Darker Roads, Darker Deeds

Four New Nightmare Decks Are Now Available for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


"Something was coming up behind them. What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it."
     –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Four new Nightmare Decks are now available for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Pick up your copies today to enjoy challenging, new experiences with the scenarios from the second half of The Ring-maker cycle of Adventure Packs, as well as those from The Road Darkens Saga Expansion!

Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game are full of adventures, and your road goes ever, ever on. Sometimes, when the mood strikes you—or when your heroes take a wrong turn—you may see that road darken… and then darken again.

Nightmare Decks allow you to revisit your favorite scenarios recast within the darker and deadlier shadows of Nightmare Mode. Each Nightmare Deck introduces new encounter cards that you exchange with specified cards from the adventure's standard encounter deck. The result is a more challenging adventure that comes full of novel and thematic new twists.

Order your Nightmare Decks now, or continue reading for more information about the new challenges they introduce.

The Ring-maker Cycle Nightmare Decks

Over the course of its six Adventure Packs, The Ring-maker cycle challenged several of Middle-earth's heroes to complete an arduous and dangerous task to aid the cause of the Free Peoples against the Dark Lord and the forces of Mordor. The sage responsible for assigning them this task? None other than the head of the White Council, Saruman the White.

Loaded with intrigues, battles, magic, and treachery, The Ring-maker cycle introduced players to some of the events that may have happened behind the scenes of The Lord of the Rings. Your heroes' actions changed the shape of Dunland and Rohan, as well as the balance of power throughout the region. Enmities grew deeper, alliances were formed, and artifacts of tremenous power were uncovered.

Released in October, the Nightmare Decks for the first three The Ring-maker Adventure Packs lent new urgency to your dealings with the ferocious Dunlendings and added greater perils to your travels through the ancient ruins of Tharbad, where the Dark Lord's spies caught their first sight of you. Now, the Nightmare Decks for The Nîn-in-Eilph, Celebrimbor's Secret, and The Antlered Crown pick up where those other Nightmare Decks left off—as your heroes barely escape the Orcs in Tharbad, they must cross the marshes of the Nîn-in-Eilph with enough speed to beat their rivals to the site of Celebrimbor's secret forge.

The Nîn-in-Eilph

The Nîn-in-Eilph emphasizes the difficulties of making swift passage through the marsh with a series of quest stages featuring the Time X keyword that shuffle back into the quest deck if you can't fully complete them in time. Accordingly, it's vital to make swift progress through each Stage 2 and Stage 3, lest you find yourself in danger of threating out as your heroes begin to sink in the mire.

Rather than alter the quest structure in any significant way, The Nîn-in-Eilph Nightmare Deck ratchets up the tension by introducing a number of effects that reinforce its central concept—your repeated cycling of quest stages. In Nightmare Mode, you don't just have to move from quest stage to quest stage, you have to do so while your staging area fills up with Creatures and locations that trigger disruptive Forced effects. Each time you travel to a new quest stage, enemies like Swarms of Mosquitoes (The Nîn-in-Eilph Nightmare Deck, 3) can return to the staging area and locations like the Peat Bog (The Nîn-in-Eilph Nightmare Deck, 5) will trap your cards.

Along with new treachery effects and additional quest cards for Stage 2 and Stage 3, these cards ensure that your failure to advance from Stage 2 to Stage 3 or from Stage 3 to Stage 4 won't be just a momentary setback; if you aren't making progress quickly, you stand a very good chance of sinking into the marsh's Deadly Waters (The Nîn-in-Eilph Nightmare Deck, 9).

Celebrimbor's Secret

The heart of Celebrimbor's Secret is the tension of the race to locate Celebrimbor's abandoned ring mould among the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil. As your heroes explore the ruins and its various locations, the Dark Lord's forces conduct their own search, led by an agent named Bellach. If you don't quickly explore the locations that make their way to the staging area, Bellach and his Orcs might explore them first. While your exploration places progress on locations as normal, your enemies' exploration of locations places damage on them, and any locations with damage equal to their printed quest points are placed facedown underneath The Orcs' Search (Celebrimbor's Secret, 125), where they force your threat to rise more sharply at the end of each round.

By providing Bellach and his Orcs with even more ways to damage locations and add them to The Orcs' Search, the Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck forces you to act with more urgency than ever. The pressure begins with the Nightmare Mode card (Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck, 1), which limits the amount of progress you can place upon locations in the staging area and forces you to damage a location each time a Scour effect is triggered. Then the deck introduces more effects that damage your locations, including cards like Hateful Search (Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck, 6) and Little Snuffler (Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck, 3).

Finally, the Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck introduces a number of effects that threaten to end your search by forcing cards directly to The Orcs' Search. One example is Closing In (Celebrimbor's Secret Nightmare Deck, 8), which reinforces the scenario's racing mechanic and theme, even as it accelerates your threat of defeat.

The Antlered Crown

Even after they recover Celebrimbor's ring mould, your heroes must continue along their quest, for they have many miles to travel before they can return the mould to Saruman in Orthanc. However, their journey is interrupted in The Antlered Crown when they come upon the battles between warring clans of Dunlendings. In order to successfully complete their task, then, your heroes must battle through waves of hostile Dunland enemies before they can establish a lasting alliance with the Dunlendings who swear their loyalty to Chief Turch.

As the conclusion of The Ring-maker cycle, The Antlered Crown focused heavily on the cycle's Time X keyword, using it to trigger a number of effects, including the reveal of enemy cards from the Raven deck that you create at the beginning of the scenario. The Antlered Crown Nightmare Deck reinforces this focus on the Time X keyword and the Raven deck, so that both of the scenario's signature elements are more challenging and impactful than ever.

For example, the Raven Clan Elite (The Antlered Crown Nightmare Deck, 3) force you to decide whether to remove a time counter from a location in play or face their potent attack. And while it might seem easier to remove a time counter than absorb an extra attack, removing that time counter from a Raven Stronghold  (The Antlered Crown Nightmare Deck, 5) could force you to reveal an enemy from the Raven deck, meaning that you might suddenly find yourself facing a whole Dunlending Horde (The Antlered Crown Nightmare Deck, 2).

Even in Nightmare Mode, it may still be possible for your heroes to complete their mission, but it will certainly be more difficult than any of them might have imagined. The Raven clan members are more ferocious than ever, they still hate when you draw cards, and the Nightmare Deck includes plenty of double-edged card draw effects to prompt their ire.

The Road Darkens Nightmare Decks

Bundled as one sixty-card product, The Road Darkens Nightmare Decks modify each of the three scenarios from The Road Darkens Saga Expansion. Because each Saga Expansion endeavors to stay as faithful to the books as possible, it may sound like a daunting task to create sixty new cards to reshape the Fellowship's travels through the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring, but lead developer Caleb Grace assures us that the Nightmare Deck afforded him a welcome opportunity to include many of the story elements he was pained to cut from the scenarios in Standard Mode:

I'm always excited to design Nightmare Decks for our Saga Expansions because there are always things that I had wanted to include, but we simply didn’t have the room. While working on The Road Darkens, I found myself saying things like, “This will have to go in the Nightmare version” whenever I had to cut something that I liked. For example, serious fans of The Lord of the Rings may have lamented the exclusion of the Watcher in the Water’s many tentacles, or the absence of the Balrog’s fiery whip and flaming sword. Nightmare Decks give us the opportunity not only to increase the difficulty of the scenarios, but to appeal to our fans by introducing more of these memorable parts of the story.

The Ring Goes South

When revisiting The Ring Goes South, I wanted to increase the sense of the players being hunted through the barren land of Hollin. We already liked the way damage on locations was used to represent the enemy closing in on the Fellowship and just wanted to make it a little more intense. As a result, we developed a series of cards that either place damage on locations or interact with that damage in novel ways.

One moment from the book that had long stuck out to me was when Legolas noticed a hawk was circling above the Fellowship and told the others they were being watched. This ominous moment struck me as odd because I had always thought the birds were friends of the Free Peoples—aside from the Crebain. In that moment, I realized that I was wrong, and it became scary that a hawk could tail the Fellowship and track their every move from the sky. In The Ring Goes South, the tension of this moment is captured by the introduction of a Hunting Hawk enemy (The Ring Goes South, 3) that notices every new ally that enters play and circles your fellowship from the staging area.

I also wanted the locations to help recreate that sense of pursuit and impending doom, so we created the Expanse of Hollin (The Ring Goes South, 5). When this location is explored, the players must discard one card from the top of the encounter deck for each damage that was on it, then add each enemy discarded this way to the staging area.

Finally, I really wanted the climactic fight with the Watcher in the Water to feel more epic in Nightmare Mode because it is this huge, jarring moment in the books. In Standard Mode, the encounter is just right as the Watcher grabs Frodo and the players have to rescue him before they can escape into Moria, but in Nightmare Mode, it just needs to be harder for players to rescue Frodo and escape. This gave us enough reason to add four copies of the Pale-green Tentacle enemy (The Ring Goes South, 2) that comes with the text: “Watcher in the Water cannot take damage.” These tentacles are set aside at the beginning of the scenario until the players advance to Stage 3. Then each player adds one to the staging area, meaning the more players you have, the more tentacles you will have to hack off before you can rescue the Ring-bearer and win the game.

A Journey in the Dark

Originally, my inspiration for this scenario came from a realization I had when re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring: the Balrog almost caught the Fellowship in the Chamber of Marzabul… If Gandalf had not chased his friends out the door and closed it behind them with a spell, they would’ve come face to face with a fiery demon without any narrow bridge between them!

That realization guided my design, and the entire scenario focuses on trying to outrun the Balrog and escape Moria before the last token is removed from Doom, Doom, Doom (The Road Darkens, 43). In the Nightmare version, that unlikely escape is no longer possible, and players must always confront the Balrog. The Nightmare card for this scenario reads: “The players cannot defeat stage 3B unless The Balrog is in the victory display.” That means not only will players have to confront the servant of Morgoth; they'll have to defeat it, which also means sacrificing a hero at The Great Bridge (The Road Darkens, 50).

However, because The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a card game and not the novels, many players discovered they could use Fortune or Fate (Core Set, 54) to bypass the steep cost of defeating The Balrog—the sacrifice of a hero—which was something we anticipated as a development team. We had discussions prior to release about whether or not to allow that kind of escape, and ultimately decided on giving players the flexibility to play the game their way in Standard Mode, even while the plan was always that Nightmare Mode would up the ante and make that heroic sacrifice both necessary… and permanent. That is why the Nightmare card also reads: “Each hero in each player’s discard pile cannot leave the discard pile.”

Those effects were probably enough to make A Journey in the Dark much, much harder, but we didn’t stop there. The Balrog still needed his whip and his sword, so we included these as unique treachery cards that attach to it as Weapon attachments. Each one gives the Balrog a new keyword, and they can attach to the Balrog even while it is out of play, meaning it will be that much more terrifying when it finally enters play. The rest of the encounter cards in the scenario are meant to slow the players down so that the Balrog might actually appear while the players are still at the Chamber of Marzabul.

The Breaking of the Fellowship

The last scenario in The Road Darkens is one of my favorites because it highlights what was really great about the Fellowship of the Ring: they were willing to risk everything to protect Frodo and the One Ring without any thought of themselves. Similarly, you have the opportunity to help your companions in this scenario, even when you split into separate stages, but the ways that you can help each other are built into the individual stages you are on. The encounter cards in this set are meant to challenge the players to use those abilities effectively or risk losing the quest.

The Breaking of the Fellowship Nightmare Deck plays some dirty tricks with the design space the separate staging areas afforded us, adding a number of encounter cards that move between those stages. The Anduin River plays a big part in this section of the book, so I thought it would be fun and fitting if there was a river location that just moved between the stages. That’s why we made Langflood River (The Breaking of the Fellowship Nightmare Deck, 4). Once this location enters play, it never really leaves play. It just moves from one staging area to the next.

Another great way we were able to use this design space was to represent the Orc’s relentless search for the Ring with enemies that move from wherever they are to the Ring-bearer’s staging area. For example, the Forced effect on the Isengard Tracker (The Breaking of the Fellowship Nightmare Deck, 3) causes him to move to the first player’s staging area whenever he attacks and destroys a character. And if it's not canceled, the treachery card Hunting the Ring  (The Breaking of the Fellowship Nightmare Deck, 7) causes each enemy in your staging area to move to the first player’s staging area at the end of the round.

All of these card effects mean that players will face some hard choices about whether to protect themselves or protect the first player and the Ring-bearer. They can’t look only to their own board state when considering whether or not to travel, or to engage an enemy or not—they also need to consider what will happen to the Ring-bearer if they don’t.

Forge New Alliances or Break Your Fellowship

Revisit your favorite adventures in Dunland and rejoin Frodo Baggins along his journey to Mount Doom, but this time, the challenges you'll face will be darker, deadlier, and more thematic than ever!

Discuss this article
in our forums!

Back to all news