Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Teaching Time: 30 mins
Playing Time: 60 mins
Setup Time: 20 mins
Value For Money: Mid
I’ve noticed that I’m currently playing Charterstone, Betrayal Legacy and Seafall with various gaming groups. Although I’ve not wanted to write Legacy reviews due to the issue with spoilers (other than Risk: Legacy which I wanted to give a boost a while back), I've started to feel that they are too often judged on the pros and cons of the Legacy system itself. As such I'm going to try to judge them as good or bad Legacy games within the Legacy genre. I intend to write these reviews spoiler free as much as possible and so will explain the game in question using everything you can see before you start campaign game one and no more, but I will speak in general terms about campaign direction and how satisfying plots etc. are.
That said, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. For those unaware, Pandemic is a hugely popular co-op Euro game which has players fighting the break out of a series of deadly diseases represented by cubes on cities placed by a deck of cards. Players move around a world map removing cubes to stop outbreaks while trying to collect sets of cards to find cures before time runs out. Legacy Season 1 of Pandemic was a gaming phenomenon, although not the first Legacy game it was the one that had everyone wanting to release their own and showed what the format was capable of, topping the Boardgame Geek rankings and leading proud players to frame their boards. It used the Legacy format of permanently changed game elements to show the long-term effects of a year-long world-wide catastrophe such that Pandemic represented, with player character progression and potential death and the possible collapse and loss of major worldwide cities along with the power to research into the diseases being fought, long term. This led to a real sense of individuality in each game, an excellent plot and compelling progression, however it was not without its detractors and many games have come for its Legacy crown since.
I will try to standardize my Legacy reviews by using several categories: Legacy Presentation, how does it physically present its Legacy aspects during the game; Legacy access, what level of elements can players reasonably expect to unlock through play and what will be lost; Life length, specifically re-play value before, after and during the campaign mode; Advancement satisfaction, whether the upgrades given to players during campaign mode come at a rate that feels worthwhile; Rules Progression, whether added rules slot in naturally or come and go at such a rate that players never manage to settle into play and Storyline, Legacy games generally present an overarching story which can be successful or not.
Legacy Presentation: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 uses a Legacy Deck which includes scratch off foil sections as rewards for successful play. Events during games unlock 8 openable boxes and several sheets of pull out windows of stickers accessing additional rules and events. Overall box contents value is okay, though it doesn’t present in a manner that gives a strong sense of value (unlike Charterstone for example).
Legacy access: Reasonable play should unlock 95% of the Legacy elements. Unfortunately, a small percentage of unlocks are rewards and one of the eight boxes is a help for failing players meaning that no group will see 100% of the box contents. Particularly, never opening one of the eight Legacy boxes (which will be necessary for players hoping to score in any of the higher regions for the game) undermines the sense of value. Unlocks are mostly Legacy deck driven so however the game is played most of the game will be seen, though they are player directed so a sense of control is still maintained.
Life length: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 provides between 12 and 24 games, though if you end up playing the full 24 you have gone badly wrong since the game has 12 months and you only play the second game in a month if you lose the first game. So realistically you’ll be playing between 15 and 18 games. Technically players can use the starting set as a standard Pandemic game indefinitely before starting the campaign, though doing so would involve overpaying for a Pandemic set by around double its cost. Otherwise once the campaign is started the set becomes very much a one shot deal. In the general market this puts Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 a little worse than Risk: Legacy or Charterstone but a bit ahead of SeaFall and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.
Advancement satisfaction: Some level of advancement is made inevitable after each game with the nature of available advancements being based on player actions during a game. As such there is a well-balanced level of progression that can be planned for which arrives at a good rate, meaning players can have a strong sense of building on their actions without feeling long-term hampered by their failings. Additionally, since character upgrades are the one advancement that remains available irrespective of player actions it gives a clear and continual weight to the player characters.
Rules Progression: The game’s rules progression is gradual and clear and each new set of rules makes sense in relation to the progress of the game. There are few rules that when added in don’t feel like they fit into the jigsaw of the game and are therefore relatively easy to learn and remember. The game difficulty escalates and eases off to provide a bell curve peaking around the middle of the season which offers a sense of challenge even to experienced Pandemic players while handing players a sense of growing power.
Storyline: Story wise Season 1 is everything you could want from a Legacy game. Every game will have a different story with different beats and stand out moments that follow intelligently within the context of the game while also telling a specific and clear tale. For example, in my own campaign Ho Chi Minh gained a significance that it would not have in any other player’s game. It is almost certainly that sense of individuality combined with clear story that has made Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 the huge success that it is.
Overall, the experience of playing Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is almost unmatched in gaming. It has a very low long term or replay value and so will be unlikely to change the mind of anyone who is against Legacy gaming on principle. It remains fundamentally Pandemic and so people who deeply dislike original version Pandemic are also unlikely to be converted. However, for everyone else, particularly people curious about what Legacy games have to offer, it remains the best overall example of the genre and particularly since reduced price copies can now be picked up its probably the best place to start looking into the Legacy genre.