League of Infamy is a new board game from Mantic Games set in the same world as their main fantasy game, Kings of War, where you are in the shoes of the evil guys, those that pull the strings in the background, between an assassination and a sponsored revolt. This is my League of Infamy review.
The game is as dungeon crawler played with plastic miniatures on small preconfigured boards. As most board games of this type there are plenty of tokens, cards of various types and of course dice.
But how do you play this game? First a disclaimer: our test kit comes from last year’s Kickstarter and we played only the core game. We will, however, be describing the various components that may or may not be sold separately, the different ways to play and finally our own experience with the game (with a bit of an explanation on how to play the game).
The core game isavailable from Mantic Games webstore. You can also get it from various webstores and Amazon.
Let’s dive in!
What does the Leage of Infamy game box contain?
League of Infamy is a miniature board game at its core. The base game comes with 35 miniatures (52 if you have backed the Kickstarter), several boards representing the Elven Sanctuary you are infiltrating trying to snitch some Drakon eggs and disrupt the plans of the Elves, tokens of all types representing damage, loot, scenery, actions, custom dice and cards.
Let’s go into details. The miniatures are in plastic and of different sizes representing the villains (in this case this is you and your friends) and the defenders (in this case the “bad guys”). Some miniatures are/were available in resin at an extra cost.
The quality of plastic is good enough. Packaging could be improved as miniatures arrive pre-assembled and some may have warped or bent during transport. However, it is really easy to correct most deformations with hot water (Mantic even has a tutorial on how to do it on their YouTube channel) and for serious damage their support team can help you really quickly. Personally, I had three miniatures missing as part of the first wave and their contact centre replied and sent the missing miniatures in a heartbeat. 5 stars service.
There are a few game tiles, all double sided. Depending on the game size, you use two or more of these. The main point here is that they are not interlocking like puzzle pieces (like Gloomhaven for example, where one piece would connect to another). This allows for greater configuration possibilities but also for moving tiles that can become easily annoying. This is probably just personal preference.
The tokens are used for many things in game, of which the most interesting concept is the exploration bag. Each scenario has a set of potential rewards for the rooms that the villains are going to explore. Different things in game can increase rewards or risks by putting extra tokens in the bag. Once the villains explore a room they pick randomly from the bag as many tokens as described in the room rules. Those can be anything from loot to enemies. We strongly recommend to have a cloth bag to use for this (not included in the game) as it provides a special touch.
Other tokens are used to represent how many actions villains have available, effects in game like when someone is burning or stunned, damage, alarm and infamy. Infamy in particular is a unit of measure of how well a villain is doing. It can be obtained in various ways, including backstabbing your own companions. Alarm tokens instead are the currency used by the keep master to obstruct the villains and prevent their mission.
All dice in game are custom, they have different stars or blank faces representing how many successes are rolled for each test. If you have played other recent Mantic games, you may be familiar with the concept of “upgrading” or “downgrading” a dice. Basically, each action is performed rolling X dice of a particular colour. However certain bonuses (or penalties) will allow you to change colour of one or more dice making it more (or less) likely to succeed in a specific test.
Finally, the cards represent either the villain abilities and stats, or the defenders, equipment, loot, skills and other decks used in certain situations. We will describe better how the game is intended to be played in the next section but suffice to say that the best way is to have a keep master that plays against the other players, and he has access to his own deck of actions to perform. Players can also perform actions against each other with the Disorder cards.
The Kickstarter also included several stretch goals and an expansion called Wandering Beasts that is highly likely to be available as a separate add-on(s). The most important thing in my opinion is the Unseen Master modality that introduces a sort of “AI” to replace the keep master so that all players can “collaborate” to complete a scenario.
But it wouldn’t be a proper expansion without new cards, a new small campaign and of course new miniatures: 18 defenders (6 new types) and 12 new villains (6 of which are Kickstarter exclusive).
The Kickstarter also introduced two new campaigns: No Half Measures (Limited Edition) that pits the villains against Halflings, and Siren’s Wrath (Kickstarter exclusive) where our “heroes” are going to harass the Trident Realm denizens. Each campaign comes with new scenarios, tiles, cards and of course miniatures.
Different ways to play with League of Infamy
League of Infamy defines itself as an “occasionally” cooperative dungeon crawler experience with a Keep Master controlling the defenders and the other players controlling up to 4 villains. This is the standard way to play the game.
The expansion “Unseen Master” allows to automate all keep master actions so that the players can play together. This modality works quite well and transforms the game in a more collaborative game.
However, it is not fully collaborative as there is always the possibility to backstab your fellow players by stealing their infamy or doing other activities against them. The problem is that often you are not enticed in doing this until the very end as there’s always the risk of failing the mission and it is generally more rewarding to complete missions together and obtain as much as possible than abandoning companions behind. It is also not possible to ignore completely this aspect of the game as Disorder cards play an important component and they need to be drawn (certain cards favour the keep master increasing the difficulty).
And this brings to the different modes available: Campaign and Standalone Games. Campaigns are a sequence of scenarios after which you can upgrade your villains. The core campaign is six scenarios but there’s enough randomness and villains available to add re-playability. It is also possible to add extra scenarios to a campaign, using for example the Wandering Beasts missions or the Pilgrim missions: a template for random scenarios.
The Standalone games consist of a single Raid Scenario (it can be a campaign scenario or any other found in the various expansions) where players are pitted against each other to collect more points to win the scenario, including the keep master. This is probably the most competitive aspect of the game and the one you should be using for quick games but also if you prefer backstabbing your companions rather than full collaboration.
First experience playing League of Infamy
Reading the rulebook is straight-forward and most rules make sense and are intuitive. But once you start playing, it’s a different thing. The game would benefit from a cheat sheet with diagrams and sequence of actions and reference to the pages where they are described in detail. At the beginning I found myself going back and forth quite a bit between different pages that describe related parts, in particular when I used the “Unseen Master” rules.
The scenarios are also in the middle of the rulebook, and while on one side it saves paper and most scenarios rules are useful only during setup, it can be frustrating to search the objective of the game and some specific rules while you are in the middle of a sequence.
Once you are ready to start the game, it’s time to set everything up. The advertised length of each scenario is 60-90 minutes. However, the first time you play, be ready to spend much more time (as with any board game of this size).
The setup of League of Infamy involves many operations including selecting the cards that will be used in that game, shuffling various decks, dividing the tokens in their piles and preparing the exploration bag: a collection of tokens from which the villains pick up when they explore new rooms.
There’s nothing complicated in the setup and after the first few times it will become easier, but the first time, without an experienced keep master doing it for you, it requires a lengthy amount of time.
Each scenario instructs the keep master which enemies will be available in that raid, all special rules, which rooms are open for exploration, which cards to use to obstruct the villains, and which tokens are first entered in the exploration bag.
The Unseen Master rules have a couple of extra steps that simulate a human setting up the Defender side. They work well with realistic set up instructions and providing a framework for the rest of the game.
Once you are ready to start, the game is quite quick: there’s a Start Phase where the villains’ initiative is determined and the keep master (KM) obtains alarm tokens. Those are the KM currency, spent to introduce reinforcements, activate extra units, etc.
After the Start Phase there is the Villain Phase in which each villain has up to 3 actions to perform their nefarious tasks. This includes the usual moving, attacking, shooting, pickpocketing, etc. There are specific actions to help subdued villains (when your health drops below zero you become subdued and lay on the ground at the mercy of events) and free actions that can be used on top of the three available each round, plus specific scenario-related actions.
The board is made of square tiles (as opposite to hexagonal) and diagonal movement is permitted only if you have at least a free adjacent tile between the figure moving and the diagonal one. Characters can move up to their movement value in their stat card but if they reach the front arc of an enemy (the 5 squares in front and side of the direction a miniature is facing) they cannot move out of it without triggering a free strike (attack of opportunity for DnD fans).
There are two types of attacks: melee and ranged. They use two different characteristics and each villain and defender has a number of dice that can throw to perform a test for each value. The dice have a number of stars representing a value (from 0 to 4) and the more powerful the die is, the higher the chances to score higher results.
When you perform an attack you roll as many dice as instructed and count the sum. You then subtract the defence value of the opponent figure and that is the final damage result. Critical hits can perform extra effects depending on the weapon or character used.
If applying the damage counters, they reach or go over the remaining Health damage of a miniature, then it is either removed from the game (defenders) or subdued (villains). Being subdued is not the end of the game unless all villains are subdued at the same time.
Ranged attacks work exactly as melee, but before you need to verify if you are in range. Each weapon has either a short or long range. A specific ruler allows you to check quickly which range you are in. Miniatures can also be in cover if there’s obstacles, walls or other miniatures in between the attacking miniature and the defending, hindering or making impossible the shot.
The last type of test is Skulk and is used mostly for lockpicking or other special actions.
The Keep Phase is where the KM performs his activities starting from playing unexpected twists from the Keep Cards deck, to activate the Defenders and eventually Reinforce them. The Unseen Master plays similarly with an extra deck that will determine which villain is the priority target and by drawing the cards the same way a KM would do but instead using the Discard section most of the time.
This last part is where the Unseen Master loses a bit compared to an actual human KM. Most discard steps involve adding tokens to the exploration bag. By mid-scenario you know opening a room will have the strongest opponents you can find and no loot, disincentivizing further exploration.
It is in this phase that the KM will use the alarm tokens generated previously to perform extra actions or buy new defenders as reinforcements.
The End Phase is really bookkeeping, and some events happen in this phase.
The first round will take a bit to get used to, but then it goes really quick. At the beginning you and the other villains will need to decide a high-level strategy and then follow it without thwarting it too much. The defenders should already have some miniatures in play to use against you but in general the first round is pretty quick once you familiarize with the sequence of events.
Things can get a bit more complex in the later rounds when multiple defenders appear from all sides. By default, only a defender per villain can be activated each round, but the KM can buy extra activations (up to 3) to further hinder the villains’ advance.
The first time you’ll play, you may not remember the sequence by memory but it’s simple enough that by mid game you’ll already be an expert.
We really enjoyed the Unseen Master rules because it makes it simpler to choose which defenders to activate and what they can do. A KM can really hinder the villains as they have greater control in what they can do. For example, the Unseen Master activates the closest figure to the priority target followed by the furthest, repeating the sequence until all activations have been completed. A KM can strategically choose which to use isolating and killing the villains one by one. This is another reason why backstabbing each other is generally not a good idea.
Defenders keep being summoned in infinite waves and since the board is normally small, in most cases it means within 2 rounds they are already in range to fight (or even one if they can shoot and you are in a corridor). This ensures you don’t stand around too long gathering loot and infamy but rather keep focussed on the objective at hand.
Final thoughts on my League of Infamy review
The game has a steep learning curve that a cheat sheet or summary table with diagrams would simplify, but it’s fun and will become faster once you learn.
The concept to obtain infamy and other items by backstabbing your companion is interesting, but in the end, it’s not a key mechanic. Most loot is sold at the end of the raid (or used to score points in a stand-alone game) making it mostly irrelevant in the grand scheme of events. At the end of a campaign game you can choose your rewards from a list and the villain with the most loot or infamy has the first choice.
However, don’t get attached to a loot item as you will be selling it at the end of the next scenario unless you are able to pick it up again. Infamy can be obtained much easier killing enemies or performing other actions rather than stealing from each other.
In summary, the competitiveness of the game is only relevant in stand-alone games. Campaigns tend to be more focused on surviving the endless tide of defenders while accomplishing the mission goal. And you do get decent rewards anyway.
The final verdict: this is a fun game once you set your expectations right. The game excels in brief games all against all with a “dungeon master” keeping the villains on their toes. The game is not meant to be a collaborative game with an AI controlling the defenders, but it can be used this way with decent results.