Monday, December 04, 2023

Legacy of Yu: Solo Review

Let’s start with a trio of caveats and a bold summary statement:

Caveat #1: The good folks at Garphill Games describe Legacy of Yu as a “solo-only, fully-resettable, nonlinear campaign game in which you step into the role of the legendary hero of the Xia Dynasty, Yu the Great.” I’m hard-pressed to do a better job of summing up the nature or design of the game… but I’m certainly going to give it a try!

Caveat #2: I am not a scholar of Chinese history – so I’m not going to comment at any length on the debates about the historicity of the accounts of Yu the Great… though if you’re interested, they make for some fascinating reading.

Caveat #3: My fearless leader at the Opinionated Gamers site (Dale Yu) has not yet required any of us to call him “Yu the Great” – but it may just be a matter of time. His legacy, however, is secure – he not only created the Opinionated Gamers website, but was also a key developer on Dominion, Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and the Agricola solo mode (to name a few).

Bold Summary Statement: Legacy of Yu is a well-designed and well-produced solo-only, fully resettable, nonlinear campaign game that I’m enjoying immensely.

With those out of the way, let’s get to the meat of my review!

In Legacy of Yu, the player is in Yu’s shoes (the rhyme, I assure you, was unintentional), working to stop the horrendous flooding of the Yellow River while fending off barbarian attacks. You must produce the necessary resources, make wise trades with those around you, convince local townspeople to join the work, erect important buildings, and create the canals that will divert the water before it overwhelms the countryside.

And you have to do it seven times to win.

Yes, that’s right – winning an individual game of Legacy of Yu is not enough. Winning the campaign requires that you record seven wins before you reach seven losses.

Since each game takes 30-45 minutes (unless you make a fatal error early on), that’s a pretty substantial time commitment: approximately 4.5-5 hours if you run the table (don’t count on it) or 8-9 hours if you end up playing out all the possible games (13) in a campaign.

Just so you know, I have not been playing Legacy of Yu back-to-back… one of the classy design features of the game is the excellent box insert, which makes set-up and tear-down of the game breathtakingly simple. This means I can play a game when I have a spare 45 minutes, then put it away and return to it another day.

How It Works

Play begins with your barge on the first canal space and the flood marker on the space behind it. As well, there are 3 farms, 4 outposts, and 4 village huts placed on the board for you to build, as well as 6 canal cards that show the benefits and cost of building their particular section of the canal.

You have 10 townsfolk cards in your Ready pile (meaning, they are working for you) with another six arrayed along the top of the board, waiting to be recruited. There is also the first (of many) barbarians waiting in the seventh space above the board.

The Story Card deck remains in the box, waiting to dripped into the game by reading from the Story Book. (Those are triggered by various cards when they are resolved.)

Each round, five phases happen:
  1. Harvest
  2. Take Actions
  3. Return Barge (if used)
  4. Suffer Attacks
  5. Refresh the Card Row

This is your “income” phase – you not only draw a new hand of townsfolk from your ready pile, but you also receive cowrie shells (currency), provisions, and worker pawns (including those who were assigned to huts on the previous round).

You are limited by the physical components in the game – but there are ways to trade items (marked clearly on the game board) in order maximize your intake.

As the game progresses, townsfolk cards assigned to huts will also produce resources and workers.

Take Actions

At this point, you will combine a series of actions in your attempts to build canals and defeat the barbarians – and, most importantly, use all of the townsfolk cards in your hand (none can be save for later rounds).

Townsfolk can be used in a variety of ways:
  • played to your exhausted pile to gain the item(s) shown in the top left corner (brown) area
  • discarded to the townsfolk discard pile (which means they will not return to help you) to gain the items shown in both the brown and red areas of the top left corner of their card
  • tucked beneath the board to improve your harvest in subsequent rounds – one per built Hut space
  • used for their food icon (which is explained as the story unfolds)
Workers and resources are spent to accomplish a number of different actions
  • Building the Canal – once per round, you can spend the appropriate amount of workers and cowrie shells to dredge the next section of the canal. (To indicate that you’ve done it this round, you have to remove your barge from the board.) There is usually a reward in resources plus a cost in townsfolk discarded from the top of your Ready deck. It’s also possible that the card you resolve will lead you to the Story Book and see changes to the game.
  • Attacking Barbarians – spend provisions and workers to eliminate the barbarians and gain rewards.
  • Recruit or Dismiss Townsfolk – pay provisions to add townsfolk cards to your exhausted pile or dismiss them to the discard pile to obtain the reward in the brown area of their card.
  • Construct Farms, Outposts, and Huts – spend the required workers, clay, and wood in order to move the building to an open build site.
    • Farms – provide you with additional workers or provisions each harvest
    • Outposts – give you additional cowrie shells each harvest and allow workers to “cross-train” and be spent as different color types.
    • Huts – provide new spaces for worker placement and tucking townsfolk cards.
  • Trading – as mentioned before, you can use any trade marked on the board and exposed at any time during the game
  • Using Huts – you can place workers on hut spaces to activate them
Combining these actions into some sort of coherent order/plan is the heart of the game… how can I best use the resources I have to both accomplish my immediate needs and plan for the future?

Return Barge

If you used the barge to dredge, it is now returned to the leftmost canal card – ready to work again once you can pay the cost.

Suffer Attacks

Each remaining Barbarian card above the board requires you to either pay a bribe (to keep them from attacking) or suffer damage (discard townsfolk cards from your Ready pile to the discard pile).

Refresh the Card Row

Add the appropriate number of Barbarian cards to the row above the board… filling the remaining spots with new townsfolk cards. The rate of barbarian entry rises as you build more and more canals.

At this point, if the top row is nothing but barbarians, you lose.

The End Is Coming

Like most solo/cooperative games, there is one way to win (finish building six canal sections and survive to the end of the current round) and many ways to lose:

  • due to the flood reaching an unbuilt section of the canal – or even off the edge of the board in a final turn of the game
    • Yes, I’ve lost this way.
  • due to the barbarians overwhelming you and completing occupying all seven spaces at the top of the board
    • And this way.
  • due to losing more townspeople than you have remaining in your townspeople deck (taking damage)
    • And, no surprise, this way as well.

Thankfully, I’ve also won… and it’s an exhilarating feeling dredge the last canal card and knock off enough barbarians to keep yourself in contention for the win.

Win or lose, you take the appropriate victory or defeat card from the respective set – which will offer new difficulties to deal with (if you won) or assist you with your work (if you lost.)

Final Thoughts

I’ve got eight games of Legacy of Yu under my belt… three learning games followed by a complete reset – then five games (2 wins, 3 losses) into a full campaign. I’m a little intimidated by what I’ll be facing in my next game – but that won’t stop me from playing it.

Legacy of Yu does a number of things right:
  • Clear rulebook with helpful examples
  • Well-written story book that uses different text treatments so you can skip color commentary if you’re one of those “just the facts” kind of players
  • Consistent iconography (and a guide to all of it on the back of the rulebook)
  • Splendid game insert design
  • Compelling gameplay with enough variety due to the campaign/story cards to keep it fresh
  • Easy to rest and replay (in other words, has the legacy game “feel” without any of the legacy game permanence)
So far, my only gripe is that I wish they’d had little 3D cowrie shells and provision to match the quality of the rest of the components… which is, as board game gripes go, pretty weak sauce.

Shem Phillips (the designer) and has done a wonderful job of designing a captivating solo game – and then giving it a production quality to match. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys solo gaming with a solid bit of crunchy tactical play and sense of narrative. (Note: I did not receive a review copy of this game… bought it with my own hard-earned gaming budget. It was worth it.)

A version of this review appeared on the Opinionated Gamers site.

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