Table of Contents
|Legacy of Dragonholt (2017)
|Meeple Like Us
|Player Count (recommended)
|Nikki Valens, Daniel Clark (I), Tim Flanders, Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda and Greg Spyridis
A review copy of Legacy of Dragonholt was provided by Asmodee Nordics in exchange for a fair and honest review.
While Legacy of Dragonholt may be more book than game, it’s certainly a well produced piece of entertainment and one that I enjoyed frittering about with for a while. We gave it three and a half stars in our review, noting that while it certainly won’t appeal to everyone it is an interesting and somewhat innovative entry in a genre where the spectrum is already pretty broad.
What I’m mostly interested in though here is the accessibility of the game. It’s not the first time we’ve tackled a text-heavy title – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Above and Below… they all have Choose Your Own Adventure components to them. It’s the first time we’ve tackled something that is a literal gamebook though.
Let’s see how it works out!
The only things that count as a game component are the ‘activation tokens’ that act as reminders for who has a decision to come up, and the cards that indicate game items.
Of these, the tokens are the most problematic in that it won’t always be immediately obvious which way up they are. However, in real terms this isn’t an issue because you get to choose yourself how the tokens should be used. The game suggests flipping them over to indicate ready/unready status but you could just as easily simply toss them into a bowl. Or put them in front of you when they’re spent. There are 100% accessible ways to use the tokens that don’t trigger colour issues. It would have been nice if the manual had mentioned alternatives, but it’s hardly an actual problem.
The cards don’t make use of much colour other than for shading, and as a result they’re 100% accessible.
Similarly in the books themselves – colour isn’t used to convey information, and in any case is barely used throughout, so there aren’t any problems. To be fair, I didn’t play through all the scenarios and it is possible that colour becomes an issue down some branch of some scenario. Unless there’s a sudden colour puzzle though I doubt it. Let me know in the comments!
We’ll strongly recommend Legacy of Dragonholt in this category.
The ‘feelies’ provided as props for play are something of an issue, using as they do a font that lacks clear readability and occasionally have clues hidden within. The presence of these clues is usually indicated in the story text, but finding them might be trickier for someone with visual accessibility needs.
Text heavy games are always going to be an issue in this category in any case. Legacy of Dragonholt is best as a solo game but in that scenario there is so much reading. And reading in a way that prevents conversion into audio format even if that was remotely feasible as a home compensation. As such, Dragonholt in the circumstances of visual impairment becomes a game that requires a sighted player. If one is available though it becomes pretty much fully accessible as long as the sighted player(s) don’t mind taking on the burden of reading all the passages. It’s certainly the case that reading out loud for an hour or more can take a fair toll on the vocal cords. Longer adventures will leave someone feeling a touch croaky.
The only issue in that scenario might be the maintenance of character sheets, but that too can be handled easily by a sighted player or converted into some more accessible format like a text file on a computer. There’s quite a lot of character creation but most of it is entirely unnecessary and can be safely skipped or handle ‘just in time’ as you go through the adventures.
We’ll recommend Legacy of Dragonholt in this category, with the proviso that it is not played solo. If solo play is important, we’d advise you avoid it at all costs.
Legacy of Dragonholt is an odd game in this category, and shows some of the issues we discussed once upon a time in Once Upon a Time. It is simultaneously a game that everyone can play but one that asks so much of its players in terms of cognitive ability that it’s difficult well beyond what its BGG weight would suggest. Players need very high literacy to read the text, and they need a good vocabulary to comprehend what is happening. Decisions often resolve down into ‘if-else-if’ processes which can occasionally include problematic compounds. I’ve occasionally had to read over my options carefully a second time to properly parse them because there are conditions and negations of the logic. ‘If you have X and it is not Y’ sort of thing. It’s not at all complex but carelessly reading over the text will sometimes result in the need for revisiting your options.
A lot of the paths you go down in the story are predetermined by earlier choices, but those choices will usually be influenced by skills selected at the start. Character creation can be a little obtuse in how skills are to be selected but what’s more significant is making a meaningful choice about what skills a player might want. Why would you pick agility over athletics? What’s the difference between persuasion and deception, and where are they likely to come into play in a narrative fantasy campaign? That needs contextual understanding of the skills, their specifics, and a lot about the general trope structure of fantasy roleplaying worlds.
Where real decisions do come up in the story, they usually involve a weighting of risk. Your clever, well-read sage will probably want to avoid a choice that implies combat – that seems obvious – but is it better that he go for the option that implies sneaking around or the one that implies being able to succeed in an act of physical strength? Your blend of skills will suggest which of these is probably best, but in the end it’s a guess that may not be rewarded. What’s best out of stealth and strength if you have persuasion, deception, reasoning, history, awareness and craftsmanship as a skillset? Stealth, maybe, because of your awareness? Physical, perhaps, because of your craftsmanship? You need to do a projection in your mind to what might happen from your decision and hope the writers felt a similar way.
In real terms the skills that end up actually mattering are often counter-intuitive but you can certainly slant the odds in your favour by thinking things through. That requires massive amounts of general knowledge about the world as well as the specific stereotypes of generic fantasy. Terrinoth as a setting benefits from being about as cookie-cutter as is possible and that means some knowledge of fantasy is going to be transferable. Having that knowledge is going to be helpful.
Numeracy comes into play regularly – your stamina will be constantly adjusted through damage, resting and healing potions. Wounds result in skills becoming disabled (not a fan of that terminology of course) which then changes the way in which someone needs to think about decisions in the future. This isn’t like a Fighting Fantasy book where a wrong choice will lead to death, but it’s also not overly permissive. It’s possible to end up very seriously disadvantaged by careless choices.
Simply choosing at random then is not a great option, undermining as it does the whole point of the game and resulting in potentially punishing outcomes.
For those with memory impairments only the design of the game is actually wonderful. You record every passage you read which permits someone to check back if necessary and also ensures you can never truly get lost in the book provided you’re disciplined about keeping the record. The story point system means that even if you forget something happened the game doesn’t. I came back to Dragonholt for my second session about two months after my first and while I didn’t recall a particular incident from our adventure the game continued as if I did. Very nice. Everything from your character sheet to the cards you get when you pick up inventory helps here. It would be nigh on ideal were it not for the fact that the story passages can be very long and full of details. Complex, branching narratives are never going to be great here but I would say Dragonholt does about as well as it could under the circumstances.
We don’t recommend Legend of Dragonholt for those with fluid intelligence impairments, but we can recommend it for those with memory impairments.
The sole physical inaccessibility in the game is to be found in the gamebooks themselves. They’d require some kind of stand if a player with physical accessibilities is to comfortably read what can sometimes be quite long passages. A single ‘turn’ of a story – as in, before players come to a decision point – may be several sections long involving flipping through the book to find where it continues.
On the back of the book is where you record details of play. I would recommend photocopying them rather than using the books directly. Otherwise you’re constantly flipping them over and smudging the ink. Either that or record the information somewhere else. A text file on a computer will be fine.
If the issue of reading aloud isn’t an issue, then Dragonholt becomes a much more amenable game. We therefore harken back to the section on visual accessibility. As a solo game it’s hard to recommend but if one (or more) players are happy to handle the reading, or perhaps the manipulation of the book so a physically impaired player can read aloud, then it’ll all be fine. Dealing with the potentially problematic character sheets have a whole range of easy solutions
We recommend Legacy of Dragonholt in this category, with the above provisos.
Bad things will happen to your character, but they rarely take you out of the game in any significant sense. Mostly what they do is reduce your competency until you get a chance to deal with it. Healing potions and other remedies are reasonably common, and there are no dice rolls to put your fate in the hands of the random number gods. It’s a cooperative game so there’s no PvP and everyone involved will get an equal chance to play even if they don’t all necessarily get to make decisions with the same level of consequence. The story decides that.
The storylines occasionally involve unpleasant themes, but none that I’ve seen that are gratuitous or excessive.
All in all, a generally unproblematic game in this category. We’ll strongly recommend Legacy of Dragonholt here.
Legacy of Dragonholt deserves a lot of credit for the conscious diversity it has threaded through the storylines. Lots of characters acting in non-stereotypical capacities and plenty of obvious nods to conspicuous inclusion. While they are overt they’re also reasonably subtle. I’ve seen people referencing this as an agenda driven game but I’d say that’s only true to the extent that you consider any kind of non-stereotypical representation to be agenda driven. Where it comes up, it comes up reasonably organically. One early example, for context, is a young noble woman writing in her journal making an offhand remark about being a little annoyed they keep asking her about a husband but ‘why not a wife?’. I liked that little bit of flavour – it doesn’t make a ‘political’ statement, it just highlights an open-mindedness in the character. Perhaps even just a reluctance to accept tradition. Is she gay? Is she bisexual? Who knows. Why is it your business? You shouldn’t be reading her damn journal anyway you creep.
If you want to be put off by that kind of thing, you’re going to be put off regardless of how well it’s handled. I think Dragonholt handles inclusion well without succumbing to the risk of tokenism.
The RRP of Legacy of Dragonholt is around £40 and that might seem like a pretty eyewatering sum for what is essentially a series of interlinked game books. However, it has to be seen in context. Legacy of Dragonholt contains a number of separate scenarios and a complex village that would easily come out to about ten solid hours of campaigning to complete once. Being generous we might say a single gamebook, Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf or whatever, might take a bit more than hour to run through a single branch. So, Legacy of Dragonholt should be worth, say, eight fighting fantasy books. Those are £5 each if you’re lucky, although cheaper digital collections exist. Eight fighting fantasy books would be… £40 and they can only really be enjoyed solo.
I think Legacy of Dragonholt too is better written and better designed than Fighting Fantasy, although I would be hard pressed to say that it’s better than Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. Except that is as far as representation goes because… yeah, those books haven’t aged well. The Lone Wolf series though is, as far as I know, out of print.
We’ll recommend Legacy of Dragonholt in this category. £40 is a lot, but it’s not unreasonable in comparison to the alternatives.
Oh no, it was going so well for so long.
Legacy of Dragonholt requires huge amounts of conversational literacy in its use of language. To the point it would be completely unplayable if you weren’t well versed in its grammar and vocabulary. If playing solo there are no other communication issues, but if playing with others it becomes problematic from an articulation perspective (if someone is expected to read the stories) or from a hearing perspective (having to listen to someone read the stories). There’s no convenient workaround here – the alternative is everyone having to do multiple reads through each section of each book.
The only positive thing here is that this is an issue that exists in intersection only for those with hearing or articulation issues. Playing solo it would be absolutely fine – it’s only playing with others that would make it an issue.
We can very tentatively recommend it here, noting the problematic scenarios:
- Anyone that doesn’t speak the language well, regardless of player count
- Hard of hearing players when playing in a group
- Players with articulation difficulties when playing in a group
Everyone else – it should be fine.
The biggest intersectional issue with Dragonholt depends on how it’s to be played and I think we’ve addressed those in each of the appropriate sections. Playing the game solo is very different to playing it in a group and that changes how appropriate it would be in any given scenario for any given condition.
One intersectional feature I do want to flag up here is in how well Legacy of Dragonholt deals with dropping in and out. A player disappearing just means that decision making falls to a smaller number of people, and the converse for a player coming back in. It also impacts on the pool of skills available, but if that’s likely to be an issue it’s easy enough to have someone make a decision ‘on behalf’ of a missing player.
The storylines in Dragonholt can last a long time, and it can be tiring if one or two players are doing a disproportionate amount of the reading aloud. But, the way the game requires you to record story points, previously read passages and character impact means it is an exceptionally easy game to ‘save’ and ‘load’. And, for those players that may have dropped out earlier, the recorded passages mean they can get their own replay of what happened that they can consult at any time.
It’s really an excellent feature, although one that is not straightforward to emulate for a lot of games.
A fall in the fluid intelligence category, a stumble in the communication category, but otherwise Legacy of Dragonholt comes out of this teardown reasonably well. Harkening back to our introduction, it does much better than Tales of the Arabian Nights, notably better than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and meaningfully better than Above and Below. It’s our most accessible text heavy game so far, then.
I don’t assume everyone reads every section in these teardowns. They’re reference documents, designed to be consulted on a per need basis. As such, I want to make sure to highlight again a couple of the best features of the game. The focus on inclusion leads I think to a much more interesting story experience than you’d expect from a generic fantasy setting like Terrinoth. It makes everything more textured than it might otherwise be and I found that appealing. It doesn’t elevate the setting to new levels, but rather prevents cliché dragging it down to lower ones. That’s nice.
The second feature I want to highlight once more is that the audit of passage numbers is a great approach to dealing with long games, or games where players may drop in and out of play. This is the first game we’ve ever looked at that has something like an ‘action replay’ system encoded into its ruleset and it’s wonderful. It’s not the first to do something like this of course – I mean, chess notation is ancient – but it’s the first we’ve looked at to do it this rigorously in this way.
We liked Legend of Dragonholt enough to give it three and a half stars in our review. Our teardown shows that it’s also broadly accessible, albeit not universally so. If you thought it sounded worth your time, you’ve got good reason to think it might well be playable. Maybe check it out if you get a chance.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.