If you’re interested enough in board games to read my weekly reviews on them, then you’re probably familiar with the game Pandemic. Honestly, if you’re interested enough to read my weekly reviews then you’re probably familiar with Pandemic Legacy. But for those of you who might not know, I will still elaborate on the topic.
Pandemic is a cooperative board game about quashing a quartet of plagues sweeping the earth. They’re color coded and represented by cubes placed on cities across the board. Every round a small number of city cards are drawn and more disease cubes are placed on them. If a city gets too many cubes, it triggers an outbreak. This spreads the cubes to nearby cities as well, potentially chaining into additional outbreaks. If too many cubes are on the board or too many outbreaks trigger, the players lose.
But the players aren’t helpless. In the game you represent a scientist from the CDC, trying desperately to keep the apocalypse at bay. On your turn you can do a few actions. You can move from one city to another city connected to it. You can remove a cube from the city you’re in. Most importantly, you spend cards you draw every turn to cure a disease. This makes it easier to clear the corresponding cubes, and to wipe out the disease altogether.
The previously mentioned cards have other uses as well. Each card has a city on it. You can discard a card to fly directly to the matching city, or to go anywhere if you’re already in the city. You can trade them to other people if you’re both in that city, making it easier to cure it.
If the players manage to cure all of the diseases, they win! It’s that simple.
Which is to say, it’s brutally hard. The game is punishing in more ways than one. The diseases never stop spreading, and players can’t afford to spend the whole time treating them. Periodic epidemic cards also can be drawn. These massively infect a random city and put the city cards already drawn back on top. This allows previously infected cities to become more infected. This often leads to outbreaks, which just make everything worse.
There are several ways to lose but only one way to win, and the game does not go easy on you. But at the same time it is really fun. There is something immensely satisfying about wiping out the little cubes. Whenever you find a cure you feel like you’ve done something impressive. If you actually manage to beat the game, you’re left congratulating each other on a job well done. The game is simple but fun, relentless but gratifying. It just feels good.
Which brings us to Pandemic Legacy. Now several years ago Hasbro released a game called Risk Legacy. It was a version of Risk where special abilities used in the game had a lasting effect. If you built a bunker in one of your territories to make it easier to defend, it was represented by a sticker that stayed on the board. When you come back to play another game that bunker is still there and it’s still easier to defend. This is just a small taste, as there were dozens of persistent changes. It was a brilliant new idea, but one that wouldn’t be imitated for years to come.
Not until Pandemic Legacy. Unlike Risk, Pandemic Legacy seeks to tell a story. The campaign is played out over twelve months. If you win, you move onto the next month. Lose, and you get one more shot before moving to the next month anyway. In this game the entire Legacy “experience” can last between twelve and twenty-four games.
The first month plays exactly like a normal game of Pandemic. At the end, however, players are instructed reveal the first card in a narrative deck. They are never allowed to look at the deck unless the game tells them to. As these cards are revealed the game evolves and changes in incredibly exciting ways. New characters with different abilities are revealed. Diseases change, and the way you interact with them changes. New cards are unlocked, new abilities. Loads and loads of stuff.
Many of which, I don’t actually want to talk about. A huge part of the fun of the game is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s more than just an evolution of rules, it’s a story. You’re eager to play another game not just because it’s fun (which it is) but because you want to know what happens next!
There are eight boxes in the game to go along with the narrative deck that you are told not to open. Periodically through the campaign a card in the narrative deck will tell you to open one of the boxes, finally adding its rules to the game.
It’s incredibly exciting. The only reason for something to be in a box is because it has some larger component, such as the addition of new tokens. Things that are that big always leave you more than a little giddy as you wait to see what big change is added. And trust me, they do not disappoint.
The Legacy aspects extend beyond simply the slow introduction of new rules. There is a good deal of player choice involved. At the end of a game players can make permanent modifications of their choice. This could be building a permanent research facility, making it easier to move around and research a cure. Or it could adding an ability to one of the characters to make them stronger.
Abilities aren’t the only option for customizing characters. Players are able to name the various characters, which is way more fun than it sounds like it should be. There’s even a tracker on the back to let you know when characters are used and who played them.
It’s hard to talk too much further about the game without offering spoilers. I know some readers would want me to just to give them a taste of what it’s like. But I truly don’t like the idea of giving it away. There’s something remarkable and special about finally being told you can open up a new rule packet. It’s something that you don’t want spoiled.
People worried about the game not living up to expectations can rest assured. The game is amazing in basically every capacity. It’s fun to play. It’s easy to learn. It looks absolutely beautiful, with very high quality components. And if my opinion isn’t enough for you, just look at a little website called Board Game Geek. They have a ranking of all board games (all several thousand of them) based on player-voted popularity.
Guess what’s number one?