Those who listened to Episode 111 of Cardboard of the Rings have heard my call for guest authors at Master of Lore and some ready heroes are already beginning to “heed the dream”. Today I am pleased to introduce Daniel M., aka Eldandil, a true Elf-friend who once studied Tolkien’s works academically in his university philosophy program. In this article, Daniel begins a new series about the print-on-demand scenarios produced by FFG especially for Gen Con and Fellowship Events. As this blog’s authorship becomes even more of a multiplayer effort, it is appropriate that Daniel’s first topic is the only “epic multiplayer” scenario in our game’s history so far. Gird yourself for an onslaught of Middle-earth lore and mechanical analysis of 2016’s massive 12-player adventure — The Siege of Annúminas!
Last year was my first trip to Gen Con. I made up my mind to attend right after the 2015 Fellowship Event and the great fun we had with Murder at the Prancing Pony. I waited with excitement all year for the announcement of the next print-on-demand quests but honestly had mixed feelings when the news finally dropped. The article promised “a scenario so exciting it will be offered at both Gen Con and to stores for the 2016 Fellowship Event!” It boasted a unique mechanic that allowed for a 12-player “epic multiplayer mode” and was unlike anything the game had seen before.
But while that sounded really fun, as a player who enjoys the solo aspect of the game, I was worried about whether we would be getting a quest that would actually be playable by only one player as well. I was also a little sad that I had decided to attend Gen Con primarily for Lord of the Rings only to have the same quest be available at the Fellowship Event (though that alt-art Boromir really is cool). Finally, the forum trolls in my head were whispering to me that this was definitive proof that the game was dying, because FFG didn’t want to invest in designing two new quests.
Nevertheless, August came, I attended Gen Con, met Caleb Grace (he was even so kind as to autograph a card), played The Siege of Annúminas, and I had a really good time! So was the Siege good enough to play at both events? Is the epic multiplayer mode really innovative and fun? Can the quest actually be played solo? And before we get to all that, how do you even say “Annúminas”? What is this place in the story of Middle-earth and is it worth defending in the first place?
EXPLORE THE LORE
In Tolkien’s Sindarin language, Annúminas means “tower of the west” or “sunset tower” and was the first capital of the northern kingdom of Arnor. It was founded by Elendil himself on the shores of Lake Nenuial, which also came to be called Lake Evendim later in the Shire (Evendim means “evening” or “twilight” and is a translation of Nenuial). The city lies just to the north of the Shire, and the lake is the source of the Brandywine River.
In the Second Age, as the corrupted Númenórean king Ar-Pharazôn sailed for Valinor in a vain quest for immortality, Appendix A tells us that:
The last leaders of the Faithful, Elendil and his sons, escaped from the Downfall with nine ships, bearing a seedling of Nimloth, and the Seven Seeing-stones (gifts of the Eldar to their House); and they were borne on the wind of a great storm and cast upon the shores of Middle-earth. There they established in the North-west the Númenórean realms in exile, Arnor and Gondor. Elendil was the High King and dwelt in the North at Annúminas; and the rule in the South was committed to his sons, Isildur and Anárion.
In The Return of the King, Gandalf tells Pippin on their ride to Minas Tirith that, according to the lore of the house of Elrond, one of these seven seeing-stones (the palantíri) was kept in the king’s city at Annúminas. However, the capital of Arnor was moved to Fornost (later known as Deadman’s Dike) sometime between the years 250 and 861 of the Third Age. Elrond explains at the council in The Fellowship of the Ring:
In the North after the war and the slaughter of the Gladden Fields the Men of Westernesse were diminished, and their city of Annúminas beside Lake Evendim fell into ruin; and the heirs of Valandil removed and dwelt at Fornost on the high North Downs, and that now too is desolate.
The seeing stone of Annúminas was lost in the year 1975 of the Third Age in a shipwreck in the Ice-Bay of Forochel, in which the last Northern king of the Dúnedain, Arvedui, drowned while fleeing from the Witch King of Angmar on a ship sent by Círdan. With this tragedy, the Northern kingdom became the lost realm that we explored in the Angmar Awakened cycle.
That seeing stone was not the only royal artifact that belonged to the ancient Dúnedain city of Annúminas, however, and possibly was not even the most important. The Sceptre of Annúminas, another heirloom of the house of Elendil, was the symbol of Númenórean kingship in Arnor. A footnote in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings explains:
The sceptre was the chief mark of royalty in Númenor, the King tells us; and that was also so in Arnor . . . The sceptre of Númenor is said to have perished with Ar-Pharazôn. That of Annúminas was the silver rod of the Lords of Andúnie, and is now perhaps the most ancient work of Men’s hands preserved in Middle-earth. It was already more than five thousand years old when Elrond surrendered it to Aragorn.
The sceptre was kept in the house of Elrond in Rivendell alongside the Ring of Barahir, the Shards of Narsil, and the Star of Elendil. When Aragorn was only twenty years of age, living in Rivendell with his mother after the death of his father, Elrond gave him the Ring of Barahir and the Shards of Narsil, but challenged, “The Sceptre of Annúminas I withhold, for you have yet to earn it.” By the year 3019, Aragorn, crowned King Elessar, finally earned the ancient heirloom of his fathers, and it was given to him by Elrond in Minas Tirith on the occasion of Aragorn’s marriage to Elrond’s daughter, Arwen.
King Elessar rebuilt Annúminas at the beginning of the Fourth Age, even living there himself for a while, and it served as the northern capital of the Reunited Kingdom. It is said that when he dwelt by the shores of Lake Evendim, “everyone in the Shire [was] glad” (The Lord of the Rings, “Appendix A”).
The city of Annúminas was open to players to explore in the game The Lord of the Rings Online, which wouldn’t really be worthy of note in this article except that it does seem to have had some influence on our beloved card game. In the online game, a group of Dúnedain who defended the city called themselves the “Wardens of Annúminas,” probably inspiring the name of the Spirit ally from The Lost Realm deluxe expansion.
DISCUSS THE CARDS
It does not appear that the print-on-demand quest represents any saga event recorded in Tolkien’s legendarium. From Elrond’s explanation at the Council in Rivendell, it seems that the capital of Arnor was moved to Fornost not because the city fell to a host from Angmar, but just because the race of the Númenóreans was dwindling after their prolonged conflicts with Sauron’s forces. These events happened roughly 2000 years before the timeframe of our game. By the time our game begins, Annúminas was nothing more than long-abandoned ruins. Thus, the quest likely just represents a possible battle sometime during or right before the War of the Ring, in which a remnant of Dúnedain who live in or around the ruins defend against an attack from the remnants of Angmar.
The flavor text on quest card 1A refers to Annúminas as “the Dúnedain capital.” There does not seem to be anything in Tolkien’s histories that indicates the city served as any kind of official capital of the Dúnedain in the north during this time period. In fact, it might seem odd to make such a claim given that the last capital of the Dúnedain had actually been moved to Fornost, as I mentioned above. The importance placed on the city by King Elessar in making it the capital of the Reunited Kingdom, however, highlights its value to the descendants of the Númenóreans as the original capital of Elendil and the Faithful in the days of their glory. This makes it plausible to propose, therefore, that the Dúnedain may have viewed the ruins of Annúminas as their home, even though it is never actually referred to as a “capital.”
**Major Quest Spoilers Ahead**
The quest itself is obviously best in epic multiplayer mode and is meant to be played that way. All three designers over the course of the game – Caleb Grace, Matt Newman, and Nate French – jointly discussed the possibility of creating such a quest for years but were only recently given a blessing to proceed with it from their new manager on the condition it be able to scale from 1 to 12 players (listen to the triple developer interview in part 2 of episode 100 of the Cardboard of the Rings podcast).
There are three sets of quest cards, each sequence of stages representing a different area of the city. Stages 1A-3A represent the defenders within the city itself, as the players at this stage rush to bolster the city’s defenses and turn back the final onslaught from the forces of Angmar. Stages 1C-3C represent the area just outside of the city, on the shores of Lake Nenuial, as the players strengthen the shore defenses, rally reinforcements from outside the city, and eventually guard the city gate. The players at stages 1E-3E start by harassing the approaching army’s vanguard before taking up positions on the city’s walls.
Stage 1 of the quest succeeds at imparting a feeling of an unavoidable attack, as each team will always only spend three turns preparing the defenses before the siege. Resource tokens are added to the quest card at the start of each round, and once there are four tokens on each stage 1, the players all advance to the next stage and to the siege. Questing is still crucial at stage 1, however, as the quest allows you to spend progress tokens from each quest card to accomplish different effects. While harassing the vanguard, Team 3 can reduce the number of encounter cards being revealed at each other stage, representing their efforts to hold off the forces of Angmar so their friends can focus on preparing for the coming battle. For Team 2, that means shuffling copies of the out of play objective-ally Dúnedain of Annúminas into the encounter decks, representing their efforts to rally as many reinforcements as possible before the attack. Meanwhile, Team 1 players in the city itself can increase the city strength of Annúminas, representing their efforts to rebuild the city’s ruined defenses.
The second stage of the quest is where things really get difficult. In addition to normal staging each round, the players now have to deal with the Host of Angmar advancing in waves through the city. The Team 3 players (at this point at Stage 2F on the walls of the city) have to add a new Host of Angmar to their staging area each round. At the end of each round, each Host of Angmar in play moves progressively deeper into the city by moving to the next team’s staging area. This feature really adds a sense of geography to the quest, as the players at the innermost sequence of stages will have to watch each Host march down the table towards them.
If any Host of Angmar is still not destroyed after surviving the innermost set of quest stages (Team 1), they are discarded from play and 9 damage is dealt to the city strength (which starts at only 50). If the city strength reaches 0, the players lose the game. Each stage 2 takes 50 progress to explore, though this is reduced by 10 for each Host of Angmar that has been defeated and players can only move on to stage 3 as a group, after each team has completed their own stage 2. These factors make this stage satisfyingly challenging, as it is difficult to stop the damage from adding up on the city. This stage truly feels like an onslaught as wave after wave of Angmar’s foul orcs advance down the table, from the walls, to the gates, to the city itself.
The players are in for a nasty surprise at stage 3, when each player on each team is required to surrender a hero facedown under the Enemy Camp location. The Team 2 players have a chance to rescue the captives and return them to play by exploring the location, but one of the facedown heroes is discarded each round as the orc tormenters make sport of their prisoners. The teams at the other two quest stages have their own problems, as Team 1 has to stop the Battering Ram from destroying the city, while Team 3 has to deal with the Siege Tunnel, which is allowing enemies to pour past the outer defenses.
To top it off, the Lieutenant of Angmar shows up to rally his troops and moves around to whichever staging area has the lowest total threat. He cannot take damage unless there is at least 10 progress on the main quest, but the players cannot place process on the quest until they explore their respective unique locations. This ensures that even in a best case scenario, the Lieutenant will stick around for a few turns, which makes this boss fight fresh and challenging.
Presuming that this quest takes place sometime just before or during the War of the Ring, this Lieutenant of Angmar is not one of the Nazgûl, nor does he appear to be any other kind of wraith. He has the traits Angmar and Sorcerer, suggesting he is likely just a wicked man (or what is left of one) possessed by and wielding fell powers in service to the Witch-King.
The encounter cards in general represent some of the same kinds of things we have seen throughout the Angmar Awakens cycle. The enemies include orcs, wargs, and werewolves, all of which involve some kind of effect that hampers or removes progress on the quest. Most offer some harsh alternative which provides an excruciating choices for the players since progress is needed to accomplish the objective at all three quest stages (bolstering defenses at stage 1, stopping wave after wave of Hosts of Angmar at Stage 2, and rescuing captured heroes and defeating the Lieutenant at stage 3). I really enjoy quests that give the players lots of choices like this between bad effects (like removing hard won progress from the quest) and even worse ones (like immediate attacks, exhausting characters, etc.). This aspect of the quest reminds me of one of my favorites, A Knife in the Dark from the Black Riders saga box, where encounter card effects are constantly forcing the players to choose between shuffling an out of play Ringwraith into the encounter deck or suffering some other horrible alternative.
The locations in Annúminas contain some classic tried-and-true effects to make the quest pretty punishing. The Shores of Lake Nenuial prevent progress in the staging area, representing the difficulty of scouting the surrounding areas due to the city’s location by the lake. The Hills of Evendim prevent the cancellation of ‘when revealed’ effects, as the hilly terrain makes it hard for the players to know what’s coming and prepare accordingly. One of the more interesting locations is the City Wall, which deals damage to the city if ignored for too long, as the forces of Angmar break through.
The treacheries feel pretty standard. There’s some attachment-hate (Sorcery of Carn Dûm), a combination of “return to staging area” and enemy fishing (The Hordes of Angmar), and a combination of ally-hate and potentially massive willpower reduction (Caught in the Press). Probably the worst, though, is Weary Warriors, which brings back pained memories of The Weather Hills with its effect that blanks text boxes on wounded characters. Nothing is worse than a shiny, new, alt-art Boromir that can’t ready – unless, of course, you’re playing this quest without blood and fire Boromir, in which case you’re already in a tight spot!
THE ART OF WAR
The artwork in a board or card game is very important to my enjoyment of it. The look and feel directly contribute to how immersive I find the experience to be, and they can often make or break my opinion of a given game. The high quality of artwork used throughout The Lord of the Rings LCG and the “look” of the game in general are some of the reasons it has become my favorite. The Siege of Annúminas features high quality artwork that I find to be very consistent and effective.
Most of the art on this quest’s locations come from the same artist, Sergey Glushakov (DinoDrawing), who also did some of the pieces for A Storm on Cobas Haven and the previous year’s Gen Con quest, The Ruins of Belegost. A single artist illustrating multiple cards for the same quest creates a sense of continuity within the scenario. In this case, it really helps create the sense that the art on each location card is just a different view of the city, or a view of a different part of the same city. In each example, the illustrations of the city share common architectural elements and color schemes, deepening the player experience.
Perhaps my favorite piece of art from this quest and the most visually striking is the Shores of Lake Nenuial. I believe this card contains a good visual pun. As we already learned, Evendim is the Shire translation of Nenuial and means “twilight” or “evening.” In the art on this location, the sun appears to be setting behind the Hills of Evendim, with the ruins of Annúminas and the lake in the foreground.
Despite my initial mixed feelings regarding this quest, The Siege of Annúminas has quickly become one of my favorites. The print-on-demand quests in general are of spectacular quality, but the thematic mechanics of the Siege and its scalability for up to 12 players make it especially memorable. The quest is definitely far less interesting in its “standard” 1-4 player mode, as it is forced to scale back or completely remove many of the thematic mechanics that make it so much fun in epic multiplayer.
After playing this one several times, I can say I definitely understand why Caleb and the team decided to use it at both events this last year. How many times can you gather 12 players in the same place? My gaming group had to play it quite a few times before our first win, and even then we were within a single round of being defeated. Playing it at Gen Con gave me the chance to help design some coordinated decks to use for the Fellowship Event, and this quest in epic multiplayer mode definitely requires some coordinated power-deck building.
If you had the chance to play this quest already, what did you think of it? Did you win or lose in epic multiplayer mode? Finally, if you had the chance to design a custom card for the city’s most iconic relic, the Sceptre of Annúminas, what would it be? Please reply in the comments and let us know!
UPDATE: Many thanks to Philip B., aka Estel Edain, for immediately answering Daniel’s call for a custom card with an outstanding thematic and mechanical design featuring classic artwork and inspiring flavor text. Any others, just send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org!