The Weather Hills
I remember cracking open The Lost Realms on the day of release with much excitement (granted it wasn’t really that long ago), marveling at the new player cards and shivering in fear at the new upcoming dangers I will face. I like to read each card as I sleeve them, even encounter cards, and as I was sleeving the Weather Hills I got a “Hills of Emyn Muil” vibe from the quest, and not because of its name. Your heroes are traveling through harsh landscapes with some impressive vistas, fighting off the dangers nature throws at you. Instead of risky traversal, and falling rocks, you’re dealing with harsh weather.
I definitely felt that vibe while playing. But this time enemies seem more frequent, and side quests are there to spice things up. I’m one of the few who actually likes Emyn Muil, but it can be bit a boring just seeing a swath of locations with not much else. So with the added excitement of more enemies and side quests, I thought this could be “Emyn Muil” done right. I had high hopes for this quest.
But those hopes were quickly dashed aside as I was brutally destroyed time and time again. This wasn’t a leisurely stroll through vast hilly landscapes, no, this was a like a treacherous journey climbing Mount Doom itself, except much, much, colder.
The interesting dynamic for this quest is that you’re Hunting Orcs that have fled from the events of the previous quest by scouring the vast surrounding landscape. At least I think, I haven’t read the inserts or the flavor texts on the quest cards yet. I’m here for gameplay, not story. But I do appreciate mechanics that are tied thematically. This is represented by the orc deck, a smaller, separate encounter deck filled with nasty orcs and concealed camps. You reveal a card from the orc deck largely by exploring locations.
Then in order to advance to the next quest stage you have to kill orcs. Each orc kill nets you a resource on Hunting the Orcs card in the staging area. Get enough resources and you immediately advance to Stage 2A, and that’s where **** hits the fan (more on that later). And you do all of this while trying not to freeze to death. So, explore locations, kill orcs, bring some hot cocoa, and survive. Easy right? Well, eh… no.
At the very start things are stacked against you. You have two locations that punish you if you turtle up. Exposed Ridge damages your characters when it continues to stay as the active location and Weathered Hilltop starts off small but gets huge the longer you play as weather cards will more than likely show up. But if you quest too fast clearing locations, you’re faced with tons enemies. So kill them right? Yes, but, if you do, you advance to Stage 2A and things get real difficult, real quick. Oh and I nearly forgot the first weather treachery revealed surges thanks to quest Stage 1B. So, don’t dilly dally too much.
I was faced with tough choices from the very start. And I continued to face tough choices throughout the duration of the quest. And for the most part that’s great, those types of choices adds tension and danger. But the encounter deck is armed with some frustrating cards. There’s nothing worse than the encounter deck chaining Biting Wind into Cold from Angmar. Actually, Biting Wind surging into Freezing Blast is just as bad. The direct damage in this quest is brutal! The encounter deck becomes Oprah dolling out damage to everyone. And you don’t want any damage on your characters as evident to some of those weather treachery cards. Some shadow effects are made worse, like Exposed Ridge or Freezing Blast. It’s bad enough dealing with locations and enemies (who seem to be immune to weather I might add), and now I’m being whittled away by Mother Nature.
And it gets worse as Stage 2A comes into play. The orcs come back fighting with a vengeance. Hunting Orcs, a popular sport in the area I imagine, flips to its evil counterpart into Savage Counter-attack. These orcs are out for blood, more than ever. Those resource tokens that use to keep score on the orc hunting sport, now becomes your lives, and once they’re out, it’s game over man. Because of the weather whittling your characters away, there’s a good chance your guys become easy pickings.
The worst is quest Stage 2B itself. At the start of the quest phase I’m forced to discard a token from Savage Counter-attack, therefore advancing the ticking time bomb or reveal another encounter card. That’s not good. But the worst in my opinion, and perhaps the kicker in my building frustration with this quest is that each damaged character gets -1 Willpower.
That global penalty really slows things down at a time where you don’t have that luxury to sit and wait. More often than not I have many guys damaged thanks to the harsh weather from previous rounds. It’s… it’s relentless. Seriously, who’s bright idea was it to chase after these orcs anyway? >_>
I’ve played this quest several times using 4 different decks and I’ve never managed to win once with either of them. The first two decks I don’t recall, this was a few months back. But recently I’ve tried my hand at tackling this quest using Champions of Gondor and a Rossiel silvan deck.
I’ve had more success with the elves largely in part to the amazing healing potential of Silvan Tracker. But even that wasn’t enough to secure a victory despite some good runs. I don’t remember any epic moments, but I do remember some spectacular failures.
One game I had Boromir’s text box blanked at the worst possible time, during an orc ambush on Stage 2B with a few orcs itching to fight. Boromir was my only line of defense and with no self readying, that was the death knell. GG.
The last game I played I was doing ok. I had an army of elves and thanks to Silvan Tracker, none of my characters were damaged for most of the game. I even dodged the evil Cold of Angmar seeing it only attach once to the main quest which I was about to clear anyway that round. But despite that good luck and pacing myself to gather a sizable force, I never got the Rossiel’s engine rolling. She only got her Willpower boost late in the game, but no Defense boost was in sight. And I was hurting for defenders.
Elves are puny little weakling. They can’t take a beating like a dwarf can. I was defending with Silvan Tracker and taking undefended attacks from low damage orcs constantly, while relying on the healing in place of a reliable defender to stay afloat. My defeat was at the hands of the Angmar Captain. No one could take a hit from this guy and survive. No matter what, I will lose someone. I had a lone Defender of Naith to take one for the team and I crossed my fingers Angmar Captain’s forced effect doesn’t net him another attack.
My lowly silvan defender dies at the orc’s hand and that meant one token from Savage Counter-attack has to be removed, leaving me with one left. I discard the top card of my deck crossing my fingers it’s not an ally, but, my luck had run out. It was an ally, and the Captain got another attack in, this time it went undefended. A hero dies, the last token is removed and that was GG.
Defeat, after defeat! Flawless victory for the encounter deck though. *golf clap*
You might have already guessed, but I’m not a fan of this quest. Even for Easy mode, it’s very difficult. I dread playing Normal mode or the inevitable Nightmare mode! This whole quest is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Pick your poison, location lock or swarms of enemies. But the brutal weather treacheries and that synergy with Stage 2B is what really makes this quest from being a challenge, to an exercise in frustration. It’s a treacherous slog with no respite or recourse.
I have this feeling the quest is harder solo. You can accrue more resource tokens on Hunting Orcs as it scales with the more players there are and the extra encounter cards are not as troubling and impactful as they are in solo. But regardless of all that, it doesn’t help that I can’t shake the feeling this quest suffers from the “Rhosgobel effect”, in where you have to a build a specific deck to win. Get healing or go home.
To me that’s very boring. It limits your options. The best quests are ones you can play with a wide range of decks. Some will perform better than others, but at least you have a chance. In quests where that is not the case, I’m pushed into one direction and that limits deck possibilities and ultimately replayability. If anything it encourages me to play with that specific deck, eek out a win, and never play it again.
I’m not an expert at this game, so I could be wrong on my gut feelings on this. But at the moment, I’ve had my fill with this quest. I’m going to take a nice relaxing hike. And while this location I’m hiking at is the active location, it has the Super Safe keyword. What’s that you say? Read on below.
Super Safe keyword: Return all enemies to the staging area. All locations and enemies have 0 threat. Enemies do not makes engagement checks. Treat all encounter cards as if their text boxes are blank, except those with the Super Safe keyword. All progress that would be placed on the active location is instead placed on the current quest. Stay here as long as you want. Enjoy the beautiful scenery.