Legendary Inventors is a light worker-placement game that uses several very familiar mechanics for rules that are very easy to pick up for new players, but the end game comes so fast that there are clearly inferior strategies that don’t seem to have much place in the game.
Each player gets a team of four famous inventors from throughout history, each of whom has two skill points distributed somehow across the game’s four different skills, represented by a light bulb, a flask, a nut, and a compass. (My daughter would like me to point out that one of the game’s five quartets of inventors is all-male. I don’t believe she meant that as a compliment.) On a turn, a player may use any of his/her active inventors to place cubes, aligned with those specific skills, on invention cards in the center of the table. Those invention cards can be completed over several turns by multiple players, and each has some combination of open squares corresponding with the game’s four skills. So, if you have an inventor card with skills of one light bulb and one flash, you may use that card and place two cubes on an invention card that has an open light bulb square and an open flask square.
Once you’ve used an inventor like this, you must exhaust the inventor by turning that card sideways; to restore it, you take a turn to rest and then rotate all of your inventors back to their starting positions. Thus, at least early in the game, you’ll spend three or four turns placing cubes, and then you’ll rest to get everyone back again.
When the last cube goes on an invention card, filling all its squares, players divvy up the rewards. Each invention card has a point value connected to the game round (1 point in round one, 2 in round two, 3 in round three), and each card also gets two bonus tokens drawn randomly from a bag at the start of the round. These tokens are the heart of the game’s strategy, because you can use many of them to boost your inventors’ skills.
Each inventor card has a point value of 3, 6 or 9, which you earn by improving his/her skills to certain targets by the end of the game. If the bonus is 3, that means you’ll need to add two skill points to the inventor; a bonus of 6 means you’ll have to add three; and a bonus of 9 means you’ll have to add four. Every bonus token has a 1 on its reverse side, so you can place it in an empty circle on an inventor and take his skill from 0 to 1. (Or hers. But odds are, his.) You can also earn tokens that read 2, 3 or 4, and can upgrade any inventor’s skill by placing a token 1 higher than whatever is already there.
Other bonus tokens confer victory points directly, up to 3 on a token, giving you the ability to place two free cubes on a turn, or let you rest all your inventors without spending a turn to do so (symbolized by a cup of coffee, nature’s greatest invention). The player who placed the most cubes on that card gets first choice, the player who placed the second-most gets second choice, and, if applicable, the player who placed the third-most cubes gets what’s left. In games of four or five players, therefore, it’s possible to get the shaft.
There’s one other kind of bonus token and it relates to the game’s one worthless strategy. Each invention card has another number on it, in a tiny blue font, that runs from 0 to 5. If you collect a “run” of invention cards, starting at 0, you score more points at the end of the game for this run … but it’s only as many points as the highest number in the run. So if you collect cards with blue values of 0, 1, and 2, you get two points. Alert the media. That other bonus token type allows you to skip one in a run, so if you have 0, 1, and 3, you could still score it. For the amount of work required to pull this off, it’s a meager reward and I’ve never been able to make it worthwhile. The value of completing inventor cards just dwarfs anything else.
Games take about 40 minutes for 3-5 players, a little less if it’s just two, and final scores are only in the teens or so because you just don’t have time to do a lot. You might complete a 9-point inventor card, hold two invention cards, and get a points token, and that’ll be all. It’s a game where you have to be really flexible about what you’re trying to accomplish based on what rewards you get in the game, which means deciding from the start what you’re going to do if your first plan doesn’t pay off. That’s not my personal preference, but for a light strategy game that doesn’t require any real previous knowledge of the rules it does the job.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.