Pandemic…It’s infectious

Base Game Review

Players: 2-4

Play Time (Box): 45 minutes

Play Time (Goof): 45 – 60 minutes

Producer: Z-Man Games

Designer: Matt Leacock

 

 

Hi there readers. I’m about to tell you a story of great woe. Something drastic has happened in my life recently. I know we’re normally all about fun and laughter here at The Goof Review but I feel I must take a moment and inform you all of some bad news.

I’ve been sick.

Some might say it’s not serious, that it was merely a bad cold; but I’ve had to lay on the couch and watch Netflix for the past few days instead of go to work. I know, I know. I feel bad for me too.

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Sick Goof. Someone come sing me ‘soft kitty’?

Naturally when I’m sick, I’m drawn to games of a bacterial-like genre. Much the same as people who are sad are drawn to songs of heartbreak and grief. So it was that my girlfriend and I played Pandemic.

Pandemic is one of those games I’ve had for a couple of years that my friends and I play constantly. And we play to see how close we can get to winning. Because it’s hard.

Pandemic- or, as it’s come to be known in my gaming circle, “that game we always lose”- is a punishing and brutal game where you struggle to save the world from diseases as they spread. And I honestly think we’ve managed to win it three times out of the dozens of times we’ve played it.

Now I wouldn’t consider myself a petty loser (just don’t ask my girlfriend, my friends or my family) but as with most people, winning is the aim of the game. I love it when we play a game and I win by the smallest and most teeth-gritting of margins. I like to do absolutely everything I can to ensure that I’m the most winningest winner of all. So all this begs the question, can a game be fun if you consistently lose?

 

Gameplay (9/10)

I’m a big fan of cooperative games. I like it when we work as a team to overcome a really difficult challenge. I often find in cooperative games, if I feel from the beginning there’s a real chance we’re going to win, I get bored easily. I’m in this for that feeling of triumph when at long last, and through a gruelling struggle, we claw our way to victory. And right from the setup, this game gives you that feeling.

You start the game with three cities already on the brink of outbreak, and six others in various stages of trouble. So there’s very little build up. It’s time to get to work. The action is already building towards the climax.

It should be noted that there is only one of each city in the ‘infection deck’, of which there are 48 cities. So you have a turn or two to get where you need to be before you run the real risk of an ‘Epidemic card’ rearing its ugly head, forcing you to shuffle those cities and put them right back on top. Enough time to maybe get there and deal with the situation, but not enough time to set yourself up to be invincible.

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The dread

The ‘Epidemic’ cards are a clever idea as they’re shuffled in with the ‘City cards’- this means, while you’re drawing cards which are supposed to help you, a big nasty surprise might be waiting. The ‘Intensify’ step of these ‘Epidemic’ cards is really interesting as well. Because it means that each game you will have various pockets of disease rising around the globe. I can almost guarantee you will not directly infect every city in the world in a game, and sometimes when your attention is focused on fixing issues in one part of the world, another disease starts to spread and really catches you off guard.

I’ve played this game with different numbers of players. And I generally find it works best with four. This sometimes turns me away from a game, as it means that I have to rope in three friends to play with me. And sometimes I just want to play a game when I get home from work and it’s just me and my girlfriend. I’ve tried this game with just the two of us, and with three when we have had a friend over. This game is viable on those numbers, with the main limitation being the roles you can choose.

For instance, you do not want a ‘Dispatcher’ when playing with two people. And having at least either a ‘Medic’, ‘Researcher’ or ‘Scientist’ is important. I’d go so far to say that you need a combination of two of these three when playing with two players although I haven’t experimented enough with other combinations. This takes the number of viable roles from seven down to three, which can be somewhat disappointing. But hey, at least we can still play.

Another area where the game suffers is the “Table Captain” department. A table captain is someone who essentially gives orders to other people in the game and tells them what to do on their turn. Other games often have small ways to combat this. But, to be frank- don’t invite that person to your game. That person is a douche. And douche- stop doucheing.

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I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet (at least enough) but this game is hard. There are three different ways you can lose it, each as likely as the next. But there only one condition for winning: you must cure all four of the diseases before you lose the game. I love the idea that you can eradicate the diseases as well, opening up a little bit of breathing space. And this might happen to one or two per game (if you’re really REALLY lucky). But to be honest, you may simply not have time. So you’ve got the weight of that decision on you as well.

I should mention, this game does have a high luck element. But I’ve known groups who are so good at this game that they usually win it. Which means the luck element can be countered with the right roles and plan.

Pros: +Quickly into the action, +Exciting, +Works with different numbers of players, +Interesting mechanics, ++Challenging gameplay

Cons: -Table captains are douches, -limited roles with less players

 

Theme (9/10)

I’m not ashamed to admit my understanding of geography is a bit lacklustre. I know the names of places and know a decent amount about other cultures of the world. Just don’t ask me whether a country is north, south, east or west of Australia. I mean, the world’s a sphere, surely if you go south enough you’ll get to the North Pole eventually. Right?

So I enjoy games that help me expand my world knowledge. But to be clear here, you’re not playing an explorer or travel agent. You’re playing as a part of the Centre for Disease Control attempting to stop four major outbreaks the world over. My point is just that, you really do feel like it is a small-scale world. And my earlier point on the pockets of disease around the world really adds to that feeling that you are heading out into parts of the globe to do some good work.

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It’s odd the world has blue, yellow, black and red lights all over it. Never spotted that on Google Maps.

I’d like to take a moment here and appreciate the hard work that goes into creating abilities that fit a character’s role, such as the ‘Medic’ curing all the sick people in a location or the ‘Dispatcher’ moving people around the world. You actually feel like you are playing that role. It’s very impressive and very difficult to master as well as this game has done. My first game I played as the ‘Operations Expert’ and we had the max amount of research stations established and movement for people was free and quick. I wanted to grab a hardhat and wear it at the table…but I don’t own a hardhat. An issue I plan to soon rectify. Recently I played as the ‘Quarantine Specialist’ and was moving into areas of concern in order to best stop outbreaks (Which reminds me- I must purchase a hazmat suit). My point is that the roles you play with are crucial, and more importantly, make you feel like you are a crucial element to the game.

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Something that happens absolutely every game is the naming of the diseases. The game lends itself to that really well. And someone usually decides that a zombie outbreak is happening for one of the diseases. Which is perfectly fine! It lends itself to your imagination in such a way that you can really feel free to name them whatever you want. The only place where the immersion drops for me is that there is a complete lack of any kind of narrative. But to be honest, so what? This game isn’t about that. And not every game has to be. The mechanics and feel of this game keep me immersed and offer me a really exciting time.

But what really takes the cake for me? Pandemic really makes you worried about getting sick. You look at the board and the way disease spreads and suddenly you’re a germaphobe for the rest of the day. Especially when (not if) you lose.

Pros: +Good scale, ++roles feel important and unique, +Lends itself to immersion

Cons: None

 

Production (7/10)

The artwork in this game is…alright. I don’t think it’ll be on display at any galleries. But it’s functional and is easy to tell which role is which. The backs of the cards feel like they missed an opportunity to add something really cool to the mix. But again, they’re functional. This game won’t win any beauty competitions. But the choice of function over beauty is very apparent. Everything works. And there’s elegance in its simplicity.

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Functional, just not exciting.

The transparent cubes are so much fun to play with. I feel like a kid discovering Lego for the first time. They work wonderfully to represent the outbreaks of the disease. And when you take a step back and look at the board, you can really see where the problem areas are on the globe.

The board is where the production value of the game truly shines. Again, everything is functional. But it feels like they spent the most time in production on the board itself. It looks impressive, which makes the scale of what you’re trying to do, just that much more impressive.

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Pros: +Quality components, +Functional, +Nice board

Cons: -Some art boring

 

Conclusion

I’m just going to come out and say it, this game is fun. And I honestly believe that if you bought this game you would not regret your decision. This is one of those solid games that will continue to be played for years to come, and I know this because I have. I haven’t even gotten any of the expansions yet, although I am very eager to do so. That in itself speaks volumes for the base game. I like “more” in my stuff. More content, more components, more aspects of the game to think about and play. Sometimes though, more can slow down the game and make it clunky. Sometimes, the base game was designed with expansions in mind, which means there isn’t enough there to hold interest. But Pandemic doesn’t have that issue. Pandemic is, in a word, thrilling. Each move is exciting and has the potential to be bad, or worse.

I give Pandemic:

8/10

I highly recommend this game. It’s infectious.

If you’d like to see this game in action, Geek and Sundry’s ‘Tabletop’ has an entertaining episode on it, hosted by Wil Wheaton. Watch it here

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