It’s pretty uncommon for a smash hit to be followed up by an even more popular sequel. If rating data on BoardGameGeek is any indication, the Pandemic Legacy series is no exception. The debut skyrocketed to #1 on the charts and still sits at #2, with roughly 28,000 ratings at an average of 8.7, as of this writing. The successor, while still a success at #33 overall, only has about 5,000 ratings at an average of 8.4.
For as much success as the first season experienced, I’m honestly surprised to see Season 2 with a less than 20% return rate from those who played Season 1 (based on the number of BGG ratings for each). Certainly, there probably aren’t too many people who jump right into Season 2 without trying out Season 1 first. And even after accounting for the small percentage of low ratings (86% gave an ‘8’ or higher), I’m sure there were some who just simply didn’t have the time or desire to play 12 more games of Pandemic. There are so many good games out there right now, and it’s hard to devote that much gaming time to any single game. It probably didn’t help that some of the initial reviews (e.g. Shut Up & Sit Down) were lukewarm.
However – to those people who enjoyed Season 1, I’m here to tell you, you’ve got to make time for Season 2. Not only is it worth it, it’s even better than the original — and here are the three reasons why:
1) Season 2 offers a fresh take on the same core mechanics.
Your mileage may vary, but in my opinion, Season 2 strikes a perfect balance of maintaining enough of the feel of Pandemic while also feeling fresh and engaging throughout the full campaign. Season 2’s core mechanic of proactively stocking cities with supplies, rather than reactively treating infected populations, is a change compared to Season 1, but not an entirely new concept to the Pandemic family of games. Pandemic Iberia also features this concept, and it has been relatively well-received (it’s the only other Pandemic re-implementation currently sitting in the BGG Top 100).
Without giving any spoilers, I can also note that Season 2 also plays with the core Pandemic mechanic which requires players to collect cards of the same color and spend them. Of course, these cards can also have other uses, so there are constantly decisions to be made about how to distribute and use these cards. Season 2 creates even more possible uses for these cards, which yields a richer and more complex decision space.
2) Season 2 gives players even more agency than Season 1.
The exploration aspect of Season 2 is a big reason for this. While Season 1 has a set narrative each month, Season 2 lets players choose their own pace and direction. In terms of the major plot points, there are still fail-safes for those groups that fall behind or go off on a tangent. However, a lot of the minor exploration activities are totally left to the discretion of the players. There are some optional non-exploration activities that come into play too, but that’s all I can say about that.
3) What Season 2 might lack in balance, it gains in narrative richness.
I’ve seen some people complain that Season 2 was “too easy”, and others lament that Season 2 was “too hard”. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone strongly argue that Season 2 is more balanced than Season 1, and I certainly won’t attempt to make that argument here.
My group (four players) had a few nail-biting finishes in the first third of the campaign, but after a loss in March we proceeded to win out. The tail end of our campaign even featured some fairly decisive victories. However, we routinely found ourselves all standing up around the table, discussing and plotting our strategy, with everyone providing meaningful input. While we experienced success in our campaign, it certainly still felt like a great series of challenges that we overcame together.
In my view, it’s okay to make a legacy game that doesn’t come down to the last card draw of the last month for every group. To do that would require a game that’s completely on the rails the whole time, whether the players realize it or not. Season 2 rebuffs that notion, instead opting for an experience that actually rewards clever decisions and punishes poor ones, allowing for a true range of outcomes based on the decisions made by your group. And isn’t that what supposedly makes legacy games unique in the first place?
Maybe you’ll stride to victory triumphantly, with your characters grown from mere journeymen to powerful heroes. Or maybe you’ll crawl across the finish line, battered and broken. Either way, you’ll have struggled through some tough decisions with your friends and have told a unique story all your own.
For all those out there who loved Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, don’t believe the naysayers. You’re doing yourself a real disservice not to play Season 2. While I’m sure there are some out there who will prefer Season 1, the successor is undoubtedly also very good, and stands on its own merits rather than feeling overly derivative of its predecessor. And if you’re like me, you may even like Season 2 better than the original.
If you haven’t played either season, I would still recommend starting with Season 1. Both are excellent, and it just makes more sense (and avoids Season 1 spoilers) to play through them in order.
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