I’m still on this massive Middle Earth kick at the minute, and have been delving through my LCG collection to look at all of the stuff that I have for the game. Among the masses of standalone scenarios and nightmare decks, I also have two of these custom scenario kits – Fantasy Flight produced four in total, with the first pair themed around Mirkwood and the next around Moria. They’re a bit odd, I’m not going to lie, but they’re also an interesting addition to the game.
A custom scenario kit is basically a bunch of encounter cards that gives you the opportunity to build a scenario to play. In the two that I have, there are cards mostly from early in the game’s run, but which have been shuffled around to create fourteen groups of five cards, as opposed to the encounter sets that we are familiar with. They have also been subtly changed, as the format for these kits is a little different to the more regular game. See, custom scenario kits originally came about for Gen Con 2018, and were designed to give Lord of the Rings LCG a competitive variant. In this way, you build an encounter deck and give it to your opponent, who then has to beat it quicker than you beat their encounter deck. So it isn’t a huge difference, as you’re still sitting down to play against an encounter deck rather than a person, but as a way of introducing a competitive variant of the game, I think it works pretty well.
The way you build a deck can largely be influenced by the quest card structure. To begin, there is a single quest card – 1A – to which you can then choose 2A and 3A to add to it. There are three copies of each in the kit, so you can create a number of variations on this. You then need to pick 35 encounter cards to make up the encounter deck. As I said above, instead of encounter sets there are numbered groups of five cards each, and the “quick start” rules allow you to pick seven of these sets to make up the deck. However, the encounter cards also have a cost on the bottom, and in the advanced rules you get 21 points to build the deck. There are some caveats though, in that you need a minimum of ten locations, ten enemies and ten treacheries, so if you’re building this for an opponent, you can’t front-load it with all the worst cards.
There are two sets, The Wizard’s Quest and The Woodland Realm, and the encounter sets from each are fully cross-compatible. I’m not sure, as I don’t have them, but I don’t believe the two Mirkwood sets are meant to be compatible with the Moria sets. While you can’t combine the quest cards, you can combine the encounter cards to create a massive pool of 28 sets of five cards to create your 35-card scenario.
These kits are designed to encourage competitive play, as the rules insert says, but cooperative play isn’t restricted here. While a lot of the encounter cards reference “your opponent” when choices have to be made, for example, the rules state that the first player in co-op must make that choice, going with the worst possible outcome for the group. I believe a lot of people use these things to deck-test, which is interesting, but otherwise they don’t seem to have a great deal of love, which seems a shame. Even though they’re mostly reprints of cards that have been changed up a bit, I still find them quite interesting and when time allows, I think I’ll be giving them a try with the co-op rules!
One of the reasons that I find them so interesting is because they basically fulfil one of my earliest crazy ideas for this game – mixing up the encounter sets. I think it was while we were still in the Shadows of Mirkwood mode, when I was playing and finding the game difficult in true solo, I used to think about taking some of my “favourite” encounter cards and building a quest out of them. I can’t really remember how this Frankenstein’s Monster of an encounter would look, in fact I think this was very much in the vein of shower thoughts, but I nevertheless used to wonder how it would work to take some of the sets that are challenging without the kind of “auto-lose” sets and see how I get on. I might yet do that with some of the stuff from Against the Shadow, which I know is quite fun to play around with. I don’t really know the other cycles well enough to try it, sadly!
Of course, all of that assumes I’ll have the time to spare for such hybrid gaming, given that I want to try to get through both the Angmar Awakened cycle, and the Saga boxes!