(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)
Pandemic is a cooperative board game for two to four players designed by Matt Leacock and originally released in 2007 by Z-Man Games where players work together to eradicate four different diseases spreading across the world. Each player takes on a role that gives them some special abilities, and each turn consists of a player taking a few actions moving around the board trying to stem the spread of the infection, getting a few resource cards (or potentially triggering an Epidemic), then drawing several cards that represent cities where disease is trying to spread. Cubes represent the presence of disease in a city, but if a city ever tries to gain more than three cubes of one color, an Outbreak occurs, where instead of adding more than three cubes to that city, you instead place a cube of that color in each connected city on the board. This can lead to chain reactions that can be potentially game ending. The player’s goal is to research the cures to all four strains before one of three things happen: an Outbreak occurs for the 8th time, you run out of cubes for a given disease, or the deck of Resource cards runs out. The real ingenious mechanic of this game lies in the Infection deck. Every time an Epidemic card is revealed from the Resources deck, you take the discard pile of cities recently infected, shuffle it, and then place it on top of the Infection deck. This means that cities that were recently infected are now the most likely to be infected again.
Pandemic is a fantastic game, easily one of the best cooperative games ever made. There have been several expansions to this game as well that add a lot of variety in player roles and introduce some new rules and complexity, but at it’s core, this is a really easy to learn game that can be very challenging. It’s not a perfect game, however. While the theming of the game is very engaging, it can feel a little abstract; rather than feeling like I’m actually curing disease, it can sometimes feel like I’m just moving cubes around. Pandemic can also be particularly prone to “Quarterbacking”. Quarterbacking aka the Alpha Gamer Problem is where one player in the group tends to dominate the game and effectively plays the game for everyone by telling each player what they should be doing on their turn. This can lead to some negative experiences if you play with people who have this tendency. Those complains are relatively minor, though, and overall Pandemic is an incredibly tense, enjoyable game.
While being a great game, I’ve played a lot of Pandemic over the years, so while I won’t turn down a chance to play, I’d just as soon play something else instead. That’s not a reflection on the game as much as just the reality of owning an ever increasing game collection. Last summer, however, Z-Man Games announced that Matt Leacock was partnering with Rob Daviau, the designer of Risk: Legacy, to create a new version of Pandemic that employs the Legacy mechanics introduced in Risk: Legacy. The Legacy system involves playing a game multiple times campaign-style where something about the game state changes or is retained between games. This involves a number of interesting events, like revealing secret envelopes that might change the rules of the game, permanently altering the board or your player abilities, or even tearing up existing game cards, never to be used again. You place stickers, write on the board with permanent marker, and the end result is that the game you end with after however many games you have to play (the goal with 15 games for Risk: Legacy) is both vastly different than where you started, and completely unique to your group.
As soon as this was announced for Pandemic, I knew this was a Day 1 purchase. The only difficulty inherent in a game like this is, while not mandatory, you want to experience the game with the same group of people from start to end, so that you all participate in the same narrative together. As a long-time RPG veteran, and having attempted several board games with campaign play (Star Wars: Imperial Assault most recently), I am well aware of the scheduling challenge of getting four adults together to regularly play the same game. To solve this challenge, I’ve recruited two co-workers, Dagin and Nick, and invited Dave Hill (a fellow contributor to The Grid) to join us for lunch on Fridays, where we plan to play two games back to back each sitting.
The story Pandemic: Legacy tells stretches over the course of a single year, January through December. Each month players play through a game of Pandemic. If the players win, they advance the story to the next month. If they lose, they get a chance to replay that month. If they lose that month again, they then automatically move forward. This means that to play through Pandemic: Legacy, players will be playing anywhere from 12 – 24 games of Pandemic to complete the story. Unlike Risk: Legacy, however, once you complete December, the story is complete, and you cannot replay the game. I suppose you could simply recreate the conditions of December with whatever surprises the game introduces that last month, but I personally feel like doing so would detract from the experience. This has made some people nervous, but consider this: how many times do you typically play a board game after purchasing it? I think once we complete our playthrough, I will be perfectly satisfied with putting it away (or hanging our finished board up in my game room) and feel like it was well worth it. I still own the original Pandemic, after all, if I want to scratch that itch.
The narrative in Pandemic: Legacy is driven by the Legacy deck. It contains a series of cards that instruct you to draw cards and reveal hidden information at certain times (such as “Before you setup up your First Game” or “After you resolve your second Epidemic card for this game”), then seal the deck away until the next prompt. These cards may set up the story for the next month, instruct you to open secret compartments from a large dossier of hidden stickers and components, require you to tear up cards, or otherwise change the game rules or narrative as the story progresses. If that sounds amazing, you’re right. It is.
What I aim to do over the next few weeks is keep a case history of our playthrough of Pandemic: Legacy. I’ll document some of the choices we make, talk about the surprises and the changes and how we fared. It goes without saying that everything that follows will contain MAJOR SPOILERS! If you want to see what this experience is like, feel free to continue. If you’re on the fence about it, and want to see what it’s like before buying, I should warn you that events happen in January that, if spoiled, will clearly affect decisions you need to make over the course of the game. I am writing this disclaimer after only having played through March, so there are things I don’t even know yet about how decisions we’re making now will impact the game, so buyer beware. I will tell you that this game is amazing, has lived up to every expectation I’ve had so far, and would whole-heartedly recommend you buy this game, play it yourself, then come back and compare your experience to ours.
Pandemic Legacy: Case History
Game 1: January – Attempt One:
Players begin the game by selecting their Role, and, if the Role is being played for the first time, naming the character, who is forever stuck with that name. Presented here are the players and their selected Roles in turn order.
Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin – Dispatcher (Craigly James)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Generalist (Typhoid Mary)
January begins like any other game of Pandemic, for the most part. You have a Funding Level that begins at 4, meaning you can select 4 of the available special Funding Action cards to be placed in the Player Deck. This will change as we win or lose games. Each player in a 4-Player game receives two cards, at which point you split the Player Deck into 5 piles and seed in the Epidemic cards. You then draw cards from the Infection Deck to infect 9 different cities to begin with, and then play begins. The first change revealed from the Legacy Deck is that we have to place an Alert token on the third space on the Infection Track as a reminder that we are to resolve a secret event immediately after we completely resolve the second Epidemic card. We start off the game immediately in a bad way in the Middle East, drawing a rather large block of black cards in the setup stage and near a potentially massive chain of outbreaks in the area after the first Epidemic card is revealed earlier than expected. This triggers Dave taunting the Black disease as being the Zombie Plague (a regular occurrence in Pandemic games for some reason). The game didn’t like that. After triggering our second Epidemic, we reveal the first big surprise: The largest disease on the board has been identified as the disease strain C0dA-403a, which has the effect of making the Black disease currently running rampant through the Middle East both incurable and much harder to treat (requiring two actions instead of one to Treat). Additionally, we were instructed to take the initial objective card declaring that we needed to cure all four diseases to win and tear it up, replacing it with a new card declaring we needed to cure the remaining three normal diseases (now that C0dA was incurable). I don’t think we made it much farther than that before we ran out of Black disease cubes, and that was all she wrote.
Current Record: 0-1.
At the end each game, regardless of win or loss, the players can select two upgrades from a set of stickers provided with the game. These stickers include improvements to characters, giving them extra abilities, the ability to create permanent research stations besides Atlanta, Positive Mutations that can be associated to diseases that were eradicated during the previous game (which wasn’t even close to happening for us), and Unfunded Action stickers we can attach to normal city cards in the Player Deck that allow them to function like weaker Funded Action cards. We select a character upgrade for the Medic that allows them to cure diseases once per turn in a city adjacent to where they are, and place a permanent research station in Istanbul. Additionally, the funding changes based on whether you won or lost. Since we lost, our funding level was raised from 4 to 6, meaning we get to seed two additional Funding Action cards into the player deck.
We also reveal an additional goal condition that says if we manage to win in January, we gain a bonus (currently hidden in a scratch-out block) until the end of February.
Game 2: January – Attempt Two:
Dagin – Dispatcher (Craigly James)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Generalist (Typhoid Mary)
Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
This time around, we are still seeing a disproportional number of black cards come up in the infection deck, so even though we dispatch the medic to the Middle East, we are really struggling to keep C0dA at bay. By the end of the third rotation through the players, we manage to research a cure for the Blue disease, and get it close to eradication. While we struggle to keep the Black disease at bay, problems start cropping up in both South America and Africa. Rather than push ourselves out around the world, we scramble to finish researching the cures. Dagin, our Dispatcher, manages to research the cure for Yellow (now known as Walken Fever), and orders Dave, who has all the cards required to cure Red in hand, to travel to him in Atlanta so Dave can cure the Red disease at the beginning of his turn. Unfortunately, we trigger a double outbreak in Africa on the last Infection Card Dagin had to draw, so we lose again. For those familiar with Pandemic, this feels like a very familiar outcome, losing on the brink of victory.
Current Record: 0-2.
No special win bonus for us. At the end of the game, we decide to place two more permanent Research Stations, one in Hong Kong and one in Sao Paulo.
Going into February, our Funding Level has now increased to 8, meaning the government has seen we did so poorly in fighting off disease that we are now going to have access to all eight currently available Funding Action cards. Hopefully that should give us more of an edge going into February.
We also know going into next month that we’ve got another event card in the Legacy Deck that’s going to shake things up again for February. So, despite a little discouragement, I’m still optimistic we’ll turn it around in February.
One other concept that is unique to Pandemic: Legacy is the notion of panic. In a regular game of Pandemic, when a city outbreaks, it’s bad, but not terrifying. Now, every time a city outbreaks, you place a sticker next to the city to indicate that the panic level in that city has risen. A Panic Level of 1 is a warning, but there aren’t any negative consequences. A Panic Level of 2-3 means the city has begun rioting. Research stations there are destroyed and can never be built there, and additionally, any player in a city when it outbreaks takes a scar. Scars are permanent injuries to a character, and if a character would ever take a third, they are lost, meaning you tear up their card and can never play them again. For those familiar with Pandemic, imagine never being able to play as the Medic again, ever. Yeah, it’s like that. Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet for us, but we wanted to track the escalation of Panic in the world as the game progresses.
|Panic Levels||Blue Cities||Yellow Cities||Black Cities||Red Cities|
That’s all for now. In my next Case File, I’ll cover our next 4 games. Will we turn it around? Is C0dA going to make the rest of the game miserable for us? Check back next time to find out.
How’d we do? Enjoying the playthrough? Have you tried Pandemic: Legacy out for yourself? Let me know in the comments below.