Pandemic Legacy – A Story Unfolds
Pandemic Legacy, designed by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, hit game stores worldwide October 8, I received my copy October 9. I couldn’t wait to unwrap its mysteries and proceeded to open the box and examine and inventory its immediately visible contents – and read the rulebook. I say “immediately visible” because not all of the contents are meant to be opened until you’re instructed to during play – most often before setting up a game or after completing a game. For those of you who may not have been following the upcoming release of Pandemic Legacy, what makes it special and different from other games and expansions in the Pandemic line is that it’s meant to be played Legacy/campaign-style. That is, the results of each play session directly affect the next play session in myriad ways: the gameboard, components and even the rulebook change accordingly. The game is designed to run thematically over a year (game time, not real time). You start in January and work from there. If you lose a game, you can play that month’s scenario again. Win or lose the second time, you move on to the next month to keep the game moving along. (If you’ve never played Pandemic before, you might want to read my Pandemic game review before reading further. I assume the reader has some knowledge of Pandemic in this review.)
Before Pandemic Legacy’s release I did a lot of research and wrote a preview review of everything I’d been able to find about the game describing its Legacy-style play without spoilers. After playing my first game (with my husband Tim and our friend Jason), the day after it arrived, I wrote and posted a Session Report about the experience. Not knowing when my husband and I would next be able to get together with Jason and continue our campaign, we decided to start a new game, with just the two of us playing one character each, on Monday, October 12. We played 5 games that day (through the first half of May), then the second half of May and June two evenings later and three more games the following Monday – we’re thru August now. What follows are my impressions of Pandemic Legacy thus far – redacted. That is, I’ve hidden any spoilers so you can safely read the unhidden parts without having any surprises ruined – with one caveat: I don’t consider anything visible when you open the box, look at the contents, examine the board and cards, and read the rulebook to be a spoiler. Anything hidden inside the boxes or behind “doors” in the Top Secret Dossier, however, that I feel helpful to share (I’m still keeping some secrets), I will hide in spoiler boxes. Fair enough? Here goes.
As I mentioned in my original review, Pandemic with the On The Brink Expansion, is my favorite cooperative game. Defenders of the Realm follows as a close second: while I love the theme, Defender’s longer playtime means it doesn’t get to the table as often. My husband and I are veteran Pandemic players. I can’t count how many times I’ve taught the game, let alone played it. We, of course, have all of the expansions and the dice game. Speaking of which, while I feel On The Brink is a must-have expansion, for any number of players, I don’t think In The Lab works very well for just two. The dice game, Pandemic: The Cure, is ok, but doesn’t make my top 10 – too much randomness from the dice, less strategy. State of Emergency I’ve only played once, but it seems promising. I mention these so you’ll know where I’m coming from and just how high a bar Pandemic Legacy has to reach to impress me.
Game End Upgrades, Funding Levels & Winning Bonuses
While our January game of Pandemic Legacy played out much like a regular game of Pandemic, it quickly became clear we weren’t playing normal Pandemic (see my Session Report for details): this was an unfolding story. The Outbreaks we experienced (numerous in our game with Jason, not so bad in our 2-player game) had lasting repercussions. Likewise, the research stations we built and the viruses we eradicated – or didn’t – affected our potential upgrades at game end.
Win or lose, at the end of each game, your team receives two upgrades. You can see what some of those upgrades can be on the sticker sheet visible when you open the box. While you can choose which two to take, some are only available if you meet certain conditions. For example, you can only choose a Positive Mutation for a virus (making it easier to cure in the future) if you eradicated said virus during the game you just completed. We worked hard to eradicate viruses in our early games so we could get the first Positive Mutation for each of them, which eliminates the requirement to be at a Research Station in order to Discover a Cure for that disease. Starting Research Station was our other favorite upgrade in our early games, but you can only take it for a Research Station you built during that game. You also have the option of taking a Character Upgrade(s) for any Character played that game, or applying an Unfunded Event sticker(s) to a City card. The hard part is deciding which two – total – to take, not two per player, just two upgrades period.
When you win a game, your funding goes down by two. Your Funding level determines how many Special Event cards you get to put in the Player Deck at the beginning of the game. Thankfully, you get to choose which ones to take. When you win a game, your Funding decreases by 2; when you lose, it increases by 2 (maximum is 10). For example, in the first game (January) you get to choose 4 Special Event cards to add to the Player deck. If you win that game, you only get 2 Special Event cards in your next game (February); if you lose, you get 4 (and play January again). Should you lose your second January game, your funding would increase to 6 and you’d move on to play February. You never play any month more than twice: win, you move on; first loss of the month, you play that month again; second loss you move on anyway.
Deciding which Special Events to take adds a little time to the setup. Tim and I didn’t have to worry about that much as in most of our games we had zero Funding. That’s when those Unfunded Event Game End Upgrades can really come in handy. Because they’re applied to City cards, they’ll always be in the deck. Fortunately, when you win a game, you usually receive a bonus for next month’s game(s). I say usually because I don’t know what future months may hold. Thus far, we’ve received one every month.
Characters vs. Roles
Pandemic players will quickly recognize 4 of the 5 Characters available when you open the box: Medic, Dispatcher, Researcher and Scientist. The Generalist, from [i]On the Brink[/i], is also present. While their abilities are exactly the same, instead of a Role Card, you get a Character card with room for you to write the Character’s name (when you “Create” it) and space to add 2 Character Upgrades and 2 Scars. The Service Record on the back allows you to track the days the character was played, by whom and whether you won or lost.
Scars? Yep, while playing, should your Character ever be in a city when it Outbreaks, you’ll get a Scar. While they’ll certainly add character to your Character, they’re not something you want to acquire. Here’s a list of the ones on the original sticker sheet:
* INSOMNIAC. Reduce your hand limit by 1 card.
* OVERCAUTIOUS. You need one extra card of the disease color to Discover a Cure.
* FEAR OF SMALL PLANES. Discard a card to use the Shuttle Flight action.
* OBSESSED. If you end your turn with an even number of cards in your hand, discard 1.
* PTSD. Lose an action if you start your turn in the region where you got this scar. Region: _____.
* REGRETFUL. Discard a card every time you leave a city with 3 cubes of the same color.
* GERMOPHOBIC. Discard a card (if you have one) when you enter a city with a research station.
* INTIMIDATED: Spend 1 additional action every time you Treat Disease in a city that is rioting, collapsing or fallen.
* DEMORALIZED. Discard 1 card every time an Epidemic card is revealed.
While none of our Characters have received a Scar thus far – knock on wood – I must admit that we’ve modified our play to actively avoid getting them. In regular Pandemic, I would think nothing of ending my turn in a city that might Outbreak. In Pandemic Legacy, however, I find myself constantly cognizant of where my Character is and any potential for harm there. I have at times given up an action or spent a card to get out of Dodge before the Infection phase. I’m stingy with my cards – I don’t like to spend them unless: A) we’ve already discovered the cure for that color or B) I’m going to have to discard something at the end of my turn anyway or C) I really really need to use it. This constant need to pay attention to your whereabouts increases the atmosphere of the game. You’re not just in a city on the verge of Outbreak, you’re IN A CITY ON THE VERGE OF AN OUTBREAK! What the hell are you thinking! Don’t even think about being in a Collapsing city on the verge of Outbreak (see below for the repercussions of that). Coupled with the Upgrades and Scars, you’re not just playing a Role anymore, you’re playing a Character, which also makes the game more personally interesting, exciting and often quite tense.
Note: while you do get to choose which Scar to take (should you be scarred), I highly recommend trying to avoid getting scarred in the first place. Your Character can only survive two scars, a third will kill you, er cause you to become Lost. You might find the need at some point to take one for the team and die a heroic death to save humanity. That doesn’t put you out of the game. Instead, you’ll take on the role of a Civilian, without any special powers, and continue the good fight. Next game you can play a different or new character.
[su_spoiler title=”Spoiler (click to read)” style=”fancy”]There are benefits to bringing in a new Character: Relationships. It’s one of the first new rules you’ll add to the rulebook. Whenever you create a new Character – that is, select it to play and name it – you give it a Relationship with an existing Character (one that’s already been played.) Relationships provide helpful benefits. Because my husband and I have been stubbornly playing the same Characters for most of the game – despite lots of new ones being added during play – we didn’t get a Relationship until he switched to the Quarantine Specialist in August. He then became my Researcher Character’s Co-worker.[/su_spoiler]
Cities Sliding Into Chaos – What Happened to Lagos?
One of the designers’ goals for Pandemic Legacy was to “amplify the narrative” and create the feeling of “a world sliding into chaos.” To accomplish this, they gave each City a Panic Level. Every time a city Outbreaks, its Panic Level increases by one. As the City’s populace panics, it becomes harder to deal with, harder to enter, etc. The Panic Levels and their effects are:
0: Stable – No effect. All cities start stable.
1: Unstable – No effect.
2-3: Rioting – Players cannot take Direct Flights or Charter Flights in or out. Research Stations are destroyed.
4: Collapsing – Discard 1 card of the city’s color to enter this city with a Drive/Ferry action.
5: Fallen – Discard an additional card of the city’s color to enter this city with the Drive/Ferry action (for a total of 2 cards). If your Character is in a city when it Falls, it is Lost.
The designers have certainly succeeded in their goal to create a feeling of a world sliding into chaos. Not only has this made us adjust our strategy:
“Maybe we should go ahead and Treat Disease in Atlanta, even though we’ll have the cure on your turn. If it Outbreaks it’s going to Riot and we’ll lose our Research Station.”
It’s also affected our play:
“Dang it, Cairo is Rioting so I can’t fly there and go that way. Hmm, how else can I get there in time?”
Another way Pandemic Legacy is different from Pandemic is the varying Objectives. A look at the top of the board shows spots to place your Objective cards and a chart showing how many Objectives you have to complete each month in order to win. Some Objectives are marked as mandatory right on the card. I recommend that you reread your current Objectives before the start of each game or session.
We ended our second July game prematurely (in just 5 turns) when we had completed 3 of our 4 Objectives. It wasn’t until near the end of our August game, when we happened to be rereading our Objective cards, that we realized one of our July Objectives was mandatory – and it wasn’t one of the three we had completed. I’m certain we still would’ve prevailed in that July game, but we likely would’ve had another Epidemic and one or two Outbreaks which would’ve affected our future games. C’est la vie. We all make mistakes.
As you can see by all the blank spots for stickers in the rulebook, additional rules will be added during the game. You’ll get another rule for Characters, several that affect setup, another regarding Movement Actions, lots of new Other Actions, and something to do with drawing cards, infections, outbreaks, ending the game, upgrades, structures… It’s easy to forget or overlook something. Luckily the designers have provided suggestions on how you can deal with that on page 15 of the rulebook. I appreciate that while the game gets more complicated, it happens in small steps. They don’t overwhelm you with a bunch of changes all at once. It feels like Matt and Rob thought of everything.
The Legacy Deck
The Legacy Deck, which is the heart of the campaign-style play of Pandemic Legacy, is pretty easy to follow. The cards are numbered (bottom right corner), so you can put them back in order easily. The back of the cards tell you when to draw them. I like that the publisher put the deck in a resealable bag. It’s not super sturdy, but it’s held up so far. I’ve been storing our used cards, those we don’t need to pull out, at the back of the bag, with the upcoming cards in the front. No, I haven’t had the heart to actually destroy a card despite being instructed to – I just file them at the back. Others may find it liberating to destroy them, I just can’t do it.
My only complaint about the Legacy Deck (actually the whole game) is that some of the cards have scratch-off surfaces on the front. I think the reason for the scratch-off is to keep you from accidentally seeing the front of the card when you draw it, but I find it annoying. It makes a real mess. Keep a coin and a paper towel handy for when you need to scratch off a card to minimize the mess; that silver dust gets everywhere. Otherwise, all the cards, bits and game mechanics seem to work smoothly together. The game is also quite self-balancing, what with the Funding mechanic, game-win bonuses (stingy though they often seem), End Game Upgrades, the way rules are introduced a little at a time, etc. It all works seamlessly.
[su_spoiler title=”Spoiler (click to read)” style=”fancy”]During the game, new tools and actions will become available to you. You’ll be able to build at least one additional type of structure, place Roadblocks and set up Quarantines to help contain the diseases. You’ll also be able to pick up Equipment to assist you with the ever-growing threat.[/su_spoiler]
While Tim and I have only had 2 losses so far, keep in mind that we’re veteran Pandemic players and have both taught the game, its expansions and spin-offs numerous times. I wouldn’t expect less experienced players to have the same results. I think the features mentioned above balance it out, though. If worse comes to worse and you lose 4 games in a row, there’s always Box 8.
If you’ve never played Pandemic before, I highly recommend that you play a few regular games without the Legacy deck to familiarize yourself with the mechanics and develop some strategies for winning. You’re going to need them to face the challenges that await you.
What Happens When I’ve Played the Entire Campaign?
I still can’t answer that question. I’m not sure I would if I could except in vague terms anyway. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. However, I have to say that I’m really looking forward to finding out – assuming the world survives our attempts to stop a pandemic.
I love Pandemic Legacy! It’s been a long time since I wanted to play the same game 10 times in one week, let alone 5 times in 1 day. We have a date tonight to continue our campaign, rather than joining one of our gaming groups to play something else. I just can’t wait until Sunday or Monday (our normal days off) to play again.
I’m eager to finish so I can play it again with some friends. I think it’ll work fine even though I know what’s coming up. It’ll be like rewatching your favorite television series, except better. The cards won’t play out the same way, you and your teammates will make different decisions to deal with the varying conditions, etc. I don’t know if I’ll buy another box or come up with a way to reset the board. We reset January once already, but there wasn’t much that had to be recorded and reset then – now at the end of August it’s a whole different story.
And that’s the crux of it all: Pandemic Legacy is an unfolding story. While I’m an old-time roleplayer – my hubby and I met playing D & D – this is my first Legacy-style board game. I couldn’t have asked for a better first-time Legacy experience.
While I’m eager to finish our 2-player game and find out how it all ends (so I can play it all over again with our friends) I also want to string it out a little longer. It’s the same problem as binge-watching a Netflix show: the season’s over too soon. Good thing Matt and Rob are working on Season 2.
Addendum – After Finishing Campaign
I loved it! When we were done we opened Box 8 and scratched off a card that didn’t apply to us to discover the remaining secrets. Cool. We took a picture of the end state of the board for posterity. 🙂
I can’t wait to play it again with more people. I expect it will be be more difficult with more players as regular Pandemic is (in my experience). Or maybe my husband and I just work really well together.
Even knowing the whole story now, I feel there’s definitely a lot of replayability there: different character combinations and play-styles. No way will the cards come up the same way… I think it’ll still be fun. The only impediment to replayability is figuring out a way to reset the game or buying another copy.
Regardless, with 16 exciting plays, we got our money’s worth in entertainment. It was a fun ride.
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