Pandemic Legacy How Many Players?

Assemble Your Team

Pandemic Legacy took the world by storm back in 2015 with its first season, even becoming boardgamegeek.com’s number 1 board game of all time, and still stands in the number 2 spot today.

The main reason for this staggering amount of success was that, aside from the fact that it was built upon the mechanics of the original Pandemic which was a great game itself, it also introduced new layers of how to design a board game with the legacy mechanics, and by the end of each playthrough of Pandemic Legacy, you’d have a game state that is unique from anyone else, and it has proven itself as not just a board game that is built on gimmicks, but a great board game, period.

So if you haven’t gotten your mitts on any of the Pandemic Legacy games, you should, especially if you’re looking for the experience of a lifetime, with the one caveat that it’s better to dive in this multi-session experience with the same playgroup throughout.

All seasons of Pandemic Legacy can be played by 2-4 players, and playing with 1 or 5 players is possible with various unofficial variants.

The experience of playing through any of the Pandemic games tend to deviate across different player counts, however, and we’re going to discuss these differences.

Can 2 People Play Pandemic Legacy?

If the only consistent person in your playgroup is only one other person, like me and my spouse, chances are you’d be pretty worried that purchasing a legacy game would lower the fun parts, but we’ve found that that’s not actually the case.

The thing with the Pandemic games is that the number of players who are actually playing at the time acts as difficulty sliders, with 2 players being the easiest and the maximum of 4 being the hardest.

This is because of how the turn structure of Pandemic works: each turn, players can do up to 4 actions amongst the various available ones, and once that is over, players will then draw cards, and then more cities will get infected.

Now, that might not sound bad, especially since you get more actions in total with more players, but the second part of each turn, which would be the part where the active player draws cards, actually speed up the infection process because that same draw pile is where the epidemics also reside, which are dangerous cards that infect additional cities that might not have been infected before while at the same time increasing the intensity track, potentially leading to more cities being infected each turn.

The other thing to note is that, since curing diseases require one player to be able to collect 5 cards of the same colour and discard them at a research station, having more than 2 players actually increase the spread of cards, meaning your team might already have 5 black cards in total, but you’re only holding 2 of them while the other players has 1 in their hand, potentially leading to more turns trying to piece them together.

So does this mean that playing with only 2 players turns Pandemic Legacy into a snoozefest?

Well, not exactly, because while it might be easier than playing with 4, it still is quite a bit of a challenge, especially with all the different wrenches that the game introduces to you for each additional month that passes by, and if you find that it’s too easy for you, you can always add in more characters to control, like maybe each player will take control of two characters or have only one extra character but have both players alternate in controlling the third character.

The other advantage that we’ve had when playing it with 2 players is that we were able to add in more players in our future sessions, which was quite easy to do in contrast when playing with an already fully stacked group.

londonpariscards pandemic

Can 4 People Play Pandemic Legacy?

The great news is that playing any of the Pandemic games with 4 players is the definite sweet spot, with most of the game’s mechanics shining when playing with the maximum number of players.

And while this may sound like a definite contrast to what I’ve said previously about Pandemic being harder with more people, it actually goes hand in hand with that statement, because at its core, Pandemic Legacy is a cooperative game, and by nature, cooperative games should, at the very least, not be a walk in the park.

But we’re playing a game to enjoy ourselves, I hear you say, and I answer in return, yes, and you will enjoy winning against a game made of plastic pieces and cardboard if you’ve experienced a challenge in winning against it, because there’s simply no joy to be had in winning easily against a non-sentient opponent.

Let’s imagine playing Solitaire: have you ever erupted in excitement out of beating a game of Solitaire? Sure, maybe you have during your first game, but the excitement quickly wears down on you, and maybe all you manage is a muted “yay” and then immediately start a new game in your future wins.

In sharp contrast, when talking about Ghost Stories, which is another cooperative game that is WAY harder than Pandemic Legacy, my blood always pumps when simply talking about it, because in all of the times that we’ve attempted to beat it, we’ve only won twice, and both of those times are stories of jumping high-fives and being told to quiet down by a sleeping relative.

And while super hard games like Ghost Stories are definitely not for everyone, Pandemic Legacy actually achieves a balance in difficulty, where you feel like you can win every game of it but at the same time, while playing it, you’d feel like the odds are stacked against you, and if you manage to pull off the plan that you’ve been working on for multiple turns and actually beat the game, the rush of satisfaction hits way harder than simply breezing through it, making the game one of the best cooperative experiences in board gaming.

Of course, with more players, you also have the added benefit of having more people to share the boxes of secrets that the game provides you with, more stickers to stick, and more people to share the unique stories that Pandemic Legacy provides.

mediccard pandemic

Can 5 People Play Pandemic Legacy?

Unfortunately, this is where the fun ends, because Pandemic Legacy officially only caps at 4 players, but you can always apply house rules or variants to it to be able to play it with more than 5 people, and there are quite a few variants available online to do so.

One of my favourites was having one player be sort of the control center, tasked with the responsibility of moving cards and cubes around and narrating the story while also providing additional strategic help for the other players.

However, this also has the disadvantage of the 5th player potentially feeling like a spectator who the other players can hear comment on what’s happening to the game while also simply helping with setup.

If your 5th player wishes to take a more active role, though, you can always take another pawn from a different game and play it with one of the characters that weren’t picked by the other players, but remember that Pandemic gets harder with more players, and since Pandemic Legacy was designed with 4 players being the maximum, no playtesting was done with 5 players in mind.

Playing to the Pandemic

A player count of 1 or 3 is something that we haven’t really discussed much, but is something worth touching upon.

The 3 player experience is definitely the middle ground, allowing you an extra player for future sessions while also not being too easy or too hard and still being a great game.

The 1 player experience is a whole other discussion, however: If you REALLY want to experience Pandemic Legacy right now but simply can’t because you have no other people to play with in the middle of this real life pandemic that we’re experiencing, you can still do so and play it on your own, setting it up as a 2, 3, or 4 player game, depending on the how difficult you want it to be, where you control all characters that you chose to play as, controlling all of the aspects of the game, which would be akin to playing a turn-based strategy game.

The great thing about cooperative games is that you can always play them solo, but since this is a legacy game, you wouldn’t have anyone else to share your stories with, and if you do manage to be able to find someone else to play it with once you’ve finished your campaign, you will already be spoiled on certain story beats, so your mileage may vary on spoilers being a dealbreaker for future games.

Player Count General Difficulty Playability
1 Variable Perfectly playable, but no one to share experience with
2 Easy Best when you have various people to potentially play it with but only one constant
3 Average Most well-rounded experience
4 Difficult Optimal player count but no opportunities to add more people in the future
5 Variable Your mileage may vary due to only being possible with unofficial variants

All in all, if you can, I would still recommend that you find a group of 4 to play Pandemic Legacy with, because legacy experiences are always best with the full player count, but if finding 4 people is the only reason that’s holding you back from getting yourself a copy, then worry not, because Pandemic Legacy is simply too fun to pass up on no matter the player count.

 

Image credit, reproduced with permission, No changes made.
Image credit, reproduced with permission, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

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About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.