REPOD S3E5 – Matt Leacock: Creator of Pandemic

In Season 3, Episode 5 of REPOD, we sat down with Matt Leacock, best known for creating the Pandemic series of cooperative board games. There are several expansions for Pandemic as well as the Pandemic Legacy games, which are stand alone versions of the game with an interwoven narrative that affects the rules and mechanics of the game as you play.

caucasian man wearing glasses with short hair in a white patterned button down shirt in front of the Pandemic game board.

The Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy games share many commonalities with escape rooms, including cooperative gameplay, cinematic narrative structure, and gameplay mechanics that tie in closely to the theme. 

It was fascinating to hear Matt describe his game design process and how he approaches it from a user experience design standpoint. There is a dialogue between the theme and game mechanics where they impact each other iteratively. Pandemic Legacy is one of David’s favorite board games, and if you love escape rooms, we think you’ll love this game too.

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Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee and David talk about their love of cooperative gaming, which allows for you to play on the same team as your friends against the game itself. [1:40]
  • Matt talks about playing a cooperative board game called Lord of the Rings, and how it inspired him to create his own co-op game. [2:36]
  • Peih-Gee mentions that many escape room enthusiasts are drawn to escape rooms because those are co-op games as well. [3:44]
  • Matt explains what the game Pandemic is and how it’s played. [4:53]
  • Matt quotes The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, saying “a game is a problem-solving activity, approached playfully” and says that idea drives all his work. [5:49]
  • Matt talks about some of the different ideas that went into the design of Pandemic, including cellular automata, emergent behaviors, and systems design. [6:09]
  • Matt tells us about how he first conceptualized the game while on a walk with his daughter. [7:26]
  • Matt talks about how, when designing a game, there is a dialogue between the theme and the game mechanics and how they iterate upon one another. [8:46]
  • Matt talks to us about the Pandemic Legacy games and the challenges of balancing all the different installments. [9:08]
  • David talks about how Pandemic Legacy felt like episodic TV with a story he cared deeply about. [13:00]
  • Matt talks about the choices they made when designing Pandemic Legacy to create tension, hope, and empowerment. [13:56]
  • Matt talks about creating characters in the game designed to make players question their alliances. [15:18]
  • David and Peih-Gee talk about the similarities between the evolution of Pandemic to Pandemic Legacy and how escape rooms evolved in a similar way, embracing a more deliberate, cinematic narrative structure. [16:40]
  • Matt talks about the theme of Pandemic, especially in light of current events. [18:07]
  • Peih-Gee mentions that playing games with real-world themes allows players to feel a sense of autonomy and agency. [20:20]
  • Peih-Gee talks about having a morality crisis when she realized the strategy of the game is to only cure heavily diseased cities. [25:40]
  • Matt talks about the Pandemic expansions vs the standalone games with slightly different theming like World of Warcraft or Fall of Rome. [25:18]
  • Matt talks from a design standpoint about some of the hurdles that cooperative games have to overcome, unique to the co-op game format. He mentions the issue of trying to combat a domineering alpha player in a cooperative game. [26:23]
  • Matt talks about how his previous experience as a user experience designer helped inform his approach to game design, especially with playtesting. [28:57]
  • Matt and David talk about getting player feedback during play testing by watching the player’s reactions very carefully and noting player behavior, rather than depending on player feedback. [29:16]
  • Matt tells us about changing the initial design of the game from one deck to two decks of cards, and how it came about because of playtesting. [30:04]
  • Matt tells us about the newest game he’s designing, Daybreak, which is a cooperative game looking at the threat of climate change, with the players taking on the role of world powers. [33:29]
  • Matt talks about designing Daybreak in the middle of a global pandemic and quarantine, and how it inspired him to create a more meaningful game with an inspiring journey. [35:13]
  • Matt talks about some observational behaviors when watching groups playing a game. [36:44]
  • David compares those same behaviors to escape room players and notes that it’s important to create a space where players feel safe contributing their ideas. [38:15]
  • David and Matt talk about other co-op games, including Magic Maze and the Unlock tabletop escape game adaptation of Pandemic (on sale soon). [40:05]
  • Matt talks about Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, a roll & write civilization-building game designed for short, portable play. [41:30]
  • Matt talks about why there isn’t a digital version of Pandemic online at the moment. [44:12]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

About Matt Leacock

caucasian man with glasses and short hair wearing a patterned, white button down shirt

Matt Leacock has been designing board games full time since 2014. He is best known for his cooperative titles, Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, and Forbidden Island, and he has designed over two dozen titles for the international market. His games have won many international awards, and games in the Pandemic line have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. In a prior life, he was a user experience designer at Apple, Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo!, and the Chief Designer at Sococo.

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