Thursday, May 7, 2015

Location Lock

Monday night, I spent entirely too much time watching The Grey Company's twitch stream.  After a loss to Nightmare Morgul Vale, Matthew and Dan began discussing various topics of the state of this game.  The one that stuck out to me was location lock.  For those that don't understand the term, this refers to the situation where, especially in multiplayer games, the staging area is filled with locations to the point where they cannot be cleared fast enough, which then leads to a slow loss due to threat gain each turn until threating out.
The first time I recall experiencing location lock was back in the days of the core set.  Here I was, with his brand new game, and four decks to choose from.  In hindsight, I almost wish there had been less cards in that core set, to the point where they had two starting decks, both dual sphere.  Just like the core rules mention ignoring shadow cards until comfortable with the game, I wish they had given us these decks, so I wouldn't, like so many, assume that each of the decks were equally viable.  I played Passage through Mirkwood with the starting Leadership cards, and beat it with no problem, even after foolishly not pulling Ungoliant's Spawn in quest stage 3, when that was the objective (I kept questing until I got him, and with that still won).
With that win under my belt, I tried again with tactics.  It's an often repeated story, but needless to say, it didn't go as well.  I had a tough decision each round to determine who to quest with.  If I quest with Gimli or Legolas, I'm losing combat power, but if I don't, I'm slowly losing ground in the staging area.  I believe I ended the quest with Old Forest Road still as the active location.  The staging area was filled with all manner of location, and no chance to get rid of them.
That all said, whose fault is it?  Was it my fault for playing a deck that wasn't crafted for that particular quest?  Was it the designer for not making a more accessible quest?  I tend to favor placing the blame on myself, but that has a lot to do with the experience I have with the game, and it could be very off-putting for someone brand new.  So, what do we do about this?  The easiest choice is to build to handle locations.  You put in your Northern Trackers, Asfaloth, Riddermark's Finest, etc, but you're still dependent on being able to pay for them, and pull them out of the 50 cards in your deck when you need them.  What could the game itself do to cushion the blow of location pile up.


My first thought was an alternative to the travel action.  Similar to how the upcoming valor action seems to be an improved version of another action, based on the player's threat.  My idea, which I'm calling detour, is an action taken during the travel phase which, instead of making the location active, shuffles the location back into the encounter deck.  For example, perhaps a location has Travel: Deal 1 damage to a hero, it could be paired with Detour: Deal 2 damage to a hero.  Perhaps detours can only be taken if there already is an active location, but the important thing is to give the player a way to temporarily avoid a location, but at a cost worse than travelling to a location, and buffering your questing.

Multiple Active Locations

In most cases, the players are limited to one active location.  In Assault on Osgiliath, Ruined Tower introduced the concept of having two active locations. Similarly, Foundations of Stone and Breaking of the Fellowship both had separate staging areas for each player, each with their own active locations.  This is used very limited, and I am of the opinion that it is good to continue to do so.  Thematically, it makes sense when you have separate staging areas for players, but otherwise, it falls apart.  Furthermore, I think it confuses things a bit when you have two or more buffers for the quest.

Power Reduction through Errata

One of the more drastic means of correcting such an issue is errata, which has been a tool used conservatively to this point, to which I am thankful.  At this point, the number of meaningful erratas is limited enough to remember, but if used more heavy haneded, it could be come hard to keep up with updates without updated cards.  That said, it's still a tool that can be used.  There is a term in many card games called Power Creep.  This is something that I believe could be it's own post, but for the sake of this one, I will keep it limited location control.  Certain cards require a boost in encounter card power.  One such example is Asfaloth.  When it came out, most 2 quest point locations were negligible.  Due to this, we saw many more 3+ quest point locations, or locations which were immune to player card effects.  I believe that if Asfaloth was limited to placing 1 progress token, even when attached to Glorfindel, it would require less power creep on the location side.  Further, it could be a Travel action, so it couldn't be done before resolving questing.  To counter this, it could cost one less to attach to Glorfindel.  Perhaps Northern Trackers and Lorien Guides could have a planning action instead of a response, where they are exhausted to add one progress to locations, so you don't gain their willpower to the quest.
What are your thoughts on the matter?  Is location lock an issue we should worry about, and if so, what ideas do you have to counter it?


  1. I think Detours/Multiple Locations or similar mechanics are good way to make locations more interesting and deal with location lock for newer quests.

    I don't think errata will be used. Northern Tracker and Asfaloth are basically mandatory in 4 player games, unless playing in quests that have few locations (rare situation). Yes, they are a problem because they are very efficient in what they do, so game balance need to consider then, which is a shame.

    Another way to deal with locations is printing more cards that explore then, like Expert Trackers, which is a good card, not as playable as it should, since need a lot of requirements to work (you need a scout or ranger, he must be ready, need a high threat enemy, need to engage with it and be prepared to deal with it).

  2. I think players need more, not less, options for dealing with locations, so I would not be in favor of seeing errata to cards like Asfaloth or Northern Tracker. I think we'll continue to see new tools for location management in the future, like Expert Trackers that Edvando mentioned.

    In 3-4 player games, I think players just have to plan ahead and have someone who has tools for dealing with locations. The most basic means of dealing with locations is simply questing well. If you can keep clearing a location every turn, eventually you will clear out the backlog. Granted this is easier said than done, so that's where player cards that deal with locations are important. The location-related cards might not be as sexy or exciting as the combat ones, but they can be just as important.

    I play 3-4 player games pretty often and we don't often encounter insurmountable location lock. Usually we are able to ramp up our questing power faster than the encounter deck can spit out locations, and with a bit of location control in our decks, we can keep from facing a log jam of locations. It's just something you have to plan for in multiplayer games.