So you want to build a Legacy game?

There are just not many Legacy Games out there. It's a sad, but unavoidable fact. After Risk:Legacy came out, I realized that it was going to be a while before designers started putting them out, so I decided to build my own. This article is very high-level, but maybe it will give you an idea of how to start.

Start with a story

Every Legacy game I've ever played (4 if you count my own) has an essential ingredient: a story arc. A Legacy game isn't something that just builds on itself, with no overarching point. You literally need to give the players a reason to keep going or the game won't have a purpose. The story doesn't really have to be deep, but you need to know where the game is going.

For instance, if you wanted to create a Legacy game about an ant colony becoming the best colony in the backyard, you may start with some simple mechanics. Then as you build your colony, you roll out something that lets you fight with caterpillars and spiders. Then you deal with food stockpiling, or anthill construction. And then maybe a flood happens, or the lawnmower comes out. The story just keeps building. The sooner you can get an idea of where you want the story to go, the more it will help inform the design, and the Legacy unlocks.

While it's not a Legacy game, the Legacy concept inspired Jamey Steigmaier's Tuscany expansion for Viticulture. It's literally a box of 12 mini-expansions that you can add to the game, and as you add more, it starts to tell a story. It's a really cool thing to check out if you want to see this concept in action.

Creating the gameplay

From what I can tell, there's two ways to start the process. One is to take an existing game, and apply Legacy elements. I call this the mashup approach. Risk:Legacy, We Didn't Playtest This at All: Legacies, and the upcoming Pandemic: Legacy have all done this, and I'd say Risk: Legacy is a masterpiece. Play that if you want to see how a good one works.

The other way is to creating an entirely new concept from scratch. Seafall by Rob Daviau (who created Risk: Legacy) is taking this approach. I haven't done this, so I can't comment on it.

A third approach

For my game, a weird thing happened: I started with the mashup approach, and ended up with something original. How this happened was I took a game I loved, and started to add some Legacy elements, which for me meant writing on cards and improving the values, and destroying some cards. It was literally the same game but the cards that improved as you played more games.

Then I started taking mechanics from other games (mechanics I didn't see applied in this genre), to make it not feel derivative. At this point, a new game started to emerge.

What this might look like for you: say you really loved Puerto Rico, but you think that there needs to be negotiation like I'm the Boss. You create a negotiation system that makes sense, and then try to adapt the base game to the new concept. It may or may not work, but it will start to remove the derivativeness.

This may sound bad, but every game is broken down into smaller systems. Take a look a BGG. Puerto Rico is broken down into "city building", "Farming", "Variable Phase Order" etc... I'm definitely not saying that you should make a skin and just apply the word Legacy to it. But if you want to start somewhere, start with a game you enjoy, and add things you wanted to see. You'll eventually shape a new thing that's all your own!

The Legacy elements

As you're cutting away the derivativeness, you apply the Legacy elements. Using the Legacy definition as a guide, here are 4 simple things you try out.

  1. Change the values on something. Risk:Legacy does this with the bunkers/ammo shortage stickers. The stickers permanently change a territory so it has +1 or -1 on the highest die rolled there. Very simple, but with massive implications for all future games.
  2. Change a single rule. This one is a little dangerous, but Risk:Legacy is also a good example of this. When everyone starts, they choose one of 2 powers for their starting team, and they literally throw out the other one. The game rules are now different for that player.
  3. Open a packet. The sky's the limit with this one. This is a good place to make a change to everyone's rules/introduce new mechanics, unleash new cards or boards, or change a player's situation. The visible packets not only give players something to look forward to, but it might also make them feel at ease if they start doing poorly. Pandemic:Legacy has a packet that does just this:
  4. Tear something up. Literally destroy a piece, or a card, or a part of the board.

Once you have some mechanics in place, you can start to see areas where you can add legacy elements. Also, while Risk:Legacy used stickers for tons of stuff, I can imagine that gets really expensive, so my game just uses permanent markers.


This part is a sort of play-it-by ear thing, but if the story is advancing, you need to decide what parts will permanently change, and what will reset game to game. As a piece of advice, I recommend starting with very, very small parts carrying over, because it makes it easier to see what works as you move forward.

Playtesting is key

You will absolutely miss things in your game, and I do this all the time. Having just a single person take a look will reveal a ton of things that aren't working, or things that you didn't expect. Playtest with friends as early as you can, but make sure not to burn them out on your game. It's totally cool to stop the game early if no one is having fun. Then go back and identify and fix what's wrong.

One thing I like to ask: How would you describe this game to your friends? If they say "oh it's basically {other game}" then I take my game back to the drawing board and change the mechanics. But if they start to describe it without regularly referring to another game, then I know I'm on a good path.

More stuff later

That's all I have for starting to build a Legacy game. If there's interest here, I can post some of the other things I learned like preventing players from breaking the game, maintaining game balance over lots of games, the benefit of creating a non-Legacy version, and some ideas for when to bring out packets. Let me know if you're interested in hearing more! Also, I'll be around to answer any questions.

-Jaime Barriga

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, and want to be notified when I write a new one, sign up for the mailing list below! I'll only email you when I post something new here.

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