Roberto Di Meglio
Since the beginning of the development of Lords of Middle-earth, we realized how important to the new expansion the “Lords” featured in the title were going to be.
Elrond and Galadriel are two of the most important personalities in War of the Ring, and possibly the most stalwart opponents of Sauron in Middle-earth, together with Gandalf. It’s surely not a chance that the three of them wear the only three Rings of Power untouched by the Dark Lord…
In Battles of the Third Age, Galadriel was fundamental in the strategy of the Free Peoples. She was – apart from two base game companions, Gandalf the White and Aragorn, Heir to Isildur - the only character able to provide an additional action die to the Free Peoples. Her die was only available until Gandalf the White entered the fray. Even after that, she was still critical in reinforcing the defense of Lorién and protecting the Ring-bearers from afar, but it was definitely the addition of that precious 5th die early in the game which made her so important.
In War of the Ring, the Free Peoples player has less actions in each turn than the Shadow, and especially in the early game, this means that every decision is an agonizing choice, and there are never enough actions to fully counter the threats of the Shadow player. That additional action early in the game may prove to be game changing, as in 1st Edition a late arrival of both Gandalf the White and Aragorn sometimes means the end of any hope of victory for the Free Peoples.
Given the improved balance in War of the Ring 2nd Edition, however, such a powerful ability for Galadriel was very likely just too good for the Free Peoples. On top of that, we considered that the effect of gaining and losing an action die in this way was a bit too “coarse”, and that it gave too much importance to Galadriel and Lorién, bringing away the focus of the game from locations such as Rohan and Gondor, which in the books are of the greatest importance from a military point of view.
However, in War of the Ring there is a very strong connection between major characters and action dice – how to solve this conundrum, and to fit into the equation Elrond as well?
We found the solution by introducing a completely new concept, which is possibly the most important feature of Lords of Middle-earth. We would include in the expansion special action dice, different for each character. In this way, we could make each individual action die “tailored”, from a thematic point of view, to the related character. We could include drawbacks and new action icons, to get them perfectly balanced. These new “Keepers’ dice” where what we needed to replace the “old” Galadriel’s action die mechanic.
From the point of view of the hidden math engine of the game, the new concept allowed a more gradual growth of the Free Peoples player power, introducing intermediate steps in the increase from 4 to 6 action dice.
The idea became especially intriguing when applied to Gandalf. In spite of our best efforts, even the redesign of the character in 2nd Edition only marginally improves his chances of survival as “The Grey” - the temptation for the Free Peoples player to take him as a casualty in order to get his more powerful incarnation in play is still very strong!
If we designed a new Gandalf the Grey, featured as “Keeper of Narya”, that would add a Keeper’s die himself, then the Free Peoples player would have a new, interesting choice: rather than getting rid of Gandalf the Gray as soon as possible, he can keep him and his “lesser” die in play, and avoid the dangerous gamble of trying to swap the Grey for the White, at the risk of a late arrival. This concept was also a good fit for our idea of introducing alternate versions of the companions.
After these decisions, the first “Alpha” of Lords of Middle-earth was on its way to be ready for the first round of playtesting; but first, we had to decide what to add to the arsenal of the Shadow player to balance the power of the three Keepers of the Elven Rings…