game review: pandemic

Friday was our last SLAIS potluck for a majority of the cohort of students I began library school with, and our friend Jonathan (who isn’t graduating just yet) brought boardgames. He always brings games. It’s good to have him around. One of the games he brought was Pandemic, a game of trying to save the world from ravaging epidemics through science and cooperation (you do not need to be a scientist to play Pandemic).

There are four strains of disease which are spreading around the world. To win you have to cure all four strains while keeping the diseases you haven’t cured from spreading around the globe. The board is a map of Earth, with major world cities as the sites of infection. One side effect of this play area is that there’s a bit of an American bias, since they get a pile of cities to cover North America, while Asia gets about the same number. So it’s not quite as realistic as it might be. It didn’t bother us too much, except when we noticed the casual disregard we had for certain areas (“Meh, Justin can handle Asia” was a common comment). Also, the assumption that we’re all American researchers from the CDC in Atlanta is a little ethnocentric.

In the game, every player has a different role and special rules. I was an operations manager, which meant I could build research stations more easily, and you need research stations to research cures to the diseases. Megan was a dispatcher, helping move our scientists around to hotspots, Kerry was a troubleshooter, and Jessie was a generalist so she just got a few more actions per turn.

The way the game works is a player does some stuff, draws some mostly helpful cards (which if they run out means you lose the game) and then flips cards that tell you what cities have been infected next. Every time a city is infected, it gets a cube of the disease’s colour. To cure a disease you need one player to have 5 cards of the disease’s colour in the same city as a research station. This makes the game a careful balancing of shifting people around and collecting cards. You never have quite enough resources to do everything you need to.

While some players are working on collecting cards to cure a disease, some people need to be temporarily getting rid of disease cubes in infected cities. You need to keep those numbers down because if a city has three disease cubes of the same colour and a fourth needs to be added, it instead spreads to all the cities connected to it. If that would push any of those cities over 3 cubes, disease explodes again. It’s fucking terrifying.

Adding to the stress is the way Epidemic cards make you reshuffle the cities that have already been infected and put them on top of the deck to draw more from. These epidemic cards come up randomly and can have a huge impact in making you see a city get infected a pile of times in what seems like a row (our early hot zone was Milan). It’s a great mechanic for upping the tension and Pandemic is definitely filled with tension. I completely loved it.

It’s difficult. We ended up winning, but discovered we’d been cheating by having a few too many expansion cards in our deck, which gave us a few extra cards worth of time to cure all the diseases.

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