Saturday 1 November 2014

Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy (a.k.a. the family tree game)

Plays: 2Px1.

My long-time gaming buddy Han is now settled down in Johor Bahru and has established a new circle of gamer friends there. When he visits Kuala Lumpur he still looks up Allen and I for a game or two. On his recent trip he brought Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, a game I have been interested to try for some time, because of the family tree idea.

The Game

You start the game with just yourself at the head of the family tree. There are a few characters to choose from, including both male and female, each giving you different starting conditions. During the game, you get married, have children, and you arrange marriages for your children, then your grandchildren, even your great-grandchildren. You manage your family tree via marriages and births. The most important aspect in the game is the husbands and wives you pick for your descendants. These come from your circle of family friends, which is basically your hand of cards. Every friend that becomes a family member (i.e. marries your descendant) grants some benefits, and these benefits are the key to building a successful dynasty.

The base mechanism is worker placement. I hesitate to use this term because it has a slightly negative connotation to me. Every game round you only have two action pawns, and this never increases (like in Agricola, Stone Age). Sometimes you gain some extra action pawns, but they are single-use pawns. There are two types of actions - private and public. Private ones are executed on your own player board and are not restricted by actions of your opponents. You can even do them more than once. E.g. marrying, having children, makings friends, borrowing money from friends. Public actions are limited to only one player per round, i.e. the more conventional type of worker placement restriction. So you need to watch out for competition. Once a player has gained a title, started a business venture, bought a mansion or organised a charity event in the current round, nobody else can do the same action until the next round.

This is the main game board. The timeline in the middle shows the three stages of the game and what happens when. We are now in the second stage (see the green cube). There are six different public actions shown here - those six colourful labels along the bottom. You may acquire a title, consult a fertility doctor (to birth twins), buy a mansion, start a business, take a secret mission, or contribute to the community. The cards below the board are the currently available friends.

Legacy is a victory point game. There are many ways to score. Throughout the three generations which you will play, every child born scores points. Your family prestige level scores at the end of every generation. Actions like gaining titles, running charity events also score points. Many family members give points as part of the benefits they bring to the family. There is one secret mission assigned at the start of the game. If you achieve it, you are rewarded points too. It sets a direction for your game.

Players need to manage two types of resources - money, and friends. Yes, friends are but a resource type. They are either marriage material, or unfriend material. Many actions that you do cause jealousy, so you will lose friends. When performing such actions, you need to make sure you have enough friend cards to discard. E.g. you'll lose a friend when you buy a new mansion or hire a fertility doctor, in the former case because you have jealous friends, and in the latter because you embarrass your friends.

The game progresses along a fixed timeline with an irregular structure, and ends after you complete three generations.

The Play

That handsome fellow at the top is me. I'm French. My timid-looking wife is French too, and is an academic (microscope icon). We have three children, two daughters and one youngest son. The children cards have two halves representing child and adult. Currently they are still kids so the child halves are pointing upwards. They will turn 180 degrees, i.e. become grown-ups, at the end of the current stage (i.e. current generation). Although my son is still a boy, I have already arranged a marriage for him to a rather sneaky-looking British girl. Sorry son, you have to take one for the team. It's for the good of the family.

Now my children are all grown up. How fast they grow! My eldest daughter is married now and has a son. Her British husband is an academic just like my wife. My son is an adult now and is marrying Sneaky Ann (you can't back out of arranged marriages). He will be producing offspring soon. I think he found Ann to be a very nice girl after he got to know her better.

My hand of friend cards. The Charles guy (rightmost) is a British diplomat, and I need to pay $8 to have a daughter marry him. He's a big shot. He does bring good benefits though. He will increase my family income by one (money bag icon), and my prestige by three (shield icons). If I have other Brits in my family tree, he will increase my family income even more.

My complete family tree at game end - four generations in all. I have three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

I have had two tragedies. My eldest daughter (top left, rotated 90 degrees) died when giving birth. When birth complications occur, you must choose to have either the mother or the baby live. Disaster struck again in the next generation, when my grandson's wife died when giving birth too. Well, actually that's a reflection that I always choose to save the baby over the mother. How horrible!

The Thoughts

The family tree mechanism is novel and fun. My favourite part of the game is the very colourful characters and the excellent drawings. Despite this being a worker placement game, it didn't feel like one very much. It may be because there are private actions which are not subject to the typical worker placement restrictions. It may also be because the game I played was a 2-player game. With more players, there should be more competition at the main board. The game feels more like a tableau building game to me, i.e. like San Juan, 7 Wonders and Race for the Galaxy. You need to plan to play cards which work well with one another. Often it is good if you have many sons- and daughters-in-law of the same profession or nationality. You do need to compete in grabbing the right friend cards, and in denying your opponents.

Actions are very limited - only two basic actions per round. Bonus action pawns, if you obtain them, are single-use. By mid game or two thirds of the way through, you more or less have to plan out all your remaining actions for the game. This reminds me of The Princes of Florence - an early game of exploring options, a mid game of gradually committing to how you are going to compete, and a late game of mostly just execution of what you have already planned.

Other than the family tree and the friends management, the other bits of the game like buying mansions, earning titles and investing in businesses are a little dull. They are there just to flesh out the system and to give the game a coherent backdrop. Overall, Legacy is a medium weight Euro that is quite pleasant to play.

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