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Monday, March 16, 2015

Patience or Pain: The Watcher in the Water - Making it through the West-gate of Moria

By Grant “pfcamygrant” Ellis

I was introduced to the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game towards the middle of last summer. After my immediate love affair involving journeys along the Anduin, escaping from the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and finishing off the feared spawn of Ungoliant, I resolved to buy into the game. My first immediate stop led me to a buying guide for new players that summed it up as the following: “If you only have sixty bucks to spend on expansions, here’s how you might make a decision…” It was great advice, but I initially overspent by about three-hundred percent; opening my mind to a vast potential of possibilities and promise!

One such adventure pack came very highly rated and recommended: The Watcher in the Water. In the novel we read of the foul and ancient beast’s attack on Frodo, his responsibility for the death of Oin, and his trapping of the Fellowship inside the Westgate of Moria. In this Living Card Game quest, the heroes have been sent on an errand to determine the cause of the large numbers of Orcs in the area.  Players will construct decks and make way for an epic “boss fight” in which they are given several options for achieving quest completion. This article outlines two different strategies and experiences in skinning the scenario and making our way into Moria.

For those that have yet to play, or are new to the game, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the low-engagement enemies, the removal of essential attachments by the Black Uruks, or the impending doom presented by the trebuchet of treachery presented within the Encounter deck. After you endure the long walk to the West-gate you are met with a massively armored enemy that possesses regenerative powers, who can only be engaged under certain conditions, is capable of dealing direct damage, and can kill an ally or low hit-point hero in a single shot. Your only other option is to throw away cards from your hand, hoping they will help you open the damn door, whose password is random and card-driven. Which will you choose, the Path of Pain or the Path of Patience?  In the spirit of Beorn’s Path, I will investigate approaches using a card pool limited to the original release date of the Adventure Pack.

The first approach, The Path of Pain, is to construct a deck efficient at not only killing enemies, but also capable of dealing as much damage as possible in a single blow. The Watcher’s defense is nigh impenetrable for the novice, so it takes a strategy that explores stacking a hero’s attack as high as you can. In this deck, we invoke the tried and true method of using Dwarven Synergy; I selected Gimli, Dain Ironfoot, and Dwalin. I combine Gimli’s ability to turn lost-health into increased damage and Dain Ironfoot’s stat bonuses from the start. Gimli can also wield a variety of weapons, in this case we favor the Dwarrowdelf Axe as it deals direct damage. To round out the trio we give Dwalin more love, as he gives access to both threat reduction and Spirit sphere auto-includes such as A Test of Will, shadow cancellation with Hasty Stroke, and enables the advent of the ally Arwen Undomiel, who is still one of the best characters in the game.  Another consistent character, ally Faramir,  was also included for his incredible contributions to group questing. One of the earliest deck-types involved using Eagles, and both Winged Guardian and Vassal of the Windlord come in handy in a limited card pool that involves needing to do massive damage. The obvious and apparent combo of face-down attachments on Eagles of the Misty Mountains and Support of the Eagles on Gimli finds the dwarf capable of more than enough output to bring the Watcher down, when the time comes.

 In my sample playthrough, I found I was able to quest efficiently thanks to Dain providing his bonuses. Gimli quickly obtained a copy of Unexpected Courage, and the meager allies (Snowbourn Scouts, Zigil Miners) provided adequate chump blocking in the dire times, and just enough questing when we needed to be cautious. I found myself using Eagles of the Misty Mountains, in conjunction with Sneak Attack to take the dreaded Tentacle Attachments should they connect with attacking characters (only to have the Eagles return to my hand). Fortunately, we could control combat and pick our battles through the use of Feint cards and Gimli was able to absorb a point of damage early on to keep building his strength for the climactic big boss battle. After we cruised to the Doors of Durin, we felt the brunt of the horrific beast’s battle-prowess as three damage points had to be assigned to a character since the combat-phase ended with the Watcher in the staging area. (Rest in peace, Snowbourn Scout, son of Snowbourn Scout, loyal and faithful servant of Rohan!) I risked leaving a Tentacle enemy attack undefended to pump more damage bonus into Gimli, who was able to drop bombs on the Watcher and explode him into a hearty, albeit ill-tasting, bowl of Watcher-water Soup.  Two progress-tokens later and we were entering the West-gate of Moria.

The second approach, The Path of Patience, involves constructing a deck around the concept of scrying. Scrying abilities allow a character to examine either the Encounter deck or his own deck and use this information in order to strategize. The first deck I ever constructed specifically for a scenario was a scrying deck that would be used to solve the mystery of Moria and delve-past the Doors of Durin. It revolutionized my thought process in regards to the game.  Heroes like Denethor, allies such as Henamarth Riversong, and deck manipulators a la Gildor Inglorian are useful at both examining the Encounter deck and manipulating your own hand. My choice of heroes included Leadership Aragorn, for questing and combat capabilities, and the Lore heroes Denethor and Beravor, who provide solid defense, versatility, scrying, and card draw.

The sample playthrough went perfectly. Denethor was an adequate defender, while Aragorn managed to get Celebrian's Stone in Round two. Dual-sphere provided more resources than the Tri-sphere dwarf deck, and I was able to carefully plan each phase thanks to the insight provided by Riversong’s scrying. When the time came to approach the Doors, I could easily see a Grasping Tentacle on top and I had a copy of Gandalf’s Search ready to throw away. All that would be needed were a few extra quest points, so I paid the five resources to allow the Grey Wizard access to the party and marched through the doors straight way.

Part of the fun and excitement of the game is to find the replay value in adventure packs that you already own, as well as taking an anthropological approach by experiencing the game with the limited card pool. It was a learning experience for me as a very new player to fail a number of times at the Westgate, the lessons I learned there helped me to complete more challenging scenarios. Maybe next time I will try Nightmare mode where you must both solve the Doors and slay the Watcher. That would definitely test the decks and possibly require the creation a more sophisticated strategy.

Feel free to check out both of the decks I used on CardGameDB or examine the deck lists below.

Path of Pain

Path of Patience

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