Lord of the Rings: Design Baseline

Both games are in an extremely early design stage.  The War of the Ring game is a little further along – I’ve tested out a combat mechanic, and it works pretty well.  The combat is card-based, with each player amassing, through the “recruitment” mechanics (which are TBD) cards representing individual units; you shuffle your cards together and then flip them one at a time, War-style, evaluating each time which card is the stronger.  There’s more to it than this, and I’ll dedicate a post to describing the combat mechanic in detail.  But basically, the game involves traveling around the board rallying armies to your cause, then throwing them against the opposing sides’ armies to (a) buy time for the Quest to succeed (if you’re Gandalf or Aragorn or Denethor/Boromir), or (b) emerge as the replacement Dark Lord of Middle Earth (if you’re Saruman), or (c) stamp out all happiness in Middle Earth (if you’re Sauron).

The quest game is even rougher, but the core idea I’ve had from the beginning involves the search mechanic.  I think it will be something like Scotland Yard or Fury of Dracula, where Frodo moves in secret and the Nazgul player moves his ringwraiths around to try to force Frodo to put on the ring and reveal his whereabouts (at which point they can try to attack and capture him).  Frodo has a (hidden?) track that reflects his “ring resistance”, and the Nazgul player positions his ringwraiths; then Frodo adds their “pull” – 1 point for each ringwraith in a space adjacent to his current location, and 2 points for each ringwraith in the same space as Frodo – if this exceeds Frodo’s ring resistance, then Frodo puts on the ring and reveals his current position to the Nazgul player.  After that, they can potentially have a battle, possibly using the same card-based resolution that the other game will use.

This sounds ok enough, but the wild card thrown into the game is that a third player plays Gollum; he knows at all times where Frodo is, but must bide his time before striking and trying to recover the ring.  Because of his ability to find Frodo, he may be a useful quarry for the Nazgul player, but because he knows the secret paths that lead through enemy strongholds, he can also be a valuable ally, if a dangerous one, for Frodo.  What I don’t know is whether the Gollum player can also become “Smeagol”, and, through the kindness of Frodo, become united to the Quest, as Gollum apparently did in the books, at least for a time.  I could envision the Frodo playing “Frodo” cards that are weaker but help Gollum/Smeagol, or “Sam” cards, that are more powerful but that harm Gollum/Smeagol, pushing him to “the dark side”.  But I don’t know if the idea of a player’s victory condition changing mid-way through the game, would be too frustrating for that player, particularly if it can bifurcate back and forth (unless the player himself has some control over which way he’s going to go).

Needless to say, there’s lots of work to be done on both games, and throughout, there need to be interface points whereby the two games can interact with each other and even some room for some players to switch from one table to the other.  Some of these ideas are easy to conceive – for example, maybe the Sauron player determines how many Ringwraiths he’ll provide to the Nazgul player for use in the quest and how many he’ll keep for himself for their benefits as leaders of his armies.  Maybe Gandalf can hop between boards, alternately helping the Quest or the armies.  This isn’t actually the hard part – the hard part is having simple and clean mechanics in place for when the games are played in standalone mode, so that the game itself can handle this kind of thing.  So, even if there isn’t a “War of the Ring” game going on at the other table, the Nazgul player still needs to have some variability to his ringwraith quantity each turn, and Frodo needs to sometimes have access to Gandalf and sometimes not.

Related posts:

  1. The Lord of the Rings project
  2. Disciples: Design Baseline
  3. Moses and Pharaoh: Design Baseline

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  • Seth Jaffee

    A couple of things, in no particular order…

    * The extant War of the Ring game is not only CALLED War of the Ring, but also includes both the fight for the ring, and a hidden Fellowship (and search) mechanism. Though it works differently than you describe (I believe) – and there’s no Gollum character who may choose which side he’s interested in helping.

    * As for variable Ring Wraiths and access to Gandalf, that’s easy – could be as simple as rolling dice to determine the number of Ring Wraiths. 3d4 perhaps. You could even tie this random generation to the game action – the Nazgul player could devote some resources toward increasing the number of Ring Wraiths he gets, while still rolling a die. Perhaps he buys dice to roll, or rolls a set number of dice and buys down he target value needed to produce a Wraith with each die or something.

    Similarly, the Frodo character could have some chance that Gandalf shows up at the beginning of each turn or whatever – and that chance could be increased or decreased by his play. Or maybe better, as Frodo plays certain types of cards or takes certain types of actions, a Gandalf meter increases (or may increase), and when that meter gets to the end, Gandalf arrives and can be accessed.

    * With regard to the idea of the Gollum/Seagol player potentially changing sides – I think that’s a really neat idea, but I agree that it could be irritating to th eplayer if it’s outside of his control. Perhaps when Frodo plays his Frodo/Sam cards, they are given to the Gollum/Smeagol player (or he gets a token or moves a track) to give him one of two currencies – spending 1 currency makes him more like Gollum, spending the other makes him more like Smeagol. Prhaps if he gets far enough like one or the other, he may (or must) join forces with that player – winning when they win. So perhaps Gollum/Smeagol can be made to hem and haw over who to support, and when he decides who he thinks will win, maybe he tries to join that side (and hopes he has time to do it). Similarly, he could also receive the Nazgul player’s cards (or some currency from them) in addition if need be. That sounds like a unique mechanism, though it may be difficult or impossible to balance well!

  • http://www.belltowergames.com Jeff

    Hi Seth,

    Sure thing, the names here are working titles.  War of the Ring is a great game but it’s a 2p, super-expensive, 4 hour game that is so big the average person’s table isn’t big enough to hold it.  So I think this project’s main appeal is that will offer true multiplayer competitive play (I love Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, of course, but it’s a coop), but fringe benefits could be that include that it could take much less time to play and be a much simpler take on the subject.  I don’t know whether there will be demand for it but I think there could be; the bigger question is how to get access to the license.  

    Design-wise, WotR is brilliant, and has some great mechanisms, including the way they handle the hunt for the ring.  I think it will be very challenging to come up with something that’s better than what they’ve done, although I do hope that a full-fledged hunt game, with a stronger spatial element (sort of like Scotland Yard or Mr. Jack) could add some interest to that aspect of the game.  It’s a driving /consideration/ in WotR, but it’s not actively “fun” in and of itself.

    Good thoughts about how to handle the variability.  The concern I have is simply that these factors be handled randomly when the “Quest” game is being played in standalone mode (ie, not “linked” to the “War” game at the other table), but they can be taken over by a live player when the games are linked.  I think your suggestions could work well.

    I like the idea of currencies that Smeagol/Gollum can use, and that he gets from the other players!  That makes Frodo’s decision interesting as to what cards he provides to Gollum, but still lets Gollum retain some choice.  Great suggestion.

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