TABLE GAME REVIEW: Pandemic

This week at GS Table Games, we look at Pandemic. Can you cure all four diseases, or will it turn into a global pandemic?

Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out. Players must work together, playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. But the diseases are outbreaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures.

A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose. This new edition has been entirely redesigned and includes two new roles: The Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist.

It’s only really been the last year or so that I would call myself a fan of table-top games. I’ve always owned some games and had some great evenings with some of my friends when I worked as a wandering IT consultant in Nuclear Power stations, but I was never a gamer. Then I started watching Geek and Sundry’s TableTop show and got off my console and PC gaming bum to gather round a table with some friends. I’ve realised that, actually, I do enjoy playing games this way with friends and family. I’ve also realised something else: my favourite type of game is co-operative, where everyone is playing together against the game. Games like Castle Panic (reviewed HERE), Gears of War, and now Pandemic.

GAMEPLAY

Pandemic pits two to four players against four virulent diseases which are spreading across the globe. Each player is randomly assigned a role within the group – each role having specific abilities. For example, the researcher can trade cards (used to cure the diseases) more easily than others, the scientists can cure diseases quicker (requiring four relevant cards instead of five) and the quarantine control officer can prevent diseases from spreading in their vicinity and so on. Once roles are assigned, the outbreaks begin, with nine cities being infected – three with three disease cubes, three with two and three with one.

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The game’s difficulty can be controlled by choosing the number of epidemic cards that are shuffled into the player deck – either four, five or six. The player deck is divided into roughly equal parts, an epidemic card shuffled into each and then the deck re-stacked. The rules are simple and easy to pick up – each player has four actions to perform, which include curing one “cube” worth of a disease (or all cubes if the disease has been cured), building a research centre, moving to another city, trading a research card and so on. After a player has used their actions, the player draws two player cards into their hand … possibly unleashing an epidemic and then the diseases spread by turning over cards and infecting designated cities.

There is one way to win the game, and three ways to lose. To win, the team must cure and eradicate all four of the diseases. The team can lose if eight outbreaks occur (an outbreak being when a city would be infected by a fourth disease cube which adds one cube to each of the adjoining cities … possibly unleashing one or more further outbreaks!). The team also loses if it runs out of disease cubes for one of the diseases – it has become so virulent that there’s no stopping it. Finally, if the players run out of player cards (the ones they draw two of after taking their actions), they lose.

The second game I played, we lost from that third method. For the third game, we implemented a house rule: if the player deck runs out, we re-shuffle it back up in exactly the same manner as for game setup. We lost two turns later due to an eighth outbreak, triggered from an early appearing epidemic card, so even changing the rules to the players’ benefit doesn’t make the game too easy!

As mentioned, players could draw an epidemic card during their turn. Epidemic cards are the game’s big guns against the team. If an epidemic is drawn, not only does a city get infected to critical level, but the epidemic track is increased – meaning more cities could be infected after each player’s turn and the discarded infection cards are shuffled and placed back on top of the infection deck. This means that already infected cities will have their infection level increased sometime soon!

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The team

What’s really fun about this game is the level of co-operation involved. Players really work together and plan ahead:

“OK, if I move through Asia, clearing up a couple of disease cubes and you keep to the Americas, then player C can meet me in Shanghai so on my next turn I can trade that card …”

For me, working together really helps the social element. Sometimes with a competitive game, things can become a little tense and chatter around the game board can slow to a crawl – the game is still fun, but some of the social element can be muted. Because of the randomizing nature of the card decks and even the assignment of roles, Pandemic is a supremely re-playable game which should keep families and friends occupied for many hours. It’s weird, but I’ve lost to this game one-hundred percent of the time … but this in no way detracts from the experience of playing.

COMPONENTS

The latest edition of the game is a really well presented product and certainly seems like value for money. The board looks superb and everything is clearly marked and each city is easy to locate (even for someone with as rubbish geography knowledge as I have). There’s enough room to comfortably hold virus cubes, the game cards and the other playing pieces. This second edition’s components are really nice: coloured wooden pawns represent the players and wooden houses the research centres used to cure the diseases. The disease states are represented by phials and the outbreak tracker and urgency tracker are also fine wooden tokens.

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Game cards

The disease “cubes” are brightly coloured translucent plastic, which do somehow give a “virus” feel. That or jelly. Don’t eat them, though –  if for no other reason than if you run out of cubes, you lose! This may seem like a small thing, but I really love the artwork on the infection and player cards. I don’t know what it is: they’re simply maps showing the relevant city, but they just fit so well.

As Wil Wheaton points out in the episode of Geek and Sundry’s TableTop that features the game, Pandemic is the most fun you’ll have losing to a game! I’ve played three times – twice with two players and once with three and lost each one. But losing doesn’t detract from the enjoyment Pandemic brings. That is its main charm. Couple this with the fact that a game (using default rules) will last around an hour or so (including setup) makes for a great start or interlude to an afternoon or evening’s activities.

Check out some real-time photos from our game play.

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Pandemic is available now, distributed to your Friendly Local Game Store by Esdevium Games Ltd. and can be ordered from around £30.00, which I think is great value for money considering the amount of fun on offer here.

There are expansions that we will look at in future posts.

To find other board game reviews and news go HERE.Tell us what you think of this weeks table game review: Pandemic.

 

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Wedgedoc

Originally Published in issue 8 of Geek Syndicate Magazine

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