Pandemic Legacy was innovative enough that it’s worth talking about twice, so here’s a look at the second entry in the trilogy. And, whereas we played just a few games of Season 1, we played through the entire Season 2 campaign, with a win-loss pattern that resulted in 21 total games(!). Definitely a top co-op (and we’re looking forward to Season 3).
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Rob Daviau & Matt Leacock
Publisher: Z-Man Games (2017)
Cooperative Style: True Co-Op
Play Style: Action Point, Card Management, Exploration, Legacy, Set Collection
The players take on the role of various specialists who are trying to salvage a post-apocalyptic world that ended 71 years ago. As in Pandemic (2008), they’re fighting disease, and as in Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015), that’s part of an ongoing campaign, but there’s also a lot more story and a lot more hard choices in this sequel.
Matt Leacock looks at games very analytically. So, when he designed Pandemic’s close cousins, the “Forbidden” trilogy, he created one game that was about tiles being removed, one that was about tiles being moved, and one that was about tiles being added. He similarly turns Pandemic Legacy Season 1’s core mechanics on their head in Season 2: where Pandemic was previously about removing disease cubes created by the challenge system, it’s now about placing supply cubes destroyed by the challenge system (and its plague).
Season 2 again uses objective cards to lay out each session’s goals, just like Season 1. But with the game system changes, the goal can’t be about curing diseases anymore; instead the starting objective of Season 2 is to build supply centers. These are sort of the same as Pandemic’s research centers, except they’re much more expensive to build, requiring a set of five color-matched cards (which makes them an equivalent cost and an equivalent challenge to curing the diseases in the previous games).Despite this inversion, the gameplay of Season 2 still feels very similar to the original. Traveling to cities to add supply cubes is a similar logistical puzzle to traveling there to remove disease cubes, with just a few twists. First, the cubes have to be created before they can be placed, adding another step to the players’ cooperative challenge response, and second the objectives of the game have been adjusted, to accommodate the new rules.
Obviously, the objectives will again grow and change over the course of Season 2, creating variable and adaptive play, albeit play that remains focused on Pandemic’s core gameplay: collecting specific sets of cards. The most interesting objective, visible from the moment that you open the box, is the ability to “recon” new areas. Because of the post-apocalyptic setting of Season 2, players only get to see a little bit of the board at the start of the game; they then reveal more through “recons”, connect up cities that have been found, and also discover smaller secrets through “searches”. This turns the classic play of Pandemic into a new sort of exploration-focused gameplay (with the possibility of exploration activations, as you never know what you’re going to get).
Pandemic has always been one of the strongest examples of bipartite, orthogonal goal design. Traditionally, players decided between collecting sets to cure diseases (achieving long-term victory) or removing disease cubes (staving off short-term loss). Similarly, in Season 2, players must decide between collecting sets to build supply centers (achieving long-term victory) or replacing supply cubes (staving off short-term loss). As in Season 1, that’s made more complex by the question of supporting Legacy goals that will create advantages in future games, such as maintaining the populations of cities (achieving campaign-term victory). The exploration element of Season 2 adds a fourth possible goal (which is sometimes required for long-term victory and sometimes for campaign-term advantages). Somehow this isn’t overwhelming — or if it is, it’s the wonderful sort of overwhelming, where the players have so many different objectives presented to them by the challenge system that they have considerable agency to play as they see fit.
Challenge System Elements: Turn Activation; Exploration Activation; Arbitrary Trigger; Simulation; Exponential Cascade; Decay; Campaign; and Replicating Task Threats.
The cooperative system of Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 works much the same as that in Season 1. Players make cooperative decisions before the game about what characters to play, within the game about both the game’s objectives and the movement toward Legacy advantages, and after the game about how to advance their characters (and the general game world).
As in Season 1, there are a lot of adventure system elements in Season 2, from the ever-growing characters and the ever-changing board to the ever-evolving plotline. However, the exploration elements of Season 2 add another traditional adventure game system to Pandemic.
Expansions & Variants
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 kicked off the storyline that continues in Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, while Pandemic Legacy: Season 3 is reportedly in process.
Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 were both foundational releases that, respectively, showed how to create a tight, abstract co-op and a Legacy co-op. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 isn’t foundational in the same way, because it’s much more an incremental evolution. Nonetheless, it adapts all of the great gameplay elements of the previous games, twists them just enough to make them fresh and interesting, then introduces a totally new and evocative game system with its exploratory gameplay.
“The challenge we set out for ourselves was to make it fresh and exciting while still letting players jump right in. It’s important to me that each variant and expansion brings something original to the table and not simply be a rehash of older ideas.”
—Matt Leacock, October 2017, “Interview with Matt Leacock Designer of Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 from Z-Man Games”, The Players’ Aid, https://theplayersaid.com/2017/10/05/interview-with-matt-leacock-designer-of-pandemic-legacy-season-2-from-z-man-games/