Maybe They Should Stay That Way
Remember the last time you played 7 Wonders and thought, This is nice and all, but it really could use some dragon-slaying!
Yeah, me neither. Still, maybe we should have thought that, because then Lost Legends would have shown up sooner. Also, maybe then it would have included the pyramids or an evil animated Colossus of Rhodes or something. Anyway. Lost Legends is a drafting game, simple in scope and execution: you’re a member of an incredibly selfish party of dungeon-divers, determined to forge your name into the greatest legend around, and leave your friends behind as footnotes in the process. And drafting! Everyone loves drafting.
Roughly half of Lost Legends proceeds exactly as you’d expect from every other drafting game in history, so if you’re familiar with the concept, feel free to skip the next couple paragraphs.
At the start of each of the game’s three “levels,” each one deeper and deadlier than the last, everyone gets a hand of six cards. These are filled with all sorts of desirable goodies, like different types of weapons, armor, artifacts, and spells. So for instance you might draw a hand that contains throwing knives, an ember wand that can deal extra damage but drains your mana, a magic robe that stops arcane blasts but nothing pointy, a sinister glove for reaching over and manipulating your buddy’s skills (hmm), iron rations for healing (not sure how that works), and a polymorph spell you can use to take the coward’s route and transform a scary monster into a mildly less-scary monster.
The trick is, you can only take one of those cards. And while you’re doing that, everyone is studying their own hand, picking out the one card they’ll keep. Then everyone announces what they bought, hands are passed to the left, and so it goes until everybody’s had a chance to acquire five cards. The usual agonizing decisions are in effect — do you play it safe and take a weapon or armor now, or risk everything on taking that cool spell and hoping the other players leave some basic essential kit for you to snatch up later? Do you take the best option for now, or the best option for building a better tomorrow? Drafting games have ever been thus, and shall be so until the end of time.
Lost Legends doesn’t do much to challenge the formula, though what little it does is a nice touch. Equipment costs money, and it’s entirely possible you won’t have enough to buy all five cards. However, particular skills will net you discounts, and make certain items more effective. For instance, that magic crossbow in the picture above costs 6 gold — quite a bit, even in the late-game. But it costs 2 less if you have the ranged skill, and even less if you have the armor and magic skills. Better yet, having those skills lets it deal more damage in combat.
How do you acquire skills, you ask? Good question, and please let me know when you figure— oh, in the game! Well, you start with a couple, depending on which class you took at the start of the game. Also, you can take a card and, rather than buying it, flip it upside-down and add it as a skill card. So now every card has potential not only as an item, but as an investment in your skills, earning you discounts and empowering your items. It’s a nice perk that turning in items also gets you a bit of gold to spend.
All in all, there was enough going on in the drafting phase to interest even a tired old coot like me (only in the sense that I’ve played enough board games to count as an old man; I’m actually a mere fourteen years old, so whoever keeps sending me those emails, please be aware I’m of an age that the FBI will be logging your very descriptive missives).
So that’s half the game, the first portion of each of the game’s three levels. After that, it’s time to put those items to good use, and hopefully win some glory!
The combat portion of the game is as simple as possible while still having enough breadth to give most of the items some value. Each player gets a monster out in front of their player board before each drafting phase, so you have a chance to plan your attacks and blocks. Then, in sequence, each player can choose to fight their monster, or pass it off and try to fight something else. While luck does determine a bit of which monster you fight, and also therefore whether you can kill the right types of monsters (more on that in a moment), in general there are plenty of options for picking a monster to battle.
Once the fight starts, there are four types of attack: melee, ranged, magic, and the much-rarer and usually-deadly chaos. Each monster might modify these types of damage, perhaps by taking only half magic damage, or being immune to swords, or doubling your ranged attacks. You get a chance to kill these monsters before they strike back, though that’s not often possible, and then the monster goes to town on your face and you hopefully have the right armor and spells to block or heal some of that damage.
If the monster kills you, you’re out of the round and have to sit there like a dummy until everyone else gets knocked out or finishes killing all the available monsters. Winning, on the other hand, gets you gold, experience (leading eventually to level-ups and wads of legend points), and that monster as a trophy. Accumulated monster trophies earn trophy tokens, each of which confers some legend points, and more to whomever accomplishes that token’s criteria first — so slaying two dragons is worth 8 points the first time someone does it, but the next guy to pull it off only gets 6 points, because been there done that, says the first guy, like an ass.
Getting the right combinations of monster types is therefore one of the three keys to winning the game, along with gaining legend points from experience and gold, and it’s undoubtedly the best of the three. There’s naturally some frustration when you keep trying to find an undead monster to pick up the one-of-each-type trophy, and instead keep finding worthless (to you) beast-types, but managing which monsters you fight is part of the game’s challenge, after all.
For the most part, I’ve enjoyed Lost Legends. The drafting presents loads of options, and little details, like how some monsters “charge” the player who most recently killed one of their kin, really do elevate it to surprisingly fresh levels, for a drafting game.
Even so, I have some nits to pick. Getting knocked out of the level is about as much fun as getting knocked out in real life, since you have to watch your buddies heap up monster trophies and experience points while you sit around trying to make small talk and getting glared at because everybody else is having fun being awesome. And some of the game’s systems make total sense from a balance perspective, but very little from a common sense perspective — for instance, when you get gold from slaying a monster, your neighbors ride your coattails and also get gold for some reason, as though your buddy’s crusty dwarf grew a heart for the span of two minutes after killing a wyvern, inexplicably sharing the spoils before going right back to stealing your spells with his Mind Tap ability once the afterglow has worn off. Perhaps worse, everyone I’ve played with has questioned the game’s balance, arguing that some items seem a whole lot more potent than others, though maybe it’s just the nature of drafting games for everyone to constantly want what other people have.
Overall, it’s a good system. It’s usually fun, you mostly have control over the proceedings, and it’s fairly quick to play (though obviously much quicker during the drafting phase when everyone’s going at the same time). If you’re a fan of drafting games that do things a little differently without totally breaking the mold, it’s definitely something to check out.