|A Wizard Is Never Late
A Preview of The Road Darkens Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings
|The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game | Published 06 August 2014|
“With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours.”
–Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring
Earlier, we announced the upcoming release of The Road Darkens, the Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that carries players forward from the events of The Black Riders and into a series of events drawn directly from the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring. From the Council of Elrond through the breaking of the Fellowship, The Road Darkens thrusts you directly into Frodo’s company, challenging you to find your way through some of the most dramatic scenes in Tolkien’s literature.
However, the expansion draws upon its source material for more than just its scenarios. Today, Caleb Grace, one of the game’s developers, reveals the new hero card appearing in The Road Darkens.
A Light in the Dark
I have a love/hate relationship with sequels, especially movie sequels. When I see a movie I like, my first thought is, “That was great! I hope they make another one!” However, it seems like whenever I do watch the sequel to a good movie I typically find myself thinking, “That was terrible. I wish they had quit after the first one.” Still, every now and then, that rare sequel is released that’s not only as good as the first but actually manages to translate everything I loved about it into a wholly fresh and inspiring experience. That’s always a very special moment for me, and that’s the way I feel about the sequel to The Black Riders Saga Expansion, The Road Darkens!
Now, I realize that my comments just set the bar pretty high for this box, but that’s just how confident I am that players will enjoy what’s in it. I’ve seen a lot of reviews of The Black Riders, and The Road Darkens promises to offer another generous helping of those things that people enjoyed about its predecessor: iconic player cards, interesting and thematic scenarios, and more boons and burdens for Campaign Mode!
There will be time to review the expansion’s scenarios later, but in this article I’d like to look at a few of the new player cards. There are two new heroes in The Road Darkens. The first is a new Fellowship sphere version of Frodo Baggins (The Road Darkens, 1), complete with a brand new ability. The second is one that I know players have been anxious to see in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Gandalf (The Road Darkens, 2)!
There were many heroes that we could have chosen for this box, but the most exciting option was always Gandalf. We knew we wanted to make a hero version of the mighty wizard at some point, and this was the most logical time. I remember being excited when Elrond told Frodo that Gandalf would be a part of the Fellowship in the book. I thought, “Alright! They might actually have a chance!” I felt safer knowing he was with them. And why not? There was no end to the things he could do!
That astounding resourcefulness was the first thing I wanted to represent with the Gandalf hero. That’s why he’s a neutral hero; I didn’t want him to be limited to one Sphere of influence. I also wanted the experience of playing with him to feel “wizardly.” An Istari hero had to feel different from a Warrior, Noble, Ranger, and so forth. So we came up with an ability that’s entirely unique:
“Play with the top card of your deck faceup. Once per phase, you may play the top card of your deck as if it were in your hand. When playing a card this way, Gandalf is considered to have the printed Leadership, Lore, Tactics, and Spirit icons.”
Gandalf always seemed to know something that nobody else did, and now you can, too. Playing with the top card of your deck faceup creates a lot of interesting advantages. One great combo is using Gandalf with Expert Treasure Hunter (The Hobbit: On the Doorstep, 17) to gain an extra card draw every time you quest successfully. It can also help you and your friends know which player is the best to grant the extra card draw from Gléowine (Core Set, 62) each round.
The second part of Gandalf’s ability helps him fit into any deck type. He can be especially useful in a dual-Sphere deck. In most dual-Sphere decks, two of your three heroes belong to one sphere while only one belongs to the other. Gandalf, however, can count for either Sphere, depending what’s on the top of your deck. For example, if I only have one Spirit hero, that typically means that I’ll have to wait two turns in order to play a two-cost Spirit ally. But with Gandalf, if that ally is on the top of my deck during the planning phase, I can use one resource from Gandalf and one from my Spirit hero to play that ally as if it was in my hand.
Not only does that put my ally into play, but it’s also a subtle form of card draw because now there is a new card on the top of my deck. If that card happens to be an event, I might be able to play it later that round. Some great cards to find on top of your deck this way are A Test of Will (Core Set, 50), Secret Paths (Core Set, 66), and Feint (Core Set, 34). Using his ability, Gandalf can play any of those cards and make a big difference that truly makes him feel like a great wizard.
Staves and Spells
That leads us to the next of today’s cards. After all, where would a wizard be without his staff? You had to know if we were going to create a Gandalf hero that we would make Gandalf’s Staff (The Road Darkens, 8). And so we did! Of course, it only attaches to Gandalf, and this is what it says:
“Action: Exhaust Gandalf’s Staff to (chose one): choose a player to draw 1 card, add 1 resource to a hero’s resource pool, or discard a shadow card from a non-unique enemy.”
Probably the biggest drawback to playing the Gandalf hero is that it means nobody can use the Gandalf ally. Playing the Core Set ally version of Gandalf and deciding which of his three abilities to trigger has always been fun, so we designed his staff to give you a fun choice as well.
Lastly, we wanted to make a truly amazing Spell event for Gandalf players to wow people with, so we came up with Flame of Anor (The Road Darkens, 7). A one-cost neutral event, it reads:
“Action: Add Flame of Anor to the victory display and discard the top card of your deck to ready an Istari character you control. That character gets +X Attack until the end of the phase where X is the discarded card’s cost.”
Gandalf rarely revealed the full extent of his power, but when he did, it always made an indelible impression upon everyone who stood witness. That was the feeling we went for when designing this Flame of Anor. We wanted people at the gaming table to say, “That was awesome!” Of course, balancing those type of effects in a card game is a real tightrope walk: Overdo it, and it can make the game too easy; moderate it too much, and everyone’s disappointed. Our solution was ultimately to ensure the card was added to the victory display when it was played. This ensured that a player could not use this effect more than three times in a game.
With that failsafe in place, we were free to make a really fantastic Spell event. Not only do you ready an Istari character for the cost of a single neutral resource and a discard, but if you play it right, that discard will add a significant value to your wizard’s Attack Value. Of course, Gandalf’s ability can help you choose the best time to take that action. Imagine finding a six-cost Beorn (Core Set, 31) on the top of your deck that you can discard to ready Gandalf and give him six extra points to his Attack Value until the end of the phase!
Are you excited yet? That was only three of the different cards in the box! We’ll take a look at some of the other cards in the next preview article when we look at the expansion’s three new scenarios.
The Road Darkens allows you to join Frodo Baggins along some of the darkest moments of his epic journey, but the fact that you’ll be able to call upon the aid of a wizard as powerful as Gandalf means that there’s still hope for Middle-earth.
Gandalf, his staff, Flame of Anor, and all the other thematic cards from The Road Darkens are now starting their own epic journey to retailers everywhere, so head to your favorite local retailer today to pre-order your copy!
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.