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Subject: A review on co-operativitivenesslessnessity… rss

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Pedro Pereira
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Yeah well right… I always get that word wrong… don’t mind it please. So I figured I should write a review on one of my cooperative games, now that I own 3 and know what I’m talking about. Actually I got more, but purely cooperative only 3, which are Pandemic, Witch of Salem and the Lord of the Rings. At lease as base-games, these are all purely cooperative. There are others in my collection, such as Saboteur, Fury of Dracula, Shadows over Camelot among others, but these are semi-cooperative, since it’s one against all (except for Shadows over Camelot… this *might* be one against all), so these are different categories, and as coops, I will consider only Pandemic, Witch of Salem and Lord of the Rings base games only.
This review will be on Pandemic (duh!) but I will occasionally refer to the other two games.


So what’s this one all about?

Well, in Pandemic players are members of a disease fighting squad. Each one of them has a special power which they will use to, hopefully, treat diseases all around the world, and ultimately, find the cure for each of the 4 different diseases. The game can be played by 2 to 4 players and there are 5 different special powers in the game, so at least one of these powers is always out of the game.


So, no bad guy then?

No bad guy, just the diseases. Players play as a team against the game mechanics, and if players don’t get things strait, they will lose for sure. Co-op games tend to be pretty mean, especially for the unaware and new to the genre. Players need to discuss a lot about what each of them will do every round, and although pro-active play is desired, fact is that these games turn things upside down pretty quickly, and players start being more reactive rather than pro-active.


So how’s it work?

The game starts with 9 infected cities that are randomly drawn from the infection deck. The diseases are represented by wooden cubes of different colours. Some cities have a higher infection rate than others. In fact, 3 cities start with 3 cubes of the same colour, and if, during the game, one more cube should be added to those 3, there’s an outbreak, and that disease starts spreading to all adjacent cities. The number of adjacent cities can be any between 1 to 6, 1 being quite rare. So basically, carrying capacity for each city is 3 cubes of each colour.
What players will have to do is travelling around efficiently, treating critical areas (eliminating cubes) and in the process, gather 5 cards of the same colour, which they will have to discard in a research centre so they find the cure. Once a cure is found, treating the cured disease gets much easier, and, should players succeed in treating all the cubes of a cured disease, that disease is eradicated and will never again bother our noble heroes!


Doesn’t sound so hard…

Right… thing is, once in a while a new Epidemic card will be revealed. These cards follow 3 steps:
1st - players will have to advance a counter that indicates how many infection cards are drawn every turn.
2nd – players will draw an entirely new city in which a new infection focus will appear (that’s 3 cubes)
3rd – All drawn infection cards till now, will be shuffled and placed on top of the infection deck.

Just so you better understand: there is one infection card for each city on the map, so when you draw an infection card, that card indicates the city you have to play a new cube on, so when you shuffle these and place them on top of the infection deck, you will be drawing cards to already infected cities!


Ok… I’ll take back the “doesn’t sounds so hard…”

Well… you can adjust levels of difficulty. Levels of difficulty are determined by the number of Epidemic cards you shuffle into the player draw deck. The player draw deck is, just in the same way as the infection deck, a deck of one card per city on the map plus 5 special action cards. So you got the special action cards and you got the special player powers. So there is some help to manage the invisible menace! If you play the game for the first time, you will probably want to shuffle 4 Epidemic cards into the player draw deck. Medium would be 5 and hard 6 Epidemic cards.

But ok, this is enough of the rules, there’s a few more stuff to know about the game, like the sepcial abilities (one guy treats the diseases faster and better than all others, another is really good at researching the cures, etc), but I’d really talk more about how the game plays and what I think of it.


Ok, so let’s hear what you got to say about how good the game is…

First of all: components! These are nice. The art is great, I really like the harsh strokes the artist used for the illustrations. The 6 tokens used in the game are good, nice, sturdy card board tokens. Cards are of excellent quality. All else is made of good wood.

So generally the components are good but I do have 3 complaints about these:
1 – Pawns are way too big, and if there are 3 pawns in the same city, players might think they’re in a different city than they actually are.
2 – The black and blue cubes are sometimes too much alike.
3 – Some of the pawn’s colours don’t quite match the colours of the respective role cards.

But that’s just about it. Everything else is quite nice.
As for appeal. I have introduced this game to my regular gaming group but also to a class of 14 year old English students (4 students). One of the things this game does well, is captivating new players. The theme seems to be a big part of it, it’s quite original truth be said. When new players start playing it and the mechanic starts unfolding, it usually garners a very discreet smile. Player very easily relate the way the game works to how things might actually really be.
Rules are not complicated and easy to remember even without the reference cards provided with the game. The most frequent reaction I got was: let’s play again!
So: game is very engaging, easy to learn, fun to play BUT!


BUT??

Yes: but. I was a bit disappointed by it. Even though everything relates very nicely in this game, I find it’s not quite as good as either Witch of Salem or Lord of the Rings. One of the main things I disliked about this game is the way the mechanics reflect on the possibility for players to act upon the game. After several times I played the game (won a few, lost a few), I felt that the games we won, were won too easily, the games we lost, were usually by outbreaks. So it felt to me that either the game was too easy or too hard (talking about the same difficulty level). So this feels a bit too random to me, which means that, regardless of how well you decide upon which actions to take, ultimately, winning or losing the game will depend a lot on infection draws.


So how does it compare to the other two?

Among these three I’d say this would be my preference: Lord of the Rings > Witch of Salem > Pandemic.

LotR has one disadvantage over the other two games: it feels scripted. Since you always do the same storyline over and over again, players might feel the game is a bit scripted. This is not the case in either Pandemic or Salem. These two games do have only one board, that’s true, but things happen always in a different way every time. But what I like about LotR best is the feeling that there’s always a way to overcome the peril! Players might end a scenario in the worst possible way, but the game has not finished and there’s always hope to do better in the next scenario so that there’s still a chance to get through it, and this, to me, is key! Decisions feel more meaningful in LotR than they do in Pandemic! Also, LotR too has adjustable dificulty levels, just like Pandemic.

Witch of Salem is clearly more similar in style to pandemic than it is to LotR, here players can move there pawns, meet with other players, exchange items, etc. The different Great Old Ones affect the game in their own ways and make things really hard. Now what this one does is: it kills you! That’s just it. If you go for a round of Salem, it’s probably because you feel suicidal at that particular moment. Salem is honest about itself, and that I like! I like the idea of: “ok, I know it’s useless… but let’s just try it one more time! Maybe this time we’ll make it?” I now we won’t, but still! It’s just so much fun!


Ok, I see you point. But what would you say? Good game nevertheless?

Yes, it’s still a good game. But I’d say it’s also the one with least replay value of the 3. LotR has so many different resources to aid players that there’s always a very big discussion on who does what at what timing, etc. Salem just won’t let you get a healthy sleep until you manage to win it only once (which you won’t! So goodbye healthy sleep… for the rest of your life!). I feel Pandemic just wears off really quickly! Which is unfortunate, because it’s great fun to play. I will still use it as introduction to this genre of games. It’s always a big hit with newcomers. But that’s it.


So, bottom line:

Nice looking game with some minor practical issues regarding the components. It’s fun and engaging for newcomers and easy to grasp! Instant but not long-lasting hit. It gets a 7 out of 10 from me with a possibility of a slight drop after more plays.
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Stephen McHale
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Burke
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Pandemic without the expansion (On the Brink) could get old fast, but I think the expansion makes this game really shine.

Personally I believe this and Flash Point: Fire Rescue are the best co-ops.

This is my favorite game, ever.

As my Mom always said, "in a matter of taste, let there be no argument".

Nice review.
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Pedro Pereira
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StephenM wrote:
As my Mom always said, "in a matter of taste, let there be no argument".


Never neglect a mom's wisdom! She's only too right! I heard a lot of positive things about the expansion. But nevertheless, any game should be good enough without it! Which was a bit of the point. If you add the Friends & Foes expansion to the Lord of the Rings, the game will also be less scripted and players may do even more interesting choices, such as alternative winning condition, short-cuts, even more resources, etc.

I might consider getting the expansion...

StephenM wrote:
Nice review.


Thanks
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Mrs Smith
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StephenM wrote:
Pandemic without the expansion (On the Brink) could get old fast, but I think the expansion makes this game really shine.


The expansion fixes the pawn issue (new smaller pawns) and adds an optional bad guy (among many other things that add to the replayability)
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Randolfo Beunding
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I was considering this for my family. I still might.
 
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Pedro Pereira
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It's a good game. And I would recommend you to buy it. Just be aware that the base game won't last too long, so consider buying also the expansion after you played this one a few times.
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Ian Ichamoe
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Nice review.

I have no exposure to LotR or Salem, so I can't make a comparison. But I will say that the 'On the Brink' expansion really makes Pandemic shine. In my opionion it's a good game by itself, but it's a great game with the expansion.

The same designer did 'Forbidden Island' which is my wife's favorite game of all time. (So it gets a bit of a bump with me). Pandemic is very similar to Forbidden Island but it has more layers. Yes, difficulty can be a little random, but in a way that mirrors a real-world situation...you can't control how strong the diseases are. You just have to give it your best shot.

I just got a copy of Flash Point, but haven't even opened the box yet. We'll see how that compares.
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