Breaking the Mold: How Legacy Board Games are Revolutionizing the Industry

Your decisions matter... more than you think.

Breaking the Mold: How Legacy Board Games are Revolutionizing the Industry
Randy Meeks

Randy Meeks

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You know how to play a board game, even if it’s Parcheesi or Goose, right? You pick up your chips, roll the dice, move, throw cards, play against your friends or family and, in the end, one of you wins (unless it’s cooperative). The game goes back in the box and the next time everything is repeated in an impossible groundhog day… Or maybe not. Legacy games have been with us for a decade now, turning board games into a sort of video games in which every decision matters and every game is different from the previous one.

Mobile adaptation of the popular Monopoly game

The importance of legacy

In 1998, a board game specialist named Rob Daviau joined Hasbro as a writer of Trivial Pursuit (yes, that job exists) and Taboo questions. A year later he was designing his own games, albeit as simple as ‘Monopoly Looney Tunes’ or ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. One day, while devising new versions of ‘Risk’ he thought of a sort of inside joke about the latter: Why do the ‘Cluedo’ killers keep getting invited back again and again?

Or to put it another way: the players don’t start from scratch, but the game does. If video games can save the game and always keep going until the end, why couldn’t it happen in board games? He soon thought of a complex system of envelopes, surprises, increasing rules and a game that would evolve according to the player’s decisions, which he called “legacy”. And the first one he wanted to try was, paradoxically, ‘Cluedo’. It did not go ahead because Hasbro forbade it.

It was 2008 and he himself tells what happened: “They looked at me like I was crazy, so I thought ‘Well, maybe it’s a crazy idea’ and I put it aside”. However, the concept stayed in the heads of his superiors, and soon after they sent him to make a perpetual version of ‘Risk’ in which players had to do things unthinkable until then: scratch the board, break cards or write on them knowing that they would never use them again after the campaign, as if it were a game of ‘Dungeons & Dragons‘. In 2011, ‘Risk Legacy’ was released after a year and a half of development. It was a smash hit in the gamers’ field, although for Hasbro it was nothing more than a side note.

Pandemic (but without masks)

After leaving Hasbro, his next legacy game was not long in coming, and this one would change the market forever. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1′ is the usual ‘Pandemic’ but with changes after each month. It starts being easy to overcome and little by little it starts to get more complicated with variations of the virus impossible to cure, zombie infections, easier to get infected and cities that are marked for life. Twelve (or 24) games, depending on your skill and luck, will lead you to victory… or disaster.

It was easy for Daviau to choose ‘Pandemic’. When the creators proposed it to him by e-mail, his answer was, at size 150, “YES”. Pandemic Legacy’ is a much more complex game than the original and the decisions you have to make (save one city at the risk of being far away from another when the virus explodes?) will make you sweat. A must-have after which came the madness: everyone wanted their legacy.

From ‘Ultimate Werewolf’ to ‘Machi Koro’, ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’ or the ‘Jurassic Park‘ saga itself, there have been few games that could resist a good legacy version. Obviously, it doesn’t always work well, and some, like Daviau’s own ‘SeaFall’, didn’t quite make the grade. Fortunately, if you are interested in this variation with which you can finally feel that board games have entered a new dynamic, pay attention, because we are going to recommend you the best ones.

Don’t let them pass you by

If you know anything about the world, no matter how little, you know that ‘Gloomhaven’ is a sacred cow. A sacred cow with a box that literally weighs ten kilos, but that contains an exciting campaign that will bring you back to the best role-playing with an easy to understand game style (depending on the attention you are willing to pay) and that assures you dozens of adventures. If you want something even more accessible but equally fabulous, you have ‘Gloomhaven: Maw of the Lion’. You’re welcome.

Another marvel is ‘Clank! Legacy’, in which every game will change and literally every decision will be vital to get to the end. In addition, it has a much more complex story than ‘Pandemic Legacy’ and is more familiar than ‘Gloomhaven‘, making it a perfect start to the adventure.

And what about those with small children? Well, they can also give theirs with a zombie adventure between kids: ‘Zombie kidz evolution’ and ‘Zombie teenz evolution’ will keep the progress from one game to another. Like a role-playing campaign, but without the need for infinite character sheets. This is the future of board games, after all, or did you think it was all going to be ‘Monopoly‘ and ‘Catan’?

Randy Meeks

Randy Meeks

Editor specializing in pop culture who writes for websites, magazines, books, social networks, scripts, notebooks and napkins if there are no other places to write for you.

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