“It is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right; and though all the mighty elf-friends of old, Hador, and Húrin, and Túrin, and Beren himself were assembled together, your seat should be among them.”
–Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring
When you’re a gamer and a Tolkien fan, it’s only natural to look for a game that allows you to play through the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that is precisely what you’ll find in the upcoming Saga Expansions for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. When The Black Riders is released, you will be able to take your first steps on what is destined to be an epic game experience!
Immediately, our first goal for The Black Riders was to find a way to tie together each scenario in The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions and weave them into one giant adventure. Since each The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansion is only a part of the grander story, we wanted to find ways to make you feel that each scenario, and each decision you make when you play that scenario, is tied into the larger narrative. This led to the creation of Boon cards and Burden cards.
We created continuity between the scenarios of our Saga Expansions for The Hobbit by introducing Treasure cards. That seemed fitting because Bilbo was hired by Thorin and his company to burgle treasure from Smaug’s hoard. But the purpose of Frodo’s quest was entirely different: he wasn’t going in search of wealth; he undertook a perilous journey in order to destroy the most valuable artifact of that time. We decided, for now, to let Treasure cards remain a special feature of The Hobbit boxes and come up with something new for The Lord of the Rings.
Another reason that we didn’t want to use the Treasure card idea again was that it felt too limited for The Lord of the Rings. While the heroes certainly pick up some legendary items and artifacts along their journey, they also exhibit some amazing personal growth, and I wanted these Saga Expansions to represent that growth in the game. I also felt it was important to leave room within the Saga Expansions to create some special allies and events that you must first earn in a scenario before you can play them.
Items, Allies, and Personal Growth
In the end, we created a new card type that could track all the types of progress we wanted – Boons, and I am very excited for players to use these cards! Since Boons are only playable within The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions, and then only after they have been earned, we could give them some pretty amazing effects without fear of how they would affect the rest of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. It also allows us to recreate some very thematic moments from the books. For example, one of my favorite moments in The Fellowship of the Ring is when a Black Rider is crawling toward Frodo’s hiding place on the side of Stock Road; it looks as if Frodo is about to be caught when the rider abruptly retreats at the sound of approaching Elves. It was Gildor Inglorion’s timely arrival that saved Frodo – and Middle-earth – from a terrible fate, and I thought there should be a way to recreate that “Oh, thank Eru!” moment in the game.
In the first scenario of The Black Riders, then, you can gain control of a new version of Gildor Inglorion (The Black Riders, 77), a Boon objective-ally with an encounter card back. During setup, he is shuffled into the encounter deck, and if he is revealed during the quest phase, the first player gains control of him. When Gildor shows up in a game, it makes a big difference drawing a Noldor ally instead of a Nazgûl enemy! It truly is a great moment in a game when that happens!
There is another series of Boon cards that I find equally exciting. They may not be as flashy as Gildor, but they’re no less powerful or thematic. Earlier, I mentioned that The Lord of the Rings featured some amazing character development, and I wanted to make attachment cards that would stay attached to a specific hero from scenario to scenario to represent that character’s growth, sort of like “leveling-up” in a roleplaying game. Four new Title attachments do just that: Tireless Ranger (The Black Riders, 18), Valiant Warrior (The Black Riders, 20), Noble Hero (The Black Riders, 21), and Skilled Healer (The Black Riders, 19).
Each one of these boosts one of the attached hero’s attributes and gives that hero a trait. For example, Valiant Warrior gives the attached hero an additional point of Attack Strength and the Warrior trait. I like the idea of putting this attachment on my Hobbit hero after I’ve earned it to show that hero is no longer a simple Hobbit but a true warrior who has faced enemies in combat.
Permanent and Setup
Each of these Title Boons features two new game terms: Permanent and Setup. Permanent is a new keyword that really helps to create continuity when playing Campaign Mode. A card with the Permanent keyword can only be attached to one hero and cannot be discarded while the attached hero is in play. Furthermore, once a player decides to give a Permanent attachment to one of his heroes, that attachment can only be played on that hero in any subsequent game.
This leads me to the Setup instructions on some player cards. Setup is not a new game term, but it’s never been on player cards before. If you have any cards with Setup in your deck at the beginning of a game, you search for those cards and follows their Setup instructions. This means that if you have previously earned Valiant Warrior and attached it to your Hobbit hero, then each time you setup a scenario, you must search your deck for Valiant Warrior and attach it to that hero. This means that once you’ve earned it, the chosen hero will start each game with a bonus point of attack that cannot be discarded!
A Heavy Burden
As the development team talked about how to create an unbroken narrative within the game, we decided that there shouldn’t just be positive effects that track from scenario to scenario; there should also be cards with negative effects that can follow the players along their journeys. Just like Frodo never fully recovered from the knife wound he received at the base of Weathertop, you will be forced to deal with the consequences of your decisions in each scenario. This was important not just from a thematic perspective; it was also important mechanically to balance the positive effects of the Boon cards in the game as well. This line of thought ultimately lead to the creation of Burden cards.
Just like Boon cards can take many forms, Burden cards can also take any shape we need them to in order to properly convey an idea or threat. While most of the Burden cards in The Black Riders are treachery cards, my favorite Burden is an objective called Gandalf’s Delay (The Black Riders, 78). This Burden also has Setup instructions, which means that after you’ve earned it, you need to search the encounter deck for it at the beginning of each of your games and put it into play. It reads: “Each player draws 1 less card in his starting hand.” If you get saddled with this Burden card, that’s one less card in your starting hand for the rest of your saga experience!
The rest of the Burden cards in this expansion are treacheries, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plans for more different types of Burdens in the future! A word about those treachery Burdens, though: each one of them has the Surge keyword. Not only does that make them extra dangerous, it also means that as you accumulate them, they won’t water-down the encounter for each different scenario.
The Boons and Burdens in The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions serve as physical reminders of the challenges you’ve faced and the decisions you’ve made, but they also mean you’ll find a lot of new cards and abilities to keep track of from scenario to scenario. That’s why we also included a Campaign Log in the rules insert where you can record your Boons and Burdens as you advance along your journey to Mount Doom. In our next preview, we’ll talk more about the Campaign Log and some other exciting features of Campaign Mode!
–Caleb Grace, Lead Developer The Black Riders