I recently played an Exit: The Game scenario, and I noticed that I had accidentally stumbled into playing a legacy game. While the game itself was fun, it got me thinking about why this particular game mechanic annoys me so much, and, of course, the answer is much longer than can fit in a single sentence.
There shouldn’t be any spoilers after the jump, but you might find out how certain types of things work in certain legacy games…
I think the first thing on my list is that I dislike changing/destroying game components. This comes from the same place as not writing in books – a distinct line between what should be permanent and what should be ephemeral. When I think of any formal work, like a book, game, or piece of artwork (or bit of data for that matter), I can’t help but think that it should be preserved. It was, at some point, some creator’s thought that it should exist just like that. With legacy games, there are only finite instances of the game, and, if they’re all used up, what’s left of that thought?
The second piece for me is the apparent consumerism of it – that you can play the game only once through. When thinking about cost, this is often laughed down, often quoting the cost of a movie ticket as comparison (eg, “Exit: The Game costs about as much as a movie ticket, and you and five friends can get an hour-and-a-half of entertainment value – that’s a great deal!”). The problem with this comparison is two-fold: (a) I don’t go to the movies, partially because of the expense, and (b) most of the games (and movies) I buy cost me pennies per hour, and this number continues to diminish the longer I live. This is because I replay them, loan them out, organize/sleeve them, and talk about them with my friends, because games are my hobby. This leads me to another consequence of legacy games, and that is games as waste products, namely, what do you do with a game that has torn-up/marked-up cards/boards/components? It’s not as though it can be replayed, though maybe it can be reused or recycled, but otherwise the best case is that it’s kept as a memento.
Finally, I dislike legacy games because the design feels lazy. What could be done with clever components is instead done through destroyable ones. If I thought worse of the industry, I could consider this a blatant cash-grab, but at best this feels like riding a wave. Taking Netrunner: Terminal Directive as an example, it didn’t need to be a legacy game, and I was able to fix it up almost trivially. With the possible expense of packaging, I somehow doubt that tokens would have been much more expensive than sticker sheets (and, really, the box is far larger than what was included).
With all this focus on the back half of a legacy game, you might think that I’ve forgotten the other half – discovery of hidden components. The thing is, I haven’t found this aspect of legacy games to either be exclusive nor particularly effective (at least partially because knowing that there are hidden components makes it less surprising). I’ve seen other games do this reasonably well, without having destroyable components and sometimes better as a result. Also, as someone who cares for their games, resetting hidden components is often not a problem if I were to loan it out for another group to play.
In closing, though I’ve heaped a lot of hate on legacy games, I can’t deny that they are a popular genre and a lot of people like them. They’re just not for me.