Note: I did not take notes or pictures during our first Pandemic Legacy playthrough, so there is only a short synopsis of our January round in this article–every session going onward will get its own detailed summary with pictures.I am a bit embarrassed to say that I’m not a very well seasoned Pandemic player. Despite owning a board game site, Pandemic never really caught my attention. I recall trying it out a year or two ago with my sister (who’s a huge fan), and it just didn’t do much for me. I was conflicted, then, when Pandemic Legacy released and caught the attention of the entire board gaming community like a blazing wildfire. Pandemic Legacy is hot, and I knew that, eventually, I would have to pick it up and try it out.
I’ve never played a Legacy game before, though I could certainly see the appeal. Imperial Assault is my favorite game, and I’m in love with the campaign mode, which has elements of a Legacy game. Upgrading characters, sticking with a certain group, and a feeling of progression are all things that I love about Imperial Assault’s campaign, so it was exciting to take that to the next level with Pandemic Legacy, a game that would make the difficult demands of permanently altering the board and components.
My love for campaign-style gaming and my lukewarm reception to Pandemic made me unsure how I’d feel about Legacy. Well, we played a session last night, and you can spare me the line and sinker, because I’m already hooked on Pandemic Legacy. I figured the game would have something to offer, given that it shot straight up to the number one spot on BoardGameGeek (held previously for eons by the Cold War game Twilight Struggle), but the game hooked me even faster than I would have imagined. Here are some things I enjoyed about it, injected with some of the events from our January session.
Note: There are very light spoilers for the first session of Pandemic Legacy in the following paragraphs. The big spoilers are hidden inside of an accordion that you can expand at your own will.
Unpredictable Events Make Every Game a New Story
The game began just like any other game of Pandemic; it even led off with “business as usual” on the objective card, implying that these four little pawns were no strangers to fighting off epidemic cards. After the initial infections, we quickly got to work. our first goals were to eliminate the “triples” on the board. We set off in different directions, and managed to knock a block off each tower. After a few more clever plays, we were even able to cure the “black plague” that was festering in western Asia. Jane of All Trades was conveniently loaded with an Atlanta card, allowing her to fly over to our disease control center straightaway to stop the black plague in its tracks. Even better, Delicious Dan the medic, after trading the last black card necessary for the cure, stampeded through the infected areas and eradicated the disease then and there! We were on a roll…and then that happened.
We had to draw a card that significantly altered the nature of our objective. The scripted card from the “Legacy deck” suddenly threw a wrench into our plans, changing the board in such a way that we had to readjust our strategy. Our objective, previously set to “cure all four diseases,” changed on the spot, and we suddenly imagined what it might feel like to be real life scientists who have to deal with evil, mutating viruses on the daily. No thank you. The change that occurred will carry into future games, meaning that the fun has only just begun.
I’m excited to see what random events the game throws out at us, be them good or bad. This made the game feel very much like its own story, and that really is the spirit of what makes Legacy games great. They’re not just games, they’re experiences, and dealing with the unforeseen obstacles that will be thrown in our way will really help Legacy to feel like its own unique experience. The best part is knowing that the next game will be different, no matter what. With the legacy deck, it’s an inevitability that something new will alter the experience, and I love the sense of anticipation that builds for the next session.
Destroying the Components is Both Sick and Satisfying
Ah, so here’s one part of Legacy games that aren’t in other campaign games, such as Imperial Assault: parts of the game can, and will be permanently destroyed.
After the aforementioned event happened, our mission objective for that game changed. As part of this change, we were instructed to remove the current objective and replace it with the new one. However, as part of the removal, we were instructed to destroy the card so that it could never be used again. It was heart-breaking tearing apart that card, but I knew I had to do it.
Some might argue that it’s greedy and sleazy for a company to make a game that’s meant to be teared apart, thus forcing you to buy new copies should you ever want to play again. I would argue that destroying components enhances the thrill of the legacy experience. Some adventures aren’t meant to be replayed over and over, and one of the best parts of Legacy is permanently altering the game, knowing that your decisions are irreversible, further emphasizing the idea that this is your adventure. Sure, it’s hard to destroy the game knowing that you’ll never be able to replay it, but you’re essentially paying $50 for a group experience that will last 30-70 hours. Going to the movies with a group of four costs almost just as much, and gives you two hours.
All things considered, I’m not too worried about ripping up components if it’s going to provide me with a fresh experience that feels like a proper adventure.
Permanent Board Changes Are Evil and Delightfully Challenging
Similar to the point above, Pandemic Legacy forces you to make certain permanent additions to the board, which will carry through in future sessions. Because the game is only meant to be played through all the way once, most of these additions come in the form of stickers.
The most common changes are the levels of unrest that can occur in various cities. If an outbreak occurs in any given city, that city’s “panic level” will rise, and this cannot be reversed. This means that if you end up getting a “rioting” city in your first game, that city will keep on rioting (or worse) for every session thereafter. You have to be exceptionally careful if you want to avoid permanent consequences from your actions, and this adds another fun dimension to the game that you wouldn’t get in a normal Pandemic game.
In our game, we often went out of our way to knock a block off of “triple’d” cities, even if that city was “safe” from being drawn until the next epidemic. We were SO scared of outbreaks that we weren’t going to chance them with any city, even if it meant battling the (sometimes ludicrous) odds of drawing an epidemic and that card on the next turn. In many instances, this meant going out of our way to treat cities when we wouldn’t have done so in a regular Pandemic game. I thought it was a lot of fun playing with future sessions in mind–it made every decision more costly, rather than just being a means to an end like it often is in regular Pandemic.
Interestingly enough, our overcautious attitude paid off in our first game. Only three cities went into panic, which, compared with a lot of other January reports I’ve read, was pretty good. We’re excited to see what future sessions bring.
Upgrades Keep You Coming Back For More
This is something I knew would be a fun part of the game, as it’s one of the elements that’s very similar to what can be found in campaign games such as Imperial Assault. At the end of every session, you’re able to apply upgrades that will carry over into the next games. These upgrades make you more powerful, and they’re very nice to have.
Upgrades immediately create an incentive to jump back in and play the game again. There’s just something that’s so satisfying about becoming more powerful, and it’s hard to not open the game back up and jump right into the next scenario. It’s unfortunate that real life and responsibilities are a thing, otherwise I might play Pandemic Legacy all the way through.
We ended up eradicating two diseases completely, and this allows you to upgrade that disease with a positive mutation, making it easier to cure in the future. However, we were too tempted by the other upgrades to apply that to both our diseases, so we used the other one on the “pilot” ability for Jane of all Trades, allowing her to use location cards to travel without actually getting rid of them.
Every upgrade was so good that it was painful not being able to just take all of them. We might regret not taking a positive mutation when we were in a position to do so, but we’ll just have to wait and see! Such is the nature of Legacy games.
I really enjoyed Pandemic Legacy, and I loved seeing a simple board game get turned into something extraordinary. We beat the first scenario pretty handily, and I’m downright giddy to see how far we can carry a good streak. I’m excited to see how the board will turn against us, and what’s lying in wait behind the closed dossiers and secret stickers.
The first thing my sister and I did after playing was jump online to read other people’s January reports. As a result, I will post a detailed accounting of every Pandemic Legacy session from here on out. Stay tuned for a hands-on report of what will (hopefully) be a prevention of the world’s end!
FINAL JANUARY RESULTS:
Victory: Early January
Delicious Dan – Medic
Jane of all Trades – Generalist
Julianne Moore – Scientist
Diseases (names pending):
Black Plague – Cured and eradicated
Blue Sickness – Cured and eradicated
Red Flu – Cured
Yellow Fever – COdA-403a
Taipei – Unstable
New York City – Unstable
Buenos Aires – Unstable
Common Structure – The Black Plague
Pilot – Jane of all Trades