Having traveled the lengths of the The Wilds of Rhovannion, my Path Less Traveled has set The King’s Quest before me. Unlike the first two quests of the box, this one doesn’t have a spiritual successor from the Core Set—it sets out in its own direction entirely, taking us to a place in Middle Earth we have not seen before in the game!
Let’s find out if it’s possible to complete this quest armed with only Wilds and a Core Set. Once I’ve done that, I’ll share my thoughts on the Wilds of Rhovannion as a whole. Onward, to victory or death!
What we’re up against
As always, I’m going to do my best to avoid story spoilers. If you’re the sort of person who also wants to avoid spoiling the quest mechanics, you can skip over the collapsed sections of this post.
Looking in all the wrong places
The King’s Quest introduces the Deep keyword, found on several of the Locations in the quest. Whenever you travel to one of these Locations, you discard it from play and replace it with the top Location from the set-aside Caves deck instead. This simulates combing the mountains as you search for evil creatures—you’re never certain what any given cave contains until you’re already deep inside it.
What makes this mechanic interesting is that, for the most part, Deep Locations do something bad to you as long as they’re in the Staging Area, while Locations from the Caves deck have a (usually bad, but occasionally useful) Forced effect that triggers while they’re the Active Location. You have incomplete information while traveling, and you have to weigh the advantages of getting a Location out of the Staging Area against the unknowns of the Caves deck.
The first Quest Stage is all about these Deep Locations—you can only advance after exploring 3 Locations from the Caves deck. Furthermore, at the start of each Quest phase you have to discard from the top of the encounter deck until you find a Location and either put it into play or raise your threat by its threat. This ensures you won’t get stuck waiting around for the encounter deck to feed you Deep Locations—but it also makes Location lock a very real threat in the early game.
Once you’ve cleared the first Stage, you locate the boss Enemy that you’ve been searching for—but you’re not allowed to kill them yet! They’re added to the Staging Area and get a free attack against each player every time you explore the Active Location—which is unfortunate, since in order to clear the second Stage you have a special Location that gets added to the bottom of the Caves deck. The Quest card does throw you a bit of a bone, though, allowing you to remove 5 progress from the quest to look at the top couple of cards of the Caves deck, placing an unwanted Location on the bottom of the stack.
Once you reach Stage 3, you’re finally allowed to kill the Boss. They still get extra attacks every time you clear a Location, so it can sometimes be useful to leave Locations in the Staging Area instead of traveling to them. You can’t ignore the Quest phase altogether, though, because for every attacker that you declare against the Boss, you have to discard a progress from the main Quest! I absolutely love it when Quests are designed such that progress during the Questing Phase is relevant during the Combat Phase—it really keeps you on your toes, even when the focus is on facing a tough Enemy.
If you can kill the Boss, victory is yours! Head back to the King to collect your reward (and remove the quest marker from your journal).
You can see everything the quest has to offer over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building a deck
This quest is probably going to require a strong deck, so I don’t want to do anything too gimmicky. I could go back to the Dale deck I built for Journey Up the Anduin and I’m sure it would do well here, but I also want to at least try something a little different.
As with any good Dale deck, I’ll start with Bard son of Brand and Brand son of Bain as the backbone. Along with King of Dale, they let me include all of the Dale Allies and Item Attachments from The Wilds of Rhovannion without needing to worry about resource matches.
For Journey Up the Anduin I used Beravor as my third Hero, but this time I’m going to try using a Spirit Hero instead. With two Spirit Heroes in my lineup I should have no problem playing King of Dale as soon as I draw it—as early as turn 1 if I’m lucky enough to find it in my opening hand. Losing access to all of that card draw is a tough pill to swallow, but Éowyn should help to make up for the tempo hit by at least covering my bases during the Quest Phase during the early game.
The other advantage that Éowyn affords me is that I can include some of the more expensive Spirit cards. Between having two Spirit Heroes and the extra resources from Traffic from Dale I should have no problem affording The Galadhrim’s Greeting or Northern Tracker.
I’m still going to need some extra card draw to keep my engine going—in practice I haven’t found Brand’s innate ability to be nearly enough. Unfortunately, I don’t have many options in a Spirit / Leadership deck, but I can at least scrounge up a couple of copies of Valiant Sacrifice and Gandalf. He’s expensive, but worth it in the long run if his extra cards give me the kick-start I need to get the Dale engine going.
The finalized deck is still a veritable rainbow of cards, but with its greater focus on Spirit it definitely looks different from my first Dale deck. Let’s give it a spin and see how it plays!
Bard son of Brand (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
Brand son of Bain (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
Éowyn (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Long Lake Trader (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
3x North Realm Lookout (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
3x Redwater Sentry (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
3x Warrior of Dale (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Blade of Gondolin (Core Set)
3x Bow of Yew (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Hauberk of Mail (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
3x King of Dale (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
3x Map of Rhovanion (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Stand and Fight (Core Set)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)
2x Traffic from Dale (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
2x Valiant Sacrifice (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
For info on playing the deck, check out its RingsDB description.
The play’s the thing
Victory on: Normal mode
My first attempt was actually with a different (and much jankier) deck, but for my other three games I quickly switched to the deck listed above. This was a pretty tough quest—especially as a solo player—but the Dale archetype was definitely up to the challenge. It took a couple of tries, but once I was able to establish my footing I was able to hold my ground for the rest of the quest. It’s the hardest quest from the box, but it presents an interesting challenge and a good time!
Give me the details
My first loss was the result of Location lock. Between revealing Locations normally during the Quest Phase and the extra Locations from the Forced effect on the first Quest Stage, I just wasn’t able to keep up. My threat soared, I was no longer able to quest successfully, and I eventually threatted out. My second loss was similar, but with the added complication of a pair of Stone-trolls who took advantage of my soaring threat to engage me and pummel my Heroes into dust.
For my third game, I lucked into a slightly softer start, with my first reveal of the game being a small Enemy rather than yet another Location. In addition, I was able to use a Northern Tracker plus a Snowbourn Scout to clear something out of the Staging Area on a pivotal turn, giving me the breathing room I needed to make it past the first Stage and onto the second. That turned out to be the break I needed.
I stalled for a few rounds on Stage 2, using Snowbourn Scouts to chump block attacks from the Boss and then bringing them right back again using Stand and Fight. Once I had built up my board state, I allowed myself to advance to the final stage to fight the Boss. By that point, I had a strong enough questing presence that I didn’t always need to travel to Locations anymore, allowing me to avoid the extra attacks from the Boss. It took several rounds, but eventually my Warriors of Dale wore the Boss down, securing my victory.
It was a hard-won fight, but that just made it all the more satisfying once I finally completed it. This quest manages to make the decision of whether or not to travel to Locations pretty interesting—not many quests can say that!
The final verdict
That concludes my Path Less Traveled play through The Wilds of Rhovannion! So, is it a fun expansion when played with nothing other than a Core Set? Absolutely. Would I recommend it to new players who had other options?
I’m not quite sure
As much as I think Wilds is a great box, it does feel like it’s built more for veterans than beginners. There are several reasons for this.
The callbacks to Core Set quests are great nostalgia pieces for old grognards such as myself—but that would be lost on someone who just played the Core Set. I don’t think that new players would find these quests boring or repetitive—they add enough of their own flair to stay interesting—but it might not do as good a job as some other expansion at showing the thematic breadth that this game has to offer.
More importantly, though, there are a bunch of little gotchas to be found within these quests that require a deep and clear understanding of the rules. Veterans have by now mastered the nuances of the word “then”, the difference between “revealing” versus “adding” encounter cards, and understand the timing differences between Guarded and Guarded (X). These concepts are not necessarily intuitive, though, and several of these quests will play very differently if you don’t get these right. Some new players might appreciate the opportunity crisp up on these mechanics, but others might find them confusing, especially if they’re still trying to master other concepts at the same time.
Furthermore, the prototypical Dale deck—while clearly powerful and fun to play—isn’t something I’d hand to a beginner. It breaks the sphere matching rules in multiple ways that could easily make it hard to remember how the actual rules are supposed to work. Even I get confused sometimes and try to use Bard to pay for non-Item Attachments, or try to include off-sphere Events only to realize that I can’t play them. If my first attempt at deckbuilding were a Dale deck, I’m not sure I would come away with an understanding of sphere balance—or even how sphere matches are supposed to work.
So, what it boils down to is this
The Wilds of Rhovannion is really fun with just a Core Set, but requires a nuanced understanding of the rules. If you have a firm grasp on the rules, you’ll probably be fine. If you’re not sure you’re playing everything right yet, this box could feel frustrating or discouraging.
With The Wilds of Rhovannion behind me, I now find myself surveying the field, trying to choose a path to follow next. I expect my Collector’s Edition to arrive any moment now (…right UPS? …Right?) so I’ll probably write about that—and possibly something about the Digital Lord of the Rings Card Game as well.
From there, I think I’ll move on to The Withered Heath as my first Adventure Pack ever in the Path Less Traveled series, since it sounds like a fun challenge to try to keep up with the current meta.
Until next time!
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”
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