Monday, February 3, 2014

New Game: The Free Peoples of Middle Earth

Map with Tracks (from left to right):
Concealment, Fellowship, Mt. Doom, & Corruption

Player/Factions: (8/21)
Evil Men: Southrons, Easterlings
Sauron: Mordor, Dol Guldur
Saruman: Isengard, Dunland
Misty Mountains: Moria, Mount Gundabad
Men: Gondor, Rohan
Elves: Grey Havens, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Woodland Realm
Dwarves: Blue Mountains, Erebor, Iron Hills
North: Dunedain, The Shire, Beornings, Dale

Game Designer: Charles Holtrop


The Free Peoples of Middle Earth originally drew from Axis & Allies and my insane desire to apply its mechanics to the War of the Ring.  I wanted to use a game to communicate the insane improbability the Free Peoples had at defeating Sauron militarily, while at the same time reflect the difficult journey the Fellowship undertook to bring the One Ring to Mount Doom.  This while using highly customized pieces for each realm/faction of Middle Earth. 

Game Objectives:

The Free Peoples of Middle Earth win when either they:
  1. Deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom (by moving the Fellowship) -OR-
  2. Conquer Barad-dur (military victory)
The Shadow Player(s) win when either:
  1. The One Ring is delivered to Barad-dur (either by Ringwraith Frodo or Nazgul) -OR-
  2. The Shadow controls all the Capitals and Strongholds of Middle Earth (military victory)

Design & The Fellowship: 

I started with drawing a map of Middle Earth and then applying A&A-like territories to the different regions and contested areas, all the while taking into consideration the movement abilities of each faction's units.  With 21 different factions, this was a long and weary process, because each faction's units had customized movement, combat, and health values.  Eventually I settled on the current board layout, only needing to go through two alterations during playtesting.  However, later I hope to enlarge the board and apply a hexagonal grid to it, changing the rules for the movement of troops and the ownership of territories.  I'm hoping this will be done by the game day in February. 

Originally I had planned the Fellowship's movement to be completely offboard on a separate track, but during playtesting I started toying with the idea of the Fellowship moving initially on the board and then entering a track for Mount Doom at a later time.  A few playtests were all that I needed to adjust the system, and now the Fellowship moves like other pieces on the board.  To reflect the Shadow's ignorance as to the Fellowship's location, the Fellowship's movement and location are concealed, with a track for concealment offboard that shows the Shadow's current search ability.  If the Fellowship is revealed, they go into combat with the Shadow troops in that region.  If the Fellowship suffers a casualty (not if they splinter off into different bands), they may replace the lost companion with a Captain from one of the Free Peoples' armies. 

In addition, there is a corruption mechanic to the Fellowship, meaning that after a certain number of turns the Ringbearer becomes a Ringwraith, reveals the Fellowship's location on the board, and attacks the Fellowship.  If the Fellowship is able to subdue him, they can regain the Ring and their concealment on subsequent turns.  However, if the new Ringwraith is able to break free, they start moving toward Mount Doom, and may be picked up by a passing Nazgul. 

Cards & Play

The two sides of the conflict take turns one at a time (e.g. the Shadow player(s) all go first, then the Free Peoples).  Each turn consists of four phases: Purchasing, Movement, Combat, and Reinforcement.  During the Purchasing phase, players use their gold gained on their last turn to purchase Movement, Combat Enhancement, Reinforcement, and Special Items/Events cards from their respective decks or from their allies.  Each card is has a price in the top left corner that is doubled when selling a card to an ally, or sold at face value when selling a card you can't use to a discard pile.  After a card is used or sold to a discard pile, it is added to the personal deck of the player named at the bottom of the card.  Once all the cards in all the piles have been purchased, players then purchase cards from their own decks.  This deck-building mechanic randomizes players' abilities to act early game, but allows each player to have guaranteed action mid-to-late game. 

Movement cards determine the number and type of armies that may move; Combat Enhancement cards affect combat results; Reinforcement cards determine how many and what type of units are able to be mustered on a given turn; and Special Items/Events cards perform unique functions and may trigger troop mustering/movement/combat. 

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