"They seemed often in the blind dark to sense some resistance thicker than the foul air. As they thrust forward they felt things brush against their heads, or against their hands, long tentacles, or hanging growths perhaps: they could not tell what they were. And still the stench grew."
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Beneath the Sands is the third Adventure Pack in the Haradrim cycle for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and its new scenario makes it clear that there's more than Haradrim to fear among the lands of Harad. As several of Middle-earth's greatest heroes continue their perilous homeward journey through the hostile lands of Harad, they find evidence that a pack giant spiders have dragged people under the dunes. Compelled to investigate, these heroes must crawl into the spider's tunnels, only to navigate a scenario that weaves through a labyrinth of cobweb-choked darkness, blocked passages, and deadly spiders. Time is of the essence, as the spiders' victims may yet be alive, but you'll need to be clever and attentive lest you become lost underground.
With scenario-specific rules that allow you to squander your progress when you get off-track, even if you quest successfully, Beneath the Sands places an emphasis upon the game's questing and exploration in a way that truly allows you to feel trapped in a maze. Fortunately, the Adventure Pack also comes with a new Scout hero and twenty-seven player cards (three copies each of nine different cards) to help you get back onto the proper path – or forge your own.
There's more than Haradrim to fear among the lands of Harad. There are the jungles and the beasts that lair within them. There are the Orcs and Wargs sent by the Dark Lord of Mordor to patrol the region. And there are the deadly expanses of desert, where the sun and dehydration can kill you slowly, provided you're not first captured and eaten by the hidden predators that lie in wait.
In Beneath the Sands, several of Middle-earth's greatest heroes continue their perilous journey through the hostile lands of Harad, only to find evidence of giant spiders that have dragged people under the dunes. Compelled to investigate, your heroes must crawl into the spider's tunnels, only to navigate a scenario that weaves through a labyrinth of cobweb-choked darkness, blocked passages, and deadly spiders. Time is of the essence, as the spiders' victims may yet be alive, but you'll need to be clever and attentive lest you become lost underground.
With scenario-specific rules that allow you to squander your progress when you get off-track, even if you quest successfully, Beneath the Sands places an emphasis upon the game's questing and exploration in a way that truly allows you to feel trapped in a maze. Fortunately, the Adventure Pack also comes with a new Scout hero and twenty-seven player cards (three copies each of nine different cards) to help you get back onto the proper path—or forge your own.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game have faced Spiders before. If you're a longtime veteran, you may have fought your way through the spiders of Mirkwood not only in the Core Set and the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle of Adventure Packs, but also in The Hobbit: On the Doorstep. But the Spiders of Middle-earth are by no means limited to Mirkwood. The nastiest of all living Spiders doesn't live in Mirkwood at all; Shelob (The Land of Shadow, 40), the daughter of Ungoliant, famously lived within Cirith Ungol, a passage into Mordor through the Mountains of Ash. Of course, Shelob appears in The Land of Shadow Saga Expansion.
Given the many varieties of spiders and the many places in which they can live, it's no surprise that The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game also explored the possibility of Cave Spiders (The Long Dark, 97) residing within the abandoned mines of Moria. And now we find more giant spiders, but this time we see them as one of the deadlier predators living beneath the sands of Harad's deserts.
In Beneath the Sands, your heroes must travel through the network of tunnels in which these giant spiders have made their lair. The victims they've captured may still be alive—at least that's your hope!—and rescuing them depends upon two things. First, you must do your best to stay On Track (Beneath the Sands, 80). Then, once you find your way to the spiders' nest, you must draw your weapons and defeat the vermin in battle.
On Track exists as one side of a double-sided Search objective, the back of which wanders Off Track (Beneath the Sands, 79). Placed into the staging area during setup, this Search objective introduces an idea that's completely new within The Lord of the Rings—it is possible to quest in the wrong direction. Regardless which side of the Search objective is faceup, you'll suffer all the same penalties should you fail to quest successfully. However, if the Off Track side is faceup, you cannot place progress on the main quest because your heroes are searching in the wrong direction.
As a result, should you ever end up headed Off Track, you'll need to find your way back On Track by traveling to a location with the Track X keyword. Whenever you travel to a location with the Track X keyword, like Blocked Passage(Beneath the Sands, 72), you'll discard a number of cards from the top of the encounter deck equal to the location's Track value. So if you were to travel to Blocked Passage, you would discard two cards from the top of the encounter deck. If either of those cards then had the words "On Track" printed in the lower right, you would find your way back On Track, flipping the Search objective to that side.
In addition to its clever take on the game's mechanics for questing and exploration, Beneath the Sands offers a renewed focus on the game's Traits and side quests. Throughout the Haradrim cycle, you'll find a range of new events that reward creative deck-builds by offering powerful effects to players able to pair specific combinations of Traits. Meanwhile, the cycle's new side quests introduce lingering effects that trigger from your victory pile, meaning the sooner you complete them, the more impactful they will be.
These side quests become even more valuable in Beneath the Sands since they allow you to derive benefits from the progress you make while questing, even if that progress cannot be placed on the main quest. When you consider this alongside the fact that the scenario's Spiders become deadlier as you remain On Track, you may find that your trip Beneath the Sands is a perfect reason for including the new side quest Keep Watch (Beneath the Sands, 59) in your deck.
Once added to your victory display, Keep Watch applies a one-point penalty to the Attack Strength of each non-unique enemy engaged with a player. Given how wounds tend to add up, this could be the difference between taking no wounds from your engagements with enemies, or watching your characters bleed one point at a time, until the next point of damage would eliminate a hero.
And as for Traits? There are a number of different cards that target your Traits—or provide you with a Trait—including a new card that rewards you for building your deck around characters with both the Warrior and ScoutTraits. Still, for many players, given how many of them come to the game first through their love of Tolkien's novels, the gem of the lot may very well prove to be The Free Peoples (Beneath the Sands, 64).
At a cost of five resources, this event is undeniably expensive, but it is also unquestionably powerful. Like the Core Set event Grim Resolve (Core Set, 25), The Free Peoples allows you to ready all characters in play. The more players and allies you have in play, the more powerful this card becomes, especially since it also provides the secondary benefit of granting a one-point boost to each character's Willpower until the end of the phase. Commit every character in play to the quest, and play The Free Peoples; suddenly, you have every character ready to travel and fight, and they're all gaining the equivalent of a boost from Core Set Faramir (Core Set, 14).
The catch, of course, is that you have to spot nine different Traits to trigger the card. You can get a head start on this through the careful selection of heroes with multiple Traits. For example, Leadership Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller, 1) and Elfhelm (Temple of the Deceived, 57) have six different Traits between the two of them, leaving you in need of only three more. Add a couple of allies, or one of the attachments from the Haradrim cycle that adds a Trait, and you'll find it relatively easy to meet the event's requirement.
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