Three Best Practices of RISK: Legacy-Style Game Design

RISK Legacy:  The Russians and Germans are in a heated struggle - Looks like my RISK: Legacy post got some traction on Google Plus and BGG. What's funny is that the key attributes of Legacy mechanics are something that most traditional RPGs take for granted. In-game choices having persistent effects in future sessions? Pretty standard stuff in the RPG realm. 

Granted, that process usually doesn't involve destroying the actual object.

I think "destruction" is a misnomer in this case. Yes, you do change the game, but whether you consider that "destruction" is a matter of perspective. When I design a new game, I prune off many paths in the process. What Rob Daviau has done in RISK: Legacy is stop juuuust shy of that point in the process.

For example, in the very first game, you have a choice of two faction power stickers to put on your faction card. The one you don't choose is torn up and thrown away. Is that sticker destroyed? Yes. Is the game destroyed? No. The players are simply making the last decisions about how to arrange point values, terrain effects, and faction powers. They join Rob in the game design process. When faced with a choice like the one above, I really feel like I'm creating the game, not destroying it.

So, here are some best practices for making a Legacy-style game as far as I can tell.

1 | Creation
When you can name or label something, that act is satisfying in its own right, even without any mechanical effect. It can be a simple channel for vanity ("Georgetown") or something that reflects actual events in the game ("Dead Man's Valley"). There is great power in naming the unnamed. Don't feel compelled to tack on mechanical effects. Sometimes the warm feeling of seeing a continent named after your child is all you need. Speaking of which, this principle a great way to get kids involved. Kids love naming stuff.

2 | Persistence
Make some choices have repercussions in all future games. The key to making this work is recording that data. This is where computers have an advantage on humans. Still, a good sharpie and some clear terms can help a lot. Who won the game? Make that mean something. Who hasn't won yet? Make that mean something. Are there features on the board to claim? How often is that done? Make that mean something. Are there unlockable components? How often do they get opened? The trick is pacing those changes. Know your game's probabilities and pin your game's dynamism to that curve.

3 | Stasis

There is an endpoint where no further changes can be made to the game. This could be an organic endpoint, like stickers running out or spaces being filled in. It might also be a relatively arbitrary endpoint, like a certain number of sessions. Whatever your terms, this is the point where the players are done designing the game. Make sure the game is playable after this point, just not changeable. You'll still get those voices from the balcony grumbling about wasting money on a game that can't be played after a certain point. Just ignore 'em. ;)

So, am I right? Totally off base? Sound off in the comments!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.