Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pandemic board game review

Still with the effort to entertain the Bratii without recourse to video games or the same board games every time I picked up a copy of Pandemic. This is another co-operative game in the spirit of Forbidden Island. In fact Forbidden Island is a simplified version of Pandemic and as such playing that first made for an easier introduction to the more complicated game.

The premise is simple - up to four viruses are infecting cities around the world and the players set out to cure them all. The players move around the board easing the infection rate of cities, building research stations and racing to cure the diseases before it becomes too late.

As mentioned Forbidden Island makes a good introduction - just as in that the players have action points and need to spend them in order to move etc. They collect cards in the same manner as Island's treasure with the occasional nasty card lurking to escalate the problems and they also turn cards that affect the gaming area.

As such it was a case of only having to explain to the Bratii the additions and restrictions on actions that players can perform. For one point a player can move to a connected city; they can remove one block of disease from that city; they can exchange a card with another player in the same location; they can build a research station; or if at such a station they can either hand in five coloured cards and cure that disease or move to another station.

Players also have their own special abilities determined by the role they play so for example the Scientist only needs four cards to cure a disease rather than five.

The complications compared to Island come primarily from the player's cards. unlike that game with treasure cards and special actions these cards correspond to the cities on the board. This allows some alterations to be put into play. Firstly a city card can be discarded to travel directly to that city; if in that city it can be discarded to travel anywhere. Secondly only the matching card of the city the player is in can be transferred to another player and thirdly it's only possible to build a research station if that city card is discarded.

This acts in two conflicting ways firstly it can allow quick travel around the board either via directly playing that card or by travelling between research stations; but at the same time slows down the rate of acquiring cards of the same colour as both players need to move to the same city to hand it over.

While all this moving, building and swapping takes place the viruses are spreading. The four viruses are represented by cubes of one of four colours. Infection cards are drawn at the start of play and these indicate which city and which virus has taken hold of it. During play at the end of each players turn they draw more cards and add blocks to that city.

If adding a block means that city gains more than three blocks of that colour then an outbreak has occurred - every city connected to that one gains a block of that colour and the outbreak meter goes up a space. If that outbreak means it pushes another city above three then another outbreak occurs, the meter increases again, and every city (not already affected by the previous outbreak) gains a block and so on. Get a cluster of three block cities connected and there's a mini-explosion of blocks.

Just as with Island lurking amongst the player cards are Epidemic cards. Take the bottom most card from the pile and add three virus blocks to it; add one to the Infection counter; discard the card; then shuffle the discard pile and place it on top of the draw pile. As drawing player cards comes before drawing the number of infection cards indicating by the meter this means a guarantee of re-infecting cities and leading to outbreaks on that turn.

As a bonus once a disease is cured it only takes one point to remove all the blocks of that colour. Manage to remove all the blocks from the board and the disease is eradicated and any infection cards of that colour drawn can be ignored.

Unlike Forbidden Island I found more attention was being paid to the roles of the players. If someone got the Operations Manager for instance they would quickly try to move across the board to build research stations to allow the other players to move more quickly. The Dispatcher would move the Scientist or the Researcher rather than themselves to allow card swapping as the Scientist only needed four cards rather than five to cure a disease and the Researcher could swap any cards.

Winning means finding all the cures; losing is when you run out of player cards; running out of virus blocks or the outbreak meter reaches the skull and crossbones. So yeah much easier to lose than to win.

We came close to a win managing to cure three diseases before an Epidemic card led to a cascade of Outbreaks.

We played it three times over the space of around 2 and a half hours. I enjoyed the game; Major stated that he enjoyed it more than Forbidden Island as there was "more to do" Minor got a little bored with it. I suspect that the added complications meant each player's turn lasted longer and he got bored waiting.

The artwork between the two doesn't really compare. The board is basic compared to the lush artwork on the Island's tiles. The cards have some geographical data on them which the Bratii liked comparing (almost Top Trump like). The blocks are just that, the research stations are plain wood and the coloured pawns are too big for the board (the extension apparently comes with smaller pawns, but costs almost the same as the full game). It all works, but may seem a little dated compared to the glitz of newer games.

As such although I recommend this as an excellent co-operative game players at the lower end of the 10+ age range or who are starting out on board games may prefer the simpler and quicker Forbidden Island.