I am in the middle of (maybe a third of the way through) a large blog post, and it is compelling and satisfying to work through, but it has been 3 weeks since I published last, so I came to write some more notes on my Shipwreck game. However, The rwinder recently put up a blog post, where he talks a little about a Solo play of Seafall, and a lot about the game design of Legacy and Make as You Play games. He asked for thoughts and comments, and these are mine, as they relate to my Shipwreck game.
My Experience with Legacy …
… is limited to Charterstone. I have played 2 Campaigns (1 is finished, 1 nearly so), and I have reset the Index box to start a 3rd with my wife shortly. I have also played a post Campaign game to compare how it feels to Campaign play. Without giving an Spoilers, there is still quite a bit of content remaining to allow us to keep customising the game, and there probably will be for quite some time. Game play at the moment is not that different, to the Campaign.
3 Campaigns of Charterstone?
Without having played other Legacy games, I’m pretty confident that Charterstone is a much lighter game than the others mentioned in The rwinders post. Its bright colourful art pegs it as a family friendly game, and it is very much about the exploration of the world and the things that get revealed. Campaign 1 I am playing with my family. Campaign 2 I played with 3 strangers at my Friendly Local Game Store after posting on their FB page, “Anyone interested in starting a regular Legacy boardgame group?” Campaign 3 will be introducing my wife to the game, and to expand her gaming horizons in general. I am playing Charterstone to experience it with different people, rather than for the exploration of the game itself, because the narrative of Charterstone is very much secondary to the game. It doesn’t matter that I know how the story ends, because the fun will be how, and when, everything gets revealed, and what my wife thinks of it. I am not sure this is the same with for Pandemic Legacy, which my Legacy group are moving on to next. I guess I’ll let you know in a few months if I have any interest in repeating the Season 1 campaign again.
The minimal impact from the intertwined narrative is part of why the post Campaign game for Charterstone feels very similar to the first 12 games. The other reason (which is also tied to the narrative being independent from the game play), is that the game exploration is very open, and everything that gets added is self contained. The design of Charterstone means you start with a core game, with only 13 of the possible 29 Rules in place, and everything that gets added is like a mini Expansion, adding (or changing) 1 Rule and a introducing a handful of new components each time. The timing of these additions is completely dependent on the actions of the players, with new elements added in completely different orders in the 2 Campaigns I’ve played. There is no drive to do things in a certain order, and new additions don’t rely on something that came before.
Make as You Play
In that way, Charterstone is the closest to a Make as You Play game. It’s true that all the content exists in the box, but the creation of the board will be unique for every game, never mind the naming of all the people and places. And you could entirely ignore the narrative, if you wanted, and just start playing games, opening content, and building the world. But eventually, the creation will end, because ultimately all the components have been included at purchase, and all the choices will have been made. Everything will be named, and all stickers will be applied, and you will have a regular board game. Or 3, in my case.
A true Make as You Play starts with few set components, and things get created from scratch and added to the game in a unique way. This is very hard to do in a standard game, even a Legacy game, because the chance of “breaking” the game, or at least unbalancing it, becomes a real possibility. Working with set components, that are added to the game in a controlled way is an easy way to manage the development of the story of a Legacy game. And I think this “controlled story” is the key difference between Legacy and Make as You Play.
A Legacy Make as You Play
The rwinder pinpoints his own game design aesthetic as, simple, open ended and always encouraging player creation. This is the hallmark of a Make as You Play game. However, in my Shipwreck game, I want to tell a story. Or more accurately, I want the player to write a story. So while I definitely want to encourage player creation, I don’t know if it can be simple, or open ended. Developing a deck with Items and Skills is only engaging if those Items and Skills help you complete a goal. And whilst you can have a generic goal, such as surviving on the island, my aim is to harness the creativity of the Make as You Play, and combine it with a Legacy style of developing a story, by slowly revealing new elements, including an ultimate goal, until the Player can complete it. The player then takes their map of the Island and deck of cards, and develops them further as they Play through the next story. And the next. Not that this is a new concept. This has actually existed for nearly half a century.
Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons, first released in 1974, is the epitome of Make as You Play games. Pencils and erasers are as important apart of the game as dice. Your characters grow and develop, gain items and abilities, and there is literally no limit to the number of different adventures or quests they can go on. Each of these quests is literally a Legacy game, revealing, through the course of the story, new difficulties that have to be over come, and new rewards that can be gained. And the things your characters gain during the start of the adventure, are things they will need to complete the quest. This set-up and pay off is something I am aiming for in my Shipwreck design.
The other thing that D’n’D does well is scale ability. Making the obstacles and rewards fit the experience level of the characters. This is also something I’m thinking about, as the idea is to have multiple Island adventures, that can take place in any order, depending on the choices made by the player. So they all need to be something that can be a challenge for people playing it with a highly developed deck full of skills and items, but achievable for players who come across that scenario their first time out.
So this is the line I am trying to walk. On the one hand, having all the components created by the player as they explore the island, find/make items, and develop skills, randomised and open according to choices they make, and drawing cards from the deck. On the other hand, I want them to have access to a series of structured stories, which set up obstacles, reveal goals and gives them the tools to achieve the ultimate ends. The right blend of Legacy, and Make as You Play.