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

Every year, my wife and children leave me.

They travel to Japan to spend several weeks with family, settling into a sticky, uncomfortable summer. The last time I was there was in 2015 and we’re probably due to do a proper family holiday there at some point.

The thing is, this year the Japan trip spans almost all of August and it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to stick to the August schedule for The Year We Fell. We could play after they came back in September, but September is always a maelstrom of activity and there were portents that September 2023 would be more chaotic than normal. There was only one thing for it. We had to play August in July.

On July 23, at 8pm, we rattled the Pandemic Legacy box and prepped for a new game.

REMEMBER IT’S ALL SPOILERS ALL OF THE TIME

THE AGE OF ERADICATION IS OVER

Now, there were some interesting changes, like a “self-sacrifice” move where a character can accept a scar instead of their infection draw. And August also presented a new search: the immunologist.

This search was more painful. It had to be conducted in any rioting Faded city – so no quick flights in and out – provided we pumped in Player cards matching the colour of that city. Instead of the virologist’s quarantine bonus there was a bonus equal to the number of assisting medical characters, rendering the Soldier inefficient for this job. And the target was 8 which would make for a more gruelling search and a third epidemic would cut it short.

What really sucked was Legacy jettisoning the eradication objective. I suppose it’s obvious in hindsight that our eradication game was getting better but it remained a blow. Still, as some players would have both the immunologist and virologist searches active, they had to make space on the objective table.

July’s win bonus added a brand new permanent military base wherever we wanted, bringing us just one base short of our military base goal. I fully expected this objective would be torn up in September with the addition of yet another new search. Remember from July – we had been given enough tokens to support four searches.

The board itself was a bit uncertain with no obvious focus. Four Faded cities in the initial Infections but none of them at critical level. Two yellow cities. One red. One black.

My son drew two red cards in the initial draw – and Mum had Taipei. Hmm. If we made him a Scientist, we could cure the red virus with three cards. If we started at our Taipei research station, the first action would be a card exchange between Son and Mum and red would be cured. Someone could then go to Sydney, which had the only red cube on the board, and eradicate the virus. Eradication in the first turn? That would be an incredible boon if every red card could be ignored.

But should we? Red eradication would be at the expense of the critical infections which could blow up if we turned over an epidemic. Also, where to put our shiny, new military base? It took an age to make these decisions. The military base was built at rioting New York to help with searching and our characters were Soldier Mum, Dispatcher Girl, Lockdown Dad and Sci Boy.

Soldier Mum was up first. She gave the Taipei card to Sci Boy which cured red automagically then headed to Sydney to eradicate the Crimson Fever. A bright, beautiful opening note… before the game descended into horror.

DAZED AND CONFUSED

Something went awry and it was difficult to diagnose exactly what. Over the first few turns, we spent actions on dealing with cubes, but somehow everything was expensive. Repeatedly, characters plodded across cities just to pick off a single cube. It was inefficient and felt languid. Direct flights, using City cards, were drying up as an option as the cities were gradually pivoting to panic.

On the fourth turn, the first epidemic was drawn, hitting Sao Paolo and pushing the search target up from 8 to 9. We still didn’t have a grenade belt in the game, meaning we couldn’t do that belt recycling trick yet where the Soldier blew up the Faded then pulled the card back from the discards. Still, Soldier Mum did the Lord’s work using the paramilitary escort upgrade which removed Faded as she moved from city to city.

On the seventh turn, I paused because there was no strategy. We were just stumbling around the board. Do we want to pursue the immunologist? If so, we should focus on that instead of endless cleanup. The table decided to chase the immunologist but Sci Boy was unhappy that we had left it too late, one epidemic was already behind us and there was plenty of black on the board.

As Lockdown Dad, I headed to Tokyo, a rioting Faded city, with some red cards in hand. But I could only make it to Osaka and then the second epidemic said hello. It descended on Delhi, one of our research stations, and pushed our search target to 10. Damn it.

WATCHING THE WORLD BURN

We had Sci Boy organise more cards for the search but at the expense of a Delhi outbreak – so now the research station was really in the pot. As there were fewer and fewer locations where research stations could be built, it was important to maintain existing stations. One more outbreak and the station would be gone. I looked at the cards in front of us and I could see how we completed the immunologist search. I could see it.

On the ninth turn, as the board spun out of control, Soldier Mum committed the first search at New York, getting us just two spots along the search track. Then Dispatcher Girl dispatched through me to reach Tokyo and entered two separate searches; as she was medical, this gave us 4 points in total. putting us 6 points along the track. One more epidemic and this was all over. We had sacrificed the entire game for the immunologist and it all came down to Dispatcher Girl’s Player cards: Washington, Sao Paolo. Sigh of relief.

Then I was up again and finally made it Tokyo, submitting two cards to search – one of which was Tokyo itself, giving us 4 points, which took us to 10. We had found the immunologist! Everyone was happy that we’d never have to do this again.

However, while we won the battle, we could not win the war. We knew we couldn’t complete the other objectives and chose to manage the decline. We had an opportunity to let the game finish with a black cascade, but as it would take out our Delhi research station, we elected to soldier on. The game ended on the twelfth turn when we plunged through the bottom of the Outbreak Track.

Sci Boy had one question. Where the Hell were our unfunded events? I had another question. Where the Hell were all the red Infections? Only two red cards turned up – Sydney at the start and Shanghai as the third epidemic city. This tainted the euphoria around eradicating a virus in the first turn of the game. Thanks, game. Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, the immunologist tells us they might be able to make a vaccine – but they’ll need a Gene Sequence, DNA Samples and Virus Development Records. The Virologist gave us the Sequence; we had two more pieces to go. Wait, what do you mean “Virus Development Records”?

And package 7 revealed its true colours. Like package 8, it doesn’t unlock through natural monthly progression – we only open it if the immunologist gets everything they need.

There were a ton of new upgrades, some extra equipment and two unfunded events including the Nuclear Option. It’s a one-time deal. When played, you rip up the card it was attached to. But when deployed, it destroys any chosen card in the Infection deck and the associated city instantly falls, taking any cubes or Faded with it.

And a new character was added to the roster – the Virologist! She’s only available if you found her, of course. She can remove Faded figures if she discards blue City cards in the process. You probably don’t want the Virologist and Soldier in the same game.

It was a difficult choice deciding what upgrades to choose. As eradication is not a goal any more, we thought we might never end up eradicating any of the viruses again, so chose the final red virus upgrade “Suppression” – which will allow us to remove all red cubes in a city as a single action even before we cure it. We also made the Soldier “Grizzled” which means he is now virtually scar-proof; outbreaks and Faded mean nothing to him.

GROUNDHOG DEATH

Six days later and it was time to go again. It was July 29 and no one wanted to play this game. It feels, for everyone, like a game of necessity. I wanted to work on my Talos 2 interview which was like editing sludge and everyone else had their own plans. The thing is, no one had started anything or gone anywhere. I proposed that it was the ideal time to run the game. Everyone grudgingly agreed.

I was amazed that in August we still had no cities at panic level 4 and we expected the second game of the month to be much easier. No search to do. Our Win Bonus gifted us another free military base so the military base objective would be satisfied before the game even started. All we had to do was quarantine Faded cities and assemble three cures. Still, board degradation was a real worry as movement was becoming hard. Despite preconditions being in our favour and we had never failed a month before, I didn’t count any chickens. I didn’t want to fail and I didn’t want chickens.

What did we find in the cards this time around? The yellow region was hot: ten yellow cubes. How much Faded? Hmm, not so much. A couple of zoms in Manila. This didn’t look like a Faded game. I could be wrong, but it seemed like yellow was going to be this game’s cosh.

We were quick to assign Medic, Quarantine Specialist and Dispatcher to the game. But who would be fourth? The board didn’t suggest we needed a Faded manager like the Soldier or Virologist but… could we take that risk? We deployed the Virologist because of one important reason: my daughter wanted her and making her feel like part of the team was important. Our virologist Ayeesha Gupta entered the Pandemic Legacy arena for the first time.

We made her “Friends” with the Quarantine Specialist which meant if they were together, they could read the next two Player cards. This is a fascinating power; the Player deck has a lot of control over what happens in the game. Not just in a negative way – is it an epidemic? – but in a positive way, such as what cure might you be building towards?

The four of us, Lockdown Dad, Dispatcher Boy, Medic Mum and Viral Girl, gathered together at Buenos Aires to take care of the yellow explosion. In the deck, somewhere, were two events we had added due to the previous game’s failure: Resilient Population (drop a card from the Infections) and Local Initiative (two free quarantines).

It was supposed to be a slam dunk. Get the cures and get out.

We had no idea what was coming. We couldn’t have known.

THE HAMMER RISES

The new game had a sedate pace. I went first and was sent to start quarantining Faded cities immediately and got two done. But at the end of my first turn, I had both event cards which I found highly suspicious but it seems everyone else was just fine with it. I suppose it was a good start?

While we hoped to maintain control, yellow cards continued to spill out of the Infection deck with each turn and the board turned decidedly hostile. But the real hammer blow was hidden in the cards. Waiting. Patient. Silent.

The fear of an epidemic laying waste to the yellow region disrupted our focus on objectives. Yet it held off until the fifth turn, when we were completely paranoid it was about to hit. Our reflex was to quarantine Manila which was on two Faded, but the epidemic actually came for our Taipei research station – and, remember, we wanted to save these stations at all costs. Dispatcher Boy abandoned a plan to facilitate a card exchange at Khartoum to save Taipei. Fortunately, our awesome red virus upgrade meant all three cubes could be swiped in one action.

Then we realised we had to switch cures. We had been concentrating on passing yellow cards to Medic Mum, but then found Dispatcher Boy had a sudden embarrassment of yellow riches. He now had three yellow cards and Medic Mum just two – including one he originally passed to Medic Mum on the first turn of the game!

But she was stuck doing medic duties, cleaning up vomit cubes in the yellow region, meaning she had no time to give the yellow card back. Then she picked up another yellow card, so she now had three black cards and three yellow cards. Oh for crying out loud, now they both had three yellow cards. This was very, very annoying.

Also annoying: we had no need for Faded control. Viral Girl was spending her time sorting out cubes but not doing any Faded work. All those cool skills… gone to waste.

The game felt mundane yet hard work, like a typical sesh of classic Pandemic, managing cubes and making cures. The second epidemic hit red city Ho Chi Minh in turn 8. Not a problem. Sorted. We quarantined Faded cities here and there. In turn 13, the third epidemic hit Chennai in the black region. We were too busy to deal with it, so I activated the Local Initiative card which let us throw a free quarantine onto Chennai. It broke after a couple of turns; we left it.

It’s surprising to look back over this to discover in a objective-light game that our first cure turned up in the 14th turn after reaching three infections per turn. Yellow was finally done and dusted by Dispatcher Boy. And at the end of his turn he found himself with three red City cards in his hand: such a taciturn deck. And on the 15th turn, I cured the black plague.

And then it was turn 16. It happened in turn 16.

THE HAMMER FALLS

So… we were surprised to unearth the fourth epidemic so quickly after the previous one. We did the usual, sliding a card out from the bottom of the Infection deck to find out where the epidemic hit: Mumbai. This was very concerning because Chennai and Mumbai were neighbours and now both were on three cubes.

It had only been three turns since the last epidemic, meaning just ten Infection cards were reshuffled with three to draw. More and more concerning. We never thought of it at the time, but in hindsight perhaps it would have been a good time to use that new self-sacrifice action to skip the Infection step. We drew the Infections.

Hong Kong. OK.

Mumbai. Shit.

Chennai. Oh shit.

Oh fucking shit. This could end us.

I said none of these things out loud. Especially not the ending bit. It’s rare for a board game to deliver a moment of panic so profound that it seems difficult to breathe but here it was. The table freaked out. There was only one thing to do, only one thing to do ONE THING TO DO play out the cards count the cards, count the cubes, count the fucking cost PLAY THEM OUT

This was what transpired.

We slipped a full six steps down the outbreak track in a single turn.

Our research station at Delhi was torched.

And Chennai? Chennai was fucking gone. “I was amazed that in August we still had no cities at panic level 4.” The board listens.

Somehow… we were still here.

The board was on the brink of oblivion. Two more outbreaks – game over. And there was only a single black cube left in the cube kitty beside the board. If we needed more than one cube, the game would be done.

But here is the truth: we only had to survive a single turn.

It was my turn. I started out in Baghdad and foresight revealed black city Algiers was approaching in the Infections. So my job was to get some black cubes off the board and nudge us away from disaster. I travelled to Karachi which had three cubes but was able to clean up all three in a single action as we had already cured black. I then remote quarantined San Fran – which sealed our quarantine objective. And, hell, I deployed the Essen/Airstrike at Manila just for fun… or perhaps to spite the board.

Now although Foresight revealed two of the Infections at the end of my turn, we didn’t know the third. This is what turned up: Ho Chi Minh, Algiers and Santiago. Only one black city impacted and no outbreaks. We had survived the turn.

In turn 18, Dispatcher Boy started at Johannesburg, walked to Buenos Aires, took a research flight to Taipei, took the Taipei card off Mum who was already there. He had enough red cards to conjure a cure. Victory.

I think we all needed a month off Pandemic Legacy after this.

Next: September

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6 thoughts on “The Year We Fell: August

  1. Very nice! This game does occasionally feel like Dark Souls writ in cardboard, harsh to the point of being spiteful, but when you’re able to pull off a hairsbreadth victory like the one above it can be its own reward as well. My own little group had similar problems in August. The Faded are spreading despite heroic efforts to contain them. Like you we debated going after the Virologist, but–like you–we did so in the end and I’m glad of it. Anything that helps contain the Faded is welcome.

    Judicious application of character perks has helped us, but has also painted us into some corners, as certain characters are all but necessary just to hold back the storm. This isn’t a problem until it is.

    We just finished up our September, winning it on the second try. The less said about the first attempt the better. The year is almost over, and as I look out across the plague-wracked wasteland that used to be the planet Earth I’m not sure we’re doing that much “saving.” Though people living in Greenland and Antarctica seem to be doing okay.

  2. Steerpike, as you know, Pandemic players often look at the probabilities, what feels “likely” and “unlikely”.

    We accept “likely” risks when there it’s counterproductive to react; I’m not joking when I say stopping an outbreak can lose you the whole game. We accept “unlikely” risks because their outcome will not be game-ending.

    But something went awry this month. I think the slow loss of fast travel is impacting us and getting cures together on turn 14 just feels like madness. Because it was so late, we took that risk with leaving Chennai open – it would have added more turns to the game and we were not expecting another epidemic before that point. That double-whammy of Mumbai and Chennai though, that’s something else.

    I really wish I could go back in time and remind everyone we had a self-sacrifice move. Once Mumbai turned up, we could have skipped the infections instead of taking that risk. But we didn’t even think of it.

    We’ve been quite good/lucky at stopping Faded spread but it’s harder. Four months left. I’m getting scared again. I’m even thinking that nuclear option might have to be deployed. Nothing can dismissed, nothing.

    Glad to hear your September has worked out! Gives me hope we won’t lose the month. I know what you mean about characters, though. We can’t live without the Dispatcher who is making up the shortfall of getting people around the globe fast.

  3. Have any of your characters taken scars yet? I don’t remember for sure, but if not, that seems amazing to me. (Note that I haven’t played this game myself. Maybe it’s normal!)

  4. Hi Stephen, no we haven’t taken any scars yet! I think we’ve generally decided to save the team over outbreaks. I’ve been looking at a few other diaries recently and the ones I looked at show much more damage to the board than we’ve sustained and scars.

    It was this that led me to conclude we were doing really well with not having any Panic 4 cities. Ha ha.

  5. We didn’t keep a month by month log for my playthrough and we’re getting to the point that games blend into each other in my memory. I think we had managed to avoid having any rioting Faded cities, which made this Search rather easier.

    My fellow player had played before and was giving me full control of the big decisions. I was feeling distinctly suspicious about the way the game kept offering us this free bonus of military assistance, and we ended up taking the bare minimum of it. Obviously I won’t say yet how that affected things overall, but I don’t think we ever found ourselves saying “aw, if only we had one more base”. I’m sure it helped that we were both old Pandemic hands before we started PanLeg.

  6. Interesting, Roger, that you were suspicious! I was only suspicious of the objective being torn up. I am currently writing up September, so that’s all I will say about that.

    But as we were leaning more heavily on the Dispatcher and military bases due to a slow collapse of the direct flight network, being given free military bases to help us out seemed to be just what the doctor ordered…

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