“Do you hear this, Wormtongue?” said Théoden. “This is your choice: to ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true; or to go now, whither you will.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

The Voice of Isengard deluxe expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is scheduled to arrive at retailers later this month, and that means that some of Middle-earth’s greatest heroes will soon embark upon an array of all-new quests, explore the Vale of Isengard and its surroundings, and confront the rising menace of the region’s Dunlending tribes!

Meanwhile, as they seek to stem the growing Shadow in the East, they’ll heed the council of a new advisor, Saruman the White. It was Saruman’s studies of the Dark Lord and his arts that allowed the White Council to drive him out of Dol Guldur, and as the Dark Lord gathers his armies in Mordor, it is Saruman’s hope that Middle-earth’s heroes may help him, once again, to uncover the knowledge and power necessary to turn back the tides of evil. Still, time is short, and all research into the Dark Lord’s dark arts presents its own set of perils.

In an earlier preview of The Voice of Isengard , we explored the Time X mechanic that runs through the heart of its three scenarios. Today, lead developer Caleb Grace takes a close look at the expansion’s other defining mechanic, the Doomed X keyword, and he reveals how it’s not just a mechanical feature of the expansion, but a key thematic feature, as well.

Lead Developer Caleb Grace on the Origins of Doomed X

In this preview of The Voice of Isengard , I’m going to talk a little more about the player cards and how they complement the narrative. Because we developed the story for the box around the idea of the heroes working for Saruman, we wanted the player cards to reflect the questionable nature of such an undertaking, and that’s how some of them ended up with the Doomed X keyword. In general, player cards with the Doomed X keyword are under-costed for their abilities, many of which are very splashy! But in exchange for the lower cost, each player has to raise his threat by the X value, bringing you that much closer to losing the game. That’s the risk you must accept when you take advantage of these powerful effects.

The design team felt this was the perfect way to portray the danger in working for Saruman. His studies of the Dark Lord’s arts may lead to powerful solutions, but they’re full of inherent dangers. But this raises another question: Why would Middle-earth’s heroes agree to work for Saruman for the first place if he’s a villain? Well, as dedicated fans of the The Lord of the Rings will know, Saruman had not revealed his ambitions at the point of Middle-earth’s history during which this expansion takes place, and the Wise still viewed him as a powerful ally to be called upon in times of great need. Similarly, not all of Saruman’s agents started out evil but were corrupted by the White Wizard after he began to scheme for himself. Chief among these was the second hero in our box: Gríma ( The Voice of Isengard , 2)!

The King’s Councillor

I know some fans will question the decision to make Gríma a hero, but I hope that after reading this preview they will appreciate the thought that went into it and the exciting gameplay options that come as a result. As with all of our card designs for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game , we try to combine the spirit of the source material with a fitting game mechanic. Accordingly, the first part of our rational for making Gríma a hero is thematic.

Gríma was chief advisor to the King of Rohan, which made him a very influential person in Middle-earth. It’s safe to assume he did not attain that position by giving bad advice. Gríma’s wisdom and cunning must have benefitted Rohan initially in order for Théoden to promote him to his lofty position, and in the timeline of the card game Gríma’s treachery, like Saruman’s, was not yet fully developed. It is possible that Gríma could have chosen the hero path at this time.

Mechanically, Gríma has a unique place in The Voice of Isengard that only he can fill. As the only character in the game with both the Rohan and Isengard traits, Grima bridges the two factions present on the player cards in the box. Furthermore, his ability allows players to take full advantage of the Doomed mechanic: Action: Lower the cost of the next card you play from your hand this round by 1. That card gains Doomed 1. (Limit once per round.)” As a Lore hero, Gríma belongs to a sphere that excels at drawing cards but struggles to find the resources to pay for them, so he will be a welcome addition to many decks. Having trouble finding matching resources to pay for cards in your dual-sphere deck? Make it easier to play them by lowering their cost! Want to play a four cost ally on your first turn? Now you can! These are just a couple of the ways you can benefit from heeding Gríma’s counsel.

Of course Gríma’s ability has a cost, and each player must raise his threat by one whenever you use it. But even this cost can be turned to your advantage with a little planning. Remember when I mentioned Gríma’s unique place among the player cards in The Voice of Isengard ? Just look at how he combos with these two Isengard allies:

Isengard Messenger ( The Voice of Isengard , 5): Response: After you raise your threat from the Doomed keyword, Isengard Messenger gets +1 Willpower until the end of the round. (Limit twice per round.)”

Orthanc Guard ( The Voice of Isengard , 4): Response: After you raise your threat from the Doomed keyword, ready Orthanc Guard.”

Imagine it’s the quest phase and you need to make some progress, so you’ve committed all of your characters to the quest, including both of these allies. The total Threat Strength in the staging area is already equal to your total Willpower when a Dunland Berserker ( The Voice of Isengard , 48) is revealed. Now the total Threat Strength in the staging area exceeds your total Willpower by two. You’re out of resources, you’re about to quest unsuccessfully, you’ll have to raise your threat by two, and then you’ll have to face an undefended attack. But you haven’t used Gríma’s ability yet, so you trigger his Action in order to play Radagast’s Cunning ( Core Set , 65) from your hand for no cost and raise each players threat by one. That allows you to give your Isengard Messenger one more point of Willpower and ready your Orthanc Guard. Now you’ve lowered the threat in the staging area by two and increased your total Willpower by one. Instead of failing to make progress on the quest, raising your threat by two, and facing an undefended attack, you now make one progress, raise your threat only by one, and your Guard is ready to defend the Berserker’s attack… All thanks to Gríma!

What Could Have Been

In the novels, Gríma turned to evil because Saruman offered him the things he wanted in return for his service. When Gandalf revealed him as a traitor, Théoden still offered him one more chance to prove his loyalty. If Gríma had accepted that offer, it’s possible that he would have gone on to do great things for Rohan. Now players have the opportunity to see what kind of good the son of Galmod might have accomplished in the service of his king if he had proved himself true. I hope you have a great time exploring all the possibilities in The Voice of Isengard !

Thanks, Caleb!

Will Gríma have the chance to redeem himself in your games? You’ll soon be able to write your own untold chapters of The Lord of the Rings when The Voice of Isengard arrives at retailers later this month!

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.

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