Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings LCG is a fantastic and unique game, taking their excellent LCG release model and applying it to co-operative adventures in Middle earth. FFG have done a great job recently of threading their quests together and telling an overarching story, and the player cards have always had great examples of theme meshing with interesting gameplay decisions.
Last week I had the chance to play what might be my favourite quest so far, The Battle of Pelennor Fields, borrowing a deck from Paul Shawley since my card pool is looking distinctly mediocre and this quest looked to be hard.
Warning: The rest of this blog will contain spoilers for the quest, if you want to play it yourself unspoiled then come back later.
The Battle of Pelennor Fields is the last quest in the new Saga expansion, these quests do have a storytelling advantage in that they are adapting an already well known story for gameplay rather than trying to build something from the ground up. The quest’s five stages break down the epic battle and give a sense of the emotional highs and lows that the characters in the books experienced.
Stage 1: The Garrison of Gondor
This stage is the calm before the storm, and gives you a round with no questing or combat to build up, which you will definitely need as you see all the Nazgul being set aside for later. It’s only short, but that’s for the best, giving you a little injection of resources but not enough to feel comfortable.
Stage 2:Retreat from Osgiliath
The preparation from stage 1 will come in handy as a horde of enemies descend on the staging area, along with some allies fleeing Osgiliath being harried on their way back to Minas Tirith. This stage is a race against time, trying to quickly get through the stage to earn some much needed reinforcements.
Stage 3: The White City Besieged
This stage is the real meat of the quest, when the task of defending Minas Tirith really begins, the first half has been about gathering your strength and now you will see if that was enough. Everything about the way this quest is structured is very thematic, in the questing phase the best you can do is hold on and you need to save your strength for the many many enemies the encounter deck spews at you. Foul orcs and deadly southrons with their beasts of war, with the Nazgul circling overhead a formidable threat but if you can take them out a great pressure relieved.
Actually progressing through the quest is achieved by fighting and killing the enemies, which is befitting of a siege. Unlike most quests you aren’t moving forward and exploring, you’re defensively fighting off an enormous horde.
The white city itself is also a great part of the quest, a great deal of the treachery cards and shadow effects can either damage your board state heavily or damage Minas Tirith. So you end up sheltering behind its walls early on, then as they become more battered you have to put your own allies and heroes on the line. Tied up in all this is the great battering ram Ghrond which will smash the city apart given enough time, meaning you need to get a move on slaying the orcs.
Stage 4: Rohan has come!
After the grueling defence of the walls this stage is a welcome relief and really captures the arrival of the Rohirrim in the actual story, providing each player with reinforcements. The respite is short, but you get one round of questing where quest progress is assigned as damage among the enemies. This makes the event feel like a force of nature smashing everything before it, much like the films depicted. Certainly when we played and successfully rode over 2 Nazgul it was very satisfying.
Stage 5: Fighting in the fields
This is the 5th stage of questing so it feels like you are on the last leg of an epic battle asked to give just a bit more. The Witch King swoops in in a powered up form, the encounter deck gets reset and the enemy receives reinforcements, but you can’t call it a day until you’ve made some hefty quest progress and defeated the Witch King. The Witch King himself makes for a suitably tough final boss and throughout all this you still have to be keeping an eye on Minas Tirith to make sure the bad guys don’t break through so there’s plenty to think about.
The quest as a whole really shines because of the ebb and flow, the first few stages where the good guys scramble to build up, the grinding battle in the middle followed by a sprint to the finish.
My enjoyment was definitely helped out by the fact that we won, if we had been slapped down in the third stage then it would have been a more bittersweet experience. I credit the win entirely to the great decks provided by Paul Shawley and the others around the table, Rob and Paul. I got to borrow Paul S’s Murder, Death , Kill deck and had fun doing all three of those things, but Rob was doing some great questing too allowing us to quest for 57 at one point, and both Pauls had a good mix of questing, combat and support.
The Dream Team
This quest and the event as a whole really reminded me of Lord of the Rings is at its best and shows why it earned a place on my shelf along side the competitive LCGs Netrunner and A Game of Thrones.