Review: Legends of Andor + New Heroes + The Star Shield
|Release Date||2012 Fantasy Flight Games Edition 2015 KOSMOS Edition|
Designer: Michael Menzel
Artist: Michael Menzel
Category: Adventure, Fantasy, Fighting, Puzzle
Players: 1-4 (1-6 with New Heroes Expansion)
Price: $49.99 Amazon
Legends of Andor was originally published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2012, now reprinted by KOSMOS in 2015. Andor has many a promo card, but also features a 5-6 player expansion, and a mini expansion: The Star Shield. Journey to the North is Andor’s big box expansion, and sometime in 2017 KOSMOS will print another small box expansion, titled: Dark Heroes. Designer Michael Menzel won the Kennerspiel Des Jahres in 2013 for Legends of Andor, and has also done the artwork for his game.
Thames and Kosmos is a science kit and board games publisher, with KOSMOS being the branch specifically for board gaming. KOSMOS has long published many games, including Reiner Knizia’s Through the Desert, Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, and the original printing of The Settlers of Catan.
More recently KOSMOS has published a number of children’s and puzzle games, including Harry Hopper, Kerala, Ubongo, and many more. In addition, KOSMOS publishes a number of hobby/strategy titles, including Imhotep, Tumult Royale, Kahuna, Lost Cities, and the upcoming A Column of Fire.
Legends of Andor has a lot of fantasy combat with typical fantasy-themed weaponry. Mages will use spells, orc-like creatures will eat humans and try to storm the castle, things like that. There isn’t much in terms of visible violence, with it all being implied through rolling dice or reading cards.
Legends of Andor is a cooperative fantasy puzzler, where players select classes and trail-blaze into varying scenarios, each of which offers a variety of timed challenges.
Your first time opening the box is quite breathtaking, to be frank. It’s a heavy box with a lot of goodies inside. You’ll open the gigantic six-fold board and be greeted by a beautifully illustrated panorama of fantasy terrain. On one side sits a dreamy castle, surrounded by fields, and as you venture out further, a creek, dark woods, and a walkway towards a creepy cave. The other side of the board features an elaborate cavern and misty woods, with elf-like individuals sitting in tree tops.
No matter the side of the board you examine, a smattering of jumbled numbers and iconography are printed all over. The bottom of the board features enemy icons with dice for combat instruction. The side of the board has many letters and will detail the key events of each legend you take part in. Finally, the top manages the actions of the day each adventurer will take advantage of.
The Legends of Andor base game ships with five to six scenarios for players to journey through, containing an overarching story. Much like The Princess Bride, the quests of Legends of Andor are sort of recalled as an old tall tale or storybook, mostly because games will always be played differently, as players will decide unique routes to achieve victory.
I suppose I should back up a bit and explain how scenarios unfold.
When first playing Andor, players are taught the game through a series of short objectives. These are all told through thick, descriptive tiles on the board, and also with the help of the legends deck. The legends deck is a set of cards printed exclusively for your specific scenario. These cards describe the storyline of Andor, determine where enemies and loot will spawn, and also introduce new mechanisms as the base game progresses. I like using these cards instead of a booklet, mostly because I find it very easy to read ahead in a book and spoil the outcome of events.
The narrative track on the far-right side of the board is the means by which the story is progressed. A narration marker will move forward a space on the track, with the game ending once it reaches the N space. Without spoiling too much, the N token can move closer to the marker, but typically, once the N is reached, the game ends, usually in a loss, unless the players can achieve their victory condition before that happens.
Andor is similar to dungeon crawlers because players are cooperatively rolling dice against hordes of enemies, but most unusual and distinctive from the genre because the game is never about slaying all of your foes. In fact, if you take the time to kill enemies and take their loot, you will lose every single game.
Objectives in Andor sometimes mean delivering quest-specific items to a space on the board without being hindered by an enemy. To do this, you’ll need to kill one enemy in particular, only for your character to safely pass by the hordes of foes. Other times, you’ll find a specific enemy needs to be killed in order to win the game. However, while preparing weapons and strength to defeat the foe, you have to stave off as many enemies as you can before the castle is overrun.
In Andor, timing is everything, and wisely pacing yourself is victory. In fact, it’s fair to say you’ll likely lose each scenario the first time you play it. There are so many unknown factors in Legends of Andor. You won’t know what the rune stones on the board do unless you can gather them before the narration marker reaches E. You won’t know where the enemy fort is until you’ve explored enough fog covered spaces, and by then, you definitely won’t have time to learn who the witch is, and what her potions do.
There is a level of excitement and mystique in revealing legends cards and discovering more of the game’s mechanisms, and why you’re doing what you’re doing. The blessing is a curse, however. There’s far less intrigue in rewatching a movie compared to the first time you watched it. You’ll never experience playing through Dark Souls again for the first time, and for those in the know, you’ll understand why the initial playthrough is so rich in story and confusion.
Sure, I love returning to the world FromSoftware created with Dark Souls, and I love rewatching The Godfather for things I’ve missed. With those things, I can just hit play, or launch Steam. With Legends of Andor, I need to schedule a game night with friends familiar to the title, and spend 30 minutes or more setting up the game again. I need to read through the legends cards, I need to roll dice to determine where certain items spawn, and I need to remember the order we did things previously, so as not to screw up again.
As aforementioned, seldom will you succeed on your first run of a scenario, so naturally, one should expect to play each scenario at least once or twice before winning. Yes, expect standing ovations and cheering when you win, but the game is difficult. There is nothing more frustrating than spending an evening together, only to lose yet again. I’m not calling on the game to be easier (though some cards will allow you the easier path), but I am warning you if this sounds frustrating to you, Legends of Andor might not be a game for you. To be fair, I’m also not hugely into most cooperative games, but I think the barrier to entry for Andor is high, and very worth taking into consideration before purchasing.
This isn’t to say the journey towards losing isn’t exciting. Each character has unique skills. Some pay less to upgrade their strength. The mage can flip over their own or another player’s die during combat. The archer can roll their combat dice one at a time, choosing their result, or pressing their luck for a higher roll. When players join together in combat, they all roll together, making their combined effort exceptional, compared to an individual attack. Enemies attack with reckless abandoned, combining their doubles, if rolled, but add strength to their rolling, just like players will.
These enemies move along the board using the numbering/arrow system printed over the fantasy landscape. Placing enemies can be confusing, as you’d think the 63 space would be near 62, but could be on opposite sides of the board. I want to gripe about the printed numbers for hours, but I realize it’s far more complicated than I understand, and must complement each of the 5 scenarios in order to make sense of the puzzle each game presents. This doesn’t make it okay, or reasonable, but it might add 10-15 more seconds each time the game tells you to place a monster or item.
For movement, however, enemies will simply move in turn order to the next space the arrow points to. This purposefully is designed to create congestion, and monsters cannot occupy identical spaces. This means that instead of not moving, a monster will jump over the monster in their way, usually pointing them to the castle, or key points in the cavern. It essentially lets the creature skip a turn, which is almost always a horrible thing for the team. It’s this endless calculation players find themselves in, taking extended breaks from their turns. You’ll attempt to decide how many enemies you can afford to let into the castle, and how many hours you can spend to kill just enough, because if you kill too many, you won’t have enough time to complete your main objective.
Players determine actions, which are almost always moving or attacking, by moving their disc along the time meter along the top of the board. Every space a player moves through will push the disc one space towards the right. Each combat session will cost an hour as well. This simulates the weariness of the adventurers. Only so much can be accomplished in one day. One player might spend their entire day riding out towards the forest to meet the merchant, where another spends half of their day in combat with a skrall. It’s wonderfully thematic. In Skyrim, or any other open world RPG, the world doesn’t end when you decide to take a break from the main quest to indulge in side quests and exploration. That always felt odd to me. In Legends of Andor, you’ll wish you had time to explore and upgrade stats, but you’ll never have the time to do it.
Andor also boasts incredible production quality. On top of the beautiful board art, players have large tableaus, detailing what they can equip, how many dice they can roll, and even which gender they choose to play as. KOSMOS has included additional standees for each class, depending on the gender you choose. It’s a nice touch, to be sure. Even the back sides of monster and player standees show the cloaks or muscular backs of each character. It’s minute details, but it matters. Most items can be used twice. Instead of leaving a marker on an item to show you’ve used it, you simply flip over the item tile, showing a worn out, or more destroyed item. Even a three-dimensional tower will be assembled for some missions. You can be sure you won’t feel let down by the quality of Legends of Andor.
Setup time is really a challenge here. I’ve mentioned how arduous the setup process can be, but figuring out the best way to sort items can be a chore. This is the detriment of big box games with lots of different pieces. It’s outstanding to see so much variety, but you’ll pay for it with your time. The more you play, the more you can get things figured out, but I’d recommend an elaborate homemade insert or some intentional baggie system.
If you enjoy puzzles and fantasy settings, Andor might be for you. I think it fair warning to look over my concerns with setup time and cooperative games. I’m sure my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt since I’m a bit harder to please when it comes to cooperative gaming, but Legends of Andor does some interesting things in terms of storytelling and puzzle solving.
A number of promos exist for Andor, but I’ll talk now exclusively about the two expansions I’ve played.
This 5-6 player expansion adds four new heroes to the game.
Arbon is a stealthy guardian who weakens the enemy he attacks and then utilizes the same ability as the archer. I would completely replace the archer with this hero. Fenn is a tracker who has three special items that he can use each turn, which can reveal covered items, or help in combat. Those two are just examples, but the four new heroes add replayability to the game, and allow for new strategies and ways to attack scenarios.
As for adding additional players past four, I’m not sure that’s something I’m apt to do again.
Adding new players means strengthening your enemies. In fact, in our first five player game, we lost the possibility of winning our scenario before we started the fourth round. I can’t imagine how we could have achieved victory any sooner than the 6th or 7th time around the board. It actually soured me a bit to the entire game, as with even four, I don’t think we could have succeeded (I’m being purposefully vague so as not to spoil the adventure, but it was legend four, for reference).
When playing with more than four, players will use generic black tokens on the sunrise track to spend actions. Players still activate in turn order, but now will use a pool of tokens amongst themselves instead of their own disc. It breaks the theme and immersion a bit, and could mean one player spending many actions because of their abilities. Players can still exert themselves.
New Heroes also adds an additional shield to extend games and make a scenario easier. Black Heralds are a new option that feel like ring wraiths from The Lord of the Rings. These evil beings are added with higher player counts and accompany final adversaries in a few of the scenarios. They essentially aid the boss battle to make it more challenging and forces players to bring more heroes to the fight to defeat the enemy. Finally, a drunken troll can be added to complicate enemy movement and just generally become a nuisance for the players.
I don’t mean to recap the summary of the game box, but it is what it is. If you know Legends of Andor is the game for you and your group, I would consider buying this one along with the base game. Not necessarily for the gameplay variants or having more players, but solely because the new player powers add quite a bit to the game. Some make the game easier, but generally they feel more thematic. Moving a summoned water beast around the map is really fun, and you’ll find a bit of satisfaction having more control in combat encounters.
Aside from Journey to the North, Star Shield adds a very replayable legend in a small box setting, without needing to add an entirely new board. Like the introductory legend of the big box, Star Shield tells you a new tale, now told in comic book fashion, directing players to assemble certain structures as you read through the booklet.
Veterans to the series will quickly realize the difference in setup as you choose random cards from the new legend deck to assemble a modular storyline based on selected cards. Where the base game has a bit of variance—but not enough for me—Star Shield provides enough mystery in each play, but not too drastically different from each other that you’ll lose each game. For example, in one play you might face off against three trolls, but in another you might not even see a troll. Of course, there are three sets of cards that will determine this variance, and each combination should provide a unique experience.
I don’t want to spoil much, as Andor is all about discovery, but Star Shield also includes a number of new items and challenges. Players will find themselves ooing and ahhing, while simultaneously being picked up and thrown into the ground, feeling both astonished and punished at the same time. Threat cards reveal the specific opposition the team will face, which is again, unique to each game. Finally, players can even use the titular Star Shield to block the movement of one enemy type during the movement round of the game.
I like the changes from Star Shield, yet it almost feels like a one-off, spinoff television series. The story is separate from the main game, and you can even download new characters from legends-of-andor.com. I still don’t like losing cooperative games, and that’s still an issue here, but in terms of renewing the discovery and exploration of each game, Star Shield does this pretty well. I should say that most of the cards are not substantial changes between each other, but you’ll still find a lot of change ups. I’d recommend getting this expansion if you’ve finished all the legends in the base game.
A review copy of both Legends of Andor expansions were provided by KOSMOS for a review of the games.
The Bottom Line
Legends of Andor is a big game with a bit of setup and some questionable replayability. It's a unique cooperative title and can play well with the right group of people, especially if you love puzzles. Expansions add quite a bit to the base game and might become must haves if you love the main game.