Mini-Review: Blades of Legend
The game has gone from tense to intense; the cards are down, our eyes are fixed, and the pool of red plastic gems is long run dry. I have inadvertently assisted the enemy Master by slipping energy to her Wielders for much of the match before it became clear their allegiance does not sit with me. Only thanks to the deviousness of one of my own Wielders, a sharp young man of great potential whose easy smile belies devious inner workings, do we retrain even the barest thread of a chance. It’s Geoff’s turn now, and as he studies the lay of the land, the one path to victory is as clear as—
“How do we win this again?” he asks. Everyone looks up, and from the glazed look in their eyes I can see they’ve been wondering the same thing for the last half hour. Welcome to Blades of Legend.
Blades of Legend, a secret team game that requires at least six players to play because you need at least two ample teams. The idea is that there are two Masters and a whole bunch of Wielders. When the game begins, everyone gets a card showing which of the “seals” in the middle of the play area is theirs. This tells them which side they’re on — beyond that, everybody is trapped in the same boat of ignorance: nobody is sure of the other Wielders’ allegiances, which seals belong to the Masters, who’s a friend and who’s a foe. Even the Masters themselves aren’t too clear on anything: they have two seals in the array out in front of them, but they only know one for certain — the other begins known to the enemy Master.
The concept is like a picture-perfect setup for an incredible hidden roles game. Everyone is guessing at everything, making mistakes and feints and brilliant feats of Holmesian deduction all at once. The Masters are set against each other in a square dance to the death, counting the Wielders’ moves and stretching their feeble brains to deduce which swordsmen they can rely on to attack the enemy Master’s seals and which ones they should leave out in the cold. At the same time, the Wielders are dropping subtle hints to their Master while also trying to convince the other Master that they deserve some of the juicy energy he gives out on his turn — energy the Wielders need to channel attacks, strike out with the unique “blade” they were randomly assigned at the start of the game, or initiate duels with other Wielders.
Victory is achieved in one of two ways: either you can “liberate” all the Wielders in your Master’s array by breaking their seals with a pile of energy gems; or you can break the enemy Master’s seals to kill him. The trick is that once a Wielder’s seal has been broken, he becomes liberated, meaning everybody gets to see whose side he’s on (making him weaker since he can’t play the bluffing game anymore), but he gets to flip his blade over to a more powerful side (making his weapon’s attacks stronger). This introduces a neat little mechanic where the Masters will want to break a few of the seals in their array in order to empower their fighters, even though doing so narrows down the identity of their own precious seals.
Problem is, as cool as the concept sounds, Blades of Legend never crosses that mysterious bridge that transforms a nifty concept into a great game.
It’s fiddly, for one. The rules aren’t very clear, and even once you understand what’s going on it’s still nigh-impossible to logically explain it — every match we played was filled with people asking those of us with more experience to please repeat something, from the strange rules for how duels are conducted, to how and when victory happens, to how on earth are we supposed to guess which side anyone is on?
That last one is a real problem. It just doesn’t feel like any of the tools for deducing who was on which team were all that useful. It’s possible to wage duels that pair up Masters and Wielders, and for the victorious Master to permit the victorious Wielder to spy on another Wielder’s seal. Even this action doesn’t do much to inform anyone of what’s going on, though it’s much better than the rest of the possible actions, which are limited to placing down or picking up piles of plastic gems from the cards. Even with the bare minimum number of people required to play, I can’t see how anyone but the most savant-brained could keep track of so many miniature transactions with any accuracy — and that’s assuming they can keep their interest focused for the entire game. My group never managed it.
When I supported the Minigame Library on Kickstarter, my main concern was that it would turn out to be an anthology of mediocre games grouped together to trick consumers into believing it was a good deal because they were getting six of them. Because of this, I was relieved last week to discover that Master Plan is “surprisingly cerebral,” not to mention fun, even if it could have used a little extra variety. Blades of Legend is the lowest-ranked of the six over on BoardGameGeek, and it’s not hard to see why — because remember the player I mentioned above, the one who was spinning tales and tricking everyone into believing he was on the other side? Even he gave Blades of Legend a resounding two thumbs down.