HeroMerry had been spoiled long ago in a magazine, and now here he is. The first comparison is obviously to Merry's Tactics version. Where as Tactics Merry (Terry?) is all about combat and providing action advantage to other combat characters, Spirit Merry (Sperry?) is about hiding from enemies as they arrive. Thematically, I'm impressed by the how the two cards both so accurately represent the character of Meriadoc Brandybuck. Sperry represents the hobbit we meet in the Shire, where as Terry is his character after he has gone through a transformation and turned into a warrior, as seen in the Battle of Pelennor Fields and Battle of Bywater. Spirit Merry will fit very well into a secrecy deck, obviously, where the window to use secrecy is much wider than using traditional card effects. The downside to Merry's ability is the requirement to exhaust him to trigger it. Also, since it's not an event, it does not combo with Hobbit Pipe. That all said, I think that the ability outshines any negatives. Merry could also find a home in decks that have previously struggled with threat management, such as Boromir decks, where his readying effect can potentially get out of hand if threat management isn't drawn.
Curious Brandybuck is an interesting card for any location control deck. At two cost, the stats are ok, but with its response, you probably will rarely be spending resources on him. When a location is travelled to, CB can be put into play from hand for free. Not only that, but he can be placed under any players' control. This can be an easy way to reactively add a chump blocker based on the board state after staging. The catch for this great ability, however, is that once a location is explored, the character is placed on the bottom of its owner's deck. I find myself wondering if that is better than if it had been discarded, and I could argue both ways. On one hand, it's still in your deck, so it's possible to draw it again, either shuffling the deck to hopefully pull it closer to the top, or drawing through your deck. On the other hand, unless you have some ability to shuffle your deck, you're more than likely not to get back to it. In such a case, it's as good as discarded, but without the ability to fetch it from the discard, a la Stand and Fight. Regardless, to get a free ally that can either quest for 2 willpower, or chump block, is worth a spot in my deck.
East Road Ranger is built for this cycle, but need not be included in decks for earlier decks. At 3 cost, her stats are close to other lore cards of the same cost, but the ability listed is much more circumstantial than other. Getting 2 extra willpower when committed to a side quest is great, but the opportunity to trigger this will be less often, than other abilities. Obviously, if a lot of side quests are included, the more her ability will get used, but the balancing act will continue to be between side quests that give a benefit/remove hardship, versus progressing the actual quest. For quests, such as those in The Lost Realm, he will have some utility, but beyond that, I will have to wait and see.
Honour Guard is our first look at the valour trait in action. At any time, exhaust the Honour Guard to cancel a damage off any character, or, if your threat is 40 or higher, exhaust and discard the Honour Guard to cancel up to five damage off any character. Significant, yes, but I wonder how many times would it just be better to chump block with the Honour Guard? I suppose that there are times when you may be caught off guard by a bad shadow effect, but it seems very situational to have all the pieces line up. That said, his standard ability is good enough, and his valour ability is just a bonus. This could be an easy way to work around not having lore to provide healing. Since it doesn't specify combat, this could be used to avoid damage by treachery, archery, or any other way our designers can think up.
Ingold feeds into the Gondor trait that was visited during the Against the Shadow cycle. Similar to Pelargir Shipwright, Ingold boosts his willpower based on the number of heroes with resources. Being the leadership sphere, it's not uncommon to have resources on heroes, especially when running Leadership Boromir or Visionary Leadership. That said, it's more likely that Ingold's willpower will fluctuate more than his maritime counterpart, whether it's paying for events during the quest phase, or encounter deck effects, such as Old Wives' Tales. Furthermore, it's a unique card, where as the Shipwright could have three in play under a single player. If access to spirit isn't an option, than this card is fine, but it seems like a reskin of an older card that doesn't pack the same punch.
Ranger of Cardolan rounds out the allies, and fits right into the Dúnedain trait that has been introduced in The Lost Realm. It reminds me of Bofur, where you are able to pay one resource to bring him into play, but in this case, only when you engage any enemy. Different from Bofur, the ranger remains in play for the whole round and not a single phase, but the catch is that he has to be shuffled into the owner's deck, as opposed to Bofur returning to hand. It feels very thematic, with the rangers of the north coming in to help, but the disappearing in the shadows, until they are needed again.
Only one attachment this time around, and Hobbit Pony looks to be a key attachment for either Spirit Merry or often panned hero, Fatty Bolger. Both heroes have abilities that would require them to be held back, in case enemies come out. If no enemies are revealed to trigger their abilities, it is wasted. This could also work with Frodo Baggins, in all three flavors. Previously, Late Adventurer allowed them to add someone later to the quest, but the pony will allow turn after turn of utility. It does take a restricted slot, which I find interesting how some mounts are restricted and others aren't, but unless running Tactics Merry, most Hobbit heroes aren't using up both restricted slots. Granted, it is limited to Hobbit heroes, but if running a predominantly hobbit deck, this could be a very useful attachment.
Rallying Cry is our second example of using the valour trait. What's interesting is that the standard and valour use are done in different windows. The basic action is a response to an ally leaving play, where as the valour action has to be done preemptively. Obviously, if you have to do some chump blocking, you could play it and have confidence it won't whiff. On the other hand, it's those times that you are surprised by a shadow effect which takes out a key ally, and at least it still has its response. At two cost, it feels expensive to bring an ally back to hand, which you will in turn have to pay to bring back out. Being in leadership, resource generation is less of an issue, so it could still fit into decks. Perhaps it could be used as a way to bring Silvan allies back into hand. In that case, it could combo with Defender of the Naith to ready him for addition defense.
Scout Ahead is the second player side quest available to the card pool. In this case, it is in the lore sphere, where as Gather Information, which is neutral. Still zero cost to play, this quest allows the players to scry the top of the encounter deck, remove a card from play, and organize the remaining card. What's especially bonkers is that it could be anywhere from 5-8, depending on the number of players. In a solo game, knowing the next five cards off the top of the deck could be huge. In the case of Watcher in the Water's Doors of Durin, this allow for a much faster victory. When reviewing the East Road Ranger, I had mentioned the balancing act of side quests vs making progress in the main quest, but these player side quests definitely make you consider whether it is worth the delay in tempo.
This adventure pack feels light on player cards. I'm used to one hero, two cards per sphere and a neutral card. That said, most of the cards in this pack are winners. Surprising to me, I think my favorite card of the pack is Curious Brandybuck, with East Road Ranger being found wanting. I'm very curious to find out what kind of combos you all find when you get your hands on the cards and start building decks.
EDIT - When writing my impressions, I some how missed the Raven-winged Helm. That's why it felt light on cards to me. Apologies. I think it looks like a good card for defenders, and should combo well with The Day's Rising.
While writing the section on Spirit Merry, I decided to throw together a deck with Merry, Boromir, and Galadriel. Enjoy, and let me know what kind of adjustments you would make to the deck:
Boromir (The Dead Marshes)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor's Secret)
Merry (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Arwen Undomiel (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Bofur (The Redhorn Gate)
3x Curious Brandybuck (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor's Secret)
2x Imladris Stargazer (Foundations of Stone)
1x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
2x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dum)
3x Gondorian Fire (Assault on Osgiliath)
3x Gondorian Shield (The Steward's Fear)
3x Horn of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Blood of Numenor (Heirs of Numenor)
3x Captain of Gondor (The Antlered Crown)
3x Nenya (Celebrimbor's Secret)
2x Arod (The Treason of Saruman)
2x Hobbit Pony (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Hobbit Pony (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elrond's Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)
1x Will of the West (Core Set)
3x Hidden Cache (The Morgul Vale)