Jul 16, 2014

[Games] Pandemic: A New Challenge

I first got to play Pandemic at a public gaming event. It was my first introduction to some of the more modern cooperative play board games around. IT was also a rather elegant exercise in frustration as we lost the first few times around. And despite the high possibility of failure in this game due to the random nature of the initial board setup, we still keep coming back for more.

Pandemic: A New Challenge is the 2nd edition of the game and features a number of changes. And in the process of writing this blog post, it's only now that I realized that our copy of the game also includes an error - a missing connection point between two cities versus the original board. As if the game wasn't hard enough.

And yet, the game is totally brilliant.

Pandemic is a cooperative board game created by Matt Leacock and was published by Z-Man Games. It was originally released in 2008 and has gone on to spawn a second edition (as featured above) and two expansions thus far. GAMES Magazine tagged it as the Best New Family Game for 2009.

The game puts 2-4 players in a position to try and save the world from 4 different diseases that have broken out in in different parts of the world. Each player plays one of several roles including the Medic who can cure diseases more efficiently or the Dispatcher who can move other players more efficiently. Using the unique abilities of each role, the goal is to develop the 4 cures needed to stop the four diseases - and it must be stressed that one only needs to create the cures and not necessarily cleanse the world of all diseases.

During a player turn, he can take up to four possible actions. First he can move between cities (and there are unique rules for this as well). Then he can share information with another player in the same city, which means giving the city card or the city that they are in. A player cure a city of one disease cube. Or a player can build a research lab in a city provided he has the right city card. Or he can of course develop the cure for a particular disease as long as he has 5 city cards of that one color. But also during a player turn he'll draw new player cards, among which may be one of the epidemic cards that make things worse. And yes, there are multiple ways to lose. First, if there were more than 7 outbreaks (when a city with 3 disease cube gets a fourth cube). Second, if you run out of cubes of a particular color when you need to infect. And lastly if the players run out of player cards.

It's pretty easy to lose this game. Sometimes players focus on curing cities too much instead of developing the needed cures. Sometimes things just start out really badly from the very beginning with the most infected cities being all clustered together. Or maybe the Epidemic cards are oddly close together in terms of how the cards in the Player deck were shuffled. And yet despite the all the ways that things can go wrong, there's that spark that you feel along with your fellow players to find a way to defeat the game.

This 2nd edition of the game made some cosmetic changes and added two new roles - the Contingency Planner, who can save Events cards after they are used, and the Quarantine Specialist, who prevents cities connected to her city from becoming infected with more disease cubes. And instead of the wooden cubes, the game now feature translucent plastic cubes which look nice in photos but somewhat lack the weight of the old ones.

And as documented online, certain copies of the 2nd edition have some errors. One print error has the cards printing somewhat misaligned. The other error, which our set apparently has, is a missing transit line between the cities of Lagos and São Paulo. Looking at the board now, this may explain some of our failed games due to multiple outbreaks in Africa.

The game really teaches you the value of every single move and it also encourages players to really work together and think strategically. It's important to think a few moves ahead and yet also be prepared to react to the potential disaster that is represented by the effects of those blasted Epidemic cards. Remember, cure all four diseases, don't necessarily clean up the world.

Pandemic is the grand daddy of a lot of modern cooperative games, primarily given that game designer Matt Leacock has designed a number of games based around this cooperate play premise including Forbidden Desert. As for this game, it gets a full 5 cruel twists of random fate out of a possible 5.

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