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Designer Preview: Pandemic: In the Lab

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
California
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Pandemic: In the Lab is the second expansion for Pandemic (after On the Brink), providing more roles, more events, and several new ways to play Pandemic, including a Lab challenge, a solo game, and team play.

To start with, four new roles – the Field Director, Local Liaison, Pilot, and Virologist – and three new events are included. Players can simply add these to the base game and begin play.


Into the Lab

The Lab challenge is the centerpiece of In the Lab. In it, each time a player Treats Disease in a city, he may send a disease cube to either sample dish located on the new lab board.


Once cubes are in the lab, players at any research station can spend lab actions to process them, characterize and sequence a disease, test a cure, and – once a disease is fully sequenced, with its sequence card filled with matching cubes – discover a cure by discarding three (instead of five) cards of that color. The Scientist would discard just two cards, not three. Up to two different cures can be worked on at the same time, in the upper and lower research lines on the board's right side.


Pandemic designer and In the Lab co-designer Matt Leacock came up with the overall concept for the Lab challenge, the idea of taking samples and sequencing them as part of a cure. After Matt turned this challenge over to me to develop, I interviewed several biologists and toured a bio-tech facility to better understand the steps involved. From this I came up with the processing, characterization, and testing steps.

Since this is not a simulation, I simplified things – e.g., I blur sequencing the disease vs. its vaccine – and added some artificialities for better play tension. (In reality, you don't have send an entire batch of samples to either a centrifuge or a separator.) All errors and simplifications are mine.

Cure vials are provided to mark characterized diseases and indicate the cure color on a sequence card. These replace the cure markers for cured diseases.

For the Lab challenge, five city cards of the cure color are still used, but the city cards used to characterize and test a disease can come from other players than the one who discovers the cure. This has several effects.

First, players don't need to spend a lot of actions coordinating the transfer of cards amongst themselves. This in balanced by the need to do lab actions at research stations instead.

Second, "card-transfer" roles such as the Researcher, Epidemiologist, and the new Local Liaison role are weaker in the Lab challenge. To balance this, we gave these roles new powers usable only in the Lab challenge. This way, all Pandemic roles except for On the Brink's Field Operative can be used with the Lab challenge.


Third, the potential "director issue" – in which one player starts managing other players' turns – seems to be reduced.

What I observed during testing was that players were better able to "chip in" parts of a cure in the Lab challenge, saying things like "I'll go treat the blue cubes in Milan, but as I pass by the research station in Paris, I'll use my spare fourth action to send the cubes in the upper sample dish to the centrifuge" or "I have one yellow card and nothing vital to do next turn; why don't I head to a research station to test the yellow cure, which will allow us to remove a cube from Santiago without having to go there?"

Some players, of course, prefer solving the "coordination puzzle" of transferring city cards among characters to achieve cures. For them, there's lots of other things in this expansion besides this optional Lab challenge.

Extending On the Brink

In the Lab requires On the Brink (so that you have enough event cards) and extends its Virulent Strain and Mutation challenges. Two new Virulent Strain epidemic cards are provided to increase the variety of effects in that challenge.


Twelve more purple cubes and a Worldwide Panic scenario spice up the Mutation challenge. In the earlier Mutation challenge, the purple fifth disease was a "ticking time bomb" that slowly grew while players attended to the four standard diseases. In the Worldwide Panic scenario, players must contend with the purple disease from the very start.

The purple disease is now a full 24-cube disease, with six purple cubes starting on the board (in addition to 18 other disease cubes); each Mutation card adds two purple cubes (instead of one); and two (not one) of the five city cards used to cure the purple disease must be cities in which the purple disease is present.

If your group combines the Mutation and Virulent Strain challenges, the purple disease can now be the Virulent Strain disease...

With a Little Help from the CDC

Many players enjoy playing Pandemic solo. In the Lab includes rules for solo play in which a player plays a single role, but receives aid from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC begins with four face up cards and no pawn, does not Infect Cities nor automatically draw Player cards, and can take only one action each turn.


These actions enable the CDC to draw one Player card, discover a cure (with five city cards of the same color), move the player one extra space, or – if the player is at a research station – swap one city card with the player or re-assign the player's role. These are all useful and the trick for the solo player is to use the CDC's one action per turn effectively.

Difficulty in this solo game is set by initially discarding 8, 12, 14, or 16 random city cards into the Player Discard Pile (no more than six of which can be the same color), which creates time pressure for the solo player.

The solo game is compatible with the Lab, Mutation, and Virulent strain challenges. For the Lab challenge, the CDC's one action can also be a Lab action.

Teaming up with a Partner

Team games have both cooperation (within teams) and competition (between teams). What could this dynamic bring to Pandemic? My answer was a focus on eradicating diseases, in addition to curing them.

Many players have told Matt and me how satisfying it is to not only find cures, but to eradicate diseases. The issues with making eradications the goal in the regular game is that A) once cures are found, tension tends to evaporate since the game is unlikely to end due to outbreaks or lack of cubes and B) typically, there just isn't enough time to eradicate all the diseases.

Having teams earn points for cures and eradications solves the first issue. As tension over whether the game will beat the players vanishes, it's replaced by a new tension as teams jockey to complete eradications begun by other teams and get the points.

The Team Game, for either four or six players, pits two or three two-player teams against each other. Teammates sit beside one another and take a combined turn of six actions – split either 2-4, 3-3, or 4-2 between them – before they each draw one card, then Infect Cities once for the team.


Each team begins with a choice of two out of three roles, a goal card, and a team specific research station which they will place and start in. (The regular research stations can be used by all teams.) Each team's goals are kept secret from the other teams. Once players are experienced with the Team Game, they can optionally start with two goal cards from which to choose.

Teams can eavesdrop on other teams and attempt to deduce and foil their plans. This leads to some nice interaction as teammates point to their cards, gesture at the board, and whisper plans to each other.


To ensure strong initial tension, the infection rate starts in the rightmost "2" space (so that the first epidemic increases the infection rate to 3) and there are bonus awards for being first to cure or eradicate a disease.


To extend the game length a bit, as many bonus cards as epidemics are added to the player deck. Unused bonus cards are worth a point apiece at game end, so players have to balance using versus saving them (and effectively reducing their hand size).

The game either ends in a loss (normally) or a player win by either finding all four cures or achieving a total of three cures and eradications. Having two different winning conditions prevents a team that suspects they are behind from easily sabotaging the game (for example, by hoarding cards for the final cure and never doing it). If the players win, they reveal their goal cards, total up their points, and see which team won.

The team game isn't compatible with the Lab challenge, but can be combined with either the Mutation or Virulent Strain challenges.

Like the Bio-Terrorist challenge in On the Brink, the Team Game is intended as a "change of pace" from normal play and may not be for players who strongly prefer Pandemic as a "pure" co-op game. That said, several couples during testing really liked the "partner" feel of the two-player teams.

Options, Options, Options

In the Lab uses the 2013 revised Pandemic's graphics and art. Players who own earlier editions of Pandemic and On the Brink can buy compatibility kits from the publisher. Alternatively, to mix In the Lab events and Team Game bonus cards with older cards, players can sleeve the player deck with opaque-backed card sleeves.

For myself, I've really enjoyed working with Matt, helping to take his game in new and different directions. It's been a privilege and lots of fun.

In the Lab builds on both Pandemic and On the Brink by adding new roles, new events, a Lab challenge, new Virulent Strain cards, a Worldwide Panic Mutation scenario, solo play, and team play. It packs a lot of variety in one expansion. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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