Tuesday, 13 March 2007

THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD- In Brief

I find it a lot more satisfying to discover a great 25-year old game than I do to pick up whatever the new “buzz” game out of Essen happens to be. There’s something inherently rewarding about digging up a game that’s been cast aside by assumed progress in game design idioms and left for dead, yet still remembered chiefly by the long-standing veterans of our hobby. So many great older games have been forgotten in the rush to find the next PUERTO RICO- I often wonder if most gamers have any sense of history regarding the hobby, something I think is essential for providing a frame of reference in really appreciating where the hobby is today and where it was before SETTLERS OF CATAN. So let’s go back to 1979 for this one and have a quick peek at the Avalon Hill/OSG gamette THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD, a one-hit wonder from Joe Bisio.

As you might expect given its title and pedigree, THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD is actually a sort of light 2-player wargame depicting the titular feathercap and his band of Merry Men engaging in guerilla style, hit-and-run thefts on bishops and nobles trying to make their way through Sherwood Forest while the forces of law an order (represented of course by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sherriff Lincoln, and Guy di Gisbourne) try to stop the flow of money from rich to poor. It’s a terrific, somewhat under-explored theme and I’m glad to say that the mechanics are very specific in detailing it- bowstrings get wet when crossing rivers, Robin must have Alan A’dale and Friar Tuck present to marry Maid Marian, and there’s even the classic archery contest on Nottingham Green.

The game is fairly simple. The design cornerstones are an area movement system with some minor terrain effects, a simple archery/melee/personal combat structure, a very simple command/recruitment system used only by the Robin Hood player (strangely similar to WAR OF THE RING), and a basic mechanic to put the nobles and bishops on the board (marks, if you will) and move them. The rules are brief and mostly clear although combat is strangely vague in places and I’d say that the average gamer could have this up and running in 30 minutes of opening the box. One of the most fun things about the game is that it’s totally assymetrical- the Sheriff player plays completely the game in a completely different way than the Robin Hood player for obvious thematic reasons and the result is a really tricky, captivating cat-and-mouse game that finds Robin Hood and his cronies constantly dodging the law while looting castles and committing highway robbery. The Sheriff player gets the pleasure of hanging captured outlaws and dropping in on local villages with armed soldiers to round up tax revenue. It’s a fun, solid little game that plays in about 90 minutes but it’s the kind of thing where if Robin Hood gets caught early, you might be looking at a 20 minute game.

THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD is a great choice if you want to play a light wargame but want something with a little more panache, maybe a little more narrative. It’s also a perfect pick if you like the Robin Hood theme since it realizes it so well and so specifically. If Ameritrash means reclaiming some of the things that were lost to the rise of the Euro, then this is definitely one worth digging up again.

21 comments:

Ken Bradford said...

Nice review, man. I've heard this oldie mentioned enough times now that I'm probably going to have to check it out at some point.

TheRankO said...

This post gives me hope that the Ameritrash thing can live -- can thrive -- outside the environment of BGG. One issue that has only been slightly touched on during the past few months is the level of institutional neglect at BGG of older games. For example, how many of the BGG top 10 are older games? How many of Vasel's Top 100? I have a hard time believing that a game's youth doesn't directly correlate to the amount of press it gets with these people, and, by and large, vice versa. And I have a hard time buying some bullshit blanket statement of "newer games are better," too. Please: somebody convince me Reef Encounter is more fun than The Enterprise(4) Encounter, that Leonardo Da Vinci is more fun than Kingmaker.

Anyway. Beyond the (much-deserved) ribbing of the BGG powers-that-be, these old games are at the heart of the Ameritrash gestalt. I'm glad you have a venue for this kind of review and this kind of game.

Keep up the good work.

Michael Barnes said...

ENTERPRISE ENCOUNTER! That's a _fun_ game...didya know EON (DUNE, COSMIC ENCOUNTER) designed it?

The thing that I find really disturbing is that board gaming has become like popular music- completely faddish, driven by new and ultimately disposable product, and completely negligent of a sense of history. It's kind of like being a hardcore vinyl collector and here come all these teenage girls with American Idol CDs. Seriously. Except the teenage girls are actually middle-aged men and the CDs are copies of Ticket to Ride.

I read this stuff by all these folks who started gaming in 1997, 2003, whatever...and I wonder what they were doing 15-20 years ago when I was playing some of this stuff that they now either ignore or don't even know exists.

Some old games suck. Some old games would be good if they were updated a little bit. But old games are worth playing.

TheRankO said...

Yeah, I knew about the EON connection -- after reading your mini-review on BGG. That's what prompted me to buy it in the first place.

Jason Lutes said...

Thanks for bringing new attention to an old favorite! I love The Legend of Robin Hood and still have the battered copy I bought when I was 13 in 1980. I would love to see a remake with a bigger board, nice minis, and 3D castles.

Hmm, I may have to dig this up and and cajole the girlfriend into playing tnoight...

Cale said...

Wow, a nod to Legend of Robin Hood. My buddies and I used to play this semi-regularly, though it hasn't gotten any attention of late. It is a perfectly fun, light game.

I was always amused that the game box advertised doing things you couldn't actually do in the game, like freeing Maid Marian. As I recall, it worked the other way around.

BrayD said...

Great review, Michael. I wish more review were this good and succinct.

BrayD said...

Theranko,

Maybe, someday, we at FA could do a different kind of gaming award. Basically, collect a pool of nominees from, say, 50, 25, 10 and 5 years ago and then pick the best of the nominees. The idea is that we reward not the hot/new but the old/lasting.

TheRankO said...

Brayd,

Hey, that's a great idea. Sign me up!

Michael Barnes said...

Well, I do feel that it is our calling, so to speak, to champion older games...I'd definitely be up for doing some kind of alternative game awards. I'd love to see Richard Hamblen (MAGIC REALM, GUNSLINGER, MERCHANT OF VENUS) finally acknowledged for _something_.

TheRankO said...

I don't know how to post this to the main blog, but if this awards thing were to happen, here are five games I'd nominate from 1982, twenty-five years ago. Not coincidentally, these are all games I played and loved way back then...

Car Wars
Judge Dredd
Planet Busters
Star Smuggler
Monsters of the Midway

Liumas said...

Michael Barnes said...
I'd love to see Richard Hamblen (MAGIC REALM, GUNSLINGER, MERCHANT OF VENUS) finally acknowledged for _something_.



The Great Khan Game. 'nuff said'.

Nice writeup of Legend Of Robin Hood. At the top of our playlist lately.

Kellen said...

In reference to Cale's comment above. The game we used to play is Legends of Robin Hood, and different 25 year old AH game, this one multiplayer and card driven. It involved a competition between Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlet, etc. to recruit Merry Men and steal gold. Kind of a fun old game. But, I'm not sure who at AH thought it was a good idea to release two games with almost identical names.
Cale is right though, on the Legends of Robin Hood box it said you could sneak into the castle and rescue Maid Marian, which wasn't a mechanic in the game at all.

Scott said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Michael. At first I thought it was the multi-player version - which isn't bad with the right folks, but nothing to write home about. Then I looked at the BGG site for the game, and realized I'd never seen this one. I downloaded the rules, and it does look pretty good.

Michael Barnes said...

I'm sort of interested in that other LEGENDS OF ROBIN HOOD game mainly because it's designed by Courtney Allen, the guy who did UP FRONT...any of you guys that have played it care to give a paragraph review of it here? It's got a bad rep on BGG...can it be saved?

Scott said...

Michael - it's been about five years since I played it at the WBC, so I don't remember everything. I just remember that most of the things you did in the game were card-driven (combat, movement, ect.) from one big deck that got cycled through several times a game. I remember being frustrated in that it's difficult to get from one place to another quickly on the board; it was very luck-driven and light, but I enjoyed it. Then again, I played The Goth Game once and had fun also, so my idea of fun might not be everyone's...

Michael Barnes said...

Well Scott, THE GOTHIC GAME is one of my favorites so who knows! :-)

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

I've got the multi-player card driven version and managed to get it out once (too AT for most of my group). I remember enjoying it and my comments on BGG for it are:
Nice simple card game. Don't get too carried away attacking other players as you need to earn gold to win.
Obviously luck orientated so run-away leader can happen, probably best with maximum players.


I also have Julian Musgrave's 'Robin Hood' which is a real Brit AT game and because of that have never been able to get a play of it.

Liumas said...

Michael Barnes said...
I'd love to see Richard Hamblen (MAGIC REALM, GUNSLINGER, MERCHANT OF VENUS) finally acknowledged for _something_.

The Great Khan Game.

Kids these days don't know nothing.

google groups sucks for this purpose.

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