Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
- Designers: Matt Leacock, Rob Daviau
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 45-60 min
- Times played: 5 so far with review copy provided by Z-Man
OK, so one of the biggest conundrums I have as a review is how the heck to review games with spoilers. Part of my is bursting with excitement to tell you all about the cool things that I discovered in the game, but the rational part of me realizes that I can’t do that – because if I told you all the secrets about the game, you wouldn’t have any reason to play it yourself! This issue hasn’t come up as much in the past with legacy games – mostly because I had been avoiding them… I had had a few bad experiences with legacy games in the past, and as a result, I had been shying away from them.
However, given the changes in my gaming life this year due to the pandemic (see what I did there), I have ended up playing a lot of cooperative and legacy games with my online group. With the help of the USPS, we managed to play My City via Google Meet and we’ve worked through a few of the Andor campaigns as well. Having such positive results, I felt like I was ready to try Pandemic Legacy: Season 0. I should preface my review by making clear that I haven’t played either of the earlier two seasons, so I cannot compare this game to those older ones.
What I feel would be good is to explain the background of the game, the theme and some differences from basic Pandemic. Essentially, I’m only going to talk about things found in the base rulebook (before any changes are made) and the Prologue scenario. There may be some super mild spoilers, but honestly, I don’t think that any of this info would affect your enjoyment of the game. Learning a little bit more though might help you decide if this game is for you or not.
The setting of the game is December 1961, and the world is still in the midst of the Cold War. You and your team have been recruited into a top-secret CIA squad because “they believed it easier to teach a doctor to be a spy than the other way around”. You are working against a fanatical research group within the Soviet Union that is developing bioweapons; they have reportedly made a breakthrough with a new pathogen called MEDUSA.
You can listen/read the introduction here yourself:
The game board shows a map of the world, with many prominent cities shown on it. Each city has an icon next to it letting you know if it is an Allied city, a Neutral, or a Soviet city. There are areas in the upper left for the objective cards for your particular game as well as drawpiles and discard areas for the player cards and the threat decks.
The box is filled with stuff, all of which you are not supposed to open until you are told to do so. There are a bunch of boxes with perforated openings, a few large dossiers that look like advent calendars and yes, you will open doors when instructed. There is also a Debrief book that has a bunch of numbered paragraphs that you will read as certain plot points are revealed.
There is also a special Legacy deck which essentially has the instructions for each game as you need them. The whole campaign is set up over the course of the year, with one game for each month. As you play each month, if you “win”, you will automatically move onto the next month. If you fail, you’ll get another chance to play the month, but then after the second game, win or lose, you’ll move onto the next part of the game. Thus, once you get started, you’ll be in for 12-24 games of Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 to learn the full story.
The game does start with a Prologue game which is there (IMHO) to just make sure that everyone understands the rules and fundamentals of the game. Essentially, it’s a practice session so that your team can all be sure to be on the same page before you start playing games that will make permanent changes to your game! You can play the Prologue as many times as you like, and there are no lasting changes that will come from it.
As you play the game, you will be making permanent changes to the rulebook, the board, the components, etc. That is the whole legacy part! It’s a truly fascinating concept that your board is evolving on its own, likely different from anyone else’s in the world!
So, in each game, you will get some objectives that your team needs to accomplish in order to succeed. At the end of the game, you will score your results, and based on those results, things will happen to your game. Each player takes on the role of a character – there are passport books that outline the details of your alias. There are plenty of empty spaces in the book, and you’ll be changing things up with permanent stickers as you go. Additionally, there is a row of “cover spaces” at the bottom. As you end up in risky places (i.e. Soviet controlled cities), you can lose some of your cover and this can lead to bad things being added to your alias – handicaps if you will.
To start the game, look at the Legacy deck and read any cards as directed. This will set up the objectives for the game, and add in any extras. Then 3 Threat cards are flipped up and 3 agents are placed in those cities, then 3 more Threat cards are flipped up and 2 agents are placed in each, and finally 3 more Threat cards are flipped up and one agent is placed in each.
Each player chooses their alias, places the matching pawn in Washington DC, and the team gets to add Event cards to the Player deck. The number of cards depends on your current Funding Level (this is determined by your relative success/failure in previous games). At the start of the campaign, your funding level is 5. The chosen Event cards are shuffled in, and then each player gets dealt a starting hand of cards (3 cards in a 3p game) – these cards are face up on the table. Finally, the player deck is constructed with 1 Escalation card shuffled into each fifth of the remaining Player deck.
So, as in regular Pandemic, there are a bunch of possible actions that you can take, and you get to take 4 of them on your turn. Your starting options are:
- Drive/Ferry – move to an adjacent city
- Commercial Flight – show an Allied city card to move there OR discard a neutral city card to move there. You may not go to Soviet cities this way
- Unrecorded Flight – show the City card matching your current location to fly to any other location
- Neutralize Agent – Remove an Agent (red plastic dude) from your current city
- Share Intel – Give/Take the city card of your current location to/from another player located in same city
- Build Safehouse – Discard a card matching your city to build a safehouse there
- Assemble Team – while at a safehouse, discard 5 cards of matching affiliation to form a team, place a van with matching affiliation symbol in that space
- Drive/Ferry Team – move a Team van to an adjacent city. Your figure does not need to be in the same place as the team
- Identify Target City – While at a safehouse, discard 3 city cards matching your current region to reveal an unknown target city of that region
- Acquire Targets – Complete an objective card that requires a city – you must have a team of matching affiliation in the target city.
When you are done taking your actions, you then Mop Up – in any city where you have an active team – that is a team whose affiliation matches the affiliation of the city it is in – all agents are removed from that city.
Then, draw 2 cards from the Player deck. If they are city cards, add them to your face up hand. If they are escalation cards – discard them, increase the Threat level by 1, draw the bottom card from the Threat deck, add 3 agents to that city, and then shuffle that card and all the other discards together and place them on top of the Threat deck.
Finally, draw a number of Threat cards equal to the current threat level, and add one agent to each – that is unless you are going to add the fourth agent to a city. In that case, place an Incident marker in that city, and any agent in that city loses one cover. Then draw the bottom card from the Threat deck and follow the incident instructions at the bottom of the card, and then place this card in the Game End area – it will not go back into the Threat Deck. At this point, your turn is over and the next player goes.
The game ends when any of the following conditions is met
- All the objectives are resolved (either successfully or failed)
- You cannot draw 2 Player cards as directed
- You cannot place an Agent on the board because the supply is empty
- You cannot place an Incident marker on the board because the supply is empty
The game ends immediately when any of these conditions are met. When the game ends, DO NOT MOVE ANYTHING ON THE BOARD!
Then, you evaluate your team’s success (or failure).
First, check the objectives. If you completed all objectives, you succeed and you decrease your team’s funding by one. Destroy the objective cards as you’re done with this month. If you complete all the objectives but one, you still move forward, but you get to increase your funding by 1 (to help you succeed next month…) You still get to move on, so destroy those objective cards. If you fail 2 or more objectives, you have failed. Increase your funding by 2. If it was your first attempt at the month, you must repeat it. If this was your second attempt, then you move on (and then you get to rip up those objective cards). There is a chart on the back of the Debrief book where you can log your results.
Then, check cities for incident markers. Any city with at least one incident marker gets a surveillance sticker placed on that city. Next, look at the Legacy deck to see if there are any cards to be read at this point.
Finally, you can spend your budget. At the end of each game, you get a budget equal to the number of players that just played the game, plus you could get an additional one point if you completed all the objectives in the game. Points can be spent on Assets (stickers that can be added to aliases), permanent safehouses (placed in any city which had a safehouse placed on it during the last game) – at the start of each game going forward, you put a safehouse there to start, or you can buy countersurveillance (put a grey sticker on top of a red surveillance icon).
Then, either put the game away, or reset it to move onto the next game in the campaign.
My thoughts on the game
Well, so far (commenting through 5 games), it has been a fun ride. The story development is good, and I have enjoyed the twists and turns so far. I have played with the same group of three, and we have made a pretty good team if I say so myself.
I like the fact that the base game here is still Pandemic, and while there are some small changes, all in all, it is a familiar game. Sure, stuff changes with each new game (which I will not talk about due to spoiler issues), but it’s been interesting to see the game evolve. We tend to only play one game per week (As the first game of the weekly game night), so I have made it a habit to try to glance at the rules each week prior to our meeting to refresh my memory on what new rule stickers (or new cards or new whatever) were added to the game from the last time. The rules also suggest marking the debrief paragraphs that you have already read so that you can go back and remind yourself of the parts of the story that have been revealed to you. Though the first third of the year, the story is building nicely, and I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of it plays out.
Again, I haven’t played Pandemic Legacy Season 1 or Season 2, so I don’t have any basis for comparison – but I have been pleasantly surprised that our group has been able to proceed after each game so far. My personal history with cooperative games isn’t great, so this is a nearly unprecedented string of successes for me thus far (and I bet I have just jinxed myself for the rest of 2020 by writing this sentence!)
There is plenty of room for team cooperation here – starting from choosing the Event cards to add to the deck as well as the aliases that the team wants to use in this game. Depending on the objectives – you might want to have a specific strategy, and you can do a lot of shaping with the choices at the beginning. Each alias has different special abilities, and they will further specialize/individualize as you add assets to them. In our 3p games, we have also found it helpful to sometimes choose Event cards for the special abilities missed by not having 4 aliases in the game. Either way, it’s an interesting Turn 0 puzzle to work out with each game. Then, at the end of the game, the group gets to decide how they want to spend their points, and there are never enough points for everyone to get the things that they want.
In the course of the actual game, players may need to decide what to prioritize. As long as you only fail one objective, you can still move forward; and at times, that may be the best strategy. However, in order to fully succeed, you need to meet all objectives, and this might require a more risky strategy where you risk not completing any objectives at all!
I will say that the one move that we now rely upon the most (and which took us a few games to really figure out) is this: As long as you have an Allied city card in your hand, you can get anywhere on the board in 2 actions. You first show the Allied city card to take a commercial flight to that city. Since that card is still in your hand, you can then immediately take an Undocumented flight and end up anywhere on the board. Yeah, it seems like this is easy to see from reading the rules – but man, we made things a lot more complicated than they needed to be until we discovered this…
For now, that’s really all I can talk about – mostly because I’m only one third of the way through the game and because I’m trying to avoid spoilers. But hopefully this glimpse of how the game works can help you decide if you’re interested in getting into the game or not. I’ve had a blast so far, and I’m really looking forward to continuing the fight against the Soviet bioterrorist menace…
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: I’m playing through PL:0 with Dale and have previously played PL:1, PL:2, Charterstone (did not finish), and Seafall (did we finish?).
I’m a fan of the Pandemic spin-offs in general (Iberia, Rising Tide, etc.), and the system here is another good one. The teams add an interesting sort of puzzle as you can spawn little assistants to help you out, but they only work in certain cities, and while they use up a lot of your cards, it’s also the main thing you’re using those cards for.
The lack of hopping back and forth between research stations is missing as a navigation aid, so we’ve had to learn a new way to navigate around the Pandemic map too, and they’ve tweaked one of the character powers to be the ‘navigation role’ in a creative way.
The passport books are a delight so far, and I’m always down for a bit of craft time -stickering up the photos and what not.
I’m excited to get back into it the next time we can get together.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor