Spoilers? This review of Pandemic Legacy Season 2 has been certified spoiler free. All discussion and images are restricted to the prologue, and carefully worded generalities. If you don’t want to know anything about the contents, then know simply that it is really, really good!
Times are desperate. The haven is rotting away beneath our feet, the victim of relentless assault by the seas and time. It simply wasn’t built to survive this long. Those cities we are still in contact with are struggling to contain the plague, and we a running out of the medical supplies we need to contain it. Worse still, I’m down to my last two cans of face paint. These are dark times indeed.
Pandemic Legacy Season 2 picks up 70 years after the events of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and the world is a very, very different place. Shortly after the events of Season 1 another brutal plague struck the world and civilisation more or less collapsed, a story-telling sleight of hand that casually allows you to forget the result of your previous campaign and bring everyone to the devastated, disease-ridden hell scape I had created after my season 1 campaign. No, wait, London recovered. Hooray!
Where did the world go!?
That map really says it all. This is not the Pandemic you knew. Only about a dozen cities remain, clinging to the coast lines of the Atlantic Ocean where three great floating cities, the havens, survive and keep the others alive. Where once you fought disease and researched cures, now you can only hope to keep the disease at bay. For now there is only one! And it’s a threateningly fluorescent shade of green in a brutally large sized cube which hits the board with the force of an outbreak in classic pandemic. Yep, if 8 disease cubes come out on the board you lose.
Yet there is still a huge stack of infection cards and your usual pile of player cards, so what’s up? Well, in Pandemic Legacy Season 2, it’s all about getting your cubes out. The world has a hearty pile of little grey supply cubes which will protect a city from the plague. But each card flipped from the infection deck will deplete the corresponding city of one of its grey cubes and if there are no supplies to remove, that is when one of the incurable plague cubes arrives. In this strange, mirror world episode of Pandemic then, you are trying to keep the world covered in cubes.
This aim, and the mechanisms by which you achieve this aim, has a dramatic effect on Pandemic. It feels unique, and that much deeper and more interesting – perfect for you experienced disease fighters out there! Now, instead of treating disease, you pick up and move supply cubes around the board. New supply cubes can be produced either one by one as an action, or by playing the limited stock of Production cards that feature in the player deck. You can pick up cubes from a space for free, but to place them out you need to spend an action, which lets you place as many cubes as you like from those you are carrying into a location. Now the game challenges you to be efficient, it asks you to judge how to best produce and arrange your available supplies across a map that is difficult to travel across, in an age when air travel is virtually non-existent. It costs as many actions to place one cube in a city as it does to place 3, 4 or more, but doing that demands you produce more frequently and that often requires returning to a haven.
The world is less easy to predict too. While classic Pandemic had a single card in the infection deck per city, the reduced map has resulted in an increased intensity. Now each city appears three times! There is no more safety until the next epidemic. You can’t leave threatened areas for long. But you also can’t stockpile too much because an epidemic will wipe out all the supplies on the city associated with the infection card taken from the bottom of the deck. And it hits your well stocked cities with unerring accuracy…
Stop! It’s Legacy Time
This new Pandemic is already different enough that I felt I needed to play the legacy-free prologue before breaking into the sealed Legacy deck. But once you make that step (and again, I’m keeping this spoiler free) you will find even more differences from Season 1. Whereas the previous legacy deck drove the campaign forward month by month, both in terms of story and mechanics, in Pandemic Legacy Season 2 the rate at which you progress is much more in your hands. That’s because the Legacy deck is not the only, or indeed, even the primary, source of new components.
From the moment you open out the map you’ll have noticed the spaces where you can explore to open up boxes. These new actions simply have you discard a certain combination of cards to discover what else is out there, beyond your narrow sliver of the world. And this is fantastic. There is always something thrilling about discovery, something board games have long toyed with with tile-laying games and the like, but it is able to offer so much more when what you are discovering is more than a random tile, it is fully planned.
One of the biggest criticisms I had of Pandemic Legacy 1 was that most of the exciting legacy elements, the new stickers, the boxes, were ‘front loaded’. You’d draw some cards from the legacy deck at the start of a scenario and that would be amazingly exciting and you’d get all the new bits… And then you’d play a game with the new stuff but it would never be as exciting as just opening the boxes in the first place.
There’s an old story in board gaming that when we get a new game, the most exciting part for us isn’t actually playing it, it’s opening the box for the first time and seeing all the bits! Legacy games tap directly into this thrill so by front loading it each game in Season 1, effectively cast a shadow over the game itself. What Pandemic Legacy Season 2 has done, by integrating the unlocking of new elements into the game itself rather than (as much) from the legacy deck, is make the game itself as exciting to play as those initial reveals in Season 1.
In some ways they are an even better system: you’ve had to work to discover these areas, you might have failed to unlock it in a previous game, and come back twice as determined. While there is the risk of rushing through to open all the boxes as quickly as possible, the clever use of objective cards, and the risks you take by exploring, motivates you to explore carefully and at a more manageable pace.
The Legacy Deck now, primarily, reveals the story and history of this new world, exciting enough elements to discover! It provides hints for where you might want to try and get to and, if you are struggling with the game, unveils the elements you could have discovered yourself, so that you don’t fall too far behind in the overall campaign.
That is really as far as I can go without going into spoiler territory, but know there are some lovely tricks to discover out there! With 6 games under my belt now, I can definitely say that I like this new Pandemic a lot. It just twists the game you know enough to feel different, fresh, and a little bit deeper than the original. Then it refines and improves on (at least so far) the legacy elements of the previous game. I might even call it more challenging. I haven’t seen the full scope of the story but the world feels exciting and I can’t wait to keep playing and see where it goes. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is a perfect sequel. If you enjoyed the first one you definitely want to pick this up!