In the world of games (something I enjoy quite a bit) my friend Rod, Michelle and Anne and got together not long ago to play Pandemic Legacy Season Zero–this is the prequel game to Seasons One and Two, which are in themselves to a spinoff of the regular game Pandemic, by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games.
There are Spoilers here for the game–if you are wanting to play through it yourself then I recommend skipping this post!
Pandemic, as the name suggests, is about disease outbreak and attempting to control that. Pandemic Legacy expands that into a more narrative-driven game experience in which the choices you make at one point in the process impacts how the game proceeds. You end up putting stickers on the board and in the rule book, and sometimes you even go so far as to destroy cards from the game!
Pandemic Legacy Season Zero is a prequel to the other seasons, set in 1962, which is as much about espionage and spies as it is about disease.
My friends and I all bought the game together and have been playing through it over the year. Within the story of the game, you also play through a year, with either one or two games for each month of the year (two chances to win, basically).
Last time we played our first game in October and got absolutely trashed. I wrote about it a little bit here. This time around was our redemption (a lot of this might not make sense if you don’t know the game)
The objectives and conditions for winning the game change each month, but in this case our goals were the same as they were for the first game of the month:
• Track an enemy agent who was fleeing from London and search every city that he might have gotten to before he had the chance to reach a Soviet-allied city (every city is either Allied, Neutral or Soviet).
• Get two Allied teams to Johannesburg in order to find an informer. (Like cities, teams are also either Allied, Neutral or Soviet, and can only do their jobs if they are in a city of the same affiliation).
• Infiltrate the secret “Pearl” research station to find the Soviet-created cure for a disease.
Of course all this would make more sense if you were familiar with the game-play and the game story up until this point. I wish now that I’d blogged my way through the whole thing–it makes for quite a fun and satisfying (so far) story experience.
Basically though, this game is super-fun and really does a good job mimicking Cold War-era spy stories. Each player controls a passport that has three different aliases for your character, which you get to name and dress up in different ways using stickers. Each alias has different abilities and advantages (as well as restrictions) and you can only swap between them if you are at a “Safehouse”.
I spend almost all my time as Professor Leonard Walnut, who was my original alias in the game. That’s because he comes with several abilities which have proved to be extremely helpful: he can fly to Madrid from anywhere on the board for a single action (thanks to a “Visa” upgrade); he can give any card to another player no matter where they are, providing that he is in Madrid; and he can move other players or teams around on his turn. Those cards are needed for various, the most significant of which is probably to create “Teams”–groups of agents represented by little cars (like the game of Life!) who deal with enemy agents and are also necessary for various objectives.
Our initial efforts went into creating an “Allied” team to capture the fleeing agent before he could get out of London–but unfortunately he escaped just before we had a chance to get him (this happens when the deck turns up an “escalation” card–there are five of us distributed throughout the deck). Actually, you never really know if he escaped–the goal just says you have to search every city that he might have gotten to. One of the connecting cities to London is Madrid which has a “Neutral” (not Allied) affiliation. So now we needed a Neutral team as well as an Allied team to complete this mission.
Fortunately, I was able to use my special ability to move our new Allied team (which Rod had built using his ability to build teams for cheaper than normal) around quickly and eliminate the fleeing agent from the various Allied cities, and later we were able to give Michelle the cards she needed to build the Neutral team that allowed us to actually capture the guy.
These teams became very useful then keeping enemy agents off the board (which slows down the rate of “Incidents”, too many of which will cause us to lose the game), and Rod and Anne (mostly) were able to deal with many of the other ones situations where too many agents were gathering. I got lucky and drew enough of the right cards to build the second Allied team that we needed to get to Johannesburg and find our informer.
Meanwhile, Michelle spent most of her time trying to sneak around the Pearl station to find the information that we needed. To do this, you needs different types of cards, necessary to get through the various doors inside the Pearl. The Pearl is represented by a big building schematic that you move your pawn through, only opening up information on each room as you enter it–this includes what cards you need to get into the room after that.
You also need Action tokens, which allow you to do more than your normal four actions per turn, since you have to start your infiltration afresh each time you start it. It quickly became clear that Michelle was going to need something like 5 or 6 extra actions to get far enough into the station to get where she needed to go. We were feeling pretty anxious about this–time was running out (via our Player deck running out of cards–another way the game can end), and it was looking like she might not have enough actions to complete things.
Along the way Rod had found he had enough cards to just make a “Soviet” team, which we actually didn’t need to complete any objectives but still helps to deal with enemy agents in Soviet cities. It was a sign of how well the game was going for us–we’ve never had it before that we just happened to have the cards we needed to make a team. But, that was no help to us in giving Michelle the ability to complete the “infiltration” mission.
But, meanwhile, I was completing the Johannesburg mission. The informant we found turned out not to be all that useful, but the game did give us the bonus of one extra action token that we could give to anyone we wanted. Of course that went to Michelle and in the end it turned out to be just enough for her to complete our third and final objective. Victory for freedom and democracy!
You get little bonuses that you can spend to give yourself upgrades at the end of each game. In our case Anne put a new “Visa” into one of her aliases that allows her to travel to Asia more easily. We also built a permanent Safehouse in Peking which will also assist us in the future, and we got rid of some enemy surveillance from somewhere–I think in Paris.
Surveillance is represented by little “eye” stickers that you put on cities–if you spend too much time in places like this you risk losing one of your cover aliases. Our “counter-survelliance” sticker means that Paris does not threaten us in this way.
Sadly it was too late for us to move onto the next game–the first (and if we win, only) game in November, but we did peak ahead a little to see what was coming next from the Legacy Deck (a deck you read through when instructed which helps to drive the story forward) and saw that there were some interesting things coming!