I started playing tabletop games as a kid back in the ‘90s. I was always somewhat aware of the Middle-earth CCG, consistently hearing positive things about it over the years at events like Gen Con. When the absolute heartbreak of a movie that is The Rise of Skywalker was released back in late 2019, I started distracting myself by diving deeper into other intellectual properties I have always enjoyed.
As I started a re-read of The Lord of the Rings, I was reminded of this game. I happened on a pretty good deal for the Middle-earth CCG Challenge Decks, so I couldn’t help but grab them. Once I had the cards in my hand and started going through them, I was obsessed.
Not only was there a charm to the older, pre-movie art on the cards, but there was also something about the rules. A lot of modern-day card games I’ve been playing are very streamlined and refined, and there’s just something special about a card game made without the extensive history of how card games have been done that is appealing.
Knowing just how nuanced the rules were, I didn’t want to teach the game to anyone until I knew what I was doing – well, at least loosely. So, I spent many nights reading through the cards and going over the rules. I tried finding content about how to play, but there really wasn’t much out there given the age of the game. It had long been “dead” by the time YouTube came along, let alone high enough quality of cameras to make it watchable by today’s standards.
Around the time I felt like I had a decent grasp on how the game functioned, the pandemic hit. Initially, I was sad it would be even longer before I got to play. Then, we started “throwing back” to games on our Thursday streams. I knew my chance had finally come. You can see our first throwback to the Middle-earth CCG below, where Steven and I take a long and enjoyable stroll through learning the game.
If you’re new to the game, I made a cheat sheet for when we were playing. It covers most of the basic rules of the game in a condensed format. It’s particularly useful if you understand the basic flow of the game already.
After this session, I became even more obsessed. Since we were streaming five days a week and in isolation, my overall time to play and access to people interested in playing the game was very low. Still, I kept reading about the game and obsessing over my cards.
With a desire to play more, I had an idea one day driving home after one of our Marvel Champions streams. In both Marvel Champions and Arkham Horror (games we play a lot on stream), there is a deck that you’re playing against.
What if I could create a hazard deck for the Middle-earth CCG that would allow me to play against the game itself? That night, I started making some notes and, as they say, the rest is history.
Open World, Solo Mode
I had a few goals when I was creating what I call the Open World Solo Mode. Those were:
- Chiefly, I wanted to be able to play the game solo.
- Ideally, I could create an open world environment that would let me explore Middle-earth at my leisure.
- As a bonus, if the mode could mimic what it’s like to play with another person it would mean my solo games are great testing for actual games with opponents in the future.
I created a separate hazard deck for every icon that could be along a site path. This means there is a deck for each site and region type. Each of these decks contains roughly 30-45 cards, all keying to the icon of the specific type or being an event playable to that type of location. Each deck contains roughly half creatures. Note, I only require one icon to be ‘keyed’ for a card to be legal to be played against you.
When one of my companies (groups of characters) moves, I create a site path as normal. If one of my companies moved from Hollin to Barrow-Downs, the site path would be Wilderness (Hollin Region Type), Wilderness (Cardolan Region Type), Ruins and Lairs (Barrow-Downs Site Type). I make a series of tests using 2d6 equal to the hazard limit with success being a 7 or greater. For every failure, I draw a hazard. Each test corresponds to a step in the site path.
For example, let’s say my hazard limit was 3 in the above example. I would start by making a roll for the Wilderness. If I fail, I draw and reveal and resolve the top card from the Wilderness deck. I would continue this process for each icon along the site path until I reach my hazard limit. So, even if my site path is five icons long, I could only ever draw hazards equal to the hazard limit. If the site path is less than the hazard limit, the extra rolls are all of the type of my ending location.
To further mimic playing against an opponent, I apply a negative modifier to each test equal to the number of cards my opponent would have drawn from me moving to my new location. So, if they would have drawn 2 cards, I apply a -2 modifier to each of my rolls.
The last big change is that I only bring my free people’s cards to this mode of the game. To account for the fact that I won’t have hazards in my deck, instead of the typical 8-card hand I use a 5-card hand. Beyond this, the rest of the rules apply as normal – including drawing every time I normally would.
If you’re interested in seeing how this mode plays, you can watch my first playthrough with these rules below. The rules were still a bit rough, but I rounded them out by the end.
I’ll be testing my ‘Ring Dunk Deck’ (you can watch me build that deck in a previous video) using the refined version of “Open World, Solo Mode” on stream during the first week of January. I’ll add it to this blog once we’ve streamed it.