Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is rolling out to players as we speak, following up on one of the most acclaimed and wildly entertaining board games of the last several years. If you've already played Season 1, you hardly need me to tell you why you should be excited about its sequel, but you might be in for a surprise about just how different this follow-up really is. If you didn't play Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, you're in for a treat. While either game can be tackled and enjoyed on its own, I strongly recommend snagging a copy of the first game (one of our selections for the best tabletop games of 2015) and enjoying the full ride, and then continuing into the fun of the second season, which has just released. 

Pandemic Legacy (in both seasons) is a game about discovery, secrets, and sudden twists. As such, from here on out, I won't be spoiling significant events or gameplay that is part of that experience, beyond talking about the way that each season's story opens, or elements that are apparent from the rulebook. If even that is more detail than you wish, you may wish to jump ship after this paragraph. I'll simply pass along that these two board games are both well worth the price of admission, and different enough to justify playing both. Take that info, do with it what you will, and stop reading here. If you'd like to know a bit more, read on. I'll do my darndest not to ruin anything.

Season 1 and 2 each have two box covers; the interior contents are identical

Rather than my normal Top of the Table recommendation of a single game, today I wanted to look at the phenomenon of Pandemic Legacy as represented by both games. Few board games have true sequels in the way we've come to expect in mediums like movies or video games, in which the stories and events of the first game carry over into new revelations in a subsequent installment. Viewed together, Pandemic Legacy: Seasons 1 and 2 present a fascinating arc filled with drama in storytelling and constantly evolving gameplay, both built to be played cooperatively with 2-4 players. Legacy games demand that players accept the consequences of their actions, face new situations that arise from wins or losses, and confront new situations and goals over time. Both seasons of Pandemic Legacy define the concept of the legacy experience, asking gaming groups to kill off player characters, tear up old cards, add stickers into the rule book, open top-secret dossiers, and sometimes completely change the entire objective of subsequent sessions. And it does it all on top of the bedrock of a time-tested game design that is itself a fantastic experience. 

For many years over the last decade, the original Pandemic has been my go-to game for introducing new players to the hobby of board gaming. While there are plenty of wonderful party games, family games, and other experiences that provide a fun evening with friends, the entryway into more thematic and strategic games can be a challenging transition. I've always found Pandemic an ideal fit for that goal. The cooperative experience uses a real-world setting, an identifiable threat, and cooperative mechanics that keep everyone at the table engaged. As doctors and scientists, players work together to conquer a series of diseases sweeping the globe, treating and hopefully curing these epidemics while managing outbreaks and other challenges. One deck of cards reveals cities as they get infected, and another deck provides cards that allow players to move about the board and cure diseases. The game has a relatively short playtime, but surprisingly engaging globe-trotting action, and is a great one-off adventure with friends. To this day, I'd still recommend that original game (and its expansions) as an ideal introduction to engaged hobby boardgaming. 

Season 1 features a familiar map of the world, but one that will face big changes over the course of many sessions

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, designed by Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock (Pandemic's original designer), takes that formula, and over many sessions morphs it into something new. Like in the original Pandemic, the board shows a map of the world and many of its biggest cities, and challenges players to move around to contain and eventually cure multiple diseases. Ensconced within the game box, numerous sealed packages hold new game components that only enter the game under certain conditions. New playable characters show up to confront changed threats on the board. Existing characters carried over from previous sessions begin to show signs of wear, bearing the mental trauma of the tough experiences they’ve endured. As players succeed or fail, the broader worldwide government adjusts its funding for the treatment effort. And no matter how successful you are, the seriousness of the pandemic on the international stage intensifies. More than once, as a new rule or disease mutation went into effect, I would look around the table at my fellow players, and we would wonder aloud how we could possibly be expected to win. 

Next Page: The post-apocalyptic setting of Season 2, and the thrill of challenging cooperative play