Okay, all right, I know I was supposed to come in here today talking about all the hopes and dreams for 2016, but I’ve got some raw feelings that I need to get out, so you’ll need to bear with me for another week.
Look, I just, I feel like I need to talk about Pandemic Legacy. My wife and I just finished the 12-month campaign and the game just usurped Twilight Struggle as the #1 board game of all time on BoardGameGeek. These are important times, people, and my feelings need to be voiced.
That said, I will make no efforts to mask any spoilers contained within the game. I’m going to write this post assuming you’ve already played and experienced the game for yourself. If you haven’t, please turn around and walk away. You will do yourself a great disservice if you spoil yourself on the various twists by reading my semi-coherent rambling.
Okay, good, are we all on the same page now? Now where to begin?
Pandemic Legacy is fabulous. Why not start there? You know how I said a couple weeks ago that T.I.M.E. Stories was the best game of the year? Yeah, I take that back. Having played both the Asylum module and Pandemic Legacy over the holidays, I can declare that Pandemic Legacy is easily the more enjoyable and more important of the two games.
And I find it fairly easy to judge them side-by-side because, in a way, I think they were both trying to provide the player with a profound, fulfilling experience outside of what you would normally find in board gaming.
With T.I.M.E Stories, it is all about using logic and intuition to solve mysteries and riddles within the confines of the game. It does this very well, and I very much enjoyed the process, but if I wanted to solve riddles, I could just as easily open a MENSA puzzle book and accomplish roughly the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – I love solving puzzles and I applaud T.I.M.E. Stories for incorporating that in such a successful way, but the achievement just feels a little small when placed next to the achievements of Pandemic Legacy.
Pandemic Legacy is all about investment and loss. and it achieves this so well. Every month you are fighting as hard as you can to limit the damage done by these rampaging diseases because that damage can never be undone. And in doing so, you very quickly and seamlessly take ownership of the game. This world is your world. That medic is your medic.
And that ownership of the game makes the twists thrown at you by the designers genuinely emotionally affecting. When those zombies come out of the box, there is a very real “Oh shit!” feeling of, “How on earth are we going to contain that?” And right when you do feel you’ve got a handle on the zombies, the rug is pulled out from under you again when the game casually tells you to rip up one of your favorite characters because she is a traitor.
Let me just break this down for you for a minute. My wife had been playing the Quarantine Specialist, Jessica, since we first unlocked her back in February. She had two relationships with the two characters I most frequently played, two upgrades, and she was a god among men, single-handedly containing the COdA virus like it was nothing.
And then, after a week of playing this character over and over, Rob Daviau turns around and tells her to tear Jessica up. And we went on to our most devastating, soul-crushing defeat. My wife was not happy at all. I could see it on her face. She probably considered stopping playing altogether. I wasn’t happy either. Tearing Jessica up wasn’t a good experience – it didn’t even feel “fair” – but it was most certainly a powerful experience. A moment of sadness and devastation that was just as strong – if not stronger – than any I have experienced in any other media.
And it was because Pandemic Legacy achieved ownership. It allowed players to feel invested in what they were doing. Sure, Risk Legacy has meddled with the same formula in the past, but, having never actually played it, I can’t help but think this formula works much better in a cooperative atmosphere. It gives it more of a group ownership, when the group experience is what is paramount in board gaming.
So, indeed, Pandemic Legacy has achieved something profound, and for that it easily deserves game of the year. Not only that, but I firmly believe that it deserves that #1 spot in the BGG rankings. Now more than ever, with the merging of “Euro” and “Ameritrash” gaming, this time in board gaming is about pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished. It’s not just about making a game with solid mechanics, but making a game with solid mechanics that does something new and causes people to look at board gaming in a new way. Pandemic Legacy does this in spades. It is the epitome of pushing the boundaries, and, because of that, it is the number one game of this time in board gaming.
Honestly, though, it would be a little disappointing if it remained in the #1 spot for the remainder of human history. I would love to see better, more ambitious and boundary-pushing games come along and give it a run for its money.
And while Pandemic Legacy is the best we have at the moment, it is unfortunately far from perfect. It is still based on Pandemic, after all, a cooperative game with no alpha player solution. I’m sure I annoyed my wife on many occasions with my constant quarterbacking. I seriously cannot help myself and desperately need mechanics to limit my alphaness. Also, as a 2-player game, it was super-easy. On the one hand, it was nice to feel all awesome and powerful, like you were saving the world without problem, but victories often felt kind of hollow because they were never close. It just missed a bit of that epicness.
My biggest complaint, however, is the linear nature of the game. In the end, all of our advent calendar windows were open. The only thing unopened was the loser’s box. It would have been nice to encounter a few choices in the game where the outcome fundamentally changed the game in one way or another – you know, open box A if you go this way, or open box B if you go that way. I think more customization in that regard would have increased the sense of ownership and investment, and I hope to see something like that when season 2 rolls around.
Because I will definitely be picking up season 2 – no doubt about that.