Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Taking It Easy

I am and extremely casual gamer. I own a PS3 instead of an Xbox 360. I take Sea Guard in my Warhammer and Kings of War Elf armies. I prefer SmallWorld to Risk. I will roleplay at the drop of a hat.

Preferably one of these.

I like my games to tell stories and I will often make decisions in them that are sub-optimal simply because "that's what my character would do." It is large part of why I am mostly a solo gamer, social anxieties aside. As a solo gamer, you have nobody to compete with but yourself. You can't really cheat, because who's going to argue? So occasionally, yes, I will bend the rules if it will make for a slightly better narrative. I will rewind a turn to make a better tactical decision or I will re-roll a die if it ends up in catastrophic failure.

"I've never seen a level 1 town guard roll so many 20s!"
That's not to say I don't enjoy some incredibly difficult and frustrating games. Many solo games use increased difficulty as a way to make sure things aren't too easy, so I'm familiar with challenges. In fact one of my favorite solo games is The Lord Of The Rings LCG.

I've mentioned before that I generally play solo single deck in LotR and that I forgo shadow effects to make it a little easier. The game is designed to be hard on two decks played at once, so I don't mind using the official "Basic game" rules to give myself a break. Despite this, my win/loss ratio is fairly abysmal and each quest released seems to be harder and harder. Passage Through Mirkwood is obviously easy but I find myself playing it more than I probably should.The other quests are just too hard for me and my single-Leadership/Tactics-deck play style. I also don't really want to construct an entirely new deck every time I want to play a new quest. I'm lazy like that. So for a while I shelved LotR and found myself only occasionally pulling it out for a game.

Imagine my delight when Fantasy Flight Games announced a new Easy Mode for players who are having the same troubles as I am! The rules aren't too flashy, but they work. First, you get an extra resource when you start. This doesn't sound like much, but it means you can get some awesome extra/expensive allies out early game to ease the initial onslaught of baddies.

"It's bear time on turn 2, muthafuggas!"
Secondly, a number of cards are removed from each encounter deck before play. The cards removed don't alter the fundamental nature of the quests, but it does ensure some of the nastier cards pop up less frequently or not at all. The Easy Mode rules have a full list of what cards to take out of every quest through Steward's Fear, but FFG is going to be nice enough to print indicators right on the cards for future printings.

This is a great thing because it means FFG has actually been listening to its entire fan base rather than the very vocal hardcore-buy-every-card-nightmare mode players. They have realized that maybe people want a better than 10% success rate every time they play. It shows that they want people to experiment with thematic decks and worry more about having fun than exact card counts.

It is also genius because FFG has managed to do it without costing their players and arm and a leg. They have revitalized an entire section of the community and made entrance into the game easier for new players by simply publishing a free PDF. They saw the need and responded without even really being asked. I know it will work out fantastically for them because I've already pulled out my cards, started playing again and am planning future purchases when I had just about given up.

The Easy Mode rules have also gotten me thinking about how I play. Because of these rules, I have started experimenting playing 2-handed, played around with adding shadow effects back in (I still prefer without for a less random game) and trying out new deck lists. I have tons of options to play with. The recognition by FFG that it was a little too hard also makes me feel less like I'm keeping the training wheels on and more like I have a valid choice in how I play. I know there will still be hardcore players that will scoff, but at least I can make the choice myself without totally breaking the rules.

So, now my LotR games tell better stories for me and that's really what it's all about. I can relax a little each game and enjoy what's happening on the table. Cold mechanics and optimized deck building are not really for me. When I play, I want to be part of the action and watch my favorite characters create epic moments. I feel like that can happen in the LotR LCG now.

So thanks, FFG, for bringing the story back to the game.


  1. Interesting. I like the concept of playing the character rather than min/max win at all costs. As for hard games, it is a good move to give an easy option. I've struggled with Elder Sign because the last few games I couldn't get anywhere and then got devoured by the Old One. Doesn't really make you want to rush back.

    1. Playing to character can lead to some slip-ups and defeats, and generally works better outside of, say, board games or card games. However, sometimes I can't resist. Elder Sign can be nasty if the dice are against you. I find playing with a single investigator helps. In fact, to re-balance the single investigator, I don't use replacements when he/she gets devoured! It's all or nothing against the Old Ones!