Duration: 45 minutes
Designer: Matt Leacock
The might of the CDC!
Atlanta, Georgia. The Center for Disease Control receives dreadful news: four viruses are spreading at an alarming speed! It’s their job – and yours, as members of the taskforce – to limit worldwide casualties and prevent a true pandemic! In this cooperative game, players must work together and coordinate their specific skills, in a race against the clock and the board itself.
Designed by Matt Leacock and published firstly by Z-Man Games, this popular game is the first of the cooperative kind that I played, and I earnestly recommend it as an introduction to this style of play. Pandemic is incredibly flexible, accommodating less experienced players as well as veterans. A strong gaming group will welcome a change of pace from competition-heavy games, and families will gather everyone around the table to brainstorm the fastest and most effective way to put out the overwhelming outspreads of disease across the globe.
Disease and cure
Pandemic might appear complex to newcomers, but after a couple games, everyone understands how the basic mechanics work. It can be explained fairly quickly to casual tabletop gamers, though for a little less seasoned players I would advise a simplified version first (which I propose at the end of this review).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; how does it even work? On the board, there is a world map with some nations' capitals represented, and their communication routes. These lines indicate how players can move, but all the same, how disease can spread. At the start of the game there are three cities with three disease markers, three with two markers and the last three with one marker. Each turn includes a series of actions that change the state of the game – player actions, and infection spread –, like so:
1 – The active player firstly performs four actions, that include moving, treat populations, trade cards, build research centers and research a cure
2 – After his action phase is over, the player draws a card to his hand. Note that a player cannot have more than 7 cards in his hand at any time, so it’s mandatory to discard extras. If there is no card to be drawn from the player deck at this point, well… game over!
3 – A card is drawn from the infection deck and a cube is placed in the corresponding city, to simulate infection outspread.
This is the basic order alright, but some variations occur throughout the game. First of all, a city can’t have more than 3 cubes of the same disease. If a new cube is to be placed there, that source of disease spreads and every city connected to it gets one cube. The epidemic counter has to be moved for every city that gives rise to an epidemic, and if the counter reaches 10, the viruses win and the CDC gets nothing.
Perhaps the most important game-changer element is phase 2 of the turn. In it you have not only the city cards you very desperately need, but special cards designed to help you out of trouble. Although, not all of them – the dreaded epidemic card might as well come into play! Pandemic players would no doubt tell you tales of the fear that strikes them at times, the fear of drawing that card themselves and inviting the team’s rage. An epidemic card doesn’t count towards the hand limit because it goes immediately into effect. It serves as a promoter and accelerator of the game, making everything harder to manage for a while. The bottom city of the deck is drawn and gets three disease cubes (or as many as it takes for it to get to the max and cause spread), the draw card indicator is moved once to the right and the discard pile is shuffled and placed at the top, which means cities that were already infected might be stricken again very, very soon!
How, then, can you defeat these terrible odds? By having your scientists find a cure! A cure is this wonderful weapon that allows you to treat cities faster, eradicate diseases and, most importantly, win the game! For that you generally need 5 cards of that disease colour to use in a research center, (though the Scientist can do it with only 4). Cure the four deadly strains, and the world is saved!
Games are an entertainment, a pass-time, and we play them because they are fun. Pandemic is not only incredibly fun, as anyone can tell from a glance over a match, as it is engaging. It’s too easy to keep on playing, telling yourself that next time, for sure, you’ll win. Every player, willingly or not, ends up getting inside everyone else’s shoes to see what’s the best course of action, and the dialogue is endless. Fun can seem like a very basic factor, a sort of “that goes without saying” aspect in a game, but it’s not that easy to manufacture. The enjoyment in Pandemic is caused, greatly, by the way that it works, reason why I feel like the big, bright, golden award should be given to its mechanics.
It’s quick paced, flowy and varied, not overly simple or overly complicated. And the luck factor kicks in whenever you feel like the game is becoming predictable. All of this, together with the random character roles, random starting epidemics and three levels of difficulty, contribute to an outstanding replayability value. And trust me, the more frantic a game is, the more fun you’ll be having!
This section is about to be incredibly small because Pandemic is, truly, an incredible game that you can just enjoy eternally. I will say I was expecting cute figures of the characters instead of bland tokens, and that could add a little flavor to the board. I also found that the cards in this edition get worn out very quickly so it might be a good idea to waste some time sleeving them up. Finally, if you don’t like external influence, look out, because the audience in the back will definitely try to weigh in their own strategies!
Spicin' it up!
Tired of the original Pandemic and can’t get an expansion for it? Just starting and the rules feel overwhelming? Whatever the case might be, here are my suggestions to make it more personal.
The starter: Play without character roles and without hiding your hand of cards. For those that are still getting the hang of the game, this version puts everyone on equal ground and relies only on the basic rules. It is particularly useful to teach younger players what their several movement options are, based on their hand.
Clean World: Have you defeated the game countlessly in hard mode? … doubt it. But if you still want it to step up, try this custom hardcore version that is only won after eradicating all four diseases. You’ll need to be extra fast, extra cautious and extra lucky, if curing is not good enough for you, because the time-limits are exactly the same, and you can only get so many turns before the cards run out!