Today we come to the final article in this series, taking a look at the Lore heroes – I had planned to break up the series with something a little bit different, but for reasons which will hopefully become obvious in the course of time, that article has been pushed back a couple of weeks.
For people only familiar with the films, Gondor’s jowly steward and unappreciative dad might seem like an odd choice for a hero, but back in the time before his heart was filled with despair by the distorted images he saw in the Palantir, and when his wife Finduilas was still alive, Denethor was a significant figure amongst the wise of Middle Earth.
As the Steward of Gondor who struggled to hold Minas Tirith, and later Osgiliath against the forces of Sauron against all cost, Denethor has a fittingly high defence- 3 was the unequalled highest of any character during the days of the Core Set, although little willpower or attack. He also had a disappointingly small pool of hit-points, a mere 3 making him rather fragile if he was employed in that defender role.
Denethor’s Gondor trait has ensured that he has grown in utility as the game has progressed – being a lore hero, he was able early on to take a Burning Brand, and act as a reliable defender, and the addition of a Gondorian Shield to take him upto 5 defence produces a solid enough combat option even for some of the more modern quests.
Denethor’s ability is also nicely thematic, with a Palantir-like scrying effect which enables him to view the top card of the encounter deck, and potentially move it to the bottom –in some respects, the benefits of this ability are limited – you don’t know what the next card is if you do decide to move, and the bottom of the encounter deck can potentially become highly destructive, a particular problem with modern encounter decks which tend to be thinner, and make it more likely that you will go all the way through the deck, possibly several times in a game.
Overall, I would say that Denethor is highly thematic, and certainly still playable in the right deck. He’s easily to kit out as a solid defender, and if no enemy appears to block, his ability can give you a handy preview of what’s coming next- interestingly, he can not only spy out encounter cards, but also look at shadow cards, so you know when it’s safe to take an undefended attack.
Beravor was another of Fantasy Flight’s in-house heroes, recycled from Middle Earth Quest. She was also the first hero in the game to receive an errata, which gives us a pretty clear indication of the power of her ability. With 2 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defence, and an ability which requires her to exhaust, Beravor is an obvious candidate for any kind of readying ability. Despite these fairly rounded stats, she seems most often to be used for her ability to draw 2 cards for any player – the fact that the card-draw is not limited to the card’s controller allows you to dig through the deck of whichever player is currently struggling to find the card needed to get your party moving.
Beravor has both the Dunedain and Ranger traits (making her a good target for the new ‘wingfoot’ attachment), and has the general broad skill-set you’d expect of someone roaming the wilds of the north. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to say a lot about theme with these doubly-fictional charactersr, but Beravor’s abilities as a card certainly don’t jar with her thematically. Some might considerthe breadth of her stats to be wasteful – you’re paying 10 threat for a character who may not contribute to quest or combat in a given round, but personally I like the utility, and think she’s still a very playable character.
It’s hard to consider Glorfindel without making allowances for his Spirit counterpart. As many of you will know, Tolkien’s canon contained two Glorfindels, a captain of Gondolin who died battling a Balrog during the fall of Gondolin and allowing the young Earendil to escape, and another who rescued Frodo and faced down the Nazgul at the Ford of the Bruinen. Given that Tolkien stated elsewhere that Elven names are unique, this strongly suggests that the same elf had in fact returned from the Halls of Mandos to the east (and that whoever named one of the elves in Thranduil’s wine-cellar “Elros” in the second Hobbit film had no idea what they were on about.)
Returning more specifically to the hero card, Glorfindel has the stats we’ve come to expect: 3 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defence, 5 hit points. The main difference that leaps out about this earlier version is that he has 12 threat cost, instead of 5 – on the flip side, rather than a detrimental forced effect, he actually has an ability- spend 1 resource from Glorfindel to heal a damage from any character.
Glorfindel has a good, solid set of stats, a threat level that’s entirely in keeping with the game at large and a useful ability – in the time of the core set, there was no other repeatable healing for allies unless you were prepared to put self-preservation on them. His threat was a little on the high side, but not impossibly so – if Asfaloth and Light of Valinor had come out in the Mirkwood cycle, I expect that Glorfindel would have received fairly wide use in the game, and easily pulled his weight.
Unfortunately for him, his doppleganger, back from the Halls of Mandos, with the 5 threat is just so much easier to build around – Lorefindel’s healing ability would couple brilliantly with Elrond, to up the power, but that puts you at 25 threat just for 2 heroes, combine Spirit Glorfindel with Elrond, and you’re at a much more comfortable 18.
Moving momentarily to theme, Glorfindel’s stats are perfectly fitting for an Elf-lord of old, the fact that he is styled as a healer, rather than something more befitting a warrior is a little odd, but not beyond the realm of possibility.
Writing this bit of the article has inspired me to revisit the original Glorfindel, and I may try to put together something which will take advantage of his powers soon, otherwise though, he’s not a very common sight these days.
The first ever post-core-set hero was, rather fittingly, Bilbo Baggins. He was also, unusually an early exception to the rule that a hero’s threat cost was the sum of their stats: with 2 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defence, and 2 hit points, his stats totalled a mere 6, whereas his threat was 9 –the fact that this was the same number upside-down even led many to suspect a mis-print for a while.
Bilbo’s ability was a passive effect, allowing the first player to draw additional cards, which invited inevitable comparisons with Beravor. If using them for questing and card-draw, Bilbo can match her on the first, whilst continuing to provide steady card acceleration, whereas Beravor was typically tied to one or the other. However, Bilbo’s ability cannot be targeted, and goes off almost at random, meaning that you cannot chose a particularly needy player to gain the extra cards. Furthermore, his diminutive stats make him essentially useless in combat, and a pool of only two hit-points make even questing a dubious proposition in the Mirkwood world of the Necromancer’s Reach.
As an aside, the artwork on Bilbo makes him look like a cross between the 6th Doctor Who and a 70s disco star – my wife refuses to have the card on the table, and I had to mock-up a version with Martin Freeman’s picture on before he could be used…
Thematically, the somewhat aged, but very well-travelled Mr Baggins fits nicely into Lore, and the fact that he’s learned a thing or two on his travels probably feeds relatively logically into his card-draw boost.
Some people are big fans of Bilbo, but personally I’ve never seen the appeal – at 6 threat I might bother throwing him in, but by 9, he’s up into the range of better heroes who can do far more.
Bifur came in the Khazad-Dum expansion, at the very early stages of the dwarven avalanche which was to follow. A smallish chap with unimpressive stats, he benefits from low threat cost, the stat-boosts which Dain gives to all dwarves, and the fact that he can provide some much-needed resource-smoothing in multi-sphere decks, as he takes the excess resources given by another player/hero, and spends them on cards in lore, a sphere often short on cash.
The fact that he doesn’t really fit the “5 dwarves or more” deck has limited Bifur’s use in recent times, along with the fact that there is now an ally version who does. It’s not particularly that there’s anything wrong with Bifur, simply that others are better. (and that playing the hero prevents you from playing the ally).
Thematically, I struggle to really remember anything much about Bifur (is he the one with the axe in his head?) again, his ability doesn’t jar with me, as being horrifically misplaced, but it’s not a stand-out home-run either.
Lore Aragorn, or Loragorn as he is sometimes known was the first time we had seen a repeat of a hero in the game, and much like Glorfindel, who followed hard on his heels, he was a potential game-changer.
In basic abilities, Loragorn is much like his Leadership predecessor, 2 willpower, 3 attack, 2 defence, 5 hit points and sentinel, but instead of a re-readying effect, Aragorn allows you to reset your threat to its starting level once per game. This has all sorts of possibilities – If you have a Boromir deck, particularly on where his stats have been boosted by support of the eagles, Loragorn allows you a measure of abandon to charge with Boromir, readying him multiple times per turn to destroy all comers. I also built a fun solo doomed deck, using Grima, Theodred and Loragorn to ramp up to insane levels of power in the first couple of rounds, before hastily resetting to a threat that was about to hit 50.
The fact that FFG have ruled that the “limit once per game” is per player opens up even stronger options, using Desperate Alliance to pass Loragorn to someone else who can then reset their threat as well.
Thematically, this is more of a “Strider” persona of Aragorn, hiding in the shadows, taking you on secret paths through the wild. The specific go back to starting threat / once per game is a bit game-y, but it could certainly be worse.
I’m not sure which of the Aragorns gets the most table time- and knowing that we have a Fellowship Aragorn AND a Tactics Aragorn coming in the next 6 months means that there will be even more of a scrap for table time amongst them.
Elrond was one of the major big beasts of the Lord of the Rings story who had been notably absent from the game, and he made his appearance at the end of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. As you’d expect from Elrond, he has high stats and a comparably high threat, with a threat cost of 13, at that time the highest we’d seen.
By himself, Elrond is already powerful, being able to pay for allies from any sphere. Add in the fact that he adds 1 to the effectiveness of any healing effect, and he becomes really powerful – Warden of Healing suddenly becomes a lot more useful than a Daughter of the Nimrodel when Elrond is in town.
On top of that, as a Lore hero, Elrond can add a burning brand to his 3 defence to make him a decidedly serious blocker. He can also take Light of Valinor to quest without exhausting (assuming you don’t have Spirit Glorfindel around) for double actions.
Despite all that, no assessment of Elrond can truly be considered complete without looking at Vilya. Vilya is a unique ring attachment which allows you to exhaust Elrond and put a card into play for free. Whilst the cost of exhausting Elrond seems a big price to pay, realising that you can get a free Gildor, Northern Tracker, Ally Beorn or Galadhrim’s Greeting helps to put things into perspective- a fun combination is to use Vilya to put Unexpected Courage onto Elrond and re-ready him.
Unfortunately, Vilya does require a certain amount of scrying – Imladris Stargazer is good for this, as is Hero Gandalf, allowing you to use Vilya with complete certainty – for a while I shied away from this deck type, as I didn’t want to be minus a hero’s action each round, but once it gets going, this deck is just so powerful, that it seems foolish not to use it.
Thematically, Elrond is the leader of great armies and coalitions, as well as the convener of the council of the ring, so his ability to pay for all allies makes sense. He is also the only able to save Frodo from the wound inflicted by the Morgul blade, so the healing boost makes sense as well.
Such a conspicuous figure as Elrond will inevitably attract the attention of the great eye, and his threat cost appropriately reflects the need to plan carefully, but in the right deck, he’s probably one of the best heroes out there.
Mirlonde was something of a departure from the standard approach to heroes, in that she was neither a character from Tolkien’s work, nor was she a recycling from a previous FFG game. As a female silvan hero, it would only have taken the slightest stretch of the imagination to name her Tauriel, but whatever the reason (probably legal) they didn’t, and the world is probably a calmer place for it.
Superficially, Mirlonde is a rather uninspiring character, with a fairly meagre pool of stats, and only a passive ability. However, 2 willpower is not insignificant, even if 1 defence and 3 hitpoints make her essentially useless as a defender. Her ability lowers the threat cost of each lore hero by 1, meaning that in a mono-lore deck, she is essentially a no-ability hero costing 5.
There are definitely benefits to Mirlonde – if you’re looking to get benefits out of Lorefindel, she can alleviate his starting threat (An Elrond/Lorefindel/Mirlonde deck would only have a starting threat of 30), and combined with already low-threat characters you can get secrecy, or close enough that most of the bigger enemies will ignore you.
Theme-wise, being silvan ties in fairly logically with staying hidden, and thereby low threat, although it would have been nice to see an additional trait on her: probably ranger or scout. As far as I’m aware, Mirlonde doesn’t exist outside of the Living Card Game, so there’s little else to really say for her.
For a long time, many of us had been hoping for a hero version of Faramir, to allow a character much maligned by his father and brother to step up and take his rightful place in the front rank of those facing off against the shadow.
What we got, in the midst of the Third cycle of the game, was this card – an 11-threat hero, with stats of 2, 2, 2, five hit points, the ranged keyword, and an attack that grows commensurately with the number of enemies in the staging area.
In many respects, this is a good card – aside from an additional hit-point, he has an essentially identical starting point to Beravor, who has already been commended for her rounded stats, and the ranged trait adds to his flexibility. However, two and a bit cycles into the game, the difficulty of quests had ramped up to the point where a set of twos no longer really cut the mustard. The attack which is contingent on the staging area is only really useful if you have two things: a low enough threat to leave enemies in the staging area, and a means of attacking the staging area.
Both of these things are available to players, but to a large extent they pull in opposite directions- mono lore allows players to play an event ignoring engagement checks, whilst combining with tactics allows you to play Hands Upon the Bow (attacking the staging area for a minimum of five), or Great Yew Bow for a more repeatable option. Of the two, the tactics options seems the best one, but with a starting threat of 11, avoiding having to engage those enemies is going to be difficult. Potentially a deck with Mablung and Lore Pippin could play take no notice, but that’s cutting against Mablung’s ability.
Thematically, the solid nature of Faramir’s stats makes sense, as does the knowledge of the wild that this ranger has. The release of Wingfoot, long-since spoiled also makes me wonder whether it’s time to give Faramir another try, but outside of Battle Questing, the hero has always felt underpowered, particularly when you consider the potential impact of ally Faramir on a swarm deck.
One of the most distinctive of the heroes we’ve had, Grima is both a Rohan and an Isengard hero, and one who plays to the “Doomed” keyword. A passable quester with 2 willpower, but a feeble attacker at 1, and a fragile defender with 2 defence and only 3 hit-points, Grima is not going to be making the greatest contribution to your party, based on stats alone. What he CAN do however, is lower the cost of 1 card each round by raising threat instead- used right, this can allow you to get powerful cards out far more quickly than would otherwise have been possible, allowing you to steamroller the quest in a way that ultimately leads you finishing more quickly.
As I noted earlier, I’ve used Grima to good effect in conjunction with Theodred and Loragorn. Theodred was apparently unaware that Grima would ultimately have a hand in his death, and has happy to pass along extra resources to get solid allies out before we ultimately triggered the threat reset. However, the Loragorn “once per game clarification” notwithstanding, this only really works as a solo deck- that much doom in multi-player is quickly going to kill other players in the game.
Thematically, the doomed cards seem to represent meddling with darker forces to bring more powerful weapons to bear in the fight against the enemy. As these effects are typically associated with Saruman and Isengard, Grima is an obvious hero choice to support this deck archetype. As for his other traits, Grima is still a man of Rohan, but is suitably depicted as an outsider, by his outlier positioning in the Lore sphere, and his lack of synergy with the other Rohan cards.
I’ve never yet tried putting Grima into anything other than a specialist solo-doomed deck, so I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has. Otherwise, I’d say that he’s playable, but only in a very narrow, specific deck. At least he’s good thematically.
Haldir of Lorien
Haldir is one of the most recent heroes introduced to the game, and he ties into a number of existing themes. He’s a scout and a ranger (allowing you to make him the Warden of Arnor, or Give him wingfoot), and provided you don’t engage an enemy that round, he can make a lone attack against an enemy not engaged with you, during the contact phase – in essence, this copies dunhere’s staging area attack, or serves as a ranged quick-strike, allowing him to kill an enemy before it attacks.
I’ve been using Haldir fairly constantly since he appeared – loaded up with a Rivendell Blade, a Rivendell bow, and now a Bow of the Galadhrim, and he can easily be attacking for 6, whilst neutralising 2 points of defence. Whilst his ability is more conditional than Dunhere’s, the fact that he can use it even when enemies are coming down and engaging players makes him more useful, as does the fact that his base attack of 3 (plus various elven weapons) is more powerful than Dunhere’s 2.
Haldir of course, was the woodsman who managed to creep up on the fellowship as they entered Lorien, and it seems entirely fitting that he should be able to pick off enemies, provided he’s not dealing with a more immediate foe of his own. The silvan deck has been one of the most pleasing developments of the current cycle, and Haldir is a major part of it.
Going back in time a bit, to the Hobbit saga boxes, we have Ori, a Lore dwarf who ties in to the “5 or more dwarves” archetype. His ability allows you to draw additional cards, which is hardly a weakness of the Leadership/Lore dwarf deck, but still a welcome boost.
Generally with dwarves, I go for Dain / Thorin / Ori deck, which can chuck out lots of dwarves quickly, giving a global boost to all of them, and it tends to work well – any additional dwarf heroes in play tend to be tied in to more nuanced deck strategies, but get to benefit from Dain’s inspiring presence.
Thematically, Ori is another of those dwarves who fade into the general short and bearded background, and I can’t remember a particular thematic thing about him to justify this ability, but as a general “lore ability” it makes a decent amount of sense.
Some people prefer Bombur (see below) to get the dwarf swarm moving more quickly, but I think Ori is probably the more powerful option long-term option, and makes you less dependent upon drawing Legacy of Durin.
This guy is really fat. Yep, that’s right, the sole premise behind this card seems to be a fat joke. We’ve already established that having 5 or more dwarves is a good thing, so why not start with a guy who counts as 2?
Stats-wise, Bombur is nothing to write home about – he can make a passable defender in a pinch, with 2 defence and 5 hit points, but 1 attack and zero willpower is not going to do a lot, even when boosted by Dain. He can help you to get the dwarf-swarm moving more quickly than might otherwise be possible, as you only need to play one dwarf ally to hit that magic threshold, and if they ever introduce a fellowship sphere Gimli, it will open up all kinds of interesting possibilities.
Thematically, I really can’t make up my mind on how I feel about Bombur. On the one hand, having a character whose sole characteristic is “being fat” seems a bit cheesy – on the other hand, I really can’t recall any more detailed character development of him in the book, so expecting FFG to do otherwise when already trying to deal with a dozen or more dwarves seems a bit unfair.
Game-wise, he is definitely playable to give you a quick start, but as I noted above, I prefer something that offers a bit more in the long-run.
The last Lore hero was Pippin, coming from the Black Riders box, and rounding out the Hobbit deck. If Hobbits are about staying low, and only fighting things with a higher engagement cost than your threat, then Pippin is ideal, adding 1 to each enemy’s engagement cost for each Hobbit hero you control. On top of that, he provides regular card-draw when you do engage an enemy, ensuring that you have the tools in hand to defeat the enemy just engaged. He also boosts Merry, and gives you in-sphere access to Fast Hitch, Take no Notice, and other cards which fit well with an overall Hobbity strategy.
Like most Hobbits, Merry is small, and his stats make him of little use in combat, but with only 6 threat cost, his two willpower makes him a decent quester, allowing Sam and Merry to take the more proactive role in the quest.
Threat-wise, this Pippin is as much a puzzle as the other one – the fool of a Took would be expected to make enemies more likely to engage you rather than less, as he alerts the orcs of Moria to your presence and gazes into the Palantir, but instead he increases your chances of slipping by unnoticed.
I’m hopeful that one day we’ll get a Gondor-traited Pippin, and Rohan-traited Merry. In the meantime though, the undeniable playability of this version is enough for most to overcome any thematic objections they might have.