The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Pandemics on and off the board.

This week my son set a personal best record for “Most vomiting in a week.” I think it’s also a family record, and we’ll apply to Guinness. His is not the only recent illnes, so it’s entirely appropriate that I picked up Pandemic, the latest co-operative game. [Full Disclosure, I’ve met the designer several times and played a prototype].

The players are rushing to find the cure to four epidemics, while ensuring that casualties don’t rush over the board. The players share a deck, which has one card for each city. The cities have four “suits” (which matches one of the four diseases). You take your turn (of four actions), then get some cards and flip up an infection card. Your actions include:

  • Helping sick people (where you are),
  • Building a research station (which requires having the matching card of the city you are in),
  • Finding the cure requires playing five cards of the same suit at a research station,
  • Handing a card to another player (in the same city, and you can only pass the card if it names the city you are both in),
  • Moving (either slowly, one step at a time, or playing a card to go to a city, or flying directly between research stations).

There are also a few special action cards.

After that you flip the top card of the infection deck, and add a cube (representing more infected people) to the city. If a city already has three matching cubes (and the board starts seeded), then you have an outbreak … place one cube in each adjacent city.

The players deck also has epidemic cards. You take the bottom card of the infection deck and add three cubes (which may cause an outbreak), then you shuffle that and the discards and put them all on top of the deck. This means that you have ‘hot spots’ — cards that will show up again and again.

You win if all four cures are found (no matter the state of the board). You lose if there are too many outbreaks, you run out of cubes of any color, or when you exhaust the player deck.

Finally, each player has a role — a special ability that breaks the rules. The medic can cure multiple cubes for an action, the dispatcher can spend his actions moving other people. The scientist only needs four cards to find the cure, the researcher can give cards away without restriction, and the Operations Guy can build research stations without a card. These roles will nudge each player to prefer certain actions, and ensure that each game will be slightly different (if you play with 4; 2-3 players have more combinations).

I’ve pushed around the pieces a bit, but I don’t the game has changed significantly since I played it. So you get random thoughts:

  • In theory you could play this with open hands (the rules suggest that for a first game), which pushes this dangerously close to solitaire. In fact, Rob Rossney suggests just that. (I did try a solo game like that at Normal settings, just to refresh myself on the rules, and I suspect that Rob is correct).
  • The “not being able to discuss your exact cards” idea is mentioned, but that is a bit odd, because you can exchange cards if you are both in the city named by the card. Since knowing the name tells you everything else about the card, that doesn’t quite work.
  • As I’ve said before, I mildly smitten with co-operative games, and this is another example. J pushed for this purchase, which surprised me. I’m sure I’ll play this soon.
  • The game looks nice, but the (very large) pawns and houses are too big for the board. It’s tough to tell where some pieces are, especially when 2-3 are in the same city. A mild complaint.
  • Let me join in the admiration for the elegant epidemic mechanics. I remember thinking “that’s clever” when I first saw it.

Update: I’ve played a few games of the solo hard variant. Yet to win.

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Written by taogaming

February 16, 2008 at 11:41 am

Posted in Reviews

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  1. FWIW, Epidemic is my favorite cooperative game. YMMV.

    Tom_Lehmann

    February 16, 2008 at 8:39 pm

  2. I’m enjoying the (*#$( hard) solo variant. But I don’t know if it would be as enjoyable with other people. But it’s short, easy to set up and tear down (unlike Lord of the Rings) and elegant.

    Brian

    February 17, 2008 at 10:25 am


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