Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games (FFG)
When Legends of Andor first came out, I was a bit surprised and skeptical that a highly prolific and successful illustrator could design a Euro game, much less in the fantasy genre. Euros are known more for their wheat, wood and brick and much less for their swords and dragons. Without much of a background or history in game design, I did not expect Menzel’s initial foray in board game design to amount to much. That also explains why the Legends of Andor remained in my periphery for 7 long years after publication even though I was aware the game was well-received by many quarters. Well in short, I can eat crow, or any humble pie that you might want to shove down my throat. I gleefully admit that I am wrong, very wrong. In fact, Legends of Andor is a unique and innovative design that tries, and is successful, in incorporating the story telling richness that defines the fantasy genre from North American designers with the streamline gaming mechanics found in Euro games.
Oddly enough, my admiration for Legends of Andor came about precisely because I was searching for a high-fantasy themed board game that captures the epic swashbuckling heroism of a bunch of adventurers without all the bells and whistles that normally comes with it. By that, I meant the traditional roleplaying min/maxing of character attributes, skills, looting, leveling, etc. To be clear, I really enjoyed role playing in my college days and the “bells and whistles” of role playing is what makes D&D truly immersive and mind-blowing . There is nothing compared to a competent and creative Dungeon Master leading a mish-mash team of adventurers with dubious alignments and agendas deep into the dungeon to steal from a Beholder. But I digress…. Back to the present day, many board gamers (us included) are time-starved and lack the capacity for extended, multi-day game play. Moreover, the composition of some gaming groups are diverse: Not every one shares a similar level of appreciation for sword and sorcery, much less reading elaborate card texts filed with skill checks, attribute modifiers or hit points.
Enter Legends of Andor to fill the gap. In Legends, players each control a familiar character in the form or a warrior, wizard, etc. There only two attributes for the characters: willpower as hit points and strength to aid in combat. Players move around a board with fixed, numbered locations performed three basic actions: move, fight or wait. That’s it. All other actions are free action. There are a total of 7 hours in a day and 3 additional hours in the night to perform actions. Night time actions are costly and exhausting as it saps additional will power points. Characters then decide in turn order how best to move, do battle and accomplish the mission. Combat is a simple, no-frills affair of rolling dice in different configurations based on character class and adding strength. For example, warriors roll 3-4 dice simultaneously while the archer roll dice sequentially and choosing which dice to stop. Only the highest die roll is selected in each case and added to your strength for a final combat score. A difference in combat total between you and your opponent is then subtracted from willpower. Reducing the willpower to zero effectively eliminates the opponent. Moreover, the game seem to encourage team battles where several players gang up on an enemy to take it down. This elegant solution to combat really simplify things and more importantly, takes the focus off battles and shifts the attention to problem solving. The meat of the game thus lies in solving the puzzle as outlined by the legend. This is definitely the Euro essence of Andor. As the game progresses, legend cards are flipped over and the story unfolds. Players are then in a race for time to finish the quest before the in-game legend track comes to an end. The legend track moves one spot at the end of each day and also when an enemy is killed. That’s right, killing an enemy works against you and accelerates the end game. Therefore, wanton massacre of monsters is strictly frowned upon. This rule is just an amazing solution to those who love to hack and slash their way across the board: you cannot run amok on the board and use violence to solve all problems. This also means if you love killing monsters, Andor is likely not for you. Players really need to collaborate with team mates to solve the quests before the game ends. The game is won when the quest is fulfilled before the legend track is exhausted. Alternatively, the game can also be lost if the castle is invaded by enough roving monsters on the board which moves in a pre-programmed manner at the end of each day. Apart from that, the game allows players to upgrade equipment or buy potions from Merchants or the Witch. To simplify purchases, each item costs 2 gold. That’s it. There are a total of 5 legends in the core game and the two sided board features a rolling country side surrounding Reitburg castle as well as an underground cavern for specific legends.
I can’t rave enough about Andor after my initial play. I could still be wrong and the game may turn out to be boring, but I doubt it. Andor essentially serves a niche for Euro gamers who occasionally enjoy fantasy games yet cannot afford to sink long hours in RPGs’ or elaborate multi-session story-driven board games such as Descent or Gloomhaven. No doubt, those games are great on their own and have their rabid fan base. I have played Descent and loved it, but it is definitely not for everyone. Legends of Andor is perfect for those who want an immersive evening battling monsters with the options for continuing the adventure the next day with minimal setup and overhead rules. While a part of me wishes there is character development between legends (i.e. leveling up of characters) so that you can feel emotionally attached to your hero, I don’t think this is feasible with Andor given the compact rule set. Since all heroes start with similar stats at the onset of each legend, the variety in game play must come from how the quests are structured and how the obstacles must be overcome. There needs to be enough tension in each legend such that players stare down at the abyss of failure only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Legends of Andor can provide enough excitement and hopefully, big epic moments with down-to-the-wire dice rolls to be memorable. If indeed Andor in 90 min can achieve what a 4 hour session of War of Ring accomplishes, then this game deserves a permanent space in my collection. Now…I just need to find the time to play em all.
Initial impressions: Great!