Pandemic Legacy is an excellent new board game that physically changes every time you play.
It’s partially the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game released in 2007, where players are trying to save the world from four deadly diseases, sort of like the digital game Plague Inc but with player roles being reversed.
It’s partially Risk Legacy, a game released in 2011, that takes the traditional Risk game and adds a twist where you make permanent changes to the game directly, using stickers, tearing up cards and writing on the board. This legacy system is something you hardly ever see in tabletop games, but asking players to deface and destroy components was a very radical yet successful innovation.
The board for Pandemic Legacy after the end of the first game. Stickers applied to the board affect all subsequent games.
Designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau have conspired together and created Pandemic Legacy, combining the cooperative nature of Pandemic and the permanence of Risk Legacy. Wow, the game is truly amazing. In Pandemic Legacy, two to four players work cooperatively to meet objectives and save the world from rampaging diseases. Each game you play represents a month in the game world. If your team fails, you get a chance to try again before permanently moving on to the next month of the game. The entire gaming experience will last 12 in-game months. That means you will get between 12 and 24 plays in, depending on how successful you are.
The basic gameplay is very much like Pandemic. In fact, your first game will play like a regular game of Pandemic. At the start of each game, nine cities are infected. Your team must work together to discover cures and meet the month’s objectives to win. However, it is not that easy because you are working against the clock and there are many ways to lose.
Each player has a role that provides specific abilities, and each player will take turns executing a limited number of actions. Players can fly to hotspots around the world, treat diseases, share knowledge and ultimately find a cure for each of the four diseases. Actions revolve around the city cards that each player has. Hand management is important.
After each turn, players draw player cards and infect cities. If a city is fully infected with three disease cubes and has to add another, then it triggers an outbreak, which means connected neighboring cities will also get a disease cube. Epidemics are really bad. They automatically cause a city to become fully infected. They reset the Infection deck, which causes previously infected cities to have a higher chance of getting hit again. Having chains of outbreaks is no fun.
The beauty of Pandemic is that on one turn, your world could be all hale and healthy and in another, Europe could be experiencing a second bubonic plague! If there are a ton of outbreaks or you run out of disease cubes to place on cities or the player deck runs out of cards, then everyone loses. Since there are so many ways to lose and only one way to win, it creates an intense game experience where cooperation and planning are keys to victory.
Behind every compartment in the game box is a secret waiting to change the game!
After your first game however, Pandemic Legacy starts to evolve. This is where the legacy system steps in.
The first difference: if any cities had outbreaks, they will start to have stickers pasted on them to indicate the panic level. If a city is sufficiently panicked, it becomes difficult to travel to the city and perform your duties.
Second, if your character is in a city when it outbreaks, he or she will be traumatized and receive an injury in the form of a Scar. If a character receives a third Scar, it has been eliminated and you tear up that character card and can no longer play it. Yes, you actually tear up cards in the game!
Third, after each game, you will get to choose two upgrades. They range from having positive mutation on diseases which you have managed to eradicate to characters having more abilities, all of which will help you in future games.
Lastly, funding levels will change depending on your wins and losses. If you win, the various superpowers think you are competent enough and will cut funding, which makes the next game a tad bit more difficult.
The biggest difference is the Legacy deck, which sets the tone and story for the month of the game you are playing. You are expected to follow the instructions, and the deck will tell you which boxes and dossiers to open, all of which will start adding new features, stickers and components to the game. SPOILER: For example, in January, when you are hit with a second Epidemic, you have to read the next card in the Legacy deck, which tells you the disease with the most cubes can no longer be cured! Furthermore, you are to destroy the original objective card and to open dossier door 19. END SPOILER These changes should now inform you that when you are playing Pandemic Legacy, you are no longer just playing the game for that one time. Instead, you should now be planning and playing the game for the long run.
These changes not only make Pandemic Legacy a very engaging game to play, they also cause you to think of tabletop games differently. Usually when you play an hour-long board game, you will play it once or twice and only revisit it again after a few weeks or months. Pandemic Legacy has changed this notion for a lot of people. Not only are you now invested in the game through the changes you have permanently made, you will eagerly anticipate your next game because of the promise of opening more boxes or dossiers. The game capitalizes on our curiosity. My board game group has played the game at least once a week for about a month, and we are still excited to jump back in!
Stickers that change the game. Some go on the board, some go on your cards.
The legacy system also brings with it the concept of long-lasting changes. Some cities that were not panicked before may be rioting now. Characters will have grown in skill or be closer to death because of injuries sustained from previous games. Pandemic Legacy is all about the decisions that you have made during the game. Etching the results of these decisions into the game reminds you of what you have done. It will feel like you are crafting a game experience that is uniquely yours. No two games will be absolutely identical, and that is very cool!
Legacy’s designer Rob Daviau has mentioned that the most fun board gamers have is when they first open the box and see the contents for the first time. With the Legacy gaming series, he tried to keep that excitement going. Pandemic Legacy is a shining example of how the legacy system can bring new light into an already well designed game. For fans of Pandemic, this is a must buy for you. For people who are new to board games who want to try something new and innovative, definitely give this a go. Pandemic Legacy is on track to be my favorite board game for 2015!
Eric Teo is currently a 2nd year MFA student at NYU Game Center. He hosts a review site with podcasts, written and video reviews about boardgames and can be found on twitter @duckizz.