Pandemic Legacy Season 1 review (Spoiler Free)
Score : 10
Thrilling, evolving experience
Develops Pandemic into an even better game
Well balanced difficulty
Can only play through once (12-24 games)
This review will be entirely spoiler free. Also, please note that this review takes place around halfway through the game (having finished June).
Whilst it wasn't the first game to use the Legacy concept (where the board and game changes, permanently, as more games are played), Pandemic Legacy is certainly the highest rated. Indeed, it was, until Gloomhaven took the crown, the number 1 rated game on Board Game Geek and it's easy to see why.
Legacy takes the basic Pandemic concept (and you can play vanilla Pandemic with this set initially if you want) and improves on it in markedly. If you have played Pandemic, you will know what to expect as the core game. Pick a character with certain skills, spend your four actions travelling around the globe and treating diseases whilst trying to find a cure for the four diseases to win the game.
At the end of each of your turns you draw two city cards, hoping to avoid the epidemic cards which really escalate the diseases (turn in five city cards of the same colour at a research station to cure) before then drawing infection cards, which cause the disease cubes to be placed. If any city would gain a fourth disease cube, it outbreaks to all connected cities. Should you have too many outbreaks you lose the game. As you do if you run out of city cards. Or cubes for any one disease.
So, what are the differences with Legacy? You start in January and play through the calendar year. If you fail any month, you get a second go. Which means you are going to get between 12 and 24 plays of this. It is not really a game you can reset, although you can use the components and board to play standard Pandemic, if you ignore the stickers.
As well as the standard components, inside the box are a number of sealed doors, some sealed cards and some larger boxes. These should only be opened when instructed, which will usually occur at certain times of the year, but can be a result of other circumstances. The cards add some flavour to the story of the game. This is fairly minimal but the gaps are easily filled with your imagination. They also let you know how the situation is changing throughout the year, resulting in new rules and other spoilery things! Usually each month will see you read a handful of new cards, which instruct you which secret things to open and how the game is changing.
One of the biggest non-spoiler changes (which are known at the start of the game) are that your characters can improve, forge relationships with other characters and even now die. If a disease outbreaks with your character in that city, you gain a scar - essentially a negative character trait. Gain too many of these and that character dies. There are several characters you can change to, but the inclusion of standard civilian characters with no skills is definitely not something you want to have to utilise. However, on the positive side, at the end of each mission, surviving characters can choose an additional skill if they wish, although with a number of upgrades to choose from, and only two being gained each mission between people, this can cause some discussion.
Cities can now change too. They can potentially start with research stations, but if too many outbreaks occur in a city over the year, the city can riot or even collapse, making it difficult to travel there.
Of course, there are other major changes which occur as you play through but you are going to have to discover those for yourself as the game evolves from month to month. Difficulty is managed well via a level of funding. Succeed, and your funding is cut, meaning you can use less event cards next game. Fail, and you get two extra event cards to choose from to assist. As mentioned, you get two attempts each month, and then move on regardless of whether you succeeded or not. There is a scoring system revealed at the end of the game so there are still consequences to failing.
Overall, this is a fantastic game, with core Pandemic at the heart of the game, but some really interesting variations that develop as you play, requiring constantly adapting strategies. Finishing the month and opening a bunch of new boxes adds a layer of excitement when you eagerly crowd round to see what has been revealed.
If you don't like Pandemic, then this game is too similar to change your mind and we would suggest you steer clear. One of the most frequent criticisms of Pandemic is that a dominant or experienced player will always tell others what to do. This still exists here, but is mitigated by the game changing so it is new to everyone. If this is an issue in your group, we would suggest a rule whereby suggestions can only be made if help is requested.
As we mention at the start, we are only half way through the campaign but we would have no hesitation in recommending this game. It is an amazing experience due to the legacy experience, but of course you need to be comfortable with the lack of replayability due to this.
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Designer: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock
Number of players: 2 - 4
Play Time: 1 hour