When #FantasyFlight announced they were producing a Lord of the Rings Living Card Game it had as everything the Tolkien fan in my belly could have ever wished for, well all except for one thing. You see in #LOTRLCG you play in stories that are adjacent to the real heroics that we grew up reading about. Sure you can play as Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli but you can't take the ring to Mount Doom or prevent Smaug from scorching Laketown.
That is until FFG announced the Saga Expansions. Finally we would have our chance to relive the adventures of our childhood heroes and we'd be starting with Bilbo Baggins and his journey to the lonely mountain.
Bilbo Baggins and Baggins Resources
Before we can talk about the scenarios included in Over Hill and Under Hill we need to talk about what separates the Saga Expansions from a traditional LOTRLCG scenario.
In each Saga box you will find a new unique hero with a 0 threat cost who is deployed at the start of each scenario in that set and in #OverHillandUnderHill that hero is Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is controlled by the first player and allows them to exceed the normal limit of 3 heroes per player.
Bilbo works largely like any other hero with the exception that he belongs to a unique Sphere, the Baggins Sphere. He also cannot benefit from any cards that provide additional resources unless they specifically name him as the target of the effect.
Bilbo's resources can be spent on a small number of Baggins Sphere cards or to unlock certain effects during each scenario that represent the heroics Bilbo displayed on the page.
We Must Away, Ere Break of Day
An Unexpected Party
This stage presents a unique problem in that it is very easy to accidentally complete it. Because this stage doesn’t have any preset cards in the set up you could literally be facing anything, from 2 x 3 Threat locations to nothing due to treachery cards that didn’t trigger.
And because nothing is preset there is no active location acting as a buffer for the measly 7 quest points needed to advance to stage 2… and trust me, you don’t want to advance to stage 2. Ideally you want to hang around here for two, maybe three turns. But doing that is harder than you might think. You need to put out some quest to avoid a threat hit but the high number of treachery cards (roughly half the encounter deck) means you can easily over quest and shoot through to the next stage when you aren’t ready.
Hanging around also runs the risk of your building up being for naught as each card draw brings with it the potential for all your allies and attachments to vanish (via Roast 'Em or Boil 'Em? & Wind-whipped Rain) or for Bilbo to be depleted of his precious baggins resources (via More Like a Grocer).
TROLLS! There has never been a time in LOTR LCG history when I have thought, “Oh good, a troll” and this triad is no exception. Tom, William and Bert are bastards of the highest order. Tom is the worst one. His special ability means you can only use a single character when attacking a troll. If, like us, you’re going down the thematic route you’ll probably only have Thorin capable of actually damaging a troll, at a single damage per turn. Sure you can add attachments but as soon as you do Wind-whipped Rain will strip you bare.
Bert prevents player attachments being played on the trolls, (i.e. no Forest Snare) and William prevents direct damage against unengaged trolls, so you can’t airstrike with Gandalf or pound on them with a Hail of Stones. To make matters worse they are all attack 5 and few dwarves can take that much punishment for more than a round or two.
But the worst thing, the very worst thing, is the keyword Sack X. Each time a troll engages you draw one or two sack cards and a character will essentially be removed from play. Bilbo can spend resources to free the dwarves but not if you want to access the Troll Cave and the precious treasures that lie within. However failure to release the dwarves can lead to their untimely death via Hungry Troll.
The key to this stage is to quest and run out the deck before the trolls can squash you into jelly. However, you always need to hit at least one troll to acquire the Troll Key. The Troll Cave is a unique location added to this stage, which requires the Troll Key and 5 Baggins Resources in order to travel to it. You can reduce this to 2 resources if you have the Troll Purse, but firstly it needs to come out and secondly, in order to get it you need to kill one of the trolls.
If you kill two of the trolls it is impossible to get the Troll purse without ending the scenario and instead you must delay and hope you can keep your baggins resources long enough to use them before threating out. If you cannot travel to and clear the Troll Cave you will miss out on access to Sting, Glamdring and Orcrist for the rest of the campaign.
Dawn Take You All
This is the best stage of the whole encounter… It’s just a you win card as Gandalf returns and turns the trolls to stone.
Boy is this scenario tough. It's a hard fought win just to make it through but to make it through with the treasure cards, now that is an ask. Do you need the treasure cards? No, I guess not but you would be missing out on what makes the Saga expansions a different beast to the regular cycles. After all if you don't get them here, it's not like you can unlock them anywhere else.
The problem with this scenario isn't, as you might think, the three hulking great trolls. No, it's the unpredictably of it all. Firstly you have lots of treachery cards that can throw a troll-key shaped spanner in the works. Bilbo can have his resources stripped, preventing you accessing the Troll Cave, all of your allies can be wiped off the map, you can take massive threat hits and you can lose all of your attachments. To make it worse you have the randomness of the sack cards. No matter how safe you think it is to attack a troll you cannot ever be sure who is going to get sacked, unless you're controlling Thorin, because in every game we played Thorin was always first into the sack.
You can really play this scenario in two ways, run as fast as you can, questing as hard as possible to bring about the dawn, returning the trolls to stone. Or you can fight and kill the trolls. The wrinkle comes when you try to collect the treasures, you need to both hold off the Trolls while Bilbo racks up resources and quest sufficiently enough not to threat out and be able to clear the Troll Cave once you can make it active. All the while avoiding losing Bilbo's resources to treachery or shadow cards.
Overall the difficulty comes about through randomness which makes the scenario less satisfying somehow. A game that was going well could be thrown for a loop with the turn of a card. And while this scene in the book is chaotic and a little silly, it doesn't necessarily make for an engaging session for the scenario to be so chaotic.
Looking for a truly thematic experience I banned any heroes who did not historically appear in the scenario. In this case we could play as any of the 13 Dwarves in Thorin's party.
Thorin, Ori, Balin - Chris' Deck
My deck is all about acceleration. Thorin and Ori provide resources and card draw as soon as I get 5 dwarves into play, while Balin acts as a fail-safe for Shadow cards until I can draw Burning Brand.
Ori provides access to the Lore Sphere allowing me to add Fast Hitches to get more utility from Bilbo, as well cards like Protector of Lorien, Explorers Almanac and of course card draw from cards like Daeron's Runes and Legacy of Durin.
Thorin on the other hand brings a much needed Leadership boost. Staples like Steward of Gondor sit alongside Narvi's Belt, Hardy Leadership and Durin's Song.
The rest of the deck was fleshed out with green/purple dwarves from any number of expansions. After that I turned my attention to the neutral Sphere which brings many of the dwarven mining boosts. Cards like Hidden Cache, Ered Luin Miner and Well Equipped.
Bung in a copy of each Gandalf and shuffle furiously.
Dori, Nori, Oin - Dave's Deck
So my deck is built around red/blue dwarfs, Nori drops my threat when dwarf allies are played, Dori (#AcrosstheEttinMoors) either sentinel defends or exhausts to boost Nori's defence to 4, while Oin provides a crucial red resource once I have 5 dwarfs in play (and 2 fight).
The deck is built to provide a healthy selection of dwarfs to support this, in addition to songs of battle and the old failsafes like kazad kazad, feint, Gandalf, unexpected courage and swift strike. Particular use is the blue mountain trader (#TheDunlandTrap) who can be traded to Chris to both boost my tactics resources (allowing me to buy more expensive dwarf allies) but also to help Chris get his 5 dwarf combo going. Other useful characters are Fili & Kili, which allow me to play two dwarf allies at once, and an Erebor Battlemaster (#TheLongDark), who gets more powerful, the more dwarfs I have in play.
The deck is chunky, but also quite flexible, it's hard to draw a bad hand providing you have some allies and the means to get up to 5 dwarfs.
Join us next time as we go #OvertheMistyMountainsGrim and face off against Stone Giants and the Great Goblin...