Today I’m going to introduce the party, and talk about the most frustrating level of a board game that I’ve ever had to play ever. In history. Seriously. It’s a long one, but since I wrote it, I happen to think it’s worth all the words.
Lord Hawthorne is the ripper, tearer, and shredder of the group. He comes with reach for longer range, and since the campaign started, has benefited from being the only melee character. At our current stage in the game he automatically gets +13 damage just from his ‘Weapon Mastery’ skill and a magical sheath. His other skill is ‘Cleave’, allowing him to spend one fatigue to attack again after landing a killing blow. His job is to soak damage and murder anything that comes near him and for most of the game he dealt the most damage by far.
Bogran is the sneaky ranged one, and depending on the relative power of his main weapon, has been useful at picking off targets at long range. His character ability, extra damage when he can’t see the target at the beginning of his turn, lends itself to poking his head out from a corner, taking a couple shots, and poking his head back in. He also has a skill and a couple items that increase his range and damage, but what makes him the most interesting is his ‘Precision’ skill, where he can ignore one figure or obstacle for the purposes of determining line of sight for an attack. Combined with his character ability, he can sit behind anybody or anything and still do lots of damage, while still being pretty quick. Bogran was the beneficiary of a house rule that added relics to the possible treasure late in a campaign, and his weapon can do extraordinary amounts of damage with the right roll.
Runewitch’s character ability to open glyphs three squares away (the rule was changed due to smaller dungeons in the campaigns) has been really useful to help when the overlord tries to block glyphs with monsters, but she’s spent most of the game as raw, unbridled damage-dealer. With her speed and free surges from ‘Wild Talent’, she’s very effective at using AoE attacks to clear out entire rooms. In the late stages of the game we picked up a rumor (quest) card, which turns runes, the magic weapons, into one-handed items, so Runewitch also carries around a big shield to protect herself.
Runemaster is made to fill the runner role. We have him kitted out with wings, so he can fly to go along with his teleport. When he isn’t screaming across the map grabbing treasure of picking up gold, he’s doing weak damage to enemies, usually with single-target attacks. One of his skills allows the player to take away one card from the Overlord every time a new area is opened and ignore pits, even further enhancing his runner ability. This allows him to open doors, grab chests, open portals, and generally just make getting through levels much, much easier.
Now that you know the party, I’d like to talk about a single dungeon level. There was one level that defined the early game. The heroes, and my morale, were slaughtered mercilessly.
The Secret Garden.
Early in the campaign, the heroes are pretty weak. The store-bought weapons and items that you start with are very weak even in comparison to the basic treasure you start finding early, and you haven’t been able to purchase any new skills or extra damage dice. I had a rough first few levels, trying to learn the characters and still not fully grasping the mechanics of the game.
The overlord was able to upgrade his monsters, specifically his eldritch monsters (skeletons, shades, sorcerers, etc.) from the basic level up to Silver level, making them tougher and more powerful. So at this stage, where I was at a disadvantage due to some early mistakes, and the Overlord had just upgraded his eldritch, I drew a level that featured eldritch, and especially shades prominently, and gave them some amazing advantages.
I couldn’t find a picture of the level, but it’s fairly easy to describe. There’s a large room with a labyrinth of trees and rocks, with a convoluted path through it. Trees are normally pretty easy to get through, requiring two movement points instead of one and providing shadowcloak, meaning you can’t be targeted by anybody who isn’t in an adjacent square. But in this level, the trees do two damage and end the hero’s turn. The level comes with a bunch of shades and, unfortunately for me, the overlord drew a convenient card to spawn additional shades, and had a power card active to turn one of those into a master. So as I’m approaching the labyrinth of killer trees, I’m faced by six newly buffed shades, including two masters, who can fly right over the trees whenever they want.
I have to choose between moving into the tree, taking two damage, and being stuck as a shade practice target for the whole turn, or try to move slowly through the single passage and try to interrupt/dodge the shades, or try to sprint through the labyrinth and get to the glyph, thereby allowing my heroes (who died often) to bypass much of the labyrinth when returning from death. I tried all three. If I was stuck in the tree, the shades would float over, finish off my character, and float back to safety.
If I was moving through the passage slowly, guarding my way, I might get one swing off at one shade, but since the heroes were weak, they rarely landed a killing blow, and would then be killed just like a hero stuck in a tree. When I tried to dash through, I might get one hero within a few squares of the glyph, but they would likely be killed before reaching it.
So the heroes died. Over. And. Over. I probably should have retreated early, seeing the situation plus the lucky spawn plus the overlord’s slowly growing pile of threat that would allow him to spawn more nasties to make the situation even more worse. But I didn’t. I kept going. I got to the glyph, many deaths later, and was finally able to respawn my heroes inside the labyrinth.
But, to open the door to finish the level, I had to kill the main shade. And the boss shade was easily able to avoid my heroes due to the trees blocking our way, while shades and other monsters continued to pick off individual heroes. I retreated, having given the Overlord a huge boost in conquest (XP) and losing the chance to grab a 2nd piece of a treasure map.
I later googled that level and found that I was not the only one to struggle with it so mightily, and that there was a commonly used exploit to chase down the master shade. There’s a hammer that can be bought at the beginning of the game that comes with knockback, which moves the target three squares in any direction. I guess if you have all your characters together in the middle of the labyrinth and you hit each other with the hammer. Once you’re knocked back three squares, you will be able to move that character to within striking distance of the master shade. That’s ridiculous.
After the slaughter that was The Secret Garden, I actually removed the dungeon card from the deck and kept it in my desk drawer for a while. I considered burning it. The level was just so imbalanced that I really didn’t think I would ever enjoy playing it. But my co-worker that I play with found it, and put it back in the deck without my knowledge. So months later, it came up again, as this same party is much, much more powerful and approaching the trigger for the final battle with the overlord. And I have to say, Runemaster’s wings + teleport, with Bogran’s precision and outrageously powerful relic weapon completely changed the balance of the level to where I actually enjoyed the challenge. We still lost the conquest battle by about 10, but considering how much trouble that level gave us the first time around, it was great to clear it so quickly and relatively easily.
In the next week or so we’ll be playing our first final battle, between Captain Bones and his ship, the Danse Macabre, and the heroes and their ship, the Revenge.
And now, back to the war.
Nate @ DMB