It’s been about a month since I started getting back into exercise, or more specifically, running. In an effort to “gamify” my experience, I decided to compare my miles with that of Frodo’s Journey to Mordor – beginning the night he leaves Bag End and his eventual arrival to Mount Doom. Last time, I had just left Hobbiton behind as the lamps began to shine in the darkness, a peculiar fox just miles away. Since then, some more interesting characters have crossed my path.
Since the last article, my mile count has gone from 11.48 to roughly 43. Admittedly, these are not all miles that were “ran.” In an effort to do something on my off days, I resolved to walk the same trail. Keeping to some sort of criteria, walking distance will only be accounted for if I go out of my way to gain a couple miles – walking throughout the day at work, to and from the car, etc. will not affect my journey at all.
About those 43 miles. While I still have 1,736 miles to go, and many interesting happenings ahead of me, things have already begun to get exciting in “Green Hill Country,” the casual Hobbit walking trip turning into something more perilous, but we’ll get to that in a moment. It has hardly been a full 24 hours since Pippin, Sam, and Frodo left Bag End for Crickhollow and already there have been rest breaks, snack breaks, and singing!
The Road Goes Ever On is probably one of the most recognized songs in the novels, thanks in no small part to the Peter Jackson Films and Ian McKellan’s iconic entrance as Gandalf. While Songs have always been present in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game it hasn’t been until recently that they have started to go beyond more than the simple sphere granting neutral cards from the Return to Mirkwood Cycle. There has been the occasional card here and there, but their appearances have become more frequent and their functions more mechanically intriguing. As for The Road Goes Ever On, its effect feels more thematic than mechanically powerful. The jury is still out on that one. I do appreciate how it represents the branching paths that begin to sprout in fantasy epics, especially since shortly after Frodo sings this song he recites more of Bilbo’s sayings with his “dangerous business, going out your door” speech.
Now enough of that Hobbit business. We have an ancient evil artifact to deliver, after all. The Hobbits, it seems, have let their carefree nature get the best of them. Wandering the road, singing songs and stopping for light meals, has kept their guard low. It isn’t shortly after that, upon hearing a pony, they hide in the trees to give what they presume to be Gandalf a surprise!
This moment has made it to every adaptation of the stories and has been represented in the card game as well – and for good reason! Despite the fact that the Hobbits know of the Black Riders, this is the first time they have truly experienced being in the presence of one, and coming off the anticipation of seeing Gandalf makes this Black Rider’s appearance even more terrifying.
Take No Notice is probably the player card that most closely resembles this moment, especially since its flavor text occurs just a few paragraphs before the Black Rider’s entrance. While the card itself represents the Hobbits’ ability to travel noiselessly, the card art is foreboding. The Hobbits can barely be seen in the image, with the Black Rider looming over them, much like it does over the tree hollow. As a card, I find Take No Notice incredibly thematic. If you have nothing but Hobbits, who excel at hiding, then this 3 cost lore event is free, given that Hobbits kind of have a knack for this thing. And while it’s not relevant to the story yet, the card granting the same benefit for having Rangers in your party (maybe a specific Ranger, perhaps?) opens the card a bit more for other builds while still holding true to the theme.
The first Black Rider we see in the Saga Expansion is quite on par with where they are in the story. Their stats are above average, with their threat and defense being more troublesome than their actual attack power, much like how their mere presence caused more problems than anything else in the early chapters. While their engagement cost may seem low, the first Saga Expansion sort of assumes you would be playing with the Hobbits that come in the box, and so an engagement cost of 35 keeps them quite out of range.
Fear of Discovery represents the inner-turmoil within our Ring-Bearer when the Black Rider approaches the hollow. The urge to put on the ring is strong, due to his sudden “fear of discovery” (get it?). While it’s effect is simple, it too finds a wonderful blend of being mechanically and thematically on point. Since the players have access to The One Ring in the Saga Quests, they also have access to its powers, usually through whatever version of Ring-Bearer Frodo they have. Much like in the story, using The Ring will have its repercussions, and if the players unfortunately already used The Ring (and therefore the Ring-Bearer) by the time this card is revealed, than things may quickly get out of hand. Best to stick to the plot with this one and leave your Frodo un-exhausted!
It isn’t all Doom-and-Gloom in the Shire, however, and it doesn’t take too long for the Black Rider to pursue another er… scent(?) and go trotting off into the woods, leaving the Hobbits behind. Taking to the forest, the Hobbits stay away from the road for quite some time, well into the twilight hours, before they return to the path. It doesn’t take long for another Rider to cross their path. In the distance, Frodo sees a black figure, it slumps off its horse and approaches him.
Crawling Towards Him may not be thematically aligned with it’s title but I am still glad it exists. All quirks aside, the Ralph Bakshi films do a great job of portraying the Riders, powerful as they may be, as being… wrong. There is something frightening about a creature that is so hell bent on its mission, particular a nefarious mission, that it pushes on, even when it physically seems unable to do so. This broken but dangerous nature of the Black Riders is woefully absent from the films but I’m very happy to see it make an appearance in card form.
And so the next leg of my journey is nearing its end, but not without a respite! Not long after the ghastly Black Rider crawls towards Frodo do the High Elves appear, and the Hobbits first glimpse into the scope of things.
This party of Elves is led by Gildor Inglorion a character we don’t get to see a lot of in the novels, though his timely aid of Frodo is no less meaningful. Being of the High Elves, Gildor offers Frodo a glimpse into what is truly going on (aside from the info Gandalf departed onto the Hobbit), though Gildor will not outright say. Indeed, his wisdom and warnings are vague, for fear of stalling Frodo with things that are of little importance. Frodo, rightfully so, questions what is worse, hearing the truth of of it all, or Gildor’s cryptic messages. As a card, Gildor is right on par with his character. Should you find an effective mans to pay for him, then you will find a powerful ally indeed. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too! Should you use Gildor for his “advice” and look at the top 3 cards of your deck, you may not find what you were looking for, but then again maybe you will.
Gildor’s Counsel is a card I would like to see more of in the game, but it’s high cost may inhibit it from seeing more play. It’s ability to reduce the number of revealed cards is true to the knowledge Gildor gives to Frodo, as vague as it may seem. More importantly it doesn’t get the Hobbits out of the woods entirely (no pun intended). The card will not stop the encounter deck from revealing cards, as a minimum of 1 will still be revealed. This is very thematic indeed if you consider the flavor text: “The Wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”
My criteria for the cards I am picking is a bit scattered, ranging from personal favorites to those that are too in-line with the moment in the story that I would be remiss to exclude them from the article. If, however, there is a card you would like me to discuss, please let me know in the comments below. And, if you would like to share your own thoughts on the cards themselves, please reach out to me. I would love to showcase other players’ opinions. I’m only about 30 miles from Crickhollow, so a certain Farmer isn’t too far off, as is the 4th member of our Hobbit walking party. Until then…
As always, Thanks for reading!
-The Secondhand Took