The Line Unbroken – C9: Road to Isengard

The Treason of Saruman comes to a close with Road to Isengard. I already noted in the Helm’s Deep post of course how the game kind of has to tweak the details of the timeline to make it fit the three quest structure of the box without having more hero changes between them. Putting those thematic concerns aside, however, it’s a fun quest, albeit one with some odd scaling.

The odd scaling arises in how stage 1 works – you exhaust heroes and compare their willpower to the threat of discarded encounter cards to see if you can convince the Ents to join you. Obviously the more heroes you can exhaust the more likely you are to get more Ents. But also the severity of effectively your setup when you move onto stage 2 and the quest starts following the normal game mechanics again is determined by how long you spend on stage 1. So with more players you have more heroes and can thus convince the Ents faster, meaning you end up with more Ents in less time, thus getting a gentler setup and more means of dealing with it. It’s not a big deal, especially since the general trend in this game is that everything spirals out of control and gets much more difficult as player count gets higher, but it is still a bit odd.
On the other hand, in sharp contrast to being automatically down a hero in The Uruk-Hai and then dealing with the Defence keyword in Helm’s Deep, Road to Isengard is by far the most normal quest in the box – though that said it still has enough effects flying around that I have in the past ended up retrying it multiple times because I’d been forgetting one (the biggest case was when I forget to add Saruman to the staging area. A more common and easier-to-repeat mistake is forgetting to trigger the Forced effect on Orthanc). This does mean however that my deckbuilding should be simpler – aside from the fact that as always there are a lot of odd cards I’d like to fit in but don’t have room for. Helm! Helm! from this very box is an awkward one which is always tempting but is hard to justify when I’m liable to be perfectly capable of just killing my enemies normally rather than spending 2 resources, a card, and discarding an ally to discard one.

So what do I want? A bunch of Rohan allies to go with Theoden. Healing to go with Treebeard. Action advantage to go with everyone, and Aragorn’s standard selection of artifacts. Pipe and Staff for Gandalf. That’s basically it, but I can add in that defence boosts for Erkenbrand may be nice, since here I can’t get one from the Deeping Wall, and it might be really useful to be able to cancel shadow effects when Saruman himself is attacking me (which normally would be a fairly tall order for Erkenbrand since Saruman is 6 attack to Erkenbrand’s 3 defence/4 HP). Speaking of shadow effects, an interesting thought might be to use the Rider of the Mark to discard some shadow cards from Saruman if I can find some spare Spirit resources. It’s far from a perfect plan, since the Rider’s effect only works on an enemy engaged with you and Saruman mostly isn’t, but I’ve always liked the Rider, and with Theoden’s discount he’s 2 resources for 2 willpower in any case, so maybe I’ll give it a try.

The Last March of the Ents

Pippin (Lo)

Allies (22):
Warden of Healing x3
Master of the Forge x3
Mirkwood Pioneer x3
Wandering Ent x3
Booming Ent x3
Legolas x3
Boromir x2
Quickbeam x2

Attachments (20):
Secret Vigil x3
Ent Draught x3
Elf-stone x3
Expert Treasure-hunter x2
Athelas x2
Song of Travel x2
Wingfoot x1
Captain of Gondor x1
Black Arrow x1
Glamdring x1
Anduril x1

Events (9):
Daeron’s Runes x3
Entmoot x3
Feint x3

Side-quests (1):
Gather Information x1

Thoughts: It’s a bit frustrating building a somewhat Ent-themed deck in the full knowledge that several rather good Ent cards appear in the next few boxes I’ll get to but I can’t use them now, despite the fact this is of course the most thematic moment for the Ents to make their appearance. That aside, obviously a lot of this is standard stuff and similar to the deck from the last quest. This time round I’ve put the boons in this deck as it had more space and I can use Masters of the Forge to dig them out. Masters of the Forge are also useful for this quest as my hand size is a concern but when I reach stage 3 Saruman will attack me any time I draw cards – however Master of the Forge doesn’t technically draw cards, it just adds them to hand and is thus safe (the same goes for Entmoot).
Some alterations have been made to fit the different quest – Road to Isengard is much more friendly to side-quests than Helm’s Deep so in comes Gather Information. Wingfoot and Captain of Gondor were options I simply forgot about when building the Helm’s Deep decks, though they might not have made the cut even if I remembered. Black Arrow is an odd inclusion but Gandalf can become Ranged with Shadowfax and that attack boost could be useful for taking down Saruman. Expert Treasure-hunter of course is excellent with hero Gandalf and here I am much more likely to quest successfully than at Helm’s Deep. Finally the Mirkwood Pioneer is a card I’m quite fond of, threat is less of a concern than in Helm’s Deep (with its Deeping Walls) and being able to temporarily cancel the threat of Saruman himself could be very helpful (Correction: Saruman is immune to player card effects, but still there are other high threat cards). Song of Travel is there to ease the potential use of the Rider of the Mark if it ever actually comes up. To be honest I probably could’ve found something better for those two card slots, but never mind.

We will have peace… when you and all your works have perished

Theoden (Sp)

Allies (19):
Westfold Horse-breeder x3
Westfold Horse-Breaker x3
West Road Traveller x3
Rider of the Mark x3
Escort from Edoras x3
Gimli x2
Arwen Undomiel x1
Bilbo Baggins x1

Attachments (25):
Steward of Gondor x3
Sword that was Broken x3
Dunedain Warning x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Wizard Pipe x2
Shadowfax x2
Herugrim x2
Ring of Barahir x2
Celebrian’s Stone x2

Events (5):
A Test of Will x3
Astonishing Speed x2

Side-quests (1):
Gather Information x1

Thoughts: Sidenote, Theoden’s speech to Saruman is one of my favourite bits of Tolkien’s writing.
With less concerns about threat reduction and location control, I’ve been able to focus this deck more on all the Rohan allies to benefit from Theoden’s discount. Once again it’s frustrating to know I’m missing some potentially significant pieces of the synergy (e.g. Gamling), but I can still do pretty well, and then I may be able to pull off some big quest pushes with Astonishing Speed if the pieces line up. The Dunedain Warnings are of course for Erkenbrand so he can hopefully more safely defend against Saruman. Speaking of which, here I can get effective card draw by playing from the top of the deck with Gandalf, plus of course the Expert Treasure-hunters from the other deck (which once again do not explicitly draw, they discard and then add to hand).
To briefly address the ally selection – Travellers and Horse-breeders are of course standard. Horse-Breakers are decent because I can play them for 1 with Theoden and I have multiple powerful heroes who benefit from extra actions, sometimes at short notice. Riders of the Mark I talked about, they’re decent even if only used for their willpower. Escorts from Edoras are better here than at Helm’s Deep because with normal questing mechanics big quest pushes are a thing whereas at Helm’s Deep the willpower demands are more constant.


Youtube: The Road to Isengard

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