I don’t really know a whole lot about Legends of Andor. I’ve never played it and I’ve never felt a strong desire to. I know it’s an adventure game with some modern Euro-style sensibilities, such as deferring to optimization and puzzle solving over immersion and drama.
But Andor: The Family Fantasy Game did appeal to me. I thought the setting and theme of adventure would speak to Lila, my seven year old. Occasionally I get these things right. This was not a Space Marine Adventures redux.
The first thing she noticed was that ALL of the characters could be female. There was a kingdom in peril from a menacing dragon, but Gloria the dwarf and Suz the mage were going to save it. She giggled after deciding I would be a girl dwarf and was surprised when I played along.
These things are important even if they’re not important to you.
She was also delighted to find that her wizard got a single large purple die, while everyone else got a few normal-looking small dice. Each character in Andor Family has a personal set of unique dice, offering gentle asymmetry by allowing you to specialize in certain roles. This is old hat if you’re a 36 year old cynical gamer, but for a seven year old, “OMG” would be an accurate description of her facial expression.
I can only imagine her curly head exploding like a pumpkin stuffed with dynamite at the thought of something like Root. That’s for tomorrow, kid.
This would be her first proper adventure game. Many titles are full of adventure but they’re not actually adventure games as we tend to classify them in the table top world. Something like HABA’s Dragon Tower (alternatively titled Drachenturm if you’re cool or German) is a great example of a game that embraces adventure without specifically representing the adventure game genre. That is more of a dexterity game with an audacious rescue the princess setting than a game mechanically focused on the adventure structure.
A real adventure game is one where you control a character and move around a map in search of glory, treasure, or redemption. It involves exploration and conflict. Runebound is the quintessential example, but others include Mage Knight, Arkham Horror, and Dungeon Degenerates.
There is something deep in our genetic substrate that requires we organize and delineate things. This is evident especially in our hobbies and how we discuss them.
Yes, don’t worry, you’re in the right place. This is still an article on a children’s game.
Adventure games often embrace the hero’s journey more vividly than any other style of board game. This is because the scope is wide and time is expansive. It’s a fantastic genre of discovery as through play we’re often able to see ideals of character and personality that are valued heavily in society.
But it’s a genre that’s typically avoided with titles aimed at children. I believe this is because they often require more tedium than an impatient little one is able to muster. They also often possess many components and cards requiring a more full physical product. That of course means a higher price and more risky profile for a company to publish.
All of this is especially a concern when you take into consideration that, by their very nature, children’s games are transient. They’re relevant to a specific age and their goal is to help their players age out of them. This is very different than something like Waste Knights which you can buy and keep on your shelf in perpetuity until that day when your ancestors will be cleaning out personal effects and one of your grand children will remark, “Pops liked board games?”
“Yes, pops even wrote about them. He was a weirdo.”
Inka and Markus Brand’s Andor: The Family Fantasy Game is a very good title, and not simply because it’s the first kid’s adventure game.
You will utilize your character’s unique skills to perform a set of missions. These missions are passed out by Mart, a wiley dude guarding the bridge to the old dwarven mines. His busy-work includes propositions like gathering certain types of herbs, or safeguarding an injured hawk on a journey back to town. There are a decent amount of these quests. These are variable and you can simply mix in new ones each play. I absolutely love this stuff.
Randomized content is important for this style of game. Discovery and exploration are key components of the genre and it’s satisfying to lack surety of the objective until we’ve actually unboxed the thing and prepared our story. It also creates interesting strategic considerations as you must divide tasks between the players. This is because things can get out of control as you’re on a timer.
That timer is the slovenly dragon marching towards your city of Reitburg.
You can push the dragon back by tussling with his Gor soldiers, a common occurrence requiring you to toss those character specific dice. The emergent process is reminiscent of something like Defenders of the Realm where you’re concerned about a processional queue of enemies. You must juggle this pressure – albeit light and only minimally stressful – with accomplishing those story-goals.
At some point you finish your quests and can proceed to the end game. This part doesn’t change.
Pushing into the darkness of the mine is perhaps the weakest aspect of Andor Family. It requires moving into spaces and then rolling torches on your dice. Certain characters, such as the dwarf, are better at this. Others can supplement their feeble search skills by purchasing torches form the shopkeeper. Either way, you’re moving into spaces and flipping over tokens in submission to the chaos of randomness. You do this, repetitively, until you find three lost wolf cubs. I don’t know how finding these pups abates the onslaught of a dragon and his small army of dweebs, but it does. I’m not complaining.
It’s unfortunate that the climax combines randomness with repetition and that this process does not vary game to game. There is a positive aspect to this procedure as it provides a new tactical quandary. The group must divide with one portion fighting back Gors on the countryside to stem the tide while others can explore.
What Andor Family does well is that it presents a light strategic puzzle requiring cooperation and discussion, while bridging the gap between those decision points with exploration. Much of play is wandering around the countryside and flipping fog tokens. The probability of these being beneficial versus harmful are roughly equal, resulting in a tone of excitement and unpredictability. This translates to fun, particularly if you’re three years shy of 10.
The difficulty is very thoughtful and deliberate. You can add more tasks to provide a tougher challenge or scale it back and ease off the pressure. Play is at its best when it requires some group planning – often initiated by the adult(s) at the table – but not to a degree that everything gets bogged down. You want to keep things moving and allow your child to naturally connect the dots. Before long they will realize that stopping at a well and replenishing their limited action points will allow for larger, more dramatic turns. They will realize that properly managing their dice will provide for greater success. They will identify quickly how to accomplish a new task and set off to do so. Seeing those lightbulbs pop into existence are some of the best moments you can hope for as a parent.
And then it’s over. Everyone is smiling, or perhaps quiet in their moment of defeat. But it’s not over. This brief respite is one of the best pieces of the experience. This is when you take notice of the emergent narrative. It’s not a particularly scripted game when it comes to story, ending situation aside, but it yields a strong segmented arc. Sitting together in the aftermath and formalizing what just happened into a coherent narrative is satisfying and insightful.
I’m pretty happy with Andor: The Family Fantasy Game. But I’m not as happy as Lila. We played three games back to back in our first sitting, and it’s returned to the table multiple times since. I can feel how valuable it has been in cementing core concepts of the adventure game genre. I imagine our transition to face-punching Carniverous Huts and Bullskog Croakers in the Würstreich will be elementary.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.