For some, a large part of the beauty of the Lord of the Rings Card game was the simplicity – you could just pick up a deck, set-up a quest, and go.
The more the game goes on, the harder this becomes: quests are built with more and more specific requirements, requiring players to tailor their decks, the multiple versions of unique characters make it ever more likely that players will have clashes with both trying to use the same hero (probably Spirit Glorfindel) and, as if that wasn’t enough, now there’s Gandalf Guy, showing up with his hero to make Ally Gandalf unplayable for the entire game.
Another issue with this game, which may seem unrelated, is that of the score. The score system is fairly simple: T+W+D-V+10R (where T = total of players threat, W = total damage on heroes, D = threat cost of dead heroes, V = victory points + R = number of rounds).
Many people don’t really bother keeping score- so long as nobody’s threat hits 50, and the heroes aren’t dead, a win is a win.
I like spread-sheets.
I have a spread-sheet which logs every game of LotR LCG I’ve ever won. It gives the quest, the date, the heroes used, the scores. It has averages for each player of scores, spheres used and the like. It even has pie-charts: It keeps track of all the things I used to record on the FFG online quest log before I got fed up with its unreliability and the fact that I could only log myself, not the other players in the game.
I’m writing this, not to shatter any illusions anyone might have had about me being cool (come on, this is Lord of the Rings Gaming Blog, you knew I wasn’t cool), but to show you that I was always going to be the sort of person who kept score. Other people, obviously are very different – some simply don’t like the idea of keeping score, others might like the idea, but find the current scoring system too crude. As I’ve noted elsewhere, there are quests which are intrinsically unfriendly to scores- anything where the structure of the quest imposes additional rounds for a start: The current score system is based on the false assumption that all quests are created equal.
All quests are not created equal – from the very inception of this game, the designers have recognised that, and quests are given a difficulty rating: Passage Through Mirkwood was a 1. Journey along the Anduin, I believe was a 4, and escape from Dol Guldur is a 7 or 8. On the face of it, that seems reasonable – Passage is a fairly generic introductory quest, Journey begins with a Hill Troll in the staging area, and Escape sees one of your heroes captured, a limit on the number of allies which can be played, and a Nazgul.
However, stepping back a little, the difficulty rating system is far from perfect: Whilst Passage may seem simple, it has plenty of cards that can cause serious difficulties for players: Caught in a Web, Ungoliant’s Spawn, or the ever-unpleasant Necromancer’s Reach. The notion that this is the easiest quest which ever has been or will be is clearly wrong.
Perhaps the most notorious for the comedic nature of their difficulty ratings are the Heirs of Numenor quests- generally regarded as a fairly brutal collection of quests, one of these was (bafflingly) rated as a 4! – If you find Blocking Wargs and the Southron Company (in a battle quest, with a location that gives them a zero engagement cost) no more of a challenge than a single Hill Troll and the occasional Dol Guldur Orc, I’d love to hear from you.
Difficulty is also a concept which cannot be separated from scaling – some quests are simple solo but impossible in four-player, others may be the reverse. Some quests can be approach with a generic deck that has some questing and some fighting, whilst others need very specific builds – this is becoming increasingly the case as we go along. In the Mirkwood cycle, Journey to Rhosgobel was probably the only quest which required custom deck-building, due to the need for Healing events and ranged attacks. These days, each new quest will probably need at least a tweak to your deck, if not starting from scratch.
What I’d like to see is a more elaborate difficulty system – one which gives each quest somewhere upto 8 difficulty ratings – 1, 2, 3 or 4 player, and with “generic” decks, or custom-built ones. This would give a difficulty sufficiently meaningful that it could be incorporated into a score system. Ultimately, it would be possible to actually compare players’ success in one game to that in another, despite the fact that they had been playing different quests with different numbers of players, and different decks.
Ultimately, I’m not really sure whether this is particularly practical to achieve. The amount of play-testing needed to generate these ratings this far in to the game would be phenomenal. The game designers have shown no particular inclination to do it, and I strongly suspect that I don’t have the time – but I’m going to try anyway. I’ve created a whole new section of the website outlining the project – I’ll be posting this on Board Game Geek and other places, but it will live or die by the amount of response i get from the rest of the community.
You might ask what the point of all of this is – am I just bemoaning a lack of something which only I want? I can still tell that a two-player game of Passage Through Mirkwood in which we finish we a score of 208 and 4 heroes had died went rather less well than a 4-player game of Steward’s Fear where we finished with the same score. I can continue to keep track of scores in my own spread-sheet, and create whatever modified systems for doing so I wish.
The problem is though, that there is still a meta for this game, even though it may be less easy to define than for the competitive games with their tournaments. As I’m noting in another article, the fact that nobody keeps score is part of an issue in the rise of “turtle decks,” leading in turn to a major shift in quest-design that narrows the field of options for players. People might not feel like they’re particularly missing out in not having a score system that’s widely in use, but the fact that there isn’t one has a massive impact on the way quests are designed for the future.
I’d be interested to know whether others keep records of their play-throughs of this game, what systems they use, and whether there are any variations that you can see as being feasible to introduce?