Speaking of the time of writing, The Dead Marshes stands alone among the 19 that I have completed at Normal level at the time of writing. Yes, I have kept count. Yes, I am a bit odd. It is the only one that I have only completed one-handed, i.e. just using one deck. It is like A Journey to Rhosgobel in that I completed it at the first attempt. It is unlike A Journey to Rhosgobel in that there was actually some strategy involved in going one-handed for The Dead Marshes rather than the pulling a Homer that was beating Rhosgobel.
The strategy was minimising the likely damage for the unique element of The Dead Marshes, the Escape test. I was going to paste the entire text relating to Escape tests in the manual that came with the scenario, but it’s probably simpler to link to the pdf. Read it? Understand it? Good, we’ll move on.
Oh, okay. To understand the Escape test, let’s look at the quest cards:
Into the Marshes
Setup: Search the encounter deck for Gollum, and add it to the staging area. Shuffle the encounter deck, then reveal 1 card per player from the encounter deck and add it to the staging area.
Quest Points: 12
Quest Points: 3
Forced: After this stage is defeated, the first player chooses a player. That player must pass an Escape test, dealing 1 card from the encounter deck for each resource token on Gollum, to capture him. If Gollum is not captured at this time, reset the quest deck to stage 1B.
If this final Escape test is passed, the players have captured Gollum and won the game.
In addition, there is the objective card, Gollum:
If Gollum ever has 8 or more resource tokens on him, shuffle him back into the encounter deck.
Forced: At the end of the quest phase, the party must make an escape test, dealing 1 card per player from the encounter deck. If this test is failed, place 2 resource tokens on Gollum.
So Escape tests are something you will be doing at the end of every quest phase and right at the end of 2B. There are also treacheries that require you to perform a test. How they work is that, when asked to perform one you must exhaust characters to add up their willpower, then draw cards from the encounter deck. Some of the cards – 29 in a deck of 53 cards – have the text ‘Escape: X’. Every card in The Dead Marshes encounter set has the term. You add up each of X from the cards drawn. If your willpower is greater than the sum of X, you pass the test. If your willpower is equal or less than the sum of X, you apply the penalty from the quest card or the treachery. The first line on the Gollum objective should be clear in its meaning, but I’ll reiterate it: don’t let the number of resource tokens get to 8 or he’s gone. I guess it would be conceivable to retrieve him if you have reduced the deck sufficiently by the playing of Escape test cards, but surely the Gift/Doom of Man is too short for such an outcome. I would go so far as to say that if it gets past 4 and you don’t have a player who can pump out 15+ willpower, you might as well scoop.
The logic behind going one-handed was to reduce the number of cards dealt when it asked for ‘1 card per player’, and it worked pretty well, a Leadership/Tactics deck consisting of Aragorn, Elrohir and Elladan moving so smoothly through the quest that I must have screwed up a rule somewhere (NB I’ll have further thoughts on this in the Refresh post), especially seeing as my two-handed efforts sank without trace into the Dagorlad ooze. In a nutshell, we’re going to need a lot of willpower, a lot of readying, a lot of treachery cancellation and a lot of scrying. And a pony.
Well, the last part is the easy bit. Before we go a-spoiling the hero reveal, let’s break down the encounter deck.
|Number of cards||Threat x 1||Threat x 2||Threat x 3||Threat x 4||Threat x 5|
Treachery cancellation, eh? The first hero that came to mind was Denethor so I could check out what was coming off the encounter deck. Another obvious card was Asfaloth. with eight of the locations – Fens and Mires x 4 [Forced: After the players travel to this location, place 1 resource token on Gollum] and The Heart of the Marshes x 4 [While The Heart of the Marshes is the active location, all cards dealt from the encounter deck for escape tests get +1 Escape (Cards recieve this bonus even if they do not have a printed escape value)] – being ones to where we do not want to travel. That leads inevitably to Lorefindel, but would his 12 starting threat be too rich for the blood? One look at the treacheries was enough to nix the idea towards which I was heading of having a mono Lore deck. Evil Storm, eh? Treachery cancellation, eh?
Keeping threat low brings us inevitably-after-the-other-inevitably to Spirit Glorfindel who dovetails nicely with Asfaloth. The first 30 cards pick themselves, offering readying, treachery cancellation, scrying and some healing. No need to link to any of those, you can see them below. At this point I paused. The intention had been to pick a second Lore hero, probably Elrond with his 3 willpower. However, the split of easy choices was 15:15. I had initially picked Mithrandir’s Advice, but was a second Lore hero really so obvious? Hero Gandalf, with his rather spiffing 3 willpower/attack/defence statline and potential for readying via Shadowfax looked so tempting. In the end, the Gandalf/Sneak Attack combo in the Tactics/Leadership (or maybe Leadership/Tactics) and what it could do for threat reduction, stayed my hand. It was a close-run thing though.
After all that, I reverted back to Elrond. His statline is not too shabby either, and the ability to contribute to Spirit allies opens up possibilities like Bofur and Northern Tracker that might be more difficult to put into play in other decks with just one Spirit hero. The deck is a little light on allies in general so having two Lore heroes increases the chance of some heavyweight like Gildor Inglorion or Quickbeam making an appearance.
Considering it was a Leadership/Tactics that beat the scenario the first time round, the emphasis on Lore/Spirit might seem a little strange, but it’s from the latter that the willpower that will keep Gollum in play will come. You’d like to think the fighting deck will be more straightforward, and the heroes certainly are. I already hinted at the presence of Sam Gamgee, making a splendid willpower contribution. Of the 47 heroes in my card pool, only one – Éowyn – has more willpower. Six have three willpower, with only Spirit Glorfindel having a lower starting threat. That leaves 40 heroes with lower willpower, Of the 15 enemies in the deck, only Wolf Rider and Wargs (x 2) have a threat of 29 or lower, so Sam will have a lot of chances to quest then ready in the opening rounds. Although not for Eastern Crows as Thalin will be taking care of them. Having him quest with the primary task of taking them out makes even more sense than usual in a scenario where the Eastern Crows’s surge can lead to all manner of treachery unpleasantness. Given Thalin’s lack of opportunity to fight, there needs to be someone to do the heavy fighting and that will be Boromir. I’m not comfortable with the choice as we don’t want threat to rise too much but that’s what Gandalf/Sneak Attack is for.
No worries that this might be an ally-light deck, and there are some that make sense where previously they looked bike spokes to me such as Faramir, who the world and her husband thought was the Beorning bees knees, to my frequent bafflement, and Son of Arnor, who can cope with those pesky Goblin Snipers – previously I would have viewed Dúnhere as the go-to guy for that. Other than a few direct damage events in case the defenders find themselves short of readying, the emphasis is going to be on willpower. I imagine Tactics/Leadership could be doing quite a bit of regular questing, with 4 between them every round between Thalin and Sam Gamgee, while Lore/Spirit handles the Escape tests. Let’s don our wellies and capture that critter.