Taking the Difficulty project to Isengard

(…gard, gard, gard)

To Isengard Last week, I finally got the pages up for the difficulty project, to actually display the ratings on. A combination of my own lack of computing skills, and the sheer awkwardness of the WordPress software that kept turning pages into posts had defeated me for rather longer than seems probable.

Stepping back, it’s clear that there’s still a very long way to go. There are many, many gaps in the ratings. I’d always hoped that I’d get some community feedback, rather than trying to rate every quest by myself, but even so, it’s clear that I need to up the frequency with which I post updates here.

This weekend, I’ve once again had the house to myself, so I decided to go and throw dwarves at the Voice of Isengard.

I have a dwarf deck that I’ve been running for a while, with remarkably little change. Dain and Thorin are the linchpins, with a Lore hero of some kind making up the numbers. Traditionally Ori for his card draw, but occasionally Bombur (first subbed in after Ori sacrificed himself to deal with a Balrog) and most recently Bifur. It works nicely for true solo, but also pairs with a Spirit/Tactics deck in 2-player.

It’s a fairly strong all-round deck, which relies on getting lots of allies out, then overwhelming the quest. All the allies are dwarves aside from Gandalf and the Warden of Healing. I tend to rely on Lore for my Card-draw, with Leadership focusing more on resource acceleration, action advantage and the like. The only cards I’ve added to this in months are Ally Gimli and Gather Information

The Fords of Isen

The Fords of Isen was the first quest I faced. Almost instantly, it demolished my “one deck to rule them all” premise, as masses of card-draw was clearly going to get me nowhere. In the end, I temporarily subbed out 5 cards – 3x Daeron’s runes, and 2x Legacy of Durin. The deck is sufficiently oversized that it’s still legal with those cards removed.

Whilst this is a deck I’ve used all over the place, it does quite well against quests with “time” – turn one is often quiet, but ideally you’ve got Fili in your opening hand, so turn 2 you have your five dwarves and you’re good to go. I also run 3x Gandalf and 3x Sneak Attack, which meant that on this occasion, I was able to avoid combat altogether for the first few rounds, just dropping Gandalf on Dunlendings instead.

Ill-TidingsI think it’s inevitable with this quest that if you beat it, it’s going to be fairly quick. The longer you go on, the more likely you are to find your hand clogged with Ill Tidings and suffer the various side-effects of things targeting your hand-size.

This quest can mess with your head- it was the first time we were punished for hand-size, but actually, there are multiple common cards which will take advantage of ditching cards (Eowyn, Protector of Lorien) or you can just have lots of resource acceleration, and run out of cards naturally.

Whilst this was a very easy win for me, that was down to an almost-perfect starting-hand, and I think the real difficulty is around the mid-range.


To Catch An Orc

Methedras-Orc The second quest from Voice of Isengard caused me some problems. There are some big enemies in this – Mugash himself is very large, and the Methedras Orc, who seemed to have an incredible knack of arriving in the same round swings for a 5 that was causing me issues, as I didn’t have enough bodies to chump, but couldn’t take an attack that big undefended, even with healing on hand.

On the other hand, if you get a manageable start, and Mugash is low in your out-of-play deck, this one can run long. I ended up with an enormous army of dwarves, and finally found Mugash on turn 13 – it took that long to get more than a couple of locations with “searches” – in a multi-player game, I don’t think this would happen nearly so easily.

On this instance, I was able to take out Mugash in 1 fell-swoop with a sneak-attack Erebor Battlemaster (these are the only out-of-sphere cards in the deck, relying on Narvi’s Belt, or Very Good Tale to make more permanent appearances), then storm through stage 3 in one round.

Despite all that, I think this one is harder than “Fords.” There are more ways for time counters to disappear, and the enemies can quickly get big and nasty. If there was a player solely focused on combat, it might be a different matter, but in solo, I’m going to go fairly high.


Into Fangorn

In a moment of utter foolishness (or at least a dismal lack of concentration) I once took a Ranger Trap deck up against Into Fangorn. The dwarves were sufficiently generic that they were not quite so stupid a proposition, but the quest still has challenges.

Deadly-HuornFor one thing, this feels like the easiest quest to get smashed by time. In “Fords” there aren’t too many ways to lose time counters, and To Catch has a built-in mechanic to replenish them. Here though, you either need to smash through everything in a round or two, or the objective has gone and you’re lost in the woods on an entirely different quest stage.

It’s also worth noting that the enemies are BIG. The hinder keyword means they don’t necessarily hit you that hard (although there are some treacheries that can see to that) but you need 9, 10 or 12 to one-shot a Huorn, significantly more if you’re doing it over several rounds.

Aside from the general Voice of Isengard hate on Turtle Decks, this also has cards like Low on Provisions which punish swarm decks. Fortunately, dwarves are quite sturdy (even more so if you can get hardy leadership on them) so I was able to survive this and heal back up.

Given just how lost you can get in Fangorn, and just how hard a Huorn will smash if it does decide to attack, I think this is the hardest of the bunch, although it’s close with To Catch an Orc.


Now- anyone really observant will notice that the ratings I’ve given above are not the same as the ratings appearing on the page. That’s because these three had already been rated by a reader (and one who clearly found them less of a challenge than I did. Whenever I’ve got multiple ratings for a quest, I’ll be using a straightforward mean average. I may well also introduce a colour-scheme (if I can figure out how to do coloured text on here) to show how many ratings a quest has.


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