Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pandemic Board Game Review

The North East is currently snowed in, so what better time to enjoy a nice board game!

Last week, when he was here visiting, Seth's best friend, Patrick, introduced us to the cooperative game Pandemic.

"Everyone that I've played with has gone out and gotten the game," he said. And he was right. I made a brief trip out before the snow got bad and came home with a copy of Pandemic and one of it's two expansions, On the Brink.

Getting the expansion allowed us to get a few more playable characters and scenarios, plus a much nicer storage box and petri dishes for the disease cubes.

The goal of Pandemic is to cure four diseases that have broken out before humanity is wiped off the map. Because the game is a cooparative game, all players work together to play against the game.

At the start of the game, each player is assigned or selects a character to play. Each person has abilities that will be of use during the game. In my first game I played as the Archivist (I figured I had to since I'm hoping to pursue a degree in library science) and in the game we played today I was the Scientist.

During each turn, players have four actions they can take as they try to cure diseases and stop the spread of the viruses that are on the move. There is only one way to win the game -- curing all four diseases. However, there are many ways to lose -- too many outbreaks, one disease takes over (i.e. you run out of disease cubes), or you run out of time (i.e. you run out of cards of players to draw).

To begin the game, you set up the board with nine cities where the diseases have manifested. Everyone gets a number of player cards to start; the number they receive is dependent on the number of players (2 to 4). Everyone starts in Atlanta where the first research center, presumably the CDC, is located.

During each turn each player does four actions all towards the goal of curing all four diseases and preventing outbreaks. In order to cure a disease, a player much have five city cards of the same color as the disease you want to cure and be located at a research center.

The four actions you can take to try to reach your goal include:
  • travel to cities,
  • treat diseases,
  • build new research facilities, and
  • exchange city cards.

After each player takes his four actions, they then draw two more player cards (bottom of the board) and infect cities from the infection deck (top of the board). The player cards are mostly helpful -- usually city cards to help you get to your total of five for a cure or event cards which give you special abilities on a turn. The goal of the game is, of course to cure diseases. After you cure a disease you can also eradicate it -- wipe it from the map by treating all the diseased cities. Treating becomes much easier and more efficient after you find a cure. Eradicating a disease is not required to win the game, but it does have it's benefits. If you cure and then eradicate a disease, the disease does not infect cities even if you select them from the infect deck. This means that you can select certain cards from the infection deck that are basically passes, which is very helpful later in the game when your infect rate (the number of cards you must draw from the infection deck) increases.

Interspersed throughout the player deck are epidemic cards (four to six depending on how difficult you want the game to be). When an epidemic card is drawn things intensify! A new city gets infected, the infection rate increases, and you take your discarded cards from the infection deck and put them back on top of the deck for re-drawing, which means that your cities are more likely to outbreak. You cannot have more than eight outbreaks or you lose the game.

An outbreak occurs when any city has three disease tokens and is exposed to more infection. This is a disaster because the outbreak spreads to all adjacent cities. For this reason, a big focus of the game is to keep cities with fewer than three tokens by treating them. You have to balance this defensive action with being on the offensive and trying to cure diseases as quickly as possible. You especially want to avoid having cities with diseases that are adjacent because outbreaks can chain.

In our first solo game Seth and I were able to successfully cure all four viruses. It was very exciting, and, because the game was cooperative, we got share the excitement as co-winners!

Pandemic is loads of fun and fairly straightforward to learn. The complexity for learning the game is similar to Clue. A game takes probably a little under an hour, maybe less once you get good at the rules. This is a perfect amount of time in my opinion -- not too short and not too long. The whole thing is rather addictive, and I can't wait to play again tomorrow.

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