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Artaterxes

Review of the game after finishing campaign

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Hello – this is my review for the great and addicting narrative adventure game Legacy of Dragonholt. I completed one campaign from start to finish using one character.
I had another thread going on related to my first impressions.
Thank you for reading (and thanks to those who commented in my other thread too.)

Overall Game Structure
In Legacy of Dragonholt, 1 to 6 players each creates a character and embarks upon a cooperative adventure! There are no dice, and there is no board, but there is a huge, sprawling, branching campaign with countless possible storylines and multiple endings. The game includes one large, main questbook for the central location of Dragonholt Village as well as six quest books, one rulebook, and one character creation book. You also get a few other goodies in the game that you can examine as you uncover them. As you play, you read some text, make a decision, flip to the appropriate next section, and keep going to see where your journey takes you.

Campaign Structure
The quest “To New Roads” serves as the prologue before you enter Dragonholt Village. You will spend seven days in Dragonholt Village, and on each day you have 6-8 units of time to fill with whatever activities you like. This is where the fun comes in! Explore, gather clues, and discover a richly told story with great characterization, tons of people to meet, and tons of things to do.

Sometimes you will go on minor encounters, while other times you will go on major quests, represented by the other smaller quest books. In my campaign I went on all of the quests except for one. Some of the quests are mandatory and advance the main plot. Other quests are optional and advance side plots.

As you play, you mark “story points” on your story tracking sheet, as certain decisions and events are available depending on what happened on your quest.

Encounter Structure

Each hero has an activation token (except while playing solo). While in Dragonholt Village, each hero takes turns deciding what to do next. That hero makes all decisions for that encounter, flips the token facedown, and then another hero decides what to do next. Decisions are discussed as a party, but only one player has the final say. This helps ensure everyone has fun.

During a quest, which is considered a single large encounter, decisions are instead handled as a group. The party decides on a player to make the decision and flip his activation token facedown, becoming the “active” player. Effects that result from that decision befall only the active player (unless dealt to the entire party). When it’s time to make the next decision, the group decides who will act again, except any inactive players (with facedown tokens) cannot make the final decision and become the active player. All tokens refresh once everyone is inactive.

Learning skills is the key to this game. During a quest, when the party comes across a decision to be made, certain options are available only if someone in the party  knows a specific skill. More accurately, the option is available only if someone with a faceup activation token knows the skill. Likewise, effects that punish or benefit the active player as a result of his decision often depend on what skills the character knows.

Most quests are measured in “time” and “progress,” marked after certain points in the quest, often depending on your decisions. Ideally you will make the most progress in the least amount of time. Running out of time usually triggers the end of the quest, with the outcome being more positive if more progress has been made. Time and progress work a  bit differently in Dragonholt Village itself, with time measuring what you can fit in a day before the next chapter begins, while progress refers to your advances in heroism and training that unlock more skills (see below).

Strategy
Choosing a decision that requires a skill usually results in a positive outcome while choosing a generic decision usually results in a neutral or negative outcome. (Simplifying, but generally.) Since you never know what skills you need at what times, the strategy is to have the greatest variety of skills available in your party to maximize the probability that at least one of you will have the required skill for any given decision. In short, learn skills! Also, acquiring items will help you greatly. Some items grant you a clearly labelled effect; others are trinkets that you save until you can do something special with them or use them to make a superior decision. There are a few specific ways you can put the odds in your favor.
1. Keep your Stamina up.
Stamina is your all-purpose stat for "how good you feel." Your stamina is reduced by working hard or getting injured in combat and restored by resting or using consumables. Since being reduced to 0 Stamina will cause one of your skills to be disabled (after which you only bounce back to 1 Stamina), running around at low Stamina will cause your available skills to drop. That means worse decisions. Restoring Stamina is easy with a certain consumable item; just make sure you know where to get them. You can also use items at any time, so you can read an entry first and use the item right before the Stamina loss. Restoring disabled skills is not easy!
2. Go on quests and explore!
Encounters in Dragonholt Village, whether minor encounters or major quests, will help you gain skills. Often you will gain Heroism which eventually provides XP. To spend your XP, you will need to train. There are five categories of training; you will stumble upon ways to increase your training just by wandering around Dragonholt and doing things. Training is done as a party, so once the party progresses enough in one training category, a new set of skills is unlocked for the entire party. Remember where you learned the training (write down where and at what time of the day) because many training activities can be repeated. Finally, major quests – the ones in the campaign books –  provide special rewards and are unlocked by learning clues about them.
3. Spend XP at the right time.
XP is actually quite rare, so don’t spend it right away. You can spend it at any time, so wait for a crucial moment in an important quest that requires a skill that you don’t have, then learn it right there. Hopefully you unlocked that category of skills via training.
4. Pick generic decisions carefully.
Many times, “generic” decisions (those that do not require a skill) have a follow-up entry that does require a skill. Based on the wording of each decision, anticipate what skills might be needed in case a follow-up entry occurs. Example: “Approach the quarreling shoppers” might not need a skill right now, but you can anticipate it might quickly need a skill listed under the Social Practice category.
5. Plan your day wisely.
Unless a place is closed or there is nothing of interest, every encounter in Dragonholt Village takes time out of your day. At first, you won’t know what locations offer what things to do, but familiarize yourself as quickly as possible and write down notes. Listen for clues, look for rumors, and pursue what you need. You could spend your days wandering around the village and chatting with the locals, but the game is always giving you opportunities to take these encounters further. You’re never bored!

Multiplayer
So your odds are improved when the individual hero learns skills. Surely that means a larger party helps? You might expect that creating a larger hero party with a greater number of total skills would be the best strategy, since this would maximize the probability that at least one party member would have the right skill for any given decision. The game however does have mechanics that balance this effect.
1. Activation Tokens
Activation tokens do more than just make sure everyone has a turn! During quests, after making a decision, you will be inactive until everyone else has made a decision, at which all tokens refresh. For some decisions the entire party is available; for others, just one hero. On average, your effective party size is cut down: not quite all the way down to 50%, but to 50% beyond the first hero (which is closer to 60% in parties of 3-6 heroes). The point is, activation tokens cut out a huge chunk of your available skills and introduce a failure state even if someone in your party knows the skill. It sounds unfair, but it’s an absolute requirement to play the game properly in my opinion – and it can be justified thematically (see below). Otherwise, larger hero parties would always prevail.

During encounters in Dragonholt Village, all decisions are made by one hero and the activation token flips down only when the encounter is complete, rather than after each decision. The party size is thus effectively 1 while inside the village; you can often think of it as the party splitting up.
2. Sharing Resources
Despite activation tokens, larger party sizes still do have more available skills on average so the rest of the balance comes from item sharing. Gold is shared, so that means less resources to go around. Items are also shared and distributed among individuals. Stamina-restoring consumables are divided, so it’s harder to recover Stamina and keep skills from getting disabled in a larger hero party. Since you can’t take an item from an inactive hero, you might not have the item you need, even if someone in the party has it. Active heroes can give Stamina-restoring consumables to heroes with lower Stamina before they are inactive. Unique, non-consumables simply are just going to be used a fraction of the time, so their power is reduced as the party size increases. The net result is that the “excess” skills of a larger hero party will be disabled more often due to Stamina loss. (And the activation tokens cutting down your skill percentage will ensure the Stamina loss does happen, since you can’t control whether the hero making the decision will have the right skill.)
3. Unknown Decisions
The game will test your party in 24 skills. If your party has a limited skill set (small number of heroes or every hero having a similar skill set), then you are guaranteed to pass checks requiring those skills but guaranteed to fail others. If your heroes have a diverse skill set, your party doesn’t know who will be needed at what time. Everybody needs to go, and you always risk inactivating a hero that is actually needed on an upcoming decision. So even with a diverse skill set, your party will probably succeed and fail as much as a limited skill set.

Taken together, the activation tokens, shared resources, and unknown decisions work to equalize all party sizes of all skill sets between 3-6 heroes. The activation tokens mathematically do start to lose their effect at 2 heroes, so (I’m speculating here) perhaps the challenges in the game are designed for 3 heroes and the additional Stamina loss that would befall a 1-2 hero party is compensated by such heroes being granted a higher maximum Stamina during hero creation. Certainly I noticed in a single player game that my limited skill set made for some intense battles! Thank goodness I stocked on consumables!

To summarize, individuals must learn skills, but the party size is (or seems) irrelevant. Plus everyone gains XP and training progress together, so individuals progress at the same rate.

A Word about Activation Tokens
Thematically – to me at least – activation tokens are the game’s subtle way of incorporating skill check difficulty. If a decision comes up that requires a skill, but the hero with the skill is inactive, to me that suggests the hero assessed the situation, determined the challenge would be too difficult for him, and recommended the active player choose a different course of action. To use traditional RPG terms, “skill checks” become more difficult as the party size increases.

Creating Your Character
Although creating your character is the first thing you will do, I chose to talk about it towards the end of this review because an experienced player (or one who has heard about the game works, such as a reader of this review) may want to create a hero with some strategy in mind. I would advise against “strategy” when making your hero party! As mentioned above, the game has enough balancing mechanisms that you should simply be able to create a character you like.

The character creation book is quite hefty for what amounts to a simplistic character system. It all comes down to your race, class, skill set, and Stamina, and those can be decided in 30 seconds. It’s a good thing – players can spend as much or as little time reading the lore and flavor text as they wish. The extra “padding” of this character book is really just to get you in the mindset of how to behave like your character.

It doesn’t sound important, but when I first played the game, I realized that mechanically creating a hero was quite simple, so I just did it fast. I ignored most of the character book’s text and  made a character without a real personality; just a collection of skills. But when I read the quests, they were written in a way that immersed me so much into the world that I felt like I wanted to act like myself. (As in my real life self.) My character’s skills were nothing like that! So I started over and made a character more properly. Thank the immersive writing for that.

The character creation book might seem overdone for what it is, but it helps to get you in the role. If you try and make flat characters to maximize your chances of success, the game mechanics tear it apart. Strategy begins in exploration, not in party building. So just get in character and have fun.

Conclusion
I had a great time with this. I’d play it with people who like story more than mechanics. It’s a nice change of pace from rolling dice and I especially liked how you can just make any character without the details affecting your chance of successs.

My most important critique about the game is that I expected the opposite out of it. I expected my party composition to have an impact on my chance of success, whereas the game has several mechanics in place to ensure you don’t need to worry about that. It doesn’t do itself justice by keeping the mechanics under the hood and offering you a barebones character maker padded with text making it look like it’s trying too hard. Making a character is simple and fun because the game balances out the party for you, but nobody used to traditional RPGs – or heck, Descent: Journeys in the Dark – would expect that. The character maker is filled with text because that’s the best way to get into character for this game!

Likewise, I expected the game to be about the journey, and not the destination; a game where there is no black and white, no success or failures, but just different paths. But there are failure states and there is a small amount of strategy, which is a good thing! It’s just not obvious until it’s too late. (And if there are supposed to be no failures, it sure feels like it! You literally run out of time or don’t progress enough and trigger a negatively-written outcome.)

Finally, once you realize there are failure states, it’s far too easy to blame the activation tokens for cutting out your options than to blame your party for wasting time, or for managing resources poorly, or for wasting XP, or for not paying attention to clues. As above, I supplied a thematic explanation for activation tokens which I think works just fine, but it would be nice if the explanation were supplied with the game. As it stands, I can guarantee you players are going to houserule this, and it’s going to backfire because these tokens are critical to the game’s balance.

Legacy of Dragonholt is a game you have to try before you judge, so I hope this review can help you decide on whether you might like the game without the need to play through a campaign first. I also hope this review provides answers to people who might be questioning some of the game's mechanics.

Edited by Artaterxes

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On 11/29/2017 at 9:53 AM, Artaterxes said:

Activation tokens do more than just make sure everyone has a turn! During quests, after making a decision, you will be inactive until everyone else has made a decision, at which all tokens refresh. For some decisions the entire party is available; for others, just one hero.

I wasn't aware of this.

Based on recent comments, i thought 100% of the game allowed only the active character to select an option. Does the adventure tells you when you can select among the unactivated pool? or maybe i missed it in the rules.

Knowing that the average part of the game in fact allows you to select among the pool of unactivated characters (outside of town apparently), likely during combat and "stressful" decisions i assume, this might be a huge selling point for me.

Already thinking about a group of 3 characters, human, dwarf and catfolk!

Thanks for your very informative yet spoiler free review. This was really well written.

Kudos

Edited by Shirys

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Thanks everyone for the comments! Shirys, I’ll answer you with a made-up example.

Your party has 3 heroes, all tokens up. The game presents you with choices A (skill X required), B (skill Y required), and C. You all talk among yourselves, but nobody has the “final say.” You just collectively need someone to pick something! So Hero 1 with skill X steps up and picks choice A.

Hero 1 flips his token down. He’s now the “active player,” which means that all the stuff that happens as a result of his decision happens to Hero 1 (such as Stamina loss and further skill checks) unless otherwise specified. Until the next decision... where Hero 1 is allowed to talk, but is not allowed the final say, nor use any of his skills, since he is inactive. He can say, “It’s too hard for me, try someone else should try this, what about...?” Heroes with tokens up have equal decision making authority in quests. Inactive heroes can’t have final say or use skills but are encouraged to talk!

In the village it’s a bit different. Hero 1 leads the party to the tavern (or splits off) and makes all the decisions in that encounter. Flip token down, see what next hero is up to in the village.

Edited by Artaterxes

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3 minutes ago, Artaterxes said:

In the village it’s a bit different. Hero 1 leads the party to the tavern (or splits off) and makes all the decisions in that encounter. Flip token down, see what next hero is up to in the village.

All of this makes perfect sense. Kinda abstract but i get it now.

Can't really blame FFG for failing to underline that strange aspect of the game which we're not used to, they're not used to it themselves =)

I like the fact that they always try out new concepts.

Thanks for your clarification!

Edited by Shirys

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My biggest question is replay value. Having completed all but one of the quests in the campaign on your first play through, how many times do you think you could play this game before you know the outcome of the decisions your making based on previous play throughs?

Whilst I like the concept of this game, my main concern is it's been designed as a play once and pass it on kinda game.

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1 hour ago, Rauhughes said:

My biggest question is replay value. Having completed all but one of the quests in the campaign on your first play through, how many times do you think you could play this game before you know the outcome of the decisions your making based on previous play throughs?

Whilst I like the concept of this game, my main concern is it's been designed as a play once and pass it on kinda game.

Agreed.  Unless you go out of your way to pick different decisions (which imo is an unantural way of playing).

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It’s hard for me to answer that question without bias. As VAYASAN says, you have to make different decisions. Which comes down to making different characters and ensuring you “act” like them. That’s why the character maker keeps asking questions like, “What’s your background? Where do you come from? What are your ideals?” It’s telling you to frame a character so you force yourself to make different choices.

The reason I’m biased is that while I gave the game a positive review for what it is, that’s personally not my favourite method of replaying a game. I actually prefer games with a paper-thin story but deeper mechanics so I can still play like I always would, but get improved or different outcomes over time. When I’m playing a game (board or video), story might draw me in, but the mechanics keep me there. For me, that’s the difference between playing a game and reading a book or watching a movie. So actually, even though I gave this game a glowing review, I probably won’t play it more than once again - solo, at least.

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On ‎12‎/‎6‎/‎2017 at 2:16 PM, Rauhughes said:

My biggest question is replay value. Having completed all but one of the quests in the campaign on your first play through, how many times do you think you could play this game before you know the outcome of the decisions your making based on previous play throughs?

Whilst I like the concept of this game, my main concern is it's been designed as a play once and pass it on kinda game.

I'm halfway in the campaign playing solo. Im having a blast. The story is amazing ... BUT I can feel that I will not be replaying this anytime soon.
The Village book might have a lot of replayability based on what you do on which day. However it suffers from scripted events in the village that you cannot avoid (i.e. the first time you visit  X , read Y ).

The problem is amplified in the major quests. They do not have much replayability. The variation of decisions aren't that impactful. They, more or less, lead to the same outcome but with slightly different routes. ( Kill X throwing bomb / Kill X silently with knife ; in the end  X will be killed ).
 

Edited by Serox

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