Andor: The Family Fantasy Game Review is a collaboration with Kosmos Games UK.
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A Fantastical History
Andor: The Family Fantasy Game is the family friendly offspring of the Legends of Andor board game from Kosmos – a co-operative, narrative-driven adventure game that won a prestigious Board Game of the Year prize in 2013 (the Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel award). Since then, Mama and Papa Andor must’ve been busy as ‘Andor Junior’ – its name in various European editions – has popped into the world, eager to be tickled under the chin and cooed at by board gaming families everywhere.
In the UK this bouncing bundle of Tolkienesque fun goes by the hopeful moniker – Andor: The Family Fantasy Game. Not the Fantasy Family game mind you … it’s not filled with children who pick their clothes up off the floor rather than pick their noses, or do their homework unprompted rather than promptly make more work at home for us parents to do. No, this is the Family Fantasy game and, rather fittingly, the wife and husband design duo of Inka and Markus Brand do a jolly good job of adapting the Andor system into a streamlined experience of exploration, dice chucking, and teamwork, as well as sanding off the more grown-up pointier bits of the fantasy setting. The result is a cuddlier and more approachable version. Think more Dachshund, less Rottweiler.
Ready, aim, fire!
So, what’s it all about then? Well, the residents of the peaceful city of Rietburg are facing a triple threat – a three-course meal of misery.
For our starter: a steady stream of the villainous Gors wending their way across the lush landscape of Andor, following a sort of hiking trail that ends at the gates of Rietburg. I guess the city planners should’ve checked with the local authorities first before plonking a city there! Think an angry group of sun-burned Ramblers – all snapping claws and dopey expressions – looking like an appetiser of boiled crab has escaped the plate and has a bone to pick with you.
Main course is a rampaging Dragon getting closer and closer to the city walls, with a side order of beating wings and fiery breath. You know the sort. Guessing that the good Rietburgians aren’t too keen on introducing this scaly monstrosity to their quaint thatched roofs any time soon? You’d be right – if this nightmare neighbour knocks on the door, then it’s game over.
And here’s the Dessert Trolley of Doom – a mother wolf has lost her cubs and they’ve run off into some Dwarven mines halfway across Andor. What? Somehow doesn’t seem like quite the same level of threat! Apparently, the good people of Andor are nothing if not animal lovers. Maybe there was a popular Cute Baby Wolf Calendar on sale in the Rietburg markets?
So. Fight off the Gors, shoo away the Dragon, save the cubs. Just another day for the Archer, Magician, Warrior, and Dwarf that make up our motley team of Heroes, right?
Yeah, but there’s this guy – Mart. This Dwarven fella has the audacity to stand on the only bridge that leads to the mines, all decked out in armour and looking tough, telling us that we can’t cross until we’ve completed his tasks! The cheek! Now we think he’s actually on our side as the tasks are all about feeding the people, helping an injured bird, collecting healing herbs, and so on. But still. Want us to pick up your dry cleaning while we’re at it? Need your lawn mowing Mart? Blimey!
Who are you? I really wanna know!
Let’s begin then. On this shared journey, our first task is to pick adventurers …
There are four adventuring archetypes on offer, each with their own player board and dice. A nice touch is that each board can be flipped over for a choice of male or female hero, with matching cardboard standees to suit. The boards have spaces for the little yellow wooden sun discs which track player movement as well as a sack for storing items picked up along the way. I guess Andor hasn’t seen the invention of rucksacks yet, so we’re schlepping here and there like cartoon burglars – hessian sack slung over shoulders! The sun discs are a clever and direct way of showing how much more energy each character has before they must rest for the night, and more intuitive for kids to grasp than the more standard tracks or dials.
It’s great that there’s a variety of characters to inhabit, but this isn’t just a visual preference – each is better suited to different tasks and so subtly expresses their own characteristics in play. Like a bit of magical smiting? Then the Wizard has a single chunky die which gives a high chance of combat success – ZAP! Like the thrill of exploration and being as nimble as a parent dodging discarded Lego bricks on the floor? Then the Archer has extra sun discs granting a rather busier day than the others – SHIMMY! Fancy a bit of a rumble? Then the warrior has a load of dice to get aggro with – WHO WANTS SOME?! Are you essentially a mole? Then the Dwarf can quickly travel across the board by disappearing into the caves – MOLE!
This all adds extra flavour and spice to the game, and nuance to the decisions players will have to make – how should we best co-operate and use everyone’s strengths for the benefit of Andor?
With our party of wannabe heroes assembled in Rietburg, attention turns to the board – a luscious map of Andor illustrated by the talented Michael Menzel. The board manages to be colourful, cartoony, and detailed without obscuring the movement spaces – avoiding a stifling hex grid in favour of more organic – and map-like – boundary lines. Plonk down the dragon, some Gors who’ve rocked up early, and the mysterious fog tokens, and our landscape of adventure is complete!
It turns out Andor would give Victorian London a run for its money in the fog stakes. Fog tokens are randomly placed face-down onto the board spaces to provide a dash of luck and tension to exploration. As we set off on our quest, they can be revealed with trepidation to give a jolt of fortune – good or bad – in the form of sneaky extra Gors (BOO!), or useful items such as coins, torches, and telescopes.
Now, a wonderful thing about this game is how the simple ruleset can lead to a richness and bounty of actions. Players can delve into their stylish sacks (let’s call them rustic) and spend a coin at the market on a torch to light a beacon and help drive the dragon back (I like to think our scaly nemesis is short sighted and mistakes this sputtering flame for a rival dragon). Or drop an hourglass on the ground for a companion to pick up and use for bonus actions. Or maybe hand over a couple of swords – after all everyone knows combat is won by the fighter most bristling with weapons!
Another option is to drink from the magical wells and get three spent sun discs back – a simple bonus that triggers a frenzy of finger pointing and space counting … is it worth it to spend a disc to change course a bit, have a tasty beverage, and get back three sun discs which will just let me reach that pesky Gor? After all, each Gor defeated sends the dragon scurrying back one space (I like to think the dragon is comforting the distraught Gor and building them up for another go at the hiking trail challenge).
So far, so good. Andor is revealing its foggy secrets, Mart’s side-quests are underway, the Gors are in retreat, and the dragon is still merely a glowing speck in the distance. But suddenly sun discs are spent, and our heroes fancy a bit of a kip. Night has come to Andor…
Night is when the bad guys get the chance to get their groove on. Flip the handy day/night reference tile and the perilous plot is revealed. The Dragon die is rolled, sending the reptilian menace one, two, or three spaces closer to Rietburg’s roofs. The Gors get their marching orders and plod closer along their trail (think the Pennine Way with more gnashing of teeth), spurred on by extra Gors added by the Dragon’s advance. If a Gor reaches Rietburg, the Dragon advances. If the Dragon reaches Rietburg, it’s game over man!
This scary sequence is at the heart of the game’s tension and drives the need for planning and foresight – our heroes must not become so engrossed in their side-quests that they neglect to notice the naughty night-terrors inching within touching distance of Rietburg.
Assuming such a balance has been struck, the ever-annoying Mart’s tasks will be completed and the search for the wolf cubs can begin. This involves entering the Dwarven mines and flipping more tiles by rolling torches or using those collected earlier. If the third lupine lovely is discovered, then our heroes can return in triumph and raise a glass or two of pop to an adventure with a happy conclusion. But the mines are perilous, and tile flips can result in the Dragon getting a boost, or the revelation of the (obviously lost) Octopus who has the gall to yeet (as my kids would say) its unfortunate victim back onto the bridge with Mart – a double indignity!
So. Two cubs safe. Just one more to save. The walls of Rietburg wobbling with each whoosh of the Dragon’s wings. Two tiles left. Which … will … we … choose?!
First off – we’ve had great fun playing Andor! As a co-op, it excels as a family game for us because we leave behind any drama due to individual winners and losers. There’s enough to think about for adult players, and younger kids can join in – maybe with help – as there’s no hidden information. Even if your youngest runs off in the middle of the game, it’s easy enough to carry on and give their character to someone else. The difficulty can be scaled by adjusting the number of tasks too (curse you Mart!).
Don’t expect a narrative-driven adventure with plot though – this is the sort of experience that allows you to build your own story, especially if you encourage table talk (“curse you Mart!”) and dip into a bit of role play. For example, we like doing voices for the Gors – those lovable but plodding villains – and giving the Dragon some kind of ridiculous, and misunderstood, motivation for its advance! The dice rolls and tile flips generate anticipation and thrills – like the time we were certain to lose as the Dragon was right next to the city, and then the first three mine tile flips were all wolf cubs! Fluke? But still: Victory!
What about negatives then? Surprisingly few in our adventuring so far. I suppose there’s a reasonable amount of setup required in sorting and placing tokens, but this can be gamified with the help of competitive children!
Our main grumble was about the less than diverse representation of the heroes. Genuinely good work can be recognised here in providing male and female character variants, rather than falling back on old stereotypes – where the warrior would always be male for example. However, all the characters are white. To be fair, this is still a large problem in the wider board gaming industry, but it would be much more welcoming to show a diverse range of ethnicities so more people (especially children) can see themselves in the game, or even just think this is ‘for me’. Cost is an issue – it is obviously not possible to represent the whole marvellous spectrum of humanity across colour, gender, age, and so on, without providing a huge crate of standees (video games have an easier ride here). But creative solutions can be found – see Hub Games’ Prisma Arena which has gender neutral avatars with a range of skin colour whose gender expression can be customised with removable stickers.
So, after all that, is Andor: The Family Fantasy Game any good? Yep! The theme on display here is of co-operation and teamwork and giving each hero the chance to shine and use their strengths. The big dash of chance is at home in a game this light and speedy and adds a bitter-sweet tang of tension. It nicely expresses the push and pull of attack and defence, and is a great introduction to co-operative and strategy board games. It teaches the need to keep all of your torches in the fire plus a sneaky bonus item in your sack to reveal at the ideal moment, but also of riding at the heels of Lady Luck for that final push into the darkness. Oh, and also that Andor needs a second bridge (curse you Mart!) and some kind of shepherd to guard its cute wolf cubs in the future!