The Legacy format of Board Games

You’ve played Risk.  You may have even played Pandemic, one of my all-time favorite cooperative board games.  But have you played either of them in the Legacy format?

“Legacy format?  What’s that?” you ask.  Strap in, because you’re about to learn how fun a board game can be when you write in permanent marker on the board, rip up cards, and change the game each and every time it’s played.  That’s right, we’re going to deface public property – if, of course, your library owns the copy of the game.  If it’s your own, you’re really just destroying your own stuff, but that’s the whole point of this format!  The game evolves as you go along.

The Legacy format was introduced in 2012 with Risk: Legacy, and it’s an entirely new type of and way to play board games that you may have enjoyed for years and years.  It requires the purchase of the game, such as Pandemic: Legacy or Risk: Legacy, because the Legacy format has special cards, pieces, and various other items that aren’t included in the typical versions of Pandemic and Risk.  This is a totally separate game from the originals, not an expansion.

For Legacy games, the first game does start out and play like a typical game – at least, until the instructions instruct you to open an envelope or container and follow the new rules or alter the board.  That’s where the fun really begins.  The decisions you make in the early playthroughs affect the board state forever, and places that get destroyed or become inaccessible alter the strategy from that point forward.  Early playthrough strategies become impossible, and winning may get more difficult each time you play.

The Legacy format also means that the game is not re-playable forever, and thus isn’t really suited to a board game collection that circulates.  The format is best suited for a set group of people due to the investment of time and effort put in.  The game does eventually ‘end’ and may have a storyline to it, such as in Pandemic: Legacy.  To complete Pandemic: Legacy it would take between 12 and 24 playthroughs, and it wouldn’t be the same experience a second time through as you already know what could happen since some events happen at a set point in the game.

“If you can only play these games a limited number of times, how popular can they really be?” you may ask.  How about becoming the most popular game of all time on Board Game Geek, one of the most well known board game websites?  Pandemic: Legacy achieved that status in less than a year of being released, and I’m thoroughly unsurprised.  It’s a phenomenal game, and I haven’t even played through the whole first season yet!

So, how can Legacy games be utilized in the library?  What I would recommend is to have a group of teens play Pandemic at a board game program.  Let them play it a couple of times, get a good feel for the rules, and then tell them about the Legacy format.  Explain that they would get to change the game as they go along by ripping up cards, killing off characters, and possibly causing the world to fall into ruin.  I would be surprised if they didn’t jump at the chance.

Pandemic was already one of the most popular games at my library, so when I brought up the idea of running Pandemic: Legacy as an addition to the weekly gaming program for the 2016 Summer Reading Program, the Teen Advisory Board loved the idea.  As Pandemic: Legacy is a 2-4 player game, we decided that a maximum of 8 players could register to play the game throughout the summer so that they could stay invested in the game.  If more than 4 people showed up to play Pandemic: Legacy during a gaming program, the additional people could act as Center for Disease Control advisors to help the actual players succeed.  In practice, though, we generally had 3 or 4 actual players each week while the other registered teens decided to play other board games or video games.  While we didn’t finish the entire Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 over the course of one summer, it was still a blast and the teens reported that they really enjoyed it.

While Pandemic: Legacy and Risk: Legacy are the first two Legacy format games to come out, the original designer of the Legacy format has just released a new game in the same style called SeaFall – a seafaring exploration game.  While I haven’t seen any announcements of other upcoming Legacy format games, I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to be a trend over the next decade or more.

Board games have become more and more popular over the last 15 years and this is one of the ways in which the medium has started to evolve.  Try to keep an open mind to the concept of permanently altering a board game as you go along.  You’re paying and playing for the experience, not just an endlessly repeatable game.  It was hard for me to appreciate this format at first, but after I wrapped my head around it and looked at it as an experience rather than an addition to the collection, I appreciated the Legacy format for what it was.  Happy gaming!

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