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
These expansions work in sets, starting with a deluxe box containing 3 quests and then adding a series of 6 cycle stories which use the deluxe box cards alongside them. Whilst you will journey through the various book locations, quest stories expand on the themes to provide more variation and ideas. My preferred deluxe boxes, also with consideration to the cycle they support are:
1. Khazad-Dum & Dwarrowdelf – 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. Seventh Level is an excellent quest where 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 you search frantically for your way out against a more location and treachery driven encounter deck. Khazad-Dum is not too tough to solo play by more recent standards, and a Dwarven theme prevails. The Dwarrowdelf cycle is full of interesting quests to discover, with an escort through the icy mountains, more underground adventures and a couple of excellent monster fights with the Watcher and Balrog. This is my favourite expansion set and highly recommended.
2. Wilds of Rhovanion & Ered Mithrin – revisiting early core box locations the opening quest Journey Up The Anduin is a river journey that spawns attacking core set creatures from a separate deck, and it has proven too hard for me to beat solo unless i reduce one of the extra quest card triggers. Lost In Mirkwood revisits the core set spiders quest and uses some of the original encounter cards, searching for a way out of the forest, fighting spiders and with new branching paths it feels very story driven and great fun to play. The King’s Quest is a cave exploration, with great locations and a final fight with a fire drake which has a superb dungeon crawl feel. The theme of re-using some of the core set cards has proven successful and the Ered Mithrin cycle builds up the Dale player card deck. More cycle details are to come as i work my way through it, but i am really excited by this one.
3. Lost Realm & Angmar – featuring raiding orcs in the woods, Intruders in Chetwood looks straightforward being a one card scenario, but with side quests constantly diverting your attention, it becomes more tricky than expected. The raiding orc enemies and treachery can play havoc, and 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 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 box builds the side quest mechanic, optionally extending adventures by engaging in new quests to receive additional rewards or remove nasty staging effects, bringing in new questing choices, and it works really well. The Angmar cycle builds a Dunedain ranger theme, and has a great storyline, featuring a warg hunt and some great undead adventures, although the last two are pretty impossible to beat solo.
4. Grey Havens & Dreamchaser – the most innovative expansion featuring sailing scenarios and 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 hard quest and is a fun solo quest. Fate of Numenor is my favourite quest in the Grey Havens box, starting a 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 with these sailing themes in a fleet chase, a weather storm and a city battle, and the middle of the cycle contains two excellent island exploration quests and a sea monster battle. This set builds up the Noldor player cards which involves more card drawing and discarding mechanics.
5. Core & Mirkwood – the core set has two great starter quests 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 river journey. 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 until you boost your card pool. The cycle is a reasonably varied quest set with 3 themed around Gollum, plus a location adventure quest with orc enemies, a troll battle, and a unique rescue mission to save a wounded eagle. Mirkwood is generally easier than all the following cycles, and whilst quests are a mixed bunch, you will likely want to pick them up to start building up important initial player support cards.
6. Voice of Isengard & Ringmaker – begins witha skirmish against the dunlending board tribe in Fords of Isen featuring encounter cards throwing up tricky forced events, often requiring you to quickly get rid of cards from your hand. The clans return across the cycle in two further adventures. To Catch an Orc has you try to capture an orc leader, but the difficulty level is very high with emerging encounters having tough forced conditions, and the orc escaping is somewhat repetitive. Into Fanghorn is an easier forest journey to recapture the orc, where trees provide a threatening presence, and combat rules are adjusted, but it is lacking a little in excitement. The Isengard box itself isn’t great for quests and introduces a frustrating new time mechanic which generally rushes you to progress quickly, however the Ringmaker cycle has redeeming quests to discover including a city escape, swampland journey, an exploration of a sunken city ruin, and the three guardians. It is also unmissable for me as it builds up Silvan player cards.
7. Sands of Harad & Haradrim – a desert theme prevails, with Escape from Umbar providing 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 desert 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 Haradrim cycle mainly continues across the desert being pursued by Orcs, but with a diversion into an underground prison and a spiders cavern. I do still have 3 of cycle packs to buy, but i really enjoyed exploring the underground locations. This cycle features a return to some less complex questing, and links heroes that can receive benefits from each other, building some Haradrim deck support, which whilst strong remains less developed compared to others.
8. Heirs of Numenor & Shadow – is very battle orientated, where you will often quest using attack or defence skills rather than willpower. Peril In Pelargir features a tavern brawl where you are given a scroll to deliver but keep losing it, and it is painfully hard with very nasty shadow effects, and i really 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. It is another tough scenario but one I really enjoyed. Seige of Cair Andros is a siege battle, relentlessly full of tough enemies with multiple battleground locations in play, and eventually became a challenge i quite like. The Shadow cycle has more human related encounters and develops a Gondor outland themed deck, and includes a forest encounter with the wose and a highly rated search to uncover a secret plot, alongside various other battles. This box increased the difficulty and is a really tough solo experience.
The saga boxes provide a more story driven campaign to play though, and give players an extra hero to help each time, which seems to really help solo playing. They also contain some important hero and ally characters in them and are a great way to experience the game without buying all the cycle boxes. My thoughts on which are my favourites are covered below.
1. The Road Darkens – which features cards building Gandalf as a hero rather than an ally. The opening quest The Ring Goes South is a really enjoyable one, where you are hunted by wargs as you progress towards the mines, and enter the Doors of Durin after a short encounter with the Watcher. Locations will receive damage, which once explored will turn into a nasty effect. This quest has great story theme and whilst tough, it plays pretty well solo. Journey in the Dark covers the complete goblin mines experience from the tunnel exploration, into the chamber battle, then the bridge crossing and Balrog showdown. It is a really well written quest, albeit a very tough one to win in solo mode due to the immense power of the Balrog. Breaking of the Followship features a river journey and a split stage for each player where you select your favoured questing benefit. Overall an excellent expansion box, and one of my all time favourites for quests.
2. Flame of the West – is one of the more varied saga expansions. 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, and 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, is a really nice 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. A quick quest with a small encounter deck, it is not as good as the other two excellent scenarios. This box also gains by providing two of the strongest heroes in the game, and is a really nice expansion.
3. Treason of Saruman – a reasonably tough orc based box but with a good mix of quest styles. Opening with The Uruk-hai you a chase the orcs to rescue a captured hero, in a time pressured pursuit scenario where you lose one hero at the start and have to manage the pursuit value to prevent them escaping. Helm’s Deep is generally considered a classic scenario, with only around 8 rounds of play to hold your defence of the fortress as the orc enemies will be exerting their threat to complete the quest and destroy wall locations, and your willpower becomes your defence. In Road to Isengard you will recruit ent allies to then attack Orthanc and take on the mighty Saruman, and is a quest with a fairly unique feel and a nice theme, and the extra allies in play really help solo play. Overall this a strong orc intensive box, offering variations on the battle theme, and i really enjoyed playing through it.
4. Black Riders – an essential box for hobbit player cards, with three closely related leaving the shire journey quests. The opening adventure Shadows of the Past 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 is the highlight, starting in the Prancing Pony and trying to escape the clutches of the Witch King and ringwraith guardians. It builds up as you aim to keep out of trouble early on, only to find yourself surrounded by wraiths in a final showdown, and if you get too many wraiths in your encounter deck then you will be unlikely to survive. Flight to the Ford is a fast to play quest which is treachery heavy, with Frodo injured you race against time to get him to safety as his life ebbs away. All of the black riders quests have a similar theme and so won’t provide huge variety, but they are moderately hard and solo friendly, and is best played thematically with the hobbits.
5. Hobbit on the Doorstep – an extremely varied box of quests. Battle of Five Armies is great, 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.
6. Hobbits ‘Over Hill & Under Hill’ – features a troll fight, a journey through the mountains avoiding giants, and riddles with Gollum, but two of these quest designs are ultimately overly fiddly, complicated and even annoying. Over Misty Mountains Grim is a decent quest with a two separate decks to play against, featuring giants & goblins. This is an easier quest and a more relaxing adventure to play. We Must Away features the trolls battle but has really frustrating sack cards that make it the worst quest i have played, the trolls of Conflict at Carrock is so 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.
I have now received Land of Shadow leaving just Mountain of Fire as currently unobtainable at the moment. The extremely high difficulty level of the last box gets some concerning feedback though for a solo player.
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 and no new player cards are included.
More details on my favoured individual quests are found here > Lord of the Rings LCG Expansions