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Developer's Diary: Pandemic Revised

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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For the new edition of Pandemic due out in February 2013, I was asked to design two new roles and rewrite the rules, while Z-Man Games and Pandemic designer Matt Leacock concentrated on the new look and presentation.

The new roles were a challenge as Matt had several criteria for them: They had to work for brand new players; they couldn't be On the Brink or In the Lab roles; and they had to be straightforward – that is, no hybrid roles that combined this and that in new ways.

Since the five original Pandemic roles do a fine job of varying the game actions and two On the Brink roles (Archivist and Troubleshooter) interact with the player discard and Infection piles, I examined Pandemic for other things the new roles could affect. I came up with infections and event cards.

• The Quarantine Specialist – a.k.a., The Human Shield – came first. She prevents all cube placements and outbreaks in her own city and all adjacent cities. This role immediately "clicked" with several test groups and never changed.

• The Contingency Planner – a.k.a., The Man with a Plan – took more work. The concept of reusing event cards a second time was solid, but figuring out how to make this work cleanly without timing, hand size, or scaling issues (given the increased number of events in the expansions) took several tries. Having the Contingency Planner use an action to retrieve an event from the discard pile solved the timing issue, while storing just one retrieved event at a time on his role card – and not in hand – solved the hand size and scaling issues. These rules also increase this role's "planning" flavor as the order in which events are retrieved and used again now matters.

Adding two new roles increases the game's variety. Before, you had five role combinations in a four-player game and ten in two- or three-player games. Now, you have 35 role combinations in three- or four-player games and 21 in two-player games. Since the game's feel changes quite a bit when certain roles are absent, I believe the addition of these new roles considerably increases the "life span" of the Pandemic base game.

For simplicity, we also moved the revised version of the Operations Expert (from On the Brink) into the Pandemic base game.

For the Pandemic: On the Brink expansion, I wasn't asked to add any new roles, but we did revise the Epidemiologist. That role had been "simplified" just prior to publication in the original On the Brink and now was a bit weak. It is okay in four- and five-player games as the ability to easily concentrate cards in one hand really helps to discover cures, but is too weak in two- and three-player games.

By making her ability not take an action, we both improved this role and introduced a trade-off in the two-player game between the Epidemiologist and the Researcher. The Researcher can transfer more cards in a single turn, but at the cost of using up lots of precious actions.

This change also makes the Epidemiologist more flexible for uses other than discovering cures. Taking an unneeded card from another player in order to fly to a different part of the board becomes a lot more attractive when it doesn't cost an action.

As for the rules rewrite, it took a lot of work. We had three main goals: make the rules more accessible to a mainstream gaming audience; clean up confusion areas; and fill in rules gaps (such as timing), previously addressed by rulings.

I went through every Pandemic rules thread on BGG (ugh), noting not only the questions, but how often certain issues cropped up. From this, I created a "Frequently Overlooked Rules" section on the back page of the rulebook for the top five issues.

I first made the rules longer, adding in missing and clarifying text. I then recruited test readers, including several from BGG, to help me simplify them. Expressions like "play the role of the Infector" became "draw infection cards". Fine points were moved from the main text into sidebars and notes. The result, even with the added material, is now ~25% shorter and, hopefully, crisper and clearer.

We did make a few rules changes – I will post a list of them in the Pandemic forums after Z-Man puts the new rules online – but most players should play lots of games without them ever affecting play. For example, we made the Medic's powers mandatory, not optional, as 99% of the time, the Medic never wants to treat just one cube nor allow cubes of a cured disease to be placed in his city. (In On the Brink, he will occasionally do the first to allow the Field Operative a sample.) Having this power be optional almost always results in a "false decision" that just slows the game and confuses more mainstream or casual players.

A more important change is that we altered "cube death" to occur when players need more than 24 disease cubes of a color actually on the board. Cubes which never "make it" to the board – due to the Medic's power versus cured diseases or the Quarantine Specialist's power – no longer count towards losing the game (unlike previous rulings). This change is simpler, doesn't lead to weird timing cases, and doesn't undercut the Medic or Quarantine Specialist in such a frustrating way (when you're in the right city, but still lose).

We were very conservative in making rules changes, using "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" to guide us, while still striving to make the rules more accessible.

From my years as a technical writer, I know that no document works for everyone. Hopefully, the new rules will work for most. I'm excited to see the new Pandemic come out and hope that players have fun exploring the new roles. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Subscribe sub options Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:30 am
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