Pandemic Legacy is a co-operative campaign game, with an overarching story-arc played through 12-24 sessions, depending on how well your group does at the game. At the beginning, the game starts very similar to basic Pandemic, in which your team of disease-fighting specialists races against the clock to travel around the world, treating disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand.
During a player's turn, they have four actions available, with which they may travel around in the world in various ways (sometimes needing to discard a card), build structures like research stations, treat diseases (removing one cube from the board; if all cubes of a color have been removed, the disease has been eradicated), trade cards with other players, or find a cure for a disease (requiring five cards of the same color to be discarded while at a research station). Each player has a unique role with special abilities to help them at these actions.
After a player has taken their actions, they draw two cards. These cards can include epidemic cards, which will place
new disease cubes on the board, and can lead to an outbreak, spreading disease cubes even further. Outbreaks additionally increase the panic level of a city, making that city more expensive to travel to.
Each month in the game, you have two chances to achieve that month's objectives. If you succeed, you win and immediately move on to the next month. If you fail, you have a second chance, with more funding for beneficial event cards.
During the campaign, new rules and components will be introduced. These will sometimes require you to permanently alter the components of the game; this includes writing on cards, ripping up cards, and placing permanent stickers on components. Your characters can gain new skills, or detrimental effects. A character can even be lost entirely, at which point it's no longer available for play.
How to Play
Pandemic Legacy begins with the base set of Pandemic rules. On a huge map of the world, your team controls four disease specialists who can travel about the planet searching for a cure to four different diseases. Players can choose various roles, each with a special ability. The researcher can more easily exchange cards with others, for instance, while the dispatcher can move other players with ease.
On each turn, a player can take four actions—such as moving, treating disease, exchanging cards, building a research station, or seeking a cure—and then draw two new city cards that can help with movement or treatment. Cures are effected by collecting city cards in the color of the desired disease and then taking these to a research station.
Sounds easy—except that, after each turn, the four diseases spread further. An "infection deck" spreads new disease cubes around the board, and the number of infection cards drawn from the deck increases as the game goes on.
Making matters worse, five "epidemic" cards periodically surface. In addition to dropping three cubes onto one unlucky city, epidemics require players to "intensify" the infection deck by shuffling the discard pile and thenplacing it back on top of the infection deck. This devious mechanism, also seen in Leacock games like Forbidden Island, ensures that the next infection draws will hit already infected cities.
Once a city acquires more than three colored disease cubes, it suffers an "outbreak." When this happens, disease cubes spill over into every adjacent city. And if any of those cities already have three cubes, they too outbreak in a "chain reaction."
The game is won by curing diseases; it is lost if you suffer too many outbreaks, if you run out of disease cubes, or if you have failed to win by the time the deck of city cards is empty. Pandemic forces you to keep a close eye on disease loads around the world, but if your team spends too much time putting out flare-ups, it will never extinguish the full fire. Finding the balance between treating disease and seeking more permanent cures is a constant challenge.
The game is played full co-op style, with everyone's card kept face-up on the table. Though each player has a turn, there's no real down time to the game since every move is discussed by all players.
The legacy version of the game starts with most of the same rules, but it quickly morphs into something more complex.
The game manual includes 25 empty gray boxes labeled "RULE STICKER"—each one will alter the game after it is revealed and added to the manual.
The game plays across months, with each month revealing new objectives; lose one and you get a second shot at the mission, but lose two and you move to the next month regardless. Each mission results in certain permanent changes to the board, and winning or losing will increase or decrease your funding level for the next mission. (You will thus play between 12 and 24 total missions across the game. You record each win or loss, along with your funding level, on a calendar printed on the back page of the game manual.)
In addition, your team gets two "upgrades" at the end of every game, adding a light layer of RPG-style goodness to the experience. The upgrades can bolster characters, alter disease treatments, make research stations permanent, and provide new card bonuses—and that's just the start. Additional upgrades and bonuses will be revealed as the year progresses, thanks to a series of hidden items, closed boxes, and secret cards that come bundled with the game.