Pandemic Legacy Season 0 is the third and final installment of the cooperative board game from publisher Z-Man Games. Designed by Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock, season 0 puts a spin on things, as it is actually a prequel set back in 1962. 2 – 4 players will find themselves back in the midst of The Cold War. Over the course of the experience players will take up roles of spies in the cold war, as the bioweapon Project Medusa aims to win the war for the Soviets. Will players be able to save the world again, and will they want to? Let’s find out!
(Editor’s Note: This review aims to be spoiler free, only directly referencing the content found in the Prologue game.)
When players open the box they will be greeted by decks of cards, the board, sticker sheets and even sealed boxes. While the player cards and the threat deck are to be used, the legacy deck is only slightly during the prologue – with the top card always instructing players when next to read cards from it. Some of the sticker sheets are openly visible and others are not, again players will be fully instructed when to use these.
The game is played on a 1960’s world map, with major cities linked together. At the start of the game 9 of the cities will have Soviet agents added to them. Much like the virus cubes of the original Pandemic, the first 3 cities flipped from the threat deck gain 3 agents, the next 3 gain 2 agents and the final 3 cities gain 1 agent each. This sets the board up for players to begin. The player deck will also need to be set up with negative escalation cards, with each player starting with a set amount of player cards. The aim is to complete the objectives of the month (or the prologue), whilst carefully managing the numbers of Soviet agents on the board.
To accomplish this players have a range of actions at their disposal. Players can move between connected cities, with each city having an alignment (Allied, Neutral and Soviet) and a surveillance level. Being a spy starting a turn in a city with surveillance will see your alias’ cover depleted – something that becomes an increasing issue. When in a city a player can neutralise a Soviet agent, with the agent removed from the board. If a player has a city card matching their current location it can be spent to build a safehouse. This can help players avoid reducing their cover in cities with surveillance. Safehouses are also used to assemble teams – the biggest twist on the gameplay.
By trading in 5 city cards of the same affiliation in a city of that affiliation a team is assembled. The team van can then be moved around. At the end of a player’s turn a team will remove all agents from their city if it matches their affiliation. These teams are also vital for objectives. Using an objective from the prologue as an example, players must get a van of the correct affiliation to a determined city, before performing the acquire targets action. Thematically, players are therefore ordering a team into position to breach a building in the city.
Players have 4 actions on their turn to help advance their cause. Once these are used the player draws 2 additional player cards. When escalation cards are drawn from this deck, epidemics of old, the bottom card of the threat deck is flipped and 3 Soviet agents are placed there. The discarded threat cards are then shuffled and put back on top of the threat deck. Regardless of what player cards are drawn the board fights back a bit, with a number of cards flipped from the threat deck, with a single agent added to each.
Whenever a city has 3 agents but a 4th is to be added instead an incident marker is placed. Replacing outbreaks of previous Pandemic titles, the bottom card of the threat deck is flipped (and then removed from play) revealing a special effect. These range from safehouses being destroyed to agents spawning, and are never positive. The game then continues with the next player and so on. The game is won when all of the objectives are completed. The game will unfortunately also end if all objectives are failed, more agents or incident tokens need to be added but the supply is empty, or if the player deck cannot be drawn from when needed.
Hopefully, for the world, positive steps have been taken. This is where the legacy content kicks in, with the effects of one game partially continuing to the next. Surveillance stickers will be added to the board where incident tokens were placed during play, characters might be upgraded via abilities and much more. Right from the beginning Pandemic Season 0 has ways to make every experience that bit different. Even before the first turn of the legacy campaign players will have already created a character, from Mr Potato head like stickers. This helps the game get a grip into players from the offing, making them care more about the storyline than they would otherwise.
In Season 2 there was a disconnect between the places of the future and the real world. For that campaign the disconnect caused players to care slightly less about the locations than in Season 1. Season 0 sits somewhere between the two. The locations are all very much relatable. Nevertheless, there is the constant logic that things cannot truly be world changing, thanks to it being a prequel. This isn’t to say that some big things don’t occur, but just the mere thought that it’s a prequel reduces the immersion of the plot.
One aspect that did split the group is the new way that Outbreaks are dealt with. It comes down to the way that they can randomly impact the game. Sometimes a card could be flipped and there would be no impact, due to the text referring to a region without incidents. Other cards within the same game could be devastating. This luck factor didn’t sit well with some, as it does interfere with working out how to strategically be good at the game. Others enjoyed the slight push your luck with the cards. There is a thematic touch to not knowing what the opposition in The Cold War will do next. It is certainly more thematic than them somehow splitting via secret agent mitosis to spread out to the surrounding cities.
Following a similar thread, during the experience there are some choices where it won’t be overly obvious how it will impact you later on. In real life people are not always aware how their actions or decisions will make a situation play out. As some choices can give perciably better or worse outcomes though, some that like the pure puzzle of Pandemic may not gel with this. It just feels like the outcome was out of your control, as you perhaps weren’t aware of how to answer something.
Via a couple of lucky card draws we made it further into the year before our first failed attempt at a month – compared to Season 2. This is in part due to the new tiered system, as success and failure isn’t quite as black and white anymore. A new middle option “adequate” is available, for when players have only failed one of three objectives. This helps the game flow stay constant and leads to increased variety. Players will at times have to prioritise two out of three objectives – furthering the impacts of players choices as failed missions have knock on effects.
It is elements like this that have increased the narrative side of the legacy experience. Seasons 1 & 2 certainly had memorable moments to them. These were commonly more from the gameplay. In those titles the story linked games together rather than potentially driving player choices. A bigger legacy deck included, there are still plenty of sticker sheets. On top of this though is an operations deck and a 16 page debrief booklet, with numerous passages to look up and read. These can be triggered from completing or failing missions, so players will never read all of the content. It all combines to have a much more fleshed out story in both text and meaning.
Sticker sheets and boxes are commonplace in legacy games but Pandemic Season 0 does them better than most. In recent legacy titles we have reviewed (such a Clank! Legacy! and My City) sticker sheets are there with all of the information on show. When you flick through them to get a sticker inevitably you end up seeing a glimpse of the adjacent sticker, minutely spoiling a surprise. There is none of this with Pandemic Legacy Season 0 as important stickers are printed on 2 layered pages. This means when instructed players can freely flick through to find sticker A or 15, without the fear of seeing anything they shouldn’t.
The sticker sheets aren’t the only component to show off Pandemic Legacy Season 0’s great production quality, but perhaps it is the most important for a legacy title. The board is large, like with the previous seasons – being a good third bigger than the regular Pandemic game board. Each of the plastic components are nicely designed – each with their own silhouette so they are easily distinguishable, on top of their differing colours. This all helps create an easily readable and visually pleasing game to play.
Pandemic Legacy Season 0 takes the core that made the other campaigns great, and the original game, and then adds more. The plot of the other seasons was solid but never a true strength. This has been massively improved, with all the extra writing massively improving the narrative of the journey. At times in Pandemic Legacy Season 0 there was the feeling of being at the mercy of the deck; with a bad draw causing chaos or a lucky draw winning an almost lost game. This isn’t to say all of the choices made are meaningless, in fact some that seem meaningless may turn out not to be. Players don’t have to have played previous seasons of Pandemic Legacy to play Season 0. For some of the nods along the way and the improved narrative it is the best one to end the trilogy on. Plus, it at least matches the original for being an enjoyable campaign that everyone involved wanted to continually move forward in.
(Editor’s Note: Pandemic Legacy Season 0 was provided to us by Asmodee US for the review. Check the game out on the official Z-Man Games website.)