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Designer Diary: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

M.J.E. Hendriks
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Born in a Basement

It was in a dank, smelly basement that Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy (formerly known as The Nobles of Paris) was born. The idea, that is. Its parents? BGG and a disgruntled Euro player. The setting was such due to a complicated work situation in which my manager was trying to harass me into quitting by relegating me to pointless archiving in the deepest, darkest, dankest basement he could find. The laptop I had with me for the archiving, as well as the so-called loneliness inflicted upon me — for I was a sole soul in this dark place (both literally and figuratively) — afforded me just one source of light, namely BGG.

Like Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener (if you haven't yet, read it here), I had had my bouts of dead-wall reveries, but what saved me from Bartleby's fate, in the end, was BGG and my thoughts on the games I had played and would one day play. The number of different games, and more importantly, their widely diversified themes which were enacted within them, excited me in ways not quite appropriate for a normal person. I read all the reviews of all the games I thought were interesting. I didn't stop there, though. I read the rules questions, the strategy sections, anything I could get my hands on. And all that for games I didn't own and had no idea when I would be playing.

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Dead wall (source)

After a while, a niggling feeling (scratching away at my heart) set in that for the life of me I couldn't rid myself of. There was something intrinsically wrong with so many of these games. The fact that they were building on these wonderfully diversified themes was amazingly cool, but something was wrong in the level of abstraction. And then it hit me. So many of these were pasted-on themes! Whether or not pasted on before or after, the pasting on, the mechanisms, had become more important to these types of games (Euros?) than the theme itself, and if necessary, for abstraction purposes I guess, the theme would be left by the wayside to find its own way home. (Of course, I didn't come up with this myself – a careful perusal of this list certainly helped in this opinion making.)

What if someone could create a Euro-type of board game that actually was thematic? Logically consistent. A game that made sense front to back and in reverse? Could it be me? And as a true modern-day Don Quixote, I set out to attack my own windmills. (I guess, to be fair, you could say that "my reading of BGG in excess had had a profound effect on me, leading to the distortion of my perception and the wavering of my mental faculties".)

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, by Gustave Doré (source: Wikipedia)

I came up with an idea and a setting in no time (divine inspiration, anyone?), linking the concepts of having to have offspring for continuation of one's name to marrying into rich families to thus "acquire" fame and fortune. Quickly it became clear that I would be working on a game incorporating genealogy. The aristocracy marrying off their children and grandchildren, wielding their power, with a true patriarch or matriarch at the head of the family. I soon realized I was creating a board game version of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies, a novel transcending four generations of one family, focusing on the generations one by one.

Without hesitation I started on building a Word document with what was to become the core part of the game: the spouse cards. These cards would symbolize the friends and connections one would have, the scene these aristocrats would circulate in. They would be used for the matrimonial connections that would be established in the process of fulfilling this aristocratic dream of true fame — a lasting legacy, so to speak.

That evening when I got home, I told my wife about my epiphany. At first she thought they were the ramblings of a madman, another crazy idea I would pursue for a few days, only to drop and forget about, but when she saw the blaze of enthusiasm in my eyes and heard about the theme and its trappings, she knew I had found something truly worthwhile (or perhaps it was just spousal support, of course). She enjoyed the thematic aspects of the idea, and together we surfed BGG, looking for similar games, of which there were none. Sure, there was the odd game that allowed you to have children; in fact, there was a comic version of such a game in existence in which you could marry a man with a big nose to a woman with big ears, who would then bear children with big noses and big ears, but those games were oh so different that a comparison really couldn't be made.

And thus, with the help of my dutiful wife (probably happy I had something to keep my mind occupied in those difficult times) we created the files and the back story and everything else needed to create this wonderful game of dynasty building in 18th century France. From darkness into the light of day, a true birth.

Publication, or A Dialogue of Sorts Between Publisher and Designer

Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games – a Polish publishing house famous for games like Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island and Neuroshima Hex! – kindly decided to publish my game, then undertook the task of further developing it. These "adventures" of development, described from the perspectives of the publisher and the designer, can be read in the following blog posts. Do take into account, however, that there might be some cultural differences in approach, so not everything needs to be taken literally. Anyway, before I turn into an apologist, here goes:

• Episode 1: About Michiel, the guy who had a strong gut feeling...
• Episode 2: The Needle in a Haystack or How I Came to Find a Publisher
• Episode 3: Does eurogame need a theme?
• Episode 4: Theme and Logic
• Episode 5: It's all about trust
• Episode 6: He better not…!
• Episode 7: Trash it
• Episode 8: Strip, Strip, Stripping Away
• Episode 9: You have 8 weeks...
• Episode 10: It's time to call my bluff
• Episode 11: To Completion… and Beyond!

Previews and Historical Character Descriptions

We decided to do previews of the main card deck: the Friend cards (formerly known as the Spouse deck). I then undertook the mammoth task of going through my notes to see who these characters were based on and how their special action was connected to or could be explained within a historical context.

Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Sarah, the revolutionary - a true American

Named for
Sarah Franklin, the only surviving child of her parents, Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin.

Though in actual fact she never left the country (and thus never set foot in France), she was a leader in relief work during the American Revolutionary War and frequently served as her father's political hostess as her mother had died in 1774.

Her father, Benjamin Franklin, was of course one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and probably one of the first real ambassadors to another country - France!
Immediate special effect
Lose 1 victory point should you have any British in your family when she marries into your family.

Nancy, the British sailor's daughter

Immediate special effect
As a sailor's daughter, she is naturally a little loose — call it a matter of upbringing. Therefore, when she marries into your family, she immediately gets two children instead of one. Which one is truly yours and which one isn't, or whether both are yours, you'll never really know, but suffice to say you shouldn't have married a sailor's daughter if this were a problem for you!

Eliza, the British poetess

Named for
Eliza de Feuillide born Eliza Hancock, the cousin of novelist Jane Austen.

Though in fact not really a poetess, she was the inspiration for Jane Austen for a number of her works.

Born in India, she moved to England and then later to France, where she married a French count, becoming the comtesse de Feuillide.

She herself managed to escape to England, but her husband was arrested for conspiracy in 1794 and guillotined. Such was life during the French Revolution.
Immediate special effect
As a member of a highly literary family, often far away from home, she feels most comfortable when there are people around, in the family, who speak her own language. This allows her to flourish and help the family out, providing more opportunities in the artisan sphere.

Charles, the King's emissary

Named for
Charles James Fox, a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career lasted 38 years.

He never truly was the king's emissary, but he did have an interest in France, going on a number of expeditions to Europe, becoming well known in the great Parisian salons, meeting influential figures such as Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, the duc d'Orléans and the marquis de Lafayette, and becoming the co-owner of a number of racehorses with the duc de Lauzun.

He is best known for supporting the American war for independence, even dressing in the colors of George Washington's army.
Immediate special effect
Despite his support for the Americans in the War of Independence, at heart Charles remains someone who has an innate love for the British people (thus the support for the "wronged" colonials), and with his business contacts back in England he can help you make a quick buck, should you have some other Brits in your family to help out with the shipments.

Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Michael, the ambitious Prussian officer

Named for
Johann Michael von Kovacs, commander of the first squadron of volunteer hussars for the Prussian army, consisting of mainly Hungarian deserters.

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Hussar officer (Source: Wikipedia)
Immediate special effect
Johann Michael is a very ambitious officer, and as such he shows great patriotism for the Prussian cause, which he is propagating even when in France, as furthering his career is his ultimate goal. The more Prussians already in your family when you have someone marry him, the better the chances are of him achieving great fame in the Prussian army.

Margarethe, the Prussian physician

Named for
Two different people, in celebration of women's achievements in science in Prussia:

• Maria Margarethe Kirch, a Prussian astronomer and one of the first famous astronomers of her period (start of the 18th century)
• Margarete Hoenigsberg, one of the first women to study medicine and thereby obtain an M.D.
Special effect
This special effect is not immediate, but is in effect throughout her child-bearing years and allows her to "self-diagnose" and stay healthy, resulting in healthier children. The specifically female perspective on medicine is of great help to her. Furthermore, her talents in astronomy allow her to conceive at an auspicious time, giving her a chance at the desired gender.

Gertrude, the Prussian heiress of the Great Library

Named for / Based on
Gertrude is named for Gertrude, Princess of Hanau, wife to Frederick William, elector of Hesse and Prussian king.

However, she is based on Sophia of Hanover, electress of Hanover and heiress of the kingdom of Great Britain. Sophia was a friend and admirer of Gottfried Leibniz while he was a librarian at the Court of Hanover. She was well-read in the works of Descartes and Spinoza.

Finally, the Great Library represents the Royal Library of Berlin, for which Frederick the Great had a wonderful new building built at the time.

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Sophia of Hanover (Source: Wikipedia)
Immediate special effect
Gertrude's special connections at the Prussian court allow her to persuade one of her royal friends to bestow on her and her partner a splendidly luxurious gift at her wedding should there be a Prussian connection already established in the family.

Friedrich, the avaricious Prussian blackmailer

Named for
Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein, also known as Baron vom Stein, a Prussian statesman, who played a large part in the reforms that led to the German unification and promoted the abolition of serfdom.
Immediate special effect
With power comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes power over other people. Friedrich gives you the power, when he enters your family, to convince social contacts of your rivals to leave their social circle and join yours. There is nothing like a little malicious and perhaps slanderous gossip to convince people to do your bidding.

Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Arianne, the courtesan

Background information
A courtesan was not a prostitute or mistress of a man of rank originally, but a courtier, a person who attends the court of a monarch or other powerful person. In the 18th century, courtesans of the higher echelons had affairs with wealthy and influential people for social and political reasons. They were well-educated and worldly, and were chosen for their breeding. One of the most famous examples was Madame de Pompadour.
Immediate special effect
Arianne is a learned lady who is wise in the ways of the court, and she is determined to please you. You can marry Arianne without using up an action as she spins her "social magic" to make things happen at the court.

Bernadette, the gardener's daughter

Named for / Background info
Jean-Bernard, abbé Le Blanc (1701-1781), a French art critic, one of the Parisian literati, who through Mme de Pompadour (his patron!) was appointed historiographer of the king.

Bernadette is a fictional woman based on the man responsible for bringing about the great change in French gardening in the 18th century. Until the early 18th century, the jardin à la française was in fashion, but with France's military defeats and the consequential lack of funds, these "French-style" gardens fell into disarray. In the middle of the century Abbe le Blanc brought back descriptions of the English landscape garden, and started a new trend, reviving the landscape scene and inspiring Rousseau to write about the "nobility of nature".
Immediate special effect
Bernadette is a young, fertile woman, who when married will give birth to twins or two children in short succession of each other.

Constant, the King's relative

Named for / Background info
Constant was the father of Françoise d’Aubigné, the second wife of the French king and untitled queen of France. When Françoise was still young, her father Constant was incarcerated for debt, and when freed he and his family embarked on a journey to the West Indies, for he believed he had been made governor of the island of Marie-Galante. The post was not vacant, however, and he returned to France, leaving his family in Martinique. He died a little later, a failure.

Happily it didn't prevent Françoise from rising to eminence using her wit and wisdom to live the life of a précieuse, a cultured and well-mannered young lady, zealous of her reputation. With some luck and good connections, she managed to become the king's second wife.
Special effect
This special effect is not immediate, but is in effect throughout his active years and prevents him from having any children whatsoever. It is great to be part of the inner circle of the King, but the level of inbreeding does seem to have a detrimental effect on your virility, it turns out.

David, the shoemaker

Named for / Background info
Jacques-Louis David, considered to be the pre-eminent French painter of the era, was extremely influential (together with figures such as Marie Antoinette) in his depiction of fashion, including footwear. Fashion was becoming simpler and less elaborate, resulting from the emergence of modern ideals of selfhood as found in the ideals of the Enlightenment philosophers.

Shoes had high, curved heels (the origin of modern "louis heels") and were made of fabric or leather. Shoe buckles remained fashionable until the end of the century.

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Woman's silk brocade shoes (Source: Wikipedia)
Immediate special effect
David is what we would nowadays call an entrepreneur in the fashion business. He has an eye for a good deal, and for this reason he does not only earn your family money, but he gets involved in all the enterprises you take part in, making them successful and increasing the family's "brand recognition". He knows how to turn a lowly thing (like making shoes!) into something lofty and noble.

Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Elena, the Russian art collector

Named for / Based on
Elena is named for Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, an art lover and a strong woman who was the catalyst behind the emancipation of the serfs.
The character is based, however, on another Grand Duchess, Maria Nikolaievna, an artistically gifted woman and a passionate art collector. In later life she even became President of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg.

From gallery of Mr Mjeh

Elena Pavlovna (Source: Wikipedia)
Immediate special effect
Elena is a renowned art collector and as such knows all the people running the art salons in which the exhibitions are being held. She also has connections with people in lofty places in the French Academy, which decides on the "official" art for France, determining what is good art, bad art and even dangerous art. She is able to maneuver any other artists in the family into the select group of artists deemed worthy by their peers and the State, gaining the family great glory.

Jacoba, the Dutch farmer's daughter

Named for
Two different people:

• Maria Jacoba van Goor, a member of the regents family van Goor, who inherited action in the slave trade and agonized over it in her novel Trois Femme. It is whispered that Maria Jacoba perhaps had belonged to that mulatto race of mixed blood, a combination of European, African and Asian blood. No coincidence, of course, that there portraits of her were kept limited to just the one, and that it was clearly "Grecified".

• My paternal grandmother, Jacoba Francina Bierman, in loving memory.
Immediate special effect
Jacoba is well familiar with hard work and the fruits of such labor. As a well-respected entrepreneur, she has many connections in the world of business and she will not hesitate to put these connections to good use. Of course, this will necessitate "specialists" in the family, but she can introduce them to her business relations and this will help expand the family's social network.

Eustachy, the Polish magnate's son

Named for
Eustachy Potocki, a Warsaw nobleman, who married Maria Kątska and received a parcel of land as part of Kątska's dowry. He established a jurydyka, a settlement right outside the royal city, and named the town Maryenstadt after his wife, adding the German "stadt" to please the Saxon king of Poland. The neighborhood soon became part of Warsaw and was razed to the ground during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, after which it had to be rebuilt.
Special effect
This special effect is not immediate, but is in effect throughout Eustachy's active years. He spent all his summers during his youth in Krynica-Zdrój, the Pearl of Polish spas. The healthy lifestyle he has led has resulted in very healthy children.

Antonina, the Italian landowner's daughter

Based on
Two different people, both born from very wealthy family:

• Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Italian mathematician and philopher. One of her principal patrons was Pope Benedict XIV. She was the first woman to be appointed professor at a university.

• Laura Bassi (1711-1778), a member of the Italian Academy of the Institute of Sciences and a chair of the Institute of Experimental Physics. She became Europe's first female professor in physics. She was mainly interested in Newtonian physics and lectured on this topic for 28 years. She, too, enjoyed the patronage of Pope Benedict XIV.
Special effect
Out of love for science, Antonina is willing to ask her father for a one-time gift as a kind of scientific patronage when she joins your family. Each scientist in the family at that time will receive a fine sum to further their scientific work.

Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy – The Me So Lonely Version

I always envisioned my game as having the potential to be played solo, but never did I actually make an effort to work out the details. However, Ignacy and his Portal team decided that this effort did indeed need to be made, and came up with an absolutely fantastic system in which you play as a modern-day descendant of these French nobles and go on an exploration, a true genealogical adventure to find out who your forefathers and foremothers (does that word even exist?) actually were.

This exciting trip through time is one that many people nowadays are undertaking, diving into their family histories to uncover their past. There are many incredibly popular sites such as that enable people to find out their roots with the help of people around the world. Now you can do so in a game, creating a family tree from bottom to top!

To read the rules to Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, including the rules to the solo game, please check here.


Portal Games has gone above and beyond what anyone could have expected from them. They have helped me develop the game, they have run a fantastic and fun marketing campaign, and to top it all off, they have included in their pre-order possibilities a whole bunch of optional, fun extras, worthy of a Kickstarter campaign — but whereas Kickstarter needs these extras to make its goal, Portal Games just wants to do something extra for its fans, and fans of this game will indeed get that extra. Thanks for going the extra mile, Ignacy and co!

Michiel Hendriks

Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy
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