So, with the news about one of my favorite cooperative games, Pandemic, getting a Legacy version in the vein of Risk Legacy, I thought I’d touch on what appears to be (To my delight!) an upcoming board gaming trend: game permanence.
A quick note: Game permanence here I’m referring to is permanence in ways that the game genre typically does not use. An RPG character is typically assumed to be involved in and change over multiple gaming sessions, while a boardgame typically wouldn’t incorporate any sort of aspects or results from the previous games played.
In a nutshell, this refers to permanently changing aspects of a game. In Risk Legacy, players rip up cards or modify them with stickers or permanent markers. This isn’t a temporary dry-erase thing; The rules explicitly forbid that, and encourage you to shred or burn or otherwise irrevocably obliterate them. Changes with stickers to the board are made with adhesive, and don’t peel off after a game ends, and in some cases there are unlocks that change the main rules with stickers or even *RISK LEGACY SPOILERS FOLLOW* include boxes with new factions to play as or stickers to create new continents. *END RISK LEGACY SPOILERS*
This topic has elicited a great deal of controversy and sharply divided opinions among the gaming community. Some see it as a waste of money; You’re altering a game permanently, and many see this as a degradation of value attempting to con more money out of players after they “use up” the game. Risk Legacy is in the forefront for this, only playing 15 games before mechanics stop shifting or changing. (From what I understand)
I personally sit on the other side of the fence (With all the biases inherent there!); I see the game as a fantastic way to build a game with a unique, for lack of a better term, legacy. The game doesn’t magically evaporate after the 15th playthrough; Instead, it sets and doesn’t change further*, giving you a finished game that you’ve built up a backstory and setting inside of. A distinct disadvantage is that it heavily encourages you to use a consistent game group for each game, which is difficult for me to get with my sporadic and small local game group, but the core mechanics and theme of the game are sound.
The designer of Risk Legacy, Rob Daviau, has made/is making another game, Seafall, and added to the upcoming Pandemic Legacy, makes for only three board games hat I’m aware of that have this degree of change and game permanence (Four if you count Daviau’s previous minigame, Viking Funeral). I’m personally hopeful this small number is just because the genre-changing concept isn’t exactly something that seems quick to catch on.
Why we need more games like Risk Legacy
Some examples I would point to for the value of permanent, long-running games would be the absurdly persistent popularity of Game Workshop’s Mordheim and Necromunda. Both games utilize an open-ended campaign system, where warbands grow and evolve over time, with scarring, experience, and death of party members being permanent and immutable. There are numerous other game systems out there that do the same, such as Mantic’s Deadzone, and from my understanding most of them are quite popular.
Since the release of Risk Legacy, I’ve actually made an attempt to design and incorporate game permanence aspects into my own games. One such game is RUIN, a card game in which the card deck includes cards that permanently change cards with positive or negative modifiers, or outright destroy cards. Players start with a card deck of 180 cards, and over the course of play, pare down to a 60 card deck which can then be played against another “finished” deck. Expansion decks or boxes would have enough new cards and cards that the deck would always be at 60 when all of these cards have been used.
One mechanic would be the ability to name cards; A player who plays a card to improve (‘Boon’) or degrade (‘Bane’) can either Name an unnamed card, adding their own name or title to the card (So an unnamed Wizard card could become “Bob the Conjurer”), or they can Unname a card, striking the name out. Cards that have been Unnamed cannot be Named at a later point, and cards that are Named cannot be targeted by cards that destroy other cards (The titular ‘Ruin’ cards).
Another aspect of Risk Legacy I’d like to see is the changing rules of the game, as more games are played. I’ve not personally used this mechanic in any games, but think it could have some rich possibilities in an RPG; Imagine if after rolling incredibly high for a spell against some orcs in an abandoned tower, the result indicates that you should open a sealed envelope that results in monsters from another dimension invading and attacking everyone, changing the current scenario in possibly deadly ways, adding a new monster type for the GM to use in future games, changing the effectiveness or effects of magic items the players might already have, and providing a plethora of new plotpoints. I think you’d have to tread very carefully to make sure that GMs were prepped in such a way that they could create stories and settings without worrying about an opened envelope completely shattering a setting or campaign, but if done well I think it could be fantastic, especially if the setup changes how later games using the RPG book are played.
Spitballing here, since I’ve already touched on the points of game permanence as a whole I wanted to, perhaps players use a character sheet titled an “Archetype.” They create their own character within that Archetype, but certain circumstances can change that Archetype permanently. Perhaps a player’s Archetype manages to succeed to an incredible degree at a feat of physical prowess, and from that point forward gets a small bonus to physical tasks, even with a new character using that Archetype. Imagine if your Ranger in D&D manages to uncover some hidden secret of the universe in a game, and from that point forward, anyone playing a Ranger in a later game gets +1 Wisdom. This is a crude example, and I would definitely want to make sure the system married the persistence appropriately, but I think this is rich with possibilities.
Now, one note here I’d like to make is after listening to a Podcast that Mr Daviau was on, speaking about Seafall. He brought up the point that Seafall has a huge learning curve and had to have reduced aspects of game permanence compared to Risk Legacy because players had to learn both the new game rules as well as the rules for permanence, whereas Risk is a fairly well-known ruleset, and this just added the Legacy mechanics on top of it. I think this would be a good thing to keep in mind for the potential ‘Unnamed RPG Legacy’ game, but I don’t think it should be applied to D&D or another well-established complex game system; It might work great for something lighter, like Savage Worlds, but I haven’t played it and so can’t offer a good opinion on it.
However, a tradeoff is the length of time invested in a typical RPG character and campaign compared to a boardgame, even a possibly protracted one like Risk, is quite significant. A single session can take three or four hours, and a character might span dozens or even hundreds of sessions. In light of this, I think that as long as the game permanence effects don’t require learning at the same time as the rest of the game, you can completely have a game with complexity similar to D&D (Speaking of 4e here, as 3.X is a bit much even after taking into account the additional time that can be invested in learning the rules).
Welp, it’s getting a bit late over here, but be sure to let me know what your thoughts are on game permanence in the comments. The next RPG in my planned docket is a fast-and-loose setup for playing a Ghost In The Shell style cybernetics&hacking game, but I think following that I may be putting together the outline for an Archetypes-using Legacy RPG…
*Unless, of course, your group foolishly opens the “DO NOT OPEN” packet