EDIT: Hi everyone, Secondhand Took here from the future! Not really the future but if you’re reading this for the first time and you want to see more artwork check out the other artists I cover in my Art in the LOTR: LCG main page!
Good Day Everyone! Assuming this post comes out on the day I write this I just want to say Happy Friday. You have made it through the week and now have an entire weekend ahead of you to play some LOTR.
This game has many draws that bring people in and keep them hooked pack after pack. For some it’s the cooperative nature of the game. For others the attraction lies in the thematic elements that can be found throughout the cards whether it be in title, game mechanic, quest, location, etc. Another big draw, and one just as important as the game mechanics itself, is the artwork.
There is the age old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Though it definitely proves a point, I don’t think it can be used as a crutch. I myself have picked up many tattered or worn out books at antique stores or goodwills, looking at their binding and wondering what could be within and how much joy the previous owner hopefully got out of reading it. But then again, that is still me judging the book by its appearance, it’s cover. The same can be said of course for many other aspects in our lives, and board and card games are no exception. If you go out to create a game and the artwork is of poor quality (not in a sense that it’s against your tastes mind you, but that it is clear little thought or effort was applied) then the game may suffer for it. I could see LOTR: LCG as a game that could have easily suffered from this. As I mentioned, another big draw of the game is the theme, and although the designers can try their best to bring theme out in their gameplay and game mechanics, I think it’s the art that really seals the deal.
An interesting issue to bring up of course is the varied forms of media that Middle Earth has been a part of for the past several decades. From illustrations straight out of some of the various editions of the books, to the animated films of Ralph Bakshi, and of course the recent adaptations from Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. There are a lot of different Lord of the Rings fans who have become fans at differing times and through different forms of media. This game has the quite difficult task of finding an artistic direction that can appease as many of these people as possible. Imagine being a fan who despises the Peter Jackson films, only to find one of their favorite cards (we’ll say a hero) looks to similar to the Jackson portrayal. I think this game deserves a lot of praise for how it tries to appeal to the various types of fans that could potentially be playing the game.
The cards that stand out above the rest of course, are the Heroes. To be fair they are in front of us hopefully throughout our entire game and so they need to look the part. I’d like to add though that I think some of the other player cards look just as fantastic. I’ve been really impressed by some of the hero cards and how they manage to evoke the right tone depending on the character. Some of the characters that come to mind are Grima, Aragorn (Leadership), Denethor, Ori, Oin, Sam Gamgee, Merry, and Fatty Bolger.
As an aside I want to point out the image I used for this post’s featured image. The link to the actual image, which was used in the Deluxe Expansion The Voice of Isengard can be found here. This is yet another great example of the artwork really selling the world of Middle Earth. The plot of VOI begins with the lands of Rohan being under turmoil with rampaging orcs, dunlendings, etc. The players turn to Saruman, one of the Wise, for assistance and then the story begins. Take a good look at the image and then come back…… you back? Make sure you remember the image…… Ok good. For those of you who don’t know (which I imagine are a VERY SLIM few but regardless SPOILER ALERT) Saruman at one point in his time at Middle Earth decided to change sides, though he doesn’t necessarily side with the enemy he is mostly in it for himself and so he is secretly plotting against both the enemy AND the Free People of Middle Earth. Nearly up until the end, however, characters don’t realize this and Saruman, and likewise Isengard, is seen as a place of great council, advice, and assistance in times of need END SPOILER ALERT. So back to the image. In one sense, Isengard down in the distance truly looks like a haven, nestled within some rather large mountains, offering guidance and protection to those who seek it. There are bright white clouds and rolling green hills immediately around it. But as you look outward (and the characters in the image, Saruman himself and Grima don’t do much to hide this) the environment begins to actually look rather bleak. That tower off in the distance that started off as a beacon of hope begins to take on a more mysterious vibe and as you look at the dark storm clouds rolling in and the expressions on the characters’ faces, you really begin to wonder what is going on that people can’t see. Obviously as readers and fans we know that Saruman and Grima are not in it for the greater good, but the artwork does a good job of showing the mystery behind Isengard and Saruman.
I’d like to now point out a card that really stood out to me when I started collecting a few packs here and there. The card in question would be the Spirit Hero Frodo Baggins from the Conflict at the Carrock AP. When I saw this image I was blown away by it. The artwork from John Stanko is very evocative and I think it’s truly a shame we haven’t seen more of his work outside of the first cycle of cards. Though I’m afraid I misinterpreted the card due to the flavor text I saw this depiction of Frodo as he is AFTER the events in the novels. He looks wise, hopeful, but the lighting depicted in the image as well as the way he looks at the papers on his desk makes him also look a little tired and worn out, weary from his travels. I think it was also how his shirt fit him that made me think of someone who was sick, as it is loose enough to remind me of someone on bed rest either at home or in a hospital. It truly struck a chord with me when I saw this image and strangely enough I thought the mechanic of the card really worked well with the image. Again, I feel like I might be misinterpreting the card since the flavor text hints that this is Frodo BEFORE his journey, but art is subjective not objective and I’m completely fine with my take on the card.
All in all, I really enjoy the artwork in this game. I’m also glad that there are varying styles throughout. It keeps the game feeling fresh and each new card really does feel new.
What is your take on the artwork in this game? Do you love it or hate it? Are there any cards that stand out to you either good or bad?
– The Secondhand Took