Jeff Hannes
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SPOILER ALERT: If you're a new player who wants to discover which cards work best with each on your own, you might not want to read this post, or stop reading after the deck list... The observations and deck construction are based on experience from hundreds of games played. Okay, that said...

I've posted some wild decks on this site, but still the most common threads here seem to be about starting strategies, questions about basic deck-building. So I decided to go back to basics... take the "if I knew then what I know now" approach and build the best deck possible using only cards from a single Core set. At this point it was actually fairly easy to do... with all the expansions that have come out since, I've been able to see which cards have stood the test of time. (i.e. the ones I still put in decks).

I've been playing this deck straight solo, and so far I've beaten the following quests (success/attempts):

Passage Through Mirkwood (1/1)
Journey Down the Anduin (1/2)
Escape from Dol Goldur (1/4*)
Hunt for Gollum (1/1)
Journey to Rhosgobel (1/1)
Conflict at the Carrock (1/1)
Hills of Emyn Muil (1/1)
Dead Marshes (1/1)
Return to Mirkwood (2/5)

3/31/2016 EDIT: I've replaced Protector of Lorien with two copies of Gleowine

*I chose Beravor as the prisoner each game -- no shot otherwise -- so if you're a stickler you can say my win rate was really 1/12

I think I'd have beaten Journey on the first attempt if I'd played Gandalf for threat reduction before engaging the Hill Troll. Alas. However, I cruised to victory on my second go. As you can see, i made it all the way through the Mirkwood cycle successfully... all using only player cards found in a single Core set. Here's the deck along with several notes and strategy tips:

HEROES
Theodred
Eowyn
Beravor

LEADERSHIP (13)
x2 Faramir
x1 For Gondor!
x3 Guard of the Citadel
x2 Sneak Attack
x3 Snowbourn Scout
x2 Steward of Gondor

LORE (12)
x2 Erebor Hammersmith
x2 Forest Snare
x1 Henamarth Riversong
x3 Lore of Imladris
x2 Miner of the Iron Hills
x2 Gleowine

SPIRIT (13)
x2 Northern Tracker
x1 Unexpected Courage
x3 Stand and Fight
x2 A Test of Will
x1 Dwarven Tomb
x2 Hasty Stroke
x2 The Galadrahim's Greeting

TACTICS (1)
x1 Beorn

NEUTRAL (3)
x3 Gandalf


* Yes, this is a 42-card deck. Why? Because IMHO these are the only cards in the core set worth including in the deck. Just about everything else in the box (not including Tactics cards) is of situational use at best, and will just dilute the deck. if you're going with the constraint of a single Core set, you really shouldn't be handicapping yourself by forcing a 50-card deck. If you really want a 50-card minimum, get another Core set and add extra copies of Sneak Attack, Steward of Gondor, Northern Tracker, A Test of Will, Unexpected Courage, Henamarth and The Galadrahim's Greeting, or start adding cards from expansion packs as you get them.

* Against some of the Mirkwood quests, one of my favorite tricks with this deck is using Stand and Fight to bring a Snowbourn Scout into play during the encounter phase... AFTER cards have been revealed from the encounter deck, but before you resolve the quest. For example, suppose a Brown Lands comes off the encounter deck... That's 5 threat you're facing, and could cause you to quest unsuccessfully. But if you bring a Scout into play you can immediately explore it (without having to wait for the travel phase) and not have that 5 threat count against you.

* Even after all the expansions, Sneak Attack/Gandalf is probably still the best combo in the game, giving you a big ally to quest, defend or attack and also letting you deal an extra 4 damage, reduce your threat or draw cards, all for just one measly leadership resource. Try to save the combo for when you really need it, like when you're facing down a big enemy or need a lot of willpower to blast through a difficult stage of a quest.

* Keep in mind that, due to one of the most nonsensical rulings in the history of card games, Stand and Fight does NOT work with Gandalf, since he does not belong to "any" sphere. (Seriously... that "hero can be any sphere" is supposed to be clarification text, not a rules override.) However, you can use S&F to bring Beorn into play, and that's why Beorn's in the deck. Alternatively, you can Sneak Attack Beorn in for an 8-strength attack, though generally Sneak is best saved for Gandalf. Note that you can pitch Beorn to Eowyn's special ability to get him into your discard pile.

* Speaking of Eowyn's ability, a nice little card-conserving combo is to pitch an attachment to her ability if you've got Erebor Hammersmith in hand. Then next turn you can play the Hammersmith and get that attachment back.

* Henamarth is the MVP of this deck when playing pure solo. But resist the temptation to exhaust him the moment he comes into play. Instead, wait until after the combat phase. Then you can get a sneak peek at next turn's encounter card without risking any ill effects. If you exhaust Henamarth at the start of the turn, the encounter card could be something that damages exhausted characters and then Henamarth would be toast. On rare occasions, I've used Henamarth to peek at the top card before dealing a shadow card, to know if I can take an attack undefended or not. But usually I save him for the end of the turn (before the refresh phase) so I can have perfect information (barring a surge or guarded card) for the next encounter phase.

* Steward of Gondor will usually go on Eowyn, since the more expensive cards in this deck are the Spirit ones. However, I have played it on Theodred if I have Faramir and several other leadership cards in my opening hand. In that case, you need to be sure to always quest with Theodred and Eowyn and give the resource to Eowyn so she can build up her pool.

* In most quests, on the first turn you'll quest with Theodred and Eowyn (giving the resource to Eowyn unless you have Steward of Gondor in hand), leaving Beravor back to defend or attack if need be. Then if you don't need Beravor for combat, you can (and should) exhaust her to draw two cards.

* Unexpected Courage goes on Beravor, always. With the errata you can only use her ability to draw cards once per turn, but that's fine. The Unexpected Courage allows you to also use her to quest (useful if you need her to grab an extra resource from Theodred) or in combat.

* Tempting as it might be to get that Northern Tracker into play ASAP, be wary of spending all your spirit resources if you have A Test of Will in hand. Usually it's better to wait an extra turn to accumulate resources so that if a nasty treachery comes up you're not left with an unplayable Test of Will.

* Don't play Hasty Stroke on any old shadow effect. Taking an extra damage on a defender or having to raise your threat isn't necessarily a big deal; save Hasty Stroke for when you really need it.

* Speaking of which, Hasty Stroke / Lore of Imladris can be a very useful combo. For example, let's say it's the first turn of Passage Through Mirkwood and you have no allies in play, but really want to take care of that Forest Spider ASAP. You can quest with Eowyn, ready her by traveling to Old Forest Road and have all your heroes at the ready, Engage the Spider and take its attack undefended. Since you have Hasty Stroke in hand, you can afford to do this -- if a shadow effect that would give the spider a bonus to its attack comes up, you can just cancel it. Drop the 3 damage on Beravor and then attack with all three heroes to kill the Spider. Actually, against many quests you don't even need to have the Lore of Imladris in hand to do this. The reason you put the damage on Beravor and not Theodred is because you're usually going to want to quest with Theo, making him susceptible to damage from Necromancer's Reach. Beravor, on the other hand, will usually stay back to attack or draw cards, so she's effectively immune to that treachery. Later quests can deal damage to characters whether they're exhausted or not, but nothing in the base set. Knowing the encounter deck is key.

* In most cases you'll want to use Dwarven Tomb to get back A Test of Will or The Galadrahim's Greeting. With Test of Will, make sure you do this BEFORE you reveal encounter cards, since one you reveal a card you cannot play Dwarven Tomb to get A Test of Will back before the When Revealed effect resolves. (Dwarven Tomb is an action, not a response, so you have to do it ahead of time.) By contrast, you can usually afford to wait until the engagement phase to play the Dwarven Tomb/Galadrahim's Greeting combo to lower your threat by six.

* And speaking of Galadrahim's Greeting... Watch our for Treachery cards which nail you when you're up to 35 threat. In those cases, you'll want to play the Greeting before revealing cards since, once again, Greeting is an action, not a response. Most other times you can just save the Greeting for when you actually need the threat reduction, but also be aware of encounter sets that have effects that make you discard event cards. (In those cases, just play the Greeting as soon as you have the resources, unless you have A Test of Will to protect your hand.)

* Miner of the Iron Hills is your first and best defense against nasty conditions like Caught in a Web. When playing a quest that has conditions, try to hold on to your Miners until if and when these condition cards appear. Again, knowing the encounter deck is key; for example, there are no condition attachments in Journey Down the Anduin, so against that quest you might as well play the Miner as soon as you have the available resources. Also note that if need be a card like Caught in a Web can be canceled by A Test of Will, though only as it's revealed from the encounter deck.

* Since I've mentioned just about every card, I'll fill it out with a couple quick call-outs:

* For Gondor! is there for when you need that one big attack, against the likes of Chieftain Ufthak, Hill Troll or Spawn of Ungoliant.

* Faramir is awesome for questing; always keep him ready during the questing phase and only exhaust him for his ability AFTER revealing cards from the encounter deck, if you actually need the added willpower. Otherwise, he makes a very good defender if need be.

* Guard of the Citadel is a nice cheap, all-purpose ally. He can quest, attack, and take it on the chin as a chump defender if need be. There are better allies in future expansions, but if you're limited to the Core set, he's your best option for cheap utility.

* Forest Snare's use is obvious, though remember you have to take at least one attack from the enemy first, since the Snare can only be played during your planning phase. Chump blocking the Hill Troll with a Snowbourn Scout and taking a 4-threat increase isn't so bad as long as you have the resources to play the Snare on the following turn.
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Jeff Hannes
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BONUS: UPGRADES

Just out of curiosity, I went through all the expansion packs to see what player cards, if any, I might (emphasis on might) add to this particular deck if I wanted to try improving it. This isn't meant to be a list of what I consider the best cards in the expansions, just the ones that make sense for this particular deck. Anyhoo, I found it interesting because there really aren't all that many cards I'd necessarily be desperate to put in.

Hunt for Gollum: ---
Rhosgobel: Haldir of Lorien
Conflict at the Carrock: A Burning Brand, Eomund
Hills of Emyn Muil: Gildor Inglorien, The Riddermark's Finest
The Dead Marshes: Dunedain Watcher, Elfhelm
Return to Mirkwood: Shadow of the Past

Khazad Dum: ---
Road to Rivendell: ---
The Redhorn Gate: Bofur
The Watcher in the Water: Arwen Undomiel
The Long Dark: Erestor, Warden of Healing
Foundations of Stone: Daeron's Runes
Shadow and Flame: ---

Heirs of Numenor: Damrod, Envoy of Pelargir, Errand-rider, Ranger Spikes
The Steward's Fear: Ethir Swordsman
Druadan Forest: ---
Encounter at Amon Din: ---
Assault on Osgiliath: Ranger Bow
Blood of Gondor: Anborn
Morgul Value: Ered Nimrais Prospector

On the Doorstep: ---
Over Hill and Under Hill: A Very Good Tale
Black Riders: Elf-stone

Daeron's Runes is a no-brainer because it gives you card draw and effectively makes your deck smaller. I love me some Envoy of Pelargir so would certainly make room for those, and would definitely replace the Snowbourn Scouts with Erran-riders (defnitely need to keep some 1-cost allies for early defense). I might sprinkle in some of the uniques, a single copy each of Gildor, Eomund, Elfhelm, Damrod and Arwen, and I'd almost certainly replace the Lores of Imladris with Wardens of Healing.

Elf-stone's another strong one and I might tinker with adding some other stuff to the mix, but overall this is already a VERY solid deck, even without any expansion support. Oh, and of course if you add a second core set there are alot of ways to improve the deck. Though it almost gets to be TOO many options at that point! Well, welcome to the wonderful world of deck-building... always tons of choices if you're playing with a full card pool.
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poof daddy

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Great post I only have 1 deluxe and 1 AP and I still mainly play passage through mirkwood. I also love people doing the deck building for me so I can start on my quest as soon as possible.

wow 2/5 on return to mirkwood thats the only AP I own apart from over hill under hill gotta give that a try.
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Jeff Hannes
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vjgpoof wrote:
wow 2/5 on return to mirkwood thats the only AP I own apart from over hill under hill gotta give that a try.


Pretty sure all three losses came because an Attercop showed up on the first or second turn and, well, there's not much you can do about that.

But it's still a VERY hard quest... You basically have to race through it as fast as possible (quest with Beravor on turn 1, always pitch cards to Eowyn) but you also need to time when you finish Stage 2 so that you can race through Stage 3 in one turn (or else you could get screwed by not being able to play any cards).

It's a race against the clock since you're taking 4 threat per turn... In both wins I was able to lower my threat at least once (both times with Gandalf) and that was key. You probably won't have time to kill any enemies that engage you; just throw chump blockers in front of them (or take some undefended damage on Gollum) and hope for the best.

So while the deck can certainly do it, play skill and experience is a factor too. That, and well, sometimes you need a little luck too.
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Tom Howard
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Fantastic post, Jeff. This is a great resource for new players or those apprehensive about deckbuilding.
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David Villa
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AWESOME!!! This post should be a must read for all new players of the game.

I bought this game twice and traded it away the first time because it was aparent that it was not an out-of-the-box play and would require a pretty significant understanding of deck building to get past the first quest. That was just too intimidating for me, so I got rid of it, But after watching play videos, the game has cast its spell on me and I love the variety of quests so I tried it again. But the discovery deck building is my Achilles heel.
I don't want to lose a quest 20 times before I figure out the right combo of cards through trial and error, so relying on experienced players to help me out has been a must for me to enjoy this game.

This post is where every new player should start and makes their single core set a fulffiling gameplay experience and showcases the game's potential without requiring a further investment in expansions.

In my oppinion, this post is an invaluable companion to the core set and something like this should have even been included in the game manual. Well done!
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To add to the accolades, an excellent post indeed, though it should come with a spoiler alert for new players. Many of these pieces of advice are a lot of fun to find out on your own.

xanalor wrote:

* Henamarth is the MVP of this deck when playing pure solo.


Indeed. I use Henamarth for solo play all the time and it makes the game a lot more enjoyable and tactical. An easy card to overlook, it seems, but very useful.
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Jeff Hannes
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honeyralmond wrote:
To add to the accolades, an excellent post indeed, though it should come with a spoiler alert for new players.


Good point. Spoiler alert added.
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Ok, so I decided to try to tackle the Dwarrowdelf cycle with this deck. Once again, I did not add ANY cards from sets outside a single Core set. The deck list remained as printed above. How did I do?

Into the Pit [1/1]
The Seventh Level [1/1]
Flight From Moria [2/2]
Road to Rivendell [1/1]
Redhorn Gate [1/1]
Watcher in the Water [1/1]
The Long Dark [1/1]
Foundations of Stone [2/2]
Shadow and Flame [1/1]

I smoked it. I beat every single quest, didn't fail once. Here's a semi-detailed breakdown on how the quests went...

Into the Pit and The Seventh Level were a breeze (Faramir helped my fly through the final quest stage even as enemies piled into the staging area), while Flight From Moria went surprisingly well both times. In the first game the staging area started to get a bit clogged with enemies with high engagement costs. I managed to stumble out thanks to Blocked By Shadow, which at that point I decided was worth risking the treachery draw. I safely made it through, was able to clear out some of the staging area with Gandalf, and then quested to victory. In the second Shadow & Flame game I drew Blocked By Shadow again, but this time I a. had things in hand and b. knew the top card was a treachery thanks to Henamarth. I was able to pick up the Abandoned Tools from Narrow Paths and then find may way to Escape from Darkness. By then I had Unexpected Courage on Beravor, so I was able to very quickly finish off the quest.

Road to Rivendell was quite easy... didn't draw a Sleeping Sentry, but if I had I had the means to cancel both the When Revealed and Shadow effects. Redhorn Gate took forever, but was also hardly a challenge. I actually took out Caradhras with a Northern Tracker, but decided (perhaps correctly, not sure) to put it back into play for Stage 3. Even so, by then I had Faramir to nullify the -1 to willpower (double-checked and as far as I can tell from the action window you can use his effect before committing to the quest), so it was once again an easy cruise to victory. Even without Faramir, Eowyn + Beravor + Protector of Lorien would have given me all the questing power I needed.

One fun little thing I did to deal with the Mountain Warg... I had Henamarth in play and did my usual sneak peek, but instead of waiting for the end of the turn, I used him during the engagement phase. I was below 30 threat, so if I revealed a card with a shadow effect I would engage the Mountain Warg; otherwise, I left it in the staging area (and still knew what encounter card was coming next turn).

I thought mustering the necessary attack power to deal with Watcher in the Water would cause me some problems but no, not really. I got Steward of Gondor on Eowyn early, which led to a Stand & Fight Beorn. It took awhile to deal with the tentacles (kept whacking my own people) but Lore of Imladris helped undo the damage. Eventually I was able to reveal and engage the Watcher, at which point I sprung Gandalf on it for an immediate 4 damage, engaged, and attacked for 12 to do the remaining 5 damage. Then, for good measure, I successfully solved the riddle and opened the Doors, and easily quested to victory.

The Long Dark? Psshh... Drawing as many cards as I did from Beravor, the couple Locate tests I wasn't able to outright cancel were easy enough to beat.

Foundations of Stone was surprisingly easy solo, even despite revealing a Stage 4 quest that made me discard my 10-card hand. I played that one twice because in that first game I accidentally shuffled the wrong encounter deck into play (didn't actually grab the Foundations encounter deck). That said, I still think I would have beaten it with ease, as I had Beravor to refill my hand and a ton of stuff in the staging area anyway. The second game I played it correctly, and the Nameless Things still weren't hard to deal with.

And finally... Shadow and Flame. Impossible right? Not quite... Thanks to a 2nd-turn Steward of Gondor (reasonably typical for this deck, between the mulligan and Beravor to ensure you've seen 10 cards by turn 2) I was able to play The Galadrahim's Greeting on turns 2, 3 and 4 (thanks to a Dwarven Tomb in there) and then Sneak Attack Gandalf on Turn 5. This enabled me to keep my threat at 0, avoiding attacks from Durin's Bane and letting me build up some allies. Counterspell came up pretty early, but I was able to deal with that at first with Henamarth (playing events when I knew the top card of the deck was not a treachery) and then get rid of it with a Miner of the Iron Hills. The Balrog managed to squash a couple of my allies as I finally quested enough to complete stages 1 and 2, but by then I'd built up a reasonable enough army. I lost Steward of Gondor at some point to a shadow effect, but was able to get it back with the Erebor Craftsman.

Finally, I reached stage 3. I played Gandalf for 4 damage on the Balrog, quested for 0, sucked up the 9 threat increase, let the Balrog knock out one of my wimpy allies, played For Gondor! and then attacked with Gandalf, Eowyn, Theodred, Beravor and a few allies for a total of 21, bringing the Balrog to 22/27 damage. During the refresh I exhausted Gandalf, Beravor (then readied with Unexpected Courage) and a Miner to try to push the Balrog into the pit. Alas... came up 1 short! But I was not to be deterred! The following turn I quested for 0 again (still low enough threat to ignore the enemies in the staging area), let the Balrog gobble up another ally, and attacked for 7 total attack, pushing the Balrog up to 23 damage. Once more I exhausted three characters... and succeeded with exactly enough!

So there you have it... Using only cards from a single core I've now completed every quest in the Shadows of Mirkwood and Dwarrodelf cycles. Obviously skill and experience are playing a large part in my success here, but still... makes you realize just how good and enduring many of the cards in the Core set are.
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Tom Howard
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That's freaking awesome.
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Patrick
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I've been following this thread since you posted it. After your results so far I'm very interested to see how/if it copes with HoN and AtS cycle. I only have one core set (and I know many folks do too) so it's nice to see someone running a deck (ONE DECK!, not two hands) using said material and doing so well.

Glad to see the tip on waiting to use Henamarth and other cards at the end of the round (I wouldn't have thought of that).
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I'm a novice player, and your post inspired me to play the game again (I got frustrated and overwhelmed with the card options when I played many months ago). I just finished the first core quest, and I won while having a fun time playing. I'm looking forward to trying this deck again against the second quest. Thank you for posting this deck and your comments about how you play the cards. I highly recommend other noobies that felt like me to give this deck a try.

Update: I'm still loving this deck. I used it against Journey Down the Anduin, and although I was taking a beating and almost restarted, I managed to mount a comeback and win. Then I won easily against The Hunt for Gollum. And today, I started off in bad shape when playing Conflict at the Carrock, but I wound up winning it as well. I added the suggested cards from THfG and CatC before each quest. I'm sure that I've made some mistakes while playing, but hopefully nothing that would have changed the outcome. After I finish the Mirkwood cycle, I'm going to replay everything with a tournament legal deck. Anyway, I just want to again thank the OP for his great posts and encourage frustrated noobies like me to give this deck a try.
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Michał Kamiński
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GREAT POST!

I've just went thru JAtA with the deck based on yours, with some minor changes (Celebrían's Stone, Daughter of the
Nimrodel). It went smooth and easy and I've beaten this scenario 2nd time, after many unsuccessful attempts!
I thought playing solo with heroes from 3 spheres would be hard due to lack of resources, but this not the case with this deck. There is plenty of resources, many allies in play, full hand of cards... This deck rocks, thanks for sharing!
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Leao Carvalho
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Just tested this myself and it is IMMENSELY helpful for a new player, like me

Thanks!
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Marcus Windrich
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Just built this deck and will give it a shot, thanks a bunch! I have been getting my butt kicked by Journey Along the Anduin after getting pretty good as Passage through Mirkwood.
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Marcus Windrich
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mewmartigan wrote:
Just built this deck and will give it a shot, thanks a bunch! I have been getting my butt kicked by Journey Along the Anduin after getting pretty good as Passage through Mirkwood.


Update: This deck is awesome, xanalor, you ROCK!!

I was able to breeze down the Anduin with this. Used my first Gandalf to lower my threat and got a bunch of allies in play. Was even able to sneak attack Beorn in there to deal with the second hill troll that showed up on the banks after I got off my boat!

One thing I did, getting up to a 50 card deck, was add Haldir and burning brand (i own the first 3 mirkwood packs). Another thing that seemed to help a lot was adding in two songs. Between the song and steward of Gondor, it helped me allocate resources better between spheres.

I may try passage through Mirkwood again with this deck and then Hunt for Gollum....I want a bit more experience before I try to Escape Dol Guldur, haha.

Thanks again for the great deck!
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xanalor wrote:
So I decided to go back to basics... take the "if I knew then what I know now" approach and build the best deck possible using only cards from a single Core set.


Nice to see someone else posting a deck like this (Here's mine from a while back). It's immensely useful for beginners who struggle building a decent deck, and often only have a single Core Set.

Bye
Thanee
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Michael Chalmers
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Me and my wife want to play 2-player, is there a post with ideas for creating 2 decks using just the Core Set of cards?

Maybe a Tactics/Leadership and Spirit/Lore deck?

Thanks!
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J B
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This is absolutly fantastic. Thank you so much. The update was very much appreciated as well, I was wondering which cards would fill it out withought watering it down.

-Brownmantle-
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Mark Campo
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ah ..cry i was defeated :-/ down the river 2nd quest.. lol!! defiantly best run for an age though didnt see any glad greeting things so go threat busted
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Bjoern
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Great deck design. The deck works great. I use 2 Core sets and it is fun to play.
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Mark Campo
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i've persevered with this deck getting the hand of it quite fun, easy mode too. but i still find monsters quite hard to kill. and soon stack up.. how are you killing things?

or is just lose and ally and quest quest quest...?

to be honnest o have been dabbling in heairs of num Ap packs. so maybe thats it..
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Matthias Beschorner
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I recently bought 2 core sets plus most of the adventure packs from the first 2 cycles and 2 of the big expansions (Khazad Dum and the Hobbit) from a buddy. Nevertheless, I decided to go slow with the first few games and built this deck for my first game today (Passage through Mirkwood).

It worked like a charm and was great fun, so thanks for this thread and the decklist! Gandalf in particular was super effective with his sniping ability against Ungoliant's Spawn. This game rocks, I can't wait to continue to the next scenario.

Edit: Results so far:

Passage through Mirkwood 2/3
Journey down the Anduin 2/2
Conflict at the Carrock 1/1
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Brent Brown
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Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues, and endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
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xanalor wrote:
The observations and deck construction are based on experience from hundreds of games played.


If I might be permitted to cross the streams...

You, sir, are my Yoda....
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Mr Dove
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Las Animas
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sador42 wrote:

Me and my wife want to play 2-player, is there a post with ideas for creating 2 decks using just the Core Set of cards?

Maybe a Tactics/Leadership and Spirit/Lore deck?

Thanks!


I'm putting in my vote for a husband and wife combo too.
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