I have owned this game for over five years, and am still making the effort to work through expansion boxes. Whilst expanding your player cards is important, and deck building will improve your chances of success, i obtain the most excitement from finding new quest scenarios to enjoy. I mostly play solo with one supporting deck, so this does influence my favourite choices.
Deluxe & Cycle Expansions
So far i have found Khazad Dum and Dwarrowdelf cycle the best overall set for quests, this is considering their reasonable difficulty levels and general theme, fun and engagement i feel while playing. The opening Mirkwood Cycle is important to build up player cards, but quests here were more mixed in terms of enjoyment, however they are usually easier to play against than later cycles. The Numenor box increased the difficulty with a really tough solo experience, but that said, I found Isengard and Ringmaker Cycle extremely hard too and sometimes frustrating, with a time mechanic difficult to enjoy. The Lost Realm and Angmar has a great story theme, Grey Havens has a unique sailing development, and Sands of Harad returns to more basic quest approach with a desert theme, and these have been more enjoyable deluxe boxes, although still quite a tough experience at times. I am really excited by the theme of newest box, Wilds of Rhovanion.
My preferred deluxe boxes, also with some consideration to the cycle they support are:
1. Khazad-Dum & Dwarrowdelf – a Dwarven theme prevails here, with quests set deep underground in the goblin mines. The opening quest Into the Pit focuses on a torch mechanic and is location heavy, and is arguably not quite as exciting as the high standards set by other two. In Seventh Level goblin enemies attack you thick and fast in the tunnels, and if you are unlucky a troll may emerge to make things even more difficult. Flight from Moria is where you search frantically for your way out against a more location and treachery driven encounter deck. Overall Khazad-Dum is not too tough by more recent standards and is my favourite deluxe box expansion set. The following cycle is full of interesting underground quests to discover, with a couple of excellent monster fights with the Watcher and Balrog. Being one of my favourite parts of the story helps too.
2. Wilds of Rhovanion & Ered Mithrin – this new cycle is not complete yet, but is revisiting early core box locations and features Dale allies with scenarios featuring spiders, wilderness and a fire drake. Whilst i am only just starting to play it, the deluxe box has proved to be one of my favourites. and i have high hopes for the cycle. The opening quest Journey Up The Anduin has proved too hard to beat solo with its core set creature deck triggers, however when i reduced the extra quest card triggers i still found it tough enough for solo play. Lost In Mirkwood revisits the core set quest and uses some of the original encounter cards. You are searching for your way out of the forest, fighting spiders and with branching paths it feels very story driven and great fun to play. The King’s Quest features cave exploration, great locations and a fight with a fire drake. I am quite a fan of this theme of re-using some of the core set cards, and this set is proving to be a winner.
3. Lost Realm & Angmar – a Dunedain theme initially featuring raiding orcs in the woods, with an undead theme featuring throughout the cycle. Intruders in Chetwood initially looks straightforward, being a one card scenario, but with side quests constantly diverting your attention, it becomes more tricky to complete than expected. The orc enemies and treachery can play havoc at times, and it results in one of the best orc scenarios. Weather Hills sees you hunting down these orcs, and you will track your kills while dealing with severe weather. This is equally tough to solo as treachery events and orcs trigger extra encounters, and some healing support in your deck is advised. Deadman’s Dike features an excellent battle against the undead. This expansion box has you optionally extending adventures by engaging in side quests to receive additional rewards or remove nasty staging effects, bringing in new questing choices, and it works really well. The cycle has a great storyline featuring a warg hunt and a number of strong undead adventures, the last two are very tough to solo.
4. Grey Havens & Dreamchaser – the most innovative expansion featuring Noldor, with sailing scenarios a real change in gameplay. Voyage of Belegaer is a journey sailing the seas with ship allies and enemies doing battle, while your characters fend off boarding raiders. Locations represent varying sea conditions including fog and storms, as you navigate to try and stay on course. This is not a hard quest, and nicely changes up the gameplay, being a fun solo quest. Fate of Numenor is my favourite quest in the Grey Havens box, rated really high in my overall list within its lost island storyline arc, searching for a hidden shrine and fighting off the undead. Raid on Grey Havens features a corsair attack, where elven ships are being set ablaze, it is more a puzzle quest than an adventure, and very tough for solo play. The Dreamchaser cycle continues on with these sailing themes with a fleet chase, a weather storm and a city battle, and two i have yet to purchase. The middle of the cycle contains two excellent island exploration quests and a sea monster battle.
5. Core & Mirkwood – the core set has two of the best quests around in Passage to Mirkwood featuring the forest spiders, and Journey Along The Anduin which opens with a tough hill troll battle, and then a more leisurely journey down the river. While you travel, goblins may try to shoot you, and enemies will accumulate on the river banks waiting for you to finally land, and resulting in a final battle on the shore. Escape from Dol Guldur is a prison escape and for the solo player has one of the highest difficulty levels, and is largely a frustrating experience. The cycle is a reasonably varied quest set with 3 themed around searching for and capturing Gollum, plus a journey adventure quest with orc enemies and a troll battle. Finally there a uniquely different quest where you are on a rescue mission to save a wounded eagle. Generally easier than all the following cycles, you will also want to pick them up to start building up important player support cards.
6. Sands of Harad & Haradrim – a desert theme with Haradrim, and heroes that can receive benefits from each other, with some lovely artwork and a return to some less complex questing. Escape from Umbar provides a city escape where you are pursued by guards, soldiers and archers, and feels like a chase scene. It requires a balance of questing and fighting, and the number of enemies appearing will be critical, and it is really fun. Crossing the Desert is a quicker arid adventure racing against time as the temperature rises, featuring sand vipers, worms and scorpions. In The Long Arm of Mordor you embark on a search, rescue and escape against an orc encampment. The cycle mainly continues across the desert being pursued by Orcs, but with a diversion into a prison escape and an underground spiders cavern. I still have 3 of cycle packs to buy, but i really liked exploring the underground spider lair.
7. Heirs of Numenor & Shadow – a Gondor theme and very battle orientated, with solo questing really hard and requiring specifically strong decks to make progress. The Numenor box focuses on battles and sieges, where you will often quest using attack or defense skills rather than willpower, and generally new deck ideas will be required. The opening quest Peril In Pelargir features a tavern brawl where you are given a scroll to deliver, but it is painfully hard with very nasty shadow effects, and i did not find it particularly enjoyable. Into Ithilien features rangers battling against the harad as you journey through the forest, with a choice of path, and where ranger allies emerge from the encounter deck to help you, a tough scenario and an idea I really enjoyed. Seige of Cair Andros is relentlessly full of tough enemies and equally difficult with multiple battleground locations in play, but has become a challenge i quite like. Generally this expansion box requires using alternative decks with a tactics sphere and healing as important elements. I bought this cycle late on and so far i have only two of the cycle packs, but it follows an outland theme with more human related enemies, plus a forest adventure with the wose.
8. Voice of Isengard & Ringmaker – has an emphasis on a Dunlendings theme and remains an unmissable set for me as it builds up Silvan cards, which is a favourite of mine. Fords of Isen features battles against the dunlendings boar tribe with encounter cards throwing up tricky forced events, often requiring you to get rid of cards from your hand as soon as possible. This storyline continues in the cycle across two further clan adventures. The Voice of Isengard box also contains To Catch an Orc where you must capture an orc called Mugash, but the difficulty level again is very high, with emerging encounters having tough forced conditions and the orc escaping is repetitive. Into Fanghorn is a forest journey to recapture the orc, where trees provide a threatening presence, and combat rules have been adjusted, but it lacks somewhat in excitement. The Isengard box overall is somewhat frustrating, introducing a new time mechanic which generally feels like an unnecessary extra difficulty which rushes your progress. The cycle has some redeeming quests to discover though including a city escape, a swampland journey and an exploration of a sunken ruin.
The saga boxes seem a mixed bunch, and i am cherry picking these at the moment. The two Hobbit boxes i think are more miss-able, as certain quests can be frustrating to play through, but player cards are still useful if you want to build a better dwarf deck. The Black Riders is a very good early expansion box and great for building up hobbit decks, it has nice quests that are not overly hard to beat solo. Flame of the West is a strong saga expansion to consider with great hero cards. The rest i have not played yet, but general feedback about the high difficulty of the last saga box is a concern as a solo player.
1. Flame of the West – has three varied quests featuring the undead, a corsairs battle and an epic but very difficult siege where you have to defend a city. Battle of Pelennor Fields is an epic five stage battle to defend the city of Minas Tirith from the witch king’s army. It has some extremely tough cards such as siege towers, but may require toning down as a solo challenge (the witch king forced effect i reduce to every other round to compensate for one player). Passing of The Grey Company, an easier undead adventure with a small encounter deck focused on escalating threat, where phantom enemies initially increase threat rather than dealing damage, and your starting card hand is depleted, taking time to rebuild. Siege of Gondor sees you attacking corsairs on a fleet of ships, and needs to be played as fast as possible as the fleet strength escalates every round. It is a quick quest with a small encounter deck, but is not as strong as the other two scenarios in the box. This saga box is varied, has brilliant artwork, and provides two of the strongest heroes in the game. A really nice expansion.
2. Black Riders – a moderate difficulty, essential for hobbit player cards and three related leaving the shire journey quests, and a very decent box overall. The opening adventure is Shadows of the Past and requires you to leave Bag End and regularly test your ability to hide from the riders, and so questing choices are the main event, but it is more fiddly to play compared to the other two. Knife in the Dark finds you trying to escape the clutches of the Witch King and his ringwraith guardians, and builds up as you aim to keep out of trouble early on, only to find yourself surrounded by wraiths in a final showdown. The quest also features spies at the Prancing Pony Inn, and if you get too many wraiths in your encounter deck then you will be unlikely to survive. Flight to the Ford is another good and fast to play quest which is treachery heavy, as with Frodo injured you face a race against time to get him to safety as his life trickles away. All of the black riders box quests have a similar theme and so won’t provide huge variety, but its quests are solo friendly, and it also has essential cards to build a hobbit based hero game with deck support. It is best played thematically with the hobbits.
3. Hobbit on the Doorstep – an extremely varied box of quests. Battle of Five Armies is a thematic large scale goblin battle that requires you to build a more varied deck, as you will be questing at times with your attack and defence powers across three battleground locations, before a final showdown with the goblin leader. This is very playable solo, with Bilbo and eagles appearing to assist your heroes. Flies and Spiders is a spider themed adventure with a venom keyword which will poison your heroes alongside the usual damage, potentially rendering them unconscious. During this quest Bilbo will become the only conscious hero and must quickly revive your party before you are overwhelmed, which adds an element of high tension. The final quest The Lonely Mountain has you stealing treasure from Smaug the dragon, which is a really nice idea but plays out as too frustrating due to many instant wipe-outs as he can attack you multiple times. Overall this box is much better than the first hobbit set.
4. Hobbits ‘Over Hill & Under Hill’ – features a troll fight, a journey into the mountains with giants, and riddles with Gollum, but two of these quest designs are overly fiddly, complicated and even annoying. Over Misty Mountains Grim is a quest with a two separate decks to play against, featuring giants & goblins. This is an easier quest and a more relaxing adventure. We Must Away features the trolls battle but has really frustrating sack cards that make it the worst quest i have played (Conflict at Carrock is much better). Dungeons Deep & Caverns Dim features Gollum and a riddle deck and feels fiddly, and can be overly zealous on adding cards to the staging area. The mountains are where i would choose to play using this set, which overall as an expansion has a low rating from me, although it is useful for Dwarf cards.
Other Sagas – i have bought but not yet played Treason of Saruman, and not purchased Road Darkens, Land of Shadow and Mountain of Fire, as there is no availability just now, so am unable to comment on these. The extremely high difficulty level of the last box gets some adverse feedback. The Road Darkens is an expansion box i will definately be getting when back in print, the other two are further down my wish list.
Woodland Realm (Fellowship) / Wizard’s Quest (Gencon) – these two unique expansions revisit the early core set locations of Mirkwood, Dol Goldur & Rhosgobel, heavily featuring spiders & orcs. Artwork will be familiar, re-used from other quests, but card triggers have often been altered, and you can build your own quest challenges from a choice of locations and encounters using some easy balancing rules. Cards can be interchanged between either of these two expansions sets. This is a really versatile addition to the core game, and whilst i do not play competitively, i really enjoy revisiting these locations and creating my own adventures to overcome. A good choice for someone who likes the themes of the core set and wants to build up value without venturing too far into the other cycles. There is some theme similarity to parts of the Wilds of Rhovanion box expansion.
More details on my favoured individual quests are found here > Lord of the Rings LCG Expansions