Your journey has led to a decrepit portion of the mines, untouched by a Dwarven pick for many a year. The air grows thick with moisture, and the walls almost appear to be weeping.
Foundations of Stone sees our Heroes deep under the earth, poking around at the roots of the Misty Mountains. During the course of the quest, the ground crumbles beneath the Heroes’ feet, dumping them into an enormous underground river which washes them away and leaves them stranded near the lairs of terrible unnameable creatures forgotten by time. The quest concludes with the Heroes climbing up a great shaft which allows them to return to the surface.
As always, whenever I’m about to begin a new quest, my mind immediately starts sorting out which Heroes I can bring along while keeping Tolkein’s greater narrative intact. The flavor text on the quest cards doesn’t say anything about why the Heroes are poking around this particular part of the mines, so I have lots of choices there. Sifting through the quest cards reveals another interesting bit of Lore that I can use: Durin’s Axe and Durin’s Helm both make an appearance as Objective cards which might show up during the latter half of the quest.
Both of these artifacts are drawn directly from the text of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf is reading from the badly damaged Book of Mazarbul:
‘Well I can read no more for a long way,’ said Gandalf, ‘except the word gold, and Durin’s Axe and something helm. Then Balin is now lord of Moria. That seems to end a chapter.’
It sounds like Balin’s Company came across Durin’s Axe in their travels while they were establishing their colony in Moria. In fact, “Balin’s colony in Moria” sounds like a pretty interesting theme to build a deck around! The story I’ll go with is this: Foundations of Stone tells the tale of an adventure that the members of Balin’s colony had while exploring Moria. In my interpretation of the story, it’s very likely that this was one of the many legends recorded in the Book of Mazarbul. Perhaps the book itself owes its sorry condition to having been waterlogged in the underground river!
The mechanics of Moria
Foundations of Stone consists of two halves. The first half of the quest doesn’t actually use any of the cards from the Foundations of Stone encounter set, being solely made up of the usual Dark Locations and Goblin Enemies common to the rest of the cycle. The trusty old Cave Torch even makes another appearance.
After clearing the first two quest stages though, things start to get interesting. The third quest stage represents an underground river washing the Heroes and all of their stuff away: it forces the players to discard all Item, Weapon, Armor, Mount, Artifact, and Light cards (so goodbye, Cave Torch!) and only lets them keep up to 6 cost-worth of Allies. There are four different Stage 4 cards, each with slightly different effects, and the one the players use is random. In multiplayer, each player chooses a different Stage 4, meeting up with one another as they complete their individual stages.
Furthermore, the entire encounter deck changes when the players reach this point. All of the Locations are removed, and the Foundations of Stone encounter set is shuffled in instead. The new cards have a different tone from the first half of the quest, focusing more on Nameless Enemies. These monsters tend to have fairly high stats, some of which are set by stealing a few cards from the top of your deck and summing their costs.
The fifth and final stage requires 11 progress to complete, and each player may only send as many Allies on the quest as they do Heroes, making it easy to get overwhelmed unless the staging area is under control.
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.
Building the deck
The text of the Fellowship of the Rings names several dwarves who accompany Balin on his quest to retake Moria: Flói, Óin, Ori, Frár, Lóni and Náli. Of those, two also appear in The Hobbit: Óin and Ori. Fortunately, we have Hero cards for both of them (as well as Balin himself) so my Hero selection has pretty much been made for me.
What about the rest of the deck? Well, Óin and Ori both have abilities based around controlling at least 5 Dwarf characters, so I probably want to go with a swarm strategy. With Dwarf Allies tending to have low willpower, I’m going to need to put a lot of them down quickly if I ever want to succeed on the quest. For the sake of theme, I’m going to avoid Unique Dwarf characters for this deck—we know for sure that most of them were elsewhere at the time that Balin was establishing his colony.
After I have 5 Dwarf characters in play, Óin gains the Tactics icon, meaning I have access to Dwarf Allies from all four spheres. Of course, as with any tri-sphere deck, resources are going to be spread a bit thin, so I’ll try to keep most of my cards at 2-cost or less. The cheaper the better!
Beyond that, I’ll fill the deck with the standard Dwarf swarm fare: a bunch of Events to help me get my Allies out faster and make good use of my large number of characters. Here’s how it turned out:
Deck: Balin’s Company
Theme: Balin’s colony in Moria
“But now we spoke of it again with longing, and yet with dread; for no dwarf has dared to pass the doors of Khazad-dûm for many lives of kings, save Thrór only, and he perished. At last, however, Balin listened to the whispers, and resolved to go; and though Dáin did not give leave willingly, he took with him Ori and Óin and many of our folk, and they went away south.”
— Glóin, The Council of Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring
Balin (On the Doorstep)
Óin (On the Doorstep)
Ori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Dwarven Sellsword (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Erebor Battle Master (The Long Dark)
3x Erebor Guard (The Sands of Harad)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Erebor Record Keeper (Khazad-dûm)
3x Ered Luin Miner (Temple of the Deceived)
2x Ered Nimrais Prospector (The Morgul Vale)
3x Miner of the Iron Hills (Core Set)
2x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dûm)
3x Ever My Heart Rises (The Long Dark)
1x King Under the Mountain (On the Doorstep)
1x Legacy of Durin (The Watcher in the Water)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x A Very Good Tale (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Ancestral Knowledge (Khazad-dûm)
3x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
1x Lure of Moria (Road to Rivendell)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x To me! O my kinsfolk! (On the Doorstep)
3x Untroubled by Darkness (Khazad-dûm)
3x We Are Not Idle (Shadow and Flame)
3 Heroes, 52 Cards
This is a surprisingly scrappy Dwarf swarm deck.
As with any deck that relies on getting lots of Allies out, the first few turns are when the deck is most vulnerable. With most of the Allies costing at least 2, it’s not usually possible to play anything consequential until round 2 at the earliest. Fortunately, Balin has the ability to replace any terrible Shadow cards that might appear, and the deck starts with fairly low threat, so it’s okay for me to take a little undefended damage or fail to quest for a round or two while I’m still getting set up.
I mulligan for A Very Good Tale, which generally lays the foundation of my swarm. My goal is to play it as soon as possible to help me get a large number of Dwarf Allies into play. I usually quest with all three Heroes and whatever 1 willpower Allies I can, but occasionally I’ll hold back Balin as a defender or Ori or Óin to help me finish off an Enemy if I happen to be engaged with one. In general, the Allies handle combat, with defense frequently being done via chump blocking.
The card draw in this deck ramps up pretty quickly. Ori’s ability usually draws me an extra card per turn from round 3 onward. This helps me to draw into either King Under the Mountain or Legacy of Durin for even more card draw. If I happen to discard one of those two cards off the top of my deck from some other card effect (a fairly common occurance) an Erebor Hammersmith lets me retrieve it—and with only a few Attachments in the whole deck, I don’t have to worry about it accidentally getting buried under something less useful.
It doesn’t seem like it just from looking at it, but this deck can really take a beating. I’m capable of quickly replenishing any Allies I lose to chump blocking, and cards like Untroubled by Darkness and Ancestral Knowledge can help me get out of a bind if I start falling behind during the questing phase.
I can’t stop tweaking
I find it hard to resist including Ever My Heart Rises whenever I’m up against a quest that contains a large number of Mountain or Underground Locations. It’s an excellent source of both threat reduction and readying for Dwarf decks, and at zero cost it has almost no downside.
In practice, though, I didn’t find it to be terribly useful for this deck. My threat was low enough as-is without any need for the additional help, and my characters’ stats weren’t good enough to get much value out of readying. When I posted this deck on RingsDB, I opted to remove it, adding an extra copy of Ered Nimrais Prospector to get me back up to 50 cards.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 3 / 5 (60%)
This is a pretty tough quest, especially the second half. Initially I wasn’t sure that this deck would be up to the task; Dwarf decks without Dáin Ironfoot’s global willpower boost can struggle to meet the demands of the questing phase. The deck performed valiantly, however, and its ability to get back up and running quickly after the mid-game reset turned out to be invaluable.
Most games, once I had achieved some semblance of control over the board state, I started storing up cards in my hand and resources on my Heroes. This allowed me to quickly build back up after Stage 3 so that I could power through the rest of the game before the Nameless things could overwhelm me. I wasn’t always able to muster enough attack power to kill the big Enemies, but I could usually weather their attacks for a few rounds until I could quest my way to freedom.
Both of my losses happened in the first few rounds. The first one was due to a terrible starting hand. I managed to mulligan into all 3 copies of A Very Good Tale—exactly what I was looking for—but no Allies that I could use to trigger it. I continued to draw nothing but Events from my deck and nothing but Enemies from the encounter deck for the next two rounds, and all three of my lonely Heroes were cut down in no time.
My second loss was the result of a calculated risk gone wrong. It was the start of round 3. I had a Goblin Swordsman engaged with me, and plenty of means to defend it. I had A Very Good Tale in hand, but only one Ally out so far, so I decided to spend all of Balin’s remaining resources to put an Ered Luin Miner into play and exhaust both him and my other Ally for A Very Good Tale. It netted me another two Allies, putting me in a pretty good position.
I sent one Ally on the quest, reserving both Balin and the other Ally as defenders. The encounter card was a second copy of Goblin Swordsman. That was no problem—I had two defenders at the ready, and they only attack for 3. But it was when I declared Balin as a defender that disaster struck: the shadow card was Sudden Pitfall. With no resource left on Balin to cancel it, he was discarded from play and the Goblin savagely cut down another of my Heroes with the undefended attack.
In general, though, if I could make it through the first couple of rounds I was typically able to keep my Heroes safe and progress tokens flowing. Over the course of all five games, I only managed to find one of the Objective Artifacts, and only once. But in that one game, Balin made excellent use of Durin’s Helm to help defend him against the Nameless Enemies massing around him on all sides.
Soaked to their boots, the weary company pulled themselves over the ledge onto dry stone. They lay on their backs for a few minutes, panting. “That was… very close,” Óin remarked, counting the heads of his companions. “But it was well worth it!” Balin exclaimed, grinning and patting the ancient axe he now had strapped to his side. “This will be a story for the history texts.” Hearing this, Ori frowned, pulling a sopping wet book from the satchel he had managed to rescue from the icy cold river. “Let’s let the history texts dry out a bit first, shall we?”
Foundations of Stone is a fun quest. The variable Stage 4 means it’s difficult to know exactly what to prepare for, and it makes each playthrough a little different. Even in Nightmare mode, it really hits the mark when it comes to difficulty. It’s not an easy quest by any stretch of the imagination, but because the first half is easier than the second half you have a little time to prepare for the onslaught. It feels tough but fair—a perfect combination in my book.
What do you think, readers? How does Foundations of Stone rank among the quests of the Dwarrowdelf cycle?
Next week, I’ll be coming face to face with the Balrog himself in Nightmare Shadow and Flame, the final quest of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. Come back then to bear witness to the epic battle!