Back in February, I wrote a review of Pandemic. Pandemic Legacy is a game which is based on Pandemic, and, at least at first, plays almost identically to that game. But it is a ‘Legacy’-type game. The term ‘Legacy’ comes from the very first game to do something very similar, “Risk Legacy”. The idea of a Legacy game is that you play a series of games, and the game evolves as you progress. Legacy games come with sealed components, rules, instructions, etc. that you are not supposed to look at until the game instructs you to do so. When you are told to do so, changes can happen to the game in progress and potentially future games. You may be instructed to place stickers into your rulebook, to add or change rules. You can get stickers to place on your game board, and/or game cards. You may even be instructed to destroy a card in the game, or write on a card, or write on the game board, thus making permanent changes to the game. Legacy games are meant to be played in a series from start to finish, and then never played again in some cases (though I’ve heard that Risk Legacy can be played again and again in its final state). Players may be called on to make decisions that will affect future games, so it’s possible that two different groups of players playing the same legacy game may have different experiences. Note that there are two editions of the game — Red and Blue. But both are identfical, except for the color of the box. The reasoning behind having two editions is that, if you are so inclined, you could theoretically have two simultaneous Pandemic Legacy ‘seasons’ going on at the same time with two different gaming groups.
Because the game has a lot of secrets in it, and I do not do spoiler reviews, I can’t tell you in detail about what happened in my first game, but I can tell you the basics, and how I and my fellow players felt about our experience.
First of all, part of the fun of playing Pandemic Legacy is that you share the experience. Pandemic Legacy is for 1 to 4 players, but we had 4 players in our group, including me — 3 of our regular game group, plus one person who dropped by who wanted to join us. Normally the rules recommend that all players be experienced with the standard rules of Pandemic and that they have at least a couple of games of that under their belt before they tackle Pandemic Legacy. In this case, we’d been having such a terribly hard time trying to schedule our game, and having to cancel it time and time again, that this time, we decided to go ahead with the game and simply give the new player a brief overview of the rules, and then hand-hold him through a lot of the game. And that seemed to be ok with him, so that’s what we did.
I’m only going to tell you stuff that you’d know if you simply opened the game book and started playing. Pandemic Legacy comes with an extra deck of cards called the “Legacy deck”. You are not supposed to look through the deck, and you are supposed to be EXTREMELY careful in handling the deck so that the order of the cards remain as they are set up. Note that they are marked to specify an order, but because they contain secrets that you aren’t supposed to know, the rules suggest that if you accidentally drop the deck and they become scattered, that you get someone who is not playing the game to pick them up and reorder them for you. Fortunately, that never happened for us. But I’m mentioning that so you get an idea about how the game is programmed to tell you to do different things at different times.
When we start the first game, we were supposed to start drawing cards from the legacy deck, and keep drawing until the top of the card says ‘stop’. The first thing it tells us is what the goal of the game is (and at the start, it is the same as standard Pandemic, to cure all 4 diseases). But it also tells us that the as soon as we draw and handle our second Epidemic card, that we are supposed to draw again to get new instructions. And that’s what we did (what happened then, you’ll have to discover for yourself). And that’s basically how things operate in a legacy game — you keep playing according to whatever the current rules are, at least until certain conditions are met, at which time, things can change.
I’m not going to go into great detail, other than to say that the legacy deck is there to help us tell a story. When that second Epidemic hit, there was a twist in the tale, and we had to deal with it. I won’t give any specifics, but I did have to destroy a game component… and doing that was oddly liberating. I’ve heard that some people find it slightly traumatic the first time, and maybe even subsequent times in legacy games when they read that they are supposed to destroy something in their game. Not me. I knew that it was going to happen at some point. Maybe at multiple points. I knew that because I had read about the game, read about other people’s experiences (not spoiler reviews, but just articles like this one, from that person’s point of view). I will say that a couple of my fellow players did have an almost horrified look on their face as I ripped up the card.
Now there are other things about this game that I can talk about because it’s right in the rules. There’s something new in Pandemic Legacy that isn’t in the original game, and that is that every city has a panic level. It starts out at 0. Whenever an outbreak happens in a city, the panic level increases by 1. And that’s a permanent change. There are stickers that you put on the map, and the panic level of a city after enough outbreaks can go all the way up to 5. But in the first game, odds are that if you know what you are doing, you won’t have any cities that go beyond 1. That said, eventually, I know that after a couple of more games that that will not always be the case.
Panic level 1, the city is unstable, but there isn’t any further effect. At panic level 2 or 3, the city is rioting. Destroy any research station there — it cannot be rebuilt. Also you cannot take direct flights into or out of a rioting city. At 4, the city is collapsing — you have to discard a card of the same color to enter it via land or ocean. At 5, the city has fallen. You now need to discard 2 instead of 1 card of the city’s color to enter it. If your character is in a city when it has fallen, he is lost.
There’s actually another way that a character can be lost — if your character is in a city during an outbreak, that character gains a scar, which is a sticker you have to put on your character’s card to indicate a negative effect. If you have to gain a scar and you already are at the maximum number of scars for that character, he is lost instead. A lost character is dead — you have to tear up the character card.
Note that the game starts you with 5 basic characters — if you run out of characters, you will be forced to play a civilian. A civilian is a character that has no special abilities (But he can’t gain scars either).
Every game you play, you have a specific funding level. For game 1, your funding level is 4. You know those special cards that were in the deck that allowed you to do certain things, such as Airlift — well Pandemic Legacy has cards like that also (some are the same as in the original game, some are different). Well for every level of funding that you have, you can choose to include one of those special cards in your deck. If you win a game, then your funding level for the next game is 2 less. If you lost your first game, then the funding level is 2 greater. So that will make the game slightly easier.
We happened to win our first game, but we didn’t really have time to resolve the victory (we’ll do that next week, hopefully). Besides changes in funding, there are other results that we get to deal with. The first game takes place in the first half of January, and the whole series lasts a year. Had we lost the first game, we’d have to play a second game for the second half of January. But because we won, we proceed to February. Also, because we won, supposedly, the Legacy deck may tell us that we start with a special bonus for our next game. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we get to choose two upgrades for our next game. These can include making a research station permanent, turning a city card into an event card (it then can operate as either one), giving a character an upgrade, or giving a disease a positive mutation, making it easier to cure the next time.
Our game, as is often the case for normal Pandemic, felt incredibly close, but the reality probably was that we had a very good start, and luck seemed to be on our side, so the odds may have been in our favor. That said, everyone was smiling when we finally did win the game. It was an incredible feeling. And everyone was excited to play the next round next week. Part of the excitement was that now that everyone had a feel for how the legacy system worked, that we really wanted to know what surprises would be in store for next time. I guess we’ll find out.