Legends Untold Board Game Review

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Legends Untold

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A great dungeoncrawler with a diversity problem.

Legends Untold, a new card-based adventure game from Inspiring Games available across two "novice" sets and a handful of booster packs, may not seem like the stuff legends are made of but it is quite a compelling design. Unlike other games in its genre, it doesn't abstract away or completely eliminate some of the fussier elements of dungeon-crawling and I've appreciated the greater attention to detail as well as the richer gameplay it precipitates. This is a game where old school concepts like marching order matter, and where your pathway through the dungeon might be influenced by how much light - or how much risk - is in the next tunnel. Moving boldly might find you inadvertently triggering booby traps, but creeping through the shadows you could catch a monster by surprise - it all depends on a scouting roll.

There are quite a lot of pieces I like throughout this design. I especially like how a character's skill card is actually a collection of three situationally useful and thematically related abilities. And none of these skills are things like "Two Handed Weapons" or "Master Thaumaturgy" because the characters are all just plain folks taking up whatever meager arms they have and heading into the Weeping Caves or the Great Sewers. Combat results are varied and provide lots of tactical grist, and success in challenges such as natural hazards is measured in degrees rather than absolutes- it's a 3D6 with modifiers based system, which allows for a range of possibilities in each roll.

These details imparts a stronger than usual sense of narrative. I love how the main encounter deck includes the monsters as well as the loot and booby traps, so that when you draw treasures they become your spoils if you defeat the monster guarding them. I like that there are considerations for camping, exploration, and points of interest in the caves as well as terrain effects that play off some of the cards. It all feels quite comprehensive, which is not something usually said about this kind of game.

Despite some thoughtful and sometimes innovative touches, much of the game is fairly standard card-based dungeoneering that goes all the way back to Sorceror's Cave. Flip a card, see what's in the room, deal with what's in the room, take treasure. But what I think this game does different is that it gets grittier. The low fantasy setting is part of that equation, and it includes a "cinematic" campaign that has you doing interesting things like tracking the population of your settlement as you run missions for your people. I like that these are not traditional fantasy hero types and you are fighting with crude weapons. But what I like more is the other part of the grittiness equation, that this game is rife with strategic decisions and tough tactical choices.

Everything from that aforementioned marching order to deciding which paths to take to determining when to expend a skill is a tough choice in this game. It's usually a given which character should attempt a skill check (the one with the most dice in the skill, of course) but you've got to consider the possibility of failure or the result of a not-so-great success. Each combat, from the lowest goblin up through the tougher boss-level monsters, is potentially deadly and requires careful thought and of course good die rolls. Exhausting a skill at the wrong time might find the party on the back foot in the next room when there's not a campsite, or you might arrogantly think you've got a challenge roll in hand when you ought to have used an ability to ensure a success.

Yet the game isn't necessarily more "thinky" or "heavy" than the Warhammer Adventure Card Game, for example, and it remains fairly accessible despite more rules and considerations than its peers. It can still be quite capricious and dice-heavy, so those looking for something closer to a Mage Knight kind of experience might be less enthused. But as far as games in this class go, I think this is one of the more interesting recent ones and I've enjoyed working through some of the varied scenarios. It's an excellent solitaire game and it also plays exceptionally well with two.

As far as the packaging of the game into mutliple SKUs goes, I think it's fine. I found myself slightly preferring the Weeping Caves set and its campaign, but both are complete games that provide a mostly similar experience. The boosters are probably best reserved for those who really want to dig into this system, offering additional characters (an Alchemist and a Druid, both of which toe the line of the "just plain folks" concept) and an add-on treasure pack.

Now, I have a lot of praise for this game and I think this is definitely a worthwhile design. However, I would be remiss to not mention something that I felt was particularly egregious about Legends Untold. To be clear up front, I do not believe based on what I have read and analyzed for myself that Inspiring Games is in any way acting out of maliciousness or with a political agenda. But there is not one single non-white person in this game. Out of ten characters, every single one is as white as can be. In a time when such great strides have been made by publishers and designers to make sure that we are all represented and present in the gaming worlds we temporarily inhabit, it strikes me as awkward that there is no effort made here to represent other cultures or races in the game. I mean, it's 2019.

I'm going to play devil's advocate here a bit though. If you read the lore and understand that the concept is that this all based specifically on a kind of quasi-historical Northern European concept, and the people in the game are kinda-sorta Saxons and the story does not really seem to call for some kind of kinda-sorta non-Europeans, although they could be present in the fluff. But there again, if elves, goblins and giant spiders are being hand-waved into this "fact-based" setting, why can’t a player choose to be a non-white human? It would be different if the game were strictly historical but it is still squarely fantasy.

The problem is that white people often don't understand why this is a problem, or worse, they don't notice it because it doesn't affect them- this is white privelege. This is exactly the kind of latent white supremacy that is such a problem across all media and culture today, and it's unfortunate that I'm thinking about this while playing this otherwise excellent game. If I show this game to my black family members, for example, it's going to feel kind of weird that it's all white faces on those cards and I'm not sure I want to put a game in front of them where they aren't represented at all without a specific historical rationale.

Is this a terminal issue? That is inevitably up to the individual. What I can give you to go on is that the game is very good, but I am a white male and therefore via white privelege I am represented in the game. For others, the game simply does not make its diversity check. This is isn't the first good game with a diversity problem, but hopefully it will be among the last and hopefully Inspiring Games will see fit to broaden their game world so that all players feel welcome and represented.


Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #298920 27 Jun 2019 10:16
Really Michael, I do get a bit tired of your beliefs making major inroads into your board game reviews. You even said it yourself that it's based on Northern Europe lore where some of those mystical creatures originate from. If a games company from say Asia or Africa (or even a US company) put out a game purely set in that region where all the characters were Asian/African would you be trying to tear them a new one ? . Yes, they may lose sales from people without a european connection (or evangelists) not getting in to it but that is their choice to make for their product in their company.
Now if you have a leaked memo showing that non-white characters were explicitly banned from the game due to the attitudes/beliefs of the company then I will be right beside you in causing massive shit for them.
And your review of the game was pretty top, enough to make me have a look at it even though I have far too many similar games.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #298927 27 Jun 2019 11:23
Michael is right to call it like he sees it. What else can a reviewer do? While there may be a valid excuse out there for an all-white cast, it doesn't sound like this game meets that requirement.
Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #298928 27 Jun 2019 11:24
Good point - something that could have been so easily addressed. Had it been done no one would take much notice.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #298935 27 Jun 2019 12:46
With two starter packs and follow-on boosters, it would seem pretty straightforward to set one adventure in a different region. The decision to set this in the Saxon world was the decision of consequence, using that as an explanation for everything that follows is weak tea.

Had their second starter been set in the Middle East or even Spain they would have opened up a whole lot of narrative opportunities, and we would be discussing what (i.e., where) was coming next, not how white the game is.

I haven't seen this particular title, but in others in the genre much of what is deemed European in origin (monsters and legends) actually comes from other parts of the world.

Given the current political climate companies will be smart to immunize themselves from white supremacists endorsing their products.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298936 27 Jun 2019 13:15
I doubt that the lack of diversity was an intentional slight by the designer, and more of an unthinking imitation of the overwhelmingly whiteness of the fantasy stories that inspired D&D.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298939 27 Jun 2019 14:37
Lord of the Rings? A world of several different races of white people.

Conan the Barbarian? Conan the Aryan.

The Amber series? Caine is "swarthy," but all the other named characters are white. Or albino shapeshifters.

Fafhrd and and the Gray Mouser? White and white.

Elric of Melinbone? A black guy named Otto Blendker shows up in one story, but he was from another dimension. Everybody else is white, except Elric is albino. Hmm, there seem to be more albinos than people of color in fantasy.

The biggest fantasy series written since D&D started is Game of Thrones. Maybe three named characters who aren't white, and that series has a lot of named characters.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298940 27 Jun 2019 14:50
We know that Hadrian (d. 709), the abbot of St Peter’s and St Paul’s at Canterbury was African.

If the Roman Army was ever there, then people from Africa, the Middle East and, of course, Southern Europe were there. Same is true if the Roman Catholic Church was there.

Language describing race is a fairly recent thing, historically speaking. For example, Euclid was African, but he was Greek because he was from Alexandria which was a Greek city located in Egypt. So was he black, white, middle eastern? There were no words for that. He was just Greek. Sometimes you might get descriptions of people as being "fair" or "swarthy." Just because there aren't any records from the time that specifically describe people using the race terms that we use, don't assume they weren't there.

So the historical argument doesn't hold water. And as Michael said "if elves, goblins and giant spiders are being hand-waved into this "fact-based" setting, why can’t a player choose to be a non-white human? "
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298945 27 Jun 2019 16:03
I think I would like to play this sometime. Although right now I am in a mood, where I feel like none of these huge dungeon crawl games does anything better, more interesting, or more fun than HeroQuest. I’m just waiting for that mood to pass.
Joebot's Avatar
Joebot replied the topic: #298947 27 Jun 2019 17:04

Shellhead wrote:
The biggest fantasy series written since D&D started is Game of Thrones. Maybe three named characters who aren't white, and that series has a lot of named characters.


Not to derail the thread, but come on. That's just blatantly untrue. The continent of Essos is largely populated with non-white people, such as the Dothraki. The character Missandei comes from the Summer Isles, whose people are described as being dark-skinned. Even on Westeros, the people of Dorne are described as non-white.

Good lord, that was possibly the nerdiest paragraph I've ever written. Oh, I've wasted my life ...
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298948 27 Jun 2019 17:24
That's a great point with respect to the books, but the tv show offers only Missandei, Gray Worm, and maybe a couple of folks from Dorne. It's been a few years since I last re-read the books and I didn't start watching the show until 2017, so I admit that I was thinking of the show when I posted that comment.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #298951 27 Jun 2019 18:09
It's also worth pointing out that if you subtract out the slaves, you really have very few PoC in GoT.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298953 27 Jun 2019 20:54
Just to point out, as an Asian (whose half of friends are Chinese), it always feels weird to have Asian in western-style fantasy. The monk or kensai classes never sit really well with me on D&D either. There are very few exceptions of this (like Diablo), but almost in all of these exceptions, they are very specific and prominent, which for me, does not work well for a game, just like how I feel strange playing Aragorn in an LOTR game.

Just imagine it, an Asian style fantasy, with white heroes, you'd probably call it white savior. Would an Asian hero in western fantasy be called Asian savior? I don't think so.

I realize white privilege exists, but, please, whites, do not be too hard on your fellow whites. You can start complaining when someone paint all of their X-COM board game minis with blond hair.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298955 27 Jun 2019 21:46
I always think of it in terms of what it means to kids. When Space Cadets: Away Missions came out we got messages from people saying that they were so happy that it included two female characters so both their daughters could play. But then we got a message from a dad asking us if we could have a Black female character in the expansion for his daughter. That broke my heart.

We had tried to convince the publisher to make the character portraits cards that could be placed on any board, and to include a mix of genders and races. But the idea for shot down.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298956 27 Jun 2019 22:01
Uba, for gender I generally more agree, since it's male & female is everywhere. But even then, if it's something historical or has historical sensibilities, it has to reflect the condition back then. For fantasy, I'm actually very agree with 50:50 gender division. But the universe must follow that also, not just the heroes.

For SCAM, of course, it should have been racially & sexually diverse, just like XCOM. But sometimes, it's more about logistics, than bad political intention.

Just an interesting side note, I *almost always* play female in computer games, where possible.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #298958 28 Jun 2019 00:59

Shellhead wrote: Conan the Barbarian? Conan the Aryan.

Conan the Barbarian (the surprisingly still-excellent movie) features a European-like setting (it was filmed largely in Spain) yet it features a black villain and two Asian sidekicks. None of these castings feel jarring to me. As such, I think it's possible to include people of colour into a European fantasy setting without ruining its verisimilitude.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298959 28 Jun 2019 01:13
The thing is, Conan the Barbarian never feels like typical European-fantasy settings. It's like amalgamation of Europe, Asia, and may be a little bit of Middle East. Heck, Conan was surrounded by Mongol-like friends at a time. From timeline perspective (BC era), it's also a far cry from the typical Tolkienese fantasy.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #298960 28 Jun 2019 02:06
It’s... Teutonic fantasy, Sevej.

Alek’s point is that the film adaptation found wiggle room, as did pretty much anyone’s uncomfortable reading of Howard’s straight up racist material, so why can’t these board games squirm their way out of the same ideological blind spot?

Because laziness and white authors (personal opinion)
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298962 28 Jun 2019 03:27
No, if I created the typical fantasy world, be it teutonic, tolkienese, etc, it would have been, like, 99% white people. Pointing it's due to laziness and white author, without any due diligence, IS being lazy.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #298963 28 Jun 2019 04:47
I am really glad I don't live in the US as the white and male guilt you all seem to live with would drive me to suicide. Living in countries where races and genders get on pretty well has really made my life a great experience, even in the UK here where there is a great mix of ethnicities yet those non-white groups have the confidence to refer to themselves nationality as Black or Asian and it doesn't make a ripple with anyone. Yes, still race issues here (I'm sure there are race issues in every country in the world, hell the south Pacific island country of Fiji had a military coup in the 1980s because ethnic Fijians were upset with the Indian majority having too much control) but most people work together on it.
When we play games we probably don't even notice what ethnicity/gender the characters are - in Eldritch Horror I could have the black female investigator or the old white male investigator, same with the others males in the group and we're all white males over 30.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #298964 28 Jun 2019 08:17

southernman wrote: When we play games we probably don't even notice what ethnicity/gender the characters are - in Eldritch Horror I could have the black female investigator or the old white male investigator, same with the others males in the group and we're all white males over 30.


This sounds like the rallying cry of the cis white male. I find it's common for white dudes over 30 to feel representation isn't important so everyone can stop worrying about it already.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298967 28 Jun 2019 10:12

Ah_Pook wrote:

southernman wrote: When we play games we probably don't even notice what ethnicity/gender the characters are - in Eldritch Horror I could have the black female investigator or the old white male investigator, same with the others males in the group and we're all white males over 30.


This sounds like the rallying cry of the cis white male. I find it's common for white dudes over 30 to feel that representation isn't important so everyone can stop worrying about it already.


Part of what Southernman is saying is important - their core market isn't put off by not being able to play white male characters. This is a message that publishers need to hear.

Publishers see their market as white males over 30. Therefore if they have a game with human characters, they feel that they must include at least as many white male characters as the max player count for the game.

They feel that the expense of adding non-white and/or non-male characters isn't worth it because it doesn't increase sales, and may in fact hurt sales. There are, unfortunately, a lot of voices on the internet nerd-o-sphere who are actively, and angrily opposed to "geekdom," which includes board games, being for anyone other that white, straight males.

It is important for publishers to hear from the rest of us, reviewers and players, that we support a greater diversity of representation in games - that representation is good for business, and that lack of representation, at the very least, limits their business, and may even be bad for business.

This is important to me personally. Just seeing the disappointment on young person's face when there is no one who looks like them in a game (again ) makes me so sad. But it is awesome seeing their face light up when there is. And these aren't even my kids. Imagine what their gamer parent's feel.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298968 28 Jun 2019 10:16
Dude, you're talking about board games. If it's a media enjoyed by a more wide audience, sure. Right now this just looks like a silly demand to have all media cater to "representation". Some guys just want to have fun, make a game, for factors they don't fully realize created all the characters white and getting blasted for it. Urgh...

These are just as bad as the other white privileges:
1. Demanding anyone creating anything to represent everything (are you going to create guidance for minimal amount of race in a game for it to stop being called "not representative" because it's technically impossible to include all races except if you're *gasp* generalizing races?)
2. Getting offended for other races

Yep, I'm calling these white privileges, because it seems only they do this. I mean... I LOVE being represented in games, in form of race or nationality or religion or sexual orientation (but I'm straight, so apparently I have no say about it!), but really don't think that I have ever demanded it. This is just like that brouhaha on C2077. The real Haitians are totally happy being represented in game, and some white dudes in a news outlet getting outraged on the Haitians being evil dude! Geez...

Should we stop reading & watching lord of the rings also, now? I mean, some of you really shy away from the Cthulhu Mythos on the base of the author is a racist...
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #298970 28 Jun 2019 10:25

Sevej wrote: 1. Demanding anyone creating anything to represent everything


I don't recall anyone taking hostages on the issue in this article or thread.

The reviewer expressed an opinion, we've expressed ours as well. The designer of the game is likely fully capable of hearing what was voiced and proceeding as they see fit.

Anyone care to speak to other facets of the article, which, frankly, gushes on the game and seems to indicate that perhaps we should consider playing it instead of talking about it!
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #298971 28 Jun 2019 10:28
Oh, and I'd like to apologize in advance regarding my comments on "Deke" in my next article.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #298973 28 Jun 2019 10:43
It's imperative that the ones being catered to, i.e. the white males, are vocal in speaking out about representation. If they are "the market", and are demanding change, then change sounds like a better idea to companies who really only care about the bottom line.

Games are for everyone, and it's nice when people can find a relatable face in the game.

People on ToS sure got hot under the collar that SEAL Team Flix had female Sailors. Fuck 'em. It's non-negotiable.