Story Mode: Rules

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Welcome once more to ‘There & Back Again’, my series of progression articles for the solo player.

This time I’m going to be giving details of the new house rules I’m using for my solo adventures along with the reasons why they’ve been introduced. Remember that I’m a ‘Bilbo’ player who loves theme and the story of the game rather than slavishly trying to find the deck to beat quests relentlessly with the usual staple ‘power’ cards, so these rules are there to smooth the way a little for solo play without reducing the card pool and to open up some more options for a lonesome adventurer…

Story mode Rules

Starting the Game: Each Hero may start with a non-unique attachment (matching their sphere or neutral) with a cost of 0 or 1. You are allowed 1 Mulligan after you draw your opening hand.  

The attachments are a nice balance between choosing any card in your starting hand (which I find too powerful) but also having a way to ‘pack your rucksack’ before you set off on an adventure. For a solo player this can give a nice boost without giving access to usual power cards which have a cost of 2 or more. Note that the attachments do NOT count as part of your 50 card deck. This means that you do not thin your deck this way in order to find other, more powerful cards faster.

Drawing cards: Use a threat meter to keep track of turns. On every even turn draw 2 cards for your hand during the resource phase and 2 cards from the encounter deck during the staging step of the quest phase.

Increasing the card draw every other turn is a way of seeing more of your deck in a game. My solo games normally last between 10-15 rounds, which means about a third of your deck – here you see more cards. It also helps you to rely less on staple card draw effects, which allows you to play other cards instead.

Increasing the encounter card draw every even turn increases the difficulty of the solo game but provides a balance for the other rules I’m introducing. It also gives a bit more surprise to games where you just scry the top card of the encounter deck relentlessly each turn which can become less exciting. This somewhat counters the Henamarth Riversong tactic and allows the encounter deck to have combos that otherwise would only appear in multiplayer games.

Hero Tokens: Each Hero has 1 Hero token at the start of game. A Hero token may be spent as a normal resource OR to heal the hero 1 damage OR to ready the hero OR the hero gains +1 Willpower OR +1 Attack OR +1 Defence until the end of the phase.

A very simple of way of making your Heroes more …heroic! It also provides a little balance for the solo player as when you’re playing solo, it’s not what you’ve got, but what you’ve not got that holds you back – playing without Tactics leaves you weak in combat, without Spirit leaves you weak in questing, without Leadership leaves you wanting resources and without Lore leaves you needing healing or card draw. (In an earlier incarnation of this mode, I created Boon cards, but using Tokens is a much ‘cleaner’ solution. And I made it a rule here that, because of the ENORMOUS existing card pool, I wasn’t making ANY Dream cards….hmm…)

Encounters: If an encounter card does not trigger an effect, but then if it doesn’t it goes on to have another effect (gaining Surge for example), ignore this additional effect. Surge as an effect is now also limited to once per turn (or if playing with 2 or more players, equal to the number of players)

This makes for a slightly easier and calmer game with some of the more difficult quests, particularly those with some killer Treachery cards where I feel the designers really wanted to punish the player if not playing top-notch power cards from a large collection and with a deck specifically tuned to beat that quest. This is not my style of play at all and just cuts the solo player an occasional small break.

Restricted: Characters are only allowed to have 1 Mount, 1 of each Armour type card (shields, helms etc).

An example of when Keywords weren’t quite thought through enough when the game was first created and where you could stick 2 ‘Citadel Plate’ cards on Gimli and make him a tank. No doubt that this was intended, but it doesn’t sit well with me, hence the restriction on ‘Restricted’. Weapons are excluded from this list, as you can potentially wield more than one weapon at a time.

Combat: If non-unique characters and enemies have half or less hit points have their Attack and Defence reduced to half their original value (round up).

This is quite a big change, but from my play-testing, makes combat a much more enjoyable and balanced experience. Why do the bad guys always attack first for example? The first rule, which I have never seen suggested elsewhere, simulates the wounding of characters and plays both ways. Your non-unique allies are also affected and unique enemies are not so it can give ‘boss enemies’ an upgrade when fighting ‘chump’ allies. Note that shadow cards dealt to wounded enemies are not halved – only the actual enemy card is affected.

Ranged: Exhaust a Character with Ranged to resolve their Attack (after a Shadow card is dealt and without any non-Bow Weapon bonuses) on the first round when you engage an Enemy (as it comes from Staging). No other characters can join in on this attack. Limit once per enemy.

Sentinel: Exhaust a character with Sentinel to add that character’s defence to another character. Limit once per attack.    

Ranged and Sentinel were always multi-player rules only so they needed to be addressed for solo play in the original game in my opinion. The limits make sure that these effects cannot be exploited.

Making Camp: If a unique character is not exhausted in the Refresh phase –that is, they have not quested, attacked, defended or used an ability that caused them to exhaust- then they may heal one damage from themself.

A simple rule to give a solo player a little bit of respite if times are hard. It allows characters who weren’t needed to at least heal a little bit.

And so to me immediately breaking my ‘no Dream cards’ rule, with the introduction of Havens & Strongholds…

Havens: Havens cards represent the famous locations in Middle Earth such as Rivendell, Lorien or Hobbiton.  A player may choose a Haven at the start of the game and then raise their starting threat by the (top blue number) threat cost of that Haven. Havens have restrictions (Set Up) on them so whether or not they can be played depends on the player’s Heroes. Underlined characters mentioned in (Set Up) mean that you must choose the Haven as mandatory (Elrond in Rivendell for example). If you have a group of Heroes that qualify for 2 different mandatory Havens (such as both Thranduil and Celeborn) you may NOT use any Haven. Some Havens (such as Eagle’s Eyrie) have a (Delay) setup which means that the Haven is only useable when a condition is met. The resources spent from the Havens are restricted to only one per round.

Havens start with Haven resources (top green number) placed on the Haven card. These are used to trigger Actions on the Havens or to pay, either fully or in part, for player cards (Allies, Attachments or Events) that share a Trait with the Haven, noted in bold on their card. Haven resources are considered to be Neutral and can be used to pay for cards from any Sphere with that shared Trait. During the Refresh phase, a Hero that shares a Trait with the Haven in play may place their 1 of their resources on the Haven.

Strongholds: Stronghold cards represent the famous locations of Middle Earth that are renowned for their evil presence of orcs, Nazgul or even Sauron! Strongholds increase the level of difficulty of an adventure (not as high as Nightmare), and add more theme to a game. A player may choose a Stronghold card at the start of a game and then reduce his Threat level by the Threat cost of the Stronghold (blue number). Strongholds also have Danger tokens (red number). A player cannot win the game unless all Danger tokens are spent. To spend a Danger token, add +1 to both the ATK and DEF of an enemy type listed on the Stronghold when one of those enemies has engaged you. The effect lasts until the end of the combat phase.

The idea of Havens has been around for a few years and initially conceived by FFG community member Gizlivadi and ‘Tales of the Years’ designer Banania.  It is borne= out of a desire to visit the lovelier places in Middle earth, such as players could in the original Middle Earth CCG by ICE. Of course, LOTR:LCG doesn’t work this way since it is completely scenario driven rather than being a ‘sandbox’ type game.

I’ve tried to update the concept, streamlining the idea of allies being ‘stored there’ and trying to link Traits as their engine for resources and abilities. Are they balanced? The initial threat increase can be a problem and using Havens forces thematic play with certain Heroes, but there’s no denying that they do give a player a boost. I’m going to release a few Havens (and their nasty counterpart – Strongholds) at the start of each Cycle.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my new rules. Any comments on them would be gratefully appreciated! Next time I’ll be giving the details of the solo card tweaks I’m using for the Core Set and ‘Shadows of Mirkwood’ cycle, plus the text on my first 4 Havens and Strongholds…

‘The Road Goes Ever On…’

15 thoughts on “Story Mode: Rules

  1. First, is this mode appropriate for a 2 player game? If not quite, could you please explain how to amend Story Mode for 2 players? Second, could you please explain the Combat rule, as I don’t really get it. We can discuss in BGG if you prefer. 🙂 — Solanum

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes it is appropriate for 2 players just omit the Ranged and sentinel changes plus any card tweaks that I’ve included to make a card accessible for solo play (see next week’s article for examples).

    The combat rule is simple in that if you reduce a non-unique Enemy’s hit points to half (or less) of the original value, it’s Attack and Defense values are also halved (round up) – so if you wound an Enemy it’s a less effective fighter. Works on your non-unique allies too though….


  3. Very interesting concept. I’m an older Tolkien fan who discovered this game just a few years ago and immediately fell in love with the solo progression style of playing because of the theme, story and beautiful art. Definitely going to try your rules.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just bought the Core box (with some expansions) and have yet to play my first game. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series, it sounds exactly like the way I want to play this game. Thanks!


  5. I’ve just added 2 bits to the article above – limiting the Surge keyword a little – but also adding the concept of ‘Danger tokens’ to my Stronghold cards – check it out!


  6. Good job Congratulations. I’d like some clarification on the heroes token. Can you use only 1 time? While the word Surge is always ignored? Hello and thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hero Tokens are one use per game per Hero. Surge is not ignored, just multiple a solo game


  7. I’m curious if you reached a final form for the Story Mode rules, after a few tweaks. Also how do you keep track of the card tweaks, do you have an “tweaks” cheat sheet?


    1. Yes I did. Yes I do have a list – it’s not actually that big – probably smaller than the official errata!


      1. Is the final form something like what is described in “Escape from Dol Guldur”? I am playing with my 8 yr old and Story Mode works a bit better for us since I don’t have to remove Ring cards to play. He always wants to attack first, did you end up with a balanced tweak for this? Very fun mode of play…


      2. Thanks for the kind words – the final form of the rules was as described. Glad you’re having fun !


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