So, the Voice of Isengard arrived last week, and I’ve been having fun trying out the cards. The Doomed mechanic is crazy in solo-play – questing for 12 on turn 1, with Aragorn, Grima, Theodred, an Isengard Messanger at +2 willpower, and Hobbit Gandalf.
It also gave me the chance to finally build a mono-tactics Rohan deck.
Before I go any further, I need to be clear about this deck (as I wasn’t elsewhere, and people thought I’d gone slightly mad) – I had no foolish expectations of running this in solo. I paired it with one of two other decks, either Eowyn, Dunhere, Imrahil (although he’s not Rohan, his daughter will be, and he works well with the whole “leaving play” mechanic), or a more conventional Elrond, Mirlonde, Glorfindel deck for location management and healing.
Against this background, the Rohan Tactics deck seemed like it should work well. I only had a few events – Foe Hammer, (admittedly, useless in Fords of Isen) Feint and Forth Eorlingas, but knew that I could recycle them with Hama, and also threw in the Book of Eldacar just to be on the safe side. Theoden generally helped out with the questing, although I gave him the first bits of action advantage I could muster, to join in the fight, and Eomer smashed things. I had 3x Dagger of Westernesse and 3x Spear of the Mark, either for my tactics heroes, or to throw across to Dunhere, along with 3x Rohan Warhorse for a bit of action advantage. The rest of the deck was filled out with cheap allies and Rohan allies – Westfold Outrider and Horseback Archer, Guthlaf, a few eagles, and Knights of the Swan – even without ever having three in play, the one-cost ally is great for Eomer.
I think it took 3 attempts each for the Fords of Isen and To Catch an Orc. Fords of Isen was won thanks to Elrond, and his wardens, with Mirlonde and the Silvan Trackers absorbing most of the direct damage. To Catch an Orc basically waited until we could get an opening-hand Asfaloth, and no Broken Lands to clutter up the staging area.
Eomer was fantastic – Mighty Prowess was a particular revelation, having been thrown in almost on a whim, but often proving vital for dealing with enemies on the other side of the table. Hama recycled dutifully, and contributed a bit of attack. Theoden did virtually nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, 3 willpower in tactics is significant, but once the other deck got powered up, it was providing far more. Sentinel is nice, but often Eomer would prefer a chump to leave play, and 2 defence, 4 hit points doesn’t make for great defence. 3 Attack is also pretty good, but there are so many other tactics heroes who can provide 3 attack with better accompanying benefits, or a lower threat cost. Legolas places progress, Bard reduces enemy defence, and Brand readies a character. All of these are ranged, and will cost you less in terms of starting threat. Although Theoden is eligible for Spear of the Mark and Forth Eorlingas, the same job can be done with Great Yew Bow and Dagger of Westernesse.
For the immediate problem, I dismantled the decks, and swiftly threw together a pair of decks – Eowyn/Eomer/Glorfindel on one side, and Dunhere/Elrond/Theodred on the other- with access to Elrond’s counsel on both sides, we were able to keep most things in the staging area, and did fairly well, but beyond any gameplay issues, it still irks me that a Mono-tactics, mono-Rohan deck isn’t more impressive. (Again, still talking about multi-player, not intending to risk solo.)
A lot of this stems back to the design of Theoden’s card itself. As pointed out on many occasions, you have to pay for his ability in threat points, and aside from making it easier to take tactics heroes to the Redhorn Gate, it’s rare that it will give you much benefit. Lastly, it makes no sense. As I’ve said before [link]– why are Thalin and Brand so inspired by Theoden’s arrival, but not Eowyn or Theodred? As a final insult, the card rubs salt in the wound with the flavour text. Does it say “Up Tactics heroes!” (tacticians?) no. It says “Up Eorlingas!”
On that basis, I went back to redesign the Theoden card. I’ve kept most of the basic stats, and the fine artwork from Magali Villeneuve. However, I wanted to re-cost it – 11 as the sum of the stats, rather than charging for the ability, and add a new ability.
I decided to go for a two-part ability. A strong positive, but with a restriction. Generally, Theoden is a figure of inspiration for his people, so I wanted a will-power boost for Rohan characters. However, you can’t ignore the significance of the period where he fell under Grima’s false counsel, so I decided to add a negative reaction to Isengard characters, with the potential to debilitate him to the point where he becomes of no use.
The end result I think is fairly balanced – definitely more usable than the official version, and a true leader of Rohan, but still something that can cause difficulties if you’re not careful- or if someone is running a doomed deck. It seemed only fitting that having Grima around would be a problem. There’s a decision to be made here. If you build for it, he can be very powerful, but it isn’t just a no-brainer making all your other tactics heroes redundant.
This still left one issue- the Sentinel defender who can be wiped out by a single attack for six. The obvious thing seemed a shield, an armour attachment. I didn’t want to just make this a re-branding of Gondorian Shield, and I thought about having them stack, before I remembered that Beorn had already done something fairly similar.
In the end, this is what I went for. At its basic level, it’s a generic shield which can give anyone a bit of extra defence. However, it also represents the increased strength of the Rohirrim en masse. Like most armour up until now, it’s restricted, but not “1 per character,” so, if you want to make them a dedicated defender, it gives the potential for someone like Theoden to defend truly powerfully, either for his own people at Helm’s Deep, or before the walls of Minas Tirith.
When Gondor calls for aid, Rohan will answer!