Thursday, October 18, 2012

Games That Even A Mom (and Cousin!) Will Love: "Pandemic"

On the same night that we played Gloom, I had a chance to run Pandemic for Cheryl, her mom Sheila and her cousin Justin.  In the interest of full disclosure: Sheila's played it several times before (and is still quite vocal RE: her love for the game) but this was Justin's first go-round.    

Pandemic is a co-operative action-point-based hand-management game.  Players become Center for Disease Control staffers attempting to curtail the spread of four virulent infections running rampant across the globe whilst simultaneously seeking to find cures for them.

In order to win the game, players need to maximize the specialized abilities of their assigned roles.  The Researcher can pass off cards to other characters, making it easier to translate the colored sets of cards into "cures", the Medic can eradicate all disease in one location with a single action, the Dispatcher can move his team-mates around the board during their own turn and the Scientist can create cures by turning in four matching cards instead of the usual five.      

The diseases tend to spread at an alarming rate and players who develop vaccines at the risk of ignoring hot spots are doomed to fail.  If the viruses spread unchecked, your team will be defeated.  On the other hand, if you manage to produce all four remedies before things go completely guano, you win!

The game board is a world map depicting the available paths of transit between major cities.  Each turn, participants will use their allotment of four actions to move around, treat illnesses, build Research Stations and uncover valuable cures.  At the same time, participants are constantly drawing cards which seed new outbreaks (represented by color-coded wooden cubes) and reveal major Epidemics.    

Want the full diagnosis on Pandemic?  You can read the full report here.          


Cheryl was the Researcher (Brown Token)
I was the Medic (Orange Token)
Justin became the Dispatcher (Purple Token)
Sheila played the Scientist (White Token)

Take note: we played this game on the "Introductory" difficulty setting by seeding four (out of a possible six) "Epidemic" cards in the Player Deck.   

During set up, we determined that the initially-infected cities were:
  • Milan, Beijing and Washington with three cubes apiece.  
  • Johannesburg,  Los Angeles, and Bangkok with two cubes each.  
  • Miami, Taipei, and Chicago, which were all given single cubes.   

Ignoring the whole "most-recent-sickie-goes-first" shtick, I took the first turn, using one action to move to Washington and a second to clean it up before moving on, Little Hobo-style.  During my Infector Role phase both Osaka and Kinshasa got cubes.  

Cheryl took a dart out to Washington and removed tiers of infection.  

After hearing that Europe was "nice and phlegmy this time of year", Sheila went off to Europe to address the immediate crisis in Milan while Atlanta and Delhi both came down with a pox.   

Justin used one action to remove the cube from Atlanta, hustled down to Miami for one action, patched everyone up there and then hauled ass to Bogata.  New infections promptly began to spring up in both Essen and Jakarta.  

TURN TWO               

I traveled from San Francisco to Tokyo to Seoul to Beijing, removing all of the cubes at my final destination with a single action.  On my turn as Infector, Kinshasa got the first cube and then an Epidemic came up!  After ramping the Infection Rate indicator up by one, Kolkata was drawn from the bottom of the deck and promptly burdened with three new black cubes.  Finally, both Taipei and Bangkok received a single serving of cubes during my Infector Deck draws.  

Justin used the "Airlift" Special Event card, allowing Cheryl to fly from Washington to Paris and pass a badly-needed red card off to Doctor Sheila.  She then hustled down to Algiers, used her final action to prevent a spillover there and then played a timely "Government Grant" card which dropped a Research Station in Istanbul.  Finally, the Infection Draw step brought out new cubes for Washington and Johannesburg, putting the later city on the brink of disaster.    

Sheila reduced the cube count in her current location and then shifted her focus to another site.  Her Infection Phase made the situation in both Milan and Kinshasa even more dire.

Justin moved three spaces and then helped to downgrade a critical threat.  His first Player Card draw was another Epidemic, driving the Infection Rate up by one.  Moscow then had the dubious honor of receiving three brand new cubes.  After placing the reshuffled Infection discards back on top of the deck, Justin played "Forecast" to peek at the top six cards and re-arrange them.  This ensured that the Infector Role draws (one cube each for Milan and Washington) weren't disastrous.


I used all four of my actions to dismantle several ticking germ bombs in Asia.  During my first Infection draw, Taipei got a cube, bringing it up to three.  Instead of adding a fourth cube to my second draw, Johannesburg exploded and neighboring Kinshasa and Khartoum both got cubes.  After addressing our first spill-over, the Outbreak Marker went up by one.

Cheryl passed a blue card off to Sheila, giving us our first potential cure.  Moscow exploded during her Infector Phase, driving the Outbreak Meter up to two and dumping fresh germs on both Tehran and Istanbul.  (Note: we were supposed to put a black cube on St. Petersburg as well).  On her second Infection Deck draw, Cheryl was also forced to add another cube in Bangkok.

Sheila spent two of her actions to rush back to the Research Station and whip up a blue infection cure.  She then left Istanbul and purged all the blue cooties out of a neighboring town.  She followed this up by drawing and then playing "Resilient Population", completely removing the Taipei card from the game.  Single cubes were then added to Kinshasa and Los Angeles during her two mandatory Infection Card draws.

Justin spent his first three actions removing a like number of yellow cubes from his current location.  He  then moved on to the next closest hot spot.  His first Infection draw turned out to be the already virus-ridden Kolkata which promptly exploded, scattering new cubes onto Delhi and Chennai (Note: we made another oversight by not adding black cubes to Hong Kong and Bangkok as well).  Jakarta was the second Infection Card draw so we piled on another cube.


I moved one space, used my second action to remove all of the cubes in that location and then moved two more spaces to get set up for the next turn.  After plopping an additional cube down in Bangkok I pulled yet another Epidemic Card which drove the Infection Rate up to three.  Pulled from the bottom of the deck, Ho Chi Minh City was promptly buried in red cubes.  Playing the role of the Infector, I then drew cards for Bangkok, Kinshasa and Jakarta.  Suddenly two more cities were teetering on the edge of disaster.

On Cheryl's turn, she moved two spaces and removed two cubes from her heavily-burdened destination.  Her Infector Cards turned up Los Angeles and then Johannesburg, the later of which which exploded in an Outbreak.  After additional yellow cubes were added to both Kinshasa and Khartoum, Milan received another blue cube on her final Infection draw.

Sheila used her first action to move one space and her second to chip away at a location swamped with three black cubes.  She then drew a Mumbai Player Card, giving her a potential black cure.  Ho Chi Minh City, her first Infection Rate draw, resulted in yet another Outbreak!  After shifting the Outbreak Marker up to five, additional cubes were added to Bangkok, Jakarta, Manilla and Hong Kong.  This resulted in a chain reaction of two additional Outbreaks, putting us one point shy of defeat!  Sheila's last two draws added cubes to Kolkata and Moscow.  We were still alive, but just barely!

Justin removed three critical mass yellow cubes in Africa and then kept moving.  His Infector Draws added more blue cubes to Washington, Chicago and Atlanta.

TURN FIVE                    

I ditched three red cubes from my current location, moved one space, turfed another three cubes and then moved again.  During my role as Infector Hong Kong, Beijing and Osaka all got one cube apiece but managed to stay intact.

Seeing that re-enforcements were needed in Asia, Cheryl sacrificed her Jakarta card in order to beam directly there.  She then moved two more spaces and tamped down yet another three-cube city that was on the verge.  After drawing "One Quiet Night", she played it immediately and mercifully skipped her Infection Phase.  

Sheila used one action to move back to the Research Station in Istanbul and another to trade in four black cards for a matching cure.  She then used her third action to fly directly to Atlanta and remove a blue cube there.  Her first Player Card was our forth Epidemic, bumping the Infection Rate up by one on the track.  Madrid became the lucky winner of a three-cube infection after we drew it from the bottom of the deck.  In the following Infection Phase Osaka, Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles all got cubed.  

After moving two spaces, Justin pulled yet another city back from the brink by turfing two cubes.  Unfortunately his first Infection Card draw turned out to be Bangkok, resulting in our eighth outbreak and a decisive loss.

"Folks, we just got Bangkoked," I muttered.     


Lured in by the cooperative gameplay and intrigued by the grimly-original subject matter, I was quick to pick up a copy of Pandemic when it first appeared on store shelves back in 2008.  After a few plays it quickly shot to the top of my list of all-time favorite games.  Since then the honeymoon phase has worn off a bit, given the game's tendency to inspire B.V.S. (Bossy Veteran Syndrome) as well as it's still-confusing rules regarding chain reaction outbreaks.  

Nevertheless, I still love introducing this game to neophytes.  The co-operative aspect makes it non-threatening, the Infection/Player deck mechanic is still elegantly brilliant, the subject matter is morbidly arresting and the genuine elation players feel when they achieve a rare victory is undeniably satisfying.
It should also be noted that newer iterations of the game have vastly improved components and sharper rules concerning player special abilities and adjudicating simultaneous outbreaks.  

Immediately after this game was over, Justin wanted to know "when we were going home the next day" and if he could "pop by early tomorrow afternoon for a quick rematch".  The desire to replay a game immediately after a loss in order to improve on the previous performance is still pretty high testimony in my books.  

As such, Pandemic handily scores five pips out of six.

Want your own chance to save Toronto from SARS?  Click on the image below to order a copy of Pandemic and help cure your humble host of his financial ills.  

P.S. Sorry we didn't get to that second game, Justin.  Next time, dude.  

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