OG Roundtable: Legends of Andor

Legends of Andor was nominated for the 2013 Kennerspiel des Jahres earlier this week and unsurprisingly The Opinionated Gamers have some opinions about the selection.  What follows is a roundtable discussion on the game and its recent nomination.

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Jeff Allers:  Legends of Andor was–and is–my favorite for Kennerspiel des Jahres. The Jury uses the word “innovative” when describing it–always a good sign.

Larry Levy:  Do you think Andor truly is innovative, or is this more a reflection of the lower exposure co-ops have had in Germany?

Jonathan Franklin:  The innovative part is also the part that might be most appealing to Germans.

Building a disincentive to killing extra monsters into the core of the game is quite innovative.  It forces you to ask if you truly need to do it, even if you want to.

Jeff Allers:  The Jury writes that its “quick-start rules” are innovative, in that the rules of the game are slowly revealed over the course of the game, only when they are needed.  They also called it “a game that plays like reading a novel.”  Unfortunately, I only know what I’ve read about it, so I can’t make a judgement myself.  But it seems to be getting quite a bit of buzz here in Germany.  My impression is that it’s a co-op that adds some fantasy role-playing flavor and 1001 Arabian Nights-style storytelling. I don’t think its because Germans don’t have as much exposure to co-op games, as Pandamic was an SdJ nominee several years ago (and the jury recognized co-ops before co-ops were cool: think “Der Sauerbaum”).  Have any of you played Legends of Andor?

Greg Schloesser:  I played it and found it was just another “dungeon crawl” experience.  In my opinion, it is not one of the better cooperative games.

Rick Thornquist:  I’ve played Andor a few times and quite like it.  The mechanics are simple, easy enough to teach to non-gamers, but the gameplay is interesting.  The thing I like best is the storytelling aspect.  Too many games set you up with a thin theme and that’s it.  Andor sets up the story and then continues it throughout the adventure.  I feel the theme more than any other game of this type.

Also, echoing Jonathan’s point, I love the idea of a penalty to mindlessly kill monsters.  Too many of these types of games are just hackfests.  Andor makes you think before you hack (of course, being an adventure game, you still have to hack).

When I first played it I really thought it was a candidate for the regular SdJ award.  I’m surprised it missed out, but at least it got on the Kennerspiel list.

Tom Rosen:  I’ve also played Legends of Andor, although only once so far.  My sense was that the “innovative” aspect of the game was that it is setup like a video game, with progressive levels essentially and something that operates much like a tutorial mode, in which many of the rules are taught to you through the game rather than through the instruction book.  Others have tried this concept before obviously (like Galaxy Trucker/Through the Ages), but Andor takes it to another level, for better or worse.

As for the disincentive to killing extra monsters, I personally found that to destroy the theme for me, so I’m perplexed by Rick’s comments.  I like dungeon crawl hack-n-slash games and games with a theme that is well connected to the mechanisms in the game, but Andor seemed to have a serious disjunction between theme and mechanics.

It’s a hack-n-slash game where players are wizards/dwarves/etc. running around a map killing orc/troll-like things, and there’s plenty of dice rolling.  All good so far, but then you get to the fact that you can’t kill too many monsters or you’ll advance an arbitrary token up an arbitrary track and it will reach the end so you’ll lose.  As a result, you need to do a good deal of calculating to determine exactly which monsters the game scenario will permit you to kill.  It boils down to a puzzle really that felt very at odds with the theme.

I actually still enjoyed the experience somewhat, but it was much more of a German-style puzzle than the American-style theme and die-rolling combat had led me to expect.

Rick Thornquist:  I see your point Tom, I guess I just happen to disagree with it.  Without killing the monsters advancing the timer, you might as well just kill everything before, say, in the first scenario, delivering the parchment.  The problem is that this would extend the game time significantly and, more importantly, remove any tension that’s created by the timer.  To me, that tension is one of the things that makes the game enjoyable.

I guess I just happen to like the more-puzzle aspects (and story aspects) than just endless killing.  There are zillions of dungeon crawls were you just endlessly kill monsters.  Man, I am so bored with these.  I’ve even done role-playing games where all everybody does is kill.  I remember one where at one point I actually decided to do some, uh, role-playing.  Everybody looked at me like I was from Mars.  Very quickly after my faux pas the role-playing ceased and the killing resumed.

Tom Rosen:  I totally agree that incentivizing players to make strategic decisions about which monsters are most important to focus on and kill is a good thing, and can make a game much more interesting than just an all out hack and slash.  But I think there are far more thematic ways to go about doing so than what was done in Andor.  For instance, Descent 2nd Edition includes scenarios with objectives that are not directly related to killing as many monsters as possible, but rather achieving some other goal that may be facilitated by selectively killing monsters as needed.  While I had other issues with 2nd Edition, I thought those scenarios were comparable to what Andor was trying to accomplish while doing it in a much better way.

Ultimately, my confusion is over who Andor is aimed at.  Before the jury’s announcement and Rick’s e-mail, I thought it had no real audience.  I thought it was was too much of a die-rolling, combat-driven game to play with my friends that lean toward German-style games, and too much of an athematic puzzle to play with my friends that tend to prefer American-style games.  I enjoy both, but this one seems caught in the middle, and suffers from a disconnect between the initial impression of a wizard/dwarf monster killing adventure and the analytical puzzle underlying that facade.

Patrick Brennan:  I’m reading Tom’s posts going yep, that’s exactly what I was going to write, now I don’t need to.  To Rick’s point, the puzzle aspect is interesting and challenging, but it has some issues regarding replayability. In each scenario, as it develops, there also develops one “best” approach. With gamers, we knocked off each scenario first time. Each time was close, but we found the “best” approach and didn’t feel like the scenario was going to give us a more difficult or interesting challenge if we were to play it again – and that’s the important bit. Okay, won that, move on. And with only 5 scenarios, and 5 games done, the game’s now on the trade pile. There are some random aspects (the combats), but you can control the risk/reward ratio by determining how much to gang up on the monsters – it’s generally most action-point efficient to gang up and just kill what you’re going to kill first time.

As to family, I played with my boys, but then it has the “director” problem, continually constraining the boys from killing stuff that would cost us the game. That continual constraint was chafing to them – they recognized it as essential to the win, and felt some ownership for helping “develop” the best approach (with guidance) … but they weren’t interested in playing further. And it was largely because of the thematic disconnect … there’s this big falutin’ story about the king dying, blah, blah, blah, being invaded by monsters, blah, blah, blah, and the best solution is to allow these 4 monsters here, and only these 4 monsters (no more, no less), to invade the castle while we prance around the neighborhood looking for herbs. That’s not exactly the sense of kingdom saving hero-dom the boys want to experience in games.  So while it was interesting to explore, in the long term it was a fail for us.

Jonathan Franklin:  There are tons of comments on BGG from adults who echo exactly what your sons felt Patrick.  You/they might even be in the majority.

Mark Jackson:  My two cents isn’t worth a pfennig… I really like Andor (having played it with my boys 3-4 times and once with my gaming group) – but we’re not completing the quests.  I’ve heard of folks who have said that each story was “one & done,” but that hasn’t been our experience.

Ted Cheatham:  We agree with Patrick.  My son and I were mostly one and done.  We failed the second scenario the first time until we figured out it was a puzzle and not a dungeon crawl.  From then, we finished all the rest in one go except the dragon.  That is one bad mother.  We pondered how to beat it for quite a while but decided not to waste our effort on it.  I have printed out the two web scenarios but not sure if we will ever get to them.

Rick Thornquist: Patrick, regarding the replayability problem, I guess I just don’t see this as much of an issue.  There are six legends with the game, along with one bonus legend and two fan legends (in English).  That means if you win every time and don’t want to repeat a legend you can play the game nine times (and note that some people do repeat legends – me, for example).  Add to that one more official legend and two fan legends posted that could fairly easily be translated and that brings you up to twelve.  And with more fan legends on the way, along with an official expansion (though we don’t know if it’ll be in English), well, unless you’re playing the game constantly and don’t repeat legends I can’t see replayability being a huge issue.

As far as the director problem is concerned, that’s a problem with almost any co-op game.  The only way to get around this is to play with people who work together and don’t try to take control.  I do that with any co-op game I play.

And as for your boys not liking that type of game, I have the perfect solution that I have used for years: Never play games with children. :)

I totally understand that this is not everybody’s type of game.  It does have an uphill battle because people see the box and expect a dungeon crawl with the usual endless monster killing.  It’s not that and some people are disappointed.  I get that.  However, I greatly enjoy the change of pace as have many of the people who I’ve played the game with.

Patrick Brennan:  We’ve played enough co-ops to not have controller issues, but I think the director problem is mitigated in the best co-ops by offering different paths with different risk/reward ratios, where those ratios are in turn clouded somewhat.

Which is why I think Ghost Stories has had legs … it’s never clear whether use of Buddhas is best practice or not for example. And Pandemic gets around the director problem by offering a gambling choice – how far away is the next Epidemic and will the cards on the post-Epidemic draw be a city that’ll blow, and if so, do we care. These aren’t “solvable,” they generate choice and discussion.

The problem with Andor is that the randomization in the game has a minor effect. By throwing two people against a Gor, you can plan for two actions to kill it off and be correct 95% of the time. The other randomization is how the tiles come out – but you kill initial stuff off quickly to get those opened as soon as possible so that by stage F say you know exactly how everything is. Then you collectively plot the best approach that can get the job done in the time available with the lowest risk of combat failure. Then it’s just a matter of execution.

I feel that in the best co-ops, the puzzle is continually evolving and requires constant re-evaluation (and therefore requires constant chatter).  In Andor, I felt like it provided just one puzzle solve per scenario, with basic decisions prior to the solve point, interesting at the solve point, but then none/few decisions after the solve point, usually just some minor timing stuff as to how best to work towards getting your characters to the same space at the same time. That basic flow repeats itself in each scenario – get to the solve point ASAP, solve it – and the solution in any given scenario with little more than a minor variation to the way you solved it last time. That’s why it ultimately failed my co-op requirement of providing enough decision fuel for constant chatter throughout, which is the fuel for a positive social experience.

I enjoyed exploring it; beautiful artwork and all. I’m just not sure that the game provides enough replay oomph, for a big enough market, to warrant awards.

Andrea Ligabue:  Playing with kids and casual players, it is a great game and not so easy.  Of course you have to let other people at the table make decisions. If an expert gamer guides the group, most of the fun is lost.

I really like it in the same way as Galaxy Defenders where the Aliens AI rules are complex enough (not too much indeed) and involve probability in a way that there is not a sure winning strategy… also how the different characters develop is enough variety to offer great replayability.

Anyway, I think for families used to playing board games (which is a different target than gamers), Legends of Andor is a great choice.

Jennifer Geske:  I agree that it’s more of a puzzle than a traditional dungeon crawl, and as such, everyone needs to work together if you want to ‘win’.  That part doesn’t bother me so much (in fact, I prefer it to random monster slaying), nor does the director problem (as stated, it’s a problem with many co-op games depending on who you play with).  However, I think the ‘fun’ factor is reduced by the limited choices I sometimes feel are available, almost to the point that there is no choice what I should do when it comes to my turn.  On the other hand, I think the scenarios are challenging enough that even if we plan well, it would be a close game (and sometimes depending on luck of where tokens are located), so the fun factor of trying to beat the game compensates for the lack of choice and I have enjoyed my plays, even if the ‘victories’ always seem a bit hollow to me (especially if my character just ran around and assisted).

Robinson Crusoe is another new-ish co-op game that is more of a puzzle in that there’s probably an optimal way to play to win (for each scenario).  I like Robinson Crusoe better than Andor, probably because the players can work on both the short-term survival and the long-term mission at the same time in Robinson Crusoe, and in Andor, the requirements are revealed piecemeal.  I know that is the nature in dungeon crawl games; I guess those are probably just not my favorite genre.

Mary Prasad: I’ll make this fairly short.  Ditto Greg and Tom’s comments.  It’s an OK game for me. I would probably play it if others wanted to play (although I wouldn’t like to play the same scenario again) but I’d prefer something like Descent or Mansions of Madness.

Jonathan Franklin: Descent and Mansions of Madness both require someone to run the game/participate differently from the others.  One of Andor’s main charms is that it is a true co-op.  Yes, someone can take over the table, but that goes more to who you ask to join you in a game.  Also, for those who have only tried the first one or two quests, there is far more variety available than you might expect, not to mention more to come.  Kosmos has already announced an expansion to Legends of Andor and there are some very strong fan-created quests too.

Fraser McHarg:  I haven’t even heard of this game down in the backwaters of Melbourne, Australia.  What I have got from this conversation is that it sounds like HeroQuest still has legs!

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3 Responses to OG Roundtable: Legends of Andor

  1. peer says:

    I think the innovative part is twofold: First the rules concept that is liek a computer game. Second (and thats something jury member Udo Bartsch mentioned on his blog) s that its focus on the story, rather than mechanisms or even theme. It feels more like a novel than a game and maybe it should be treated as such. Its more akin to a series of short novels or a tv series: You may only watch each episode once for the story and not repeat – is that a bad thing?
    (wel, I dont know, juist wanted to add a different aspect ;-)

  2. Chuck Waterman says:

    I want to be interested in this game (watched the demo on Youtube) but I’m not sure I understand how much “story” or sense of playing a “role” there can be in a puzzle-solver. trying to hunt for herbs? Meh. Trying to find the lost sage who needs to be persuaded (charismatic character) to teach the spell (wizard character) that can be used to enhance the legendary two-handed broadsword (only fighter character can wield it) which must be stolen from the Cave of Gloom (rogue character). Now THAT kind of quest would lend itself to roleplay and feel like an adventure. Does Andor offer this kind of depth?

  3. Max Lampinen says:

    I don’t think the replayability is really an issue if we look at the bigger picture. Let’s take another hot co-op for example, Escape, you’d have to play it about 40 times to get the same amount of actual gametime as you get from playing Legends of Andor through once. Looking at BGG Stats there are 20 people who have done so and these are hobbyists and not target audience for SdJ/KdJ.

    Escape comparisons aside, 6 completely unique games is pretty good as it is already. I’m not sure if very average family that buys the newest SdJ/KdJ for Christmas plays them more than 3-4 times over the year no matter what the replay value is. But let’s say average family is really excited about this game, even then they’ll probably play it only once a week. They won’t get through each legend on first attempt, let’s say they fail three times. That’s 9 weeks, so there’s 2 months of active shelf-time. 3 if accounting extra adventures. I think that’s pretty good value for money.

    All that said I’m not a big fan of Legends of Andor myself, but that’s because I’m not a huge co-op fan in general. One thing that has been hyped bit too much is the story. It’s barely there. The so-called story is actually just couple of very generic sentences per adventure, something like “King is sick, bad guys are coming, you are the good guys, get medicine for king and save the kingdom.” You don’t care about the characters at all. Mice and Mystics is another new co-op that does the story right. Sadly that’s also very American game with random mechanics where you can barely affect what happens. For me the perfect story-driven co-op would be somewhere between those two, smart mechanics from LoA and actual story from M&M. Maybe such game will be made soon, the genre is still young..

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