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Adventuring in the First Age Part 2

by on June 10, 2014

And Yet A Warning

As we move towards the release of First Age this Friday, June 13th, I’d like to take a moment to share some final thoughts and spoilers. What will it be like adventuring through Beleriand during this epic time period? What challenges will you face? I honestly couldn’t be more excited to release this custom fan expansion for the game I love, and I look forward to getting it onto my own table, as well as sharing it with everyone else. I’ve been designing board and card games for myself since I was a wee lad, so needless to say, I’m both ecstatic and anxious as I release one of my babies into the world!

Difficulty

One question that might be foremost on players’ minds is what kind of difficulty they can expect from the First Age quests. This game sometimes has a notorious reputation for smashing newer players over the head and leaving them for dead, which can alienate some over time. On the other hand, many players crave a hefty challenge, which ultimately inspired the designers of this game to create Nightmare Mode to make sure that quests stay fresh and playable as the skill of players and power level of decks grows. While I definitely have aimed to make First Age accessible to players of all skill levels, I have erred towards the more difficult side of the equation for a few different reasons. One is that the most memorable moments I have ever had involving this game were when I barely scraped out a close victory or vanquished a quest after a dozen or so tries and careful strategizing. That rush you feel as a player when you pull victory from the jaws of defeat, knowing that a wrong decision anywhere along the way would have led to your doom, makes that win sweeter than any other. When playtesters told me that they beat a certain scenario with two heroes dead and 49 threat, and felt absolutely thrilled about the experience, I knew I was close to the difficulty I wanted.

Balrog-of-Angband-Front-Face

The second reason I chose to create difficult scenarios is that I wanted to represent the First Age and its associated stories  in a way that felt as true as possible to the source material, and one thing that absolutely shines through the text of The Silmarillion is the sheer power and terror that the heroes of that age were up against. A classic example of this greater scale is difference between Balrogs in the First and Third Age. These monstrous, corrupted Maiar were some of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth, and some of the most terrible foes that the Free Peoples have ever faced. However, during the Third Age, Durin’s Bane is the sole example of a Balrog we come across, a terrifying remnant of an all-but-extinct “race”. By contrast, the First Age sees the Balrogs at the height of their power, and there are many to contend with at once, including Gothmog, one of Morgoth’s chief lieutenants. So in designing scenarios based around the story of Beren and Luthien, one of which takes players into the heart of darkness itself, Angband, how do you represent the might of these enemies, while still making them balanced? It would feel wrong to reduce an enemy like Balrog of Angband to a power level that is barely above that of a Third Age orc. Imagine a 6 attack, 12 hit point version of the Balrog that could simply be swept aside like some common Hill Troll. This would feel completely wrong and ruin the First Age experience. Instead, I decided to properly represent the enemies, but provide players with different options for dealing with them, including the Sneak tests that are part of this scenario and powerful player cards, as well as unexpected help and tools that might be found along the way.

With that in mind, prepare for some of the toughest challenges that LOTR LCG can deliver. From battling werewolves to taking on the ultimate evil himself, Morgoth, to hunting down the great wolf, Carcharoth, these quests will not go easy on players. However, there is full support for easy mode, so if you are looking to experience the theme of First Age without having to undergo the worst that these scenarios have to offer, certain cards are marked with a gold ring and can be removed to play the quests with a lower difficulty. In addition, I’ll be posting deck lists that have found success against these quests for those who are looking for a little extra help.

Card Pool

Another challenge in designing First Age was figuring out how the existing card pool would be integrated into the expansion, if at all. Again, thinking in terms of a thematic perspective, having Aragorn and Gimli pal around with Fingolfin and Beren seemed a bit strange and would ruin the feel of the expansion. At the same time, while I envisioned this expansion as essentially being a new Core Set for the First Age, completely excluding cards from the existing game would leave players with an extremely limited card pool. To deal with this situation, I created approximately 100 different player cards for all five spheres (including the brand new Mastery sphere), but also came up with a list of cards from the current card pool that are “First Age appropriate” in terms of theme. Here, for the first time I’ll unveil the First Age Approved List, which is the card pool that First Age was balanced for and is thematically appropriate. Of course, players can use all of their currently existing card pool if they so desire, and I certainly won’t stop them! This solution gives players a decently sized card pool, which will be expanded upon with future custom expansions.

First Age Approved List

That’s right! While I plan on taking a bit of a break from card creation, just for the sake of my sanity, and while the three quests in First Age should entertain players for a good long while, I will definitely be continuing to come up with new player cards and quests for the First Age. Traits and synergies that only receive mere hints of support in the First Age expansion will be further fleshed out as we join Turin on his tragic and heroic adventures, to be released in individual Adventure Packs! To end, I’ll spoil one final card, which a playtester favorite and will likely soon be your new best friend. I’ll see you on the battlefield!

Dark-Heart-of-the-Smith-Front-Face

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4 Comments
  1. c.adrian permalink

    I really like that you want to add quests and player cards after la launch to this expansion. I was playing some fan quests the other day (a set of 6) and I really like how the creator used the encounter sets from FFG. I feel that at this point more quests could come out without the need of new encounter decks (just an idea).

  2. Awesome! I look forward to becoming more intimately familiar with the lore of the First Age through your expansion. For me, the joy of this game has been in lifting obscure characters and passages from the text, seeing them in action, and suddenly recognizing a character like Erestor who never really jumped off the page for me before. As you said on the COTR podcast, this project has really helped you study The Silmarillion in greater depth producing a new level of apprehension and appreciation. I look forward to tagging along with you on that journey through playing your expansion. Thank you for creating and sharing this gift to Tolkien fans and the LOTR LCG community!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! One thing I didn’t mention on COTR is the actual card creation process, which consisted of going through the Silmarillion chapter by chapter to generate card ideas. This was actually much more fun than it sounds, and helped to really bring out some of the moments and characters that I glossed over during previous readings.

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