Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 Review (w/ SPOILERS)

Alright, my last post tackled Season 1 without spoiling anything that occurred throughout the game. It was not an easy review to write. I am using the same photo as the cover for both the spoiler-free review and this one so if you clicked on the wrong link, now is your time to click back. Now lets get into spoiling this bad boy.

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Let’s start with the narrative that weaves each play together. If you’ve played Pandemic, you know the tale. Diseases are out-breaking around the globe. Eventually one becomes incurable and the story takes off (more on that later). While I immensely enjoyed the idea of the story and campaign that Pandemic Legacy led me on, never did it seem like my choices really mattered. The story was going to progress no matter what I did (or didn’t do). Nowhere was this more apparent than September/November. But before I jump to that, lets start with the beginning of the game.

In January, a disease is rendered incurable and much more difficult to treat. This small change sets the tone of the game and honestly put my hype levels at a full 10/10. I loved the introduction of COdA-403 and the kick-off to the story. This changed our strategy immensely and it made Pandemic Legacy feel completely different from the regular Pandemic games that I had been used to playing.

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February introduced Quarantines and Relationships. I enjoyed both additions as Quarantines were a direct buffer to the COdA-403 introduction and Relationships made the characters more than just rule-breaking buffs. I will say that the rulebook could have been clearer (and maybe I should have checked the F.A.Q.) regarding some new introductions to the system, such as Relationships only being added to new characters.

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March is a wash in terms of new content. A Military Base is added, which lets characters travel between bases (if they are military themselves). The increased mobility across the board is nice (as is the additional objective) but it felt like a placeholder in comparison to the previous two months. We didn’t see the necessary value of placing military bases or making them permanent ever. The characters we stuck with did not have the military keyword (until later) so the bonus wasn’t something we prioritized.

Where March felt lackluster, April more than picked up the pace with the introduction of the Faded; populations infected by the disease that become basically brain-dead hyper-violent beings and they’re denoted by having green characters on the board (replacing the diseases cubes). They’re basically zombies. For a theme that has been all but run into the ground in the recent decades, it was very disheartening to see the game take that “twist” and run with it. What makes this weird is that when you remove a Faded figure from the board, you’re effectively killing them. If these figures are so far gone that the only way to take care of them is eradication, that’s grim but so be it. I’m mature enough to handle that type of content. HOWEVER, later in the game you find out that these Faded figures can be vaccinated and saved from their plight. This means that you’re straight up murdering civilians. Sure, they’re “zombies” but under that exterior, they are still people that can be saved. Obviously this is a game and the moral dilemma of killing people isn’t actually at stake but it just felt wrong after all is said and done. I would have rather been given the moral dilemma of whether or not to contain the outbreak by killing the infected or attempting a quarantine to save them than be forced into one decision and be told later that it was wrong. I felt the introduction of the Faded was weak and uninteresting in the grand scheme of play.

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I already voiced my displeasure of the Faded from a narrative standpoint but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the gameplay aspect of the figures hitting the board. Legacy games should be about creating memorable moments and seeing them start to pop up definitely left an imprint on our brain. As we knew the game was twelve months long, this felt like the closing act of a show before it went off the air for fall break. If this was how Legacy ended Act One, we could not wait to see what the remaining Acts brought to the table.

May introduced Roadblocks and the rule of placing a Faded figure in a city. In a two-player game, Roadblocks were a godsend and the only way we were able to successfully complete a few months (especially near the end). I could see them being incredibly overpowered in higher player count games though. The addition of placing Faded figures in cities if you draw a card matching the viruses color sucked though. It was difficult to remember and stacked the deck unfairly as the game progressed (in a two-player game).

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June felt like March as little was introduced. With the progression of the first quarter of the game, we assumed something big was in store for July.

July introduced Searching. I hated the Searching. Actually, let me rephrase that. I enjoyed the idea of the Searching mechanic but it should have been scaled for differing player counts. Two-players should not be the same requirements as four. The December scenario was nearly impossible for two-players and we went into it knowing we had two chances, so we spent one game just Searching and the other just vaccinating cities. This worked but felt cheap. The mechanic itself is a fine addition as it gives another purpose to player cards and fits the narrative that is being told by the game. I will note that I could see this mechanic being awful for groups as the card draw is so random that you may not get what you need. Thematically, this makes sense as you won’t always find what you’re looking for but as a mechanic, it’s bullshit that the game has the possibility of introducing something that you have no way of accomplishing. In a two-player game, you effectively have one player focusing solely on searching which leaves a large burden on the other player to do literally everything else.

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But…that tension of having one of us totally on their own against the horde of disease was enthralling. Months after playing this game I still remember July due to the tension and agony of the card draws. The board overflowing with cubes and Faded as we hope to pull one more card and keep the outbreak from expanding to another continent. This was a hyper-stressful month and I loved it.

August introduced another Search and the Self Sacrifice action. Up until this point, we hadn’t had any Scars added to our characters so the Self Sacrifice action was abused to ensure certain scenarios didn’t get out of hand. It felt like a cop out as the One Quiet Night card already existed (but was probably not in play if you were winning).

September introduces the twist that the military has been playing you like a fiddle. You now have to destroy military bases (if you created them in the first place) and the traitor aspect of the story. In hindsight, the twist followed formulaic movie tropes but we were blindsided by it and to be frank, I was quite pissed. It was great and definitely created a memorable moment for me and my spouse, but a character that I had developed and grown to appreciate was completely taken from me. What made it worse was that it was of no action of my own. The next two or three games I was bitter and my spouse called me out on it. I felt punished for something out of my control. I might still be bitter honestly. Easily my least favorite month.

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Bullshit.

Coupled with the objective of destroying military bases, this month became even worse as we weren’t creating them. In hindsight, we probably should have cycled through characters more often but I figured we were supposed to play one character and make them our own. I hated this month and this objective.

October has another search, this time for Patient Zero.

I said September was my least favorite month but it actually might be November. November introduces Bravo Team if you haven’t completed various tasks (mostly searches) up until this month. They essentially bail you out. The game is playing itself and you are just along for the ride. I hated this as every other month allowed you to carry over uncompleted objectives but now this was just going to happen whether you liked it or not. Granted, the game is ending in one month but so be it. Create another mechanic/story-line for players that couldn’t do what they were trying to do. Right here in November the game tells all players that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re playing well or playing poorly, Pandemic will handle it from here.

December is the crescendo of the entire campaign and all former objectives are destroyed as players need to vaccinate the Faded Cities and complete a final search. I found it weird that we let other diseases run rampant as we focused on one we had a cure for. With two-players, it took two tries to complete this month as we focused on one task each play through. This was in large part due to the searching.

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After all is said and done and the dust has settled, you’re left with a board that will look completely unique to the game you and your friend(s) just played but the narrative will be exactly the same. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 created a unique experience but it was not unique to me. I could jump into another players game today and easily be caught up as each game shares the same twists and turns. Maybe this is standard for Legacy style games (this was our first) but I’m completely letdown by this approach.

To touch on something I just mentioned, I said I could jump into another players game but in reality, you shouldn’t. You would be at such a disadvantage due to not having Relationships and Character Upgrades that you honestly would probably do more harm than good.

As for the gameplay, the mechanics were traditional Pandemic and even with the additional wrinkles being added each month, nothing was too difficult to understand or perform. We did have to reference online forums a few times when new rules were introduced just to ensure we fully understood them. I will say again that I did not enjoy the mechanic of pulling a card for a Faded city and placing a Faded figure there. It was just too much (for two-players).

I found it funny that Pandemic introduced an arbitrary scoring system at the end of the game. On one hand, I appreciate it as you couldn’t just measure your success or failure with wins and losses (as the game kept progressing regardless of how badly you did). On the other, knowing that there were values for the actions you took would have made some of our actions more pressing.

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The scores themselves don’t make any rhyme or reason. The scoring for eliminating all military bases comes out of left field. In following the narrative, they’re obviously bad and need to be removed but if you have one on the board not doing anything, it’s not something you’re going to waste precious actions on removing (when you have no incentive to). That’s a whopping eighty (80) points, which is a lot when compared to the number of points you’d lose for fallen cities or losing both months of the game. But lets buckle in for the next penalty because this one makes the military bases pale in comparison. Utilizing Bravo Team will deduct 200 points from your score. Bravo Team is forced upon players regardless of how they’re playing and typically appear due to players not being able to conduct searches, which if we remember are highly luck dependent as they focus on card draws. This weakens the game aspect and makes me think of Pandemic Legacy as more of a story-telling device, similar to the base version of Betrayal at House on the Hill.

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I shouldn’t be upset about the scoring rubric as I played the Legacy game to have an experience instead of a high score but since they went to the trouble of including one, it would have helped if it felt less like Who’s Line Is It Anyways.

Speaking of the ending, the game takes you on this epic journey (whether you enjoy the plot or not) and ends with a short paragraph commending the job you did. It felt so anti-climatic and uninspired. Where the game was building to an epic payoff it instead ended with a fizzle instead of a bang.

Shifting gears, I thought the components were poor. The main focus of the game, the cards, were constantly fraying and ripping from just basic shuffling. Our original Pandemic lasted to nearly 500 plays (I’m not kidding. When you’re broke, there’s nothing else to do) and I honestly don’t think Legacy would make it to 50. If anything, we’re taking better care of the components nowadays and our shuffling has improved but these components did not. The stickers were also constantly falling off of the board, namely the Faded City stickers. They would stick to everything but the board. The Relationship, Scar, and Upgrade stickers also had a terrible time staying on the player profiles. Maybe this was just our copy as it was purchased and then sat on the shelf several months before being played.

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Speaking of the player profiles, I have no idea what type of pen was meant to be used on them. A Sharpie and/or felt pen would wipe right off and a ball point pen would rarely write due to the surface material. For something that had players constantly writing and marking, it was frustrating that we couldn’t.

Also, what the hell were the scratch-off rewards made out of? That material got everywhere and clung to everything. I’m still having flashbacks of brushing that debris off of my surfaces.

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Now, I just wrote 2,500 words on everything I felt was wrong about the game but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. We played nineteen (19) times in six days. We couldn’t get enough. Even when the game angered me, I wanted to get right back to it to play again and unveil more of the story. I wanted an experience and Pandemic Legacy Season 1 offered me one that was unlike any other board game I have played up to this point. Over the course of nineteen games, I felt excitement, joy, wonder, frustration, stress, loss, and anger. No other game has made me feel such a wide array of emotions.

As I enjoyed base Pandemic (and the expansions), Pandemic Legacy gave me more of what I was already familiar with and enjoyed. The novelty of the game, from learning about new victory conditions to drawing a STOP card (which all but begs you to keep playing) kept me invested and interested after each play. When we finally finished the game, it felt like ending a mini-series that you were tied up in. A weight was lifted off your shoulders but you’re a little saddened to see it end.

But what I really liked was that it pushed the boundaries of board games. I am always looking for the next innovation and while other games have campaign-style mechanics, I feel like Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 helped launch the mechanic into a new tier.

My biggest concern going into the game was that playing with just two-players (and each of those players controlling only one character) would negatively impact us. While there were times we had difficulty completing a month, playing as one character each never felt like a hindrance to us (minus the Searching mechanic). In fact, I don’t know if I would enjoy playing this game with three or four as it would prolong the game in not only time played but also days between plays as you have to accommodate schedules.

As we didn’t jump around to different characters, I really got to know and feel and basically roleplay the character I chose. It created a bond that emotionally connected me to the game and while I did get pissed when my character “betrayed” us, I loved that the game was able to create that emotion.

I may have been overly harsh on Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 but I really enjoyed it and my spouse loved it. I have no doubt that she would play Season 1 again if we were to procure a copy. Playing Season 1 has opened a burning desire to play other Legacy style games and since playing this, we have dove deep into Gloomhaven and purchased/traded for others such as Risk Legacy, Seafall, First Martians, and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2. We know at least two of those are duds but really, how bad can they be?

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Pandemic Legacy is just playing Pandemic with small changes twelve to twenty-four times. If you’re fine with that, you’ll enjoy this implementation. I think it’s as simple as that. I look forward to playing the second iteration of Pandemic Legacy.

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his future wife tolerates.

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