Sunday, 3 July 2016

revisiting Lord of the Rings

My gaming group of colleagues likes cooperative games. Now that we have completed Pandemic Legacy, we still have quite a few cooperative games lined up to play next, e.g. Lord of the Rings, Forbidden Island, Pandemic: The Cure, the various expansions of Pandemic, and Robinson Crusoe. They wanted to try Lord of the Rings next. So far we have played three games, twice playing just the base game, and once adding the Friends & Foes expansion.

24 Jun 2016. This was the first time I played with this group. Benz (green - Pippin) and I (blue - Merry) died first, and we were soon followed by Ruby (orange - Fatty). When I explained the game, I said the track represented how good or bad the characters were. The hobbits would gradually turn bad. When we had hobbits falling beyond the Sauron position, my friends interpreted it as "you're worse than Sauron!". I guess I still have room for improvement in explaining the game mechanisms in a way that makes sense to new players. In addition to this, I had also explained one of the player actions as praying. When you pray, you become a better man - so you take one step towards the good end of the track. So far my friends are buying it, although this may not make sense in all situations.

The other two hobbits in this game were Xiao Zhu (yellow - Frodo) and Edwin (red - Sam). They didn't last much longer than the rest of us. Sauron soon caught up with them. Sauron reached the #1 position, when they were at positions #1 and #2, killing both at the same time. I think this was the first time ever I had Sauron at the #1 position. I don't remember having lost so spectacularly before. So Xiao Zhu and Edwin had to take a commemorative photo with Lord Sauron. All hail the new boss!

Playing Lord of the Rings again after such a long time reaffirmed how much I like it. Each time you need to draw a tile, it is a nervous moment. You are often caught in dilemmas. You want to collect the many powerful cards on a scenario board, but can you afford to risk the events (almost all bad) occurring? You have the right cards to rush to the end of the scenario board, but you are still missing some life tokens (without which you will be corrupted). Do you rush or do you stay and gamble, hoping to grab a few more life tokens before events destroy you? I find that new players tend to worry more about the missing life tokens. I am usually more concerned about escaping the events and finishing a scenario board as soon as possible. I don't know for sure whether I am right. Maybe I'm just conservative so I'd rather accept the corruption damage that is knowable than risk getting hit by an unknown number of additional events.

Before I taught my friends Lord of the Rings, I was a little concerned whether they would like it. The previous game we played together was Pandemic Legacy, where most of the game elements were easily relatable. The game mechanisms in Lord of the Rings are more abstract. There is no map. The ideas of friendship, traveling, fighting and hiding are implemented in a rather abstract way. Thankfully they did like the game.

At times when we played we became rather superstitious. Sometimes we had incredible stretches of bad luck, and we'd say the active player had a cursed hand. Sometimes he or she would switch to using the left hand instead, hoping to change fate. Sometimes when one player offered to reveal the next tile for another, the active player would be alarmed and would yell "hell no your hand is crap!" You can say we were really immersed.

I am thankful I had bought all the expansions to Lord of the Rings. My copy of the base game is the old version. The new base game has a different design which doesn't match the old expansions. So far I haven't heard anything about expansions being released for the new base game.

There is one thing in the Friends & Foes expansion which I don't like. In this expansion foes are introduced. If the first tile you draw on your turn is a good tile, a foe will appear. This means regardless of whether the tile you draw is good or bad, something bad will happen. For me, this eliminates the warm I-feel-lucky-today feeling which I get in the base game. If I think rationally, I can understand this is necessary in order to balance the game. The expansion does not just add foes and other new challenges. It also provides more tools to help the hobbits complete their mission. For me, preferring the base game over the expansion is the heart talking and not the brain. I do like the additional locations and characters that come with the expansion. I wish I could have them without this bad-is-guaranteed situation. I am perfectly happy to play just the base game, if I only play Lord of the Rings once in a while. If I play it more frequently, then I will be adding the expansion, for the variety.

We still need to beat Friends & Foes. After we manage that, we may move on to the Battlefields expansion, and then maybe the Sauron expansion. The latter will be a little different, because it's no longer fully cooperative. It is one (Sauron) against the rest (the hobbits).


Paul Owen said...

I love the superstitious element that crept into your game. When I played a lot of wargames (especially miniatures), we got very superstitious about dice - which dice to use, whether to keep using the same die, whether to use dice that other people used, etc. I think that's the only kind of superstition that I maintain today.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Ha ha... it's quite silly, but that's part of the fun.