Narratives and Risk Legacy

2014, Sep 01    

There are plenty of games out there, like Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiasco, and even Minecraft, that aren’t about winning, whether that’s baked into the game or just clearly not the focus of it. They’re great experiences and I love them dearly. The goal in those is to create an experience, and they’re a lot of fun. Most games, though, are, on some level, about someone winning and someone losing. And I like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bad loser - I’m fine with losing. I might be a bad winner - I’ll get back to you on that. I just love it when a game is close and everyone involved cares about the scoreboard and cares about making the right play. I love that moment when the chatter stops and people get serious.

A few weeks back I was running a Dota 2 tournament at epic.LAN, my favourite event of the year. We’d just finished the days games, and I was chatting to the players, seeing what their plans were for the evening.

“Oh, we’re going to practice.” they said.

I love it. There’s a bar, professional Dota on a big screen all night, a pub quiz going on in the next room, and they’ve chosen to work on their game. Tomorrow the elimination rounds start and they want to be ready. They’re in it to win.

You see, it’s all about the stakes. When you play a game, and you lose, it sucks, but usually you’ve only lost that game. When you’re in a tournament, if you lose, you might lose the whole thing. An entire weekend. 8 games could have led up to this one. There could be 8 more ahead. Tournaments make every game part of a narrative.

There are a few ways to capture that feeling: pencil and paper role-playing games often do a good job of keeping a narrative going across play sessions, increasing the stakes. When you’ve played a game for weeks and weeks, your character becomes important to you. You don’t want to do anything that would jeopardise their safety, and if your games master knows what they’re doing, that’s exactly what they’ll push you do to.

All this is a round-about way of telling you that I love the way Risk: Legacy builds a narrative across games. The distinction between being eliminated during a game, or holding on until the end, makes a difference. The reward for winning is massive. This makes every game a tense struggle - push for victory and risk it all, or hold off and try to consolidate. What Risk was always missing was something more than rolling dice, and this adds it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Legacy series of games.