Tag Archives: Saruman

Places We’ve Been – Voice of the Ringmaker

after a slightly longer pause than intended (I blame starting a new job), it’s time for the next installment in the Locations review.

the-voice-of-isengard-matt-stewart-watermarked

In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you all know that The Ringmaker cycle is probably my least favourite so far – I never really liked the time mechanic, the Dunlendings felt thematically off, and it failed to deliver on early promise of finally fleshing out the Rohan trait.

For this article though, I’ll do my best to put as many of those personal gripes as I can aside (I can’t promise 100% success), and focus on the locations of the cycle: how they worked, when they were hideously convoluted, and the positive aspects.

 

Taking the Hobbits to Isengard (gard, gard, gard…)

The Deluxe itself- Voice of Isengard – laid the foundation for 3 fairly distinct settings in the campaign: the plains around Isengard itself, the wild hills of Dunland, and dark and ominous forests. Interestingly, comparatively few of the locations from this box actually found their way into the later adventures, with the enemies and treacheries being the cards more commonly carried over.

broken-lands-locationOne of the few encounter sets which did show up repeatedly, was Broken Lands. First appearing in the Second Scenario, To Catch an Orc, it had 3 copies of 1 hideous location, the eponymous Broken Lands themselves. Whilst they only had 2 threat, they were a chunky 6 progress to explore, and has a passive effect which prevented progress being placed on locations in the staging area whilst they were in the staging area. The rest of the locations in that scenario were, actually, not that huge (average threat/progress of 3), but there was one – Methedras – which boosted the threat of all the others, and things could swiftly get out of control. Essentially, once you drew Broken Lands, you had to travel and clear it, before you drew another copy – in high-player counts, an early one of these basically meant instant location-lock.

The Woodland setting for into Fangorn kept threat on locations moderate, but required high numbers of progress to get anywhere.

The Ringmaker

Moving on into the cycle proper, the non-unique locations were generally not the central focus of the quests – although some, like The Three Trials, still hit you hard with the 3 non-unique, but only copy each Barrow locations, with an average threat of 3, and 8 progress required. Others like the Dunland Trap or The Antlered Crown spun on a quest-card mechanic that somewhat dwarfed the impact of individual cards in the staging area.

Trouble in Tharbad

decrepit-rooftopsEasily my favourite scenario of this cycle was Trouble in Tharbad – it got a bit of stick when it came out (especially from some of the power-gamers) for being too easy, but in my book, that was a significant part of its charm: this was a scenario that allowed enough scope for players to try different things out, rather than just charging full-tilt with an aggro deck at everything. (it’s worth remembering that this is around the time that the One-Boromir-to-rule-them-all deck first came to prominence).

Tharbad also had some brilliantly simple and thematic locations. The Decrepit Rooftops sent all the enemies back to the staging area (you are hiding on the roof), whilst the Streets of Tharbad gave all the enemies -20 engagement cost (what do you expect walking down the road in broad daylight?)

Bogged Down

finger-of-glanduinThe trouble with Tharbad is that it was followed up immediately with the absolute slog that is Nin-in-Eilph. The positive about this quest, is that it captured very well the feeling of trudging around in a swamp whilst hopelessly lost. The problem is that trudging around in a swamp whilst hopelessly lost is a fairly miserable experience – it isn’t really one which you want to recapture accurately! Finger of Glanduin acted like a reverse Northern Tracker, eating away the progress on locations, whilst Sinking Bog gave characters -1 to all their stats for each Item they had.

By the end of the cycle, the complexity was really starting to stack up. Celebrimbor’s Secret saw locations destroyed, which got them out of the staging area, but powered up some really nasty quest effects. The Antlered Crown was a fairly early experiment with separating the locations and (some of) the enemies into separate decks, it was a constant nightmare for attempting to keep track of all the different passive effects and triggers. Amongst all that, you had a pile of locations with time counters on, whose power to hurt you far outweighed their modest stats. As always, credit to the designers for their innovation, but by-and-large, these quests felt like a bit of a miss to me.

Number-crunching the Ringmaker cycle is slightly difficult. For one thing, the classic strategy of just about keeping your head above water until you can get a couple of Northern Trackers out and watch the locations go away was rarely viable in a quest that featured time, or in one which featured the Broken Lands. This was a cycle where you had to power quest every turn, take the big attacks on the chin, and be ready to hit back twice as hard. As such, the actual difficulty posed by the locations was probably greater than in a quest pre-time-mechanics where the average threat and progress values were the same. For that reason, the numbers generally look fairly reasonable: average threats around 3, with progress requirements probably nudging a bit closer to 4, it doesn’t look like a major step up from Against the Shadow, but it certainly had the potential to feel that way.

Giving hope to Men

idraenAt least the Ringmaker cycle did give some scope to allow the players to tech against all these nasty locations. A new hero, Idraen was probably the first to interact directly with locations, and her ability to ready after a location was explored allowed long-neglected cards like Strength of Will to make a come-back: if you can travel to a location which only needs 2 more progress, this card essentially allows her to explore it for free.

Along with Idraen, the first of the scouts, we got some early support for the scout trait, in the form of the Warden of Arnor attachement. Once attached to a questing scout Hero, this placed a progress token on the first location revealed every round.

StriderThis card always felt a bit lacklustre to me: it draws my mind back to a “Strider” custom hero I made several years ago, a Spirit version of Aragorn who acted as a Thalin for locations, placing 1 progress on each location revealed whilst he was questing. Given the size of modern locations, I really don’t think that the card would have been overpowered if it had done this, and my lack of enthusiasm is unlikely to change, but it is at least cheap enough that if you’ve got a scout who’s going to be questing every round, there’s little reason not to slap it on her.

Aside from these two, there wasn’t really a lot more on offer for dealing with locations: Ringmaker saw the rise of the Silvans, talented multi-taskers, and sneaky little blighters, but with little in the way of direction location control. It did lead to a bit of a revival for the Lorien Guide, who was good at whittling away active locations, but did little for the staging area.

Final Thoughts

Ringmaker is still the cycle I look back on with the least fondness, and was the point at which I first let slip my ongoing aim of beating all new quests at least once with 1, 2, 3 and 4 players. The locations are more irritating than intriguing, and apart from Tharbad, they didn’t particularly interest me.

However, the Scout trait got its start there, and this was probably the first time we really got focused location-control decks (3 Spirit Heroes + 3 Northern Trackers doesn’t count), and those can still be used 2 or 3 cycles later, with the hills of Dunland far behind us, so it wasn’t a dead loss.

That’s about all for today, but I’ll be back in a week or 2 to take a look at the locations in the Saga boxes which represented The Two Towers.

The Wizard’s Voice

“Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwearily to that voice could seldom report the words that they had heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke, they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.” – The Two Towers

This week, the world received the news that Christopher Lee, better known to Tolkien fans as Saruman the White had taken the last ship into the west. At 93, his death can hardly be considered a surprise, but here at Dor Cuarthol, we wanted to pay tribute to the man who brought this character to life.

GOODBYE

GOODBYE

Christopher Lee led a long and full life: he fought in the Second World War, and to many of elder generations, he will be remembered as Dracula, for his work in the Wicker Man, or even as a Bond Villain.

For me though, Christopher Lee remains inseparable from two parts, both taken on very late in his career: Saruman the White of Middle Earth, and Death of discworld. Both are parts defined in large part by their voices: Lee may not actually have been able to speak in capitals as the disc’s reaper did, but it isn’t hard to see how the casting team picked him for the role. [As a strange aside, anyone not familiar with Lee’s work on the symphonic metal concept album “Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross” should check out the videos on youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvKRbi2ovDY ]

Saruman

Saruman the White was the chief (although not ultimately the Wisest or Greatest) of the Five Istari sent to Middle Earth early in the Third Age. The others were Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, and the two Blue Wizards who long ago disappeared into the East, and whose names Gandalf tells Bilbo (in the Hobbit films) he has entirely forgotten – fortunately for you, we can confirm today that the individuals you’re looking for are Allatar and Palando.

The unfinished tales tell us that the Istari, although clothed in the likeness of aged, mortal men, were in fact Maiar – that is to say, the same type of creature as Sauron himself, or the Balrogs. Gandalf’s “true” name is Olorin, and Saruman’s is Curumo.

Whilst the Blue wizards are unlikely to trouble designers of the Lord of the Rings Card Game, the other three have already appeared, and I’m going to think today, a little about the Saruman cards we’ve seen so far.

Saruman officialSaruman first appeared as an ally. For those familiar with his later treachery, this may seem odd, but the card game is (primarily) set before the Ring sets out from the Shire, when Saruman is still head of the white council – indeed our illustrious heroes spent an entire cycle helping him unite the Dunlendings, forge his own Ring of Power and create the Uruk-Hai.

Even for those who didn’t spot ahead of time what Saruman was upto, this card fits well into a distinct playtype, that of the Doomed deck. Doomed cards allow you to trigger effects much more cheaply (in terms of resources) than would otherwise be the case, but with the added cost of a threat raise.

Saruman himself embodies this doomed mechanic well: for a mere three resources, he is a neutral ally (so affordable turn 1 by most) with 3 willpower, a whopping 5 attack, four defence and four hit-points. The sum of his stats are comparable with ally Gandalf, although he is a better attacker, but a worse quester. The catch for the 2-resource discount is the “doomed 3” text, which raises everyone’s threat when he enters play.

His ability is also strikingly different: whereas Gandalf lowers your threat or draws you cards, Saruman takes the fight to the encounter deck, and can treat a non-unique enemy or location as out-of-play for the round: at first sight, this can seem like a very marginal effect, but there are moments when it can prove highly useful, such as when you need a round’s respite before being bashed again by a Hill-Troll, or you desperately need to send your Northern Trackers to work on the staging area, but can’t cope with the Twisting Passage sat there. (I still have nightmares about The Long Dark.
The-Wizards's-VoicePersonally, I can’t say I’ve got all that much use out of the Doomed player-cards so far: I did build a solo deck with Saruman’s lackey Grima, Lore Aragorn and Theodred, which was fun, but in multi-player people seem strangely reluctant to have their threat raised by ten on round one…

Power of Orthanc does see fairly regular inclusion, but other cards like The Wizard’s Voice never quite seem to make the cut. Hopefully, the rise of the new Valour mechanic, and related cards which reward you for a threat over 40 will see this become a more viable deck archetype.

Another reason for Ally-Saruman not being flavour of the month, is that we’re still not that long past the Treason of Saruman box in which [spoilers] Saruman appears as an enemy.

Why are the enemies always stronger?

Why are the enemies always stronger?

Because the game just doesn’t like you very much, enemy Saruman has an extra point of attack, an extra hit-point, and has 1 more threat than his ally counterpart’s willpower. He’s also immune to player card effects, indestructible, and cannot leave the staging area, but you can probably lock him in his house, and leave him under the watchful guard of a treeherder.

Christopher Lee was already nearly 70 when he played Saruman for the first time, and even in the Fellowship of the Ring, he appears more for his command presence and might vocal intonations than his dynamic on-screen activity, but that didn’t stop him from playing a major part in the feel of a very fine Trilogy of Films. Whilst it would have been nice to see more of him, perhaps in the Scouring of the Shire, the last thing Return of the King needed was another ending.

As a parting tribute to the great man, I leave you with a couple of cards: one simply an alternate art for the Saruman ally card, and another an event, inspired by the scene in Lee’s final foray into Middle Earth

Saruman-Front-Face Leave-Sauron-to-Me-Front-Face

Christopher Lee: 1922-2015