There are official solo rules for Middle-Earth, outlined in the rule book that is included in each starter, as well as in Middle-Earth: The Wizards Companion. A popular Middle-Earth variant, Arda, designed to work without any real deck building, also has a solo variant. Though the Arda variant works well and has a lot of fans, I find it a little lacking. It makes the game a bit too easy for my tastes—each turn you have access to various characters you can recruit, as well as various items you can acquire—and it also removes, to a some extent, deck building, which I love.
On this page I detail how I play Middle-Earth solo. I follow the official solo rules for Middle-Earth with just a few minor modifications, as mentioned below. I assume you are familiar with the official rules—this page is not intended to replace those, but rather describes how I play Middle-Earth solitaire, using the scenarios posted on the rest of this site.
I follow nearly all the standard rules for Middle-Earth, in so far as they apply to single player games.
The objective of each game is not just to acquire a number of Marshalling Points (MP), as in the standard multi-player game, but is determined by the specific scenario I play. Each of my Middle-Earth games tells a story, and the victory conditions therefore depend on the nature of the story that the scenario I play tells. It may involve acquiring a certain number of MPs (generally 25), but could also require me to gain control over a certain number of locations, defeat a certain creature (like a Dragon or a Nazgul), reach a certain destination, recruit a specific number of factions, or recover some specific items (like a number of Palantíri).
I play with 3 decks: a Resource Deck, a Hazard Deck, and a Location Deck. I detail below what they consist of. The Resource Deck is the main deck, that drives your game. You draw from this deck to your hand and can play cards from this deck during all phases of your turn, following the standard rules. Your hand consists of 5 cards (not 8, as in the standard multi-player games), as in the official solo rules.
During the Movement/Hazard Phase of each turn, you will draw cards from the Hazard Deck. The number of hazard cards you draw depends on the site your company travels to, as in the standard solo rules: 2 plus double the number of hazard cards normally drawn for that site (thus 6 for a site that you would normally draw 2 cards for). You can play hazard cards according to the standard rules. The cards you draw from this deck can only be played during the Movement/Hazard Phase. Any cards drawn that are not played are discarded at the end of this Phase. Whenever the Hazard Deck is exhausted, reshuffle the discard pile to create a new Hazard Deck. You will most likely go through your Hazard Deck several times in a single game.
Any hazard creature that you have defeated, will be placed in your Marshalling Point Pile, as per the standard rules. When I play a scenario in which I do not have to gain a certain number of MP to win, I often just discard (non-unique) defeated hazard creatures (and then reshuffle them back into the Hazard Deck when that gets exhausted).
The Location deck contains cards of the sites your company can travel to. When you have tapped a site (either because you have obtained an item or faction from there, or because a hazard card forced you to tap the site) the site is discarded when you leave it—you can not return to those sites, unless the scenario stipulates otherwise.
I use the standard rules for moving (not the starter rules), because they allow for greater flexibility. I use a map. I have found the following map to be most useful to track the movement of my companies (click on the image for a pdf), but there are plenty of other maps available (for example on Boardgamegeek.com):
I use the map just to plan and track the movement of my companies and I do still use the Location cards. But you could do away with the Location cards entirely if you rely on a more detailed map than the above (like this one, or this one), which list not just what sites are in what regions, but also what site types they are, what type of Resources can be played there, and what automatic attacks they have (if any).
Nearly all the solo scenarios I play are single-deck games. Once the Resource Deck is exhausted, the game is over. If the objectives are not achieved by that time, the game is lost.
I create decks around certain themes, certain scenarios or campaigns, and follow the standard rules for deck building (only 1 copy of each unique item or character, a maximum of 3 copies of each other card), with the following differences.
The Resource Deck is what drives your game. It contains all the items you will try to obtain during the game, all the factions and allies you can recruit, all the events you will be able to play, as well as all the characters you can bring into play. The main consideration in building the deck is the theme. The deck is constructed around a theme or scenario, and the objectives that you have to achieve in the scenario. The more thematic you can make it, the richer the game will be.
My Resource Decks contain generally about 30 to 40 cards, often closer to the latter than the former. The distribution of the type of cards included (items, events, factions, etc.) depends on the scenario, but I generally follow these guidelines:
- Characters: A maximum of 10 characters, including your starting company (which can not exceed 15 mind). The characters should be of various strengths. I generally have 1 or 2 strong characters with of mind 8 or 9, 2 or 3 characters with a mind of 5, 6 or 7, an equal amount of medium characters with a mind of 4 or 5, and a few minor characters with a mind of 1 or 2 or 3. The exact distribution depends on the scenario I am playing and the limitations that this imposes on the available characters, as well as the limitations imposed by the cards that I actually own.
- Wizard: In the standard rules you can have up to 3 Wizard cards in your deck. In multi-player games, you want to be able to bring your Wizard out as soon as possible, to gain an advantage over your opponents. In my solo games, however, I only include a single Wizard in my Resource Deck. It makes the game a little more challenging, perhaps, but I’ve found that it makes for better solo games to have only 1 Wizard.
- Items, Factions, Allies: the exact number and nature of these cards depends on the scenario you play. In most of my decks, however, about 1/3 of the Resource Deck are cards that can be played at sites, like Items, Factions, Allies, and “Information” Permanent Events.
- Events: The remainder of the deck consists of various Events—Short Events, Long Events, and Permanent Events—that will help the company in accomplishing the objectives of the scenario.
For most scenarios I do not use a sideboard. A few scenarios that I created do depend on a sideboard, though, but in those cases the rules are generally slightly differently implemented. Details are given for each individual scenario that uses a sideboard.
The Hazard Deck is as important as the Resource Deck. Each scenario requires a custom Hazard Deck, that is tailored to the Resource Deck and the Location Deck it complements. If the company will travel mostly through Wilderness, the Hazard Deck should contain mostly hazard creatures that can be played in those regions. If the company will gather Palantíri or Rings of Power, then the Hazard Deck should include hazards that target Palantíri or Rings of Power, as well as corruption cards. I provide guidelines or ideas for cards to include in the Hazard Deck for each scenario.
The distribution of creature and general hazard cards in the Hazard Deck can vary, but I’ve found that a 50/50 balance (1 creature for every general hazard) works well enough. The Hazard Decks I create are generally about the same size as the Resource Decks—about 30 to 40 cards, generally closer to the former than the latter.
Keep in mind, when creating the Hazard Deck, that any creatures your company defeats will go into the Marshalling Point Pile, and will not be shuffled back into the Hazard Deck when you exhaust the latter. In other words, the further along you are in the game, the fewer hazard creatures you will encounter, which is why it is good to give about 50% of the deck to creature hazards. If I play a scenario where I do not have to gain a certain number of MP to win, I generally do not move slain Hazard Creatures to the Marshalling Point Pile, but just discard them as usual (unless they are unique creatures), so that they will be reshuffled into the Hazard Deck when that is exhausted. Even in this case, however, a 50/50 distribution of creatures/hazards works quite well.
Keep also in mind that since you will recycle the Hazard Deck several times during the game, you will encounter the cards in this deck more often than you would in multi-player games. You therefore need fewer cards of a certain type than you might be inclined to put in. A strong creature—like a Dragon—which you are not likely to defeat, will return each time you reshuffle the Hazard Deck, which can be 4 to 5 times per game.
That said, I do build my Hazard Decks in such a way that they are not just thematic, but also challenging. It generally takes me at least half a dozen attempts to complete a scenario before I win, and sometimes considerably more, and I like it that way.
The Location Deck contains all the sites your company will be able to visit, and they therefore have to fit the scenario you play—whether this is based on a region (in which case the sites will be determined almost exclusively geographically) or this is based on items or factions (in which case the sites will be selected based on what can be played at them).
About a dozen sites is enough. Since I play a single-deck game—the game is over when the Resource Deck runs out—I generally do not have time to visit more than 10 sites anyway. In most cases I also limit myself to just two Havens.
About Deck Lists
You will not find on this site complete deck lists, that tell you exactly what cards are in the decks that I build for each scenario. I do provide some ideas of what cards to include for each scenario, but find complete deck lists unhelpful for three reasons.
First of all, the decks I play do change, sometimes because I realise a certain card is not that helpful, or because I decide to include new cards that I might not have thought of before or that I only recently acquired.
Secondly, what deck lists would tell you is what cards I have, whereas you have to build a deck with the cards that you have. I do not have all that many cards—and only cards from The Wizards, The Dragons, Dark Minions, and The White Hand, as well as a few Challenge Decks. Work with what you have, and create a deck that works with the cards you own.
Thirdly, deck lists can stifle creativity. In my opinion, what makes a particular deck fun is that you’ve build it. You have tried out certain card combinations—through trial and error—you have thought of ways to make a particular theme come to life, and you have build a deck that suits the way you play Middle-Earth. I love deck building. It is imaginative, creative, and fun (if at first also a little challenging, perhaps). It is for me an integral part of each scenario, and I want to encourage you to consider it likewise.