Where are all the Legacy Games?

Seriously. We get like 2 a year.

I'll spare you a long backstory on who I am: My name is Jaime Barriga, and after 4 years of work, I'm still plugging away on a Legacy game I created called "QuickFight: A Legacy Game." When I started, there were a handful of us in the whole world doing Legacy game design, and that number has now exploded to like... 15.

One of the questions I get regularly is "why aren't there more Legacy games?" And so please allow me to regale you with my own personal take on the matter.

Legacy games are inherently more complicated than their static counterparts

Let's look at Chess:

No really. Stare deeply into its eyes.

White goes first and has 20 possible moves to make, creating the potential for 20 possible game states. Then, from each of those initial 20 states, Black has 20 possible moves to make.

This means there are 400 (20 times 20) potential ways for the board to look after 2 moves.

Each new move after that balloons that number. Tons of outcomes, lots of room for strategy. This is why you can rank people in Chess. No one can possibly prepare for all the game states.

But at the end of a chess game you start over from scratch. Back to the initial game state every time.

Legacy games do not do this.

Let's say you made a chess variant where each time you played, you threw your first piece to be captured into the woodchipper (a common device every gamer keeps in their home).

Game 2 now has a board with 30 of the original 32 pieces on it. Which means that game 2 starts with the potential for 256 unique layouts. And if White and Black can make the same 20 moves to start (which, for those wondering, they might not have), you are now at...

102,400 possible game states after 2 moves in game 2. Compared to 400 at the same point in game 1.

And that's just with one rule adjustment! Imagine how many game states are possible by the start of the final game of Seafall!

This inherent complexity means that someone will eventually find a way to break your system.

For me, this has happened no fewer than 3 times in QuickFight. Some playtester will come along and either

A. Get super lucky

B. Get super smart

and bring the game to a state where it is now broken, and no one wants to play anymore. Once this happens, you need to determine if a small patch can fix things, or if the problem you're seeing in game 6 is aaaaactually related to a flaw in the game design that needs to be addressed in game 1. Which now means you have to rewrite your whole game again.

It sucks, and I have done this 3 times.

I used to think that I couldn't allow for a situation where the players can break the game. In my head, that's still my ideal. But the honest truth is that I'm not sure you can account for this in 100% of the cases. The best I can do is playtest with as many people as possible, so I can get a handle on how different groups diverge, and try to account for those situations.

Ok, but why aren't there more Legacy Games?

For me, the answer is this: This natural complexity of a Legacy Game leads to a herculean amount of development and testing time.

As a reference point, I've been working on QuickFight for 4 years. It's a side project; I'm not a full-time game designer. But when I took some time and converted the game into a non-Legacy version (called Corporate Raiders), I did it in just shy over 1 year. Same basic mechanics to start, but waaaaay faster to design and balance because you start over the same way every time. Here is a timeline of the progress on my 2 games:

4 years to get 50 percent done on Quickfight with 3 rewrites.  1 year to get 100 percent done on Corporate Raiders with 1 rewrite.

Any Legacy Game is going to take at least 2 or 3 times longer to design than a standard board game. And you will need a constant stream of playtesters because instead of testing the same game once or twice, the same group needs to playtest like, 10 or more constantly changing games. Most playtesters simply won't stick through to the end. And honestly, how many game designers are willing to devote way more time and energy into a Legacy game versus designing (and maybe even releasing) 2 to 3 games in the same span of time? The risk is gigantic, for a game that might not even succeed in the market.

But it doesn't have to be this way

When I started this, I had a dream of converting my favorite game at the time into a Legacy Game and just seeing where that journey took me. We're here now, 4 years later, and I still don't have a published game, and I'm still a bit of a nobody. But I regularly sit down and work on it, and I'm proud to say that I've built like 50% of a full Legacy game from scratch and I'm going to see it through.

Nobody gets into board game design for the money. And if you do, seriously, what's wrong with you? You could learn programming in like, half the time and immediately make bank. You goose.

What I'm trying to say here is that there's gap in the board game world right now, and I think it's going to take more people who love playing board games to stand up and say "you know what? I can't let these 15 people have all the fun so I'm going to make my own Legacy Game!" There are plenty of resources and people to help, and no two people are ever going to design the same game. And if you decide to dive in, I'll be there when you have questions.

-Jaime


Related article: Building a Legacy Game