Pressure Problems with Legacy and Disposable Games

If you think legacy style and other disposable games are crap by their very nature and you are looking for a few more grenades to drop in the BGG forums, well you have come to the wrong place. I hope to present a few ideas that have come as a result of playing, and thoroughly enjoying a few legacy and disposable games recently, namely Pandemic Legacy: Season One and T.I.M.E Stories. As I have planned to play and actually played these games, I have noticed a few dynamics that seem to be unique (at least for me) to these sessions.

Campaign style games and RPGs have similar characteristics to legacy games and have been around a long time, so the challenges of finding a group that will commit (or committing yourself) to the time that a campaign game demands are not new. We all (at least those of us who play campaigns and RPGs) are accustomed to this challenge, right?

Legacy style games just add permanence to some of the events, decisions, and game states from one play session to the next. Big deal, right?

Well, after playing a few, the difference has become apparent to me. It’s like seeing “Game Over” after you dropped your last quarter – I mean, your last quarter.

So, while not entirely new to gaming, legacy style games introduce some new, or at least heightened, challenges to the gaming hobby.

Beyond the high barriers to design, development, and production, Legacy style games may present some new challenges to gamers, too; primarily by creating a new level of stress to a gaming group.

Legacy games like Pandemic Legacy and one-shot games like T.I.M.E. stories add pressure to the players to get everything right in one try.

This new pressure affects:

  • Getting Started
    • Choosing a group to play.
    • Accepting an invitation to play.
  • Game Stress
    • The need to do everything right each game.
    • Second guessing previous games.

This can cause Peculiar Player Behaviors:

  • The Alpha Gamers to be even more alpha.
  • "Normal Gamers" can become over-stressed.
  • Blaming each other or blaming oneself.

...and ultimately, Bad End Games:

  • Players may drop out.
  • Game groups may not risk legacy games. (See what I did there?)

I have witnessed most of these so let’s take a closer look at them, one at a time.

Getting Started

It is difficult enough to choose the right game for the right group, but when it comes to committing many hours over many nights, weeks, or months,choosing a group to play your new legacy game is a bear. Unless you have a regular group that has already crossed a significant commitment barrier previously, this can be a difficult decision. There are several reasons why RPGs are played by a relatively small percentage of those in the gaming hobby, but commitment and engagement are big ones that are share with legacy games.

On the other side, many gamers are worried about accepting an invitation to play a legacy game because of the commitment. No one wants to spoil a friend’s experience or treasured play with a limited play game.

Game Stress

Pressure during game play can be turned up and players often feel pressured into doing everything “right” each game. You can’t go back and the end state (after a missed rule, poor decision, etc.) is the starting point for the next session. Not only is this pressure felt while playing, players may find themselves second guessing previous games that they thought they had played well, but now, based on the latest events, can’t tell. Should I have done something differently last game so I am not dragging the team down this game?

Peculiar Player Behaviors

The added stress can accentuate bad player behaviors or even cause new ones to arise. It may cause the Alpha Gamers to be even more alpha – “We gotta get this right, so listen to me.” "Normal Gamers" can become over-stressed and suddenly exhibit characteristics that hadn’t been enough to bother you before, like Analysis Paralysis or being argumentative. This can quickly devolve into blaming each other, blaming oneself for whatever the game has thrown at you. A perfectly random event may have to be someone’s fault.

Bad End Games

Ultimately, the stress may be too much for some. I don’t think anyone will need counseling as a result (unless they really needed it before), but ultimately players may drop out or, worse for the hobby, game groups may not risk legacy games anymore. I hope this isn’t true, but it will be up to each group to decide if it is the right thing for them. Based on the popularity of Pandemic Legacy: Season One, it sounds like many game groups are giving it a try and are finishing with a positive attitude. However, it remains to be seen how eager they are to pick up “Season Two” or some other title.

On the positive side, these games are also highly addictive for most gamers, so there is a good chance that no one will get burned out and everyone will try to keep their cool for fear of missing out on the next session.

Final Words

I suspect that the fact that these two examples are cooperative games only makes these challenges worse. So I am eager to observe the challenges presented by the next generation of legacy competitive games – by playing them, of course. I was able to playtest Seafall a few times in spring 2015 and it is still on my “must have” list. I hope I am up to the task and able to handle the pressure.

Your Turn

Have you played a legacy or other disposable game? Was it the first of its kind or are you a regular campaigner? What impacts did the game have on you or your group? All positive?