Matt Duckworth
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As someone who has played this game for over a year pretty steadily, and owned every card released up to HoN, I had quite the falling out with LOTR LCG. When Heirs of Numenor came out, I focused all my attention on this boxed set, and it literally destroyed my enjoyment of one of my favorite games. After a month of creating thematic and fun decks and watching them all of them get brutally destroyed against HoN scenarios, I got so frustrated, that I found even the occasional victory I squeaked out was no fun… as building non-thematic uber decks that do nothing but manipulate card effects and getting lucky to not get the right encounter card combination to destroy me in the first few turns just isn’t my type of thing.

Just when I thought I was finished with this game I had invested over $200 in, I was lured back in by a shiny “On the Doorstep” sitting on the shelf of my local shop. I first picked it up out of curiosity, and was sorely tempted by the beautiful card art and what looked like very thematic enjoyable scenarios.. and I was back in, if for no other reason than to work through both saga sets. Boy am I glad I did.

So now to the review. I have finally come to the scenario I was dreading… Dungeons Deep and Caverns grim. I had heard nothing but negative reviews of this scenario.. it was too random, too swingy, no fun. So I through together some decks and gave it a try.

I am going to say this up front. This might be one of the BEST designed and MOST enjoyable scenarios ever created in this game!!!! I LOVE this scenario, and I am about to tell you why:

Let’s start with theme… for me always of chief importance in any Tolkien game. This scenario is positively dripping with it. I felt tension every draw of the encounter deck (and no, not the HoN type of tension“well, what uber 5 attack enemy or discard all your hand shadow effect am I going to get now?). Will I face a slew of goblins (nasty goblin runners!), are my dwarves ready? Can they still escape while fighting them off? Or is Bilbo going to get racked with riddles? Will there be one that he probably won’t be able to answer?

I felt connected to the books… as this scenario does an amazing job of capturing the feel of the dwarves trying to escape through a maze of goblin tunnels in hot pursuit while Bilbo desperately searches for answers to riddles under pressure of his life. I even like the subtle thematic qualities… lilke how your dwarves can choose to take on several riddle cards in the staging area and give Bilbo time to think (represented by building up baggins resources) in order to increase his chance of successfully answering the next riddle… as these resources are used for extra riddle card discard improving your chances of finding a match. And of course there is Bilbo being able to use the Ring to his advantage to increase his odds of correctly outwitting Gollum, at increased peril (aka threat)… resulting in a very thematic twist where the One Ring gives advantage but also tends to draw unwanted attention. Or another one of how the warg cards all have riddles. What this means is that the majority of the time that Bilbo is in Gollum’s cavern, they will be used as riddles (as they are some of the easiest). The cool thematic element here is how it plays out that the dwarves are primarily fighting goblins in their tunnels while Bilbo is answering riddles. Once they and Bilbo escape, suddenly they find themselves outside “In the fire”, and all those riddle cards become the “wild wolves of Rhovanion”. Subtle, but very nice thematic touch!

Now down to mechanics and strategy. FFG has taken the “Durin’s Door” mechanic from WiW and, IMHO, made it more interesting and sophisticated. I had more fun learning how to deck build and outplay this scenario than I have for any other in a long time. Of course this riddle mechanic is controversial, because many players think it is way too random. I will give this much, it is quite random, but not as much as you might think… as there are several interesting factors built into this scenario that can allow you to stack the deck in your favor (pun very much intended).

1. Quite literally, stacking the deck is the first rule. This scenario favors UNIFORM decks. One thing I missed in this game is the feel of type uniqueness… that idea incorporated into games like M:TG and AGOT:LCG where you have several distinct flavors that can achieve the same victory using different strengths. LOTR:LCG was quickly devolving into a game where almost every deck was tri-sphere, and tended to use the same uber cards from each sphere. It was really causing deckbuilding to become stale for me, and this scenario turned it upside down (and did it without killing the willpower attribute and making all enemies have higher stats – sorry, more HoN rage bubbling up.)

To give Bilbo the odds to correctly answer Gollum’s riddles, you first need to make 1 sphere very dominant (if not mono). I used a spirit heavy/tactics light dwarf deck that has been working out well. For once the tri-sphere Dain uber dwarf deck wasn’t the auto ticket to success! I didn’t use Dain or Thorin, instead favoring the low threat dwarves (keeping your threat low is key in this scenario).

The next thing I did was tried to use only cards with a cost of 1,2, or 3 as much as possible, with no cost 4 or greater cards besides Gandalf. I then tried to remember the numerical order of precedence (i.e. 3 being the most, followed by 2, with 1 a distant 3rd). This increases your success chances on cost guess riddles. I assume you can look through your discard deck during play and count how many 1s, 2s, and 3s have been used and get a decent approximation of your odds of drawing any. You’d be surprised how good, thematic, and fun decks you can make limiting to 1,2, and 3 cost cards!

And finally, I made sure that greater than half of the cards in the deck were allies. This ensured that any riddle that would ask me to guess type, I can assume every discard has roughly 1 in 2 chance of being ally… meaning in a draw of 1-3 discards, your odds of successful answer are very good!

These “constraints” on deckbuilding allowed me to use re-discover cards and combos I have never had room for in the past, and this in itself was quite the blessing in disguise!

2. This scenario just screams spirit/tactics. You need a surprising amount of questing power, and just the right amount of combat power to slog through. Threat reduction is key, and Nori (especially with spirit Bofur) is the man (er I mean dwarf)! The reason is not so much to avoid engagement or effects, but to allow Bilbo to liberally use his ring to give him the edge in correctly answering riddles. Ring threat stacks up fast, and you need to mitigate it. To this end I made sure to use low threat heroes and Nori’s dwarf/threat reduction mechanic.

3. The best part of this scenario is how it transformed the encounter card reveal into an interesting decision (rather than just the usual kick in the family stones.) Beating this scenario carefully requires taking “The Gambler’s advice”… you got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. Many of the encounter cards give you the option (did I mention I love options?) to either face them as a threat to the heroes or as a riddle to Bilbo. This is something that requires you to carefully weigh many factors.. are the dwarves getting beat hard, does Bilbo need a break to “think” (gain resources), given the cards in play, discard, and hand; and Bilbo’s resources, can Bilbo have a decent chance of “solving” this particular riddle? These are all interesting decisions, 1 part tactical and 1 part gambling. I have experienced the thrill of a desperate chance paying off, and have also blown all of Bilbo’s mental focus (resources) to fail to answer the riddle. This turned in to quite the addictive and fun little meta-game, and has me coming back to this scenario just because of it… and felt tense, exciting, and exhilarating at times… as well as very appropriate given the theme.

4. I really discovered cards I previously had not found room for in past decks. Will of the West is usually a good card, it is a GREAT, even essential card in this scenario… as without it you very well may discard your entire deck. Stand and Fight, a card I always liked but never found room for, is AWESOME in this quest. With the riddle mechanic rapidly transforming your draw deck into your discard pile, this card turns your discard pile into your hand in regards to allies! Several turns in, you can have your pick of discarded allies.

5. For resource generation, I finally found a deck that can use a nerfed Ziggy (Zigil miner). Zigil miner and Imladris Stargazer are both 2 cost, Spirit allies (great for riddle mechanic) and work really great together… and might be the most fun method to date of generating resources! Far more fun than the Steward of Gondor attachment, the one card I actually wish they’d errata in a FAQ.

All in all, I found this scenario to be very elegantly balanced once you have built the right deck for it. This makes for some exciting victories and defeats. Example: My last game, I had a good line up that was destroying every goblin that showed up, and Bilbo had answered enough riddles (9) to move to stage III. I am one turn away from the “main group” questing to stage III (both are required to move on) when what do I draw? “It likes Riddles”… which forces me to answer the riddle (unneeded might I add). I successfully answer this and, following the card’s text, I discard the encounter deck until I find another riddle. What riddle comes up? The horrid Great Grey Warg… toughest riddle (and enemy) in the scenario. I feverishly analyzed my discard pile, made the best sphere/type/cost guess I could, and then proceeded to spend 5 resources and the ring just to fail to answer and watch Bilbo take his 3rd and final damage. Out of over 200 plays of LOTR LCG, this may have been the most intense, exciting, and fun loss to date. Well played encounter deck, well played! I for once felt like the encounter deck actually deserved to win! If only I’d have chosen 2 cost rather than 3 cost spirit ally!

This is the best scenario of the first Hobbit saga, and might actually be one of my top 3 scenarios (and I have played them all except Cair Andros, which I was too frustrated to try). Seriously, don’t listen to the negative publicity this scenario gets. Have fun building a unique winning deck that doesn’t have Dain Ironfoot or 3 spheres. Enjoy doing statistical analysis of your hand/discard while answering riddles. Savor the enjoyment of answering riddles through beads of sweat as your dwarves desperately try to escape the dark winding goblin tunnels. Revel in the final climactic goblin/warg battle in stage III (which I have lost before!).

Every quest in this first saga series has gotten progressively better, if this holds true for “On the Doorstep”, than I am successfully lured back to LOTR:LCG.
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pete truss
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Have you played it using the suggested thematic decks that are on the back of the rules sheet?
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Tony Fanchi
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Nice work on the review. You bring up a lot of positive aspects about the quest, but to me the negatives still outweigh the positives on this one.

My biggest gripe about this quest is that, other than the construction of your deck, there is not much you can do to increase your odds of succeeding on the riddles. Peeking at the top of your deck is removed by the fact that you have to shuffle before each attempt. You can't accelerate resource collection for Bilbo other than through his magic ring. In Watcher in the Water, you can increase your chances of success on Durin's Door through card draw abilities. In this quest, it feels like once you've begun the game, there's very little you can do to mitigate the luck of the riddles. I personally would have been highly annoyed by losing a game the way you describe. It sounds like you had the quest well in hand, even to the point of having lots of Baggins resources, only for an extreme bout of bad luck to cause you to lose the quest.

On top of that, I prefer to make minor tweaks to my existing decks when facing a new scenario rather than build entirely new decks for each quest, while this quest almost requires a specialized deck to play. This more than the other points is a personal preference thing, so others like yourself might not have any problem with this.

Not everyone enjoys the same type of quests, and so not everyone will like every quest. This one is simply not my cup of tea, but I appreciate your sharing your feelings on it and hopefully your review will encourage some people who have shied away from it to try it, or maybe even some who've played it to approach it with a different frame of mind. Heck, I'm tempted to try it again with a deck designed specifically for this quest to see if it's more enjoyable that way.

One question for you: have you been able to win all three of the quests in this box with the deck you're using for DD&CG?

mjd83 wrote:
Threat reduction is key, and Nori (especially with spirit Bofur) is the man (er I mean dwarf)!

The errata to Nori means that this combo no longer works. Nori only triggers his effect when you play a Dwarf ally from hand through normal means, while Bofur's text allows him to be "put into play" (which differs from "play").
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Steffen Onkes
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Thank you very much for this review Matt. This scenario is getting most of the time only negative comments and I'm very glad to see that I'm not the only one who really enjoys the riddle mechanic. Good to see you back on track.
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David Dawson
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Thanks for the report. I just have the base set and one of the Mirkwood cycle, so I was wondering where to expand next. I was already attracted to the saga sets since they seemed like the best value (number of heroes, player cards and scenarios). I just might get this one next!
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Matt Duckworth
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Tony... it's funny how one's trash is another's treasure. When I first read the riddle mechanic, I was terrified FFG would get sloppy and forget to include a mandatory deck shuffle... at which point it would just be a matter of getting Imladris Stargazer out and winning every single riddle with no chance of failure. Thankfully, they were thorough for once.

I would argue that you DO have some control over your Baggin's resources... you can determine when it's feasible to use the ring for starters.. which can be every turn or never depending on your threat and need; and also many riddle cards allow you to face them as encounter cards instead... meaning if Bilbo is low on resources and get's a tough riddle, he gets a pass option. It is the management of this meta-game that makes it so fun... if you COULD manipulate the cards, creating a deck for it would have been far less interesting and the gameplay would be more predictable and less exciting.

And no, I havn't tried this deck against the other two... the other two decks would def fail against this scenario.

I use to build for one deck to rule em all back in Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf... but gave up on that idea when FFG started making new scenarios so difficult that only the most elite of players with the entire card set, multiple core sets, and tons of time to build decks can consistently win. God forbid any new player exploring this game tries to do any of these latest sets with only a core set!

Also, are you sure about Nori and spirit Bofur? I even checked the FAQ and rulebook prior to playing this combo, and it seems to me legit since Bofur is still being "played from your hand", which seems to be the key.
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Matt Duckworth
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dawson_osu wrote:
Thanks for the report. I just have the base set and one of the Mirkwood cycle, so I was wondering where to expand next. I was already attracted to the saga sets since they seemed like the best value (number of heroes, player cards and scenarios). I just might get this one next!


David,

These saga sets are very good, but quite difficult. Unless you don't mind getting beat down and frustrated from lots of losses, I would actually recommend getting a few dwarrowdelf and Mirkwood packs first. These scenarios might be doable with just a core + saga, but would be very difficult and nigh on impossible for a newer, less experienced player.

This game has gotten quite difficult (too much so IMHO) with the last few releases.

But, don't let me dissuade you. They are extremely fun and well crafted thematically. Like I said, the new saga release brought me back to the game Heirs of Numenor drove me away from.
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Matt Duckworth
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PeteTruss14 wrote:
Have you played it using the suggested thematic decks that are on the back of the rules sheet?


No, I must say I have not tried that. However, my decks were thematic in the sense that they made sense chronologically and every ally's presence can be explained (well, West Road Traveler might be a bit of stretch).

But in general, I never play decks that are purely card power with no strong theme... this to me is no fun and defeats the purpose of the game.
 
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Oleg volobujev
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I like this quest from the begin. Different to other scenarios and very good represent this part of the book. Here is my video where i play this quest:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvBrYFXLKQU
 
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glen.
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I agree! My fiance and I tried this one out for the first time last weekend. We lost about 5 or 6 times, but kept at it and eventually won. Difficult? Heck yes. Fun? HECK YES. Way worth it. When you finally make it past Gollum, we felt so accomplished.

We finished Spiders and Flies today and I have to say, these Hobbit expansions have been nothing short of fantastic.
 
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Matt Elias
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I agree with you, I like this scenario and the riddle game has never seemed too hard to me, if you've built your deck right.

I actually like the Burgle mechanic more however. It feels a little more predictable but really punishing on card draw!
 
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Tony Fanchi
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mjd83 wrote:
Also, are you sure about Nori and spirit Bofur? I even checked the FAQ and rulebook prior to playing this combo, and it seems to me legit since Bofur is still being "played from your hand", which seems to be the key.


Bofur says (emphasis added):

Quote:
Quest Action: Spend 1 [Spirit] resource to put Bofur into play from your hand, exhausted and committed to a quest. If you quest successfully this phase and Bofur is still in play, return him to your hand.


Nori's updated text reads:

Quote:
Response: After you play a Dwarf character from your hand, reduce your threat by 1.


The relevant FAQ entry for this combo is this (my emphasis):

Quote:
(1.16) The phrase “put into play”
If a card effect uses the phrase “put into play,” it means
that the card enters play through a card effect instead
of through the normal process of paying resources and
playing the card from hand. “Put into play” effects
are not considered to be playing the card, and will not
trigger any effects that refer to a card being played
.
“Put into play” will, however, trigger any effects that
occur when a card “enters play”.


So unfortunately the combo no longer works, but I think it's for the best as Nori was borderline overpowered before the change.
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Matt Duckworth
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Tony, thanks for the write up.

I would tend to agree that Nori was overpowered.. especially with the current dwarf friendly card pool and their ability to come in fast and often.

I actually spend a lot of time evaluating the rules with this combo prior to using it, as Bofur + Nori did seem to good to be true.

I will say that thanks to your post and emphasis, I will tend to lean more towards your interpretation, as "put into play from your hand" does appear to be different from "play from your hand" (which if you ask me is absolutely ridiculous wording and extremely confusing)... as they both result in a card "being played" from your hand, which seems to meet Nori's requirement. It is a shame that you need an FFG rules attorney to play this game according to the rules.

What is still niggling at me though is that you have this card, you are still paying a resource (standard for "play" vs. "put into play")to physically play it from your hand... the only really unique card effect is reduction in price and playing out of phase. So in a sense, you are paying a resource to play Bofur from your hand... the card effect is allowing you to play him in a non-standard phase.

I will err on the side of conservatism and quit using this combo. At the rate we are going, the FAQ will soon be larger and have more content than the rulebook.
 
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Matt Duckworth
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Thanks for the responses. It is good to see that I wasn't alone in loving this scenario rather than hating it. FFG seems to continue to get better at scenario design, balance, and ingenuity. If only they followed suit on the wording of their cards.

I am definitely optimistic about the 2nd saga set, once I can get myself to quit playing "Dungeons deep and caverns grim".

Hopefully the fun level of these saga sets equals or is greater than the anti-fun level of Heirs of Numenor.
 
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Tony Fanchi
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It may help to think about Bofur's ability as being like a built-in Sneak Attack that only works during quests. The resource you're paying is to trigger the ability. It's not actually playing Bofur at a reduced cost. The only time you are "playing" a card is when you pay the actual cost of the card in the upper left corner. Otherwise, the cards is being "put into play".

I agree the language difference is very subtle and can be confusing, but I think it was done to maintain consistency with the other FFG card games, which is (mostly) a good thing IMO. (The downside to this is when the designers intend for a rule like the play vs put into play distinction to be the same in one game as it is in another, but they don't spell it out explicitly. The LOTR rulebook makes no mention of this distinction.)

And I think an expanding FAQ is inevitable with a game that grows as quickly as an LCG does. If you consider all the rules supplements included with each expansion as part of the rule book, the FAQ is still much shorter.
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David Dawson
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mjd83 wrote:
dawson_osu wrote:
Thanks for the report. I just have the base set and one of the Mirkwood cycle, so I was wondering where to expand next. I was already attracted to the saga sets since they seemed like the best value (number of heroes, player cards and scenarios). I just might get this one next!


David,

These saga sets are very good, but quite difficult. Unless you don't mind getting beat down and frustrated from lots of losses, I would actually recommend getting a few dwarrowdelf and Mirkwood packs first. These scenarios might be doable with just a core + saga, but would be very difficult and nigh on impossible for a newer, less experienced player.

This game has gotten quite difficult (too much so IMHO) with the last few releases.

But, don't let me dissuade you. They are extremely fun and well crafted thematically. Like I said, the new saga release brought me back to the game Heirs of Numenor drove me away from.


Thanks for the heads up. I'm also planning to get another Mirkwood pack or two, and I'm hoping that and possibly these saga expansions keep me occupied with deckbuilding for the time I'm going to play it.
 
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Is there *any* way that you could craft 2 decks to take down this scenario with just the core set and hobbit expansions? I don't know how easy to acquire the Mirkwood packs are now.
 
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Brian Hurrel
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I beat this solo (finally) with a mixed tactics and leadership deck. Thalin, Beorn, and Thorin. What's Beorn doing under the Misty Mountains? I don't know, maybe he's a cave bear.
I took all the easier riddles since I only had 2 spheres and a lot of 1 and 0 cost cards, especially tactics. The harder ones I just let the dwarves take the hit.
Thalin's ability to deal 1 damage to each revealed enemy, coupled with the Gondor Spearman's ability to deal 1 point when declared a defender is a nice 1-2 punch, since many of the goblins have only 2 damage points.
Beorn is good for taking hits early before you get a decent number of allies (surges can send a swarm of orcs down on you) and can wreck some of the more powerful foes.
Even so, it was a very near thing with Bilbo. By the time I got into the trees I had enough allies to make big leaps in quests without much trouble.
I'm terrible at deck building--I'm more of a hex and counter player--but am slowly getting the hang of it and taking note of which cards are not useful for certain scenarios and which would be more helpful.
It helps that this is my new favorite thing (months after I shelved it in frustration when first trying it out). Impossible only seems incredibly difficult now.
 
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Matthew Leighty
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My wife and I play LoTR LCG as a casual "date" game. We have enjoyed every scenario until this one. It was a horrible grind that never ended. I hope there are no more of these lingering on the horizon or I might lose her on this game for good.

As to your remarks about it being thematic I could not disagree more. It's not about using your wits it's about stacking your deck to win, or worse, absolute luck of the draw. It might has well been pick a number between 1 and 10.
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