“Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!”
–“Many Partings,” The Return of the King
The Battle of the Pelennor has been concluded, and Théoden, King of Rohan finds rest in the halls of his fathers. As the captains of the west take council to march against the Black Gate, Rohan is led by the former king’s nephew, Éomer. Last time, we looked at the player cards from The Mountain of Fire that represent the role of the hobbits in the final chapters of The Lord of the Rings, both those that had to do with Frodo and Sam’s lonely journey to Orodruin as well as those that had to do with their feisty defense of the Shire against Sharkey’s ruffians. The other player cards from this box represent the leaders of the free peoples of Middle-earth in their hopeless march against the very gates of Mordor (well, except for Elfhelm, who was left behind to defend Anórien). In part 2 of our player card reviews, we will take a look at the new Rohan cards as well as a solo viable deck that attempts to make the best use out of Rohan’s new hero and king.
As you should probably be able to tell from the scores I gave this card, I was far less excited about Leadership Éomer than I was about the new hobbit cards in this box. Right up front, I should admit that I never liked Theodred, and I really never loved Thalin, though I made some fun multiplayer direct damage decks with the latter. Theodred always bothered me because you would only ever quest with him for the bonus resource, though he only had 1 willpower. Using a hero slot to contribute 1 willpower and a resource to another hero, who himself must be questing, all for 8 threat, always seemed like a waste to me, even in the game’s earlier days.
Éomer here reminds me too much of Theodred, and I really found myself needing to be intentional about giving him a fair shake on his own merits. Before we get to the cool things you can do with him, here are the problems in my mind. First, his response on face value is basically a form of action advantage. The problem is, it’s action advantage limited to two functions, questing and attacking. You definitely want Éomer to be attacking, especially if he’s pumped up with cool weapons, but he’s a pretty poor quester – so why waste action advantage on questing for 1 willpower, when you could still attack later in the turn anyway and also leave him open as a possible defender (which he is much better at than questing, on face value). Second, activating his response isn’t free. It costs a resource, in addition to exhausting him like normal to quest and attack, leaving you with less options when the actual combat phase comes around.
So why is this a card? Good question – I’m partially still trying to figure that out for myself, though I’ve come to acknowledge my bias against him probably just has more to do with my personal deck building and play styles than whether this is actually a good card or not (though I’m not willing to admit I’m totally wrong). From the days of the core set, a Rohan sub-theme has involved doing shenanigans with enemies in the staging area. Dúnhere could attack enemies in the staging area and got stronger when doing so. Then, the Spear of the Mark came along to really make the most out of Dúnhere’s ability. Recently, we got Fastred, who allows you to defend, lower your threat, and then return an enemy to the staging area. So, the idea with Leadership Éomer seems like it should be to mow down enemies in the staging area, either chumps that were hanging out there from the previous turn, or who got driven back by Fastred.
Unfortunately, I don’t honestly think Éomer synergizes very well with either of the other staging-area-Rohan heroes, unless you built a second support deck to make up for all of their deficiencies. My problem with Fastred here, though he is a form of highly effective threat reduction, is that pushing an enemy back to the staging area means you need more willpower to quest through the next round. If your three heroes are Éomer, Dúnhere, and Fastred, you’re definitely questing unsuccessfully – sorry, you just are. Éomer mitigates that a little by attempting to knock out the enemy before questing actually resolves, but again, at that point he’s only committing 1 willpower? Why not just use Tactics Éomer and kill troublesome enemies through normal combat? Dúnhere wants to attack, not quest, and he can’t even attack in conjunction with Éomer. I could maybe see this hero lineup being a thing, like I said, if another deck was dedicated to questing, but it would also need to be able to pay for the Tactics equipment that this deck’s hero’s would need to be most effective. The need for Éomer to pay a resource to activate his ability also cramps your style, unless you’re the lucky one at your table able to run Steward of Gondor. Theodred actually has a little bit of synergy here (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the whole point of including him as one of your three heroes then would be to allow Éomer to trigger his ability for free and to contribute 1 willpower, so I’d probably look elsewhere for answers.
I know I’m being harsh here, but there’s really only one answer I’ve found for making an Éomer deck that doesn’t just bring back bad memories of other players trying to convince me how good Theodred is – Galadriel (my Sunday School answer for Lord of the Rings LCG – weren’t paying attention to the teacher’s question and need to give an answer that can’t be wrong? Jesus! Well, in this game – Galadriel!). I admit – Galadriel with Nenya and Éomer with Herugrim is pretty nuts. The idea is, you trigger Nenya’s quest action and target Éomer. Then, you trigger Éomer’s response and Herugrim’s response, allowing Éomer to attack and quest for 8. Is this powerful? Undeniably. Is this fun? Once you get it set up, yeah it can be pretty fun, especially if you find other ways to boost willpower and attack. Does it feel “thematic?” Not really, but you could make some arguments if you tried. This really feels like the only combo to me that can make good use out of Éomer’s action advantage. It’s certainly very effective, and doesn’t require too many pieces to set up, especially with Galadriel’s Mirror in the mix. It feels pretty superficial, though, and like I’d easily get bored just doing the same thing turn after turn. It suffers from a minor setback of needing to get enemies in the staging area during the quest phase, so either your threat needs to be low enough so that they stick around to the next round, or you need to have a way to push them back (like with Fastred – who actually could help you accomplish both goals).
I’ll give Éomer three rings for gameplay because he can be very effective, but his effectiveness is very linear. Your deck has to be structured around making the combo work, and then your goal the rest of the game is just to keep repeating the combo. It certainly can be good, it’s just not my play style or preference. With the combo pieces, he probably deserves a four or full five rings, but without the Nenya/Herugrim combo, I think Éomer is just not that great. So three seems like a fair compromise.
Three rings for theme also makes him just average. I like the Rohan interactions with the staging area, representing their swift mounts carrying them ahead into battle. I also kind of like the resource requirement from a theme perspective, because it imparts a slight flavor of Gondor, encouraging you to pair him with leadership Gondor resource strategies. This version of Éomer does represent, after all, the new king of Rohan joined with the other captains of the west in their march on the Black Gate. What really suffers in theme for this card for me, again, is just that the best use of him seems to be pretty unthematic – Galadriel (who Éomer was highly suspicious of until late in the stories).
Finally, in the realm of art, I would also only give Éomer three rings. I like the detail on his face and how the art captures the flavor of the card’s game mechanics, but the scene looks a little bit too much like a video game for my tastes. I don’t know that Éomer’s high pony tail is very accurate. He looks like a hipster to me. Also, I think Éomer is about to lose his arm, and there should probably be some black orc blood in the scene for how forcefully Éomer had to have plunged in his sword.
Gúthwinë is the name of Éomer’s sword, which in Rohirric is thought to mean “battle-friend.” You would think, then, that the sword – Éomer’s friend in and for battle – would pair well with the in-sphere version of Éomer we received in this box. Does it?
For starters, I must say, I actually do like this card. A lot of useful Rohan allies have abilities that require you to discard them from play. Chump blocking has also been a more or less viable Rohan defense plan. Gamling from The Land of Shadow let you return the discarded allies to your hand rather than discard pile as they were being discarded, but there were really only a couple of options (in Spirit only) for returning allies once they hit your discard pile. Gúthwinë helps bolster the Rohan discard theme, representing fast allies galloping through on their horses. The extra attack is nice, as it’s always powerful to combine effects (and use only one card in your deck rather than two), but the biggest benefit here is the ally recursion.
Why would I not give this a full five stars in terms of gameplay then? I think its synergy is a little off. Since this comes in a box with leadership Éomer, I would want it to best work with him, but I don’t think it does. I think this “battle-friend” is much friendlier with Éomer’s tactics incarnation than the included leadership version, though I think it works with Spirit Théoden best of all. It even works with Spirit Éowyn better than Leadership Éomer, in my opinion. The problem is, most of the Rohan discard allies are Spirit. Spirit Théoden’s cost reduction is a staple in that sort of strategy. Gamling, another staple, is also Spirit. Leadership Éomer’s staging area attacking and questing doesn’t seem to synergize the best with a Spirit Théoden ally deck. Tactics Éomer synergizes much better with that strategy, leaving you to rely on another Leadership hero, or a song, for access to play the sword.
So I guess my complaint is that the sword is Leadership sphere. It seems to have been done this way to synergize with the hero Éomer from the box, but it really doesn’t (though Leadership is all about rallying the troops). Leadership does have some amount of recursion, but no more than Spirit, and most of the cards you would want in a Rohan ally deck are Spirit already anyway. Maybe after I’ve said all of this, however, my biggest complaint is that Leadership Éomer isn’t really Spirit Éomer – staging area attacks and shenanigans are already well established in Spirit for Rohan (his ability relates to questing, after all), and the sword seems to work best with Spirit Rohan a