You clutch your briefcase close to your chest as freezing January rain hammers down hard against you in another strange European city. Your cover's been blown how many times now? You're not sure, and you're not sure this alias you've adopted will hold up much longer. Strange men in long coats follow you down rain-slicked streets, but you lose them as you dash inside the safe house. The jangling ring of your rotary phone makes you jump, but you've been waiting to hear from the team for days now. A voice on the line confirms your biggest fear: Project MEDUSA is go. Looks like it's just the start of another dangerous year. No one told you it would be easy working for the CIA. Welcome to Pandemic Legacy Season 0, a coop legacy board game from Z-Man Games.
When I say the words Pandemic Legacy Season 0, it makes sense to the well-initiated in the room. And if you're curious enough to check out this review, you likely understand, at its core, what this game is based on its title. But in case you're not, let's take a moment to explain. Pandemic was a cooperative game first released in 2008. The core concept was that players worked together as members of the CDC to contain and eliminate dangerous global pandemics from annihilating humanity (no comment). Pandemic Legacy Season 1 followed a few years later. A legacy game is designed to be played over a series of sessions, with decisions, successes, and failures carrying over from one game to the next. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 soon followed that, and now we've got Pandemic Legacy Season 0, which serves as a prequel to the Pandemic Legacy series. Got all that?
It's important to note that, although there is a story that runs through all three games, Season 0 is completely independent, and you don't need to have played the other two seasons to understand what's going on at all. So what does Season 0 bring to the table, and how is it different from Season 1 and Season 2? The first season of Pandemic took the classic model of the game, where members of the CDC battled various plagues, and stretched it out over 12 sessions corresponding with the months of the year. Events in January affected February, cities were lost, scars were gained. In Season 2, we fast-forward 71 years in the future, and you play as survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Now, in the prequel to the series, we're going back in time to 1962, in the heart of the Cold War, as players take on the roles of recent medical school graduates hired by the CIA to thwart the Soviets from developing a deadly bioweapon called Project MEDUSA. Gone are the spreading diseases of classic Pandemic, now the goal is to stop the spread of the soviets (they're the little red men you see in the picture above) by traveling the world, hunting down targets, and delving deeper into the mystery month by month.
For those familiar with the gameplay of the original Pandemic, not much has changed. The same core concept of doing four actions, collecting card sets, and maneuvering around a map of the world are all intact, but the game's never felt fresher. Each city in the world is divided into one of three affiliations: Allied, Neutral, and Soviet. This adds an exciting wrinkle to the game, as Allied cities around the world are easy to travel to, neutral cities require the expenditure of a resource, and Soviet cities require painstaking movement to enter, which makes sense, in 1962 it would be much easier to fly to San Francisco than it would be to fly to Novosibirsk, right? Also new to the game is the idea of creating "teams" on the ground which can activate in various cities. Play five matching cards in special locations and you can create a team of people who are better suited than you to the rough and tumble jobs of running down clues, routing out secrets, and dispensing counter-agents. And how are these teams of tough guys and gals depicted? Their figures are little vans.
This right here, the depiction of a team of assassins as a van on the board, gets to the heart of what I think is so special about Pandemic Legacy Season 0. It's willing to have a bit of fun, be a bit lighter, and wrap you up in a highly thematic escapade. We're going to keep this review 100% spoiler-free (all pictures you see are from the "prologue" which is just used to teach the rules and contains no Legacy elements) so I won't get into the surprises that wait for you, but there are pages of secrets, boxes with hidden resources, and so much more waiting for you in this game. And this time, more so than any other Pandemic Legacy (and, honestly, more so than any other Legacy game I've played in general), the secrets unveiled play session after play session make the most sense and feel the most earned in Season 0. Secrets are the lifeblood of the classic "Soviet-era spy game," and it just feels right to open a sealed box or lift a sealed element as you uncover more clues in your desperate bid to save the world from Project MEDUSA.
As you can tell from my review, I'm very enamored with this game. I think it's one of those rare gifts in gaming: an evolution on something that was already pretty damn close to perfect. Designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau have pushed their creativity and skill to the next level, and this game is a triumph for them both. Pandemic Legacy Season 0 does everything we want it to, it captures the sense of impending danger and doom, it lets us have fun in a world that's on the brink of disaster, and we get to play Soviet-era spies, which this 007 devotee can't get enough of. So put gas in the van, keep your dossier close by, and bundle up your overcoat, it's time to save the world again (for the first time).
Get This Game If:
- You're a fan of legacy games, or have always wanted to try one
- You're into the Cold War vibes this game revels in
- You're a van enthusiast
Avoid This Game If:
- You don't like to have to make permanent changes to your game board
- You're looking for a game in a modern setting
The copy of Pandemic Legacy Season 0 used in this review was provided by TriplePoint PR.