It’s been a really long time since I posted about a board game and I don’t know why. Probably because I’m spending so much time playing them! But why should I have all the fun? Here’s another great game to tell you about.
Today I’d like to introduce you a very different type of game that’s arguably been the most popular game of the past year in our house – Pandemic. This is an easy game to learn, and doesn’t take very long to play. But unlike traditional games, this one is called cooperative, because all the players work together to secure a victory as a team. It’s you against the game – can you save the world?
In this game you are working to stop the spread of some highly infectious diseases around the planet – pretty timely considering current events, no? The diseases are represented by 4 colors of cubes (red, blue, black and yellow) that are concentrated in particular regions of the world. Each player will move about the board trying to treat victims of each disease, while also searching for cure. The players all start at the CDC in Atlanta, pictured below.
Players are dealt a hand of cards – each one pictures a city and is in the color of the type of disease that might strike there. For example, you may have cards for Paris (blue), Baghdad (black), Sydney (red) and Mexico City (yellow). The cards also tell you a few basic demographics about the city – built-in geography lesson! To find a cure you need to get 5 cards in your hand of the same color – but the challenge is you can’t have more than 7 cards in your hand at any time.
The cards are also used on your turn to help you move around the board. A player has several options on his turn, and can do 4 actions each time. These include traveling by car or boat (adjacent cities, no card needed) or by plane which requires discarding the card for the city you want to fly to or from. You can also remove a cube of disease (1 cube = 1 action), exchange a card with another player if you’re both in the same city featured on the card, or you can build a research station – again if you have the card for that city. Once a player has accumulated 5 cards of the same color, she can move to a city with a research station, discard that set of cards, and mark that the disease has been cured! Once that happens, you are able to clear out that particular disease much faster. If you are able to remove all cubes of one color from the board (after finding a cure) then it is eradicated and the disease will not reappear for the remainder of the game. In the image below, the blue disease has been cured, and the yellow disease has been eradicated.
Now, that’s all well and good, but where do the diseases come from? There is a second pile of cards which also feature all the cities on them, and they comprise the infection deck. At the beginning of the game you will reveal 9 city cards and infect them to varying degrees. Then, at the end of each player’s turn he will draw a number of infection cards equal to the current infection rate (see below) and add a cube to those cities.
Still sound too easy to win? Well we’re just getting started – let’s move onto Epidemic cards. Amidst the player deck you will seed (somewhat evenly) 4 – 6 epidemic cards. Each player draws 2 cards as the second part of her turn; should she get an Epidemic, she must play it face up and follow the instructions. The first is that the infection rate increases one notch – which isn’t bad at first, but after the 3rd epidemic you’ll notice the rate is up to 3 cities per turn. Secondly, a new city (drawn from the bottom of the deck) is infected with 3 cubes. Lastly, the really nasty part – the discarded infection cards are shuffled and put back on top of the deck! In other words, those cities that you’ve been running around and dealing with are going to continue being infected until you find a cure – and time is running out!
As if that wasn’t enough, you also must try to prevent disease outbreaks. When a city has 3 cubes in it and that city shows up in the infection deck, the disease in that city outbreaks. You place one cube of that city’s color in every city it’s adjacent to, regardless of color. This turns your little problems into big ones fast. Each time you have an outbreak, you note it on the outbreak meter, pictured at left. The worst situation is a possible chain reaction, when a disease outbreaks from one city and sends a cube to an adjacent city that already has 3 cubes – double outbreak!
So now that you’re feeling the pressure, let’s talk about winning and losing. The players win if they can find a cure for all 4 diseases before one of three things happens – the outbreak meter hits 8, you run out of all the cubes in one color, or the player deck is exhausted (which represents running out of time). Trying to prevent all three of these situations is a real balancing act and is what makes the game so exciting!
Fortunately, there is some help for the players that will allow them to use some creative problem-solving to save the world. Mixed into the player deck are a few special event cards which will allow you special privileges, like airlifting a player to any city, or building a free research station in any city with a government grant. These special cards can be played at any time, regardless if it’s your turn or not. Also, each player has a role which will allow you to do something not normally allowed. For example, the Medic can move into a city and remove all cubes of that color as a single action. The Scientist can find a cure with just 4 cards of the same color.
I’m a big fan of this game – I have declared that it was the best new game I played in all of 2009. It requires strong communication, problem-solving and a good dose of luck to come up with a win. And any time you think it’s getting too easy, there is always a way to ratchet up the difficulty. Thus far I haven’t taught it to anyone that didn’t like it after one game. In fact, I introduced some players to it at my house and then I went off to play another game. They ended up playing through it 5 times in a row until they won! Pandemic is a good game for players at all skill levels and is especially suited as a “gateway game” for players that haven’t tried many board games. It is designed for 2-4 players, but I particularly enjoy it with 2; it’s a great game for couples, as you have to work on your communication with each other! This is a relatively short game, taking only about 45 minutes. Pandemic is published in the U.S. by Z-Man Games.
I’ll also add that recently Z-Man released an expansion set for this game called On the Brink. It’s one of the best expansions I’ve seen. You get more player roles, a bunch of new special event cards, improved player pawns and nifty storage cases shaped like petri dishes. There are also 3 added scenarios that you can try which make the game even harder to win – trust me, it’s tough! Definitely a lot of bang for your buck, so if you like the main game I highly recommend going for this new set to enhance your experience.
Thanks for reading my review – and I promise to be back soon with another game review.