I received my copy of Panacea from my friend Jeph Stahl at Great Lakes Games. I was bummed last year that couldn't attend last year and I missed out on a copy of Port Dover. As for Panacea, I was looking forward to owning it ever since I saw it playtested at Protospiel last summer.
Yesterday our monthly coffee shop group was supposed to meet, but the coffee shop recently went out of business!! I'm not sure what that means for us in the long run, but yesterday we quickly arranged for a few group members to come to my house for games. Scott, Zandra and William joined me in a game of Panacea.
The game is about deducing the Panacea formula. In game terms, this means you must know at least two of the three cards that each player holds out of a set of 15. Jeph gave me a rules overview at GLG and I read the short rulesheet over myself later. What you can do in the game and what you need to do are very straight forward. A die roll indicates which simple action to carry out. Each one allows a player to gain and give up some information in different ways.
Actually taking that information, organizing it and figuring out the formula, though, was pretty difficult for me! I enjoy deduction and logic games a lot, so I'm not saying this was a bad thing, but it felt like I was taking a test! It was not immediately clear how much of the information that came in was going to be helpful to me or how I could combine it from turn to turn to make sense of it. The information on the back of the rulesheet gave some hints for organizing what I found and it definitely made it helpful.
Rolling the 0's and 1's allows a player to choose who to "question" for information, so those are probably most desireable for the majority of the game. It seems one of the best positions to be in is to be chosen by the active player when he or she rolls a 0. In that case, the active player must pass a player at least three cards, none of which the active player holds in his part of the formula. Unless I'm missing something, this is the only time a player can look at a set of cards that is passed to him or her and know something about each of them without referring to information gained on another turn.
When a 2+ is rolled, all players are involved. The game's box is a unique component in the game at this point, as players slip their dice into a hole on the side. When all dice are in the box, it can be "swished" to mix them, but the values on the dice won't change. It allows all players to gain some information about all other players parts of the formula. What's revealed, though is sufficiently vague so as to require plenty of careful notetaking and deduction.
In our game, Scott made a mistake during a 2+ action, showing the wrong face on his die. He caught it after the dice were shown, then he felt he should correct it. I'm not sure if my younger opponents made as much use of Scott's blunder as I did, but it helped me to eliminate a few possibilities from all of their codes. Within a turn or two I managed to eliminate all other options and I had what I suspected was everyone's part of the formula.
Unfortunately this was just after my turn, so I had to wait for three turns! Scott managed to piece things together by his turn and he robbed me of victory! This was probably for the best, since I'm sure I was saved a turn due to his mistake with the 2+ action previously.
Now that I've got a game under my belt I'm sure I'll be able to do better next time. I'm looking forward to trying the three-player game to see how it compares. My thought is that it should be shorter and that would be a good thing. I didn't mind the game's length much, but a couple of the others commented it was long.
Favorite parts of the game:
-Very simple rules (but it's not simple how to use them!)
-Simple ways to get and give information
-The Game box and dice mechanics are clever. They're used for multiple purposes.
-When you're not involved in a 0 or 1 action there's nothing to do.
-The information received can be overwhelming.
-Players really need to pay attention! This is addressed in the rules.
Overall, this was a stimulating exercise. While some of my friends will never warm up to the level of concentration required, I personally look forward to the next chance I get to try it.