A Review of Legends of Sleepy Hollow (the cooperative board game)

Legends of Sleepy Hollow finally arrived!  I have been waiting for ages for this cooperative campaign!  This game is set in the world of the headless horseman and Sleepy Hollow!  Just two weeks ago I made my Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022 and this was #2 on this list!  This arrived almost immediately after putting up my list, so it’s been in the game rotation ever since!

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This is a 1 to 4 Player game with a sordid past.  It was originally up on Kickstarter in 2017.  It promised delivery in Dec 2018, and … as you know, it’s currently late February 2022.  It took almost 4 years for this to arrive!  You read that right.  It’s almost 4 years late for delivery from the original Kickstarter from 2017 … that Kickstarter was almost 5 years ago!

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One of the things that happened: they went back to the drawing board and apparently completely redid the game! I guess initial playtesting was lackluster, so they decided to take their time and redevelop the game. I love Greater Than Games, (the manufacturer who also make Spirit Island and Sentinels of The Multiverse: Definitive Edition) but their products are ALWAYS late on Kickstarter! But they also have always delivered, so I wasn’t too worried.

I also reminded myself of the history of the game: this wasn’t a “big” kickstarter: it made “only” $94,000 dollars with about 1300 backers, so there wasn’t a huge demand for the game. That may have contributed to the lateness: it was a smaller product in a company with bigger and more successful products.

Was it worth the wait? Let’s check it out!

Unboxing

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This is a thick, gorgeous box.

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See Coke can above for scale.

This game comes with a TON of map pieces and punch outs.  (I want to say I spent two hours just punching out and correlating everything when I first got it!)

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There are quite a bit of materials to punch out.  Luckily, the rulebook does show what all the pieces are.  But look at all those map pieces!  These are really big and thematic!

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The game also has a lot of linen-finished cards and tuck boxes … hiding some surprises!

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These tuckboxes also have “secrets” that get revealed later in the game!  From what we’ve seen so far, this is a campaign game that can be reset (ie.., this is not a legacy game)!  The tuckboxes house things that can be re-used!

Public Service Announcement 1:  These cards are not meant to be shuffled or looked at, BUT you will have to open all of them and figure out what the decks are!  The decks span multiple shrink decks.
You should divide them into three classes of decks, based on the backs of the cards:

  1. 4 Character decks.  Each character has a “deck” of cards that gets revealed as the game progress through the chapters, and the backs are marked with J, EL, EM, and M (for the main 4 characters).    These cards will come out little by little as you play.
  2. 12 Chapter Decks.  The backs of these decks are marked with 1:XXX, 2:XXX,… 12:XXX for each of the 12 chapters in the game.  Each deck is specific to the chapter you are playing.  For example, chapter 2’s deck is only 5 cards marked 2:1, 2:2, 2:3, 2:4 and 2:5.
  3. Monster Level Cards.  These 3 (black) double-sided cards are absolutely needed every game so you can get the stats for the three types of monsters (for that level) in the game! YOU MUST LOOK AT THESE CARDS FOR EVERY GAME!

The rulebook really needed to have a better description of these decks.  Thus, the public service announcement above.  

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The player boards are very nice dual-layered boards! See above and below.

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The combat damage is decided by dice: see the pumpkin dice above.  The orange dice is for “other” stuff (that gets revealed as you play). See dice above.

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The components are really first rate: we’ll take a look at the Miniatures in more detail below!

Rulebook

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The game comes with two books: a big thick story book (we’ll discuss in the section below) and a rulebook (see picture above).

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The rulebook isn’t too long: it’s about 16 pages.

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It starts with a nice introduction and discussion of components: the pictures are useful!  

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The next page describes what a lot of the punch outs are.  A few sentences describing the rule(s) of the components might have worked here: there’s a LOT of components in this game, and some of them really aren’t described very well: putting something on this page might have helped (and as you can see, there is room).  (For example, our Public Service Announcement 1 about the decks)

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There’s a little bit of discussion of some main points above, but there’s a lot of text and not as many pictures as I think we need.

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There’s some discussion of how to set-up, but it’s a bit abstracted, since the actual set-up comes from the storybook pages.  So, the rulebook talks about what you’ll see in the storybook. See below for what a set-up looks like (from the storybook).

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It’s a little unfortunate that the set-up is deferred.  The rest of the rulebook has a lot of text describing the rules.

After the few intro pages, you can see for yourself: there’s not a lot of pictures (see pages above).

So, I didn’t really like this rulebook.  Especially after waiting 5 years for this game, you think the rulebook would be a lot better and more mature.  Over the course of a number of nights (once by myself and many times with my friends), we stared at the rulebook trying to figure out how to play.

Why didn’t we like it?

  1. This game is desperate need of a “first play” tutorial like Sleeping Gods or Tainted Grail: there’s just a little too much to do to get though that first game: too many token, too much text to read, too many rules to learn, too many characters to operate, too many in-game effects.  
  2. Not enough pictures: there needs to be some more anatomy of cards with better marks
  3. Consistent Nomenclature: Some of the terms are inconsistent (see errata link below)
  4. Too many mistakes: There’s mention of tuckboxes that don’t exist!

The top of the box has a little sticker that gives a link to errata for the rulebook:

You absolutely need to look at the errata to get going in this game!!  There are just a few too many errors to rely solely on the rulebook.

This rulebook needs some reworking: better pictures and better organization.  Also, it felt a little “stream of consciousness” in its writing.  Look, we did finally learn the game from the rulebook and the errata but it was a frustrating process.   With the errata, this was okay.  Public Service Announcement 2: Make sure you get the errata for the rulebook!  It does help!

Storybook

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So, this is a storybook game: it has a giant storybook with 64 pages!

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The storybook describes a campaign (linear so far) that unfolds over several chapters.  Each chapter has some intro text that sets the stage for the next chapter, a page of “set-up”, and the outro text which describes the results of winning.

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So far, the text has been very thematic and on point with this theme.  There is quite a bit of text here: this really is a story game.  This game puts the “story” in “storybook” game. (To emphasize that point, I’ll use the same phrase at least twice more below, on purpose).

Miniatures

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The miniatures for this game are very thematic and nice: see the picture above for scale and below for a picture of all minis!

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Looking up close, they look pretty good:

Unfortunately, one of my pumplings came broken, and I was assembling them, I broke another!

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The pumplings are barely attached to their base and fall off rather easily. If you get nothing else out of the review, never ever ever manipulate the pumplings by their heads!!! Just touch the bases if you can.  They are prone to fall off: luckily, my friends are a whiz with Super Glue and we were able to fix it pretty easily.  Public Service Announcement 3: Be careful when handling the pumplings!

Hero clix

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Each mini in the game has a dial attached to their base for notating hit points: these are very much a poor man’s Hero Clix!

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This is really nice, because it keeps the game from being fiddly with extra tokens: each monster and character will keep track of its hit points on its base.  This was a very nice touch.

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The little rings were easy to put together: you had to punch out all the rings then attach them to the bottom, but they seemed to work.

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My only complaint with this was that the dials were just a little “too loose”: sometimes, when you picked up a mini, the dial might move slightly because the dial is not “tightly” on.

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I wish the dials fit tighter: we had to be extra careful when moving the pieces in the game, otherwise the dials would slip.  It didn’t interfere too much in the game, but it was enough to be noticeable.  I really wanted the dials to be slightly tighter.

Solo Play

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Seemingly lucky, Legends of Sleepy Hollow follows Saunders’ Law and has a solo mode! Hurray! The box lists the player count as 1 to 4.

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No matter what the player count, you must play with all 4 characters in the game!  There are exactly 4 characters and you must always play with all 4 of them.  That makes Legends of Sleepy Hollow ideally a 4-Player game, as each player can operate just one character.  A 2-Player game is not unreasonable, as each player operates two characters each.  Even 3-Player is ok: every player can operate their own character and “share” operation of the third.  So, a solo player will have to operate all 4 characters!

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The problem is: this solo mode of “always” 4 characters is too unwieldy in Legends of Sleepy Hollow, especially for the beginning player!  I have played a lot of cooperative board games (see my blog: coopgestalt for the last 6 years for a list of some of the cooperative games I have played), and this solo mode was just too much.  I started setting it up, and I had trouble getting it ON the table!  Each character needs quite a bit of space, and the solo player needs to be able to operate all 4 characters with all of them facing the solo player!  Not to mention, the amount of work to learn this game is pretty high: this is a complex game, with complex characters, and lots of rules.  And each character has a number of rules to keep track of as well.

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So, am I being unreasonable to say this solo mode is unwieldy?  Let’s compare the solo mode to other games where you have to operate more than 2 characters for the solo mode: Set A Watch, Set A Watch: Swords of the Coin, Unicornus Knights, and Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition.

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Recall, we did something like this in Set A Watch (see review here) and Set A Watch: Swords of the Coin (see review here): a solo player would have to operate all 4 characters in the game. First, Set A Watch is a “simpler” game, and second, one character ALWAYS stays back to watch the fire, so the solo player really only operates 3 characters in combat.   It was reasonable to operate all 4 characters in Set A Watch.

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Unicornus Knights Rulebook

Recall, we also did something similar in Unicornus Knights: (See Part I and Part II of our review here): unless you are playing 4 players or more, each player must operate multiple characters.  We suggested that a solo player operate 3 characters, and that seemed doable, but just barely: Unicornus Knights is a much more complicated game, probably in the same complexity as Legends of Sleepy Hollow.  I don’t think I would have enjoyed my plays of Unicornus Knights if I had to play 4 characters: it would have been too much.

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Even Sentinels of The Multiverse: The Definitive Edition (see review here) has only 3 characters for the solo game, and that might still be stretching it!  I enjoy the solo mode, but I have enough familiarity with the game to make this viable/fun.  The solo game of 3 Sentinels is too much it for novice player (which is why I offer up the alternative novice solo mode of 2 Sentinels in the review).

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In the end, I read the rulebook to get a sense of the rules, I set-up the game on the table, and I just left it out so I could play with my game group … the next night.

Maybe, just maybe, after I know the game better, I can play it solo.

Cooperative Play

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Once this came out to the table, we started having fun.  As you can see above, it takes up the entire table! The maps! The rulebook! (because the rulebook isn’t great and we have to keep looking stuff up) The characters! The cards for the characters!  The dice! The leftover miniatures! Whew!  The game takes up a lot of space!

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… which is why I think this game absolutely needs to be played cooperatively: there’s just too much shared maintenance for a solo player, but it seemed okay with multiple people sharing the responsibilities.

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As we roamed the map, a lot of story came out in the cards! So, each person in turn, would read a smattering of story.  Our first adventure (above) caused us to look around looking for stuff, and every card we read had a little thematic piece of the puzzle.  That worked well for a cooperative game.

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Handling all the monsters that roam the board was also a shared responsibility of the players: again, this seems to work because this workload is shared (and doesn’t seem too heavy for multiple players).

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The game also encouraged cooperative play because, frankly, it had been written to always have 4 characters out! These 4 characters, each with separate asymmetric powers, need to coordinate!  It was clear this game is all about the 4 characters working together and leveraging each others special abilities.

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Interestingly, the game also worked well as a 5-Player game!  For one session, I stayed out of the game and operated the monsters and kept up the rules!  It turns out, in a later scenario a “5th player” NPC joined, and I was able to play that character for an adventure too!  Even though, as the fifth player, I was the odd man out, I still had fun cooperating with my friends! See The Fifth Wheel Becomes The Sixth Man!

Theme and Story

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This game NAILS the theme.  One of our group almost has the Sleepy Hollow original book memorized (and can recite parts of it from memory!)  And this game really seems to nail the theme!  The art is evocative of the theme!  The miniatures really help with that too.  The board (although a little dark) really seems to capture that American Gothic Horror Theme! (And that’s just one board, there’s many others in the game!)

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Like I said, this is a game that puts “story” in a “storybook” game.  The intros and outros to each game were fantastic.

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The story unfolding, the art, the components, the text of the cards, the choice of text all were fantastic.  This game nails the theme.

Gameplay

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Once you get over the rulebook problems, the game plays well.  Each player gets one action per turn, putting a red token (see above) on an action space.   If you get “fear” in the game (everytime you get hit or other effects), fear can clog your action points!  It’s harder to reset as your fear goes up and up!  If one player ever gets 10 fear points, the game is over!  Or if one player dies.  

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How do you win? 

Every chapter is a little different: we have seen a little pick-up and deliver, a little exploration, and a lot of combat! Every chapter we have played so far has had “Oh my gosh: will we survive this?” situations. By being smart and cooperating, we were able to survive, but just barely!  The game seems to reward cooperation! So, winning requires adaptation to the current situation!   That was cool.

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However, as we played, we still ran into ambiguities.  For example: See the card above?  Is that a RELIC or not?  The chapter says it is, but nowhere is it so marked!  Some of items Jeremiah gets are CLEARLY marked RELIC.  Why do we care?  Because only RELICS travel with the characters to the next chapter!  So, we want to keep RELICS!  We think this is a RELIC, but we aren’t sure!

As much fun as we had playing, we kept running into little situations like this where it wasn’t clear what the rules were.  We would frequently just house rule something to move forward.  My group is experienced and can make “reasonable” calls, but time and time again, we had to make a ruling that should have been either clearer in the cards or the rulebook.   As another example, take a look at the maps!

Problems With The Maps

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So, we had problems with the maps.  As cool as they looked, as thematic as they were, they were too dark.  It was really hard to see the “room lines”.  See picture above.  Andrew recalled that we NEVER had this problem with Mansions of Madness:  even though the maps were dark, there were WHITE and YELLOW lines that clearly demarcated things.  Andrew and I have played a number of games of Mansions of Madness and never had a problem with those maps.  The maps here are just too dark.

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Another problem is that the room shapes were a bit “non-intuitive”.  The first map had weird shaped rooms (see above), but we were able to figure out “what a room was” by the grain of the floor.  See above.  A new room would be marked by the floor grain going a different way.  The rooms seemed “weirdly” shaped, but we could work with it.

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It’s just that the second map was so dark, we couldn’t quite tell where the rooms began and ended: they were weird shapes.   The non-intuitive shapes kind of took us out of the game because we had to “hunt” for lines.

Conclusion

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Legends of Sleepy Hollow has a lot of promise … and it kept a lot of that promise, if not all of it. The rulebook needs a major overhaul, but at least the errata keeps the game from being too frustrating. The miniatures are pretty awesome and thematic, but the dials needed to be just a little tighter. (And be careful with the pumplings!) The idea of fear throttling your actions is interesting. The gameplay is a little wonky and complex, and it probably needs some shoring up. The combat is good, but it appears that there are only really 4 different types of enemies. And I can’t really recommend solo play.

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What makes this game is the story and the theme: the story and theme are everywhere! The story is in the secret cards each player gets, the story is in the cards you discover and read aloud as you play, the story is in the character summaries, the story is the chapter intros, the story is in the game set-up, the story is in the chapter outros, the story is in the cool maps that come out every chapter! Story is everywhere!

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If you are looking for a “prosy” adventure set in this world of Sleepy Hollow, I think you will enjoy this game quite a bit. The theme and story for this game have been exemplary! I just wish I could recommend this to everyone, but I suspect some people will bounce off some of the unpolished corners. If you like story and theme, if you like good cooperative play, if you like gothic horror, and you can handle some uncertainty in the rules, I think this would be a great game for you.

In the end, we liked The Legends of Sleepy Hollow and we will continue to play it! We want to see what happens to that hussy Katrina!

One thought on “A Review of Legends of Sleepy Hollow (the cooperative board game)

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