Monday, March 28, 2011

Gollum FINALLY Appears For The "Battle Of Helm's Deep" The Lord Of The Rings TCG Cards!

The Good: Some very cool cards (especially rares), Compelling theme
The Bad: Serious collectibility issue (foils)
The Basics: Despite being vastly overproduced, "Battle Of Helm's Deep" increases the menace to players in a way that makes The Lord Of The Rings TCG fun again!

Sometimes when I see a movie, I see it not only through the lens of a movie reviewer, but through one of my other hats. As a collector and player of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game, I distinctly remember watching The Two Towers and thinking "Wow, how are they going to incorporate THAT into the game?!" when the siege of Helm's Deep began. It was such a tremendous event that I knew that Decipher would either have to omit the massive warfare from the much more intimate game it had begun with The Fellowship Of The Rings or there were some major changes in store for players of the game.

Decipher did not disappoint, opting to step up The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game as opposed to leaving out the huge battles from The Two Towers. The set where they made the more significant alterations to game play came with the expansion "Battle Of Helm's Deep." Encompassing a sense of massive warfare into the game was done in "Battle Of Helm's Deep" without changing many of of the fundamentals of The Lord Of The Rings TCG.

As well, the "Battle Of Helm's Deep" introduced Gollum into The Lord Of The Rings TCG. And from my perspective, he arrives not a moment too soon!

Basics/Set Composition

"Battle Of Helm's Deep" was the fifth set of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game cards created by Decipher to expand the gaming platform to fans of The Lord Of The Rings. Envisioned as a game played by two to four people, players created decks of cards utilizing their own version of the Fellowship and prepared to seed the adventure path with obstacles to thwart other players' Fellowship. For those unfamiliar with the concept, CCGs (or TCGs) are basically a strategy game that is like a Role-playing game with cards. The break here is that the characters, artifacts, and scenarios are all already conceived by others.

"Battle Of Helm's Deep" is a 128-card set focusing on characters, location, artifacts, villains and scenarios presented in the second The Lord Of The Rings film, mostly at the end of the movie. This card set utilizes material from the film - specifically the intense, large-scale battle sequences - presenting a playing environment that allows players to truly take advantage of the Archery Phase of the game and the Shadow player's ability to overwhelm the Fellowship player. The set consists of 40 common cards, 40 uncommon cards, 40 rare cards and 8 starter deck exclusive cards, with only Gimli, Legolas, Frodo and Sam being represented from the Fellowship.

The 128 card set features 4 Dunland, 6 Dwarven, 7 Elven, 6 Gandalf, 10 Gollum, 13 Gondor, 27 Isengard, 10 Raider, 19 Rohan, 16 Sauron, and 7 Shire Affiliation cards, and 3 Site cards. These are generally broken down evenly between Fellowship (your cards you play with) and Minion (cards you set upon your opponent) cards. Within the various affiliations, there are: 2 Ally (cards depicting supporting characters, like the reluctant recruits Ecglaf and Sigewulf), 20 Companion (cards depicting primary characters and those who may join your customized Fellowship, like Theodin or Lindenroot), 24 Condition (cards illustrating long-term changes to Middle Earth that remain in play more than one turn, like being compelled to Follow Smeagol or wielding a Battering Ram), 27 Event (cards depicting temporary effects on players, like Break[ing] The Charge of one's enemies or the Eye Of Barad-Dur settling upon the ringbearer), 39 Minion (cards depicting villains used to obstruct your opponent, like Gollum or Sharku), 13 Possession (cards depicting objects used to enhance the natural strength or endurance of a character, like the Horn Of Helm or a Warg), and 3 Site (cards depicting locations in Middle Earth, they form the "board" for the game).

This set plays out the Battle of Helm's Deep, including the arrival of the elves to ally with the people of Rohan. The booster pack boxes are comprised of thirty-six packs per box with eleven cards per pack. The eleven cards are portioned out with seven common (six in packs that have a foil card), three uncommon, and one rare cards. A foil card replaces a single common in approximately six packs. The foils are simply reprints of the standard cards; there are no cards that are uniquely foils in this set.


At its most basic level, this is a board game where one constructs the board and pieces out of a selection of cards. The purpose of the game is to survive to the end of the ninth site in the Adventure Path, which (theoretically) indicates the end of the Ring Bearer's quest. The basic idea is to assemble a sixty card deck, lay out the board (Adventure Path) and play against an opponent. The deck is evenly split between Fellowship and Shadow cards, so players ought to have a hand that allows them to play and attempt to thwart their opponent at any given time.

This game uses a "payment" system where cards have a cost. The rulebook recommends something like poker chips or glass beads to establish the twilight pool and wound indicators and I've found small poker chips (not included) work very well for this.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to learn the game, but once one has played a few hands of it, it is a pretty easy concept for an adult to master and the challenge becomes assembling a strong fellowship and accompanying minion deck and being creative (and lucky) about how the cards from one's hand are used.

Rules/Rule Changes

The rulebook for this game is forty pages long and the rules are essentially the same as they were when the set was released with The Fellowship Of The Ring (reviewed here!).

However, in "Battle Of Helm's Deep" there is the addition of the Gollum affiliation, which puts Smeagol and Gollum into play. Rather cleverly, Smeagol may be played as a Companion while Gollum can be played to turn your opponent's Smeagol against their other Fellowship members!

As well, the "Battle Of Helm's Deep" utilizes a new type game text on some of the Conditions as Saruman utilizes "Machines." Cards with the game text "Machine" have very specific conditions that govern their use. So, for example, 5U60 Siege Engine plays to the support area and allows one to put counters on the card each time an Uruk-hai is played on any machine. If that machine is going to be discarded as a result of an opponent's actions, the Siege Engine can be discarded instead. This allows one to stack enemies and tokens for future rounds and when the Siege Engine is sacrificed, it allows the player to keep that investment safe for later in the game. As a result, Machines can be used to overwhelm your opponent fairly easily in the later phases of the game.


Players, collectors and fans of The Lord Of The Rings franchise will appreciate the image quality of the characters and scenarios from The Two Towers. The "Battle Of Helm's Deep" set features the decent ways to enhance the naturally strong Dwarven and Rohan decks, while still providing a great deal of new menace to the game with the mechanics that allow enemies to blow holes in the stronghold and kill Companions quickly in bulk. The game takes a dangerous turn for Fellowship players with "Battle Of Helm's Deep."

For the highlight, I have to say the most fun to play is 5R25 Gollum, Stinker. Playing Smeagol weakens the Fellowship player far too much, but Gollum makes for a pretty powerful adversary, especially as the game continues. Gollum's strength increases for every burden the Ringbearer has and every time he wins a skirmish, he adds a burden to the Ringbearer. As a result, Gollum becomes possibly the best chance to win the game by killing Frodo. After all, if Frodo puts on the Ring, a burden is added, if another character intervenes to block Gollum's attack on the ringbearer and Gollum wins, the additional burden makes him even stronger for the next time he is played! He becomes a pretty ruthless assassin and even a mithril coat will not save your Frodo from his attacks late in the game!


Rares are evenly distributed in the booster packs, making only two starter decks necessary for those collecting a master set, as the Legolas and Eowyn decks each have a single card that cannot be found in the booster packs. As well, those moderately hard to find starter decks also have three (each) alternate image rares. The last six cards in the set reprint some of the best cards in the main set with alternate images. It's a clever idea, but it also means that the starter decks are completely fixed; there is no random rare in them, making booster boxes the essential way to make sets.

These cards popped up in several other products, though, and there was even a second printing of them, seriously diluting their value as the supply was so high. The "Battle Of Helm's Deep" cards appeared in The Two Towers Anthology boxed set, "Reflections" and they were mixed into the Two Towers Draft Packs.

Given that, die-hard, obsessive collectors who want to spend a lifetime going from dealer to dealer on a vain search to complete something will thrill over the foil cards. All 128 cards are reprinted as foil cards and the foil sets are near impossible to complete and seem to be disproportionately less valuable than the master sets of non-foil cards. In other words, while the foil sets might take hundreds of dollars to complete, dealers seem to only be able to get in the low hundred dollars for them, probably because many collectors didn't go for this gimmick from Decipher.


Players finally get a real challenge with the severe menace posed by the powerful abilities of the Minion cards and the new stacking abilities presented in the "Battle Of Helm's Deep" set. Were it not for the drastic overproduction of these cards, this could have been the best The Two Towers TCG set, though it remains one of the stronger components of the War Of The Ring block!

This set culls material from The Two Towers reviewed here!

This set was preceded by "The Two Towers" (reviewed here!) and followed by "Ents Of Fangorn" (reviewed here!).

This set and cards from it are sold in my online store here!


For other trading card game reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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