Pandemic Legacy Season Zero – December Game #1 (and only)

And so our year of Pandemic Legacy Season Zero has come to an end!

In real life, it all happened in just under a year, although not all in an actual calendar year. We started in late January 2021, and finished early January 2022, having along the way some of the most fun game-playing experiences I have had.

If you don’t know, Pandemic Legacy is by Rob Leacock and Rob Daviau, from Z-Man Games. It is the “Legacy” version of the now-classic Pandemic board game. In the original, you are a team of disease control specialists trying to stop the outbreak of various diseases across the world. The “Legacy” aspect means that this version of the game changes as you go, and that your success or failure at different stages has ongoing consequences to future games.

Now, from here on in there are Big Spoilers, both for Pandemic Legacy in general, and eventually for the close of the Season Zero game.

Season One of Pandemic Legacy started kind of like a normal game, but quickly turned into a story where there was more-or-less a zombie outbreak going on (although they didn’t call it that). Season Two took place in a Mad Max-esque future, which the world had fallen into because of the problems present in Season One.

Now, the final (?) game in the “trilogy” is Season Zero, which goes back to the 1960’s and deals with the espionage activities that set up the conditions for Season One.

All through the year (the game is divided into months) my friends Rod, Anne and Michelle and I have been playing a team of spies attempting to stop both Soviet and rogue efforts to develop biological weapons. Eventually, we have even discovered that our own people, the CIA, are doing the same thing.

Each game you play covers a month of the year of the story, and normally you have two chances to “win” each month. But for December, there was only one chance. So we went into our December game knowing that this was the end of our game, and based on the lack of plans at this point to do any more such games, the end of our Pandemic Legacy journey.

Last time, the game gave us the opportunity to side with the rogue agent Alex Sabik, and to decide that our superiors at the CIA were not to be trusted.

We went the Sabik route, which led to our specific goals for December:

• Bring in Cooper (a CIA colleague whom we though was dead) and bring him to Sabik–to do this we had to get two Allied teams to San Francisco

• Figure out which of six control centres (one in each region of the world) was the focus of “Operation Lion’s Tooth”, where the so-called Medusa pathogen was going to be released to the world. Normally there is an “Identify Target City” action that one can do which would allow us to figure out which of these six places was the right one. In this case, though, we were forbidden to use that action. That meant that our only choices were to either get an active team into all six cities (quite a complicated undertaking, I don’t think we’ve ever had more than four active teams going in a game at once, and usually we have far less), OR we could wait until we happened to draw the other cities in our regular turns–you draw two cards per turn. The Target City was chosen by randomly choosing the cards for one of the six cities from the deck, so if we reveal cards for the other options, we eliminate them. The problem is, when you run out of cards, the game is over.

• Infiltrate the Pearl Station (again!) and go to an area that we hadn’t visited yet in order to steal the Medusa genome.

To do this, we had to send in one of our players, using their Soviet alias (we all had three–one Allied, one Neutral and one Soviet) to get around a secret installation and then have enough cards to dispose of a few to complete the mission.

Our regular infiltrator had been, for some time, Michelle, using her “Mishka Karenina” identity. So it was pretty clear that this was going to be her job–she just needed enough Action tokens (which allow a player to do more actions per turn than normal) to get all the way through the Pearl on one turn (because at the end of a turn you get booted back out again and then have to start all over).

Overall, our game-play went very smoothly. We were able to diffuse our riskiest situations, where too many enemy agents or too many disease cubes can lead to Incidents, which can bring the game to an end.

In the end, we only had one Incident (in Shanghai), which we were definitely happy about.

We also managed to keep things under control when we had Escalations. On one occasion, we had two Escalations turn up very close to each other, which is unlikely but possible (you shuffle the five Escalation cards each into their own fifth of the deck, and then stack them up again–so it is possible for one card to be at the bottom of the pile and another to be at the top of the next one).

This is bad because it means you are very likely to have an Incident, but we were able to use our special “One Quiet Night” Event card to slow things down enough to get them back under control.

We had good luck drawing out the cards we needed to eliminate the control centres that were not the starting point for Operation Lion’s Tooth. This meant that we could build the Neutral Team we needed to get to the actual city–Bogota, Colombia–and put an end to the nefarious work going on there.

We were also able to get the two teams that we needed to San Francisco relatively easily, which allowed to catch Cooper and bring him to Sabik.

Sabik was infected with COdA, which is the disease from Season One that turns people into “the Faded.” The game gave us another “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” moment where we could decide whether or not to intervene when Sabik was going to infect Cooper with COdA.

We chose to stop him, and I think (I can’t remember for sure now) we killed Sabik in the process.

Our biggest stress came when Michelle was infiltrating the Pearl. She managed to have the cards and Action Tokens she needed to move around, but we ran into trouble when she got into one room on the way–the Holding Cells.

There, her character was supposed to scratch of three “Cover”–these are little silver circles on the little passport pages that represent each alias.

Scratching them off sometimes reveals penalties–like you might have to lose a card, or gain a liability (a permanent weakness of some sort). There are ten covers for each alias, and some of the later ones even mean that alias is “burned” and you cannot use it anymore.

The problem is that for some of our characters, the little scratchy things didn’t really work very well. They would not scratch off unless you scratched so hard that you ripped up the paper. Maybe they somehow baked into place in the Perth heat? I don’t know.

You can’t really tell here, but believe me, she tried to scratch those things off!

But we didn’t realize this was a problem until after the game ended–because it seemed they were all like that, and it just appeared that there was no penalties under the ones that Michelle lost by entering that room. But after the game was over when we went ahead and scratched all of our circles, we found that many of them were not working properly. So who knows what penalties Michelle should have gotten, and whether or not it would have affected our gameplay in the end.

Oh well–we didn’t cheat on purpose.

In the end, we generated a pretty good score–695, which put us in the second highest grouping of scores (we would have had to get over 800 to get to the highest).

The game was reasonably complimentary to us at the end.

We also did well enough and made the right choices to get the game’s final twist, where we find out we are able to carry on past the year as a sort of secret cabal of agents in the CIA, and that our group even has a special name: ZODIAC.

It took us a bit to remember that Zodiac is actually the name of the bad guys in Pandemic Legacy Season One. So the twist is we turned out to be the villains from Season One. It’s similar to the twist o Season Two, where you find out you are the “monsters” from Season One. I like the interconnectivity, but I’m not really a fan of the idea of finding out that your group became villains later on, or that sort of thing. But oh well, that’s a quibble.

In the end, I’ve loved my several years of playing Pandemic Legacy games, and I’m sorry to see them come to an end.

Rod, Michelle and I started with our friend Dustin, who is actually the biggest game-player of all of us, but he had to leave Australia in the midst of Season Two. We waited ages for him to come back, but circumstances meant he has never been able to, so we eventually finished Season Two without him and then brought Anne in for Season Zero. This caused a small shaking up of our game dynamic, but definitely worked out and was a lot of fun.

After it was all over, we threw it away, because none of us really has room for game we’re never going to play again.

But, truth be told, I did keep a souvenir (I have some from my earlier experiences as well).

Plus, now I have these posts, and the memories of the time I spent with friends saving the world…my friends and all their faces.

Rod…

Michelle…

Anne…

And of course, me (photos taken later, in the literal light of day)…

Good times!

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