I'm in the same boat. I love scenic shots… and Howe's work. Or even a single iconic figure on a mat… What I have a hard time with is playmats that are TOO involved… busy, overly lush, or lots of movement. It gets a bit distracting, and kinda takes away from the enjoyment of the cards for me. That pic with the backs of the fellowship would be a solid choice… anything more involved than that, and I start to lose interest
You know what I would absolutely LOVE to have as some playmats would be designs based off of some of the old Tolkien book-covers.
I would commit minor crimes to get a playmat with either of these old Hobbit covers as a backdrop.
1) This is a bit dark and the blue-green is a bit visually busy, but it's a classic:
(Edit) Here is the version of the above cover I was looking for… the blue/green has been muted a bit, and the overall cover has been shaded a bit, making it a better (backdrop):
2) And this one is really simple, but I enjoy the clan look and retro appeal:
"... but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend...." -Faramir, The Lord of the Rings, Book IV, The Window of the West)
"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." - C.S. Lewis