The Road to Isengard

“To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;
For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!”
–The Ents, The Two Towers

My favorite scene in the Two Towers movie is when the Ents break Isengard. There is something profoundly beautiful about the kind and gentle Treebeard, rallying nature to strike back at someone who should be an ally but who has chosen to betray them. In this scenario, we will follow the Ents to Isengard and face the fallen wizard Saruman. When I first played this quest in Saga mode, I found it to be a surprisingly light finish to the Treason of Saruman deluxe, which is probably because it follows Helm’s Deep in the campaign. Once you have built a deck that can take on Helm’s Deep, Isengard is a lesser challenge. Still, this quest can throw a few curve balls at you and can be surprisingly difficult. First, you have to participate in the Ent moot and convince the stubborn Tree-herds that Saruman is a threat they have to deal with. And then you have to face the White Wizard himself. Saruman is a master of trickery and magic and will punish you for drawing cards. As a wise man once said, “the white wizard is cunning.”

The Road to Isengard

  • Found in: The Treason of Saruman Saga Expansion
  • Official Difficulty: N/A
  • Community Difficulty: 6.8
  • Encounter sets: The Road to Isengard, Snaga Orcs
  • Quest cards: 3
  • Play if: You want to lead strong objective allies. You want to face Saruman. You want a boss fight that is less about raw combat strength but more about hand management and puzzle solving.
  • What is different about this quest?: The Ent moot and the way you earn the Ents. The wizardry effects on locations in the encounter deck. The Final standoff with Saruman which punishes card draw
  • Solo or multiplayer?: You stand a better chance of getting more Ents in multiplayer. Solo players are punished more once the first quest advances, but several card effects tend to punish multiplayer more than solo.
  • Can I run side-quests for this scenario?: Yes, stage 2 does not really care about progress on the quest, as it is all about clearing locations. So you might as well spend your excess progress to clear side quests.

The Quest

Setup

You start by setting a bunch of cards aside for later, specifically the Gates of Isengard, Orthanc, Saruman, and Saruman’s staff. Then you add four copies of Ent of Fangorn to the staging area. Finally, you shuffle the encounter deck. Simple setup. Time for the Ent moot! Also, remember that Fellowship Aragorn is passed to the first player. If you play campaign mode, you shuffle Saruman’s voice into the encounter deck and remove each burden from the A Shadow of the Past, Flight to the Ford, and The Ring Goes South sets.

Quest stage 1: Rouse the Ents

To say that the first stage of this quest is unusual would be an understatement. During quest 1B, players do not commit characters to the quest and do not reveal encounter cards. We are not here to quest but to rouse the Ents! Furthermore, players cannot draw cards and cannot gain resources. This means that no cards will be drawn and no resources distributed for the first resource phase, so it is likely that no cards will be played for the first couple of rounds. 0-cost cards are fair game (if they make sense to play), and Leadership Denethor will begin the game with 2 resources, which are distributed before the text on stage 1B becomes active. However, the exact timing of this has been a topic of discussion, so the setup timing might change. But for now, your focus is not supposed to be on the cards, but on the Ents!

The Ents of Fangorn are objective allies with 2 willpower, 4 attack, 3 defense, and 4 hit points, which makes them a great asset. You acquire them through a quest action printed on the Ents. When the ents of Fangorn are in the staging area, they gain “Quest Action: Exhaust a hero you control to discard the top card of the encounter deck. If that hero’s willpower is greater than the discarded card’s threat, place 1 resource here. Then, if there are 3 resources here, discard them to take control of Ent of Fangorn. Any player may trigger this effect.”. So instead of questing, your heroes will try to place resources on the ents to gain control of them. Bond of Friendship decks get an extra attempt each round, while Grey Wanderer decks will struggle to get any ents. This phase of the quest obviously rewards high willpower heroes, with Eowyn or Cirdan being almost certain hits. However, there’s a great deal of luck to it. A few tricks can be used to ready heroes for extra attempts without paying any resources, such as Cram or Defiant Challenge (which will actually ready a hero for each player). Even common cause can be used to increase your chances for success at the Ent Moot! If you don’t want to gamble, you can try to stack the deck and peek at what’s coming up with scrying effects such as Rumour of the Earth or Far-sighted . This will let you know when to use your heroes for maximum effect. If you don’t scry, you have to rely on good old lady luck. In some games, you will be lucky and get an Ent right away; in others, it might take you several rounds. And lingering at the Ent moot for too long can be a real problem….

After Ent gambling is over, you go to the end of the round. No travel or combat should be necessary (unless somebody played a cheeky Dunedain Hunter or Pathfinder). At the end of the round, you will place a resource token on the quest cards, and the players can choose to advance to stage 2. If they do, all Ents of Fangorn are removed from the staging area, so the only ones remaining are the ones you gained control of. Then, the first player shuffles the encounter discard pile into the encounter deck and reveals 1 encounter card per resource token on the quest card. This is an effect that doesn’t stack very well with player count. In four player, extra encounter cards can be fairly trivial. In solo, this can be brutal. I would say that you should think long and hard about spending more than two rounds trying to get Ents, especially if you are at a low player count. Without getting ahead of ourselves, stage 2A adds quite a lot of threat to the staging area without taking the extra cards into consideration. Revealing two locations or enemies can cause an instant location lock or overwhelm you with enemies. At low player counts, try to get at least one Ent per player. If you have high willpower heroes, it might be worth it to stay for two full rounds and see if you can land two, as you are better suited to take care of location lock, and because the ents can help you out in combat. If you are more combat-focused and don’t have high willpower, you might be better off advancing faster. This depends on what deck you play, your personal preference as a player, and how much you like randomness in game setup..

A final note on the end of the round sequence: While you probably won’t have combat and traveling, and you don’t get resources and cards, you still raise your threat by 1 at the end of the round. This can matter when combat starts and you have to make engagement checks, or if you play a secrecy deck that hovers around 20 threat from the start. This is worth keeping in mind, as it is easy to overlook given how special this quest stage is.

Quest stage 2: Breaking Isengard

Once the players choose to advance and finish resolving all the encounter cards, the players advance to stage 2A. The Ents have come, hopefully! And they are ready for some action. Firstly, the Gate of Isengard is set as the active location. Then Saruman and Orthanc are placed in the staging area. Then, the card is flipped to 2B, revealing the special rules for this stage. Firstly, players cannot travel to Orthanc. Secondly, this stage does not require progress to pass. Instead, whenever players explore a non-unique location, a damage is placed on the stage. Once the fifth damage token is placed here, the players advance. You, therefore, have to draw and clear locations. Additionally, this stage has a Quest Action, where you can exhaust an Ent of Fangorn to place 2 progress on a non-unique location. Fairly straightforward, clear the locations, and you advance.

At this stage, Saruman is more of a nuisance than a threat. He is indestructible, immune to player card effects, and cannot leave the staging area, which just means that he will sit around and contribute his 4 threat. He has some additional text about attacks, but that is not really relevant at this point. However, his 4 threat can be a challenge, essentially location locking low willpower decks. He enters the staging area together with Orthanc, a 2 threat unique location that is immune to player card effects and requires 1 progress to be cleared. Remember, at this stage, players cannot travel to Orthanc. When Orthanc is in the staging area, it gains “Forced: After the players successfully quests, the first player looks at the top 3 cards of the encounter deck, reveals one, and discards the others”. This effect can help you dig out locations to clear, so you ensure a new target for traveling each round. Especially in true solo, this can be very helpful, whereas four-player games will have few problems finding travel targets. However, Orthanc can be treacherous if you are getting swarmed by enemies or if you have taken a lot of damage, and you suddenly pull untimely enemies and/or treacheries. If you have no locations, go for those, or alternatively treacheries and/or enemies, depending on your board state. It is not unusual to take a threat increase from questing unsuccessfully during the first round, especially if you revealed multiple enemies. If you have threat to spare, it might be well worth taking a threat increase to clear enemies and locations from the staging area with the Ents and/or combat-savvy heroes.

The combined presence of Saruman and Orthanc in the staging area means that you will have a minimum of 6 threat in the staging area during stage 2B. Initially, you will also have the threat from whatever you reveal by advancing from stage 1B, plus whatever you reveal during the first quest phase. If you spent two rounds rousing the Ents, you might reveal encounter cards adding up to 7 threat to the staging area, potentially causing instant location lock. Granted, you might be able to nuke one or more locations with the Ent’s questing ability, but you should keep this in mind when you decide how long you stay at the Ent moot.

You begin stage two with Gates of Isengard as the active location. Gates of Isengard is a 3 threat location with 1 progress that is immune to player card effects. When Gates of Isengard is explored (so the first time you successfully quest), each player searches the encounter deck and discard pile for an enemy and puts it into play engaged with him/her, followed by a shuffling of the encounter deck. I recommend the Isengard Orc or the Snaga because both have annoying When Revealed effects that you can bypass by putting them into play. They also only attack for 2 (for the orc) and 3 (for the Snaga), so their attacks should be manageable. Especially because this quest requires you to have a dedicated defender at the final stage… These smaller enemies should not be too much of a problem unless you have a highly will-focused deck. The main problems are if you got multiple enemies after the Ent Moot/first staging and had to use a bunch of characters for questing, leaving you without sufficient attack power to clear enemies. Hence, the first couple of rounds at stage 2B should be spent getting the staging area under control. Clear enemies as they appear, make sure that locations don’t build up too massively, and don’t be afraid to use the Ents ability to add progress if you start to see signs of location lock. It can be advantageous to save the Ents for the action window after cards are revealed, so you can add progress to locations or save them for combat, depending on what you revealed.

This stage is well-suited for side quests as you don’t really need to add progress besides clearing locations. Hence, you can use some of the side quests that give static boosts like Rally the West or fetch your important cards with Gather Information. Don’t be afraid to spend a few rounds without traveling if you can, as it is really important to build up a solid board state before advancing to stage 3A. Once you hit stage 3, you should be ready for the final confrontation with Saruman. You will get some additional opportunities to play more cards, but Saruman really hates on card draw, and running few cards in hand can become very dangerous… But more on that in a minute. For the moment, you clear locations, build up your board state and get ready for the final battle. And once you clear that fifth location, you advance to stage 3A…

Quest stage 3A: The Voice of Saruman

When the quest advances, you are first instructed to draw until each player has six cards in hand. If you have more than six cards in hand, discard until you have six. Then, you are told to attach Saruman’s staff to Saruman. Now the White Wizard means business. When you flip to 3B, the first thing you see is that when you travel to Orthanc, Saruman is considered to be engaged with the first player. Hence, you need to travel to Orthanc in order to deal him combat damage. To clear this stage, the players need to place 15 progress on the quest. Importantly, if a player has 0 cards in hand, they are eliminated. Use your cards wisely! Random discards and overeager plays can potentially be deadly. It also means that bringing Erestor to the table is a TERRIBLE idea! If the players can defeat the stage, they win. However, Saruman has a trick up his sleeve which will make this straightforward mission slightly more complicated…

Remember when we attached the staff to Saruman? That staff means trouble. Saruman’s staff gives Saruman the ability to attack after a player draws ANY number of cards. This means that each player will get 6 strength attack every resource phase. Additionally, Saruman gets two shadow cards for this attack and heals one point of damage. Furthermore, the staff states that as long as Saruman has any hit points left, the players cannot win the game. Additional shadow cards are annoying and can potentially be deadly, but for Saruman, they throw an additional curveball. If we look at Saruman, he has an additional effect that becomes relevant at this stage: If shadow cards dealt to Saruman have Wizardry effects, the defending player resolves them as if they were the only player in the game. Wizardry effects are present on locations and can include raising your threat, exhausting characters, or discarding cards. Hence, attacks from Saruman can cause a lot of havoc. In addition to his 4 threat, Saruman has an attack value of 6, 4 defense and 6 hit points. Hence, you need to commit substantial attack power to deal him sufficient damage. His additional shadow cards can be troublesome and deal damage to dedicated defender characters if the right cards show up in combination. Furthermore, the ability to attack every time someone draws a card can be very hard to deal with if your deck relies on sporadic card draw from effects like Damrod, Horn of the Mark, or Elven Light. Keep in mind that Saruman does not attack from effects that add cards to your hand, so tutor effects like the Eagles are coming! and Soldier of Gondor can bypass the restriction.

When dealing with Saruman, you basically have two options. Try to deal with him as fast as possible, or bring a dedicated defender to soak the damage. As always, a dedicated defender should have at least 6 defense (such as a Beregond with a Gondorian Shield or Dain). If you go down this route, consider some healing effects as Saruman is prone to boosting his attacks. If you have built up a solid board state during the first rounds, you can spend a few rounds questing, taking Saruman’s attacks with chump blockers. Then, when you are ready, you travel to Orthanc and deal the 10 points of damage required to bring him down. Alternatively, you can travel to Orthanc and pile so much damage on him that you don’t care about the healing ability of the staff. Caleb Grace has previously ruled that indestructible enemies have damage beyond their hit points, and hence you can pile a bunch of damage on him. This is especially practical if you command many Ents or have tactics Eowyn on your team. It is best to deal Saruman all the damage in one go if you can, so you don’t need to take the additional attacks from him. If you play one or more decks that rely more on willpower than combat strength, consider playing your Lords of the Eldar or Halfling Determination for this combat to get to the magical 10 attack power.

You face several threats during this stage. Saruman’s attacks can chip away at your board state, and his threat + Orthanc means that you have to quest for quite a lot to place progress. Since you can’t really keep drawing without getting Saruman-slapped, you have much better odds if you can rush the stage. Try to keep at least a few cards in hand and beware of random discards. If you lose your hand, you lose the game. If you play campaign mode, try to keep four or more cards in hand. You will be rewarded for this. Eyes on the prize, get your 15 progress down as fast as you can, travel to Orthanc, and send Saruman running for the broken Gates of Isengard. Surely he can cause no damage anywhere after he is defeated…

The Encounter Deck

Global

  • In Normal difficulty, the encounter deck contains 32 cards which is fairly standard. In easy mode, the deck is reduced to 22 cards, which is on the smaller side. If you play campaign, you will add one more card + what extra burdens you picked up along the way.
  • 15 cards have shadow effects on normal difficulty level, meaning that you have about 50/50 risk of getting a shadow effect. This is slightly higher for Saruman as he also gets boosts from Wizardry effects. 12 cards have wizardry effects, making it almost a certain that attacks from Saruman will cause you trouble.
  • Average threat per card revealed is 1.46 threat/card. This is reduced slightly in Easy mode, but not significantly.
  • Only two cards have Surge.
  • A few cards have archery or archery-like effects.
  • One card has Doomed (or two if you play campaign)
  • Immunity
    • Saruman is immune to player card effects, Indestructible, and cannot leave the staging area.
    • Orthanc is immune to player card effects and cannot be travelled to during stage 2
    • Gates of Isengard is immune to player card effects

Note that the Plain of Isengard is counted as a 1 threat card, which is the best-case scenario. The stats above are also not counting any Burdens that might be added to the encounter deck due to your Saga campaign. The split between card types for this quest is very well balanced. There is a slight preference for Locations, which is favourable to stage 2, where you have to find locations to clear. Note that this will also give Orthanc an equal chance to reveal any card type.

Enemies

  • The first enemy in the encounter set is… Grima? No, that can’t be right, wasn’t he a hero? Please don’t tell this to Ian from Tales from the Cards. He has grown very fond of ol’ wormtongue… Anyway, this incarnation of Grima (present in a single copy on standard, woefully absent on easy) is more annoying than dangerous. Engagement cost of 1, 3 threat, 2 attack, 3 defense and 3 hit points. He has Doomed 2, and after he attacks, you shuffle him back into the encounter deck, which means that he will likely pop up again. If you don’t manage your threat, a recurring Grima can cost you the game. You can send him to the discard pile through effects like quick strike or the good ol’ G-slap from sneak attack. Otherwise, you will have to endure it. The usual way of getting him out of the encounter deck is having him appear as a shadow card. However, his shadow effect is brutal, as he causes the attack to be undefended. This scenario contains several smaller enemies where this is not really an issue. But if this happens with Saruman in the late game (and remember, he gets 2 shadow cards when you draw cards)… You will lose a hero unless you have done some serious hit-point boosting. He is worth bringing shadow cancellation for. Go to hell, Grima.
  • Lieutenant of Orthanc is the beefiest enemy in the encounter deck, which tells us that this encounter set is on the gentler side when it comes to enemies. It comes in a pair of two and has 3 threat, 4 attack, 3 defense, and 5 hit points, making him a force to be reckoned with, and he may very well take a few rounds to take down. He can cause you problems if he is revealed as part of the advancing to stage 2a. With an engagement cost of 36, most decks can leave him in the staging area for a bit, but the high threat from Saruman+ Orthanc means that he can contribute to location lock. Don’t be afraid to use the ents to either block or help getting to 8 damage. Chump blocking can cause setbacks, as he forces you to discard a random card when he destroys a character. It goes without saying that this is bad once you confront Saruman. You should have a hero who is able to withstand an attack from this guy. He is a good target for traps like Forest Snare. He is also one of the few cards in the encounter deck that does not have a shadow- or wizardry effect.
  • Isengard Orc is a smaller enemy with pseudo-surge. Two in the encounter deck, with 1 threat, 2 attack, 1 defense, and 3 hit points, make him a threat that I usually don’t mind seeing too much. With an engagement cost of 29, you usually have to face him the round he appears, unless you play hobbits/secrecy/grey wanderer. He has Peril (due to his Forced effect) and Archery 1, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as his low defense + hp makes him manageable for most attackers. However, his ability can cause problems in the late game. When he is revealed, you must either discard a card at random or reveal another encounter card. In stage 2 I usually go for a random discard, and in stage 3 my board state will usually allow me to handle an extra card. This guy’s attacks can even be taken undefended if you are in dire straits. As mentioned above, I often choose this enemy as my card when I have to resolve the Gates of Isengard forced effect. As a shadow card, he grants +2 defense to the attacking enemy until the end of turn, which usually only is a minor setback, but when facing Saruman, this can be more problematic. Usually, I don’t mind seeing this enemy too much.
  • Wolf of Isengard is another low-engagement enemy that can cause you some problems if you aren’t careful. The encounter deck contains 2 on standard and 1 on easy. It has an engagement cost of 25, has 2 threat, 3 attack, 1 defense, and 4 hit points. When it is dealt a shadow card with a wizardry effect, it either makes an additional attack after this one, or causes the defender to discard a card from their hand. Note that this is not a random card, which makes this option preferable in my book (unless the wolf shows up in the final confrontation with Saruman, where you might prefer another attack). 3 attack places it in the dangerous position where an untimely shadow card can cost you a hero, so it’s dangerous to take it unblocked. However, it only takes 5 damage to take it down, so you should ideally be able to kill it as soon as it appears, especially if you have an Ent available. It is not a good idea to let them remain engaged with you if you can avoid it. As a shadow effect, they have the dreaded “ping the defender for 1 damage,” which has killed many a Defender of Rammas over the years. This shadow card makes shadow cancellation a good idea, as a killed defender can make Saruman’s swings unblocked all of a sudden. Alternatively, use the dedicated defender strategy.
  • Snaga is another orc that doesn’t hit too hard in combat, but who attacks your hand through random discards. The encounter deck contains 3 in standard and 2 in easy. With an engagement cost of 44, Snaga does not really come down unless you want it to. 1 threat, 3 attack, 1 defense, and 3 hit points make it a nice and soft target for the combat round. 3 attack should be blocked if possible and will often not damage a defender. Snaga also has Peril and archery 1. When Snaga is revealed, you must discard a random card from hand, and Snaga gets +X threat until the end of the round, where X is the discarded card’s cost. This can net you a threat increase due to unsuccessful questing, but as the effect doesn’t linger, inconvenience should only be temporary. It can potentially cause a threat spike when you try to make the final 15 progress in stage 3B, and the discard can also cost you the game. Snaga does not have a shadow effect, making it a rare moment of respite in the combat phase against Saruman.

Locations

  • First location in the deck is the Ring-wall of Isengard. With 2 threat and 2 progress, this location is not the worst to encounter. Stage 2B can be taken out by one Ent action if locations are starting to accumulate. When Ring-wall of Isengard is in the staging area, it gains a forced effect that triggers whenever a character is healed, causing the character’s controller to discard 1 random card from their hand. This effect can obviously cause you problems if you are taking a lot of archery damage and/or damage from treacheries and REALLY need to heal, but if you are in that dire need of healing, the game probably isn’t going too well anyway… Outside of niche cases such as Gloin decks that rely on healing, I’m quite pleased to see this location enter play. It can be much more disruptive as a Wizardry card, which causes each player to discard a random card from their hand. This can be very dangerous if you are running low on cards during the final battle. The encounter deck contains 3 copies in standard.
  • Underground Armory can contribute more severely to location lock, as it carries a threat of 4 and requires 3 progress to be cleared. The higher threat cost means that it should be more of a priority than the ring-wall. While it is in the staging area, it gains “Forced: After an enemy engages a player, deal it a shadow card.”. This can be troublesome, especially against the Wolf of Isengard that triggers off cards with wizardry effects. As a wizardry effect, it causes each player to exhaust a character, which can be a major inconvenience if you are trying to alpha strike Saruman out of existence. However, it is the kind of effect that delays you, but that doesn’t necessarily cost you the game. Therefore I’m ok usually ok with seeing it as a shadow card, even for Saruman. The encounter deck contains 2 copies on standard and 1 on easy.
  • Steaming Vent contributes 3 threat and requires 4 progress to be cleared. When Steaming Vent is in the staging area, it gains “Forced: After a player commits characters to the quest, he deals 1 damage to a questing character he controls.”. This is the kind of effect that can stack with archery damage plus treacheries and, over time, cost you characters unless you bring some kind of healing. The relatively high progress cost can also sneak up on you, as you need to clear 4 progress + 6 threat from Saruman and Orthanc. This can lead to the situation where you suddenly are unable to clear a location each round, and things start to build up in the staging area. Therefore, it can be a good idea to bring some on-demand willpower boosts. As a wizardry effect, Steaming Vent causes the players to assign X damage amongst characters, where X is one more than the number of players in the game. This is the kind of effect that can cause your board state to crumble, but most often, I don’t mind seeing it too much. The encounter deck contains 3 copies on standard and 1 copy on easy.
  • Plain of Isengard is a location that can cause trouble both as a location and as a wizardry effect. It is also a location that tends to be easier for the solo players and more difficult for the larger fellowship. With X threat (where X is the number of players in the game) and 3 progress, it can contribute to location lock at higher player counts. When Plain of Isengard is in the staging area, archery damage must be assigned to allies, if able. At higher player counts, you are more likely to have locations accumulate, and this one could potentially stick around for a while. It can potentially cost you some allies and be a major setback for your board state, which can be problematic before the showdown with Saruman. As a wizardry effect, it causes you to discard an ally, which can be either an inconvenience or a major setback. It might take away your chump blocker or potentially cost you that expensive ally you saved up for if you don’t have so many allies on the table. The encounter deck contains 2 on standard, 1 on easy.
  • The final location of the deck is the Open Pit, which is the kind of location that doesn’t cause you too much trouble until it all of a sudden does. With 2 threat and 3 progress, it’s both relatively easy to clear and is a tempting one to leave in the staging area if you have multiple options for travel. In the staging area, it gains: “Forced: After a player draws any number of cards from a player card effect, he raises his threat by 2.” A small threat increase shouldn’t be the end of the world unless you are at the end of the game and have already spent your threat management. It is the kind of effect that can add up over time or cause you to engage an inconvenient Lieutenant of Orthanc. As mentioned above, the deck is surprisingly light on hard-hitting enemies, so usually, a higher threat count shouldn’t cause you too much trouble. But don’t say we didn’t warn you if you threat out! As a wizardry effect, it raises each player’s threat by 2, which can be dangerous in the endgame. The encounter deck contains 2 copies.

Treacheries

  • Blast of Sorcery assigns X damage amongst characters committed to the quest, where X is one more than the number of players in the game. This treachery doesn’t do too much on its own, but over time it can add up. This treachery is the reason why you should beware of adding too much archery damage to your primary questers. It can potentially wreck you, especially at higher player counts where one or two players might handle most of the questing, leaving the others to take on enemies. As a shadow card, it gives the attacking enemy +1 attack, or +2 if the defending player has 1 or fewer cards in hand. This can cause an odd point of damage where you didn’t expect it, potentially costing you a defender. Most of the time, I won’t cancel this one, either as a shadow card or when revealed. The encounter deck contains 3 copies, so you will likely see it at least once.
  • Poisoned Vapour is a card that synergizes with the archery and pseudo-archery effects in the encounter deck, exhausting and blanking each damaged character in play until the end of the combat phase (except for traits). It also has Surge, which can be really bad if it surges into an enemy and all your defenders just got exhausted. It really depends on context whether this is worth cancellation. If it exhausts half the board and you need them for combat against Saruman, it’s probably a good idea to cancel if you can. It might also just mean that an enemy will stay around for one more turn and not really change much. As a shadow, it forces you to discard a non-objective attachment, which can be super annoying if it takes away your combo centerpiece. Consider having a few non-essential nice-to-have attachments as a buffer. The encounter deck contains 2 copies on standard and none on easy.
  • Machines of Isengard has a when revealed effect that triggers the wizardry effect of the active location. If no wizardry effect is triggered by this, machines of Isengard gains surge. This can be really annoying. The wizardry effect forces you to discard an ally, but raising your threat by 2 or assigning a few points of damage is usually not a big deal. I rarely find it worth canceling. As a shadow card, the attacking enemy gains +1 attack and forces a random discard if the attack destroys a character. This is a likely scenario if the attacker is Saruman and is something that is worth considering when you make out your strategy for how to deal with his attacks. As this is a shadow card and not a wizardry effect, it can be canceled with shadow cancelation, which is worth keeping in mind. The encounter deck contains 3 copies, which makes it likely that you will see it.
  • Saruman’s Orders makes a return for this scenario and can cause as many setbacks here as in the first scenario for higher player counts. When revealed, each player must choose to either return an enemy engaged with them to the staging area or reveal an encounter card. In four-player, this can cause an explosion of cards, and this is worth saving a Test of will for. In solo, it is just a surge card. If someone can send an enemy back, it is a good idea to do so to soften the blow. But if you have been dealing with enemies as they appear, this can cause you to be overrun with enemies, location lock you, or deal a ton of damage through archery, blast of sorcery, and/or Machines of Isengard/Steaming vent combos. As a shadow card, it grants a +1 attack bonus and returns the attacking enemy to the staging area if the attack destroys a character. This is yet another card that hates on chump blocking, so consider whether that is a risk you are willing to run. The encounter deck contains 2 copies on standard and 1 on easy.
  • Saruman’s voice is a burden card that is shuffled into the encounter deck if you play saga. It has Peril and Doomed 2. When revealed, you must remove a hero from the deck and attach Saruman’s voice to them as a condition attachment, causing you to discard one card from your hand whenever the attached character commits to a quest, attacks, or defends. Hence, it basically locks out one of the heroes from most of the quest. It is definitely worth canceling if you have the option. If any player has 3 or fewer cards in hand, it will stick around for the remainder of your saga. This is, of course, more likely at higher player counts. The threat of this card should be enough to motivate you to end the game with more than 3 cards! Hold on to them dearly!
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Boons

If you have 3 or more cards in hand, you gain the Palantir of Orthanc, which is an attachment you can attach to fellowship Aragorn. It has a quest action where you Exhaust Aragorn and Palantír of Orthanc to discard the top card of the encounter deck. If Aragorn’s willpower is higher than the discarded card’s threat, you can add the Palantir to the victory display and remove it from the campaign pool to choose one player, causing that player to reveal one fewer encounter card for this quest phase to a minimum of 0. There are, of course, several ways to boost Aragorn’s will, including Celebrian’s Stone and Sword that was Broken to increase your chances of success. Alternatively, you can use Scrying to ensure that you discard a nasty card while also ensuring a softball this quest phase. This is, of course, an effect with a much larger impact in solo than during higher player counts. Think long and hard about when you want to use it. It is especially useful during The Black Gate Opens. But we will get there in due time…

Tips and Tricks

  • Think long and hard before you start about your Ent strategy. It is an easy trap to fall into to linger too long at the Ent moot. Decide on how many turns you are willing to stay there
  • Don’t bring your Ents for questing during stage 2 unless you absolutely have to. Keep them behind to place progress on locations if you start to get locked, or save them for combat. It can also be very handy to place progress on the active location if you are a few progress short of clearing it.
  • Remember that you have to quest over Saruman and Orthanc when you pick a deck for this quest. It is not for decks with low willpower, as they might get stuck during stage 2.
  • Make sure you do not advance to stage 3 before you are setup and ready to deal with Saruman. Playing cards is dangerous in his presence, especially if you need to repopulate your board with chump blockers.
  • Have a strategy for how you plan to deal with Saruman and his attacks. Having a dedicated defender can be tricky, as Saruman can receive large attack bonuses. If you go the dedicated defender route, make sure your defender is ready when you advance to stage 3. If you plan to chump block, have a strategy for how you plan to rush through the stage (so you don’t have to endure too many attacks) or recur defenders (such as Guthwine + Horse Breeder + Theoden).
  • Keep a close eye on the number of cards in your hand, especially if you play Saga. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to finish the game with 3 or fewer cards in hand.
  • Bring some sort of threat management. Grima and several wizardry effects can bump up your threat, making you threat out suddenly if you are not careful.

Playthroughs

A brief look into the great palantir of Youtube conjured the following results:

  • Good ol’ Mr Underhill of Three is Company played through this quest in his thematic saga campaign
  • The poultry-themed Youtube channel One stop coop-shop posted a playthrough in two parts. you can find part 1 here.
  • You can also join Brandon and Sean from Cardboard of the rings as they play the quest with Scott of First Planet/Mythos Busters fame here.
  • Cardboard of the rings also released a two-player version here featuring Chad. They accidentally loaded regular Isengard instead of the Nightmare version.
  • The line unbroken also released a playthrough here
  • and here is one by Wandering Took and Big foam loaf…
  • and one by Card Talk…
  • and another one by Cardboard of the rings by Chad….
  • And yet another one by Chad, this time focused on deck building….

And on that note, we will leave Saruman behind and focus on the perilous voyage of Frodo and Sam in the Land of Shadow. Until next time, Palanteers!

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