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There and Back Again

A blog about my solo adventures in the Middle Earth CCG published by ICE all the way back in 1995! Expect new rules for solo play, some session reports and some new dream cards and player resources too. The Road Goes Ever On...

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Friend of Secret Things

simon cogan
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Another session report for Middle-earth this week and the second of two separate games, between based on the Radagast Challenge deck (D) ‘Bargain Between Friends’.

Again, a tremendously thematic experience with MECCG and it really created a very immersive story over an afternoon. Here, I went all out and made Radagast the absolute centre of the deck, changed LOADS of cards from the base deck, and even added some of the Fallen-Wizard Stage Resource cards from ‘The White Hand’ expansion that didn’t really indicate that Radagast had become a Fallen Wizard. For that reason I avoided all cards that referenced ‘Protected Wizard-Havens’ and only added in minor cards to enhance the theme, such as ‘Pocketed Robes’, ‘Friend of Secret Things’ and the 3 Radagast shape-shifter cards - which I think are wonderfully done from the WH expansion.

I’m again using all the rules of my solo variant - first written now 3 months ago - which you can now find as a final and expanded version (with a little more aesthetically pleasing presentation too) here:

Middle Earth Solo Variant rules

Using my solo variant rules also meant I added a lot of cards to the mix such as Locations, an Agent deck, Environment deck, a Dragon deck and an Inn deck. The theme of the deck became Radagast protecting the Greenwood by recruiting Animal Factions.

My starting company was Radagast, Haldir and Elrohir. Our starting Minor Items were ‘Pocketed Robes’ and ‘Healing Herbs’, both on Radagast. I chose my Quest card of ‘Defending the Greenwood’ to be put on the Quest Display and the other drawn was ‘Wild Hounds’. The Agent revealed was Anarin, a treacherous elf that dwelt in the darkness of Moria. I took no time to reorganise the company to free up General Influence and put Haldir and Elrohir under Radagast’s Direct Influence.

On the first turn, the ‘Great Eagles’ joined the Quest display so Radagast left the elves at Rivendell whilst he journeyed to his Home site of Rhosgobel in the shadow-hold of Southern Mirkwood, fighting off an Abductor along the way.

The second turn saw Anarin played at Moria and, as the Gates of Morning shone brightly, Radagast travelled up the Anduin Vales towards the Eagles Eyrie where, with the help of some ‘New Friendship’ he befriended the Great Eagles. Staying in the Vales of the Anduin, the wizard then travelled south to the Carrock but he was unable to befriend a pack of wild hounds that dwelt in the region.

After that, adventures became a little hectic with both Celeborn and Beorn entering play. Beorn wasted no time in recruiting his Beorning people whilst Celeborn, Haldir and Elrohir visited the splendid Halls of Thranduil in the Woodland Realm and recruited the Wood Elves too. Radagast even took ‘Eagle Mounts’ to Buhr Widu to recover a ‘Torque of Hues’ from a nasty troll...

I had great fun with the Radagast Stage cards I included such as ‘Master of Shapes’, ‘Shifter of Hues’ and ‘Winged Change-Master’, and imagined Radagast changing between bird, beast and tree in the wilderness to avoid or confuse his foes. Keeping Radagast on his own was a powerful tactic too as not only could he use the shape shifter cards, but meant I could use his ‘Pocketed Robes’ to keep ‘Herb Lore’ and ‘Wizard River-Horses’ in and out of my hand to either cancel attacks or heal if I did get wounded. This is so thematic in that Radagast can easily avoid being seen by anyone but doesn’t engage often – so very few MP form killing Creatures. Playing ‘Friend of Secret Things’ meant it was also easier to recruit Allies like ‘Noble Steed’ or ‘Noble Hound’ from tapped sites.

The game built to a great climax where I felt I could resolve the ‘Defend the Greenwood’ quest that had been on the Quest Display since the start of the game. I had recruited 3 separate Factions that could be used – ‘Wood Elves’, ‘Beasts of the Wood’ and, since I had Beorn who functions as a Leader of the ‘Beornings’, I used ‘Call for Aid’ to enable them to join the fray. It was a fairly easy battle because since I had 3 Factions (and tapped the weakest – Beasts of the Wood – to start the battle) it meant that I could reduce the number of strikes in each attack by 2 so the attacks of Spiders, Orcs and even a Nazgul were defeated and the casualty roll was very kind meaning that all my factions survived and I scored 25 MP by the end of turn 10.

Many thanks to everyone following and liking the Blog. As always, I love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy MECCG and the solo version I’ve created. We’re discussing further rules and possible additions and tweaks here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2114120/some-new-solo-r...

I’ll be sharing more sessions soon – next time I’m changing the deck completely to visit Minas Tirith and tell the tale of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and the Return of the King...

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:39 am
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Bargain Between Friends

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As a change of pace this week, I thought I would share my most recent Middle-earth solo gaming session.

This was another tremendously thematic game experience with MECCG and it really created some great stories over a few afternoons. This report is the first of two separate games, between which I changed the deck extensively, and I’ll post the second next week.

Both decks were based on the Radagast Challenge deck (D) ‘Bargain Between Friends’ but I did change a few cards to enhance the theme further. My second deck went all out and made Radagast the absolute centre of the deck, changed LOADS of cards and added some of the Fallen-Wizard Stage Resource cards from ‘The White Hand’. I’m again using all the rules of my solo variant which you can find here (and has had 100 downloads):

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/176951/middle-earth-s...

Using my solo variant rules also meant I added a lot of cards to the mix such as Locations, an Agent deck, Environment deck, a Dragon deck and an Inn deck. The theme of the first deck became very Elvish and the second deck had a real theme of Radagast protecting the Greenwood by recruiting Animal Factions.

Bargain Between Friends

My starting company was Celeborn, Haldir, Legolas and Elrohir. Our starting Minor Items were an ‘Elven Cloak’ on Legolas, and an ‘Elf Stone’ on Celeborn. I chose my Quest card of ‘Wood Elves’ to be put on the Quest Display and the other drawn was ‘Great Shield of Rohan’. The Agent revealed was Gergeli, a treacherous man for the east. I took no time to reorganise the company to free up General Influence and Hama was in my starting hand, so Haldir was put under Celeborn and Hama under Legolas.

The first turn saw the company travelling to Lorien and Elrohir was lured away by ‘Call of the Sea’ (another Elf snowflake...) and we raided an ‘Orc Cave’ Location. Being joined by Brand, I reorganised again so Hama was under him and the company journeyed to Thranduil’s Halls in the Woodland Realm. It was a dangerous journey and Sauron had sent his minions to kill us – we fought off ‘Lawless Men’, two bands of ‘Sell-swords between Contracts’ and then an ‘Assassin’ attacked and wounded Legolas in the Halls. Amazingly, no-one was killed and we stayed in the Halls next turn to successfully recruit the ‘Wood-elves’.

I then decided to split the company – Celeborn, Legolas and Haldir to recover the ‘Great Shield of Rohan’ at Buhr Widu, whilst Brand and Hama journeyed to the Iron Hills to recruit the ‘Iron Hill Dwarves’ which had been placed on the Quest display. It was another difficult journey for both groups, and although the elves managed to find the ‘Great Shield’, Fori the Beardless, a Dwarven Agent, was encountered at the Iron Hills and who prevented Brand from being able to recruit the Dwarves this turn.

Radagast made an appearance at his home site of Rhosgobel and immediately managed to recruit the ‘Beasts of the Wood’ whilst Brand recruited the ‘Iron Hill Dwarves’ from under Fori’s nose – fortunately the nasty dwarf was unable to Influence them away again. The elves meanwhile returned to Lorien.

Leaving Celeborn and Haldir at Lorien, Legolas journeyed to Rhosgobel to give Radagast some support but ended up getting lost in the Dead Marshes. Brand and Hama were very lucky as the ‘Men of Dorwinion’ were in the Quest display, so a quick trip to Shrel-Kain soon recruited them, even though Gergeli appeared and tried to stop them, Brand put a Black Arrow through his dark heart...

With Beorn in my hand along with Elrohir, I gathered all my forces together at Lorien, and with a little shuffling about of groups to free up some Influence as Radagast was there too meant I had made 25 MP by the end of turn 10 and could successfully call the Free Council.

So our afternoon’s session was over and it was hugely enjoyable as always – even though I didn’t think that this deck was as thematic as some of the others I have played – although this may just have been how the cards came out of the deck? I also thought that the Hazard deck was a bit lack-lustre too – it’s just loads and loads of Men. Nasty men I grant you and ‘Rank upon Rank’ is not a pleasant card to face when you have loads coming at you! But it did lack some variety.

Since Gimli never made it to the table, it was hardly a ‘bargain between friends’. Perhaps I should have started with him and Legolas on the table as it suggested, which was my fault? I’m really surprised that the original design didn’t have ‘The Glittering Caves’ or ‘Wellinghall’ as sites for Legolas and Gimli to explore however as that was exactly the bargain that they made in both the book and film. Still, I can play that again next time, which is the absolute joy of playing MECCG – it can create those stories so easily.

I’ll be sharing more sessions soon – next time I’m changing the deck completely to become Radagast, protector of the Greenwood and ‘A Friend of Secret Things’...

Many thanks to everyone following and liking this Blog. As always, I love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy MECCG and the solo version I’ve created

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Mar 10, 2019 8:40 am
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A Knife in the Dark

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As I enter my fourth month of adventures in Middle-earth I’m still constantly amazed by how absorbing and clever the game is - it was truly a masterpiece of early CCG design.

This week I want to cover my tweaks to the MECCG solo game that deal with Agents and, most importantly, my idea of Quest cards and the Quest Display.

Agents were introduced in ‘Dark Minions’ expansion and I always thought they were a great idea. Although the ‘Lidless Eye’ expansion developed full ‘evil’ play, Agents made sure that nasty characters populated the game and went around trying to undo all the good things the various Hero companies were attempting. I much prefer this approach personally rather than playing as an evil Ringwraith (something that was very popular, but I guess I’m just not a ‘Dark Side’ person!) and I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘back-stories’ the Agents were given in the ‘Dark Minions’ Player guide, so I knew I wanted to include them in my solo version.

My first method of including Agents was to construct an Agent ‘deck’ of up to 15 Agents matching Sites in a player’s site deck, then reference Agent ‘encounters’ to get them into Border-hold and Free-hold Site encounters as I reasoned that was where most Agents resided and you were more likely to encounter sly humans in Minas Tirith than you would a band of orcs. That was easy to achieve but through the many play-testing sessions, Agents just weren’t appearing enough. So I then had the idea of linking Agents to the Quest roll at the start of each turn (see below) so at the start of the game a Player revealed the top Agent, placing it on the agent deck. If the Quest roll was less than or equal to the Mind of the Agent then the Agent was placed at his Home site on the board and a new Agent revealed. This worked brilliantly and with a few more simple rules I got Agents moving on the board to create mischief – once I had created some agent tokens of course!

I also knew from the start that I wanted Agent encounters to be more than just fights so I used a simple system that references the skills of the Agent you have encountered so determine how the encounter plays out. I even managed to include a magic-system of sorts for individual Agents who could use the Dark Arts. Now Agents become a reasonable but not overpowering aspect of the solo game and I’m glad I included them

So finally, we come to by far the most important change I made to the MECCG solo game – the removal of cards that generate MP (which I have now termed ‘Quest’ cards) from a player deck to form a Quest deck and the creation of the Quest Display. When I was playing the official MECCG solo variant, the 5 card hand size was tiny and each time I had a Quest card in my hand I was loath to discard it. Conversely, when there were no Quest cards available, my companies were sat twiddling their thumbs wondering what to do. So in a single change I removed both problems by creating the 15 card Quest deck and making it populate the Quest display by a simple roll of 8+ at the start of each turn This not only freed up your hand, made room in a player deck for lesser, but flavourful, cards, and in having a player choose a Quest card to be on the Display at the start of the game, meant that a game had instant ‘theme’ if a player wished – questing for a particular Item, recruiting a particular Faction, or including a particular Battle. It was everything I wanted to achieve in a very simple way - and linking in the Agent roll I mentioned above in the Quest roll was a design bonus for simplicity too!

This sweeping change has had remarkably little ‘ripples’ onto other cards too which is always an important factor in tweaking an already-released game. Now, if a card refers to a player looking through his deck to find a particular card, I just swap ‘player deck’ to ‘Quest deck’ and everything else remains the same.

As another bonus, my Location cards could use the Quest deck idea to reveal a ‘randomised’ treasure when needed rather than it being sat in a player’s hand, so it remains the single best way to mesh all the mechanics that I wanted to include in the solo variant together.

My collected solo rules document can be found here - it’s had over 85 downloads so far:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/176951/middle-earth-s...

I’ve also recently posted a second session report of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield exploring the lands surrounding the mountains of the north to reclaim their lost treasures and kingdom from various greedy dragons. It didn’t end well for Thorin but it was a fantastic game. You can read it here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2158006/journey-dark-mi...

So that’s it for covering the various themes and mechanics I wanted to include in my solo version and I hope you enjoyed my musings. Next week I’ll start posting more session reports and deck lists for the various games I’ve been playing, starting with ‘A Friend of Secret Things’.

Many thanks to everyone who keep following and liking this Blog. As always, I love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy MECCG and any ideas regarding the solo version I’ve created would be greatly appreciated!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Mar 3, 2019 7:43 am
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Men of the West

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I’m still enjoying my adventures in Middle-earth and many thanks to everyone who keep following and liking my witterings on this 25 year-old masterpiece of a game that I appreciate more with each passing week.

This week I want to cover my tweaks to the MECCG solo game that deal with Factions and Battles.

Tolkien’s world is full of sweeping, large-scale events where heroes call for aid from the peoples of Middle Earth to either help them in their quest, or to push back the dark forces of Sauron. MECCG mirrors this by including the recruiting of Faction cards such as ‘Iron Hill Dwarves’ or ‘Riders of Rohan’, but keeps the focus very much on the ‘character-level’ rather than the large-scale. Now I like this very much, but I do think that they were missing a vital element of the books (and particularly the spectacular scenes in the movies).

Factions are a terrific idea and I love the way in which diplomacy is often as important as prowess in the game. The Faction cards have lovely art and it is very appealing to be able to recruit them at the various sites. The problem is that when they ARE recruited, they do absolutely nothing! This means that ‘The Great Eagles’ are the same as ‘Men of Lebennin’! Some, like the Animal Factions in later expansions, began to get some abilities but it’s way too late to add to all the individual Faction cards, so I added a simple mechanic linked to their MP value to allow Factions to protect you in their home region, as well as playing off their race to give a little bit of flavour to them, such as elf factions allowing ‘Information’ cards to be played at their Home site.

Battles cards were my idea to include some of the major events that shaped Middle earth in ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Most combat in MECCG is based around small skirmishes of characters, much like an RPG, but Tolkien also wrote about huge battles of men against orcs, trolls and dragons. I wanted Battle cards to simulate these mass conflicts in a simple way to include the clash of armies and terrible stakes involved for characters and Middle earth in the CCG. In addition, I wanted to upgrade and expand upon my mechanics for using Factions by meshing Factions and Battles together to recreate climactic, epic Battles.

Once again, simplicity was my watch-word and since I wanted Battles to reward a player with a significant number of MP, then they automatically became part of my Quest deck. This meant that the Battles had to have a lot of attacks and I wanted there to be the possibility that your Faction might get decimated by the swarms of orcs or whatever – hence the idea of a Casualty roll after each attack. I also wanted to raise the stakes a little so that if a player did put a Battle card in the Quest deck and then ignored it on the Display, there would be a penalty. Finally, just like the Rohirrim coming to Gondor’s aid at the Pelennor Fields, I wanted to try and recreate situations where you could have other Factions coming to your aid, so added in rules and a card to support the Battle mechanic.

I’ve created 8 Battle cards for MECCG, from ‘Defend the White City’ at Minas Tirith, to ‘Defend the Hornburg’ at Helm’s Deep. For a short time there was also ‘Defend the River’ to try and recreate the defense of Osgiliath, but it all seemed a bit too Gondor-heavy with other Battle cards, so I replaced it with the dwarf-themed ‘Defend the Mountain’. The Battle cards also spawned a few other cards that both hindered and aided players, such as ‘Solid Defences’, or ‘Open War is Upon You’, as it’s my view that a new mechanic must have other cards to support it to enter the game. No doubt players can think of others to enhance Battles in their games.
I have also managed, after over 2 months since posting a rough set of ideas, to create and post my ‘final’ document detailing all my solo rules in one place. You can read it here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/176951/middle-earth-s...

I’ve also recently posted a session report of one of my games using these solo rules where Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield explored the lands surrounding the mountains of the north and tried to reclaim their lost treasures and kingdom from various greedy dragons. It was another brilliant, immersive game where everything worked out perfectly to tell a story. You can read it here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2153404/reclaim-erebor-...

Whilst playing through this session, and to pick up on ‘Environment’ cards that I mentioned last week, I noticed how subtle the original designers were with these cards. Environment cards, with the obvious exceptions of ‘Gates of Morning’/’Doors of Night’, hardly affect Dwarves at all! Which is absolutely correct of course. Elves, being tied much more closely to the stars and the lands, get all kinds of bonuses and penalties from various cards, but Dwarves just don’t. I think that’s so clever.

Next week, for my final dissertation on my solo variant, I’ll discuss Quests and the Quest Display and why I thought that this was a huge step forward for a solo game, along with my rules for the introduction of Agents. After that, well we’ll see where the road takes us, but I have loads of ideas for solo decks and scenarios that I’d like to share and session reports to post about my adventures.

I always love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy MECCG and any ideas regarding the solo version I’ve created would be greatly appreciated!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Feb 24, 2019 8:04 am
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The Ring Goes South

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For the third week in a row, I first have to thank everyone for all the support and recommendations for these blogs. I really do appreciate it and when you consider Middle-earth is nearly 25 years old, it’s remarkable and yet completely understandable, that the game has such a devoted following. Many thanks to everyone!

This week I want to cover additions and tweaks to the MECCG solo game I’ve made to simply add more Tolkien flavour to play and ensure that ‘lesser’ cards got a chance to see some play. So this included making an ‘Environment’ deck, introducing a Travel keyword that is added to several cards to ensure they are added to decks and finally creating a mechanic and deck to reflect that age-old staple of fantasy RPGs – the Inn!

Tolkien’s world is such a fully-fledged creation, and part of its enduring appeal is that Tolkien describes the environment and lands we explore so beautifully. MECCG did well in trying to recreate this aspect by having Environment cards which were so evocative of Middle earth and included beautiful art on cards like ‘Stars, ‘Moon’, and ‘Long Winter’, plus the ever-changing ‘Doors of Night’/’Gates of Morning’/ ‘Twilight’. I think how other cards played off ‘Gates/Doors’ was absolutely inspired design work.

So to include them, I created a balanced mini-deck of 15 Environment cards and replaced the ‘Long event’ Phase with an ‘Environment’ Phase – roll 2D6 and on 8+, draw an Environment card. It works perfectly!

My favourite part of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is the Travel mechanic. Another Tolkien strength is how he describes the journey that Frodo and the Fellowship makes in so much detail it makes the books a gold standard in fantasy fiction (or in ANY fiction really). Again, the original designers of MECCG did a great job in creating cards to mirror this aspect, such as the several ‘Lost’ cards, the set of ‘Fair-Travels’ cards (with such lovely art too), ‘Rivers’, ‘Fords’, and all the various ‘Mountains’ etc. But often these cards were pushed out of decks as there was not enough space to include their relatively small effects.

But without their inclusion, IMO, the game could descend into a Hazard deck of Creatures and Corruptions and thus losing the variety and Tolkien flavour. To overcome this, I added a ‘Travel’ keyword to a decent proportion of cards such as those mentioned above. For a while, these cards, along with my new ‘Location’ cards, formed a (short-lived) ‘Travel’ deck, and I had a player roll every Movement/Hazard Phase for the chance to include one. After play-testing, I realised however (as always) that simplicity is better and the ‘Travel deck’ as a concept was a deck too many. So the ‘Travel’ cards reverted back into the standard Player/Hazard decks but I made restrictions so that some cards featuring the keyword MUST be included in at least the Hazard deck, and I always make a point of having at least 3 in my Player Resource deck.

Finally, there are Inns. I love the ‘Prancing Pony’ chapter in the book, the sequence in the movies (and I loved seeing the meeting between Gandalf and Thorin in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ movie), and indeed ‘The Green Dragon’ at Bywater. It’s so ‘traditional middle ages olde English tavern’ that it created fantasy literature’s and RPGs many, many copycats – and even the cantina in ‘Star Wars’ owes it a huge debt.

Again, lots of cards in MECCG had an ‘inn’ flavour, such as ‘A Chance Meeting’, ‘A Short Rest’, and ‘Glamour of Surpassing Excellence’ and but these, like Travel and Environment cards, were lesser cards that often didn’t make the final cut and weren’t getting into decks. So I decided to make to make another featured ‘mini-deck’ of 15 cards that could include these cards, alongside traditional ‘Inn-flavoured’ Creatures such as mercenaries, ruffians and thieves which might inhabit ‘hives of scum and villainy’...

Of course there are different types of inns, so I created several different Inn ‘Location’ cards for players to include in their Resource deck, such as ‘Welcoming Inn’, all with slightly different card-draw mechanics, and other cards that drew Inn cards such ‘Prosperous Farm’. Inn cards for the Quest deck included, of course, ‘The Prancing Pony’. I also linked Inns into the Site-encounter charts for Border-holds and Free-holds.

I have also managed this week (2 months to the day since originally posting it as a rough set of ideas back in December) to create and post my ‘final’ document detailing all my solo rules in one place. You can find it here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/176951/middle-earth-s...

I’ve also recently posted a session report of one of my games using these solo rules where Strider led brave Rangers to defend the Northern regions of Middle earth. It was a brilliant, immersive game where everything worked out perfectly to tell a story. You can read it here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2151115/defending-north...

Next week I’ll discuss Factions, the other major aspect of MECCG that I loved but always wanted to upgrade and expand, and my mechanics for using Factions to recreate climactic, epic Battles that are such an integral part of ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

I always love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy MECCG and any ideas regarding the solo version I’ve created would be greatly appreciated!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Feb 17, 2019 7:46 am
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Queer Lodgings

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Once again, I’m very flattered by the amount of ‘thumbs’ from last week’s post and welcome anybody who wants to join me on my journey through Middle-earth. Many thanks to all of you who have subscribed or left comments, PMs and messages.

This week I’d like to explain my thoughts about sites and the mechanics behind them, along with my rationale for creating new Dream cards called ‘Locations’ and why I believe my tweaks can improve the solo experience.

Before that however, let’s talk about those little cubes of terror – dice!

MECCG was ‘groundbreaking’ at the time (and perhaps is still in a very small minority) in that it was a CCG that used (gasp) dice! I remember the uproar the Star Wars: Trading Card Game from ‘Wizards of the Coast’ received in 2002 where players were outraged - ‘How can you have dice in a CCG?’

But, to me at least, almost any game has to have dice or some random element built into its mechanics otherwise it becomes just an exercise in maths. The Star Wars Customizable Card Game from Decipher had ‘Destiny’ numbers on each card (which was nice as they were inversely proportional to the ‘power’ of the card -the most powerful had the lowest destiny) and The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game from FFG has ‘Shadow effects’ drawn in combat – just to name but two.

So for a game that wears ‘dice’ and a bit of randomness on its sleeve, why are site cards so predictable?

One of the best things about MECCG for me is its sandbox nature - you can go anywhere you want in Middle Earth – the road truly goes ever on. You can create decks to explore the chilly wastes of Angmar, rub shoulders with the Hobbits in the Shire or venture east and into Mirkwood or beyond. The site cards have lovely evocative art (for the most part) and have flavourful attacks. The problem is that they are always the SAME attacks!

Whenever you go to Mount Gundabad, for example, you get attacked by 2 Orcs. Explore the Barrow-downs and you can expect to get jumped by precisely 1 Wight. Worse, in Border-holds, Free-holds or Havens, you have no encounter at all. I know you could have Hazards played on you keyed to those sites and play Resources yourself but in a solo game it’s very dull. I can’t understand why the designers didn’t utilise the dice that were inherent in the game and give us some kind of randomised encounter on each site? It needn’t have been elaborate but would have been a lot more exciting and taken the cold calculation out of exploring sites where you have to keep exactly X characters untapped in the Movement/Hazard phase to deal with the Automatic attack of the site...

Now it’s WAY too late to have new encounters on each site card, so I came up with the idea of having an encounter table for different site types – Ruins & Lairs, Havens, Free-holds etc. This gives an element of flavour for the different sites without it being too fiddly. Now Border-hold sites are subtly more dangerous than Free-holds, and automatic attacks are a lot less predictable. As an added bonus, and because they are the staple of the game, I did give an individual entry for each of the 4 different Havens in the game to reflect their different status and location. Finally, I used the site tables as a way of threading different new elements in the solo version that I wanted to introduce (this is a design tactic I use in much of my projects – particularly for a sandbox design such as MECCG or Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game), so took the opportunity to include Inns and Agents in my site encounter tables – but more on those in later weeks...

I did retain the normal Automatic attacks however – on a 2D6 roll of 8+, the card behaves exactly as is written. Why 8+? I firmly believe that simplicity and elegance are key in game design. If you can have a blanket number for players it’s much easier than having several for different situations. I knew that in a lot of elements, such as Environment cards, or the Quest mechanic, I wanted a 2D6 roll to control an outcome. Rolls in MECCG have to be 2D6, so 8+ gives a 15/36 (42%) chance of occurring which I thought about right. 7+ gives 21/36 which at 58% is too much.

Taking the idea even further, I wanted to design new site cards that players couldn’t plan for and have the thrill of discovering them ‘in the wild’. These are my ‘Location’ cards that feature as both Resource and Hazard cards so some are beneficial (like ‘Hobbit Village’) whilst others (like ‘Haunted Tomb’) can be decidedly risky. I introduced a simple 2D6 roll to be able to avoid the ones you didn’t feel you could handle and I wanted to include a random element so that when you encountered them, you never knew what quite to expect. I did this in 2 ways – firstly you have to roll to see what you actually find (a ‘Warg Den’ could be empty for example, or contain a varying number of doggy enemies), and then have a random ‘reward’, so that players will have to guess at whether exploring the Location is worth it or not. As such ‘Location’ cards are almost exclusively for solo play as you wouldn’t put them as a Hazard for other players to have a nice reward! But as a new element to the MECCG solo game, they are lovely to encounter and I’m proud of what I achieved.

You can find the Location cards here: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/174679/location-test-...

Next week, I’ll discuss more ideas I had on the solo experience, such as thinning out play decks, the Quest deck and display, as well as introducing Agents

I always love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy the solo version of MECCG!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Feb 10, 2019 12:56 pm
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An Unexpected Party

simon cogan
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Judging from the lovely comments and recommendations from my initial post, it looks like my journey through Middle earth with MECCG isn’t going to be lonely. Many thanks to all of you who have subscribed or left comments, PMs and messages.

I thought it might be a nice idea this week to explain the philosophy and ‘mission statement’ behind my solitaire version of MECCG and why I believe that I could improve the solo experience.

Anyone who knows me or has followed my work on games – from my massive project on Doctor Who: Solitaire Story Game and Doctor Who: Solitaire Story Game (Second edition), through Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game and Star Trek: Customizable Card Game (first edition) and now to MECCG, know that I am primarily 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 an unknown chapter of an adventure in Middle earth.

To this end, with MECCG I could see a number of ways to do it without resorting to a ‘scenario’ set of rules. There has been some great Middle earth scenario work in the various ICE MECCG player guides, on this wonderful website: https://meccg.wordpress.com/ plus The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has done over a hundred tightly-focussed scenarios set in Tolkien’s world.

However, I wanted to keep MECCCG as a ‘sandbox’ game with just new rules and additions that players could use some or all of them as they see fit – very much like the expansion material I did for ‘Fortune and Glory’. In this way, players would not be restricted yet use their imaginations to the full in creating adventures with much-loved characters like Frodo or Aragorn, or create stories using the lesser-known characters such as Galdor, Halbarad or Dain Ironfoot.

My main ‘gripe’ with MECCG, as I said last week, is that at its basic level it can be boiled down to a cold acquisition of Marshalling Points. I suppose that with a ‘sandbox’ type of game this is inevitable – just like ‘Fortune and Glory’ is chasing after, well, fortune and glory! I wanted to address that with more ‘quest-like’ player cards and increasing the thematic approach by designing mechanics and cards to link the sometimes disparate elements of the basic game – but more of that in later weeks!

I think that some elements of MECCG are, in my view, a little repetitive and a bit bland – Sites and Factions in particular are clear areas to improve. But let’s not forget that MECCG was in the first wave of CCGs, nearly 25 years ago. In 1995 there was just ‘Magic’ which is a fundamentally a 2-player battling game, and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ (as it was then) CCG which was groundbreaking as it introduced the ideas of ‘moving’ on a ‘gameboard’ of cards to complete Missions. Since then, CCGs and card games have come a LONG way in terms of design and intricacy. My additions to MECCG come with 25 years of playing and reading about game design.

Hero cards, the characters that drive your adventure, for example, have become more ‘complex’ cards as designers realise that players want more than just a set of stats with the Characters that are the corner-stone of games. Look at the difference between ‘Hero’ cards and ‘Ally’ cards in LOTR:LCG, or the over-sized Hero cards in ‘Fortune & Glory’ or ‘Arkham Horror’. There are a LOT of Character cards in MECCG but not a lot was done to differentiate some of the really important characters from each other and just be stats – Bilbo and Frodo are almost identical, Elladan and Elrohir ARE identical (yes, that could be deliberate!) as are Merry and Pippin. So I knew that one element I wanted to enhance was to add some Character ‘abilities’ to the main Heroes to give them a little more flavour as befitting their status– and I chose those with Mind 4+. Initially it was only going to be Characters with Mind 5+, but I realised that 4 of the Fellowship (Merry, Pippin, Sam and Boromir) all had 4 Mind, so I couldn’t very well leave them out! So now Bilbo gives a bonus when he’s off on his adventures and Aragorn becomes even more a Hero with his ability to untap once per turn.

CCGs have also improved dramatically in cosmetic appearance. Now I know that for some players, it matters not a jot, but I do like to see lovely artwork and a great-looking game on my table. It is another way to increase the enjoyment and immersive experience of being in Middle earth for an hour or three of an afternoon.

Fortunately I have an original ICE Middle Earth map purchased many years ago, with all the Sites and Regions on it. This was my starting point but I quickly realised that there are a LOT of different piles of cards and differentiating between those piles without any kind of card labelling was impossible – after all, they all look the same from the back! So I designed a number of ‘Player-Mats’ with some lovely artwork that I could place around the Map and would act as place-holders for the different card piles. Finally, I needed some way of representing my Characters on the map so I created small card ‘counters’ of the character art used on the cards, as well as purchasing cheaply off Ebay some of the Eaglemoss lead figures. These are about 8cm high and are great for showing where your main character/wizard/avatar is located.

So there you go - my starting point in creating a new solo variant of MECCG. Next week I’ll discuss more of the areas I wanted to enhance – such as Sites and my Location cards – as well as sharing some solo adventures and the playtesting I’ve been doing along the way.

I always love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy Tolkien and MECCG!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Feb 3, 2019 7:53 am
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Well, I'm Back...

simon cogan
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It's been 2 years exactly since I started a Tolkien game Blog - but that one was about The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - a lovely game that really scratched the Tolkien itch in many, many ways.

It has lovely art, is well supported by FFG, and highly thematic scenarios which are different and interesting to play.

It is also bloody HARD and to win a scenario solo requires you to either play in the, rather patronisingly named 'Easy Mode', design your deck to the hilt with cards that have a whisker's chance of beating the scenario (NO WAY can you just throw a thematic deck together and hope for the best - it crushes you like a bug this game), or cheat!

So I've been dabbling again with that timeless classic Middle-earth all the way back from 1995. Now, I've dabbled with this game before and love it dearly.

I found a very old blog of mine from Feb 2012 (7 years ago - where does the time go?):

"I've been saying for a few weeks now that I've been tempted by 'Lord of the Rings: The Card Game'.

And I have finally succumbed to my Tolkien urge - but not to that game.

I've rediscovered MECCG after finding a big box of cards in my attic - and what a fantastic game it is!

All my theme and mechanic problems of (the admittedly gorgeous) 'Lord of the Rings: The Card Game', as well as my increasing frustration of being slaughtered at every opportunity are just removed by this timeless classic of a game that just lets you adventure through Middle Earth with a hop and a skip.

I bought a lot of cards when they first came out in 1995 (gosh, 17 years ago) and have kept them all safe and lovely since. I got a lot of the expansions too (Dragons, Dark Minions) but my interest dwindled as the game became a little too top heavy and lost it's way a bit (coincidentally, the text on the cards got smaller and smaller...). I've also got some of the ICE guides and rulebooks, so it was a real pleasure to sit down and rediscover them and the wonderful game all again.

In my opinion it beats the FFG version hands down in nearly every respect. Gameplay is more thematic and smooth and far less mechanical. you don't have to play the odds so deck design is a breeze too.

Being a solo player, I don't feel short-changed with this game either. The artwork may not be as good all the time (some of it is gorgeous though) and I think the scenario aspect of LOTR:TCG is brilliant - much better than the rather cold MP gaining objective of MECCG. But with all these player guides there are a lot of scenarios that are a joy to play through.

I'm off to Ebay to find some more cards to build up my adventures...and find some more player guides too..."


And I love the fact that I mentioned it was 17 years since METW came out - now it's 24!

I reposted that a month back and I'm still very much into my MECCG adventures. I've been very busy in the last month posting new rules and player resources to try and overcome the issue I mentioned 7 years ago - the cold acquisition of MP.

I've done this in several ways as anyone who has been following my post in the MECCG page can see:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2114120/some-new-solo-r...

I'm trying to make Site encounters more varied, beef up Factions so that they have more use, added some abilities for major Characters, and added simple rules for Travel, new Locations and Inns.

I've also posted session reports and designed dream cards - all with the aim of making a more immersive, story-driven game without making it more complex.

I've found several ways to pimp up my game such as designing some Player mats with lovely art, character tokens, and the purchase of some of the Lord of the Rings miniatures from Eaglemoss that you can pick up very cheaply now off Ebay…

But I still have more ideas - so keep reading and I hope to do a new blog post each weekend..

I always love to hear feedback and comments, so please get in touch if you enjoy Tolkien and MECCG!

'The Road Goes Ever On'
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Sun Jan 27, 2019 3:54 pm
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