GTM #184 - Pandemic Legacy: Design Notes - "A Study in Psychology"
by Rob Daviau

A few month's back I wrote an article that gave an overview of how Pandemic Legacy Season 1 came together. This is the first of two articles where I get into some of the new rules that you will find in Pandemic Legacy. No spoilers here; you will learn all this information in the rulebook before you start your first game.


It happens in Pandemic (and lots of other games). The wrong shuffle. The bad setup. The early bad choice. The moment you know you are doomed only a few turns in. In some cases you scrap the game, just decide it is a lost cause. In other cases you push ahead, bravely fighting the good fight. In some instances, you manage to win. In any case, the loss is usually over with quickly. Reset the board, laugh off the bad set of circumstances, and you are back in business with a new game.

This isn’t the case in a Legacy game. In a Legacy game, the games matter. You make permanent changes in the game; changes that carry over to future games. A bad shuffle is no longer a laughing matter but a game balance issue that Matt Leacock and I had to address early on in the process.

When we had our first prototype, we knew that a group winning or losing early on would have big advantages or disadvantages in the campaign. Win too much and the campaign gets easy. Win too little and you might start a losing streak, lose hope, or, worst of all, stop playing and be mad at Matt and me. The right idea came about during a playtest, an offhand suggestion that felt immediately right: funding.


In standard Pandemic, the player deck has five special event cards and these cards are like gold. They serve two major purposes. First, they give you a power that you can use exactly when you need it and can usually turn the game in your favor. Second, they pad the deck so that the epidemic cards come up less frequently. Take out those five cards and you not only remove their powerful help but also make the game end five turns quicker and have the epidemics come up much more often.

We turned this insight into a rule called "Funding". At the start of each game of Pandemic Legacy, players put in event cards equal to their funding level. Game 1 starts with a funding level of four so you can put in four cards (out of the possible eight). You do this after the board is set up so you have an idea of what events you might need in that game.

If you win the game, guess what? Clearly you have the situation in hand so your bosses cut your funding by two. If you lose the game, you need more help so your funding goes up by two. The lowest your funding can get to is zero and the highest it can get to is 10. (For the observant reader: you get more events as the campaign goes on so you will be able to put 10 in the deck.)

Instantly this worked. It was logical and helped keep the game balanced in several different ways. Some groups are really good at Pandemic and they tended to float between funding levels of zero and four while other groups might float between six and 10. But both were winning and losing at about the same rate.


But what if funding was not enough? What if there are some games that are just tough going? We found that losing three games gave the appearance of a lost campaign, even though it wasn’t. What if those three games were the first three? That’s tough and people would lose hope. We wanted to make sure that players knew they could get back in it.

The solution is a sealed packet that reads: “Open if you lose four games in a row.” This serves two purposes. The first is that you will get some help from the game if you open this packet. Four in a row is a big chunk and the playgroup probably needs some assistance. The second purpose is a little more psychological. If a group loses three in a row, they might panic. If they see that this back up is there, they feel OK about three in a row. Playtest groups would lose their third game and point to the packet saying “Well, we’re probably OK since we haven’t lost four in a row yet.”

Sometimes hope is all you need.

NEXT TIME: Panicking cities and scared characters