Originally published at: https://statelyplay.com/2019/01/30/review-legends-of-andor-the-kings-secret/
iOS Universal, Android
At first glance, Legends of Andor may resemble other campaign-driven fantasy board games like Gloomhaven or Descent: Journeys in the Dark. There’s a fantasy map (you know it’s fantasy because there’s a castle and spooky caves), characters that fit the usual fantasy tropes, monsters, and even markets where you can buy your heroes better equipment. It may resemble those games, but Legends of Andor is nothing like those games. Not a bit. In fact, Legends of Andor isn’t a board game so much as a puzzle game wrapped in board game attire.
Legends of Andor consists of 12 quests that form an overarching ‘campaign’, but unlike other RPG-light board games, here your characters don’t gain levels, don’t progress in any way, really, and certainly don’t carry with them any loot acquired in the previous quest. No, Legends of Andor is closer to Pandemic than Dungeons & Dragons. For each quest the board is seeded exactly the same and monsters will travel in the same, well-known paths. As each quest unfolds, new objectives will open up, each with their own time limit. Your goal is to figure out how to solve the puzzle before time runs out. If you fail, simply start again. Everything will be exactly as it was the last time you played, so instead of adjusting to a new set of puzzle criteria, you simply need to correct where you went wrong.
It may sound like I’m bashing on Legends of Andor, and you’re right, I am. That’s more my fault, however. You see, LoA is actually an incredibly fun puzzle to solve. It reminds me a lot of Talisman: Prologue, another puzzle game with a fantasy veneer. Unlike that dice-chucking RNG-apalooza, however, Legends of Andor is fairly deterministic. This makes solving the puzzles a forgone conclusion, but makes it so much more rewarding when you get that message at the end of a quest indicating success.
The puzzles are all time-based, which means you have to complete things before a certain turn limit is reached. This is the heart of Andor and what makes it such a good puzzler. Without time limits, solving each quest would be a breeze. Take combat, for example. It’s generally simple affair, especially if you group your heroes together. There aren’t many critters on the board that stand a chance against your motley crew. But, add in time and suddenly combat becomes a struggle. Why? Every time you fight the timer moves forward a space. You have to pick and choose your battles carefully. The puzzle isn’t the combat, but the meta-game around it. Do I really need to kill that Gor, or can I let him be and focus on this other thing first?
Of course, the pre-planned monster movement has every abomination slowly (or sometimes, not slowly) move toward the castle. If a monster moves into the castle, the castle loses a hitpoint. If the king’s castle falls, the quest ends in failure. Thus, you can’t completely ignore monsters, but you can’t get bloodthirsty and kill them all, shortening the game to the point of loss, either.
The smaller quests that make up the larger narrative are varied enough that you’ll have to split up your heroes and have them specialize with each having a place in solving the overall quest. Sussing out the logistics and doing it before time runs out is a joy.
My only true problem with Legends of Andor is that it isn’t what I thought Legends of Andor was going to be. I was expecting a strongly narrative-driven RPG-light game, where I can build characters and watch them grow over the 12 connected stories. Basically, I want Descent or Gloomhaven. So, initially, I was a tad disappointed. Those games are known for depth of character development or the slew of cool new items you can combo together to build the hero you want. Here, you can buy a helm which, for some reason, lets you keep pairs of dice in combat. You know, like helms are wont to do. Upgrading characters in LoA is somewhat themeless, dull, and doesn’t mean a thing once you move onto the next quest.
That’s not Legends of Andor’s fault, though. It is what it is, and it’s a mighty fine puzzle game. USM has outdone themselves with the graphics and polish, making it playable on both a phone or tablet and looking incredible on either. There’s a ton of content in the game, and once you figure out each puzzle in normal mode, you can replay the quest in Hard mode which, as the name says, is hard. Really hard.
If this original set of quests can earn USM enough cash, I can see LoA being around for the long haul. It would be easy to supply a new dozen interlocked quests via IAP, and, likewise, add new characters or supplies to buy at the merchant. Let’s hope that’s the case, because I wouldn’t mind delving into more Andor quests down the road.
Despite Legends of Andor not being the RPG board game I was hoping it would be, it’s one of the better puzzle games on the App Store right now. The fact that it’s filled with board game tropes like dice-fueled combat and action points only makes it better. Definitely worthy of a look whether you’re a fan of the board game or had never heard of Andor before this review.