“Not all those who wander are lost”
Welcome to the Middle Earth Tour Project.
I love the Lord of the Rings LCG. It truly is a terrific game, but I have also long said that it can be more than a little bit mean sometimes. Like The One Ring, it wants to crush you like a bug and almost every Encounter card is nasty- my least favourites being deadly Treachery cards that Surge if another something nasty doesn’t happen to you! God forbid that the players have a break!
But I always enjoy Tolkien’s works for the ‘nice stuff’ too. This is of course is represented by the Player cards such as the Songs, Allies and Events etc, but I do miss (as I have also said before) the opportunity to visit some of the nicer places in Middle earth and spend some time there. With LOTRLCG and how the Quests are set up, this isn’t possible of course and I now get that. I, and others, have previously tried to do ‘Haven’ cards of these places like Rivendell or the Shire, and tried to shoehorn them into the game but with mixed success and an unbalancing of game-play.
Without a doubt, my favourite card type is the Location. These cards evoke the feeling of adventuring in Middle Earth SO well and the artwork is almost always outstanding. Do you know that there are over 200 different Location cards in the game? But how many of those have beneficial effects do you think?
So my idea for the Middle Earth Tour is to kill two Crebain with one stone. Firstly, I want to explore more of Middle Earth with some more Location cards with lovely evocative artwork.
Secondly, I want to make the Quests just a shade easier. I’m exclusively a solo player that likes to build thematic decks for quests as much as possible. Having some experience with the game, this can be very frustrating at times because the mechanics of the game are more balanced for two players – and before anyone suggests it, I refuse point-blank to play with two decks or ‘two handed’. That’s just too much for my poor brain. I’ve tinkered with the game rules in the past but have now abandoned all that as it gets a bit too much to remember and I now just play the Official Easy Mode, or sometimes Normal Mode if I’m feeling a bit brave or the Quest is particularly easy like ‘Passage Through Mirkwood’ or ‘Hills of Emyn Muil’.
So my aim for the Tour is to provide new Location cards that all have a beneficial effect for a player, have low or no Threat totals that add to the questing in a round, and with no nasty Shadow effects. However, I didn’t want the Locations to be open to ‘player card effect abuse’ and to be able to be swapped in and out of the staging area, gaining multiple great effects time and again. To prevent this we have made sure that the players actually have to explore the Location as the active location (so no ‘Asfaloth’, ‘Northern Trackers’ or ‘Lorien Guides’ thank you!) to gain the beneficial effect, and several other Tour Locations feature the mighty ‘immune to player card effects’ clause or have Victory Points so they don’t go back into the encounter deck to be recycled and possibly revisited.
But since 1-3 new Location cards in an Encounter deck that is usually 40+ cards isn’t going to make a huge difference in Quest difficulty, it also really shouldn’t unbalance the game. We can also add iconic Locations in Middle Earth that only exist in Saga sets and add them to quests in normal cycles for players to visit.
I also wanted the new Tour Locations (easily identifiable from normal Locations with their distinctive green-ringed Map Icon) to be available to appear in more than one Quest if possible, so each Tour Location has a Region as a keyword, such as ‘Mirkwood’ or ‘Anduin Vales’. A Tour Location may only be added to the encounter deck of a Quest if the Region of the Location matches the Region where the Quest takes place. Players can choose up to 3 Tour Locations with a matching Region per Quest, although any Tour Location that already matches a Location in the existing encounter deck for a Quest is not playable – Rhosgobel in ‘Journey to Rhosgobel’ for example.
We have also added two new keywords to the Tour Locations:
Haven: A Haven is clearly a place of rest and sanctuary, if only briefly. Whilst a Haven is the active Location, players skip the both the encounter phase and the combat phase for that round.
Opportunity X: This functions very much like the Time keyword in that when a Location with Opportunity is revealed, place X tokens on the Location and at the end of each round, remove one token. When there are no tokens remaining, if the Location is still in the staging area, discard the Location. This keyword indicates that many beneficial Tour Locations are only available for a short time and unless a player travels to them promptly, they disappear. This is to stop a player leaving them in the staging area, since they have a low or no Threat total, and travelling to them when it is most beneficial…
Examples: Core Set
And so, onto the first 3 Tour Locations that are inspired by the Quests in the Core Set, together with the Regions where the Core Set Quests take place:
Quests: Passage Through Mirkwood (Mirkwood); Journey Down the Anduin (Anduin Vales); Escape from Dol Guldur (Dol Guldur).
Wood Elf Camp: This is a straight-forward Location to start off the Tour that showcases the Opportunity mechanic, although we have been generous with a high Opportunity number and it’s always great to have the chance of a free Ally card. Wood elves mistrust Dwarves though, so if you’re playing lots of Dwarf characters, the elves vanish into the woods. The wording of the Ally card draw is also open to some player card effect trickery, but if you were playing Progression, the chances of this are pretty low. The Region of this Location is naturally Mirkwood, so it can feature in quite a few quests
River Turret: This is another Location with the Opportunity keyword, although this one is shorter, so if you do need some respite from any attacking enemies, you’d better take it when you see it. The Turret can only shelter smaller groups without the cost being prohibitive however. Of course, it will also save a group from being attacked by any rampaging Hill Trolls too and if you’re lucky enough to have it appear early in the quest it could be a game-saver! The Region of the Location being the Anduin Vales also grants it some availability for several quests in the ‘Shadows of Mirkwood’ cycle and beyond.
Dungeon Cell: This Location is an almost straight clone of ‘Goblin Dungeon’ from the 2–player Starter set. But since we felt that many players don’t have this set, it’s not a bad thing. And we all know how difficult quests in Dol Guldur can be, so the chance of rescuing an ally from the dungeons there is most welcome. The Travel effect means that the prisoner could be guarded and of course there’s a chance that the cell could be empty if your deck search proves unlucky. The card also has a short Opportunity window, and also a Victory score which means it can’t be recycled back into the encounter deck.
Join us next time when we explore Locations that we can encounter in the ‘Shadows of Mirkwood‘ cycle. Until then, if you need more info, check out this thread on BGG for the latest cards, and join the conversation for the design process.