"The night was old, and westward the waning moon was setting, gleaming fitfully through the breaking clouds. Suddenly Frodo started from sleep. Without warning a storm of howls broke out fierce and wild all about the camp. A great host of Wargs had gathered silently and was now attacking them from every side at once."
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Guided by the young Dúnedain Ranger Amarthíul, several of Middle-earth's greatest heroes have traveled fast and far in pursuit of Amarthíul's captive friend and mentor, the Ranger Iárion. From Fornost, where Iárion was captured, they traveled through the North Downs, and when the trail of the unnatural spirits that had taken Iárion continued further northward, so did the heroes. The green hills gave way to the vast and desolate lands of northern Eriador, and still the pressed on. All the while, the weather grew colder and fouler. Snow and freezing rain drove down against their cloaks and hoods, and then came something even worse – fierce howls that broke the stillness of the night…
The Wastes of Eriador is now available at U.S. retailers, and the time has come to travel into the tainted northern reaches of Middle-earth, to take your first steps into the wastelands once ruled by the sorcerous Witch-king of Angmar.
The Wastes of Eriador is the first Adventure Pack in the Angmar Awakened cycle for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and its new scenario immerses you in the first chapter of the cycle's epic narrative. Alone far beyond the northern boundary of safer lands, your small band of heroes races through rain and snow in pursuit of Iárion and his unnatural captors. However, as day breaks and night falls, your hunters become the hunted!
As developer Matthew Newman noted in his recent Second Breakfast article about the development of the Angmar Awakened cycle, the new scenario from The Wastes of Eriador revolves around a two-sided Time objective card:
"During the daylight hours, [your] enemies pursue you but do not attack, waiting instead for nightfall, at which point they pounce. This creates sudden spikes in tension, as well as moments of relief whenever you survive the darkness long enough to see the break of day."
The novel mechanical effects introduced by this Time objective's two sides, Daybreak (The Wastes of Eriador, 11) andNightfall (The Wastes of Eriador, 12), establish the tenor of the whole scenario.
Moreover, each quest stage echoes the Time in different ways. At the outset of your journey, Stage 1B, Across the Wastes (The Wastes of Eriador, 13), grants each of your heroes an extra point of Willpower during the Day, but forces you to raise your threat whenever it becomes Night. Taken with the facts that the stage requires twenty progress and that Daybreak prevents enemies from making engagement checks, you'll find yourself encouraged to travel swiftly by Day and brace yourself for battle at Night.
This sort of ebb and flow continues as you play, helping you to better imagine how your heroes are undertaking a journey of multiple days through hostile territory. It also increases the tension of the encounters you face once day ends and night begins. As Matt notes:
"You may find yourself with three enemies in the staging area at one moment, and all three of them engaged with you in the next. Bloodthirsty Warg (The Wastes of Eriador, 19), for example, can jump out of the darkness and attack a player, only to retreat into the staging area when the sun rises in the morning."
The more of these nighttime ambushes that you face, the more you'll keep your eyes to the sky, tracking the sun's arc and watching for any clouds that may lead to Sudden Darkness (The Wastes of Eriador, 26). The scenario's Wargs are preternaturaly clever predators, and you won't last long in these barren wastelands if you don't plan ahead of their attacks. You need to use your days not only to make progress on the quest, but also to prepare for the night's assault. If you find yourself confront the whole pack of Wargs all at the same time, you're unlikely to survive, especially if the pack has closed in for the kill, led by the Pack Leader (The Wastes of Eriador, 17).
Accordingly, one of the best things you can do during the day is send one or more members of your fellowship to double back and optionally engage one of the enemies in the staging area, and this only reinforces the scenario's thematic tie to the Dúnedain introduced in The Lost Realm, most of whom thrive on engaging enemies.
"'I have a sword,' said Merry, climbing from his seat, and drawing from its black sheath his small bright blade."
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
While the Dúnedain continue to receive support throughout the Angmar Awakened cycle, they're not the only people it revisits, and within The Wastes of Eriador alone, you'll find new allies from Gondor, as well as a trio of new Hobbit-themed cards to represent the Shire.
Foremost among these is a new version of the Hobbit hero, Merry (The Wastes of Eriador, 1). Like the Tactics version of Merry from The Black Riders, this new Spirit version is surprisingly adept at dealing with enemies. However, this Merry isn't an attacker who rises to the occasion; he's a loyal friend who's willing to travel with his companions, no matter how frightening the journey may prove. Accordingly, his ability doesn't help him defeat enemies so much as it prevents enemies from threatening to end the company's quest.
"Response: After an enemy is revealed from the top of the encounter deck, exhaust Merry to reduce your threat by that enemy's [Threat Strength]."
This ability can be particularly useful in a Secrecy deck or in a Hobbit deck in which you need time to equip your brave little heroes with Weapons and other attachments before they're ready to engage the enemies massing in the staging area. However, unless you have a way to ready Merry after committing him to the quest, his ability requires you to hold him back from the quest. Then, if you don't reveal an enemy, you've squandered his potential contribution to your larger effort… unless, of course, he's riding a Hobbit Pony (The Wastes of Eriador, 7).
The second of the Adventure Pack's three Hobbit-themed cards, Hobbit Pony attaches to a Hobbit hero and allows you to commit the attached character to the quest as an action. Attached to Merry, a Hobbit Pony guarantees that you get the best use of his talents each turn, whether you choose to exhaust him for his ability or to commit his Willpower to the quest.
Meanwhile, Merry isn't the only brave and curious Brandybuck to appear in The Wastes of Eriador. Curious Brandybuck (The Wastes of Eriador, 6) is a two-cost ally who's always eager to explore new locations. In fact, when you travel to a location, the Curious Brandybuck is willing to jump into play for free, under any player's control. On the other hand, his curiosity outpaces his loyalty, and whenever you explore the active location, the Curious Brandybuck drifts away, returning to the bottom of its owner's deck.
Naturally, since the Curious Brandybuck offers two Willpower, versus zero Attack or Defense Strength, you might expect him to play a role in your quest phase, contributing his Willpower toward your progression. This is reasonable, and it's a good use for his attributes, but it's also possible to use him as a diversion. After you travel to a location and bring the Curious Brandybuck into play, you can engage an enemy and use him to defend that enemy's attack. In this way, if the Curious Brandybuck leaves play, he serves something like a zero-cost Feint (Core Set, 34), although you'd still suffer from any negative Shadow effects or from other effects that trigger when a character is destroyed. Still, if you don't see any of those, the Curious Brandybuck's diversion can prove the difference between losing a hero and moving steadily forward with your quest.
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