How One Man Created A New Genre And A Legacy In Tabletop Gaming

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The notion of spending $80 on a board game you only played once was completely unheard of until very recently. Until a few years ago, board games always played on the same board, with the same starting positions and always reset when the game was pulled out again for a new session. That is, until Rob Daviau designed Risk Legacy, a game that made mainstream the notion of legacy gaming, where a game set is only played once, like an RPG campaign over many sessions, and the game changes in irreversible ways.

The philosophy came from Daviau, a designer for Hasbro at the time who had worked on the well-known Cluedo (Clue in North America) and an enormous number of versions of Risk. In one of the brainstorming sessions for Cluedo, Daviau came to a stark realization: “I dunno why they keep inviting these people to dinner, they’re all mass murderers,” said Daviau in describing the eureka moment to “And it was this moment where I went ‘Oh yeah!’ The game kind of starts over like the movie groundhog day. But the players don’t start over.” The creation of legacy games was a result of Daviau’s memories of RPG gaming breaking through, “Roleplaying games have persistent worlds,” he explains. “You write on a character sheet. I remember when I was a kid and a character would die, someone ripped it in half and it was very dramatic.”

That sort of drama and tension is what makes legacy games such a unique experience, as well as drives the enduring attraction to the new genre. At the time of this writing, Risk Legacy is the best selling version of the franchise in Hasbro’s history. That says a lot about how incredible and unique legacy gaming experiences truly are.

That said, it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve heard stories of gamers getting together with excited anticipation for their first session of Pandemic Legacy, only to have one player leave mid-game and never return to play the game again because he physically couldn’t tear up game components as directed to by the game. You’ve got to be willing to deface your game. Borders may get redrawn, upgrades may get torn up, things change and are gone forever. There is no hard reset, there is no CTRL+Z.

There’s also the stark learning curve. These games can very much feel unforgiving at the start, but ultimately learning is built into the game, the same way that a first level D&D Fighter might have a hard time with an owlbear, though a few levels in that’s significantly different. It’s not the characters that level up in legacy games, but the players themselves essentially level up their play and proficiency to match the game as it unfolds. Unlike in typical board games, one bad gaming night doesn’t mean you lose: there’s always another day to fight the good fight and bounce back without starting from scratch.

One of the notable things about Daviau’s previous work in the legacy genre is that they’re built upon existing franchises. Daviau’s most recent project is the highly anticipated SeaFall, a new legacy game set in a new world unknown to the players coming into it.

Set in an alternate reality of 16th and 17th century Europe’s colonial period, players will set out and explore the vast empty ocean, discovering new islands and other surprises, stickering on discovered land and exploring them, which is ultimately the meat of the game. So much so, in fact, that the game uses a a 427-page Captains’ Booke,  which is ultimately an events book in the style of the old school boardgame Tales of the Arabian Nights, to flesh out the exploration of these new lands as well as move the games’ narrative forward when players earn Milestones.

Another interesting twist in the game is that attacking within the game is a finite resource. Each player only has 8 Enmity tokens. As Daviau described to Polygon:

“You can’t just declare war infinitely because when your eight tokens run out, you’re done. It’s basically saying no, you’ve reached your jerk limit. If Enmity isn’t removed at the end of a round, it becomes permanent. So I could look at a map of SeaFall when you’re done playing and I will see certain islands and certain events and certain things in certain places. I can look at the Enmity on the board and I could probably recount your world’s history pretty well from just looking at that map. You’re going to be building a map that is also an historical artifact.”

As gamers, we’re used to looking at a game board as a game component, but Daviau has designed a game that elevates the board game to become an artifact of a group’s shared, specific and unique experience. There’s something actually quite beautiful in that notion.

Suffice to say, the future of legacy games looks quite exciting. Daviau is working on several other projects including working with Matt Leacock on Season 2 of Pandemic: Legacy  as well as a collaboration with Dirk Knemeyer on a game based on players creating their own version of western civilization called Chronicles. Given the length of time it took Daviau to design both Risk: Legacy and Pandemic: Legacy (several years each) SeaFall will have to tide us over for awhile until Daviau’s next project comes out.

Have you played any legacy games? Let us know what you think of them in the comments! 

Featured Image Credit: Z-Man Games 
Image Credits: Hasbro, Plaid Hat Games

Teri Litorco is a tabletop gaming fangirl, so much so that a book publisher asked to author  The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gamingwhere she comes off as an expert in tabletop gaming but really earned her experience by being a cautionary tale. Tell her what you’re playing on game night via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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