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An Arkham Horror legacy game could revive the genre

Don’t say Hastur-la vista yet, baby.

The news that Fantasy Flight Games, the studio behind the Arkham Horror Files universe, is contemplating creating a legacy board game, got me thinking - legacy games haven’t quite been the cultural explosion for board games we thought they would be.

When Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy: Season One - the first two big legacy board games - came out, it felt like the tabletop gaming world was enthused with excitement for this bold new style of game. A board game where you physically destroy or permanently alter components? It wasn’t really like anything we’d seen before. But while titles such as Pandemic Legacy and Betrayal Legacy seemed to live up to the hype and deliver something truly great, a lot of other legacy games fell flat by comparison.

The fervent hype for legacy games has very much died down in recent years.

Machi Koro Legacy, Seafall and Charterstone are just some of the legacy games that have failed to attract much attention or have garnered criticism for a variety of reasons - whether that’s for gameplay reasons, such as Machi Koro Legacy, or for struggling to deliver on the storytelling potential of their campaign formatd. Even the beloved Pandemic Legacy series hasn’t been entirely free of criticism, with its players giving a mixed reception to Season Two’s experimental approach to the classic Pandemic gameplay system. All of this is to say that the fervent hype for legacy games, one that had publishers rushing to make a legacy version of their own best-selling series, has very much died down in recent years.

I’m actually astonished that Fantasy Flight hasn’t made a legacy game yet considering all the juicy intellectual property it has to hand, though it’s possible that its seemingly unwavering focus on expansions and living card games has kept the publisher busy. One could argue that if the studio did put a legacy game out now, they would have already missed the boat on this particular fad. But I don’t think that’s the case, because I don’t think legacy games are a fad.

Whilst the interest in the genre has waned, it could simply take the right name and the right approach to make legacy games popular again. And what name and approach could work any better than the Arkham Horror Files universe?

The sense of escalation found in titles like Eldritch Horror and Mansions of Madness just begs to be used in a legacy game.

From Eldritch Horror, that sees players travelling across the world from one dangerous encounter to the next, to Mansions of Madness - a dungeon-crawler game that takes place within a single location with scenarios that have multiple gameplay phases - there are no shortage of entries in the Arkham Horror Files universe that offer a style of narrative progression similar to those found in many legacy games. Imagine playing a legacy game as characters from the Arkham Horror Files universe who must investigate a series of strange goings-on that quickly become something much more sinister. The sense of escalation found in titles like Eldritch Horror and Mansions of Madness just begs to be used in a legacy game.

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition horror board game gameplay layout
Mansions of Madness: Second Edition takes place in a single, incredibly haunted, location.

What’s more is that many gameplay mechanics featured in Arkham Horror Files games could make for a perfect foundation for a legacy game. Characters in the Arkham Horror Files universe are almost constantly finding themselves being afflicted with all sorts of terrible conditions - with a broken arm to amnesia - which then affect their usefulness in future encounters. This concept could be applied and further expanded on in an Arkham Horror Files legacy game, with characters able to gain permanent conditions which result in those characters becoming fundamentally less or more capable in certain areas. The potential for characters to gain permanent conditions lends itself nicely to the Arkham Horror Files tradition of having players feel a lingering sense of dread, with the permanent nature only adding to this feeling.

The difficulty balance would have to be handled carefully in a game like this, but you also want to emphasis the hopelessness of the situation as well: another wonderful staple of the Arkham Horror Files universe.

Failure or success could have major consequences in an Arkham Horror Files legacy game, thanks to the fact that stories in the universe revolve around some massive world-ending stakes. Acing a session might grant the players a crucial lifeline in their fight against the forces of the Old Ones, possibly a new piece of equipment or a spell, whilst losing could push the investigators even closer to damnation. The difficulty balance would have to be handled carefully in a game like this, as you don’t want players losing too much too soon - causing their playthrough of the title to feel like an arduous struggle - but you also want to emphasis the hopelessness of the situation as well: another wonderful staple of the Arkham Horror Files universe.

I have dozens and dozens of ideas floating around in my head for this potential Arkham Horror Files legacy game, all thanks to the fact that the franchise has so many titles containing elements that feel custom-made for the genre. Genuine consequences, epic narrative arcs, a massive world to explore and a multitude of other aspects that are quintessential to the Arkham Horror Files universe would be fantastic building blocks for a new legacy game.

There’s some life left in the legacy games genre, it just needs something seriously deadly to revive it.

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