With the release of The Road Darkens and the conclusion of The Ring-maker cycle, 2014 ended with a feeding frenzy of new content. Now, as players are getting caught up on new scenarios and deck-building possibilities, FFG has begun whetting our appetite for the next expansions. The saga continues with the first half of The Two Towers in The Treason of Saruman while The Lost Realm promises to take us on original adventures into the North of Middle-earth.
While any fan of the LOTR LCG has to be positively stoked for the upcoming Battle of Helm’s Deep, I always find that the fringes and footnotes of Tolkien’s world fleshed out in the deluxe expansions are more appealing to my sensibilities. Therefore, as we gear up to enter the “Wastes of Eriador” with new side quests, the Valour trigger, and an “Encounter” keyword on our player cards, I want to look forward to some of the new characters, locations, and lore that I hope we will explore in the new cycle. Welcome to the first installment of “Anticipating Angmar Awakened“!
Without question, the most exciting speculation preceding any new release is about the hero cards. The announcement article for The Lost Realm has already promised us “two new Dúnedain heroes”, the first of which has already been spoiled as a Tactics version of Aragorn. With his Fellowship version coming in The Treason of Saruman, Aragorn is now only a Spirit incarnation away from being the first hero to be represented in every sphere of our game (Baggins not included). But who could the other Dúnedain be?
The most obvious choice is Halbarad, captain of the Grey Company. I know the producers of a certain podcast who wouldn’t object! Halbarad appears in The Return of the King, leading a contingent of thirty Rangers with tidings from Rivendell for Aragorn. Aragorn is overjoyed to see Halbarad, embraces him warmly, and calls him “my kinsman” throughout their interactions. When he arrives, Halbarad is described as being “tall, a dark standing shadow” and speaks with a “clear voice” as he raises his “palm outward, in token of peace”.
It is this “dour-handed Ranger” and his Grey Company who brave the Paths of the Dead with Aragorn and he would be an ideal Leadership hero in our game. I am hoping he has an ability that interacts with the Signal cards from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Perhaps Halbarad can fetch Signals from the deck, transfer them freely once per phase, or (in keeping with the new Dúnedain archetype) boost their effects when an enemy is engaged. We’ve already seen Ranger Summons, a new Signal event which confirms the trait is getting more development. A Halbarad hero that brings some choice and synergy to our cache of Dúnedain attachments would be an amazing start to the cycle!
While Halbarad is unlikely to be the only Dúnedain hero that we get in the Angmar Awakened cycle, he is certain to be the only one lifted directly from Tolkien’s lore. Besides Aragorn and him, no other Rangers of the North are named in The Lord of the Rings. Any other Dúnedain will therefore have to be FFG inventions like Beravor and Idraen. This could prove quite interesting though, especially if we are given some background for the character like the short story we received with Idraen. It would also be rewarding for lore junkies to see the designers continue to mine the Appendices for obscure character names from earlier history (as they did for the mono-sphere Record attachments and “Steward’s Fear” villains). In the line of Chieftains recorded in Appendix A, we see that the Dúnedain often reused names of their forefathers and all begin with “Ara-“, an Elvish prefix meaning “royal”. Could an Arahael or Araglas hero be on the horizon? I wouldn’t be disappointed!
Beyond the Dúnedain, the latest spoiler article also promises that we will be seeing some new Hobbit characters. The quintessential “simple folk” who “know little of the lands beyond [their] bounds”, the hobbits of the Shire are among those protected by the Rangers’ tireless efforts in the Northern wastes. Unlike the Dúnedain who only have one named character left without a card, Tolkien has provided dozens of hobbits who are possible candidates for cardboard treatment. From old Will Whitfoot the Mayor to crotchety Ted Sandyman the Miller, there are plenty of hobbits to choose from. Maybe Sam’s old Gaffer Hamfast Gamgee will even make an appearance at some point.
The hobbit I’m most interested in seeing as a hero card, however, is not Sam’s father but his eventual father-in-law Farmer Tom Cotton. As the hobbits are returning to the Shire at the end of The Return of the King, they discover one by one that several of their old neighbors have joined with “the new Chief” and are posing as “Gate-keepers” and “Shirrifs” under Sharkey’s regime. Sam suggests they take shelter with Tom Cotton, who was “always a stout fellow”. Sure enough, when they reach his home, they find the farmer “itching for trouble” and eager to fight back. As the final battle of the War of the Ring takes place in the scouring of the Shire, the “uppish” Farmer Cotton plays a prominent role, sharing intelligence, helping muster “nearly two hundred” armed hobbits, and staging the act of civil disobedience (breaking curfew) that sparks the final confrontation with the Chief’s men.
While the “fame and fortune of the Cottons dates from this time”, it can be safely assumed that in the era of our card game Farmer Cotton’s latent skills in the Leadership and Tactics spheres are just waiting for the opportunity to shine. This fits perfectly with the Hobbit deck archetype developed in The Black Riders in which the unassuming residents of the Shire rise to the occasion when encountering greater threats. Given his role in the Battle of Bywater, a Farmer Cotton hero that somehow scries the encounter deck, brings allies into play, or interacts with the staging area would be a thematic home run. Maybe we’ll even see his only daughter Rosie Cotton as an ally that gives a boost to Sam!
Beyond the “new Dúnedain, Hobbits, and Scouts” teaser, we have no further clues about who our upcoming heroes might be yet, and certainly the designers won’t limit themselves to characters who live in the North. That said, there is one more resident of Eriador who I’d love to see come out in this cycle. That is the wisest Elf in all of Middle-earth, Círdan the Shipwright.
I really don’t think there is any way this cycle can go by without giving us a Círdan hero card. Dwelling in the Grey Havens throughout the Second and Third Age, Círdan is also the oldest Elf in all of Middle-earth. In fact, it is quite possible that he is one of the original Elves created by Ilúvatar who awoke near Lake Cuivíenen before the Sun marked time! When he appears on the final page of The Lord of the Rings, we are told that he is “grey and old” with a long beard — signs of aging not described for any other Elf. Yet despite his epic age (or perhaps because of it), Círdan’s eyes are “keen as stars”. A member of the White Council and a fierce warrior in the older days of Middle-earth, Círdan is actually my most anticipated card in the upcoming cycle. In fact, now that we have Galadriel, Gwaihir, and Treebeard, I imagine that many players have him near the top of their wish list of characters we haven’t seen yet.
Círdan’s hero card should have an ability that is subtle yet powerful, like that of Galadriel. At the time of our game, Círdan is no longer actively involved in the affairs of Middle-earth, but throughout history he often provided a safe shelter near the sea during times of war and made wise choices (such as entrusting Gandalf with Narya, the Ring of Fire) that directed the fates of the Free Peoples. As such, Círdan would be an ideal hero for the Lore sphere and I think that Ian’s version of Círdan from his custom First Age expansion would be an awesome model for FFG to follow.
One point of curiosity for me is what trait FFG will assign to Círdan. So far all of our Elves have been either Noldor or Silvan but Círdan is neither. He is Sindar, one of the “Grey-elves” who did not go to Valinor in the First Age. The history of the different races of Elves can get complicated, but it is sufficient for us to note that while the Sindar are more closely related to Silvan Wood-elves than they are to the Noldor (both Teleri), they are not the same. Because Círdan’s people settled along the sea, they came to be called the Falathrim or “Coast-elves”. I will be interested to see if FFG misapplies the Silvan trait to Círdan (as they did for Legolas who is also Sindar, not Silvan) or whether they create a new Elven trait for our fabled Keeper of the Havens. Whatever the case, I can’t wait to see him on the table!
With the The Lost Realm expected to drop in “Q1 2015” and currently listed as “At the Printer”, it could be weeks or months until we finally face the “dangers of the North”, but sometimes the anticipation is better than the arrival. In the meantime, what do you think about my hopes for our upcoming heroes? And which unprinted character are you currently anticipating the most as you look forward to our new expansions? Vote in the poll and comment below!