In Tolkien’s World

Produced by Fantasy Flight Games back in 2011, this card game is one of the best solitaire games in my collection. Although it can also be played by two players (or more if you buy more copies of the game) or one player with two separate hands of cards, almost all of my games have been in one-player mode. You start with three heroes (of your choice) and construct your deck to match the powers and weaknesses of the heroes and the challenge before you. Game play consists of playing your deck against the encounter deck, where all the nasties live. It’s a race against time as you must complete the mission victory conditions before the combined threat from the forces of evil overcomes you. You can see more in my first post about the game here.

Since that first post I came across the Hall of Beorn site which has been an indispensable aid in learning the finer points of deckbuilding and game play, but also has inspired me to acquire many of the expansion sets and keep adventuring.

So far, I have managed to finish the missions in the base game and all those from the Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle. All bar one I managed – after repeated attempts in most cases – to win. I haven’t been able to crack the last one – Return to Mirkwood – so far. In general, the level of challenge seems about right. You cannot just design a deck and defeat the encounter deck. Sometimes, it takes two or three plays just to understand how the deck should best be played.

Being the butterfly gamer that I am, I’ll be moving onto something else. But I’ll be back in Tolkien’s world again, for sure.



Meanwhile, on the table


I have been plugging away at Fields of Fire, having managed to get through the first two missions of the WW2 campaign. Mission 3 is a series of combat patrols where you have to, in turn, get each of your three platoons to complete a patrol into enemy territory. The defenders are veteran troops, and although the troops have the cover of operating at night, there are likely to be causalties. One tricky aspect here is that the company, having improved in quality by virtue of its experience, will really suffer if the losses are too high, as there are never enough veteran replacements kicking around. So in this game, you cannot only go for the win. Here there are ongoing consequences if your losses are too high.

Thankfully the same does not apply to the Lord of the Rings: the Card game. Thanks to some great material at the Hall of Beorn, I was at last successful on a solo run of the second of the three quests in the box. However, it took half a dozen attempts, and required all the stars to be aligned: a good starting draw, and plenty of luck in the way the encounter deck turned out. That having been said, it proves you can win the game. And it’s also fair to say that I picked up some great tips on technique, improving the quality of my play enormously.  The third quest is even tougher, so there will be a further refining of the deck, and some more reading and preparation before trying that one. After that, I have some of the expansions to work through.

Both these games are solitaire (though LOTR can be played with two players against the system) and it seems that this is what I enjoy most at the moment. I have several non solitaire games that I keep meaning to get to the table, but failing to do so. That’s probably a testament to the high quality of the two games above. They are simply excellent – not without their foibles – but overall, wonderful gaming experiences.


The panda, the gardener, and the bamboo


This week I was joined at first by Sheer, and we returned to the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, to see if we could do any better than last week’s struggle. We couldn’t. In a previous session, we had completed the first quest – given a difficulty rating of 1 (on the scale of 1-10, the higher the more difficult) – but this ‘4’ rated second quest was just slaughtering us. Since the third quest in the box is a ‘5’, we won;t be going anywhere near that for a time. Meantime, Sheer and I are off to research solutions for quest number two.

When Peleg turned up, we started a game of Takenoko, new to all of us. I read and explained the rules – it took about 15 minutes – and off we went.

The gardener

The gardener

The theme involves the Emperor’s garden and a panda. The players are competing to keep the panda happy, and have the best contribution to the garden, growing bamboo, and irrigating plots. Meantime, the panda is wandering around eating the bamboo.

The panda

The panda

The components are high quality: the plots are stiff board hexagons (in three colors), the bamboo are exquisite pieces that can stack (again in matching three colors), and the panda and gardener are lovely painted miniatures. The production standards are excellent. The only slight niggle was a poorly worded rule about game end, but we figured that out correctly.

The bamboo

The bamboo

Each player’s turn has two parts: weather die, and actions.

The weather die is a six sided thing with symbols, each representing a weather and game effect. For example, the sun gives you an extra action. The cloud allows you to take a development marker. So, there is a pretty chunky luck element here. I would think about taking this out and replacing it with a deck of six cards for each player, each card only usable once in each of six rounds. But that’s for another time.

As actions, you can add a new plot to the garden, take an irrigation channel, move the gardener (which increases the bamboo growth), move the bamboo (which reduces the bamboo by eating it!), or take a victory point card. You can always add an irrigation channel or a development marker, without costing you an action. The channels allow plots out from the center to be irrigated (and so grow bamboo) and the development markers do things like boost bamboo growth, protect from panda attacks, and automatically irrigate a plot.

The cards are how you win. Each has a goal – for example, four yellow plots in a particular pattern, or a yellow bamboo at a height of four, and so on. Once you have the matching requirement, you can claim the victory points and put the card down in front of you. The first to eight cards down triggers the last round.

I screwed up one major victory point card by not noticing the need for a development marker. That set me back, but I was already falling behind. Peleg got the game quickly, and he raced off to a decent score. Just over the last two rounds, Sheer managed to catch up and overtake him.

The game claims a playing time of 45 minutes. With repeated play that is possible, I guess, but an hour seems a more reasonable target if everyone plays quickly.

This is good fun, light, and a great bridge game for novice gamers. As stated above, for my own tastes I would reduce the luck element, and that would make it more of a gamer’s game. I would rate it now as a high quality filler.

Thanks to Sheer and Peleg for joining in.

Orcs, Trolls, and Other Nasties


Sheer and I took on the baddies in this week’s session, as we tried out The Lord of The Rings: The Card Game. This is a solitaire or cooperative game – you have to beat the system – where your heroic party is set a quest. On the quest, the constructed encounter deck throws up locations, nasty events, and even nastier monsters. Look out for that Hill Troll! The player or players (maximum of two) choose their starting heroes, and construct their own deck. The more powerful the hero, the higher your Threat score. When this rises to 50, you lose. The forces of evil inflict such damage if you do not handle them well.

In a previous session we had won the first quest, so tried out the second. I think the rules rate the first quest as being level 1 (on a rising scale from 1-10) and the second one as level 4. There is a third quest in the game rated as a 7…

In short, we tried this out twice and were beaten up both times. Given that it is a solitaire style game, that is probably right. It is no fun if it is too easy to win. And the challenge is designing the deck and combinations that can get you the win. There is, therefore, work to do.

The production standards are excellent. The cards are high quality, and the illustrations match that standard. The rules are quite good, with only a couple of minor issues. The system is fun, with some neat ideas. The Threat mechanic is especially cool, giving a real sense of the ticking clock and urgency. Sure, there’s an element of luck, but it is not overdone.

There’s a good amount of replayability in the box, and we will probably go back to the drawing board and try our luck again. I have the first set of expansions for added fun.

Thanks to Sheer for being my fellow traveler on the quest.