I have a problem. I love games with all my heart; card games, board games, video games, you name it. However, I can be a sore loser. I grumble about dice, my after game “gg” is sometimes tinged with sourness, and possibly a note about bad luck. But they say that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, and I can do that. The second step to solving it is to find the most salt-inducing experiences possible, and exposing yourself to them. Over, and over, and over again. And I have found the toughest, most relationship-destroying genre this side of Catan.
Legacy games are a relatively new experience in the board game world (as far as I am aware). At first glance, it looks terrible on paper. I still remember hearing about Risk Legacy when it came out; we were sitting around the dinner table when my dad mentions, “you know they’re making a version of Risk that you mark on? You even tear up the cards.” We involuntarily shuddered in unison. To us, the concept was ridiculous; aberrant, even. To mark on a game was to defile its sanctity; like putting the crucifix in a mason jar of ‘homemade lemonade’, or painting dongs in places they shouldn’t be.
I finally gave in during a slow week in college. Along with my wife and a good friend, we went to the game store and picked up a copy. I still don’t remember what possessed us to buy it, but it was a weak moment that I will never regret. We took it home, opened it up, and were instantly hooked. Packets lined the box, warning us that they could only be opened under certain circumstances. The armies were beautifully unique, each with a feel and flavor of their own. I picked the Steelclad Powerhaus known as Die Mechaniker, which specialized in their defenses. My wife picked the mobile Saharan Republic, who could move troops around at any point in their turn (instead at the end), which led to some great surprise attacks. And my friend picked the Enclave of the Bear, a group of genetically enhanced humans (he was insistent they were Scottish) that could, under the right circumstances, wipe out an entire defending force in a single roll. The chances are slim to none, but he actually won a game by demolishing my impregnable fortress with the ability.
Each Risk Legacy board is designed to play 15 games—although we found our board was still playable for much longer. We managed to plow through every single game over summer. The whole time, I was raving to my dad and brother, trying to bring them to the light. “We were wrong,” I kept saying. “Marking on the board is what makes the game satisfying.” They finally relented, and we purchased a board to play when we met up. They became equally entranced. My brother, who initially petitioned to write everything on separate sheets of paper “to allow us to replay the board”, found a sense of joy in ripping cards in half. We each picked a color of Sharpie that represented our impact on the campaign. Cities were named after events during the game they were founded, and leader’s names for the armies lasted until they were eliminated by the other player. We wanted a board game; what we didn’t expect was a story.
The most apparent drawback of legacy games is actually their greatest achievement; you can only play it once. It also works best with the same group of dedicated players, because while some bonus are tied to faction, some are tied to the player themselves. Those introduced halfway into a board may have trouble catching up. But these drawbacks are symptoms of makes the game personal. The board, once finished, becomes an archive. It’s a tale of the people who inhabited it, and a monument to who conquered it (which in each of my three experiences has been yours truly). Years later, I can return to the very first game board, point to a city, and tell you how it was named. It may not mean much to you, but to the three of us who played it, it was a bonding experience.
However, bonding can sometimes be painful; legacy games especially so. Losing a game can be a sore experience. What happens if that game impacts the next? Thankfully, Risk Legacy does an amazing job balancing and addressing losses. Going back to my original board as an example is telling; we played two games a day for three days. The last of those games was a turn-one blowout by the Enclave of the Bears. We had to wait another month and a half before we were all emotionally ready to play again. Looking back, it’s easy to laugh at how terrible those moments were; given the chance, all three of us would be happy to play the board again. To back up that statement, I’ve played three times; my dad bought both my brother and I two additional blank boards, just in case they ever went out of print.
Sadly, Legacy games are few and far between. For the record, I personally define a legacy game as a game in which events and decisions (loss, wins, specific actions, etc) physically impact all future games in a non-linear fashion. The three that I know of are Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, and Seafall. I have heard of Terminal Directive, which is a narrative-driven expansion to the Netrunner card game. I am unsure of how much is linear development, and how much is not (regardless, I am excited to pick up a copy to play as a Netrunner fan). Out of these games, I am currently playing Seafall. It is an excellent game with some drawbacks (a full review of Seafall is in the works with one of our guest writers, once we finish the campaign). Personally, I will support any game that decides to tackle the Legacy genre. It’s a daunting prospect; balancing these games is complex in that bonuses and penalties can stack. As a result, they can cause unexpected (and sometimes insurmountable) handicaps if poorly balanced. Yet they still need enough flavor to compel groups to play a large number of games, with largely the same people.
So if you’re tired of being angry that you never have enough wheat or wood (but you totally would if that bitch Carla would just trade with you for once in her goddamn life, I mean Jesus she even has a port), go and grab a legacy game. If you’re at a loss which one to try, I recommend Risk Legacy without reserve. Knowing basic Risk helps (the first game plays mostly like the basic game), but you won’t be disappointed or at a disadvantage otherwise. So saddle up, grab a pair (of dice), and let the good times roll.
If you have your own stories about legacy games, I would love to hear about them. Shoot me an email, or leave them in the comments. I only ask that you keep them spoiler free for those who have not played the game yet (and I’m only halfway through Seafall, so if you send me a story about that, I may have to plug my ears and sing loudly).