27 September 2018
Small box, deep dungeon, big vision
Love Gloomhaven but wish that it didn’t take half a day to set up? Enjoy GM-free, RPG-lite fantasy campaign experiences, but don’t like hefting around gigantic boxes packed with innumerable components? Well, Legends Untold may just be the game you’re looking for.
Set in a familiar but engaging medieval-magical world created by Scottish indie designer Kevin Young, it interestingly casts its players as ordinary folk forced into deadly circumstances. Whether a farmhand, a student, an evicted noble or a blacksmith (each of whom can be given skill cards and weapons of your choosing, allowing for a wide variety of starting builds), you’re part of a group of refugees, driven to the walls of a besieged fortress city by the invasion of “heavily armoured elves”. Here, your plucky party volunteers to venture into a subterranean network known as The Weeping Caves to find a way into the city of Dun Mordhain.
Well, that’s assuming you’ve picked up The Weeping Caves Novice Set. You may instead have plumped for the alternative Great Sewer Novice Set, which provides different components, setting and narratives. It’s all part of a grand plan by Young and co-designer Hugh Ducker to drip-feed a big-arc campaign in an episodic, character-building (but non-legacy) manner, with ‘Apprentice’, ‘Journeyman’, ‘Expert’, etc. boxes to come. An ambitious gambit, which reveals the confidence Young and Ducker have in their world and system – and, if several delves into The Weeping Caves (using the standard ruleset, rather than Young’s more complex and story-heavier ‘cinematic campaign rules’) is anything to go by, it’s paid off.
The beauty of Legends Untold is the way it crams so much into such a small box, with a setup that shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Every dungeon is constructed via the turning of location cards as your party explores room-by-room. All the encounters, monsters and loot are represented by cards drawn from decks, which are built according to each scenario’s specific instructions. Combat is pacey, with a single dice-throw accounting for both combatants in melee encounters, and the test system (traversing rickety bridges, encountering wandering madmen, etc.) is crisply implemented, with many encouraging individual characters to step forward and play to their strengths.
Teamwork couldn’t be more important to Legends Untold. It’s never an option to split up the gang; one token counts for the whole group, with the party electing a scout and rear-guard before entering every new location, deciding as a unit whether or not they want to sneak – at the cost of time, a limited resource which also keeps play time neatly constrained – and whether they prefer to take the darkest passageways (look out for traps!) or stick to better-lit routes (look out for monsters!). It’s a nice touch, one that echoes the true RPG experience, and keeps downtime to a bare minimum – although it does make the game rather more prone to alpha-player domination than other co-ops.
There are some niggles. There is too much reliance on dice-rolling: you can’t even enter a new area without tossing those cubes first, while a run of bad throws can frustratingly derail a quest entirely – especially if you choose to play solo. And the rules are not the easiest to absorb; it takes a lot of re-reading and referring back before they bed into your brain. Still, there remains much to love, from the evocative artwork and the innovative use of cards to create modular dungeons to Young’s compelling fantasy worldbuilding. May many more Legends unfold.
A neat, smart and impressively dinky GM-free campaign experience that offers a lightweight (in a good way) alternative to the monstrous Gloomhaven.
Designer: Kevin Young, Hugh Ducker
Artist: Jessica Andersson, Patricio Clarey, The Comicbookist, Zabibullah M. Hassan, Steve Hong, Satoshi Kamanaka, Jennier S. Lange, Kelvin Liew, David Ceballos López, Consuelo Pecchenino, Henry Peters, Naomi Robinson, Emmanuel Bou Roldan, Daniel Skakala, Simon Tosovsky
Time: 60 minutes
Players: 1-4 (up to 8 when using Caves and Sewers sets)
NOTE: The Legends Untold artwork used in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming magazine is non-final art from the game's Kickstarter campaign and therefore does not accurately reflect the final version of the game. The imagery used here is from the production version of Legends Untold and more accurately represents the game's final look.
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.