Review: Pandemic boardgame

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pandemicTitle: Pandemic
Price: $39.99
Release Date: March 2013 (this edition)
Publisher:Z-Man Games
Recommended Age: 13 and older
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Pros: Simple, good artwork and components, random games
Cons: noncompetitive, bad luck can wipe everyone out

Pandemic is an award winning cooperative game from Z-Man Games, based around players trying to stop the world from being overwhelmed in a series of epidemics. It is also a cooperative game, the players all either win or lose as a team. While cooperative games run a risk of being a little too beatable once the primary strategy is found, Pandemic escapes this trap by using a card system that randomly spawns diseases across the world, along with randomly assigning roles to players. Five years from its initial release, Z-Man decided it was time for a new edition. This new version has clearer rules and includes two new character classes for even more gaming variety.

Cooperative games make for good family games–there are no feelings to get hurt. Pandemic is perhaps too complicated for an eight year old (who might get distressed if the world goes down in flames, a likely event), but a ten year old, with a bit of supervision, could easily play with his parents. As long as the adults mind the small parts (the diseases are represented by tiny translucent cubes), it shouldn’t be too hard for a family to have fun here.


Quick, to the CDC-cave!

During Pandemic‘s set-up, diseases spawn across the world. Players are assigned a role card with a special ability or two, dealt a couple of “player cards” which are typically cards with city names on them, and placed at the CDC in Atlanta. Each turn, more diseases will spawn, and if a city is already filled with a disease and spawns more, an outbreak occurs, resulting in more diseased areas on the board. Thus, players must do all they can to keep diseases from going out of control, as a chain reaction of outbreaks can flood the board. The players all lose if there are too many outbreaks, too many diseases are on the board, or they simply run out of time. The early game sees players moving across the world to get to where the diseases are, as they can discard a city card to “fly” to a city, speeding things up a bit.

There’s only one way to win in Pandemic: cure all four diseases plaguing the world. To cure a disease, a player must get 5 city cards of the same color and turn them in at a research station. The CDC station starts in play, but players can build more if they discard a precious city card when they’re already in that city.

Each player’s turn is a fast affair. They get four actions, usually moving and curing diseases, then drawing a couple of cards, then spawning more diseases. In the early game, at least two players head towards the worst region of infections and start clearing things up, while the rest stay near the CDC, picking a few diseases and trying to help the others while getting the cards for a cure. After a few turns, there will usually be a panic mode where players just barely hang on…the late game, if players make it that far, generally has players trying to get together to share resources to cure that last disease before the world gets overwhelmed.

A game of Pandemic typically takes 45 minutes, but can easily end sooner (in crushing defeat); a winning game is normally a close thing, with a turn or less to spare. As a quick, light, game, it’s easy enough to play multiple times in one night (although winning multiple times in one night is a different matter entirely…).

Who are these people?

The Key to success in Pandemic is using the special abilities of the characters. The Scientist’s “only needs 4 cards to cure” ability is awesome, especially if she stays near the Researchers with their “can give cards to another player” ability. The new edition includes two new characters. The Quarantine Specialist’s ability is pure awesome. She can prevent any diseases spawning in her city, or an adjacent city, single-handedly keeping the game alive while other players gather cards. The Contingency Planner, on the other hand, is on the other end of the spectrum. He can “recycle” events, but events come up randomly, and usually aren’t that important. Players get characters randomly, a good design choice, although winning is such a dicey thing that I can imagine gamers ignoring that rule and just cherry-picking their favorite (and most useful) character.

Pandemic fills a nice niche on game night. It doesn’t take long to play a game, the cooperative method means there are no hard feelings, and the “probably all going to lose” does a good job of getting people in the mood to play a nice role playing game where most everyone always wins. Only the sheer randomness of the cards can be annoying. The game can be nearly won, then a flurry of bad draws can flush it all away. On the other hand, there is almost no way to turn a losing game into a winner with a good draw. Only hardcore, competitive, war-gaming groups won’t be happy with this game, but everyone else should have plenty of fun.

Product Page [zmangames]

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