It’s 1962 – The Cold War is occurring between the USA and the Soviet Union. You and your fellow players are recent medical graduates working for the CIA to prevent Project MEDUSA. Does this sound like the makings of a great spy thriller? Well, welcome to the most recent entry in the Pandemic Legacy series. Z-Man Games Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 is an exciting take on Pandemic and the legacy campaign genre of games.
If you haven’t already, check out our review of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. This game is technically a prequel to that game, but you do not have to have played Season 1 or Season 2 to enjoy this game.
Game Overview – Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Let’s start our discussion of Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 with a brief overview of Pandemic and Legacy games. If you already know about both, feel free to skip ahead in this article. The original Pandemic game is set in modern times, and it has all players working together to traverse the globe, treating and curing four diseases using a deck of player cards. At the same time as the players are doing this, the game has a built-in feature where more and more disease (represented by transparent colored cubes) gets placed on cities on the board. The game is a giant puzzle where players must figure out the correct moves to win. After Pandemic’s wild success, Matt Leacock, the designer, teamed up with Rob Daviau, who had developed the game Risk into Risk Legacy, to turn Pandemic into not only a campaign game but a legacy campaign game.
Board game vs. Campaign Board Game vs. Legacy Campaign Game
The main difference between the original Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is how the players play it. The original game is a straight-up board game. If they win, great! If not, no problem; they just reset the game back to the beginning setup and start to play again. Well, that’s not the case with Pandemic Legacy games. The “Legacy” word is what’s critical here. A regular campaign game tells a story over a series of game sessions. Those can be anywhere from 2-15 or more individual games of whatever game you are playing, and in each session, the story advances slightly. How the players play the game (the specific rules) remains mostly the same. Occasionally in a campaign game, rules will change throughout the campaign. The key with a regular “Campaign” game is that players can reset everything and play the campaign again once finished. Now getting back to “Legacy” games. Pandemic Legacy is a Campaign game, as we just mentioned. The difference is that as a “Legacy,” once finished, players CAN NOT RESET THE GAME. In fact, in a Legacy game, players often fundamentally change the physical board game they are playing. Changing the game is done by applying stickers, destroying cards (ripping them up), and writing on game pieces. The individual copy of your game is no longer playable from the beginning after you have started it.
Now I know what you’re thinking; that sounds a bit crazy. Why would I buy a game that I am only going to destroy? The game is already expensive. Why am I going to spend money on this? Well, that’s a fair question. We, however, have a different take on it. Ask yourself this: How many times realistically are you going to sit down and play a new board game? How often have you played Monopoly or Scrabble before it sits on your shelf gathering dust? We’re willing to bet it’s only a few times a year (family gatherings, holidays, or a few times while on vacation). With Pandemic Legacy games, including Season 0, you are guaranteed to play at least 12 times and at most 24 times. This game plays out like a grand interactive story that you can all win or lose, and the fact you fundamentally change the game keeps you coming back to find out what happens next.
Now, back to the Pandemic: Season 0 overview. In this game, players traverse the globe and try to accumulate city cards in their hand while at the same time neutralizing Soviet agents. Each game session is one month in a 12-month campaign, and the goal is to successfully complete that month’s objectives. Objectives usually involve getting “teams” to a city or cities and performing the Aquire Target action. First, a single player must be in a city with a safe house to form a team. They must have five city cards with the same affiliation (Allied, Neutral or Soviet) as that city and then discard them to create a team. Van tokens represent teams marked with the affiliation. Once a team arrives on the board, the van moves between cities on any player’s turn. The goal is to create these teams, move them to the city in the objective card, and acquire the target.
Some objectives say “unknown city in Europe” or another region. When the players set up the game, they separate the city cards for the specified region, shuffle them and put a random card facedown under the objective. The goal is to figure out the city by process of elimination. In this case, when players draw cards into their hand, if it is a card from the region, they can let everyone know, and this is trackable on the board with target tokens. Players need not figure out definitively which card is the unknown city; they need to have enough teams with the correct affiliations in the cities that have not been deduced from the region.
While the players are collecting two cards from the player deck each turn, they are also moving around the board entering cities to remove Soviet agents. On each turn, immediately after a player takes their player cards, the player turns over the next few threat cards, which serve to add more agents to the board. They place cards in the discard pile. Placing agents increases the danger. If the players run out of soviet agents to put on the board, everyone loses the game. Two other types of cards mix with the player city cards: Events and Escalation. Events are one-time use cards that generally help the players. Escalation cards instead, have the player increase the threat level (number of agent cards drawn each turn), then draw a card from the bottom of the threat deck and add three agents to that city. Finally, they shuffle all the discarded threat cards and put them back ON TOP of the threat deck, meaning the cities where agents just were placed can have more agents added. If any city gains three agents and is going to get their fourth, they instead get an incident. If the players gain eight incidents in a game, they lose the game. They also lose if they run entirely through the player city card deck.
The game also includes a Debrief book and Legacy/Objective decks of cards. We’ll get into how those work in the gameplay section.
We’ll limit our comments here to just the components you find when you open the box. As a legacy game, Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 has many surprises. Sealed containers called lockboxes have additional components that only come out when the game tells the players to open them.
The game comes with an excellent board containing a map of the world circa 1962. Names of cities are accurate for the time—”Peking” instead of “Beijing,” for example. The board has spaces along the side with a few code words. These come into play as the game progresses. There is also space at the top for the objective cards and threat cards. The board makes it feel like you are looking at a map sitting on a desk with a coffee cup, coffee stains, and printed pencil images. It feels like one of those maps you see on an agent’s table in spy movies.
Speaking of agents, the game has a fair number of red agent figures holding suitcases. These represent the increased Soviet army trying to advance their plan. These are well designed and a welcome change from the translucent cubes of the original game. The safe-houses appear as tall apartment buildings and look impressive. The teams are vans with the affiliation printed on the top. The component we were unsure about was the incident tokens. They look like spiral cylinders, and we apply two stickers to either end. We’re not sure why we had to add stickers to the incident token when the vans had their symbols preprinted on them.
Finally, the cards are highly designed and keep in theme. We loved the city cards and how they show the map of the city in the world, so players can quickly locate it on the board (when figuring out an “unknown city” This was helpful. The game also comes with a Legacy deck, which is how the story gets told. Each month has a set of cards. Some of these cards have instructions from superiors, and we loved the illustrations of the characters. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the passports. You are a spy, after all, so you need aliases — throughout the game, each passport can have an Ally, Neutral or Soviet aliases. Each alias has a scratch-off area that tells players if they have burned it and can no longer use it for the rest of the campaign (not just the rest of the game). Lastly, the game comes with eight lock boxes and five dossier sheets. Think of the dossier sheets like an advent calendar with lettered and numbered windows opening when the game instructs players to do so. The legacy deck and other components direct the players to open these. Most of the dossier sheets have rule stickers underneath. These rules are placed in the instruction book or on the board or other cards in the game.
All these components tell a compelling story and keep the game fresh and new every time you play.
If you’ve played a Pandemic game before, this will all seem a bit familiar. In Pandemic Legacy: Season 0, the first thing the group does is draw one card at a time off of the Legacy deck. They read the card aloud and note any letters or numbers at the bottom. These letters/numbers are directions to open lockboxes or dossier windows. After completing the first card, they draw and resolve legacy cards until they reach a “Pause” or a “Stop” card. Both of these have conditions to continue the deck. Once the group meets those conditions later in the game, the players may continue reading. Pausing the legacy deck allows the game to draw out the story throughout a game session.
this process and pull three more cards, placing two agents, and finally, three more cards and put one agent in each city. This process is all standard Pandemic at this point, with agents replacing disease cubes.
The players then look at their current funding level. In January, when the game starts, this is 5. They select event cards based on their funding level and add them to the city cards, shuffle and deal out cards to the players (in a 4-person game; two cards, 3-person; three cards, 2-person, four cards). Then finally, they deal the remaining cards into six piles and place one escalation card on each. Then shuffle the piles separately and put them on the player deck space. This process ensures that escalations don’t appear grouped together throughout the deck.
If this is the first game, place all players in the safe house in Washington DC, and you are ready to play!
So this game is, as mentioned before, a vast puzzle. The goal is to get enough cards, to create teams of an affiliation the players need, and to move them in a position to acquire the target. Since players can only take two cards each turn, the game is more difficult as other players may have a few cards you need to complete the set. We found that the most critical action that players can do in the game is the “Share Intel” action. Sharing intel allows players to trade cards to complete the goal. As the group collects cards for creating teams, players must be mindful of the soviet agents and go into cities to neutralize them. Some cities are under surveillance. If a player starts their turn in a city with surveillance, they must scratch off the next box on their alias passport. Scratching off the passport can result in losing cards or ultimately burning that identity. We love that players can change their alias in a safe house. Aliases are fun because players can create what they look like using face stickers, hair, glasses, and other disguise stickers to complete their look.
In a regular Pandemic game, when a player gains five cards of a colored region, they go to a research station and cure the disease. This game is more challenging because players need to get five cards of the same affiliation and go to a safe house; this only creates a team players can use to complete their goal. We guess that, in some respects, this makes it easier to meet multiple objectives because they are reusing teams and not having to collect additional cards. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet which is hugely advantageous is the “mop up” action that the team tokens take. The mop-up action removes Soviet agents from any city where a team van finishes its turn. The agents go back to the supply. This action is similar to the Treat action from the Medic in a regular Pandemic game. Players don’t have to take a specific action to do this; anyone can move the team.
One area we were underwhelmed with was the Incident actions. So when a fourth agent is to be added to a city, players don’t do this, and instead, they get an Incident; players are supposed to pull the bottom card from the threat deck and do the incident action on it. The problem we found with this is these actions are either horrible for players because they tend to cause cascading incidents or nothing at all happens, which seems pointless.
Other than this minor issue, we love how this game plays. We love how the game evolves and changes throughout the different game sessions. There are rules we don’t mention here that completely change how the game plays later. These rules and changes keep the game fresh and exciting throughout.
Overall as mentioned above, we enjoy playing Pandemic Legacy: Season 0. We’ve played six months of it so far; We’re eager to finish the rest of the year. So far, we have not had to repeat any months. If the players fail to win a month, they get another chance to finish the month. Luckily after April, any completed objectives from their first try don’t have to be redone. We also like the idea that we don’t have to pass all monthly objectives to move on.
We feel that the designers could handle the Incidents a bit better. Maybe that will change in the final six months of the game; who knows?
If you are a fan of campaign story-driven games and you love the idea of playing a Legacy Spy game, definitely check this game out! If this sounds like a game for you, we have it in our store!