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× Talk about collectible card here.

Middle Earth CCG - lord, WHY?

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15 Jan 2010 06:13 #53253 by dragonstout
In the FATies five favorite CCG thread, and in fact in general whenever CCGs come up, a lot of people profess love for Middle Earth, with Ken B being the only sane person to point out how insanely boring that game was.

Seriously, the cards are the most boring, generic cards I ever saw in a CCG. The factions are all the same except for where they're brought into play and who can bring them into play easier...and once they're IN play, they're nothing but victory points. Nothing! They don't help you fight, or ANYthing.

The MONSTERS are all pretty much the same, too, except for the rare ones. In what ways do they differ? They differ in terms of number of strikes, the size of each strike, and where you can play them. That's it, outside of a FEW (very few) special abilities like forcing a corruption check or discarding an item. And what's worse is that the dice system even lessens those differences further: in Magic, there's a HUGE difference between a 3/3 and a 2/2, because the 3/3 is always guaranteed to kill the 2/2 in battle. In Middle Earth, when a monster has 9 prowess vs. 10 prowess, since those are just numbers you're trying to roll higher than, there's NO difference unless you roll an exact 10 (yes, that's not exactly how combat works, it's actually the prowess difference that you're rolling against). Giant Spiders, Wolves, Ghouls, Orcs, whatever, all the same. All the CHARACTERS are also basically the same: every Hobbit has basically exactly the same stats. Yup, Frodo, Sam, or Bilbo? Interchangeable. No interesting special ability to distinguish one from the other, just Frodo has the Diplomat skill and Bilbo has some other skill.

Your plan for the game is pretty much set from the beginning once you've made your deck: I'm going to go here, play this (or wait until I draw it and then play it), and then go there and play that. Where "here" and "there" and "this" and "that" are the same for every game with that same deck, for the most part.

One of the best parts of any CCG is their combos. In a game like Magic, the cards are so open with their uses, and have such variety in abilities, that there's a lot of room to think of new ways to combine cards and weird, unexpected synergies. In Middle-Earth there's combos too: but they're of the kind where the cards LIST exactly what they're supposed to combo with. Literally. "To play Anduril, first get Narsil, and then play Reforging on it." Decks almost seem pre-made for you: say you want to play a deck with the card "Return of the King" in it. Then immediately that means you want Aragorn, Sapling of the White Tree, and the White Tree, and Tower Guard of Minas Tirith, and a few more similar cards and boom, deck's done. There's no "hmmmm, I wonder if Return of the King would work well with Glorfindel".

And then all the skill and tactical choices during the game seems to almost purely relate to hand management: what cards do I ditch, what cards do I keep, what cards do I play for little use just to be able to see more cards.

So what do people love about this game? I really, really honestly want to know. I don't want to hear the usual "I just get so immersed in Tolkien's world", because that's vague bullshit you could say about any Tolkien game. Extol the real virtues of the gameplay of MECCG. Explain how the overwhelming blandness and railroadery doesn't matter. Of all the games I've ever played, Middle Earth is the one, most of all, that I just have no conception of what people see in it.

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15 Jan 2010 10:10 #53259 by Shellhead
All of your criticism of the Middle Earth CCG is solid, especially the part about card combos. Even so, I enjoyed the game, though I haven't played in years due to lack of opponents.

First of all, the cards are pretty. The color choices for the card backgrounds are unusual but appealing, and from what I've read, they were very picky about the card artwork. You may find that irrelevant, but consider the fact that the artwork and background in almost every CCG is at least 60% of the card.

More importantly, Middle Earth actually gives the experience of running a party of adventurers through a D&D wilderness campaign. (Or dungeon crawl, if you start mucking around with the subterranean locations.) Your party travels across the countryside, encountering different monsters and hazards, sometimes getting injured or losing people in the process, then periodically scoring some loot or racking up VP for certain objectives.

And finally, the sidebar mechanic gave every tightly designed deck a fallback strategy, in case you were up against an unexpected opponent across the table, someone playing a design that your default strategy wouldn't work against. Knowing when to go to your sidebar for help was an interesting tactical aspect.

For it's time, Middle Earth was a very unusual CCG design, especially given that so many other games at that time were thinly-disguised Magic rip-offs. Middle Earth had meaningful locations and movement, dice-rolling, and that nice corruption mechanic.

However, Middle Earth eventually buried itself in overly complex rules. The dragon expansion was okay, offering nasty monsters that could potentially be played across sizable geographic regions. But the agent rules were horribly unwieldy, and didn't offer enough benefit to make them worth the trouble. And then the rules for playing corrupt wizards and moving underground were also somewhat complex. In general, nearly every aspect of the rules had a few too many details and exceptions, and that slowed play down.

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15 Jan 2010 15:54 #53286 by Tamburlaine
I'm not sure I'd say the great strength of CCGs is necessarily comboing cards together. Rather, combos are very often a natural outgrowth of the true great strength of CCGs: variety and detail. Magic is a fun game because it uses this variety to let you build decks around strange interactions between cards. Middle Earth takes advantage of the variety the medium allows in a different way, by letting players to recreate favorite episodes from the books and make up new ones. You really have to look at Middle Earth as a storytelling game. If building a deck for Magic (or most CCGs) is about building a machine that runs well, Middle Earth is much more about plotting a novel or a play.

If there are fewer cards in Middle Earth that "do cool things" than in most CCGs, then it is because it is true to its subject matter. Tolkien's books are not the same as James Bond or D&D, where neato gadgets are the main event: their focus is storytelling. Think about how restrained and vague magic is in Tolkien's world, and compare it with how compelling the history and personalities of it are. The Middle Earth CCG is true to this emphasis, and I think it remains the best storytelling game in its medium, probably because of the very clamps on creativity you complain of.

I will also continue to maintain that corruption in MECCG is one of the most thematic mechanics of all time.

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15 Jan 2010 16:24 #53288 by dragonstout
Yeah, I was actually about to write something about how Narsil, probably the most important sword in the book, just changes a couple stats in the game, how boring. And then I realized that of COURSE it doesn't have any special powers, because basically nothing has special powers in the book, either.

So yes, it is true to the book. But that doesn't make it a fun CCG, unless you're REALLY into the book and get a kick out of using Frodo even though Frodo's no different from Sam. Is that really all there is to it? Can no one defend it as a strategy game with interesting tactical and strategic decisions? Shellhead mentioned the use of the sideboard, but that's cribbed from Magic; sure, with MECCG you sideboard during games rather than between them, but that's really just because the length of a best-2-of-3 Magic match is about the same (if not shorter) than a single Middle Earth game.

And yes, the rules are also overly complex, but whatever, that wouldn't be a problem if I saw what makes the game fun, tactically or strategically.

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16 Jan 2010 12:05 #53320 by ChristopherMD
The few times I played this it just felt too mechanical to me. And the region cards for movement completely sucked so much you pretty much had to buy a separate map for the game. Plus for me personally it had the same issue I have with a lot of licensed properties. Frodo and Bilbo never went to Minas Morgul together to find a suit of armor, for example. I'd have enjoyed the game more if it'd been a unique or even generic fantasy world.

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16 Jan 2010 22:11 #53349 by username
When I saw the movement for runebound I immediately thought of this game. In fact runebound overall is kind of like ME: TW in a generic fantasy setting to me.

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