“You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
–Gandalf, The Hobbit
In September, we announced the upcoming release of the second Saga Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, The Hobbit: On the Doorstep. Continuing Bilbo’s adventures from The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill, The Hobbit: On the Doorstep carries players through the second half of the much-beloved novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Today, lead developer Caleb Grace explores how he worked to make the expansion’s three scenarios as innovative and replayable as possible.
Note: Caleb’s discussion of the expansion contains spoilers for the story of The Hobbit.
Lead Developer Caleb Grace on The Hobbit: On the Doorstep
I have been dying to see The Hobbit: On the Doorstep hit the shelves. I couldn’t be more excited to share the second box of this two-part series with the world. When I started working on the first box, The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill, I was handed the foundations for three truly original scenarios that not only gave players a great game experience but also captured the feel of the novel. Once I worked with the LCG team to finish them and the reality set in that I would have to make a sequel to this amazing Saga Expansion, I was a bit intimidated. It fell to me to deliver fans of the game and the book three more scenarios that would conclude Bilbo’s epic journey and FFG’s first foray into the Saga Expansion format. Fortunately, my enthusiasm for the project quickly outshined my concern, and the ideas began to flow.
From the beginning, I had two goals for the The Hobbit: On the Doorstep:
- I wanted to create truly innovative quests that provide players with a rewarding gaming experience and lots of replay value.
- I wanted the scenarios to explore the richness of the source material as much as possible.
I feel confident that the adventures in On the Doorstep succeed on both counts, and in this preview, I’ll talk a little about the thought behind each of them.
Flies and Spiders
The initial challenge in developing the first scenario for On the Doorstep was that players of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game had already enjoyed so many wonderful adventures through Mirkwood in the Core Set and the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. However, Bilbo and the dwarves’ arduous journey through the dark forest is such an important part of the book that we couldn’t just cut it out of the box. It was vital to find the right hook: something that would set this quest apart from those previous scenarios. To do this, I went back to the source material.
When I read The Hobbit as a kid, the chapter Flies and Spiders terrified me with its giant, talking spiders. Even more terrifying was the thought of being in Bilbo’s position after he was separated from the rest of his companions. I got shivers from the moment when he discovered the dwarves wrapped in spider webs and dangling upside-down from tree branches surrounded by creepy-crawlers. I wanted to give players those same chills.
I decided that the Spider enemies in this scenario would be different from the spiders players have encountered before. Instead of trying to kill your heroes and allies right away, they want to incapacitate them with their poison in order to eat them later. Once a character has too much poison, it becomes unconscious and useless to its controller, just like the dwarves that dangled unconscious from the branches in Mirkwood. Just like in the story, Bilbo Baggins is the only one who can save those helpless characters. It’s a big job for a little Hobbit, and the first player will definitely feel the pressure.
The Lonely Mountain
In the second scenario, the players come face-to-face with the most legendary fire-dragon of all time, Smaug the Golden (On the Doorstep, 40). In the book, Tolkien’s fearsome dragon piled all the wealth of Erebor onto a large, golden bed in the main hall of the Lonely Mountain, where he guarded it jealously. It was this treasure that Thorin contracted Mr. Baggins to sneak in and burgle for him. It was an impossible task, but Bilbo did actually manage to sneak in and burgle some valuables out of the dragon’s lair a couple of times before Smaug nearly destroyed the mountainside in a furious rage.
To represent this in the game, I came up with an idea that I’m very excited about: during the setup, players take all five Erebor treasure cards included in the On the Doorstep expansion and place them underneath The Lonely Mountain (On the Doorstep, 43). After the players quest successfully, the first player has an opportunity to make a “burgle attempt” in order to take one of the treasures into hand, but with each attempt the players risk waking Smaug and rousing his dreadful wrath.
Part of the thought behind this design was to create lots of replayability. Since the difficulty increases with each burgle attempt, the easiest way to defeat this scenario is to steal just one treasure and move on. Greedy players and those who want a real challenge, however, should find that capturing all five treasures will prove to be a truly dangerous undertaking.
The Battle of Five Armies
The final scenario of On the Doorstep retells the most harrowing of Bilbo’s adventures, The Battle of Five Armies. This chapter of The Hobbit blew me away the first time I read it. Since the story was about the dwarves’ quest to reclaim their gold from Smaug, I had been certain the book would end when Bard slew Smaug during the dragon’s attack on Lake-town. I did not anticipate the armies of elves, men, and dwarves marching on the Lonely Mountain, nor the army of goblins and wargs that swooped down from the north to make war on them all.
Tolkien ratcheted up the intensity of his book when he put Mr. Baggins right in the middle of this confrontation, and I wanted the last adventure of The Hobbit Saga Expansion to do the same for its players. When I designed this scenario, I wanted players to feel as if they were a small part of an epic battle with the fight raging all around them. To do that, I came up with the idea of putting three quest stages into play at the same time. These quests could represent the different places the fighting was taking place. Each turn, the first player has to decide which stage will be “the current quest” and that is where the heroes will lend their support. At the end of each round, players will face the consequences of how the fight is going at each stage, meaning the players will need to choose carefully where they participate.
This scenario scales well for any number of players. It is difficult, but beatable when playing solo, and it doesn’t get any easier when you add more players. Instead, the enemies come out faster and fight harder in multiplayer. In the end, it’s just a lot of fun and I hope that players will enjoy playing The Battle of Five Armies many times, even after they first manage to win.
The future looks bright for fans of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Heirs of Númenor has received early praise and has established a firm foundation for the upcoming Against the Shadow cycle of Adventure Packs. Also, we recently announced the game’s new place as a part of FFG Organized Play, and we previewed the “Nightmare Decks” from the upcoming Season One 2013 The Lord of the Rings Game Night Kits. Now as we look forward to the upcoming release of The Hobbit: On the Doorstep, we can appreciate and celebrate how far we’ve traveled since J.R.R. Tolkien first penned his tale of Bilbo Baggins.
Keep your eyes open for more previews and announcements about The Hobbit: On the Doorstep and other The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game expansions!