Finally we arrive on the eaves of Fangorn Forest. Yes! When I first took a look at the Voice of Isengard Deluxe expansion I told you how much I love the Ents and how excited I was to visit Fangorn, did it live up to my own hype? Let's find out...
You've captured the Orc captain, Mugash, in the mountains above Isengard. But as you make your way down Methedras, your captive escapes and flees east into Fangorn. You pursue Mugash into the ancient forest to find that the trees themselves seems to be attacking him. Without thinking, you hack at the tree branches to rescue your captive. That is when you first sense your own peril...
Into the Woods
Time 4. Forced: After the last time counter is removed from this stage, shuffle Mugash into the encounter deck and advance to stage 3. The players cannot advance to stage 2 unless Mugash is attached to a hero.
Setup requires you to add The Edge of Fangorn to the staging area, with Mugash attached. Then you play cards equal to the number of players minus 1 from the encounter deck. Let’s look at the Edge of Fangorn first. It has two threat and two quest points but is immune to player card effects. When you travel to it you must search the deck for a Hourn enemy and add it to the staging area, this is something you won't want to do, but you can’t remove this location in any way except by travel.
Then you must play a card (or more with more players) from the encounter deck and none of them are good. The Forest’s Malice for example places a Hourn enemy from the encounter deck or discard pile engaged with each player. This is awful luck as you will see later. The locations are not much better than the treachery effects. The Heart of Fangorn is probably the best one to receive early as it only prevents you readying more than five characters each. The others, Tangled Woods causes all locations to require a hero to exhaust to travel and Ancient Forest adds +1 Threat and +3 Quest Points to all forest locations, which is all locations in the game.
Clearing this stage in 4 rounds is not going to be easy. There are Treachery Cards which remove time counters, or pile unreasonable amounts of damage on your characters. Travelling to the Edge of Fangorn, which you need to do, adds an enemy and if you aren’t careful it is super easy to be buried by locations.
Chances are you will fail to advance and so you will end up at Stage 3…
The Angry Forest
Time 3. Forced: After the last time counter is removed from this stage, discard the top 5 cards of the encounter deck. Each player must choose an enemy or objective in the discard pile, reveal it and add it to the staging area. Place 3 time counters on this stage.
Once you reach stage 3 you need to capture Mugash before you can move on. You must have at least 6 progress on the quest but you must place at least one progress after capturing Mugash in order to proceed to stage 2. Every three rounds you will receive another enemy per player. You do not want to stick around here.
If you don’t succumb to threat, damage or endless locations you might finally reach stage 2…
Escape From Fangorn
Time 4. Forced: After the last time counter is removed from this stage, shuffle Mugash into the encounter deck and advance to stage 3A.
Starting Stage 2 adds another Hourn Enemy per player to the staging area. Then, you simply need to quest for 12 and escape without losing Mugash (he becomes detached if the Hero guarding him takes damage) or allowing time to run out. If time runs out you reset to the start of Stage 3 again.
I don’t like this one. It’s not so much the difficulty, it is a hard quest but it’s also a boring one. It is not hard because the encounter deck is doing something interesting, it’s just punishing. There are only 3 types of enemies in the deck, they each feature 4 defence and a minimum of 5 hit points. Not a single hero, not even Gandalf can actually hurt one of these things without attachments or other aid. They all have high attack values too, but they don’t attack like traditional enemies. One simply raises your threat by an additional 2, one places 3 damage on a character and the last one attacks during the resource phase for 5 attack.
These are not enemies you want hanging around and you can have them engaged with you from turn 1. As we discovered, having had both copies of The Forest’s Malice back to back, we each received a Hourn enemy and then were attacked by them. It was only by the skin of our teeth that we didn’t lose a hero each straight off the bat.
Then there is death by location. All the locations in this set are 2 or 3 threat, however, The Ancient Forest gives them all +1 threat and +3 quest points. Even after we re-tuned our decks and I had a Northern Tracker in play from turn 2 we struggled to make enough quest to progress and clear locations.
This whole quest was a drudge. Even if you were lucky enough to clear The Edge of Fangorn before time ran out, there was still a chance you would be booted from Stage 2 to Stage 3 which is essentially a forced reset. Also, all the Hourn enemies have the Hinder Keyword, which removed progress tokens and during our final run we had 5 of these enemies in play, meaning we would lose 5 progress a turn. Even after questing for 26 using Astonishing Speed and a metric ton of Rohan characters we only placed 9 progress which was then reduced to a mere 4.
The mechanics of the quest are supposed to reflect the concept of the Forest of Fangorn coming to life around you and baring your way and even attacking you and they do, but the trouble is that it just isn't any fun. Drowning in locations or dying through treachery cards is not very heroic. I love Fangorn and I love the Ents but this quest is just not fun.