Game 1: Early January
*Warning* Pandemic Legacy is a game with lots of surprises. If you have any intent of playing Pandemic Legacy and enjoying these surprises, do not read this.*
What is Pandemic Legacy?
The original Pandemic is a cooperative game about trying to cure diseases, and usually failing, and helplessly watching the world crumble in the face of your surprising incompetence. But sometimes you win! And that feels great.
Pandemic Legacy is that, but spread out over 12–24 sessions, depending the extent of your surprising incompetence, and there are some key differences that add persistence and surprise. The “Legacy Deck” guides you through your multi-game campaign with special objectives and conditions. You only progress through the deck when specifically instructed, which can mean big changes even in the middle of a particular game. The game also contains little black boxes and a couple of advent calendar-like sheets that you only open when specifically instructed to. As you play, you may be given non-removable stickers that make changes to the game board, the characters, and even the rule book.
Pandemic Legacy takes place over the course of 12 in-game months. Each month has an objective. If you complete the objective on your first try, you move on to the next month. If you fail, you get a second shot, after that you move on to the next month regardless of the outcome. I don’t know how one might lose the overall campaign for good, but it’s worth noting that mysterious black box #8 is only opened if you fail 4 games in a row . . . the rules are VERY clear on that point.
So let’s get started
Here are the gullible people I tricked into enduring a year’s worth of stressful decision making, and the characters they created in the first game:
Amanda —Researcher Anna Oswald
Lee — Medic Florence N. (“Flo”)
Spencer — Dispatcher Zero Cool
Sam — Generalist Terra Locke
So in summary of our characters: one Doctor Who reference, one nicknamed historic figure, one literally named “Zero Cool,” and mine is a combination of characters from Final Fantasy VI (III in the US). Nerds.
The legacy deck provided the initial objective for game 1, and it was the same as regular Pandemic: find cures, tamp down the infections, don’t run out of time. The only real difference was outbreaks. In Legacy, each outbreak raises the panic level in that city, and you mark it with a sticker on the board — a sticker, not a temporary decal, meaning those panic levels persist between games.
The next card in the Legacy deck was to be revealed only after the second epidemic, so we knew something was coming, and it turned out that “something” was a mutation in one of the diseases. From that point on, we only had to find three cures, but the blue disease was uncurable and took double the action points to treat. It seemed like a pain, but curing just three diseases didn’t seem that bad . . .
And we missed it by one %#$@ move
We had it. Lee had all the cards she needed to cure the final disease. The outbreak meter was high, but we had some padding. All we had to do was survive Spencer’s turn and we would win — and then he pulled an epidemic. If you’ve played Pandemic, you know the rest. The infection discard pile is shuffled and put back on top, you pull a few cities you just got and set off a chain of outbreaks. Sadness. Defeat.
Win or lose, you always get to choose a couple of persistent bonuses at the end of each game. We picked a character bonus for Lee that lets her cure an adjacent city once per turn — a pretty big deal for a medic, who clears all disease cubes for a single action point — and also a sticker that gives one of the city cards an option to be played as an event card instead. The one we chose lets you discard up to three cities to remove cubes of those colors from anywhere on the board.
Legacy also balances your failures by increasing your “funding level,” which means we get more special event cards in the deck next time.
How to not screw it up next time, and other impressions
My rule from regular Pandemic is “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Hold back your powerful event cards for when you really, game-endingly need them. But the fear of outbreaks increasing panic levels made us jittery about just letting those happen, and we spent our heavy hitters too early. A “one quiet night” card used on Spencer’s turn would have let us skip his infection step, and victory would have been ours.
But I think that’s the story here. Persistence is a powerful thing that adds value and weight to game events. An outbreak isn’t just a mathematical annoyance anymore, it’s an event that the board will remember. In this game where human health is abstracted into plastic cubes, things suddenly feel more real.