Review: Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (Spoiler Free!)

BGG Rank #1 – 1/13/2017

Gather round, friends, for a story of the greatest board gaming experience I’ve ever had. It’s time to talk about Pandemic Legacy

Back in the fall of 2015, I was looking at BoardGameGeek one day and noticed that a game called Pandemic Legacy was at the top of the “The Hotness” section, which shows the games that are currently being talked about the most. I started to read about it, and was fascinated by the idea of a game that permanently changes each time you play it, based on the decisions you make. As someone who likes to geek out about numbers, I was also intrigued by the incredibly high average rating of PL, and particularly the remarkable percentage of ‘perfect 10’ ratings it was receiving. This unique game known as Pandemic Legacy was rocketing up the BGG charts at an unprecedented pace.

The more I read about it, the more I knew that I had to play this game. I was a big fan of cooperative games like Pandemic, and PL took those base mechanics and built a campaign around it. Based on the decisions you make, you can unlock new content, alter the board with stickers, and even be instructed to rip up cards. For someone who was very careful to keep his board games in good condition, the idea of willfully ripping up cards was entirely new and exciting.

There was an obstacle though, since this legacy concept entailed playing a series of 12 or more games with the same group. I’d need to somehow convince three other people to commit to what could end up being 30+ hours spent on this campaign from start to finish.

Two friends who immediately came to mind were Matthew and Erik. As two of my closest friends in DC, I knew it would be fun to share this experience with them.

Matthew  was probably the most into games of any of my friends, and we talked about new games and game design quite a bit. He’s the type of person who loves to analyze something in great detail, which I enjoy doing as well. At the time, he particularly liked social deduction games like One Night: Ultimate Werewolf (and he still does).

Erik had not always been into board games- his passions included music, biking, and donuts. But he has the great trait of being incredibly supportive of his friends’ interests, and I think that my passion for games rubbed off on him. He owned a copy of the original Pandemic and I had recently gotten him into the game Istanbul.

In October, I sent them an email with the intro: “Warning: I’m about to nerd out on a board game that sounds really cool.” I went on to describe Pandemic Legacy, and included a link to Shut Up & Sit Down’s spoiler free video review. I highly recommend that you check out their site by the way — they’re amazing ambassadors for the tabletop gaming hobby, and one of my main inspirations for wanting to review games.

Within the day, they both responded that they were in, with plenty of capital letters and exclamation marks. Erik mentioned that his friend Alex also loves games, so we decided to try to rope him in as a fourth. Matthew and I didn’t know Alex as well yet, but looked forward to getting to know him better through this experience. He accepted the offer, and the crew of four was set.


Playing through the campaign was a thrill. We had originally planned to meet once a month, hoping to finish the campaign in about a year. As it turned out, we started in November 2015 and finished in March 2016. And it probably would have gone even quicker if it wasn’t so hard for four guys with wives and jobs to find meeting times that work for everyone’s schedule. There were ups and downs– games where defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, and epic successes that left all four of us jumping up and down, high fiving and yelling like our favorite team just won the Super Bowl. Even as someone who loves games, I didn’t previously know a board game could have that effect.

In interest of keeping this post spoiler-free, I won’t go into any details about the gameplay itself. I will, however, offer some tips of how to get the most out of your Pandemic Legacy experience:

  1. Set expectations ahead of time – It is a big time commitment, so you should make sure your friends know that going in. Don’t sugarcoat it — each game could take 1-2 hours, and you’ll probably play 14-17 games in total. You play through a ‘year’ where each game is a ‘month’, and if you lose a ‘month’ on the first try, you’ll get to try a second time. If you lose a ‘month’ the second time, you move on to the next month. In all, it could be anywhere from 12-24 games, but due to balancing mechanics to adjust the difficulty to your skill level, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit either extreme.
  2. Know the rules – If anyone in your group tends to be the “rules explanation” person, encourage them to send out emails between sessions explaining any new rules that have been revealed. Everyone will appreciate being kept up to speed, and the gameplay will flow much better if you don’t have to constantly refer back to the rule book.
  3. Embrace the theme – Name everything that you get a chance to name, read all of the flavor text out loud to the whole group, step into the shoes of your characters. Our group made up backstories for the primary characters, took pictures of the board after each game, and wrote a few paragraphs summarizing the narrative of each month. It sounds nerdy (it is), but it definitely increased our emotional buy-in to the outcome of each game.
  4. Make each game an event – Each time we met up to play PL, we would have a meal together as well. It wasn’t just about playing this game, but we were also taking time to just hang out together and enjoy some food and drink, like barbeque and whiskey, or some donuts and manmosas (Miller High Life and OJ – regular mimosas are better IMO). Also, we never played without all four of us able to be there. Occasionally there were long delays between games, but it was definitely worth it.

Playing through Pandemic Legacy with these guys was a fantastic shared experience that strengthened our friendships with one another and fostered our interest in the hobby of board gaming. Amusingly enough, Alex later admitted to us that at the time we invited him to join the campaign, he did not actually even like board games. He had played Catan with Erik once, which had given Erik that impression. Despite this trepidation, our enthusiasm must have convinced him that overall it would be a fun experience. Sure enough, he completed the PL campaign, and is now a self-professed fan of board games.

The four of us, along with our friend Ian, are now playing through another campaign — Seafall, a competitive legacy game by PL co-designer Rob Daviau. It has been very interesting so far. No matter how good of a game it is though, it’s going to be a tall order to match the experience of Pandemic Legacy Season 1, which is, in my opinion, the best game I’ve ever played.

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10 thoughts on “Review: Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (Spoiler Free!)

  1. So ripping up cards and marking up the board does sound alarming. What’s your take now that you’ve done it? Will it affect the game play in a good or bad way next time you play through it. Or is this game only good for one play through?


    1. I think a lot of people have that reaction the first time they hear about it – ripping up cards sounds crazy!

      The game changes permanently each time you play it, and it follows a narrative that lasts 12-24 games (typically somewhere in the 14-17 range for most groups). Once you’re done with the ‘campaign’, it has no further value beyond whatever sentimental value you assign to it.

      Definitely different from games you’re used to keeping and playing as many times as you want, but at the same time there are many games in my collection that have not been played more than 12 times. And those 12+ games of Pandemic Legacy are an amazing ride. I highly recommend giving it a chance!


  2. […] Season 1 of Pandemic Legacy still rates as arguably my favorite gaming experience of all time, but Season 2 is legitimately making a run for that title. Our group is currently up to June in the campaign, and we’ve already had a number of nail-biting finishes, including two that have come down to the final card drawn. I love the exploration aspect of Season 2, with a wealth of content to unlock at whatever pace you dare to choose (though it must be balanced with addressing the ever present threat of global pandemic). Following up a classic with an equally great sequel seems a tall ask, and in that regard I’m very impressed so far with what Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau have accomplished. […]


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