Saruman is upon you! His army of Uruk-Hai, Orcs and Dunlendings is marching towards the fortress of Helm’s Deep, where your heroes and the Rohirrim will make a desperate stand against his forces of evil. Will you be able to hold the line until help comes and king Theoden rides out in all his dangerous glory? Or will the assault overwhelm you and destroy the realms of Rohan? It is up to you (and the encounter deck) to decide this fate in the epic Helm’s Deep scenario.
The Helm’s Deep quest is truly an experience. The first big battle in The Lord of the Rings is captured excellently in this scenario. Your heroes will have to hold out for eight rounds while the forces of Saruman assault you. To give this scenario the feeling of a desperate last stand, this quest flips the whole questing formula of the game on its head entirely. Where you normally try to put progress on the quest and advance through your adventure, in Helm’s Deep the Defense keyword means that all you are trying to do is hold the encounter deck off of making progress until you have the opportunity to counter-attack. This means that this is a quest with a very different feeling while still being built upon the same design that is the foundation of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.
- Found in: The Treason of Saruman Saga Expansion
- Official Difficulty: N/A
- Community Difficulty: 8.2
- Encounter sets: Helm’s Deep, Orcs of the White Hand
- Quest cards: 5, but if you’re doing well, you will only see four.
- Play if: You want to experience a truly epic moment of the Lord of the Rings saga, you want to play a unique quest with a very different mechanic, you enjoy the feeling of desperately holding on by a threat
- What is different about this quest?: Honestly, the defense keyword makes pretty much everything about this quest different.
- Solo or multiplayer?: Lower player counts are usually easier, because you won’t face as much pressure from the encounter deck placing progress on the quest and can avoid seeing some of the nastier cards more often.
- Can I run side-quests for this scenario?: Kind of. Even with the questing formula flipped on its head, the quest is designed in a way that still allow side-quests being played. While a side-quest is active the Defense keyword on the main quest will not be active, so you can potentially clear the side-quest and the token to advance you through the game will still be placed on The Defense of Helm’s Deep. The rest of the game text on the main quest will still be active though, so you cannot break the quest this way. In addition, questing successfully is made difficult through the sheer amount of threat that can amass in the staging area and you will have to clear the active location first, which will usually lead to a bad effect to suffer from. That being said, if you are bringing a deck that can churn out high amount of willpower quickly, side-quest are actually a valid strategy. They are, however, very unthematic, because in a desperate defense, you would not actually have the time to Double Back or Scout Ahead.
The Defense Keyword
This keyword flips the questing formula on its head. From stage two on, you will not be able to put progress on the quest yourself and instead will try to prevent the encounter deck/staging area from making progress. The process is simple: You will commit characters to the quest as usual, then count up willpower vs threat in the staging area. Instead of placing progress from questing successfully however, the encounter deck will place progress on the quest (and the active location before that) for each point the threat in the staging area is higher than your willpower. This also means that you do not raise your threat from questing unsuccessfully.
This leads to some interesting strategic decision. The encounter deck will churn out a lot of threat and while you can certainly quest for as much as possible to prevent it from making progress, this is not always the optimal strategy. For one, there will be enemies you will need to deal with and keep the appropriate characters back, because the Uruk-Hai Fighter and the Wild Hillman have relatively low engagement costs and enemies such as the Soldier of Isengard, Warrior of Dunland and Isengard Uruk all have the Archery keyword, making them an additional threat even while in the staging area. Second, the main quest will punish you for that strategy on stage two and three. Assault on Helm’s Deep will straight up put one progress on the stage for each enemy in the staging area and The Hosts of Isengard will have you reveal additional cards if the encounter deck did not place any outright. third reason is that you cannot place progress on the active location. While you can certainly clear locations out of the staging area with location control, you will still suffer the when explored effect without getting the bonus from it being active. Locations will amass in the staging area and sometimes it will be the better strategy to have the encounter deck explore the active location so you can travel to a new one. Because of these reasons everything that lets you quest for exact amounts is a welcome sight. Effects that let you add or remove characters from the quest are excellent in that regard. Your options are Don’t be Hasty, Hobbit Pony, Elevenses, Late Adventurer and even Battle-Fury. Of course you can also use cards that let you adjust your willpower like Galadriel with Nenya, Faramir, Rosie Cotton, Elrond’s Counsel, Protector of Lorien, Halfling Determination, Durin’s Song, Lay of Nimrodel, Children of the Sea and some others. Although not helping with regards to exact questing, readying and non-exhausting to quest effects are also very valuable in order to have an answer to an enemy you might encounter. Still, these effects are not as important, because you can accumulate resources on Fellowship Aragorn as a fail-safe.
While all this happens you will need to hold out until there are eight tokens on The Defense of Helm’s Deep. At the end of each quest phase you will place a token there, which means you will have at least eight rounds (not counting Night without End) until you can advance to stage five and try to win the battle. Should the encounter deck beat stage four before that, you are overwhelmed by the hosts of Saruman and lose the game. To make matters worse, you will add one threat to the staging area for each token on this card, escalating threat even further. You will often be questing capably in the first couple of round before hanging on by a threat in the latter rounds, increasing the feeling of desperation this scenario brings across pretty well.
Other than that, there really is not that much to say about the Defense keyword. A lot of the interactions happen with the high amount of threat the encounter deck can throw out, the effects of the individual quest cards, the game text on locations and the dangerous treacheries like Devilry of Saruman. Hopefully, this could give you an overview about the central effects and strategies when we’ll go on to take a closer look at the specific interactions.
Most of the setup is just setting encounter cards aside out of play. However, you will have to make an important strategic decision to make at the end of it. You can choose to have each player shuffle a copy of Poisoned Counsels into their deck to get a free planning phase and an ally put into play for each player. This is of course a great boon to set you up for everything the quest might throw at you, but you still will have to deal with chance of drawing Poisoned Counsels.
The way Poisoned Counsels works is that once you draw it you will have to discard all other cards in your hand. (Note that while you won’t be discarding Poisoned Counsels, it does not have to be stuck in your hand forever. The text “functions like a player card” allow you to discard it to cards like Arwen, Daeron’s Runes or Protector of Lorien.) This is quite obviously a horrible effect, especially if drawn early in the game. However, most decks will not draw their entire deck during a scenario, which means that you still have the chance of not encountering it at all. In addition, there are ways you can tech against it. Effects that let you add cards to your hand instead of drawing them won’t trigger Poisoned Counsels, so you can use Mirror of Galadriel, King under the Mountain, Gather Information and Word of Command to fish it out of your decks. Gather Information is particularly valuable here despite the weird rules interactions with side-quests. If a player is running Thurindir each player will be able to remove Poisoned Counsels from their deck if you manage to clear the side-quest quickly. You can also technically name Treachery with Expert Treasure-Hunter to add it to your hand (or anything else to just discard it), but this will only be a decent play, if you know what’s coming thanks to an Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion (who you could also use to put it in your hand). In the same style, you can also play with hero Gandalf and use his Pipe to just exchange it with a card from your hand, when you see it on top of your deck.
Of course decks with a lot of card draw effects, especially ones you do not need to draw into your hand like Beravor, Lore Pippin, Gildor Inglorion or Galadriel will have an easier time dealing with this treachery. In addition, Erestor decks will only lose one round of playing cards, which makes the effect much more manageable.
All in all, there is a strong argument to be made for taking the Poisoned Counsels. The free round of planning and the free ally give you a huge boost and especially if you included at least a little deck tech to mitigate the damage of Poisoned Counsels you will usually be fine. And who knows, you might not even draw it.
Stage 1: The King of the Golden Hall – no quest points
Should you choose to pick the Poisoned Counsels (Do it! I swear, this advice is not the name of the card.), you advance to stage 1B. Here, each player can first put an ally into hand that matches the sphere of a hero they control. This means no Treebeards or Gandalfs (also no Sarumans, but why?) and no off-sphere cards in an Elrond deck, a deck running King of Dale or other decks that try to cheat off-sphere allies into play. Obviously, higher cost allies are simply more valuable here and you probably want to include some just for the chance of drawing them in your opening hand. (You might also include some cards to get them into play later, if this doesn’t happen, like Elf-Stone.) Good targets include the three big Harad allies, ally Glorfindel, Faramir, Legolas, Beorn (who you could cheat into play later with the Beorning Skin-Changer), Boromir, Gildor Inglorion and Deorwine. Of course you might also put an ally into play that is an important part of your strategy like an Imladris Stargazer in a Vilya deck or Prince Imrahil in a Caldara deck. Note that this ally is only put into play, which means you cannot trigger the play from your hand effects on cards like Fili/Kili, ally Galadriel or Wiglaf.
After this, the round progresses with you skipping the quest and combat phase. This will prevent you from playing some cards, but you still have basically a free round of resources and planning available, so you can get some central cards like for example Light of Valinor, Master of the Forge or Rosie Cotton into play before the actual game starts. A special mention goes to Tighten our Belts, which, if you do not use the planning phase, will let you start the game with three resources when you begin stage two.
Note that there is one negative effect of advancing to stage 1B, because you will have to raise your threat by one at the end of the round. This won’t make much of a difference usually, though.
Stage 2: Assault on Helm’s Deep – 8 quest points
When you reveal this stage you first will have to make Deeping Wall the active location and add all set aside copies of Soldier of Isengard to the staging area. This enemy already has four threat and Archery 1, so you will be looking at a quite dangerous staging area already. Additionally, each player will have to reveal an encounter card. While there are no “good” cards to reveal here, there are some that are on the easier side. These include Wild Hillman (an enemy that is relatively easy to get rid of), The Hornburg (three threat is on the lower side of the spectrum and the when active effect is especially nice early on, when you do not have a lot of Archery soaks), Deeping Culvert (best to get out of the way early, although you need a way to get rid of it in the long run that does not involve exploring it like Heirs of Eärendil), Postern Door (similar to The Hornburg, although the when explored effect is more punishing), Reckless Hate (the defense boost from Deeping Wall will come in handy already), Isengard Uruk (despite the when revealed effect and the Archery 2, the low threat of two means some breathing room with regards to questing) and Uruk-Hai Fighter (same as Wild Hillman with regards to the danger it poses). While treacheries might not add threat, which is nice, quite a few of them are very punishing and thus not ideal to reveal. Still, it is probably best to get one copy of Devilry of Saruman out of the way early at this point. Cards that are on the worse side to reveal are Helm’s Gate (high threat and terrible effects), Scaling Ladders (which does not only surge, but will also increase the threat in the staging area by quite a high amount) and Night without End (because you cannot fulfill the first effect, you will be forced to reveal two additional encounter cards). All of this is more manageable in true solo, while in a four player count some games can essentially be lost after this or the first staging step following it.
The stage itself has an internal combo printed on it. While you are trying to hold off the assault on Helm’s Deep the first player will have to reveal an encounter card when the amount of enemies in the staging area is less than the number of players at the end of the combat phase. However, at the end of the round you will also have to put one progress on the stage (not the active location) for each enemy in the staging area. How you can approach this differs quite severely with the number of players. In true solo play, it is generally advised to keep one enemy in the staging area at all times. This gives you a ticking number of one progress each round, which is quite manageable and you will not have to reveal additional encounter cards, which is much more punishing for solo. This is a bit easier said than done, however, because the enemies with a high enough threat value to keep them in the staging area for a prolonged time have Archery and/or quite high threat. Still, keeping a Soldier of Isengard or Warrior of Dunland around is generally advisable. Counterintuitively for a quest that depicts an all out battle, this also means that decks that have comparatively low threat will have an easier time at this stage. If your threat is low enough to keep an Uruk-Hai Fighter in the staging area, you’ll certainly have an easier time. Alternative ways would be the use of Ranger Spikes or, since the additional encounter card triggers at the end of combat, Fastred to push the enemy back. In higher player counts you’re approach will usually be the opposite. The higher the player count, the easier it is to manage a single additional encounter card. Since you’ll also put way more progress on the stage, if you are trying to avoid the reveal by keeping three or four enemies in staging, the best approach is usually to engage as many enemies as possible and quickly dispatch them. This will give you the opportunity to spend more time at this stage to build your board and avoid an early defeat.
Otherwise the general tips outlined in the section about the Defense keyword apply. Try to quest good enough as to not have the encounter deck put too much progress on the stage, but let the host of Saruman explore the active location, if threat gets out of hand and you are able to deal with the when explored trigger.
Stage 3: The Hosts of Isengard – 8 quest points
When the encounter deck inevitably forces you to advance to this stage, you will first have to search for Helm’s Gate (including the victory display, so no shenanigans for you) and make it the active location. Helm’s Gate itself is a nasty location. Not only does it have an effect that forces you to reveal an additional encounter card while it is active, if any player is not engaged with an enemy, to make matters worse, when it is explored each enemy gets -20 engagement cost and +2 attack until the end of the round. Thankfully, there are a couple of shenanigans you can use to circumvent a lot of this nastiness. First and foremost, since the wording on the quest card explicitly says that you add Helm’s Gate to the staging area, before making it active, you have a Response window to attach Thror’s Key to it, practically eliminating all of its threat. You could also return it to the staging area with cards like West Road Traveller, Strider’s Path or The Hidden Way. There, you can either use Heirs of Earendil to discard (not explore!) it, use Mariner’s Compass to get it back into the encounter deck or quest through its threat of five should you have the willpower. All of this will make it possible for you to avoid the effect when active. Another way to deal with this location is to explore it with cards like Legolas, Blade of Gondolin or Arod during the combat phase, because this way you won’t be negatively affected by the when explored effect which goes away at the end of the round. Should you have it explored the usual way (which in this case means ‘by the encounter deck’) it’s a good opportunity for your mono-Lore deck to save the day with a surprise play of Advance Warning. Otherwise, cards that prevent attack like Feint or, as unthematically as it gets, The Wizards’s Voice [sic!] are a good play to prevent the more dangerous attacks. If you want to get even more unthematic, you can also sneak in Saruman during the engagement checks to avoid engaging an enemy you don’t want to engage at this point.
The effect on the quest card itself isn’t that bad. Every time the encounter deck doesn’t place progress on the stage, you’ll be forced to place one progress. This includes the situation when the encounter deck does place progress on the active location, but not on the stage. Since you will already have spent a bit of time on stage 2, this means that, should you be able to avoid the encounter deck placing progress, you will probably advance to stage five from here. In the case that you have a bit more trouble managing the encounter deck threat, you’ll likely be forced to deal with stage four.
Stage 4: The Wall is Breached! – 8 quest points
Depending on how things were going on the previous stages, it is certainly possible that you won’t even see this stage before advancing to stage five, because you have the required eight counters on The Defense of Helm’s Deep. Should you be forced to advance to this stage, because the encounter deck overwhelmed you with its threat in the staging area, you will first have to shuffle the encounter discard pile into the encounter deck and then discard cards until you found enemies according to the number of players to add to the staging area. Thankfully, these enemies are not revealed, so you are able to avoid the effects on Warrior of Dunland or Isengard Uruk. The absolute worst thing that can happen, and one you should avoid if possible in any way, is having the encounter deck advance to this stage and add the enemies to the staging area right before you place the eight token on the Defense of Helm’s Deep, forcing you to advance to stage five with a number of additional enemies in play. This will make for an epic last stand, but will also make beating stage five significantly harder.
While on this stage, in addition to the regular progress the encounter deck can place as the result of questing, you will also have to place a progress for each character that is destroyed. Should the encounter deck defeat this stage, you will straight up lose the game, so hopefully, you were able to either keep your defenders alive or get some in play before advancing to this stage, because your threat will likely be high and you will have to suffer through the enemy attacks. Should you manage to hold the enemies’ attacks at bay, you probably will be able to advance to stage five during this stage at some point. However, it is a good idea to stall a little until you got the flood of enemies under control, because you will have to add even more enemies on stage five. Even cards like Hunting Party or Quick Ears can come in handy at this point, because having something other than an enemy in the staging area, will make stage five significantly easier.
Stage 5: The King Rides Out – no quest points
When you will (hopefully) advance to this stage at some point, you will, again, shuffle the encounter discard pile into the encounter deck and then discard cards until you found enemies according to the number of players to add to the staging area. After this, the stage functions quite differently than the other stages. For one, you will skip the quest stage, which means there is no progress put on the stage anymore and you won’t have to commit characters to the quest. This means, the only way to lose at this stage is by either hitting a threat of fifty by the incremental increases at the end of the round or to lose all heroes to enemy attacks. You also won’t care about locations in the staging area anymore, although the travel phase still happens, so if you are able to The Hornburg, Deeping Wall or Postern Door to get their bonuses with no threat of having them explored, this can provide you with some very useful advantages. Second, the only way to win at this stage, is by having no enemies in play, so you will have to fight your way through the hosts of Saruman.
If you were able to manage the enemies at least somewhat before advancing to this stage, this is actually quite manageable. Because there are no shadow effects that punish you for chump blocking, you can feel free to throw your questing allies or, outside of campaign mode, even your questing heroes under the bus in order to have characters available for attacking. All readying effects can come in handy here to get more attacks out of your characters. Similarly useful are attack boosts, even of the one of kind like Khazâd! Khazâd!, Durin’s Song, For Gondor! (especially good, because if functions for all characters), Boomed and Trumpeted, Black Arrow and (bonus points for theme!) Charge of the Rohirrim. Someone who can come in useful again is Saruman, because the chosen enemy is not in play, and thus counts towards the win condition.
Once all enemies are gone, you will have successfully defended Helm’s Deep and thwarted the hosts of Isengard.
The Fellowship Hero
Like in all Aragorn quests, you will have to use the Aragorn that comes with the corresponding box. His readying can come in quite handy in this quest, because you will have to deal with a lot and being able to get extra defenses of attacks out of your heroes can be very useful in the more overwhelming circumstances. Especially after exploring Helm’s Gate or after advancing to stage four or five, having a bunch of resources on Aragorn can be very helpful in dealing with the inevitable enemies and their attacks.
A couple of cards that can be used with him or with his resources that bear special mention are first and foremost the resource icon-giving ones like Celebrian’s Stone that can help you smooth your resources and help you get more important cards out. Keep in mind however, that with this way, you won’t be able to use his readying effect quite as much. The one among these cards that is certainly the most powerful is Sword that was Broken, because the willpower boost is very helpful for keeping the forces of Saruman from making too much progress. The interesting Fellowship cards you are looking at are mainly Banner of Elendil which can give you both additional willpower and attack strength should you need it and The Three Hunters which combines action advantage, defense boosts and attack boosts, which are all things you will definitely be thankful for on stage five.
The Encounter Deck
- With no cards being removed from the encounter deck outside of setup, the number of cards in the encounter deck is 40 in normal mode and 30 in easy mode.
- In normal mode exactly 50% of the cards have shadow effects. With 16 out of 30 cards this number slightly rises to 53% in easy mode. There are no really special types of shadow effects, although some (Wild Hillman and Scaling Ladders) play around with the progress on the active location or the current quest.
- In normal mode, the average threat is a whopping 2.25. However, this does not into account that the X on Deeping Culvert will likely be a lot and that Fighting Uruk-Hai will also add threat. Scaling Ladders raises the threat of every enemy and can potentially stack. So you can think of the average threat being more like 2.5. In easy mode the number rises to 2.48, but there will be only one of each of those cards, so the actual threat will only be slightly higher than the one in normal mode.
- Only Scaling Ladders has Surge. This card is a 3-of in normal mode and a 1-of in easy mode.
- Night without End has Doomed 2.
- With Warrior of Dunland, Soldier of Isengard and Isengard Uruk there is quite a bit of Archery in this scenario, although it never rises to absurd amounts. Healing is still recommended though.
- Warrior of Dunland, Reckless Hate, Isengard Uruk, Fighting Uruk-Hai and Night without End all have the Peril keyword. All but the last one will just mean, that the revealing player will have to suffer the effect. Night without End forces the player to make a decision that can have quite a severe outcome on the game.
- All of the Uruks have toughness, as is to be expected. Direct damage won’t work well in this quest.
- There is a silver lining: There are no immune cards in the encounter deck. This includes immunity to attachments, so all of your toys will work.
There is a sub-theme with the locations in this scenario. Quite a few of them have beneficial effects while active, which makes the travel phase more strategic. However, all of the locations will also have a detrimental effect when explored, because another point of defense has fallen to the forces of Saruman. All in all, these effects as well as the fact that the encounter deck has to explore the locations make the travel phase a lot more interesting in this quest compared to your run-of-the-mill scenario. There is a lot of strategy involved in deciding which locations to travel to and when to let the encounter deck explore the active location (also known as: retreating tactically).
- The Hornburg: You will start your defense with this as the active location, which is nice because there will also be a number of Soldiers of Isengard in the staging area corresponding to the number of players who all have Archery 1. While this is the active location you can reduce the Archery total by one for each player in the game. However, it will be hard to keep this as the active location. With X = the number of player you start with X four-threat Soldiers of Isengard in the staging area + X cards revealed during setup and X cards revealed during the first staging step. There will be a lot of threat to overcome in the first round before you can start engaging enemies. Should you manage to keep it active, it will come in very hand though. Later in the game, this is one of the locations with (comparatively) low threat that you can keep in the staging area until there is too much Archery for you to deal with. This is even more valuable in higher player counts. However, when it is explored you will have to deal out a number of damage corresponding the amount of enemies in play. Most likely this will always mean some damage, but the decision to travel to it becomes even more tactical, because you want to travel there when you have a lot of Archery enemies in play, but you only want to have it explored when you have dispatched quite a few of them.
- Deeping Wall: With four threat this will be something you like to get out the staging area quickly. The decision to travel to it is almost always easy to take because each hero gets plus one defense while it is in the active slot. This is especially valuable on later stages like after exploring Helm’s Gate or when you take on the final fight when the king rides out. When it is explored each player will have to raise their threat by one. This can throw a wrench into your plans to not engage enemies, but is one of the effects that’s easier to manage, because you won’t raise your threat by questing unsuccessfully so threating out is less of a danger in this scenario than in other ones.
- Postern Door: This is one of the locations where travelling to and exploring it is a very tactical decision. The attack boost is definitely nice especially when there’s a lot of enemies engaged with you and the boost will just push you over the edge to kill them. The when explored effect, however, is quite nasty. Not being able to declare attacks can be very problematic. The best moment to travel to this is when there’s a number of enemies around that you can kill immediately thanks to the attack boost and having explored the round after that, hoping not to reveal too many enemies. It will always be a gamble, but one that can save you from getting overwhelmed. If you feel it’s too risky, you can keep it in the staging area, because even though it has three threat, it’s still low compared to other locations.
- Helm’s Gate: A very nasty location I have already talked about at length during the section about stage three. There is always a chance that you will reveal it earlier or later, which can be very problematic, especially if that means you have both copies of it in play at the same time. Even though it has five threat, it will be a good idea to keep it in the staging area, since none of the effects are active while it sits there. Cards like Secret Paths, Power in the Earth, Familiar Lands and even Mirkwood Pioneer can help you deal with it in the staging area.
- Deeping Culvert: This is the big one. It’s threat can rise to astronomical numbers really quickly and the effect when it is explored is very dangerous in higher player counts. Deeping Culvert is the location you really want to keep your Thror’s Key or Heirs of Eärendil back for to deal with it as soon as it comes up. In lower player counts where the when explored effect isn’t that bad, you can also use Secret Paths to deal with its threat before travelling to it immediately or use Strider’s Paths to immediately make it active. Alternatively, dealing with it by making it active with The Hidden Way or shuffling it away with Short Cut can also be valuable. Finally, this one of those cards that you’d really like to hit with Out of the Wild or similar effects.
The enemies in this scenario are made up of Dunlendings and Uruk-Hai. The Uruk-Hai all have toughness making them slightly harder to kill and direct damage muss less effective. Quite a few of them also can place progress either by attacking or by destroying characters, so a careful handling of attacks is important and chump-blocking only becomes a viable strategy on stage five. Also keep in mind that toughness has no effect on discard effects like Helm! Helm! or Hunting Party. The main threat from the enemies in this quest is actually not their stats, which are pretty average, but their numbers and the fact that stages and locations play around with the number of enemies forcing you to reveal additional encounter cards in specific situations. Being ready to defend multiple attacks early on is recommended. Except for Uruk-Hai Fighter all of the enemies take five or six attack to take out, so the magic number for attacks is definitely six.
- Soldier of Isengard: With Toughess 1, Archery 1 and one progress placed on the quest for each destroyed character this enemy combines a lot of the effects you can find on enemies in this scenario. You will start with this one in the staging area, where his Archery can become a nuisance should you not manage to keep The Hornburg the active location. Other than that, there is not much to say about this enemy. It has quite high threat, so you want to engage and destroy, which is made possible by his average stat of four attack and taking six attack to kill effectively. Later in the game when your healing is set up, you should be able to keep him in the staging area because the engagement cost of 39 means you do not have to deal with him right away most of time.
- Isengard Uruk: With only two threat this might seem like an enemy you can keep in the staging area for a while, but then, of course, there is the Archery value of 2. If you have the healing and/or Archery sinks available, this can still be a good plan, otherwise engaging and destroying him is your best bet. Thankfully, the attack is easily defended since his attack value is only three. Then there’s the when revealed effect which is another reason why you probably want to bring healing to this quest. Usually you will always want to deal out the three damage, because you are revealing enough card as is, but combined with Archery and effects like The Hornburg in this quest the damage will add up and you definitely need an outlet for dealing with direct damage effects.
- Uruk-Hai Fighter: With an engagement cost of 29 you will not be able to avoid this enemy for long, especially if you take into account effects like Deeping Wall. With only three attack, that is definitely manageable, but it is pretty much impossible to chump block this enemy because this would just return him to the staging area. As such, this is the archetypical example for the fact that it’s not the stats that make the enemies in this quest dangerous, but their numbers. You need a way to defend this enemy early on and preferably together with another enemy which you optionally engaged to remove some threat from the staging area. Especially early defenses are very important in this scenario and no enemy shows that better than this one.
- Wild Hillman: You probably won’t be able to avoid this one. It’s the weakest enemy of the scenario, only attacking for three and taking five to take out. You want to do this quickly, however, because every time he attacks you will have to place one progress on the active location. Now, while this can be helpful, if it explores Helm’s Gate at the end of the combat phase, this is a corner-case scenario. He’s easy to take out, but sometimes the decision to do so will be difficult, because you’d much rather deal with some Archery. Should you have enough healing, this one will often still be prime target, however.
- Warrior of Dunland: This is the big one. Once he gets revealed (not added through other effects, so these are a good time to get him into play) the revealing player will immediately have to suffer through an attack of five. After that, you can quite easily keep him in the staging area, where his threat of four and Archery 1 will be annoying, but it will definitely helpful to dispatch other enemies first. Just keep in mind that while he is in the staging area, Reckless Hate will be quite a bit more dangerous.
The effects of treacheries in this quest vary greatly, which means it’s difficult to present a unifying strategy on how to approach them. Three of them in some way work with enemies, which again makes not the enemies themselves the most dangerous element, but all the effects surrounding them, representing the reckless onslaught of Saruman’s forces.
- Scaling Ladders: A surging treachery that attaches to the active location and gives each enemy in play plus one threat. In solo, this will usually be pretty manageable. In multiplayer however, this can be pretty dangerous. The good thing about it, is that you will probably have the encounter deck explore the active location, so it will only trigger once. This can be detrimental to your plans, should you have planned to keep the active location around for longer. If you are running a lot of cards that give you control over your willpower after staging, like Galadriel, Hobbit Pony or Faramir, this is a good moment to take in the board state and decide whether you can manage the effect for another turn or you’d rather have the location go away, by not triggering those effects. Also take in mind that in can stack, which becomes a stronger possibility in higher player counts.
- Devilry of Saruman: Everyone hates this treachery. Getting three progress on the quest (bypassing any active location) is bad enough, because it can mean advancing to another stage when you are not ready for it. But the most horrible thing is having all (ALL!) text boxes blanked. This will effectively shut down most decks and will definitely force you to throw all plans you had for this round out of the window. Having A Test of Will in hand is the only way to effectively deal with this. You can also try to build with this in mind and have a line-up that doesn’t rely too much on character abilities. Gondor swarm decks for example usually don’t require a lot of the characters’ text boxes. A way to abuse this treachery is running hero Beorn and using his blanked text box to heal off all the damage he had suffered so far. Keep in mind that you need an effect in hand to do this, like Lore of Imladris, because you won’t be able to use your healer characters. Like Deeping Culvert this is also one of the cards you’d really like to hit with Out of the Wild.
- Reckless Hate: While the attack values in this scenario are not extremely high, getting an unplanned extra attack from the staging area can still be a hindrance to your plans. Again, this means that early ways to defend numerous attacks are important in this scenario.
- Night without End: This would be a treachery you’d like to cancel, if it weren’t for the presence of Devilry of Saruman in the encounter deck. The way you approach this mainly depends on the number of players. In higher player counts, revealing an additional encounter card isn’t that big of a deal, so you will probably do so. The main reason for this is, that it’s better to reveal one card now than three or four more cards in the additional round it will take. If you’re playing solo and, to a lesser extent, two-player, the decision is much more difficult. It will mainly depend on your questing power compared to your combat power. If you have a lot of willpower on the board, revealing an additional encounter card and questing through it, will often be preferable. If you are falling more on the side of combat prowess, not revealing any additional cards and instead having one more round to deal with enemies in order to have even less threat around, is a good idea. It will be a gamble, because the one round cost you the game, but if you are playing solo and you have an extra turn to quest successfully because you did not add threat and then kill a couple of enemies without having new ones revealed, this can put you in the position to eventually win aswell.
- Fighting Uruk–Hai: In solo, where your deck should be relatively balanced anyway, this is not that much different from revealing an enemy you would have engaged anyway, except you can choose the enemy of your liking. Usually the choice will either be Soldier of Isengard or Uruk-Hai Fighter, because Isengard Uruk has a when revealed-effect. In multiplayer, this can be dangerous, if it hits a player with a questing deck. You should either have Ranged and Sentinel available (a good idea in every multiplayer game) or include effects that let the combat player(s) engage enemies from other players like Westfold Outrider or Tireless Hunters.
Tips and Tricks
- Bring healing! There are quite a few direct damage effects in this scenario and managing them is one of the keys to victory.
- Don’t rely on your characters’ abilities too much. If you do, you will inevitably get hit by Devilry of Saruman and suffer for it.
- Bringing adjustable willpower like Spirit Eowyn, ally Faramir, Protector of Lorien or Nenya (or even one-shot effects like Scouting Party) is helpful in getting you control over when you want to have the active location explored. You can achieve similar effects with cards that let you commit after the fact like Hobbit Pony, Grappling Hook or Late Adventurer as well as cards that allow you to remove characters like Elevenses (Bonus points for having a meal in the middle of a battle!) and Don’t be Hasty.
- Location control is a mixed bag in this quest. While it is nice to clear those high threat locations out of the staging area, the effects you suffer when they are explored will often just double up this way. Because of this, Heirs of Eärendil, which discards locations instead of exploring them, is insanely powerful in this deck.
- Speaking of locations: They all have the Helm’s Deep trait, which means you only need to get one of them in the victory to essentially constantly get a willpower boost on Rossiel.
- Counterintuitively for a quest depicting a large battle, I found low threat decks to be really effective against this scenario. In a quest, where you ideally want to control the flow of battle, in order to decide when the encounter deck places progress or not, engaging enemies only when you decide to, can be quite valuable.
- Lastly, the Toughness keyword on all of the Uruk-Hai enemies makes the attempt to bring a direct damage deck to this quest not a good idea.
When you begin this quest, you can switch heroes without incurring the +1 threat penalty. Since the only other quest you will have to play with this exact hero line-up will be Road to Isengard, which, while not easy, is significantly easier than this one, you can definitely try to tailor your hero line-up specifically to this quest, although this might go against your attempts for a thematic campaign. Something to keep in mind already at this point, is to not pick Erestor as one of your heroes, because he essentially functions as a loose condition in the next quest.
You will also remove the burdens from the earlier quest from the encounter deck as you will already have done during The Uruk-Hai. This means the only burdens will be the ones from Journey in the Dark and Breaking of the Fellowship and you might even have removed one of those during the latter. Because of the possible amount of burden combinations, I won’t go over all of them individually. The worst ones are probably the two treacheries from Journey in the Dark. Shadow of Fear doubles up on the effect of Devilry of Saruman and Pursued by the Enemy will be dangerous in any quest where you will be engaged with enemies most of the time like this one. On the other hand, you will have boons available. Among the most useful are Sting, because of the high amount of threat in the encounter deck which will even get past the Toughness value most of the time, and Anduril, because it’s built in action advantage which comes in huge at the later stages of the scenario.
Lastly, campaign play makes the decision whether to pick or not pick Poisoned Counsels much more difficult. It makes a hard quest much easier and should you struggle against it, it’s definitely worth picking it up and take the risk in the following scenarios. As described in the corresponding section there are also ways to mitigate the danger of this burden in future scenarios.
True solo, updated card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsQEZpzPVQ8
Two player, progression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjQ6lCNDDUk
Two player, progression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVmyGDSpxDA
True solo, updated card pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGh_kLVzBGw
Did your heroes stand firm against the onslaught of Saruman’s forces? This isn’t the end of that conflict, because next your road takes you to Isengard to take out the corrupted Istari once and for all.