Congratulations to Pandemic Legacy, BGG’s new #1 game…

Pandemic Legacy Blue

Pandemic Legacy just became the #1 game on BoardGameGeek.  Congratulations to designers Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock, as well as publisher Z-Man Games.  

Pandemic Legacy was released on October 8, 2015, and since then it has earned rave reviews from around the hobby.  The game has risen quickly in the BGG ratings, and it became apparent by early December that the game had a strong chance to topple Twilight Struggle.  When the Opinionated Gamers reviewed the game on November 24, we gave it uniformly high praise.  

There have arguably only been four games to have previously held the title of BGG’s #1 game.  There was some fluctuation in the ratings when the system first launched, with Tigris & Euphrates settling in the top spot.  That was quickly overtaken by Puerto Rico, who held the honor until mid-2008.  Agricola then reigned until until early 2010, with the lead fluctuating between it and Puerto Rico.  Twilight Struggle took over in December 2010 and has been on top since.  A few other games have briefly been #1, but primarily as a result of glitches or April Fool’s Day jokes.  For a good visualization of the rankings in recent years, see this microbadge graphic showing the top 50 games over time.  

BGG uses the input of its users to calculate its rankings.  The user ratings are plugged into an undisclosed system which adds a number of “dummy rankings” to ensure that games with few ratings will not capture high rankings.  In short, to do well in BGG’s system, a game must not only have high ratings from users, but also a large number of ratings.  Pandemic Legacy has had exceptionally high ratings since inception — the average was above 9.0 for several weeks — but it did not have enough ratings to grab the #1 spot until this morning.  

Any ratings system like this is naturally one that reflects personal preferences.  And given that gamers are involved, it should come as no surprise that there has been strategic voting in the process.  Twilight Struggle’s average rating has been falling over the past month as Pandemic Legacy rose.  On the flip side, as noted by Pandemic Legacy fans, there has been a deluge of 1 ratings levered against Pandemic Legacy.  

Pandemic Legacy may flip back and forth with Twilight Struggle in the coming days — that often happens when there is a leader change — but the fact that it is #1 today is notable.  Below are the reactions from the Opinionated Gamers.  


Chris Wray:  First off, a massive congratulations to Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock, and the Z-Man team.  I’ve played a few games of Pandemic Legacy, and it is my favorite game of the year.  It is thematic, tense, and memorable, the sort of game you think about hours after you finish playing.  I’m happy that it has taken the #1 spot.  I suspect this won’t be the last big honor Pandemic Legacy earns: it seems likely to pick up quite a few gaming awards over the next year.  

For better or worse, I think BGG’s #1 game is one of our hobby’s emissaries to the general public.  In my opinion, Pandemic Legacy is a better emissary to the world than many of its predecessors.  I like that it is a multiplayer game (unlike Twilight Struggle), and I like that it has a close relative (Pandemic itself) with wide appeal.  I also like that it is more approachable than past winners.  With an average BGG weight rating of 2.7 it is still likely too heavy for non-gamers, but those that have waded into the world of hobby gaming, it is certainly a learnable game.  The previous title holders were significantly heavier (Tigris & Euphrates is at 3.5, Puerto Rico is at 3.3, Agricola is at 3.6, and Twilight Struggle is at 3.5).  

I’m interested to see where this takes the hobby.  Legacy games seem like a massive step forward in game design, and the system worked exceptionally well in Pandemic Legacy.  I’m curious to know if it can be implemented as flawlessly with other games.  

Greg S:  A hearty congratulations to Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau for obtaining the recognized pillar of greatness in the BoardGameGeek world.  Pandemic: Legacy is a truly addicting game, filled with tension, excitement and that foreboding feeling that doom is always at the threshold.  It is one of those games that never fails to keep players talking about the “what ifs” long after a game is finished.  Further, after completing a scenario — whether successfully or not — players are inevitably eager to immediately play it again … and again, and again.  As Chris states, it certainly is a wonderful emissary for the hobby, as it is reasonably easily learned, especially if one has a bit of experience with more advanced games.  A terrific design that will undoubtedly spawn many more editions so that the struggle to save humanity can continue.

Joe Huber: I’ve not played Pandemic Legacy, but I did wish to echo my congratulations to Matt & Rob for this impressive achievement – and to Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta for Twilight Struggle’s impressive reign at the top of BoardGameGeek’s rankings.  While the top of the BGG rankings seems to move ever further away from my personal tastes, I agree wholeheartedly with Chris and Greg that Pandemic Legacy will do much to evangelize the hobby.

Mark Jackson: As Chris mentioned, we reviewed Pandemic Legacy back in November… and it was my privilege to write the review. Matt & Rob deserve all of the kudos they have received – both for their individual brilliance of their design ideas (the Pandemic system and the Legacy system) and their seamless melding of the two into an amazing hybrid. Congratulations are due as well on being recognized for this in the BGG community.

Matt Carlson: After the obligatory congratulations to all involved with the game, I would like to applaud the fact that a co-op game has taken over the number one spot.  To be fair, Pandemic Legacy is more likely to be played by fans of the original (and thus would likely be ranked higher by that select group of players) but it is still clear the game is popular across a very wide segment of the BGG population.  Chris makes an excellent point that Pandemic Legacy makes a better “boardgame emissary” to the general public.  As a fan of co-op games from the way-back, it’s great to see one take over the top spot.  I believe Pandemic made it as high as #20, and would love to know how high Lord of the Rings would have made it, but ranking data from that far back isn’t available.  I love co-op games as I can play them as they completely eliminate some aspects of gaming that can put off new gamers.  All players are part of the same “team” so hard feelings aren’t an issue, and they don’t suffer from any arbitrary king-making at the end of the game.  Winning and losing together provides a much better gaming experience for many people.  Here’s to the future of co-op games!

Wei-Hwa Huang: On a personal note, I purchased Pandemic: Legacy last month and have never regretted it.  Our team has had a lot of fun with it and we’re about two-thirds of the way through, and getting more excited to play each time.  I rated it a 9 on BGG.  A big contrast to Twilight Struggle, which my wife couldn’t even get past the first round.  Not because of rules difficulty, but because of the amount of player vs. player aggression needed to do well.  I rated it a 5 and it’s one of the few games I sold.  Putting personal notes aside though, I’m now going to be cynical about this and say that Pandemic: Legacy is taking the top spot not because it is a crowd-pleaser, but because people who do enjoy the game really love it.  The profile of the average top-ranked game on BGG is generally something like this:

  • 1/6th of the voters (17%) give it a 10 out of 10
  • 1/4th of the voters (25%) give it a 9 out of 10.  
  • 1/3rd of the voters (33%) give it an 8 out of 10.  
  • 1/6th of the voters (17%) give it a 7 out of 10.
  • 1/12th of the voters (8%) give it a score of 6 or less.

This is the general profile for Agricola, Puerto Rico, and so on.  They are games that almost all voters will like, and less than one-percent of voters will hate it enough to give it a score of 1.  Twilight Struggle managed to hold the top spot for so long because it is a game that broke the usual 8/9/10 distribution, with an almost equal number of 10 votes as 9 votes, and an almost equal number of 9 votes as 8 votes.  The fact that more than 1 percent of voters give it a 1 isn’t enough to slow it down.  The main reason Pandemic: Legacy is blowing the rankings out of the water is that it’s more than a reverse of the 8/9/10 distribution, with:

  • 1/2 of the voters (50%) give it a 10 out of 10.
  • 1/4th of the voters (25%) give it a 9 out of 10.
  • 1/8th of the voters (13%) give it a 8 out of 10.
  • 1/12th of the voters (8%) give it a score between 2 and 7.
  • 1/25th of the voters (4%) give it a 1 out of 10 (!)

This sort of distribution is historically unprecedented.  In other words, if you play Pandemic: Legacy, you are four times more likely to absolutely hate it than Twilight Struggle, and more than ten times more likely to hate it than many of the other fine choices among the BGG top.  On the other hand, if you do end up liking the game, you are much, much, more likely to love it.  The BGG ranking system is not great for determining which games are crowd-pleasers or good emissaries; they’re good for determining which games get more loves than likes.  Pandemic: Legacy, more so than any other game in the top 50, has a few features that some players will loathe — the fact that you need to consistently play with the same group of people to get the full experience being the big one.  Most players play games with the same friends in a consistent gaming group so this isn’t a problem, but if you’re the type who goes from group to group or only plays the same game once a month, this game isn’t for you.  Playing Pandemic: Legacy is a bit like watching a long TV serial (e.g., The Game of Thrones on HBO) — completely unrewarding if you only watch one episode, especially one in the middle, or if you dislike its genre, but if you start at the beginning and can commit to watching the whole series, you’ll probably love it.

Erik Arneson: Like Joe, I haven’t had played Pandemic: Legacy yet. But I received it as a Christmas gift and I can’t wait to bring it to the table! Congratulations to Matt and Rob on a truly remarkable achievement!

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13 Responses to Congratulations to Pandemic Legacy, BGG’s new #1 game…

  1. Congrats to Pandemic Legacy! I think it’s well-deserved and agree it makes a great emissary to those coming to BGG with no prior knowledge of the hobby.

    Wei-Hwa’s notes about the stats are VERY interesting and helpful – thanks for laying that out! Your point that BGG rankings tend to measure “love not like” is spot on, in my opinion.

  2. Jacob Lee says:

    I wondered if PL would get to #1. And only if it did would I consider buying it because now I have to ask anyone who’s played it and the original: if I only liked the original so-so – I mean it’s all right, but I got bored of it pretty fast – would you recommend I get Legacy?

    • Dale Yu says:

      I’ve heard fairly good advice from others which is: If you like Pandemic, you’ll most likely love this. If you were lukewarm on Pandemic, this is probably an improvement and you’ll probably like it more. If you didn’t like Pandemic at all, you still end up having to play something like pandemic 16-20 times, and thus, you may not like it at all.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    I didn’t contribute to the article because I haven’t played Pandemic Legacy. But I did want to add my congratulations to the game’s two designers. I don’t know either Rob or Matt that well, but I have had a few very interesting conversations with them both over the years. And I can say categorically that both of them are smart, talented, and really *nice* guys. It’s always great when good things happen to good people and that’s certainly the case here. So well done, Mr. Leacock and Mr. Daviau. Now, waddya gonna do for an encore? :-)

  4. My congratulations to the designers. It must be a dream come true for you guys! (It would certainly be for me…)

    @Wei-.Hwa: Judging from the comments I think many of the 1s are targeted at the IDEA of the game. The legacy-system got a lot af flack from teh beginning, mainly because you destroy cards etc. The critism is that you celebrate capitalism or something like that ;-) If you make the decision to try it and you dont have a beef with this basic idea, there is a much lower chance than 1 in 4 to hate it.

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  6. @Wei-Hwa – Thank you for that clear explanation of how the voting for games works. It’s much easier to see how the popularity of games on BGG works in this light.

  7. raistanient says:

    it’s a disgrace that a legacy skin slapped onto a truly mediocre game like pandemic can reach anywhere near the top 10 of board games, much less #1. some people say it’s the golden age of boardgaming. i believe we have entered the dark ages.

    there is simply no way a game like pandemic can be said to be a better game than terra mystic, dominant species, puerto rico, BSG and so many others

    • There is no way? Im surprised, because I think its easy to say! Lets try: Pandemic is much better than BSG!
      See: I said it! And I could use shorter playing time, higher accesibility and much cleaner, tighter design as reasons, but settle with “Target group is different”.

      (FWIW: I rate BSG a 5-6 and Pandemic “vanilla” a 7-8. I have not played PL yet).

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