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BGG.CON 2013: Pandemic: The Cure — Gambling on the Job

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Pandemic: The Cure
To answer the first question people have had about Pandemic: The Cure — a dice-based version of the best-selling Pandemic board game — the packaging shown at right was created by designer Matt Leacock for display at BGG.CON 2013 and to have something on the package for when Z-Man Games shows the prototypes to potential licensing partners. Note that when I say "Matt Leacock", I really mean Matt Leacock and his nose-to-the-grindstone family, who applied several thousand stickers to more than five hundred dice, as he noted on Facebook:

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"Leacock Prototype Factory kickin' it into high gear"

So don't expect the game to look like this once it's published. Who knows though? Perhaps someone at Z-Man Games will take a shine to this look, manufacture the game with this giant-sized pill bottle, then wrap the whole kaboodle with a regulation cardboard sleeve in order to advertise the goods on retail shelves. Pandemic: The Cure isn't due out until the second half of 2014, so plenty of time remains for such details to be hashed out.

Why was Leacock making these prototypes in the first place? In order to hold a Pandemic: The Cure tournament at BGG.CON 2013, with six five-player teams competing to find cures for four diseases before infection spreads too far or the world is overcome with outbreaks. For a rundown of the gameplay, here's a recording I made with Leacock at the convention:


In addition to the tournament, Leacock was demonstrating and teaching the game in the main exhibition hall, so I got a chance to play it with him and my cameraperson John K.

To add a bit more detail to what's going on in the game, I'll note that each role has its own set of dice, while each die specific to a role has the same six sides. Some icons appear on all of the dice: an airplane that allows you to move your character to any location, a ship that allows you to move to an adjacent location, a needle that allows you to treat one die (either by moving it from a location to the treatment center in the central ring or from the ring to the infection bag), a bottle that allows you to research one die in the treatment center, and a biohazard symbol that can't be rerolled and that advances the rate of infection (that is, the number of dice rolled at the end of each turn).

Other icons on the dice are specific to a particular role. In our game, Matt was the medic, which has a combined boat/needle side (allowing the player to choose one of those actions) along with a two needle side and three needle side. Treatment galore! John was the containment specialist, and his only unique die face allowed him to return three dice from the treatment center to the dice bag. This might not seem like much, but one way you lose the game is by not being able to pull enough dice from the bag when it comes time to infect the world at turn's end. The specialist also has the automatic ability to move one die to the treatment center when he enters a location that contains two or three dice of the same color. This ability combined well with my dispatcher, as I could move anyone from my current location to any other location. Thus, I tended to follow John around like a lovesick kitten, entering his location only to have him flee elsewhere to spread his healing touch, after which I'd chase him once again. My special die face — a helicopter — let me move one character from any location to another one, so if necessary I could move Matt or John to my location before booting them somewhere else.

Thus, our team had tons of mobility and treatment powers but little in the way of disease eradication. To expand on Matt's description of gameplay, on each turn you start by rolling your dice, taking any actions you want (which puts those dice out of play for the remainder of your turn), rerolling any dice you desire, using more dice, and so on until each die is either used or locked with a biohazard symbol. At any time during your turn, if you have enough shields set aside at the CDC, you can spend them (returning the dice to the bag) to use one of the three special abilities, after which that ability is placed at the bottom of the deck and replaced by a new one.

After your dice actions, you can give bottled specimens — that is, infection dice topped by your bottle dice — to any player in the same location. You can then roll the bottled specimens you hold to see whether they sum to at least 13; if so, you've created a cure for the disease, and while that doesn't eradicate the disease completely, in the future whenever you treat a die of that color on a location or in the treatment center, all dice of that color are treated and move to the new location. I initially thought you'd remove those dice from the game, but that would be terrible for your prospects of winning as the infection bag would empty out quickly. You need to cycle those harmless dice through the world and the bag to lower the chances of outbreaks (that is, having four dice of a color in one location).

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If you're familiar with Pandemic, you'll note the many similarities between that game and Pandemic: The Cure, but most striking is the detail of one player needing to create or discover the cure for a disease. In Pandemic: The Cure, one player could bottle three dice of the same color and hope to roll 13+. The odds of this happening, though, are roughly 25% (56 results/216 possiblities), which isn't great, so you'll probably want a fourth die — especially since dice stay locked as long as they're bottling a sample. If one player manages to bottle all of the samples himself, then he's effectively sitting out until he rolls that cure, similar to how a player in Pandemic has only a couple of open card slots in which to take actions while stockpiling cards for a cure. Thus, you probably want to hit a disease with overwhelming force in order to find a cure as quickly as possible — but things won't necessarily work out in your favor. You need that color of dice on the locations, then you need to treat it, then you need to bottle it (or have someone else bottle it, then hand it over to you) — and then you need to actually roll the blamed things and get a decent result! (Note in the image above that I have only two available dice as three of them are bottled on Matt and John's characters.)

We cruised to two cures in short order, with outbreaks barely registering and the infection rate not ticking up too quickly. The shields piled up eight high at the CDC, and we started using them for special powers not so much because we needed the power, but in order to get the (non-lethal) dice back in the bag to fatten it up. Things then blew apart with several outbreaks in short order, and me rolling way more biohazard symbols than seemed possible; those symbols upped the infection rate, which removed the dice from the treatment center and put them back on the globe, causing further outbreaks and preventing us from bottling needed specimens.

Despite the trouble, we managed a cure for the third disease and slowly accumulated dice for the lone disease still plaguing the population. At the same time, we had kept a special power in reserve at the CDC since almost the beginning of the game, a power that lets you reroll one of the dice when you're trying to find a cure. Eventually we got four dice into John's hands and he rolled low, making the power worthless. I took the dice next, but over the next three rolls I failed to even come close to the magic total of 13. Matt and John kept circling the world performing medical miracles, all of us crossing fingers every time we rolled for infection — Pull no black dice, pull no black dice, pull no bla- ulp, don't roll a black three, don't roll a black three, don't roll- yes!!! — until I rolled a cure total worth spending the power on, us holding onto enough shields for when I finally avoided the gutter, aaaaaaand I blew it, rolling low once again, leaving time for a final outbreak to occur and for us to go down in history as the sorriest bunch of disease fighters ever.

My apologies for all the death I allowed, and I promise to do better next time should the CDC ever trust my luckless hands in the future!
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