Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Like lots of couples, my significant other and I have been pushing hard to find ways to keep ourselves entertained/distracted/not screaming into the hellacious void during our recent quarantine ordeal. TV binges are up, as have been regular movie nights. Couch co-op video games have been a staple. And regular board game sessions have become a must. But as we moved through our usual roster of games (Innovation, 7 Wonders: Duel, Azul, etc.), the sheer competitiveness of our regular rota started to turn into something of a bummer. Nobody wants to be a loser right now. (Or if they do, they’d rather be one who’s in it together with a friend.) Which is when we both, pretty much simultaneously, hit on a cooperative solution. “Hey,” we said, “Why not finally go in on Pandemic Legacy Season Two?”
For those unfamiliar: Pandemic is a long-running series of board games that task players with stopping a global pandemic from, well, killing all of humanity. (Turns out it’s pretty hard!) The Legacy edition of the game made a splash a few years back by incorporating persistent elements between games, turning single sessions into multi-installment stories. Instead of resetting every time the board comes out of the box, choices in any given game can now became permanent, with long-lasting consequences. One of your characters gets trapped in a city with a viral outbreak? They’re gonna pick up a scar. Push yourself to secure some long-lasting advantage against the virus? It’ll still be around to help you out next month. The game’s second “season,” released in 2017, pushes those elements even harder. Screw up too badly, and you’re not just wrecking the game you’re currently playing; you might be ruining the Earth for every game you play after this one, too.
It sounds perverse. (It has certainly sounded perverse to some of the friends we’ve explained it to.) And yet Pandemic is a game perfectly suited to our current times—not just because of its subject matter, although, yes, there is something vaguely soothing about dropping a bright green plague cube on Washington, D.C. But it’s also due to the way the game’s built-in peaks of crisis and safety force you to respond to the sheer enormity of an awful situation: By taking things one step at a time. It’s a game about putting your efforts where you can—“Okay, we’ll spend all of this turn getting to Lagos, or else we’re going to lose our last supply cube there”—and accepting what you can’t, i.e., “Well, London’s certainly fucked.” The Legacy aspects only add to this feeling of gradually moving some massive mountain spoonful by spoonful, because, win or lose, some progress is always being made. (At the bare minimum, every game ends with you upgrading your characters to be a little stronger to weather the next, inevitable crisis.) Without going into spoilers—and it remains both weird and thrilling to have a board game for which spoilers are a concern—Legacy Season 2 is an explicitly dystopian game, beginning at the exact moment that a teetering situation might topple over into an all-out, extinction-level event. Being able to push the scale back a little—even just by moving little pawns around a board, dropping off supplies, and moving on—is a surprisingly uplifting way to process this increasingly wobbly feeling equilibrium of our own.