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January 20, 2016 / Jett

The Value of Consumable Board Games

Pandemic Legacy

The vast majority of board games have been designed with infinite replayability in mind. Once the experience is over, simply reset the components and start again. However, Risk Legacy introduced a consumable element to the game, as it followed a story with a finite end. As you played, you wrote on the board, put stickers everywhere and tore up cards until the game you’re left with is one that’s very different from the one you started with.

The concept found new life in 2015 with games like T.I.M.E Stories and Pandemic Legacy. The first game is one that is stellar, though this full-priced game is over in about six hours with no further replay value. As for the latter, it’s a wildly popular successor to an already huge game. The love for it has been so great that it dethroned the five-year champ Twilight Struggle from the #1 slot on Board Game Geek’s list of best board games.

With consumable games on the rise, there’s been a growing debate on the merits of these styles of games. Would you buy a game knowing that it won’t last forever like the other games in your collection?

Admittedly, the concept of finite board games worried me. The basic math behind its value proposition isn’t in the favour of the consumable games solely off the strength of most traditional games offering infinite replay value. Then I played Pandemic Legacy and my eyes were opened to a new perspective. I love classic Pandemic, but Pandemic Legacy is on another level of awesome because of the physical alterations made to the game over time. Every moment where the game makes you place a sticker, write something down or tear something apart, it’s for a good reason that makes perfect sense within the context of the game. Worrying about diseases breaking out of a city in the regular game is one thing, but what if the opportunity to save it could come at the cost of one of your characters dying forever? It’s amazing that this game puts you in that position, which is only possible in an experience like this.

T.I.M.E Stories approaches the finite game concept in a very different way, but it too is amazing. Without the restrictions of infinite replay value to worry about, the game leads players through an amazing experience that feels like you’re playing a classic adventure video game. While that experience was kind of short at six hours, it was quite possibly the best six hours of board gaming I’d ever done. Now I’m insanely pumped to play the expansions, add brand new stories to play through.

Should every game move into this format? Certainly not. With the way most games are currently designed, it doesn’t make sense from a creative standpoint to arbitrarily take an “infinite” game and make it consumable for the sake of cashing in on the hype train. However, if it doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the product you’re trying to make, or it actually adds to the core vision, why not make it consumable?

Pandemic LegacyBut what about the value proposition argument? Wouldn’t I technically get more out of classic Pandemic versus Pandemic Legacy by virtue of the former having infinite replay value? Yes. Can’t argue that. However, doing that at the expense of Pandemic Legacy means you miss out on what I think is the best version of Pandemic. From what I have played of Legacy, the experience of playing it and the fond memories I will hold onto long after its over make it more than worthwhile.

As for T.I.M.E Stories, the four of us would have spent more money going out to the movies and would have only gotten 2.5 hours of non-interactive entertainment. If you don’t like the comparison, I would gladly take a one-time shot of T.I.M.E Stories over many infinite games because I think the one trip through it is more entertaining and profound than any number of plays for most games.

You’re entitled to spend your money however you want. If you hate the value proposition around consumable board games and refuse to support any of them, that’s fine. That said, you might be missing out on some of the best gaming out there by arbitrarily limiting your reach. When done right, consumable games can be fantastic, while delivering in ways that infinite board games cannot. Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E Stories have proven to me that this concept is a viable one. Personally, I’m overjoyed that board game designers are willing to push the bounds of what’s possible and that gamers are willing to go along for the journey if it’s worth their while. We’re bound to get some bad consumable games eventually, though the current crop is awesome.

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Leave a Comment
  1. godirectlytogaming / Jan 28 2016 11:03 AM

    I’ve never liked the idea of buying a board game with zero replay value, but I have to admit you make a lot of good points. The finite aspect of a choice made in a consumable game seems like a great way to increase suspense. I will have to open my mind more to these kinds of games in the future.

    • Jett / Jan 28 2016 4:05 PM

      Thanks for the comment!

      Totally get the dollars versus replay value conundrum. It’s a hard mental block to overcome until you experience it for yourself.

      Do you like Pandemic? If so, you’ll see the value in the Legacy concept before you even finish the first mission. That is probably the easiest jump into this style of game you could make.

      Game designers need to be careful with this concept though. I think that a bad consumable game will get absolutely roasted by gamers even more so than regular games that can at least offer replay value.

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