01 March 2016
Thomas Pike travels to [redacted] trying to stop the [redacted] disease from [redacted] and [redacted]. Can he [redacted] or will he [redacted]?
Z-Man Games | Co-op | 2-4 players | 60 minutes | www.zmangames.com
If you are unfamiliar with Risk Legacy, the spin on the classic game of Risk which was the brain child of designer Rob Daviau, the Legacy concept involves, at least to the untrained eye, defacing the game as you play; adding stickers, tearing up cards and writing on the components as the new rules dictate. the idea is that these markings serve to track, annotate and augment the story of your individual game. Once you start the process, the changes are permanent and there is no going back – no ‘reset position’. Pandemic is the latest game to receive this treatment.
You’d be forgiven for finding this a strange concept on the face of it. Paying fifty odd pounds for a game and then steadily ‘ruining it’ goes a long way to undermining the excellent value proposition of board games, which usually pride themselves on providing potentially unlimited hours of repeat play for the price of taking the family to the cinema once. And it is true - you do wince the first time you are asked to rip up something you paid good money for. But trust me, put those apprehensions to one side and read on. Pandemic Legacy is a marvellous game which everyone should experience, and a product that takes board gaming to new heights.
The box promises an epic experience, and the game delivers. Iam not able to tell you exactly how it does this without revealing spoilers, but suffice to say we join the story when the world is already in chaos. Four diseases are sweeping the planet and your team of experts is on the front line. Worse yet, and this is where the plot of Legacy begins to differ from the original Pandemic, one of the diseases has shown signs that it may become resistant to any treatment.
The game is broken down into twelve playable months, starting in January. By navigating the board and taking actions on your turn, the challenge is to work together, survive the year and save humanity. This means that to complete the game will require at least 12 plays. Be honest, how many games in your collection have you played 12 times? This one, you will.
Opening the box you are greeted by a stack of files stamped ‘Top Secret’. It’s a great start to a very thematic experience. Flipping through the clear and well written rulebook you notice ominous gaps in the layout where stickers will be placed later, while some will be added to the board and others to the character cards as the story plays out. These might signify that a city has permanently descended into a state of rioting, or serve to further individualise the game’s characters. Most intriguing of all is that you get 8 black cardboard strongboxes, each about the size of a deck of cards. Some of these rattle when inspected, some don't, but you know that all of them contain something interesting which will be revealed and added to the game when the time is right. Aside from that, you have the usual pawns, disease cubes and map of the world with its cities and their connecting routes as found in the original. There has been some minor redesign to accommodate some of the new features but players of the classic edition will certainly feel at home and the game takes just a few minutes to set up – a remarkable feat for a game with such depth.
A new deck of cards, the Legacy deck, provides the narrative and drives the whole experience. You turn the cards one at a time in their pre-set order, reading them out and doing what is asked until one of the cards tells you to stop and begin the mission. You go through this process at the beginning of each month (each game), and this is how new chapters of the story and new elements of game are revealed, from new characters, to new actions, to instructions to open a secret file. What do the forbidden dossiers contain? You’ll have to play to find out, and when you do you can expect each game to last about an hour depending on how much time you spend agonising over the decisions presented therein.
A neatly thematic system of government funding replaces the adjustable difficulty setting of the original. If you do well in a mission, you obviously have things under control so your funding is cut for the following month. But if you struggle, money is thrown at you and your funds increase. This ebb and flow affects your ability before each mission to select highly useful funding cards for your player deck (called events in the original game) all of which are powerful, meaning you really feel the pinch when the budget gets cut.
What the legacy concept is essentially doing is adding a layer of light roleplaying to Pandemic. Just enough to get you hooked, to keep the game interesting every single time you tackle a new chapter. The decisions you are asked to make have a knock on effect in the next game, and different groups will make different decisions resulting in a unique experience. You’ll be keen to see what happens next and to find out how the new circumstances affect the way you will need to play in order to succeed.
For each monthly mission, you can choose which combination of personnel is best suited to the particular challenges you are facing. And of course, your characters
evolve between games. They might pick up scars along the way or form relationships with other characters which change the way they interact on the board. Characters can even die. When that happens, you rip them up. It is powerful stuff. You’ve named them and kept track of their service record; you’ve lovingly adorned them with stickers; you’ve taken heroic, game-winning actions with them. Suddenly they are gone. The fact that what you are doing will change the face of the game forever brings a dramatic gravitas that really sucks you in. Your decisions matter and that is a welcome sensation which propels this game to a new level of entertainment.
It is important to note that you can play the standard, vanilla version of Pandemic using this set, and you can do that as many times as you like before embarking on the legacy storyline and altering the components forever. I must admit I am secretly glad to have my unblemished copy of the original on the shelf, forever safe from the clutches of legacy ruin. But if you do not own a copy of Pandemic then this is the version to buy. It is the best way to play, hands down. Admittedly it takes a little commitment, but it remains remarkably accessible and hugely rewarding. Roll on Season Two.
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