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 a dungeon crawl theme, containing superb locations to uncover, and a final fight with a fire drake, it is awesome. The theme of re-using some of the original core set encounter cards has proven very successful and the Ered Mithrin cycle builds up the Dale player card deck. My progress through the cycle is incomplete but searching for ice drakes and roaming the hills for lost treasures have been excellent fun.
3. Lost Realm & Angmar – a strong story box, 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 with tough orc enemies and treachery resulting in one of the best orc scenarios. Weather Hills sees you hunting down the 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 is another favourite scenario of mine and 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 to the player deck, and has a strong storyline, featuring adventures across the bleak moors including a warg hunt, a dungeon escape and then a focus onto undead themed adventures, the first one is amazingly good, but the last two cycle quests are sadly pretty impossible to beat solo. A good variety cycle to extend the core game.
4. Grey Havens & Dreamchaser – the most innovative expansion featuring sailing scenarios and a real change in the required 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 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 a focus on card drawing and discarding mechanics. A great cycle if you want something new and different.
5. Sands of Harad & Haradrim – a desert theme prevails and a lot of time being chased. In Escape from Umbar you will be undertaking a city escape where you are pursued by guards, soldiers and archers, and feels like a film 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, before continuing the adventure across the desert being pursued by orcs, and encountering the Black Serpent and his followers. Adventure highlights in the cycle include a diversion into an underground prison and deep into a spiders cavern which I have particularly enjoyed exploring. It concludes with a varied escape journey with branching paths and decks of different enemies feeding your encounter pool. This cycle also features linked heroes that can receive combination benefits from each other, and adds a little Haradrim deck support. A solid cycle, but with fairly similar theme throughout.
6. 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 three 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, and some have been revisited and improved upon in later boxes, you will likely want to pick them up to start building up important initial player support cards.
7. Voice of Isengard & Ringmaker – begins with a skirmish against the dunlending 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 guardians of the three keys. It is also an unmissable expansion set for me as it builds up Silvan player cards which is my favourite theme.
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 solo 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 with a theme I really liked. Seige of Cair Andros is a siege battle, relentlessly full of tough enemies with multiple battleground locations in play, and whilst frustrating it eventually became a challenge i quite liked. The Shadow cycle has more human related encounters and develops a Gondor outland themed deck. It includes a forest encounter with the Wose and a highly rated search to uncover a secret plot, alongside various other battle style quests. This box increased the game difficulty and at times is a really tough solo experience and to me just doesn’t feel quite as exciting to play.
Shadows in the East & Vengeance of Mordor cycle forms the final set in the series. Whilst i now own the deluxe box i have not begun to play this yet and so it remain unranked.
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, it is a real gem.
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 quite as good as the other two excellent scenarios. This box also has further gains by providing two of the strongest heroes in the game, and is another 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 and i agree, 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 defensive ability. 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 is a strong orc and ent intensive box, offering variations on the battle theme, and i really enjoyed playing through it.
4. Hobbit on the Doorstep – an extremely varied box of quests. Battle of Five Armies is excellent, 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 defense 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 and Five Armies remains a must play scenario which elevates its importance.
5. 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 a little fiddly to play mechanically. 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 an enjoyably 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 these black riders quests have a similar theme and so won’t provide huge variety in gaming, but they are moderately hard and solo friendly, and is best played thematically using the hobbits.
6. Land of Shadow – a gollum themed box with Passage of the Marshes remaking and improving on the early Dead Marshes scenario, where gollum will switch from being an ally into an attacking enemy during heavily thematic location encounters. It is not overly hard to play solo and whilst not classed as one of the best quests, it remains an enjoyable one. Journey to the Crossroads is a harad based battle, and is an encounter nightmare for a solo player, revealing at least two cards per turn it quickly overwhelms, and i found it sadly too frustrating to want to keep playing. Shelob’s Lair is spider based with a boss style enemy, and with my fondness for spider adventures i really liked the story it tells, however again this one is so tough and has a drawn out end game, so i tweak Shelob’s resource tokens rules to become extra health to help make it more playable. Overall i have mixed feelings about this box, as the rule design seems to try almost too hard to make it tough, losing some of the enjoyment of the storyline.
7. 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 enough quest with a two separate decks to play against, featuring giants & goblins. This is an easier quest and a more relaxing adventure to play but has nothing overly special to offer. We Must Away features the trolls battle that has really frustrating sack cards to make it one of the worst quests i have played, and the similar theme trolls of Conflict at Carrock is a much better prospect. 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. Overall as an expansion this is quite a frustrating box and has a low rating from me, although it is useful for adding Dwarf player cards.
Mountain of Fire is the last saga expansion which i have finally managed to buy but as yet remains unplayed. It seems to have an extremely high difficulty level though.
Woodland Realm / Wizard’s Quest & Mines of Moria / Escape from Khazad-dum – these two pairs of unique expansions revisit the early core set locations of Mirkwood, Dol Goldur, Rhosgobel and the Mines of Moria, heavily featuring spiders & orcs, with artwork often familiar being re-used from other quests, although the encounter event triggers have usually been altered. These packs do not contain player deck cards, but have a larger pool of encounter cards, where you can build your own quest challenges and even tweak the difficulty level using some easy balancing rules included. Cards can even be interchanged between either of these two expansions sets, and there is another twist with the inclusion of some competitive play rules if you want them. These are really versatile additions to the core game, allowing you to create custom scenarios from a pool, and I really enjoy revisiting these early locations. These packs are a good choice for someone who likes the themes of the core set and wants to build up replay value without venturing too far into the other cycles or over extending their player deck pool.
More details on my favourite individual quests are found here > Lord of the Rings LCG Expansions