As I play and replay the cardboard interpretation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I find the same reason that I return to the literature time and time again resonates within the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Like the One Ring, that hears its master's call, I too am called back to Fantasy Flight Games cardboard adaptation of the classic tale. This time, it was to explore a What-If scenario; what if Balin lived and attempted to retake Khazad-Dum?
In order to set-up this deluxe expansion of Khazad-Dum, and to set the stage for players new and old alike, I have to give some background. To the dwarves it was a mansion. It stood as the pinnacle of their design and building prowess; a place we read as full of "treasure, gold, and Mithril". Founded by Durin the Deathless himself, Dwarrowdelf (as it is known in the common speech) fell into darkness and was given the Sindarin name of Moria, the "Black Chasm."
The tale of the Fellowship's discovery of Balin's failed colony is a common one to those familiar with the lore, as is Gandalf's fight with the Balrog, and the experience serves as a prelude to the eventual Breaking of the Fellowship.
While Khazad-Dum as a release does not possess the polish of eventual expansions, leaving lore-hounds desiring a theme more consistent with the written word, it remains rich with iconic moments that introduce the fallen kingdom and its ominous threat of shadow and flame.
Dain, Thorin, and Ori could no doubt force-march through Moria, I wanted to avoid the power-gaming approach and role-play in my mind the scenario in which Balin convinced his brother Dwalin to go back into Moria and recolonize the kingdom. Would they find fortune or would they find fate? To complete the party, I opted to use a dwarf of a different sort, the non-canon character Thalin (who I imagined the others adopted as a bastard son of Fundin.)
As a colonization approach, I intentionally ally-starved the deck. Balin should not be able to easily retake Moria, and despite the lure of gold and treasure, I wanted to emphasize a well-equipped exploratory party that didn’t come on-line until their threat hit dangerous levels. We had the capability to apply plenty of direct damage to the staging area with Thalin and Fresh Tracks, and we received the bulk of our rewards by spilling Orc blood on the stone floors of the Dwarven halls with weapon attachments such as Blade of Gondolin providing Quest Progress and Dwalin’s built in threat reduction staying the course.
After a slow start, followed by some bumps and bruises, we cleared the East Gate, First Hall, and crossed the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; our threat pushing the low forties, and an unfortunate draw of Watchful Eyes pinned to Dwalin, who was dual-wielding a Dwarrowdelf Axe along with a Blade of Gondolin, longing for the days when he swung Grasper and Keeper in mighty fashion. The Patrol Leader of Stage 2 was no match for a pair of Goblin Cleaver event cards, and the enemy’s damage reduction effect was not triggered.
It was then, that the Watchful Eyes triggered ill effects, and the eventual staging step saw several high threat enemies fill the play mat. Eventually Thalin fell to some direct damage, I sat at a threat of 49, and it seemed Balin’s attempt to reclaim Moria was for naught. Lo and behold, it was then that Gandalf the Grey showed his weathered face, pipe in hand, and I opted to have him lower my threat to stay in the game. We were rich in resources, but our beards were bathed in blood from the many blows we had withstood. We had managed a number of progress tokens on Stage 3 (five by my count) and if we could just avoid any enemies in the staging step we would have made it up to the seventh level. In my haste I committed the entire party to the quest, hoping that Gandalf’s Willpower would carry us across the finish line.
Goblin Swordsman, who combined with a few existing locations to stop our push one point short of victory.
Had I not committed Dwalin to the quest, and saved the faithful Zigil Miners back, I could have most likely readied Dwalin with an attached copy of Unexpected Courage and made up for the Quest Points through combat. Although Gandalf would have been out of play, it would make the final push much more attainable, as we’d need perhaps a single point of questing. Also, by sacrificing the miners for and in behalf of Dwalin and Balin, we could have at least cleared out all engaged enemies relatively quickly.
In retrospect, my playthrough of Into the Pit, led by a resurrected Balin, weaved an intriguing narrative. While I forsook card draw and allies for direct damage and shiny toys, I enjoyed the patient approach required for making this deck work the best I could. The deck was stronger than I was and it showed where I needed to learn to make better decisions as a player. In my sleep I can still hear the cry of Balin, demanding one more charge into the Mines of Moria, to reclaim his throne, to remove his tomb, and to delve deep in the realms of the Dwarrow.
Balin's Colony Deck v0.2
Balin (On the Doorstep)
Thalin (Core Set)
Starting Threat: 27
Total Cards: (50)
2x Longbeard Elder (Foundations of Stone)
3x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dum)
2x Erebor Battle Master (The Long Dark)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Hardy Leadership (Shadow and Flame)
2x Ring Mail (The Long Dark)
2x Dwarrowdelf Axe (Khazad-dum)
2x Blade of Gondolin (Core Set)
2x Dunedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
2x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
2x Cram (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Dunedain Mark (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x We Are Not Idle (Shadow and Flame)
2x Lure of Moria (Road to Rivendell)
2x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Goblin-cleaver (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Fresh Tracks (The Long Dark)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Feint (Core Set)
2x Heavy Stroke (Foundations of Stone)
2x Durin's Song (Khazad-dum)
2x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
Want to join the conversation? Please sound off in the comments below, or let us know on our forum!