I crept through the forest; silent footsteps on a carpet of old wood and leaves. My hand instinctively touched the hilt of my sword, though it wouldn’t be needed, this was a time for the bow – hit them at a distance and make my escape.
I approached the clearing and, hidden by the dense undergrowth, I peered out at my quarry. There were several bandits, at ease around a large roaring fire, talking loudly whilst picking at bones of some animal or other. Their leader stood out, tall and broad with a face full of huge features, holding a large axe across one shoulder – what to do?
Shoot the bandit leader? Requires Archery. Read entry 0002
Sneak away and try to find away around them? Read entry 0204
Shout out ‘Oi! Big nose,’ and make a run for it? Read entry 1000
Legacy of Dragonholt is a variation on the ‘choose you own adventure’ theme, and contains a single adventure with several side quests to explore. From designer Nikki Valens – think Arkham Horror 3rd Edition, Mansions of Madness, and Eldritch Horror -this is a step away from her usual dabbles into the world of Arkham. But is it a Fantasy success, or just another Arkham Nightmare? Let’s find out…
- Designer: Nikki Valens
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Year Released: 2017
- Players: 1-6
- Playing Time: 30+ minutes (see write up)
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: £54.99
What’s in the box?
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Character creation book
- 1 Village book
- 6 Quest books
- 1 Letter
- 1 Map
- 1 Journal
- 20 Item cards
- 6 Activation tokens
- 6 Character sheets
All of the books are A4 size and centre stapled, except for the village book, which is bound. They are all glossy finish, and of a very good production quality. The books are clearly printed with the font large enough to read and follow easily.
The cover artwork is very similar for the majority of the books, with a simple centre image being the difference. Both the rulebook and character creation book have more elaborate illustrations on the cover. On the rear of each book is a tracking sheet, which has permission to photocopy, and is used to record progress through the adventures.
There are no images contained within the books other than the one for character creation, and this is limited to one image of each character type.
The journal, letter, and map, also have a glossy finish, with the map simply and effectively illustrated.
The item cards are 70 x 120mm in size, linen finish, and illustrated to show what they represent.
The activation tokens are of good quality, high-density grey-board, and have the image of a crystal on them, which is green on one side, and grey (activated) on the other.
The character sheets are printed on nice thick paper stock, and contain enough space to include everything required for character generation.
It all comes in a very sturdy box, which is nicely illustrated with the same illustration that appears on the cover of the rulebook.
How does it play?
- If your familiar with the game play you could either, sneak along to ‘What do I think?’ Brazenly strut your stuff to ‘Can I Play it… all on my own?’ Or run and jump to ‘Recommended?’
The game is played as a singular adventure that contains various side quests should you wish to follow them. The aim of the game is to tell a story; one that is all about your character’s adventures, and the game is billed as ‘A Cooperative Narrative Adventure’.
First up characters need to be created, and that is a fairly simple task.
- Select your race – Human, Orc, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, or Catfolk. Each race lists certain skills that are commonly attributed to them.
- Choose a class – Apothecary, Bard, Brawler, Knight, Sage, Thief, or Wildlander.
- Describe yourself – Name, Physical description, Personality, and History.
- Choose your skills – Choose 5 to 8 skills, 2 must be from your racial skill list, and 2 from your class skill list. The number of skills effect your maximum stamina – choose 5 and it’s 14; for every other skill then chosen, decrease your stamina by 2.
If playing with 2 players the maximum stamina is then increased by two; if playing solo it is increased by 4.
To start the game, ensure your character sheet has been completed, and that you have the tracking sheets for the adventures at hand (these can be photocopied, or downloaded from Fantasy Flight Games’ Website).
You begin the game with 100gp (shared between all the characters), 2-fame, and an activation token each.
Players read the appropriate entry from one of the books; you’ll start with entry 1000 in the ‘To New Roads’ book.
Within an entry you may be asked to carry out actions such as marking a story point on the tracking sheet, or recording that time has passed. At the end of the entry you may be faced with making a decision – choosing which path to take, or to carry out a certain task, for example.
If playing with 2 or more players, the player carrying out the decision will have to exhaust (flip it over) their activation token – it should be discussed amongst the group who this should be, especially as some decisions require a character to be of a certain race, or have certain skills. Once that player has exhausted his token he may not make a decision again until it has been refreshed.
Once the decision has been made the character that spent their activation token becomes the active player, and any reference to ‘you’ within the next entry only affects that player.
If playing solo, an activation token is not required; you have to make all the decisions yourself.
Play continues in this fashion with the players passing time, gaining items, increasing their skills, fame, and experience, until the adventure is completed.
So, what do I think?
A quick look at the components – The books are all of a very nice quality, in fact all the components are well thought out and made. I would have been nice to see some illustrations within the adventure books, but the writing is of a pretty good standard, describing the scenes and events extremely well.
I like the map, and I like how it is used – the locations simply have a number next to them, which refers you the Village book entry, and that then branches off depending upon which day it is.
I’m a little lost as to the inclusion of the item cards; in my opinion they add nothing to the experience. They’re fairly dull to look at, and don’t add anything further to what you are told in the text entry when you receive them. There is a place on the character sheet to record items and in the end I just didn’t bother using the cards.
I like the way the rules get introduced to you as you play through the first book. Things are simply explained in small bite sized portions, and are very easy to understand and pick up.
Okay, onto the game itself.
There is one thing to keep in mind whilst playing this game, and that’s the fact that the game is billed as ‘A Cooperative Narrative Adventure’. Basically it’s a game of telling a story, and that’s exactly what it does, unfortunately it’s all too easy to forget this, as we shall see…
You start by creating your character and it’s a disappointing start. You choose a race and a class, but in terms of actual game effect, there is very little difference whether you go for an Orc Brawler, or a Human Sage. Occasionally your race and class may be a prerequisite of a decision point, but usually these are skill based – Climb the tree to get a better view – requires the agility skill!
Here’s the issue – you have to take 2 skills from race and 2 from class, but then you can take up to a maximum of another 4 skills of any type. Hence, both the Orc Brawler and the Human Sage could choose exactly the same skills. There are no modifiers to be applied to these skills either, so when you have a skill, you’re just as good at it as the next person – So your Human Sage is in effect, just as good at brawling as the Orc Brawler!
The main part of character creation is down to the player giving their character life; describing their looks, their personality, giving them a few quirky traits, and that’s all good fun, if you’re that kind of creative person, and I must say I did enjoy this bit.
You also have to be prepared to play the character you have created, and this is the only way to make them feel different. Play that grumpy Orc like you’ve never played that grumpy Orc before! There is no dice rolling or comparing stat’s to tables; it’s simply down to whether you have a particular skill or not, and I felt let down at this point, wanting to do more.
I didn’t like the use of the activation tokens; it became frustrating that it took a player out of the game until it was refreshed. I could understand it if the actions were taking place simultaneously, but why can’t my character open that door after he’s climbed down from the tree? I understand why they have been incorporated into the game – to give all characters and players an input into the proceedings, but I just didn’t feel it flowed.
This problem seems to stem from the way the story is written, and I feel it was originally conceived as a purely solo game; the whole story flows so much better when played solo – there’s no confusion over whether things apply to the active player or to the group, and the actual narrative makes much more sense with just one character making all the decisions.
When played in a group I also found it a bit, well, boring! There just isn’t enough character-to-game interaction, even trying to really act your character can leave you feeling a little underwhelmed. This is only enhanced by the feeling of invulnerability – as far as I can make out it’s impossible to die; if you can, I certainly haven’t come across it yet. You have a stamina statistic, but it doesn’t really mean much – when it gets reduced to 0 or below, you simply choose a skill to become redundant!
Because of this sense of invulnerability you don’t get that same tension you would if every decision meant life or death. Okay, the story does change dependant upon some of your decisions, but you never get the sense that you’ll be a total failure.
This is added to by the fact that, if you take a sensible and logical approach to all the decisions, then you can progress through things relatively unscathed – but then isn’t that life?
One last thing before I finish on a more positive note – The use of humour.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a game to contain some humour, but you have to be careful how it’s applied, and I’m afraid here, in my opinion, they get it wrong. The majority of the story glides along at just the right pitch of seriousness, and then, just as tension is rising and you’re battling away against the odds, something silly will happen, breaking the feel of the narrative and losing the moment. For example, and there is a slight spoiler here: At one point we were sneaking into a building trying to avoid all the guards, and as we’re almost there, tension and excitement bubbling over, the heard of goats we’re trying to use as cover, decides we may have something tasty on us, and start bleating to be fed. I made the decision to scare them and create havoc, which seemed to work, but the text concludes with a goat running around with a pair of the guards’ pants on its head – everyone laughs, and the built up tension evaporates.
I found it a reoccurring theme, comedy moments just when things were becoming tense, and I felt it let the storytelling down.
Good points? This is the annoying thing, there are lots of well thought out game mechanisms that pull this apart from a lot of other ‘choose your own adventures’. The way it uses the progress of time works excellently – Village locations will only be open at certain times of the day, as well as specific events happening on certain days, which if you aren’t aware of, will pass you by.
Then there are the story points, which get crossed out as you progress, but you never know if having it crossed out is a good thing or not, and the game keeps you guessing – some you need crossing off, some you don’t!
There are also areas to progress in – Heroism, Combat Training, and Social Practice; some of which allow you to trade experience for a skill, or increase your fame.
And, of course, there is the story itself. It draws you in making you feel as if you really are a character in a book; it’s exciting, dramatic, and at times thought provoking. With this in mind one could say that it does live up to its billing of being ‘a narrative adventure’.
Can I play it… all on my own?
In my mind this is the only way to play the game – playing solo avoids the majority of the issues I mentioned above – it becomes a fast paced adventure, where the narrative really does shine.
It’s easy to imagine your character integrating with the natives of Dragonholt, becoming a hero of renown within the community; lending a helping hand and doing great deeds as you go.
The encounters with the enemy are absorbing, let down only by the odd inappropriately timed silly humour, and you are usually presented with enough options to make you feel like this is your plan, gaining a sense of satisfaction when it all comes together.
If you enjoy choose your own adventure games, and you’re happy to play solo, then I can wholeheartedly recommend this. However, if you were looking for something to play with a group, then I’d give it a miss, or at least try before you buy.
That leads me to the cost – I personally think the RRP is too much for what you get, but look around, and it can be had for a more appropriate price.
Replayability is a little hit or miss. The side quests could well be played a few times through without too much repetition, but the village encounters have that feel of a parcel delivery service – obtain this here, take it to there; be here at such a time, then this causes that – and it gets a little to samey after the second play through.
You will however, spend a fair amount of hours trawling through the whole adventure, and once complete you probably wouldn’t delve back in for quite some time; so maybe you’ll have forgotten what happens!
To sum up – a fine solo game that lives up to its ‘Cooperative Narrative Adventure’ tag, expect anything else from it though, and you may be disappointed.
Official site – Fantasy Flight Games
Recommended video review – The Board Nerd
Board Game Geek Page – HERE