Pandemic Legacy: Tutorial Games

Pandemic Legacy art

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

NOTE: This post DOES NOT contain plot spoilers for Pandemic Legacy. To learn more about the game, here is a longer, also spoiler-free preview.

In brief, Pandemic Legacy is an episodic, choose-your-own adventure, campaign-style board game. Intended to be played over 12 months, the rules and objectives change month by month and permanent changes to the game are made by ripping up cards or sticking things to the board depending on how well, or badly, you do in each game.

Everyone’s story will be slightly different, though the major plot points in the game will be the same for everyone as you work through a fixed “Legacy Deck” of events and objectives.

January has been a busy month in the world of Pandemic. My other half and I played several tutorial games before finally jumping into the full campaign. This post covers my thoughts on the basic Pandemic game based on the tutorials and contains no campaign spoilers. I’ll save those for the next post.

As total newcomers to Pandemic, playing a few tutorial games was an essential introduction. The game is not easy and there are many ways to lose. It took us 5 attempts until we won our first game. To get a feel for the game, we used varied combinations of characters, each with their different skills, and once controlled two characters each for a 4-player experience.

In the first four games, we rarely cured more than one out of the four diseases required for victory. Pretty much every game was lost due to chains of outbreaks swamping us. We were simply unable to keep infection rates under control. Part of this was no doubt due to our inexperience, but I think luck had a lot to do with it, particularly with the way the “Epidemic” game mechanic is designed.

Draw an Epidemic card and a random city suffers a major infection. All previously discarded city cards are then shuffled back onto the top of the deck and two or three new ones drawn to add new infections. This is a great idea, but there’s a pretty high chance of drawing the same city card a second time. This causes an instant outbreak before any player has a chance to respond and all hell breaks loose. Bad luck like this scuppered our chances several times.

Also, by chance, the main starting infection sites EVERY time we played were on the opposite side of the world from our starting location. Our first turn or two always involved globe-trotting, wasting precious time as infections built up.

It’s not that luck shouldn’t be a factor in games. The problem with Pandemic is that a short run of bad luck can cause you to lose very quickly, and the game is so fast-paced that there is little time to respond to random events before the effects overwhelm. A couple of unlucky draws and you’re pretty much screwed whatever you do.

forbidden desert

Forbidden Desert

Fortunately, such unforgiving luck-based aspects avoid being frustrating because Pandemic is a very quick game to play. If you lose, no worries. Clear the board and try again.

The manual suggests the tutorial game is essentially identical to the original Pandemic. If that is true, then I see why it’s so popular: it’s clever and fun and frenetic. The game works even with its strong luck aspect. Though, personally, I don’t think it would keep my interest for long and is perhaps a little too fiddly to bring out at parties with friends who haven’t played it before.

In that respect, I prefer Forbidden Desert or even its predecessor, Forbidden Island. The gameplay is identical to Pandemic in many ways and it’s not surprising that Matt Leacock designed all three games. Forbidden Desert was made 5 years after the original Pandemic and feels more balanced as a game. Its chunky pieces are more party friendly, too.

Our fifth Pandemic tutorial game was won when we decided to play using two specific characters: the Medic and the Scientist. Their combination of skills helps keep infections under control and speeds up the quest to find cures for each disease. Consequently, these two characters feel overpowered compared to the others, in contrast to the much more balanced character roles in Forbidden Desert. Part of that is to do with there being only two of us, but I’m also hopeful that the Legacy aspect will introduce new challenges to make the other characters more useful.

EDIT: It turns out that the four characters in the original Pandemic are different from the five characters in Pandemic Legacy, are much better balanced and all very useful. This may confirm my suspicions that the underpowered characters in the Legacy version will each come into their own over the coming months.

Our win in the fifth game was relatively solid, and the turn of the cards more favourable. Another abject loss and panic might have set in about our chances in campaign mode. Adding the Legacy aspect to a game where a single hit of bad luck can have major, permanent repercussions for every subsequent game was starting to get worrying. A win gave us the confidence to crack open the Legacy deck and start the full game.

How did we do? I’ll post about it at the end of January. In brief, I really like the little touches the Legacy aspect adds to the game and we thoroughly enjoyed the January episode of the campaign.

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