Pandemic Legacy: Board Gaming and the Apocalypse

Florence writes about Pandemic Legacy, the board game.

Florence Roberts

‘It starts simply…

A virus tougher than the rest. Nothing your team can’t handle. But as January turns into February…

What results is a year that will never be forgotten.

This is no ordinary virus. This is no ordinary year. Your team will see things, live things, do things that might just save humankind from being snuffed out completely. The results of this year will be spoken in whispers for generations…

Are you prepared for Pandemic Legacy?’

No, I am not describing 2020. I am talking about one of the best games in existence. Now you may be asking who wants to play a boardgame about a world changing set of viruses during 2020? Well, you may find that this is the perfect thing for your house/hallmates to play while you are bubbled together this year. 

2020 has been a year of firsts for many people, and not in a good way. Being trapped at home, sometimes without your friends, stressing about exams and your future has not been fun. And with the start of this academic year being heavily shaped by COVID-19, there will be fewer opportunities to go out to events and meet new people as venues are capacity-restricted. One bright spot for me over the last 6 months of lockdown has been board games. And I don’t just mean things like Monopoly. There are board games out there that fit all the themes and flavours that you could ever imagine, and there are so many that even if the last board game you played was KerPlunk 5 years ago, you’d still be able to pick up a game like Pandemic Legacy and start playing straight away, helping to stave off those lockdown blues. 

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is widely regarded as one of the best board games ever made, placing 2nd on the rankings of Board Game Geek, the Tripadvisor of games. As someone who played it over the space of a year with three other friends, I can assure you that it lives up to its ranking with ease.

But what makes this board game so remarkable?

Pandemic Legacy is a legacy game, which means that it is a one-time-play through board game. But that does not mean that it is a waste of money or time as its un-replayable nature is one of the most exciting parts. You will open pages upon pages of secret dossiers, or secret boxes that will add new rules and developments to each game, whether that is the ability to add upgrades to the characters that you are using to save the world, or to completely remove cities from your board. Pandemic Legacy will force you to tear up beautifully made cards which, especially for anyone who plays board games regularly, is a mix of satisfying and horrific (but mostly satisfying. So few games will tell you to destroy components for good).

All of this means that after two or three games, your version of Pandemic Legacy, your board, will be completely unique to you. After playing the entire box, my three friends and I went to the internet to see how other people fared and were surprised to see that characters that we found to be quintessential to our playthrough were left untouched by others.

Speaking of games, you may wonder why this took me an entire year to play. It was partly because two of our players graduated and left Egham, so we could not meet up regularly. However, it is also because Pandemic Legacy will vary in its length based on the decisions you make every game. You will play anywhere between 12 and 24 games as you struggle month to month to save humanity from the brunt of a world-changing virus. Fail to achieve certain goals? Do not worry, there will be other chances to attempt them, but what effect will your failure have for future games as you add irrevocable sticker changes to your board?

For those who have played the non-legacy version of Pandemic, the core concepts are still the same. You work as a two to four person team to stop a set of viruses wreaking havoc on humanity. But this version is so much better. 

For those of you who haven’t, Pandemic is a race against time. You and your three friends play the role of the CDC tasked with researching and fighting four unknown diseases that are sweeping the planet. Characters can move around the globe, taking actions to treat infected civilians and collect cards that act both as your primary method of travel, and as your only means of discovering a cure to each of the viruses. If the diseases run too rampant and you run out of tokens to represent the world’s infected, you lose. If you take too long and run out of cards to draw, you lose. If you are in a city when it experiences an outbreak, your characters can take damage and possibly even permanently die. Pandemic takes no prisoners and Pandemic Legacy ramps that up, adding permanent upgrades to make your characters more efficient, and permanent debuffs in the form of mental and physical scars that stay with them for the rest of their career.

This board game takes you on a wild, nail-biting ride for about £50-60 at its cheapest, and is worth every penny and every second you spend on it. It comes in a red or blue edition, but these use the same internal components. This may sound like a lot for a game that you only get to play once, but between the four of you, that is less than a single night out at the SU each. One SU night and drink exchanged for months of tense, exciting adventures all over the world that will also bring you closer as a group of friends.

If you feel that with everything going on in the world right now, a game about a life-changing virus is not for you, I completely understand. COVID-19 has changed everyone and everything. But the good news is that you can play a game that is functionally the same but with a completely different, more light-hearted theme; Pandemic Legacy: Season 0. Now I have not yet played this game as it is not widely available at the moment, so I cannot tell you about my personal experiences. However, it has been described as “The best game in perhaps the most entertaining series in board games,” and after playing both Season 1 and 2 (yes, if Seasons 1 and 0 aren’t enough, you can play another, completely different Pandemic Legacy game), I cannot wait to try it.

Set during the Cold War in 1962, you and your fellow graduates join the CIA to investigate a secret Soviet bioweapon known as ‘Project MEDUSA’. All I’ve seen so far is that I get to place disguise stickers on my characters as they take on carefully constructed aliases to move throughout the world unnoticed, which was enough to make me squeal with joy. The creators have said that you do not need to have played any of the other Pandemic games to enjoy and play this game and, if the current reviews are to be believed, it is worth playing only Season 0 if you had to pick just one to try.

Basically, the whole Pandemic Legacy series quickly became some of my favourite gaming experiences ever. There is no other game that I could recommend more highly for both seasoned gamers and complete board game novices alike. And with this new world that we now live in, I could not think of a better way to get to know my hallmates a little better.

If you would like to learn more about any of the three Pandemic Legacy games in a spoiler free manner, I would recommend looking up ‘Shut Up and Sit Down’ and listening to a person who makes their living from recommending boardgames tell you why these games are worth playing.