Riding north to the Gap of Rohan, you come upon a battle at the Fords of Isen. A small number of Rohirrim have taken a defensive position on the islet in the river’s center where a large force of wild Dunlendings assails them. You must move swiftly lest the river run red with blood of Rohan…
The Voice of Isengard jumps right into the action with our Heroes defending a small group of Rohirrim from a Dunlending assault on The Fords of Isen. Most famous for being the location where Théodred is killed by Saruman’s troops during the War of the Ring, the fords represent a key strategic location for Rohan. Due to the presence of a small islet in the center of the river, it marks the best location for a large force of men (and their horses) to cross over into Rohan from the wild lands of Enedwaith to the West.
This quest introduces us to a new type of Enemy: Dunlandings. The Dunland trait is unified through a shared mechanic, similar to the way the many of the player card factions have mechanical themes: Dunland Enemies punish you for drawing cards. It’s a thematic home-run for the trait, since one of the Dunlandings’ key grievances with Rohan is the fact that they were jealous of the lands granted to the early Rohirrim by Gondor—perhaps rightly so, since the Dunlandings once occupied Isengard as well as much of the lands East of the Isen River. Their jealousy fuels their fury, so the more cards you have in your hand, the harder they strike!
This generally comes in one of a few forms. Some Dunland Enemies, like the Dunland Berserker do something bad to you whenever you draw cards. Others, like the Dunland Chieftan have an ability that scales based on the number of cards in your hand. Still other cards, like the Savage Hillman, have nasty abilities that kick in whenever you have a certain number of cards in your hand (usually either 3 or 5). It’s also worth noting that the art direction for the Dunlandings is amazing. I mean, look at these guys:
The rest of the encounter deck is also tightly wound around the idea of punishing you for drawing cards or for having too many cards in your hand. It makes this quest feel really different from others, especially since many of the encounter cards seem like they’d be a good thing if you read them on their own. Fords of Isen, for instance, fills your hand up to 5 cards when you travel to it. In any other quest, you’d love to see something like that come out of the encounter deck. But here? It’s one of the scariest cards in the deck.
The original version was already pretty focused on this mechanic, so unlike many other quests there wasn’t much in the way of generic filler for the Nightmare version to cut out. Primarily, the Nightmare cards add additional variety to the deck while upping the difficulty, adding a lot in the way of replayability.
The Fords of Isen also serves as an introduction to the new Time X keyword which is used extensively in the Voice of Isengard / Ringmaker cycle. The concept is simple: each card with the Time X keyword enters play with X Time tokens on it. At the end of each Refresh phase, one Time token is removed from each card. Once a card is out of Time tokens, it will trigger some nasty effect (and usually reset the timer). Most of the time, these triggers appear on Quest Stages.
In this quest, the most important Time trigger is on the first Quest Stage, which gives you 5 turns to rescue Gríma from The Islet and advance to Stage 2. If you take any longer than that, the Dunlandings kill him, and you lose the quest. This prevents turtling strategies to some extent—although 5 turns is still a significant amount of time to get your board set up. Just make sure you calculate your questing well—you don’t want to accidentally get Location locked during that pivotal fifth turn!
The other two Quest Stages have Time triggers too, mostly to intensify the battle every couple of rounds. If you manage to stave off the waves of Dunland Enemies and clear all three quest stages, you can win the day and retreat to the safety of the walls of Isengard.
You can see all of the encounter cards over at the Hall of Beorn.
My Deck: Children of Rohan
Theme: The children of Théoden
“Her children he took into his house, calling them son and daughter. He had only one child of his own, Théodred his son, then twenty-four years old; for the queen Elfhild had died in childbirth, and Théoden did not wed again. Éomer and Éowyn grew up at Edoras and saw the dark shadow fall on the halls of Théoden.”
—Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The House of Eorl, Appendix A, The Return of the King
Éomer (The Voice of Isengard)
Éowyn (Core Set)
Théodred (Core Set)
3x Elfhelm (The Mountain of Fire)
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Gamling (The Land of Shadow)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
2x The Riddermark’s Finest (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
3x Warden of Helm’s Deep (The Antlered Crown)
3x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Westfold Outrider (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Firefoot (The Dunland Trap)
3x Golden Shield (The Flame of the West)
3x Gúthwinë (The Mountain of Fire)
3x Snowmane (The Land of Shadow)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
3x Feint (Core Set)
3x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)
3x Mustering the Rohirrim (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Open the Armory (The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
My first thought for this quest was to build a deck themed around the actual Battle of the Fords of Isen—the battle that would ultimately claim Théodred‘s life—but after a couple of test builds I wasn’t able to come up with anything that actually worked mechanically, so I went back to the drawing board. I knew I wanted to have something that at least used Théodred in it, though.
Rather than showcasing the moment of his death, I decided to pivot the other direction and showcase his strength. The chapter on The Battle of the Fords of Isen in Unfinished Tales tells us that Gríma’s chief obstacles in his attempts to gain influence over the King of Rohan were Théodred and Éomer, such that Gríma tried to play them against one another to limit their power. The two remained steadfastly loyal to their King, however, much to Wormtongue’s chagrin.
This deck is meant to represent the unity of Théoden’s children, even in the face of the growing Shadow.
This is a Voltron-Hero deck that gets good use out of some of the Rohan toys.
Both Éowyn and Théodred quest every round, giving the deck a base willpower of at least 5—6 if I have a card to discard to Éowyn’s ability (and with all of these Uniques, I usually do). Which of those two Heroes gets Théodred’s extra resource depends on what I have in my hand, but in practice it usually goes to go to Éowyn since the deck runs a little blue. I’m usually looking to get a good questing Ally like West Road Traveler in my starting hand to ensure I’m off to a good start as far as willpower goes, but I wouldn’t mulligan away any decently diverse hand.
The deck has multiple ways of handling defense. The easiest is chump blocking with 1-cost Allies like Snowbourn Scout. I can even do it repeatedly once I get Guthwinë into play. Ally Elfhelm can be used in a similar fashion, and he has the advantage of me not needing to spend the resource until I’m sure I actually need a defender.
My second option is to use Warden of Helm’s Deep as a slightly sturdier defender. He’s not going to survive any big attacks, but he’s great for tanking some of the smaller Enemies, meaning he’s pretty effective if I can get him down in the early game. Late game, when I’m engaging some of the bigger Enemies, I like to use the combo of Snowmane and Golden Shield on Éowyn as my repeatable defender with up to 6 defense (if I save her discard ability until the combat phase).
Most of the attack duties are handled by Éomer. Once equipped with his trusty steed Firefoot and his sword Guthwinë he’s truly a force to be reckoned with, sometimes able to take out two Enemies with a single blow and then return an Ally from my discard pile to my hand. And there are plenty of Allies in the deck with discard abilities that I can use to trigger his Response for the extra +2 attack when I need it.
The Ally selection is well-rounded, ensuring that I have whatever extra stats I need even without any additional card draw. Plus, between Westfold Horse-breeder, Mustering the Rohirrim, and Open the Armory I have plenty of ways to hunt through my deck and find whatever it is I’m looking for at any point in time. Even if these cards just thin my deck of extra Uniques for me to discard to Éowyn’s ability, they rarely whiff.
The decision to use deck-searching abilities instead of regular old card draw was a deliberate one to help me with the particular challenges of The Fords of Isen.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 4 / 5
I really loved the way that this quest made me think completely differently about card draw. Normally, when I find myself stuck just topdecking, I feel like my deck has failed to meet some efficiency bar, but in this quest when I finally emptied my hand I breathed a sigh of relief. Éowyn’s ability to discard cards was a key factor in being able to beat this quest consistently.
The first turn of the game was always the critical one, because even after the Planning Phase I still had five or six cards in my hand. An ill-timed Treachery or Shadow Effect could really knock me out. If I managed to make it to turn 2, though, I generally had enough resources to be able to play cards until I had a much more manageable 2 or 3 in hand, making reveals like Brutal Assault way less scary.
There are several points in the quest that allow you to choose a Dunland Enemy to reveal. Whenever I was given this choice, I almost always went with the Dunland Tribesman. His combination of only 5 defense + HP, relatively high engagement cost, and often low threat meant that I could dispatch him with Éomer alone as long as I had a chump blocker, but I could also afford to leave him in the Staging Area for a few rounds if a more dangerous Enemy showed up. A close second choice was the Dunland Berserker, who I occasionally chose in the late game due to his low attack power as long as I was pretty sure I’d be able to dispatch him right away.
Most of my victories were pretty solid, generally ending in the upper 30s or early 40s for threat and with the board well in hand. One game I was worried about losing due to taking too much damage from Treacheries (I had two copies of Wild Men of Dunland attached to the current Quest card for a bit) but I still managed to win without losing any Heroes. My one loss was due to getting Location locked in the first couple of rounds; I was eventually able to clear the blockage, but not in time to rescue Gríma before the first quest’s Time effect killed him.
Most of the time, though, I was able to methodically gain control over the board, killing the Enemies as they showed up and clearing the Locations one by one, making me feel like I had this quest well and truly mastered.
I really enjoyed this quest! It’s one that works best if you tech against it, avoiding card draw and including ways to dump your hand—even so I found that the resultant deck matched my playstyle well. It was interesting to try to decide if I should keep cards around in the hopes of playing them later, or if they were more of a liability than they were worth; interesting decisions like that are the hallmark of a good quest.
It seems like the Voice of Isengard / Ringmaker cycle is off to a good start! Can it keep the momentum going? Next, I’ll be heading into the Misty Mountiains on an errand for Saruman in To Catch an Orc. I can’t wait to find out what new devilry it has in store for our Heroes!
Next up on Darkling Door…
It’s back to my Path Less Traveled to tackle the second quest of Khazad-dûm, The Seventh Level, or as I like to call it, “The quintessential Goblin quest.”