Legacy games have a reputation within the board game world of being a bit of a fad. A trendy gimmick that was interesting at first but quickly out-stayed its welcome. And these days, very few new legacy games are in development.
And I think that’s a shame! For me, legacy elements are the most interesting developments in recent board game history. And it was one legacy game in particular – Risk Legacy – that made me take the leap from video games to board games in the first place.
So they definitely hold a special place in my heart. That doesn’t mean they’re all good of course – and there have been some absolute stinkers over the years. But I think they all at least deserve a proper looking at. But first, what the hell do I mean by a legacy game anyway?
Just what the hell is a ‘legacy game’ then?
Legacy games are board games that you play and change across multiple sessions. The ‘change’ bit is absolutely vital because it means that your first and last games will look totally different. It might be that you add new rules to the game, or change the board. By the time you get to the end, the game might be quite unrecognisable.
And often, you’ll end up with a game that is uniquely ‘yours’. Risk Legacy, for instance, sees you making quite significant changes to the board and the playable factions across a 15-game campaign.
There might also be an over-arching ‘story’ that takes you through the campaign. Non-legacy games do this too, of course, in games like Near & Far, or Arkham Horror: The Card Game. But legacy games make irreversible changes to the game itself, making them mostly un-replayable. Although some do sell ‘recharge packs’ to let you relive the experience.
Wikipedia lists 25 legacy games in its list, of which I’ve played 11. There are also some new ones coming up that I’m excited to play, such as Frosthaven, and Pandemic Legacy: Season Zero. And there’s The King’s Dilemma, which seems to be forever out of stock, but I really really want to play!
Anyway, here’s my ranking of the legacy games I have played, from least to most favourite!
Oh, what a disappointment. We all had such high hopes for Seafall, with it basically being hyped up to be the ultimate legacy game. You see, Seafall was designed by Rob Daviau – who basically INVENTED the entire legacy genre with Risk Legacy. And unlike other legacy games, which were typically adapted versions of pre-existing franchises, this was a game designed from the ground up for legacy. The possibilities were endless!
And yet the reality was… tedious. Seafall is a game where you sail around the ocean exploring, trading and looting. But it’s not as swashbuckling as it seems. Doing anything (‘endeavours’, in the game’s language) is a complicated dice-rolling affair with more rule-lawyering than you can shake a rapier at. People commonly simply lose interest in continuing to play Seafall and I can’t blame them.
It’s a shame because it has some very interesting ideas – especially towards the end. I won’t ruin anything, but the most fun I had with Seafall was not playing it, but instead just opening up the boxes and reading the storybook as if I’d unlocked everything (without having to play two hours of tedious gameplay first).
Seafall sinks to the bottom of our list then, to spend eternity languishing in Davy Jones’ Locker.
10) The Rise of Queensdale
Full disclosure: I haven’t finished playing The Rise of Queensdale yet. I’m only about three games in, but I think I can give it a fair review.
TROQ is a kingdom-building game where you’re laying down dice to pick up resources or take actions, to build buildings and win points. Each time you win, you have to score more points to win next time, and so on. The legacy element comes from the fact that the things you build in your kingdom remain there permanently, and new rules get added over time.
Why so low then? Well, it simply doesn’t excite me all that much! The story is totally bland and the setting isn’t great. People talk a lot about ‘theme’ in games, and although this game certainly sticks to its theme, that theme is basically medieval peasantry and that’s not all that gripping.
From what I can tell, the game doesn’t hold any grand surprises in store. And though I’m sure I’ll enjoy my future games of TROQ, I’m in no hurry to rush through the campaign.
9) Betrayal Legacy
Betrayal Legacy is the legacy version of the popular Betrayal on the House on the Hill board game. If you don’t know it, it’s a game that begins co-operatively, with players exploring a haunted house together, before turning competitive mid-way, as one player becomes the betrayer. The game is notable for its selection of ‘haunts’ that cover all the typical horror tropes from vampires to aliens, and offer great replay value.
Betrayal Legacy does a great job of injecting the base game with legacy elements. And it really works thematically – the idea of a creepy old house that’s had all these terrible things happen in it fits the legacy format. And you don’t play as the same characters each time but as the descendants of your characters from previous games. It’s a nice touch!
Overall, I did like Betrayal Legacy. But while the story was good, there’s something about the base game that taints it. Often the haunts were very one-sided. The betrayer player has to figure out their rules for the haunt on their own, and this means it’s hard to clarify when something isn’t clear. Worse, sometimes the haunts ended very quickly. So a lot of the games felt very anti-climatic.
I also didn’t feel a sense of agency across the campaign in my own decisions. Yes, things changed, often in quite dramatic ways, but it was more the game doing that to itself rather than any player getting to make their mark.
Still, a strong legacy game and not a bad choice for someone to start their exploration into the world of legacy games.
8) Machi Koro: Legacy
Yay! Machi Koro: Legacy just makes me very happy. It’s a simple, colourful game that is just pure fun.
I’d never heard of the original Machi Koro before, but it basically boils down to these: you’re the mayor of a town! And you have to make the best town you can. You do this by building buildings, by spending gold, which you get by rolling dice. If your dice roll (or anyone else’s dice rolls too) matches the numbers on one of your buildings, you get gold! So your little town soon becomes a powerful little earner.
It’s probably the simplest legacy game on this list, and that’s to its credit. It still manages to incorporate legacy features, with some new and exciting rules. There’s a story in there too, but it’s fairly vanilla and divorced from the gameplay. But the gameplay shines through, so that’s fine!
Machi Koro: Legacy is a fairly short affair too, taking just ten or so games. That said, it’s such fun that it might be the best one on this list for someone who isn’t familiar to modern board games. It’s not at all intimidating, and it’s really well suited to younger players too. Loveliness!
Charterstone is the first legacy game by board game legends Stonemaier Games (Scythe, Wingspan). It’s a worker placement game where you build a little town for yourself using resources to build buildings that let you get more resources, and so on. It’s gentle and adorable.
A special shoutout to Charterstone’s production quality. Everything about the game feels premium, to the clinky metal coins, to the magnetically-sealing-shut box that all the legacy cards come from.
Charterstone also does ‘legacy’ in an interesting way. In addition to the standard ‘read a bit of story that introduces a new rule’ method, players can also take a special action when they get the opportunity to ‘open a crate’. Doing so lets you dig around the deck of legacy cards to find new additions to the game, from characters who’ll assist you, to brand new building types. But you open the crates at your own pace, without any obligation to ever do so. So there’s a more organic feel to the content being unlocked than a simple ‘new stuff dump’ you get in other games.
Lovely game, lots of little surprises. We played with two players and though there are special rules to play with other ‘automata’ (other ‘players’ controlled by a deck of cards), it’s probably best played with three or four actual human beings.
6) Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
This might be controversial. Pandemic Legacy: Season One is currently the second-highest rated game of all time on BoardGameGeek. And for good reason! It’s a wonderful, compelling experience that combines the excellent co-operative gameplay of the original Pandemic, with a fantastic story campaign and ever-changing rules. In many ways, it’s the slickest execution of a legacy experience on this list.
It’s also probably the game with the most mainstream appeal. Actual real non-board game websites have written about it. And I absolutely recommend it too. As the name of the game suggests, it plays more like a TV Box Set serial drama than anything. And it’s an incredible demonstration of what board games can do. That’s telling stories, bringing people together, and creating shared experiences.
So why is it not top of my list? Simply, there are other legacy games I like better! There’s nothing wrong with Pandemic Legacy: Season One, but – as you’ll see – I prefer Season Two! Season One to me is very much just base Pandemic with a (great) story and new rules on top. I like my legacy games SHOCKING and this didn’t always do it for me.
The game does have some great twists and turns, don’t get me wrong. But it’s never made me stand up and shout “OH MY GOD WHAT NO WAY” like other games in this list have. So I’m not not recommending it. Please do play it! It’s just not my #1.
5) Aeon’s End: Legacy
Aeon’s End is a series of co-operative games where you play as sorcerers attempting to defend your home from powerful invading monsters. You do so by building a deck of cards full of powerful spells and abilities, with gameplay familiar to anyone who’s played the Dominion series.
Aeon’s End: Legacy does what a few of the games on this list do, and takes a pretty complicated base game and strips it right back. Then it introduces rules to you one game at a time, somewhat like a glorified tutorial. That’s not to the game’s discredit though, and it definitely makes the game more accessible. And just to be super clear, Aeon’s End: Legacy is very fun.
I’m not sure why it’s fun though. We repeatedly got absolutely steamrolled by some of the bosses. But there’s something super addictive about deck-building gameplay that meant we ended up playing through the entire campaign in about two days.
It also helped that your own skill at the game increases along with the complexity. But the difficulty also ramps up at roughly the same pace, so you’re always challenged. Overall, there’s not much I can say against the game other than the campaign came in short at eight games. Since legacy games are difficult to replay (though AE:L does try) this makes it a bit hard to justify at its price point. Still, it’s bloody good fun.
4) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Yes! More Pandemic! Except this time everything’s turned on its head. A sequel to Pandemic Legacy: Season One, Season Two is all about trying to rebuild the world after it’s fallen apart.
This means some major gameplay changes come in from the start to shake things up. You’re no longer trying to prevent disease cubes from showing up but trying to keep supply cubes on cities as they scramble for resources in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Also, at the start of the game, most of the world map is missing! You’ve just got a slither of Western Europe and the Eastern US coast to play around in – and it’s up to you to uncover the rest of it as you play.
Already, this is more interesting to me. The gameplay is totally different and the story could go anywhere. For me, Season One had a pretty predictable story arc, but this is much more exciting. There’s plenty of gameplay improvements too, and I just had a lot more fun with Season Two.
I don’t know why Season One gets all the love and Two doesn’t. Maybe two is just too out there. It doesn’t even look like a Pandemic game. But I think it’s all the better for letting go of its roots and trying something different.
IT’S THE BIG ONE! Literally – Gloomhaven is the biggest game on this list, both in terms of scope, but also physical dimensions. It weighs as much as a big child and takes longer to unpack than most games take to play. It’s also AMAZING obvs (it’s the highest-rated game of all time for a reason).
But wait! Is this even a legacy game? Yes, it’s a game that you play over a long campaign but do the rules actually change or anything? This is a touchy subject, and I can see the anti-legacy argument for Gloomhaven. While other games might have you tearing up game components, Gloomhaven mostly just has you placing stickers on a map and upgrading a character sheet. But I think it has one element that absolutely cements its place as a legacy game… BOXES!
In the Gloomhaven box, you’ll find lots of boxes! These boxes are mostly unlockable classes, sure, but they’re boxes all the same. But there’s also a mysterious Town Records book to open. And other sealed envelopes with secrets within. And what’s this language decoder sheet all about?
Gloomhaven is a game with hidden secrets. Yes, the game-to-game gameplay is a (still very very good) dungeon crawler, but dig deeper and there’s some really interesting stuff going on. Each time you leave town, for instance, you read a Road Event card; you might fight a bear, hide from bandits, etc. But some missions might see you adding new cards to this deck. Or removing them. Or maybe you’ll block yourself off from a whole chain of missions because of a decision you made earlier. There’s depth here.
The unlockable characters are a metagame in themselves. To unlock new classes in the game you have to retire your existing characters first, each of whom has a Personal Quest you’ll need to complete. These feel like real secrets, and the Gloomhaven community has done a stellar job in keeping even the names of these classes hidden. There’s also an even secreter-secret hidden within the game that I won’t say ANYTHING more about because it’s so secret (so much so I had to consult a walkthrough to figure it all out).
And as I said before, the dungeon crawling gameplay is great. A unique take on a hack-and-slash, that feels like you’re playing D&D without the need for a DM. The game’s complexity is a bit much at times, and we rely on external apps to manage the intricacies of combat and tracking our campaign progress. But you can do this all manually if you want!
Gloomhaven is a beast then. Sure, it’s less ‘legacy’ than other games. But it’s absolutely a game that changes with you as you play, and that’s what matters. An absolutely gold standard.
2) Risk Legacy
This just had to be high up my list. In my review, I described it as the best board game I’d ever played. I don’t know if I’d stand by that today, but I definitely still share that sense of enthusiasm for this game.
A lot of that is because of the experience I had playing it. I played with a group who were super into it and we were all playing a legacy game for the first time. So it was all new and brilliant. And that goes a long way.
To recap, Risk Legacy is Risk… with legacy bits. That’s changing and renaming cities, upgrading factions, and lots of other things I won’t spoil. But the surprises, oh my! While other legacy games in this list are a glorified tutorial, Risk Legacy does stuff that change EVERYTHING. I distinctly remember tearing open some of the game’s boxes (which are subject to conditions met, like a certain number of missiles being played at once) and everyone around the table going absolutely bonkers.
I’ve yet to recapture that experience, even on a second playthrough of Risk: Legacy with a new group. So I’d recommend, impossibly, going back in time and playing Risk Legacy with my group in 2017. Short of that, it’s still a great game to play through yourself. Hate Risk? Don’t worry, they’ve made rule adjustments so that games are a bit shorter and there are other victory conditions than having to completely dominate everyone.
So so so good.
1) Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated
Clank Legacy is my very favourite legacy game. And I’m just as surprised as you are.
I’d heard of Clank Legacy for a while, but it had never piqued my interest. I was vaguely aware of the Clank! series of games – in which you sneak around on a board to collect treasure. But there was something about the legacy version that I didn’t like the look of.
Maybe it was the whole Penny Arcade connection. I never liked the PA art style, for starters. And Acquisitions Incorporated is a whole pre-existing D&D franchise that I frankly didn’t have time for. So I just assumed that Clank Legacy was for fans of all that stuff, rather than for me.
But my girlfriend bought this for us to play during lockdown and I’m glad to say I was wrong. Clank Legacy is just superb, really. And we burned through the campaign in record time. It just blew us away.
Playing Clank Legacy, you can distinctly feel where it’s pulling its inspirations from. The deck-building of Dominion, the classic board-racing of games like Ludo, plus the best bits of every other legacy game. There’s naming parts of the board, stickers aplenty, a whole book of stories to read, and genuine player agency.
It’s also one of the few legacy games that works really well once you’ve completed it. You’ve got a board that’s all your own, a character that you’ve personally shaped, and a game that just works even without a story framework.
Clank Legacy is just an absolute riot. It’s got humour, adventure, and solid gameplay. Don’t let its looks deceive you, this is legacy done right, and done extremely, extremely well!
So that’s it! Those are my favourite legacy games, in order!
I’m still super excited for the new Pandemic Legacy and the King’s Dilemma. So who knows, maybe they’ll shake up my list… if they ever arrive.
Until then, feel free to tell me I’m wrong or missed something obvious. Otherwise, please go out and buy some of these games and enjoy them yourself!