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Subject: What I liked and what I didn't (a spoiler-free review) rss

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Remy Gibson
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We just finished our 18th and final game of Pandemic Legacy a little while ago, and I decided to set down some of my thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind. (Note: I'm not going to go over the rules or concept of the game here.) This is spoiler-free, but will reference concepts that are mentioned in the rulebook.

WHAT I LIKED

Novelty. From early in the first game all the way into the last game, there are new things being constantly introduced into the game. When a game is finished and that "STOP" card is waiting to launch the next game, we found it to be an almost-irresistible draw, an incentive to get into the next game as soon as possible. Essentially, this game is packaged with numerous mini-expansions that are peppered in throughout your play.

Experience. I have never really played a role-playing game, but I expect that the feeling this game generates is similar to that. Because of the narrative structure that builds from one month to the next -- and particularly because of the permanence that is built in to the game -- opportunities for memorable experiences are generated. We started our campaign on November 15, 2015, and finished on January 30, 2016 (almost eleven weeks from start to finish). Yet I can still distinctly remember events from the game month of January, April, July ... really from the entire length of the campaign. It is true that these moments occur in other board games; their appearance in Pandemic Legacy is sustained and repeated.

Furthermore, with each player able to take on an actual named character, one who can be upgraded and even lost as the campaign progresses, there is much opportunity to identify on some level with "your" character, a nice touch that isn't present in regular Pandemic.

Pandemic. Ultimately, despite any additional changes layered onto the system, you won't ever be confused about the fact that you are playing Pandemic. And Pandemic is a great game, a great base on which to build this sort of sustained campaign system. If one is not a fan of Pandemic, I suspect that in many cases one won't be a fan of Pandemic Legacy, either (depending, of course, on one's reasons for disliking the original).

On the whole, I rather enjoyed our 18 plays of Pandemic Legacy. It was an exciting set of games, something for all of us -- I played with my wife and 14-year-old son -- to look forward to. That doesn't mean, however, that it is without its flaws.


WHAT I DIDN'T

Finality. This is perhaps a silly thing to complain about, but it is real nonetheless. Upon finishing our final game, I took a deep breath, looked around, and thought, "Now what?" While it's true that there are only about a dozen games I've ever played 20 times or more, I was still left thinking that this is a game I will never be able to play again. Which, of course, is not dissimilar from plenty of movies and books that I also wish I had more of; it's just not something that I'm familiar with from a board game.

Uneven difficulty. There were a couple of times in the game when we cruised to easy wins ... and there were a few times when we labored under impossible conditions to try to eke out a win, only to watch things continue to spiral out of control. This is obviously a function of the legacy system combined with the Pandemic system. There are certainly times when playing the original Pandemic that the randomness of the decks just stacks things against you. In addition, to try to keep the difficulty of the legacy piece at a progressive pace for the thousands of people who will be playing this game is a difficult task, one the designers clearly worked hard to address. Yet, if more than a quarter of the games played have either no real pressure or, alternately, no real hope, then improvement could likely be made in this area.

Oppressive difficulty. A related, but different, issue with the difficulty is what happens if you string together a series of losses. There was a point in the year where both my wife and I had lost the fun of the game; it had just become an exercise in frustration. That should never happen in a game like this. We knew exactly at what point in a previous game we -- okay, I -- had made a serious mistake, but there wasn't much we could do about it except suffer. I have compared our results to those of others who have finished the game, and we were still probably performing about average ... which makes me shudder for those who are performing below average.

Complication. It's not a spoiler to say that the game becomes more complicated as you play. Page 3 of the rulebook states that the five dossiers contain stickers and cards that are to be used "in future games", and the rulebook itself has space allotted for dozens of "rule stickers" ... all things that are going to add to the complication level of the game. On BoardGameGeek's weight scale for games, I'd probably rate Pandemic a 2; Pandemic Legacy would ultimately get a 3. There were times when this was not a good thing. After all, there's a reason I've stayed away from the more recent expansions for the original game -- to avoid adding additional complexity. (This is the same reason I've never tried to move my group up to other versions of Ticket to Ride.)

Repetition. My biggest complaint is what I perceive to be the great missed opportunity in this game: repeating a month for the second time. This is the part of the review that I'm most concerned about having "spoilers", but here are some quotes from the rules on page 3. First, under "Game Months": "If you fail, ... start a new game with the current set of rules and objectives for the month you just lost." Next, from "The Legacy Deck": "This card [the STOP card] will tell you when to continue drawing from the deck, which might be ... at the start of the next month. ... Even if you repeat a month, do not put Legacy cards back."

When forced to play a month for a second time (due to losing the first time through), the pros of the game tend to evaporate while the cons of the game tend to be exacerbated. In other words, the novelty is gone and the experience is diminished, while the difficulty (if present) can become even more frustrating. And ultimately, you may find yourself asking the same question that I did: Why do we ever have to play a month twice?

The primary answer to that question, I think, is that multiple plays are one of the balancing mechanisms of the game. If you lose the first play of the month, giving you a second crack at it will enable better progression, whereas if you were pushed along to the next month win or lose, losing groups would probably fall farther and farther behind groups that are performing well, once again exacerbating the possible frustrations of the game.

A secondary answer to that question is likely related to the length of the game. If everybody was pushed forward automatically, the game in its current incarnation would only be 12 games long, thereby further inciting complaints about its short shelf life. However, if the game were lengthened to 18 or 24 automatic games ... well, that would be 50-100% more work creating content for the game.

Perhaps (I hope) this "replay" mechanism was part of what needed to happen in order to get the product to market in the shortest turnaround time possible. The first post in the Pandemic Legacy forums here on BGG is from July 2, 2014, with the game being released on October 5, 2015. Meanwhile, SeaFall (another Rob Daviau legacy game) had its first post on September 23, 2013, and isn't expected to be released until later this year. Ever since Pandemic Legacy was announced, I have suspected that it has sucked Rob's attention away from SeaFall, and the difference between 15 months between announcement and release for Pandemic Legacy compared with the likely 34-36 months that SeaFall will see seems to support that. Additionally, though, it seems to support that Pandemic Legacy's development time was quite short, perhaps because of the publisher's desire to hit that Essen/worldwide release date. And, if so, perhaps this soft range of 12-24 games was part of the trade-off.

But it was only in the second game we played that I felt the disappointment of the "replay" mechanism. After all the excitement rolled into the first game -- which we lost -- once I realized that the second game was going to be exactly like the first (no new stuff), it kind of took the wind out of my sails. So each time we started a new month, it was my strong desire to win -- not only because a gamer always wants to win, but to avoid having to slog through the same month again. So my humble recommendation for, say, Season 2 would be: Always have fresh material for each game.


BOTTOM LINE

I have yet to rate this game, but I would probably give it a 9. Despite the fact that the cons have outweighed the pros in this review, Pandemic Legacy is really an excellent game. The way the game establishes a permanence that carries over from one game to the next is outstanding. If you are a fan of Pandemic, you should play Pandemic Legacy.

Highly recommended.


Edit: Changed title of review and subheadings from "pros" and "cons" to what they are now.
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Clive Jones

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Re: Another spoiler-free Pandemic Legacy review
Personally, I very much liked being able to have another go at a month if we lost the first time. It felt like "unfinished business", and I generally reckoned either we'd been unlucky or I could see what to do differently.

I think the other people in my group felt similarly.

We'd only have found "having" to play again burdensome if we'd felt the month was hopeless and we were going to lose again. Doing it and winning doesn't feel like a repetition of doing it and losing.


Also, hey, playing a month of Pandemic Legacy again is no more repetitive than playing Pandemic twice, in any case. (-8
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Adam Daulton
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Re: What I liked and what I didn't
Thanks for the well thought out review. We pounded through our games, finishing in about 6 weeks. I think my only complaint is that with two players it seemed too easy. We only lost once, the first month (my wife had never played Pandemic). However when we played with 3 or more players we finished something like 3-5. Still, really glad a bought it, and I look forward to the next Legacy installment.
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Noble Knave
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Re: What I liked and what I didn't
Nice review. One thing I strongly disagree with is that replaying a month is identical. It's not. You will always have two more permanent upgrades AND two more Funded Events, both of which should have a noticable impact and make it easier to win the replay. Also, it's possible that you'll achieve certain Legacy deck effects in one game that dramatically alter the replay. There are numerous opportunities for that, from the very first game.

My group is in November and I think your first Con (no additional plays) is one that will soon bother me. Ending up with a uniquely playable game at campaign's end was a big draw for Risk Legacy, and I think could have been done for this game too. I wonder if it was in part a move to drive additional sales...

Finally, I playtested Seafall and think it'll be great. I really want to know how both it and PL will end
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Gamer D

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One small point on the Finality section, you can play the game, just not usually with the same copy. I'm already on my second playthrough with a second copy one of my group and I pitched in for. Aside from having to buy the game again there is no game mechanical reason you can't play Season 1 again, in fact I'm having basically as much fun the second time around.

For an example of a game that actually isn't replayable as a practical matter look at TIME Stories. Once you play through Asylum you have absolutely no reason to play through it again since you already know all the answers to all the puzzles. Personally I played through it once and helped handle dealing out cards and tokens for my other two groups when they played it, and watching them play was fun to see if they hit the same pitfalls I did, etc, but there was no way I would play through that adventure again, whereas with Pandemic Legacy I am very happy playing through a second time and after that maybe even one more time with my third gaming group.

I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough, you just have to be willing to buy it again or take efforts to keep the game in replayable condition.
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Ben Kyo
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dugman wrote:
... whereas with Pandemic Legacy I am very happy playing through a second time and after that maybe even one more time with my third gaming group.

I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough, you just have to be willing to buy it again or take efforts to keep the game in replayable condition.


I disagree.

Knowing what you know, there are so many things you can do to game the upgrade system and plan for new rules that you know are incoming. There's no way the second playthrough can work anywhere near as well as the first. If playing with new players you'd have to take a backseat and let other people make most of the crucial decisions (i.e., all the pre-game decisions), otherwise both you and they will know that your input is coloured by your knowledge of what is coming.

It's a one-shot. Unfortunately I can't go into more detail than the generalities above, because this is labelled a spoiler-free review, but I really don't understand how anyone would go about presenting a counter-argument.
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Gamer D

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Benkyo wrote:
dugman wrote:
... whereas with Pandemic Legacy I am very happy playing through a second time and after that maybe even one more time with my third gaming group.

I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough, you just have to be willing to buy it again or take efforts to keep the game in replayable condition.


I disagree.

Knowing what you know, there are so many things you can do to game the upgrade system and plan for new rules that you know are incoming. There's no way the second playthrough can work anywhere near as well as the first. If playing with new players you'd have to take a backseat and let other people make most of the crucial decisions (i.e., all the pre-game decisions), otherwise both you and they will know that your input is coloured by your knowledge of what is coming.

It's a one-shot. Unfortunately I can't go into more detail than the generalities above, because this is labelled a spoiler-free review, but I really don't understand how anyone would go about presenting a counter-argument.


Well considering I'm actually on my second playthrough and having as much fun, I think I'll trust my opinion and not yours.
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Ben Kyo
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dugman wrote:
I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough ...

Benkyo wrote:
I disagree. (Reasons)

Quote:
Well considering I'm actually on my second playthrough and having as much fun, I think I'll trust my opinion and not yours.

There is a massive difference between your claims in your first post and your second. You claimed that people saying they wouldn't want to replay Pandemic Legacy is "not true", and that the game holds up fine for a second replay.

Of course I'm not going to argue about whether or not you are enjoying your experience.
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Gamer D

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Benkyo wrote:
dugman wrote:
I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough ...

Benkyo wrote:
I disagree. (Reasons)

Quote:
Well considering I'm actually on my second playthrough and having as much fun, I think I'll trust my opinion and not yours.

There is a massive difference between your claims in your first post and your second. You claimed that people saying they wouldn't want to replay Pandemic Legacy is "not true", and that the game holds up fine for a second replay.

Of course I'm not going to argue about whether or not you are enjoying your experience.


What are you talking about? I only posted once prior to replying to you. And yes, I am still saying the game holds up fine for a second replay, I never said anything to the contrary.
 
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Peter Thur
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Benkyo wrote:

It's a one-shot. Unfortunately I can't go into more detail than the generalities above, because this is labelled a spoiler-free review, but I really don't understand how anyone would go about presenting a counter-argument.


Even if you know all the events happening during the year, you won't be able to re-stage a second campaign like the first one. Diseases and outbreaks will happen differently with months more difficult or easier than in the first playthrough. That may lead an experienced player in other directions, making the second campaign almost as enjoyable as the first one.
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Benkyo wrote:


I disagree.

Knowing what you know, there are so many things you can do to game the upgrade system and plan for new rules that you know are incoming. There's no way the second playthrough can work anywhere near as well as the first. If playing with new players you'd have to take a backseat and let other people make most of the crucial decisions (i.e., all the pre-game decisions), otherwise both you and they will know that your input is coloured by your knowledge of what is coming.

It's a one-shot. Unfortunately I can't go into more detail than the generalities above, because this is labelled a spoiler-free review, but I really don't understand how anyone would go about presenting a counter-argument.


Pandemic Legacy can be replayed if you buy another copy. Yes, you'll know what's coming up, and can somewhat plan for it, but each individual game will present its own challenges, much like an individual game of Pandemic.

Compare this to TIME Stories or Sherlock Holmes, which literally has no replay value once you solve it
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Slyght wrote:
Pandemic Legacy can be replayed if you buy another copy. Yes, you'll know what's coming up, and can somewhat plan for it, but each individual game will present its own challenges, much like an individual game of Pandemic.

Compare this to TIME Stories or Sherlock Holmes, which literally has no replay value once you solve it


Part of this is also a matter of time scale. I think if the average gamer waits to replay for year(s), they'll likely forget most of the details, even if they remember the broad arc of the story. I agree that "solvable" games have pretty much no replay value while you remember the solution.

Pandemic Legacy is replayable as a new campaign, but it'll be a very different experience. I liken it to watching movies with plot twists multiple times. I enjoy Christopher Nolan films and have rewatched several of them, but they're different experiences after the first time. I often enjoy them more on later runs.

I also think that Pandemic Legacy could be a very different experience if you run different characters, upgrades, strategies, etc. Sure, you'll "know" to avoid certain pitfalls, but that gives you an opportunity to run weaker characters/combos or even throw in a dreaded 6th epidemic.
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Clive Jones

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I very much enjoyed Pandemic Legacy, but 18 games of Pandemic over a few weeks was enough. I'm not interested in more Pandemic Legacy, nor necessarily any other flavour of Pandemic for a bit.

It's entirely possible I'll be wanting more Pandemic Legacy before Season 2 is available. If so, I'd quite like to play Season 1 again, with other people who've played it before. It will lose the impact of the surprises, but I'd be interested to see how much better we can do if we know what's coming. I imagine it will be fun second time round. A different kind of fun, not as fun as first time, but fun.
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Will Fletcher
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thenobleknave wrote:
or even throw in a dreaded 6th epidemic.


I'm planning on doing exactly this when I finish my first playthrough! I think the game will be even more interesting with more losses (only 1 so far and we're 2/3 done). Maybe we'll get to see what's in box 8.
 
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Slyght wrote:
each individual game will present its own challenges, much like an individual game of Pandemic.

Or doesn't. Much like an individual game of Pandemic.
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Benkyo wrote:
dugman wrote:
... whereas with Pandemic Legacy I am very happy playing through a second time and after that maybe even one more time with my third gaming group.

I just wanted to clarify that since I see people occasionally post about how you "can't replay" or "wouldn't want to replay" Pandemic Legacy and that's not true. The game holds up fine on a second playthrough, you just have to be willing to buy it again or take efforts to keep the game in replayable condition.


I disagree.

Knowing what you know, there are so many things you can do to game the upgrade system and plan for new rules that you know are incoming. There's no way the second playthrough can work anywhere near as well as the first. If playing with new players you'd have to take a backseat and let other people make most of the crucial decisions (i.e., all the pre-game decisions), otherwise both you and they will know that your input is coloured by your knowledge of what is coming.

It's a one-shot. Unfortunately I can't go into more detail than the generalities above, because this is labelled a spoiler-free review, but I really don't understand how anyone would go about presenting a counter-argument.


i am playing three copies with three groups 2/3/4 player (2/4 have finished) and all had fun with alle three groups. for me the 2nd and 3rd runthrough worked VERY well. Every game developed different and that was very interesting to watch. and it was fun for the one group to compare the boards afterforwards.
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Dave Millar
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Excellent, well thought out review. Thanks!
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Kevin Shillinglaw
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Excellent review. I have a couple of questions regarding game play:

First, is it necessary to destroy cards? Couldn't we just keep them in an envelope?

I believe that writing on the board is required during the game. Is it possible to write on it without making it permanent? Painter's tape?

I'm very, very leery about buying a game with limited (or no) replayability.
 
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Robert Stewart
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Deathstroke wrote:
Excellent review. I have a couple of questions regarding game play:

First, is it necessary to destroy cards? Couldn't we just keep them in an envelope?

I believe that writing on the board is required during the game. Is it possible to write on it without making it permanent? Painter's tape?

I'm very, very leery about buying a game with limited (or no) replayability.


You can modify things to make your changes non-permanent - there are several threads on the topic.

The main thing all the proposed methods have in common is that they're a lot of extra work.

If you have a very small games collection and play each game many times, then Pandemic Legacy is not going to fit very easily with that. If you have a larger collection, or don't play games that often, you may find that you don't get 15 plays of that many of your games anyway - in which case embracing the permanency is good.

Also, making permanent changes is part of the experience - and gives you a board you can then use to play variants on after the campaign (though you need to invent or find house rules for that)
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rmsgrey wrote:
Deathstroke wrote:
Excellent review. I have a couple of questions regarding game play:

First, is it necessary to destroy cards? Couldn't we just keep them in an envelope?

I believe that writing on the board is required during the game. Is it possible to write on it without making it permanent? Painter's tape?

I'm very, very leery about buying a game with limited (or no) replayability.


You can modify things to make your changes non-permanent - there are several threads on the topic.

The main thing all the proposed methods have in common is that they're a lot of extra work.

If you have a very small games collection and play each game many times, then Pandemic Legacy is not going to fit very easily with that. If you have a larger collection, or don't play games that often, you may find that you don't get 15 plays of that many of your games anyway - in which case embracing the permanency is good.

Also, making permanent changes is part of the experience - and gives you a board you can then use to play variants on after the campaign (though you need to invent or find house rules for that)


Thanks very much!
 
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Deathstroke wrote:
Excellent review. I have a couple of questions regarding game play:

First, is it necessary to destroy cards? Couldn't we just keep them in an envelope?

I believe that writing on the board is required during the game. Is it possible to write on it without making it permanent? Painter's tape?

I'm very, very leery about buying a game with limited (or no) replayability.

I haven't waded into those other threads, but specifically on destroying cards: You can absolutely play this game by just "removing the card from the game" (like many games require in certain situations) rather than destroying it. I will say that destroying a card invests you more in the game to a surprising degree.

As for other changes, one of the most obvious things you will see upon opening the box is a large sheet of stickers. Many of these stickers go on the board itself, though they don't stick fantastically well at times, so it may be possible just to remove them when you're done. There are other stickers that will go on cards; I imagine one could sleeve all the cards and just slide the stickers inside (or sticker the sleeve).
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Robert Stewart
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You can do a lot with proxy tokens and a (disposable) checklist in place of using stickers - use the tokens during the game, and the checklist to keep track between games.

For stickers on cards, yeah, sleeving is the way to go.

The numbered packages can be opened from the end without damaging them, so they're effectively resealable, but the dossiers (sticker sheets) will take extra work to preserve and reproduce.

It gets much easier if you're not worried about spoilers during a second playthrough - the only catch then is keeping track of which doors had additional instructions behind (specifically the instructions to open various packages)
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