The Drúadan Forest: Refresh

That was annoying, annoying on the double. I mentioned my use of Octgn to record the playthrough and I was grateful for that when I made a mistake right at the end. The bit in the quest phase of round eight where Drúadan Drummer gives Each Wose enemy in the staging area…+2 threat? I hadn’t noticed that until I came to write about it. Thankfully it was a relatively easy task with Octgn to reconstruct the state of play, and there was a curious satisfaction to be had in questing like a boss with Drûburi-Drû, so no harm done.

Far more annoying was realising that there is a mis-step in the decks. It only came to light by which I mean I had failed to notice it, when I first came to record a playthrough. I had the good fortune to draw Steward of Gondor and Warden of Healing in setup and the first resource phase and I used Denethor‘s ability – Move 1 resource from Denethor’s resource pool to another Gondor hero’s resource pool – to transfer a resource to Firyal to pay for Warden of Healing. You should see the mistake right there, one I didn’t pick up on while testing the decks against the quest. If you haven’t seen it, Firyal is not a Gondor hero and I had proceeded on the basis that it meant any hero. Quickbeam is not a Gondor hero either, so Denethor’s ability to smooth resources is not as powerful as I intimated in the Planning post. To compound matters, I had already cockily clicked ‘Publish’ so I didn’t want to go back with my tail between my legs and re-do it. Moral of the story? Read the cards closely.

I didn’t say it was a profound morality tale.

On the flip side, the decks still work just fine and I have reason to think that the Leadership/Tactics deck is close to a decent Gondor swarm deck overall, with a welcome dash of Éowyn ripping through any big-bad fights. Perhaps Boromir rather than Denethor? We’ll see. For this scenario, if Denethor’s Setup: Add 2 resources to Denethor’s resource pool survives setup then you are well set, even if you don’t draw Gandalf as you will be able to do the swarm thing. For example, and all other things being equal, Herald of AnórienYou may give Herald of Anórien doomed 2 when you play it from your hand. If you do, it gains: “Response: After you play Herald of Anórien, choose a player. That player may put into play 1 ally from his hand with a printed cost 2 or lower” – would have been brilliant with the cards that were drawn, allowing us to play Warden of Healing for Doomed 2. Without the threat turbulence caused by Gandalf, and it informed everything I did in this playthrough, Gondor swarm would have done a fine job.

When starting out with the game, the most common strategy was to have a fighting deck and a control deck. Every one of the decks in the Core Set/Shadows of Mirkwood consisted of various combinations of Leadership/Tactics in one deck and Lore/Spirit in the other (Neutral made an appearance in Escape From Dol Guldur). It was lazy and probably led to some bad habits in my deckbuilding, but it worked. These decks are a throwback to those early days with Leadership/Tactics providing resources and bodies with which to attack and defend, and Lore/Spirit/Tactics providing willpower, scrying, healing and threat reduction. There’s not a perfect demarcation between the two – Éowyn quests, Quickbeam attacks, Beregond defends – which reflects the ‘sphere bleed‘ that has taken place over the years. In general though, one deck will do a couple of big things while the other does a lot of little things.

tl;dr:

  • Mulligan for Steward of Gondor or Gandalf and Warden of Healing
  • Lore/Spirit/Tactics should always quest with Firyal, who should discard any surge cards, and Quickbeam, who can be readied to attack if necessary
  • Leadership/Spirit should always quest with Éowyn and someone else. If not Gandalf, even the weakest of allies will
  • Combining both of the above, be conscious of Lost Companion. If you can, quest with a 0 willpower ally
  • Don’t hold Éowyn’s ability back. She can’t take out Drû-buri-Drû as that can only be done with willpower

The last point demonstrates a feature in the scenario’s favour. I hope that anyone reading this, and it’s not impossible that Caleb Grace comes across it as he still clearly keeps his finger on the pulse as recent appearances on podcasts suggest, knows that I love this game and the direction they went with it regarding narrative. However, the writing is a little, how can I say this politely, clunky? The wrap-up for The Steward’s Fear commences with the following:

With the champion of the cabal destroyed and the conspiracy seemingly vanquished, Denethor’s relief was palpable and his reward substantial. Yet, as the White City resettled into tentative content, a quiet unease remained with you.

‘Clunky’ does not feel unfair. Still, its heart is in the right place. Tolkien’s treatment of the Woses is, and as the man is long dead and not short of hero worship I feel no need to be too polite, a bit gross to the modern reader. The Tolkien scholar Dr Dimitra Fimi puts it in the contemporaneous context when she says that:

Instead of being classified as an inferior race due to their primitiveness, Tolkien seems to view them as ‘noble savages’: unlovely in appearance rather than exotically beautiful (as other ‘noble savages’ in contemporary literature are often portrayed), but still romanticized. Their primitiveness is respected rather than despised

This all to highlight how the wrap-up to The Drúadan Forest does a good job in giving the Woses some much-needed humanity. It starts in a quite lovely fashion:

The small rough hands of Drû-buri-Drû gently touch yours in friendship. His eyes are sad for those lost in the needless conflict.

It doesn’t shy away from the the fact that people were killed and explains the quirky mechanic whereby Drû-buri-Drû helps you which, as the playthrough shows ,it really does.

This has veered off in a surprising direction, and all serves to demonstrate that I have a higher opinion of the scenario than durinsfather, which isn’t hard given he calls it “one of my most hated quests in the game”. One of his (few) pros explains where I differ from him: “Play if: …you want to play a quest that requires a specific build”. For all of the hifalutin’ talk of high art and noble savages, it is the puzzle aspect of the game that I love the most, and The Drúadan Forest is one of those scenarios where you can find yourself being repeatedly and frustratingly tripped up by the encounter deck, then you finally hit upon combinations that reverse the flow of travel and now it is you that starts taunting the encounter deck, floating like a butterfly then stinging like a bee. The scenario it most reminds me of is The Watcher in the Water. For sentimental reasons, I don’t rate it as highly as that quest, but it still slots it in at a quite respectable 11th place in the Halls of Mandos.

Having done our Middle-earth equivalent of UN in the Drúadan Forest, the party heads back to Minas Tirith, but not before having an Encounter (with copy-and-paste) in Amon Dîn.

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