A Legion of Legacies, Part Two: Legacy Venn

In “A Legion of Legacies, Part One”, I wrote about the general tropes of Legacy games like Risk Legacy (2011), Pandemic Legacy (2015, 2017), and SeaFall (2016): what they are, why they’re controversial, and what makes them great.

Though Legacy games are quite innovative, they’re not something that emerged fully formed from designer Rob Daviau’s brow. Instead. they’re part of a larger stream of game design that goes back many years. In fact, I’d more specifically define them as a combination of three major game design elements: campaign play, hidden secrets, and modifiable components.

The campaign play and the modifiable components seem like the most critical elements for Legacy play. I could see the definition of Legacy games expanding to include this entire area of intersection. However, for the moment, hidden secrets are a requirement too. Even a Legacy-light game like Gloomhaven (2017) includes locked classes and hidden secrets amid its scenarios.

Of these three design elements, campaign play has the longest history, while the ideas of hiding secrets and producing consumable components were much more original to Daviau. However, in the wake of Legacy all three of these ideas are already spanning new sorts of play. At least five different areas of the Legacy games Venn diagram deserve attention on their own: scenarios, status games, and true campaigns all sit largely within the category of campaign play; secret scenarios fall between campaign play and hidden secrets; and consumable games lie between hidden secrets and modifiable components.

Campaign Games — Scenarios

The oldest ancestors of Legacy play are scenario-based games, where players can play the game in a variety of different ways by setting it up differently each time.

Some scenarios just feature different ways to play the game, not that different from rules variants or variant maps. The earliest versions of The Seafarers of Catan (1997) had this sort of gameplay.

However, many other games link scenarios together to create a continuity: even if you aren’t carrying the gameplay from one scenario to another, you’re at least carrying the narrative. Heroquest (1989) was one of the first adventure games to use this sort of scenario; it’s become very common in fantasy-based adventure games, with Descent (2005, 2012) being a much more recent example.

Memoir ’44 (2004) instead offered a historical narrative, where you can play out many battles in a war. This followed in the footsteps of classic wargames, but is a rare eurogame example. It’s also very extensive, particularly if you play through the Campaign Books (2009-2011).

The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (2017) instead bases its scenarios on books, creating a fictional narrative that allow players to walk through the various novels of Jim Butcher’s Dresn Files (2000-Present).

Now none of these are exactly campaigns as we now understand them, and as the gameplay appears in Legacy games, but they’re a clear predecessor, focusing on adapting a story to gameplay rather than telling a story through gameplay.

Campaign Games — True Campaigns

True campaign games, where players are both encouraged to play multiple games and where they carry some elements from one game to another, emerged around the same time as Legacy games.

One of the earliest examples of a true campaign is the 40-hour version of DescentThe Road to Legend (2008), which was structured to let you play for as little as an hour or two a time. The one that’s been the most successful is clearly the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (2013), where players deckbuild characters over 30-40 sessions of play.

You could actually claim that PACG is a Legacy game, because it also contains the other two elements. There are “secrets”, in that cards are doled out over six boxes, but they’re not treated like the spoiler-filled secrets of Legacy games; and there are “modifiable components” in that players are told to check things off on cards (but no one does). Nonetheless, it shows how near all these categories lie.

Other recent games in the true campaign category include Apocrypha Adventure Card Game (2017)Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2017), Near and Far (2017), and The Seventh Continent (2017), which clearly show that this category is growing at least as fast as Legacy games. In fact, it seems likely that campaign games will always be a larger category than Legacy games, because they don’t require a fiddly design that secrets and the modifications, and because they can be reused infinitely.

Campaign Games — Status

At least one new sort of campaign game has emerged due to legacy: the “status” campaign, which Friedemann Friese calls a “Fable” in his Fabled Fruit (2016).

In a Fable game, the state of the game changes from play to play: old cards get used up and new ones become available, creating constant variability from one way to the next.

However, this is really just a different way to choose which cards come out from a larger set, something that’s been solved in different ways by games like Dominion (2008)Ascension (2010), and Ethnos (2017). Nonetheless, explicitly linking the card selection to campaign-style play is an intriguing variant.

Of course over a year later, we still haven’t seen any more “Fable” games, so this ultimately might be a category of one.

Secret Adventures

The secrets built into Legacy games seem to be one of the real selling points for the gaming category, if the all of the desperate requests for no-spoilers are to be believed. However, secrets are another classic game mechanic, you just have to jump to a nearby gaming category to find it: roleplaying games, beginning with Dungeons & Dragons (1974) — and Rob Daviau agrees that D&D was one of the influences for Legacy.

Secretive adventures date back to the earliest days of D&D. These were adventure “modules” that were given to the game master, who would then run them for the rest of players. If the players knew the contents of the module, the whole game would be spoiled, so it was important that all of the tricks, traps, and treasures remained with the game master.

TIME Stories (2015) is one of the few board games to adopt this style of play. A group attempts to work their way through a deck of cards representing a scenario. When they’ve solved it, they effectively can’t play it anymore, because they know its secrets, so it’s on to the next adventure.

TIME Stories also has some simple methods to “pause” your game and return to it later. It’s another one that could be categorized as a full Legacy game, because it has secrets and campaign-style play — and even if the components aren’t modified, they’re still “consumed” at the end.

Consumable Games

The most controversial aspect of Legacy games is of course their consumability: when you modify the components you can’t go back and play the original game. In fact, when you’re done with the campaign, you’re usual done with the game. This idea largely didn’t exist before Legacy games, but we’re starting to see it in other places too …

Real-life Escape rooms are physical puzzles that players must figure out. They’re now being duplicated in games such as Escape Room: The Game (2016) and Exit: The Game (2016). All of these are implicitly “hidden secrets” games that you can only play once, but some are also modifiable because you must cut, bend, and mutilate the components. It’s gameplay that might not have been accepted before the release of Legacy games.


Any gaming category is made up of a few major mechanics, and Legacy games are no exception. It’s intriguing to break apart the campaigns, the secrets, and the modifications that make up Legacy play, but it’s also intriguing to see how newer games are already appearing that only use some of these elements.

Will Legacies beat out traditional campaigns? Or will more games come out that only use one or two of these elements?

TIme will tell what Legacy’s legacy will be.

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