NinjaDorg’s LOTR: LCG Journey to Rhosgobel Review
You can find my other reviews of the LOTR expansion packs here:
NinjaDorg's "Massing at Osgiliath" Review
NinjaDorg's "Conflict at the Carrock" Review
NinjaDorg's "The Hunt For Gollum" Review
SPOILER WARNING – this review will slightly spoil not only this expansion pack, but maybe some others too...
Ah, Rhosgobel. Rustic home of Radagast the Brown. As always there’s a bunch of beautifully thematic elements in this set – and I love the fact that you not only get to visit Radagast’s home, but that he also appears as an Ally. So he can escort you to his house, if you like.
Basically, after having raided the homes of some innocent Trolls and beaten the living crap out of a whole bunch of them at the Carrock, the latest LOTR expansion pack sees your relentless Heroes meeting up with the great eagle Wilyador. Sadly, he’s been attacked and he’s bleeding out towards an inevitable death... Unless you’re able to save him by hunting the undergrowth for weeds, and then doping him up on Athelas.
A quick word on the new hero cards - which let’s face it are nowhere near as interesting as the new quests – some are good and expensive (Haldir), some are nice and affordable (Mathom), and some are seriously situational and deck-diluting (To The Eyrie). I’m sure there are great future combos to had with these cards but I’m finding with each small expansion pack that some Hero cards are just being instantly buried back in the box.
Imrahil is a good but expensive Hero who plays like a poor man’s Aragorn.
As these expansion packs are released it is quickly becoming apparent that you need to read through all the special objective cards and mission cards before you play. Which is a shame because I’d like to be surprised by what’s coming up in the new adventures. But without reading the cards first you will quickly find yourself pretty much automatically defeated...
For example, in Conflict at the Carrock you’ll race through the first stage under the quite fair assumption that speed is of the essence. Then you’ll crash into a bunch of Trolls who will murder you in short order because you weren’t prepared for them.
In Hunt for Gollum you’ll race through to Stage 3 and then be thrown back to the start of Stage 2 for not having enough Clues.
The same occurs in Rhosgobel when you race through the first two stages only to discover that Wilyador instantly dies because you didn’t collect enough Athelas herbs.
So all three of these scenarios rely on you employing slightly odd, thematically dubious delaying tactics. Which means you’ll want to bring all your threat reducing cards so you can stick around for longer whilst you build your forces before moving forward. For Conflict you need to amass a bunch of fighters. For Gollum you need to ransack the encounter deck for Clues whilst getting Location overloaded.
And in Rhosgobel you need to ransack the encounter deck for Athelas herbs to heal Wilyador. The problem here is that whilst you’re doing that, old Big Bird is losing 2HP every turn. So you get a nice, threat-independent timer ushering you along. Unfortunately this means you won’t be finishing this scenario without a Lore deck, and more specifically the card ‘Lore of Imladris’, which you will basically want in your first hand - otherwise take a mulligan. You see, all healing cards are removed from the game when used and none can heal more than 5HP from the broken eagle. Which makes Lore of Imladris the most cost effective and efficient method of healing Big Bird short of actually finding those slippery Athelas herbs.
Now then. Athelas. In Hunt for Gollum you had a scenario-designed method of scouring the encounter deck for Clues (e.g. drawing 3 and placing 1 card). In Rhosgobel the scenario offers you a similar option but insanely requires you to further injure Big Bird to draw the extra encounter cards! I can’t see why you’d ever risk this, since you only have about 9 turns to beat the scenario as it is.
So in my first play-through using my usually reliable Leadership and Spirit (Aragorn, Theodred, Eowyn) deck I was completely boned. I hammered the Galadrim Greetings and Gandalfs to keep my threat low and try to scavenge for herbs but the encounter deck just kept throwing out enemies and locations and – the biggest danger of all in this scenario – killer treacheries. The Treachery in this deck is horrible. Your troops will be littered with little red wound markers and before you know it your guys will be dropping from Festering Wounds and having their eyeballs plucked from their sockets by vicious flying beasties (who ignore all attacks but those from your Ranged characters).
Next up was my Tactics/Lore deck starring Gloryboy, Denethor and Legolas, who, it seems, were all born to play this scenario. Glorfindel heals your boys from all the treachery damage you’ll be accruing whilst also questing (or scrapping) as needed, Denethor hooks up with his Palantir (dealer) to score you de Herb, whilst Legolas despatches those pesky flying buggers winging their way out of the encounter deck at you (and netting you precious extra progress tokens).
On my first try I managed to pull together two Athelas herbs and race through to the second stage using Protector of Lorien on Glorfindel. Hurtling towards the final stage I had 11 wounds on Big Bird but also one resource on Glorfindel – so I could remove him from the game him to heal Wilyador - and needed one progress token to complete the stage (and thus win). I gingerly pulled the encounter card, and out came the Festering Wounds. Everyone died and Big Bird committed suicide to put himself out of his misery. Failed.
The next attempt luckily met with complete success and Big Bird was saved, although it again very much depended on the encounter deck draw. Basically you really need Denethor to help you parse the encounter deck as quickly as possible and discard anything which isn’t a) an Athelas Herb or b) the Location where the Herbs grow.
The encounter cards not being split into 2 or 3 different icon types is now starting to really show as a design flaw when it comes to fanmade scenarios. Granted, that clearly wasn’t FFG’s focus, but there are great individual encounter cards in these sets which would be nice to combine together, but it becomes very fiddly listing which cards you want to include. And if you shuffle two or more of these encounter decks together it would be ridiculously huge.
On balance I like the quest. It’s certainly a step up from the sheer disappointment of Carrock, and it’s much harder than the relatively simple Hunt for Gollum.
None of them yet match Massing at Osgiliath, however. I don’t know if it was a different designer or what, but with Massing you get a nice scale of difficulty which doesn’t demand that you scale your deck specifically by demanding that you include Trackers/Guides (Gollum) or uber fighters (Carrock) or Lore/Healing (Rhosgobel). Furthermore, the ‘twist’ in Massing – crossing the Anduin and having to discard a Hero or Ranger – is manageable and interesting with whichever decks you choose. You aren’t instantly going to lose because you didn’t include card x. Although you may instantly lose because it’s just plain hard, which I’m fine with...
I think also I prefer that Massing has 4 active and interesting stages to progress through. Carrock only has two and one doesn’t actually tell you how to win, Rhosgobel only has two – the final card being more of a victory condition addendum than an actual stage – and there is another forthcoming scenario that fits on one single mission card. I tend to think that’s a quality-diminishing trend, kind of lazy and uninteresting. Give us more scenario cards, more interesting paths to choose and more scenario effects – not less. FFG set the precedent themselves with Passage Through Mirkwood’s two potential final stages, so I can’t believe they’ve not capitalised on that yet.
In summary: a flawed but nice and challenging addition to the game that is more luck-dependent than previous outings, with some brutal encounter cards and a nice new timer mechanic that requires you build your deck accordingly. It also continues the tradition of keeping the ’official’ campaign/Nightmare mode unplayable.