In the last preview of The Road Darkens Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game , I introduced the new Gandalf hero ( The Road Darkens , 2) and some of the great player cards that support him. In this article, I’d like to introduce some of the ideas behind each of the expansion’s three scenarios: The Ring Goes South , Journey in the Dark , and Breaking of the Fellowship .

Before we look at the scenarios individually, it’s worth noting that their design presented a few unique challenges. First of all, our team settled early on which key story moments we needed to include in this Saga Expansion, but each one had already inspired a popular scenario within the game. The existence of The Redhorn Gate , Flight from Moria , and Journey Down the Anduin meant we would need to find some innovative ways to make these scenarios unique and distinctive, even while drawing from familiar elements. Not only that, but each of the three scenarios takes place in completely different environments and feature a completely different set of enemies and obstacles. That meant there would be no encounter sets to share between the three scenarios; we would have to build three complete adventures from a limited card pool. Lastly, as The Road Darkens is the follow-up to The Black Riders , it was important that this installment in The Lord of the Rings Saga feel more epic than its predecessor in order to mirror the tone of the book and to satisfy players who had been waiting eagerly for the opportunity to continue their campaigns. It wasn’t ever going to be enough to aim for “just as good” as The Black Riders ; the scenarios in The Road Darkens had to surpass them, reaching new heights of challenges and dramatic tension, both as standalone scenarios and as part of campaign mode.

With all of these challenges on my mind, I confess I felt a little bit like Frodo when he was reluctant to leave the safety of Rivendell and start along the path to Mount Doom. But just as the esteemed Mr. Baggins found depths of courage and wisdom he never knew that he had, I found inspiration that got me excited to work through the challenges and develop what I believe are three very memorable scenarios. Hopefully, after hearing a little bit about each one, you’ll agree.

The Ring Goes South

The first scenario in The Road Darkens begins with the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring in Rivendell at The Council of Elrond . That chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring is so vital to the rest of The Lord of the Rings , and so interesting to me as a fan, that I wanted to start this scenario with a stage that resembled some of the cooperation and debate that took place at the secret council. So, stage 1B of The Ring Goes South is The Council of Elrond ( The Road Darkens , 20), and it reads:

Forced: At the end of the planning phase, each player places the top card of his deck faceup in front of him, in player order, until there are a total of 4 faceup cards between the players. The first player chooses 1 faceup card to play for 0 cost, 1 to add to its owner’s hand, 1 to discard, and 1 to shuffle into its owner’s deck. Then, either shuffle Lust for the Ring into the encounter deck, or raise each player’s threat by 5. Advance to stage 2.”

Even in a single player game, this effect creates some truly meaningful choices, but it obviously becomes more interesting as you add more players. Depending on the cards the players reveal, this effect can start a lively conversation reminiscent of the debate that took place in the book. It’s entirely possible that you’ll see four players arguing for four different visions for the game, but by the end of this quest stage, you’ll need to make a single decision and share a single vision. Meanwhile, the decision whether you should raise each player’s threat by five or shuffle a burden card into the deck in particular can also become a divisive issue since an additional five threat at the beginning of the game can mean very different things to different decks… especially since this scenario makes it particularly dangerous to engage enemies.

Once you depart Rivendell, the rest of The Ring Goes South recreates the first part of the Fellowship’s journey together, from Rivendell to the Doors of Durin, as they try to move secretly through Hollin. But as the Ring-bearer travels along the western edge of the Misty Mountains, he is hunted by Wargs and Crebain in the service of the Enemy. So this scenario has a heavy focus on travel with a theme of being hunted. Each quest stage after the first one shares two identical lines of game text:

“During the travel phase, the players must travel to a location, if able.
Forced: After an enemy engages a player, place 1 damage on the active location, if able.”

The first line signifies the urgency of the Fellowship’s travels as they sought to move quickly through lands they feel are being watched. The second effect represents how the Enemy’s creatures close in around them, getting closer and closer to discovering the Ring. As such, placing damage on locations is a very dangerous thing to do. Each location in The Ring Goes South has an effect that will trigger when it is explored. For example, consider Eregion ( The Road Darkens , 34):

Forced: When Eregion is explored, the players as a group must discard X allies from play. X is the number of damage here.”

Just as it was the Fellowship’s goal to pass through Hollin without encountering any of the Enemy’s servants, the players will also want to avoid engaging enemies and damaging locaitons while playing The Ring Goes South , or effects like Eregion’s may lead to their defeat.

Journey in the Dark

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges we faced with The Road Darkens was figuring out how to present new takes on things we’ve already seen in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game , such as Moria and the Balrog. However, the Fellowship’s journey through Khazad-dum and their confrontation with the fire demon are just so important to the story that there was simply no way around them. Still, we knew that we needed to approach Journey in the Dark in such a way as to set it apart from previous scenarios and keep it faithful to the book.

One of the first things that jumped out at me as I was re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring was how close the Fellowship came to encountering the Balrog by Balin’s tomb. If it wasn’t for a quick retreat and Gandalf’s closing spell, Frodo would’ve come face-to-face with a demon of Morgoth in the Chamber of Mazarbul ( The Road Darkens , 51). With no bridge, no abyss, and no way for Gandalf to cast down the beast, that may very well have been the end of Frodo’s quest right there. That realization provided the inspiration for the expansion’s new, exciting, and thematic trip through Moria.

When setting up Journey in the Dark , players first set aside The Balrog ( The Road Darkens , 44), out of play, and the objective, Doom, Doom, Doom ( The Road Darkens , 43) is added to the staging area with ten damage tokens on it.

This is significant because Doom, Doom, Doom reads:

Forced: At the end of the quest phase, remove 1 damage token from Doom, Doom, Doom. Then, if there are no damage tokens here, add The Balrog to the staging area.”

Just as Gandalf insisted that the Balrog was a foe beyond any of the members of the Fellowship, the enemy put into play by this effect is not something the players want to confront. Not only does The Balrog have some of most intimidating stats ever seen on an enemy card, it also shares its immunity to player card effects with the shadow cards it is dealt. That means players can neither prevent The Balrog from attacking, nor can they cancel its shadow effects.

The Balrog is a truly terrifying enemy, and it’s Indestructible, which means if it takes you too long to advance from stage one, you could end up facing its attacks at each stage of the quest. If you cannot escape from Moria before it enters play, then your one hope is to reach stage three and race across The Great Bridge ( The Road Darkens , 50). The Great Bridge has an effect that reads:

Response: When The Great Bridge is explored, discard a hero from play to deal X damage to The Balrog. X is that hero’s threat cost. Then, The Balrog loses all keywords for the remainder of the game. Any player may trigger this response.”

This effect makes it possible to destroy The Balrog. However, triggering it comes at a high price; one player must sacrifice a hero he controls in order to trigger it, and in campaign mode, that hero (as well as any ally version of the character) is lost for the remainder of the campaign. Still, that hero’s sacrifice may prove the only way that the rest of the heroes can escape from Moria.

Breaking of the Fellowship

The third scenario was the one I was most excited to develop because I knew from the beginning exactly what I wanted it to be about. When you have a scenario called “Breaking of the Fellowship” and it’s based on the part of the novel that sees the Fellowship split into several groups, it should very well do the same thing in the game by sending each player to his own staging area. Of course, we’ve split the players into separate staging areas in previous scenarios like Foundations of Stone , but I knew Breaking of the Fellowship would be different because there would still be a focus of working together to protect the Ring-bearer .

In Breaking of the Fellowship , the players make their way down the Anduin river together through stage one until they reach the shore at stage two. There, they are attacked by Uruk-hai, and the Ring-bearer disappears. Then, each player creates his own private staging area and advances to a different stage three. This represents the different members of the Fellowship running off in all directions to look for Frodo.

While they’re at different stages, the players each quest and travel separately, and they only make engagement checks against enemies in their staging area. However, unlike the aforementioned Foundations of Stone scenario, the players can still interact with each other by playing cards to support each other or making use of the Ranged and Sentinel keywords.

Furthermore, each stage three quest card has a unique effect that triggers when the player at that stage quests successfully. These effects can be used to aid the other players at different stages. For example, Guard the Hobbits ( The Road Darkens , 64) reads:

Response: After you quest successfully, choose a player. Ready each of that player’s heroes.”

This effect can be used to ready your heroes or a teammate’s depending on who you think needs that benefit the most. The players will have to make good use of these effects in order to win Breaking of the Fellowship since the player who discovers the Ring-bearer at stage three will be the only one to advance to stage four, and only that player can help Frodo escape and defeat the scenario.

Of course, as the players are trying to help the Ring-bearer , the enemies are also hunting for him. This is represented by cards such as the treachery, Growing Threat ( The Road Darkens , 80):

When Revealed: Either move 1 enemy engaged with you to the first player’s staging area, or Growing Threat gains doomed 2 and surge.”

Just like the members of the Fellowship all paid a high price to protect Frodo and help him on his way to Mordor, you, your friends, and your heroes will have to undertake real hardships in order to defeat Breaking of the Fellowship .

There’s so much more I could say about each of the scenarios in The Road Darkens , and about how the cards in each encounter deck work with the overall theme for that scenario, but I don’t want to ruin all the exciting surprises that await you. Instead, I’m looking forward to hearing how you resolve the different choices you have to make and confront the all-new challenges that these scenarios present!

Note: The Road Darkens is scheduled to arrive at retailers next month. In the meantime, watch for our next preview in which Caleb introduces several of the expansion’s many new boons and burdens!

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.

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