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Pandemic Legacy: Season 1» Forums » Reviews

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Sean Weeks
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The hot takes are over with. Few probably read any reviews on this game anymore.

Gonna do it anyway.

Due to the nature of legacy games, we have to talk Pandemic first:

The base game was released to unmitigated critical acclaim back in 2008. This adoration can be partially explained by the nascent stage of co-ops at that time. For comparison, Shadows Over Camelot came out in 2005 and the genre’s first seminal exemplar came out in 2000 with Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings. There were forays into this territory with titles like Scotland Yard and Fury of Dracula, but not many. We didn’t have a lot to compare it to. This isn’t to say that the game has lost its luster, but that its reception was, patellar hate for co-ops aside, unblemished.

Now we’re a decade out and attitudes toward Pandemic are more nuanced. After an avalanche of co-ops, appreciation for Pandemic’s clean design, heady blend of tactics and strategy, and consistent challenge has deepened. Meanwhile, its flaws are more apparent than they were. A few don’t consider tactics and strategy to be satisfactory, Pandemic showcases the standard co-op issue of one player dominating play, and its theme, while well-implemented, is a sterile puzzle. Of course, one could argue that sterility plays to its setting. For those who don’t like dry puzzlers, that’s no comfort.

Enter Rob Daviau. Pandemic is perfect for the legacy treatment, being a game that has wide appeal, familiarity, and fatigue. Like Risk before it, Pandemic has been explored a lot and inspires a sense of déjà vu. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a shake-up. Think of your reliable Ford suddenly turning into an Autobot, or your grandmother morphing into a squiddoo slyrmite arthropod from Betelgeuse V. Surprise doesn’t come from the transition so much as the demolition of your schema. Pandemic Legacy has about as many surprises as Charterstone or any other legacy game.

So if you haven’t played Pandemic at all, a good part of the joy isn’t here for you. In order to have your expectations unseated, they have to be seated in the first place. Understanding the nature of the rush is important if you want to play a legacy.

In terms of a blow-by-blow analysis, most of that has been hashed out already among the various reviews, and due to the nature of legacy games it’s acceptable to be cryptic. New mechanics, objectives, and special power characters are regularly added. Eventually, you’re forced to juggle basic overall objectives with the hunt for tools mid-session. On a wider scope, you have to choose to plan for the next game or solve the current one. You sticker the board with city upgrades or incremental disasters.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the marginality of the upgrades, despite how plentiful they are. It’s like a campaign run by a sporadically creative Monty Haul DM, one who lavishes trinkets on his D&D mates: a cavalcade of plus-ones-to-this, draw-a-card-heres. Every once in a while, you get the equivalent of a flaming mace, but never do you receive even the cliché of a talking sword.

As my girlfriend and I soldiered on, we felt the hale but dainty mechanisms of Pandemic sag under the weight of all those plus ones. At the end, we felt like we were taking inventory of our bonuses, not playing.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a certain appeal to the Monty Haul, or that the analogy is entirely one to one. We enjoyed constructing and exploring a game design space. That, not the destruction of components, is what gives legacy its appeal. We’re not just being gamers – we’re being creative.

At the same time, there’s little here that constitutes radical expression and . . . we aren’t game designers. In a typical game – a deckbuilder, for instance – extra cards in whatever volume feel significant because of fine-tuned play. The framework grants a huge impact to those cards if done well. In Pandemic Legacy, that extra card might be amazing. It might be flaccid as all hell because . . . you aren’t a game designer. If you’ve managed to optimize a rule, it becomes a wonderful addition. If you haven’t, then it’s more flab to a game that’s already pretty chunky with plus ones. And that describes most of the game’s decision points when it comes to alterations. AC throw. Hit and miss.

Perhaps we’re just terrible at this bust-a-move system, but I’d like to think that we’ve managed more hits than misses. In any regard, you’re bound to get additions wrong and stuff won’t connect, meaning that the annoying feeling you get from pointless fiddly tracks might persist for 18 games.

It takes a toll on our design space. Whenever I asked myself whether or not this thing was fine-tuned, if it was meticulously playtested, I think, How could it ever? Too much stuff. Too many moving parts.

Or maybe we suck.

Too many of those decision points were misses for us. Too many felt meaningless, like thimblefuls of content in a sea of dinky fluff. That and the story would have been laughed out of any of my creative writing classes. I know, I know, we play games, we don’t read them. Just had to mention it in passing.

I can’t say that my experience with other legacy games like Charterstone gainsays this. Nevertheless, I’ll finish up with it. Pandemic with two is always fun.
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M E
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Interesting review. Thank you. I don’t totally agree but I see your points. Also, we are only to the May campaign, so maybe I will feel similarly as we go along!
 
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Clive Jones

Cambridgeshire, UK
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I can see - just about - how it's possible to feel that way. But the fact Season One for quite a while held the top spot in BGG rankings suggests the vast majority of people had a rather more positive experience. Enjoy!
 
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Sean Weeks
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Pandemic Legacy is a fresh experience in a cult of the new and a mashup age, and it’s the first legacy game many, many played. I suspect that the sheen will come off with the production of more legacy. Shut Up and Sit Down’s reaction to Season Two will be more normal.

The volatility of the top few spots attests to how fickle people’s tastes are right now.
 
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Steven Irrgang
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I honestly can't decrypt what you're actually saying about the game at all. It might be that the upgrades unbalance the game? Or that they took too much focus away from the gameplay?

I wouldn't personally agree with those points, but they're subjective anyway, and we'd need to get specific and spoiler-taggy to argue productively over it.
 
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Sean Weeks
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"Too many of those decision points were misses for us. Too many felt meaningless, like thimblefuls of content in a sea of dinky fluff."

I'm referring to the additions, which don't feel meaningful enough.

While constructing the game is fun, the end result or even the process ain't that fun because the whole thing becomes overwrought.

Also, what else am I supposed to do in a review except give my subjective opinion? I've never understood that silliness. It's my experience with the game, and it's not all *that* rare.
 
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Steven Irrgang
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Haladras wrote:
"Too many of those decision points were misses for us. Too many felt meaningless, like thimblefuls of content in a sea of dinky fluff."

I'm referring to the additions, which don't feel meaningful enough.

While constructing the game is fun, the end result or even the process ain't that fun because the whole thing becomes overwrought.

Also, what else am I supposed to do in a review except give my subjective opinion? I've never understood that silliness. It's my experience with the game, and it's not all *that* rare.


I'm saying "there's no point [in me] arguing about it because it's subjective". I'm not saying "you shouldn't have written it because it's subjective". Write whatever you like, all viewpoints are valid when it comes to reviews because everyone's experience will be similar to at least some other people's.

I can't personally connect to anything you're saying, but ultimately that's fine. I was just hoping to understand it better (which I still don't but nevermind).



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