Riddles in the Dark
Riddles in the Dark is probably my favourite chapter in all of Tolkien's work and I was interested to see how the design team would approach such a unique scenario. They did so through the Riddle mechanic.
Roughly half of the cards in the deck feature the keyword Riddle. When drawing a card with a Riddle effect players can choose to resolve it normally or to answer the riddle. Each riddle asks the players to name a specific combination of card attributes, for example sphere and cost, or cost and type and then, after shuffling their deck, reveal and discard x cards, if they reveal one of the named type they may place a progress on the quest for each matching card revealed.
Out of the Frying Pan
The game begins with two quest stages active simultaneously. This set up allows for Bilbo’s side story with Gollum to take place while the dwarves fight their way free of the goblins without the two stories overlapping each other.
To set up we add the Lake in the Cavern to the staging area, this is a static threat double the number of players that cannot be removed in any way until the players leave the caverns. This stage has a forced effect that causes players to draw an additional card per player during the staging step. This has the effect of keeping the pressure on both parties. Around half of the cards in this scenario cause Bilbo to undertake a riddle while the other half are Goblin enemies. Because of this, with two players, you could end up facing 4 enemies a round or answering four riddles, but hopefully the mix will fall somewhere in the middle.
The enemies themselves are the Misty Mountain Goblins from #OvertheMistyMountainsGrim which power up off Cave locations, such as the irremovable Lake in the Cavern. The new enemies added to the deck are Wargs, hard hitting enemies with a penchant for running back to the staging area.
Riddles in the Dark
In play simultaneously with stage 1, stage 2 requires just 9 progress, however you can only accumulate that progress through answering riddles. During the staging step players can choose to answer a riddle on any card instead of revealing it normally. This allows you to pick and choose how many riddles you answer each round, however, be aware that if you get the riddle wrong Gollum will attack Bilbo. Gollum has a static 2 attack, so Bilbo can survive the first attack, but any subsequent attacks will prove costly quickly. The rules prevent any attachments being added to Bilbo while he is at this stage, although healing events seem like fair game.
Bilbo also begins the game with his magic ring attached, this allows him to spend a resource to discard an additional card while answering a riddle. The Ring can also be exhausted to add a resource to Bilbo’s pool but at the cost of two threat per player.
Into The Fire
Once you are clear of the Lake in the Cavern you simply need to escape the pursuing Goblins and Wargs… and Gollum. The deck will throw enemies at you hard and fast in this stage. All treachery cards gain Surge and you’re going to reveal 2 cards per player. You need to put down a lot of progress very quickly or risk being buried under threat or being simply eviscerated by angry puppies.
There are a couple of nasty surprises in this stage, both Hiding in the Trees and Come Down Little Bird can no longer be ignored by answering them as a riddle, the former reduces all characters willpower and the latter spawns a creature enemy engaged with each player. And because of the setup effect both cards surge too.
Your best strategy will be to run, but if you need some time Forest Snare on the Great Grey Wolf will prevent it attacking and nullify it’s forced effect. Other traps liberally lobbed into the staging area, like poisoned stakes and ranger spikes will also give you some much needed breathing space.
Definitely the most interesting scenario in Over Hill and Under Hill. This scenario is two games, the regular adventure the Dwarves are on and the mini game Bilbo is playing.
This scenario is absolutely one you can prepare for, we did not and still managed to scrape through. The Riddle mini game requires you to know the composition of your deck and you're going to want to narrow the focus as much as possible. To have the best chance of success you should run a monosphere deck with a 50/50 split between two different costs and probably a heavy bias for one type of cards.
Each Riddle asks you to name a combination of sphere, cost or type and then discard looking for cards that match. Through clever deck building you can usually game the system and failing that you can use Bilbo's resources for extra cards.
We also made good use of the dwarf discard strategy here with cards like Hidden Cache and Ered Luin Miner. You can also make use of cards that allow you to know the top card of your deck (Like hero Gandalf) but he only works to see if you need to spend additional resources with Bilbo as you need to shuffle before the first reveal.
Overall I like Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim the most of the Over Hill and Under Hill expansion but possibly of the whole Saga. I like the focus the scenario gives to one of the most influential scenes in the entirety of Tolkien's work without turning it into a battle. The separation of Bilbo from the rest of the party really brings the theme out but the dwarves still have plenty to be getting on with.