Classic Pandemic is a co-operative board game where players team up in an effort to cure four deadly diseases before they wipe out the human race. No pressure, right? In the moment, it’s one of the most intense board games on the market. However, as soon as the game is over, the slate is wiped clean and you can start again as if nothing ever happened.
This is where Pandemic Legacy differs from its predecessor. Taking heavy influence from Risk Legacy, events that take place in each game leave a lasting impact on subsequent plays until you hit the final stage of the campaign. If you thought that the original game was stressful, wait until you play this version where the rules constantly change, characters can die and entire cities can be wiped off of the map forever.
In the interest of time, I’m going to focus on what makes this game unique from the original. If you’ve never played classic Pandemic, I would strongly recommend playing that game as a prerequisite. It’s still one of the best board games out there and one that isn’t made obsolete by its successor.
At its core, Pandemic Legacy plays like classic Pandemic. All of the standard rules around movement, treating diseases, outbreaks and more are essentially the same. Experienced players should be able to jump into the game action fairly smoothly.
The big difference is that this is a game isn’t designed to be played an infinite amount of times. Instead, you’re playing through a 12-stage campaign that covers an entire year of disease control; one for each month. This doesn’t exactly mean that you only get to play the game 12 times, as you’ll get a second shot at beating a stage if you lost the first time around. At most, you’ll play the game 24 times before the campaign is completed, though you’ll probably finish somewhere below that.
Tied to this campaign are a series of fixed and dynamic elements that will radically shake up the core formula. For example, instead of role cards, you get character cards. The classics, such as the medic, scientist and researcher are here with their same abilities, but the card also has room for upgrades, relationships and scars. Upgrades give characters a permanent boost in some form, and are represented with stickers that are permanently affixed to that character card and are valid until you place another upgrade sticker on top of it. Relationships ______.
Scars, on the other hand, act as permanent downgrades that are earned by characters when they’re located in a city as an outbreak occurs. If a character gets caught three times in a city that outbreaks, they die and are no longer usable for the rest of the campaign. Worse, if don’t have enough characters to fill out your team, you’re stuck playing as generic citizens who don’t have any special abilities. If they get caught in an outbreak, they immediately die, drop all of their cards, and re-spawn as a new generic citizen with a new hand.
Obviously, you don’t want to get caught in an outbreak, but you’re going to have to put yourself at risk in order to treat diseases in hot spots. When outbreaks occur, the cities where they occur in get hurt in a different way. People will start to riot, making it unsafe to build a research station or destroying an already existing one in that location. Flights into or out of the city are also no longer an option. Eventually, the city will fall, making it inaccessible for players to drive or ferry into that city without spending two cards of that city’s colour. Even after a city falls, you can’t ignore it, as outbreaks in that area could cause chain reactions and outbreaks to neighbouring cities. Over the course of each game, cities and characters are going to get hurt. It’s just a matter of picking the lesser evils as they arise.
The most exciting new aspect to the game is the Legacy deck. You’re also going to have to set up the Legacy deck. Pre-set in a very specific order, players will draw cards from this deck as certain conditions are met. Then, they’ll follow the instructions on the card. Whether the card bears gifts or bad news, it always shakes up the game in dramatic fashion. Some of the things it might instruct you to do include adding new objectives to the game, opening new packets or files that add new information to the game, or even instructing you to physically destroy components such as cards.
The added level of permanence further amplifies an already intense game. Every element of the game has been finely tuned so that every action matters and its consequences will ripple throughout the entirety of the campaign. Our group still has a ways to go before the fate of our planet is decided. At this juncture though, we’re having a blast with this brilliant take on a modern classic. Fans of Pandemic, if you haven’t played this yet, go get a copy of Pandemic Legacy right now. For everyone else whose never played any of the games in the series, it’s worth the effort to start with the original and work your way up to this.