Welcome to the third article in my objective-ally review series. Today I shall share my thoughts about one of the most iconic characters from The Lord of the Rings saga featured in the Return to Mirkwood scenario: Gollum!
Gollum is an objective-ally drawn directly from the world of Professor Tolkien, even more so than Grimbeorn, for he plays a pivotal role in our heroes’ tales.
[WARNING: Possible spoilers ahead!] For the sake of time, I shall try to write a concise version of his history – a tall task indeed!
Gollum was originally a Hobbit of the Stoor race, and dwelt upon the banks of the Anduin River roughly five hundred years before the events that take place in the Saga expansions of our card game. His given name was Sméagol. On his thirty-third birthday (or on a birthday when he was around that age), he went fishing with his cousin Dèagol. During this excursion, Dèagol accidentally discovered a gold ring – the One Ring of Power created by Sauron to rule all of Middle-earth. Sméagol desired to possess this ring, and when Dèagol refused to relinquish it, he strangled him. Sméagol began to make a gollum sound in his throat, causing his family to refer to him as such. They eventually cast him out and eventually Gollum took the Ring to the Misty Mountains, where he dwelt for nearly five hundred years.
It was at that point that the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, stumbled upon what Gollum called “the Precious” (being the One Ring). Bilbo kept the Ring, and Gollum did not realize he had lost it until he wanted to use it to become invisible and kill Bilbo. He then attempted to reclaim it from Bilbo, who fled. In his desperation to recover the Precious, Gollum ventured out of his dark abode and found his way into Mordor. There, he was tortured until he revealed the name “Baggins” and the place “Shire” to his interrogators, who then set him free. His freedom was short lived, however; he was soon captured by the ranger Aragorn and taken to the wizard Gandalf, who also questioned him. Once he told Gandalf how he came by the Ring, he was sent as a prisoner to the Elves of Mirkwood. Gollum managed to escape after a raid on the Elves by Orcs and resumed his search for the Ring, making his way to Moria, an abandoned kingdom of the Dwarves in the Misty Mountains 200 miles south of Gollum’s former dwelling. It was there he began to trail the Fellowship of the Ring when they passed.
He followed Frodo and Sam into the Emyn Muil, where he was captured by the Hobbits. He swore on the Ring to lead them to Mordor. During this time, Frodo’s kindness caused Gollum to revert to his Sméagol personality, which lasted until the company was captured by Faramir, Captain of Gondor. Then Sméagol lost trust in Frodo and plotted to lead him to the spider Shelob, who (he hoped) would devour the Hobbits. The plan failed, and Gollum merely tracked the hobbits to Mount Doom, where the Ring could be destroyed. He at last reclaimed his Precious, but while dancing for joy as he held it, he slipped and fell into the lava below. His death sealed the destruction of the Ring and the return of peace to Middle-earth. In this way, Gollum is often perceived as the hero of The Lord of the Rings, for without him, it is doubtful that the Ring would have been destroyed. [SPOILER ALERT FINALLY ENDED.]
As one can easily see, Gollum is a character dripping with theme. It is odd that he should become an objective-ally that is so “unwilling” to aid the players, but that is indeed his true personality. In this scenario, he has been captured by the heroes who must take him the Elven-King’s hall in Mirkwood. He cannot really help the players in any way and indeed endangers the heroes’ lives in a way that I feel is accurate. The connections to Tolkien’s story are countless, therefore driving me to give Gollum the highest theme rating.
Thematic Relevance: 5 out of 5
There is much less to be said about Gollum where utility is concerned. He has no willpower, no attack, no defense, and five hit points. He is essentially useless as far as the basic actions (questing, attacking, and defending) are concerned, as he has nothing to contribute to them. Perhaps he may be exhausted by the player guarding him to satisfy a card effect, but the chances of that are slim; no encounter cards require the players to exhaust characters. However, the most intriguing yet potentially devastating aspect of Gollum is his text box, which reads:
“Damage from undefended attacks against you must be dealt to Gollum. If Gollum is destroyed, or if the player guardingGollum is eliminated, the players have lost the game. Forced: At the end of each round, raise the threat of the player guarding Gollum by 3. Then, that player may choose a new player to guard Gollum.”
First things first: Gollum takes all damage from undefended attacks. In some cases, this can come in handy, keeping heroes from suffering damage. However, if he is destroyed, the players lose, meaning that Gollum can probably only sustain the damage form one undefended attack. Then the players must have defending options available or heal Gollum until he is capable of surviving another undefended attack. It is inconvenient to invest in healing an objective-ally, especially when it does nothing useful for the players. In fact, Gollum’s forced effect raises the threat of the player guarding him by three, making a total threat gain of four at the conclusion of a round. One can choose another player to guard Gollum in order to lessen the blow to any individual, but this is no comfort in a solo game. In addition to Gollum himself, every card in the Return to Mirkwood encounter set targets the player guarding Gollum, more for ill than for good. This, combined with Gollum’s inability to contribute to players’ needs, makes him a very undesirable objective-ally, as the players must strive to keep him alive when Gollum himself endeavors to harm the heroes.
Utility Rating: 1 out of 5
Gollum is perhaps the most unbalanced objective-ally in terms of his ratings: highest of high for theme and lowest possible for utility. In way, though, I find his lack of usefulness to the players in this scenario to be incredibly thematic; Gollum does not, at this point, wish to aid anyone save himself, and will do everything within his power to foil the plans of heroes in Middle-earth. Have anything to say about this objective-ally? Please share! Check back soon to read my review of Arwen Undòmiel.
-Gwaihir the Windlord
[Hey everyone! Secondhand Took here. Just wanted to send a shout out regarding the art used in the Featured Image and in the body of this post. Aside from the card art itself (which is done by Tiziano Baracchi, the non-film depictions of Gollum are done by Jake Murray. His depictions of Gollum are some of my favorites (which I’ve covered here). The images should send you to his page but if not click his name in the paragraph to check out his other awesome work!]