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

As predicted in the Dead Sea Scrolls, September was a terrible month.

It was hot. It had a bloody heatwave. I had WASD coming up and our garage rebuild project was scheduled. I mean, when were we going to play Legacy?

During the heatwave, obvs. But this month… well, I think we have stuff to talk about.

ALWAYS THE SPOILERS – ALWAYS

I was anxious about September; I had got wind that something was going to happen. But what? It turned out that this month was the great inversion, the world turned upside down. I’m pretty sure some Legacy veterans have been waiting to see how Team Dance handles something we could casually dub THE SEPTEMBER INCIDENT even though it might easily end up in a later month.

There hasn’t been as big an upset in the game since the emergence of the Faded in April. In some ways we were lucky as the mechanic changes weren’t all that severe. But in other ways, Pandemic Legacy has changed irrevocably.

LAST TIME

After last month’s success, we upgraded the Medic so they could use military flights and added the unfunded event “Experimental Program” which only affects a single cube, but maybe that would be useful to avert a epidemic catastrophe like last month’s Mumbai/Chennai conflagration. To be honest, we’re really struggling to select upgrades now as most upgrades feel undercooked.

The August Win Bonus meant we could speed up any searches in this month. That’s good news, right? Right?

THIS TIME

We unfolded the board, shuffled the cards and set out the cube bowls. So, what was the big change? We flipped the next cards in the Legacy deck.

Nothing. An ominous silence.

That’s not entirely true, there was a new search, but it still felt like silence. I was surprised to discover the military base objective remained intact so we already had one objective checked off. I was genuinely surprised, expecting something like “we have enough military” or “resources are running out” so please tear up your objective card. Hmm. Curious.

The new search was for a “paranoid soldier” who was spreading conspiracy theories about the virus. The story went he was undermining public trust and had to be stopped. And it was a tricky search, having to achieve nine points to pull it off and had to be conducted in a military base in a Faded city.

My son was surprised about something else. The game pieces had suggested there were only four searches in the game (at least only four that could be conducted in parallel). We were missing two pieces of the CoDA cure but there were only two searches left. But this search had nothing to do with the cure..? And that, my dear readers, is when the penny fucking dropped.

I knew that if we found the paranoid soldier, he’d have evidence the virus was engineered and we’d get the Virus Development Files we needed for the cure. I also realised that finding him was the thing that screws us over. What twisted shit lay under the impassive grey scratch-off panel?

HIT THE GROUND RUNNING

The initial draw blessed me with the New York City card – and it had the “Field Hospital” equipment attached to it. I told everyone that if I chose the Soldier, I could rush to NY and run the search twice, as the Soldier could pull equipment cards back from the discard pile. Using the search city’s card gives you a big boost; it would rack up 8 points and with our win bonus ensuring a head start of 2 points, the search would be done.

We then debated far too long whether the Medic, now given the ability to use military flights via the Veteran upgrade, could be categorised as a military character and assist in the search. But I kept hitting a very special wall: “spoilers for after you find the paranoid soldier”. Now I was getting paranoid too. Then popped up a fragment about September being “difficult to win because the search finishes so late you don’t have time to destroy–” WELP. TIME TO STOP GOOGLING.

Let’s just go with the Soldier plan, I said.

Normally, we ran Legacy on the dining table but with sunlight bursting through the windows, the table was in the hottest room. So we retreated to the coolest room, the front room. It was a bit of a fudge, using a camping table and some small coffee tables to juggle everything we needed, but it was lovely to experience a board game there. I remember thinking: this is nice.

We started out at Buenos Aires and showed off some our classic efficient opening moves. Soldier Dad flew to Milan, used his paramilitary escort upgrade to kill off one Faded in Essen. I couldn’t finish the search in one turn, so we engineered it so that I would run the whole thing in my second turn. I was stationed at Milan but I could hop through the military base to NY next time.

Medic Boy dealt with our 3 cubers at Khartoum and Baghdad with another set of efficient moves. Then an early epidemic reared its head: Santiago. It also meant the search target was bumped up to 10. Provided we didn’t have a second epidemic in the next couple of turns – and I don’t think this is even possible – I could still carry out the search on my next turn.

Dispatcher Girl sorted out Santiago and passed the baton to Lockdown Mum who did a great job of cube cleaning and quarantining. Her forecast ability revealed nothing of note and then it was back to me.

We didn’t know, of course, that this was Soldier Dad’s final turn.

IT’S BEEN AN HONOUR

The turn had already been played out in our minds at the start of the game. I took a military flight from Milan to NY and ran two searches with the New York city card. The search was complete. We were done. And so was I.

Completing the search revealed this:

It was time to open package 6. Remember package 7 is “the cure” and package 8 is the “apocalypse box”. In some ways, package 6 is the final regular package.

Guys. It was not a regular package.

So the paranoid soldier revealed that COdA was bio-engineered and we had the documents we needed, bringing us closer to a cure. But he also revealed that it was released deliberately. And the people we were working for… were the ones who had done this.

And thus Pandemic Legacy slipped from zombie movie into conspiracy thriller territory. The documents even explained that funding was going up and down to ensure the global threat was always teetering on the edge to encourage a military expansion – and bring about a new world order.

Apparently one of the team was a major operative in this “Zodiac” conspiracy. Guess who? Legacy fingered whoever had that fabulous, attractive Paramilitary Escort upgrade. You guessed it, readers. It was ME. THE SOLDIER. I was the spy. As a result of being discovered, the soldier vanishes. The guy we gave outbreak immunity to? The guy who can pull equipment cards from the deck? No. Fucking. Way.

And that was how we lost a character in Pandemic Legacy.

Aside: I wasn’t exactly sure how I would spin the narrative of the Soldier himself revealing the information that he was the spy, other than going Manchurian Candidate.

Imagine if we had attached the Escort to the Dispatcher, which I previously explained was Big Brain play: losing the Dispatcher would have been gut-wrenching as the character is critical to our efficient turn plotting.

Anyway, Legacy still wasn’t done with sharing good news. The next horrible thing was the military base objective was torn up LIKE I HAD BEEN EXPECTING ALL ALONG. Obviously, it would no longer be the team’s goal after this revelation – but don’t fret, reader, we had a new objective.

To blow up military bases.

To sabotage a base, you have to use the base’s City card or, alternatively, a C4 equipment card; yes, this is new equipment you can nab from military bases. That actually meant it would be relatively easy to do it during this game. We could just go to a military base, C4 a City card and whoosh.

Unfortunately, with the collapse of direct flights and the shrinking number of locations where we could build a research station, we had become reliant on military bases for travel. How the Hell was this going to play out? Although every new game would see a new military base added, as the New World Order network was starting to flex its muscles without the team’s help, this was an objective that was literally “to win, please make the game harder”.

We could not help wondering: what happens in Pandemic Legacy if you never find the Paranoid Soldier? Or find them late? Will December be scored on “the number of military bases still standing”? We were no longer just fighting three diseases and the Faded – but now also the Zodiac conspiracy. Yeesh.

But I also want to say this storyline hits differently in 2023 than it would have back in 2015. Pandemic doesn’t have the monopoly on stories about bioengineering a plague to usher in a New World Order; I wrote this year about how Deus Ex’s conspiracy fever dream is uncomfortable in an age where QAnon is a significant cultural identity and people feel the urge to refute that Joe Biden has been replaced by a clone.

There are a lot of conflicting fringe theories when it comes to Covid. 5G causes Covid. Covid isn’t real. Vaccines are killing people en masse. Ivermectin is the real treatment. Covid was bioengineered in China. Covid is being played up for Big Pharma profits. Lockdowns and mask mandates were an attempt to get the population to lay down their freedom willingly. And although Legacy’s story is as thin as wet lettuce, I can’t say I’m loving the concept of “Covid Conspiracy: The Game”. But, I digress.

So, let’s summarise where I was after five turns. Destroyed: one character. Lost: my Player cards. Removed: magical Pandemic powers, as I’d become a Civilian. And the icing on the crap cake that was this turn – Essen, currently on three Faded, broke quarantine.

WELL, SHIT

It didn’t take long for the front room to heat up. I assumed it was the heat wave but it could’ve easily been anxiety. Despite the setback, we continued to do our job. Four characters against tough odds. But we felt vulnerable without a character who could deal with the Faded.

We assigned characters to cures during turn 7. Medic Boy was on black, Civil Dad was on yellow and Dispatcher Girl was playing for red. Lockdown Mum was to help contain the fire of the Faded spread. Then the second epidemic hit New York. If only we had a soldier there to deal with it. Ha ha. You bastard, game.

The following turn, Lockdown Mum was up and could see New York exploding with her foresight power, so remote quarantined it. We talked a lot about blowing up military bases now but decided that was better left to the end of the game when we had no more need for them, especially as blowing them up would be a piece of cake.

Things kept moving, but so did the Faded danger. We used the Essen Airstrike card against Essen but it felt so… minor considering the continued Faded build-up. The third epidemic descended upon Algiers and tightened the screw to three infections per turn. Dispatcher Girl did the Lord’s Dispatcher work, moving everyone around to organise cures but eventually the board was too pregnant with Faded and it gave birth to an outbreak.

St. Petersburg showered Istanbul and Moscow with Faded and rose from Panic state 2 to 3. We never, ever think about the roadblocks because we usually don’t accept outbreaks until they’re unavoidable. I feel this is a deficiency in our approach, total rule blindness when it comes to roadblocks.

But Lockdown Mum got the final black card to Medic Boy at Baghdad to complete the cure and as Black Fog didn’t need an action to be cured, the cure took effect instantly. As Medic Boy was standing in a three cube swamp at Baghdad, all of those cubes got vacuumed up immediately. And Mum turned over Baghdad in the infections – again no black cubes. I love this kind of unexpected, beautiful synchronicity.

Turns flew past and wew were still fighting for cures as the Faded competed to destabilise the board. We needed luck and Pandemic Legacy is not known for its charity. Yet, at the end of Turn 15, Dispatcher Girl picked up another red City card through the Player card draw which meant it was instantly cured earlier than expected.

Lockdown Mum took point in turn 16 and as we were closing on the final cure, the question was raised: was it time to start blowing up military bases? I was very skeptical. I could feel in my bones that another epidemic was around the corner and demanded caution. Essen and St Petersburg were both on three Faded and an incident here could wipe us out in a similar way to Mumbai and Chennai almost ended us in August. So Mum remote quarantined St Petersburg, moved to Essen and quarantined it locally. If we went another round, we’d get Dispatcher Girl to move her out before the Faded scarred her.

And that was precisely when the fourth Epidemic hit. It came down on Miami but the infections were not too bad: Shanghai, Riyadh, and New York which broke quarantine.

Civil Dad pulled together the yellow cure in turn 17. Finally, all that remained was sabotage. The big question was which ones because, you know, that evil New World Order network is still pretty useful for fixing the Pandemic. I went for Algiers. Algiers went KABOOM.

The infections were small fry and it was then down to Medic Boy to bring the game home. He travelled to New York and took out the military base there.

Victory.

HEADS HELD HIGH

A few new pieces of equipment were added to the game at the end – Riot Gear that protects against Faded scars and Parachutes that allow you to use direct flights to rioting and collapsing cities. Something we did not realise at the time: Riot Gear and Parachutes are not discarded after use! As long as you keep the equipment card in your hand, they’re always active. The Win Bonus was a 1 point search boost or adding one piece of equipment to a City card in any of the player’s hands.

But it was upgrade time. We gave the “multiple identities” upgrade, which allows a character to fly between research and military bases, to our Lockdown character. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re lined up as a second traitor, because it seems like all the nice things are there to trip you up later. We also assigned the Pilot upgrade to the Dispatcher, which means they don’t discard a card if used for a direct flight.

I think we were generally quite pleased with how things turned out. We lost the Soldier and the Faded spread. We also blew up two military bases. But we won the month first time, with a Civilian character in the mix. How things were going to play out in the final three months, we had no idea. The loss of the Soldier was significant and we now had an objective which was designed to make global travel harder.

Uncertainty hung over the future. But, for September, we could close the board with pride.

Next: October

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

8 thoughts on “The Year We Fell: September

  1. Couple of small things: you have a “make ensure” (one of my favourite revision slips), and have linked to a non-Deus Exy edition of the newsletter.

    [a little more text to discourage comment preview spoilers]

    But congratulations on the win. I wonder, how do you feel about this character destruction as a mechanic? Ripping up a card is one things, but as you alluded, the complete hands-off-the-wheel arbitrariness of it is surprising. Depending on the character who happens to complete the action, and how much you’ve invested in them, the spread of consequentiality to the development seems completely uncontrolled by the design.

    This has parallels with how video games handle story-mandated character death (or party exit). Particularly it has been interesting to see the development of how RPGs handle it – sometimes the resources invested in the character are lost forever, sometimes they’re refunded post facto. The latter seems like less of a punishment to the player, but also is something of an immersion breaker.

    But rarely does it completely threaten to make the entire game unwinnable, which seems less certain here…

  2. I have very fond feelings for the double-layered twist that is first gradually turning this health care game into a military game, then making you regret your reliance on militarization as you now have to try to undo it.

    I think the “bioengineered” and “NWO” aspects of it all didn’t stick in my mind quite as readily. I suppose those ideas weren’t quite as loaded, back in the day.

  3. Can I swear? It’s been so fecking hard finding time to sit down and think about these comments.

    CA! I had mused aloud in this series at some point about whether we would experience a forced character loss. This isn’t exactly the loss I was expecting but mechanically equivalent.

    It’s a blow but we’re becoming very sticky in our character choices. We’re playing in a particular way and it’s often important for designers to push players out of their comfort zone and develop different skills. I’m thinking back to Hoplite when I forced myself to play with throwing the spear for achievements and found a completely different game.

    I’m not against the idea in principle. What scares me with a Legacy game is that I am suspicious that game testing is hard. How many different approaches and twists and bad luck will have been run through? I think I read that someone had abandoned the game because they had four searches in the go in October.

    I think we can safely say that the years have proved that Pandemic Legacy generally works and I have faith in the remainder of the journey. Krystian Majewski told me on Mastodon they lost the Quarantine Specialist! Wow.

    Stephen! It’s weird that I feel like the terrible bearer of bad news during the game, like I’m sorry everybody, but we’re totally being shafted. But: looking back I think we all find it fascinating. Like going on a vicious, gruelling mountain hike but, after you’re home, pleased have the experience. We did that. We climbed that.

  4. Well done! September nearly broke us. The INCIDENT objective was our focus at first–you can imagine how thrilled we were to scratch off that card–and we lost the month handily. We squoze through a victory on the second try, but like your team, we’d invested heavily in Veteran status and sprinkling the surface of the earth with military bases. Now between the new requirement to blow them up, the fallen cities everywhere, and the Faded having figured out how to paddle across the Atlantic things are looking pretty desperate.

    My friend Jay was playing the Soldier in our first September game. He has asked us to stop accusing him of treason, which of course made everyone accuse him harder. Jay hands you a beer: “Any treason in this?” Jay announces he’s going to the kitchen: “Try not to treason on anything while you’re in there.” Jay leaves for the evening: “Thanks for coming over! Treason home carefully.”

  5. Steerpike, I’m not sure whether to applaud or block you for the word “squoze”. I had assumed military intervention was the only way to solve the world crisis rather than it being the problem in itself – we hadn’t given much though to what eliminating the Faded meant. To be honest, being good at Pandemic means good at abstraction and exploiting rules. I dare say we might have nuked at some point, but after the Sep revelations, we’re probably going to avoid that.

    I do wonder how this is going to proceed. Is the conspiracy going to be forced out at some point because as we head into October, some players won’t know the truth.

    I like how you took this twist and decided to levy the player with a social price.

  6. That’s reasonable. In fairness, making up words is one of my superpowers, but I never claimed to use it for good (I also stop watches and am immune to cold, but that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Justice League material? Nope)

    It struck me–only after September played out–that the carpet-yank of needing to essentially give up military transport makes sense in the larger Pandemic Legacy context. Success requires skill and teamwork, and there is a measure of luck involved as well, but more to the point, the game is designed to be HARD. We’d been lulled into wrongthink by looking at Faded growth and stuff and assuming that was its way of ramping difficulty; it never occurred to me, at least, that something “bad” might be hidden in plain sight. Indeed, I’d remarked on how our careful placement of military bases was a bacon-saving group decision. That alone should have set off alarm bells, because Pandemic Legacy doesn’t tend to give you easy avenues.

    The Dispatcher had fallen out of use in our game, but now the role is more critical than ever. Mobility is everything. With only three months left before the end of the world, I’m eager to see how it plays out. The pressure is on. One might even say we’re feeling… (wait for it…)

  7. No time to reply earlier as I was off to Essen.

    For me this was a disappointing month because, from various cues and particularly the way the game had been encouraging us to use military resources, the resolution was pretty much in the shape that I had been expecting. (Like the time I saw The Sixth Sense and worked out the Big Secret early on, so I kept waiting for the real story to start, but all I got was confirmation.)

    In terms of the actual game, because nasty suspicious me had been staying clear of the military stuff, I think we had an easier run of it than many.

    CA—in my run, I think if we’d been getting more into the role-playing aspect of the game we’d have felt this was more arbitrary, but because we play actual TTRPGs too we weren’t doing much of that.

  8. Steerpike

    Yes, we – like you – hadn’t considered the overarching game design. That Legacy is never meant to get easy, it’s meant to remain pressured, so anything that appears as the designers being nice beyond a mitigation mechanic, well, there be dragons. I had been suspicious multiple times only to be surprised that nothing turned up; the Summer months seem fairly static in my memory, waiting for another shoe to drop. But it never did.

    The searches aren’t dangerous in themselves but they are a dangerous distraction. But you *really* have to complete these searches. I think you’re absolutely shafted if they pile up in later month. I cannot imagine how terrifying the game would be with multiple searches unexecuted.

    Yet the searches aren’t that interesting. They require thought and careful character footwork, but they’re not interesting.

    Roger

    Roger, Essen is Faded territory. I’m afraid you’re not allowed to leave, it’s under quarantine.

    I was wondering what your reaction was, considering you admitted you had been suspicious of the military shift and generosity. It’s curious how suspicious I had been about various mechanics and potential changes – but the gifting of military bases hadn’t triggered anything. I had assumed that the game was going to get harder and you really needed these bases in place; I didn’t think they were asking us to set a trap for ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.