You are following the Old South Road from Isengard to Tharbad on an errand for Saruman when you are attacked by Wild Men of Dunland. Already weary from a full day of travel, you struggle to hold off the ferocious Dunlending attack. You must rally your companions and drive back the enemy, or you will be defeated.
I have reached what is probably the most memorable quest of the Ringmaker cycle, The Dunland Trap! The rolling hills and grassy plains of Dunland may look pastoral at first glance, but danger lurks in this land. It is mostly wild and untamed, and what inhabitants it has aren’t wont to suffer the passage of outsiders.
It’s probably worth calling out that The Dunland Trap is one of those quests that can be fun to play at least once without knowing exactly what you’re getting into. If you’ve never played this quest before, and you’re the sort of person who likes surprises, consider skipping this post and coming back to it later. You have been warned!
Just us Dunland Trap veterans now? Okay, good.
Like in The Fords of Isen, all of the Enemies in this quest share the Dunland trait and have abilities that revolve around punishing you for drawing cards. Unlike The Fords of Isen though, where this mechanic was reinforced by almost every card in the encounter deck, card draw hate is more like a subtheme for The Dunland Trap. There are plenty of cards like Boar Clan Stalker who build up bonus stats every time you draw a card, or Munuv Dûv River, which deals out extra Shadow Cards whenever you draw cards. But there are also plenty of “normal” cards, too, like Dunlanding Ambush, which just fetches extra Enemies when you clear the Active Location.
The first quest stage is the longest, requiring a whopping 18 progress to complete. While you’re there, every 2 turns a Forced effect discards your entire hand and draws you 2 new cards to replace it—unless, of course, you fail to clear the Old South Road which starts as the Active Location, in which case it happens every round instead. This constant cycling of your hand can be both a blessing and a curse; it’s nice because it means that you don’t really have to include much card draw on your own, but it also makes it hard to save cards up for the right moment. You play them fast or you lose them!
Once you clear the first quest stage, it becomes immediately apparent why the quest is named “The Dunland Trap“: the second Quest Stage discards all of your Item and Mount Attachments, as well as all but one Ally for each player. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t discard all of your Attachments, making things like Titles, Songs, and Signals significantly more valuable in this quest than in others.
As soon as the trap has been sprung, you’re moved to the nasty Munuv Dûv Ravine, which buffs all Dunland Enemies until you clear it—often a difficult task when the game just reset your board state! The quest then shuffles you along to the third and final Quest Stage, where you have to contend with Chief Turch, the leader of the Boar clan. The final quest stage starts with 5 Time tokens per player, and the game only ends when all of those Time tokens have run out.
Fortunately, the Forced effect on Chief Turch provides a way to speed things up a bit—whenever you engage an Enemy, you get to remove an extra Time token from the quest. The goal of this final Stage is merely to survive, and the quest sets a high bar: if any Heroes die during the final Quest Stage, the players automatically lose the game. But if the players manage to stall long enough and weather all of the attacks that Chief Turch and his clanmates throw at them, then they have won an opportunity to parley for their lives.
You can see all of the encounter cards over at the Hall of Beorn.
Deck: Under the Wizard’s Gaze
Theme: Saruman pulling Rohan’s strings
“He was not always evil. Once I do not doubt that he was the friend of Rohan; and even when his heart grew colder, he found you useful still. But for long now he has plotted your ruin, wearing the mask of Friendship, until he was ready.”
—Gandalf, The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers
Dúnhere (Core Set)
Éowyn (The Flame of the West)
Fastred (The Black Serpent)
3x Elfhelm (The Mountain of Fire)
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
3x Steward of Orthanc (Race Across Harad)
3x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
3x Westfold Horse-Breaker (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Raiment of War (The Thing in the Depths)
2x Secret Vigil (The Lost Realm)
3x Spear of the Mark (The Morgul Vale)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
1x Windfola (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
3x Close Call (The Dunland Trap)
2x Feint (Core Set)
3x Open the Armory (The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat)
3x Power of Orthanc (The Voice of Isengard)
3x The Seeing-stone (The Voice of Isengard)
2x Unseen Strike (The Redhorn Gate)
Player Side Quest (1)
1x Keep Watch (Beneath the Sands)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
While I was trying to figure out what particular spin on Rohan I wanted to do for this quest, I came across a thread on the FFG Forums in which several users were discussing the value of Fastred as a defender. I hadn’t used him much yet myself, so I threw together a quick Staging-Area-attack deck just to give it a try and tested it against the quest.
Even though I didn’t win, I was immediately impressed; I had underestimated just how good Fastred is at what he does!
As I got to tweaking the deck, I found myself wanting to include more and more Isengard-related cards like Steward of Orthanc and The Seeing Stone. I began to get an image in my head of Saruman watching the events of the quest play out from afar, gazing into his Palantir and stroking his long white beard. This image drove me to include a few other “watching and waiting” themed cards, like Keep Watch, which turned out to be pretty useful.
The theme comes through a little more subtly for this deck, but I enjoyed the dramatic irony as I played my cards, imagining myself playing the role of Saruman, quietly tugging on the strings of the universe for my own benefit.
I can never quite decide how to place Dagger of Westernesse from a thematic standpoint. “Westernesse” is another word for “Númenor,” so they would fit best among their descendants, the Dúnedain—although it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that the men of Gondor might have inherited such a blade as well.
In The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits receive these daggers from Tom Bombadil when he recovers them from the mounds of the Barrow-wights, so the Dagger often feels at home among Hobbit decks, too.
It’s a little harder to justify the Dagger’s inclusion in a Rohan deck, though. I suppose it’s conceivable that the Rohirrim might have found them somewhere in the same manner that Tom Bombadil did, or that they may have received them from their Gondorian allies at some point in the past.
Ultimately, I decided that I needed to include the Dagger of Westernesse because Dúnhere decks live and die by their access to weapons. In order to be effective, I had to be relatively certain that I’d be able to locate 2 weapons for Dúnhere within the first few rounds of the game, and 3 copies of Spear of the Mark alone weren’t going to get that for me consistently.
This is a twist on the classic Staging Area attack deck, tailored for The Dunland Trap.
At the core of the deck is the standard fare: The goal is to keep my threat low enough that I can leave Enemies in the Staging Area and use Dúnhere‘s ability to kill them there without having to engage them. But Dúnhere tops out at 3 attack on his own—not really enough to kill anything. So in my opening hand, I’m looking to find one of the deck’s Weapons, or at least a copy of Open the Armory to go fetch me one.
When a low-threat Enemy slips through, that’s where Fastred comes in. Most of the time those Enemies have pretty low attack values, so his 3 defense is really all that’s needed. The best part is that as soon as I cross that threshold and start engaging Enemies, Fastred lowers my threat and keeps me hovering around that number. Later in the game it’s nice if I can get a Raiment of War on him to make him a little hardier.
Éowyn is my dedicated quester, aided by most of the Allies in the deck. Her boss-killer ability can come in handy in the early game if I end up engaged with something with too many hit points before Dúnhere is geared up to tackle it.
The twist is that in addition to the normal progression through the quest, I have to be able to handle the “reset”. For that reason, I generally stack my Unexpected Courages on Fastred, prepping him to defend against as many attacks as possible. It’s also the reason I have so many different defensive solutions in a deck that otherwise wants to avoid engaging Enemies: cards like Feint and emergency defenders like Elfhelm are mostly useful only in the last few rounds of the game, but they’re absolutely vital for me to be able to weather the final onslaught. All of my Allies become chump blockers at that point, too.
The deck works well, despite needing to operate in essentially two different modes throughout the course of the game. I’m not sure I’d want to take it as-is against other quests, since its lack of card-draw and over-emphasis on defense probably wouldn’t benefit it so much elsewhere.
Even so, it’s a fun deck to play, so I’ll probably revisit it one day and adapt it into something a little more general-purpose.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 4 / 5
In my first several attempts at this quest, the biggest problem I was having was with Condition Attachments ruining my day. The encounter deck actually contains 3 different Conditions, which is quite a lot compared to most quests. The worst of the bunch is In Need of Rest, which deals 1 damage to a Hero every time a Time counter is removed from the quest, quickly spelling their doom. Dunlending Ambush caused me some trouble, too, sometimes dropping a nasty Enemy in my lap that I would have much preferred to leave in the Staging Area.
To make matters worse, the first Quest Stage kept discarding my hand, meaning I wasn’t able to hold a copy of A Test of Will until one of these things showed up. I would inevitably draw it too late, after the Condition had already been attached and there was nothing I could do about it anymore. Instead, I pivoted towards Power of Orthanc, which has two benefits over A Test of Will: first of all, it can be used after the fact, so it doesn’t go to waste if I happen to draw it after the Condition is revealed. Secondly, I can fetch it using The Seeing-stone, meaning that I essentially have six copies of it in my deck—and am therefore that much more consistent at being able to get rid of those nasty Conditions before they did me in.
After I made that realization, I was consistently able to make it through the first half of the game—only to get stomped by the final Stage, where I had to defend Chief Turch several times in a row, armed with nothing but Fastred and a single Ally (who was always immediately thrown under the speeding boar). As it turns out, The Seeing-stone came in handy here again, allowing me to fetch Close Call, which I used like a Feint, cancelling a bunch of undefended damage and allowing me to survive that much longer.
I honed a lot of little strategies for how I played the quest even as I honed my deck. One was to always choose the Boar Clan Stalker whenever the quest gave me the option of which Enemy to fetch. I was usually able to bounce him back into the Staging Area with Fastred; since the Stalker’s stats go up only when the engaged player draws cards, I could keep him as a 0 attack / 0 defense Enemy until I saw fit to kill him (lowering my threat each round, too). Another strategy I learned was to stall at Stage 1, letting the quest continually reset my hand until I had some options for defending Chief Turch’s late-game murder-spree.
Once I had my deck kitted out for success, and my strategies all figured out, things fell nicely into place. My one loss was an exciting one, though. I managed to get Raiment of War on Fastred pretty early on, granting him an extra 2 hit points. Unfortunately, due to some unfortunate Shadow Effects, he ended up taking 3 damage, which I had no way to heal. That meant that as soon as the trap was sprung, the Dunlandings were going to steal his life-giving Raiment and Fastred was going to die. His doom was foretold, and could not be denied.
I tried to prepare as best as I could, waiting for the perfect hand that I knew would let me tank as many Enemies as possible before making the final quest push and progressing to the final Stage. Unfortunately, without Fastred’s ability to toss weak Enemies back into the Staging Area for me to re-engage later (allowing me to trigger Chief Turch’s Forced ability and shorten the amount of time I had to tank him) I had to survive for too many rounds. I couldn’t handle both combat and questing with the few characters I had left, and I ended up threatting out.
That was my most dramatic game for sure, but none of them were certain until the final note had been played. The moment that the trap went off was always a tense one!
The Dunland Trap quite the interesting puzzle—how do you survive the endgame immediately after losing all of your Allies and your stuff? I like that there are lots of different ways to approach the problem, with no one solution being clearly the optimal one. The Nightmare version does a good job of increasing the difficulty here, making it significantly harder than the original by adding some nasty Locations that you definitely want to travel to right away and by ensuring that the Enemies in the quest are all tough ones.
That being said, the hard-reset mechanic does feel a little heavy-handed—and it’s not exactly a feelgood moment to have the quest invalidate your board state and then immediately cut you to pieces. In the end, I have mixed feelings about the quest; it’s a fun challenge, but not really one that I want to come back to very often.
Maybe the second half of the Voice of Isengard / Ringmaker cycle will pick things up a bit? The next couple of quests are ones that I remember enjoying quite a bit in standard mode; how will the Nightmare upgrade treat them? I’m looking forward to finding out!
Next on Darkling Door…
I’ll be taking on one of the game’s tougher boss-style quests, Nightmare The Three Trials!
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