“Gimli!” shouts Dain, “Gimli!”
“This axe is ruined,” says Gimli, “That last goblin was wearing a helmet tougher than the others.” He picks at a notch in the blade.
“Gimli, we must use stealth,” says Dain, “You cannot attack every enemy you see.”
Bifur is by the inner door of the chamber. “They will have been alerted to our presence,” he says, pushing the door closed.
“Quite,” says Dain, “We must regroup. Let us return to the East-Gate and begin our journey again.”
The vast underground city beneath the Misty Mountains has many names.
Originally called Khazad-dûm (‘delving of the dwarves’) by those dwarves who built it and named Dwarrowdelf in the common tongue, since its fall it has become best known by its Elven name – ‘Moria’, the black pit.
The greatest of the dwarven cities, greater even than Erebor under the Lonely Mountain, Moria was built thousands of years ago by Durin the Dwarf-father.
As the ages passed and the shallower mines became exhausted, the dwarves delved ever deeper and deeper in search of rarer and rarer veins of mithril.
Finally, deep in the bowels of the earth, they disturbed the Balrog, that ancient and evil demon created by Morgoth in the years before the First Age.
The Balrog defeated the dwarves and killed their King, Durin VI. Forced to flee, the dwarves retreated to Erebor under the Lonely Mountain and Khazad-dûm was abandoned.
For a thousand years it remained so, populated only by orcs and by the threat of the Balrog lurking deep within the caverns.
Then, in recent years, Balin and a brave company of dwarves ventured into the Mines to reclaim the subterranean city for the dwarven race.
Time has passed, no one has heard from Balin or his company, and now Dain, Bifur and Gimli travel to the East-Gate of Moria to discover their fate…
As they pass through the East-Gate and enter the first of the dwarven passageways, the darkness closes around them. The stonework is elegant and skilful, but the dust and cobwebs laying over every surface dull the beauty of the carvings.
“There is nothing of the light and joy of the old days remaining here,” says Dain.
Bifur examines his map. “We must reach the First Hall and pass through it and then cross the Bridge of Khazad-Dum before we can begin our ascent,” he says.
There are branching paths, but by the light of the cave torch Bifur can direct their course.
Eventually they reach the wide and vaulted First Hall. In the distant past this would be filled with lights, decorations and welcome. Now there are only signs of conflict, bones and broken weapons.
The moment they set foot inside there is a triumphant cry and the lurking Goblin Scouts pounce on the party.
Shields set, the dwarves easily repel this first attack and Gimli and Bofur despatch them with quick axe blows. Knowing their presence has been discovered, the Company hurriedly dashes through the dust of the First Hall and approaches the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.
This is the first defence of Moria from an attack from the East, a narrow bridge curving over an impassable chasm. There are no signs of goblins.
In single file they tiptoe across the span of the bridge. There is only silence around them. On the far side they gather together and, keeping to the shadows, make their way to the chamber exit.
Bifur says, “Beyond this chamber is the main staircase upwards. We must climb to the seventh level.”
“I am concerned that we are again being watched,” says Dain, “The cries of those scouts must have been heard.”
They approach the doorway and Gimli peers out into the atrium.
“I fear you are correct,” he says, “I can see a Goblin Patrol approaching. They must have been alerted.”
Dain and the Erebor Battlemaster engage with the leader. The great orc’s scimitar splits Dain’s shield, but the Battlemaster cleaves its head from its shoulders.
Shouts and the clash of metal on metal resound around the great stairwell. More goblin swordsmen appear from the darkness, but even they are no match for the dwarven axes. Eventually all goblins lie dead.
Gimli examines his axe-blade. There are more notches in it. “Goblins and Orcs,” he mutters, “I would not have thought their skulls to be so hard!”
“Quickly!” says Dain, “We must hurry up to the seventh level. More patrols are sure to come. There is no time to rest!”
The Company begins the long ascent, level after level.
“These steps are known as the Stairs of Nain,” says Bifur, “He was the son of the last King of Khazad-Dum, and the last to fall before the Balrog.”
“Durin’s Bane.” says Dain, “Let us hope that the demon is still dormant in the depths and that we shall only have orcs and goblins to deal with.”
They can hear faint cries behind as more goblin swordsmen are assembling below.
With no respite in their climb, the Company is exhausted as they tumble into the seventh chamber. A fouled well sits in the centre of the room, an indication that here once a community flourished.
“We have reached the seventh flight, the first stage of our journey is over.” says Bifur, “Balin and the rest of his people should be nearby.”
Dain surveys the chamber, “This room has lain undisturbed for many months. I fear we will only find dire tidings.”
The Company begins to search for signs of the missing dwarves…
They are extremely thematic. They tell the story of your journey into Moria to discover the remains of Balin’s colony, and then your race to escape before being caught by the balrogs (ha ha).
In the first scenario, you are simply making your way into the mines, chamber by chamber, all the while being watched and stalked by goblins until finally you are attacked by a patrol and must defeat them and make your way up to the main complex.
I messed up my first game, forgetting that initially I wasn’t allowed to attack any of the enemies gathering in the staging area. They are supposed to just lurk there making it hard to explore the locations and progress through the first three chambers. I stopped and restarted, which was probably a good thing as it was all going a bit pear-shaped anyway.
It did go much better in my second attempt.
The standout cards in this dwarf deck were quite a surprise to me.
They were the ‘Longbeard Elder’, ‘King Under The Mountain’, and ‘Erebor Battlemaster’.
You can put a progress token on the current location if the top card is a location, but even if it isn’t you still get to see what its threat points are and so can plan your questing team accordingly.
It is less useful with more players, but with only one player and only one card to be drawn from the encounter deck you know exactly the threat score you have to beat.
The second great card was King Under The Mountain.
This is a dwarf-only attachment that once a turn allows you to look at the top two cards of your deck and keep one.
This is like drawing a single card but much better. Looking at two cards each time means you get through your deck to the cards you need much faster. Along with your regular card draw, this means you get to see three cards a turn, every turn.
With Steward of Gondor paying for everything, and Bifur spreading the wealth around, I could almost play the exact card I wanted, when I wanted, all the time.
This is an attacking dwarf, whose strength gets greater and greater the more dwarves are in play.
Since my three heroes are all dwarves, the Battlemaster starts with a minimum attack of four which is pretty high already, killing most things in one blow.
Add more dwarves and his strength gets up to 6 or higher. By the end of my game I had ten dwarves in play and he could almost kill a troll by himself.
There were lots of other parts of the deck I liked and I might add in some other cards to deal with specific problems, but that is the fun of deck-building games.