Pandemic Legacy Season 1 is so highly regarded it held the top spot on BoardGameGeek ranking system for years. It was an experience that took players through a year in a virus mutating world month by month. Well, in the lore of Pandemic Legacy Season 2 that was 70 years ago. Most cities have since fallen out of contact. All is not lost though as a number of floating platforms out at sea, havens, are providing a beacon of hope. Players will need to channel that beacon as they set out towards plague prone cities and re-explore the world.
This review aims to be as spoiler free as possible. The core of the review only discusses how the game works and the components as seen in the prologue of Pandemic Legacy Season 2. There is a small section after the conclusion paragraph that goes slightly into minor spoiler territory but this is clearly labeled. The game is set across 12 months, effectively 12 games that are played back to back – with some level of persistence from one to the next. If you fail a game the experience isn’t over, each month can be retried once before moving on to the next. The experience is guided by a legacy deck that players work through as instructed: with boxes full of secret contents and sticker doors ready to be opened, and bits to be scratched off akin to a scratch card.
No longer are players moving from city to city to remove cubes, with the treat action removed. Replacing it is the ability to make supplies and drop them off at cities. Combining this with the new free actions of taking supplies, players will journey from their starting locations – the havens – to keep the world supplied. Supplies are now removed by the plague deck, with cities with no supplies left gaining plague cubes. This is another change as their is only one type of plague that could end the world and only 8 plague cubes are included in the set of components.
Outbreaks have been replaced by simply placing these cubes out. It matters not if you ever manage to remove a plague cube the incidents tracker still records the plague cube being placed, and this can only happen 8 times before game over. The other way to fail of running out of the player deck remains, giving a slowly lessening sand timer like countdown to the game.
Recon is a completely new action and is not available during the prologue. The board starts with 4 reconable points, each with their own card set requirements. The action is very similar to building a supply centre, which are effectively research outposts from base Pandemic. The player must be at the location and discard a required set of player cards to recon a new region of the board. You’ll have to play to discover what is found, but players are given the choice which recon to do. Other than these changes the gameplay follows the traditional Pandemic logic of take 4 actions, draw two player cards and then “infect” cities.
While the original game and Pandemic Legacy Season 1 felt like players were attempting to save the world, this time around the heroics have been dialed down. This isn’t to say that players and their choices don’t seemingly have worldwide consequences. Instead, it doesn’t constantly feed the prevado of stopping the end of the world. The world is already lost to some extent and it is much more about a dogged survival and re-establishing the world.
The basic gameplay experience feels closer to Pandemic Rising Tide more than regular Pandemic. Not in the way the water flow mechanics interact with cubes. More, how players constantly build dykes in regions, akin to delivering supply cubes in Season 2, only for the infection deck to wipe them from the board. The constant feeling of building up and anticipating where will be next hit – that was a key part of Rising Tide – has been captured.
Season 1 did plenty to get you attached to the characters but relied on players themselves to form an attachment with a world they could associate with. Set in a future where most of the world has fallen off the grid it is harder to put yourself in the shoes of the characters. To counter this Z-Man has stepped up their game, making even more elements of the game customised and chosen by the players.
The player character sheets for example are almost blank sheets, with a name, home and age needing to be written on and stickers for their appearance and starting job chosen. It may not be much more than Season 1 but it makes each character feel unique, as they have been crafted by you from countless combinations. To go one step further the home locations player assign the characters aren’t arbitrarily named Haven locations, as player must write onto the board to give the three Havens names. All of this nicely combats the lack of attachment from the future setting and gets players invested from the start.
Stickers once again make an appearance to make permanent changes to characters through perks/scars and to the board itself. The exact usages of a lot of the stickers you can find out by playing. However, what I will say is what starts off feeling weird, permanently putting something on the board, feels natural after only a game or two. A few of these stickers are placed near the board joints, making them a little awkward to put on and some will need constant poking down. It isn’t as much of an issue if you plan on leaving the board setup between months (games) but if you pack the board away each time it is something to be careful of.
The board itself is designed to show very little at the offset, with a small play area of some select port cities and the havens. Alas, there are a few locations which are a tad close together, making it a little fiddly when putting the components neatly on a city and having a character pawn there, let alone two. It is a minor issue as there is room around them but again something to be mindful of – so two cities’ supplies don’t merge leaving you to guess which they came from.
Doubling down on customisation made Pandemic Legacy Season 2 the experience it was for me, as I was instantly invested. With a list of jobs and perks to choose from it isn’t dissimilar from Season 1. The way this choice is offered to players seems less railroaded though. On top of this each game has choices, some more meaningful than others. I’m unsure given some of the legacy deck direction how varied a second play would be, but there are sections where you could do things in a completely different order to another group which is a great touch. There are a few niggles, like the stickers not always sticking down, and something discussed below in the minor spoiler area, that could be improved. Overall though, after season 1 we were eager to jump into season 2 and now it is also complete… season 3 cannot come soon enough!
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
Reading this section you are prone to extremely minor spoilers, as I’ll be directly comparing to Pandemic Legacy Season 1, read on at your own discretion. The variety and volume of actions thrust on players really builds up in Season 2, much more so than in the original. It never quite gets to the state that you can forget something completely but the player action cheat sheet like cards didn’t leave the table. This did result in a fair few occasions in which we’d discuss our options before a player would chime in reminding us about a new more helpful action which was available to us.
The objectives of the original season were constantly changing yet there were a few stagnant months in season 2. While these games had slight differences, with boxes being opened and new cities linked, the core objectives to win the game remained the same. Thankfully, we only lost one game in the middle of this time period so it didn’t truly start to drag – things just didn’t seem as fresh until we got a new objective.
Plenty of times there were choices that left us with no good outcome. Be this the choice to supply somewhere but take exposure (potentially taking a scar) or a 50:50 choice between where to supply. This shaped the way our game went via our choices, though at times it felt on the edge of punishing. Grim and bear these hits and it makes for a tension filled experience that should not be missed.
[Editor’s Note: Pandemic Legacy Season 2 was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £64.49. It is also available from local board game stores, find your local store here]