There was a discussion recently on The Dice Tower’s Top 100 Games of All Time series of videos on what constituted a lifestyle game, whether it was one that was so deep and complicated that it required a constant investment of time and effort in order to internalise the rules, or whether it was one could consume a person’s life to the extent that the game plays you. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game definitely ticks both boxes, to the extent that a person could write thousands of words about it and barely scratch the surface. The game also has a habit of giving form to real world concepts, and one of those that I have long thought about with respect to this game is one that has become a hot topic in recent times: inflation.
Inflation as people are enduring as of early 2023, i.e. rising prices, is obviously a bad thing. However, there are circumstances where it can be a positive, and the economy of this game is a model of how this can potentially be the case. Imagine a game world where everything is twice as expensive. A Test of Will now costs 2, Gildor’s Counsel costs 6, and so on. Where previously players received 1 resource they now get 2, so the net change to the game state is zero. You now have room to tweak the game state, potentially for the better. A Test of Will, universally considered to be a bargain, can cost 3, while Gildor’s Counsel, powerful but expensive, can cost 5. Rather than effectively receiving 4 additional resources from Steward of Gondor each round, instead you get 3. In this way, all manner of minor adjustments can be made to the value of a card without nerfing their abilities. Inflation – it’s not always a bad thing.
All of this matters in the context of Encounter at Amon Dîn because it’s an example of the dangers of too much money being in circulation.. There are just too many villagers for the scenario to present a challenge. The first ‘rescue’ got us 4 villagers. At no stage was Dead Villagers ahead of Rescued Villagers. It was never even close, to the point where the thought of having 4 dead ones in any version of this playthrough is ludicrous. Halving the number of villagers on each card would surely have made this quest a more engaging experience, forcing you to make difficult choices. As it is, the ‘challenge’ seems to be to save everyone. Anything less than that is failure.
On a broader lever, and returning to the lifestyle game concept, I think Encounter at Amon Dîn needs to be viewed in its historical context. The game is famously hard, and the Heirs of Númenor/Against the Shadow cycle saw some board-flipping examples of the genre, with Into Ithilien and The Siege of Cair Andros still making into the top quartile of difficulty even though they were through fewer than a third of the quests by this time – Encounter at Amon Dîn is the 32nd quest in publication order out of 117 official quests. They were nails at the time, and they’re still nails. With that in mind, my headcanon is that the developers playtested this quest, found it way too easy and thought you know, let’s throw the players a bone. The release cycle of one-a-month was pretty consistent at this point, with the six quests in Against the Shadow coming out between May and November 2013. By the time they’ve realised there isn’t that much to this quest, and have discussed that very point, the next one will be landing on their tabletop.
- Any deck not put together by the throw-all-your-cards-in-the-air-and-see-where-they-land method should be good enough for this quest
How entertaining is this quest? It’s a bottom halfer, not so much a brain burner as a cerebellum chiller, a bit of alliteration that I encourage you to read and not think about. It’s an agreeable slice of storytelling though.The impetus to avoid getting any Dead Villagers is a real thing – civilians > combatants – which I would imagine gives you an extra frisson when playing in multi-player, and I certainly had more fun with it than Into Ithilien. I’m going to slot it in above that quest in 18th place. Not as good as Passage Through Mirkwood isn’t an awful place to find yourself. Next up is a quest to repel the latest of many assaults on Osgiliath, but before that let’s pause to reflect on an unlikely source of friendship.