Into the Spider's Lair
The Land of Shadow Saga Expansion Is Now Available for The Lord of the Rings
Gollum, it seemed, had crawled off along the ledge into the darkness beyond, when the gates of Minas Morgul opened, leaving the hobbits where they lay. He now came creeping back, his teeth chattering and his fingers snapping. "Foolish! Silly!" he hissed. "Make haste! They musn't think danger has passed. It hasn't. Make haste!"
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Rivendell, Moria, and Lórien lay behind you. Bag End is a distant memory or an idyllic dream of happier times. Ahead of you now lie the Mountains of Shadow, Ephel Dúath, and beyond those lie Mordor and the fires of Mount Doom, the only fires in all of Middle-earth that can destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord. To some extent, then, the end of your journey is almost within sight, yet these last legs are bound to be the most difficult.
The fourth The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansion, The Land of Shadow allows you to relive selected events from the second half of The Two Towers. You'll journey alongside Frodo Baggins and endure the company of the strange creature known as Gollum. Over the course of your adventures, you must navigate haunted marshes, aid the Rangers of Ithilien in a military skirmish, and confront the ancient spider known as Shelob within her darkened and odious caverns.
From Stagnant Mires to Shelob's Lair
As they trace Frodo's journey through the second half of The Two Towers, the three new scenarios from The Land of Shadow Saga Expansion carry you from the Dead Marshes to the forests of Ithilien and, finally, to the darkened tunnels of Shelob's lair.
In our earlier previews, we explored the role that Gollum (The Land of Shadow, 75) and Sméagol (The Land of Shadow, 76) play throughout these adventures, we looked at the new heroes and player cards with which you might find the strength to defeat them, and we took a look at the burdens and boons that come in the expansion and that will ensure the choices you make in these adventures will continue to resonate until the fateful end of your journey.
Today, however, as the expansion is now available, we take a closer look at its adventures, exploring their themes, their challenges, and the new mechanics they introduce.
The Passage of the Marshes
The Saga Expansion's first scenario is a relatively straight-forward push through the Dead Marshes. Nonetheless, it feels fresh and disinctive thanks to the introduction of the Sméagol / Gollum objective and the new mechanics that accompany the scenario's Mire X keyword, which appears on all of its locations.
Designed to represent the shifting, sinking nature of the Dead Marshes, the Mire keyword actually discards locations from play whenever they have a number of resource tokens on them equal to their Mire X values. However, as much as you might think it's good to have those locations and their threat strengths removed from the staging area, you'll want to think twice about letting them simply slip away. All of them feature nasty Forced effects that trigger whenever they're discarded via the Mire keyword, but that you can bypass by exploring them normally.
For example, when Stagnant Pools (The Land of Shadow, 22) is discarded by its Mire keyword, each player must raise his or her threat by five. Thankfully, all the scenario's copies of Stagnant Pools feature a Mire value of five, so you'll have more than one chance to travel to the location and clear it before it sinks into the Mire. Still, you won't want to wait a long time to travel to the Stagnant Pools. For each resource token on the card, it gains an extra point of threat strength, so that if you ignore it, it can get up to a total of seven threat strength before it leaves the staging area.
Meanwhile, a number of other locations are more difficult to explore. Soft Mires (The Land of Shadow, 23) have a Mire value of just one, meaning that unless you can travel to the Mires or place three progress on them the turn they appear, they're going to leave play at the end of the refresh phase, triggering the Forced reveal of a new encounter card. A one-for-one encounter card replacement may seem like a fair trade, but the unusual timing of the reveal might cause some interesting problems should you stumble into a treachery card like We Hates Them! (The Land of Shadow, 55) or A Fell Light (The Land of Shadow, 26).
Journey to the Cross-roads
Once you, Frodo, and Sméagol make your way through the Dead Marshes, you join with the Rangers of Ithilien and participate in their ambush against the Haradrim marching through the forests to the Black Gates.
There is only one quest stage in this scenario. During setup, it instructs you to set aside all nine enemies from the Men of Harad encounter set, placing them beneath The Cross-roads (The Land of Shadow, 30), which begins in play in the staging area. Then, at the beginning of each quest phase, you must reveal the top card from The Cross-roads and add it to the staging area before you then reveal cards from the encounter deck as usual.
This is important for two reasons. First, it means that you are guaranteed to reveal at least one enemy for each of your first nine rounds. More important, though, is the fact that this steady progression of enemies forces you into engagements. You can't simply allow the enemies to enter the staging area and then stay there because at the end of the planning phase, all Harad enemies in the staging area are placed under The Black Gate (The Land of Shadow, 27). And if there are ever three more enemies under The Black Gate than the number of players in the game, you lose.
Accordingly, Journey to the Cross-roads forces you to act swiftly and strike true. If you don't want to lose, you must engage enemies. And if you're going to engage enemies like the Oliphaunt (The Land of Shadow, 56), you're going to want a plan for eliminating them before they trample all over your fellowship.
In the end, as Journey to the Cross-roads recounts Frodo's journey through Ithilien, it places a much greater emphasis on the battle with the Haradrim than you might find in the novels. This is partially to add to the diversity within the expansion's scenarios, but also to lend greater weight to the decisions you make and the actions you take in Campaign Mode.
Ominously, the scenario's Campaign card reads, "Resolution: […] Record the name and quantity of each enemy underneath The Black Gate in the notes section of the campaign log." As players, we know that the Rangers' ambush of the Haradrim reduced the number of forces that Sauron assembled at the Black Gate to confront Aragorn, Gandalf, Faramir, and Imrahil in The Return of the King, and the Campaign card suggests that any of the Haradrim you fail to defeat in Journey to the Cross-roads are likely to make another appearance in a later scenario.
Should you survive your journey through the Dead Marshes and your encounter with the armies of Harad, the third and final scenario from The Land of Shadow provides you the opportunity to encounter one of Middle-earth's oldest and deadliest adversaries – Shelob (The Land of Shadow, 40).
The last child of Ungoliant, Shelob appears in Shelob's Lair as an Indestructible enemy with four threat strength, four attack strength, four defense strength, and eight hit points. She gains one threat strength for each resource on her, and she gains resources with her Forced effect:
"Forced: At the beginning of the quest phase, either place 1 resource on Shelob, or she makes an immediate attack against the first player."
Of course, the scenario includes plenty of other effects that add resources to Shelob. Locations like Cleft of Cirith Ungol (The Land of Shadow, 45) and Den of Night (The Land of Shadow, 49) require you to add a resource to Shelob in order to travel to them, and the treachery card Lurking Malice (The Land of Shadow, 61) forces you to decide between adding a resource to Shelob or defending yourself against her attack.
All of this is important because once Gollum reveals his treachery, Shelob is the last obstacle you must overcome before you can continue into the realm of Mordor. And all of those resource tokens you added to Shelob? They can be spent to negate any amount of damage you might deal her.
The third and final quest stage forces you to defeat Shelob in order to win, but it also guarantees that Shelob won't be slain in a single attack:
"While Shelob has at least 1 resource on her, she gains: 'Forced: When Shelob is dealt any amount of damage, cancel that damage and discard 1 resource from Shelob instead.'"
Even as the quest stage guarantees that Shelob will stick around long enough to truly threaten your heroes, Cleft of Cirith Ungol – which you must explore in order to remove Shelob's invulnerability – adds two to her attack strength. And if that's not enough, the scenario is full of effects that discard random cards from your hand or encourage you to discard random cards from your hand in order to avoid greater threats. In effect, the deeper you go into Shelob's Lair, the more that you and your gear are likely to get caught up in her webs.
The time has come to march once more toward the shadowed lands of Mordor, but the road is rough and full of evils. Don't partake in any foolish delays. Make haste. The Land of Shadow is now available at retailers throughout the United States. Pick up your copy today!
Availability in other regions may vary.