The Dark Tide Approaches
A Preview of the Helm's Deep Scenario from The Treason of Saruman
“Branched lightning smote down upon the eastward hills. For a staring moment the watchers on the wall saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields. Hundreds and hundreds more were pouring over the Dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
After The Black Riders and The Road Darkens allowed players to accompany Frodo Baggins along the first stages of his epic journey to Mount Doom, the Fellowship has broken. Now, Frodo must find his way toward the dark mountains of Mordor without the help of his former companions. Those companions, meanwhile, must swiftly recover from all the early losses that fate has dealt them, for one wizard’s betrayal threatens to cripple their efforts, as well as those of all the forces who would stand against the Dark Lord.
The Treason of Saruman is coming soon for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and as its three scenarios carry players through select events drawn directly from the first half of The Two Towers, the expansion gives us a new villain, whose White Hand baters against our heroes at every turn. While Saruman’s Uruks, his magic, and his evil are at the heart of all three of the expansion’s scenarios, there’s perhaps no greater illustration of the scope of his power than in the scenario that allows us to accompany Aragorn and the Riders of Rohan for the Battle of Helm’s Deep.
In a period of several weeks, we’ll be able to stand atop the walls of Helm’s Deep, alongside Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Théoden. Until then, however, developer Caleb Grace offers a look at the all-new fashion in which The Treason of Saruman brings this momentous battle to your tabletop.
Developer Caleb Grace on the Battle of Helm’s Deep
The Treason of Saruman is coming in a number of weeks, so let’s talk about the scenario that everyone is dying to play: Helm’s Deep! It’s arguably the most exciting chapter in The Two Towers and one of the most memorable battles in fiction. And the design team is proud to have come up with a way to stage this battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that we believe lives up to the legend!
In order to give life to your defense of Helm’s Deep, the scenario has you switch places with the encounter deck by making it the players’ job to prevent the encounter deck from placing progress on the current quest. Each stage that the encounter deck advances brings the army of Isengard one step closer to capturing the fortress. If stage 4B is defeated, then Helm’s Deep falls and the players lose the game.
In order for the players to defeat the scenario, they must defend Helm’s Deep through a long night of constant battle. To do this, the objective card, The Defense of Helm’s Deep (The Treason of Saruman, 33), tracks the passage of time by collecting one resource token each round, and the players advance to stage 5A when the last resource token is placed on it. At stage 5, the players join the Riders of Rohan as they charge out of the fortress at dawn and ride over their enemies. When they defeat the last enemy in play, they win the battle!
Making it to stage 5 will not be easy though. The defensive nature of the scenario turns some elements of the game upside down and creates challenging decisions. For example, you don’t necessarily want to explore locations. The locations in this scenario represent the different parts of the fortress, meaning it’s your job to defend them and keep them in play. When a section of Helm’s Deep leaves play, that means it has fallen to the enemy, and that can have dire consequences. Consider Deeping Wall (The Treason of Saruman, 38):
“While Deeping Wall is the active location, each hero gets +1 defense strength. "Forced: When Deeping Wall is explored, raise each player’s threat by 4.”
By traveling to Deeping Wall, you can increase your heroes’ defense strength and slow the encounter deck’s progress on the quest by using the active location as a buffer. However, if Deeping Wall is explored, you and your friends must each raise your threat by four as part of the fortress is overrun.
Of course, if you don’t explore any locations, they’ll continue to add their threat strength to the total threat strength of the staging area as it rises, and it will become increasingly difficult to keep the encounter deck from placing progress on the quest. Accordingly, you will probably have to make some choices where neither option feels good, and you might face some moments of real desperation, too. That’s an appropriate feeling when you consider how close Saruman’s army came to capturing Helm’s Deep.
In fact, if it were not for the valor of a few outstanding allies, the men of Rohan would have been overmatched by their enemies, so the design team is pleased to announce the arrival of two of those esteemed allies: Legolas and Gimli!
One of the biggest challenges with the Saga Expansions has been finding space for all the cards we want to include. Tolkien created such a rich world, full of amazing characters, that there just isn’t enough room in each Saga Expansion to include all the characters that we’d like. That’s why the design team made the difficult, early decision not to release two members of the Fellowship in either of the first two The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions, but to save them for The Treason of Saruman. That decision was made, in part, because both Legolas and Gimli are already available as heroes in the Core Set, but also because so much of the battle of Helm’s Deep revolves around these two unlikely friends.
To any fan of the book, the game that Gimli (The Treason of Saruman, 4) and Legolas (The Treason of Saruman, 5) play at Helm’s Deep is as unforgettable as the outcome. Eighty-three fewer Orcs survived the battle as a direct result of their competition!
Hopefully, players will find their ally versions just as unforgettable as their participation in the battle of Helm’s Deep. Tactics players will be glad for a new way to draw cards by combining Legolas and his Response effect with his Ranged keyword. That seemed like a fun way to merge his Silvan far-sightedness with his skill with a bow.
Gimli’s effect was inspired by his flavor text: “Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!” Accordingly, when an enemy is revealed from the encounter deck, Gimli throws off his weariness and readies. That means you can use Gimli’s two Willpower to quest and still take advantage of his two Defense Strength and Sentinel keyword if an enemy is revealed.
Each ally is strong in his own right, but they also work together very well, as they should, allowing you to defend and attack any enemy in play, even one engaged with your friend. That’s important because you, your friends, and your characters, will have to work well together if you hope to emerge victorious from the battle of Helm’s Deep!