Most board games are one-and-done affairs – you might replay them, but the starting ‘board state’ is going to be the same every time. Monopoly always starts with everyone as middle-class, vagrant pieces. Risk has people’s armies scattered across the globe like some terrifying tornado swept up whole countries and flung them about at unknowable whims.
Making a game an even start for everyone involved lowers that barrier of entry – all you’ve got to explain to a new player is, oh, 9000 rules and then you’re ready to go. And at the end, when the world’s been conquered, evil (or that friend you betrayed on turn 4) has been defeated, and all the cash is now in your pile, that’s, uh, it. You win! Congrats – your prize is the momentary hatred of all the other players!
Then the game goes back in the box and awaits its next turn on the table. Rinse, repeat.
Unless you decide to brave the unnatural, strange and daunting wilds of so-called legacy games. Instead of the dictionary definition, let’s explore this new spectacle through one game in particular – Harry Potter and the Battle for Hogwarts.
As you might expect, this game involves the boy wizard and his best pals (and Neville) taking on a motley crew of Harry Potter villains. Functionally, you each pick your character, get a deck of appropriate cards, and proceed to fling spells, buy items, and pray that you only die (or, in the game’s gentler parlance, get “stunned”) a few times a round.
A quick mini-review: It’s a fine game. Think a bizarro Dominion or Legendary but with a Harry Potter skin. There’s a lot of randomization in the setup that often swings the game into a brutal loss or a low-stress victory, but the theme is on point, and it never gets old yelling at “Ron” to stop sucking.
What I’m here for, though, is the progression. What carries with your intrepid, constantly “stunned” team from one game to the next. Also as you might expect, the game organizes its progression around Harry’s “Years” at Hogwarts. The foes faced are generally from those books, and as you make your way forward, you’ll get new additions to your characters or card pool from those same books.
And here’s the first catch – the difficult increases with every year. The complexity goes up, and the number of things the players need to be aware of to succeed increases. This is great when you’ve got a consistent crew to play with. And if you do, and you can make time to bring this game to the table with them regularly, it’s a grand adventure. You might start referring to each other by their chosen characters, like we did.
And yet, aside from one time just after we’d acquired the game, we’ve never enjoyed Harry Potter’s spell-slinging adventures with anyone other than our standard foursome.
On the one hand, a great experience full of challenge and growth towards a big goal. On the other, a game that spends a lot of nights mostly unplayable because we’re not with the right ‘group’.
So – if you have a set of people (this game is a strictly 4 person affair) that can get together regularly for the express purpose of murdering some Potter villains, then you’re going to have a great time. If, though, your selection of games/budget is limited, then it might be worth picking up something you can sling onto the table no matter who’s stopping by.
Because Voldemort will not take pity on any new wizards.