Saruman is an incredibly under-rated ally. I hardly ever see him in play, despite the fact he's kind of amazing. I attribute this primarily to people's knee-jerk averse reaction to the Doomed keyword, with perhaps the secondary consideration that in contrast to his obvious counterpart Core Gandalf his enters play effect targets encounter cards rather than improving your own board-state via threat reduction or card draw, and as such is less universally applicable. On the other hand though, he's also cheaper in resources - any three hero deck can play Saruman any time they like, and I don't feel like the Doomed 3 is out of proportion with the benefits of the ability, which while it's not useful all the time, is certainly useful quite a bit of the time. Admittedly because of the Doomed he also pairs less well with Sneak Attack than Gandalf, which may be a factor.

Stats-wise he's down 1 and up 1 compared to Gandalf, meaning perhaps more of a focus on combat, but 3 is still respectable. Obviously he'll pair incredibly well with any means of getting extra actions out of your allies, such as Galadriel and Narya, letting you use two or even all three of his rather impressive stats in the one round for which he's in play. What really pulls attention and should make you consider the White Wizard though is of course that interesting ability to mess with the staging area.

And what an ability. While Saruman is in play, a card in the staging area is considered to be out of play. Obviously there are restrictions here - it only works on non-unique enemies and locations, and for there to be a valid target means you haven't engaged the enemy or explored/travelled to the location on a previous round. Unless using shenanigans like Vilya or stomaching the Doomed on a Sneak Attack you can't use this to put a card out of play the same round it was revealed, you have to wait. But on the other hand, there are enough annoying enemies and locations that you can leave in the staging area that you should have potential targets - and if you don't have any targets as the staging area is clear, that probably means you're doing well so a dead card in hand doesn't matter too much. But more to the point, consider what that ability equates to - the number of other cards you'd need to replicate it:

  1. Since the location/enemy is out of play it doesn't contribute its , so effectively a Secret Paths/Radagast's Cunning
  2. If the card has an unpleasant Forced or passive effect on it, you ignore that, so either a one-round Thrór's Key or Revealed in Wrath.
  3. If it's an enemy, you also don't have to make engagement checks against it - Noiseless Movement.

So that's 2-3 cards costing 2-3 resources to replicate the ability Saruman gives you all in one card for 3 resources and 3 Doomed, with a very powerful statline attached. OK, it's worth noting that since the location/enemy is out of play you also can't do anything to get rid of it in the long term like place progress or deal damage, but you can work on that subsequently after having a round of complete respite from it. There's also an extreme case - if your quest advancement or even victory depends on there being no locations/enemies in play, then Saruman can let you loophole that condition as if the last card of the relevant type is the one considered to be out of play for his effect it won't count and thus you advance/win without dealing with it. Even outside of that fairly rare case though, the ability to completely ignore a card for a round is incredibly powerful, and so I would say Saruman is well worth it.

Saruman can actually make you win some quests just because he can put non-unique ennemies out of play, satisfying the wining condition of the quest. —
Yes, and I said as much in the penultimate sentence of the review. —
Sorry... English is not my main language, I misunderstood the part about the loophole... ;-) —

Grima is an interesting hero. A lot of people would say he should only be played in solo, though others might argue uncharitably that those who decry multiplayer Grima are just being babies about threat. I mean, here's the thing about threat - most of the time it doesn't matter. It matters to score, but who cares about score, and even then the number of rounds taken to beat a quest factor further into the score than a little extra threat. It matters to engagement costs, but generally that means there'll be one or two points where you want to be careful about it and then you stop caring again because you're past the engagement costs. It matters if you hit 50, but that's a pretty high bar to reach in general. The vast majority of games you don't even come close to 50 threat.

Now, this isn't an absolute. Excessive Doomed can screw up certain strategies, like Hobbits or Secrecy, but no card works with absolutely everything. By and large a little Doomed isn't going to hurt anyone very much, just avoid the cases where it will. The only argument then is if said Doomed is really worth it for the benefit. Now of course the real problem people have with multiplayer Grima I think is not the Doomed itself, but the fact that the Doomed affects all players while only the player controlling Grima benefits from the cost reduction. It's kind of a valid point, but I'd still be inclined to say it shouldn't be so hard to just suck it up and deal with the few extra threat points, though I will concede that it means Grima gets arguably worse as player count rises. Just one more thing to add to the divide between solo/2 player/3-4 player.

Leaving aside the whole "global Doomed vs individual benefit" argument, is Grima's cost reduction worth it? Unquestionably, yes. You get the equivalent of 1 resource for 1 Doomed. Compare this to Legacy of Númenor, which costs Doomed 4 to give each player (usually) 3 resources, suggesting an exchange rate of 1.33:1 for threat to resources, in comparison to which Grima's cost reduction is cheaper. And that's without getting into the particular benefits of this cost reduction. Cost reduction and resource generation obviously are quite similar effects, with a couple of significant distinctions - resource generation has an advantage in that you can trigger it even when you don't have a card to play and then you'll still have the resources in subsequent rounds whereas cost reduction can't be banked for later; on the other hand Grima's cost reduction at least has the significant advantage that it can be applied flexibly to whatever card you want to play, from any sphere, whereas resources when generated have to be put on a particular hero who most often will only have one sphere. That flexibility along with the power of the ability makes Grima easily a top tier hero pick. Another point with regard to cost reduction vs resource generation is that cost reduction can give you a faster start since the resource generation may cost resources to play in the first place - e.g. a deck with one hero and Grima can play Steward of Gondor on round 1 whereas without Grima you'd have to wait an extra round.

Despite Grima's incredible power, I admit I do still wish there was more synergy for Doomed. You don't need it, you can just include a bunch of cards you wouldn't otherwise be able to afford sensibly, but it'd be nice to have one or two more things that specifically worked well with Grima. The things we do have, for completeness - Orthanc Guard technically, though he's not very good; Isengard Messenger is 2-cost 2 if you trigger Grima consistently, potentially 3 if another source of Doomed happens; and of course the Keys of Orthanc net you (or someone else) a resource for triggering Grima in addition to the one saved by the cost reduction, making it a pretty great deal. I'd like one or two more things like that though, that trigger a benefit when the Doomed keyword goes off.

Final notes on Grima: his stats aren't up to much. Most likely he just quests for 2. 2 and 3 could take a hit in a pinch, and of course being in the sphere you can give him A Burning Brand, maybe Protector of Lórien if you want to go that route. It should be pointed out that his threat cost is in fact 1 point higher than the sum of his stats, and I'd say it's debatable to what extent that's merited, but it shouldn't discourage you too much in my opinion. And one little trick you can pull with Grima (which might help your team-mates in multiplayer to complain less) - his abiility is an action which can be triggered in advance of actually playing the card, but the Doomed doesn't happen until the card is played. So for starters triggering the ability in advance allows you to potentially reduce the cost of a Response event where otherwise you couldn't, lacking an action window, and furthermore this means you can trigger Grima speculatively and then the Doomed won't actually happen if you don't actually play the card. So trigger Grima at the start of the quest phase, and then if need be you can play A Test of Will for free (and Doomed 1), but if you don't have to cancel anything the Doomed won't happen. Note that Grima's ability lasts until the end of the round, so if you play a different event later in the round then the cost reduction and Doomed will apply, so remember that (and don't waste it on a 0-cost event, because then your team-mates will get really annoyed). People can be more accepting of Doomed 1 in exchange for A Test of Will, or Hasty Stroke, or Feint than if you just use it to advance your own board-state, and especially so when the event and Doomed may not actually happen if not needed.

Overall though, Grima is an amazing hero and I think more people should make use of him, both in solo and in multiplayer ignoring the futile complaints of the other people around the table (just don't grief them too much with it).

While this card didn't make my list of my top 10 favourite cards I never use, it was a strong contender. This is a card which I have often wanted to put in decks and then ended up cutting for space. I'm always really pleased when I do find a use for it.

Despite the interesting point that the cost and number of effects triggered scale with number of players, I feel like this card may be better at lower player counts. As nice as it can be to play a card in 4-player which benefits everyone, the 4 resources become much more of an obstacle, and the benefits may not be as useful. There can be notably more utility in this card at lower player counts, when it's more affordable and you simply have the flexibility of the different options. That flexibility makes this card a classic case of a card you can put in your deck for one specific purpose and then end up using for another - I've put this in discard-happy decks to retrieve cards from the discard pile and then actually used it to ready a hero, for example. Those two are really the stand-out effects to my mind - readying can be very powerful, and recursion is somewhat limited. In a multi-sphere deck that has plenty of cards the resource option could actually still be useful in solo just as a means of moving a resource from one sphere to another, and while 1 resource to 1 card isn't a great exchange rate in a pinch you'll take what you can get; but in general it's the first and last options listed which are the obvious reasons for including this card in your decks to my mind.

I picked this out from the Ring-maker cycle as one of the most difficult cards to use well. It tends to end up that decks will focus on one thing and choose a card which only does that thing but does it better - or if they want to do multiple things which this card does then they'll include multiple cards for them, valuing power over versatility. Which is fair enough, it's rare that this is the obvious choice, though it is a little disappointing since this is a very nice and interesting card. The problem can also arise that generally decks are built in isolation without considering what or even how many other decks they will be played alongside, and as such primarily only include cards to fulfil their own needs - for which this is a problematic choice, because if there are 3 or 4 players in the game then you're paying quite a lot to get the one effect you actually want, and it may not come as that big a comfort that the other decks have also received minor benefits. If you're going to play this card in multiplayer then you need to have a few resources to spare (though since you're benefitting everyone by playing it, maybe you can prevail upon your teammates to use some Errand-riders and help you out? Worth considering especially if you're deckbuilding co-operatively).

The real stand-out effect, once again, is the ability to shuffle a card back into your deck, even more than the readying, because it has less competition - there are plenty of options for readying heroes, gaining resources and drawing cards, but consider the other recursion effects in the game. Dwarven Tomb only does cards, Erebor Hammersmith and Second Breakfast only do attachments, Háma only does events, Galadhrim Weaver only does the top card of your discard pile, Ered Nimrais Prospector discards more cards in the process, and in solo is more expensive while not necessarily providing that much more benefit, and Will of the West gets everything rather than just the specific card you wanted back. Also of note is that none of those cards are Neutral. The White Council offers this targeted recursion to absolutely any deck, along with the flexibility to choose other options if you wish. If you're being forced to discard by e.g. Mirror of Galadriel, Erestor or Círdan the Shipwright, not to mention quite a few encounter card effects, this may be a useful means of getting back the odd really important card you don't want to lose (so long as you also have decent draw to find it again once it's shuffled in - note though that all the examples I gave will help with your draw).

I've touched very little on the higher player count possibilities other than saying it's expensive. But some decks can easily find themselves swimming in resources once they're set up, and in such circumstances, this could be a nice way to spread some nice boosts around the table to decks which don't power up as fast as you. Again the readying and recursion are the best effects, but no-one is ever going to complain about getting additional cards or resources in my experience, and that hero readying can be really clutch when the encounter deck throws something really unexpected at you. I wouldn't say this is ever going to be a great card, but it can be a good one.

This is a typical leadership card that was panned originally as being an overcosted effect. Make no mistake that if you are playing solo, this card is not great but as you add more players to the game Grim Resolve can be truly epic. When I run a deck with leadership resource acceleration, I always add a couple of copies of Grim Resolve for my multiplayer sessions.

8

The Orthanc Guard is unfortunately competing with the Greyflood Wanderer for the title of 'Worst card in the Doomed deck archetype'. On the face of it, readying every time you raise your threat for Doomed sounds like a very handy ability to have - and I will note at this point that there is no limit on the ability, so if Doomed effects trigger multiple times in a round the Guard will ready every single time - but in practice it's only actually going to be useful if the extra actions you're gaining are worthwhile, which in general I'd say they aren't.

As a sidenote, one immediate issue is that if you are playing a Doomed deck then you may want to trigger a lot of your Doomed in the Planning phase, at which point the Guard probably isn't exhausted yet and thus his ability is wasted. Doomed from the encounter deck is certainly possible in the Quest phase but obviously you can't depend on it unless you've scried the encounter deck in advance. So if you want to be able to depend on readying your Orthanc Guard(s) you have to hold off on some Doomed cards (or Gríma's cost reduction) until later in the round specifically for that reason. Given the limited use of being able to ready him, is this really worth it?

So on to examining the use of those actions. The Orthanc Guard has 1 , which isn't exactly going to blow anyone away, and for combat he has 2 /2 , which will survive attacks from weak enemies or one attack from an average enemy barring shadow effects. And outside of truly universal effects which would work just as well on any other, more useful ally, those stats cannot be increased as there is no trait synergy for the Isengard trait (maybe we'll get some eventually, but I suspect if we do we'll also get some better allies for it than this guy). So maybe if you're playing a quest where you're going to get swarmed by 2 enemies then the ability to get extra defences from this guy in exchange for Doomed could be useful, but if the enemies are any stronger you'll be more at the mercy of shadow effects and you'll need to heal him between enemies. And/or you can get 1 extra on the quest in addition to that mediocre combat power. I'm not saying it's useless to have 1 extra and a chump-blocker in the same 2-cost ally, it's just that there are so many other allies you could include who would probably be more useful.

The one potential use for that readying would be if you have an effect which requires exhausting characters. A Very Good Tale is a decent one. Encounter card effects which exhaust characters can sometimes be devastating (when e.g. all your defenders/chumps get exhausted before combat) and this could let you get an action back. Otherwise these effects tend to require exhausting a specific character, or a character with a certain trait (Again, Isengard has no trait synergy), or a hero. Spare Hood and Cloak could be an odd one which might actually work out if you want to get into some shenanigans, but that's the only other option I can see. In general, while it seems like a decent ability, there are many better ones you could be using your deck slots for instead.