Board gamers have campaign fatigue and publishers need to adapt quickly

Cover art for Legacy of Yu, showing a reed hat warrior wielding a U-shaped weapon while attacking a water dragon.

The campaign board game is not a new concept. It takes inspiration from tabletop RPGs and presents a consistent story arc and character progression across multiple interconnected sessions. The popularity of this genre has increased with the success of games such as Pandemic: Legacy, GloomhavenAnd Kingdom of Death: Monsters. Many of these behemoths have been brought to life by the success of crowdfunding, which has only further ignited the creative spark and endless appetite for these types of board games. I think we’ve finally reached a turning point.

There are major barriers to engaging in these types of games. First and foremost, they require multiple players to embark on a long journey. Some titles, like Greek myth punk Aeon Trespass: Odyssey and fantasy anime adventures Middara, require hundreds of hours to complete. I find that absurd. Registration for a board game should not require an official or license. To make matters worse, I’ve had instances where a regular group member couldn’t do a session. The energy and momentum behind the campaign began to crumble and everything fell apart. Now the half-finished board game sits on my shelf, staring at me like a judgmental gargoyle.

Role players know that pain. But a key advantage RPGs have over campaign board games is that their length can be tailored to preference. In addition, editorial control of the story rests with one person and can be refined and completed at short notice. A board game just gets you stuck. It’s rigid and mandatory and you’re either strapped in for the entire ride or you’ll miss the eventual climax.

The sheer volume of these campaign board games is overwhelming. The crowdfunding surge has only reinforced such ambitious design work. There’s a new one every week, promising a stunning story, mountains of components, and enough content to bury you. I am exhausted. Just as my group was gaining momentum in ours Middara Campaign, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice arrived and everyone wanted to switch to it. Aside from my obvious emotional exhaustion, watching those games back-to-back has become extremely draining financially. I think that has to change.

There is an inkling of a new movement, an attempt to heal these ailments. Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood is an exceptional boss fighter in the tradition of monster hunter And Kingdom of Death: Monsters. oath sworn is the first title I’ve come across that has seriously attempted to present a flexible campaign system that can adapt to the needs of its players.

In this game, each chapter of the campaign consists of a narrative section where you can choose your own adventure, followed by a boss fight on a big board. There’s a strong sense of world building as you progress and explore the rich environment, but each chapter contains isolated narrative and confrontation. It fully supports adding characters for a single session only. You grab one of the available options and quickly level it to the appropriate threshold for the adventure. That means you can just jump to any chapter and play oath sworn as a unique experience. It also means players can drop in and drop out as the campaign progresses. This level of design maturity translates into an unusual amount of goodwill, as it’s more likely that a combination of players will be able to play through the entire massive box to completion. The approach here manages the best of both worlds, offering flexibility and casual engagement while allowing for dedication. Both methods are used equally and can coexist. I want more of this.

Cover art for Legacy of Yu, showing a reed hat warrior wielding a U-shaped weapon while attacking a water dragon.

Image: Garphill Games

Legacy of Yu approaches the problem very differently. This new Solitaire theme has you rush to build a network of canals to divert a surging tide while repelling barbaric attacks. In addition to the underserved backdrop of ancient China, the format is also unique in that it’s a non-linear campaign that’s refreshingly short.

Each session takes only 40 minutes with extremely fast setup. The whole campaign can be completed in about 8-10 hours. It manages to break down the barriers of length and engagement common to these offerings, and better yet, pulls you in by maintaining a sense of freshness through unlockable content. These additional elements, combined with the non-linear gameplay, make for an expansive arc that is enjoyable and repeatable.

A rendering of the components of Legacy of Yu, showing a peaceful rural setting with colorful boats and dwellings on the map.

Image: Garphill Games

As a solitaire experience, it faces the inherent hurdles of repetition and lethargy – which it adequately overcomes – but the approach here to smoothing out the wrinkles of the campaign format is absolutely rejuvenating. This bite-sized approach offers meaningful play without swallowing up entire chunks of time.

We may be witnessing the beginning of a trend. The short format continues with what is to come Sheets by Leder Games, publishers of the immensely popular root. Sheets is a space opera in which players rebuild a dying empire. Each session lasts 60-90 minutes, allowing for relatively quick play – at least for this type of board game.

The campaign format stretches leisurely to just three sessions. Each individual game builds on the last as the group develops a shared evolving narrative. The most intriguing aspect of this approach is that players begin to form symmetrical factions but evolve over time. Unique abilities are acquired through a special pause mechanism that occurs between sessions, resulting in unique playstyles.

Early art for Arcs shows a white and red ship sailing through a stylized star system, with one ringed planet and another that's kind of hollowed out.

Image: Leather Games

This promises a balanced structure that requires minimal engagement, coupled with legitimate mechanical and narrative progression. While the overall methodology runs roughly parallel to this Legacy of Yu In terms of respecting player time, it integrates this achievement into a multiplayer format that supports dynamic group play. This is exactly the configuration that benefits the most from optimizing the campaign experience. One hopes for a convincing design that is extremely modern.

Pick just one of the antiquated, intense campaign games of the day and you’ll immediately see the tremendous benefits of approaching the genre with ingenuity and cleverness. The natural strengths of board games are tuned to pull a self-contained experience off the shelf at your whim. In my estimation, the trend in recent years towards extensive campaign settings is deviating from the advantages of the medium and has started to inflate the market with noise. With any luck, these creative advances will push the genre forward and alleviate those particular ills.

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