The whole notion of a ‘legacy’ game must have been an improbable pitch: A game where your play distorts the board and results in cards and components being added, defaced and destroyed. It worked well enough, however, for Risk Legacy to be deemed a success. And of course it worked so much better in Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (as it was tantalisingly called) that the game still maintains its number two place in board gamers’ all-time rankings.
Like vanilla Pandemic (the non-legacy original), Pandemic Legacy Season 1 was a fully co-operative game. Players managed hands of cards, working co-operatively as a team to accomplish the tasks the game set them for each of its 12 ‘months’ and to deal with the disease outbursts that spanned the globe. You were given the option of a second run at any month in which your team failed, and the game offered compensatory sweeteners to make it easier on teams who fared badly.
Sure, there were those who still grumbled that it was unreasonable to have a board game that, by definition, had a finite life and could only be played 12–24 times (the latter only if you failed on every play). The game’s rankings show the naysayers were in a minority, however. The reality was that the game got played a lot more than other titles with theoretically unlimited potential. In an age where we are all eager to sample the shiny and new, how many of our games actually get a dozen or more plays?
So now, two years on, we have Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I guess most of us were expecting more of the same. We had been encouraged to name our Season 1 characters and even identify the relationships they had with each other, so some of us played that game almost like an RPG. Those of us who grew most fondly attached to the characters were hoping Season 2 would allow us to continue their adventures. In that, we were disappointed…
Playing Pandemic Legacy Season 2
Your team may have done fantastically well in Season 1 and you might have saved the world but, if that’s the case, Season 2 is not a continuation of your story. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is set in a world where all efforts to ameliorate the ravages of the dominant Season 1 plague were unsuccessful. Imagine if you will, a world where the Season 1 players must have done so dismally badly that they lost all 24 games. It’s also a world set apart in time from Season 1: transposed three generations into the future, so there’s no chance I’m going to be calling again on my plucky Suzy Q the Quarantine Specialist character.
Gameplay remains similar, with players drawing and managing hands of cards and with the impending ‘pandemics’ functioning as both an existential threat and game timer. Players are again selecting and developing characters, but you’re not able to carry forward characters from Season 1. Character abilities are similar to those seen previously but in all cases they are ‘nerfed’ so they are just that much weaker. There’s still a character that can use one less card to make a set, for example, but Season 2 imposes an additional cost to using this special ability.
The playing board in Pandemic Legacy Season 1 started off virtually indistinguishable from the board in the non-legacy version of the game. Because the starting point for Season 2 is a world that has been virtually wiped out by plague, the board you start off with for this game looks very different: no major land masses and just a tiny network of a few cities and floating ‘havens’ from which the players’ characters are delivering supplies.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I can’t offer much more by way of descriptive detail but you’ll find that early success in Season 2 will quickly ratchet up the difficulty in subsequent ‘months’. I don’t think there are any parks in the Season 2 world, but if there were then this game wouldn’t be a walk in one of them.
Thoughts on Pandemic Legacy Season 2
Where Pandemic Legacy Season 2 scores over its predecessor is in the strength of its underlying story arc. This is a game where you’ll find the playing map ‘widens’ as you progress but, more importantly, you’ll find an intriguing story unfurling. That greatly adds to the appeal of the game: you’ll find you’re champing at the bit to move on to the next ‘month’ just so you can piece together more of that story nagging in the background.
It’s the teasing underlying story arc that has kept my group riveted to the succession of modules in TIME Stories, and it’s what has driven our play in Pandemic Legacy Season 2 very much more so than was the case with Season 1.
That said, there are some health warnings I need to pass on about Pandemic Legacy Season 2. You’ll hear of people playing it as couples, and that’s doable, but this is a game that is definitely at its best with four players. It’s also vital that you find a team of four who are prepared to commit to the long haul (12–24 plays to see the game through all its 12 story chapter ‘months’) and who gel well together.
Like all co-op games, Pandemic Legacy Season 2 can only be as good as its players. It can be all too easy to ruin a co-operative game experience if you allow, for example, an ‘alpha player’ to boss everyone else at the table and order all their moves. I love co-operative games but my idea of purgatory is a lengthy series of board games where I have been relegated to the position of a minion merely pushing pieces at the command of another. I would be reassured only by my certainty that there must be a special circle of hell reserved for those bossy ‘alpha players’.
With the right group of players, you’ll find Pandemic Legacy Season 2 an increasingly engrossing experience. When you get to the end, you’ll be finished with it and you won’t be able to replay your copy.
Of course if you’re completely hooked, you could buy a second copy and see if that unfurls differently, but by then you’ll probably be ready for Season 3… With such a successful franchise, you always knew that a trilogy was inevitable.