Greetings HeroClix Fans!
Recently we had the opportunity to speak with Seth Johnson who served as Designer for Lord of the Rings HeroClix. While we didn’t confine him to Barud-Dur, he was willing to nonetheless share some details about the project, and we are happy to share them with you all today!
What were the design challenges and opportunities presented by LotR?
The first challenge was to keep my excitement under control when I found out we were going to bring Lord of the Rings to HeroClix. But as I always do when tying characters and story to game mechanics, I try to find the biggest challenge involved and turn it into the biggest opportunity. For Lord of the Rings, the biggest challenge was capturing the sheer scope of the thing. It would have been easy enough to put together some dials for the Fellowship so that HeroClix players could recreate Weathertop or Minas Tirith. More challenging was to capture the larger arc of the Fellowship’s journey, and the moments where they found themselves in the middle of massive battles–but still playing a critical part.
The Lord of the Rings is an epic adventure, and Lord of the Rings HeroClix demanded to be equally epic. “Epic” was our challenge, but it also became the opportunity I exploited as often as possible.
What are epic battles?
Epic battles are HeroClix battles with build totals between 400 and 1000 points.
When designing HeroClix figures in the past, it’s always been with an eye toward 300-point battles. Still, the best part about the game is that the sky is the limit: if players want to play games with higher build totals, they can! But we had never really done much to support those larger battles in the past. Lord of the Rings HeroClix and epic battles was our chance to start giving players some fun and unique opportunities in those big battles–things like epic actions and epic abilities.
How do the epic actions work?
Epic actions are a special kind of action forces get only in epic battles, and they can be given to characters only to make use of epic abilities.
Epic abilities are game-changers, with effects that can really help shape the course of a battle– the secret to how a little hobbit can play a critical part in the middle of a thousand soldiers. In fact, they’re so formidable that you only get one epic action per turn, so you can only use one epic ability per turn, no matter how many characters on your force might have them available.
Though they use the familiar mechanics of actions and abilities, it’s important to note that you can’t use the normal actions you get each turn (or those generated by powers like Leadership) to fuel an epic ability. Similarly, you can’t use your epic action to power up Quake or Support. When you use an epic action, epic things happen!
We’ve heard about “Horde tokens”, can you tell us what these are?
Once we were using epic abilities to make sure our heroes (and villains) were playing critical roles during the battle, we needed to make the battlefield feel like Middle-Earth, crowded with throngs of knights, orcs, and soldiers. In HeroClix, those types of minor, unnamed characters are often represented with bystander tokens. But these weren’t bystanders–these were warriors. We could still represent them with tokens–but they needed to be EPIC tokens!
At first glance, horde tokens look like bystander tokens. On its own, a horde token is a round cardboard token with a single slot of combat values and powers. Kind of like how a single orc isn’t too terrifying. But a group of orcs–that’s when they start to get scary. (click on images to enlarge!)
Players have sometimes hesitated to play large groups of tokens in the past. They were too fragile, and just too darn unwieldy. Horde tokens solve that problem by stacking. Want to move a big group of horde tokens across the battlefield quickly? Stack them up, move them across the battlefield together, and then spread them out to surround their prey. Think a token is fragile, a balloon waiting to be popped? You can take down a stack of horde tokens, but you have to do it one token at a time–suddenly tokens have multiple slots! (Even if they are all the same…)
But the best part of horde tokens are horde abilities. Horde abilities are how a group of orcs are scarier than a single orc–special abilities that can scale with the size of the stack, giving extra distance to a Charge, or increasing the damage they do with an attack. (click on images to enlarge!)
Wait—did I say that was the best part of horde tokens? Well, everything I’ve told you about so far is available when ever you play horde tokens. But they have a special ability when played in epic battles. In epic battles, proportional to the battle’s build total, you can actually return some of your defeated horde tokens to the battle, calling up reinforcements! You can’t lean on that ability too hard, because if you only have horde tokens left in the battle, your force is eliminated. But no matter how big the hero, you can bet they’re going to be more nervous than before when they see a token coming across the battlefield toward them! (click on images to enlarge!)
Can you tell us, in broad strokes, what the “Campaign rules” mean for LotR?
I love a good HeroClix battle. But I’ve always wanted the same thing I know a lot of other players do, for one battle to have an effect on the next–to be able to play a campaign of battles. Lord of the Rings HeroClix seemed like a perfect place to explore that idea, to offer a chance to make the epic battles even…epic-er.
The journey of the Fellowship isn’t a single battle. Weathertop runs on to the Mines of Moria continues to Amon Hen and on and on toward the Black Gates and Mordor. I wanted to give players the tools they needed to recreate those epic battles…and maybe for events to go the other way. To play a campaign of battles where every victory and loss has effects down the road.
Campaign battles are very story-driven, recreating specific moments from the Lord of the Rings, and as such have some requirements. You’ll have to include a couple particular characters in your force during each battle, play on a particular map, follow a couple scenario-specific rules. As always, victory in both individual battles and the campaign as a whole is determined by victory points. But a particularly triumphant victory in a battle will score you a special treasure you can use in a future battle, perhaps a Mithril Shirt or Hammerhand’s Horn. It’s not all the strong getting stronger, though–destiny favors an underdog, and if you lose particularly badly in one battle you’ll get special reinforcements that might put you in an advantageous position at the beginning of the next battle in the campaign.
Did you have a favorite character and/or one that was particularly fun to design?
Of all the characters in the starter, Strider was a lot of fun to design–Aragorn in the days when he still traveled incognito as a ranger and the chieftain of the Dunedain. It was a lot of fun to make him that warrior from the wild, but also the king in waiting, the man who would guide hobbits on the first dangerous steps of their journey. His “Sword Training” special power will probably help with that, and you’ll get one of your first tastes of epic abilities with his “Leaving Decoys” ability.
Which figure was the most difficult to design?
As with the horde tokens, the biggest challenge was making the meekest characters appropriately effective, keeping hobbits appropriately in the 30-50 point range but still making them characters that can play just as important a part in a victory as more expensive characters.
And then there’s poor Gollum. Or is he Smeagol? Capturing both personalities but keeping both a useful part of your force was a tricky challenge.
Lastly, did you think you ever would have the chance to design a Lord of the Rings (LotR) set?
For the first year I worked at WizKids, I was the lead designer for Mage Knight. When I made the jump over to HeroClix, I thought I was leaving fantasy behind. It’s incredibly exciting to jump head-first back into those waters. For it to be the Lord of the Rings, books I loved as a kid, studied in school, and stood in line to see in the theater…that’s not just fantasy, that’s MY fantasy. It’s a thrill and an honor to bring Middle-Earth to HeroClix, and I’ve worked long and hard to get it right, and to jam-pack the set with an incredible amount of excitement. Heck, there are even new things (the maps and their new mechanics!) we haven’t even touched on yet!
Clear off a big table and stock up on snacks, because the battle for Middle-Earth and a whole lot of fun is about to begin…