Following the exhausting capture of Mugash for Saruman, the White Wizard has another task for the heroes: Go to the city of Tharbad and meet the dwarf Nalir. For this dwarf claims to have found an ancient Elven secret, something thought lost to the ages… For through the knowledge of the previous ages, the White Wizard sees a chance to defeat the enemy. As he says to the Heroes: “Should we not seek the old powers of Beren, of Gondolin, of Númenor… Of Isildur?”
The heroes leave Isengard, along the Old South Road leading to Tharbad, through the hills of Dunland. But during the night, war cries echo through the night, and bearded Dunlendings are approaching with weapons drawn and fire in their eyes!
The Dunland Trap
- Scenario 1 of the Ringmaker Cycle
- Official difficulty: 7
- Community difficulty: 7.5
- Encounter sets: The Dunland Trap, Dunlending Warriors, and Weary Travelers
- Quest cards: 3
- Play if: You want to fight Dunlendings. You like surprises (do not read on if you do) – You enjoy quests like Foundations of Stone where the game “resets” midway. You enjoy the pressure of the time mechanic.
- What is different about this quest: You are fighting men and not orcs. You have to have a strategy for the later stages as your board state is thrown to the wind. Attachments are hated, and you will have to keep your heroes alive until the very end.
- Solo or Multiplayer?: Multiplayer allows the encounter deck to run some nasty combos of card draw and punishment for card draw. Solo is hard if your deck is not geared for combat. So playing it in 2-player will likely be the best setup, with both decks capable to handle combat.
- Can I run Side-Quests for this scenario?: You definitely can through stage 1b. Just remember that every round you spend here may cause you to discard and draw more cards. The nice thing about the side-quests is that they stay in play after the shift halfway through. Combat orientated cards like Keep Watch are definitely recommended.
The scenario has no new unique keywords but features the Time mechanic first introduced in Voice of Isengard. A quest card with Time X enters play with X time counters, and 1 time counter is removed every refresh phase (or through encounter card effects). The idea of the Time keyword was to discourage turtling and force players into action. Personally, this author dislikes the rush, but it certainly forces you to progress. Besides the Time mechanic. the scenario focuses on punishing card draw. As detailed below, several enemies and locations grow stronger every time a card is drawn. The rule booklet encourages you to check all encounter cards in play anytime a card is drawn, so you don’t miss any effects. I have been told by Ian from Tales from the Cards that the card draw hate was meant to represent the Dunlendings envy for the material wealth of the straw-headed men of Rohan. I think it makes more sense with that in mind.
Stage 1A instructs you to set Chief Turch and Munuv Dûv Ravine aside, out of play, and to make Old South Road the active location. Each player searches the encounter deck for one Boar Clan enemy and puts it into play engaged with him (or her!). Finally, the encounter deck is shuffled – no scrying loopholes! Stage 1B requires a whopping 18 progress to advance. Furthermore, the stage has Time 2, and after the last counter is removed, each player discards his hand and draws 2 cards (potentially initiating a cascade of buffs and counter/shadow card placements, but I’m getting ahead of myself…). Finally, 2 new time counters are placed on the stage.
Let’s begin with the Boar Clan enemies, of which you have two to choose from: The Boar Clan Stalker and The Boar Clan Warrior. Both enemies hate on card draw. The Warrior gets a shadow card, whereas the Stalker gets a counter buffing his attack and defence by 1, every time the engaged player draws a card. Keep in mind that this will trigger during the first resource phase. This means increased risk for multiple attacks/additional shadow cards from the warrior and increased defence for the Stalker. You, therefore, need a strategy to deal with your engaged enemy. The Warrior needs to be blocked (or Feinted) whereas the Stalker can be taken as an unblocked attack (it will usually only cause 1 or 2 points of damage). The Warrior needs 5 damage on the first round whereas the Stalker will need 6, and this difference actually makes me choose the Warrior rather than the Stalker. Additionally, the shadow card is discarded by the end of combat whereas the Stalker keeps getting stronger to a maximum of 4 counters placed (if you draw one later, they are prime targets for Straight Shot due to the 0 defence). Another possible strategy for the Warrior is to pack shadow card cancellation – Burning Brands, Hasty strokes, and the like (summarized here). But killing your engaged enemy should be a priority. Both have rather low engagement costs (20 for the Warrior, 28 for Stalker) and will likely engage you when they enter play. So be ready for additional enemies by killing the one you begin with quickly! In my recent playthrough I usually chump blocked or Feinted while holding back Eomer and spirit Theoden to deal damage. It should be noted that drawing too many enemies first turn can cause things to escalate quickly…
You begin with the Old South Road as the active location. This location requires 4 quest points to clear and causes you to remove a time counter from the Stage in the Refresh phase (in addition to the one removed by the quest itself). Hence, if you don’t clear it early, you will end up discarding your hand at the end of the first round. Unless you pack some SICK resource acceleration, this will likely lead to a net loss of cards (since you get to draw 2 after discarding). Therefore it should also be a priority to clear the Road on the first round. If you can quest for around 7, this should be possible. This will also allow you to travel to any location popping up in the Quest phase, making subsequent questing easier. Strong questers like Eowyn or Cirdan are good choices for an early push.
Finally, a word on the Time effect itself. It cannot be prevented like in the to Catch an Orc scenario. Here, you have to bite the bullet and discard your hand every two turns. Hence, this scenario encourages resource acceleration and cheaper allies (no point in drawing a Beorn early when you will discard it before having enough resources to play it…). As your discard pile becomes a resource, Stand and Fight and Dwarven Tomb becomes good cards. Once you have discarded for the first time (likely discarding more than two cards), subsequent discards will likely be more beneficial, replenishing your hand. The risk is of course to trigger effects on enemies but this is a risk you might have to take. A nice way to bypass the card draw hate is to pack tutoring effects, as searching your deck and ADDING a card to your hand does not trigger the enemy abilities (see a list of cards with tutoring effects here)
So you begin the game with an engaged enemy and an active location that you wish to clear ASAP! What do you hope to draw? Generally, I root for a location, but to answer that question it is beneficial to analyze what we have in the encounter deck later.
Quest card 1: The Road to Tharbad – Time 2, 18 quest points
As mentioned above, Stage 1B requires an impressive 18 progress to advance. Besides, the Time 2 will constantly replenish, forcing players to discard their hands every two turns (or every turn if the Encounter deck wills it or you cannot clear Old South Road). However, you can spend a lot of time here, and should until you have the board under control. You should not advance until you are clear of enemies and locations, as the next stage will make things significantly more difficult for you. It is therefore often better to spend a few more rounds here. Do not be afraid to chump block! The quest punishes ally swarms and Voltron decks in the later stages, so there is no need to build up a massive ally army (besides helping you to clear enemies and locations as they appear of course). Likewise, when you are about to advance, it is beneficial to hold on to some of your allies and attachments rather than playing them- it will become clear why in the section on Stage 2B.
During this stage, you will also want to use side-quests to stall even more. Getting them out on the table once you draw them will prevent the encounter deck from ever interacting with it. These side-quests can give you additional bonuses in the later stages since those don’t require progress to be made. This will make attacking and defending easier, but it will also make it easier to get your allies back with The Storm Comes and Send for Aid in the future. Once you reach 18 progress on the main stage though, you immediately advance. You can save some side-quests to complete later.
Quest card 2: A Well Laid Trap
You have driven off the attackers, but in the heat of battle, some of them knicked your stuff! You, of course, decide to pursue them and are lead into a trap. Now, why would you do that? Anyway, Stage 2A adds the Munuv Duv Ravine as the active location, giving a +1 attack and defence buff to all Dunland enemies. The location requires 6 progress so getting past it is not trivial. You will want to clear it. But wait! There is more. 2A also instructs you to discard ALL mount and item attachments and to discard all but 1 ally each player controls. Ouch. This is why chump blocking is great in this scenario, and why you perhaps should hold on to a few cards towards the end of 1B if you can (remember the nasty Time effect). However, many other attachments are not items and will, therefore, be carried over, and you can build around this disadvantage by carefully considering the traits of the attachments you include.
2B instructs you once again to search for a Boar Clan enemy and put it into play engaged with you. Both the Stalker and the Warrior are decent options. but I tend to favour the Stalker, as an unarmed attack hurts less. But dealing with it should be a priority. Drawing an enemy the round you advance can make things very tricky. You will at max control 4 characters at this stage so it might be tricky to kill the enemy. But plan for it, as things are about to get worse. You also shuffle your discard pile into your deck and each player also draws a card (triggering the Boar enemy effects). At the end of the combat phase, you advance to stage 3A.
Quest card 3: No Way Out – Time X
Now things get even worse! The Dunlendings have stolen your things to lure you into a trap! The first player will engage Chief Turch who begins with 5 attack, +1 from the Munuv Duv Ravine. He engages the first player, which means he will travel around the board in multiplayer. In single player, you will need to deal with him every round. Furthermore, he has a forced effect stating that whenever you engage an enemy, you remove a time counter. He is also immune to attachments (no Forest snare!) and cannot leave play. I am not sure how “cannot leave play” is different from the “Indestructible” keyword, but damage will not remove him. There is therefore little point in attacking him. Perhaps he is equipping plot armour…
Quest 3B has Time X where X is 5 times the number of players. A time counter will, of course, be removed every phase, and due to Chief Turch, every time you engage an enemy. Once there are no more time counters, players will make engagement checks and each engaged enemy will make an attack. If the players survive this attack they win the game! However, there is a catch… No heroes can die at this stage, or in the final attack! This means that blocking with heroes become extremely risky, and all previous statements about chump blocking and shadow card control become absolutely crucial. Of particularly nasty shadow card effects are additional attacks, and effects that increase attack strength and deals additional shadow cards. Hence, Feint is very helpful to keep the Chief from attacking you. Note that your heroes cannot be destroyed at this stage, but effects like Caldara, Folco Boffin, and Tactics Boromir will not count as an immediate loss here. You should ideally play allies every turn to chump while clearing any enemies that might appear. If you can clear the Ravine it will be nice (it makes enemies easier to kill and decreases their attack), but questing should not be a priority as you just need to survive without threatening out.
The Off Track treachery might even be advantageous here, as it causes time to count down faster. If the final counter is removed in the Refresh phase through normal means, you will have readied all characters and should, therefore, be ready for the final blocking – it is more tricky if this effect triggers through questing or the engagement check. If you can survive the final attack, you have won! You are now ready to move on to the Three Trials.
The Encounter Deck
- The encounter deck is made up of 42 cards in Normal mode, and 31 in Easy mode
- The chance of a shadow effect rises from 52% in Normal mode to 68% in Easy mode. A lot of the shadow effects either draw a card, raise enemy attack, make additional attacks, and prevent damage on that enemy that round.
- Average threat on cards revealed is 1.3 threat/card for both modes, but with a lot of surge, you are likely to reveal more than 1 card per player.
- Surge is printed on 12 cards. It can either be a static keyword or triggered if some requirements are not met on the treachery.
- There are no Doomed cards, but threat is still risky during this quest. Only bring your own Doomed cards if you really have to.
- Time is removed by the Old South Road, Chief Turch, and the effect of Off Track
- Chief Turch is immune to attachments and cannot leave play. He can take damage, though that does not really do much.
These statistics do not count the two unique locations and Chief Turch since they will never end up in the encounter deck on their own. There is an almost perfect split between the three card types in this encounter deck, making it hard to guess the cards with Wingfoot.
In addition to the Boar Clan Warrior and Stalker (discussed above), we have the enemies from the Dunlending Warriors set, that we first met in the Fords of Isen. These enemies really hurt decks that have either a large hand size or are drawing a lot of cards.
- This includes the Dunland Berserker who attacks every time the engaged player draws a card. As we have discussed above, card draw is very frequent, so he needs to be dealt with the round he hits the table. His attack is rather weak (2) so this means he can be blocked by modest defenders. He requires 5 attack to kill, so killing him is not trivial. But disposing of him should be a priority. His shadow effect is also noteworthy, as he causes an enemy to make an additional attack. This is brutal if applied to the Boss of the scenario or one of the beefier enemies, and hence shadow cancellation is a good idea.
- The Dunland Tribesman is another strong enemy that can ruin your day due to his 4 attack. When revealed he causes each player to draw a card, with all the unpleasantness that ensures in this scenario. He has the additional effect of getting +1 Threat after a player draws any number of cards, meaning that he is much, much worse in multiplayer (as his ability lasts until the end of the round, additional encounter card draws will further buff him up). He also requires 5 attack to kill, and a general rule for this scenario is to hold back characters with an attack strength of 5, so enemies can be cleared the round they appear. If you can do that, the board is manageable. He has only 3 hit points, so if you can reduce his defence with Rivendell Blade or add some direct damage from Hail of Stones he is more manageable than the Berserker. It is also worth noticing that his engagement cost is rather high at 37, so in a solo game, you can leave him in the staging area for a round or two until you are ready to deal with him.
- The final enemy you can draw is also the most problematic and can in many cases force a reset: the Dunland Chieftain. Requiring 9 damage to kill (6 HP and 3 defence) and with 5 attack strength, he is a mini-boss in himself. Furthermore, after engaging he forces you to discard X cards from the encounter deck and put the topmost enemy discarded into play with you. This can be brutal and may mean that you need to spend a few turns getting things under control again. Only a dedicated defender can repeatedly take his attacks so I usually chump block. Due to the reset of the Board state in Stage 2A, there is no point in holding on to allies at the expense of heroes. So throw those Snowborn Scouts under the bus so you can kill him! Again, if this guy shows up it may be game over. But that’s the name of the game.
Generally, locations are what you want to see. You of course always run the risk of getting location locked, but usual staging area management cards like Northern tracker and Heirs of Earendil are good to get you out of a situation where locations pile up.
- Hithaglir Stream is a 3-threat location requiring 4 quest points but is a pretty benevolent location as it has no travel cost, and allows you to draw 2 cards pr. resource phase instead of 1. As most enemies punish you for drawing rather than the number of cards you draw, this is actually a benefit. As you have 4 of them, you will probably see it during your playthrough.
- Plains of Enedwaith is milder (2 threat, 2 quest points) but have the opposite effect, denying you card draw during the resource phase. This is not too much of an obstacle early, as you will draw cards during the Refresh phase of 1B every two turns, but in Stage 3B it can deny you crucial draw of a chump blocker. It is prime Asfaloth bait and can easily be left in the staging area for a round or two. As it is quite a manageable location, it is also prime material for A watchful peace in solo if you can handle the shadow effect/extra location next round
- Hills of Dunland is a deceptive location. With 2 threat and 3 quest points, it is an obvious candidate for location management, but it has a nice travel cost of drawing a card! If you have no engaged enemies, this might seem like a free card. The catch? A forced effect that says that when the Hills are in the staging area, card draw triggers discard of the top card of the encounter deck, and if the card is a Dunland enemy, you engage it. Travelling to the location WILL trigger this effect (the location only leaves the staging area after a travel action) so you risk getting a Dunland Chieftain in the bargain. I generally find it worth it to clear it as fast as possible so it is a good candidate for Heirs of Earendil. Luckily the ability does not stack with multiple copies, but you still need to deal with it fast.
- The final location you can draw is Hithaeglir Foothills, a location that can grow out of control if left for too long. It requires 4 quest points, meaning that you likely have to travel there. It also has surge, with all the unpleasant possibilities this creates. And finally, it has threat X, where X is the number of resources, which are added every time a player draws a card, with no upper limit. I do not want to be in a 4-player game where this is left in the staging area for a few rounds. You need to travel there, and you need to travel there fast.
This brings us to the treacheries which are unpleasant as always. Personally, I think this scenario suffers a bit from the feel-bad, game-ending treacheries in this encounter set, but this may just be me. This is definitely a scenario where you want to have A Test of Will in your deck.
- Low on Provisions punishes swarm decks and forces you to assign X damage, where X is the number of characters you control. This is at best a Board sweep and at worst can kill all your heroes. And you have 3 in the deck…
- Likewise, In need of rest is a condition attachment that removes a hero from the quest and deals one damage every time a time counter is removed. This is basically a death sentence, so pack your condition attachment removal. Power of Orthanc is a flavorful choice here. I do not like treacheries that must be dealt with immediately or the game is over.
- Frenzied attack causes each player to draw a card and discard each ally in hand (gaining surge if it whiffs). Obviously, this can disrupt your plans and causes a big loss of cards, but in the early stage, this does not cause too much of a problem for me, as you frequently discard your hand anyway. In the later stages, you should ideally play ally chump blockers every round, at which point this really can’t harm you. I, therefore, don’t mind this treachery too much.
- Off track attaches to a location and gives it 2 additional quest points, and causes it to remove an additional time counter from the current quest in the reset phase. This can actually be beneficial in Stage 3B if you have things under control, but we will get to that. This treachery can of course cause excessive card draw, triggering Dunland enemies. And it has surge which is always nasty.
- Wild men of Dunland is annoying, attaches to the current quest and pings you for 1 damage every time you draw cards. This treachery is all about timing. If you draw it as your first card it can be brutal for establishing a board state, but if you draw it when you are about to advance, it may be removed this turn. If pressed you can use condition removal, but generally, save it for In need of rest. It also has surge meaning you will have more problems at hand.
- Our final treachery also has surge and is Dunlending Ambush. It attaches to the active location and forces you to find a Dunland enemy to engage when the location is explored. This is generally not too bad if you can deal with the enemy the round he enters play, but since it surges things can go south very fast. Again, condition attachment removal is very helpful.
Tips and Tricks
- Condition removal can be of vital importance to your game in order to remove some of the more nasty treacheries that keep attaching to heroes, locations, and quest cards.
- In order to save your attachments from being discarded, consider using attachments without the Item or the Mount trait. Conditions, Titles and especially Signals will stay with you through the end of the game, making your heroes sturdier and preventing them from dying.
- Healing will be important to save your heroes on the last stage. Sometimes effects like Waters of Nimrodel can be a lifesaver at this stage. It really sucks to have a hero leave play at that point at which time the players lose the game.
- There are a surprising number of nasty locations in this scenario, so having some location control can prevent you from a location lock. Note that Asfaloth will be discarded for stage 2 though, nerfing it a little. Try to clear as many locations as you can during stage 1 to make the transition easier for you.
- Don’t bother testing a Dale deck against this quest, that archetype gets shut down hard by the stage transition, as well as the enemies that get stronger as you draw more cards.
- While Trap decks will work fine against this quest, note that Forest Snare is an Item and will be discarded at stage 2. This can lead to more enemies capable to attack, which will spell the end for you and your deck.
- Having a character that does not exhaust to defend will help you in great lengths to have enough characters ready to attack back. This can either be a hero with Hour of Wrath, Beorn with damage cancellation or a Vigilant Dunadan with buffs from various other effects (Narya, Arwen, etc).
- 2 player, modern card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ935CW_pUw
- 3 player, progression style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtZcKbz47cY
- 2 player, progression style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8879p_2w0k
Thanks to Durins_father for letting me write this analysis. It sure has been fun!