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.
Legacy games are inherently more complicated than their static counterparts
Let's look at Chess:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Related article: Building a Legacy Game