Learning to play board games is usually a single-evening affair. You may spend an evening learning the rules, and every evening thereafter you will be developing your own strategy around those rules. What enables you to develop a strategy is the fact that the game’s rules will never change. The only game that I have ever come across that subverts this is Pandemic Legacy, and as a result it is one of the most intense, engaging and enjoyable board games I have ever played.
Pandemic is a cooperative board game based around finding cures for diseases. Each player is part of a biomedical specialist team, and you work together to travel around the world, quelling the spread of diseases from city to city, and researching cures.
Pandemic Legacy changes things up by adding a campaign that is played over the course of 12-24 sessions—and given that the campaign can only be played once, I must not say anything about the plot at all. As the plot twists and turns, the rules of the game change with it. Your objectives change, your equipment changes, your characters and character classes change—characters can die, you will be instructed to tear up cards that are no longer necessary, and you will be placing game-changing stickers everywhere.
When I started playing the game with some friends, the contents of the box was enough to get me excited. The game comes with a deck of plot cards that are progressively turned over as the events of the story unfold. Additionally, the box contains a multi-page dossier with a series of panels, as well as eight numbered boxes, each of which are opened up on the game’s instruction. There’s such a delicious feeling of destruction that comes with opening, sticking, or tearing apart all of the game’s components. But there is a palpable anticipation to see what is in the next box or panel, like receiving a Christmas present and only being allowed to open the wrapping by one inch every day for a week.
The plot unfolds incredibly satisfyingly, and at a very well-thought-out pace. Rules stay in place just long enough for you to get comfortable with them, before the rug is yanked out from under your feet when the next plot card is turned over and a key objective is destroyed or a new type of gameplay token is introduced. Yet every rule change happens in sync with the game’s narrative, and makes it feel like every decision you make has a real, lasting effect on the plot.
The one downside of Pandemic Legacy is the fact that, inevitably, it is finite. After you finish the campaign, the board will be riddled with stickers, rendered useless, and may as well be thrown in the bin. If by some miracle you somehow manage to remove all of the stickers, you will technically be able to use it to play regular games of Pandemic—but by then, you will be yearning for more of the Legacy storyline. And this is why the title of the game is exciting: Season 1, laying the groundwork for other seasons to come.
If you play the game with the same group of friends—and you have to, if all of you are to keep up with the plot of the game—then it becomes the board game equivalent of sitting down with peeps to watch the next episode of your favourite television show together. Even better than that, the version of the game that you play will be completely different from that of any other group.
Even if you only get a dozen gaming sessions out of it, it will be well worth your time for the in-jokes and stories you will be able to tell from it, whether they are of victory or of a cutting feeling of betrayal. Or you could spend the same money on a holiday, like a normal person.