Welcome friends and well-wishers to the first in a series I call Extra-Curricular Play wherein I will share some of the fun interactions that happen in TAG when we play games without it being explicitly tied to research. Beyond seeking to capture more of what happens around the lab for your reading pleasure, this article series emerges out of a desire to highlight that, as much as the folks around TAG love to work with games and game-y objects in a research context, they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves, wipe the sweat from their brows, and gather to press some buttons or roll some dice just for kicks. Consider it a game review couched in anecdotal, blog-esque stories peppered with a few weak attempts at humour.
There are a few games that have caught my eye over the last few weeks, but for this inaugural article, what better to start with than BoardGameGeek’s top game of all time, Z-Man Games’ Pandemic Legacy Season 1.
Blue Version or Red Version..? Which one had Sandshrew in it again?
For those who don’t know, the original Pandemic is a cooperative board game where players work to cure diseases that threaten to wipe humankind as we know it. Each player assumes the role of one member of the virus-curing squad that comes with a unique special ability, from the Medic who is better at clearing the virus out of cities to the Dispatcher who can sacrifice their movement actions to charter other players around the globe. Players must combine their strengths and optimize how they spend their four actions per turn in order to contain the spread of the viruses while simultaneously searching for a cure.
Pandemic Legacy, as the name suggests, is the same basic game with a whole slew of additional rules that turn it into a ‘Legacy’ game. For some background once again, Legacy games are still just beginning to pervade the board game market (Before Pandemic Legacy, there was Risk Legacy and with the success of Pandemic several other Legacy games have been developed as well), but the general idea is that the game you unbox is designed to be played a finite number of times, however each play session feels much more engaging than it would in a typical game because your play affects all future play sessions, for better or worse.
This is an odd game to review because, I can’t really get into specifics without treading into spoiler territory (as an aside, the idea that a board game can have spoilers is amazing). The most I can say is that whenever players win a game, the world powers who are funding the efforts to cure the diseases that threaten the world decide that it’s a good idea to cut the players’ funding, thereby making the next game harder. If players lose a game, then the opposite occurs and the following game is easier. As a result, players never get too overconfident or too crestfallen and as time goes on there are actual plot reasons for this rule that get introduced. To add to the immersion, the game also has you rip open secret files that introduce new rules or tear up cards as they cease to apply, two board game firsts for me that felt thrilling and sacrilegious respectively. What is most interesting to me, though, is how disparate the narratives can be between one box of the game and another as a result of Legacy rules.
Chandler Bing: Virologist
The game comes in either a Red or Blue Version which are essentially identical, save for the box art. At TAG we have two simultaneous legacies, one red and one blue, that are taking shape in remarkably different ways:
In one game, Researcher Ivanna Curalot is on the verge of death from encountering one too many outbreaks of the Blubonic Plague and Pestivus while Operations Expert Brique N. Morteur, whose special power was initially believed to be pretty weak, has come into is own as a welcome member of the squad due to some recent developments that completely altered the game’s win conditions. Most of eastern Asia is nearly impassable due to some impressive viral mutations and Sydney, Australia in particular is now a smoldering crater.
In the other game, a team comprised entirely of cast members from the hit 90’s sitcom Friends has left behind their iconic Manhattan apartments to save the world from infection. Now that New York has been overrun by a more powerful strain of the virus, things have gotten a whole lot more personal. It’s a race against time to contain the infection within North America or face global catastrophe.
If there’s anything ‘wrong’ with the game, it’s that, despite the ample space for documenting your play sessions (on the back of the rulebook, on your character cards) in order to better track the ‘legacy’, the paper they printed things on is some of the hardest stuff to write on I have ever encountered and I once spent an entire math class doodling on a friend’s elbow. It can also be hard to find the time to gather everyone together and play, especially when the game can consist of as many as 24 play sessions (although this is admittedly unlikely) and the Legacy rules make it difficult for you to feel okay with playing without the same four players every time.
Overall, though, if you have three friends who enjoy cooperative games and can commit to playing the same game together 12-24 times, I would say this is a must-try. The price can be a bit on the high end, but if you split the cost four ways, it’s more than worth the price of admission.
Since this couldn’t be a review without a number, I guess, I give it 7.5 bottles of hand sanitizer out of 8.