"Faithless is he that says 'farewell' when the road darkens." - Gimli, The Fellowship of the Ring
Finally. LotR:LCG fans needn't wait any longer for the highly-anticipated deluxe box set The Road Darkens. This is a saga expansion, so unlike the normal releases for the LotR:LCG these cards and encounters follow the storyline from The Lord of the Rings. Anticipation has been high for this set, and there was no small measure of disappointment as the release was delayed further and further. But any ill will on this gamer's part has been washed away now that I actually have the cards in my hands.
The Road Darkens picks up where The Black Riders set left off, and chronicles the departure of the Fellowship from Rivendell, the doom that awaited them in Moria, and the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen. The Black Riders set was widely hailed as a great release, with viable player cards and memorable quests. Can The Road Darkens live up to expectations? Let's find out!
Spoilers had been spilling out from this release for months, with perhaps the most tantalizing card being a new hero version of everyone's favorite grey-bearded Istari: Gandalf.
Having appeared in two different ally versions, Gandalf was finally given the hero card treatment, and LotR:LCG gamers immediately set about dissecting his unique stats and abilities. 14 starting threat! Player deck manipulation! Good artwork! Hero Gandalf has certainly generated a buzz among the player community.
However, I do not think that Hero Gandalf is going to break the game (as some players are predicting) and I actually think he's going to be somewhat of a detriment in multi-player quests. Core set Ally Gandalf remains one of the most powerful cards in the game, with abilities that have the power to turn the tide of a quest in an instant. By using Hero Gandalf the players will be deprived of very powerful ally cards.
That point is going to be obvious to most players. On a more subtle track, the player controlling Hero Gandalf is going to struggle with hero selection because of Gandalf's astronomical starting threat (as if we needed to make Spirit Glorfindel any more necessary than he already is). Playing with Hero Gandalf means building a deck around him, which is in turn going to present enormous difficulties because he can't use resources to pay for cards already in your hand (unless they're neutral cards).
Now, is Hero Gandalf a strong hero with lots of utility? Yes...once you've played these cards to benefit him:
(apologies for the low-res photo) "Action: Exhaust Wizard Pipe to exchange a card in your hand with the top card of your deck."
He's a hero that requires a hefty investment to really get him going, which isn't necessarily a new experience, but I would hope that a card with 14 starting threat could do a little more right out of the gate. All in all I think that Hero Gandalf is a great thematic card with a lot of potential, but is going to present some real challenges in multi-player games. My immediate instincts and experiences have him pairing very well with Elrond and Vilya, which necessitates taking Spirit Glorfindel as the third hero. It's a powerful combination, but takes time to build momentum.
I'm looking forward to seeing what other players are able to build with him, and will be ready and waiting to eat my words.
Before we move on to a few of the other notable player cards, I'd like to mention one gripe with Fantasy Flight - only one (non-fellowship) hero in this set? What gives?
The Black Riders and the two Hobbit saga expansions each had four heroes (not counting the campaign versions of Bilbo and Frodo). Granted, the hero released this time around was Gandalf, but it's still disappointing that we really only received one new hero in a deluxe expansion. I hope that this isn't a trend.
There are a few excellent allies that we received in this set, with some pretty epic names making an appearance.
The first card that jumped out at me was Galadriel. She's being released here in ally form despite the fact that she'll soon be released in hero form. Odd timing aside, she's an excellent ally with a ton of utility. She is a little on the pricey side, but makes for a great turn-two drop (when you'll have the resources to pay for her and also have some supporting equipment to benefit from her exiting play).
Players are also gifted with an ally version of Boromir, who I think makes an excellent addition to decks that are geared toward tactics. He's expensive, but has some terrific abilities. Getting the most out of him may be tough, because tactics decks tend to start with high starting threat, but once in play he's going to make a fantastic ally. Steven's Note: Pairing him with Merry and the Hobbitses not only makes him super thematic (defending the Hobbits at his last!) but also makes sure his ability will trigger often.
Now we get to probably my favorite card in this expansion: ally Elrond. He is awesome! He costs 3 resources and leaves play at the end of the round, but the Lore sphere has multiple means of bringing him in for two resources, at which point he becomes an absolute steal! We finally have another means of discarding conditions (take that, Nightmare PtM), he can heal all damage on a hero, or - and this is the big one - each player draws one card! Again, this ally can easily drop for 2 resources, and provides some awesome abilities and great stats.
We covered the important attachments that came in this set back in our Hero Gandalf section, so I think we'll cut off Part 1 of the review here. Great stuff so far. Make no mistake: whether I like these cards or not, players will be seeing these cards on the table. I'm far more excited for the allies than for the hero, but I have no doubt that I'll be seeing a ton of hero Gandalf.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
***As usual, card images courtesy of the always-useful Hall of Beorn Card Search