Here are various variants that can be adopted. They all work singly or in combination. The easing rule is help balance the Mission cards, as is the Combat or Peril change. The Finale change is to offer incentives for the Sauron player to try to inflict damage rather than just avoid defeat.
BERAVOR 2 PLAYER HANDICAP:
If playing a 2 player game of MEQ, if the Hero player chooses or draws 'Beravor' as their hero, then make the following change when setting up Middle Earth Quest:
Add 1 Influence in the Shadow Pool and 2 in extension of Strongholds.
Draw 1 extra Shadow card before choosing which to keep.
Draw 1 extra Plot card before choosing which to discard.
DISCUSSIONS BETWEEN HEROES:
Hero players may only discuss their strategy or give advice to each other if in the same location during the Trade with Heroes step. Such discussions cannot be heard by Sauron, or a hero who is not also there.
COMBAT OR PERIL:
If Sauron chooses Peril but none of the 3 cards affect the hero’s location or region then the hero may choose to force Sauron to resolve a Monster or Minion Attack.
GREATER BENEFITS FOR DEFEATING A HERO:
In Step 2 a defeated hero may lose a level from an increased attribute instead of a favor or item. However, if he has none of these 3 things to lose then Sauron may advance the leftmost Sauron story marker one space (hero breaks tie).
When a hero is defeated in a perilous location then he is dead. Do not follow the normal defeated hero procedure. Instead the player's turn ends and he discards all corruption, favor, items, and increased attributes from his hero. Return the hero and his hero cards to the game box. Sauron advances his leftmost marker two spaces. On the hero player's next turn he may choose any other hero not in play that has not previously been killed. Put him in play at his starting location and draw his fortitude’s worth of cards. If the game has entered stage II the new hero is considered to have already completed his starting quest and receives his quest reward plus one level of training. If the game has entered stage III the new hero is considered to have completed both his quests and receives his quest rewards plus two levels of training.
If all heroes are either in play or have been killed, the player may pick any hero that has been killed, except for the one who just died. In this case the hero represents a friend/brother/sister of the dead hero who has taken up the quest to defeat Sauron; if the game has entered stage III the new hero is considered to have already completed his starting quest and receives his quest reward plus one level of training.
Change the procedure during step 3 for the heroes:
“Each hero then shuffles all cards from his hand, rest pool, and damage pool into his life pool. Following this, he discards 12 cards, plus 1 card for each corruption card he has, into his rest pool. Each hero then draws a number of cards from the top of his life pool equal to his fortitude.”
Change the way of determining a winner in step 7:
“If the Ringwraiths were defeated during step 6, the heroes immediately win the game. If the hero was defeated during step 6, Sauron wins the game. If neither side was defeated then the winner is the side that inflicted most damage, Sauron winning a tie.”
EASING MISSION CARDS
Immediately after the Hero players have chosen their heroes each side can declare one of its Mission Cards that it would like to ease. All Hero players must agree which one will be eased or none of theirs are. If the one chosen proves to be the actual Mission drawn then its eased conditions apply rather than what is printed on the card:
His Dark Throne: Sauron wins if there are 2 active Plot cards in play.
To Find Them All: Sauron wins if he has either the Ringwraiths, the Witch King, or 3 influence in the Shire.
To Rule Them All: Sauron wins if his red story marker has advanced to stage III or is only 1 space short.
Where the Shadows Lie: Sauron wins if his black story marker has advanced to stage III or is only 1 or 2 spaces short.
In Darkness Bind Them: Sauron wins if his yellow story marker has advanced to stage III or is only 1 or 2 spaces short.
Isildur’s Secret: the heroes win if they collectively have at least 4 favor.
The Spear of the West: the heroes win if each has completed his starting quest and no more than one hero has failed his advanced quest.
Noble Blood: The heroes win if they collectively have 2 or less Corruption cards.
Against the Shadow: the heroes win if there are no more than 4 monster tokens in play.
Minas Morgul Kept at Bay: the heroes win if there are 3 or less minions in play.
I like your variant on Character Death. Defeated heroes seem to get off easy and with this it puts a little more value into this type of defeat for Sauron.
I also like the Easing Mission card ideas. I don't think I'd play these with experienced players but it would be great to use these when introducing a new player to the game.
Thanks for sharing these