Despite the obvious connection with the title, this is not me doing another Highlander mode challenge. While that’s a challenge I may revisit in future, for the moment it’s a one and done deal.
This, on the other hand, is a post I’ve had in mind for a while, on the subject of that great bane of multiplayer games, uniqueness clashes. You get together with some friends to play LotR, only to discover that you’re trying to run one of the same heroes as your friend, a different sphere version of another, and your deck depends on both the ally version of another friend’s hero and one of the most popular attachments in the game that probably everyone will want so you’re going to end up racing to see who gets it first.
In the time I’ve been part of the community around this game I’ve seen and heard many comments on this, whether on blogs or on the forums, or on podcasts and twitch streams. It’s why when people ask for advice on what sort of deck to take to a Fellowship event, one of the key bits of advice is to take multiple different options; it’s why people will sometimes build decks with a sideboard of additional hero options they can swap in to avoid clashes, and may recommend that others do so; it’s why when I play multiplayer I generally try to make sure only one player is playing Leadership to avoid recriminations; and it’s why ‘Gandalf guy’ has become a recognised term, with people deliberately avoiding using one of the more powerful heroes in the game. It can be a big problem and it gets talked about quite a bit, but to my knowledge no-one has ever done a full and systematic guide to the potential uniqueness clashes in the game until now. So here we go, a listing of all the potentially significant uniqueness clashes I can think of, and thoughts on each:
Some characters are incompatible with particular quests. Mostly these aren’t really an issue as you just choose decks for those quests which do not include those characters (or at least which don’t depend on them so you can just swap them out for other characters). In any case though I have to mention them for completeness’ sake.
Bilbo obviously cannot be used for the Hobbit saga quests. Since Bilbo is little used in any case, this isn’t generally an issue.
Frodo can’t be used for currently three quarters, which with more releases will become two thirds of the Lord of the Rings saga quests, or all of them if playing in campaign mode. Frodo is more common than Bilbo as he’s such a potent defensive option. Being a Spirit Hobbit has also prompted me to consider him as a possibility for using Good Meal for more expensive Spirit events, though in that context the recent release of Spirit Merry has offered a decent option to swap in as a substitute (Fatty would be a more unusual choice, and while Spirit Pippin has a fine enough statline the same cannot be said of his ability, whereas Merry just needs a Fast Hitch).
Clashes with the objective ally in Shadow of the Past. But as an expensive unique ally, Gildor’s not a character you’re generally going to view as totally indispensable.
Clashes with the objective ally in Blood of Gondor and is forbidden for Morgul Vale. I feel the case where this would be the biggest issue is the Leadership hero Faramir, who actually could be a pretty good choice for these scenarios.
Clashes with the objective ally in Fords of Isen and is forbidden for Treason of Saruman. As a tremendously powerful hero, it may be a blow not having him available, particularly for Helm’s Deep, since that’s an incredibly difficult quest. Also, I’ve always been disappointed that you can’t by the official rules play out an alternate history where Grima has a change of heart and sides with Theoden against Saruman.
Forbidden for Treason of Saruman. I doubt there’s a deck out there that really depends on Saruman, so I don’t think it’s an issue to just sub in something else.
This has got to be the biggest of the quest-specific clash problems, since Aragorn has three non-Fellowship versions, all of them both good and popular. And he tends to be fairly central to any deck that includes him, it’s rare that Aragorn is a hero you just throw in and don’t build around at all such that you could replace him with a different hero when you decide to play a quest from Treason of Saruman (or Flame of the West when that’s released).
Clashes with the objective ally in Wastes of Eriador, Across the Ettenmoors and Treachery of Rhudaur. I know some people were frustrated by this as it meant that if Amarthiul was part of their really great deck they managed to put together once they had the full cycle’s worth of cards, they couldn’t then play that deck through the full cycle’s worth of quests.
Multiple hero versions
Probably the biggest source of uniqueness clashes, and in general the most difficult to resolve, since a majority of decks are built with the particular chosen set of three heroes in mind.
The big one, with three different versions, all powerful, all popular, and all rather different in their uses. It’s not too hard to imagine that potentially three players could want to bring a deck that depends on using a lot of Doomed cards for a first start before resetting threat (including others with Desperate Alliance), a deck intended to take the lion’s share of combat duties by forcibly engaging all the enemies one by one, and a deck using Leadership Aragorn’s easy access to the Sword that was Broken to quest up a storm along with his innate action advantage to turn him into a super-hero able to contribute largely to both questing and combat. All of these would be seriously dependent on Aragorn in each case so they can’t just swap him out for a different hero and for very different reasons so if they swap to a different deck it probably won’t do quite the same thing.
This one is less of a big deal because Corefindel is pretty much never used. Though this does mean that if anyone ever does randomly decide they want to use Corefindel they’ll have great difficulty actually getting the deck into a game given the massive prevalence of Spirit Glorfindel.
While I don’t think this one reaches quite the level of Aragorn conflicts, it is definitely a significant one. A Leadership Gondor deck may well depend on Boromir’s attack boost to consistently pull off kills as well as him being the natural target for Visionary Leadership, but on the other hand Tactics Boromir is frequently the strong focus of any deck he’s included in, a focus somewhat justified given his incredibly easy and repeatable readying.
Either version of Merry fits well into a Hobbit deck, but if that’s a clash you hit then your problem is likely more than just Merry since there are only so many Hobbit heroes to choose from. The issue is more likely to be just Merry in a less Hobbit-focused context, wherein Tactics Merry provides extra readying for chaingun attacks while Spirit Merry provides powerful repeatable threat reduction. If one is to be swapped out, in most cases I think I’d be inclined to say swap out the Spirit version. Threat reduction is always useful, but in a lot of cases it’s just a bonus, unless the deck really depends on a low-threat approach (e.g. Dunhere or Secrecy), in which case I’d say let maybe the Tactics manage without quite so much readying might be a path of less resistance.
I don’t really see this one being an issue even once in a blue moon, but for completeness’ sake I’m listing it anyway. Lore Pippin is better than Spirit Pippin in pretty much any context, and pretty much no-one uses Spirit Pippin.
Although Lore Faramir is the less popular version, and I’m personally a pretty big fan of Leadership Faramir, I feel like Lore potentially takes precedence in disputes over which Faramir gets played. Simply because I figure if you swap a different Leadership hero into most decks with Faramir you still have all the good allies you presumably built around even if you can’t ready them so much. Whereas if you build around beefing up Lore Faramir’s attack you may be more dependent on getting that working and find it harder to replace him with a different Lore hero. Also since he is a less used hero I feel like he should get to take his chances at seeing play when he gets them. Though on the flipside the simplest way of powering up Lore Faramir is with Ranger Spikes – which are something you tend to want anyway so you may still manage fine even without getting the attack boost as an additional benefit.
This one is similar to the Pippin case above, though Tactics Theoden is better than Spirit Pippin. Still outclassed by his other self and barely used though.
Hero/ally uniqueness clashes are in general not such a big deal. A particular ally is not generally something you really build around so not having access to them is less of a big deal; though there are some exceptions as I’ll now go over.
This is one of the big ones. The consistent card draw from ally Legolas is fantastic and in the vast majority of cases I’d rather have him than the hero version. And in particular I know I have a few mono-Tactics decks which run Legolas x3 as their primary card draw, so the ally being in play would just block those decks from functioning as efficiently as they might.
As useful as the little bit of communal card draw from hero Bilbo can be, anyone playing a Gandalf deck may find themselves rather frustrated at not being able to use him to pull out the Wizard Pipe from their deck. Once again, I kind of prefer the ally, in that context at least, while I feel like in many contexts hero Bilbo could easily be swapped out for a different hero.
This one could potentially be an issue since low-threat decks (e.g. Hobbits) might be somewhat reliant on ally Boromir to serve as a defender. Or even if he’s just one option, taking that option away makes the deck’s defence that bit less consistent. If the conflict is with Tactics Boromir, then so long as he gets Sentinel somehow everything should still be fine, because he’ll still be a good defender who can potentially take multiple hits. If it’s Leadership Boromir then you may have a problem there.
Hero Hama tends to redefine any deck you put him in because your events stop being one-shots. Ally Hama is one of the solidest defensive options available to a Rohan deck, especially if it also gets Gamling into play. Try and run them opposite each other, and someone’s probably going to be disappointed.
This is the Faramir conflict I think a lot of people would be more bothered about than the two different hero versions. Ally Faramir is an incredibly powerful card and so being denied access to him by someone else’s hero choice has the potential to hurt fairly badly. On the other hand, I’ve commented before that I tend to find ally Faramir is often a win-more card, and as such can be managed just fine without. I suppose the main thing is that if your deck is focused on that sort of willpower-boosting effects then it becomes a bit like what I said about ally Boromir for Hobbits – remove one of many options, the deck becomes less consistent even if it’s still basically just as functional given good draws.
The infamous ‘Gandalf Guy’ problem. Now personally I don’t really use Core Gandalf that much any more. I use him with Sneak Attack and I use him in some Tactics decks because I find those can often find themselves with excess resources and not enough cards, or wanting to lower threat. But those issues can be solved by other means with co-operation from other players, including e.g. Gandalf’s Staff, so I really don’t see it as such a huge issue. I realise I may still be in the minority on that point admittedly. Personally I’d see more of an issue with hero Gandalf blocking decks from using Hobbit Gandalf, because personally I find him to be, at least in general, a considerably more better investment of 5 resources.
I honestly think depriving a deck of Treebeard is worse than depriving it of Gandalf, certainly Core Gandalf (and Hobbit Gandalf, while good, is not for every deck). Gandalf’s effects can be acquired other ways, whereas Treebeard may well be chosen in pretty much any deck as a potent defensive and offensive solution, in neutral and thus accessible to any deck that wants him. Also if people want to run an Ent deck he’s perfect, while hero Treebeard decks tend to be different beasts entirely.
Ally Dori can be super useful at times. Fortunately for those who want to use him, the hero was kind of panned on his release and he’s hardly ever used so this conflict is unlikely to arise.
Rare issue, but ally Erestor can be a great source of card draw in Leadership (at least if you don’t have access to King Under the Mountain).
This is another potentially big one. Sure, there are other 2-willpower allies you can sub in for Arwen if the hero is in play, they may even be more reliable in terms of getting willpower on the table since they’re not unique. But the defence boost and Sentinel are things people may be depending on. Especially the Sentinel in multiplayer, for e.g. Boromir. Take away ally Arwen for the hero, and it’s not just that you lose a bit of willpower that you can easily replace for the same cost in the same sphere – you also lose Sentinel, which otherwise requires either Leadership or Tactics (and the permanent Tactics option only works on elves, though of course Elf-friend is a thing if you want to start getting a bit jankier).
For the sake of completeness, the other hero/ally conflicts which I felt were not so important and thus didn’t otherwise address are:
Gloin, Denethor, Galadriel, Gimli, Beorn, Dwalin, Damrod, Bifur, Haldir of Lorien, Bombur, Elrond, Galdor of the Havens.
Multiple ally versions
Only three instances in the game to my knowledge, and one of them – Anborn – I don’t think is that big an issue.
This is easier than Gandalf hero. Since Hobbit Gandalf does give you the option of discarding him at the end of the round if you don’t want to eat the threat, you can choose to do this when someone else wants their Core Gandalf. Or of course you can (and may well want to anyway) leave playing Hobbit Gandalf until a bit later in the game by which point other people have already used their Sneak Attacks.
This one is not so significant as it might once have been following the Horn of Gondor nerf, since before that Spirit Bofur could effectively shift a Spirit resource onto whoever had the Horn, whatever sphere they were. Now, however, that synergy is no longer there, and the little willpower boost can most likely be managed without, whereas a Tactics deck that runs on weapons needs to get them out in a timely fashion.
For this one I’m not going to list all the instances. There are way too many. But I will note that yes, of course uniqueness clashes can happen even when there’s only one version of a card, where both players/decks want to use the same thing. These can be divided into a few different categories. Some probably won’t be an issue because hardly anyone uses them anyway. Some are temporary, like Thror’s Key (if you explore the location after blanking it) or ally Elrond so it doesn’t really matter so much. Some it doesn’t really matter who gets it because the effect either can be targeted to benefit whoever you want or is global, like Gleowine, Visionary Leadership, or Landroval.
But then the ones that are a problem are the ones which are player- or character-specific. And of course the conflict becomes more potentially problematic the better the card is, with the crowning glory of them all being Steward of Gondor. Everyone wants to be the Steward, but only one player can be. This is why when I play with friends we generally try to ensure only one player is playing Leadership in any given game, to avoid arguments. Of course, with Seastan’s pioneering of the Good Harvest+Steward combo, it may well be that even that won’t always be enough of a precaution.
Anyway. In conclusion, I don’t really have a conclusion. I’m not entirely sure what I intended with this article – I guess it potentially serves as kind of a quick reference guide to uniqueness clashes, but really I’m just kind of throwing a bunch of thoughts at my computer screen and then editing down to the ones I think make some sense. Either way, I hope someone maybe got something from it? My next post I’ll try to be a bit more coherent about it.