Thoughts on Pandemic Legacy
Post by: Grant Rodiek
I played Pandemic Legacy five times with my friends last night and I really wanted to write about it. I'm writing about the game experience and the design and will in no way discuss specifics or spoil anything.
My group played ten games of Risk Legacy a few years ago and mostly really enjoyed it. The premise was so novel -- a game that evolves in permanent ways -- and most of us were greatly amused by it. Unfortunately, two members of my group didn't really care for it at all, and in the end, the game was still Risk.
I'm nostalgic about Risk, and nostalgia isn't an emotion I reach towards very often. But, it's not a very good design any more and the Legacy version didn't do enough, with good reason, to fundamentally alter the map and core mechanisms. What was initially a 30 minute game that led to delightful envelopes soon became a 2 plus hour back and forth slog. Envelopes only go so far and in the end, we were sitting around a pig with a lot of fun lipstick.
That sounds harsh. I was really taken with Risk Legacy, but I think it was more the potential than the reality.
Pandemic Legacy fully recognizes that potential. My word. It really isn't a surprise knowing the team involved. I think Matt Leacock is a brilliant designer. Pandemic is a beautiful example of an elegant and dynamic experience. Furthermore, the Pandemic rulebook may be the best one I've read. You can see Leacock's experience in UX design throughout. Pandemic is maybe the best "mass market" hobby game we have, up there with Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. I have opinions on those, but we'll save that for now.
Then you have Rob Daviau, the dude behind Risk Legacy. From what I've gathered on podcasts, and I may be mis-paraphrasing here, Rob had to carefully navigate the bureaucracy of Hasbro to make Risk Legacy at all. Now, you have Filosofia and Z-Man surely wanting to make their big hit even bigger. From what I understand, Rob is fundamentally a storyteller. A lover of D&D and DM'ing.
So, huge publisher + brilliant co-op designer + storyteller and legacy designer + gobs of designer experience. That's an amazing formula.
If you've played Pandemic, the Legacy version will fit like a glove. Your first game is basically Pandemic...mostly. This is brilliant, because it let's you get comfortable. It's a familiar setting.
Unlike the sporadic and less predictable envelopes of Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy provides new content and legacy decisions after every game. The drip is steady and delicious. In many ways Pandemic Legacy feels more conservative, but the output is more calculated and sharply delivered. Matt and Rob have carefully charted an incredible narrative arc. Like a choose your own adventurer, there are character progression and map choices you can make that make your adventure distinct, but roughly speaking, they know where you are.
This may sound strange, but the game doesn't feel innovative at all because everything feels so natural. As we played and unveiled new content, we excitedly grinned and began scheming towards the next problem. "Of course this is in the game," we thought. "Of course this is what Pandemic Legacy is." In many ways, it feels like what Pandemic should have always been. It's just so natural and smooth. So when I say it doesn't feel innovative, I mean it absolutely as a compliment.
Like Innovation, or Android: Netrunner, and Combat Commander: Europe, I predict Pandemic Legacy will be a benchmark of tuning and development. After five games the game becomes more difficult or easier based on your performance. Its challenges progress in conjunction with its narrative. It feels plausible and thrilling as the plot continuously thickens. You can just feel the hours upon hours of labor, calculation, and minute tweaks that make every step feel so good.
The final note I have for Pandemic Legacy is regarding its length. The game takes...just as long as Pandemic. Some games clock in around 40 minutes if you succeed or lose quickly. Others take a little longer if it comes down to the wire or you open a lot of new items. But, this, to me, is a massive improvement over Risk Legacy and another sign of great development. When we shut down the game around midnight, we all realized we could play the game at work over lunch. We all work together and the game takes an hour or less. That's...fantastic. It means we can definitely finish the game without signing blood pacts or requiring absurd marathons.
I really really liked Pandemic Legacy. It's a warm blanket of fun. It's a great story. It's tense. It's the best version of a great cooperative game. I highly recommend it, and considering it's so easy to play and so quick, it's very tough to avoid it.
Very much recommended.