Leaving a Legacy

As much as I write about Mantic Games and Miniatures here, it turns out that gaming wise, they aren't my first love.  That has to be board games.  I don't get to play them as much now that the kids are grown and out of the house (oh, did I mention how proud I am of all of them?  My youngest actually got a job as a freaking game designer - how cool is that!)  (and yes I'm all nuts over my sweet little granddaughter as well) (boy does saying that make me feel old).  I have especially enjoyed the new genre of cooperative games - where the players are playing together to beat the game, not each other.

Many years ago, I was picking up a birthday present for a friend of mine, and I came upon a little boxed card game called "Grave Robbers From Outer Space" by a tiny company known as Z-Man Games.  I went on to get many more of their B-Movie games (the humor in them is as good as any Munchkin variant).  However over time (wow, I didn't realize until I looked back at the game that it came out in 2001 - sixteen years ago) that small company moved on to other games.  At first I was disappointed, because I wanted more b-movies and bad puns, but eventually someone introduced me to a new game they were making - Pandemic.

This was a cooperative game (not my first - that was Castle Panic (a great cooperative game - so much fun that when I taught my young nephews how to play on a rainy afternoon this past summer, the twins almost immediately put it on their wish list for Christmas)) but immediately engaging and enjoyable.  Then we played again and lost horribly.  I still loved the game, and picked up all the expansions as they came out (though there are some I have yet to play).

Now I work with a bunch of geeks.  And not just because the main thing we do is software development.  There are a LOT of gamers there as well, and not just the expected video game players.  We have actually had game nights after work, or set up quick games over lunch.  Most may not be quite as dedicated to the hobby as I am, but there are plenty of people playing games.

So one day several months ago, one of them asked me if I wanted to play Pandemic: Legacy.  I'd heard a little about it, so said sure.  I loved Pandemic, so thought it would be fun.  He had picked a copy of the Red version (which is identical (except for the cover) to the Blue version (in case you want to have two games going on at once (they did that at Origins last year)).

We all split the cost, and opened it up.  This was a bit different - with eight sealed boxes, and sheet of stickers, several 'top secret' dossiers and a deck of cards that said not to draw any more.

A pristine box before the fun has truly begun
You can download the rule book from the Z-Man Games website here

What are all of these?
(Just to be fair, at this point I should warn that there may be spoilers ahead.  I try really hard not to talk about anything specific, but you can put pieces together to figure out a few things. So if you don't want the possibility of knowing anything, skip down to END SPOILER WARNING..)

So we dove in to our first game.  It was pretty much the regular Pandemic we had played before, but there were a very limited number of roles (I believe only 5) available.  I picked the Dispatcher - I always liked being able to push other people around after all.  We each had to name our character.

It was interesting because instead the normal victory conditions, we had cards that listed them.  We easily won the first game, and realized we had made a mistake.

Luckily, the rules covered this - in a booklet that had all sorts of lettered gaps in it.  If you made a mistake just keep going.  So we did, figuring out what we should have done.  And once we did it, we realized that this was NOT the traditional game.

First we had to put stickers on the board.  Now I've done this before with expansions, to allow for more players etc.  But it didn't change how the game worked.  This did.  It suddenly wasn't the traditional Pandemic anymore, the game had changed on us.

One other interesting concept was that after each game, we were allowed to make two upgrades - again more permanent stickers on the board or on the role cards.

We set up a regular session to play after work every other week, and we were already excited about doing another session.

The second game we now had to work with the new mechanics.  Since we had one our first game, which is set in January, we progressed to February (the game follows a calendar).  If you lose your first attempt in a month you get one more try, but then you have to move on to the next month whether you won or not - time stops for no man nor gamer.
So things were a little different, we revealed a few more cards in the legacy deck as instructed, and again had a blast, once more winning.  The game went really quickly, so we decided to do another one that night.  Our hubris caught up to us, and we lost the second game that evening.

Even losing though, things were getting more interesting.  We were revealing new rules - stickers that got placed in the rule book and on the quick reference cards, as well as on the board.  New roles were revealed - and when we played a new character not only did we have to name them, but we also had to pick a relationship they shared with another character in that game - making them much more than just colored pawns, but giving them personality.  So later when we added a new role - it wasn't just some guy - it was my brother.  There is a rule for family members, but more importantly, it added depth to the characters.

Now in the game, characters can die.  There are ways in which you take a 'scar', which is always something bad for your character.  Each character card has spaces for two scars - if you have to place one and don't have room for it, then your character dies and can no longer be played in the game.

One of the mechanics was to tear up cards when they were no longer used.  I honestly couldn't bring myself to do that, but we did put them in the box under the tray, to never come out again.

As we continued to play, things got tougher.  We had new goals, and old ones went away.  But as we played we saw ways to optimize our characters with the game end upgrades to better accomplish our goals.  I looked at the board, and even figured out a way so that we could accomplish one of our goals immediately once the game started - we would begin with one down.  I thought I was smart.  The game was smarter.

At no point does the game ever recommend any specific upgrades.  But the designers know gamers.  They know that some of the new upgrades, when revealed, are just irresistible.  It is obvious that someone is going to take that upgrade, it is just too good.  And being one up on the goals - well of course we would want that. We played right into their hands.

The game has twists and surprises all along, but then we hit the BIG one.  The one that changed everything. We had been cruising along, only having lost the one game.  Then this, and we didn't recover and lost the game.

We had been careful to not get in situations where we would take any scars, and only my character had taken one so far in the campaign.  But not only had the designers brilliantly manipulated us exactly where they wanted us, but they ended up doing it with my brother!  The boy I had grown up with, turned into a man and a valuable member of our team, even though he didn't join us until a few months into this crisis.  I had trusted and loved him - so this hit me all the harder.

So maybe I got into the role playing a little much, but having the relationship there added so much.    Plus the, and again I will call it brilliant, way the game managed to manipulate us to do EXACTLY what was needed to set this up, without ever telling us to do it.  It has been several months since that moment, but it still lives with me, and will always be one of the best gaming memories.  Which, unfortunately, I can't truly describe as it would be a huge spoiler to anyone who hasn't played the game.

That blow really made it rough for us.  We lost about every other game after that, and even failed one of the major goals late in the game (this is the only point where the game 'railroaded' us at all - as there were certain goals that had to be accomplished to continue the story - so if you didn't do them then at a certain point the game does them for you.  Not nearly as elegant as the big twist, but very understandable.

Not long after the real world tried to interrupt our gaming, as one of our players took a new job.  Luckily a gaming bar - D20: A Bar With Characters had recently opened not far from work - so we moved our every other Tuesday night game there.  It didn't hurt to be able to have a beer while playing either.

In the end we managed to lose by every possible condition (running out of cards, too many outbreaks, running out of disease cubes).  We had several games that we one by the very skin of our teeth, but all were tremendous fun.

The first game in December, the final month, was nerve wracking as we tried to win.  Things got very tense as we were so close to victory - then drew the epidemic that blew across the world and lost the game for us (big time).  This wasn't so bad, but we were so close that the next game was won in a total of four turns (once around the board) - it wasn't a challenge because we had already come so close before.  Had we won the first game in December it would have been an epic finish.

Afterward we added up our final score - and while the world didn't end, it would take several generations to recover.  Had we managed to do the one missing goal it would have been a 200+ point difference (since the Alpha team would not have had to come in and help us out - which was a 200 point penalty (out of a possible 1000) to our score).

There was one box we had not opened - you only open it if you lose four games in a row - and the worst we had done was three in a row.  But now that it was over, I had to know.  One of our players didn't want to know however, so we opened it after he left.  As expected, it was a minor bonus, but no real story change.  I do almost wish we had lost four in a row to get the bonus - it might have made some of the later games easier.

This has been voted the best boardgame on Board Game Geek, and I can definitely see why.  It was fantastic, and left us wanting more.

And last month it finally arrived.

Season 2 - which doesn't require season 1 at all.  However, the back of the box and the website start with

"The world almost ended seventy-one years ago. A virulent plague came out of nowhere and ravaged the world. For three generations, small groups of survivors have struggled to keep the world alive. "

What, to us, is ironic, is that is pretty close to the score we got - we beat the plague but it would take generations to recover.

The season two rule book is available here

 A new board - with most of it missing.  What is in the blank spaces?

New characters, new cards, new events.  It is still Pandemic, but it isn't.  You can no longer treat diseases - instead you have to deliver supplies to prevent them.  So now when a city is infected it removes a supply cube - and if there isn't one to remove then a plague cube is placed there instead (which you cannot remove in the game).
What new twists and turns await?  My group is very excited, and next week we will be breaking the seal and being our second odyssey into Pandemic: Legacy.  I'm really looking forward to it.

Because it is all fun and games . . .