News bulletin Atlanta:
The Center for Disease Control issued a warning today that a new aggressive strain of the Ebola virus is running rampant through parts of the Middle East, North Africa and India. Notably, travelers are advised to stay clear of the city of Karachi until the situation is under control. Researchers expressed concern that if the apparent epidemic outbreaks continue unchecked, a world-wide Pandemic may be upon us.*
*- This is a fictional account
This review is about the new board game Pandemic from Z-Man Games. Here’s the introduction text from the publisher:
You and your companions are highly skilled members of a disease-fighting team waging a battle against four deadly diseases. Your team will travel across the globe, stemming the tide of infection and developing the resources you’ll need to discover the cures. You must work together; using your individual strengths to destroy the diseases before they overtake the world. The clock is ticking as outbreaks and epidemics accelerate the spread of plague. Will you find the cures in time? The fate of humanity is in your hands! A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.
Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic is a co-operative board game for 2 to 4 players. Minimum recommended age is 10. Game time runs around 45 minutes. Cost is around $35 retail.
This is a very hot game right now and can be difficult to find. The first production run sold out and the publishers says that the second production run has also been totally sold out to distribution. If you see it at a Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) you should act quickly and purchase it. It probably won’t be there for long.
What’s in the box?
The game comes in an excellent box. Graphics are clean and colors are interesting. The designers had fun with the box design — the four sides of the box each show the graphics of the four diseases that are part of the game.
The mounted board is nicely made with attractive colors and a kind of matte finish.
There are 5 wooden pawns that are used to represent the players. The color of each pawn corresponds to the “Role Card” for that player. More on this later.
There are also a handful of neutral colored wooden Research Stations.
A supply of attractive wooden cubes is provided. They come in four colors. One color for each disease in the game.
59 Player Cards are provided. These contain city names around the board as well as Epidemic cards and Special Event cards. Players collect these and use them to make decisions and cure diseases. Here a few Player Cards.
These are the Special Event! and Epidemic! cards. They are shuffled into the Player Card draw pile. There are 6 Epidemic! cards provided with the game. The number you include shuffled into the draw pile is how you control the difficulty level of the game.
A set of 48 infection cards are also provided. There is one infection card for each city on the map.
There are 5 Role cards, corresponding to the player pawns.
Four Reference cards are also provided with the game, making one available for each player. After a few minutes playing the rules will be absorbed easily enough that these reference cards will not get used much. Here are the front and back sides of a Reference card.
The rule book is excellent. It’s only a few pages and is of high quality materials, colors and print size. The rules are explained very logically and are very easy to follow. There are even several example actions and turns documented generously with pictures and text.
Pandemic is a cooperative game where the players are united to beat the game. There’s only 1 way for the players to win. The game has 3 different ways it can win. It can be a tough battle for the players.
At the beginning of the game the 5 Role Cards are shuffled and dealt out. 1 card is dealt per player. If there are only 2 players, there are only 2 Role Cards in use. The players then gather the matching wooden pawn. A wooden Research Station is placed in Atlanta. All player pawns begin the game there.
The chits for Outbreaks Indicator and Infection Rate Marker are placed on the beginning places on their respective parts of the board. The 4 colored Cure Marker chits are set aside. All 6 Epidemic! Cards are set aside for now.
The Player Cards are shuffled and then a specific amount is dealt to each player. For a 2 player game, each player receives 4 cards; for 3-players, each get 3 cards; and for a 4 player game each player gets 2 cards. The cards are kept hidden from the other players.
The difficulty level of the game is now determined. For beginners it’s recommended that 4 Epidemic! Cards are used. Divide the remaining Player Cards into 4 even stacks and then shuffle 1 Epidemic! Card into each stack. Then place all the stacks on top of each other and face down on the game board in the Player Cards area. You can add all 6 Epidemic! Cards if you’re finding the game too easy to beat. HINT: I have won only about 30% of the time we have played at the Easy Difficulty Level.
Shuffle the Infection Cards and put them in their draw stack place on the board. Next you establish the initial game infections. Draw 3 Infection Cards. For each city identified, place 3 wooden disease cubes of the matching color. As the Infection Cards are drawn, they are placed face-up in the Infection Card Discard area on the board. Draw another 3 Infection Cards and place 2 cubes of the indicated color in each city. And finally draw 3 Infection Cards and place 1 colored infection cube in each of these cities. At this point the game is ready for the players to begin.
The person who was most recently sick is the starting player.
For each game turn, play proceeds clockwise beginning with the start player. Game turns are simple. Each player must perform 3 steps:
- Take 4 actions
- Draw 2 Player Cards
- Play the infector role
That’s it. The game cycle repeats until the players either win or lose. Here’s what happens in each of those steps.
Take 4 Actions
A player may perform up to 4 Basic or Special actions. The Basic actions include moving around the board in various ways. The action cards are shown above and can be examined for more detail. The Special actions are non-movement related. Again, you can review the cards text above.
A player is trying to collect a matching set of colored cards so that they can cure a disease. It takes 5 cards to discover a cure.
Draw 2 Player Cards
After taking actions a player must draw 2 cards from the Player Card deck. If an Epidemic Card! is drawn that’s bad news and must be dealt with. Also if all the cards run out from the deck the game is over and the players lose. This is one of the three ways you can lose. It’s a built-in game timer. Most games I’ve played, are lost this way — when time runs out.
There is an upper limit to the number of cards a player may hold. If you have more than 7 you have to discard down.
An Epidemic Card! being drawn causes the infections on the board to increase. This part of the game play is one of the most clever designs that fit the theme so well. Let’s see how it works.
When an Epidemic Card! is drawn, the first thing that happens is that the Infection Rate Marker is moved to an increasing number on the board. The number indicated controls how many Infection Cards are drawn in the next part of the epidemic phase.
Next you draw the bottom card from the Infection Deck and turn it face up. Place 3 colored cubes onto the impacted city. Ah, but there’s a potential problem. Each city may hold only 3 cubes of any one color. If the number of cubes getting added to a city causes it to exceed 3 of a color, an Outbreak happens. When you are “lucky” the newly infected city has no preexisting cubes. The maximum of 3 same-colored cubes are left in the city you just drew. But now every adjacent city gets one cube of the same color. And here’s where it can get really out of hand fast.
For each Outbreak event the Outbreaks Marker increases its value. You can only have 7 Outbreaks in a game. If the Outbreaks Marker reaches 8 the players lose.
The final step of an Epidemic Card! is to add the newly drawn Infection Card to the contents of the existing Infection Card discard stack. The very cool twist is that the discard stack is shuffled and placed back on top of the Infection Card draw pile. This means the players know that previously infected cities will become re-infected.
Play The Infector Role
The last step in a player’s turn is to perform the “infector role”. The Infection Rate marker shows how many cards you need to draw from the Infection Card deck. Remember, if an Epidemic! Card happened recently, the odds are high you will draw an already infected city. You add 1 cube to every city drawn. Again, watch for Outbreaks. If during the game all the cubes of any single color are placed onto the board, the players lose.
Okay. How do you win? Remember that the players are trying to collect cards of matching colors. When a player has 5 of the same color, that player can travel to any Research Station on the board (the game begins with 1 in Atlanta). Once there, the player discards all 5 cards and discovers a cure for that color. The cure indicator is placed on the board. There are 4 diseases and 4 cure markers.
When all 4 cure markers on the board the players win.
Now there’s more that the players can do during the game. As an action, a player can remove disease cubes from infected cities. This action becomes critical to avoid Outbreaks. If a disease is cured it can still infect cities on the board. The players can remove infected cubes from cities as the game progresses. If all the cubes of a “cured” color are removed from the board then the disease is considered Eradicated. The cure token is flipped over (showing a sunset) to indicate this. Once a given disease is eradicated from the game the good news is that new cubes of that color may never be added to cities again.
The building of Research Centers at easy to reach locations around the globe also helps. The players have to collaborate, each using their special Character Role. The only rule is that players may not openly declare which cards they have. They can trade cards under proper conditions. Look over the text on the Role Cards and you can begin to appreciate how combinations of players working together can be effective.
I haven’t discussed player interaction strategies here. Much of that becomes obvious as the players start thinking about how to beat the game.
One of the first variants we started using was to have each player place all of their cards face-up in front of themselves, on the table. This makes the game easier for everyone. The game is still great fun that way. I only do this when playing a “teaching” game.
You can also play this game solitaire. I recommend choosing 2 Player Role cards and treat the game as a 2-player game.
This game is fun. You get a sense of theme easily as you play. And don’t you just love that you determine the starting player as whomever was most recently sick? That’s a cool touch. Pandemic is another one of those games that’s a joy to introduce to new players. Everyone seems to like it. I think the game mechanics are elegant and components are wonderful and inviting to play.
There are a few points to be aware when playing the game with inexperienced players. The first is that the “Share Knowledge” action can be confusing to get right. The way the rule works, with the exception of the Researcher Role Player, a player can give a card to another player only when they are both on the same city and the player giving the card must have that city card in his hand. Only the matching city card can be handed off to another player.
The second aspect of game play that I’ve seen when you have a blend of experienced and new players, it’s very easy for the experienced players to start telling the new people what to do on every turn. Easy to understand why this happens since everyone is trying to do the best they can to win. But I tend to offer hints when something obvious might be overlooked. Other than that, I’ve found that the players enjoy discovering what works well on their own.
Something else to be aware of when you purchase your game. At least for the initial production run, there were some errors in the contents of cards included with the game. It is very easy for you to check if you have the correct cards. There will be one and only one Infection Card for each city on the map. There will also be one and only one Player Card for each city. There are 5 Special Event cards and 6 Epidemic cards. I purchased one of the initial copies and actually played a few games and didn’t notice that I had 2 Infection Cards for 1 city and a missing card for another. Z-Man Games customer service will take care of you promptly if you contact them with a report if this happened to your game copy.
Pandemic is a difficult game to win. But it plays quickly and almost always you want to try again as soon as it’s over. I recommend this game if you play with folks that would enjoy a little non-competitive gaming sometimes.