Sunday, 1 July 2018

Pandemic Legacy Season 2

Plays: 4P x 18.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is a spoiler-heavy game, so in talking about it I have to use the same method as when I wrote about Season 1. In Part 1 I will talk about how the game works, and you will see items that you have access to before your first game. I will also talk about my opinions of the game. Part 1 is spoiler free. Part 2 will not be. I will share my experiences with the game. Part 2 is meant for sharing with others who have also completed the full campaign.

Part 1

The Game

The story in Season 2 starts 71 years after the end of Season 1. By the end of Season 1, humanity was almost wiped out by the four deadly diseases. Some off-shore havens were constructed, and they became important production centres, supplying food and goods to the cities on the mainland, which were greatly reduced from their former glory. Haven citizens were spared the worst of the diseases. Now, humanity still struggles to survive. Recently some distant mainland cities stopped communications. The leaders in the havens launched an expedition to the mainland to find out what had happened to these cities. They never returned, and mainland cities continued to drop off the grid. Now a second expedition is being launched to look for our leaders, and you are part of this second expedition. You need to help supply goods to the mainland cities still in contact with the havens, and you need to find our leaders, and re-establish contact with the lost cities. Something is very wrong and you need to find out what's going on.

There are quite a few changes in Season 2. The core mechanisms in Season 1 were the same as base Pandemic. In fact players were encouraged to use the Season 1 components to play basic Pandemic before playing with the legacy rules. Season 2 makes a number of changes to the original core mechanisms.

In Season 1 and in base Pandemic, the board is infected with disease cubes, and you run around treating patients and removing disease cubes. Your objective is to find cures for all four diseases before time runs out, and before any of the diseases spread too much.

In Season 2, you no longer have 4 different diseases. The grey cubes on the board are not diseases. They are goods which you supply to the mainland cities. You are no longer removing cubes from the board. Instead, you want to add cubes to the board. When infection cards are drawn, instead of adding disease cubes, they remove goods cubes. If a city runs out of goods, and is then hit with an infection card, a green plague cube is added. This is considered an incident, and it is recorded on the incident track. When the 8th incident occurs, you lose the game. This is equivalent to the outbreak track in base Pandemic.

Normally you can't remove plague cubes from the board. So they are not the same as disease cubes in base Pandemic. Only special action cards will allow you to remove plague cubes. You want to stay away from plagued cities. If your character starts his turn in a plagued city, he is exposed to the plague, and may be scarred (suffer a permanent disability), or may even die from illness (the character will no longer be available to play in future games).

Similar to Season 1, when you play Season 2, you play through a campaign consisting of 12 months. You play each month once or twice. If you win on your first attempt, you move on to the next month. Otherwise you get a 2nd chance. After the second time playing the same month, regardless of win or lose, you move on to the next month, which will bring new content, and possibly new rules or changes in rules.

At the start of your campaign, most of the world map is blank. The havens have lost touch with many cities. You have three havens (white cities at sea), and nine mainland cities, three each in blue, black and yellow. In Season 2, there can be multiple copies of the same city card in both the player deck and the infection deck. At the beginning of the campaign, every city has 3 cards in both decks. This is a big difference. In Season 1, if a city card has been drawn from the infection deck, you know that city won't get infected again until the next epidemic card and the next reshuffle. In Season 2, this no longer holds true. If two or three cards of the same city are clumped together near the top of the infection deck, the goods at this city will be depleted very very quickly.

During the campaign you need to explore the blank spaces on the board. In this photo you can see five areas which can be explored. To do exploration, or recon, you need to first build a factory at the city from which you will recon. You then need to spend a specific combination of cards to perform the recon action itself. For example, to perform recon in North America, you need to first build a factory in Washington. You then need to spend any three blue city cards to recon. When performing recon, you get to open a sealed box. There are new game components, and possibly new rules, and part of the world map will be revealed. Doing recon is not easy. Doing recon from Washington will require 8 blue cards, 5 for the factory, and 3 for the recon action itself. At the start of the campaign, it is not even possible to recon from Europe, the Middle East or Africa. In Europe, you need four different blue cards to recon. You only have three blue cities, and thus can get at most three different blue cards. You will need to have found and connected to more blue cities to have added more blue cards to the player deck before you can consider trying to recon in Europe.

The off-shore havens are production centres, and are permanent factories. Neither player deck nor infection deck have cards for the havens, so they truly are safe havens. In Season 2 there is a new type of card shuffled into the player deck - production cards. If you are at a factory, be it an off-shore haven or a mainland city which has had a factory built during the current game, you may play a production card to mass-produce supplies at your current location. There are two ways of using the card. Producing at your current location is the basic usage. The advanced usage allows you to produce at all factories on the board. However this comes at a cost. You must tick a box on the card (with a permanent marker and not a pencil). When all boxes on a production card are ticked, the card is to be destroyed and removed forever from the player deck. So this is a long term implication you need to consider. This is yet another legacy mechanism - some actions are irreversible and permanent.

In Season 2, one new basic player action is to produce one goods cube. This is much less efficient than using production cards to produce goods cubes at factories, but often it is necessary. You are constantly under pressure to keep the mainland cities supplied, to prevent plagues. Player characters may carry goods cubes. They may pick cubes up, they may drop cubes off at cities, they may pass cubes to other characters. The tactical fire-fighting aspect in this version of Pandemic is producing and supplying goods cubes to mainland cities. The strategic objective aspect is to complete the required number of missions in the current month. The missions change over time, and they drive the story you experience. The story is about re-establishing communications with mainland cities which you have lost touch with, and finding out what had happened to them and to your leaders who had gone missing.

This is one of the character cards. Before starting your first game, you get to create five characters. At most four will be in use when you play. You can decide which four. The game gives you many profile pictures to choose from, but only 5 professions with which to customise your initial characters. Each profession gives a special ability. As you play, you may gain new abilities or new weaknesses. They are stickers which will occupy the spaces on the right. Weaknesses have priority over abilities. In case all five spaces are taken and you need to add a weakness, you stick the weakness over an existing ability, which means you not only gain a new weakness, you also lose an old ability.

The row of tiny grey boxes are exposure spaces. If your character begins a turn in a plagued city, he is exposed, and you much scratch off the leftmost box which has not been scratched yet. If a scar icon is revealed, you take a scar, i.e. a new weakness or disability. If a skull icon is revealed, your character dies and becomes unavailable for future games. You need to be careful to keep your character away from those green plague cubes. You can touch them when you run around the map, but try not to stop at a city with these green cubes, because on your next turn you will be exposed, unless someone is able to remove the green cubes, or move you somewhere else.

This was Ruby's character, Nutnutty. Five of us played Season 2 together, and we each created one character. We tended to play with our own characters. That meant less variety, but it made us more attached to our characters. Benz's was the 5th character. The game only supports 4 players, but he played together with us anyway, despite not having a character to control. We discussed our options and we strategised together as a team.

Nutnutty was a labourer, which meant that when building a factory (Supply Centre) she could substitute a card with two goods cubes. When we were able to gain a new ability, we gave her the ability to build a factory with one card fewer. That meant she could build a factory with just three cards and two cubes. In our games she was always assigned to be the factory builder. This was efficient. We focused the factory building related skills on her. However this was also risky. If this character died, we would suffer a severe blow. We had all eggs in the same basket.

Doing some LARPing.

At the start of every game, you get a number of goods cubes to distribute to the cities and havens as you like. During the game you need to manage the production and supply of goods to help the cities stay healthy, while working towards the objectives of the month. There are two ways to lose. You lose if you are unable to manage the goods supply well enough to prevent the 8th plague incident. You also lose if you run out of time - you exhaust the player deck before completing your missions. There is only one way to win. You must complete the required number of missions. Sometimes there are more missions available than are required to win. You get to choose which ones you want to attempt.

As you progress from one month to the next, the starting supply of goods cubes reduce, which makes the game more and more difficult. You will also discover more and more of the world map, and gameplay evolves.

The Play

Completing the full campaign took us 6 months. We played 18 games in total. I played the whole campaign with the same group of friends - Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin. The game supports up to 4 players, but this being a cooperative game, playing with five wasn't a big problem. The fifth player was a talk-only participant - no character to control, but he could join all the discussions and strategising. The fifth player was also a backup in case one of us could not play. The campaign is best played with the same group of friends, so that there is continuity. Since the game changes and more and more rules are added, it is difficult for someone new to join halfway. He would have missed the previous shared experiences of the group too.

We found the early games rather easy. Only by May or June we felt the difficulty rising. As we progressed further, the game felt harder and harder. We felt pressed for time. If we could not get the missions completed within the first few rounds, the incidents would likely overtake us. There were some games which we realised were impossible to win. Some of the missions were impossible to complete due to the state of the board at the time, and we would not be able to complete the required number of missions. The best we could do was perform the actions which would make it possible for us to complete those impossible missions next game. Later, I found out that I had made a mistake. There was one standard mission which I had removed from the game earlier than I should. Biiiiig oops. It was rather difficult by then to work backwards to see how things would have been different, but my guess is we wouldn't have been stuck with mission impossible. If you are going to play Season 2, don't be careless like me.

Playing Season 2 felt like following a TV series. There is a more-or-less set story for you to discover. You likely won't stray far from the main storyline - which regions you will recon first, which truths you will learn next, and so on. If you fall behind schedule, there are cards which will direct you to reveal information to get you up to speed. In the games we played, we always managed to keep to schedule, so we did not need these cards to help us catch up. The campaign feels a little scripted to me, compared to Season 1. It is not that there are no scripted events in Season 1. I think the main difference is that in Season 2, the scripted events are tied to specific locations. You will tend to discover portions of the map roughly in a set sequence. In Season 1, the whole world map is available to you from the start, and the locations of key events are random. So Season 1 feels more open and has more possibilities. In Season 2 you are like a detective trying to piece together a sequence of events, while in Season 1 your fate is less predictable. It depends on what has happened in previous games, and what you do in your current game. In this aspect, I prefer Season 1 over Season 2.

We encountered two incidents of "are you going to save your wife or your mother". Both Edwin and Xiaozhu were caught in plagued cities. At the start of their next turns they would get exposed, which meant they could become scarred or even die. My character had the ability to bring one other character to my location, but I could only do this once on my turn. I could only save one of them. No matter who I chose, the other would be sad. What a dilemma!

The Thoughts

Like Season 1, I didn't find the game design in Season 2 particularly impressive. It works fine, just that it doesn't amaze me. Also now that I have experienced Season 1, the legacy format campaign does not have as big a wow factor as before. There are still some surprises, which was fun. The feeling of playing Season 2 is a little different from playing Season 1. If you enjoyed Season 1, I think you will like Season 2.

You can play Season 2 directly without having ever played Season 1, but I suggest doing them in sequence. The story flows better. Also I like Season 1 better, so you can try that first, and only if you like it then consider playing Season 2. The main thing about Season 2 is it is more different from other Pandemic games.

Overall, I still had fun with Season 2, although it wasn't as magical as the first time round. Season 1 was the highlight of my gaming year when I played it. Still, getting played 18 times is much better than most of the games I have bought. This was time and money well spent. It was another happy journey with my group of Pandemic friends.

Part 2

Spoiler alert! If you have not completed the full campaign of Season 2, best not read on. If you are done too, or have no intention of playing, then let's share some stories.

The Stories

I don't have a coherent or complete record of my 6 months of experience with Season 2. These will be just snippets that I recall.

When we discovered the new action of building radio towers, it didn't seem particularly useful, and we didn't plan to make use of it much. Benz was suspicious about it and said we should just build anyway, because there might be some surprise waiting for us. We should not only build radio towers, we should also spend the end game production units to convert them to permanent towers. He turned out to be right, of course. Lo and behold - the mission which required building radio towers at cities of different colours.

When we found the frequency scanner, we made use of it aggressively. Whenever we felt an Epidemic card was coming up in the player deck, we used the frequency scanner to help us draw four cards from the player deck. Epidemic cards drawn this way were ignored. This felt a little gamey, like we were exploiting a loophole, but I think the designers meant us to use it this way.

The character created by Benz - Snake - never came into play. Benz was our 5th player. Sometimes when Ruby could not play and he stepped in to play, he just played Ruby's character Nutnutty. Nutnutty accumulated many useful abilities. It would be a waste not to use her.

We discovered that Edwin has a secret tendency towards self-injury. Many times he wanted to have his character Eve suffer exposure, so that he could scratch off an exposure box to see what it revealed. Or maybe he's just curious, or likes the excitement. Many times the rest of us warned him not to do anything crazy.

We had done recon in Africa and Northern Europe. We still needed to recon the Middle East. There was a plague in Cairo. This was bad news. There were three of us in Cairo now. Anyone unable to leave before the start of his next turn would get exposed.

This looked scary, with so many Hollow Men on the board, but we actually welcomed the Hollow Men. According to the story, they were our enemies. However Hollow Men appearing meant not losing supply cubes due to infection, and fewer plagues breaking out. That meant we had a bit more time to complete our missions. If we had too many Hollow Men in a city, the population would decrease, but we were ready to let the cities die off anyway. The cities didn't help much towards completing our missions. Having surviving cities at game end did contribute to the production units, but in the later half of the campaign, there weren't many upgrades we were particularly keen to get anyway. It was a little twisted that we loved the Hollow Men and prayed for them to appear.

Hong Kong became an important hub. After we did recon for Asia, we made Hong Kong our base and created many sea lanes to other Asian cities from there.

It was very challenging to complete The Plan. We managed to collect the black, blue and yellow card sets with some difficulty. The red set was a much more difficult. The percentage of red cards in the player deck was small. We had not spent much effort removing cards from our decks to Box 6. By the time we needed to have a more healthy ratio of red cards in the player deck, it was too late to be able to do much fiddling with the deck.

In our campaign we did manage to have some infection cards moved to Box 6. It was easier to do the infection cards because sometimes we needed to visit those cities anyway to supply them. Moving player cards was harder. We often didn't have many player cards in the discard pile in the first place. Also there was usually little reason to visit those cities other than wanting to move their corresponding cards to Box 6. Our player deck grew and grew and eventually we needed to use all ten of the Epidemic cards. I wonder whether this is normal for other groups.

Eventually we did manage to complete The Plan. It was on our second attempt though.

21 Jun 2018. For the whole campaign all of us stuck to the same characters. The downside was we didn't get to play with different abilities. The upside was we got very emotionally attached to and very invested in our characters. Amazingly, no one died all the way up till the start of December. We did get scarred, but we survived. Our first death was in December. The mission in the finale month required injecting ourselves with a deadly dose of virus. When a character did this, he must keep scratching off the exposure boxes on the character card until he found either a scar or a skull icon. Empty spaces were ignored. If the character survived this, he had to travel to Johannesburg, carrying the virus in his body, in order to win. The team needed to have a factory in Johannesburg too, to study the virus sample and to mass produce a vaccine. The virus carrier would die, regardless of win or lose, because the dose injected was lethal.

Xiaozhu's character Leon was the first to attempt injecting himself with the virus. At the time he only had one scar revealed, and we thought it would be relatively safe for him to do this. To our surprise, the next icon he revealed was the skull icon. The dose was more than his body could handle and his was a swift death. This came as a shock to us. Xiaozhu had to take another character to continue the game. This turned out to be a blessing, because there was one character which could help us build shelters, which was what we needed at the time. Johannesburg was plagued, and we needed to assemble there to deliver the virus sample and to build the factory. Without a shelter we would be exposed to the plague.

The next to inject the virus was Edwin's character Eve, and she lived, at least long enough to carry the virus to Johannesburg. The virus carrier was very weak and movement was greatly impeded. Thankfully I had the ability to teleport people to where I was, and I managed to bring Eve to Johannesburg quickly. Regardless of win or lose, Eve would still die at the end of that game, because the virus dose was lethal. So we lost two comrades who went through heaven and hell with us for twelve months.

Once Edwin / Eve (pink) arrived in Johannesburg, we told him not to move and just wait for the factory to be completed. Benz (playing Nutnutty) was in charge of collecting enough cards to build the factory. The rest tried to pass him cards he needed. Xiaozhu (black, playing the new character) built a shelter and protected everyone from exposure. Johannesburg was a forsaken city with 0 population. It was permanently plagued.

Eventually we did manage to build that factory and win the game. It was our first attempt for the December month. This photo above showed the opening ceremony of the new factory, signalling victory and also the end of our 6 month long (real-time, not in-game time) campaign. Notice the traces of ink on our index fingers. These were mementos from the historic Malaysian election day on 9 May 2018.

Some of the character profile pictures which we didn't use.

Our final score was 588 - which was middling. We were in the third rank out of five.

This was the biggest (but not the only) mistake I made. I removed this mission from the game earlier than I should have. This made some of our games impossible to win. This mission was a generic one which we would have been able to fall back to if the others were impossible. When we had those impossible games, I blamed ourselves for not having planned well enough ahead. I thought it was normal that we would need to spend one or more games to set ourselves up to win in a subsequent game.

The Hollow Men cards often made us cheer. They often meant fewer plagues, and thus more time to try to save the world.

This was how our game board looked like after we completed the campaign. Kolkata was an important hub. It had a factory so we would fly there directly from our starting haven Arashiyama in the Mediterranean Sea. Also Kolkata was only one step away from Hong Kong, another important hub. We didn't have a factory in Hong Kong. It was very hard to collect red cards to build a factory in any red city like Hong Kong. In the late game many missions required being in Asia, so the route from Arashiyama to Kolkata to Hong Kong was an important one. The radio tower in Hong Kong was also an important one because of the scarcity of red player cards. We needed the tower to help us pass red cards to one another.

We had built a factory in Lagos, partly in remembrance of Kawasaki, a much loved character who died in our Season 1 campaign in Lagos. Because of this factory, the population of Lagos eventually grew to 8. We named that off-shore haven near Lagos Kawasaki too. We all missed him very much.

We mostly ignored North and South America in the second half of the campaign, and let the cities die off by themselves. We were too occupied in Asia.

After we completed the campaign, I found there were still some unopened components. These stickers are nice, but I have no idea what they are for. Just for fun?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You can't teleport people after they have the cure...