Our adventure in the strange and unfamiliar land of Harad continues as our Heroes escape the pursuit of a band of orcs. The dreaded Uruk Chieftan leads the charge as our Heroes and their recently tamed Mumak’s attempt to lose the enemy and make their way towards the sanctuary that is Gondor. I had the chance to get my first play of this quest. What did I think? Well that’s what the “read more” button is for!
It wouldn’t be the first time that someone has mentioned these Harad quests feel like a return to form, while also taking into consideration several years of scenarios and player card interactions. I’ve heard it from members in the community and have even said so a couple times myself, even in my last First Impressions article. Race Across Harad does, in a way, follow that same path.
In Race Across Harad our Heroes are… er- well… racing across Harad! It has not been an easy adventure for our Heroes, consistently running away from the enemy only to be waylaid by Orcs and held captive. After a quick escape the Heroes fled to the jungle where they managed to tame a few of Harad’s iconic Mumak. As they made their way towards Gondor, the Uruk Chieftan returns, the villain that he is. He is not alone, of course, and brings with him a pack of fellow Orcs and Wargs.
This race between the Heroes and Orcs is emulated via two separate staging areas. and the progression for each is pretty straightforward. For the Heroes, questing happens as normal, except that the towering dunes of Harad pose quite the obstacle. Without the help of the tamed Mumak, the Heroes can only hope to add 5 progress each quest phase. Aboard the Mumak, the Heroes can at least add 10 maximum progress, barely staying one step ahead of the Orcs. Or can they?
The Orcs’ staging area is, appropriately enough, called “The Orcs’ Area.” At the end of each quest phase, threat is calculated and that total number is added as progress on The Orcs’ quest cards. Typically this is handled via discarding a card from the encounter deck, checking the shadow value, and adding it to whatever else is in The Orcs’ Area. There are a few shenanigans dished out from the encounter deck, and each Orcs’ stage has a twist on the formula, but you get the idea. If the players are ahead of the Orcs, meaning they are at a stage numerically higher than that of The Orcs’ Area, then things are good*. Although the Orcs in the Orcs’ Area are considered out of play(ish), some nasty effects can take place and certain encounter cards will trigger punishing you for being too ahead (which I did find odd). If you are at the same stage as the Orcs then things get tricky. Suddenly those Orcs and Wargs come barreling towards you, and their threat will count towards the total threat when you quest (don’t worry, they’ll still be able to progress on their stage as well). With some of the encounter cards only biting when you are ahead, it didn’t feel too bad to be neck-and-neck with the Orcs instead of vastly ahead, interestingly enough. But I’ve done enough explaining, what did I think?
For my first play of the quest, which I’ll note I won, I greatly enjoyed it. The theme really carries over into the mechanics of the game as you feel the heat (pun intended) from a growing band of orcs across the table, very much on your tail. My partner and I ignored the idea of placing only a max of 5 progress and continually made for the max 10, committing our tamed Mumaks to the quest each and every possible moment. The side quests in this scenario felt particularly thematic as you had to think in earnest about your next turn. Do we stop for water – Allowing our Heroes to ready via card effects? Or do we push through, hoping the extra time we saved can get us to freedom but at the cost of being woefully unprepared should we trip up? This quest provides a lot of player choice and there are strong arguments for many of the decisions you’ll have to make which makes for a rewarding tabletop experience.
We won our session by letting the Orcs keep up with us. We would get one step ahead, they would catch up, and we would smack away whichever foe was dumb enough to try (I did have a big bear riding my Mumak, which helped). For reasons I can’t really explain (aside from the desert theme) I felt like I was living some Middle-Earth version of Indiana Jones. I could see movie-like moments happening in my head. Beorn would swat away the sharp blades of the Orcs and Gimli would follow up with a much needed axe to their face. It reminded me, specifically, of this scene from The Last Crusade. The whole thing felt cinematic, not the academy award winning kind but rather the popcorn flick kind which I think makes for a very entertaining quest.
While I didn’t find the quest to be difficult per se, my partner and I agreed that the Encounter Deck God was busy smiting someone somewhere else. We were remarkably lucky with what it dished out, and aside from a few nail-biting moments we felt pretty confident. It could be that we were fortunate to pair two decks together that just work well for this quest, or it could be that our play was a fluke, and the encounter deck is normally much harsher. Asking around the table, I did get a sense that this quest was on the less difficult side.
That doesn’t mean that you can just go waltzing into this quest with your Beorning Secrecy deck thinking you’ll show those Orcs’ what-for! Not only does the Uruk Chieftan make a grand re-appearance but so do all his flunkies. This means that the Mordor Warg is back to make even the weeniest of foes worthy adversaries. The Uruk Warg-Rider gave me particular grief, since he was pretty much always attacking for 6 instead of 3. While the shadow effects are their typical brand of nasty, most of the enemy tension comes from their inherent effects. This was something I enjoyed immensely in the quest The Mumakil. On paper, the enemy stats are nothing terrifying. What proved to be potentially fatal were the effects like the above Warg-Rider or the blasted Uruk of Mordor who, if you’re not careful, might send his 4 attack straight to the dome of one of your Heroes since your Mono-Tactics deck doesn’t really have a lot of 2 willpower. Sorry. I digress.
In short. Is this quest fun? Yes. Is it challenging? I think I lucked out. A few more plays are necessary. Would I play this again? Certainly. An issue I sometimes have with this game is that the big, exciting scenarios aren’t always new player friendly. You don’t go to your friend after a couple early sessions and say “hey, I have the quest that emulates the Helm’s Deep battle!” Your friend will probably not be your friend after that. Race Across Harad feels to me like the quest you show someone after they’ve had a few of the more “standard” flair. This is the, “if you liked that, then take a shot at this” quest. It’s the gateway scenario to the more intricate and exciting stuff, but still manages to hold its own.
But don’t let me blabber on, tell me what you think!
As always, thanks for reading!
-The Secondhand Took