The Year We Fell is a Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 game diary. The previous entry was March.

Welcome to the Yorkshire Dales, a limestone landscape scored with claustrophobic roads. Take your time and you’ll also catch the fragrance of sheep piss gently wafting across the fields.

It is said you go on vacations to get away from it all and so perhaps we are lucky that our vacations seem to choose us. The narrow gap between the Spring and Summer school terms was the only time to go on a family holiday before October. If we were liberated from the tyranny of the academic calendar, we might not choose at all. A bit busy this week. Also next week. And the week after that?

But are you really getting away from it all? Isn’t this just the next task in the sequence? Plan holiday, pack for holiday, do holiday, undo holiday. You’ve squeezed life’s burdens into the luggage along with everything else. You always overpack.

I’d brought Pandemic Legacy to the Dales. Was I really getting away from it all?



I always pack a couple of board games for our cottage trips. It’s the only time we can have a proper sesh with Terra Mystica which usually stretches to three hours. But this year, we had to get our Pandemic Legacy game done some time during the month. Surely a Yorkshire cottage would be the ideal setting for a Legacy game.

There was one reason why it might not be. While we usually spend most of our cottage days hiking and drinking in the local scenery, there’s usually a downtime day somewhere – the eponymous rainy day, the reason board games were invented. But this time the rainy day was our very final day in the cottage. Were we going to risk tampering with the holiday memories?

“What’s your strongest memory of the Yorkshire Dales?”

“Fucking up April in Pandemic Legacy.”

But this was the hand we’d been dealt and it was time to play the cards.

You start every new month the same way by drawing the next card from the Legacy deck. It lets you know what’s different about this month and maybe throws you a few extra cards. Perhaps we’d gain a brand new character, the Politician, whose task is to obstruct the other characters. Well, this month, Legacy did precisely what I dreaded it would do.

It did nothing.

Yes, we would play exactly as we did in March… until the second epidemic. At that time we would draw another card from the Legacy deck. This was bad news. Legacy was setting us up for another gut punch, like it did in January when we were on the perfect trajectory for a blue cure. “Hey gang, guess what, blue is incurable! Shall I just burn these cards now?”

We set up the board. It was spiked with blue. Our permanent nemesis Essen, as well as New York, were plague pregnant with 3 blue cubes each. Atlanta also carried a blue cube. Initial impressions: it didn’t look yummy.

We had a discussion about the military bases. I was absolutely convinced the bases would become important so I suggested Omar, our Operations Expert, was required. The Win bonus, after all, was a military base. Surely this couldn’t be some random design choice. Still, we feel like we needed to shake our characters up a bit because we didn’t want to get too attached to a certain playstyle. After all, some of these characters were surely headed for the meat factory later in the game.

We swapped out the Dispatcher for the Researcher and became Builder Girl, Medic Dad, Lockdown Boy and Researcher Mum. A slightly different order this time because we sat in different positions around the cottage table. We chose to start in Atlanta as it was knee-deep in blue territory; it would be helpful to lay down some emergency quarantines. We dropped our free military base on St. Petersburg for the same reason: giving reasonable access to blue cubes.

Builder Girl also drew Atlanta, which doubled as the Grassroots Program unfunded event in her starting draw, which was nice. Maybe everything was going to work out after all.


The early mission was the same as always: take control of cities with three cubes and blue cubes. It kicked off with Lockdown Boy first, yet again. He threw quarantine fences around Atlanta, New York and Essen which he was able to do because he had five moves, boosted by hanging out with relative Sandra Phoenix in the first turn. I, as Medic Dad, sorted out Lima which was the other city with three cubes.

Builder Girl headed to Asia to do some cube pruning and rustled up our second military base on the board at Manila. But she drew an Epidemic card which hit Baghdad. From the Infection deck, New York was drawn but as Quarantine Boy was squatting there, the quarantine didn’t break. Thank God for small mercies. Tokyo was the other draw which pumped it up to three red cubes. Sure, it had only been three turns; but I had that nagging worry again about doing enough cure work.

It was only during her first turn that Researcher Mum realised she wasn’t Scientist Mum, meaning she was good at giving cards but not curing. It’s always nice to know everyone is on the same page. Thus, instead of harvesting cards as she had been planning, she had to execute our first card handover, passing Seoul to Builder Girl who became our designated assembler of the red cure.

After this turn, Lagos swelled to three cubes and bastard Essen broke quarantine. That meant Lockdown Boy was already getting his actions written for him especially as no one else could sit safely atop a quarantine zone like he could.

Regardless, we had plenty of heated discussion about whether he should be sent to three-cube Tokyo which was already on Panic Level 2 or to three-cube Baghdad. In the end, he remotely quarantined Baghdad and then re-quarantined Essen by hand.

Then it was back to me, Medic Dad. I dealt with three-cube Lagos, flew to Taipei and my City cards were looking good. I drew Baghdad, brilliant. I now had three black cards in hand.

But then I drew the second epidemic, which hit Bangkok. However, the infections delivered an outbreak in Tokyo, becoming our first city at Panic Level 3. We really weren’t doing a great job of looking after Grandma.

Unfortunately, we had run out of time. Now we had to find out what the Legacy deck had in store for us. What fun change was about to blow up our game?

I need to be straight with you. Until this point, we had experienced mere tremors in Pandemic’s tectonic plates. But April says the jig is up. The world teeters on the brink of chaos. Every character is in peril.

The next card revealed the dark secret in the gnarled heart of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, what it was really all about. This is the secret everyone who has played Legacy is trying to hide. Reviewers want you to hit that April revelation with innocent eyes. So I’m going to give you, my delicious readers, one more chance to turn back before you, too, learn the truth.












Naturally, COdA had mutated again. While I had been expecting a third mutation of CoDA, our blue virus, I had no idea what shape that mutation might take. According to the Legacy card, individuals struck down with CoDA began to develop “translucent” skin and experience periods of “great rage”. Legacy dubbed them the “Faded”.

That’s great, but what does it really mean? We had a crapton of dossier windows to open and the rule changes we began to unpack were frightening.

Going forward, instead of putting blue cubes down on the board, we would put down the Faded figures found inside package 3.

This meant, and it chokes me up to tell you this, that rules about cubes don’t apply to the blue virus any more. For example, we could no longer use the “Grassroots Program” card on blue cubes because there would no longer be blue cubes. Strike one.

Also, if your character starts their turn in a city with Faded, they would immediately be struck down with a scar. This was major. I knew it seemed a little too easy to avoid scars. This means if you happen to be caught with the Faded three times in one game, your character is done. Strike two.

And even more worrying was this: a city that has seen Faded becomes a Faded city and we put a sticker on the board to mark them as such. At first glance, you might think, okay, fine, blue cities are now labelled Faded cities? No, no, no. You need to think this through. If a blue city outbreaks, spreading Faded to its neighbours, it means any red, yellow and black cities infected with a Faded become Faded cities – and will produce Faded instead of their cubes for the rest of the year. Strike three. You’re fucking out.

Finally, April answers this question: what is Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 about? A zombie apocalypse.

Now, a tiny handful of readers will know that I accidentally learnt that Legacy was about zombies a few months ago. My instinctive reaction at the time: “Oh God, really, another game about zombies? What a fucking letdown.” My reaction when I read out the April rule changes? “Oh my FUCKING GOD ZOMBIES.” See, although I was spoiled on the narrative twist, I had no idea what it might mean for the rules. And hoooo boy.

While we played, the poisonous weight of these changes didn’t quite sink in. Maybe you can’t see how monstrous this is, either, so let me take you to one side and explain. It’s designed to accelerate failure.

Legacy dissuades you from hanging around Faded cities because of the mortal danger they pose thus making it more likely you won’t quarantine them; for example, Lockdown Boy is no longer safe to just sit on a city that has a Faded figure to keep a quarantine running because he’ll receive a scar every turn.

If you’re unwilling to take the character risks necessary to quarantine Faded cities, Faded figures will grow and outbreaks become more likely. Outbreaks will then spread the infection beyond the blue region, making Faded infections more numerous. And just like cubes, if you run out of Faded figures, you will lose the game.

Welcome to the Yorkshire Dales.


Like every Legacy rule change, there was immense confusion over one of the changes. What were we supposed to do with the blue cubes on the board? The rules say you remove blue cubes and replace them with Faded figures – and there are scores of forum posts on this point. You are only supposed to remove them from the cities that turn Faded. Until one of the Faded appeared, the blue cubes remained in place, which meant in this game you could still Grassroots Program their ass or have Lockdown Boy squat there keeping a quarantine warm.

But, once again, it cost us time. A lack of rule clarity is Legacy’s worst sin. Many people have fucked up their play-once-then-shred Legacy campaigns due to misinterpreting the rules in both ways – some didn’t lose a single game, others acquired PTSD.

It also turned out I was an idiot, expecting military bases to have their day. But no. Nothing happened. There was no military coup. The bases did nothing. At least we got another unfunded event added to the upgrade pool, Airstrike, which was nice – you could use it to take out one Faded figure or, if you wanted, a YouTuber bro.

But we could put it off no longer; the board glared at us with impatience. It was time to continue.

Things went fairly well, considering the emergence of a zombie contagion. Builder Girl went next, picked up a couple of red cards from the Player deck and put her within inches of having the red cure. Sneaky Essen sneaked out of the Infection deck but, with Lockdown Boy’s ass sitting on it, the quarantine there held. Researcher Mum then made sure Medic Dad had five black City cards for the black cure.

The New York quarantine then shattered. Blue cities breaking quarantine always unnerved us, but with the Faded in the picture, everyone felt a toilet trousers moment might be upon us soon. Naturally, it was time for Lockdown Boy to take the stand.

Tokyo was still sitting pretty with three noxious red cubes so Lockdown Boy used his remote quarantine power to protect grandma again. Then he travelled to New York to reimpose quarantine and stop any Faded appearing. All good. Everything was under control. He also turned over two yellow cards, bringing him to four yellows in hand. You could almost smell the yellow cure.

Then it’s my turn and I got the first cure done: the black plague was toast. Sure, Baghdad broke quarantine but victory was there for the taking. Bloody Hell, we were going to win this. Nothing could stop us now except stupidity. I tried not to smile. I didn’t want the board spotting my confidence.

Builder Girl cured the red death and then Medic Dad raised his favourite subject again: should we be working on military bases? After all, it was Builder Girl’s speciality to construct these babies for free. But Researcher Mum was very tired with this Groundhog Day discussion. She saw no utility in the bases and my question was wasting precious seconds of her life.

We played Builder Girl’s Grassroots Program to whittle down cubes on pregnant cities: Khartoum, Tokyo and Essen were all reduced from three to two cubes. Would this be the last time we saw blue cubes? I liked the blue cubes.

In the twelfth turn, we get the next epidemic. London. London is a blue city which means it becomes the first Faded city on the board. So not only did we blow up the children’s ancestral home of Tokyo, but we wiped out their real home. And just to rub it in, Legacy told us to denote it as “City Zero” with a special sticker. I can’t help wondering why. I have theories about a mad dash through Faded cities to reach London so we can finally assemble a cure for CoDA in December. I’ve seen World War Z, you know.

The table discussed the safety of moving through Faded cities. If you start your turn in a Faded city, then your character receives a scar. But it looks like you can pass through a Faded city unscathed. So we order Lockdown Boy into London to erect a quarantine and then get the fuck out. Thank God because at the end of his turn, London turned up from the Infection deck and broke the quarantine. The board was starting to slip away from us with three new infections every turn.

I propose, one more time, a military base strategy instead of an eradication strategy for our optional goal. The table is united: screw you, we should be clearing all the red cities. Fine. I know when I’m overruled. I wasn’t really trying to divert the strategy – it was a Devil’s Advocate. Sometimes I feel like my job is to force everyone to reflect on what we’re facing. If you’re knee deep in the dead, you might not be looking up at the horizon.

Builder Girl then did some cube pruning – but another epidemic exploded out of the Player deck, hitting blue San Francisco which became our second Faded city. Three monstrous figures now leaned across Silicon Valley – I suspect they were either venture capitalists or social media platform CEOs.

This was when the catastrophe happened.


It was the end of Researcher Mum’s turn.

The Infection deck took a deep breath and spat out both San Francisco and London. Instantly we had two Faded outbreaks. Every city around London went Faded. And worse, San Francisco spread the Faded to Asia. Several red cities… were no longer red.

What? How did we let this happen? Was this my fault? Had I overpowered the Yin-Yang relationship between myself and Lockdown Boy so there was now too much cure, and too little medicine?

All this note-taking was pushing me out of the decision-making process as if I was manifesting a peculiar version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – the more I observed, the less I participated. I had the sense of not being present enough. This self-flagellation was all well and good, but there was a heavy dose of ego spilling into this calculation. As if without me the game would undoubtedly end up shipwrecked on the rocks of the Infection deck.

We had been on the verge of victory but suddenly found ourselves thrust into the diseased jaws of the game, closing with every card played. We didn’t want to go out like this – to be robbed.

Lockdown Boy was next on point. His foresee ability revealed that yellow Lima and blue New York were lurking on the Infection deck: a yellow outbreak and a quarantine break. We could not see the third card that the Infection deck was going to send our way. If it was Essen, it would all be over with a Faded outbreak cascade feeding through London. But we were so, so close to winning the game.

Another big discussion followed. Lockdown Boy had the power to eradicate the red virus and cross out our secondary objective but there was an unsettling feeling that if we made the safe choice, it would be a choice to slowly haemorrhage to death. Yet, the existential danger from Essen was just too serious to ignore.

Lockdown Boy quarantined Essen remotely and hopped in and out of London to quarantine it. That was his entire turn. At least he pulled Kinshasa from the Player deck, which put the full yellow cure into his hands.

So then it was time to go through the three Infection cards. Lima exploded, New York broke quarantine and the third card was… Tokyo. The San Francisco outbreak had turned Tokyo to a Faded city, so it got its own monster figure, a kaiju to remind us how badly we had failed grandma. Well, at least it wasn’t Essen.

Then it was my turn. Being Medic meant I possessed the power to eradicate a virus with the single click of my heels – so that’s what I did. I completed that secondary objective and threw a quarantine on San Francisco with my final action. Smart readers might recall we had some of the Faded hanging out at sweet San Fran. On my next turn I would acquire a scar. We were banking on the game ending before then – Lockdown Boy was supposed to cure yellow and stop the clock.

The next move saw something a tad controversial.

Builder Girl headed for Khartoum, cleaned up some cubes and completed her turn. Bangkok and Jakarta turned up in the infections which was joyous, because red had been eradicated. Nullified Infection cards are the freaking best. But only after the turn had played out did Lockdown Boy notice that Researcher Mum could reach Khartoum in her turn instead, so Builder Girl could have done something else.

The thing is, Lockdown Boy had been sick just after we arrived in the Yorkshire Dales and he still wasn’t right. He hadn’t been following the game as closely as he usually did. And there was this appeal that he would have said something if he had been at full power.

Normally I wouldn’t undo a previous move in such a substantial way. We made the decision to switch her move to cleaning Lagos instead of Khartoum – which had also been at three cubes – because it had no material impact on the game. This still left me uncomfortable because it’s a sacrosanct rule: no rewind and redo. And if Lagos or Khartoum had popped out of the Infection deck at the end of Builder Girl’s turn, we wouldn’t have been able to undo it. So surely there was an element of repairing the past with the knowledge of the future here?

Let’s move on.

Researcher Mum cleared out Khartoum. She didn’t draw the final Epidemic card – thank God. Lockdown Boy cured the yellow virus and ended the game. Done.

It was only now we realised that Essen had never turned up. Turns out it was in the discard pile all along. We just hadn’t noticed it was there. Oh.


There isn’t much you can do to stop blue cities turning Faded, but it was a big deal that we’d already lost some non-blue cities to the Faded: Manila, Tokyo and Los Angeles. There were also five outbreaks in the game. It wasn’t pretty.

All that was left to sort out were bonuses and upgrades. The Win Bonus for May would allow us to remove a Faded figure at the start of the game. For upgrades, we chose another disease upgrade because you can only get them after eradications, which might become harder to pull off down the line. Going forward, we could cure the red virus without using an action.

We considered the Grizzled character upgrade as we had interpreted that as “scar immunity” except we were quite, quite wrong. It stops characters being scarred if they are present during an outbreak – not if they stay overnight at L’Hotel Faded. So we settled on the new unfunded event Airstrike. And guess which card we put it on… that motherfucker Essen.

Four months down, eight to go. It’s going to get worse, isn’t it?

Next: May

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16 thoughts on “The Year We Fell: April

  1. Oh, my. I had to stop reading at the spoiler warning. I’m uncertain I’ll ever actually play Pandemic Legacy, but you never know! Best of luck with the rest of the game…

  2. I look forward to reading these write ups every month–this is such a fascinating series and I love how you write about your whole family and your experience through this crazy game.

  3. Ha, Shaun, I thought no one would take that warning seriously. I’m losing readers every month I guess watch out for any comment responses hitting your inbox, or just end the comment subscription to this post.

    Gwen, thanks. I always hope to put more family detail in but there’s usually so much mechanics meat to cover, that the article is already long by that point.

  4. Joe, I thought about not taking it seriously, but after playing a game of scroll chicken I blinked and swerved. 😀

  5. i happily read the spoilery bits, and honestly? kinda makes me glad i never played this. i wouldve been deeply annoyed at the game becoming that while i was playing.

  6. Andy – just curious, do you mean the narrative swerve or the rule changes? Or both?

    I imagine you mean the former. I think I’m over the grumpy shock about where the storyline has gone, it doesn’t bother me as much as when I was first learned about it (months ago).

  7. yeah, i only meant the narrative swerve. its just not the, uh, genre? that i associated with Pandemic. feels unserious.

  8. Without being even more spoilery, I would say from the perspective of having finished PLS1 that it still felt like Pandemic all the way to the end, not a shift into Strategic Zombicide or something.

    (I also have some significant problems with PLS1 taken as a whole, but that can wait until we’ve got to the end. Certainly you’re not feeling the same way friend + I were at this point, possibly because we were expecting some kind of rule changes.)

  9. Interesting. Vfig – I guess that’s a good summary of how I felt about the narrative twist, that feeling of “is this really Pandemic”.

    Roger, I’ll guess we’ll get into those problems down the line. I don’t know what to expect – things look bleak right now but I’ve no idea if next month will give us new tools or let us flounder with the new situation for one month.

    I’m curious about what you mean about expected rule changes because it feels like there are a lot of changes? Or is this a weird spoiler somehow?

  10. Yo, the link in the header goes to February instead of March!

    Is there a tag for the whole series? I might want to recommend it to someone.

  11. I’ll put it a different way. We knew going in that rules changes would be things that happened (all those blank spaces in the book), and N and I are both fairly experienced gamers who also tend to value theme and feel over mechanics, so when the Faded cities rules changes came along they didn’t seem disconcerting to us the way they seem to have been to your group – our feeling was more “ooh, that’s interesting”.

  12. Ohhhh gotcha, Roger.

    The new changes seem to make it much harder to stop outbreaks and keep our characters safe. But maybe we’re just due an expectations adjustment. I remember in Jan, we’d do anything to stop an outbreak – now it’s an acceptable risk.

    But since this game (which was three weeks ago) I’ve been mulling over what strategies are possible in this new world. I have a few ideas. Only a few.

  13. Also I’m pretty mad there was some screw-up with the WordPress editor – I think I edited the post in two different tabs at the same time – and a lot of grammatical/typo edits were lost. I fix them whenever I see them for the second time.

  14. Have to agree with vfig that I would have found this reveal deflating – I don’t play many board games, but even so I’ve had my fill of zomibicide (two sessions), and I find the undead ennui brought about by total saturation in computer games circa 2007-2017 definitely transfers to other media. I also agree that it doesn’t feel a great thematic fit for Pandemic, even though as Roger suggests, it seems like it extends the rules fairly straightfowardly.

    How are you feeling about the relentlessly cranking up of the challenge? Am I detecting a bit of ‘oh, fuck this for a game of scientists’ exasperation creeping in as more un-pulled punches fly out of the box? No judgement, I suspect I’d have been done by the second month 🙂

  15. That ennui you refer to CA, is precisely the reason for my own reaction. The tiring obsession that videogames had with the genre literally drained the life from it, which is ironic, right?

    I disagree regarding thematic fit. Many modern zombie tales are contagion stories at heart, so when I learnt the Zecret of Pandemic Legacy, a small lightbulb that went on: of course that’s the direction an “epic” Pandemic would go. I guess I’m just a little disappointed that it took a hard lurch into fantasy/horror like Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu – although we’re really only at the beginning of the journey.

    The rules changes are fascinating although they’re really upping the mental trauma. Thing is, I went into this with eyes fully open. Pandemic isn’t my favourite game, because I find it exhausting, so I knew what Legacy was going to be like. This was never going to be a cakewalk but I am impressed we’ve got through four months with only one lost game. I don’t consider this as a forecast of the future for all sorts of reasons.

    Are we exasperated by how brutal it is? Now I started talking to the family about what they felt about it in the last week… and the answer to that is a little more complex than I had presumed. I’d already decided to layer this into the May episode. We haven’t attempted a May run yet so knowing my luck you’ll get the answer on May 31, 23:59.

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