What will be your lockdown legacy? Apparently you need one. Why? Don’t ask, you just do. Maybe it’s your low-key motivation to cook, garden, or post every day on the ‘gram. Maybe you’ve got the self-control to work on a novel instead of bingeing Netflix again. Maybe you’re the type who won’t need to bleach their internet history.
For me, I’m surprised at how much time I’ve spent talking to friends.
In the first week of lockdown, we found Tabletop Simulator. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a video game for simulating a tabletop. I never imagined playing board games remotely. Nor that we’d order a virtual pizza and still argue over the toppings.
And one title has stuck out as a recurring favourite: Pandemic Legacy.
Four diseases threaten to overwhelm the planet. You are a crucial member of an international, jet-setting team of specialists; and your mission is to save the world.
But thematically, it’s about doing your best when plans go wrong.
The original Pandemic board game had a great premise. It looked like Risk, but instead of fighting your friends you’re working together against the game. And it doesn’t take all day.
The ‘Legacy’ part of the name refers to the game-changing every time you play. And this adds a whole new, addictive dimension.
In the box (for Season One anyway — by the way this game has seasons) you play through the first year after the outbreak of a new disease. There are ongoing consequences for success and failure — and that means drama that grows over the course of the ‘box set’.
You can even find a Legacy version of Risk — if that’s your kind of thing.
Pandemic Legacy loves to throw you curveballs. The goalposts move every game; often even in the middle of play. Because of this, difficulty fluctuates wildly. So you need to abandon any concept of fairness.
And that’s become my favourite thing about it.
We’ve got an ongoing win rate of about fifty percent — I hear that’s about average. The game changes to make sure the session after a win is harder, and after a loss is easier. Even the winnable games are sometimes a desperate scramble to catch up with the spread of infections. So you come to accept that no matter how hard you try, it can still come down to the luck of the draw.
I’m not gonna lie, playing this has been so cathartic.
Before lockdown, I was pretty anxious about the impending pandemic. I’d been following the news since February, and bought a mask sometime in March. I’d set up a WhatsApp group to share memes with friends called COVID & CHILL. And that group went on to become a team of moderately successful, albeit fictional, international doctors.
But this remote gaming group hasn’t just reminded me what it’s like to spend time with these people, it’s given me another chance to really appreciate the magic of talking to people I’ve known forever. In the same way as phone calls remind you how much you rely on non-verbal cues, chats with your oldest friends are peppered with in-jokes informed by a shared back-catalog of memories. And that kind of thing matters, especially when you’re finding someone to take the blame for another inevitable loss.
I can’t remember the last time I met my friends to play a game in person. Life gets in the way (like wedding planning, moving away, or just losing the teenage zest for going places), and brings with it ever-longer gaps between hang-outs. It’s because we knew each other so well that we no lo longer felt the need to meet every single week.
It’s fitting that as lockdown eases up, we’re approaching the end of Pandemic Legacy. I don’t know if the gaming group will still be weekly once the old routines set in, but if there’s another lockdown we’ll dive into Season 2.
We might not all come out of this pandemic with legacies, but we will have stories. Maybe you’ve focused on looking after you, or maybe you’ve spent this time looking after others. Whether you couldn’t wait for the lockdown to end or made the most of every minute, I hope you’ve had someone to share it with.