The original Return to Mirkwood quest was a fitting end to the first cycle of quests, a frantic dash to get the captured Gollum back to the Elven kings hall through Mirkwood forest. The quest probably rates as the best of the shadows of Mirkwood cycle; it has a good balance and a real sense of urgency. Nightmare mode thankfully keeps to this approach and appropriately ramps up difficulty in the process.
POD (print on demand)
Firstly this is a FFG print on demand expansion so the cards have a very slight different colour tone, this becomes evident when put aside a normal encounter card. Also the print on demand cards have a different feel to them, slightly rougher feel and cut. When cards are shuffled into the encounter deck the colour tone doesn’t appear to be noticeable and if cards have transparent sleeves then the “feel” of the cards is not an issue either.
Remove specified cards as per the back of the nightmare card as normal in nightmare mode. Gone are the easy locations such as Woodmans Glade and wood elf path, but also no more Wargs (definitely a plus). 2 changes are listed on the front of the card, significant ones too, they are as follows:
1) Player guarding Gollum must exhaust a hero at the start of the quest phase.
2) When stage 4a is revealed, search encounter deck and discard pile for a copy of attercop, attercop and add it to the staging area.
First change makes thematic sense as the players struggle to hold onto Gollum it takes a hero’s full attention to keep a hold of the slimy git. 2nd change just guarantees that you will see the big bad spider, well at least one copy as there are 3 in the encounter deck. To be honest I can’t remember playing this quest on normal mode and not encounter attercop at least once.
There appears to be 2 themes to this nightmare deck; recursion and exhaustion. The recursion centres around returning cards from the encounter discard pile to the staging area, the new location Web-wall has a when revealed effect that returns the topmost spider enemy to play, yikes! Likewise the treachery Wickedness and mischief does the same for the topmost tantrum card. The chances are you are going to encounter these cards at least once or twice so it pays to keep an eye on what’s in the discard pile, if it’s nasty then consider using a test of will. Then there is the location Deceptive path, which when you travel to it forces you to discard cards from the encounter deck until another location is revealed and made the active location. This of course could result in revealing the a for mentioned web-wall which could return you know who from the discard pile, a nasty combo.
The new enemies are not too hard to deal with, Ambushing Orcs’ special ability lets shadow cards that target the player guarding Gollum, target every player. The spider enemy web-spinner has a when revealed effect that forces you to exhaust a character (back to the exhaustion theme) or it gains surge. Lastly there is pursuing warg rider who cannot be optionally engaged but auto engages when Gollum changes player and makes an immediate attack, however he only has 4HP making him a prime target for sneak attack Gandalf combo.
2 treacheries complete the deck; Isolation and befouled equipment. Isolation causes characters to lose ranged and sentinel keywords, not so much of a problem as my deck that beat this quest had neither, so not a big deal. Befouled equipment on the other hand forces you to discard all attachments currently in play.
As for tips, I countered the forced effect of having to exhaust a character for the player guarding Gollum by including tactics Boromir on one side (I play 2 handed) and taking hobbits with fast hitch on the other. I also took Thalin as the Mirkwood Bats with 1HP remain in the nightmare deck and represent a bit of a free card from the encounter deck, plus stops them surging. Like the original threat reduction is recommended, threat will rise quickly, be mindful of effects like ambushing orcs’ which could raise all players threat if the right shadow card is drawn. Time is of the essence; push through as quickly as possible.
Very difficult, it is on a par with Emyn Muil but not as hard as Dol Guldur, with the right deck it’s doable.
Adds a greater level of difficulty without changing what made the original quest great, a solid addition to the range of nightmare decks.