|The Hour of the Shire-folk
Preview Three Hobbit Heroes from the Upcoming The Black Riders Expansion
|The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game | Published 17 July 2013|
“It is clear that Hobbits had, in fact, lived quietly in Middle-earth for many long years before other folk became even aware of them. And the world being after all full of strange creatures beyond count, these little people seemed of very little importance. But in the days of Bilbo, and of Frodo his heir, they suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and the Great.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The hour of the Shire-folk is coming. In the upcoming Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, The Black Riders, players gain the opportunity to join Frodo Baggins as he begins the epic quest that will lead him out of the Shire and all the way to the fires of Mount Doom.
Over the course of our first two previews, lead developer Caleb Grace provided the first look at the game’s new Campaign Mode, including an introduction to the new Boon and Burden card types and a review of the Campaign Log. Today, he takes a look at three of the new heroes that may accompany Frodo on his journeys.
Lead Developer Caleb Grace on Three Very Unlikely Heroes
When somebody mentions The Fellowship of the Ring, the first image that comes to my mind is Frodo and his companions setting out from The Shire. The book may become faster-paced and more exciting after the Fellowship sets out from Rivendell and battles its way past Wargs, Orcs, and a Balrog, but I love the innocence of the first few chapters when the Hobbits don’t fully understand the dangers of their journey. I think it’s brilliant that the world’s most famous fantasy epic begins with a simple group that complains about walking through the country, skipping meals, and sleeping outdoors. It’s brilliant because it shows the tremendous development of those characters when they later grow into characters who shake the foundations of Middle-earth.
When I first started working on The Black Riders, it was important to me that Sam, Merry, and Pippin would be hero cards in the box. I wanted fans of the story to be able to play through the scenarios with Frodo and his companions and experience events from their point of view. Because these characters are so dear to me and other fans of The Lord of the Rings, portraying them as hero cards was simultaneously the greatest thrill and biggest challenge I’ve had since I started working on The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I had to ask myself: how do I create hero cards for Frodo’s loyal companions that showcase their limitations as well as their untapped potential?
After I spent some time thinking about how Tolkien crafted these unlikely heroes, it occurred to me that whenever they found themselves confronted by a threat, they always rose to the occasion, and they found ways to accomplish more than they ever dreamed they could. Time and again, when their backs were against the wall, these Hobbits dug in, drew upon their remarkable courage, and persevered. That’s when the light bulb lit up in my mind and I knew how these Hobbits should work in the game: their low stats and low starting threat represent their humble nature, but when you engage an enemy with a higher engagement cost than your threat, they surprise you with their abilities.
This idea really excited me because it seemed to fit the Hobbits thematically and also offered a cool new strategy for playing the game. So I came up with different abilities for each of the Hobbits based on what we know about them from the books.
I started with Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders, 2) because he was the character I was most excited to design. Out of all of Frodo’s companions, Sam arguably grows the most as an individual and as a leader. He begins the story as Frodo’s servant and ends up a hero of Middle-earth and the mayor of the Shire. For those reasons, I felt that Sam was the best hero for the Leadership sphere in The Black Riders.
Sam is a hardy hobbit with incredible determination, so he has an extra hit point over other Hobbit heroes we’ve seen so far and an impressive three Willpower. His ability also illustrates the Hobbit theme of courage: “Response: After you engage an enemy with a higher engagement cost than your threat, ready Sam Gamgee. He gets +1 Willpower, +1 Attack Strength, and +1 Defense Strength until the end of the round.” The ability to quest for three Willpower each round and ready after optionally engaging an enemy makes Sam a wonderfully versatile hero.
He only gets better when you give him a Hobbit Cloak (The Black Riders, 13): “Attached hero gets +2 Defense Strength while defending against an attack made by an enemy with an engagement cost higher than your threat.” At three defense and three hit points, Sam becomes a solid defender, but without a way to defeat enemies, Sam will eventually find himself surrounded and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s good to pair him with Merry (The Black Riders, 3).
Merry was an incredibly brave Hobbit and a surprisingly good fighter. It was the timely thrust of his dagger that first wounded the Witch-king and allowed Éowyn to defeat that ancient evil in the Battle of Pelannor Fields. Naturally, I chose Merry to be the Tactics hero in The Black Riders.
The first line of Merry’s ability reflects the Hobbit theme of loyalty leading to strength: “Merry gets +1 Attack Strength for each Hobbit hero you control.” While you play the scenarios in The Black Riders, the special rules for Frodo Baggins (The Black Riders, 1) allow you to control as many as four Hobbit heroes at once, and that means Merry can start each scenario at an impressive four Attack Strength.
Unfortunately, even four Attack Strength isn’t always enough to defeat a Nazgûl enemy, and it’s usually necessary to attack with multiple characters at once. That’s what makes the second half of Merry’s ability so impressive: “Response: After Merry participates in an attack that destroys an enemy, ready another character that participated in that attack.” Throughout playtesting, I liked to use this ability with Beorn (Core Set, 31). I would trigger Beorn’s ability to boost his Attack Strength by five, attack with Merry and Beorn to destroy an enemy, then trigger Merry’s response to ready Beorn for another epic attack. As many times as I used Merry’s ability this way, it never got old.
The last of Frodo’s companions might be best known for being a trouble-maker and a “fool of a Took,” but what many people forget is that it was Pippin who led Frodo and Sam safely across the Green Hill Country of the Shire to Farmer Maggot’s house when they were being pursued by Black Riders. Without Pippin’s knowledge of that area, it’s likely that Frodo would have been captured and Middle-earth doomed. That’s why I felt Pippin (The Black Riders, 4) was the best choice to be the Lore hero in The Black Riders.
Pippin’s ability combines the theme of Hobbit loyalty with the Hobbit ability to go unnoticed: “Each enemy in play gets +1 engagement cost for each Hobbit hero you control.” While not as flashy as Sam’s or Merry’s, Pippin’s ability allows you to avoid enemies longer and engage them only when you’re ready. Then, the second line of his text gives you a little benefit whenever you choose to engage an enemy you could have avoided: “Response: After you engage an enemy with a engagement cost higher than your threat, draw a card.” When you play with all three of these new heroes, you can quest with Sam and Pippin for a total of five Willpower, optionally engage an enemy with engagement cost higher than your threat to ready Sam and draw a card, use Sam to defend that enemy’s attack, and then counter-attack with Merry to destroy that enemy.
After playtesting these cards for months, I’m happy to say that the Hobbit deck is easily one of my favorite decks and strikes a happy balance between game play and a rich thematic experience, especially during the scenarios from The Black Riders. We’ll talk more about those scenarios in our next preview.
Pre-Order Your Copy Today
The Black Riders and all the challenges of its three scenarios are coming soon to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. You’ll be able to explore the same locations and confront the same enemies as Frodo and his friends. By virtue of their loyalty and courage, they rose to the challenges they faced. Will you?
Head to your local retailer today to pre-order your copy of The Black Riders and take advantage the long-awaited opportunity to adventure with some of Middle-earth’s most unlikely heroes!
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.