The Stuff of Legend is a Hidden Traitor game that was on Kickstarter back in October 2021. We’ve been looking forward to this for a while: it was on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022 mostly because this is a Kevin Wilson design (one of the people responsible for the amazing Arkham Horror 2nd Edition). The game promised delivery in June 2022, but it didn’t arrive at my house until May 27th, 2023, so it is just about a year late.
The version we got was the Kickstarter Bogeyman version, with a slip cover: see above right. The retail/normal version will look more like the above left. We’ll discuss differences later below.
The Stuff Of Legend
The Stuff Of Legends is a best selling Graphic Novel … which I knew nothing about when I backed this game. The Stuff of Legends universe basically provides the backstory and setting for this game: players take the role of toys trying to save their kidnapped boy from the Bogeyman!
Even though I didn’t know the IP, the universe and art are quite compelling. In fact, my Kickstarter version came with a nice-sized comic book called The Dark, Book I.
The art is fantastic in this graphic series, if a little dark.
The production is very good.
Cooperative or Hidden Traitor Game?
Those of you paying attention might have notice that the game box says that this is a Cooperative game (see above), but we introduced it (at the start) as a Hidden Traitor game: which is it? It’s kind of both and neither. Let me explain.
Like many Hidden Traitor games you might have seen, everyone is given a loyalty card at the start of the game. All players are on one of two teams: the toys trying to save their boy (Loyal to the Boy) or trying to help the Bogeyman kidnap the boy (Loyal to the Bogeyman). Most players are Loyal to the Boy, and at most 1 or 2 (depending on the number of players) are loyal to the Bogeyman.
Here’s the thing: At player counts 3 and 4: there is a 50-50% that no one is loyal to the Bogeyman!! At the start of the game, you shuffle together 1 Boy Loyalty card and 1 Bogeyman loyalty card, and only one of them it goes into the the deck with all the other loyalty cards. So, it’s possible that no one is loyal to the Bogeyman at the start of the game! The remaining card is placed on the board, and through a wacky card called “Muddying the Waters” players can swap loyalty cards with that!
Those of you who follow hidden traitor games may find this seems reminiscent of Shadows Over Camelot, the old Days of Wonder game (out of print for many years). It’s possible that no one is a traitor in that game as well! In fact, we tend to play Shadows Over Camelot with a house rule that makes the game fully cooperative by never selecting traitor cards: See our Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively.
Having said that, if you play with 5 or 6 Players, you are guaranteed to always have at least 1 and maybe 2 loyalty cards of Bogeyman.
What’s weird is that there is a card called “Muddying the Waters” that can really mess with this: it allows you to swap your loyalty card with the one in the center. If it looks your team is about to lose, you can play that and maybe swap teams! Your loyalty can be dynamic in this game.
“But Does It Make Sense to Play Fully Cooperatively?”
Does it make sense to play this fully cooperatively? I think it does! We played a 4-player game and they just barely scraped by a win for the Boy team. I ended up being the Traitor! Here’s the thing: I couldn’t do very much to sabotage the other team: since actions are mitigated by voting, I couldn’t do anything too horrid. And there is no special advantage to the Bogeyman team for revealing! In Shadows Over Camelot and many other Hidden Traitor games (like Battlestar Galactica and Unfathomable), once you reveal the Traitor card, you get some special actions to sabotage the others! Nope! Nothing like that here! At the end game, all I could do was just say “I don’t have anything I can do” and discard a card or two, hoping to cause a Coin Flip.
This lack of special traitor ability is both bone and bane for this game: if you have to have special rules for the traitor team (Bogeyman), then you have to obliquely ask to see the rulebook and try to find all the things you can do. But then you sometimes feel like you can’t do a lot, even if you are a traitor! In fact, about the only thing you can do near the end of the game is try get your hand discarded quick so you can force a Coin Flip (which forces the endgame closer).
From a cooperative perspective, I feel like this game could be played fully cooperatively because the game was still hard! At the end of the game, the Boy Loyalists still had to guess to win, and they had a 20% chance of losing still! I think we could house rule this and say “Let’s just play cooperatively and force all of us to have Boy Loyalist cards”. I think this still works (but only at 3 to 4, since the balance of the game shifts with more players).
Straight out of the box, you can’t play this solo. This is a Hidden Traitor game, so you typically need lots of people. But, as we pointed out in the cooperative section, just above, you can play this fully cooperatively! And our experience was that the game was still hard even when playing cooperatively! So, what if we simply play solo as the fully cooperative house-ruled game? What if the solo player plays two or three toys and manages them as if it were a 2 or 3-player cooperative game?
So, we are stepping beyond the bounds of this game! We are stretching the rules to make it fully cooperative! Then we are stretching it again to make it solo! Does it work?
It does! See above as I play a solo game handling 3 characters! It’s a bit overwhelming managing three hands, but I was able to play this way. In fact, the extra overhead of managing three hands sort of balances the fact that you have perfect information in the solo game: playing only two hands might be too easy.
You might think “Oh, this game is too easy if you have perfect information”. It didn’t seem that way to me! I lost my solo game because I chose the wrong exit! The thing is: I had to make a choice of exits, because I was running out of time! The Boy would have been lost had I not chosen an exit!! I needed to look at more of the exits, but I ran out of time.
That extra intellectual overhead of managing 3 hands helps balance the perfect information, so it was still an interesting game solo.
So, I backed the deluxe Kickstarter version of The Stuff of Legend called The Bogeyman Edition. Here’s the thing: I think the normal version is probably the way to go if you are interested in this game. Why do I say that?
First of all, the miniatures that come with the Kickstarter version, as great as they are, seem … less useful.
The cardboard standees seem thematic to the game as you are playing toys. The miniatures represent the toys in their “violent phase”, which is also kind of a light-toned color reminiscent of flesh. I think, if there were a reveal moment in the game, where the traitor flips from toy to traitor, maybe these miniatures would have made sense (I got from toy to standee!) But there is no such moment in the game!
You “suspect” who the traitor(s) are, but there’s no accusation mechanic in the game which causes a reveal. Maybe you can do that if you are accused? But why would you? There’s NO reason to reveal you are the traitor: there’s literally no special rule or advantage for the traitors once they are revealed. It’s better to just stay hidden and sow lingering doubt as to whether you are the traitor or not.
Every one of my friends preferred the cardboard standees (over the minis) for the action selector: it seemed to evoke a more a sad toy vibe, which seems more representative of the overall vibe of the game. After all, you are trying to save your boy, so you are sad toys until you rescue him!
In fact, the only time we used the miniatures for action selection was when Sara said “I’m being violent and shooting troops this turn, so I’ll use the mini instead!” A silly reason probably not worth the extra $$$ I spent.
Another reason: even though the Kickstrarter metal coin (which is needed to flip) is super cool as a giant metal coin (and it’s really big), it is actually harder to flip than the same size plastic coin! People were so scared of ruining the coin or the board as they flipped the coin, they just made me (the owner of the game) flip it, as any damage it did was mine! It’s cool, but may be easier to flip as a plastic coin!
As crazy as it seems, I think the retail version might be the way to go if you are interested in this game: it’s just easier to play, cheaper, and maybe more thematic. Decide for yourself.
Interesting Hidden Traitor Ideas
One of the most innovative ideas in this game is that your hand of cards is a scarce resource: every time you run out of cards, you have to flip the loyalty coin to refresh your hand. Every time you flip that coin, something bad happens: the Boy moves closer to death or the Bogeyman acts!
The Boy is a maker on the right side of the Board: every time the Boy side is seen, he advances one space. If he ever makes it to the bottom, the Boy Loyalists lose!
If, on the other hand, your coin flip reveals the Bogeyman, you have to draw bad news Bogeyman card!
This whole tension of trying to use your cards as best you can to avoid coin flips is really interesting! Am I discarding early because I am trying to force coin flips, or do I really just have bad cards and need a new hand?
There’s also an interesting idea of stained helper cards. Sure, many hidden traitor games have the idea of “helping out” with support cards, but any card that has the black ink (see the card above) is “tainted” and causes the character to invoke his weakness!
For example, the General’s weakness (Doubt) will cause him to discard a random card if any of actions becomes stained. Again, this is interesting: “I can only offer 3 red symbols if they are stained!” Is the person offering to help because that’s all he has, or is it because he is a traitor and wants to stain your action? Remember that action cards are a scarce resource: you may have to settle for a stained action rather than causing yet another coin flip!
Something that’s unique to The Stuff of Legends is the exploration! I haven’t seen many Hidden Traitor games is the idea of exploring! (Arguably Battlestar Galactica has it, but that board is much more static) But, The Stuff of Legend has it! Lots of Location and Encounater cards are randomly laid out at the start of the game. The players must explore the world of the Stuff of Legend to find the proper exit, but exploration has painful consequences, invoking troops and leaders and general bad stuff! But then there are mitigation cards for exploration (you can peek and swap Encounters and avoid a path), which makes it feel like you have some agency on your exploration!
Every location in the game has some cards which will generally cause bad stuff to happen, but every so often you find a way to peek at the exits!
This exploration worked really well in both the Hidden Traitor and Fully Cooperative version of this game. As cool as the exploration is (I prefer games with exploration), it does tend to make the game longer. Generally, most hidden traitor games are shorter: under an hour or even under 20 minutes. The exploration does tend to make this game longer: about 1.5 to 2 hours. Caveat Emptor. (Interestingly, my solo game clocked in at one hour).
From an objective point of view, The Stuff of Legends adds some interesting ideas to the Hidden Traitor genre: the stained Action Cards, the Action Cards being the scarce resource that cause coin flips, the exploration mechanism, and the dynamic loyalty cards. It’s a little frustrating as the Hidden Traitor because you can’t do too much to sabotage the others, even when it’s clear you are a Hidden Traitor: that’s probably the biggest complaint we had. But, the gameplay was interesting: the game can sit in this weird almost cooperative phase which just makes the game tense and interesting. Completely objectively, I would probably give this a 7.5/10. If you like Hidden Traitor games, this is really different: it may be a bit long (mostly from the exploration), so I suggest you give this a try and see if you like it! It’s probably better at higher player counts, like most traitor games.
Completely subjectively, I don’t like Hidden Traitor games, and if that’s all The Stuff of Legend were, I would probably immediately sell it! But, with a little nudge, you can play this fully cooperatively. The game is still hard enough even without the traitor(s), so it does make sense to play this cooperatively: Extending that idea even further, you can play this 3-handed as a solo game, and it works as a solo game.
Objectively, this is a 7.5/10 if you like Hidden Traitor games. The fully cooperative game is probably a 6.5/10 or 7/10. The solo game is probably a 6.5/10. If you like solo or fully cooperative games, you can play it that way and it’s still pretty good.
Of course, if you like the Stuff of Legend graphic novel, that probably adds a full point to the rating: there’s a lot of theme here. We saw our rating of Deep Rock Galactic go up recently when we played Deep Rock Galactic with someone who really liked the video game!
I sleeved my Loyalty cards because I was worried we’d be touching them a lot. Nope, not really. BUT the Loyalty cards have to stay pristine: any imperfections in the backs (a ding on the edge, a scratch) will make them identifiable to other players even when flipped. It’s probably best to sleeve them anyways: It was only 9 cards.