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Subject: A Cook Like an Artist Adventure rss

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Laszlo Molnar
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Some apologetic explanation and foreword

I don’t own Legends of Andor. I have played all the five legends (missions) of the game in the past two weeks and I decided to share some of my thoughts of it (not very well-organized, it’s more like a bunch of thoughts about the game, actually). During play I have made some acceptable but not very good images about the gameplay; that’s all I can use for illustration.


Rule-cookbook for Dummies

I think any gamer who’s tried to teach games to non-gamers has faced this situation at least once: you have just started to explain the game, you are maybe two minutes into the explanation. Then someone who is already confused looks into your eyes and says „I think we should start to play and learn the rest during game”. I must say sometimes it makes me a bit nervous as most of the time these non-gamers don’t even know what gives them points, how they can win and what their possibilities are. But then I try to remember the times when even the most basic cardgames were new to me and when they were explained to me, and after the fourth sentence my brain started to block any new information that was poured on me. There is a quite scientific psychological explanation for this but I don’t want to go into detail; it’s enough to say that the amount of information you can take and remember depends on your experience with a given subject.

Let’s say you like cooking but you are not a cook. You want to cook something special. So what do you do?
First you check the recipe for 1. cooking time,
2. ingredients and tools needed.
3. Then… do you read the recipe, put away the cookbook and cook?
No, well, for example I keep checking the next steps during cooking. I do know the basic rules of cooking, I do know my aim (that special meal) but the sequence of actions is too complex for me as I’m not a cook.

So if you want to play a game, what do you do?
1-2. You can check the playtime easily (it’s written on the box, in case of Legends of Andor it’s 75 minutes) and you do know that all the ingredients were put in the box before you bought it (and in case of Andor they are many).
3. The only thing you need to know is how to play, and for those who are not gamers I can understand why it seems to hard to remember and get all the rule details even of a game with medium complexity before play.

So what is the solution? Michael Menzel came up with a quite satisfying answer. He wrote the cookbook – well, the steps are written on large, numbered (lettered) cards but it practically works as a rulebook – that you can and are supposed to read during game. No, there is no rulebook attached: the first card(s) tell you the first sentences of the story and you can find the step by step set-up there as well. You learn everything during game. There are some objects and icons (mist tiles, wells, trader symbols) on the board – so you have their explanation written next to them (on the tiles theirselves!) in the introductory game (and only then)! You learn how to fight using one side of a separate board that will be used for other purposes from the second legend on. Then you read the next page of the tutorial legend and it explains that after you have found out your chances are quite bad without cooperation, you should learn other ways to fight – and I promise I try to keep the rest of this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Spoiler? Yes. This (well, to me certainly) novel way of teaching the game and telling the stories that become missions warrants spoilers. But even before I explain this, I try to look at the body of work of Michael Menzel as I think that has quite a lot to with how his first board game design turned out to be.


A great artist’s way of seeing things

Maybe you are familiar with Michael Menzel’s body of work as an illustrator, maybe you aren’t. Just to name a few games that prominently feature his artwork and that are usually popping up in “beautiful game” geeklists: Stone Age, The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, Cuba, Thurn and Taxis, A Castle for All Seasons, Dragonheart – maybe that’s enough.

Most gamers know one or more of his beautiful, painting-like illustrations that (most of the time) still make very usable boards.


Maybe his funny side is less known, but it’s enough to look at some of these cover images:


Checking at his ludography it’s rather conspicuous that he’s only made artwork for funny kids’/family games and Euros, so now it might be a bit surprising to see he designed a fantasy adventure game here with quite a few combats between our heroes and various monsters including trolls, dark mages and a dragon…

But what can we read from his (previous) drawings?

d10-1 He’s an illustrator.
d10-2 His artworks are pleasing to the eye and sometimes even surprisingly creative (especially children’s games).
d10-3 Even though the images are painting-like and most often quite realistic, without being very extreme, he has a unique style.
d10-4 His artworks create some romantic atmosphere to the games.
d10-5 He has an eye for details – the paintings are rather detailed, even though the less important parts are sometimes a bit sketchy (maybe for a good reason, maybe because of deadlines).
d10-6 He knows quite a lot about usability and layouts that help you in the game – the images are never only for theirselves, they serve the game. He also knows the design principles of how you can give information to people.
d10-7 Having illustrated quite many good games in the past decade or so, he knows quite a lot about modern board game design (as I stated, mostly Euros and family games).

I think the design choices of Legends of Andor show these experiences and sensibilities.

What do I mean?
d10-1 It’s quite rare that an Eurogame publisher like Kosmos can or wants to afford a game with such a high amount of quality illustrations, two fully illustrated boards, a very high amount of cardboard figures and tokens, many of which only appear in one of the five legends (missions) but it might be easier if the designer is also the illustrator…
d10-2 This game is pleasing and exciting to play and has some very creative ideas.
d10-3 While this game plays in a well-known genre and the stories are built up of known (and very often used) high fantasy elements, the style of the gameplay is still rather unique.
d10-4 The romantic atmosphere is present here as well.
d10-5 The design is made with care; Menzel obviously had an eye for details in game design as well: even if some less important parts might feel a tiny bit underdeveloped, overall the game is surprisingly well-developed and the work of a mature, confident designer (which is still quite surprising for a first-timer).
d10-6 Not only the illustration, but the unusual way the rules unfold is also mostly serving the purposes of the game while they remain quite entertaining. They are told using the ARCS principle of design (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction), always giving you only the relevant information as your attention has limits – but this gives you confidence, and, ultimately, satisfaction.
d10-7 It’s a work by an experienced designer – but, while it’s hard to put my finger on why, this thematic game still feels it was designed more with family-friendly Euro sensibilities.


Okay, let’s talk a bit about the adventures.


Legends of Andor is a cooperative fantasy adventure game with 5 missions (so-called “legends”) (and already a downloadable free bonus legend). The stories are built up of rather usual high fantasy elements like a medieval setting, heroes (a dwarf, an archer and so on), a witch, a castle that is attacked by different monsters, a dark mage, a dragon, an old tree, mines of the dwarves and so on. The stories are buit up of these elements and theyare made different not only by randomizers but also by adding some new game components to the mix in each legend. I try to put it short, without going into detail and revealing surprises, but if you want you can skip even these small infos about the five legends.

Legend 1 is about protecting the castle while monsters are attacking, and the team of heroes even gets an extra mission during the game. This is the learning level where you learn not only the basics of the rules but the way you can effectively play the game and win.

In legend 2 some stronger monsters appear, and the witch as well, and this is also the first legend where you can buy different types of items, equipment for your heroes.


In legend 3 the story doesn’t hold many surprises but probably this one has the best replayability. Not only because of the set-up is semi-random, but each hero draws one of several missions in the beginning of the game, and only when all the heroes accomplished their missions does the dark mage appear – and even this dark mage is one of more possible dark mages.


Legend 4 is played on the other side of the board, the mine of the dwarves: this is probably the hardest and most exciting part of the game, not only with some new ideas but also a lot more pressure – especially as this is the only legend with player elimination. I’m not a fan of player elimination in cooperative games but it works really fine here as the theme of greed and self-sacrifice is something that really fits the theme of this heroic high fantasy and the desperate fight against monsters, fire and time.


Legend 5 also holds some nice surprises – already the set-up is different from what you got used to. It incorporates many elements of the previous legends as well and of course this is where fighting the dragon becomes unavoidable. Well, this fight was easier than we expected but still it happened in a special way that just fit the story-heavy nature of the game so it really felt like an epic conclusion to the legends.


That’s all I’m going to say about the stories, but how does the game work? No, I don’t think I’m going to go into detail regarding the usual stuff – your heroes move, turn up tiles, collect items, equipment,

fight monsters using dice; all these happen more or less the usual way.

So why do I say the game feels like it was designed with family Eurogame sensibilities?


An Euroish thematic adventure game

Some reasons:

1. Components and rules – while there are quite many, there aren’t more than necessary. The rules (however strange the way they are explained is) are rather streamlined. No 20 different monsters with hundred different abilities: the 4 main monster types are more like level 1/2/3/4 monsters that mostly behave the same (quite simple) way so even with the high number of cardboard components the game is not as fiddly as most of the games of this genre.

2. It can be planned. Of course sometimes legend cards show up (at predictable times!) that bring up new monsters and/or new missions for the heroes, also there are some event cards with smaller effects, but the rest of the game is mostly about planning and resource management (resources being the items, the heroes and time, see below).
- Yes, there are dice-heavy fights in the game. But you do know what to expect, how to enter a fight to win it 9 of 10 times. It’s because during fight there are some constant numbers (power points) added to the dice results for the heroes and the monsters alike, so you learn quite early how to be prepared for a fight.

- There are dice-heavy fights but your heroes participating in the fights never die (they can die in level 4 but not as a result of the fights) so in this sense the monsters are more like objects and hurdles that you should overcome; also resources for equipments as you get rewards (money or personal points) for successful fights.

- Also the monsters that are already on the board move in a pre-determined way and order (usually towards the Castle). So you can have quite a clear idea on where they will be 2 days later into the game.


3. Even if they bring you some resources, you have to kill as few monsters as possible. It’s not really something that you can find in most thematic games; it brings the game a bit closer to the German school of “no fights” game design.

I need to go into detail regarding #3.
The game uses an interesting (but maybe not entirely theme-driven) kind of “double time track”. There is a time track and an event track here.


A day consists of 7 hours for each hero (although by giving up some will power it may last longer, max. 10 hours). The time track (on the top of the board) works a bit differently from the time track seen in Thebes, Glen More and Olympos, and while it might make a bit less sense thematically, it allows interesting possibilities. The difference is that while each hero has 7 hours a day, here player order is not determined by the position of the markers – the game is played in clockwise order. This concept is easier to grasp for families but it also allows some (thematically less fitting, but interesting) possibilities: for example if I want to bring an item from a corner of the board to the opposite corner (and I don’t have a hawk for this mission) then I might run for 7 hours (7 steps) to another hero who just starts the day there, give him the item, so he can run for another 7 hours and give it to the third hero standing there and so on.


The event track (on the right side of the board) has 14 steps (A to N). There is a white figure moved forward on this track and when this figure reaches certain letters, the corresponding legend cards (major events) are read and executed. When the figure reaches the last letter (N) the game ends. If you have completed your missions that’s good for you. Otherwise, the legend is lost.

But when does this figure move? In two occurrences:

1. At the end of each day (when all the heroes used up their time for moving and/or fighting – each round lasts one hour in these fights), right after a minor event happened and all the monsters are moved (mostly towards the castle – and if a few of them enter there the game is automatically lost).

2. AND after each successful fight.
This means time is an important and sparse resource here: you have to use the 14 (actually, 13) available event steps wisely as completing the missions certainly takes up a few days (a few steps on the event track) but also each monster killed takes up a step. This means that while your mission might include killing a monster and also you have to avoid the monsters taking over the castle, you can’t just go on a killing spree (for the advantages that come from the monsters) because then you don’t focus on your missions and the legend will surely be lost. It’s also possibly less thematic but provides a nice logical puzzle challenge that you may let a few monsters enter the castle (this number is pre-determined but also you can increase this number by taking some scared inhabitants of Andor with you) – sometimes it’s wiser to let the allowed number of monsters in and focus on the missions instead.

All this balancing between different aims and effects has a quite eurogamey effect while the adventure is still tense, thematic and exciting.


Some thoughts

I know not all gamers are going to love this game as it’s more of a family fare than anything else but I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t only entertaining and exciting, it also provided nice logical puzzles on how to solve the situations and it made us cooperate during the whole game. We learned very early what the strengths of our characters are, how to engage in fights and how to cooperate the most effectively. This game teaches lots of nice ideas of cooperation to the players without forced morals – e.g. it becomes apparent quite soon that cooperation doesn’t necessarily mean a common loot should be divided in a brotherly, 25:25:25:25 way – if you focus on the mission and the players’ abilities it might mean that you give all the loot to one player. Nice.
I do think Michael Menzel did a very good job here. Even with some maybe less developed parts (e.g. the armed dwarves seemed rather worthless in our plays) and some possibly underexplained rules (see final comments) it’s a surprisingly well-developed and fun game from a beginner (and not only from a beginner). And he seems to be a nice guy: he is a new user at BGG who is ready to answer the questions popping up in regards of the game. You can find a continuously updated FAQ at the game’s webpage as well – and there you can also find some variants to make the games harder.

You might need it. For families these games are probably rather hard, but for gamers, well, we managed to succeed in each one of the legends for the first play. It doesn’t mean they were easy or boring, and I also have to add that we succeded in legend 3 and 4 only because we were extremely lucky in the end. I’m already looking for replaying the game with non-gamer friends and later with my family (yes, I still want to buy the game).

Oh yes, replayability might be an issue for many. It is not an issue for me but I can imagine the game is the most exciting and entertaining during the first play of the legends as then you enter these stories unknowing and the twists and turns come as a surprise. I guess many are going to sell this game maybe after all the legends were successfully finished but until then even they might have a very good time.
By the way, this is a bit like videogames – you buy them (quite often for the price of this board game), learn the game during the tutorial, complete all the missions… and then it’s up to you if you want to replay it or not. I, as a Eurogamer who likes family games but also likes fantasy, exciting stories and having fun, do want to replay it quite a few times.


Oh, and the artwork and components are beautiful, gorgeous but that's something that wouldn't surprise anyone who knows the designer's previous artworks.

Good work, Mr. Menzel, congratulations!




(Appendix) Finally, some words on the Hungarian edition

Most of you won’t care, but the translation text in the Hungarian edition is, for a large part of the cards, rather terrible. It seems obvious it was translated in a rush in order to publish the game as soon as possible but I’m afraid it’s not the only reason behind all the poor texts. Austria-based Piatnik is the biggest publisher in Hungary but seemingly they have never took care of the numerous complaints the texts in their games got. It’s not only grammar and spelling mistakes, in most of these games some important rule details are also mistranslated as they seemingly don’t spend any money on a proof-reader and/or someone who would check the content of their translations (even though many of us kept contacting them because of this).
So I can’t be sure that we played all the rules as we should have; sometimes we had to improvise a bit or at least work hard to find out what they intended to say. I also can’t compare the Hungarian texts to the German or English version due to the nature these cards are revealed (only during gameplay, so they aren’t downloadable from anywhere). So I don’t really want to comment on how well the game is explained in the German or English rules; I don’t know. Of course I didn’t let the poor translation destroy the huge fun I had with the game but I must say these still bothered me quite much, and I have already seen some potential buyers turn away from the game seeing some of the translation examples.
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Balint Weisz
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Very useful review, thanks!

One question about the replay value: do I understand correctly, that there is almost nothing random in the game, except for the die-rolls in combat (and the random setup in Legend 3)? Do all event cards come out in the exact same order each time? In other words: does the game look "solvable"?
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Laszlo Molnar
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Major events come up in the same order. But there are random elements during the game.
- mist tiles are always distributed randomly.
- there are 15 monster tiles that tell you where to place what kind of monsters; these are used in more than one adventure and not all of them are used; also the order and timing they appear in is randomized.
- there are minor events at the end of each day - printed on cards randomly shuffled.
- there is a place in the mine where, whenever you enter there, you draw a special event card.
- there are some important characters (enemies or helpers)/events that appear at certain points in the story. You roll the die to determine when they appear; also sometimes only one of several similar (but different) cards is used.
- During set-up you are quite often asked to roll the dice to place tiles and sometimes even monsters are placed on the numbered spaces determined by the dice.
- in legend 3 everyone draws a secret mission from a small deck.
- maybe there is more; that's all I can think of right now.

So there is variety to the games. On the other hand, this variety is more or less controlled by good design (so you won't find extreme unsolvable situations) but still there is quite a bit of variety in all the legends (well, it's quite low in the introductory - tutorial - legend). The main events of the story are more or less the same.
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Michelle
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Thanks for the great insights into the game! This is one of the most interesting reviews I've read in a long time. I love how you pointed out the connection to Mr. Menzel's illustration work ...I was unaware that he had done the boards for Stone Age, etc. but that makes perfect sense.
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Georg D.
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Thanks for this great review!


lacxox wrote:

All this balancing between different aims and effects has a quite eurogamey effect while the adventure is still tense, thematic and exciting.


Sounds like a great mix. I hope the difficulty will not be too family friendly but you said Michael Menzel offers some variants to increase the difficulty a bit - so I think it will be fine.

You say the time track is a bit unthematic. Do you think there are easy houserules to play it in a more thematic way without disturbing the gamflow somewhere else?

I hope I will find the time (and tablespace) to have a look at it in Essen.

edited for spelling
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Christian
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Are you kidding? The game is easy to play, but it is difficult enough to win, don't worry.

As for the time track, it worried me too, so here is what I do. First let me say that when confronted with such "issues" I prefer to bend the theme than to bend the rules, especially in such a finely crafted game as this one.

My solution is : I call the time track the "action track" or the "fatigue track" and instead of spending "hours" we spend actions, or accumulate fatigue. In fact we use indifferently "hour" or "action" or "fatigue", depending on the context. And so, the character whose token is further on the track is not "somewhere in the future", he's just more tired. And when the token reaches the 7 space or more he is "exhausted".

Works really fine for us
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Laszlo Molnar
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I only meant the way the time track works makes probably a bit less sense thematically than a Thebes-like time track, but I didn't say you can't create explanations

Also I didn't mean this would bother me at all; I'm not a theme over mechanism guy so if a mechanism is not as thematic but makes the game better - then I vote for this.
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Christian
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Ok, I understand.
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Libůrek Nývltů
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Laszlo Molnar: In opposite I think that "narrator (white token) story progress track" is very thematic, because I imagine it as a some historian who retells his listeners a epic story of few brave heroes, who in old times (tried to) save(d) the kingdom. So you don´t play the game "real time", you just play some old legend how it sees it narrator.

Georg D.: The game is family friendly (in terms of rules, theme, playing time etc.), but not in the way of difficulty. It´s hard enought as it is now (after first two tutorial legends of course), but if you want to loose even more big time then usual, then you can tinker it... For example use just part of the legend time track (so it will not have 14 steps, but just ten or so).
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Georg D.
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DaViD082 wrote:

Georg D.: The game is family friendly (in terms of rules, theme, playing time etc.), but not in the way of difficulty. It´s hard enought as it is now (after first two tutorial legends), but if you want to loose even more big tme then usal, ten you can tinker it... For exmple use just part of the legend time track (so it will not have 14 teps, but just ten or so).


Sounds great, thanks for the anwer.
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Laszlo Molnar
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DaViD082 wrote:
Laszlo Molnar: In opposite I think that "narrator (white token) story progress track" is very thematic, because I imagine it as a some historian who retells his listeners a epic story of few brave heroes, who in old times (tried to) save(d) the kingdom. So you don´t play the game "real time", you just play some old legend how it sees it narrator.

More or less I agree; When I said it's less thematic I talked about how the time track works (on the top of the board, counting the hours) and not the event track (story progress track). But I didn't mean this as a criticism and I also think there is already more ado about this statement than it deserves.
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Kevin Lloyd
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Congratulations on an excellent review - informative, interesting and well written. Great work - you've sold me on the game.
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HenningK
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Excellent review! I just played the introductory scenario for the first time, and I am very keen to play more. This is definitely the first must-buy in Essen for me this year.
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Carlos Alves
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Quote:
I guess many are going to sell this game maybe after all the legends were successfully finished but until then even they might have a very good time.


To prevent that, i would like to have more legends or a new expansion with double sided board with new legends.
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Andreas Tullgren
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A very good review, thanks!
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Mac Blanco
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Excellent review!!

I've just received my copy of the game, and hopefully will soon revisit your review to post my comments (if any )

Thank you for your efforts!!
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Michael Denman
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lacxox wrote:
The event track (on the right side of the board) has 14 steps (A to N). There is a white figure moved forward on this track and when this figure reaches certain letters, the corresponding legend cards (major events) are read and executed. When the figure reaches the last letter (N) the game ends. If you have completed your missions that’s good for you. Otherwise, the legend is lost.

But when does this figure move? In two occurrences:

2. AND after each successful fight.


I totally missed this on my first play. So if I kill a monster and I move the white pawn up on to a star, Do I read the next Legend card immediately or do I wait and "catch up" with the Legend cards at the end of the day?
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T France
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You read them straight away...
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Laszlo Molnar
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Titeman wrote:
You read them straight away...

As he said.
 
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Guido Gloor
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I got interested because of the lovely photographs of this and its upcoming expansion, but it was your review and in particular the comments on replayability that pushed me over the edge. Bought this today
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Laszlo Molnar
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haslo wrote:
I got interested because of the lovely photographs of this and its upcoming expansion, but it was your review and in particular the comments on replayability that pushed me over the edge. Bought this today

I really hope you won't regret it. Have fun!
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Glenn D
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I think you may have talked me into this game...between a video review I watched and this well-written review, I think both have evidenced this would be a great game for my kids and me.

One question: How well does the game scale? For instance, how does the compensate for 4 players versus 2...additional creatures? Less time? This is my only concern.

Thanks in advance.
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Laszlo Molnar
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The game is a bit faster and harder with two. Otherwise it scales quite well, for example as monsters can be defeated cooperatively, they are stronger (need more hit to be defeated) when more players play and weaker when fewer play.
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T France
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Also fewer players can safely allow more monsters to enter the castle. 4 monsters for 2 players, 3 for 3, and only 2 for 4...
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Glenn D
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Thanks for the follow-ups...will probably pick this up tomorrow!
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