Game Night Review - Pandemic
If our last Game Night Review, Camp Grizzly, wanted to kill you in the woods…and was more than likely successful by the way…then Pandemic has its sights set a little higher:
It wants to kill you, your friends and all of humanity while it’s at it.
And if our playthrough is any indication…there isn’t much that you can do to stop it.
In Pandemic, you and your fellow players (up to 4), fill various roles such as Medic, Scientist, Dispatcher, Researcher, Contingency Planner and Quarantine Specialist. Each of these roles, as one would expect, has certain abilities that, when used properly, can help the team meet their objective of wiping out 4 deadly viruses that are sweeping throughout the world. Players will need to travel the world, setting up research stations, treating local populations and, most importantly, gather location cards needed to cure the aforementioned viruses. But…say it with me now…it’s not gonna be easy. No, the deck, quite literally, is stacked against you. With new infections occurring in new locations and epidemics hiding within the players’ draw pile, the players are just one bad draw away from an outbreak that can cascade into a full blown…dare I say it…pandemic. You win if you and your team are able to wipe out the aforementioned viruses…but there are far more ways to lose: 8 outbreaks occur, you run out of disease cubes when more are needed (translation: the disease has spread too much) or no more cards are in the players’ draw pile (translation: you’ve run out of time).
Setting up already gives you some indication that the odds are stacked against you as the first thing you do is infect 9 cities: 3 cities will get three cubes each, 3 cities will get 2 cubes each and 3 cities get 1 cube each. Some of this might seem manageable, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind: after each individual player’s turn more cities become infected and any city with 3 cubes should the receive a fourth will trigger an outbreak, spreading the disease to neighboring cities and bringing you a step closer to your limit of 8 outbreaks and ending the game. Looking at the board itself, we have a map of the world with selected cities and the routes between them and an infection pile hosting the cards players will be flipping over to see which cities get infected with which diseases next. Beneath that, there’s an infection counter, keeping track of how many infection cards are flipped at the end of each player’s turn. This will increase with each epidemic card players draw. With that being said, there’s also a deck of cards players will draw from to get special actions and destination cards in a color of one of the diseases…collecting 5 cities of the same color will allow a player to start work on a cure as long as you can get them to a research center. Lastly there’s the outbreak counter, going from 0 to 8 with the final space being marked by a skull and crossbones for obvious reasons.
The player’s turn entails 3 phases: Doing 4 actions, drawing 2 player cards and lastly, infecting new cities as determined by the infection rate. Your options when it comes to actions are pretty varied with 4 different types of movement:
Drive/Ferry: Move to a city connected by a while line to the one you are in.
Direct Flight: Discard a city card to move to the city named on the card.
Charter Flight: Discard the city card that matches the city you are in to move to any city.
Shuttle Flight: Move from a city with a research station to any other city with a research station.
The remaining actions either can help you on your way to a cure or keep your team’s head above water by treating individual cases of a disease:
Build a Research Station: Discard a city card that matches the city you’re currently in to place a research station token
there. Think about where you want to put them though, there are only 6 you can place!
Treat Disease: Remove 1 disease cube from the city you are in. If this disease has been cured, you can
remove all of the cubes for this disease from the city you’re in.
Share Knowledge: While in the same location as one of the other players, you can either:
Give a city card that matches the city you’re in to the other player.
Take a city card that matches the city you’re in from the other player.
Discover a Cure: At any research station, discard 5 city cards of the same color to cure the disease of that color.
So…all that being explained, how did we do?
We killed the world. And, if you were to believe everyone else playing the game, it was all my fault. (And, given my luck, there may in fact be some merit to their argument!)
Here’s the thing, sure, part of it is that this was the first time we’d ever played the game, so, as you’d expect, there’s a bit of a learning curve. Pandemic even has a set-up designed especially for first time players. But, at the same time, it must be said, this game HATES you and, as such, will look for any opportunity to screw you and your teammates over at every single opportunity it gets. Did I go over the Epidemic cards? [Nope. – Ed.] Let’s talk about those. These little bastards are shuffled into the player draw pile, where players are expecting an action card or a city card. When you draw an Epidemic card you have to 1) Increase the Infection Rate (move the token 1 space to the right), 2) Infect by drawing the BOTTOM card of the infection deck and putting 3 disease cubes on that city (and if there’s already cubes on that city, you guessed it…OUTBREAK!) and 3) Intensify by reshuffling the Infection Deck’s discard pile and put these cards back on TOP of the deck…so they’re first up to get MORE diseases! A little friendly advice? If our playthrough was any indication, do not let anyone named Steve draw your cards for you…draw them yourself. Apparently ‘Steve’ means “harbinger of disease” in ancient Sumerian or something. Go figure. Now, between the Epidemics, outbreaks and just new cities getting infected after each individual player’s turn, you and your fellow teammates need to walk the fine line of trying to contain as much as you can in the individual cities and working toward the larger goal of doing what you can in order to create the cures you need to end up winning. If you’re just playing for the first time, your questions are more likely going to be more in the mode of “Wait, what constitutes an action again?” as opposed to “Where should we set up a research station before we lose China to the zombies???” [The diseases are unnamed in the game, but come on…black is gonna be the zombie plague and red’s gonna be Ebola. – Ed.] That being said, this steep learning curve is going to be a turn off to some of the players in the group…as that was indeed the case with half of us. However, on the other side of that coin, you just might have some sick bastard in your group that is fascinated by how quickly everything can go wrong as the dominoes continue to fall…one after another…after another…after another…so on and so forth. Yeah, I gotta admit, I fall into that group. Ahem…back to the point, if your team is going to be able to walk that fine line, communication is going to be vital. An example to prove my point: one of our players had 6 city cards all in red but didn’t say anything about it! If the group had known, we could’ve rushed to get things together to cure Ebola! [Red. – Ed.] Sure, it was the damn Epidemics that got us in the end…but being able to take one of the four viruses off the board would’ve been a big help and maybe, just maybe, could’ve kept the world alive just a little bit longer. At least until the zombiepocalypse.
Whether or not you enjoy Pandemic is going to depend on the answers to a few questions:
Can you think on a large scale and a small scale at the same time?
Are you able to communicate and coordinate with other people?
Do you enjoy having your ass handed to you by an inanimate object or game mechanic?
Have you always wanted to enjoy watching the world bleed out of its eyes or go full blown zombiepocalypse?
Then talk to your physician, as Pandemic might be right for you. Side effects may include feelings of hopelessness and despair, uncontrollable rage, table flipping, confusion, analysis paralysis, apathy, inclinations toward genocide, prejudice against anyone named ‘Steve’ and anal leakage.
Maybe not so much that last one.
But there are yellow cubes…
Anyway, pharma ad parody aside, talk to your playgroup. If they’ve got the patience to get their asses kicked for a few games before even approaching a chance to win just one, then it feels to me like Pandemic would be worth the payoff…if for no other reason than to scream at the top of your lungs: “FUCK YOU GAME! WE WON! WE SAVED THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD! EAT IT! EAT THAT VACCINE AND CHOKE ON IT!” [Note: Game does not take into account Anti-Vaxxer dipshits…or it would be IMPOSSIBLE! – Ed.] However, if your group is more focused on winning games to have fun, then this harsh mistress had best stay on the shelf. For me though, the elegant design and just the sheer number of ways this game can kick your ass are a joy to behold…winning or losing…and thus, we’ll award it a Happy Cat.
Special thanks to Talina (who died of dysentery), Michael (yeah, he got Ebola) and Chelsie (who went full zombie) for watching the world burn with me (devoured by Chelsie).
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