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Subject: For the Meeple, by the Meeple (Review of Pandemic) rss

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Michael Carpenter
United States
West Virginia
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Box Art




SUMMARY
Style of Game: Cooperative
Play Time: 30-90 minutes
Theme: Curing diseases (The amount of theme is in the eye of the beholder on this one, but I am going to say it's just below being truly thematic)
Number of Players: 2-4
Main Mechanics: Action allowance, hand management
Components: Good
Weight: Easy to learn but offers depth that could surpass light

SETUP
Players should place the board within reach of all players and place the research stations and disease cubes nearby. The cubes should be sorted by color and one research station should be placed on Atlanta.



The outbreak marker should be placed on the outbreak tracker on the board.



The four cure markers should be placed vial side up near the board where the disease icons are located.



Next, place the infection rate marker on the left-most "2" space of the infection rate tracker.



Shuffle the infection deck and flip over three cards. Each of these three cities should receive 3 disease cubes of the color that matches each card. Then draw three more infection cards. These cities should receive 2 disease cubes of the color that matches each card. Then draw three last cards and place 1 disease cube of the color that matches each card on the city location on the board. By the end of this step you should have 9 cities with infection cubes and have a total of 18 disease cubes (distribution of color is random) on the board.



Give each player a role card that explains a special ability that player has during the game and the pawn that matches the role card's color. Each player's pawn should be placed on the Atlanta location on the board to start the game.

Each player should then receive a number of city cards based on the number of players.

2 player game: 4 city cards
3 player game: 3 city cards
4 player game: 2 city cards

*Be sure not to have included the epidemic cards in this step. No player should receive an epidemic card in their starting hand. In fact, no player should ever have an epidemic card in their hand.

The final thing to do for setup and the MOST important is to prepare the player deck. To do this players should divide the remaining city cards that for the player deck into piles as equally as possible. The number of piles should be equal to the number of epidemic cards you would like to start with. You may start with 4, 5, or 6 epidemic cards depending on how difficult you would like the game to be. Once each pile has an epidemic card shuffle each deck and then stack them on top of each other.



You are now ready to begin the game.

OBJECTIVE
The objective of Pandemic is to cure each of the four diseases that are spreading across the world. Each disease is basically limited to a certain area of the map (this can be untrue in some cases) but each disease behaves the same (in the base game). To cure these diseases you must discard 5 city cards of the same color to cure the disease of that color. A disease may also be eradicated by curing a disease and then removing all the cubes of that disease from the board, but this does not have to be done at all to win the game. This is an important rule to note because some players get confused and waste time trying to eradicate diseases thinking it is part of winning the game.

GAMEPLAY
In Pandemic 2-4 players will be working together to cure the four diseases. The base game of Pandemic is purely cooperative.

On a player's turn they will do four of the eight available actions, draw two city cards, and infect the appropriate number of cities by drawing infection cards from the infection deck.




Step 1 - Choose 4 actions:
Movement Actions:
1. Drive / Ferry: A player may move his or her pawn from a their current location to a city connected by a white line.

2. Direct Flight: A player may discard a city card to move to the city named on the discarded card.

3. Charter Flight: A player may discard the city card that matches the city they are in to move to any city on the map.

4. Shuttle Flight: A player may move from a city with a research station to any other city with a research station.

Other Actions:
5. Build a Research Station: A player may discard a city card that match the city they are currently in to place a research station on that city.

6. Treat Disease: A play may remove 1 disease cube from the city they are in and place it in the supply pile of the matching color. If the disease you are treating has been cured remove all cubes on that city with one action, instead of the normal one cube per action ratio.

7. Share Knowledge: You can do this in two ways. A player may give the city card that matches the city he or she is in to another player or a player may take the city card that matches the city he or she is in from another player. In either case both players must be in the same location to share knowledge.

8. Discover a Cure: A player that is on any research station may discard 5 city cards of the same color from their hand to cure the disease of that color. If this is done, move the cure marker from below the board onto the open location of that color disease that is on the board.




Step 2 - Draw two city cards:
Once the player has taken all four of his or her actions he or she must draw two cards from the city deck. Two things are important to note here. You should draw each city card one at a time and resolve any necessary actions that must be done so as not to get confused and you may never have more than 7 cards in your hand. If you draw two cards and it causes you to go over 7 cards you must choose the appropriate number of cards to discard to the player deck discard pile to make sure you only have 7 cards at the end of your turn.

During this step of a turn the player may draw an epidemic card.



Each epidemic card in the base game is identical and will require the following actions:

1. Increase: Players should move the infection rate marker forward one space on the infection rate track.

2. Infect: Players should draw the BOTTOM card of the infection deck and unless the disease color has been eradicated (not cured) they should place 3 infection cubes on the city drawn. If the city already has disease cubes on it of this color (in some cases you can have disease cubes of different colors on cities) do not add three disease cubes. Instead, only add as many cubes as necessary to make the total 3. This will cause an outbreak (which will be explained in a moment). Once this is done discard the drawn card to the infection deck discard pile.

3. Intensify: Reshuffle all the infection cards that are in the infection deck discard pile and place them on top of the infection deck,.

*It is rare but if you happen to draw two epidemic cards on one turn you must do all these steps once, and then again.

Once an epidemic card has been resolved remove it from the game.




Step 3 - Infect cities:
The third and final thing a player must do on his or her turn is infect. To do this a player must flip over as many infection cards from the infection deck as indicated by the infection rate tracker. At the beginning of the game this is typically "2" but can change over the course of the game due to epidemic cards.

To infect the city that was drawn simply place 1 disease cube of the color that matches the city onto the city and then discard the infection card to the infection deck discard pile. Placing the cube is not done if the disease has been eradicated nor is it done if the city already has 3 disease cubes of that color on it. In the latter case players should perform an outbreak.

To perform an outbreak players should first move the outbreaks marker forward one space on the outbreaks track. Next, players should place 1 disease cube of the color of the city that has had the outbreak on every city that is connected to the outbreak city by a white line.



In this care the the city with three yellow cubes on it (Kinshasa) has been drawn from the infection deck and instead of placing a fourth cube on Kinshasa they have placed one yellow cube on each other the cities connected by white lines (Lagos, Khartoum, and Johannesburg).

If any of the connected cities has 3 disease cubes of the same color as the original outbreak color then do not place a 4th cube. Instead, perform an chain reaction outbreak for that city. This is done in the same exact fashion as the original outbreak but you will not place a cube on the original city that had an outbreak on this turn.



This is the current circumstances of the board. The Kinshasa card has been drawn, causing an outbreak in Kinshasa. As players place one cube on each of the connected cities (Johannesburg, Khartoum, and Lagos) they are able to place a second yellow cube on Khartoum and Johannesburg but Laos already has three yellow cubes on it so they must do a chain reaction outbreak. This requires the players to place a third yellow cubes on Khartoum and a second yellow cube on Sao Paolo. The players will not place another cube on Kinshasa and cause yet another outbreak because it was the original outbreak location on this turn.



This is how the board would look after this infection step.

*Outbreaks are the only scenario when a city may end up with a disease cube on it that does not match it's color.

Players will continue performing 4 actions, drawing two city cards, and infecting the appropriate number of cities on their respective turns until one of the end game triggers occur.

Win Conditions:
1. All four diseases are cured.

Loss Conditions:
1. If players ever have to place a disease cube on the board and there are no more disease cubes of that color in the supply.
2. If the outbreak marker ever reaches the last space on the outbreaks tracker.
3. If a player cannot draw city cards from the player deck on his or her turn.

There are also event cards and player card special abilities.



The event cards are drawn at random from the player deck on a player's turn and can be used at any time during the game. They do not count as one of the four actions a player receives on his or her turn.



The role cards allow each player a special ability. These special abilities typically modify one of the rules of the game for the respective player.


MIXTURE OF THEME AND MECHANICS
In the summary above I said the theme was just below thematic and I think that is because the game's theme has to be abstracted to a degree so that it is not too realistic for people. If the theme was too detailed I think it could be off-putting to some people that have dealt with horrific diseases.

Where the theme seems to come out for me is that I think the mechanisms mesh well with what is left of the theme. You are traveling the world by various means of transportation to deal with hot spots and curing diseases at research stations and there are specialists contributing in ways only they can. I have no complaints about what the game is able to do given the dynamic of its theme and the way it COULD be far too realistic. If the game was aimed at a different target market I may think otherwise but it's place in the family game sector allows the leniency.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I realize the world needs another review of Pandemic about as much as the world needs any of the diseases in the game... but here goes.

Pros:
- This is a great gateway game because it's purely cooperative and allows new players to stay on pace throughout the entire game.
- This is a great theme, whether it is maximized or not.
- The design was/is good and intriguing.

Cons:
*I am only going to list some of the lesser cons here and then really elaborate on the game below.

- The abstracted nature of the theme makes the theme fall short for some people.
- The game is often dominated by the alpha gamer problem (I personally consider that a gamer's problem, not the game's problem.

Now, to the good stuff. I would like to start by saying that I do not have any statistical analysis that make my feelings factual and I want to stress that these are feelings that are generated for me by the way the game plays because this is a beloved game in the board game community and I fall outside the norm when it comes to how much I respect the design of this game. I don't think it is a bad design, I just don't adore it.

I have played a lot of games of Pandemic because it was one of the first few games I bought when I got into the hobby. When I first started playing it, I loved it. I had never played a cooperative game and thought it was a really fun spin on board games. Therefore, I think my curiosity and excitement about this new style of game blurred my vision a tad at first. As we learned the game we won some and we lost some. We won close games, we lost close games. We won blowouts (not many), we lost in devastating fashion (more than we won in blowouts). The first 5 to 10 times the game chewed us up and spit us out I said "That's Pandemic for ya!" with a grin and a shake of my head, but then I started to think more and more about why we would be blown out in some games and easily win in others. As a side note I would like to say that these types of games were not even half of our experiences but do make up a decent percentage of our plays, maybe 15-20% combined both easy wins and massive losses.

As I thought about these types of plays it made me feel like while there are decisions to be made, I couldn't help but think/feel they were pseudo-meaningful. Again, I don't know that this is entirely true for every play of the game but at times it feels like no matter what you do, you're not going to win. In the close games I think it is fair to say you can look back at some turns and say you could have done something differently but even then, don't factors throughout the entire game change? Can I really say that I could have made one change on a turn half-way through the game and I probably would have won...

Now, as you're reading I am sure you're thinking... That is just how cooperative games are... and I can agree, to an extent, but where I feel Pandemic differs from other cooperative games (that I have played) is that there are no factors about the way Pandemic fights back that really change. It seems to be a matter of if the events will win or lose in the end. Again, I have to wonder that if I did something differently earlier in the game would it actually change the outcome of the game? I wonder this for a couple reasons, one, if I change the sequence of events would my other decisions have been more or less detrimental to the outcome, and two, what happens during each portion of the game (divided by the epidemic cards) seems to be a different part of the game that just replays itself in some games and then wildly attacks the board in others if the infection cards that keep getting cycled through work well with the randomly drawn cards during an epidemic. Heaven forbid you get two epidemic cards too close together. That can be a real tough thing to combat. I will say that it just the game's design. A cooperative game has to have a series of events to fight back but Pandemic feels more scripted to me than other cooperative games and I think the reason is the infection cards being cycled back to the top of the infection deck. It has to be done to present a challenge but it feels this can result in predetermined outcomes.

What I feel ends up happening is the script of the game is laid out once setup is complete, players go through the turns making decisions that (experienced players, far better than myself) would consider smart decisions based on what the script has shown you up to that point. Then as the game unfolds, often times when the first epidemic card is drawn, you have to make smart decisions based on the new information provided. That sounds great, but as you are doing this the game does not seem to allow smart decisions in the first portion of the script to have too much of an impact in the following portions of the script in the outlier plays. After this sequence of, make smart decisions based on where we are in the script, then change based on the new twist, occurs multiple times the game comes down to, can we make enough smart moves in the final portion of the script to beat the game before the deck runs out OR are the twists that have been thrown at us simply too powerful or too lackluster to make the rest of the game worthwhile. When you get those nail-biters it is hard to argue that the game isn't exciting and engaging. When you don't get those nail-biters it feels like you aren't doing much at all that can impact the result of the game.

I don't know if that is the case and I have seen arguments to defend both sides. Maybe every decision does impact everything you do later in the game. This is just how the game feels for me and even with these feelings I still think the game is fun at times and a good design (for a large portion of the plays). I don't claim to be a Pandemic expert by any means so there could certainly be multiple flaws in my approach to the game that drives the twists and randomness of the game past controllable and into scripted and uncontrollable. Now I could certainly become better at the game, if there is a way to combat my complaints and difficulties, but I just don't think I have the desire to have to work on improving in a game to mitigate factors that can blow away the ordinary player with ease. If the game was designed to always come down to the end I would consider working on improving but when you can win some and lose some as an ordinary player that is fine for me. I just think the game is oddly balanced and is enough cause for concern to discuss these design characteristics when talking about Pandemic. Especially when the game fits into the family category. Most families aren't analyzing every move to the n-th degree to make sure they foresee every possibility down the road. Now, maybe families don't care if they get crushed, win easily, or have to fight for a win either though. This is just a weird game for me. It seems to have too good of a design to have such an odd range of outcomes.

To wrap things up in short. The game is good. Most people will likely enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot at first and I would STILL play it. I just think it's worth noting that the game can offer a wide variety of experiences. Which is normally a good thing I suppose, but with this one you may sit down and play an iteration you can't win and is blatantly obvious to everyone playing when it happens. That to me isn't exciting and is a bit of a turn-off for me when considering suggesting this game to certain people. Thus, earning this game a 7 out of 10. Worth experiencing, still worth playing from time to time, not my game of choice very often.



Rating - 7/10



If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple

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Bernardo Gonzalez
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Well we can agree to disagree.

IMHO, the game has a simple yet powerful design. It will chew you, yes, but in my experience it was always on the wire. You may say that the game is more a puzzle, it could be. Also the alpha player syndrome is quite evident (I'm usually the culprit). But those things can be mitigated. An expansion to have is On the Brink, it adds more variety and some more flavor. We (my wife and I) have played easily 200+ times. It is still are go to game. I don't have a problem with the whole puzzle thing, many games have that aspect. There is still tons of randomness, and you might say that many cooperative games suffer form the same (aka eldritch horror, onirim etc)

A couple of tips:
- focus on finding the cure, thats the win factor. We find that sometimes we try to erradicate, or are too woried on outbreaks, that we loose focus and end up loosing for it
- (we made this mistake the first 10 games) remember you can cure any virus color by discarding 5 color cards in any research station (we thought it had to be in a research station built in the same color)
- count the cards in the players draw pile, divide by two, and thats the amount of turns you have left.
- the number of remaining epidemics can be helpul, if you know only two remain then don't focus on cities with 1 cube that are already in the infection discrd pile, these will never outbreak. (They can come up only twice more and thats it)
- the game has three stages, 1) owning the map: at this stage you need to focus on mitigating the 3 virus cities, but more important you need to build your reseach stations. Fly, use your cards without regard, but set up yor network so you have mobility, so once you have the 5 cards you can discover fast (obvious exceptions are if you have 3 cards of the same color, use ur judgement). 2) build up: this is a transitory phase, this happens after the first epidemic is found +\-. You now know most of the cards that the game will try to kill you with. Strategize and adapt, locate your pawns in the problem spaces, expand your network, but keep those viruses on check. You need to start shifting into discovering cures, hedge your bets, dont diversify too much, don't have two players collect the same color for example. One imprtant thing here is: if you are discarting, you are doing it wrong. Use your cards, build extra stations or something, but try not to discard. 3) race to the finish: this might be triggered for many reasons, but normally it is the amount of turns left. Again hedge your bets: you know which cities will come back and you know the amount of epidemics left.
- like i said, if you are forced to dicard you are doing something wrong. Plan your turns, if you have 6 cards you will be forced to discard, thus try to never have more than five at the end of your round before drawing.
- count the cards in the player discard pile and in all players hand there are 13 cards per color, this you will have a good idea whats comming in the players draw, more at the end of the game.
- and last, its a game, enjoy it

I tend to do all of this, thus sometimes I'm the alpha . But I always try to respect other people decisions, by keeping my mouth shut, more than once I've been proved wrong by the game.

Hope you give it more tries, On the Brink gave it new life for us, I would recomend you to give it a go, maybe you'll like it then.
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Michael Carpenter
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West Virginia
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We actually own On the Brink. I just didn't include it in the review. I don't disagree that it definitely spices the game up and winning really isn't the issue. We have plenty. It just seems like in the base you can win whether you try hard or not (not all the time obviously). That part seems a little odd but let me stress that at the end of the day, I'd play this game if someone really wanted to. It just hasn't caught on in my group as something that we love. My wife and I played it quite a bit and have played 3 and 4 player games. Just hasn't caught on like it seems to have with a lot of people. The only reason I didn't include on the brink is because I think it's pretty easy to see how it is a nice addition to the game and alleviates some of the concerns of the base game for a lot of people. I wanted to address something I felt was more divisive. Thanks for reading though. Hope you enjoy, even if it didn't really express how you feel.
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