The Anxiety of the Invisible Enemy: Pandemic:Legacy
Of all the various ways we as a species have come up with for self-annihilation - nuclear war, zombie apocalypse, ecological disaster, etc. - I think the one that scares me the most is a global pandemic. This is at least in part due to my total ineptitude in all things medical science. In my personal life, I am constantly weaving like a drunken master between hypochondriac and skilled latrophobic health care avoider. Some days, I freak out about sneezing irregularly. Others, I'll let a bump grow until I've named it and am taking it for walks. When it comes to matters of disease and illness, I am at the shallow end of the ocean of knowledge. In some of these other creative nightmare scenarios, I feel somewhat comforted by the knowledge I possess. Zombie apocalypse? Stock up on guns and ammo! Nuclear war? Fallout shelter! Ecological disaster? Soylent green! But when your eyeballs start bleeding and your skin turns into crispy sandpaper and your teeth fall out?
That's what terrifies me the most about the prospect of a global pandemic: a true feeling of helplessness. There are, naturally, professional services and individuals out there whose whole lives are dedicated to the prevention and treatment of illness. However, they can't be everywhere at once, and their reach and capabilities extend only so far as we keep paying and supplying them. And even then it's not always enough. That's the struggle at the heart of Pandemic: Legacy.
We here at Everything is Scary have been suffering the effects of Cold and Flu season. It seemed appropriate to take a break from the video games to warm the soft spot in my heart for board games, and Pandemic is definitely one of the best. It's a classic team game where the objective is not to beat other but rather to beat the game itself, working together. Players take turns moving about a world map, trying to stave off several rampant diseases that leap from country to country, infecting citizens at an ever-increasing rate. The original Pandemic came out in 2007, and was fairly straightforward. If too many Outbreaks occur (as determined by drawn cards), or too many citizens are infected (represented by coloured cubes), or if players run out of Player cards to draw, they lose. If they discover the cure for all four diseases by collecting the proper Player cards, they win.
Pandemic: Legacy threw in a curveball in the form of a board and characters that change with each successive game. Depending on your success or failure each time, things may get progressively harder or easier. Cities can become permanently inaccessible, characters can be scarred mentally and physically, and scenarios shift and change with the opening of a mysterious set of boxes included with the game. The contents and instructions contained in these boxes was and still is the subject of much internet mystery. This is probably the first time I can think of a board game having a spoiler warning (apart, of course, from the similar idea in Risk: Legacy). Managing these shifting elements and balancing the needs and growing terror of countries is vital to the success of the players and their characters.
It's that element of the unknown that makes Pandemic: Legacy feel like a truly complete experience of living through a viral nightmare. With each game you win, your sense of relief at having cured the four diseases is tempered by the knowledge that they'll be back next time (and probably bigger and badder). That is, indeed, the very nature of disease. It cycles, adapts, goes dormant, vanishes, resurfaces. The systems we have in place on a global scale can mitigate the damage and preserve the larger whole of society, but there will almost invariably be casualties along the way. Many of them will include those front-line people who dedicate their lives to preserving and healing others.
Pandemic: Legacy is a terrific game and well worth playing even if only to serve as a subtle reminder of these courageous individuals. Stepping into their anxiety and fears, even just as a fun experience for an evening with friends, is quite rewarding. Making the invisible enemy manifest in the form of little game pieces gives a tactile sense to the ongoing struggle against disease. It's a worthwhile way to wile away the hours, and a worthwhile lesson in fear management.
(special thanks to my friend Ian for the great shots of the game!)