14 April 2018

Legacy Games: A Double Edged Sword

I enjoy the video reviews at Shut Up & Sit Down. I often disagree with their assessment of a game, which merely shows that I look for different things from my games than they do, and that's fine. But I still enjoy watching the reviews. In part, this is because they're very informative, and in part because they're generally enjoyable to watch. This will be pertinent to the upcoming board game review, which I will post in two weeks' time: Near and Far.

You guys, I am so impatient to post the review for Near and Far.

But right now, I want to talk about one of SU&SD's favourite things: legacy games. The guys over at SU&SD tend to fall all over themselves when talking about legacy games. In their review of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, they refer to Risk Legacy and other legacy games using the following statement: 'So, in other words, Pandemic Legacy is just like Risk Legacy, but with one vitally important difference: Pandemic was a great game to begin with!' (This statement can be found at time stamp 2:32). This implies that simply making a game into a Legacy version makes it great.

Before I continue, I want to make sure that we understand what a legacy game is. In a normal game, players play through, then put everything back in the box, and when they take the game out again next time, they reset everything to the standard default starting position and start fresh as if the story behind the game had never taken place before. In a way, each time you start a game, you're going back in time to the first time it was ever played. Legacy games do away with that concept by having the actions of one game affect all subsequent games.

In fact, the designer of the very first legacy game (the aformentioned Risk Legacy) got the idea for the legacy game format when he made a joke about the game Clue / Cluedo: why do these murderous characters keep getting invited back to the mansion? Although he pitched the idea to Hasbro, they rejected it, but later asked him to create a legacy version of Risk.

So, as the game progresses, not only do you carry out the normal actions of the game, but certain events trigger special actions. These actions involve some sort of permanent change to the game: these may include stickers affixed to the board; changes written on cards or other components, cards permanently destroyed (tear it up!), or the addition of new components. This means that after a couple of play-throughs, your set will be completely unique to every other set on earth, as a result of the changes to your game being determined specifically by the events in your games.

Opposing Views on Legacy Games

Obviously, legacy games are quite popular. They're such a new concept that there aren't very many of them yet; apart from Pandemic Legacy and Risk Legacy, there's Gloomhaven, a handful of smaller games that haven't been played by many people yet, and a few games that can be played in 'campaign mode.' Which I find a little disingenuous; campaign mode is not the same as a legacy game.

Regardless, the aforementioned games are quite popular. In fact, Gloomhaven only just recently unseated Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 from the #1 position on Board Game Geek, and that game is still at #2.  Risk Legacy sits at #219, which is a respectable position for a database which contains nearly 15,000 games.

But one day, I was talking to John, and the topic of legacy games came up. To which John responded that he didn't like the concept of a legacy game because after only twelve games, the set was useless. It had been so completely modified through permanent changes like stickers, destroyed cards, and writing on the components that it couldn't be played again. Worse, because it had been so completely altered, it couldn't be resold like other games that have lost their replay value. If he's going to spend upwards of $50 on a game, he said, he wants to be able to play it more than twelve times.

An Alternate Viewpoint

On the other hand, I recently had a conversation with another friend (I'll call her Caroline) about this same topic. In part, this conversation was inspired by the fact that she and I are playing Near and Far with our spouses in campaign mode (you guys, I'm so impatient to review that game!), and a comparison to legacy games came up. I mentioned what John had said, and Caroline responded by saying that if you play a legacy game (say, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 at $50 with the same 4 players in all twelve games), you've just gotten twelve games for $50. That works out to just over $4 per game. 

That's a good deal cheaper than a ticket to see a film in the cinema. And if you consider that you have to buy one ticket per person at a cinema, but that $4/game covers four people, you're really spending just over a dollar per person per game. In a lot of ways, a game is more enjoyable than a film, because it's both interactive and involves time spent with one's friends (ideally, obviously).

This is especially true when you stop to consider how many times any one specific game gets played in its lifetime. For most people, most games get played an average of maybe ten times before it's discarded. Of course, there are some games (especially if it belongs to a really avid gamer) that get played far more often; I can't even begin to think of how often the Asmodee Games' Eclipse has been played by John and others in his group. And that's nothing compared to how many times he's played Scrabble in his life!

And this is where we see the really interesting aspect of this comparison; a lot of games get played very infrequently. I've had Winter Tales for about three years now, and I've still only played it once. It doesn't look like it will get played again any time soon, and there's a definite chance that it won't be pulled out and played again ever. So how much does that game cost per person per game?

Changing the Way Legacy Games Work

Some games exist that utilise non-permanent changes. Rather than destroying cards, they're simply removed from the set. Stickers are non-permanent. Writing can be erased. That way, once the game has been completed, it can be reset to its initial state, and played beyond its initial run. Some people may say that this cheapens the very concept of a legacy game; how can you claim to have a truly unique set if you can simply undo the changes you've made? Others like the idea of being able to get more than twelve games out of a box.

Personally, I'm sort of indifferent on the concept. I like the idea in practise, but I doubt I'll ever really be in a position to fully take part in a legacy game. Of course, I say that, and I am currently involved in a campaign game (that being Near and Far; have I mentioned that I really want to post the review of Near and Far?). But don't forget that a campaign game is different from a legacy. Campaign games don't involve permanently changing the components. In our campaign, we are recording our progress on consumable character cards (miniature character sheets, in essence) which affects what we can do in later games, but otherwise doesn't permanently alter any components.

But on the whole, I don't think I'm likely to buy a legacy game. If a friend buys one and offers to have me join, I will probably take him up on the offer. But I don't feel the need to invest in one myself.

In Closing

So there you have it: a brief overview of legacy games; their pros and cons, and how different people feel about them. I hope that it's given you something to think about, and provided you with a few new perspectives on the topic. With luck, it's a concept that you'll now be able to think about in greater depth! 

And if you're interested, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Let me know what you think of legacy games! Post a comment below, and as you do, remember that I will always wish you to

Game on!

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