Beowulf: The Legend Review
A game that I was able to find for cheap and thus tried out was Beowulf: The Legend.
In Beowulf, each of the players takes on the role of one of Beowulf's companions in all of the epic quests of his life. At the end of the game, after the "Death of Beowulf" quest, whoever has earned the most fame during their quests with Beowulf takes on the role of his successor. How this works is that there are different "episodes" in the life of Beowulf along the board. There are "major" and "minor" episodes. In "minor" episodes, each of the players will be able to draw new cards, heal scratches, and perform "Risks". If the player chooses to take a "Risk" then they reveal the top 2 cards from the draw deck, hoping to draw cards of a certain type (there are 5 types plus a wild). Each of the cards of the correct type the player gets to keep, and if there were none of the desired type, then the player receives a "scratch" (thus the title "Risk"). In a "major" episode, each of the players attempts to play the most cards of the correct types. There are two types of major episodes: one where the players reveal their cards all at the same time, and another where the players go around clockwise in a "one-upping" fashion - each player must match or exceed the number that the previous person had played. In these "major" episodes, depending on how each player ranked, they will get to select their reward (or misfortune) in descending rank with the winner selecting first. Yes, this probably sounds confusing, but it is actually pretty simple when you get into the game.
The first thing that I really liked about Beowulf was how the major episodes worked. Specifically, the "one-upping" episodes worked really well and were pretty fun. One of the best parts of these episodes is that each player must decide two things: how badly do they want to win, and how badly do they want to avoid losing. Many of the episodes a player simply wants to not lose, whereas some of the others the players will desperately fight to win - and the episodes that the players do this on may be different from one player to the next. There were several situations in which we were fighting desperately until someone lost the episode (and wound up receiving a misfortune) and then all the other players gave up because they were less concerned with whether they won, they simply didn't want to lose.
The next thing that I liked about Beowulf (which is only in the "advanced" game) is how the treasure works. There are various opportunities for the players to earn "treasure" - sometimes as a reward for a major episode, sometimes during a minor episode. How this works in the "normal" game is that all treasure is worth victory points at the end, just the same as fame. This makes the game not as intricate. However, in the full game, there are "treasure episodes" in which the players are able to bid their treasure much like in the "major episodes", and only the winner receives the prize. This added some extra strategic elements to the game, and I'm glad that it was included.
Now for the cons. First of all, the game will play very similarly each time, thus reducing the replayability. Since the board depicts the episodes of Beowulf's life, there is no randomization between the order of things. If a player picks a strategy for when they want to win episodes and when they want to lose them, they don't have to adapt their strategy much. The only thing that will be randomized is the cards that they received.
The next con that I found about the game is that sometimes the "Risk" can get pretty ridiculous. Specifically, this can occur on a major episode. If it is a "one-upping" major episode, then at the start of each player's opportunity to play new cards, he can choose to "Risk" before playing a card - if he's successful, then whatever he received is added to his pile, and if he is not then he is out of the episode and receives a scratch. In one of the episodes we had, we had approximately 14 successful "Risk"s in a row (this is not an exaggeration). That seemed excessive to me, though I'm not really sure of a good way around it.
The final point of note is this: we played a 3-player game and Beowulf functioned well. I believe, however, that the game will work best with 5-players, and will not function very well with 2 (though it claims you can play it with that many). The reason for this is that the available results of each major episode are tailored to the number of players - if you only had 2 on each episode, then you wouldn't have as many negative results, and you also wouldn't have any of the in-between results that are somewhat good but not great.
Overall, I give Beowulf: The Legend an 8.0/10. I was pleasantly surprised by it, and I will play it more. If you run across this game, I think it is worth giving it a try.