Legions of Darkness Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests  (10+)
  • For 1 player
  • About 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Help the soldiers and Heroes protect the castle from the Legions of Darkness until reinforcements arrive to save the day!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek rejected!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Dragons, trolls, undead skeleton warriors, goblins, and orcs muster outside the walls of the castle. From the parapets, the commanders and a handful of Heroes look down at the massing Legions of Darkness. The walls of the castle are thick and old, well seasons by the elements and war. The castle has stood against time and against countless foes, but the army that is approaching is bigger than any warrior can remember. Swords are sharpened and bows are strung. The Heroes, adventurers and living legends, prepare for the coming conflict while prayers are whispered to the old gods. No more than 3 days away a great host of knights rides to the castle’s rescue, but will they arrive in time and will anyone be alive to see it?

Legions of Darkness, by Victory Points Games and part of their States of Siege series, is comprised of 1 map on which the game is played, 1 double-sided player aid card, 12 army counters, 28 double-sided round markers, and 36 Event cards. Also included in our copy of the game was a small six-sided die. We suggest you replace it with a normal sized six-sided die as it will be easier to roll and won’t get lost as easily.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first unfold and place the map in the center of the playing area. Next, separate the 36 Event cards into two piles. One pile will be for the day (Sun) and one pile for the night (Moon). Shuffle these two piles to form two separate draw piles. Set these off to the side and within easy reach.

The rest of the set up is based on the scenario selected. In total, there are two available. Both of these scenarios (“The Greenskin Horde” and “The Undead Scourge”) have two different ways to set up the map. The first is a static set up that is simply followed by way of reading the instructions. The second is a results table that is matched with a roll of a six-sided die. Depending on the roll, different foes and fiends will be placed in different areas of the map. While only two scenarios are presented, the random selection and placement of creatures to fight offers the player a unique way to always keep the game challenging and replayable.

Regardless of which scenario and monsters are selected, the placement is as follows:

  1. There are 8 tracks on the map. These are Time, Magic, Defenders, Sky, West Wall, Gate, Terror, and East Wall.
  2. Depending on the scenario, monster counters will be placed on the Sky, West Wall, Gate, and East Wall at the furthest position on the track (i.e. the highest number).
  3. Depending on the scenario, a monster counter will be placed next to the Terror track (not on it) as the terrors only come out at night!
  4. Place the Defender markers (1 archer, 1 man-at-arms, and 1 priest token) on the highest number on their track – this represents the castle’s standing forces.
  5. Place the Time marker on the First Dawn space on the Time track.
  6. Place the Morale marker, Breach markers, Upgrade markers, and the Bloody Battle marker off to one side in the Reserve space (indicated on the map).
  7. Select your Heroes as noted by the scenario (1 Warrior, 1 Wizard, 1 Cleric, 1 Ranger, or 1 Rogue) – selection can be random or just pick 3.
  8. Find and place face-down the arcane and divine spells – now roll the six-sided die and place either the Arcane or Divine maker on that number on the Magic track – the other marker will placed on the space that is 6 less than the one rolled (zero is the minimum) – if the Wizard or Cleric have been selected, add +2 arcane energy for the Wizard and +2 divine energy for the Cleric.

Check the map set up and review the scenario for any special rules.

You are now ready to play!

Going Solo

Note: There are a lot of rules to this game and it feels really “big” until you learn what to do each turn. After you understand the sequence of play, you’ll be breezing through the turns in no time. To save time, we are going to summarize each phase here and encourage you to read the rules of the game (PDF) for all the details.

The game is played in turns with each turn having 5 specific phases. The number of turns in a game will vary for two reasons. First, the Time marker is can move more than once when a specific icon is visible on an Event card. Second, a player simply might not last until the reinforcements arrive.

The 5 specific phases are as follows:

Card Phase

This phase has the player randomly select one Event card. The type of Event card drawn is dependent on the time of the day noted on the Time tracker. Bright colored spaces represent day and dark-colored spaces represent night.

Regardless of the time of day, the player follows the instructions on the card starting from the top and working their way down. The Event cards are separated into section and each section is timed based off of the game’s phases. This moves the game forward, introduces events, provides the player with Action and Heroic points (used to complete tasks), and introduces Quests. Once the player has drawn the Event card, they set is aside for quick reference until the end of the turn.

Two examples of some of the Event cards and their specific sections

Army Phase

This phase advances the Legions of Darkness. On each Event card will be an icon that represents the Sky, West Wall, Gate, Terror, and East Wall track. Move the monster counters 1 space towards the castle in the center of the map for every icon shown that matches the track the monster is in. For example, if the Event card showed two icons for the Sky track, the monster on that track would move 2 spaces.

Players unlucky enough to have monsters hit their castle walls must first have their defenses breached (noted with the Breech marker) before the Legions storm the castle, which will give the player one more turn to push the forces back.

Event Phase

This phase describes specific and important events that happen at that time of day or night. The events will sometimes be helpful and sometimes harmful. Regardless of what the game rules say you can or cannot do, the events are always followed to the letter. After the event has been completed, the normal rules of the game are once again followed.

Action Phase

This phase allows the player to fight back, control their Defenders, use their Heroes, and push the Legion back. What the player can and cannot do is dependent on the number of action and heroic points awarded to them on the Event card.

The action points are used to control the Defenders of the castle (archer, men-at-arms, and priests).  As long as there are action points available, the player can take an action and even repeat the same action multiple times. Note that not all actions are successful automatically. The only exception is the Memorize and Pray actions. All the following take 1 action point.

  • Attack: player uses castle Defenders to push back the Legion
  • Build: upgrade a castle wall or gate for better defense
  • Cast Spell: use a known spell (a face-up arcane or divine spell) and pay its magic cost – the used spell is discarded from the game but the effects are immediate
  • Chant: increase the level of available divine energy
  • Memorize: flip over a face-down arcane token to make it a known spell
  • Pray: flip over a face-down divine token to make it a known spell

After the defenders go, the Heroes have their turn, and like the Defenders, they have an allocated number of points. Unlike the defenders, Hero’s have special skills:

  • Warrior adds +2 to melee attacks and cannot be wounded in battle
  • Wizard adds +1 to ranged attacks and the arcane spells casted use the special Hero effect
  • Ranger adds +1 to ranged attacks, cannot be wounded in battle, and adds +1 to all quests rolls
  • Rogue adds +1 to melee attacks, can move for free, and adds +1 to all build rolls
  • Paladin adds +1 to melee attacks, can re-roll any one die per turn, and adds +1 to rally rolls
  • Cleric adds +1 to ranged attacks and the divine spells casted use the special Hero effect

The Heroes have the following actions available to them:

  • Heroic Attack: like the Defenders, the Hero attacks the enemy as long as they are in range
  • Heroic Cast: like the Defenders, the Hero casts an arcane or divine spell but uses the special hero effect
  • Move: while there are many Defenders, there are only a handful of Heroes and they must move to where the action is – this action moves the Hero marker to any location in the castle
  • Rally: attempt to improve moral and provide a beneficial modifier or remove a negative modifier

Quests are a special actions that can only be attempted once and require 1 action and 1 heroic point.

Note that the Event card might list a modifier to the dice which will make some actions more complicated than others to complete or easier.

Housekeeping Phase

This phase has the player check for victory or defeat conditions, advances the Time marker (based on how many symbols are noted on the bottom of the Event card, and moves the Bloody Battle marker. If the turn ends with the time being Twilight, +1 to the arcane energy is added as is the Terror army! If the turn ends with the time being Dawn, morale is decreased, the Terror army is removed from the Terror Track, and +1 arcane energy is added.

Battles and Sieges

All battles in the game first depend on range. There are only two to worry about. These are melee and ranged. Melee attacks can only be attempted when a monster token is in the melee section of the track and ranged can only happen when the monster token is in the ranged section of the track. This makes it very easy to quickly see what Defenders and Heroes can be used, as well as what spells can be casted.

When a player attempts to attack a monster token, they roll the six-sided die and attempt to roll higher than the strength of the monster. If they do, the monster token is pushed back (retreats) and buys the player time. Failed results will cause Heroes to take damage and Defenders to drop in numbers making them eventually unavailable. Note also that some monsters will modifier the die value rolled.

Example of two of the many monsters looking to burn down the castle

Magical attacks with spells (arcane or divine) can target monsters regardless of their distance from the castle and ignore any negative dice modifiers

Victory or Defeat?

There is only one way a player can win the game and that is lasting until the reinforcements arrive over the hills and crush the Legions of Darkness. This only happens when the Time marker reaches the end of the Time track

There are two ways for a player to lose the game. The first is if the player allows a monster to move through a breached gate or wall or barricade. The second is if all the defenders in the castle perish (reduced to zero).

There are  more details to discover that we simply didn’t put in the review for the sake of saving time. For more details on Legions of Darkness and the full rules, see the games’s web site. There is also an expansion for the game that introduces new spells, a new Hero, and more challenges to squash or be squashed by.

Prediction

I’ve never been one for solitaire games as I have always found it much more enjoyable to play games with others. Oh, I’ve had my share of playing Solitaire and playing video games on the computer, but never for long. I’m one of those individuals who needs to be social while I play and I have always enjoyed competing against a Human mind versus a programmed computer. I”m also lucky to have enough friends and family around to let me play games all day if I wanted to. So, as you can see, solitaire games are never really in the cards (please excuse the pun).

Another reason why I have often avoided solitaire games is the lack of any feeling of excitement or control. I have often compared solitaire games to a “board game on rails”, which is to say the game is on a set path and you, the player, just kind of ride it. To be fair, solitaire games have come a long, long way with new game designers breaking the “tried and true” game mechanisms to introduce solitaire games with real depth. After reading the rules for Legions of Darkness, I believe this is one of those games.

But solitaire games are hard to teach. For one thing, they are meant to be played alone. You cannot demonstrate how to play the game without actually playing the game for the person you are teaching. This makes teaching the game a very one-sided experience at times. Thus, teaching this game to my little geeks will be more or less me just demoing the game in front of them until they want to take over. I’m fine with that, but it isn’t very exciting for them. As such, I’ll have to wait for the right moment.

When the right moment did arrive, it was only my 7-year-old who was available and wanted to learn the game. He had been watching me play it and grew more and more interested. This was especially true when he heard me shout for joy and yell in frustration. He eventually stuck around long enough for me to teach him the game. From what I observed, he really liked what the game was all about. I offered to teach him the game well enough so he could play it himself and he accepted.

Understand that Legions of Darkness is not an easy game, rule wise. There is a lot to think about and remember, but the actual game play is very straight forward and streamlined. I compared it to reading a long book. Reading it takes time and focus,  but describing the story to a friend after you read it is very easy and almost effortless. Put another way, it took time to just teach my son the game before he was even going to be ready to play it. Again, he was fine with this and was ready to learn.

After about 15 or so minutes of teaching him the basics, I demoed a single turn. To my delight, my little geek anticipated a good deal of the rules and had a much faster grasp of the game than I had thought he would. This encouraged me and him. After about another 15 or so minutes, he was ready to give the game a shot. As I reset the game for us to play, I asked him what he thought of it so far.

“Neat game! Reminds me of Castle Panic and how all the monsters are rushing in to destroy the castle!” ~ Liam (age 7)

An excellent observation from my little geek! The game is very much like Castle Panic in way of theme, but Legions of Darkness has much more to think about and react to. Let’s see if his enthusiasm is as high after he gets trounced.

Final Word

My little geek and I loved the game! We first played it as a team and then he went and play it by himself. On both accounts, he had a blast and so did I. Together, we were able to survive and beat the game, with both of us discussing what should happen next, the risks, and the potential payoff. This was exceptionally rewarding and the solitaire game felt much more like a cooperative game when we worked through what needed to happen together. Only one person ever rolled the dice and read the cards, but all of our choices and the consequences were shared as a team.

When my 7-year-old went to play the game by himself, he had two problems. First, he became confused about some of the cards and had to stop the game temporarily to ask me what he had to do. No problem there, as all it took was a quick refresher on the rules and off he went. Second, he cheated and I’m pretty sure he did so knowingly. He told me he had won the game and was very excited about it. When I started to praise him, he started to feel guilty and fessed up that he ignored some of the dice rolls. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised but I did want to know why.

“I just didn’t want to lose”, he gold me. When I suggested that the entire idea of a solitaire game is to be challenged and losing and winning was not important, he asked me why anyone would bother to play a game in the first place. A good question and also an easy one to answer. “Because the act of playing the game is for the experience and the challenge. Win or lose, you get to play and can always play again.” He accepted my answer, but I’m sure it’ll be a number of years before the truth of it sets in. Regardless, he enjoyed it.

Parent Geeks played the game and more or less became board with it. They appreciated the game, but they felt like they were wasting their time by playing it. When I suggested that the game would most likely be played when they have free time and wanted to play a game, they laughed and told me that any “free time” would be spent doing laundry, reading a book, or simply just relaxing. Very fair point.

Gamer Geeks, like myself, were thrilled by the challenge of the game. Also like me, some of the Gamer Geeks just didn’t want to play it because they wanted to play a 2 or more player game instead. But when they sat down, saw how the game was played, and how it would quickly swarm them, they became focused and competitive.

My little geek reads the Event card while I consider just how in danger our castle is

Gamer Geeks, this is a very challenging solitaire game! I have now played it 7 times (as of this review) and have only won twice. It could be argued that I’m just not very good at it, but every one of my loses was also a very close victory and vice versa. At no time was I ever rolled over by the game and always challenged. Limited resources and actions make each turn crucial and the ever advancing Legion is always a threat. I was stuck several times not knowing what I should do, but not because I was confused, but because there was just so much I could do to address the changing battlefield. Truly a wonderful experience and very rewarding when you complete the game with a victory.

Parent Geeks, this is a challenging game but one you’ll only enjoy if you really like to play games, even when you are all alone. None of the Parent Geeks or non-gamers we tested the game with enjoyed it for very long. None of them said it was a bad game, either, mind you. You might want to consider playing the game with your little geeks as a cooperative game like I did with my little geek. This was a wonderful time and provided a lot of discussion.

Child Geeks, this is game you should only take on if you read well and have enough game experience to understand lengthy game turns. My 7-year-old (now almost 8) had a few difficulties playing by himself and needed to reference the rules throughout his game. This could make the game feel slow and difficulty, but you’ll get the hang of it. You might also feel the need to cheat and ignore some rolls of the die. DON’T DO IT! As my little geek learned, cheating to win will leave you only temporarily a winner. You’ll soon feel hollow inside about your victory because you’ll know you didn’t earn it. No amount of praise or high-fives is worth selling yourself short.

Legions of Darkness has me thinking differently about solitaire games in the same way Dungeon Crawler did. The game leaves a lot for the player to do and is able to comply to the individual player’s strategy and tactics. Of course, the meta-game is outwitting the game by way of anticipation and foresight, but experiencing the results of your decisions is also a strangely interesting joy. When things worked well, I congratulated myself on a job well done! When things started to go bad, I berated myself for “not seeing it coming.” The game also provides a great deal of replay and limited customization. I can play the same scenario with the same Heroes and it wouldn’t be the same game thanks to the random Event cards and die rolls. I could always pick the same Heroes, too, once I figured out the best way to use them without ever reducing the complexity of the game. Simply brilliant.

If you are a fan of solitaire games and are looking for a rather meaty and engaging game experience, do take a look at Legions of Darkness and prepare for battle!

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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