The Year We Fell: January
The Year We Fell is a Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 game diary. The first entry was the prologue.
Do you remember what the outside world was like?
It was wonderful out there. Such happy memories. Children shooting down the street on scooters. The postie handing you a parcel with her cheeky smile as always, as if this isn’t just that boring USB cable you ordered. Electric Christmas beaming from every window.
But that was a month ago and those days are long gone. Today, those once-safe streets are a slaughterhouse because of the January cold snap – lethal ice coats the ground. One false move and it’ll be the beginning of a lengthy wait for an ambulance that might never turn up.
So let’s stay indoors and play our very first game of Pandemic Legacy instead!
If you have never played Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 and think you might in future – proceed no further. SPOILERS AHEAD, ALRIGHT. YOU BEEN WARNED, PEOPLE.
In truth, January has turned out to be a compressed month and I’d been anxious about booking time for Legacy. I knew we’d need some extra time to become familiar with the extra twists on the classic Pandemic rule set. Rules are the glue that hold a game together – but there was one rule that threatened to gum up my well-oiled planning machine.
If you fail a month in Legacy, you get a second shot at it. Nice rule, but let me translate. If we failed our first Legacy game, I’d have to find time to fit a second game in before the end of the month. Shit. Well, I guess we’d better not fail then, because none of us have got the time. One Sunday was already written off for baby girl’s Kent Cup rugby finals.
THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Every time I open a fresh new board game, I’ve got that hunger to explore the unknown within. What does the game look like? How do the pieces handle? How tall are the decks? But it’s like opening a Christmas present: once you rip off that shiny wrapping, that feeling goes with it. The contents become familiar, possibly even friendly.
But Pandemic Legacy maintains that atmosphere of anticipation throughout the campaign as it contains secrets that are not unveiled until the time is right. For example, there’s a top secret dossier which contains panels that can only be opened when you’re told to.
There are packages. To package 8 you must attach the sticker, “open this if you lose four games in a row”. Uh, Jesus Christ.
The master of mysterious ceremonies is the “Legacy deck”. It delivers the instructions, tells the story. It is the vehicle which takes the players on a journey.
ALL STORIES HAVE A BEGINNING
I explained the subtle differences between standard Pandemic and Legacy to the family then had to show everyone what the goddamn pages in the instructions looked like.
I also mentioned that if you read the instructions carefully, you will note that we will build structures other than research stations at some point…
Truth talk: I was bricking it. And this feeling wasn’t down to the laxatives I was taking. (Maybe it was a little.)
If you want to know what I saw in all the sticker spaces and mystery packages, I saw dread. How bad was this going to get? Were we going to receive twenty additional epidemic cards to shuffle into the player deck? Was there a rule sticker that said, ‘okay, now add a shit-ton more cubes to the board’? Maybe one of the packages contained a gun with the simple instruction, “Shoot another player dead. This action is permanent.”
The most dangerous part of the game was the opening. Little did I realise how fraught this would be.
The first decision. Choose four event cards to shuffle into the player deck. Just four.
We all knew the stakes. Failure would stain the game. Mistakes are irreversible. So we had to choose the best four event cards for the job. There had to be an optimal choice, right?
We were all happy with Airlift – that one was a slam dunk. Although in 99% of our games of classic Pandemic, Airlift turns up in the last three cards of the player deck. I don’t know exactly how this happens but all the evidence points to a family curse.
We’re normally fans of Government Grant as well, which will grant you a “free” research station. After that, there was dissension in the ranks. But I was thinking about the clock. We were running out of evening time. The clock is always your enemy.
We eventually settled on Remote Treatment, which would remove two cubes from a city, and Borrowed Time, which would confer two extra actions when we played the card. Yeah, we were still working through the trauma of losing the last game because we were short one action.
However, this was just the starter of a three-course meal of setup argument. It got much more serious when we had to choose characters. I’d assumed my daughter was going for the Medic – but no, she wanted the new character, the Generalist, with five actions per turn. My wife trashtalked the scientist after our last game, complaining how the scientist never really gets to use that amazing-in-theory four-card-cure ability. She settled on the Researcher who can give city cards to other players without having to be in the city matching the card.
The team assembled: Medic Boy, Researcher Mum, Dispatcher Dad and Generalist Girl.
But the most critical decision of all was yet to be taken.
No one could have foreseen the trouble this would cause.
The Legacy instructions asks you to name the characters because they want you to be invested in these people. Yeah, just choose some names. There were howls from the table. “I can’t think of anything!” I’m not going to tell you which members of the female contingent were having problems thinking up names, but I can tell you it was two of them.
The clock was on my mind. I became aggressive. You could boil my attitude down to this: “Come on, just choose your stupid name, it’s easy, but also please don’t choose a stupid name.” But I had been less than honest. See, I knew the Grand Naming Ceremony was coming so I had thought up a name hours earlier. I carried on berating them despite being a lying cheater.
- Dispatcher Dad was Robin Iwata
- Researcher Mum was Sara Denton (Deus Ex reference from wife here)
- Generalist Girl was Lola Green
- Medic Boy was Henry Phoenix
ALL STORIES HAVE A BEGINNING, AGAIN
Aha, so I had skipped the very first instruction in the game setup. It said consult the Legacy deck first. I turned the cards, wondering if the game would possibly throw a shock surprise in the first few moments. Jitters.
No, nothing. It’s fine. Nothing to worry about. Cure the four diseases. Except for one itsy bitsy detail.
No stress but, uh, if you wouldn’t mind, please be so kind as to flip the next legacy card after your second epidemic. That’s all. Just a little update.
Sure. I was fine. I wasn’t secretly bricking it or anything. We placed the “reminder token” onto the epidemic track as a token reminder.
The game started. We all tried to play it off as business as usual but it wasn’t, man. This was Pandemic Legacy. Our very gestures might destroy half the world in ways only the Legacy deck could explain. Everybody, stop gesturing. Who knows what the game is watching…
As usual, we didn’t know who should be carrying what colour on the first turn so we headed out to clean the three-cube sites which an early epidemic draw could blow up into an outbreak quickly. And we do not want outbreaks for an important reason: the long game.
The board remembers outbreaks. Each city has a “panic” state which rises every time the city experiences an outbreak; you stick the state directly onto the board. At panic level 2, any research station there is destroyed by anti-vaxxers. At panic level 5, the city has fallen. It becometh an ex-city.
Normally, we play the odds when it comes to outbreaks and often let them happen uncontained towards the end of a session because we’re trying to nail victory, but now… could we afford to let outbreaks happen? Would we feel bad if London turned into a Mad Max wasteland? Would anyone notice?
Medic Boy cleaned up the cubes in Manila and Hong Kong. We headed down to Santiago to sort out some yellow cubes. Medic Boy was then hit by a terrible realisation and the shock of it stopped him dead. Apparently, he’d been telling his friends that he’s never visited the Spanish mainland… despite the fact we visited Madrid in 2019. I thought about telling him it was okay, no one expects a Spanish inq–
As the clock ticked forward, card by card, we felt the pressure to manage the spread and head off outbreaks instead of building a cure. Then Generalist Girl pulled two red city cards in one draw and we all cheered when this happened. That’s not hyperbole, that’s what actually happened. There were cheers. She was almost ready to slam the first cure button.
You know, I was getting close too. I had four blue city cards, just one more to complete the set. And we desperately needed the blue cure – there were now quite a few blue cubes peppering on the board and it was officially getting hairy.
Oh goodie, I thought, as I turned over the second epidemic card during my turn. This was the trigger for the Legacy deck. We resolved the epidemic and then checked out the Legacy deck. What was the next card?
I found it hard to process initially. I read it out in monotone even though a turncoat faction of my brain was switching on every alarm. Uh, soooo… the largest uncured disease on the board cannot be cured. That would mean, uh, the blue cubes which I almost have a cure for, wouldn’t it Legacy? Yes, it would. Well, thank you for nothing. My awesome blue city card haul was worthless.
Hang on. Wait, wait, wait. There’s more? It’s now two actions to remove one blue cube.
Just to seal the deal, we applied our first secret dossier sticker to the board because this was a permanent change. Grand.
There was a quietness across the table. A pensive quietness rather than shock-and-awe; how were we meant to respond to this? Were we about to suffer an unstoppable sequence of outbreaks?
Pandemic Legacy then set us the first test of our mettle. Were we going to play for real? Or were we going to play like boardgame babies?
“Destroy the original objective card.”
There was some discussion that it wasn’t that important to destroy the card because it was never going to come back. We could just put it in a box somewhere and keep it. Like a much-loved pet. But I pointed out this was a test. This game desires to be hurt and we have to deal with that. Ripping up cards is how we will feel failure, change, destruction. This was our first trial.
We passed the test.
And then we put the card halves in a box and kept them like two much-loved pets.
The new objective was to cure three diseases instead of four. So while it would be harder to treat blue, perhaps we could end the game earlier?
Generalist Girl ordered up the red cure and we were partially tempted to go off the reservation and wipe the red disease from the world because of a potential bonus in it for us.
If you cure a disease in Pandemic and then remove all of its cubes from the board, the disease is considered ‘eradicated’ and can never reappear for the rest of the game. It was always a ‘nice-to-have’, something to achieve if the board was willing. But in Legacy, eradication gives you access to positive mutation upgrades at the end of the game. And they are genuinely nice to have, like making the eradicated disease easier to cure and contain in later months.
We were not sure it was worth the risk right now. But perhaps Pandemic Legacy’s early months are like Pandemic’s early game: maybe now was the time to be bold because later it would be desperate times on planet Earth. None of us, however, wanted to fail this first game, as it would cast a negative cloud over games to come. No risk taking. No being bold. No eradication.
Dispatcher Dad drew the third epidemic leaving Montreal and Essen ready to explode with blue cubes. We did our best to nibble at the cubes but they were just so gosh darn hard to remove. We were even starting to waste actions because this happened more than once: character moves into city (1 action); blue cube is removed (2 actions); stay there and do nothing with the last action. Yikes.
Dispatcher Dad was definitely doing a lot of work as the Dispatcher’s special ability is moving player pawns together, which makes it easier to exchange cards. Through our efforts, we managed to dial up the yellow cure. Things were definitely looking good for victory.
But then we had our first outbreak at Essen.
And the already cured red disease was starting to bleed across Asia. We finally used that Airlift to send Medic Boy over there. The great thing about Medic Boy is that he doesn’t need to spend actions treating the disease – just walking through the streets like Jesus is enough to cleanse the land of the cubes of a cured disease. What a lovely moment. He couldn’t get everything however and–
Boom. Montreal: another blue disease outbreak! God damn it. And a third outbreak: Beijing! Bloody red disease. Cured… but not forgotten. This felt far too reminiscent of our prologue game, when we just had the black plague left to solve. And we were getting scared: the possibility of eight outbreaks ending the game felt very real.
Generalist Girl picked up the “Remote Treatment” event, thank Christ. We immediately deployed it to clear two blue cubes as we just kept haemorrhaging actions trying to mop up these particularly sticky cubes.
But more red disease poured into Asia as we were now turning over three infection cards every turn. It was impossible to contain. The fourth epidemic struck Shanghai, spilling out even more red cubes. I guess we might have been pleased that red was easier to fix than black or blue, but we made the call to focus on getting the black cure done as soon as possible. More turns meant more infections meant more outbreaks.
With that focus we got there and teetered on the edge of victory. In the next turn, Generalist Girl would use her five actions to grab the last black city card she needed to cure the black plague. The game would close. But we still had one turn to play out before that and were saddled with one final, tricky decision. Three cities faced outbreak and the table was confident at least one of them would blow this turn. But which one? We could send Researcher Mum to deal with one of the three cities.
Atlanta. Shanghai. Hong Kong.
I put forward the suggestion of Atlanta. Atlanta is home to your starting research station. If Atlanta reaches a panic level of 2, we would lose it. We would not lose it during this game but I was thinking ahead.
However, Shanghai and Hong Kong are next door neighbours. If one of them blew, there would be a cascade outbreak and we’d get two city outbreaks. The table made the decision to cure one of these, not Atlanta. But now… which one?
Random decision time, Hong Kong.
Which, all in all, was a great decision because the cards revealed Shanghai. The table wailed in unison. Well, at least we avoided a double outbreak, but we were so close to having no extra outbreaks! The road not taken, eh?
And the game was won. Generalist Girl played out her moves and cured the third disease.
We won! We wouldn’t have to play this month again! Yay!
We earned a win bonus from the Legacy deck.
Turns out we are allowed to remove some cubes at the start of the game. Well, if there are any blue cubes on the board, you can bet your bottom dollar we’re gonna fire a few of those into space!
Further, regardless of whether you win or lose a game, you earn two permanent upgrades for future matches. There are a lot to choose from: character upgrades, adding Events to ordinary city cards, additional starting research stations and, as I mentioned before, positive disease mutations but only if you eradicate a virus.
It takes us a while, but together we decide to upgrade the medic with the ability to cure adjacent cities and make our Delhi research station permanent.
And, finally, there is sad news. As we were successful, we earned a funding reduction which is so true to life. “Y2K? What a crock.” In the next game, we can only add two event cards to the player deck.
Well, everything turned out nice again.
Later, my son reveals that he thought not that much happened in the first game. He hopes more things happen in the next game. Meanwhile, I still feel that tingle of dread.
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13 thoughts on “The Year We Fell: January”
No spoilers for future months in the comments, please!
I really should try to get my Pandemic Legacy campaign going again. Pulled the box out of my closet and it looks like the last game was a failed first attempt at September… from back in October 2020. (Overall win/loss count so far is 7:5, including one month where we failed both attempts.) That timing makes some degree of sense considering I moved out of my parents’ place a month later, but it’s not like there haven’t been opportunities since then; we literally just had a family board game night at my place last weekend. At least I’ve got plenty of time to get back into it before I have to worry about spoilers.
interested to read your experience, spoilers or no, because although ive long wanted to play pandemic legacy (despite only moderately liking the original game), ive long since concluded i will never get a chance to.
also i would absolutely fail the test, there is no way i would destroy my board game pieces, rules or no rules!
when you drew that legacy card and it pulled the cure out from under you, and them for good measure made the game harder—heh brings back fond memories of playing pathologic.…
i notice that although you had to name the characters, youre still describing everything in terms of the players. does that mean youre staying distant and detached from the characters?
i know nothing about how the game progresses, but i can make some inferences. i enjoyed this part, really looking forward to the next outbreaks, er, instalments!
@Luke I can see that we’re “meant” to lose some of these games; we tend to rely on event cards and if funding drops to zero… then again, you can make your own event cards and get upgrades? But I have no idea how the mechanics morph over the months. I have a feeling some changes will put characters in much more jeopardy than right now. Hope you get cracking with Legacy again before October.
@vfig Yeah, I was assuming there’d be some readers who knew they would never play Legacy and so read for curiosity.
When I was doing my background prep for the game, I debated with myself whether to destroy game components or preserve them. I decided I would push to tear up the cards because that physical act is meant to add something to the moment; that we would be robbing ourselves of an aspect the designers intended. But it was no easy decision, especially when ripping up an objective card did not seem to be important – although I guess it’s saying THIS AIN’T PANDEMIC as you rip up the rule-to-win from the original game.
Naming characters. So, the characters can switch between players and the game has you write down on the character cards who played them each game. So I felt it was better to write down role+person during the account. Later, we might have Dispatcher Boy and Medic Dad, for example. We haven’t decided if we will stick to the same roles. We never use the names of the characters. We didn’t feel attached to the characters or names. Not yet, at least.
Hmm I didn’t show any character cards here which are different from Pandemic. I’ll try to get into that next time, I deleted my bit about losing characters because it didn’t seem appropriate for this first game. But it’s a very real thing that characters can perish: for example, a character will be lost if they’re in a city as it falls.
Thank you for reminding me about Pathologic. *sob* when will I ever play that game
Joel: “although I guess it’s saying THIS AIN’T PANDEMIC as you rip up the rule-to-win from the original game.”
ah, i had missed that it was the same as the original objective! yes, that makes it even more symbolic.
“We never use the names of the characters. We didn’t feel attached to the characters or names. Not yet, at least.”
i figure thats why it wants you to name the characters, and use the names, to encourage that attachment (but not to actually identify with them). because just like it made you tear up a pristine board game piece, i predict it is going to kill off a character and have you tear up their priceless role too…
It’s always interesting to read about board games. I like the emphasis that seems to be placed on design, and it’s especially interesting to see how powerful the spell certain combinations of rules or mechanics can cast on people.
But I tend to steer clear of playing them myself. I’m not a graceful loser, and when it comes to co-op games I can’t resist the temptation to try and take everyone else’s go. Short games like Coup seem to be my sweet spot. They resolve quickly enough that I don’t get a chance to moan!
@vfig Exactly the same suspicion here – that we’re meant to name the characters to develop an attachment. Maybe this will happen over several games? Right now, they just feel like the same Pandemic archetypes as before. Considering the current rules, it feels fairly easy to avoid putting characters in harm’s way, but I think the rules are going to change up on us soon…
@CA We seem to have a fairly good Pandemic dynamic, where none of us dictate, although no one is actually running their moves individually – every move is through group consent. Perhaps I should touch on this more in the February writeup. Although Generalist Girl tends to takes a back seat during the game. We did have to ask her to put away her tamagochi and mobile phone during this particular match 🙂
Board game rulesets are thoroughly involving (hence, the roguelike allusion for Pandemic) although sometimes competitve games are so highly tuned for player balance, you wonder if it’s possible to break through them at all. Some of our games I’ve never developed much of a strategic feel for, such as Azul. Although perhaps it’s because we haven’t played them enough.
I’m wondering if I should take down the comment feed on the right-hand sidebar; some of these Pandemic comments are looking spoilery in their opening sentences.
That approach seems a bit like ‘throwing the rabies out with the bathwater’ to me. Ha ha, do you see.
Perhaps you could do a govt in crisis non-response cosplay and encourage us to self-regulate? With a gentle reminder here or there, I’m sure we could establish a culture of tucking our spoilers below the comment fold. I’m even happy to spearhead a government quango to provide (legally non-binding) advice to third parties on the matter – it will need funding, of course…
I enjoyed reading this, having played a few games of Pandemic but no idea what Pandemic Legacy is actually like. Will I read future installments? Will I ever play Legacy myself? Hmm…
Man I had not meant to abandon these comments so quickly. But it has been moving on from one thing to another. Pandemic article done? Time for Thinky stream. Stream done? Get editing that Side by Side episode. AND NOW CHILL. (Actually, I’m supposed to be working on Crashbook. Don’t even ask about the newsletter.)
@CA I wonder if there’s some code I can insert into WordPress that would automatically **CENSORED** comments from certain posts. Hmm…
@Shaun Sounds like you got a real dilemma. Not to worry, you’ve probably got a couple of weeks before you have to make the decision to read more or stay out of the spoiler zone.
For the last week or so the word ‘tamagochi’ has been wandering through my mind, looking for something to connect with.
Those are still a thing??!
I am afraid so, CA. Although I haven’t heard it beeping for the last few days, so maybe the latest creature has been left to starve to death in its own poop again. Tamagochi are horrifying.