“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Welcome to ‘There & Back Again’, a new section of Vision of the Palantir, hosted by me, dragoncymru. This will cover a solo ‘progression style’ blog of my adventures with LOTR:LCG and going back to the very start of the game and playing through all the adventures. This will be a fresh look at how the game plays for the solo player. I’ll include my initial thoughts on player cards as they are introduced to the card pool, the adventures and their cards and dangers (although there won’t be any in-depth analysis of either as these are available elsewhere on this wonderful site), any tweaks I would make to cards and scenarios if I had designed them (with the solo player specifically in mind), the decks that I’m using, plus some random musings and commentaries.
I have been involved in gaming – both boardgames and rpgs – for more years than I care to remember. Anyone who knows me, or has followed my work on games over at BoardGameGeek, from my massive project with the Doctor Who Solitaire Story Game (1st and 2nd editions), Fortune & Glory, Star Trek CCG (1st edition) and Middle Earth CCG, would know that I am primarily now a solo player who wants to really increase the immersive experience and storytelling of games that I play. I want to the game to create an episode of ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Star Trek’ as I play it, or write unknown chapters of adventures in Middle Earth. If anyone remembers an article from FFG way back in 2011 about player archetypes, I’m a true Bilbo player – the story means everything. Hence the title of this Blog page and the rather lovely banner artwork by the hugely talented Magali Villeneuve from FFG Hobbit saga expansion ‘Over Hill & Under Hill’.
My knowledge of Tolkien I would consider very good – not absolute Maiar knowledge, but enough to win most Tolkien trivia quizzes! My first encounter with Tolkien was through reading both ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ whilst at school and loving them. I also loved listening to the BBC radio adaptation of LOTR which I still find quite brilliant. And, of course, I love the Peter Jackson movies and watch them regularly. The LOTR trilogy is rightly acclaimed as a cinematic masterpiece, but I’m also very fond of the sometimes much maligned Hobbit trilogy. Yes they are stretched out a little and some of the criticism of over-use of CGI is justified, but who can say no to MORE Tolkien on your screen? I’m also eagerly awaiting the much-anticipated Amazon TV series.
History of the Rings
Let me start off by saying that I think LOTR:LCG is an INCREDIBLE game. I have been playing it on and off since it came out in 2011 and have a fair collection of expansions and packs to go with my (single) Core Set – everything through ‘Shadows of Mirkwood’, ‘Khazad-dum’ and then a bit patchy from there – a few deluxe boxes (‘Voice of Isengard’, ‘Heirs of Numenor’, ‘The Lost Realm’ and I’ve just snagged down a copy of ‘The Grey Havens ‘which I’m looking forward to adding to my set), some Saga boxes (‘Hobbit –Over Hill & Under Hill’ and ‘The Black Riders’) and most adventure packs from ‘Ringmaker’,’ Angmar Awakens’ and ‘Ered Mithrin’ cycles. Nothing at all from ‘Sands of Harad‘ though (yet…). Still, a fair collection of cards to look through!
Since I’m exclusively a solo player that likes to build theme into decks and quests as much as possible, and have some experience with the game, I know it can be very frustrating for the solo player.
I believe that LOTR:LCG is essentially balanced for 2 players (whatever FFG would say.) Solo plays incredibly difficultly (Dol Goldur in the Core Set is impossible solo and many other quests just punish you), unless you try to mitigate that in some way by having multiple Core sets for multiple power cards (like ‘Unexpected Courage’ etc) or by having to build decks that are less than thematic and only designed to beat the current quest (which is not my personal cup of tea). In addition, there are a lot of cards and concepts (like Ranged and Sentinel) that are exclusively multi-player.
When I have played multi-player, the 3 or 4 player games seem to be very simple and quests and enemies are dispatched with ease. So I guess my issue is not just necessarily that solo is hard, but also that the game is essentially suited for 2 players anyway and solo players are ‘short-changed’. Playing solo ‘2 handed’ as many do is far too complicated for me requiring far too much head space than I can cope with, and I have also seen the ‘Fellowship‘ mode too, but that also requires book-keeping, 2 Threat trackers etc.
So I’m doing a bit of ‘customisation’ on my part….
Playing the Game
I’ll be playing ‘progression style’, playing through the Core set adventures and ‘Shadow of Mirkwood’ cycle with the player cards from the Core set plus ‘The Shadow of Mirkwood’ cycle, then each adventure in a cycle with the total Player cards of that cycle. I read somewhere that this was the best experience of the game as the quests were designed with the whole card pool of the cycle in mind.
There are loads of different ‘modes’ of play that are available but none really address the main issue of solo play for me. The ’official’ Easy Mode was a way in which FFG tried to address the difficulty of the game, but did so by simply taking out some encounter cards, which I felt short-changed players. There are other ‘unofficial’ Modes too such as choosing part or all of your opening hand, but this makes a boring game as my card of choice would almost always be ‘Henamarth Riversong’ who has an awesome ability – particularly for solo games.
I’ve read a lot of different versions and have cherry-picked what I consider to be the best, easiest to implement, and most thematic. So here’s my version of solo play – Story Mode:
- Playing solo 1 handed with 3 Heroes and a 50 card Player deck.
- 1 Core Set only – no multiple power cards like ‘Unexpected Courage‘ I’m afraid.
- Playing with just the cards that were available at the time for a complete cycle (as explained above).
- Full encounter card sets for each quest (no easy mode).
- Making decks that are as thematic as possible that fit within the quests – no Eagles in Moria for example – although the Hero gene pool might get a bit mixed up if Tolkien fans look too hard!
- I’m making a few concessions to the solo player as I feel that, certainly initially, the game was never a balanced solo experience. So I’ve included some new rules, as I’ll explain next time. Note that each rule is independent of the others so players can use some but not all of my tweaks as they wish. I will also explain why each rule has been included.
- Some cards have been tweaked for solo play and I’ll detail these as they are introduced in the cycles.
- I’m using new versions of Banania’s card types from his excellent ‘Tales of Years’ campaign setting – ‘Havens’ and ‘Strongholds’. These cards, that represent the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ places of Middle Earth, have long been on my list of what should be added to the game to increase the theme. The original idea was not mine but Gizlivadi from the FFG community pages, and who helped me realise them a few years back. I’ve revisited them and think I’ve now found the best way of bringing them to the game
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the prelude to my adventures. Next time I’ll be giving the details of the new rules I’ll be using, along with more information on how Havens and Strongholds work and how they have been developed.
So join me on my (expected) journey next time as we adventure through Tolkien’s wonderful world.
‘The Road Goes Ever On…’