As a long-term dedicated delver into my own family tree I approached this latest venture into solo gaming with enthusiasm. Legacy: Testament of the Duke de Crecy is a real hit with the living members of my family and regularly graces the games table. The game designer has devised two solo variants to keep family and friend challenged players entertained and I was keen find out whether this excellent game translates into an equally enjoyable one-player experience. I started with….
This specially devised variant turns the multiplayer game on its head and offers a new game using the same components. Instead of playing the Godfather of your dynasty you are now the possible descendant of a recently deceased and ludicrously wealthy person who has neglected to reproduce.If you can dig up old family documents proving that your ancestors are his relatives you will inherit a handsome fortune. Let the gold digging commence.
Now the amateur genealogist in me was right at home with this scenario. My own ancestors have been disappointingly poverty-stricken, eking out a mud-bedevilled existence in the fields of England and Wales for the most part. But now I have the opportunity to fantasise and discover the illustrious and colourful family of my dreams.
This game has a solitaire card game feel to it. There are nine goals (Hints) to achieve over the course of the game, three being revealed at the start of each generation. Consequently, you are never quite sure in what direction to grow your family as the aims vary as the game develops. Sadly, there are only five possible goals for each generation so you can second-guess what may turn up later in the game. Also some of the subtlety and variety tends to get lost in this solo variant. The temptation is to prioritise the goals, max out your hand of friends and money, but pay little attention to the missions, mansions, ventures, even prestige. The game is won if all the goals (Hints) have been fulfilled. There are penalties and bonuses during the end of game scoring on top of the honour points you may have collected during the game but I didn’t feel that they were worth enough to tempt me to risk the win for the extra two or three points I might gain or lose. This was a shame as these score adjustments represent an attempt to add to the thematic pleasure of the variant by encouraging the player to match the nationality of parents and children and to reduce the unlikely social differences between the generations. I love the fact that there is a definite win/lose climax not just a ‘record your honour points and see if you can beat your score next time’ ending.
Was this variant a hit? My daughter played, I played and neither of us was totally convinced. I wanted the theme to shine through but somehow in this version it didn’t. I was so wrapped up in engineering my family to match the hint cards that I lost sight of the storytelling aspect that is so appealing when I have played the multiplayer version. The sense of anticipation as you start on another generation and astonishment at the daft, weird and wonderful relationships that form within your family is absent. We also found that, as long as you kept your eye on the goals, this was an easy win almost every time. This could be remedied by devising extra hint cards so that the goals are less predictable but neither of us loved this version enough to want to do this. Undeterred I went on to examine…
This is simply a solo variant of the standard game and the designers suggest that you play it to familiarise yourself with the rules or to get in some sneaky practice in order to crush your opponents like the Craftsmen they are.
The rules attempt to simulate a dummy player, blocking the actions that are the same colour as the face up friend cards. However, I didn’t find that this truly mimicked the arch-trickery of playing a real opponent. I discovered that I could play in my preferred style, which meant that the game and scores became rather predictable. Other players force you out of well-trodden routes through the game and keep you challenging yourself. I like to grow my dynasty to the size of a small country and if nobody is there to stop me I will do this even if there are better scoring opportunities to be enjoyed. I cheer whenever the surprise twins turn up and have great grandchildren toppling off the edge of the table. I accept that this is just an unimaginative, rote playing style but I just can’t help it because match-making for my huge family and rejoicing in its fecundity is what makes me want to play. Why squander actions on buying a Title or going on a Mission when you can marry and reproduce?
In addition to this, largely self-inflicted, problem is the slow friend display turn over. In a multiplayer game it is possible to devise power combos by choosing to marry friends that work together as the face up choices are regularly changing. In a solo game this is far less likely. The unloved friends hang around and you are forced to take them just to refresh the offer and unblock wanted actions.
My daughter decided that this variant was not one she wanted to try because there is no win condition. Playing just to see how high she could score did not appeal to her. I felt that this variant still captured the theme of the multiplayer and did indeed hone your skills but lacked the necessary obstacles that should keep the game play fresh.
So, I did some research on Board Game Geek and discovered a much-improved take on the Standard Solo Variant designed by Byron Campbell. This is a little fiddlier to play, as you have to remember to remove a Title and Contribution and also randomly pick and discard two friends from the display each round. The colours of the friends determine which action spaces will be unavailable for that round. This does simulate a pesky player randomly elbowing you out of the way as you attempt visit the mayor or hijacking the fertility doctor at an inopportune moment. It is vexing, which is just as it should be. In short, I would highly recommend using these clever house rules and wouldn’t personally go back to the designers’ official version. Well-done Byron Campbell, you clever fellow.
Before the ink was dry on my efforts, the Five Families expansion was announced with the tantalising news that it would contain new rules for the Testament Solo Game. Santa left me a copy on the games playing table – the Christmas Tree being a token gesture in our house, more like a illuminated pot plant. I unwrapped with glee hoping that this expansion would up the challenge and offer some variety to the solo game.
The solo expansion came in the form of a Daisy Track and five Great Houses cards. The idea is that your family were influenced by trendsetters in their close social circle. The values and prejudices of these Great Houses would shape the activities of your family perhaps making them keen to contribute to society or shun impecunious spouses. The more your family follow these social mores the greater the rewards. If they regularly ignore the latest fashions in behaviour they will lose friends and prestige. Three random Grand Houses are used over the course of each game and admittedly it does increase the complexity of play. I did find myself delaying starting a Venture or avoiding marrying a writer thus putting off completing hint cards when I was going to suffer friend or prestige loss as a result. Equally, if I found myself with a spare turn, I could be tempted to throw an extravagant Banquet if this was all the rage.
All this fine and dandy but did it change my previous view of this variant? Well, yes and no. If I was willing to embrace the expansion it did give me more to contemplate and increased the difficulty of completing the goals. However, again, we come back to the fact that the win condition is fulfilling those hint cards. The penalties or rewards for cleaving to that fashion setting Great House are a minor concern if you are short on actions and still some way away from a win. Ignoring the Great House is unlikely to inconvenience you significantly – I did try this out extensively. Also, as the expansion does not add Hint cards my previous comments stand on the lack of goal variation. This is still an easy win if you, as you inevitably will, spurn the influence of your betters as and when necessary.
Would I buy Legacy if I were mainly planning to play solo? No. The designers have tried hard to accommodate the lonely gamer but haven’t quite captured the magic of the multiplayer experience. The solo games are diverting but I will prefer sharing this with a least one other player.