Pandemic Legacy Season 0 Review: A Clever Twist On A Familiar Format

Legacy games are the most satisfying board game experience you can have. Particularly with Pandemic Legacy, which is a cooperative experience that requires long-term strategy and teamwork across a dozen or more individual games, there is no better feeling than finally winning the final round of a Legacy game. Pandemic Legacy Seasons 1 and 2 managed to take the edge-of-your-seat gameplay from Pandemic and stretch it into a 12-month campaign with compelling, evolving stories. The first two entries are some of my favorite board games ever and the best place to start for anyone interested in legacy-style board games because of how accessible and grounded they are.

Thankfully, Pandemic Legacy Season 0 succeeds in delivering all the big moments and thrilling twists and turns we’ve come to expect from Pandemic Legacy. It’s by far the most different of all the Pandemic games, both narratively and mechanically, but it never strays too far from the format to alienate fans or forget what makes Pandemic work.

Pandemic Legacy Season 0 is set in 1962 and tells a Cold War-era story about a Soviet-made super virus still in its infancy. The story is rife with spies, counter-intelligence, cloak and dagger missions, and plenty of surprises. What surprised me the most about Season 0 was the actual characters you meet and interact with throughout the story. The previous season’s stories developed from a global perspective, but Season 0 takes a different approach to storytelling.

You and your teammates play as recent CIA graduates. As epidemiologists-turned-super-spies, you’ll be tasked with uncovering a Soviet plot to spread a deadly disease across the world. The first character you are introduced to is your CIA handler, Cooper, who tasks you with tracking down a rogue CIA agent who went off the grid while investigating the Soviet’s plot. When you eventually track down the agent early in the year, you’ll quickly start to questions his motives, while he encourages you to question the motives of Cooper. It’s a fantastic setup that goes to some really surprising places throughout the campaign. The theming of the game is fantastic and the story is gripping, but this sometimes comes at the cost of accessibility.

A lot of the previous mechanics of Pandemic Legacy have been translated into Season 0 but altered to fit the theme. Rather than recruiting a selection of characters to upgrade and play with, your group’s four original characters will each earn access to three different identities: one Soviet, one Allied, and one Neutral, all managed through physical passports. Rather than collecting scars and eventually dying, these pseudo-identities can eventually get “burned,” meaning they can no longer be used and the character will have access to one fewer identity to play with. It’s a great bit of flavor, and decorating the picture IDs in each passport with disguises is a lot of fun, but it’s an example of the game escalating the complexity over previous entries. Season 0 is decidedly high concept.

Every game (or month in Pandemic Legacy terms) introduces two or more missions. In Season 0, teams do not cure diseases by bringing five of the same color card to a research center, as they would in a regular Pandemic or Pandemic Legacy game. In fact, disease cubes don’t even show up on the board until the third or fourth month. Instead, players use their resources to create safe houses around the world where teams can be trained. The teams, represented by spy vans, are used to complete objectives. Sometimes teams are used to extract targets, sometimes they are used to collect intel, but teams are always required to solve objectives.

Part of what makes Season 0 a lot more complex than the previous games is that you are managing not just different geographic regions, but three different factions. While some actions require you to collect matching region cards, others require you to collect matching faction cards, and remembering which actions need which cards increases the learning curve of Season 0 significantly. Further, many actions and abilities are restricted based on which faction controls the city you want to travel to, from, build in, or resolve an objective in, and faction control changes throughout the course of the story. While there isn’t any narrative background a player necessarily needs in order to enjoy Season 0, I would highly recommend they play Season 1 or Season 2 first just to get a baseline of all these different systems first, because Season 0 complicates them immeasurably.

All that being said, Season 0 does manage to provide the most engaging story out of all three seasons. It is the most demanding game, no doubt, but I found it to be the most rewarding as well. It’s a slow burn, as spy thrillers often are, but I ended up really appreciating the risks that Season 0 takes and the new directions they were willing to go.

I think Season 0 is officially the end of Pandemic Legacy, and while it’s a worthy conclusion, it’s such an inspired game that I’d love to see what new direction they could take the series. The far future or other alternate timelines are well within their grasp and I think no matter where Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau wanted to take the series, they would absolutely nail it. Pandemic Legacy Season 0 is the most demanding of the three legacy games, but for those willing to accept the challenge I think it ends up being the most satisfying game in the series.

READ NEXT: Learn To Play Pandemic Legacy Season 0 With Free Demo On Tabletop Simulator

 

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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