Mono Deck Solo Play – 8 games vs Mirkwood scenario!

How does it play solo?

For my first session report with another player check here:…

Okay so I pretty much tore into this game with a massive solo session last night and it was a bit of a rollercoaster experience, with some serious playability concerns growing at first, which luckily were soon smashed.

For speed and ease of play I dispensed with deck-building and dual sphere-ing and whatnot and just took the decks as they come. I wanted to see how each of them played, and to keep it a fair test I stuck to the same basic Passage Through Mirkwood scenario. I also didn’t want to ruin too many of the surprises and cards for when I play the other scenarios with mates.

Choosing the Leadership team first – my thematic favourite – I set up and set off. Having played this deck already I thought the familiarity would help. This was wrong. One mono-sphere deck against the game scales well because you only draw one encounter card during the Quest phase instead of two cards (for two players). But you still start with the rather nasty Forest Spider and distracting Old Forest Road in play no matter how many players there are. And they’re both fairly tricky to deal with.

Game 1 (Leadership): Given the fairly low willpower of this group I concentrated as much as I could on questing and started throwing low cost allies into the path of incoming enemies like the very first Forest Spider. Rapidly drawing a few spiders I soon found myself overwhelmed. Spiders are especially nasty because their low threat value means they’re mostly going to engage you straight away, for example you can’t just let them sit in the staging area whilst you sneak past. My allies were being slaughtered whilst my heroes were off questing and trying to get past any locations thrown my way. Progress on the quest was agonisingly slow and the Shadow effect cards were wounding my heroes even as their allies were dying. It wasn’t long before my wounds were racking up, and the heroes had to return from questing to defend against the spider hordes. By this time there were too many of them and my badly injured heroes started to fall, one by one. When you start losing heroes it really needs to be the endgame, because with less heroes your resources are reduced but your threat track remains high (as opposed to starting with less heroes in exchange for a lower starting threat), you have less characters to defend with and you’re going to have less characters coming in to support you. With just 5 Progress tokens on the first quest card I soon found myself buckling to the will of Sauron.

Game 2 (Leadership): Even more determined I reshuffled and set off, once again concentrating all my efforts on questing with the heroes and throwing minions up as defence. Generally the Leadership allies are quite weak and squishy so throwing them into spider mouths only buys you an extra turn or so against each enemy. Once again the spiders came in thick and fast, and even the sneaky orcses had some nasty When Revealed: effects such as throwing damage at my questing heroes. Once again, the enemies got out of control and no matter how much I tried to quest, the high threat of staged monsters and locations prevented my progress whilst ‘back home’ the Gondorian warriors and their mates were being butchered. I eventually reached the same situation as last game, having to pull back my wounded heroes for defence and watching my threat meter rocket because I couldn’t make any Quest progress. Once again my team were defeated with a mere 3 Progress tokens on Stage 1.

Game 3 (Leadership): This time I was determined to deal with threats more efficiently and only quest where possible, although still pretty much leaving Theodred in a permanently exhausted questing state to get his resource pool growing. Slaying the enemies as and when they appeared and tactically using allies for group attacks instead of just as human shields started to pay off and I started seeing enemy encounter cards die and hit the discard pile more often, which was more satisfying but still very difficult. I actually made some good progress on the first quest stage and even reached the second quest stage, but my threat was high because of my poor questing efforts. And then Ungoliant’s Spawn came into play, an extremely tough ‘boss’ monster, which should be worth some Victory Points at least (but isn’t). Not realising the danger this thing posed to me I carried on regardless and this thing engaged me. It’s massive 9 hit points were insurmountable given my drained resources and wounded heroes and it was the death of me. As it ate my heroes one by one, chewing their bones and grinning at me, I genuinely began to despair that this game is BROKEN and UNWINNABLE with one player. It was like Space Hulk: Death Angel for masochists. Huffing in frustration I reshuffled, telling myself I’d give this team one more go before moving onto a different sphere deck. Although even then I was very dubious as I’d heard on BGG that the other decks were weaker and would fair even worse, especially in solo mono deck play. In summary: Leadership group died Vs Ungoliant’s Spawn.

Game 4 (Leadership): Tackling enemies as soon as possible and travelling all the time to take location threats out of the staging area I began to use heroes for defence more, allowing my weaker allies a turn or two to get their bearings and join the battle instead of simply chucking them onto orc spears. My own area began to rival the staging area for a change and before long my growing group of allies started to look more like a war party. Progress on the quests was slow but steady and I made my way carefully right the way through to the 3rd and final quest stage. Drawing randomly I reached Beorn’s path with more than just a sigh of relief. Somehow, putting down 10 progress tokens seemed eminently more achievable than slaying the Ungoliant’s Spawn that had destroyed me last game. I just had to survive without the bloody thing showing up and ruining my plans (since you can’t win if it’s in play). My stalwart allies launched themselves mercilessly at the orcs, goblins and spiders that were emerging from the forests and their tenacity paid off. With an impressive 3 heroes and 5 allies still in play I reached the end stage – it could be one of two options: a long journey down Beorn’s Path or a face-off with the Ungoliant Spawn boss. Luckily I got Beorn’s path, beat my way down it, and racked up a fairly impressive score of 40 points (although it’s the lower the better for those unfamiliar with the scoring system). My first solo victory, huzzah!

Game 5 (Tactics): Time to bring in the fighting team. Tactics is all about taking cheques and kicking arse, which means questing is tricky but killing baddies is easier. In theory. Holding Gimli back for defence and Legolas back for assassinations I sent Thalin questing to try and murder things coming out of the encounter deck, as is his wont. It didn’t work out. Making little progress on the quests had my threat track going up, and due to some agonising decisions over what cards to play I ended up with some less useful attachments in play and limited resources whilst the monsters kept coming. I managed to place 1 Progress token on stage 1 before the end came to my heroes, in a bad way. Could this deck be worse than Leadership? Was my single solo victory a fluke??

Game 6 (Tactics): I regrouped, reshuffled and went back in. Carefully managing the steady stream of beasties I gave Legolas an early Gondolin blade and use his assassination techniques to put progress down on the quests and locations, almost coming to rely on this for my progress because of the low collective willpower of the Tactics group. Questing resulted in damage control rather than significant progress, so Legolas killing things seems key to keeping things moving with this deck. Bringing in some help early on I once again started being previous about my allies and keeping them around where I could. I also drew my Gandalf card early and kept him in hand, mindful of the possibility that Ungoliant’s Spawn could turn up any minute. With 2 brave allies backing me up I accrued my resources and threaded my way through to the final stage: a showdown with U Know Who Spawn. Worrying that perhaps the only way to win this scenario with a mono deck was to beat Beorn’s Path I genuinely started to consider removing this Ungoliant Spawn showdown card from the quest deck. Ploughing on I quickly brought Gandalf in who fired off a magical attack and caused the Ungodly Spawn no small amount of ball ache. I set up a trap for the nasty pastie: my brave Gondorian spearman steadied his spear and stood before the gigantic spider. It rushed down from the trees and swallowed him whole, whereupon my entire party set upon it hacking with their swords and axes. With a shrieking spasm the beast went down and the Tactics team won with 55VP.

Game 7 (Lore): Bringing a whole new level of tactics the Lore deck works entirely differently from the previous two decks. You get massive access to healing and tons of extra card drawing. Denethor is my new favourite hero too! With his huge 3 defence he can pretty much hold off any enemy. He also has an amazing ability to look at the encounter deck card, which would prove absolutely crucial. In doing so you’re able to plan your entire questing activities in advance and allow for considered defending and, once you’ve got a few allies in play too, your counter attacks to thin the ranks of enemies. Allies were quick to come by in this game and soon I had an army of fairly weak characters but with cool abilities and a formidable amount of willpower between them. And then, to my delight, Henamarth Riversong showed up. This guy is amazing and can possibly win games for you. Like Denethor he can look at the top card of the encounter deck, allowing you to hold back Denethor for his awesome Defence skills. Soon I had traps set for every enemy coming in. Locations were posing little threat and any damage my team received was quickly healed by my army of hippies. When Ungoliant’s Spawn showed up I had plenty of fodder to chuck in the way, but I didn’t need to. After one attack it was trapped in its own webs, my army descended upon the wretched beast and slew it with an unnatural fervour. With the help of a ton of allies I racked up a 57VP win.

Game 8 (Spirit): Eowyn’s unmatched Questing ability brought huge amounts of Progress to the quest deck whilst Eleanor kept the treachery cards in check. The Galadhrim’s Greeting kept my threat so low and my team so sneaky that most enemies couldn’t engage me. So Dunhere’s ability to target enemies in the staging area meant that from the very start, even tough enemies were taking damage and eventually, if ever, coming into engage me in a drastically weakened state, making them much easier to pick off. So, in my final turn I marched into the final stage with 2 allies and Gandalf in tow. Ungoliant’s Spawn didn’t stand a chance. Spirit group: Won vs Ungoliant Spawn with 32VP.

Summary thoughts

Random Encounter and Shadow card draw is definitely a huge factor in this game, which may not appeal to some, but you are armed with a fine array of tactical options with which to tackle incoming obstacles and enemies. The decks individually work beautifully and elegantly, and once I began to get a grasp on the tactics of each one, the game played more smoothly and easily. Bearing in mind of course this is only the first introductory quest, I fully expect the later scenarios to rise significantly in difficulty. Initial fears that the decks were ‘unfinished’ or ‘incomplete’ were utterly laid to rest, as each hero sphere proved formidable in its own unique manner. But most of all, the possibilities for synergies with other players using different decks in multiplayer games were extremely tantalising. Got a session planned with Mmzomba for tonight. Cannae wait…

PS. Have you seen the art? Did I mention the art yet? It’s flipping brilliant!