Legacy Board Games are a relatively new concept in board games.
Typically, a board game will provide an all-in-one experience that you’ll be able to pack away into a box, forget about it, and then pull it out a year later for another game.
Legacy games are not like that at all.
In a Legacy Game, you’re building a legacy. Your legacy.
What you do in-game will affect each subsequent play of the game. It’s designed to have real consequences to actions for your game. If a character dies, they typically stay dead. You tear up the card, burn it, attach to a bottle rocket, and shoot it into space.
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Because it’s such a new genre there’s also a lot of ambiguity surrounding legacy games, so let’s clear that up.
What officially constitutes a Legacy game?
- Is it having persistent changes?
- Is it the destruction of game components?
- Are irrevocable decisions in the game?
I can’t give a definite answer yet and that’s because this genre is still in the growing pains phase. Many people saw the Legacy system and immediately railed against it, claiming the board game publisher Illuminati was planning to destroy the secondary market. Again, I don’t really have an answer to that one either (but I don’t think that’s the case).
It can be gimmicky at times but I can honestly say that outside of a Pen & Paper RPGs I haven’t been as invested in the story of a board game in quite some time. I don’t think ever.
The system accounts for the high emotional value that the players attach to characters and objects in-game and uses that emotion to not only tell a story but also to bring the players more deeply into it as well. Board games after all, are a social experience, and anything that connects you to the world you are playing will enhance the experience.
Even at the time of writing this, the factors of what constitutes legacy board games has evolved and are constantly being challenged.
More on that later. For now, let’s see what board games are available. We’re going to take you through our favorite Legacy board games and take a look at what makes each one tick.
This is where it all began.
Risk Legacy was the first Legacy game ever made and has been reprinted so you’ll actually be able to find an unused copy now.
Risk Legacy starts out as a normal game of Risk which quickly spirals into madness. After every game, the winning player can customize and give bonuses to their army. The losers will be able to select a different set of powerful bonuses to help them in the next game. Everyone gets something but you definitely want to be the one to win. This does balance the game a bit so one player doesn’t get a runaway advantage from the first game.
As you play, the landscape will shift as players wage war across the world. Some locations may become more vulnerable, more defensible, or outright destroyed.
- The classic board game, redefined
- The first board game where choices and actions made in one game...
- No two games are alike
Risk Legacy has the distinction of being the first Legacy game created and, as such, has a few growing pains. The system was still new at its inception and isn’t as balanced as it could be but overall, it’s a solid addition to the roster of Legacy Games. I’ve always had a soft spot for Risk in my heart, and Risk Legacy just brings it to a whole new level.
Haven’t tried Risk Legacy yet? Check out our full review before you do!
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Risk Legacy may be the first Legacy game ever made but Pandemic Legacy is where it blew up and became part of the board game mainstream. Z-Man Games has done an amazing job with the versions and expansions of Pandemic, and Legacy is no exception.
It topped the BGG rankings for quite some time.
The full campaign of Pandemic Legacy (Seasons 1 & 2) is broken down into one year (of story time, not real time). Each round you play represents a month of in-game time. If you fail to meet the objectives for that month, you’ll get one more chance to play a second game during that month.
So if you’re completely badass and never lose a game, a complete run of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 will take 12 games and at most you’ll be able to get 24 plays out of a box.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 starts players out almost like any other game of Pandemic. The first game you play is pretty standard. There are four viruses and you need to cure them before you run out of cards or have too many outbreaks… easy peasy.
Then things take a turn for the worse. Without giving away spoilers, the viruses mutate and do “different” things, and at the same time, the board will start to shift. Certain cities can become hotspots for diseases and it gets pretty hard to travel around the board.
The story comes in the form of a legacy deck. Before and after certain games, you’ll be instructed to draw a certain number of cards from this deck (NO PEEKING). The story will come through and instruct you to open small boxes or do something to the board.
- For 2-4 Players
- 60 minute playing time
- Shape the world, the characters, and even the diseases
We absolutely loved our Season 1 game. It was challenging, exciting, and almost like Christmas every time we got to open a new item. It’s true that it’s sometimes stressful to tear up cards and mangle your board, but when the fate of the world is on the line, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Without giving away anything story-wise, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off. In Season 2, players will be dealing with the repercussions of the finale in Season 1.
- Move around a board.
- Deal with actions.
- Don’t let things get out of control.
It’s different, though. It feels like a completely different game. The thematic elements have evolved with the story and to me, it felt like a completely different game.
- The epic follow up to the critically acclaimed Pandemic Legacy:...
- Presents a unique spin on the classic Pandemic formula, with...
- Embark on a Globe spanning struggle for the survival of humanity...
I’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil it for anyone. Legacy games are significant time commitments with complex storylines and surprises. Spoilers are a buzzkill. So, play Pandemic Season 1, and if you loved it and had a blast, Season 2 will not disappoint.
The quintessential dungeon-crawler/RPG is also a Legacy game. It was also the first game to dethrone Pandemic Legacy from the #1 spot on BGG’s top rated games list. That alone raises some eyebrows and makes it worth checking out.
Gloomhaven’s lore, background, gameplay, story, and box are all MASSIVE. It’s seriously a giant box jammed full of tiles, minis, stats, booklets, and maps.
“But where are the Legacy elements?”, you might ask.
Over the course of one campaign, you’ll probably only see ¾ of the content available. Depending upon actions taking during the missions, the players will actually be able to affect the world of Gloomhaven, in essence creating their own map-customized world. The game will adapt to choices you make in-game.
The difference between Gloomhaven and other legacy games is that it’s not really designed to be destroyed and the alterations to the base game come in the form of stickers on a map. There are aftermarket removable stickers that can be purchased separately to “reset” the legacy system.
- For 1 4 players
- 60 120 minute playing time
- A game of euro inspired tactical combat in a persistent world of...
If you’re looking to dabble into Legacy games and still aren’t 100% on-board with the idea of tearing up cards, I highly suggest starting with Gloomhaven. You’ll get a ridiculous amount of content in one box, and to top it off, the “permanent” decisions can easily be reset if you decide to play it again, or with another group of players.
Charterstone is probably one of the most unique entries to the Legacy genre.
The makers of Charterstone decided that instead of the normal themes for a Legacy game, players will be building a town…
According to their own promo:
“The prosperous Kingdom of Greengully, ruled for centuries by the Forever King, has issued a decree to its citizens to colonize the vast lands beyond its borders. In an effort to start a new village, the Forever King has selected six citizens for the task, each of whom has a unique set of skills they use to build their charter.”
Ignoring the autocratic and imperialist undertones, this game is absolutely gorgeous with whimsical artwork and clean components. It’s probably one of the prettier games I’ve ever seen.
Everything about this game screams: pretty. The box artwork, the clean white lines, the cute fluffy clouds, and the little meeple people.
It’s such a shame that it’s a legacy game and has a limited number of playthroughs… oh, wait!
In Charterstone, you really are building a little town and when you’re done with it, you have a fully-functioning (customized) worker placement game. One of the reasons the designers made everything look so pretty is that it’s going to be around for a while. You can continue to play Charterstone as a standalone board game forever.
It’s a bit of the best of both worlds.
I’m a huge fan of the Betrayal series, terrible stat sliders, and all. Betrayal Legacy takes all of the campy-ness of a Scooby-Doo cartoon, murders Shaggy, and ten years later his little brother comes out looking for clues to his disappearance, metaphorically-speaking, of course.
Betrayal Legacy is built upon the same system as Betrayal at House on the Hill. The legacy elements are pretty fun. Items used by certain characters can become heirlooms. Any player can use an item but if it’s passed down through a family line, that particular character can use it better.
There can still be a lot of ambiguous rules and unclear directions, however. It’s not necessarily hard to figure out but if you aren’t reading carefully, you’re going to be missing a lot of important events.
The most important thing to remember: READ EVERYTHING CAREFULLY.
- For 3 5 Players. Ages 12 and up
- Based on the award winning board game, Betrayal at House on the...
- Utilizes the popular “legacy” mechanic, offering players the...
“Journey before destination.” – Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
It’s all about the journey here. Take your time, read through every detail, and you’ll have a much more exciting experience. Legacy games are all about the story you build anyway, and with Betrayal, it is 100% necessary to make sure you understand ALL of the rules before moving on.
If you absolutely hated Betrayal or just weren’t a fan, I highly suggest steering clear of the Legacy version. It’s mostly the same game, but a much more customized, story-driven experience.
First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet
My first experience with First Martians was very similar to my first experience with the game Dark Souls. I had a vague understanding of the rules (or so I thought) and I died.
Round 2: I lived a little longer. Then I died.
Round 3: What the hell is this card for? I died.
Round ???: Why can I not stop playing?
First Martians isn’t the most accessible game in the world but it is one of the most rewarding. It’s hardcore science fiction. You’re not going to encounter monsters or green women in bikinis but you’ll need to figure out how to delegate power, ensure everyone has oxygen, and worry about the unforgiving landscape of Mars.
It’s not going to be easy and the rules don’t necessarily hand-hold you through the game. It’s going to be a wild ride.
It’s built on the same engine as Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island, so if you’re familiar with that one, you’ll understand that this is designed to be a difficult game.
For pure value of what you get in the box, it’s very hard to beat First Martians. It comes with two full campaigns. One is standard board game fare and is designed to be replayable, just like any other board game. The second campaign, however, is just as large and is a Legacy Campaign. Instead of releasing a normal version and then re-releasing a legacy version, the designers made the choice to jam everything into one box.
This completely eliminates the major drawback of legacy games. You’re basically getting two games in one box.
- 3 basic gameplay modes and 3 campaign modes
- 1 to 4 players
- 60 - 90 minutes playtime
Is this for everyone?
First Martians is highly-technical and hard science. It’s very resource management-heavy and it’s extremely unforgiving. It’s not going to be for the casual gamer but it’s a fantastic game… once you get to the point where you understand all of the rules and the intricacies of the game. Expect to get lost a few times and die and whatever you do, do not play the legacy version until you have a complete understanding of the game.
Rise of Queensdale
The King has proclaimed that he wants a new castle, fit for a Queen. Any and all are welcome to try their hand at castle-building but only the most successful builder will receive fame and glory.
Rise of Queensdale is a sleepy worker placement game that slowly builds up as you play. It’s often been referred to as an evolution game instead of a legacy game, due to the fact that there really isn’t a big overarching story and it’s an evolution of gameplay, as opposed to forging a new path.
Rise of Queensdale uses customized dice as a part of their legacy system. There’s much more to the game than that, but what actions you’ll be able to perform revolve primarily around these dice. As you play the game, you’ll be able to customize each side of the dice giving you different abilities from your opponents.
Another interesting facet of the game is that there are some resources that can be kept from one game to the next. During the course of one round, you could perform very poorly but set yourself up with a major advantage for the next game, which is a characteristic I haven’t seen too often.
- What you get: in this legacy-style game for 2-4 players, there...
- Clear instructions: in this game for ages 12 and up, you can...
- A legacy-style game: legacy-style games Evolve in both story and...
Kendra grew up playing Ravensburger games. Ravensburger is a German company that makes very clean board games, usually educational and designed for children. I’m a bit partial to the company myself and I think they’ve done an excellent job with Rise of Queensdale. It’s not story-heavy or jam-packed with features and crazy artwork but it is a very solidly-made game that’s both strategic and challenging.
Aeon’s End Legacy
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; / Or close the wall up with our English dead.” – William Shakespeare, Henry V
An unknown breach between worlds has opened up and the Nameless monstrous hordes are pouring through.
There is hope.
The power that opened the breach can be repurposed. In the correct hands, it can be molded into magic and weapons which can be used to push back the tide of horrors. Humanity has been rebuffed to single bastion: the underground city of Gravehold.
Only the Breach Mages remain as humanity’s last hope for salvation.
If you couldn’t tell, I really like the story fluff in Aeon’s End. As far as gameplay goes, I had a lot of fun. Aeon’s End, at its core, is a weird mashup between dungeon-crawler and deck-builder card game. Players work together to defeat a series of monsters and draft cards to enhance their abilities.
It’s not going to be like Dominion where you can simply chain your entire deck into a massive combo, so you’ll have to be very careful with what goes into your deck.
Players control a Breach Mage that powers up and evolves as the game continues. It works very well with the Legacy system as well. Players start out as novice Mages and in the beginning, the rules will be fairly simple and straightforward. As the story progresses, complexity is gradually introduced into the rules, making it very accessible for beginners.
- First Legacy deck Builder
- 80% content compatible with aeon's end plus expansions
- Rich, engaging narrative experience
If you’ve played Aeon’s End Legacy and still can’t get enough, Indie built a separate reset pack that’s (unfortunately) sold separately but still less than half the price of the base game. It’s always nice to be able to replay a campaign.
Curious about the original Aeon’s End before you attempt the legacy version? Check out our full review of Aeon’s End here.
Ultimate Werewolf Legacy
How the heck do you turn a bluffing game into a Legacy game? I was honestly baffled at this when I first heard about it.
I do really enjoy social deduction games though… so let’s take a look.
Ultimate Werewolf Legacy is broken into 5 chapters and each chapter consists of 3 different games. The individual games take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon how large a group you have. It is Werewolf, so having a player count on the higher end is going to enhance the experience much more than if you had the minimum number of players.
So what is the legacy system here all about?
Every player belongs to a different family/faction and as the story progresses, different aspects and abilities are unlocked by different groups. To top it all off, characters who during a game affect what happens in the next game.
The game starts out in a small New England village in 1666 and the final chapter ends the game in 1777. So each subsequent game advances the timeline forward. You won’t be playing the same characters in each game exactly, but you’ll be from the same bloodline/family. Speaking of bloodlines, the village starts out with only a few werewolves, but the further along you go (and depending upon what you do in previous games) there may be some more werewolves popping up.
The results of each game are recorded within a leatherbound journal that comes with the game. When the entire Ultimate Werewolf Legacy campaign is complete, you’ll have a really cool souvenir detailing all of the events throughout the game. The components and production value here were surprisingly amazing and I was a little blown away, considering it’s a card game.
My initial thought when I first saw this was, “This one is for sure a cash grab.”
However, after I saw how it played I really wanted to try it.
- 80 plus page Diary, which walks the game moderator through every...
- The Diary has been designed so that players with no previous...
- The Diary is structured into 5 distinct chapters with 3 game...
Unlike some of the other games on this list, there is a replay pack sold separately that comes with an entirely new leatherbound journal and replacement cards for the ones you may have destroyed or written on and… is about half the cost of the base game.
I’m intrigued. I don’t think I would purchase it just for myself. If I had a large enough group of friends interested, I would definitely chip in $5/person and throw a werewolf party. It looks like a lot of fun and the idea that at the end you have a very interesting handwritten account of the game makes it a much cooler souvenir than just a used-up board.
Seafall is a game that you either love or hate. If you’ve heard anything about this one at all, it was super-hyped during the Kickstarter, then widely ridiculed, then hyped again, and then kind of disappeared into a niche category. You get the idea.
Overall, it’s an interesting game and because of the rollercoaster ride of popularity, you can actually find it significantly cheaper than most legacy games (around $25) and at that price, it’s without a doubt worth checking out.
It’s built around the concept of 4X games.
As you start out, each player has 1 ship and there is 1 island. It’s a simple trading game at first, but as the world expands and more islands and ships are added, the rules become more complex and things start to shift.
Why all of the contention?
The game is a little complicated. The rules aren’t badly written but there’s a lot to keep track of. Then as you progress, the game adds more rules and sometimes those rules override other rules, and then you get into fistfights.
There’s also an ever-shifting element to the board. By the time it gets to your turn, the face of the board may have changed and all of the actions available could be completely different. As you may have figured out, this translates into long wait times as players reevaluate the board on their turn before committing to any actions.
Finally, there are the overall objectives. The game creates a false sense of time and empire-building. Each subsequent game requires players to gather more victory points than the last, but each game has objectives that carry over from game to game and they give a boatload of points. It’s pretty common that someone will win suddenly after completing an objective or two.
Now that all of the negative stuff is out of the way, let’s take a look at the other side. Seafall is a very pretty game and it is a lot of fun. The strategy on offer is almost mind-boggling at times while exploring new islands and progressing the storyline is a ton of fun. Going from a single ship to a powerful fleet is a very cool touch.
If I had bought this as a Kickstarter backer for full retail, I’d be okay with it, but if I got it for $25 after the hype has died down I’d be absolutely ecstatic. It’s not the most technically-sound game in the world, but it’s still a hell of an adventure and a lot of fun to play.
Shadowrun is a fascinating world. It started with humble beginnings as a Pen & Paper RPG and has branched out into a sprawling conglomeration of products. My first experience was actually the SNES game (which is still fun to play).
The main premise is in 2011 (it’s an old series), magic returns to the world. The human genetic code has been unlocked after remaining dormant and magical creatures begin to return as well. It’s all about how a modern technological world deals with the return of magic and… the consequences are not good.
In Crossfire, players take on the role of a Shadowrunner, a hired mercenary that operates on the fringes of society.
Throughout the game, players will be building their decks with strategies, equipment, spells, and whatever else you can muster for the run.
A Legacy-esque Cooperative Board Game
Shadowrun: Crossfire barely qualifies as a Legacy game. The farthest I would go would be to say that it has a Legacy-esque mechanic built into it. As you play Crossfire, each individual character earns Karma (exp points). When enough has been accumulated, that character can be upgraded with new abilities making them much deadlier.
The longer you play as a character, the stronger they’re going to be. It’s a very neat RPG element that’s thrown in. The abilities are tracked by stickers placed directly on the character’s sheet.
The reason I say that it’s more of a Legacy-esque mechanic as opposed to a legacy game is because that is the only persistent aspect from game to game. To make it even better, the guys and gals at Catalyst Game Labs included a ton of the ability stickers. You could theoretically play through, get bored, rip off the stickers, play through again, and you’d probably still have enough stickers. If you’re really worried about sticking things permanently to game components, you could always attach it to an index card for your character.
- Innovative, challenging game play offers a high amount of variety...
- Provides fast action & the team-based play at the core of the...
- Builds in character advancement mechanic, so players have a...
Despite the lack of legacy elements in the game, Shadowrun: Crossfire is a very cool deck-builder that does double duty as an excellent solo game. If you want to get a taste for Legacy games without actually destroying anything, then this is probably a good place to start.
Machi Koro Legacy
Machi Koro is a very cute city-building dice game. Players use dice to gain resources and race to build landmarks in their own sleepy little town. It’s a very pretty gateway game that is easy to pick up and start rolling some dice. If you’re into Japanese-esque artwork and stylings you’ll probably be naturally drawn to this box at your local game shop.
It’s simple, fast, and easy to learn.
The legacy version of Machi Koro is one of the newer Legacy games to hit the scene. It takes a lot of the original gameplay, but as with all Legacy games it gives weight to the decisions you make throughout the game. What is built and who wins all has an impact on subsequent games. What I thought was particularly cute was that every player names their city and you can write it in big bold letters at the top. That may give rise to a lot of weird new cities but it’s all in good fun.
This follows the same path as Charterstone, in that once the legacy elements are completed, you’re still left with a fully functional game of Machi Koro. It’s just been personalized by the players.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Why would I buy a board game that has a limited shelf life?
There’s no getting around it that once a Legacy game is completed (for the most part), it’s done. It’s difficult to reset and it’s expensive.
Just to be clear, I have purchased several Legacy games using my own hard-earned money (on a teacher’s salary in the US) and I didn’t regret any of them.
One of my favorite aspects of board games is that it’s an inherently social activity and I tend to really enjoy games with a highly-thematic flair. Walking away from a table with a story instead of just a score is a huge thrill for me.
Legacy games offer a thematic story above and beyond what a normal board game can offer. It goes from a pre-generated world into one that you actually affect. It’s the same phenomenon that made RPG games of all types popular. You’re no longer a faceless character running around completing quests. Instead, you’re playing a character that you’ve guided through trials and tribulations and carefully protected. The emotional attachment makes the game real and to top it all off, your entire gaming group is feeling the same way.
Legacy games can be pricey but for the cost, you’re getting an incredible experience.
Let’s look at Pandemic Legacy: Season 1.
This was the first Legacy game that I bought from Barnes and Noble for $70 (Yes, Barnes and Noble still exists). I played the entire campaign over the course of 3 months with Kendra and her mom.
We only lost 2 games, so the entire campaign took us 14 games.
That’s $5 per 1 – 1.5 hours of game time.
For 3 players that’s a little over $1.50 a game for an hour of entertainment.
Math FTW! I don’t know about you, but I can’t go to the movies for $1.50. When we were playing through Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, we talked about it constantly and we looked forward to playing through the next round every weekend. It was incredible and I absolutely have no regrets over the purchase.
Another thing to keep mind is that if you have a group that is ready to go and commit to a weekly schedule for a Legacy game, there’s nothing saying that one person has to front the whole price by the game. Have everyone pitch in. With a regular game, the owner can keep it and continue to play it with other groups, so it makes sense if they’re buying it for themselves. If you’re looking at Legacy games, chances are you already have a group of dedicated players. There’s no reason that one person has to shoulder the cost for everyone.
These are just my thoughts on pricing. Some people won’t touch one of these games on principle alone and many people think it’s a cash grab from the board gaming industry to pump out the Legacy system to “force” players to rebuy games.
All I can say is “maybe”. There very well could be a flood of new Legacy board games pumped out quickly to get players to buy them. My personal opinion is that hasn’t happened yet and every game I’ve seen so far has been a well-thought-out product.
What do you think about Legacy board games? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the genre as well as your favorite board games!