Blood, Sweat & Tears in the Isen
This Fellowship is a showcase of decks designed to beat the final ALeP quest from the Oaths of the Rohirrim cycle, Blood in the Isen. In total, I designed and tested five decks for this purpose (as Fellowships are limited to four decks, the fifth can be found here).
These decks were not designed to be played all together. Instead they were intended to be used in pairs since I usually play 2-handed. Details of the specific decks can be found in their respective descriptions. An overview of the quest and my process is below.
Some background: I have only recently acquired and played the first ALeP cycle. I also attended this year's Con of the Rings, which featured Oaths of the Rohirrim. Prior to the Con, I had little time to try out the quest and managed at best a win*. At the event, I played a fun but ultimately brief game against Blood in the Isen that ended in a clear loss. Afterwards I was driven to find an effective counter to the quest.
Speaking of the quest, it is very challenging as you would expect for the final quest of the cycle, with a given dificulty level of 9. The design intent is apparent - its aim is to counter traditional power decks that accelerate your board state to overpower the quest. It does this through the Fords objective, which causes a threat increase if the total cost of your controlled cards is too high. You are also limited in your ability to lower your threat.
The other obvious challenge presented by the quest is combat. Over half of the encounter deck is made up of enemy cards. If you are unlucky it is possible to draw nothing but enemies and be completely overrun. There are also two (mini) boss enemies which need to be defeated in order to win.
However, there are several lines of attack that can be used against the quest. Despite the seemingly harsh conditions the quest imposes, a "fair" deck which does not rely on hyper-accelerating the board will stand a good chance if it is able to keep up with the enemies. Of course, the encounter deck still has a few tricks to interfere with such a plan.
So what are effective strategies for beating Blood in the Isen?
1. Zero cost or undercosted cards - the nature of the Fords objective means that allies and attachments with a resource cost come at a premium in this quest. Conversely, cards which are not counted by the objective might be considered "Free" for the purpose of this quest. Ideally, you will play only cards only up to the limit permitted by the objective, which rises by 2-3 each turn. There is also a hard cap of 10 during Stage 1, rising to 15 in Stage 2. What this means is that the value of cards which cost 0 is higher than normal in this quest. To a lesser extent, this is also true of cards that are undercosted for their stats or ability, usually due to some drawback. Cheap or free cards allow more assets to be deployed onto the table, going some way to counteract the limit imposed by the objective.
Examples of these sorts of cards are Ent allies, Wilyador, Cram and Dúnedain Hunter. In general, unique cards offer more for their cost compared to non-unique cards, so could also be considered in this category.
2. Events - Unlike allies and attachments, there is no punishment from this quest for using events, so their value is generally higher than normal in this quest. Since they are "Free", any advantage gained from events is very valuable, be that stat bonuses, readying, card draw or something else.
3. Threat Control - As discussed above, one of this quest's main challenges is threat, partially due to the possibility of threat raises from the Fords objective. There are other threat raising effects too and you are also limited in threat reduction on Stages 1 & 2 due to Grimrede. Finally, Stage 3 punishes you with damage for threat reduction, although in my experience that is less likely to be an issue.
Despite this, there are some options for combating it. The first is to have a low starting threat. This will allow more breathing room before threat becomes an issue. Another option is repeatable small threat reduction effects. While you are limited to reductions of 1 threat per turn, this can really add up over the quest, so cards like Beregond or Frodo Baggins can make a big difference.
4. Side Quests - This quest is friendly to side quests for a couple of reasons. The first is that Stage 1 does not require any progress to be placed on the quest, so there is no downside to questing against side quests. Additionally, it's not unreasonable to complete a side quest on Stage 2, as quest progress is not the only requirement to progress. Also, it may be desirable to stay at Stage 2 for an extra turn or so to build up resources on the objective.
The second reason is that side quests only count against the objective while they are in play, so any completed side quest is "Free". This represents great value, especially for side quests with constant bonuses. Gather Information and Keep Watch are particularly useful.
5. Resource sinks - What this means is ways to spend resources for value other than playing cards. In the same way as events, this lets us spend resources for value in a way that is "Free" in terms of the objective. Unlike events, resource sinks would usually be repeatable effects. One example of this is heroes with abilities that cost resources. Three of the decks make use of such heroes, including Elladan, Elrohir and Prince Imrahil.
6. Contracts - Contracts are a special subset of 0 cost cards and while they are used differently, their benefits for this quest are similar, specifically that they can provide value without counting towards the Fords objective. Given how the different contracts work they are not all suitable for this quest, but three of the decks make use of them.
All of the decks I built and tested use some number of the above strategies and while that doesn't guarantee victory I have been very happy with their performance given the difficulty of the quest.
I played and beat the quest with the following combinations of decks, which have more detail in their descriptions:
- Three Hunters & Gondor Bounce
- Council of the Wise & Ents
- Three Hunters & Fellowship (5th deck found here)