Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pandemic

In designer Matt Leacock's Pandemic from Z-Man Games you play members of an elite team from the Centre For Disease Control, fighting to stop four contagions from wiping out all life on earth. Actually, they're only worried about those filthy, over-populated metropolises that litter the lands. While we're being anal about terminology, you're hardly the CDC's "elite". I'm pretty sure they realized early on that the earth was doomed, and sent your dumb, idealistic ass out to die a slow and agonizing death while they locked the best and brightest into self-contained underground vaults to wait out the apocalypse. And you know they totally took the Jesus Medic, as well. None of you are ever the Medic.

It's A PandemicThe object of the game is to gather cards of a matching colour to discover cures for the various contagions. You work as a team to slow the infection rate, as well as controlling the areas that are already infected. As you play co-operatively, the Infection Deck works against you to spread the nasty stuff, moving you ever closer to those dreaded Outbreaks. Even the Player Deck is seeded with the vile Epidemic Cards that increase the rate of infection across the globe.

Pandemic is a fast and fun co-operative game that is easy to grasp, but difficult to win. There are four or five ways that you could watch the world burn, but only one situation in which you can sit back as the victors. The expansion, On The Brink adds more roles and introduces some new play styles, including allowing one player to act as the bio-terrorist, sabotaging bases and infecting cities of their choosing.

I have the Second Edition of the game, with the new art work and game board. I love the art, especially the blue colours on the game board world map. It makes it feel really like a war-room battle map, surrounded by top men; top men who haven't a clue what's happening. The new edition contagion cubes help as well. In the first printing, the cubes were wooden, but they were replaced with plastic ones in this edition. At first, I was annoyed because wooden pieces feel really nice in-hand. However, the plastic ones look really good on the board, catching and throwing back the light, looking like they're glowing.

This is a tough game. Apart from some early games on the Easy setting, I have yet to win a game on Normal or Hard. We came painfully close several times, the worst of which was when I had the cards in-hand for the final cure to win the game and had ended my previous turn standing on a Research Station. All I needed was a single Action to for our team to win the game. The player immediate preceding me took her turn carefully, then flipped her Player Cards, revealing an Epidemic Card that resulted in three massive Outbreaks, and using up all the black cubes. Double death.

Because it's entirely a co-operative game, Pandemic does fall into the problem of what I can only term "Expert Instruction", when one player instructs the others in exactly how to take their turn, resulting in a session that might appear to be a four-player game, but is actually just a single-player experience with viewers.

If you can overcome this urge to direct, then Pandemic is a wonderful co-op experience, where you can go from cruising along with no sense of immediate danger, to watching a continent melt under the pressure of a dozen cubes in a single turn. It's nice to win, but thrilling to lose.

Before I finish, one of my favourite aspects of Pandemic is getting to name the various contagions each game. You can be as imaginative as you like. Unlike Risk: Legacy, naming these has no effect on the game, and names can change from play to play. So, will you be curing Terminal Runny Nose or Techno-Techno?Will one of your cubes represent the encroaching threat of Terrorism or Capitalism, or will you scratch the massive spread of Crotch Rot from the plants loins? The choice is yours!

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2 comments:

Karen Twelves said...

Oy, Pandemic. This one and Forbidden Island, I can not play. The increasing doom of the contagion makes me feel panicky, and enjoy the game less.

Denis said...

I would not recommend Escape, then. At least in Pandemic you have the time to plot and plan your slow doom. Escape is relentless.

I love Pandemic for that slow decent into destruction, actually. I enjoy losing it by a single turn or action than winning comfortably (on the Easy setting). Losing makes me want to play it again, as soon as possible.