The World is Changing

So the big current news in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is of course what we got from the AMA with Andrew Navaro (FFG Head of Studio) on the 30th of August. I encourage people to actually watch the relevant section of the video for themselves, as it’s possible to get a rather different impression from seeing and hearing the way he says it than just reading a short summary.
Link timestamped at the relevant question:

So, reiterating that I would recommend people watch for themselves, the brief summary is:
* Content planned up to around halfway/two-thirds of the way through next year.
* That will be the end of the ‘current iteration’ of the game.
* After a break, there will then be more new content.
* Said new content will definitely not be a second edition of the game.

So, point one, when I first saw a summary comparable to the one I wrote above, I thought we were being told the game was actually coming to an end, an impression which was somewhat dispelled by actually watching the video. That said, if the game were to end at the conclusion of the new cycle (unless they really step up the release schedule there’s no way they’d get two cycles out in the stated approximate time-frame), it wouldn’t be so terrible. This game has been going for 8 years, nothing lasts forever, and we’ve gotten some truly great stuff over the years so as much as I would miss the experience of learning about all the new stuff I would be very happy with what we have.
That being said, from what was said, it doesn’t seem like the game actually is ending. All there’ll be is a break in releases, but I’ve never had a problem with such breaks. Some people have concerns that the break will become indefinite and the game actually will be cancelled, but I personally have never felt it to be a productive use of anyone’s time and energy to speculate about the potential death of the game. I will believe the game is dying when I see it officially announced, not before; and in the meantime I’ll keep my focus on enjoying the game while we do have it, for however long that may be. And when the game does actually end, well, it seems there are already plans for keeping it going with fan content.
One thing I would just like to note is regarding the break in content – while it’s possible the break is for some reason related to the changes for the new iteration, it’s equally possible that it’s just a matter of time and manpower – Caleb was one of the lead designers on the new Marvel Champions LCG, so it may simply be that they want to get the new game up and running smoothly without him needing to split his time quite as much. Or there could be other reasons. The main reason I bring this up is because while speculating about the new content after the break it’s easy to think “But why do they need a break to do this?” So I think it’s important to remember that the break could easily be for unrelated reasons.

The other and larger point of consideration is what the new iteration of the game will look like. Since it’s explicitly not a second edition, we assume it must be compatible with what we already have, so it can’t change too much – however the passing comment that “There are things we could improve,” suggests that mechanical changes are at least not out of the question.
From what I’ve seen, there are a few plausible hypotheses for what the new iteration might involve, some or all of which could potentially be combined.

1. Additional Campaign gameplay
In the State of the LCG ns article last June, when asked what he would like to do to improve the game experience, Caleb said this: “Campaign play has been very successful and well-received with the saga expansions. Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we might be able to do more with that idea.” In light of that comment, it seems entirely plausible that a new iteration of the game might well involve trying to do more with campaign mode. Some people in the past have been keen on the idea of trying to add a campaign structure into the existing cycles, which personally I think might be more difficult than they imagine in some cases, but if new content were to be designed from the ground-up with (optional) campaign play in mind, I think that could definitely work.

2. A change to the release structure
FFG sometimes do different things with the release structures of their LCGs. Notable at present is what has been revealed about the Marvel Champions LCG – releases divided very specifically for different heroes and villains. I don’t know if that sort of concept is something they’d want to try with LotR (presumably being a more general split of release player card packs and quests separately from each other), but it could be, or they could have some other, entirely different idea for something to do with the releases. Perhaps releases might slow down so rather than the current 3-quest deluxe and 6-quest AP cycle we’d just get deluxe-sized boxes periodically. If they want to do more with campaign play as I speculated above and they keep the principle from the existing saga campaign of having points at which heroes are allowed to be swapped out freely, then it could be quite a natural way of structuring it to just allow changing of heroes between boxes (apart from anything else, this would ensure people playing new products as they were released wouldn’t be blocked from using new heroes in an ongoing campaign if they wanted to).
These are just a couple of speculative ideas on the subject, there are definitely more possibilities.

3. A rules and/or Core Set revision
Since we have been told the new content will not be a new edition of the game, it must be compatible with what we already have, so there are limits to what could be done in terms of changing the rules, but some things could potentially be overhauled. To remain compatible, we have to retain everything referred to by cards – things like the active location, shadow cards, the different phases, and so on, but it’s not impossible that some aspects of the rules could be adjusted while still keeping those elements in place. If we continue down this particular rabbit hole of speculation, some inspiration for changes might have been taken from the different directions some of the digital game’s mechanics have taken, and the inception of the Rules Reference might have been partially intended as groundwork for greater changes to come. One area in which this game certainly could stand to be improved is arguably accessibility, and overhauling some aspects of the rules might potentially make the game more accessible to new players rather than them being forced to google the FAQ and go ask the community on the forums or facebook to answer all their rules questions.
Highly relevant to new player accessibility, the Core Set isn’t necessarily the best introduction to the game. The ‘pre-built decks’ are bad, there’s not real advice on how to go about building your own decks, some of the cards just aren’t up to the same design standards as more recent content, there’s the aforementioned problem of needing to buy three copies to get a full set of cards (only 1 copy of Unexpected Courage in the Core? Seriously?), and so on. A while back FFG revamped Netrunner by releasing a revised Core Set, still compatible with the previously released cards, and that approach could potentially work very well for LotR as well.

4. Expanding the scope to other areas of Tolkien’s work
Perhaps the most exciting avenue of explanation, though I have no clear idea of how plausible it actually is. With Christopher Tolkien having relinquished control of his father’s work, we know the Tolkien is now somewhat more open to the idea of letting people play in Tolkien’s world, with the upcoming Amazon series being set in the Second Age of Middle Earth. So is it possible we could be moving to another time period? First Age, Second Age, even just earlier in the Third Age, there’s plenty of interesting stuff that happened long before Bilbo went on his adventure. Of course expanding the time frame would raise questions with regard to thematic compatibility – most of the playable heroes and allies are not immortal, various artifacts hadn’t been made yet, some nations hadn’t been founded, etc – but ultimately, they could create some sort of approved list like the one for the TftC First Age fan expansions, or just allow people to police themselves on it as much or as little as they wanted to, as with the Hobbit boxes.
Again, I don’t know how plausible this would be. If it’s an option I’m sure FFG would want to do it, since from a game lore standpoint it opens up vast amounts of additional stories to explore, and from a business standpoint it makes sense to try and capitalise on the anticipated success of the Amazon series, which is liable to generate a lot of excitement and hype around all things Tolkien. But while the Tolkien Estate may be more open to ideas now, that doesn’t mean they’re just going to hand out rights willy-nilly, so it may not be a possibility. We don’t know. But it’s a lot of fun to speculate.

And that’s my thoughts on this news. If anyone has any other interesting ideas of what might be coming in the new iteration of the game I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, just keep having fun with the game, and remember that it is neither dead, nor dying.

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