06 April 2016

Pandemic Legacy (spoiler free) boardgame review

I got Pandemic: Legacy as a gift from Caroline last weekend and we finished playing through the game today. It was a blast.

Let's start with the basics, Pandemic is a co-op game where 2-4 players try to race against time to find the cure for 4 different diseases plaguing mankind before these diseases wipe out too many people or become too widespread due to disease outbreaks.  Players take turns in moving their player characters around the globe, treating diseases, building research facilities and with some luck find the cure and eradicate diseases to prevent them from respawning on the board.

The tricky part of this is the limited "Player deck" which contains cards linked to each of the cities on the board, and there is only one card of each city and a limited number for each of the 4 strains that you must fight. To find the cure for a disease  a player must have collected 5 cards of the same color and spend them with an action to discover the cure. Players may also trade these colored city cards with each other under certain circumstances to help each other out, but these cards can also be used for quick travel to or from the city card you play.

At the end of each player turn, having played 4 actions (movement, treat disease, discover cure, trade cards, build research station) players draw 2 city cards of which they are allowed to keep a hand of 7 - discarding anything beyond that number.

Finally the active player draws 2 infection cards that tell where new disease markers appear. As soon as a city reaches 3 disease markers and for any reason is forced to apply one more disease marker the city outbreaks and spreads violently and rapidly to neighboring cities. This can cause a fatal chain reaction and as such a lot of the game revolves around damage control while trying to find the cure.

As soon as you have discovered a cure and removed all disease markers tied to the eradicated strain, the disease can no longer appear on the board and infection cards of that particular color have no effect. Curing all 4 diseases grants you victory.

The base game plays relatively fast, and is actually very fun to play even if you are only two players/characters taking part in the game. I would say that 2 player games are slightly easier than 3-4 player games for the simple reason that you don't have all the resources (city cards) spread out among several people and characters get to use their special abilities every other turn instead of every 3-4 turns.  The base game is both fun and exciting, often providing very tense situations where you think you are going to win only to lose by a slim margin - or the reverse - where you win by the smallest possible amount of margin.


Now Pandemic: Legacy is a variant on the base game with a twist. It could best be described as a onetime only playable story arc with a ton of twists, turns, character upgrades and rules and components being added as you go.

The game takes place over the course of a 12 month period, with each month divided into two halves. If you win at the start of a month you advance directly to the next month. If you lose a month on your first attempt, you play the second half. If you lose again, you move to the next month. Pandemic Legacy thus provide you with 12-24 games depending on how well you play - our particular campaign lasted 15 games. In a 2-player campaign that amounts to roughly 1-1,5 hour per game played.

The game starts out as basic Pandemic, but it soon turns out to be different. Pandemic Legacy comes with multiple "top secret" sheets filled with new rules, instructions, stickers, boxes with new gaming pieces and cards etc. At certain points during your games, sometimes even in the middle of an ongoing game you will be instructed to uncover new information or add new objectives that completely change the dynamic of what you are trying to achieve and throws you off balance.

At the same time your characters can be upgraded in between games like a "RPG light", and all new additions to the game board, cards, characters etc stay in between games and last for the rest of  the campaign! Characters can die, cards can be destroyed and other crazy stuff.

The story is something I cannot go into detail about, but it is fun and provides you with just the right amount of difficulty imo. It may not be a written masterpiece, but it is still one of the best story based experiences I've had with a boardgame and most importantly of all - it keeps you wanting to play again and again. That is quite a feat to pull off in a game such as this which uses the same board layout in every game and the same basic components and roughly the same mechanics in each game you play. It never did get boring, on the contrary it got very exciting as we progressed through the campaign and stuff changed. Having a "time limit" in terms of how many games could be played also added tension since you don't know what will happen until you have played and won/lost the final month.

Now lets talk about a couple of things that kept me worried before I started playing and the hesitant gamer may share with me when I first realized what the game is about and how it plays.

1) I was VERY skeptic about this at first, because I want my games to last forever and the idea of having everything cluttered with new info, stickers etc was hard to accept. HOWEVER - once you finish the game you will still be able to play regular Pandemic with the contents of this game. And all stickers that you add to cards and the board are removable. We cleaned out our copy of the game once we finished playing. I also saved a lot of components that I think are part of other Pandemic expansions and keep them all in a separate bag. 

Nothing prevents you from keeping the game as it is when you end the campaign, or from cleaning everything off and just play regular Pandemic or use the additional pieces with your own house rules to make variants. The most important thing however is that even if you play through the game which is supposed to be a "one time experience", you still have a fully functional base game. You don't have to throw it away!

2) Messing up rules/learning the game/trial and error

Prior to getting this game I had not played Pandemic before (now I also own the Android version of the base game). Neither had Caroline played Pandemic. What the game suggests is that you try out the basics without any campaign upgrades before starting your campaign game.

A good idea may be to watch tutorial videos or play the game in the IOS/Android app to fully grasp the rules for the base game since everything else builds on top of that. The rules are not difficult but we still managed to play some things wrong (at our disadvantage - though we still managed to win our first games).

Campaign rules are added as you go, it starts out small but towards the end you may end up with a lot of new rules and upgrades. Fortunately the rulebook comes with blank spaces that are filled up with stickers as you progress in the campaign so that all newly unlocked stuff gets explained in the rulebook. Still - sometimes you will find the wording of a rule confusing or good enough. There are spoiler free FAQ online that you might reference - the game also says that you can make up for your own wrong interpretations/plays by balancing the next game with more/less "funding" cards.

Overall the rules and grasping the game was not that difficult and we only played it wrong a couple of times and almost every time it was to our disadvantage - but at the same time we somehow managed to win most of those games. So I would not worry too much about "ruining the game with bad knowledge of the rules".

3) Is it worth it? Pandemic: Legacy costs roughly 2x the cost of what you would pay for a vanilla Pandemic game. However, considering the huge amounts of additional campaign related content I would say that it is well worth it. It's still within the mid-range price tag for a boardgame and the experience of playing the campaign  adds so much fun and excitement. Having played a 15 game campaign, where we played 15 games over the span of 5 days is also unique.  can't think of another game what I have played 15 times in a row and never anything near that much in such a short time!

It is however well worth mentioning that we had the game set up in our dining room for the duration of the campaign since there are so many parts, cards etc that it would be quite a chore to pack it up after each session.

So yeah, 15 thematic games that we had followed by "regular" pandemic with the remaining components after a finished campaign makes it well worth the money. I do recommend Pandemic: Legacy if you are into Co-op games.

Caroline added her thoughts, that the game was perhaps the most exciting during the first couple of "game months" and she felt that there was a slack where you were almost grinding certain objectives that were not that much fun. She also thought that towards the end of the game where was so much new stuff, rules and components that you ended up forgetting some rules. It's hard to think of what could have been done better or improved beyond making a couple of rules/wordings more clear.

Both of use give the game a score 8/10.


  1. I have the base game of Pandemic and a couple of expansions and I love them. I have tried the Risk Legacy game before and really liked the concept but we never ended up finishing the campaign. I played it with my brothers and we have been playing various versions of Risk together since we could read the rules (the youngest of us could barely do that when we dragged him in). Overall, we enjoyed the new rules and game pieces that came up but we simply couldn't find the time to keep coming back and finish the campaign. Pandemic is a much shorter game than Risk and I could see us being able to knock out the campaign together before real life distracted us too much. We have played perhaps 3-4 games of Pandemic through a late night before so we could certainly finish off the Pandemic Legacy campaign if we really wanted to piss our parents/girlfriends/wives off.

  2. I think the campaign system suits Pandemic better than Risk since Risk games can drag out while there is a built in "game ends" mechanic in Pandemic when you run out of city cards. I don't think we would have played through the game if it took too much time to play each session.


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