Pandemic Legacy and the Pains of Random

In my gaming group we like themes. So what’s better than playing Pandemic on lockdown?!

Technically we started playing it at the end of the lockdown, during which we played games that we all owned (and whose physical boards we could replicate) like The 7th Continent, Chronicles of Crime and Mansions of Madness. 

If you like Pandemic, as I do, the game is great. The legacy element is smart and enjoyable. We soared through the first four months like pros. Then we got a very grim May and lost two in a row. Now we are back on track but the sting of disappointment made me log back on BBG and change my rating of the game more than once. I’d complain that “The game is too random”, “if the decks get shuffled the wrong way you can’t win” and similar platitudes… yeah, because they are commonplaces. 

Obviously it doesn’t take much to realise that every game has a random element which will influence its outcome. That’s how you manage replay value, how you generate different situations in a game. Granted, some games are more random-based than others, and balancing the prevalence of random is a very important step in game design, but Pandemic Legacy is not one of those. So why was I so angry at the game?

That’s probably because of the legacy aspect. When you play games you invariably have to accept and come to terms with the presence of randomness. You play Eldritch Horror and you end up with a very tough and/or poorly sorted Mythos Deck (you know, that tentacled Rumor card after the very first turn…)? You can come to terms with that. Yes, you will probably lose the game but next time it’s going to be better. 

But in a LEGACY game there might NOT be a next time! And if there is, it might be a very different “time” than the one you would have had if randomness hadn’t messed with you otherwise perfectly and skillfully played session! Or that’s at least what I’ve probably been feeling. When you play legacy (or heavily campaigned games) there is this tension coming from the fact that you might miss something good because of the twists and turns that the story takes. And if you ARE going to miss something then you should at least feel like it’s YOUR fault and not chance’s. 

So I guess for me Random is OK, unless you are in a situation where you feel that a streak of bad luck might irreparably change and influence a lot more than the outcome of a single night of gaming.