© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Pandemic' Board Game Proves Infectious


Now it's time for Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. And in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, this week's words are Pandemic Legacy. Not very appetizing, you say. Well, it's to be the name of a hot new board game that you may encounter over the holiday season if your family likes to break out the games. In Pandemic Legacy, you play a character, like a researcher or a medic, racing to stop a fast-spreading disease from wiping out Tokyo or Santiago or even Atlanta. Here to tell us about that is Rob Daviau. He designed the game, along with Matt Leacock. Rob was nice enough to break away from a gaming conference in Dallas, and he's with us by phone from there. Rob, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ROB DAVIAU: Hi. No problem. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So I hear that this game shot to the top 10 list of best board games last week, as compiled by boardgamegeek.com. That's a community of a million game enthusiasts. What do you think people are responding to?

DAVIAU: It's very different. And what really makes it different is that most board games, when you play them, you put them away, and when you take them out again, they start over. It's like "Groundhog's Day" - the movie. But what a legacy game does is some of the actions you take in one game actually carry forward to the next game, so it becomes episodic board-gaming.

MARTIN: So how did you guys come up with that idea?

DAVIAU: It was an idea that crossed my mind when I was at Hasbro, which is - why do board gives always start over? I'm a big fan of story and episodic story and comic books and television. I thought, I want to do that. I want to tell a story in a game, but you need a beginning and a middle and an end, and you need actions that have consequences.

And it took me a couple of years to figure it out and eventually did it as Risk game. Matt played it, and he said, I think this would be good for Pandemic, which is a game that's a little different for people who don't play board games 'cause it's cooperative. It's everybody playing against the board. So you all are on the same team, as a scientists and researchers trying to stop diseases. And we thought, this is just a great way to tell a story. You know, what if a disease starts to get out of control? And where does it go from there?

MARTIN: The game is getting a lot of buzz on social media, on Twitter and on Facebook, which is frankly how we heard about it. What is it that you think people are responding to? What are they telling you?

DAVIAU: I think it's the idea of - this is one of the first times in a board game you finish, and you say, well, what happens next? It's a story that you are somewhat in control of. Like, you actually kind of work with us as designers to make the world your own. You know, whatever decisions you make will change your world, and it'll be completely different from decisions that another will make. So it's both storytelling and control that hasn't really been done before.

MARTIN: Who tends to be attracted to it, to this point? We were trying to figure out, like, which of our relatives we could get to play this game with us over the holiday. We're thinking maybe the doctors (laughter).

DAVIAU: Yeah, you know...

MARTIN: The first responders.

DAVIAU: Yeah, it's funny. We have a level of funding in this game. And as you do well and win games, your funding gets cut because your bosses think you've got this under control. And as you - if you lose, you get more funding because, clearly, there's a mess to be cleaned up. And we have heard from people in the medical field and research - they're like, yeah, that's what it's like. As soon as you do well, you get rewarded by having your funding cut. In general, I mean, it's not for very young kids. You probably need, you know, 12 and up, but it appeals to families, in a way, because it's a shared experience. Like, we're all going to work on this together, so it's not like - say, Monopoly can people are fired up. This is - we're all against the game. Let's see if we can solve this puzzle and tell this story together. So it is good for an ongoing family event.

MARTIN: Speaking of families, I know that there are who will want me to ask this question. I want to know the answer to this question. How do you get a job designing board games? That seems awesome.

DAVIAU: Yeah, I got lucky. In 1998, Hasbro was looking for a copywriter, which I was. And I applied and, you know, had a good interview. And I got a job doing that, and, you know, a lot of games have a lot of cards and a lot of writing. And I actually was sort of the lead designer-editor-in-chief of Trivial Pursuit for about seven years, and you know, I learned how to design games there. But most of the time, you get a job as a board game designer by just designing board games and then finding a publisher to print it. It's a lot like becoming an author. In this case, you just design games and find publishers, and if you do it enough, you get royalties. And then when you get royalties, you can do it is a full-time job, but that's a long road, but, you know, it's fun.

MARTIN: All right. That's Rob Daviau. He's a co-designer of Pandemic Legacy, along with Matt Leacock. And he was nice enough to join us by phone, breaking away from a gaming conference in Dallas. Rob, thank you.

DAVIAU: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

More from Hawai‘i Public Radio