Boardgames in the News: So, What’s the Big Deal with “Legacy Games”?

Legacy games were the latest, greatest thing in boardgames in 2011, when the first “Legacy Game”, Risk Legacy, was first published.  Although Risk Legacy, was the first of this style of games, it was the arrival on the scene of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, four years later, that really raised their profile, and with it’s arrival, there was a lot of debate.  Legacy games are board games where changes are made as players play; think “Choose Your Own Adventure“, only with a boardgame instead of a book.  The difference is that the changes that are made are permanent and affect game play the next time.  Examples of these changes include permanently marking cards, adding stickers to the board, destroying components, opening sealed envelopes, and so on.

Risk Legacy
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These changes are designed to be permanent and are typically part of a campaign that can only be played through once.   And this is where the controversy lies:  hitherto, boardgames have been toys that provide entertainment time and time and time again, and have a resale value, Legacy Games can only played through once and have little or no resale value once the campaign has been started.  There are other issues too, for example, for the best experience, these games need to be played with the same group every time, and as such, are not ideal for games groups where different people attend each time.  Designing them is considerably more complex than normal games as well, as all the alternate paths have to be balanced and every possible eventuality play-tested.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
– Image by BGG contributor Six8

There has been a lot of demand for the development of Legacy Games with a reset capability, and games like Fabled Fruit and Charterstone have been produced with this in mind.  Unfortunately, this completely misses the point:  the excitement of the true Legacy Games generate is precisely because they cannot be reset.  This is not to say that “Fabled Games” and other reset-able “Legacy-style” games are poor games, in fact, because they need more play-testing than most games, the opposite is often true.  And these games still have the feeling of exploring the unknown, but there is something they cannot reproduce.  The fact is, boardgames are very precious to gamers, and as a society people are taught to take care of games, so permanently damaging them is something everyone is taught not to do, a bit like permanently damaging a book.  For this reason, there is a frisson of excitement that comes with permanently changing a game and that is the true mark of a Legacy Game; love it or loath it, the knowledge that the game can be reset removes this defining aspect.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
– Edited from image by BGG contributor Muse23PT

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