Legacy Elements in a Euro Game

A few weeks ago, I was listening to yet another podcast that mentioned Risk Legacy, and I had a though: why hasn’t anybody tried adding legacy elements to a more traditional Euro game?

What do I mean by “legacy” elements? Elements that change permanently from game to game. This is a standby of most role playing games, where your character grows and changes equipment game to game. The idea was used recently by Risk: Legacy, in which some aspects of the game aren’t even revealed until you play several games, and taking certain actions requires you to physically alter or remove components in permanent ways. One of the big advantages legacy elements bring to a game is replayability, since you know that the games will change and be different on future plays. But there is another level on which it is interesting to players; you give players a chance to effectively “unbox” a new game each time you add in something new. This adds anticipation and excitement to each play, and adds a concrete real-world goal to doing well and accomplishing something in the game.

How could this be applied to euro games? It could be something like a village that actually grows from game to game. If you build a mill in one game, it becomes a permanent part of the fixed setup, available in every game thereafter. Or from the other angle, a fire might break out and burn it down, completely removing it from the game until it can be rebuilt. Euro games seem to lend themselves to sweeping growth and development themes, but typically do so within the coarse of a single game. Either projects are small enough to be accomplished within a few turns, or players compete to contribute to some central project as the main goal of the game. (Some of the minor improvement costs in Agricola make much sense on a single scale.) So the cost would have to be significant so that you couldn’t just build something from scratch at any time. But it could not be just an abstract thing that players are building to earn points. It must have a definite effect on gameplay.

The challenge is finding something that would translate to multiple plays with different players. The change could be something that changes a cost or resource permanently. Neglecting a neighboring town in one game could alter the entire economy. Certain characters live, learn, grow older, and die, changing the actions and abilities available in the game. Village has some elements of that, but yet again, you start from scratch in every game. The solo variant of Agricola captures this somewhat by letting you carry occupations over from game to game, but doesn’t attempt in a multi-player setting.

And of course, as I write this, I read an interview with Jamey Stegmaier on Happy Mitten Games, in which he describes the Tuscany expansion to Viticulture, currently doing very well on Kickstarter and it includes legacy elements, inspired by Risk Legacy. The winner gets to choose an expansion to add in to the game permanently. My own feelings were immediately “I don’t want to wait to try them all.” Perhaps that shows one reason legacy elements aren’t used in euro games as often, because players want everything to be available right away.

I’d like to try to add some legacy elements into some games I’m working on now. It seems like there is a lot of unexplored design space with legacy elements, which is both good and bad. It opens up new paths, but there is not as large of a knowledge base to draw on. It seems like working with legacy elements will be a lot like playing with them. It is exciting to venture into the unknown, to forge something unique.

achieve it myself, and I can see a way to add it into a game I’m working on, but for now it’s just another idea.

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  1. #1 by Jamey Stegmaier on March 18, 2014 - 3:48 pm

    “I don’t want to wait to try them all.”

    Let’s talk about this. 🙂

    Say you open a box that has 10 different expansions in it. That’s a lot right out of the box! Incorporating all of the into the game at once would be overwhelming. And the paradox of choice tells us that when you’re presented with more than a few choices, you might not choose anything. The structure of Tuscany is there to help bring players into the game in bite-size pieces.

    I think the key to a legacy Euro game is that it lets players tell a story by putting the power of unlocking new elements of the game in their hands. Maybe it’s how we did it with Tuscany where the winner chooses the next expansion to unlock and add to the game–that puts importance on every game. Or maybe it’s how Risk Legacy did it, where certain game states trigger the unlocking of new mechanisms, and all players get to make a permanent change to the game’s components each game.

    Part of that story in Tuscany is the order in which the expansions unlock. Although the expansions are permanent additions to the game, you’re not writing on the board or anything like that, so if you finish unlocking all expansions and want to start over with a different group, you can put everything back in the box and tell the “story” in a different way.

    Of course, I think the key for a Euro legacy game is flexibility. The rules recommend that people play each expansion a few times before unlocking a new one, but I’m sure that some people will want to dig into more than one expansion right from the start. That’s okay. I don’t think the overall experience will be as good as the way we recommend people do it, but people don’t always play a game 10+ times, so our rules are flexible enough to accommodate different types of gamers.

    I’d be curious to know more about your reaction to Tuscany’s unlocking legacy-style system. I think it’s pretty cool, and people seem to be responding well to it. 🙂

  2. #2 by Oakleaf Games on March 18, 2014 - 5:31 pm

    Great points! My eagerness is true in the same way that I want to find out what happens in a good book. I could skip to the end, but I don’t because the journey is the fun part.
    Video games can slowly parcel out new mechanics as you meet requirements in-game, but when you are the person operating both sides of the mechanics, the only thing that “locks” the expansions is your own desire to follow the “rules” (or meta-rules, really, but that’s a different subject).
    Sure, I could open all the expansions all at once, but I’d miss out on the experience, which was the whole intent of playing a game. And I think that’s what I was really trying to say. Euro games already let players experience that progression over the course of a 1-2 hour game, in a way that other types of games don’t. But that progress is almost always denoted by giving the player a direct benefit, which removes some of the subtlety. Adding legacy elements is a way to stretch that experience out, with a more interesting reward system. And as you say, it adds a narrative element to the game in a way that euro games don’t usually have.
    People have said that we are due for a major revolution in gaming mechanics, so maybe legacy euro games is it. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Tuscany and seeing what you’ve done to it. And I’m excited to see how legacy elements will leave lasting effects on the future of board games.

    • #3 by jameystegmaier on March 18, 2014 - 11:37 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! If you can’t tell, I’m fascinated by legacy elements and discussions. 🙂

      I think video games are a great example. In many video games, you gain something along the way (a power up or new item) or after you complete a level, and it makes you want to play again immediately. That translates well to games too.

      I think the legacy mechanism has a lot of potential to be untapped in the future. In fact, this isn’t a Euro game, but everything I’ve read about the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game says that the core game is rather bland, but the legacy element really elevates it to a new level.

      I thought you mentioned some really cool ideas for legacy elements in your post, especially those that impact things that you’re building or have the ability to build. There are lots of games that have building tiles, but what if the costs or benefits of those tiles changed over time based on previous games?

      Legacy elements could work well in any game where an individual game is focused on a specific amount of time, but if you string 10 games together, it becomes an epic experience. Like, take a game like Twilight Imperium or even Eclipse. They’re long, epic games. But what if they were reduced down to “chapters” that had narrative arcs of their own, and when you string those chapters together over multiple plays, you look back upon it as an epic experience? I think that would make those games more accessible to people, especially due to the time factor and that the complexity could unfold over time.

      I hope some other designers try their hand at legacy mechanisms, and hopefully playing Tuscany will open up some design space for them like Risk Legacy did for me. I’m sure Seafall will make a huge splash as well.

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