There are several core mechanics which all of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games share. In a sense, these fundamental aspects are what defines all of the disparate games as LCGs. The concept of unique cards is one such rule, and it is as important for theme as it is for game balance. Unique cards are inherently more iconic, they represent the distinctive people, places and things that underpin a particular world.
Middle-earth is no different. There was only one Frodo Baggins, so it wouldn’t make any sense to include him in your company alongside the Frodo Baggins that is included as a Fellowship hero in the early Saga quests. Likewise, there was only one Sword that was Broken – you would not have met two heroes who both carried the precious remnant of Narsil in their scabbard. The limitation that prevents players from having multiple copies of such cards in play at once allows the designers to create more dynamic and powerful cards, and it makes the game feel more real.
However, having a card pool filled with multiple versions of unique cards (e.g. three different non-Saga versions of Aragorn, and counting) can pose some serious challenges, particularly in casual multi-player games. It is great to have options, and many marquee characters like Gimli and Legolas even have ally versions now as well. This is great from a deck-building standpoint as it opens up so many avenues that we’re available before. Say you’re making a Noldor and Silvan deck, with Elladan and Elrohir, but you don’t want to go with a second Tactics hero. You can still include Legolas as an ally and he will fit right into that deck, taking advantage of powerful cards like Rivendell Blade without forcing you into a particular sphere.
From a solo player’s perspective this level of flexibility is all well and good, but as someone who plays frequently in a group setting it can sometimes be frustrating. The logistics for multi-player can reach a comedic level of complexity. You won’t always know who will be present, the quest being played, or the play-style preferences of other players for a given night. With that in mind, I bring a box of several decks, most of them already tested and ready to go. With the increasing number of variations on the same unique characters, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid conflicts with other players’s decks.
Some players complain when a new expansion or pack features an FFG-created hero or even just a lesser-known character from the Tolkien Legendarium. While it may be frustrating not to see your favorite hero, it is important to remember that these lesser known characters serve an important purpose in the meta-game but avoiding conflicts with other marquee heroes. This frees players to choose their heroes without having to miss out on a critical piece to their strategy.
A great example is Gamling from The Land of Shadow. Choosing this less-heralded of the Rohirrim to possess this ability was an excellent decision on the part of the designers. By using a character that does not exist in other ally or hero versions (and is far less likely to be represented again soon), they have given breathing room to the Spirit Rohan archetype. With so many powerful Spirit allies that are discarded from play, Gamling’s ability facilitates a powerful new strategy. Paired with the new Spirit version of Théoden to lower the cost for playing this expendable allies, Gamling is at the heart of these decks.
If the designers had instead chosen a more well-known character from among the warriors of Rohan, it could have crippled many potential decks in this nascent archetype. A counter-example to prove this point is the ally version of Háma from the Treason of Saruman. This ally gives Spirit Rohan decks that feature Gamling a viable alternative (or at least supplement) to using a hero as a dedicated defender. However, because Háma is also a Tactics hero, it limits the options for Spirit/Tactics Rohan decks.
Éomer is the obvious first choice for the Tactics hero in such decks, but what do you do if another player is using him in their deck. For example, a mixed-Faction deck featuring Prince Imrahil and Éomer with chump blockers can be a very effective combination against certain scenarios. Because of Háma’s value as a defender in a Spirit-heavy Rohan deck, there is essentially only one Tactics hero that you can use and still take advantage of the various other Rohan synergies.
The Háma Tactics hero has plenty of value in powerful decks which are not in any way Rohan-themed, and likewise you could supplement a Spirit/Tactics Rohan deck with a non-Rohan Tactics hero. It is just frustrating when you have cards like Steed of the Mark, Éomund and a bevy of interesting and powerful events that all key off of the Rohan trait. It makes sense – not only thematically but strategically – to want to build more pure faction decks. It certainly seems like a larger card pool would allow for this, but with so much overlap among unique characters this can be difficult in practice.
To be clear, as a solo player I really appreciate the different versions of the more popular characters. Aragorn is a great example of a universally-loved character where his diverse representations only serve to better portray the many aspects of his history and personality. Still, the saturation of multiple versions of these key characters is starting to make ad hoc multi-player games almost untenable. This might not be a popular opinion, but I appreciate the appearance of these unique FFG creations, along with the characters who play only minor roles in Tolkien’s stories. These side characters allow for interesting and often powerful decks, with the advantage that they don’t conflict with the main characters that feature so prominently in so many decks.
The following is a list of all of the characters printed (or spoiled) to date with at least two different cards. I have here included Baggins and Fellowship heroes, along with Objective Allies – while they don’t feature in player decks they can still cause conflicts with the unique characters that players might include in their decks.
|Amarthiúl||Leadership Hero and Objective Ally|
|Anborn||Lore Ally and Leadership Ally|
|Aragorn||Leadership, Lore, Tactics and Fellowship Heroes|
|Arwen Undómiel||Objective Ally, Spirit Ally and Spirit Hero|
|Beorn||Tactics Ally and Tactics Hero|
|Bifur||Lore Hero and Lore Ally|
|Bilbo Baggins||Lore Hero, Baggins Hero and Spirit Ally|
|Bofur||Spirit Ally and Tactics Ally|
|Bombur||Lore Ally and Lore Hero|
|Boromir||Tactics Hero, Leadership Hero and Tactics Ally|
|Damrod||Spirit Ally and Lore Hero|
|Denethor||Lore Hero and Leadership Ally|
|Dori||Lore Ally and Tactics Hero|
|Dwalin||Spirit Hero and Spirit Ally|
|Elrond||Lore Hero and Lore Ally|
|Erestor||Leadership Ally and Lore Hero|
|Faramir||Leadership Ally, Lore Hero, Objective Ally and Leadership Hero|
|Frodo Baggins||Spirit Hero and Fellowship Hero|
|Galadriel||Spirit Hero and Leadership Ally|
|Gandalf||Neutral Ally (x2) and Neutral Hero|
|Gildor Inglorion||Lore Ally and Objective Ally|
|Gimli||Tactics Hero and Leadership Ally|
|Glóin||Leadership Hero and Leadership Ally|
|Glorfindel||Lore Hero, Spirit Hero and Spirit Ally|
|Gríma||Lore Hero and Objective Ally|
|Haldir of Lórien||Lore Ally and Lore Hero|
|Háma||Tactics Hero and Spirit Ally|
|Legolas||Tactics Hero and Tactics Ally|
|Mablung||Tactics Hero and Lore Ally|
|Merry||Tactics Hero and Spirit Hero|
|Pippin||Spirit Hero and Lore Hero|
|Sam Gamgee||Leadership Hero and Spirit Ally|
|Théoden||Tactics Hero and Spirit Hero|
|Treebeard||Neutral Ally and Lore Hero|