously slow you down but I would rather be slowed down a little and given more time if anything to prepare for Stage 3 than have an extra Ringwraith be shuffled into the encounter deck. I managed to avoid this effect triggering a single time during any of my games by always prioritizing clearing this location above any others. The few times a copy of this location was potentially going to run out of resource tokens I conceded due to other reasons before it was able to.
This card is probably my second most hated card in this Nightmare Quest (Southern Spy easily takes the number one spot) and it was the key culprit of my demise during one of my more frustrating losses. There were two copies in the staging area midgame and between them they contributed something like 24 threat, that combined with the other cards in staging was far too much for me and I consequently threated out. The travel effect on this location is pretty horrid as it even forces you to reveal that enemy first and all spy enemies in this quest have a nasty when revealed effect. Regardless of how damaging this could be I almost always traveled to this location as quickly as possible as it is just a huge wall of threat that can easily stop you from questing successfully or placing progress at all. This can be especially killer on Stage 2 as it can stop you from placing progress and keeping Stage 2 from shuffling additional Ringwraiths into the encounter deck. I had X be anywhere from only 3 to a whopping 14 throughout my various games it is definitely a location that scales heavily to your current situation and can be anything from a minor annoyance to a huge roadblock to progressing.
The Ring’s Will is an interesting treachery and one that was somewhat helpful during my eventual win. So essentially this card raises each players threat by 5 and it cannot be cancelled by the Ring Bearers effect or at all if the one ring is exhausted. You can cancel it if the one ring is not exhausted (with test of will or something similar) however so it is not completely unavoidable. On top of that so long as you have plenty of threat reduction you might actually be far more happy to see this card appear than say a Nazgul, Southern Spy or Forsaken Inn. I managed to cancel this treachery a few times and only once did it appear in a game that I lost because of threat. This card actually helped me during my eventual win as it bumped the combat deck up to 38 threat quite early on which meant I was able to engage and destroy Bill Ferny nice and early and remove his threat from staging and get rid of his awful ability raising threat every turn as well. I then dropped back down with cards like Greeting, Gandalf and Galadriel and was able to keep threat under control from that point on. Pretty much so long as you bring plenty of threat reduction and/or cancellation this treachery is definitely not going to be that punishing. It can tip you over the edge at a critical point right at the end though so cancellation once again is vital when playing this Nightmare quest.
Blade Tip is a weird card. It only really exists for the shadow effect and is certainly very thematic as it is on Weathertop that Frodo gets stabbed with the Morgul Blade which until now was not really represented in this quest by any encounter cards. When it appears during staging it just has doomed 1 and surge but when it appears as a shadow card however it attaches itself as a condition attachment to the defending character if they are damaged by the attack and raises your threat by 2 at the end of every refresh stage. That character is slowly fading/dying from their wound and consequently raising your threat! While it might have been more thematic to have that character take damage each turn I really like this effect and the way it reflects the event in the story. The art on this card is also really great and is from Frodo’s point of view seeing the Witch King as he appears in the wraith-world. Essentially bring Condition removal or have plenty of threat reduction to combat this card and it isn’t so bad. It can even be avoided entirely if you have a good defender that can defend Nazgul attacks without taking damage.
I had a really great time playing this quest and found it far less frustrating or troublesome as Nightmare A Shadow of the Past. It definitely took a few less attempts to beat and I also seemed to make it a lot further or have more fun in most of my games than I did in A Shadow of the Past. That being said it was definitely still quite a challenge! I expected Stage 3 to be an absolute bloodbath and extremely difficult but in the end it was the early game and gaining a strong board state quickly that was the issue and hardest part of the quest. Nazgul or extremely high threat locations would start to appear or fill the staging area quickly and I would need to excel at both strong questing and combat to have any chance against the encounter deck. Right up until my victory there was not a single game where I was confident enough or even capable of reaching Stage 3. This meant that the majority of my “losses” were games that I conceded when I did not think I would stand a chance at winning based on the current stage of the game. I may have gone a little bit overboard with this mentality but to be honest this is a way of playing that I have started to adopt whenever playing Nightmare quests. If my decks aren’t doing extremely well and things aren’t looking at least somewhat decent I can sort of tell that there is a very slim chance of actually winning from past experiences and it will most likely save me time and frustration just stopping at that point rather than playing every game through until the actual moment of defeat.
This Nightmare quest is definitely a difficult one but not quite as tough as A Shadow of the Past in my opinion. There are no hide tests or instant hero deaths (Have You Seen Baggins?) and even the final battle at Stage 3 is not so bad so long as you prepare accordingly and build up your board state and army of allies and attachments. Certain locations and treacheries can be killer but so long as you have some form of cancellation and location control you shouldn’t have too much of a problem. Location control was definitely nowhere near as necessary as it was in Shadow of the Past or the Old Forest. Healing was not really overly critical either as other than combat or the single treachery Power in their Terror there are no ways for characters to take damage in this quest. Threat reduction was extremely essential though as was plenty of combat power and combat effects/tricks (Feint, Hands Upon the Bow and Hour of Wrath were all extremely useful in this quest). Condition removal was also pretty damn important and I managed to discard two copies of Black Breath (from Frodo and Aragorn) with one Power of Orthanc during the game I achieved victory and this allowed Aragorn to join in the final counter attack against the Witch King and other Nazgul. I really enjoyed the mechanics and new nightmare cards in this quest and found it much more thematic and thrilling than the original. Nazgul hit harder and more often and you are pressed to make plenty of tough decisions. Highly recommend it and had a blast taking it on! I am almost at the end of the Black Riders Nightmare Quests which is pretty exciting! In no time I will be taking on Nightmare The Road Darkens!!
Here is where things get exciting as far as Campaign Choices and my campaign pool are concerned. I get to choose two of the permanent boons (one per deck) that you earn from beating A Knife in the Dark that will remain for the rest of the campaign. I have to think long term and specifically need to think of the boons that can be earned at the end of The Uruk Hai which are strongly tied to these initial boons from A Knife in the Dark.
As much as I want to put Valiant Warrior on Legolas or Aragorn I really want to put Forewarned on Gimli after I beat The Uruk Hai so I decide to choose Tireless Ranger instead of Valiant Warrior to give Gimli the ranger trait which he needs to receive Forewarned. Also between Aragorn and Legolas’s 3 attack and Aragorn’s -1 to enemy defense ability my offensive capability is already pretty impressive. Gimli’s base 2 defense is pretty average though so the +1 from Tireless Ranger is extremely helpful.
I have a somewhat difficult decision to make for The Last Elven Host as well as I can either put Skilled Healer on Elrond which means later on I can put Hands of a Healer on him or I can put Noble Hero on him and then later put leader of Men on him. Now I don’t actually need to put Noble Hero on him to put Leader of Men on him as he already has the noble trait but they just combo together fantastically as you not only have additional willpower to quest with but he gets an extra resource when he quests successfully and Elrond can not only pay for allies of any sphere already but also gains the spirit sphere when he receives Vilya so is a perfect candidate for extra resources. Skilled Healer and Hands of a Healer however provide an extremely powerful healing ability that he can use when necessary while still also questing or using Vilya thanks to cards like LoV and UC. He even boosts the healing of this ability with his own inherent buff to healing allowing you to heal 4 damage off any hero. Ultimately I decide that I have enough healing in the decks between the healing allies in The Last Elven Host and Dunedain Remedy in the sideboard of The Three Hunters and chose Noble Hero. Also extra willpower is ALWAYS going to be helpful and allows me to quest harder right out of the gate at the start of any game whereas healing is somewhat conditional and not always necessary or useful. The extra hitpoints from Skilled Healer would have been nice on Elrond and would have put him on 8 hitpoints in games he receives Elven Mail but he is the backup defender after Gimli so this is not as useful as it would be on Gimli and is just not as useful overall as the +1 willpower from Noble hero.
As always I hoped you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it! Tune in next time for the third installment of my Nightmare Campaign and a simultaneous review of Nightmare Flight to the Ford!