The Long Dark is out and after enough plays it is time to review where this expansion pack has taken the game.
The theme and feel is rather similar to Flight From Moria although Flight's mechanics are much more game defining and potentially difficult. I really like how the encounter deck attacks you in an entirely new way. Your hand of cards is as good as gold on this quest and I liked that I was presented with strategic tradeoffs that really didn't show up in previous quests. We blew through this quest pretty easily in each of our attempts so far, so I haven't seen first hand the deck put together combos that screw you over. I see the possibilities when a couple cards with Lost abilities are in play, but as long as you have a test of will in reserve and a reserve of cards in your hand you are mostly fine with reasonable distribution of the PASS cards. I am also fond of the Goblin Sneak ability. Once again, it is an annoying as all hell ability as lining up enemies on the right board is often key, but they made him weak enough it isn't so bad.
But outside of the assault on your hand of cards, this quest is a rather straight forward quest as fast you possibly can kind of quest. The opening mechanics could present some difficult scenarios with an early draw of Twisting Passage and some inconvenient Lost cards. But beyond the 30 total progress tokens, there is nothing required by the game standing in your way, so crank out those questers and race for the finish line before the spiders suck out your cards! That said, the scenario suffers a bit with not much of an ending. Not only is there no boss like enemy or group of enemies, there isn't even a 3rd quest card. So at the end of the day, I kinda see this as a rather forgettable quest much like Emyn Muil.
Card draw - Beravor + UC shines on this quest as does anything else that gets you cards in hand. Plus Hama's ability synergizes with card draw well. Not that we really needed card draw to be any stronger . . .
A Test of Will - After taking a short vacation in Watcher where the card's cancellation effect was deftly avoided in many cases, it comes back strong to rule the day again. The Lost mechanic can be largely ignored if you are properly armed with A Test of Will (or possibly Eleanor). While nothing compared to Sleeping Sentry, Gathering Ground and Fatigue can be obscenely devastating with the right combos in play. The Cave Spider's effect by itself is often worth a cancellation particularly on such a card hungry quest. And Foul Air is nearly board clearing by itself.
Dwarves - Ring Mail and Ever My Heart Rises are good if not great cards in the right situation. But Erebor Battle Master is ridiculous. Dwarves were already strong when attacking particularly with Dain's synergy. Although I found there was often a reason to exhaust Dain on defense before my dwarves were able to use the boost. Well I am not really worried about that anymore. If you want damage in the old fashion sharp object in the face variety, there is no competition with a properly supported Erebor Battle Master. Citadel plated Gimli was probably the previous champion, but now Gimli is on the edge of the box only holding on because of that 3 questing he gets with Dain. If we get another Dwarven Tactics hero . . .
Feint - Wow. Hama rocks. Feint was always a stud card, with a rather significant weakness of its transitory effect. But now with proper card draw, feint can cheaply freeze an enemy in place over and over again.
Thicket of Spears - This card was on my "useless" list since there was almost no other motivation to have an all Tactics hero group. Now with Hama this card has a chance to shine. Infinitely scaling mass feinting has enough appeal to get me to put some songs of battle in a Hama deck to try to set this up. In 3 or 4 player this combo could be absurd with a player endlessly collecting enemies on their board. Just think about not even bothering trying to kill those tentacles from Watcher.
Hail of Stones - This has a weaker synergy with Hama since it doesn't implicitly set up something for Hama to attack like Feint and Thicket. But with some degree of board management, this can now be a source of endless direct damage which is pretty impressive. Add on to that the stupid Rock Adder who is a good match for some direct damage to avoid losing health on your characters.
Gandalf and Radagast - Commanding Word gives you yet another reason to want to include these guys. I think this is a tough synergy to get much value out of, but there is some potential to mitigate the need of a specific card. Unfortunately, unless you sneak attack you pretty much have to spend 6 resources to make this combo happen.
Direct Damage - Fresh Tracks is yet another way to hit those baddies before they can hit you.
Random good stuff in the encounter deck - Um. Sure I'll take a +1 Def. It isn't that exciting and it is kinda random. But it is sure as hell better than an enemy!
Tactics - I really like the tactics additions in this encounter set (see above). Ring Mail and Hama significantly improve the ability for the sphere to defend attacks. The top defensive heroes were covered in the other spheres (Frodo, Dain, and Denethor), at least until now. You could make the case that Hama trumps them all once a feint is drawn.
Quick Strike - Stupid Rock Adder. I want to kill you BEFORE you hurt me.
Northern Tracker - I'll hand it to the evil card makers, they came up with a very clever way to undermine Northern Trackers. Twisting Passage adds itself to Pathless Country as locations that trigger a forced response when progress tokens are added to them. Pathless Country is kind enough to simply cancel out the NT's effect, but Twisting Passage takes it a step further and triggers Lost effects. The good news is that the Northern Tracker ability is a Response and is hence optional, so you can simply not use his ability even if you do want to quest with him, but it does create a scenario where other locations in the staging area are effectively protected from NT while Twisting Passage is in play. Obnoxious as hell, but I love the clever card interplay especially since it heavily targets NT. Although, not as powerful cards like Blade of Gondolin, Legolas, Lorien Guide, and Ravenhill Scout all get dragged down as well. But thems the breaks.
Daughter of the Nimrodel/Self Preservation - It is clear I underestimated their willingness to castrate previous cards. This is a flat out whollup. Gondorian Healer provides the same amount of healing at 1 cheaper cost. AND it doesn't have the limitations on the characters it can interact with. AND, for what it is worth, the Gondorian Healer has 1 more defense. Sure, there are times where concentrated healing is of greater value (Gloin engines), but this is as close to a 1 for 1 replace as you will get as I tend to see more instances where spread out healing is preferred. Hopefully I am going to get my elven synergy I have been hoping for that will buff DotN back up to relevance, for now she will only make cameos in 3 cost Ziggy decks. The good news is I don't have to look far for a card to proxy my Gondorian Healer on top of . . .