Thoughts on Agents of SMERSH and Albion’s Legacy

So I was off on vacation through the Christmas season, and managed to get in two other games that I’d been meaning to play for a while.

The first is “Agents of SMERSH”, which is a Cold War spy board game that cribs a lot from James Bond.  The basic concept is that you have to go around to various cities on the board and have encounters, which either give you abilities that you can call on if you make it to the final boss or that can be turned in to create other encounters that you can use to encounter the henchpersons of the evil mastermind and discover where his hideout is, so that you can then attack it and end the game.  If you don’t have enough of each type of token necessary based on the level of the villain-type track, you lose, and if you do, you win.  But when you place those tokens you don’t know what they are, although you know what you’d need.  So in my case, I thought I had enough and ended up being one short of the required number of the most basic token, and so lost the game, which was really, really annoying.  It would have been better if they had let you see the tokens or even had you place them on the board so that your win or loss wouldn’t be a surprise, especially since as you get to choose whether you put them in the pool or use them to generate information about the hideout you really do need to know if you have enough there before you trigger the final battle.

That being said, the encounter system works fairly well.  The characters move to a city, and then drawing a fate card there’s a fairly detailed system for deciding which encounter you get from a huge book of encounters.  Then you get a description of the encounter, and then either have to pass a skill check based on the skills you have, or if you have a specific bonus skill you might be able to pass the encounter automatically.  Then you get bonuses or penalties based on whether you succeed or fail.  The encounters are fairly descriptive and interesting and once you get into the habit of it they’re pretty easily to determine and look up.

One minor annoyance is that at the end of every turn — along with adding tokens and things from the villain — an airport is usually closed.  This adds busy work and makes it so that the longer the game goes on the more difficult it is to get around, while at the same time you will need to move around more as the things you need to encounter move around the board.  I don’t really think that this was necessary or adds that much to the game.

Still, the game was fun and it’s likely I’ll play it again sometime if I get the time.

The same can’t be said for “Albion’s Legacy”.  This game is essentially a King Arthur themed version of Arkham Horror, where you go to areas and have encounters, and have to battle enemies in order to achieve a set of objectives before time runs out.  The problem with the game, at least I found, is that it’s far too complicated — and that’s coming from someone who likes Arkham Horror — and the manual is way too limited and confusing to work with.  Unlike Arkham Horror, you don’t have fixed encounter areas, but instead have to build them on as hexes through exploration, which adds complexity.  You also can draw fate or encounter cards that place enemies, and named enemies spawn on specific hexes … which might not actually be in play yet, and the manual didn’t say what to do in that case.  And then you might have to combat enemies, and I failed the check, and then couldn’t figure out what should actually happen in that case.  That made the encounters less interesting as I was struggling to figure out the rules while playing.  I ended up not finishing that game as I got sick of struggling with the rulebook and the details.  I really think it would have done better to go with a more set game board like Arkham Horror and A Touch of Evil did, and then mapped the encounters into that.  I love the theme, but the game itself is too confusing for me to enjoy, at least until I actually learn how to play the game.

So those are the two board games I played over my vacation.  I have board games on my schedule and have done more with them in the past couple of months than I did in the previous couple of years, so we’ll see how that works out.

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