07 February 2024
A game that changes permanently as you play it.
Picture the scene. You reach out to your KALLAX shelf (the IKEA cubed shelving that is almost perfectly sized for board games), and pluck from it the family favourite game that brings many into the hobby, Ticket To Ride. It’s a reliable choice, where the rules never change – whether you play with a competitive monster, or a chilled just-here-for-the-ride player, however you play it, the game will be the same every time you pull it from the shelf. That’s what we expect of board games – the same game lives within the box every time.
History of Legacy Games
The story goes, that Rob Daviau once asked why the guests of Cluedo kept being invited back to dinner – given the inevitability of the death of an attendee, and if you play right, the incarceration of another. “What if you had a Cluedo game where you built up your list of suspects over time with repeated plays, where the killer might be more likely to be Colonel Mustard in your game, but it could be Reverend Green in mine?” he once asked. Whilst it never happened for Cluedo, Risk: Legacy brought the new mechanic to fruition, and has spawned a ton of gaming hits since.
What is a Legacy Game?
The legacy style of games are essentially a response to asking, “What if games could learn, and change?”. It might be that you place a sticker on the board to change or grow a location, that perhaps makes it impossible to return to. You might destroy a card or game piece forever – a slightly heartbreaking prospect for the perfectionists among us – as a result of a choice you didn’t have to make. You may open secret envelopes and boxes depending on your decisions, or you might have made a choice that damaged your reputation in a way that haunts your descendants later in the game.
As a result, the familiar line of “spoilers”, rears its head. The delightful element of discovery in opening a box can’t be understated, and whilst never being able to play the same game the same way again, it’s the trade-off for a much more thematic experience. It’s truly a format that encourages experience over repeatability.
Examples of Legacy Games
One of the biggest board games in recent history, in both popularity and seemingly box size too, dwarfed perhaps only by its follow-up game, Frosthaven. This huge box took the Legacy genre as far as it had ever been though thankfully, offered some removable stickers if permanent destruction isn’t your jam.
If Betrayal at House on the Hill wasn’t spooky enough, now you have to content with a return to the house, where your decisions in one round, can have a direct effect on your descendants in later rounds. Kill someone in one chapter? Face their ghost in another. Can’t stop someone in time? A whole room is destroyed for future generations.
Described by its designer as a game about legacy, rather than a legacy game, this multi-season game lets you ‘save’ your game as you go. Each decision changes the game, but rather than the final act being the final time you can play, instead, you can take it back off the shelf later, and play again, with the marks of the experience that went before it.
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