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Review: Legendary Inventors

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Legendary Inventors - Box

Imagine that you could captain a team of some of history’s greatest inventors and lead them to glory by inventing some of the world’s most useful objects. You’d get to make your inventors smarter, help them design and patent their work, and guide them through technological advances so they could make ever more complex stuff. It’d be like running your own personal think tank, or acting as a Renaissance patron. Legendary Inventors gives you this chance, only without having to come up with a boatload of startup cash or deal with pesky patron duties like giving the struggling scientists a couch to crash on when they’re broke.

How It Plays

Legendary Inventors is played over three technological ages, with each age bringing more complex inventions for your inventors to create. Each player chooses a team of four inventors from various historical periods. Your goal is to earn the most victory points by patenting/acquiring inventions, improving your inventors’ skills and smarts, or putting together a “run” of invention cards with sequential classification numbers.

At the beginning of the game, invention cards from Age I are placed face up on the table (cards = the number of players + 3) and two reward tokens are drawn randomly and placed face up on each invention. There are five types of reward tokens:  

  1. Victory Points. Straight points added to your end-game total.
  2. Progress: Allows you to increase your inventors’ knowledge. If your inventor reaches the knowledge progress target indicated on his/her tile, you earn bonus points at the end of the game.
  3. Availability: Allows you to refresh busy inventors without taking an action. You can use this reward and still send an inventor to work.
  4. Additional Knowledge: Allows you to place two cubes on an invention even if your inventor does not have the required knowledge.
  5. Classification Numbers: Act as a wild number in a run of inventions, allowing you to cover a gap in your run without a card.

Once earned, rewards can be used at any time. Most are one-time use. Others, like victory points and classifications, are used at the end of the game to boost scoring.

Legendary Inventors - Inventions by Age
Movin’ on up the technological ladder. Some of the inventions by Age.

On your turn, you can do one of two things: Either send one of your inventors to work, or refresh your inventors. If you choose to send an inventor to work, you must choose an inventor tile that is an upright position (i.e., not exhausted from a prior turn). You then place as many of your cubes as you want on empty spaces on an invention card that matches your inventors’ current knowledge level (or you can use the Additional Knowledge reward). You can only place cubes on one invention per turn.

After you’ve placed your cubes, you turn that inventor sideways to indicate that he/she is exhausted. An exhausted inventor cannot be used again until he is refreshed. If you don’t want to or can’t put an inventor to work, you can use your turn to refresh all of your inventors by turning their tiles upright.

Inventions are complete when all of the available cube spaces are filled with players’ cubes. The player who places the last cube completes the invention and becomes the start player for the next round. Players then share the rewards.

To share in the rewards, a player must have a cube on the invention. No cube, no reward for you. The player who has the most cubes on the invention is considered to have contributed the most to the invention and chooses first. She can either take the invention itself and gain the victory points indicated on the card, or choose one of the two reward tokens. The player who has the second highest number of cubes then chooses from the remaining rewards, followed by the player with the third highest cube total.

Legendary Inventors - Misc. Components
Leonard Da Vinci is your start player marker!

If more than three players contributed to the invention, the remaining player(s) get nothing. (Except the thrill of contributing, however hollow it may be.) Any uncollected rewards are are returned to the box and are out of the game. Inventions are not replaced from the decks once removed.

When the second-to-last-invention on the table is complete, Age I ends and the game proceeds to Age II, followed by Age III. The remaining Age I invention is discarded and any cubes on it are returned to their owners. New Age cards from the next Age are dealt and new reward tokens are placed on those cards. Play continues through ages II and III with no rule changes.

The game ends after the rewards for the second-to-last invention in Age III have been shared. Each player then tallies up their points from acquired inventions, runs of inventions, collected victory point tokens, and any inventors who reached their progress targets. The player with the most points wins.

A Legend In Its Own Time or Reinventing the Wheel?

I’m often drawn to games with historical themes, particularly anything that’s not farming, castle siege, or medieval-themed. Not that there’s anything wrong with those themes, it’s just nice to see something different now and then. Legendary Inventors is certainly that. The theme of captaining a team of inventors to create the most useful objects for the world is different and educational, so out of the box the game started with good marks for theme.

It also gets high marks for presentation. The art is attractive and evocative and the inventor tiles are thick, chunky cardboard. But it’s the inclusion of a biographical booklet for the inventors that really earns my praise. It takes up almost no additional space in the box, but gives curious minds some background information on the inventors. Each inventor only gets a couple of paragraphs, but it may spark a larger interest.

It is also nice that the designers recognized the contributions of women in the sciences, even in eras when they were difficult to come by or their contributions were obscure. Four out of five teams have a woman on them. It may not seem like a huge deal, but given that it would have been so easy to leave women out altogether and instead throw in more well-known male personages, it’s a welcome thought.

Legendary Inventors - Greek Team
The team of Ancient inventors. Just one of five teams!

I hear you saying, “Yeah, yeah, but how does it play?” This is where things turn to more of a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong: Inventors is not a bad game. In fact, it’s quite a good one with one caveat: You need to be the right audience for it.

The game sets up and plays quickly and is super-easy to learn, making it a good weeknight, lunchtime, or family game. Most games will finish in thirty-ish minutes. This is both a strength and a weakness. It’s great because you can play a solid game without a huge time investment, but at the same time the game goes so fast that it can feel a bit unfulfilling.

With only three Ages and a only a few inventions played per Age, it’s hard to feel like you’re progressing toward something larger, as you do in many area control/majority games. It feels kind of like, “Play cubes, hope for the best, take rewards, repeat.” The cards do become more complicated in each Age, and if you effectively manage your rewards and your inventors’ knowledge you’re able to do more per turn as the game progresses, but it just doesn’t feel like much changes Age to Age or game to game. 

Legendary Inventors - Inventions
More inventions!

This is fine for light gamers, kids, or non-gamers who don’t really understand area control, but for more advanced gamers who want that feeling of battling to gain control of something and then using that something to gain control of something else, it may be frustrating and too light. I don’t mind fast games in general, but this one feels a little odd, as if it’s too involved for a simple filler or family game, but not involved enough for a gamer’s game night “main course.” Just as you’re feeling invested and building and engine that’s getting you more and more rewards, the game ends, leaving you feeling like, “That’s it?”

This is exacerbated by the fact that it’s impossible to form a long term strategy and have it hold for the length of the game. Inevitably, someone is going to beat you to the punch and take a reward you need to complete your plan. Then you must decide on an alternate plan. There are good decisions to be made, but they are made more on a turn-by-turn basis than over the longer arc of the game.

Legendary Inventors often feels like a game of making the most out of what you get rather than a deep strategy game. Adaptability is key. There’s nothing wrong with that and in a game this light and family-friendly, it feels appropriate. It gives kids and others who don’t understand the nuances of deep strategy a chance to compete. Just be aware that if you’re looking for something to give your strategy muscles a workout, this probably isn’t going to do it.

Legendary Inventors - Books
The rules, the biographies, and Leonardo. Again.

That said, Inventors doesn’t masquerade as a heavy game. Turns are quick and there’s not much to induce AP. There are several ways to earn points in the game, so you don’t have to dominate any one area or perfect a single strategy to rack up points. This is especially true at lower player counts. With three players or less, you’re guaranteed a reward as long as you have even one cube on an invention. (There are 3 rewards per invention: Two tokens and the invention itself.) If you don’t get to choose first you may not get what you want, but you’ll get something. And with fewer people competing for spots, it’s easier to achieve the majority position on an invention. If your opponent is throwing all their cubes on to one or two inventions, you can throw yours on other inventions without much competition.

At higher player counts, it is possible to come away with nothing. I would argue that your decisions are more important with four and five players because you have to know when you have no chance at a reward and when you might still be able to make a push a squeak in there. How badly do you need that reward and how hard do you push to get it, knowing that if you try and fail, you’ve wasted actions that would have bene better spent elsewhere? It feels like more is at stake during your turn, something you don’t get at the lower player counts. And it’s harder to achieve a majority because more people are competing for the inventions. Unless the invention you want is just something no one else wants, you’re going to have plenty of cubes to contend with and it’s going to be more difficult to know whether you’ve got a lock on position until the last cube goes down.

This gives the game a “split personality.” At lower player counts it’s a friendlier yet less exciting game. This makes it great for playing with kids or people who don’t like screwage in their games. However, you lose that feeling of, “My decision here really matters.” Yes, your decisions still matter, even with just two, but knowing that you’re going to come away with something or that you can pretty easily take control of a different invention reduces the fear of failure. On the other hand, with fewer players you’re better able to see what your opponents are going for and try to counteract them. It’s possible to swoop in late and take that invention that they so clearly wanted, so it feels a bit more strategic at lower player counts.

Legendary Inventors - Inventors
There are plenty of famous people to play with.

At higher player counts, you get the sense that a mistake can be costly and it’s exciting to see how the invention turns out, but it comes at the cost of knowing that someone may walk away with nothing. If your group likes that, and if you like games where taking a risk may not pay off, then the 4 or 5 player games are truly tense and exciting. However, it’s harder to suss out a strategy with more people because the game state changes so much by the time your turn comes around again that it’s harder to hone in on what your opponents are doing and counteract them.

All that said, I enjoyed Legendary Inventors once I figured out exactly what kind of game I was dealing with. It’s a light game with some area control elements, but not what I would call true area control. It’s a good introduction to basic mechanism though, so if you need to teach someone the core idea of area control/area majority, this is a good game to start with.

Overall, while it definitely leans toward the lighter side of the spectrum, there are enough decisions to keep people involved throughout the game. It just may not be enough for hard-core gamers who want a game that builds to a satisfying conclusion rather than an abrupt and unfulfilling end. Whether or not you’ll enjoy the experience more at a lower or higher player count is a matter of taste and your play group.

It’s a fine filler or family game and something that even non-gamers can understand pretty quickly, even if it takes a game or two for the “Ah-ha” moment to hit where they understand exactly how everything works together. The educational value is excellent, even for adults who might have missed many of these names in school. If you can live with the lightness and the ending that seems to come just as things are getting good, it’s definitely worth a try. 

iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Asmodee/Bombyx for providing us with a review copy of Legendary Inventors. 

 

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Summary

Pros

Good intro to basic area control principles.
Educational theme and materials, lots of inventors to choose from.
Female scientists/inventors!
Very simple to learn and play, but with some interesting decisions to make.
Short play time.

Cons

Experiences are vastly different at various player counts.
Light, with no sense of progression; abrupt ending.
Occupies an odd space between family game/filler and "main course" game.

7.0 Good

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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