It was Mike's pick and since he's got a borderline-crippling fetish for disease-related board games designed by Matt Leacock, I wasn't surprised when he announced that we'd be playing a few rounds of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. This was music to my ears since I've wanted to test drive this critical darling ever since it was released back on Oct 8, 2015 and almost immediately clawed its way to the top of Board Game Geek's "Best Games EVAR" chart, unseating Twilight Struggle in the process.
So what's all the hubbub, bub? Well, the game manages to marry the classic Pandemic with the customization and ever-changing game elements that revolutionized Risk a few years back. The concept is really taken to the high water mark here, resulting in a game experience that doesn't just tweak the original, it alters it to the point where it becomes an incredibly immersive and thematic experience.
Here's the game's diagnosis directly from Board Game Geek:
"Pandemic Legacy is by design a non-replayable co-operative campaign game, with an overarching story-arc played through in 12-24 sessions, depending on how well your group does at the game. At the beginning, the game starts very similar to basic Pandemic, in which your team of disease-fighting specialists races against the clock to travel around the world, treating disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand.
"During a player's turn, they have four actions available, with which they may travel around in the world in various ways (sometimes needing to discard a card), build structures like research stations, treat diseases (removing one cube from the board; if all cubes of a color have been removed, the disease has been eradicated), trade cards with other players, or find a cure for a disease (requiring five cards of the same color to be discarded while at a research station). Each player has a unique role with special abilities to help them at these actions.
"After a player has taken their actions, they draw two cards. These cards can include epidemic cards, which will place new disease cubes on the board, and can lead to an outbreak, spreading disease cubes even further. Outbreaks additionally increase the panic level of a city, making that city more expensive to travel to.
"Each month in the game, you have two chances to achieve that month's objectives. If you succeed, you win and immediately move on to the next month. If you fail, you have a second chance, with more funding for beneficial event cards.
"During the campaign, new rules and components will be introduced. These will sometimes require you to permanently alter the components of the game; this includes writing on cards, ripping up cards, and placing permanent stickers on components. Your characters can gain new skills, or detrimental effects. A character can even be lost entirely, at which point it's no longer available for play."
So back on March 16'th, Andrew, Mike and I tackled a few games set in the exact same game month. Translation, if you haven't played the game beyond February, stop reading! Like RIGHT EFFIN' NOW!
Andrew...Doug "Big Dawg" Harris the Operations Expert
Me...Cossim the Scientist
Mike...J.T. Stone the Medic
Andrew used his special ability to teleport himself to Karachi. He quickly tamped down the disease there, built a Research Station and then flew back to Karachi. During the Infection Cities step he added one cube to Milan and Tokyo.
Exploiting their "related" status, Mike took a Shuttle Flight to Karachi and then handed that same card off to "Brother" Andrew in Taipei. After Mike pulled an Epidemic Card he drew Taipei so it's a darned good thing that he cooled it down. Tokyo was his second cube draw.
Instead of going to Miami to treat the disease there I decided to keep my eye on the prize and head over to Osaka to "Share Knowledge" with Andrew, *nudge, nudge*, *wink, wink*. At the end of my turn, Istanbul and Riyadh got cubes. And, naturally, as crap luck would have it, I pulled an Epidemic Card which dropped three new cubes in Mexico City. Suddenly things were looking very, very grim dark in our home turf.
Andrew turfed the Baghdad card to jet off to Osaka for our illicit l'il rendezvous. On his turn new cubes were added in Sydney which promptly blew up! Amidst all of this insanity, Karachi also got another cube. All too late, we were starting to realize that our inability to treat the Black Disease was quickly spiraling out of control!
Mike cleaned up all of Taipei then headed off to Atlanta from Osaka and then to Miami. Algiers and San Paolo got new cubes on his watch.
I darted off to Sydney and removed one cube there. Then, at the end of my turn, more nasty, icky disease was added to both Santiago and Los Angeles.
Andrew ran off to Santiago where he cured a single cube. He then left for Buenos Aires where he plopped down another Research Station. Unfortunately he pulled yet another Epidemic which promptly dumped three cubes in Tehran. Then, during the Infect Cities step, Los Angeles experienced an Outbreak, which, in turn, triggered Mexico City. Not good, kiddies. Not good.
Mike mopped up the mess in Mexico City then zipped off to Los Angeles to give that city an enema as well. At the end of his turn Mexico City got a cube back and Montreal received its third. Mon dieu!
I rushed over to Los Angeles to give that matching card to Mike and then dashed off to Chicago to turf a single blue cube there. I then drew the Milan and Mexico City cards while cubes appeared in Sydney and in Algiers.
Andrew flew off to Buenos Aires and then discarded a card to launch himself to Montreal. He then drew the Tehran and Karachi cards, leading to two more Outbreaks and a huge quantum leap closer to disaster!
Mike scrambled off to Montreal, picked up the matching card from Andrew and then cleaned out every single cube there. Taipei and San Paulo got even more disease-ier at the end of his turn.
I went back to Atlanta on my turn and then used an action to chopper-lift myself to Osaka. But before I could use my next turn to improve the dire situation there I drew cubes for Jakarta and Manila, the latter of which exploded into a cascading corona of oogy, nasty disease, destroying the planet in the process.
END GAME RESULTS
"Thanks" to this crushing defeat, we were given an opportunity to introduce one of the following "Unfunded Events" to the game:
- "Experimental Program" - Remove one Disease Cube anywhere on the board at any time.
- "Trending Data" - Look at as many Infection Cards as the Current rate. Do not change their order.
- "Grassroots Program" - The person who plays this card can discard up to three City Cards, removing one cube matching the color of each card, from anywhere on the board.
Andrew...Viper Stein the Quarantine Specialist
Me...Fatty McButterpants (thanks for the classy name, BTW, Dean) the Researcher
Mike...Doug "Big Dawg" Harris the Operations ExpertI immediately went into damage control mode, throwing down Quarantine Tokens in Karachi and in Delhi. Andrew quickly tabled "One Quiet Night" in a desperate bid to stave off what suddenly looked like inevitable doom.
Remembering how dangerous the un-treatable black was in Game One, Andrew dropped a Quarantine Token in Algiers right off the bat and then moved on to Sydney. He drew Kolkata and Algiers for cards and then placed cubes in both Santiago and Milan.
Mike dumped the Karachi card to go to Beijing, got rid of two cubes there and then placed a Research Station in the same spot. One cube each then appeared in both Madrid and Paris.
I took a quick dart down to Sydney to give the Lima card to Andrew. I then drew Istanbul and Sydney from the Player Deck while cubes rained down in Hong Kong and Cairo.
Andrew turfed a cube in Sydney and then popped down to Santiago. He drew Essen from the Player Deck and then...d'oh!...an Epidemic which resulted in Mumbai getting three cubes dumped on it! One cube then appeared in Beijing and one in New York.
Mike hastily hammered a Research Station together in Sydney and then used it to catapult himself to Santiago. After handing the matching card off to Andrew he drew Jakarta and St. Petersburg and then added new cubes to Sydney and Algiers.
On my turn I headed off to Istanbul and then to Algiers where I dropped a Quarantine Token down before returning to the Research Station. During my Player Card draw phase I revealed another damned Epidemic, which added three cubes to Riyadh. I then pulled Beijing and Algiers for new cubes, which ended up discarding the Algiers Quarantine marker I'd just placed!
Andrew then dumped the Shanghai card to go to Beijing and began to Treat Disease there. He then drew his fifth Yellow card...enough for a cure! Sydney and New York then received cubes.
Mike just kept crappin' out the Research Stations, ploppin' one down in Santiago. He then set off for Riyadh and placed a Quarantine marker there. Good thing, too, since he drew Madrid and *surprise, surprise* Riyadh for additional cubes.
I spent all of my actions to get to Mike, hand the London card off to him and then drop another Quarantine marker in Riyadh. I then pulled the San Paolo and Lagos cards whilst Paris and Hong Kong received one cube apiece.
After turning in the cure for Yellow Fever, Andrew dashed off to Istanbul and then to Essen. After drawing "One Quiet Night" from the Player Deck he plopped cubes down in both Cairo and San Francisco.
Mike knocked out yet another Research Station and then chopper-lifted himself from Riyadh to Essen. Los Angeles and Khartoum were drawn and promptly discarded! He then used "Borrowed Time" to cure Blue! So far we weren't doing that badly!
I chucked out a card to get to Istanbul and then used the Research Station there to beam myself to Essen. I then used one action to give the Sydney card to Mike. I capped off this turn by drawing Taipei and Chennai and then dropping cubes in Mumbai (nope, Quarantined!) and Atlanta.
Andrew then used two actions to get to Sydney, removed two cubes there and then dashed off to Manila. He then pulled Mumbai and a phreakin' Epidemic from the Player Deck. This introduced three cubes to Delhi. He then added one cube each to Cairo, Mumbai (which got rid of the Quarantine Token there) and Atlanta during the now-inflated Infect Cities step.
After helping out in Sydney, Mike made a bee-line to Istanbul to deploy a Quarantine Token there in a desperate bid to stem the inexorable tide of Black Death. After pulling Bogota, Cairo and Manila for cards he started drawing from the Infection Deck. Beijing...safe! Delhi..ruh-roh! Delhi erupted, which cascaded to Mumbai which also tipped over. Things got even worse when, seconds later, Ho Chi Minh City also experienced an Outbreak.
In a move equivalent to placing a band aid over a sucking chest wound, Andrew applied a Quarantine Token to Algiers and Mumbai. He then moved off to Karachi to do the same thing but he pulled another Epidemic card at the tail end of his turn. This put three cubes in Jakarta, setting up a disastrous chain reaction which immediately crushed our hopes of a late game win.
END GAME RESULTS
Given this second consecutive loss, we decided to make Yellow "cureable" anywhere, even when not in a Research Station. We also added some additional ties between our characters!
While most of my thoughts about the original game still apply here, I have a few original observations specific to Pandemic Legacy:
- Between permanent improvements and / or damage to characters, city instability, interpersonal relationships, Quarantine actions, in-game Objectives and branching conditions based on victory and defeat, this version of the game is exponentially richer thematically and, as a result, a lot more immersive.
- If you've played vanilla Pandemic to the point where you think you've got that shit solved, then here comes Legacy to hand you your pox-y, candy ass. What I like most is how the game's difficulty level tweaks based on how well (or poorly) you're doing. If it looks like you're cruising, then Event Cards start getting scarce. You always play with five Epidemic cards minimum so you know this version ain't fuckin' around.
- Compared to the crusty, old, ugly-ass edition I reviewed waaaay back in 2012, this new version is beautiful beyond all measure. Which makes it all the more challenging when the game forces anal-retentive nerds such as myself to systematically deface the friggin' thing in slo-mo over the course of twelve plays.
- Pretty much every human bean on the planet knows how to play Pandemic now, so it's super-easy to get started with this one. New rules and game elements are introduced slowly, organically and logically, which means that everything sinks in super-quick.
- After twelve plays the game will be, as they say, tout finit. Even though you won't customize it anymore, you will be left with this weird, warped, uniquely-customized, freakish version of Pandemic that'll be totally different from your neighbor's copy.
- Not much to speak of. Beyond trying to shrug off suspicions that this whole thing is just a transparent bid to print money hand over fist, I really think this one is somefin' special.
If you've never played the original co-operative classic then I humbly suggest that you give that one a try and, if you dig it, pick up Legacy right away. In addition to being roughly the same complexity level, it addresses my one and only gripe about the original being thematically weak. This, in turn, really ramps up the tension.
I give Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 six pips outta six with a tilt up towards the medical helicopter that's tryin' to get you to the hospital before all your innards become out-ards.