I am not the biggest fan of adventure games. I like them well enough, and if they have well-crafted miniatures in them, I’ll buy them (against better judgment), but they don’t capture me the same way a puzzley euro will. Which is why I was so incredibly happy to have found Legends of Andor – a game that bucks many of the issues I have with standard dice-based adventure games and produces a memorable and thematic gameplay experience alongside engaging, intellectually stimulating mechanics.
This is a game I’ve had my eyes on for some time, and for whatever reason never went in on. From the story of artist turned game designer, Michael Menzel, producing his first game and immediately winning the Kennerspiel des Jahr, to the multiple expansions released to critical acclaim over the last several years, I was always tempted, but only just recently had a chance to dive into the meat of Andor and its story-telling system.
I’m very glad I did, because what I found is a game that feels unlike anything else I’ve ever played, combining the best elements from across several genres of disparate mechanisms in new and exciting ways. It surprised me the same way Gloomhaven did, restructuring a family of game in a way that my euro-fueled brain instantly recognized and appreciated, and I’m excited to share that with you.
How Legends of Andor Plays
There are several pieces to Legends of Andor. The core game is packed with content and rich with interesting mechanisms, but you can expand it in one of three ways, including:
- New Heroes – Expands the game to 5-6 players
- The Star Shield – Provides new legends to expand the base game
- Journey to the North – Offers an entirely new map and set of legends for a new narrative
I’ve had the chance to play with all of these pieces, and am eagerly awaiting the newest release, The Last Hope, releasing this year in Germany, and hopefully very soon in the US. I’ll be referencing them throughout the review as I discuss the core game, as well as how it expands and other ways it can be played.
To start, though, we’ll look at the core game’s mechanisms which are consistent across all of its expansions and mini-expansions (of which there are many).
Legends of Andor has the shortest rulebook I’ve ever seen in a game like this. Just four pages long, the rulebook provides the basic information needed for setup and the first couple of turns of the game. The rest of the rules are taught by the Legend deck which guides you through a setup scenario which lasts only 1-2 turns, but shows all the basics, and then the first legend, which provides a bit more context for how to play, and how combat works.
The basic concept of the game is that you are adventurers working together to protect the land of Andor from an invading horde of monsters and evil creatures. To do this, you’ll go on a number of quests across the game’s five scenarios. The game is built around this narrative, and the simple, easy to grok system by which you uncover new cards and lay out the win conditions of each scenario. The narrative track is lettered from A-N and the narrator token moves along the track every time you reach the end of a day, or when you defeat a monster.
As the narrative track moves along, you unlock new cards, which have new game altering effects and events on them. The course of a day is broken up into hours. Each action you take with your hero uses up a number of these hours. Once you reach 7 hours, you must either rest, or spend willpower to go further, and by 10th hour, you are forced to rest.
Of course, if you spend too much willpower, you’ll have fewer dice available to spend for combat, so this needs to be balanced carefully.
The combat itself is very simple. Players will roll their dice, taking the highest single result and adding their strength modifier to it. They then roll the enemy dice and do the same, and subtract the difference from the loser’s willpower. Get the enemy to zero willpower and you defeat them.
But here’s the real trick of this game.
You can’t just go and fight everything that moves. Unlike most adventure games, which are really just about rolling dice, killing things, and finding treasure – forget the actual missions – this game forces you to be economical with everything you do. Kill too many monsters and the narrative track advances too far and you may lose before you’ve completed the end game conditions. Don’t kill enough monsters and they will overrun the castle (another possible loss condition). Ignore them completely and you won’t get the coins needed to purchase upgrades and augment your strength to take on bigger bad guys.
It’s a puzzle!
And I love it. The dice make it so there are not hard and fast solutions. The push your luck mechanic in combat that forces you to use up more time for every roll that doesn’t kill the enemy means you can have a tough few rolls and lose too much time to succeed without ignoring the monsters. The rest of the game is scripted to some degree so there are solutions to be had, but they depend heavily on those dice roll performances.
I can’t go into too much more without spoiling the narrative, which makes up such an integral part of the game, but let’s just say that this is one of the cleverest uses of resource restrictions in a game like this I’ve seen in a while, and I was instantly impressed.
The Legends of Andor Expansions
There are two new expansions coming for Legends of Andor this year, neither of which I’ve had a chance to play yet, but the currently available content is ample for my play group and solo experiences. If you’re interested in picking these up, it’s a good idea to look at it all together and determine which makes the most sense to add to your collection.
The Star Shield
The first official expansion for Legends of Andor, The Star Shield is a small box with a good chunk of new content. The new Legends are focused on trying to track down the Star Shield before it can fall into the wrong hands.
It comes with a bunch of very cool additions to the gameboard, including a siege tower, catapult, and dark temple (which uses some pieces from the base box), along with new monsters including elemental spirits, wolves, and more, two new characters, and 36 new legend cards.
This is definitely more of the same for people who have finished the core game and want more narrative. The story is just as engaging and the gameplay offers more depth, if not necessarily greater difficulty. It’s going to feel smooth and accessible after finishing the base box, but shouldn’t be too easy.
The New Heroes expansion is purely more content for expanding your play sessions. It comes with four new hero combinations, and has some rules additions and the pieces needed to play with up to 6 players.
Because there are more players, the creature boards added allow you to make the game a bit harder (or you can ramp things up for less than 6 players, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Journey to the North
Journey to the North is essentially a standalone expansion that introduces a new map, a new set of legends, and all new enemies. It uses the same core mechanics from the base game, but takes things to the open oceans instead of the countryside.
What makes Journey to the North a great expansion is that it enhances mechanics to increase the opportunity for combat – one of the few complaints I have about the core game. It also adds yet another new character option, can integrate with New Heroes to play with up to 6, and introduces the ship mechanic, which is a very cool addition.
I would recommend getting and playing the original first, but if you like that, this is a no brainer. It’s more of the greatness from the original, but with a new setting and new mechanisms.
What We Like about Legends of Andor
If I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now, I really like this game. It does everything that I want an adventure game to do. It weaves an interesting story, relies heavily on narrative, and provides finite scenarios you can play in 1-2 hours. It plays well across multiple players counts (with some difficult issues to consider), and it has a bunch of content in the box.
But on top of all that, it integrates a puzzle-driven system of monster paths, resource and time management, and narrative integration that makes it feel like a euro with the adventure components mixed in. I honestly can’t think of many games that do this. At least not very well. Mage Knight is probably the best euro-adventure game, and more recently, Gloomhaven has succeeded at marrying euro-style card driven mechanics and resource management with dungeon crawling, but a pure high fantasy adventure game? Not really.
Which is what makes Andor so much fun. It’s family friendly with elaborate, European high fantasy settings and beautiful artwork (courtesy of Menzel himself), and everything flows smoothly from the initial play through of the tutorial legend through to the final, brutally difficult legend (for those that make it there).
The ability to integrate new content, scale out with new characters, and the small touches like gender-swapping heroes so there isn’t an imbalance, and clever use of three dimensional cardboard components all combine to create a fantastic production.
What We Don’t Like About Legends of Andor
As much as I adore this game, I won’t say that it’s a perfect adventure game. Jason doesn’t like the game at all, and I think it’s good to bring up why that is. The bits that get me excited – trying to puzzle out the exact use of resources to achieve a certain goal, can diminish the theme to some degree.
You’ll frequently manipulate your characters into odd paths to get around monsters all to get a certain point where you can pick up a potion or a talisman to complete the quest. While it makes sense for attrition to be part of the game, the fact that you don’t want to kill monsters because of how much time it uses up (moving the narrative track along), can be frustrating at times.
The feeling that there are hard and fast solutions for each of the Legends can be frustrating too, especially if you roll really poorly early on and feel like you may as well reset and start over. It’s rare, but it can happen. Finally, there’s the player counts. They are all balanced out and you should be able to beat any Legend with 2-4 players, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy and there takes a different mindset to make it happen depending on which count you’re on. It’s something to watch for if you’re playing solo or with your spouse.
The Bottom Line
The Legends of Andor is one of the best adventure games I’ve ever played. The dice are important, but so too are the movements, which monsters you take out, and which ones you ignore. The game rewards almost every action you take, and can punish those you shouldn’t take or don’t bother with. It’s that integration of puzzle-like mechanics to drive a narrative, alongside a beautiful presentation by Menzel that is both stark and family friendly that creates a system I’m happy to have, and even happier to see being expanded with new releases.
If you are a fan of adventure games and not too much of a stickler for theme integration and story originality, this is a game to check out. If you’ve avoided adventure games because they get too samey and are often just “roll…move…fight” games, then this may solve that for you as it did for me. One of my favorites pick ups of the last year and a must play for anyone in either of those camps.