When #FantasyFlight announced that we would be setting sail from the Grey Havens aboard the Dreamchaser and sailing beyond the sea, I was excited. This was a new and interesting direction for The Lord of the Rings and an opportunity to explore lands beyond that which appear in Tolkien's work.
Does it live up to expectations, you'll have to wait until I've finished reviewing the #DreamchaserCycle to find out, but for now let's take a look at what comes in the box.
The Grey Havens probably introduces the most new mechanics of any Deluxe expansion so far, however they are all keyed around the idea of sailing.
To bring Ships to Middle Earth the designers created a new type of Objectives, Ships and a new type of enemy… erm… Ships and a new test, the Sailing Test. Ships act like characters or enemies with a few exceptions. Ships can only attack each other and ship attacks cannot be blocked except by a ship. Undefended damage from ship attacks goes on a ship objective you control.
Each player begins a sailing scenario with one of four ships. One player must always control the Dreamchaser and if it is lost, so is the scenario. If a player ship other than the Dreamchaser is destroyed the controlling player is out of the game.
Enemy ships often feature the keyword Boarding X. This means that when they are engaged you will spawn X enemies from a set aside encounter deck. The enemies spawn engaged with you and count as revealed with regards to resolving any When Revealed effects.
The Sailing test takes place immediately before characters are committed to the quest. The first player may commit any number of characters to a sailing test. To begin their test they must shift the heading off course. The Heading card shows 4 positions, On Course and then 3 increasing degrees of Off Course. They then choose how many characters to commit and flip that number of cards looking for sailing icons. For each icon revealed they can shift the heading back on course that many steps.
The sailing test is very reminiscent of the location test from #TheLongDark and it represents the need to have a large and capable crew manning the ship. Cards like Henamarth Riversong and Rumour in the Earth can really help out by revealing the top card of the encounter deck, meaning you need to commit fewer characters to staying on course. Despite Han Solo’s objections it is also worth knowing the odds of success before you commit, check out how many sailing symbols appear in the deck and remember the discard pile is public information.
Cirdan The Shipwright
As much of the #DreamchaserCycle sees you aboard a vessel of one kind or another Cirdan may very prove to be useful. His primary function as a spirit hero is questing and he does it very well, providing 4 Willpower, tying with Eowyn and Galadriel for the highest Willpower heroes.
As well as Willpower, Cirdan also provides some accelerated card draw to the Spirit sphere & Noldor factions. At the beginning of each turn you draw two cards during the resource phase but you must discard one of them. When combined with Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudaur) you can draw 5 cards a round and if you use the Silver Harp you can keep them all. And as we’ll see this cycle introduces new cards that power up from being in your discard or can even be played from the discard pile.
Cirdan’s main drawback is his high initial threat of 12, however with a few choice attachments, Light of Valinor (#FoundationsofStone) and Narya for example, he can really pay for himself.
Galdor of the Havens
Galdor is a Lore hero clocking in at 9 threat with low stats for a Noldor hero. However like a lot of Lore heroes he is focused on card draw. His set up ability allows you to change the way you mulligan. Instead of shuffling all your cards back into the deck and drawing again, you can instead discard the cards you don’t want and draw to replace them. This ability is useful in two ways, firstly you don’t have to keep a hand just to make sure you have access to one specific card, simply hold on to the card you need and ditch the rest. Secondly many cards in the Noldor faction power up from being in your discard pile, this ability allows you to seed your discard pile with cards like Elwing’s Flight or The Evening Star and even ally Glorfindel (#FlightoftheStormcaller)
Galdor’s second ability allows you at any time in the game, when you have no cards, to draw 6. This is a once per game ability but consider this combo. Galdor, Cirdan and Erestor. During setup you can take advantage of Galdor’s mulligan before drawing 11 cards, 6, plus 1 during the resource phase, 1 for Cirdan and another 3 for Erestor. At the end of each turn Erestor forces you to discard your hand meaning during any refresh phase you could trigger Galdor to bring your hand back up to 11 cards. Combined with attachments like Elven Spear or Protector of Lorien you can turn this epic card draw into attack, willpower and defence.
Anchor Watch - A 2 cost card that allows you to declare an already exhausted character as a defender and for each copy in your discard pile you can add an extra exhausted defender.
Mariner’s Compass - This is an interesting attachment that allows you to switch the active location. This could be particularly useful in Sailing encounters for putting cards with Sailing symbols back into the deck or just for getting rid of particularly nasty active location effects.
Warden of the Havens - The Warden of the Havens requires control over the top card of your discard pile. If you can control it, the Warden is a 3 defence, 3 hit point ally with sentinel. If you can’t he’s really overpriced. And even if you can keep discarding attachments, don’t expect the scenarios not to mess with your discard pile!
Elwing’s Flight - A 2 cost event that readies and boosts the willpower of questing characters, which triggers multiple times for each copy in your discard. This is a nice event, especially for decks without heroes that can self ready or if you only have one copy of Unexpected Courage.
Sailor of Lune - Quite a few of the elves in this cycle have abilities based on the top card of your discard pile. Unfortunately this can often be an unpredictable beast. Without the +1 Willpower boost I would generally not be interested in a 2 cost ally with only a single willpower and fight and no defence. I can only see playing this one for thematic reasons.
To the Sea, to the Sea! - Cheaper Noldor allies, paid for with card with card draw. It’s tempting, especially if you plan on running ally Glorfindel. And as should be obvious by now, discarding cards can be really useful in a Noldor deck.
Explorer’s Almanac - A free attachment that allows you to clear troublesome locations in the staging area without the need to resolve their travel effects. Yes please.
Lindon Navigator - The Lindon Navigator is the final member of the Watcher of the Bruinen/Trollshaw Scout triad. She can quest without exhausting and may even do so while exhausted but to keep her in play you must then discard a card. Fortunately as a Lore ally cards are not in short supply. Her ability to quest even while exhausted allows her to be used liberally during sailing tests too.
The Evening Star - 2 resources to place 2 progress does not seem like a great trade, however once you have a copy of this in your discard it becomes 2 for 4 progress, then 2 for 6… much better. I would almost never play the first copy of this, rather, try and find a way to discard it.
Grappling Hook - This is an interesting card that allows you to basically get a one time use of the keyword Battle. It also allows you to late quest when the need arises with a hero you held back for attack/defence. Not one that sees a lot of use in my decks but maybe it should.
Mithlond Sea-watcher - Like the Sailor and the Warden, the Sea-Watcher is overpriced unless you are focusing on a discard strategy.
Skyward Volley - 2 cost for two direct damage is not a bad effect, but once again having multiple copies in your discard makes this a very powerful effect that can take out all but the strongest of enemies.
Narya - The last ring of elves makes it’s inevitable appearance. It can be attached to Cirdan or Gandalf and gives them a Leadership resource. This is an interesting attachment for Neutral Gandalf from #TheRoadDarkens. You can exhaust the attached character to ready 2 allies and boost their stats. While you might not want to sacrifice Gandalf’s attack/defence to ready allies, Cirdan is weaker and if he has Light of the Valinor he can quest without exhausting leaving him readied to take advantage of this effect.
Overall The Grey Havens has a nice mix of cards that focuses on and really boosts the Noldor Faction. The new sailing mechanics, while interesting are a little fiddly overall and actually only feature in a total of 5 scenarios of the possible 9.
For running good Noldor Decks with lots of card draw and discard effects this is a must buy, but it does much less for other factions and strategies than other Deluxe expansions. Check back soon for reviews of the three scenarios in this box and other adventure packs in the #DreamchaserCycle