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Subject: What do the player city cards really represent? rss

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Dave Ramsey
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I'm having a hard time really getting into Pandemic, and it all seems to come down to this one issue: the player city cards seem to do too many disparate things, resulting in my inability to really get a sense of what they are intended to represent.

City cards can allow me to:
1) Give / take a city card to/from another player in the same space, if we're in the city on the card
2) Charter a flight anywhere in the world if I'm in the city named on the card
3) Fly from anywhere in the world to a city for which I have the associated card
4) Build a research station (if I'm in the town represented by the card)
or
5) I can use that card along with 4 cards of the same color to cure a disease if I'm in a research station (regardless of the color or name of the city I'm currently in).

And the stack of these somehow forms a game timer as well.

Every other element in the game seems to be trying to model something from the real world. Unfortunately, I can not figure out what it is that these cards represent. Sometimes (as when curing a disease) they seem to be research data about a particular disease. However, I can get cards for any city/color from any city/color on the board at the end of my turn, suggesting that these two things are not related. Additionally, a requirement to go to San Francisco to get info about San Francisco is a little odd. (I would also be horrified to learn that CDC staff can only retain 7 pieces of data at a time, and make no use of databases...) Sometimes the cards seem to be influence in a particular city, aiding in the arrangement of transport or facility construction. Sometimes it's just sand through the hourglass...

In the end, I'm left with the sense that these are just "thingies with a color and a city". They don't really represent anything (while doing almost everything of importance in the game).

I would LOVE to be corrected. Please help me make sense of this. I would really appreciate it.
 
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Court Marley
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I never really thought about it before, but you're right, the cards are pretty much everything in the game. It's fascinating to come up with a "reason" they are in the game other than, as you said, "thingies with a color and a city." If you can come to grips with the idea that they can be different types of "thingies" depending on how you use them, then here's my stab at it: (And this is, of course, not implying in any way that this is what the designer intended.)

Your second and third points are easiest to see--they act as tickets. You need a ticket with a city name on it in order to get to that city. In the case of a charter flight, think of it as exchanging your ticket for a different one. You thought you wanted to be in Miami, but now you realize you'd be more helpful in Shanghai, so exchange that Miami ticket for a Shanghai ticket, although physically getting the ticket in hand in unnecessary, since you need to leave right away.

Research stations: You need the approval of that city in order to build, so think of it as your permit. That seems pretty logical, actually, that you'd have to go through city hall before you could just put up this big research station out of the blue.

Give/take action is a little tricky. In this case, I see the card being some sort of vital piece of information about the disease. Perhaps a possible weakness, or and idea of where it's going next. This is not information that you could send over the phone, and you definitely don't want it in writing, lest it be intercepted and end up in the wrong hands. Therefore, it's encoded, (I mean obviously, ) and is hidden in a harmless-looking ticket.

I admit that that one is the biggest stretch, but it really leads into my next idea...

Cures (I really like this one): Kind of going back to the ticket idea, you need five specialists (not physically in the game--I mean, the whole colored-region is working on this problem, you think you're the only ones??) from that region that have been monitoring, studying, and cataloging that particular disease to come together in one place, and put all their heads together to come up with the cure. How do they get there? With the harmless looking tickets of course! (See also, the Miami/Shanghai example above.) Makes sense to me, as there isn't just one scientist working on the cure for cancer, it's a whole bunch of them working together. In this case, you need the same color, because those are the people that know that color disease the best, and got other vital pieces of information in covert meetings as per above, and they need that ticket to get to the research station.

As for the timer aspect, I actually have thought of this one previously. It's like the cities are joining you in the war. You never know which one will join next, but when you pick up those two cards, it's as if you're getting a call on that ever-important red phone to say that Kinshasa and Essen are now both fighting for your cause. Sometimes, cities don't join soon enough, or too much time elapses between cities joining in, and that's when you get an epidemic. When the cities run out, that means that even though you have the whole world working on the problem, it's just not enough. You're out of help, out of luck, and out of the game.

**Disclaimer: I love Pandemic, and I suggest it every chance I get. The strategy involved is just mind-blowing. We've had games that have lasted more than 2 hours, and just last week, a game ended in 15 minutes. If you can get past giving everything a meaning, you might really enjoy the game.**
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David Horm
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It might be an issue for you, but it's one of the reasons why I like Pandemic so much. It's what I consider a streamlined designed.

Let's say we split it up cures into their own tokens, travel into its own tickets, and research facilities into their own permits. With all of those extra things to track, I then would consider the game more fiddly and might not like it as much.

But if want the player cards to represent something, then it's primarily the "actions related to this city" card to me.
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James Cheng
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I always thought of those card represent influences in a particular city. Say, I have some influence in Taipei. so I can:

1. Use that influence to build a research center
2. Use that influence to get me a ticket to anywhere else
3. Use that influence to get a ticket to Taipei

As for card exchange, I have to get you to Taipei in order to transfer that influence to you. Now this does not work as well with the researcher's power.
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Will

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The city cards are a really odd mix. It is good that they came up with a really simple way of gathering what you need, and that the multiple purpose cards force decisions to be made, but it is weird that you trade 20% of a cure for a plane ticket.
 
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Mango Man
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That's going to happen, I don't think.
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The player city cards just represent a generalised resource. When you need more resource, but there are no cards left, you have lost the game.
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James Barton
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They don't represent anything. It's an abstract device to create a game with a minimum of components; it is not a simulation of biomedical research in the face of a pandemic.
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Adam Meney
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Yeah,

They do represent a lot of things in the game and I can understand why they may feel too abstracted to some. However, to me personally, it shows that the designer has been able to use a single element/component for so many different and disparate purposes, condensing all these mechanisms into an extremely tight game. For me this is glorious.

Imaging having to manage a hand full of flight tickets, research station planning permission documents, charter flight ledgers and then having another timer mechanism to indicate the end of the world.

The fact that you have a single card that offers so many options and choices makes this game fascinating.

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Holger Doessing
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jramsey wrote:
1) Give / take a city card to/from another player in the same space, if we're in the city on the card
2) Charter a flight anywhere in the world if I'm in the city named on the card
3) Fly from anywhere in the world to a city for which I have the associated card
4) Build a research station (if I'm in the town represented by the card)
or
5) I can use that card along with 4 cards of the same color to cure a disease if I'm in a research station (regardless of the color or name of the city I'm currently in).

And the stack of these somehow forms a game timer as well.

You could think of them as grants. Research grants are often restricted in what you can spend them on, hence you cannot use a grant from San Fransisco to erect a research station in Chennai or fly between odd cities. Instead, the money is ear-marked for use in the corresponding region, which is why you cannot use a yellow card to cure a red disease. You can, however, negotiate a deal with the city that issued the grant to transfer the funds to a 3rd party - you both go to the city, have a meeting with the relevant authorities, and transfer the corresponding card.
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Dan Roe
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Addum wrote:
Yeah,

They do represent a lot of things in the game and I can understand why they may feel too abstracted to some. However, to me personally, it shows that the designer has been able to use a single element/component for so many different and disparate purposes, condensing all these mechanisms into an extremely tight game. For me this is glorious.

I agree with that completely. The fact that the cards are used for travel AND building AND curing forces you to make difficult and interesting decisions.

You've got the card of a city with 3 cubes on it. You could use the card to fly there and treat straight away, but the fact that every epidemic is going to put that city back on top of the infection deck means you're probably going to have to return there at some point, so maybe you ought to plonk down a research station there instead? Oh but wait, the fact that there are 3 cubes on that city is probably indicative that you want to get that colour disease cured ASAP, maybe you ought to hang on to the card to help with that?

I love the elegance of that mechanism so much I held off on buying In The Lab for the longest time just because it slightly dilutes that beautiful resource management aspect of the game.
 
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Dave Ramsey
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First of all, thank you very much. There are some incredibly well thought-out answers here.

Philosophically (and game design-wise), I don't have a problem with a generalized resource. For example, "cash" makes a wonderful generalized resource. It could be used for travel, or setting up labs, or for research. Thinking of them as "grants" allows one to add a couple of additional strings, like location- or disease-specificity. That gets me *almost* there... until we get to the card trading rules.

In order to transfer your grant to another team member, you not only have to physically meet in a city, it has to be the city that matches the grant. Which... could totally be the case if the donor institution is more concerned with administering the grant than in curing the disease.

Well, crap. That'll unify it. Now it does all make sense. This isn't a game about fighting diseases. This is a game about fighting bureaucracy. Curing diseases is just a way to keep score. (I will admit that I watched "And The Band Played On" recently...)

This'll even explain why the grants are assigned randomly. Grant assignment criteria is weird, and specific to each organization. The person who could most use the grant money is very often the person who doesn't get it.

Now I almost want to see a "grant writer" role. Perhaps it would allow them to trade drawing two cards at the end of their turn to drawing one targeted color, or something like that. Perhaps they can optionally draw 3 cards in a turn, or as an action they could draw a random city card. Powerful, but extremely dangerous if they burn through the cards too fast.

Once again, thank you all very much for your contributions. I think I can handle the general design of the game. Now the only cognitive dissonance is in having to struggle against the bureaucracy itself.


P.S. I'll just giggle if somebody tells me that "grant writer" is a role in one of the expansions.
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Dave Ramsey
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Ah, and the timer element...

If you keep taking grants and not getting results, the world community will take notice. They may not stop funding research on a disease they believe in, but they will stop funding *you*.

It may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of your game...
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Will

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jramsey wrote:
Ah, and the timer element...

If you keep taking grants and not getting results, the world community will take notice. They may not stop funding research on a disease they believe in, but they will stop funding *you*.

It may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of your game...


And the sources of those grants are inflexible. I once played a game in which the person across the table drew the last 2 cards so the player to my right got his actions, but the game ended there with me holding the last cure within range of a research station.
 
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Tim Hicks
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I've always instinctively thought of the cards as representing time, or rather, the things I am able to accomplish within a certain time period (with whatever funding, authority or expertise my character theoretically has available). So if I'm in London and I have a card for Kinshasa, then I have the time available to obtain visas, charter a flight and go there. If I'm already there, then I have the time available to set up a field treatment centre, or I could spend the time in a lab collecting and isolating samples for cure research. The complete deck represents the overall estimated time we have left as a species, and as we all know, estimates can change!
I suppose the only element that may not fit so well is the exchange of cards. Again though, I've always considered this as a period of time, the only difference is that whatever theoretical work is occurring requires two people in the same place.
I think if I consciously linked any aspect of Pandemic too strongly to the funding aspect of research it would pretty quickly lose any appeal it has as a "fun" way to spend an evening!
 
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Will

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T1M1X wrote:

I think if I consciously linked any aspect of Pandemic too strongly to the funding aspect of research it would pretty quickly lose any appeal it has as a "fun" way to spend an evening!

Have you allocated any funds into getting the expansions?
 
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Tim Hicks
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Broadstorm wrote:

Have you allocated any funds into getting the expansions?


Haha. I'm preparing a funding proposal for both!
I've played On The Brink (or most of it). It's given the game a new lease of life for us (myself and friends), but we're fairly new to gaming, so we are spending most of our cash on exploring completely "new" experiences. Still finding our feet really.
I will certainly be getting them eventually though (and probably The Cure too). If we only had one game we could choose to keep, Pandemic would probably be it.

...or maybe Libertalia.
 
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