September 6, 2011

Questing Solo

This recent birthday of mine was the first in a long time where I actually asked for something. The result, was that I received several bright and shiny new board games from Amazon. I'll try to write about them all in due time, but today I want to focus on The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game by Fantasy Flight.

This is a cooperative game that can be played solo or with one other. Or, if you have a friend who has a core set, you can play with up to four players. I've played three games so far by myself and all tend to last right at or under 45 minutes.

I've only played 2 of the 3 scenarios that come with the core set, and none of them with another player, but I feel I have sufficient grasp of the mechanics to take a stab at it.

This is a very meaty game, but the rules are wonderfully presented and explained. The cards are very well designed and the rule book will now join my growing library of "you should do it like this." In case you're curious, Pandemic and Forbidden Island's rules currently reside in that library as well.

There are four different sets of heroes and player cards from which to choose. This is the first choice of the game and it's a fun one. So far I've tried Leadership (Aragorn, etc.), Tactics (Gimli, etc.), and Lore (Rivendell Elves). Each deck features 3 heroes and a set of allies, abilities, and attachments to use.

Leadership is a good support deck that allows other characters to keep fighting or be more effective. Tactics is straightforward combat, a very good thing for one player to take in a game. Lore is all about healing and drawing more cards. Very useful! Each of these plays very uniquely and adds something to each experience.

Each scenario has 3 stages, each of which is represented by the card. As you complete one stage and flip over another, the mechanics can change so you must be flexible and think on your feet. This is one of the things that has most impressed me so far with the game.

I'll give you some background on how this works so I can give you an example. Each round, players place new allies and attachments using resource tokens. Players then commit heroes to a quest (successfully questing is how you progress through scenario stages), then fight with monsters. Doing any of these actions (questing, attacking, defending) "exhausts" (if you've played Magic: The Gathering, exhaust = tap) your hero, so you have to think several steps ahead.

In the second stage of the Journey Down Anduin scenario, monsters will no longer engage you in combat. This is perfect as thematically you are on the boat, so the monsters are "gathering on the shores" as you sail past. However, more monsters are added which makes an already difficult scenario stage more difficult. The monsters' location on the table determines what they affect. In this stage, they aren't attacking and hurting your characters, but they are making the quest increasingly more difficult to complete. Time is ticking and you must move quickly. After you complete this stage, you must fight all of the monsters who emerged in the second stage. Methodical questing turns into a brawl and you better be ready for the ambush!

These two stages really changed the mechanics and tactics I needed to employ. In fact, it was very different from the other scenario, so much so that I cannot wait to play the third scenario. I'm also very interested in buying the expansion scenarios, which are released every month. It's not often you'll hear me say that!

The game ships with several sets of Encounter cards. Encounters are the bad things that hinder you as you quest. Spiders, orcs, bad locations, treacherous occurrences -- they're all here! For each scenario, 3 or 4 of these are combined so that each scenario is different. I love the variation, but also how well the cards are re-used and mixed up.

Overall, I'm very impressed with this game. The cards and components are top notch; beautiful art, very clean layout. The rules are meaty, but very well presented. The game is actually fun solo, but I think it'll be even better cooperatively. The scenarios I've played so far offer not only new content, but a twist on the mechanics so you can't just copy and paste what you did in the previous scenario. That, combined with the 4 interchangeable sets of heroes and abilities really adds longevity to the game.

If I feel it warrants it, I'll update this post once I try it cooperatively. I'll also update if I grab any of the expansions (Note, I will).

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