|A More Leisurely Breakfast
The Developers Look at Easy Mode in This Helping of Second Breakfast
|The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game | Published 03 June 2013|
“They sat and rested and ate a little food; and Legolas told them tales of Lothlórien that the Elves of Mirkwood still kept in their hearts, of sunlight and starlight upon the meadows by the Great River before the world was grey.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Fans of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, be welcome. Take a seat, and eat.
Today, developer Matt Newman shares more of the tale of Easy Mode. You may have already learned about this new mode in our announcement of The Black Riders. You may have even found the rules on the game’s support page and started incorporating them into your games, but today Matt offers some secrets about the mode’s origins, its development, and what role it looks to play in the game’s future.
Matt Newman on Easy Mode
Caleb Grace and I have used our first few Second Breakfast articles to share the themes and synergies of some of our favorite decks, but today I’d like to talk about Easy Mode and how it can help players scale a scenario’s difficulty to their liking.
Because it is a cooperative card game, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game balances differently than our competitive card games. Most of our Living Card Games® maintain balance by increasing the overall card pool and effectiveness for all factions simultaneously. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, however, players gain new cards regularly while the composition of a scenario’s encounter deck doesn’t change after it’s released. Thus, with each new expansion, players will continue to find new options to increase their decks’ strength and effectiveness. Conversely, those scenarios that account for the growing card pool can trouble players with more limited collections.
We’ve read about players’ experiences with The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game on forums and blogs, and we often talk to players in person to see what we can do to make this game even better. This eventually led to the development of Easy Mode, which gives players greater control over their level of play.
There are many reasons why a group of players might choose to play Easy Mode. New players who are fans of Gondor and want to help Boromir and Beregond deliver important news to Faramir can purchase a single copy of the Core Set and Heirs of Númenor, play through Peril in Pelargir, and stand a better chance at victory. Experienced players who are teaching The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game to a group of new players can do so in a more casual environment, without limiting themselves to a handful of easier scenarios. Even the most rugged survivor of some of the game’s most difficult scenarios might want to take a breather and play an easier, more relaxing game every once in a while. Perhaps you want to try out a new deck, or experiment with a fun and innovative strategy that would not be viable in normal play, and try to make it work – for example, a deck with zero allies!
Balancing the Encounter Deck
Easy Mode is the game’s balance to Nightmare Mode, and as we did when we developed the first Nightmare Decks, we very carefully considered how best to implement this new difficulty setting. We discussed making substitute “Easy Mode” versions of existing scenarios (like our Nightmare Decks), but decided against it because we didn’t want players to need additional packs in order to make the game easier. It was important that this mode would require no additional purchase. We also knew it had to be simple to implement; once the game begins, players shouldn’t be bogged down with new rules or forced to reference alternate card text. Everything had to stay as written. With those parameters, the option was clear: we would get rid of the cards that caused players the most trouble!
If you take a scenario and remove some of its toughest cards, you’re left with an encounter deck that’s still full of challenges, but won’t offer the same potentially crippling draws. Cards such as Caught in a Web (Core Set, 80) and Sleeping Sentry (Road to Rivendell, 46) were completely removed from their encounter decks, but we often found that simply removing one or two copies of a tough card was enough to significantly decrease a scenario’s difficulty and luck factor. For example, Journey Down the Anduin still requires the players to defeat an angry Hill Troll (Core Set, 82), even in Easy Mode – only now, the encounter deck includes just one copy of Hill Troll, and there’s no possibility of drawing a second one on turn one.
As it turns out, though, simply removing the toughest cards isn’t always the best answer. Many of these are treachery cards, leaving the encounter deck weighted too heavily toward enemies and locations. With too many enemies and locations, the staging area can quickly pile up. We made sure to remove an appropriate amount of enemies, treacheries, and locations; the result is a tight, balanced encounter deck stripped of some of its toughest encounters.
The gold difficulty indicator shown on a card from The Black Riders
This solution also led to the development of a handy graphical guide that will first appear in The Black Riders Saga Expansion. We could have simply listed which cards to remove in the insert for each scenario, but we thought it would be more intuitive to alter the encounter set icon. Since players are naturally drawn to this icon as they build each scenario’s encounter deck, the addition of a golden border to these icons makes it easy to tell which cards should be removed in Easy Mode. Meanwhile, to help players apply Easy Mode to the scenarios they already own, we made sure to create a document that lists which cards should be removed from all encounter decks to date.
The removal of a number of encounter cards is not the only change to be found in Easy Mode. Players have found that the opening turns in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game are often the toughest. They have to stare down enemies and explore locations with limited resources and allies. In Easy Mode, each hero begins the game with one resource. This small change allows players greater flexibility in their opening turn, allowing them to play more allies and attachments early on when the game is often toughest.
Not All That’s Easy Mode Is Easy
There is one other important thing to note about this new mode: Even though we call this mode “Easy Mode,” the relative difficulty of each scenario will still play a large factor into determining how hard the game is. Even in Easy Mode, Escape From Dol Guldur will still be quite challenging. This is because the rules of the quest itself remain unchanged, and all locations and enemies, such as the Nazgûl of Dul Guldur (Core Set, 102,) directly referenced by the quest cards must still make an appearance.
As developers of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, we want every player to enjoy playing every scenario we create. For some of our players, that means playing in Easy Mode and gaining additional freedom to explore thematic decks while facing some of the toughest enemies Middle-earth has to offer. For other players, it means continuing to play the scenarios as they are printed, in Standard Mode. Finally, for the most experienced and courageous of players, it means integrating the new Nightmare Decks into their game experience, relishing the increased difficulty and replay value of the game’s Nightmare Mode.
In our next installment of Second Breakfast, I’ll take a look at the darker places of Middle-earth and discuss how encounter decks must change to adapt to growing player strategies and a more expansive player card pool. Specifically, I’ll explore how this has influenced the design of our Nightmare Decks.
Easy Mode gives you another option to explore the unique challenges of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game at the level of difficulty that suits you best. You can find the complete rules for Easy Mode (pdf, 3.0 MB) on the game’s support page.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.