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The Legends Have Returned! (A Review of Legends of Andor)

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“The King’s ambassadors can hardly believe their eyes. Prince Thorald has finally returned and has managed to gather the bravest heroes in all of Andor.”

So begins your first legend in the cooperative fantasy adventure epic game that is Legends of Andor. Your quests will take you far across the countryside, into territories unknown and mysterious realms, bringing you face-to-face with monsters, mystics, and treasure, all in the hopes that you will succeed and go down in history as one of the Legends… of Andor.

Your quest begins here.

How It Plays

In Legends of Andor, players take on the roles of up to four heroes–the Warrior, the Archer, the Wizard, and the… Dwarf? Yep, apparently Dwarf is a profession. First, players must choose which legend they wish to face–there are five written Legends that tell a continuous overarching epic tale, with a sixth set of legend cards for creating your own legend, and hints of downloadable legends from the internet.

Each legend has a series of steps to prepare the game, which involves placing monsters and items in various places across the board. These legend cards also include background story to set up the scene and the goals of the legend.

Epic.

In general, the game is divided in to rounds. Each round, players have up to seven hours (for each character) to spend performing actions. (Actually, the maximum is ten hours, but players must sacrifice health, called “Willpower,” to go beyond seven). There really are only three different actions: moving, fighting, and waiting.

Waiting is simply that–waiting for another player to get into position. Fighting is what you do to destroy monsters on the board. Movement is how you get around the board.

You can do a number of other things as well, however. You can pick up objects wherever you stop and drop them wherever you need to. You can drink from wells to replenish your health. You can shop at the merchant’s store to buy weapons and equipment and improve your strength score. You can explore the foggy banks of the river in hopes of scoring some gold, but you might encounter a monster or an unknown event, or even the witch (who is actually a neutral character offering a valuable potion).

The goals of each legend are different, but you usually have to defend the castle and prevent it from being overrun, while pursuing other goals. In one case you’ll be retrieving a medicinal herb to save the king’s life, in another you’ll be searching for an evil wizard as well as the key (as in, the method, not an actual key) to destroying him.

Obstacles In your path are monsters and quickly dwindling time limits. In addition to the limited hours per day, a legend track moves forward quickly, and when it reaches the end of the track, the game ends. If the monsters overrun the castle or you fail to reach your goals when the legend track reaches the end, you lose the game. Complicating this is that whenever you defeat a monster, it causes the Legend track to move forward.

Also complicated: Skralls in fortresses, Dragons.

Fortunately there are many tools at your disposal, from the aforementioned herbs to boost your abilities, to bows, shields, armor, water flasks, and witches’ brews to protect you and increase your battle efficiency, the occasional NPC ally, and magical rune stones to make your attacks much stronger.

Combat is pretty simple. You have a number of dice based on your willpower level. You roll the dice, choose the highest number, add it to your strength, take into account any boosts you might have (such as  witches’ brews, which doubles your roll, or the helmet, which lets you add doubles together for one score). Then, someone rolls the dice for the monster being fought. Whoever totals the lowest, loses the difference in rolls in willpower. Each round costs one hour, and the battle lasts till the player retreats or someone hits 0 willpower. (Players pay a penalty and are revived if they are killed; no player elimination here).

Each action can take one or more hours, depending on how far you move or how many rounds it takes to kill a monster. Players take turns with one action at a time until they decide to take no more actions and instead go to sleep. When all players go to sleep, the round ends. At this time, all of the monsters move toward the castle, an event card is drawn (which can be bad or good), and the legend track advances.

Over the course of the game, as the legend tracker advances, you will ‘unlock’ additional legend cards, which describe additional goals and deepen the backstory. If you complete all the goals in time, you win! And you can move on to the next legend. If you fail, you fail, and though nothing physically restricts you from moving on, you really should defeat each legend before tackling the next. I mean, c’mon!

Oh, and finally, each character has a special ability, and character boards are double-sided but identical on each side except for gender, so any character can be male or female. Which is cool; no longer do you have to choose between the stout dwarf with the battle axe and the female character.

Hey, we uh, we heard there was a legend to go down in…?

The Legend of Futurewolfie’s Legend of Andor

I got this game as a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife. Actually, we bought it for each other; she prefers cooperative games, and I won’t say no to an epic fantasy setting. When I picked Legends of Andor up from a local gaming store, I noticed on the back a lot of colorful pictures of the game components and a promise that quick-start rules would get you into the game and playing almost immediately. Okay, I said to myself, let’s put this game to the test.  I’m not going to read any rules beforehand, and we’re just going to jump into it and see what happens.

The first thing I noticed when I finally opened the box was that, wow, there certainly are a lot of components.  Gems, rune stones, mysterious herbs, potions, weapons… the game had it all. How exciting! What’s this, a DRAGON? Awesome! Sure, there were no miniatures in the box, but the cardboard standups are beautifully rendered.

The board itself is respectably large and also beautifully detailed. One thing was for sure; this game was easy on the eyes. The art was top notch across the board (pun!). The huge board was a real estate hog on the table, but given the epic nature of fantasy, it seemed only appropriate in this case.

In the most surprising turn of events ever, I pulled out the quick start rules, and… well, got started pretty quickly. After reading a short paragraph and doing some minor setup on the board, we had our characters in play, and it took only about five minutes. The first legend included was an introductory legend, sort of like the tutorial level at the start of every video game. First, it taught us movement, and spending hours to do so, and exploring the foggy areas to find prizes. Helpful tokens were placed on the board which detailed the effects of certain elements–the fog, the wells–only when we encountered them. We finished the first page and moved on to the next; we had to do a little more setting up, but then we learned combat. A helpful tableau on the back of the Merchant board kept the instructions easily accessible while we took a few turns slaying Gors, which from what I can tell are basically just hump-backed orcs.

These introductory-legend-only tokens teach specific elements of the game when you encounter them, and not before.

Okay, so I wouldn’t exactly call legend 1 an exciting adventure, but it did get us playing quickly, and taught us the rules without having to study a rulebook. Well played, game. Well played. I did have to reference the front page of what is more of a reference booklet than a rules booklet, the page that lists all the components and what they are called. Because, did I mention there are a significant number of tokens?

I can’t remember if we had time to play another game immediately, but whether it was that evening or the next day, we jumped into legend 2 shortly thereafter. Each legend has its own setup, detailed via a series of legend cards. But certain legend cards are only revealed when you reach a certain point on the legend track. This allows the game to introduce rule details exactly when they are needed. So, in legend 2, we learned the details of buying stuff at the merchant shop. We had to recover a medicinal herb to save the dying king while fighting an onrushing hoard of monsters, preventing them from getting into the castle. Classic fantasy plot, but who cares? We’re familiar with all the tropes, but this time we get to be a part of them. Okay, some of the names are a little silly. Rietberg Castle? I’m not even sure how to pronounce that, but however you do, it sounds ridiculous. Oh well.

My wife pointed out that this felt a lot like a Legend of Zelda game. It’s true; you’ve got heroes questing across the countryside, retrieving items for people. You’ve got a merchant shop where you can buy upgrades in the form of weapons, armor, and potions. And there are somewhat rupee-looking gems hidden across the map. It is a bit videogame-y. I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard the designer took inspiration from there.

Here’s the merchant shop, where you can buy useful items. It’s dangerous to go alone…

We haven’t defeated all the Legends yet, but each one increases in challenge and complexity over the previous one. Our current quest… well, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s probably my favorite quest so far, though.

The more I think about it, the more I like playing Legends of Andor. Once you get going, play is streamlined, combat is simple but exciting, and the goals of each legend are interesting and present different obstacles. Everything requires cooperation, because you have to complete your goals before the castle is overrun, but you can’t spend all your time defending the castle or you’ll run out of time and opportunity to complete your quests.

It’s not a perfect system. The non-random nature of enemy movement means that certain setups (the setups are semi-randomized) could make it impossible to win. If there are too many monsters that are too close to the castle, you will lose. This is a twofold issue: one, when monsters are bunched up, they move much faster.  Two monsters cannot share a space, so if one monster would move into another monster’s space, it skips over that space to the next.  This can result in monsters hop-skipping over each other very very quickly.

The other fold is that each time you kill a monster, not only do you use the hours of the day it takes to defeat that monster, but it forces the legend track an extra space forward. When you combine that with the hop-skipping movement, you will either watch the monsters overrun the castle very quickly or try to defeat monsters, and you’ll have to kill so many the legend will quickly reach the end of the track. I haven’t played so much as to determine how often these unfortunate setups happen on a statistical scale, but almost every cooperative board game out there has that ugly setup that kills you quickly with no chance of fending it off. There is, however, another issue with Legends of Andor that worsens the effect of the failed game, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

And the dead do pile up…

The nature of killing monsters and moving the legend track creates a sort of weird disconnect between mechanisms and theme. Thematically, heroes should be killing as many monsters as they can, especially the most powerful ones, to protect the castle. Mechanically, it is far more efficient to kill the weaker monsters, which you can overwhelm quickly with less risk and spend fewer hours to defeat, and allow the biggest monsters–the trolls–into the Castle. The only real benefit to defeating trolls is that you get more immediate rewards–gold and willpower–for the bigger monsters, but you’re going to need to team up to defeat them, so you’ll be avoiding them in two-player games.

In a way, this mechanism is a decent way to force the players to deal with their goals, and not just sit around fighting monsters until they clear the board. I might prefer it if you could kill more monsters and there were just more on the board to deal with, but the mechanism in play isn’t broken. It does have the distinct effect of increasing the urgency of your long-term quest, and it also keeps the game moving along at a nice clip.

The other weird thematic/mechanical disconnect is that of strength points. Being a game of efficiency, it makes the most sense to send one player off to the markets to buy equipment and send it to everyone else. This is not the disconnect–the disconnect is that you buy strength points at the merchant shop as well, and it is most efficient to have that one player get all the strength points for his or her self. You end up having one (maybe two) really strong character and the rest much weaker. Again, it’s not bad mechanically, and players will end up working together to defeat the big guys anyways, but it’s just a little strange thematically.

Fog is very eventful, but you might stumble on useful items or the Witch and her brew or some monsters to fight.

Did I mention that players can team up to fight monsters? I really like that. One of the most frustrating things about, say, Arkham Horror, is the inability to team up with another player to take on a particularly strong enemy. In Andor, everybody can participate in taking down that troll or defeating the skrall in the fortress. That part of the game is quite fun, and it makes you feel like a band of heroes, not just random people wandering around the wilderness who happen to have similar goals.

The one major flaw in this game is a very frustrating one, and it tends to highlight the other, minor flaws. You may have noticed that I used the phrase “playing Legends of Andor.” I chose my words carefully, because it’s the playing that’s the fun part. Unfortunately, before the playing comes the setup, and afterward you have to put it all I way.

I think I mentioned that there are a lot of components. I also mentioned that this felt sort of like a video game. In a video game, the computer handles all the random monsters, hiding rupees and gems in bushes, and all that jazz. In Andor, you have to set it up yourself. It is not a very quick setup. You’ve got to get out all the tokens you need, sort them, shuffle them face-down, remove one, and then randomly place them by rolling dice, shuffle monster tokens and draw a few to place some monsters, then place farmers, place allies, place… well, you get the idea. It’s fairly tedious.

Once you get through these 5 cards, your’re ready to start playing a legend!

Actually, it wouldn’t even be so bad, except for the one component flaw in the game–the numbering system on the board is absolutely nonsensical. At first it seems like the numbers are spiraling outward from the castle, and for the most part this is true. But the spiral breaks down when you hit the edge of the board, and there is no logical system to where each number is found next. On top of that, some numbers are in totally random places.

Since there is no pattern it is really hard to remember where all the numbers are, which means you can’t get into a flow of quickly rolling and placing items. Unlike Flash Point, which has a logical grid you can easily get into your head, you’ll spend a lot of time just looking for where to place the items you need to place. That’s why it takes so long to set up. Now, the numbers are designed to work for the game–that random 72 next to the 24 is designed to be a safe haven (which makes sense, but I won’t go into details), and the pattern of numbers is used to create simple movement algorithms for certain boss monsters.  But the system is not good enough to justify the setup time.

So that leaves me with a game I love to play but loathe to set up. When you have a bad setup and lose quickly, it is a ton of work to clear all the tokens, sort them, reshuffle, and replace them if you want to play again. Unlike Pandemic or Flash Point, which can reset pretty quickly, it takes a lot of willpower to lose quickly and want to play again immediately.

In fact, at one point we simply stopped playing the game until we got ourselves a nice Plano box to organize all the bits. This helps speed setup, as baggies simply add to the time–you’ve either got to open up twenty baggies or sort all the pieces if you use fewer, large baggies. Setup is still slow, but it’s bearable to get started.

Efficient storage is a necessity, but you’ll have to add it yourself.

I want to talk about the good stuff again. Legends of Andor is certainly a very good game; it offers glorious and epic adventure in an exciting fantasy realm, has streamlined playing mechanisms, and has clever and unique goals for each legend. The setup time is lengthy, but once you get through it, you’ll have a ball of a time. I highly recommend investing in small plastic storage with dividers to keep everything organized (the box insert, which is practically nonexistent, seems to be expecting you to add something of your own). The components are good, the art is wonderful, the playtime is pleasantly long enough without being too long (45-70min of playing.This does not include setup/takedown). The story is filled with classic fantasy tropes, but it is fun and interesting, and the game includes a set of legend cards that are blank so you can make up your own legend(s) if you wish. While there are a couple thematic-mechanical disconnects, the game is enjoyable to play, pleasant to look at, and tells a good story along the way.

Summary

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros

  • Rich thematic world
  • Wonderful art and components
  • Male and female versions of each hero
  • Rules fairly streamlined, especially for an epic fantasy game
  • Quick start rules actually work

Cons

  • Some mechanical disconnect with the theme
  • Long setup/takedown time
8.0 Very Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion5 Comments

  1. wow i’m pretty new to the hobby but I’m actually kinda interested in trying this out. It seems to be greatly inspired by video games from the tutorial to the way teaching is done progressively to the theme itself

    • Welcome to the hobby! Hopefully you’ve seen our Guide to Gaming, which should give you lots of advice to help you get started, help you understand most of the terms we throw around, and find great games you’ll enjoy! You can find them here if you haven’t seen ’em already: http://www.islaythedragon.com/p/guides.html

      Best thing I can tell you real quick is, if a game looks appealing, try it out! You might be able to get a taste of the game at a local gaming store, if you have one available. And if you like it you can buy it right there!

  2. I have a seven year old daughter who likes zelda a lot. I’ve considered getting mice and mystics, but after this reveiw (especially after the comment from your wife about the game feeling like the legend of zelda) i am considering this game instead. Do you think a seven year old will be able to play this game? Is it too complicated?

    Thanks

    • Since it’s a cooperative game it is highly likely that you could play with your daughter. You could take care of the setup which is where all the complicated stuff lies, and the playing mechanisms are generally pretty simple – you move, you pick up stuff, you attack. Especially if she has played Zelda games, the things she can do will make sense to her, and you’ll be able to help clarify rules and do math if she needs any help with that.

      In short, yes I think you could play this game with a 7-yr-old. I think you could have a lot of fun with it. (Let me know if you try it out and succeed)

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