You’ve entered the vast marshlands of the Nîn-in-Eilph with Nalir in order to escape Bellach and his Orcs. Now, you must cross the swamp in order to reach Hollin on the other side. No traveler has entered the Nîn-in-Eilph for an age and there is no path through the shifting marshland. You must find your own way across the treacherous bog.Fleeing from Tharbad
Others have said it before, but it bears repeating: The Nîn-in-Eilph does an excellent job at representing its narrative through its mechanics. Playing this quest feels just like trudging knee-deep through a miserable, never-ending swamp while being pursued by a terrible creature that you can’t be rid of no matter how hard you try—especially if, like me, you refuse to move on to the next quest until you have thoroughly beaten the previous one.
An effective swamp simulator
The key mechanic at play in The Nîn-in-Eilph is that there are multiple Stage 2 and Stage 3 cards. Each of those cards require between 13 and 16 progress to clear, and a nasty ability that hampers your ability to build your board state. But there’s a catch: each one also has the Time 3 keyword, and if you don’t complete it before the final time counter is removed, you lose all progress on that stage and switch to a new stage with the same number.
Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on having 3 full rounds to come up with the required progress. Treacheries like Shifting Marshland or Quicksand can remove extra time counters from the quest, making it hard to predict exactly how much time you have left. If you’re careful, you might be able to travel to a Hidden Eyot to add extra time counters, increasing your chances of making through one Stage and onto the next. If you can stomach its 3 threat in the early game, you could even choose it as one of the Locations you add to the staging area to fulfill the quest’s Setup text.
By themselves, the constantly changing quest stages might not be too bad. But there are also lots of other effects that trigger whenever the quest stage switches. Each “A” side of each quest stage forces you to raise your threat by 1, for instance. There are also a bunch of Locations that do bad things to you if they happen to be in the staging area whenever the quest stage changes.
But that’s not the worst thing that happens whenever you switch stages.
The Ancient Marsh-Dweller
Whenever you visit a new quest stage, the Ancient Marsh-Dweller enters the staging area from wherever it is—even the victory display. This means you can never really kill it, just escape it temporarily only to have it return in a few rounds whenever the quest stage rolls over again. (In the original version of the quest, it only appears for Stage 3 cards, but in the Nightmare version you have to fight it during Stage 2 as well, just for good measure).
Even though it’s always going to come back, you’re still going to want to kill the Marsh-Dweller from time to time because of its ability: it collects every time counter that gets removed from the quest and gets +1 threat and +1 attack for each. After a few rounds its threat gets too high to leave in the staging area and its attack power is too big to safely block. Killing it clears its accumulated tokens and gives you a short reprieve before the horror returns to harry you anew.
Speaking of a returning horror
As if a never-ending swamp and invincible tentacle monster weren’t enough, The Nîn-in-Eilph is the second (and thankfully final) quest featuring the Objective-“Ally” Nalir, from whom we purchased a map in the previous quest. Nalir’s useless statline and threat-raising ability remain unchanged, and you’re not even allowed to feed him to the Ancient Marsh-Dweller because if he dies you lose the game.
Put it all together, and you have yourself a challenging scenario. It’s tough on your threat dial, requires regularly fighting and killing a boss Enemy, and forces you to work around persistent negative effects to build a board state capable of producing up to 16 progress in a round or two.
What sort of deck could possibly stand against it?
Deck: Uneasy Neighbors
“I wonder now if even then Saruman was not turning to evil ways. But at any rate he used to give no trouble to his neighbours. I used to talk to him. There was a time when he was always walking about my woods. He was polite in those days, always asking my leave (at least when he met me); and always eager to listen.”Treebeard, The Two Towers
Theme: Saruman and the Ents
1x Beechbone (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Booming Ent (The Antlered Crown)
3x Derndingle Warrior (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Elfhelm (The Mountain of Fire)
2x Gléowine (Core Set)
2x Isengard Messenger (The Voice of Isengard)
2x Leaflock (The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat)
2x Quickbeam (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Saruman (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Skinbark (The Land of Shadow)
2x Steward of Orthanc (Race Across Harad)
3x Treebeard (The Antlered Crown)
3x Wandering Ent (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Wellinghall Preserver (Across the Ettenmoors)
Player Side Quest (1)
1x Gather Information (The Lost Realm)
3 Heroes, 51 Cards
Check out this deck’s decription on RingsDB for info on how to play it.
Most of the time, I start with an idea for my deck’s theme, choose my Heroes, and then build my decks from there. My first attempt at a theme for this quest was to continue with the somewhat muddy Rohan / Dúnedain thing I’ve been doing since The Three Trials. I tried lots of different Hero lineups, but I couldn’t get any of them to work.
The Nîn-in-Eilph constantly frustrated my attempts to build a board state strong enough to contend with both the threat in the staging area and the Ancient Marsh-Dweller. I built a few decks that dealt well with one or the other from round 1, but it consistently took too long to get to a place that I could do both—and I inevitably threated out.
One night while I was grousing to my spouse about my problems with this quest, they suggested I try Ents. After all, Ents are okay with a slow start, and they’re completely unaffected by the particular Stage 2 that forces Allies to enter play exhausted.
“That’s a good idea, but it doesn’t really follow the storyline I’ve been going with,” I said, “and thematically it’s weird to see Ents West of the Misty Mountains.” But after a few more losses I decided to replace all of the Dúnedain Allies in my current Doomed attempt at a deck with Ents just to see what would happen. And suddenly I had a problem on my hands.
Because it worked brilliantly.
So I did my best wizard impression and tried to read the deck like a palantír, divining its theme from what I saw inside. I did a little tweaking to bring that theme into focus, and with a little bit of doubling down on the Doomed cards and tossing in a single (mechanically unnecessary) copy of Saruman, ta-da! Look at that, maybe people will believe I meant to build a “Saruman and the Ents” deck from the very beginning.
It doesn’t make as much sense with the narrative of this specific quest, but, hey, I called that out as an optional goal when I started this series a few years ago. (Good thinking, past-self!)
There are still a few thematically shaky elements of the deck, though. Hero choice in an Isengard deck is always going to be a little weird with only Gríma to choose from at the moment, but Aragorn feels a little extra out of place. He’s vital to the deck’s function, though, since his threat reset allows me to use Gríma’s ability with impunity to help me get a fast start. I guess this is just another case of the Wandering Aragorn Rule. And I suppose he brought his Athelas with him (to help me cancel this quest’s Hero-killing Condition Treachery).
The other weird choice here is Elfhelm. He’s essentially a Feint-like card here, meant as a cheap way of dealing with the Ancient Marsh-Dweller’s heavy attacks without letting it destroy my board state. He’s a hold-over from the original version of the deck, and I decided to keep him since one version or another of Elfhelm has been along for the ride for most of the other quests this cycle.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 4 / 5
There’s nothing like facing a difficult quest and absolutely crushing it with a hoard of angry trees.
As it turns out, my partner was right: this deck takes a lot of the bite out of the encounter deck. Ents are fine with being forced into a slow start because they’re built to handle a slow start anyway. And because of my Booming Ents I was downright gleeful every time I revealed a copy of Low on Provisions from the encounter deck—a card which normally sends other decks into a downward spiral.
My general strategy was to leave the Ancient Marsh-Dweller in the staging area until the first stage’s time counters ran out. To help me with my questing in the early game, I chose the lowest-threat location, Sinking Bog, as my starting location. During the first few rounds, I would play as many Ents as possible, starting with Treebeard if I had him. I made liberal use of Gríma‘s ability to help me get a fast start.
Once the first quest card cycled, I would hopefully have a card in hand to prevent the Marsh-Dweller’s attack from dealing too much damage, preferably Feint, The Wizard’s Voice, or Elfhelm. Then I would engage the Marsh-Dweller, block its attack, and immediately trigger Éowyn‘s boss-killer ability to bring it down (with the help of an Ent or two).
That would buy me enough time to finish building up my Ent army in peace, and the next time the Marsh-Dweller had built up enough tokens to be annoying I would generally have enough attack power to kill it as often as I liked. Because of my liberal use of Gríma’s threat-raising ability (plus Nalir’s involuntary threat-raising ability, grr) I would always have to trigger Aragorn’s threat reset halfway through the quest—around the time I was at about 45-47. After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.
My one loss highlights just how annoying the non-unique Enemies in the quest can be. I was on Stage 3, getting close to the end of the game. I was engaged with a single Giant Swamp Adder, which, while not terribly strong at 3 attack, gets extra attacks whenever a time counter is removed from the quest. Between killing other Enemies and having most of my Ents questing I wasn’t quite able to muster up the 9 (!) total attack required to kill it in one turn, so I figured I’d deal with it next round. When I removed a time counter from the quest at the end of the round, I tanked its extra attack with a Derndingle Warrior.
I had one Enemy engaged, two time counters on the quest, and the Marsh-Dweller was in the victory display, so I was feeling pretty good about my odds. I reserved a Derndingle Warrior, Nalir, and two Booming Ents, and sent the rest of my party on the quest, figuring that 4 characters should be plenty to tank any attacks I might have to deal with and still have some left over to do some killin’.
I was very wrong.
My first reveal: Shifting Marshland, which removes a time counter and Surges. Unfortunate, but not a big deal. I blocked the Adder’s second attack against me with the Derndingle.
Reveal #2: Also Shifting Marshland. That was a third extra attack from the Adder, which I blocked with Nalir. But the bigger problem was that the quest stage advanced due to removing the final time counter from it, bringing the Marsh-Dweller back from the victory display. That would have been fine on its own (since I could just choose not to engage it) but it also brought with it two copies of Swarms of Mosquitoes—an Enemy that returns from the victory display in the same way—that I had killed the round before.
My final encounter reveal was Quicksand, presenting me with an impossible choice: either remove another time counter from the quest and take another attack from the Adder, or remove all of my highest-willpower characters from the quest and fail by enough to raise my threat past 45—the Ancient Marsh-Dweller’s engagement cost. Either way, I was facing four more attacks before the end of the combat phase, with only two Booming Ents standing in the way.
I chose threat raise, but it didn’t really matter—I knew I wouldn’t survive. The swamp creatures descended on my party all at once and nobody made it out alive. My Heroes quickly fell to undefended attacks.
Just to add insult to injury, the Marsh Adder got the last copy of Shifting Marshland as its shadow effect, granting it a grand total of five attacks against me before the start of my next Refresh phase. That one snake could have killed my whole army all by itself!
So, The Nîn-in-Eilph gave me a dramatic story to tell, which is always nice. But is it a fun quest?
Honestly? No—not really.
Just like trudging through a bug-infested swamp, the mechanics of the quest seem designed to annoy you to death. The Enemies aren’t terribly strong, they just have aggravating abilities and are hard to kill. It’s constantly erasing your progress on the quest. The damn Marsh-Dweller doesn’t stay dead. And the Objective-Ally is more harmful than he is helpful!
So, while I appreciate the ways the mechanics reinforce the narrative, I’m just not a fan of the way it actually plays out in practice. But at least now I am through the swamp and ready to tackle the next adventure, Celebrimbor’s Secret, on the other side!