Lipstick and a Pig - Pandemic Review

Lipstick and a Pig - Pandemic Review Hot

Egg Shen     
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The end of the year is approaching with the same inevitable certainty as death and taxes. That means we're going to see a smorgasbord of "Top Ten" lists, "Year's Best" lists and other opinion pieces. It's generally a fun time to look back at the year and assess everyone's favorite things. This is not going to be one of those lists. No, this is going to be a torpedo of truth about a game that is destined to rest atop many people's lists. That game is Pandemic Legacy.

Pandemic Legacy is already being heralded by many as the best game of the year. Some are arguing it's the greatest game ever designed. This is something I cannot accept to be true. I know this because the game is based on vanilla Pandemic. Pandemic is a game that is held in high regard, but it is not a terribly fun experience. In fact, sitting down to a game of Pandemic is about as exciting as watching a sloth try and cross a street. So when you take a pedestrian game and then slap on the mother of all boargaming gimmicks, it doesn't scream, "greatest game of all time" to me.

So this begs the question, "Why is Pandemic Legacy so amazing?" Folks are talking about the "story" and the "experience" the game generates. The fervor surrounding this game tells me that all of these Euro lovers have secretly ALWAYS wanted a taste of what Ameritrash games provide. There is no other explanation right? The game is just Pandemic with some story about the diseases mutating along with some new-ish rules that occasionally pop up. So those additions take an average co-op game and suddenly it becomes this legendary design? Pandemic lovers must have been yearning for cinematic moments, scripted twists, constantly updated rules and stickers. All that stuff really blows the lid off the, "Hey I've got four red cards, can you move me to Hong Kong on your turn?" gameplay. If that's the case then all of your wildest dreams have come true because these superficial things have been tacked onto one of the world's most boring co-op games.

Pandemic Legacy isn't the only culprit either. Red Raven Games' latest, Above and Below, mixes Tales of the Arabian Nights style storytelling with worker placement of all things. The game has been getting rave reviews thanks to its unlikely marriage of Euro mechanics and storytelling experience. The success of these games isn't quite the same as hybrid games of years past. These are more straight-laced Euro games tossing copious amounts of narrative right into the middle of their designs.

The problem I have with these games is that these supposed "storytelling" elements are only skin deep. The gimmick of adding new rules/features in a Legacy game, or reading story blurbs is an incredibly shallow way to generate theatrics in a game. Most great boardgame narrative/experiences aren't about flavor text. Actually PLAYING the game is what generates the stories. The game does its job of putting the players on the stage and it's up to the individuals at the table to figure out what kind of story emerges. These dramatic moments occur naturally in the best games. They feel organic and the impression they leave you with is addictive. The taste of the experience washes over your pallet like a perfectly cooked meal. For many of us, it's why we play games in the first place.

Boardgames creating memorable sessions shouldn't be about how something story related occurs that players read and then react to. Sure that happens, but gosh, how utterly boring! It shouldn't be about opening up an envelope for new tokens or scribbling something on the board. I'm more interested in the unscripted moments that you'll NEVER expect. This comes from the human element. The game itself can only do so much. Go play a game of Intrigue to see what a tense, cutthroat, and unforgettable experience really feels like. Or play Fury of Dracula with a blood thirsty, ultra aggressive, Dracula. The unpredictability of human behavior completely blows away anything artificially discovered on a sticker or a card. Ultimately, the game merely provides a loose structure to build an experience on. It really comes down to the people at the table to create the magic.

I believe that games are most memorable when something unlikely and exhilarating happens. A big problem with Pandemic for me is that most of the unexpected stuff is not controlled by the players. Flipping over cards to see the diseases spread/epidemics occur provides tension, but isn't something the players control. Winning a game and getting a new character to play or an upgrade to an existing character is neat, but again nothing the players in the game did. Pandemic, by design, is a sterile and controlled game. That is what people like about it. You essentially try to use your cards and actions in the most efficient way possible while leaving the least amount of chances for an Outbreak to occur. That is the experience every time you set it up to play. When I'm playing a game there is no better feeling than having a player surprise you with something you've never witnessed before. It might have been a risky gambit that paid off or an unlikely strategy that just crashed and burned. Following a script, no matter how good, is merely window dressing. I can't help but feel like it's a trick. It's a façade that when removed exposes the heart and soul of the game: the gameplay. Pandemic Legacy is like going to a Michelin star rated restaurant only to discover that the chef is re-purposing food from Applebees. A game's narrative can only be as good as its primary ingredients. If the basic rules do not allow for exciting play then it's hard to care about the story happening.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not some Scrooge-like Euro hater. If a game is good, I'll play it. Also, I don't care about Ameritrash games vs Euros or any nonsense like that. I like fun games and I merely call it like I see it. For me, the way Pandemic Legacy uses story and gimmicks to facilitate the experience is little more than tasteless fluff. It's difficult to be impressed by it. So when I see people/reviewers losing their mind over this game it really makes me wonder, because it still boils down to playing a game of Pandemic. No amount of flavor text or fluctuating rules are going to change that. So, as the saying about lipstick and a pig goes, the end result is only a slightly sexier swine... or something.


Lipstick and a Pig - Pandemic Review There Will Be Games
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Posted: 15 Dec 2015 19:56 by Da Bid Dabid #217422
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Posted: 15 Dec 2015 20:01 by JonJacob #217423
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Nice job. Entertaining read that also had a ring of truth to it. Much appreciated.
Posted: 15 Dec 2015 20:14 by chouzar #217424
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This was just spot on.

Played pandemic a couple of months ago... the experience was completely dry for me. I don't think the Legacy aspect will make me change my mind if all I'm sill doing is hand managment with complete out of place abstractions.
Posted: 15 Dec 2015 20:28 by Sevej #217426
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Huge fan of Pandemic here. But even I will admit it's "dry". It's not something I pull out, but I'll gladly play when someone requests it. It just provided the co-op experience I enjoy, unlike most co ops. It's got smooth AI, re-program itself each game, and a meaningful map play. No need to deal with ifs, buts and thens. The AI part is a fraction of your gameplay time. The pace is excellent with highs and lows, not just constant pounding from the AI.

It's a really solid game for me.

And the comparison to Fury of Dracula is... baffling. Not sure what are you trying to do by comparing an AI controlled opposition with human controlled one...
Posted: 15 Dec 2015 21:25 by Ancient_of_MuMu #217433
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It would be good if you could edit the piece to make it clearer as to when you are talking about Pandemic and when you are talking about Pandemic Legacy because there are quite a few times when you say "Pandemic" and I think you are referring to "Pandemic Legacy". Because of this it leaves me unclear as to whether you have actually played Pandemic Legacy or are just extrapolating from Pandemic.

Apart from that I disagree. I have had just as much fun playing Pandemic Legacy as I have had playing other Ameritrash games, but then I don't mind a game of standard Pandemic every now and then.
Posted: 15 Dec 2015 22:01 by Jarvis #217436
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I got the impression from the article that he never played Pandemic: Legacy and just inferred his thoughts of the basic game onto it.

I really enjoyed both the vanilla game and the legacy version of it (after 4 plays). So far the legacy version has done a really good job of developing the missions between sessions. Each has felt unique with the status of the diseases on the board. Sure it's drier than other games, but it is still one of the best designed coops out there.

My friends, family and I will still regularly play Pandemic and I don't see that changing any time soon.
Posted: 15 Dec 2015 23:50 by Frohike #217439
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I've played Pandemic: Legacy and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. In fact I think it's the game Pandemic should have been, but obviously at a cost (essentially becoming a disposable/consumable game). I enjoy the new material and change-ups that unlock as a consequence of actions in the game, the fact that outbreaks have long term repercussions, that my characters can get fucked up in different ways and/or eventually die, causing my interactions with the other players to change. I don't see any of this as "aping" Ameritrash narrative. Sure it's adopting a narrative modality, but it's doing this in a competent, integrated manner because it's a competent legacy design. I don't think it's slapping on the veneer of Ameritrash quite as lazily or affectedly as one would think, though disliking the core game is obviously not going to make one prone to investigate this design further (it enhances the core game but doesn't redeem some of the flaws). I also think this particular design is much less prone to the problem I faced in Risk: Legacy of players purposefully playing in fucked up ways to unlock content.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 02:22 by scissors #217440
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I don't want to slight you, but I am curious have you played Pandemic Legacy or Above and Below? Because the tone strangely sounds like you actually haven't, like Jarvis suggests, or not much. (or maybe you are limited so as not to reveal spoilers? in which case, thanks).

The way the article is written, a lot of this sounds like conjecture to make a broader philosophical point abut games and narrative.

somehow the points you made aren't very convincing to me, it comes across as not very specific and shallow, even if I understand and agree in essence with what you are saying.

Otherwise, I am not a huge vanilla Pandemic fan, either, but I am pretty sure I could have fun with this game based on what I have heard. And if not, I'm out the cost of one game. not that big a deal.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 03:26 by Ancient_of_MuMu #217441
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Rereading the article, I think Jarvis is correct and he is slandering the game without playing it because he hates Pandemic. Which is definitely interesting because Pandemic Legacy does do more with story and narrative than many Ameritrash games do. I have played numerous Board game campaigns and they always felt lacking until Pandemic Legacy because the consequences of success and failure were always irrelevant.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 04:04 by Josh Look #217442
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Man, thank you for writing this. I was throwing around the idea of doing a preemptive strike against the inevitable GOTY lists we'll be seeing soon. 2015 has been a great year for gaming, but the games that will be most talked about are entirely overrated. Cthulhu Wars is the poster child for mediocrity, Blood Rage offers nothing for me to give two shits about, and then there's this, Febreeze spayed on the turd that is Pandemic.

Great job, Egg.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 04:11 by scissors #217443
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Oh those terrible GotY lists. if only I could avoid them somehow.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 06:25 by Josh Look #217445
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I don't think you necessarily need to play the game to make this kind of observation. Pandemic is a truly terrible game, a nexus of everything wrong with co-ops in one easy to avoid package. Forcing a storyline which, from all indications is built around the players rather than coming from the players and what they do, is enough for me to say that it isn't enough to justify the reaction it's gotten. I've played Pandemic. I know how it works. I know that much of the game rides on being in the right place at the right time with the right resources and the threats coming out in an order that doesn't entirely screw you over. The heart of that poorly designed experience is still present, a story is supposed to fix that? Please.

I know, I know, "Pandemic is so popular! You're the minority, fun is subjective!" Yeah, maybe, but you know what else is true? Surivor is still on the air, Michael Bay and Zack Snyder movies still make bank, and Coldplay sells shit tons of records. That doesn't paint a pretty picture for "popular opinion" and the intelligence of those who hold it.

And the Fury of Dracula thing isn't really a comparison, it's an example of story that stems from actual gameplay, not poorly written words on a card.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 06:44 by Legomancer #217446
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I like Pandemic Classic, even though I don't play it very often. Legacy was something I was eager to try, as I hadn't played a legacy game before. Our first two games of PL we lost, and I wasn't sure if this was an improvement on the design, not because we lost but because (a) we lost in the familiar Pandemic way - poorly timed Epidemics that we couldn't get to in time. I worried that PL was assuming we were better at Pandemic than we actually were, and we were just going to continue to suffer.

Last night, though, we played two more games and won both. And the reason why was due to the things that later came out, which gave us not just a leg up, but more options to utilize. We went from having four fairly obvious roles to play to having to really agonize over that choice. The choices opened up and became a lot more interesting and less obvious.

I haven't really played with any classic Pandemic expansions, so maybe the stuff we're seeing is still old hat to Pandemic fans, but it's made for an exciting narrative to us in PL.

I like narrative in games. I'd say it's one of my top three goals in playing a game. And I like it to be player-driven, not "here's a card with some text on it, now we're 'dripping with theme'." I think Dead of Winter is a load of crap, and I have never ever understood the appeal of Tales of the Arabian Nights. PL is guilty of a lot of that; the criticism that the narrative is driven by in-game devices instead of the players is valid. If you don't like Classic Pandemic on top of that, then no, there really isn't anything for you here, and that's fine.

However, if you're already friendly towards regular Pandemic, then there is still something here. The game controls how these mechanisms are doled out, but the decisions involved in using or not using them, and the crafting of the board and roles to fit a group-decided strategy are still there for players.

PL will certainly be on my Top Ten list for the year. There's a lot there for me personally to be excited about. Will it be #1? Probably not, as I don't see it unseating the current most likely contender for that spot, Caylus (kidding.) But just as I think there's a lot of hyperbole surrounding its rocket rise, there's also a lot of it on the other side (apparently over on BGG there's been a campaign of 1s to overcome the 10s because you can only insta-10 a game if it's another goddamn Uwe Rosenberg farm game).
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 07:01 by Black Barney #217451
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I really hate Pandemic but Legacy is my most wanted board game right now. I don't know why that is
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 07:18 by Shellhead #217452
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Scrooge-like Euro hater here. I tried Pandemic, and found it to be a themeless piece of crap waste of my time. I thought that this Legacy version might have been a chance to attach actual theme and narrative to the boring mechanics and transcend into actual entertainment, but it sounds like that isn't the case. Actually the worst knock that I've heard against Pandemic Legacy is that it doesn't really matter if you win or lose individual games, the story continues on track either way.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 07:36 by Disgustipater #217454
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Not that BGG ratings are a meaningful metric in any way, but I find it amusing that Pandemic Legacy is the #1 game in the Strategy Board Game ranking, recently usurping Twilight Struggle's spot.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 08:27 by JonJacob #217460
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With all the fuss over on BGG about this game the one thing I will say about it is that I'm happy to see Rob have such success and I'm happy that the legacy idea is really clicking with gamers because I do think that is some pretty fucking awesome lipstick.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 09:58 by Unicron #217466
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Unlike many here, I’m not opposed to cooperative designs, but I think the caveat is always going to be that the game in question needs to grant individual players a fair amount of agency. Because Pandemic only grants limited agency to the collective, it doesn’t spare much to the individual. I think original recipe Pandemic is a fine solitaire game where one can control multiple pawns/hands of cards to beat the system, but as a play experience, it’s just about optimizing activity/barking orders at your fellow players until a random card draw foils your strategy. I think the players that are desperate for a narrative and great anecdotal gaming experiences should just play better games. If you’re looking for a rich 60-minute-or-less game that you’ll be talking of for years to come, you probably won’t find it. If you’re looking to play 12 sessions of something over the next year for that experience, there are still a ton of better RPG’s or board games worth exploring.

As for the “legacy” component, many times I’m playing games, someone spills their beer. From now on, I’ll shout “LEGACY!” when this occurs
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 10:25 by Jexik #217472
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I really enjoyed Risk Legacy. I've been playing Pandemic with my girlfriend (and occasionally her parents) over the last couple months. We're looking forward to playing P:L.

But when I was in middle and early high school I preferred the linear JRPGs to the aimless bioware/bethesda games. I like there to be a story defined by an author. There can still be interesting player-driven moments in games like this in addition to the scripted revelations. Rob looks at these legacy titles almost like he's writing a TV show over 13 episodes that happens to have a game attached to it.

Really, it brings campaigns to the masses without making people get afraid of the idea of roleplaying as a half goblin prostitute.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 12:48 by Ska_baron #217493
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Jexik nailed the appeal - so if that doesnt sound fun to you, then of course you won't like it. Having only played Risk: Legacy and Classic Pandemic, and loving both, I'd be all over this if I had dedicated folks/time.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 13:06 by boothwah #217500
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Great article Egg. Good read. Please keep writing.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 14:45 by scissors #217514
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the game may very well may suffer from the shortcomings listed, but I intend to actually play the game before I make up my mind.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:17 by Ancient_of_MuMu #217519
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There is one important difference between Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy that many may be underestimating. The nature of the Legacy system means that there is no longer one true path to victory. In Pandemic you can overlook a few things that make the situation worse as long as they won't stop you winning. Having a few extra outbreaks is irrelevant if you know there can't be enough to stop you winning, but now you have to weigh up the consequences of all those minor losses, as they can come to be much more important in the context of the bigger picture. So the alpha dog problem is reduced down to a more Arkham Horror like level from the extreme situation that is present in base Pandemic.

There are a few reasons why most people rate Pandemic Legacy 2 to 3 ratings points out of 10 higher than Pandemic:
1) Alpha Dog problem reduced
2) More theme
3) More complexity
4) Very solid campaign system

Unless your main reason that you don't want to try Pandemic Legacy is that you fundamentally don't like Co-ops because you have to crush someone else to enjoy life it is worth considering playing, if only to see how well implemented the game is as a campaign compared to every other board game campaign. There are a lot of people who hate Pandemic and love Pandemic Legacy.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:22 by JonJacob #217521
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Ancient_of_MuMu wrote:
Unless your main reason that you don't want to try Pandemic Legacy is that you fundamentally don't like Co-ops because you have to crush someone else to enjoy life...

I keep seeing this idea being bandied about on the Fort... I don't know why people feel the need to assume that anyone who doesn't like co-ops is such a monstrous asshole but it is entirely unfair and completely ignores several very valid reasons that have nothing to do with this.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:23 by DukeofChutney #217523
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I agree
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:29 by Black Barney #217526
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DukeofChutney wrote:
I agree

Christ, what an asshole

/ doesn't like co-ops either
// why aren't we talking about Star Wars
/// booth is better at this than me
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:58 by Ancient_of_MuMu #217532
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JonJacob wrote:
Ancient_of_MuMu wrote:
Unless your main reason that you don't want to try Pandemic Legacy is that you fundamentally don't like Co-ops because you have to crush someone else to enjoy life...

I keep seeing this idea being bandied about on the Fort... I don't know why people feel the need to assume that anyone who doesn't like co-ops is such a monstrous asshole but it is entirely unfair and completely ignores several very valid reasons that have nothing to do with this.
As I was writing that, I was trying to think of why people fundamentally don't like co-ops and there only seem to be the same few reasons, but all are to do with implementation which could change in the right game rather than the fact that it is a co-op (generally the two I see most often are alpha dog and any AI not as being as clever as a person). If the problem couldn't be fixed in the right implementation, then it does come down to the fact that you feel the need to compete against others rather than work together as a team.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 15:59 by Shellhead #217533
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Some of my favorite games are co-ops. Pandemic is one of my least favorite games.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 16:20 by JonJacob #217535
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Ancient_of_MuMu wrote:
JonJacob wrote:
Ancient_of_MuMu wrote:
Unless your main reason that you don't want to try Pandemic Legacy is that you fundamentally don't like Co-ops because you have to crush someone else to enjoy life...

I keep seeing this idea being bandied about on the Fort... I don't know why people feel the need to assume that anyone who doesn't like co-ops is such a monstrous asshole but it is entirely unfair and completely ignores several very valid reasons that have nothing to do with this.
As I was writing that, I was trying to think of why people fundamentally don't like co-ops and there only seem to be the same few reasons, but all are to do with implementation which could change in the right game rather than the fact that it is a co-op (generally the two I see most often are alpha dog and any AI not as being as clever as a person). If the problem couldn't be fixed in the right implementation, then it does come down to the fact that you feel the need to compete against others rather than work together as a team.

I can't really answer because I don't mind co-ops. But of the people I play with that don't like them it's mainly the AI issue (the same issue is sometimes stated as 'too puzzle like') but even if we are playing a competitive DoaM, let's say, most people won't be 'crushing' anyone. They will most likely lose. So it's not about crushing people at all because we do have fun playing competitive games, in which by default most of us will lose. Everyone taking part in a competitive game has to come to terms with that.

I could, very well, state it the opposite way. There is one guy I play with, great dude, but he can't stand losing and will turn into a whiny bitch sometimes if he loses. With him I pretty much always play co-ops because it's more fun that way. I won't stop being his friend because I love the guy but I avoid introducing him to games where I feel his bad side might become exposed. So co-op's it is.

So... are all co-op fans whiny bitches who can't stand losing to other people? No, obviously not. We are more complex than that.

I think the major flaw with your line of thought is that there should be a reason that people 'fundamentally don't like co-ops' - there doesn't need to be a fundamental reason behind it.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 17:23 by DukeofChutney #217541
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Aside for being guilty of being Pandemic i have a few criticisms a few games in. Im not sure how much narrative agency and variety there really is. Most of the main events seem to just trigger after start of month X. I don't know what I expected but it feels a bit less unique than perhaps i thought it would be. Equally, whilst it is hard to stop snowballing i wonder if this could have been dealt with more effectively. I expect you could get into a win or death spiral if you do really well or badly in the early games. Whilst there are mechanics to mitigate this i'm not sure they go far enough or are nuanced enough. They could fairly easily have graded in assistance for excessive winning or losing a bit more granularity imo.

I think the legacy format could be applied to pretty much any coop, and hope we do see it applied to a few other games. I wonder how many Seasons of Pandemic Legacy we will get. My guess is 3 or 4 but I hope we see some other coop get given a legacy treatment rather than just endless pandemic iterations.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 18:04 by Mad Dog #217543
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Most co-ops I've played felt more like doing a puzzle as a group. For the most part when I have other players I like to play games with them not complete puzzles together. I can do puzzles by myself. This may also spill over into my dislike of certain types of Euros. Has nothing to do with needing to win. In fact I probably lose a lot more than I win. I'd give up gaming altogether if that bothered me.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 18:29 by wadenels #217545
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Mad Dog wrote:
Most co-ops I've played felt more like doing a puzzle as a group. For the most part when I have other players I like to play games with them not complete puzzles together. I can do puzzles by myself. This may also spill over into my dislike of certain types of Euros. Has nothing to do with needing to win. In fact I probably lose a lot more than I win. I'd give up gaming altogether if that bothered me.

That's a good point and a solid argument against Pandemic (not Legacy). It's just as many parts puzzle as it is game.

Legacy wraps that puzzle up in a proper setting. There's a background story that unfolds as you play. It is linear, in that you're going to plow through the twelve months whether you're ready for it or not, but each step along the way something changes and maybe you learn something new. A lot of complexity is added by the end of the game but Legacy brings you along gradually and the complexity is all tied to the narrative. Puzzle aspect aside, classic Pandemic never had any kind of real narrative or lasting effects that would make you play the game any differently from any other optimization exercise. A few games into Legacy you realize sometimes it may be better to lose a game for the greater good; MuMu gets it right in that the scope is now bigger than a single game. Each Legacy game is really just a round in a much bigger game that unfolds as you play.

If you didn't like Pandemic then Legacy won't convert you. But if you enjoy Pandemic you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not getting some friends together and digging into Legacy. I've played a lot of Pandemic over the years, and we only keep it around anymore because my wife and many of our friends still like it. I never suggest it anymore. But we played through Legacy in three sessions because we were having a hell of a lot of fun. Seventeen games, some meals and at least 20 hours of gameplay. I'm looking forward to Season 2 already.
Posted: 16 Dec 2015 19:47 by Gversace #217551
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I do not like Pandemic; I find it boring. Pandemic: Legacy, however, was one of the best games I've played all year. It's excellent.

I've also played Above & Below. The problem I had with it was that the fun parts (adventuring) didn't feel like they were the best way to win. Overall, I thought the fun parts were fun enough that I didn't care if I was furthering my chance at victory, which is both good and bad.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 08:32 by Egg Shen #217569
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This was never meant to be a review of Pandemic Legacy and I didn’t submit it as such. Rest assured, I have played the game and I do have an idea for a full fledged review. This article was meant to be a discussion about the game and people’s reaction to it. I purposely wrote the piece as vague as to not potentially get into any spoilers or anything like that. Anywho, the main point is that I find the underlying chassis of the design (Pandemic) to be an incredibly average game.

So in my opinion, we have this middling gaming experience and they’ve gone and added the Legacy formula to it and then voila…greatest game of all time? I question that with every fiber of my being. When people/sites start tossing around “Greatest of All Time” I think that warrants discussion. Granted, I understand my opinion is not going to be very popular (even on this website), but I don’t care. Any game that is using Pandemic as the basis of it design should never be in the discussion of greatest games of all time. It’s as simple as that.

My other big point is that I believe Pandemic Legacy disappoints in the narrative department. The lack of player agency with regards to its storytelling is particularly bothersome. When I mine the recesses of my warped mind for my favorite boardgaming moments….every single one of them, has come from the PLAYER doing something unforgettable. I have never once flipped over a card (in any game) read it aloud and then had my mind blown…or the table gasp…or people cheer. We’ve laughed or gone, “oh, that’s cool”. It usually doesn’t go much further than that. Reading flavor text or story paragraphs is like watching a cut-scene in a videogame. It’s not nearly as exciting as playing the game. Do you remember the awesome boss fight and how you barely survived or the lame ass cut-scene afterwards? Pandemic Legacy essentially uses a script to add new things throughout the Months (each game session). It’s a novel concept for sure, but I think as a storytelling device it fails. It’s not dynamic. There is a reason it’s called “Season 1” and that’s because you’re essentially following along the game’s pre-destined path. I just don’t find that very compelling.

If you love Pandemic Legacy, this isn’t meant to say you shouldn’t play the game or anything like that. Play it and enjoy it. Have fun. The game is clearly enjoying crazy success and nothing I say is going to change that.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 09:51 by sagrilarus #217580
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Pandemic is deemed "amazing" by more casual gamers, the people on the Settlers of Catan category. I see it played a lot at the local nerd events. So while I agree with your overall assertion, I think there's a fairly significant group of people that praise it highly. For that group it's hitting on all eight cylinders.

As for its rating on BGG, well, once everyone finishes their run with it it will ease its way back down the ratings again.

Posted: 17 Dec 2015 10:02 by JEM #217582
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I agree with Egg's main (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) assertion that these narrative elements are tacked on to otherwise mundane eurosnoot games*. Still, everyone seems to be genuinely enjoying playing Pandemic: Legacy, and who are we to tell them that they're wrong. I don't see the ratings slipping that much, because I don't think that most people are going to go back in a year's time and down-rate the game even if they never play it again.

*Legacy, crossroads, that CYOA stuff in Above/Below. What will be next year's "must have" soul-injection for the new cube pusher?
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 10:24 by san il defanso #217583
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Egg, it sounds a little like you are saying the fundamental concept of Pandemic is inherently irredeemable. If that's what you're saying, I just don't see it. There are some solid mechanical flourishes even in the original design, such as how diseases multiply and spread. If it's guilty of anything, it's that it's just too unadorned to hold up in the long run. Legacy takes care of that by adding a lot of touches that give the game more and more detail. And as a result it also forces the player to behave more appropriately in that situation, making outbreaks have more consequence. In other words, I guess what I'm asking is if there's any form of Pandemic you would actually enjoy?

I have heard the player agency complaint a few times, and it's one I've voiced myself, but I think I need to clarify it. A lot of the reveals are driven by the game itself, but these are almost all things that thematically SHOULD be out of the players hands. Things such as
Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]
are all things that the players should not be able to make happen on their own. Player decisions within the game as well make a big difference in future months. I think the real issue is that there aren't enough consequences for failure or success, aside from making the next month somewhat harder or easier. On one hand I see why it was done that way, because you want people to experience the whole game if they paid $70 for it and will only get one crack at it. As Legomancer said, the game does a really good job at keeping fairly balanced. But on the other hand it does disconnect the player from the narrative, since no matter what you'll see what happens next.

One other beef I have with the game is that it introduces new rules at least every other game, and as a result it can be VERY easy to miss something or mess it up. That would be less of a problem in other games, but in this one it feels more damaging, because it can sometimes have consequences for future sessions.

I can buy people's argument that it's the game of the year, though any statement that it's one of the best games of all time strikes me as lacking perspective. Any game that makes a push at the top spot on BGG inevitably has a cooldown, and this title in particular will be hit hard by it. The response has indeed felt very hyperbolic, but equally hyperbolic has been the hand-wringing over WHAT IT ALL MEANS.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 10:41 by Ska_baron #217586
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I havent seen it brought up as much this time around (compared to Risk), but does there seem to be a feeling that there will be a decent game at the end of the reveals? Will you still be able to play a version of Pandemic on a uniquely altered board with some unique rules/powers same as Risk?

Also, if measure of conversation following an article is any indication of the quality of the article (which it is to me), this is one of the best in a long time on the Fort. Thanks!
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 12:21 by iguanaDitty #217594
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Egg Shen wrote:
I have never once flipped over a card (in any game) read it aloud and then had my mind blown…or the table gasp…or people cheer. We’ve laughed or gone, “oh, that’s cool”. It usually doesn’t go much further than that.

I've had exactly the opposite experience, both in Pandemic: Legacy and in Risk: Legacy. I think the big reveals in Risk were higher than the big reveals in Pandemic so far (we're still early in the year in Season One) but there have been definite gasps and cheers throughout. But...that's this particular group of 3 other people and a big part of why I love playing with them.

I disagree with part of the article's premise that gussying up Eurogames with story is bad. I find it a lot more compelling than things like Lords of Waterdeep that are gushed over but nothing more than a paint of coat on top of a standard Eurogame. If Lords of Waterdeep Legacy or Story-version existed I can see myself enjoying that.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 12:27 by Egg Shen #217595
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Good post Nate. No, I don't think vanilla Pandemic is some piece of crap "1 star" game. The mechanics are solid. The way the cities where diseases show up and get reshuffled back into the deck to ratchet up the danger is a clean/clever system. It's a decent design. It's accessible, easy to figure out, makes you feel clever etc... I understand why people like it. If I'm being 100% objective it's like a 3 out of 5 star design.

If I'm giving my personal opinion of the game, it's very, very, dry. The most exciting part of the game is when you flip over cards and pray some region doesn't explode with Nurglings. That excitement wanes after a few plays though. The actual gameplay is too deterministic for me to really get invested. It's boring. I can forgive alot of things when it comes to boardgames. Boring isn't one of them. I had a tiny glimmer of hope that the Legacy stuff would ratchet up the level of excitement. Pandemic Legacy IS more palatable than its Papa. But man, you can add all the extra fixings and flavors...some of em even taste alright. When you get that chewy, dry, bite of Plain Pandemic you get snapped back to reality and realize, ugh this is kinda shitty. Too many bites of gameplay taste like that.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 12:47 by DukeofChutney #217601
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I agree with Nate on the key plot points thing. This might just be the way of media hype but theres been alot of chat at both SUSD and dice tower on uniqueness of each play through, and whilst this will be true to board specifics, which cities are infested wastelands for instance, the key plot points all seem to be triggered when you start month X regardless of what has happened in your game. Equally the nature of pandemic is such that many things are called by the event deck anyway. If i combine these with a few bad strategic decisions made by our team in our use of some early bonus abilities very few things that will be in play in our next game will be determined directly by our choices. I did not play Risk Legacy, but I expect the look of the board was to a much greater extent determined by the specific will of the players. If a city got nuked, a player chose to do that. Pandemic and Risk are not the same so i don't expect the same level of player control but it does sort of feel like we are along for the ride rather than driving our own story.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 13:20 by Shellhead #217604
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Is Pandemic: Legacy a set of standalone scenarios to be played in specific order to simulate a campaign? Or is it really more comparable to Risk: Legacy, where the board is permanently changed by each game?
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 13:24 by DukeofChutney #217605
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the game is divided in to twelve months. In each game bad things that happen on the map will change the map and bad things might happen to the player characters in game that permanently alter them, but key events, new abilities, or bits of 'plot' are triggered when you are told to open a box or door on the pandemic 'advent' calendar at the end of a given month. So for example perhaps Godzilla will enter the game at the start of September. You will open the box with Godzilla in it and put a sticker with the rules for Godzilla in the rule book. What you do in the game won't change the fact that Godzilla is behind the september door. There are a few doors and things triggered by winning or losing at specific points i think (i don't do the rules in our group), but so far they have seemed fairly minor.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 13:38 by SuperflyTNT #217607
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What an articulate, epic review. Really well written, brother.

However, I think you're wrong because Pandemic was bad ass at the time. Everyone's played it to DEATH now so it's easy to forget how great it was. I keep saying that so many Euros are "group dependent" (really, that's true of everything). Pandemic is still one of my all-time favorite games, and it has a lot to do with the enthusiasm of my wife toward the game.

I do, however, think that you're right with regard to Legacy. I have ~zero~ interest in playing it. If Pandemic JUST CAME OUT and it was Legacy, it would be something I'd be ultra-keen on, but slapping lipstick on this pig isn't going to fly for me because I've gotten at least 50-100 plays of Pandemic in and at this point, nothing they can do to update it would make it fresh enough to make me want to play it again.
Posted: 17 Dec 2015 14:15 by Erik Twice #217609
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That's a solid review. I don't think I can really disagree with it, at best I just think that I look for different things in a game.

I really like Pandemic, it's really fun to discuss strategy with the other players and plan what to do, specially since there's enough randomness and nuances that it's not really a matter of making the best move but how risky each move is. I also feel it's very thematic in a "experts discussing how to tackle emergency" way. The "control screen" aesthethic and simple components (Pawns, cubes) help with this too.

I don't really mind not having a character to call my own, because, well, I'm playing it for the discussion aspect. And the discussion is fun and clean, there's no need to debate over minutae nor is it too obvious. It has a good balance I think.

My only beef with Pandemic is that after a certain point it has nothing more to give. It's not a game you can keep playing "forever", once you beat it at the highest difficulty levels there's really not much to explore on it.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 05:28 by deleteme #217872
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I fully endorse this article. Emperors New Clothes also comes to mind. Pandemic sucks balls, its never been a game, its a boring risk managing puzzle game driven by an admittedly elegant set of mechanisms and kudos to them for tapping into the boring humdrum "oo clever" appeal to the casual audience. Utterly broken as a co op since all of the decisions are trivially obvious and can just as well be decided by whoever can be arsed to tell everyone else the simple odds of a few cards and count nodes on a network map. Woop de doo. The Legacy addition seems cool but for gods sake, most of it is so obvious that anyone who hasnt played can certainly guess correctly most of the shit that will happen as you continue to play on rails with ooo new rules. I think egg has it right, this taps into people whove never realised that story/campaign/narrative can be put into boardgames.

Dont waste your time with this, play a GOOD game, say Tigris & Euphrates. Play it 15 or 150 times, its always awesome, each game tells a story, and your experience and understanding of the game will work as your "legacy"

I am crossing my fingers the game hits number 1 before new years day, it will be a fitting way to underline everything thats wrong with boardgaming as an online community for me (without in any way saying I'm "right", you make your own fucking minds up about this and the rest of it of course)

but Pandemic, in this form as in the old, is utterly fucking toss.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 07:00 by sagrilarus #217874
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Solid arguments, but here's the rebuttal -- people like Pandemic.

Amongst light hobby gamers and non-gamers Pandemic is a pretty revolutionary play. Not everyone wants to play Paths of Glory.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 08:04 by deleteme #217876
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I rebut your rebuttal by reminding you that I didnt say people dont like it. If anything I kind of said the same as you did, I know people like it. I still think its crap though and liked due to laziness. Like when people rib on Coldplay. Sure, it doesnt offend your ears when its playing in the car, but its still pretty crap. Pandemic is the Coldplay of boardgaming. Obviously theres an unwritten "this is just my opinion, I'm not claiming that this opinion is or should be shared by anyone else"
Posted: 28 Dec 2015 21:36 by Jexik #218463
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I said before that I was interested in playing P:L, and now I have. We just played through the first 3 months (4 games- W, W, L, W) in two days. We're going to be hovering around funding level 0 unless our luck runs out pretty hard. I don't know what April has in store, but I think we've been setting ourselves up pretty well. The jump to 3 objectives needed to win in May gets me excited and worried at the same time.

The story is uninteresting so far, but choosing your team for each game (which actually happens after you see your hand and some of the rest of the setup occurs) is cool. Looking forward to the end of game bonuses and objective(s) make you think about how you want to win as much as if you'll be able to win.

It still has the same issues with people telling each other what to do, but now that the cards are all open by the rules, I think that such talk is encouraged by the rules. We're all working together and what happens will matter for future games.
Posted: 03 Jan 2016 00:15 by daveroswell #218889
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I've played a Pandemic game modified into a completely immersive and entertaining experience. Defenders of the Realm.
Posted: 03 Jan 2016 07:44 by lala #218907
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Jexik wrote:
It still has the same issues with people telling each other what to do, but now that the cards are all open by the rules, I think that such talk is encouraged by the rules. We're all working together and what happens will matter for future games.

But this is one of my problems with co ops and Pandemic in particular, you're just chatting to solve puzzles, and by solve you're just making trivial decisions based on some simple odds between 2 or 3 things that can happen, this card or that card or this card, other than that you're still just guessing even if youre making a "best flexible" plan, it still boils down to either you can optimally arrange your dudes and resources to beat the sequence of cards which is sat there in front of you unchanging, or you couldnt beat the card sequence whatever you did, or you had a number of possible outs which you covered some of based on basic arithmetic. Changing up the rules and pasting on some very cliched (IMO) narrative and getting you to invest in "choosing shit" is all just more distraction from the fact that underneath it all Pandemic is just a shitty game, in fact its not a game, its a puzzle solving exercise, which sure can be fun for a while until you beat it or see the very limited number of levers involved but has no lasting value and doesnt provide any real narrative.

I mean these same people were ragging on Risk Legacy (what rank is that now?) for it "still being just RISK" with legacy stuff added but Pandemic is utterly shite and its still just Pandemic despite the legacy stuff. I cant say I am staggered it got to number one on TOS, but it still feels nonsensical to me that its not only highest rated but its got a huge amount of air between it and the next games. I'm sorry but this is some kind of weird hype / sheep / rationalising bullshit, but as I said, its OK, as it serves as a very handy red line under the collective mindset of TOS and how I feel about games, neither them or me is losing any sleep over it. I will be morbidly curious about the long term evaluation of PL I suppose.

this was one of my favourite quotes from opinionated gamers
A big contrast to Twilight Struggle, which my wife couldn’t even get past the first round. Not because of rules difficulty, but because of the amount of player vs. player aggression needed to do well. I rated it a 5 and it’s one of the few games I sold
I think this sums up pretty well a larger undercurrent of broader appeal of games driving the market now*, even with people getting fed up with the lack of interaction, the pasted on and nonsensical themes and the convoluted hot messes of spreadsheet solving just like the other thousand games doing the same thing, is this is what people want. And to quote Paul Weller

And the public gets what the public wants
And the public wants what the public gets

I wonder which is more likely / funny, PL slipping down the rankings later on, or it being released in several different seasons and all of them being up at the top of the BGG rankings so its just season after season all hogging the top spots.

* still love to reread Michael Barnes article on Princes of Florence and some of the reaction following it. So much butthurt in those threads but it was a fantastic fucking article that hit a home run about where the hobby would end up going in general, even if there are probably more than enough dissenters keeping the flag flying with good games, the swell of mediocre brown spreadsheet calculating politely semi cooperative pastimes is still growing. I guess theres nothing wrong with that as long as theres enough people making alternatives and I think for most people thats true. Me, I dont see the need to reinvent the wheel, those great "german" style games pre POF are as relevant today as ever, I've not interest or expectation in finding new games so quite happy if an odd game here or there tickles my fancy, but if anything these days its discovering stuff I missed out on thats more appealing .- Heroscape, Dune, Magic, that kind of thing
Posted: 03 Jan 2016 15:32 by RobertB #218939
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I always try to start this argument at work. If it's a genre that you don't like, why bitch about how bad it sucks? It's going to suck for you regardless of how good or bad it's going to be for its fans. My daughter likes hip-hip, and likes Drake. not. I might tell her how bad he sucks once in a while, just to rattle her cage, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time telling her that she needs to throw all that shit in the trash and buy some Black Sabbath. My opinion of it doesn't really count, and that's okay.
Posted: 08 Jan 2016 14:12 by johnnyspys #219407
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Barnes, please post this on BGG, or give someone permission. This would pop the heads of several hundred people. I would love to see the destruction and mass chaos that would happen.