Game Buzz: Pandemic Legacy

Since we have a new #1 game at BoardGameGeek, I think it’s high time that I take a look at

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Pandemic Legacy Season 1 is a new game from designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau.  The game is for 2-4 players, and was published by Z-Man.  It comes in two different boxes, red and blue.  This is simply so people can keep track of which game is which should they want two copies…there is no difference between the two.  Pandemic Legacy is a mashup of Matt Leacock’s landmark 2008 cooperative game Pandemic and Rob Daviau’s landmark 2011 concept utilized in Risk Legacy.

Now, I want to emphasize something before I go any further – THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE.  I have not played this game, so everything I say will come from the rules as released by Z-Man.  I don’t consider those to be spoilers as that’s what you need to know in order to play the game for the first time.  I will talk a bit about the controversy surrounding this game later, but for now, let’s get into it.

The starting components for Pandemic Legacy include 5 character cards, 4 pawns, 61 player cards, 48 infection cards, 62 Legacy cards, 4 civilian cards, 5 dossiers, 1 sticker sheet, 4 cure markers, 1 infection rate marker, 1 reminder token, 1 outbreak marker, 96 disease cubes, 6 research stations, and a board.  Also included is a box that contains 8 numbered packages.  These will be opened as you play.

Pandemic Legacy is a game that will change as you play it.  It is played over the course of 12 months.  Each month equals one game.  If you win a month, you move on to the next month for your next game.  If you lose a month, you play the current month again.  If you lose a second time, you must still move on to the next month.  There is an objective for each month, and it must be met in order to move on.  A Legacy deck is included which outlines what will happen as you play.  These cards are never shuffled, and must be kept in the same order they came in.  In your first game, you’ll draw until you come to a card that says STOP.  It will also detail the conditions upon which you will continue to draw.  The dossiers come with stickers that will be used eventually as the game progresses.  You don’t open these until the proper moment comes.

Your first game will play a lot like basic Pandemic with a few changes.  First, you’ll draw from the Legacy deck until you hit the STOP card, then you’ll read the mission briefing and integrate any new cards there are.  You’ll infect cities by drawing the top three cards of the Infection deck and placing three cubes of their color in the matching cities.  For the next three cards, you’ll add two cubes, and for the next three, you’ll add one.  These cards go into the Infection discard pile.  The Player deck gets some Funded Event cards, then gets split into five piles.  One Epidemic card goes in each pile, then these piles are shuffled and placed one on top of another.  Each player gets a character and a starting location (which is Atlanta in the first game).

On your turn, you get four actions.  You can move, build a structure, treat a disease, share knowledge, or discover a cure.

  • Move: There are four types of movement.  You can Drive/Ferry, which allows you to move from your current city to a connected city.  You can take a Direct Flight, which means you can play the card of one city to move there.  You can take a Charter Flight, which means you can play the card of your current city, then move anywhere.  Or you can take a Shuttle Flight, which means that you can move from one Research Station to another.
  • Build a Structure: Play a card that matches the city you are in to build a structure there.  You just have Research Stations in your first game.
  • Treat Disease: Remove one cube from your current city.  If it has been cured, you may remove all cubes of that color from your current city.  If you remove the last cube of a cured disease, it has been eradicated and will not come into play any more.  At this point, you may invent a name for it, writing that name on the board.  If you win the game, you may be able to give an eradicated disease a positive mutation for the next game.
  • Share Knowledge: You can give a card matching the city you are in to another player, or you can take a card matching the city you are in from another player.  The other player must also be in that city.
  • Discover a Cure: At any research station, discard five cards of the same color.  That color is now cured.

After taking your four actions (which may be split up any way you like, even doing the same thing four times if desired), you draw two cards from the player deck (if there aren’t enough, you lose).  If your draw includes an Epidemic card, increase the Infection Rate and draw the bottom card of the Infection deck.  This city now gets three cubes of its color.  If this would cause it to have more than three cubes, only bring it up to three and trigger an outbreak – increase the Outbreak tracker, then add one cube to every connected city (this could potentially cause another outbreak).  After infecting a city, shuffle the Infection discard pile.  These cards are placed on top of the Infection deck.

After drawing your two cards (and hopefully not getting an Epidemic), you must infect a number of cities based on the Infection track.  Draw the top how ever many from the Infection deck, and place one cube on each city, possibly triggering outbreaks.  Then your turn is over, and you move on.

You win when you complete the current objective.  You can lose by running out of cubes to place, or by having too many outbreaks, or by running out of player cards.  Then, thing happen, win or lose:

  • If you win, gain a Win Bonus as described in the Legacy cards.  Your Funding Level is cut by two, and you move on to the next month.
  • If you lose, you’ll have to play the month again (unless it was your second try).  Your Funding Level is increased by two.
  • Win or lose, your team chooses two Upgrades.  You can turn a City card into an Unfunded Event card; you can add a city with a starting Research Station; you can upgrade a character; or you can add a positive mutation to an eradicated disease.  All of these involve placing stickers that will permanently change the game.
image by BGG user EchoOperative
image by BGG user EchoOperative

As a fan of Pandemic, this is a game that looks a LOT like its predecessor.  There are a few changes here and there – the objectives, the legacy deck, and of course, the way the game will evolve over time.  It basically is the same game that revolutionized the cooperative genre eight years ago…at least at first.

From there, I can’t really tell you.  I know that the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive.  I know that there’s an overall story arc that is blowing people’s minds.  I know that it’s a game that you have to experience to enjoy.  And I for one am extremely excited by the possibilities.  The way players get to make choices that will affect the future, the way things will evolve – it’s a whole new kind of gaming, and I think there’s great potential there.

However, this game is not without controversy.  There are those who think it’s nothing but a money grab, a way for a publisher to make a game that you have to buy again and again if you want to play it again and again.  It’s being called a consumable game, one that is specifically designed with no replayability.  And these complaints have merit, I suppose, but the people who think that are probably not the target audience of the game.  The people who are going to want to play the game are the ones who are looking for the experience it provides.  You’ll end up playing the game 12-24 times overall, and while you might be disappointed that there is a limit to the number of times you play, I will say that there are only nine games that I have played 24+ times since I started recording plays seven years ago.  And Pandemic isn’t one of them – I’ve only played that 16 times.  So I think that’s pretty good replayability myself.  And if the experience is as good as people say it is, then it’s worth it.  So the surprise wears off after one complete playthrough – it’s the same with a lot of video games, and yet people don’t stop playing those.  Future playthroughs will be more for the experience of teaching new people, and I think that’s quite valuable.  But you have to buy more copies! you might be screaming at me.  Well, yes, but you could always go in on it with a group, or just suck it up and pay.  At $70, that works out to about $3-$6 per play, and if that’s not worth it to you, just don’t get it.

I have a feeling that Pandemic Legacy, even moreso than Risk Legacy, will inspire a bunch of companies to start working on their own legacy style games.  I know of at least four more in the works – SeaFall (by Rob Daviau and Plaid Hat Games), Chronicles: Origins (by Rob Daviau/Dirk Knemeyer and Artana Games), QuickFight (by Jaime Barriga), and Gloomhaven (by Isaac Childres and Cephalophair Games).  And I’m happy to see where people go with it…I’m personally excited by the possibility of evolving games.

One last rant before I go.  I’m sick of some people on BGG who don’t like the idea of a game rating it a 1 without even playing it.  If you don’t like the idea of a game, don’t play it – no one is forcing you to.  But the integrity of the rating system at BGG is dependent on people rating games that they are qualified to talk about.  And these people obviously don’t respect that integrity, which makes it weird that they’re making such an effort to tank a game.  If you’ve played the game and truly dislike it that much, then by all means rank it a 1.  Rating it that low out of spite is pointless and mean-spirited.  To be fair, rating a 10 off of hype alone is also a pet peeve of mine.  But it’s the 1s that irk me the most, particularly the morons who feel the need to include spoilers in their 1 ratings.  I usually look at the 1 ratings to see what the bottom voters think.  It’s usually people who don’t know what they’re talking about – 2s and 3s are usually better indicators – but there was at least one PL commenter that spoiled something in the game for me.  Which is unforgivable – that takes a really low class of person.

Anyway, you probably already know if Pandemic Legacy is for you.  I think it looks great, and I hope to play some day.  And with Season 2 inevitable in the next couple of years, I’m sure we’ll be hearing about it for a while.  Thanks for reading!

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