Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Eulogy for Middle-Earth

I visit the Fantasy Flight Games website regularly. I am a fan of a good few of their games, so I pop in now and again to see what they are up to. Only recently did I notice something that I probably should have spotted some time ago. Middle-Earth Quest, one of my all time favourite games, is gone – and has been gone for some time. What the hell?

Middle-Earth Quest seemed to have everything going for it: a well known, very much beloved world, a ton of cards both big and small, some really great artwork and a sprinkle of little plastic dudes and dudettes. Simply put, it was absolutely up to par with what FFG has so many of us hooked on, and (with the Middle-Earth licence) a little more.

I remember vividly the day when I brought the box home, I also remember my first games. I would face off against my wife (who was not my wife back then) as Sauron or as a fellowship of heroes, and we would play it almost every day. Middle-Earth Quest completely took over our spare time, occupying evening after evening for a good few weeks. And even now, almost six years later, it still takes over our table on a regular basis.
Image source: BoardGameGeek
There are good reasons why this game became one of our favourites so fast, despite its long playing time and the typical FFG-style rules (something they now do much better), which would make finding this one thing we don’t remember a five minute endeavour. Middle-Earth Quest is beautifully atmospheric, it’s tense, it’s (mostly) very well paced, and it’s surprisingly cerebral. So cerebral in fact, that I now honestly think it was too smart for its own good.

The heroes in Middle-Earth Questt are not expected to blunder around the map in search of monsters to slay and treasures to loot. The development of each character is an element of natural progression and not one of the goals, which will then open up the opportunity to kick the snot out of the main baddie. The players will not be chucking dice. Instead, they will be managing hands of cards, carefully assessing the dangers and shrewdly picking their routes (evading combat whenever possible), so that every step they make will lead them closer to foiling Sauron’s plans and plots. They will have to work together, proving that their fellowship as a whole is more than a sum of its parts. And the Sauron player will have to keep up.

Image source: 
Now Middle-Earth Quest is gone. There will never be an official expansion we were so much hoping for (against our better judgement). There will be no more heroes, quests, tricks for Sauron. And I keep thinking that this is because Middle-Earth Quest was published before Vlaada Chvatil took to the BGG top ten with his Mage Knight, proving that adventure gaming can be as much of an intellectual challenge, as any Eurogame. That may have recalibrated the expectations that had taken down Middle-Earth Quest just a few years before.

Luckily, nobody will take my copy of Middle-Earth Questt away from me. I’m looking at it on my shelf as I’m writing these words, happy that it still gets to my table. It has astonished me, it has inspired me (and showed me the way I could go myself with Mistfall), it has shown a new way narrative and atmospheric games can go, instead of what seems to be the canon. Middle-Earth Quest, my friend, although you’re dead to FFG, you will live in my heart and – obviously – on my gaming table.

Now, let me take a look at my calendar to set up a meet.

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