Recently, I’ve really been enjoying the gameplay in cooperative games. There are actually many games that fall into this category – Forbidden Island, Arkham Horror, the new Zombicide (I’m hoping Going Last reviews this one soon…), and today’s pick, Pandemic.
A few months ago for Game Night Carnival, I reviewed Forbidden Island. That game still holds a popular place in our game nights as well as being a game I introduce to non-gamers. What a lot of people don’t know is that the same guy who designed Forbidden Island also designed a game called Pandemic. It shares a lot of the same traits, but is also much (much) harder, and also has a more mature feel to it. In my estimation, that’s a good thing.
First off, you may be wondering how much harder Pandemic is. Well, we beat Forbidden Island fairly quickly on easy mode the second or third time through, and we can now fairly consistently beat it at the harder difficuties. We beat Pandemic on super easy mode just barely on the fourth time through, and only by fixing the turn order (deciding which role goes in which order). When I say “super easy mode,” I mean using the rules suggested for your “first time playing.” We haven’t yet dared to try the game with the difficulty dialed up.
So it’s challenging. I’ll use that word. I also enjoy it immensely. Discussing strategy as a group is great fun, and the tension that the game creates is the sort of tension that gets players standing up around the board because they just can’t stay sitting.
One of the players referred to the many “clocks” in the game. In other words, there are a lot of things that are escalating, and if any of them hit their breaking point, it can lose you the game. Too many outbreaks? The player draw deck runs out? Any of the infection cubes run out? Lose. That’s where the tension comes from.
The object is to find cures for all four of the diseases in the game. This is done by collecting five (or four, if you’re the scientist) of the same color cards. No small feat, since exchanging cards is really (really) inconvenient.
In the game, each player’s turn consists of three parts – taking actions (moving around or curing disease in locations for example), drawing from the player deck (where players get location cards to help them or possibly trigger an epidemic), and drawing from the infection deck (where the diseases spread to new locations).
Each player also has a special role that lets them break some of the game rules. The medic for example cleans up infections more quickly than other players. The dispatcher can move other people around instead of himself. These special “roles” add a layer of strategy to the game, and also make each player feel they have something unique to add to gameplay.
And that’s about it – for a cooperative game, I think that Pandemic strikes the right balance of simple, fast gameplay without too many fiddly bits (I’m looking at you, Arkham Horror) and complex strategy. And, as with most any game, there’s a little bit of luck involved. But that uncertainty is another thing that adds to the tension.
Players of Forbidden Island will find all this familiar. There are a few new mechanics in this game, but overall, if you know Forbidden Island, you’ll be able to pick Pandemic up quickly. And dare I say it? If you like Forbidden Island, you’ll love Pandemic.
Time: 45 min – 1 hr.
Type: Cooperative Strategy
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