Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 Preview

Pandemic Legacy art

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

NOTE: This preview does NOT contain plot spoilers for Pandemic Legacy.

If you’re not familiar with the Legacy genre, this will sound like an unusual way to start a review of a board game. But Legacy games are unusual, as I recently started to learn.

Released in 2015, Pandemic Legacy was the second game in the Legacy genre. The series started with Risk Legacy in 2011 but it was the buzz around Seafall in late 2016 that finally caught my attention.

The concept underpinning all three titles is that decisions and outcomes in one game affect subsequent games. In Risk Legacy, a variation on the classic game of world conquest, players choose a faction they will lead over the course of 15 games. Factions gain and lose bonuses depending on how well they do. Individual games become parts of a longer campaign.

Pandemic Legacy reportedly raised the bar and produced something excitingly different. I intend to recount my personal experiences while playing through the whole of “Season 1”. This first post is spoiler free in the sense that I have done nothing but open the box, read the rules, and play a trial, legacy-less game with my other half.

It could be argued that the mere act of opening the box is a big part of the experience. I had only the vaguest idea what to expect and there were several surprises which elicited a vocal “ooh” as I sifted through the game’s contents and rules.

So, before I say anything else, here is a totally spoiler-free description of the game.

Pandemic is a co-operative game where players try to stop four pernicious diseases afflicting humanity. Every turn, disease cubes appear in random cities around the world, representing increasing numbers of infected people. When the number of infected in a city reaches critical levels, there is a major outbreak, and the disease spreads rapidly. Characters must travel the world, balancing the task of treating the infected with the final goal of finding a cure for all four diseases.


Pandemic Cards

The basic game mechanic is simple and involves collecting cards each turn. Strategy arises from the severe limit to the supply of cards, and that every card has a dual purpose: as a city and as a disease.

Players cure a disease by gathering enough cards for that disease and “spending” them at a research station. But you also need cards to travel quickly between cities. Run out of cards because of too much jet-setting and you lose. Too many outbreaks and you lose. Too many infected people in the world at any one time and you lose. Losing is easy and the race against time is feverish. Our first game was convincingly lost in around half an hour, after only 10 turns.

Here’s my full review after playing 5 tutorial games.

The Legacy aspect creates a campaign lasting between 12 and 24 games, intended to be played out over a full year (so picking the game up for Christmas was perfect for starting the campaign in January!)

Once the campaign is finished, the game is thrown away. Yes, you read that correctly. As the campaign progresses, cards are torn up, cities are torn down, and stickers and permanent markers are used to modify the game board. This is a one-time experience: a year-long story outlined by the makers, but fleshed out in unique ways by players.

If that sounds like your cup of tea and you want to savour the whole experience for yourself, stop reading now. Below the Amazon widget, I’ll reveal my thoughts on first opening the box and reading the rules, which hint at some of the twists and turns that await!

Still here? Happy to have you along for the ride!

The makers of Pandemic Legacy have gone all out to build suspense from the very moment you open the box. The first thing you find is a giant, shrink-wrapped folder labelled “Top Secret”. Beneath that there’s a sealed deck of cards, the top one reading “STOP! DO NOT LOOK AT THESE CARDS” in angry red writing. Removing the gameboard reveals yet another suprise: eight large, black, numbered boxes with tear-away lids.


Pandemic Legacy’s blank rulebook

Flicking through the rulebook tells you that, over the year of the game, cumulating game objectives and events will be revealed as you progress through the STOP! deck of cards. These cards may instruct you to reveal new rules hidden in the Top Secret dossier, sticking them into the rulebook. Page 10 of the rulebook, pictured to the right, is intentionally left entirely blank. Something tells me things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

The rules that there are suggest that new buildings will become available as the months go by. Are there whole new sets of game pieces hidden inside the black boxes? Perhaps new characters to add to the starting set of five? Each character can become scarred by their experiences fighting the pandemic. Enough scars and they are lost entirely, their character card torn up. A few extras could come in very handy!

If there are too many disease outbreaks in a city, the inhabitants become increasingly nervous, rising panic levels represented by yet more stickers permanently fixed to the board. Enough panic and people break out into full scale riots, permanently tearing down your research stations and quickly descending into anarchy, impeding your efforts to treat them.

After our trial game, I’m wondering if we’ll survive until June. Black box number 8 has instructions that it is to be opened in the event you lose 4 games in a row. Will it be a helping hand, or a punishment for being so pathetic? Every indication is that this is going to be a difficult game to win. If I never write another blog post, it’s because we’re too nervous to actually start the game!

The board, pieces and cards are all nicely designed and made, though the black and blue cards are confusingly similar colours. If there’s one criticism to make, it’s with a few of the rules. An increasing bug-bear of mine with games is poorly written rules. After so much time spent designing, testing and making games, a little more effort explaining it to people would seem an easy and obvious thing to do.

With some games, ambiguities can be resolved by checking the Internet, but that is impossible with a Legacy game where there’s a risk of spoiling surprises to come. Fortunately, apart from a few confusing word choices, there’s nothing too worrying in Pandemic Legacy’s rules… so far. But there’s just enough that’s slightly off to shake my confidence that some future sticker won’t create a problem.

This is just a little niggle in an otherwise excellent looking package. The excitement is palpable and, hopefully, we’ll win a trial game soon and have the courage to start the full campaign in January.

Roll on 2017!

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