Putting together a review of a game that I’ve already declared one of my favourites of 2015 is… a bit weird. It’s especially strange when said game is wrapped in secrecy and I’m still only about halfway through the tale me and my game group are collectively telling. However much criticism it draws, Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau’s Pandemic Legacy never fails to bring a smile to my face, and there is still so much stuff to experience…
I am, by nature, a person who doesn’t really care about spoilers. When a series starts up that I have a passing interest in, I’ll invariably read up on the end of it before deciding to watch the whole thing. For me, it’s not the conclusion of the journey but the path I was taken on to get there that is important. The ability to binge watch a whole season of episodes of something like House of Cards on Netflix is perfect for folks like me; we skip to the end and see if we want to experience the ride. Star Wars Episode VII? Eh, I read the spoilers the day it came out. Might see it, might not. By the time I do get to watch it, again probably online somewhere, I’ll invariably have forgotten the story anyway. It’s one of the good things about having a bad memory.
For Pandemic Legacy though, it’s been a very different thing. I have actively stopped myself from looking at spoilers. I’ve avoided any and all reviews for fear that the tiniest nugget of information could leak through and screw up the sheer fun I’m having with the game. The problem though? Having fun doing something means you want to talk to people about it. And talking leads to spoilers – either you revealing something that’s happened to your game, or someone else talking about what they’ve gone through. You see the issue.
Regardless, I’m having a blast with Pandemic Legacy. At it’s core it’s still the same old Pandemic that we’ve all been playing for the past few years, albeit on hard bastard mode and with shiny pretty components, but the introduction of the Legacy element has turned a great, accessible game into something more. Players still have four actions to move around the world map, clearing up disease cubes and attempting to stop potential outbreaks. Cards are still drawn to your hand, and spent to find a cure for the four diseases or to give you a quick boost to the other side of the planet. Infection Cards are still flipped, adding cubes to cities and causing worried looks around the table. But now there is so much more…
…and I’m not going to talk about any of it. Instead, I’d like to focus on why the game is so entertaining.
For experienced gamers like (most of) us, Pandemic Legacy is just what we need. In what’s actually an incredible boom period for the world of games, where the cult of the new is rife and there’s a raft of new stuff to play every week which we’re all delightfully, voraciously consuming, here’s one that actively encourages us to sit down with the same people each time and play the same thing again and again – kind of. This isn’t a static effort, the game doesn’t reset each time you start anew. The decisions you make in one play have a major effect on the next. As you progress through the in-game year, the whole board evolves and grows into something unique to you and your friends. Each defeat feels like a kick to the stomach, whether it’s a last minute one snatched from the jaws of victory or an unstoppable avalanche of cubes storming across the board in the course of a couple of turns. Every victory feels hard fought, a battle well won through planning and the occasional dash of luck. For the group I sit with every two weeks, it’s become more than a game – it’s a story with countless interwoven threads that we’re getting to tell together. And that’s an amazing experience.
I still find regular Pandemic a lot of fun. It’s simple to get your head around, and I’ve often suggested that it should be added to the pantheon of games that people new to the hobby all generally try out. Catan gives you the heads up on economics and trading, Carcassonne is worker placement and tile-laying 101, and Ticket to Ride gets you understanding set collection and networks. All great games to form the cornerstone of a fine collection, and Pandemic adds the concept of co-op play – and they’re all perfect for newcomers to the hobby. Legacy though? I wouldn’t even consider putting this down in front of a new player. They’d run screaming before the first round of January had finished, their head swimming with questions and fears. Why is the rulebook half empty? What are all those boxes for? What do you mean, we might lose four games in a row and need the game to help us?<
It’s a glorious, terrifying prospect. And the fact that I get to sit down every couple of weeks with my friends to try and save the world again and again is just wonderful. We’re only in June at the moment and still have half of our adventure to play through, but as I mentioned at the top of this piece, it’s cemented itself as one of my two favourite games from last year. It takes that base Pandemic and creates something totally different – not just from any other game out there, but also from every other game group’s playthrough. And it’s the fact that this single game manages to create so many individual experiences that makes it special.
Even now, with so much to go, I’m still sitting here wondering how they can top things for Season Two, because you know that somewhere in the deepest vaults of Z-Man Games, in a clean room staffed only by Rob and Matt, plans are afoot for an even more destructive and terrible tale.
I can’t wait.
Pandemic Legacy was designed by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, and was originally released in two flavours (Red and Blue) by Z-Man Games in 2015. Between two and four people can play (though really, it should be four people – the same four! – all the way through). Games should take around an hour, though you may have your arse handed to you after fifteen minutes if you don’t keep an eye on things. It’ll set you back $70, though if you want to get it for a lot less ($55!) you can grab yourself a copy from FunAgain Games by clicking this here link!