Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Michael Menzel


No. of Players:
1 - 4

G@mebox Star



Entering dungeons and slaying vicious monsters has been a favourite pastime for generations of gamers, and classic games like Heroquest, Talisman or Warhammer Quest are still fondly remembered by gamers like me who have got their adolescence well behind them. You could spend hours moving miniatures and rolling dice in combat, with your goal just being the ultimate survivor or - if played as a group - cleaning the dungeon / wood / castle of all evil monsters. However, despite the seemingly endless joy generated by these games at their high time, there was always one factor which was less pronounced than in other boardgames. This factor was strategy, since in most cases the players strongly depended on having a lucky hand in rolling the dice and much less in any active decisions they could make.

With the release of Legends of Andor it becomes clear that author and illustrator Michael Menzel shares a general fondness of fantasy boardgames, but as it seems he must have embarked on the creation of this game with the aim to create a game where players' decisions really count for something. There were always some unsuccessful tries to reach this aim in the aforementioned games by including missions or quests, but in the end such new elements never could satisfy players who were looking for something with a bit more playing depth. Keeping this thought in mind, Michael Menzel went on to give the classic fantasy boardgame a full overhaul, placing a tactically orientated mechanism at the core of his new game and enriching this new mechanism with heroes and elements of combat known in similar form from other games.

Of course, the kingdom of Andor as displayed on the gameboard is full of interesting places, and during the course of the game monsters will appear on the board and wait for restless heroes with a lust for slaying. However, "waiting" is not the right term in this context, since the monsters actually move on the gameboard. During a round of play (a "day"), each player can spend a total of 7 hours for actions with his hero, and when all players have done their actions the round comes to its end. At the dawn of the new day all monsters on the gameboard will be moved, and this movement follows a specific pattern as prescribed by region numbers and little arrows on the gameboard. Ultimately all monsters will move towards the Royal Castle, and when a certain amount of monsters has reached the castle the kingdom will fall and the players will have lost the game.

So, the players need to slay some monsters after all in order to prevent the sacking of the castle, but why not just slay all monsters and call it a day? Here the figure of the Storyteller comes into the game, and he is represented by a pawn which is moved on a story track displayed on the gameboard. Whenever a new day breaks, and whenever a monster is slain, the Storyteller moves one step forwards on the story track, and when the Storyteller reaches the last space of the track the game will come to its end. At that time the players must have performed some specific deeds as prescribed by their currently played adventure (defeat a certain boss-monster, bring something to the Royal Castle etc.), and if these goals have not been reached the players will have lost as well. So, as can be seen, Legends of Andor puts the players to a general challenge of balancing their actions against the passing of time. If they take too long for performing the tasks of their current adventure, or if they slay too many monsters, the game will be over.

However, the story track does not just serve as a method for keeping the passing of time. As indicated, the players embark upon a specific adventure, and this adventure is outlined on a number of Legend cards which will be placed at hand during setup of the game. One or two of these Legend cards usually will be read to set out the scenario when the game begins, but the later cards will be triggered either by a movement of the storyteller or by specific situations. Thus, these cards only will be revealed when the triggering circumstances have arrived, and at that point the freshly revealed card usually will bring new factors into the game. Thus, the revealing of a new Legend card may bring new monsters or even a new subplot which also must be completed by the players in order to win the game.

The game includes a total of five different Legends, and this might bring up the question whether the replay value drops after all Legends have been solved. However, Michael Menzel also found a possibility to get around this obstacle, and so he included some factors which should guarantee a high playing value even if all Legends have been solved. One of these factors is a deck of event cards which may change some situations in the game, but even more important is the fact that Legends "3" and "5" effectively serve as semi-randomized "playing modes" with some factors changing from one game to the next (monsters appearing at different places, different kinds of playing aids not being available to the players etc.). So, while the other Legends give the players a possibility to learn the game on a step-by-step base, these two Legends form the "full" and "advanced" game which can be played repeatedly. However, it must be conceded that new Legends certainly pose an even higher incentive to play again, and so it should be hoped that additional Legends may be released if the basic game is appreciated by the audience of gamers.

As indicated earlier, the game is positioned on more traditional grounds concerning the players' heroes and combat against the monsters. Combat is solved by rolling dice, with the number of dice depending on the Willpower of the involved heroes and the attacked monster. In addition, both the heroes and the monsters add their Strength values to the highest results of their dicerolls, and then both results will be compared against each other. The lesser result will be substracted from the higher result, and the difference will be the number of Willpower points the monster or the heroes loose. Less willpower may result in less dice for the following round of combat, and a monster is defeated when its Willpower drops to zero. The players' heroes cannot die, but a hero who has lost all Willpower looses one Strength and regains just a meagre amount of three Willpower in exchange for this.

Returning to the crucial element of time, the player actions of movement and combat are focused on the consumption of time. It costs one hour to move a hero from one region to the next, but the hero then can deal freely with any events or items found in the new region. However, it costs once again one hour for each participating hero to conduct one combat round against a monster. As time is limited, the players have to think really carefully how to use an upcoming day with high efficiency, since the game is constructed in a way to pose a formidable challenge to the players. This means that only a few hours may be lost for uneffective actions, since otherwise the Storyteller-"clock" would tick down too fast. The players must act as a group in the best interest of the group, and this means that they should discuss their plans at least once at daybreak. Younger players with an urge to go and kill the monsters may find this discussion a bit unnerving, but it's nonetheless the key to have a chance of winning.

Michael Menzel really succeeded in his primary goal - players' decisions are important in Legends of Andor, and good decision-making decides about winning or loosing. However, despite the fact that the players only spend time for movement and combat, the decision-making process is much more diversified because a number of factors has to be taken into account:

  • Which items of equipment should be bought?
  • Should an item be used at a specific situation?
  • Should a hero overdraw his daily limit of seven hours, thus allowing additional actions but costing two Willpower per hour?
  • Which hero is best to perform a specific task due to his special ability?
  • Should the Royal Prince figure be moved in order to help in combat?
  • Should the players collect the Runestones to increase the combat capabilities of one hero?

These are just examples of the options available to the players, and in most cases the players' decision on each of these options really counts for something. In traditional adventure games such things happened rather incidentally, with the players following a general "the stronger - the better" doctrine, but in Legends of Andor there will always be the question whether the usefulness of a specific action really justifies the time it costs. However, the list of available options is not long enough for the players to lose themselves in endless discussions, and so the whole process of decision making is still resolved in an enjoyable fashion. And, in the end, there is still an element of luck included, since the players have to roll the dice in combat. While their chances of success can be increased through equipment or ganging up on bigger monsters, there is still a slight chance of failure if everything goes wrong.

So far Michael Menzel was best known as a highly skilled illustrator who has worked on quite a few different games in recent years, but with the release of Legends of Andor the situation has changed dramatically. He has given the whole genre of fantasy games an urgently needed overhauling, introducing some strategic elements to a purely dice-dominated domain. However, the artist in Michael Menzel also was able to enjoy himself in the design of Legends of Andor, and so the artwork on all components is nothing short of "perfect"! A loving eye was given to every little detail, including double-sided male/female character boards, figures with different front- and backsides, extra artwork on some Legend cards etc.. And as if all this would not be enough, even the gameboard is double sided, showing the Kingdom of Andor on front and the Dwarven Mines on the backside. A rather different playing style is required there, since the players have to follow the caverns and track down a sorcerer. What else could a dedicated fantasy player whish for?

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany