It’s almost time to leave the Shire! Since we announced the upcoming release of The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill for T he Lord of the Rings: The Card Game , the days have passed by, the heroes of Middle-earth have kept busy exploring the dangers of the Dwarrowdelf , and the Shire-folk of Bag End have kept mostly to themselves, tidying up their pantries, smoking their pipeweed, and certainly not planning for any grand adventures…

Still, The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill is scheduled to release mid-August, and that means at least one famous Hobbit will soon undertake a fabulous journey. Today, the expansion’s lead developer, Caleb Grace, looks at a few of the upcoming player cards and the privilege of working on a Saga Expansion that brings life to the novel’s heroes and encounters.

Caleb Grace on the Player Cards in The Hobbit

My first assignment at Fantasy Flight Games was to create a list of player cards for the The Hobbit Saga Expansions. It felt like I had just won the lottery. Growing up, The Hobbit was my favorite book. I found it in my school library when I was in the 3rd grade and read it five times before learning that there were more stories that took place in Middle-earth. I couldn’t believe what an amazing world I had stumbled into – full of giant trolls, talking spiders, hordes of goblins, and a fire-breathing dragon. Bilbo’s world was an awesome and scary place, yet the heroes of his story were able to overcome each obstacle on their journey with the help of powerful allies, magical items, and incredible luck. And those were the things that I wanted to bring to life in The Hobbit Saga Expansions.

With so many fantastic elements in mind, I filled out the card list quickly. I wished that I had more card slots available because even with fifty player cards in the box, I still couldn’t include everything I wanted. But there were some cards that just had to be included, like Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf, and Sting. These are three of my favorite cards in The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill .

The book introduces Thorin Oakenshield as “an enormously important dwarf” and nobody believed that more than Thorin himself. So I wanted to make a hero card that felt at once like he was important, but perhaps not as important as he believed himself to be. The truth is that Thorin’s real significance came from his followers. Without his companions, Thorin was just a wandering dwarf with no real wealth. But with the strength of his company, Thorin was able to undertake a mighty quest. That is why the ability I gave Thorin Oakenshield ( The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill , 2) ties directly into the set’s theme for the dwarves: "If you control at least 5 Dwarf characters, add 1 additional resource to Thorin’s resource pool when you collect resources during the resource phase."

When the Dwarves of Thorin’s company had to face challenges alone, like the three trolls or the spiders of Mirkwood Forest, they were quickly overwhelmed and defeated. But when they banded together, they proved to be strong enough to overcome whatever obstacles stood in their path (with some help from Gandalf or Bilbo). That is why I thought it would be fun to explore the design space in the rule, “While you control at least 5 Dwarf characters...” These Dwarves still work extremely well with existing Dwarf cards, but this ability helps to give the Dwarves of Thorin’s company an identity of their own as well.

But it wasn’t just Dwarves that I wanted to include in The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill ; I knew it was time for a new Gandalf card ( The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill , 10). Here was an opportunity to portray Gandalf the way I was introduced to him as a child: a mysterious old wizard in a tall pointed hat wandering up to Bilbo’s front door to call the Hobbit on an adventure. I could not be more pleased with the art for this card. It’s as if Magali Villeneuve drew Gandalf right out of my imagination. And I really like his ability as well, “Gandalf does not exhaust to commit to a quest.” The original Gandalf card from the Core Set is such a fun card and so good at what it does that I knew I wanted to approach a new Gandalf from a completely different angle. This Gandalf doesn’t make as big of a splash when he enters play, but he does bring some hefty stats to the quest and then offers some interesting gameplay choices after that.

What I remembered most about Gandalf from The Hobbit was that everyone could relax when he was around, and everybody was terrified when he had to leave. The same is true in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game : everyone feels better when Gandalf is on the table, so I wanted to give players the option to keep him in play. That is why the second half of his game text reads: Forced : At the end of the refresh phase, discard Gandalf from play. You may raise your threat by 2 to cancel this effect.” Now players who really feel they just can’t do it without Gandalf’s help can raise their threat an additional two points at the end of the refresh phase to keep the wizard around another turn.

As much as I love Gandalf, my favorite card in the entire box is Sting ( The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill , 20). When I was a kid, I thought it was so cool that Bilbo found a little sword just the right size for him, and that it was a magic sword. It glowed blue when Goblins were near and cut through giant spider webs, but its most magical power seemed to be that it transformed a frightened little Hobbit into a brave adventurer. That is why the Sting treasure gives Bilbo Baggins an additional point of Willpower, Attack, and Defense. But that’s not all it does. The rest of its ability is even more exciting: Response : After Bilbo Baggins exhausts to defend, discard the top card of the encounter deck. Deal damage to the attacking enemy equal to the discarded card’s [Threat Strength] .” With his Elven dagger in hand, Bilbo proved to be a fierce fighter in a pinch, and that’s the root of Sting’s ability. If you’re willing to risk damaging Bilbo by having him defend an enemy attack, he stands a chance of destroying the enemy before it can even resolve its attack.

Because Bilbo found his sword in the troll’s cave, I knew I wanted it to be a Treasure card and not just a regular Attachment. This means that players will have to “discover” it in the first quest of the box in order to use it in subsequent scenarios, but it also means that once you play it on Bilbo Baggins it cannot be targeted by cards that affect Attachments.

I hope that players enjoy playing with these cards as much as I enjoyed developing them, and that they do justice for other fans of The Hobbit . It’s certainly been a privilege to be a part of Bilbo Baggins’ grand adventure.

Thanks, Caleb!

Keep your eyes open for additional news about this exciting Saga Expansion. Bilbo’s grand adventure begins in the middle of August, and you don’t want to miss a moment of it!

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.

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