Lord of the Rings:LCG - reviews and general thoughts

It all started with accepting 100 plays challenge and pledging to comment each play. Soon my thoughts outgrew the BGG comment format and also FFG's forum. I decided to post them in a form of a blog here. In time I got rid of session reports and replaced them with expansions reviews. Enjoy.
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Khazad-dum scenario 3 - flight from Moria - How awesome is the conclusion to the KD trilogy?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Board Game Designer
I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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Here is a compilation of my comments on the scenario, note that they were made some time ago and I have not edited them much so they tell a story of how my view point changed (but my current opinion may differ). They are presented chronologically in each section.

[Session Reports]

Date: 20 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 8 times - won 4, lost 4

I will be brief this time as I played it so many times that the details of each play are a bit hazy.
- First play was an excellent experience (probably the best with this scenario). I didn't look through the cards earlier and assumed that I need to collect several victory points before finding an exit. This approach lead to enormous threat from Nameless Fear. Slowly though I was progressing forward (many due to several spirit allies) and finally found one possible exit (prisoned by shadow) but I didn't like the risk of being eliminated with just one card flip so I decided to carry on. Next quest card called for tools (that I found nearly at the start). At this time the troll showed up and killing him required all the attention from Gimli (he was carrying the tools). Next three threat from the staging area was too much (especially that Gimli had to stay ready to dig). Soon enough I died because of threat overdose.
- In second play I knew what to expect. I started to bypass quest cards (but not all yet as I wasn't sure if I saw all of them). This time it took me too much time to find the tools and in the mean time got location locked.
- First win after that assured me that only complete avoidance of stage completion is a key in this scenario.
- Another win was more interesting as I was able to do it despite Thalin falling down due to shadow effect that discarded an ally defender. Unexpected Courage on Gimli worked miracles.
- Lost again, very quickly. Troll plus nasty treacheries killed my by turn 4 or so.
- Won. Had a bit of bad luck with treachery making me to reshuffle the quest cards when I had tolls and was on the last stage digging. Unexpected courage on Gimli with tools made the end stage fairly easy when I got to it again.
- Lost swamped by the enemies this time. Shadow effects are much less frequent here then in The 7th level but if you are unlucky it is possible to get a string of enemies spawning new ones faster than you can deal with them. That is what happened to me this time.
- Won with an excellent score. Fairly quickly found tools and Gimli with an unexpected courage was able to smash through a wall in no time.

Date: 21 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times, won both.

Both wins were quite easy with no real danger of loosing in any of them.
- During first play I was severely slowed down by two Shadows of Fear treacheries coming up one after the other. First one hurt a little bit (consumed 3 resources) but the second one costed me three turns as I had to put it on Gimli that was carrying the tools.
- Second started as one of the luckiest one (tools came as a first card from the encounter deck) and soon I was able to find Escape from Darkness right after this. I was not able to beat my high score though as digging without unexpected courage is much slower (although it was worse only by two points in the end due to Gandalf showing up twice and reducing the threat quite a bit).

[General Thoughts]

Oh man ... after first play I was about to say that this is the best scenario ever. It is very good but I am disappointed by the missed opportunity to make it outstanding. So what went wrong in my opinion:
- There is absolutely no reason to gain victory points in this scenario - in fact you are severely punished for doing that. Ok, you need to bypass completing quest cards but you were unlucky enough to face Giant Troll Cave and killed it ... guess what nameless fear is 3 points more powerful.
- The second possibility to win (blocked by shadow) is so totally random (especially solo) with flipping the card to check if you are eliminated that I personally will never use it. At the same time if you are lucky you can finish the scenario in two turns easily if its the first Stage 2 card to appear and you just go for it for fun. Yeah it might be interesting as a last ditch effort, all or nothing type of option with hearos almost dead but as it stands it does not work this way.

Looking at those two drawbacks it is so easy to see other option that would make this scenario more thematic and interesting. How about requiring the player to have at least 6VPs to be able to use blocked by shadow exit instead of a card flip (you traveled far and long so you luckily found an exit finally) this mechanic would introduce two strategies against the scenario - either avoid VPs totally and go for tools or collect VPs and try to survive increasing threat from Nameless Fear to somehow sneak by it and escape. I am afraid that this scenario was slight underdeveloped towards the end of its design.

So last time I complained that Flight from Moria missed opportunities to become one of the best scenario out there but still claimed to like it. So let me iterate why:

- Thematic feel. I love turning the next quest stage at the beginning of quest phase. Yeah it is random, you can't plan for it but the thematic feel makes up for it big time. You are running away from the mines. You do not have time to scout you just press on and change the way on the fly if needed.
- How many of the treacheries work well in the story context. I saw some of them before but now they are not only more dangerous (like removing progress tokens from a quest card that you were digging through for the past 3 turns) but make sense (you caused the ceiling to collapse with your tools and need to start over).
- The increasing threat from the staging area is an excellent idea. Nameless Fear is slowly approaching reaching its full deadly potential with every turn.
- The fact that you do not fight Nameless fear just trying to get away from it makes sense and its thrilling (although I doesn't feel as much as frantic run in Return to Mirkwood.
- Love the idea that tools will appear not only from the encounter deck but that stage cards brings them in - gives the search more intense and interesting feel that random draw as per athelas in A Journey to Rosghobel.
- Like the idea of bypassing quest cards as an option (although it would be great to loose some benefit by doing that for now in most cases it is a trivial decision in most cases).
- Its drawbacks sparked an interest in me to fix it. My custom redesign creative juices are flowing we shall see if I can come up with something good here.

I am really eager to check the first scenario from Dwarrowdelf cycle but I am tempted to prepare my own variant for Flight from Moria so we shall see what session reports will bring next time.
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