Tabletopping It – Pandemic

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but earlier this month, I went to Target and bought five board games on a bit of a whim/splurge. It was a bit expensive, so four of them are doubling as Christmas gifts for my family. I went ahead and told them as much over Thanksgiving since they’re pretty much all group games and I don’t get to spend very much time with my family. As it is, I’ll only be able to spend three to four days with them over Christmas, only a day and a half to two days at my Grandmother’s, driving back to Tuscaloosa on Christmas Day. So I managed to convince them in various groups to play two games with me: Munchkin and Pandemic.

Pandemic, seen played here on Geek and Sundry’s Tabletop, is a cooperative board game, something I’ve been seeing more and more often lately. Cooperative board games seem to be having a more recent surge in popularity, I think, and it’s an interesting style. Basically, like Jumanji only far less freakishly realistic, the board game is doing its best to completely destroy you and you all are trying to stop that from happening. With Pandemic, it’s pretty much the opposite of the popular online Flash game. Instead of creating a disease to kill the entire world off, you and one to three other people are members of the Center for Disease Control running across the globe trying to cure four diseases that are threatening to break out and murder everything.

To get a decent idea of what’s happening in this game, I really do suggest watching the Tabletop episode. It explains some of the rules better than I’m likely about to, but I’ll attempt to anyway. Everyone playing has a specific role with a special ability that will assist in the ultimate goal: Discover cures for all four diseases. You don’t need to eliminate all the diseases on the globe to win, just discover the cures. To do that, you need to gather five (four if you’re the Scientist) city cards of the same color and turn them in while at a research center, which you must build (except in Atlanta, where the CDC is housed) throughout the game. As the game progresses, infections spread after every player’s turn. If there are three blocks of disease on any city and they gain another infection, an outbreak occurs and the disease spreads to every city its connected to.

There are three ways to lose the game: Have eight outbreaks occur during the game, run out of disease cubes for any disease or run out of cards in the player deck. The outbreaks that occur every night seem easy enough to control, except for the epidemic cards contained in the player deck. They shuffle all the cities that have had disease back into the infection deck, meaning outbreaks can occur more often. It’s pretty not good. Fortunately, you can vary how many epidemic cards you play with, from a suggested four for an introductory game to all six for an expert game. Yeah, two epidemic cards can make the game intensely more difficult. This is not a game where winning is easy or remotely guaranteed.

On a player’s turn, they have four actions. They can move from one city to another, fly to a city they have the card for, fly to any city from the city they’re in if they have the card for that city or move from one research center to another. They can also build research centers, trade cards with other players as long as both players are in the city of the card they’re trading, discover a cure or cure disease blocks from cities. After taking their four actions, they draw two cards from the player deck, hoping for cities instead of epidemic cards, or one of the special event cards throughout the deck. Then they infect cities based on the infection rate (minimum two, maximum four). It can sound confusing, but it’s really pretty simple. It’s the strategy and trying to think ahead of random chance and bad luck that really makes the game difficult. But, strangely, it’s a ton of fun. You might not think it from my rambling descriptions about a game where the goal is to cure disease, but it’s quite fun. We played several times over my Thanksgiving break… it took a couple times for me to fully get things correct, partly due to my forgetting to shuffle in epidemic cards and partly due to my not actually reading the “How To Win” section. Once we did, however, things were entertaining. Though we totally lost one game in two ways to a severe outbreak of “A Plague O’ Both Your Houses.” For added fun, name the diseases. That game was small pox, chicken pox, cow pox and the aforementioned Shakespearean reference.

Apparently, there are also expansions which allow for more players and make the game even more difficult. Try those if you dare, but I’m going to go ahead and strongly suggest you get used to the basic version first. It starts off seeming complicated, but it’s really simple once you get the hang of it. If you’re looking for a different style of game to play with friends that may test your strategy and not make all the players hate one another (a la Risk), then I’d say you should give this game a try.

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