The Game Sommelier: David Girling


Written by: David Girling


Like matching the perfect vintage with a delicious meal, The Game Sommelier finds the right game for any crowd, age, experience or situation.

Each month, we select a Spiel supporter to serve as a guest Sommelier. This Spieler must find five games to meet a fiendish challenge. We'll judge each selection with a thumbs up or thumbs down and discover whether he or she has earned the right, ne, the honor to be called The Game Sommelier!

This month's guest Sommelier: David Girling

Introduction: The Legacy series of games and TIME Stories are bringing a novel approach to board game design - a linear narrative. This is a concept borrowed directly from video game culture. You play through the story of the game and you're done. This makes them less replayable than other sorts of games but it emphasizes a player's journey through the game - through the story. The risk or the challenge is that the story better be good or players will feel cheated by the experience and hours spent playing

The Challenge: Find 5 games that could be reinvented with a linear narrative; 5 games that deserve the Legacy treatment.

Read David's selections after the break.

Thanks for inviting me to do the Game Sommelier challenge.  For those that don’t know, I’m an ex-pat Scot living and working in Seattle, which made for difficult decisions with my game collection when it came to moving over here.  I think the word “decimated” is appropriate here. 

Anyway, I’ve been asked to come up with 5 games that should get the Legacy treatment.  I’ve thought long and hard about what games would work.  For example, I’ve pretty much ruled out most abstract games, and games such as the “Pathfinder Adventure Card Game”, “Star Wars: Imperial Assault” and “Mice and Mystics”, which already have a kind of linear storytelling going on out-of-the-box.  And I’ve also gone back way into my gaming past for one of the games, which would benefit from an episodic game mode (as well as being reprinted).

On with the show…

1. Eldritch Horror   Fantasy Flight  |  BGG  

Who doesn’t like a game of heroes running around trying to save the world, and with Eldritch Horror the players are going up against creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos.  But add in the Legacy component, Have locations being permanently sealed, or always open. Allow characters to carry equipment and spells from world-saving adventure to another.  Have the monsters get stronger and stronger as the game progresses, and throw in those twists and turns to the narrative.  And I did I mention the finite pool of adventurers that the party has to nurse all the way to the end.

The Spiel says: Thumbs up

The Achilles heel of so many adventure style games is trying to make the game universally replayable. This leads to generic stories and decisions which feel more mechanical than driven by the story. Making a Cthulhu themed adventure game with lasting consequences over several games would really capture the spirit of impending doom and horror.

2. Power Grid   Rio Grande  |  BGG  

The Legacy version would traverse the historical timeline of energy development, starting with a few towns and cities, and coal burning power stations with just a few interlinks, through oil, gas, nuclear fission, wind, solar and wave power, and even looking to the future with fusion and/or zero-point energy.  And with the players starting with a board with towns that expand and increase their demand, and the ability for the players to create their own interlinks between the urban centers.  Actually, it kind of returns Power Grid back to the original version of Funkenschlag, which was a crayon-based game.

The Spiel says: Thumbs up

This is a creative and fun choice! Especially with the many additional maps available, I can see how your world and responsibilities could expand as the game moves forward.

3. Firefly    Gale Force Nine  |  BGG

Nothin’ beats an ol’ jaunt around the ‘verse.  And there the patois ends.  I’ve had great experiences with this game, especially with gamers who get to play less frequently, but who get the theme straight away.  Now strip down some of the mechanics and start the players with some simple pickup and deliver tasks, then gradually amp up the misbehavin’ and general mayhem in an episodic fashion.  Crew stay Wanted between missions, and who knows where Jayne’s Hat ends up.

The Spiel says: Thumbs Up

At its heart, Firefly wants to be a Legacy style game. It would give the players more connection to the characters and drive each chapter or episode forward in a way that would make the game even more engaging.

 4. Source of the Nile     Wiki  |  BGG  

The 1820’s and the players start the game with a map of Africa, and the majority of the map is blank.  And being the explorer’s they are, they get to fill in the blanks.  However, fail to return from the expedition, and your discoveries are lost in the mists of time.  I used to love playing this game, but it suffered from a “length of time to play” issue.  In my honest opinion, I’d love to see this reprinted and updated into a Legacy format – with a set goal for each playing, the map would gradually be filled in.  Of course, it could also be up for a re-theming – The Colonization of Mars anyone?

The Spiel says: Thumbs Up

I had never even heard of this one and that in itself is worthy of note! I like the idea of a pulp adventure game, rather than the scramble for Africa. Would open more doors to fun and different style stories around the world.

5. King of Tokyo/New York    Iello  |  BGG  

Now for the last game and I had to find a game where you could have custom dice – even better, why not have dice where you can change the sides, like the dice in the Lego games that came out a few years back.  Now for the Legacy version you have the Monsters doing a grand tour of the World, aiming to be the King of the World, and they would have one or more dice specifically for their monster where they could swap out the sides, depending on the powers that they wanted, or because of rules for each city.  Anyway, just needed to include something with dice for a certain presenter.  

The Spiel says: Thumbs Up

I think the automatic assumption is the game has to be very involved or complex to deserve the Legacy treatment. A grand story could enhance this game in some really fun ways while still remaining accessible to a wide audience of players.

The Final Tally: 5 Thumbs Up

Great choices, Dave. I'd love to play each and every one of your selections. I can see how the right story (or stories) would present players with new challenges and decisions. You have earned your title as Game Sommelier!

The ultimate goal for any Legacy game is to retain enough familiar elements from the original that it still passes the smell test while adding to it in a way that feels natural and not forced. I think Power Grid would be the toughest one to pull off but that would be also make it a great challenge for the great green-haired-one, Friedemann Friese!

Stay tuned next month for another guest Sommelier challenge! If you want to throw your hat into the ring, simply conrtibute to our ongoing Patreon campaign at the $5 level or higher.