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Designer Preview: Pandemic: State of Emergency

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Board Game: Pandemic: State of Emergency
Pandemic: State of Emergency expands Pandemic with five new roles, seven new events, and three new challenges. It is compatible with Pandemic's earlier expansions — On the Brink and In the Lab — but requires only the base game in order to play.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

As before, players can simply add the new roles and events to the base game and begin play.

Help the Players? That's Crazy Talk!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
State of Emergency also gives players a new tool to help them stave off the spreading diseases: quarantines.

Instead of Treating Disease, a character can impose a quarantine on a city, placing a two-sided marker there. This protects that city from the next two attempts to place disease cubes in it (from infections, epidemics, outbreaks, etc.).

Effectively, players gain an action via a quarantine (compared to two Treat Disease actions to remove two cubes). The catch? Players can have only four quarantine markers in play at once (unless The Colonel, who adds two more markers, is in the game). Further, by leaving disease cubes untreated, running out of cubes becomes more of an issue.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

Quarantine markers were created by Pandemic designer Matt Leacock before we did On the Brink. We held off including them (twice!) as we didn't want to clutter up our clean concept that expansions consisted only of roles, events, and challenges. In SoE, I use quarantines in the Superbug challenge (see below), so it was time to add them.

Quarantines can be used with any challenge except the OTB Bio-Terrorist challenge. They allow players to fine tune Pandemic's difficulty. If a combination of challenges and Epidemic cards is proving too hard, try adding quarantines. That extra bit of board control may be just what you need to hit that "sweet spot" of a tough challenge, without being overwhelmed.

From Animals to You

In the Hinterlands challenge, diseases are jumping from animals to humans in farm or wildlife regions. These regions are represented by four new off-board Hinterlands spaces, one for each disease color, connected to various cities in that region.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

For example, the black Hinterlands space connects to Karachi, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. Colored translucent chips are placed on these cities on the main board to help players visualize these connections.

Hinterlands spaces are treated as city spaces. Players can move from a connecting city to them and vice versa. Direct Flights to them aren't possible as no City or infection cards for them exist.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Each Hinterlands space begins with one disease cube. Each turn, before drawing Infection cards, the Hinterlands die is rolled. If a colored face is rolled, a cube is placed on the corresponding Hinterlands space (or, if three cubes are already there, an Outbreak occurs, spreading disease to all connecting cities). Two die faces are blank; if one of them is rolled, no disease cube is placed.

Extra infections by independent die rolls adds a new element of unpredictable but constant threat to Pandemic. If a Hinterlands space has two cubes in it and is left untreated for two turns, then there is a 1/36 chance of an outbreak there...

But, wait — there's more! If two players Share Knowledge in a Hinterlands space, they can trade any City card of that color between them. The conceit here is that by studying the disease in the animals from which it came (in the Hinterlands), vaccines can be developed more easily.

Thus, the Hinterlands challenge makes things both harder for players on the infection end and easier by helping them collect cards together for a cure. Is this challenge more difficult than the base Pandemic game? Try it and find out!

Testers enjoyed the Hinterlands challenge as a "change of pace" from regular Pandemic. Many commented that "support" roles, such as the Operations Expert or Dispatcher, really come into their own in this challenge.

The Challenge of the Unknown

Emergency Events are compatible with all other challenges. These extra events must be played when drawn and do nasty, unpredictable things.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

For example, they might advance the infection rate marker, infect cities twice that turn, reduce players' hand limits, or prevent all air travel. If an Emergency Event has a continuing effect, it lasts until the next Emergency Event is drawn.

You use as many of the ten Emergency Events as Epidemics, shuffling one of them along with an Epidemic card into each Player card pile during set-up (so that they are spread throughout the player deck).

Emergency Events give players another way to fine turn Pandemic's difficulty. If a combination of challenges and Epidemic cards is too easy for your group, consider adding Emergency Events (instead of another Epidemic card).

They also address an issue some players have with adding more Epidemic cards, namely, that the game starts feeling too much like a "treadmill" of constant Epidemics, without enough time in between to react. Adding Emergency Events instead actually spaces out the Epidemics a bit more and ups the challenge in other areas.

An Untreatable Disease?

Of course, no Pandemic expansion would be complete without a challenge that really increases its difficulty. Enter the Superbug challenge.

This challenge grew out of several ideas:

First, some diseases, such as MRSA, are becoming resistant to treatment via antibiotics (in part, due to antibiotic overuse in non-critical situations). What if a disease mutated to become treatment resistant? How would that work in Pandemic?

Second, Pandemic stops when all the cures are discovered. What about vaccine production and delivery?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Third, many players find eradicating, not just curing, diseases satisfying. Eradicating all diseases as a goal doesn't work, as it leads to a boring end-game (where, if the players are winning, the only tension lies in whether or not time runs out). ITL's Team game was one attempt to address this. Is there another?

Fourth, is there a way to build good game tension around when a cure is discovered?

Matt had tried to introduce tension around when cures are discovered in his first draft of ITL's Lab Challenge. Instead of sequencing a disease, players could invest in vaccine production, which would then remove more cubes from the board when that disease was finally cured.

This idea failed in testing as the rewards for discovering a cure (reducing hand pressure, making Treat Disease more effective, and being able to move on to the next cure) were so high that players still cured diseases as fast as possible, so we removed it and focused the Lab challenge on finding cures.

I later realized one disease naturally has tension around its cure timing: the purple disease, first introduced in OTB's Mutation challenge.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Players often cure the other diseases first, then use "spare" city cards for the purple cure. By doing this, they avoid possibly using for the purple cure any city cards of a color that turns out to be mostly at the bottom of the player deck, thereby ensuring that drawing cards for the regular cures won't be a problem. Of course, not curing purple right away makes it harder to keep the purple disease in check...

Why not exploit this tension and make the purple disease the focus of a challenge in which the players face an untreatable disease that they must both cure and eradicate by producing vaccine, then delivering it to all cities with purple cubes?

Assembling a Superbug

In the Superbug challenge, players are faced with a mutating disease that is untreatable. Players cannot do the Treat Disease action to remove purple cubes (although other ways of removing purple cubes are fair game). However, Quarantines are used to give players a way to slow down the spread of this untreatable disease.

To win, the players must cure all five diseases and eradicate the purple disease.

Three purple cubes begin on the board and others appear whenever an infection card is drawn for a city with one or more purple cubes in it or when one of two Mutation cards in the Infection deck are drawn.

In this challenge, a Mutation card turns the next infection into a purple infection. This can sometimes help the players as when the fourth cube of a color infecting a city becomes purple instead of triggering an Outbreak. Gradually, more and more purple cubes will appear in more cities...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

To cure purple, players need to turn in two city cards with purple cubes in those cities, plus any three other city cards. Once a purple cure is found, research stations can be turned into vaccine factories, each producing one vaccine vial per player turn. Characters can pick up vaccine vials at a factory, then once in a city with purple cubes spend an action and vial to remove all purple cubes from that city.

Do the players cure purple first to jumpstart its eradication, but possibly delay some other cure until nearly the game end, or do they wait until they can cure the purple disease with only "spare" city cards? Decisions, decisions...

Testing revealed that the Superbug challenge adds a lot of time pressure to the game. To ease that slightly, I added some of the ITL Team bonus cards to the player deck to give players both a bit more time and some useful tools.

The Superbug challenge is definitely challenging, but one which many testers liked. Some even declared it the most fun and thematically satisfying challenge that we've offered so far. Your own mileage, of course, may vary.

Packaging and Compatibility

Board Game: Pandemic: On the Brink
Board Game: Pandemic: In the Lab
State of Emergency comes with its own purple disease cubes, mutation cards, cure indicator, and bonus cards, so players don't need the OTB and ITL expansions to play the Superbug challenge. Everything needed is supplied.

The Superbug challenge can be combined with other challenges, except the Mutation and Bio-Terrorist challenges. Combining it with the ITL Lab challenge is only for the most skilled (or masochistic) players as both challenges, separately, add time pressure and the combination is truly brutal...

First edition Pandemic owners can play the new SoE roles, quarantines, and the Hinterlands challenge without needing to do anything.

To use the SoE Events, Emergency Events, or the Superbug challenge, first edition owners either need to sleeve the player deck with opaque sleeves or buy a replacement deck. The Superbug challenge also requires either sleeving the Infection deck, or for owners of first edition On the Brink, using its Mutation cards as proxies for the SoE Mutation cards.

While State of Emergency and Pandemic can fit together in a single box, packing it with the On the Brink insert will be a very tough fit. I recommend instead putting the base game, with all the extra roles, events, and petri dishes from On the Brink and In the Lab in one box and all the challenges in another box.

Too Close to Home

I designed and turned in State of Emergency before the current Ebola crisis erupted from a local outbreak (similar to past outbreaks of Ebola) into a global threat. Last year, I helped Matt Leacock and Jocelyn Becker by designing bonus roles and a special Ebola scenario for their Pandemic Parties to raise over $50,000 for Doctors without Borders / Medicines sans Frontiers.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

Doctors without Borders (MSF) is a private charity that has been doing much of the hard and dangerous work that many national and international organizations have failed to do in a timely fashion with regard to this outbreak.

The Pandemic Parties both raised money and increased awareness of the work that Doctors without Borders (MSF) has been doing. I'd like to thank Matt and Jocelyn for all their hard work organizing them and all of you who held or attended one and donated. Both your enthusiasm and generosity were greatly appreciated.

So Long and Thanks for all the Viruses

State of Emergency is likely my final Pandemic project. Matt Leacock is now a full-time designer — congrats, Matt! — and no longer needs my assistance. I look forward to playing Pandemic Legacy and all the other fine Pandemic products that Z-Man Games will be publishing.

It's been a privilege working on the Pandemic expansions with Matt, as well as doing the rules rewrite and contributing the bonus roles to the revised second edition of Pandemic. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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