***MINOR SPOILERS CONTAINED IN THIS ARTICLE***
Pandemic Legacy has now been infecting the tabletop gaming population for a solid two months now, and for the largest part of that I’ve chosen to sit back and simply watch. I didn’t even stop myself from reading a few reviews that contained some spoilers. That was the level of “already-written-off” that the game had achieved around here.
I watched the popularity continue to soar, read some of the entertaining session reports and fun that people were having – and chalked it up mostly to ‘Cult of the New.’ Which is lame, anyway, because I’m a card-carrying-Cult member myself when it comes to new hotness.
My main objection to the game was the premise: (previously executed to praise in Risk: Legacy) The board will change, cards will have stickers put on them, components will be destroyed – and once you’re done playing you’ll never be able to go back through and play the game start to finish again with that copy. Pandemic Legacy is currently selling on Amazon.com for around ~$50.00, which puts it in that middle-tier of pricing for a boardgame – but still, a game that you’ll be able to play through once, and not be able to experience the true gameplay again once it’s finished.
Note that I’ve attempted to keep this article very much on the spoiler-free side of things. If you want to completely stay away from all information then it would be best to close the window out now! Most of the spoilers are related to game mechanics that are advertised about the game, however, none of the individual month spoilers are revealed.
The largest mental hurdle to get over was the simple one of: Can I justify the purchase of this kind of game when there’s a maximum of 12 plays that our group will get out of it? (Note, that losing a scenario will mean playing it again, so up to 24 plays potentially, but a loss is just a do-over so I didn’t want to count it)
In thinking about the situation, the thing that made the most immediate sense was to take a step back and objectively look to see just how many times we’ve played other games in the collection. I do a good bit of tracking gameplays on BGG, so a quick trip over there led to the following finding:
In a collection of 113 games (expansions included) there were 233 played games recorded. Dividing the plays by the amount of games comes to an embarrassing 2.06 plays of each game/expansion in the library.
Now realistically there were a ton of plays that weren’t recorded along the way. Especially from 2006 – 2012 my recording was pretty sloppy. I would estimate another ~190 plays or so in that time period. Still that is 423 plays, and comes out to 3.74 plays per game.
All this time spent thinking that replay value was so very important and the answer was pretty plainly staring right back: Most of the games in my collection haven’t been played 1/3 of the lowest amount of sessions Pandemic Legacy provides. The value equation, at least in our case, favored giving Pandemic Legacy a chance!
With the major hurdle out of the way, the only other one that remained was this: Pandemic was NEVER an engaging or challenging game for us. This one is probably a point of contention since a ton of people love the game, but our early version of it was always something that barely gave us any challenge – which is undeniably an important aspect of a cooperative game.
Now it’s entirely possible (likely, even) that we missed a rule along the way. We’ve since gone back a few times to try and play through it rule for rule and it still never gave us a suitable challenge. Especially when compared to games like Robinson Crusoe, or Space Hulk: Death Angel. Even Forbidden Island was instantly more difficult for us. This is what brings our group back to a cooperative game for the most part – the challenge.
This dilemma wasn’t one that I was able to get past before purchasing Pandemic Legacy, and was very much a situation where giving it a try was the only way to determine if the Legacy edition was enough to sway us from disinterested to love.
Once it arrived, there was a very different and excited energy we all had opening the box. Unlike most games where you can read reviews and gameplay previews to see almost every aspect, this was one we went into without knowing much aside from it being a Pandemic game. Opening up the box was a bizarre shock to see components that were hidden and would remain so until we had to reveal them, or possibly not reveal them at all!
From there, I can remember the exact point where my prior disinterest dissipated and then was replaced by something never felt before in a Pandemic game, or even most tabletop games: Attachment.
The Character Cards are just one component that is meant to be written on, sticker-ed, and in some cases even destroyed. In our first game I took on the Dispatcher. I actually thought the Dispatcher was a woman, but still went with what seemed like the most fitting gender-neutral name of: “Ape Manslaughter”. This worked out well since in the second game I looked closer and saw that it was a man. Crisis averted!!
This seemingly simple act is the perfect microcosm of just why Pandemic Legacy was something that we very quickly were excited and anxious about – our decisions mattered!
In regular Pandemic games, it’s very simply a puzzle – and in some cases it is the optimal play to let certain cities have an outbreak, or allow a disease to run wild temporarily. In Pandemic Legacy, every decision has the potential for permanent and lasting outcomes that will affect every game you play afterwards.
Even the brave Ape Manslaughter wasn’t immune – if he were to take too many scars then his character would be flat-out destroyed. Given how valuable the ability he has is, I’ve made many conscious decisions to keep him from potential harm whereas in regular Pandemic I’d gladly leave him anywhere on the board without risk of danger.
Beforehand, the thought of destroying a card or putting a sticker on the game board or manual seemed like a nightmare. It was in letting go of some of those old reservations that allowed me to enjoy the experience of a Legacy game. Now we are bright with energy and excitement at the prospect of playing again, opening more stuff, and seeing just what the next month’s journey will bring.
My problem was never with Pandemic Legacy, it was simply a problem with me, and my own perception and misconceptions. We traded in the comfort of the two-way ticket a traditional boardgame gives you, always returning and starting from the same place, and took a chance on a one-way ticket instead. None of us quite know where we will end up, and that’s a big part of what’s so lovable about Pandemic Legacy.
One thing’s for sure, though, Ape Manslaughter will be there in December. Or I’ll cry.