Adventuring in the First Age Part 1
Next week, I will be releasing the fan expansion, First Age, which allows players to take the LOTR LCG mechanics and gameplay they know and love into an earlier time in Middle-earth. Players will have three options for playing First Age: print and play, OCTGN, and CardWarden, which will hopefully give a broad range of players access to these new quests and cards. My overriding goal throughout the creation of this expansion has been a desire to share my passion for the legendary stories in The Silmarillion and to impart each player and encounter card with the the aura, darkness, and wonder of the First Age. I know that some players tend to be a bit skeptical of custom expansions for understandable reasons, and I have worked to uphold the highest quality with the help of proofreaders, playtesters, and card creators. In this article, I hope to spoil a few cards and share a few glimpses into the design process, which I hope will be interesting not only for those who are interested in First Age, but also those players who are intrigued by design in general.
As a player, I really appreciate encounter cards and quests that provide players with choice. From a gameplay perspective, this adds extra layers of strategy instead of simply being smashed over the head by the game. From a thematic perspective, what is a story and a journey but a series of choices? This is holds even more true for the First Age, where we see mighty characters laid low by the choices they make, and those who are supposed to ostensibly be the “good guys” make the decision to commit unspeakable acts of evil in pursuit of their goals. I have partially represented this aspect of The Silmarillion through the Corruption mechanic, but I also wanted to interweave Corruption with choice. A good example of this is the enemy, Crazed Thrall, from the first scenario, The Isle of Werewolves.
This enemy represents a captive and thrall of Sauron/Morgoth, perhaps one that has been driven mad by dark experiments. The players are presented with a choice: destroy this pesky enemy that will attract nastiness as long as he remains in play, or take the time to stop and attempt to reason with, persuade, or even free this poor creature. Doing so of course will delay the heroes’ task, and this can be deadly in this particular quest where players are racing to free their fellows from the pits of Sauron before they are devoured. Which path will you take? It’s up to you, but taking the easy way of death and destruction may pave the way towards a fall into darkness.
Both the villains and heroes of the First Age are more powerful than those of the Third Age, which reflects a general theme of Tolkien, which is the gradual fading of the world over time. The biggest hurdle when initially conceptualizing this expansion was how to reflect this power without breaking the game in terms of either making it too easy or too hard. Initially, I thought that I would simply bump up the stats of heroes, allies, and enemies and call it a day. However, not only was this lacking in creativity, it also made the game harder to balance and would just lead to more math calculations on the part of players for little gain. Instead, I decided to grant First Age heroes an advantage in terms of lower threat cost and stronger abilities. For example, Thingol, often held to be one of the strongest people in Middle-earth during the First Age, as well as one of the most complex, posed an interesting card design challenge. The first version had a much different power, which I ultimately changed to this current version, where Thingol gets to set aside a portion of his deck that can be accessed when enemies engage. This represents Thingol’s construction of Menegroth and store of arms to prepare for invasion. Overall, this is quite a powerful ability to go along with Thingol’s low threat of 7, which is even lower than the First Age standard thanks to his in-built penalty (he doesn’t get along with the House of Feanor!). Fear not, though, this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to breeze through quests, as the three scenarios in this expansion pose quite a challenge for even experienced players.
By presenting players with both choice and power that is sometimes double-edged, the First Age expansion aims to impart the flavor of this unique era of Middle-earth.
That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more First Age spoilers as the release date approaches!