Flinch I’m told to start this off by pestering you about Gollum, and the Slinker and Smeagol connection that will play a role in the Two Towers film. Can you let us in on what we can look forward to on the Gollum front as far as the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game is concerned?

Mike At this point, I can only describe general concepts we are currently trying with Gollum. Decipher cannot release his image until after the film, so he is not being developed for release with The Two Towers set in November.

We are looking at Gollum being a Free Peoples companion of the Shire culture. However, he will have a strong Shadow presence in the form of Shadow events and conditions. Whether Gollum helps or hinders the Ring-bearer is a matter of the cards representing his polarized aspects each player uses. Tentatively, Gollum’s base character is called Gollum and other Free Peoples cards that play up his goodness are “Smeagol” cards. Shadow cards that play up his naughty tendencies are “Slinker” cards, as Sam names him.

Flinch Of the other Two Towers characters who’s personalities are you most looking forward to developing into the gaming card atmosphere?

Mike I am a big fan of Éowyn and her plight, so I am very much looking forward to developing her. Faramir would be the second brightest beacon on my horizon. I would not want anyone to conclude, however, that Treebeard, Gollum, Grima, Théoden, Éomer, Saruman, or Shelob were not important to me or to the other designers. The Two Towers is rich in new personalities that will translate to our game in a very satisfying manner.

Flinch Working on a property as big as Lord of the Rings, did you find difficulty in staying true to what the Classic Tolkien fans will be demanding? I know you worked on the Middle-Earth Card Game back when, did that allow you to have that a footing into Tolkien’s works?

Mike Yes and yes. Developing the Iron Crown Enterprise game provided real insight into the heart of the Tolkien fan, and this eased the difficulty of addressing novel vs. gameplay vs. film issues in the development of LOTR TCG. Many decisions were nevertheless difficult. We know the majority of our customer’s are not classic Tolkien fans, but we knew it our responsibility to take customer’s into Tolkien’s world with sensitivity and reverence. We believe that fans of the films will come to appreciate the cadence, vision, and richness that Professor Tolkien gave in his novels.

We find that the great majority of game questions we can be addressed true to Tolkien while maintaining Jackson’s vision and awesome game play. When their is a conflict, gameplay get first consideration.

Flinch Of all the elements of the Lord of the Rings TCG what have you been most proud of in the regards of how it’s been received by the general public and by the fans of both book and film?

Mike I have been most proud of how the game allows one community to share the another. There are many anecdotes of how a fan of the gameplay shared the game with a family member who is a Tolkien fan, but not a gamer. Or how a Tolkien fan picked the cards and made new Tolkien fans out of their gamer friends.

In terms of translating a specific story element, I think the aspect of Moria Orcs being plentiful, but worthless as individuals, has been a hit all around.

Flinch Coming into this as someone who’d worked on a Tolkien Property before there were even films in the mention, did you find it hard to stay along the path of the changes and augmentations that were made in transferring book to film? Were you more easily influenced by the books or were you able to take the perspectives as displayed in the film?

Mike Aspects of making the new game required me to unlearn concepts I had of Tolkien and how a game should represent his works, yes. But this was relatively painless once I became aware of Jackson’s skill and sincerity in balancing classic Tolkien with the needs of a modern film market. I figured we could make a game that idolized the spirit of Peter Jackson, the accessible Tolkien, so to speak.

For LOTR TCG to be successful, we had to embrace the qualities of the film, which we did, and I believe the legacy of Tolkien is stronger because of Jackson’s approach.

Flinch In recent news it was noted that there were rule changes made to allow for a fairer gameplay environment, how did this decision come about and how has it impacted the game among the hardcore and softcore gamers?

Mike It is our mission to protect the long term LOTR TCG game play. Unfortunately, our original design did not properly limit fellowship actions. Decks developed that exploited this leak and subverted the structure of the game to the point where it was not fun, not to mention completely lacking in the spirit of Tolkien. We could not allow such decks in an environment intended to be enjoyed my all film fans and core gamers alike. Certain card errata would have addressed the immediate
problems, but we wanted a solution that stopped the leak once and for all, and would not artificially restrict card design in the future. Thus, a new rule.

We have received mixed reviews. The new rule, called the Rule of 4, has challenged fundamental notions many players had of the game, and rightfully frustrated them. On the other hand, the majority of decks have been unaffected, and many players have praised us for protecting their experience. We hope the ugliness of instituting a new rule fades into memory in a few months.

Let me also add that Decipher is committed to not using rules based solutions after its first year. We felt from the beginning that should any systemic bugs rear their head in the game’s first year, we should take measures to fix the game, not the symptoms. After the first year, should any problems arise, we expect card errata would be our solution…but we do not expect problems.

Flinch Of all the accomplishments and innovations accompanying this game, which element are you most proud of?

Mike The elegance of the twilight pool, as conceived of by designer Tom Lischke, is certainly at the core of what make LOTR TCG something special. In terms of what I’m most proud of, perhaps whole-heartedly jumping up and down with enthusiasm once Tom proposed this mechanic.

Flinch I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to talk with me and I must say I look forward to speaking with you in the future as the films roll out of theaters and into our card sleeves!

What about you? Looking forward to a new set? Waiting for that new Legolas card? Tell us about it! E-mail Flinch at flinch@theonering.net