“Band Together. Forge the Fantasy. Live the Legend.” That’s the text found at the bottom of the Legends of Andor box and it really sums up how it feels to play the game. Being equal parts theme and strategic puzzle solving, Legends of Andor packages tabletop adventure storytelling in a well-designed, accessible manner.
Legends of Andor is a little different from most board games I’ve played. Instead of distinctly feeling like either a euro game or an ameritrash game, it feels a lot like a role playing game. And that, for me, is a huge win. A story-driven adventure game, Legends of Andor strives to take you on a mythical journey, delivering one chapter of your legend each gaming session. And it does this quite well. Beginning with an introductory quest (called Legends in the game), the game walks you through the entire first adventure, giving you a turn by turn, play by play, rundown that teaches you everything you need to know. In fact, the first Legend is designed so that you don’t have to read any of the rules. You simply set up the game and read the first Legend card. The Legend cards tell you everything you need to do. Some players may be a little put off by this, as they are used to reading the entire instruction manual before diving into a game, but Legends of Andor is designed to get your gaming group playing as fast as possible. The intro adventure does its job amazingly well.
Each time you play Legends of Andor, you’ll play a specific Legend, which corresponds to a set of Legend cards. All of the instructions for a given Legend are on the cards, from setup and possible new rules, to your goals and win conditions. This is an elegant system that essentially allows the game itself to take over the role of a storyteller/game master. A Legend track monitors the progress of the Narrator (the in-game storyteller), and will trigger Legend cards to be flipped, and on occasion will trigger certain other game effects as well.
On the surface, all of this feels like a fun adventure game. And it is. But underneath is a complex puzzle that must be solved in order to actually win the game. You will not be able to “hack and slash” your way to victory in Legends of Andor. In fact, going the “kill all the things” route will often lead to your premature demise. Legends of Andor is more elegant than that. And more frustrating. Successfully completing a Legend is no walk in the park, you are a hero after all, and your grit, determination, and prevailing against the odds is precisely what makes you a hero. But, it is a difficult journey and Legends of Andor makes you feel the struggle. Not everyone was cut out to be a hero after all.
At times, the puzzle aspect of Legends of Andor is paramount and it might be easy to focus solely on that and allow the story and theme to dissolve into the background. But the game does a good job of trying to reel you back in. For one thing, the Narrator will throw curve balls at you. There are plenty of plot hooks and story twists and they’ll jump out at you when you least expect them. This was rather refreshing and very enjoyable. The first time a plot twist is thrown at you, you really won’t see it coming. The Narrator does a darn good job of being a Dungeon Master.
Legends of Andor comes with a Quick-Start Guide, and a Reference Manual, along with an intro adventure. The introductory Legend, combined with the Quick-Start Guide, is all that you’ll need to get started and it does a fine job of getting you acclimated to the game. Containing lots of images and callouts, these reference materials are top notch.
There is a lot in the box. Really. With lots of dice, cardboard standies, individual player boards, and tokens a plenty, you are going to need a big table for this one. Everything is topnotch and the double sided game board is gorgeous. Did I forget to mention there is a dragon? There is a dragon!
While there is a decent amount of replay to be had, certainly much more than the price of admission, Legends of Andor isn’t a casual game. This isn’t the type of game that you’ll pull out at random when unexpected company comes over. A dedicated gaming group isn’t 100% necessary to move from Legend to Legend, but like Tragedy Looper or T.I.M.E Stories, you’ll at least want seasoned players that are familiar with the game. And, as with the above games, it isn’t super fun to play the same scenario multiple times. Because the game is unforgiving, to the point where one wrong move might cost you the game, you’ll probably end up replaying at least one Legend multiple times.
There are a few rules in Legends of Andor that will remind you that you are playing a board game and not an honest storytelling adventure game. Sometimes, these rules will seem rigid and unnecessary and might get in the way of the story you want to tell. This is when you have to keep in mind that Legends of Andor is in fact a board game and the rules have to be a certain way. However, most of the time the balance between theme and mechanics is well struck and serves to keep players engaged. The game is challenging though. You will need to give thought to your actions. It might take playing a few times before the puzzle aspect of the game clicks and you start strategically doing things that, as a hero, might seem wrong or at least un-heroic. The board and bits are really nice; you can even place a shield, helmet, falcon, or bow on your character portrait and your character looks like they are actually using those items. The entire system is really neat and feels like an old school computer rpg gave birth to a board game. Legends of Andor is enjoyable and will certainly keep you on your toes.