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Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu» Forums » Reviews

Subject: When a Virus Just Isn’t Enough rss

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Dave Shapiro
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Way back in the Dark Ages (when the only video games were played on an Atari 2600), Avalon Hill published a game that included a mechanic that had been developed for assisting experiments on computers. The computer simulation was used to plan urban growth, insect populations, spread of diseases, etc. Based on a certain set of rules, a basic pattern would breed and grow. In some cases the pattern would continue to grow forever while in others it died off rapidly. In 1970, the British mathematician John Conway created a scaled down version. Eventually there were a variety of these algorithms and rudimentary versions appeared on early PC’s.

In 1979, Avalon Hill published Wizard’s Quest which was a Risk type game that, in addition to your opponents, included a common enemy - Orcs. These little buggers would, just as in the computer simulations, expand based on a set of rules. In 1981, Avalon Hill published another game that used a variation on this expansion mechanic (they altered the rules) - Amoeba Wars. There were a few other games that included a variation on this mechanic but none were even as successful as these two from Avalon Hill. Then this growth mechanic appears to have disappeared until it resurfaced in 2008.

Pandemic arrived in 2008 and this particular growth mechanic was no longer a secondary inclusion, it was the core of the game. Two years later a version of the growth mechanic appeared in Defenders of the Realm. Then in 2013, USAopoly included this mechanic in Risk: The Walking Dead. The Risk version actually expands on the concept. In each of the other games, the orcs/virus/amoebas were something that had to be dealt with; in Risk, the ‘Dead’ could actually convert your own units increasing the growth of the group. (Effectually introducing a mutation into the mix.)

Over the years, I have discovered that, when it involves this particular growth mechanic, there is no middle ground - you either love it or hate it. Those that ‘love’ it seem to enjoy the continuous uncertainty and challenge it introduces. Those that dislike the mechanic find it frustrating that an area that was safe can quickly devolve into something that is, once again, dangerous.

Now Zman Games has released Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. The ‘Pandemic’ in the title is similar to Hasbro including ‘Risk’ in the title of many of its game - it is branding. Cthulhu shares many of the growth mechanic found in the Pandemic games but is different enough that it really does not require the ‘pandemic’ in the title.

The map in Cthulhu is significantly smaller than the Pandemic map and there is significantly less growth during the game. The object of the game is not to remove the two types of ‘evil’ units but to close the four gates, preventing the complete invasion of evil. Players close the gates in a manner similar to curing a virus in the original game (by submitting the appropriate set of cards). Each player is an ‘investigator’ and possesses a special ability. Certain actions (that are impossible to avoid), require the acting player to roll an ‘insanity’ die. If an investigator goes insane, you flip his character card and he now has different (usually reduced) abilities.

There are 12 Old One’s in the box and 8 are used in each game. When one of these is activated (and they will be), they act as a single event (never good) or actually change one of the rules of the game. Expansions for the game could be nothing more than a different set of Old One’s and investigators.

There is only one way to win - close all four gates. There are four ways to lose: run out of player cards or units, reveal all 8 Old One’s or if all of the players ‘go insane’.

The original Pandemic was not one of my favorite games - I found the decisions to be obvious. Pandemic Legacy is an entirely different beast - though it uses the same basic mechanics, it demonstrates what can be done with the system. Cthulhu is closer to the original game but, I believe, superior to the original. It plays faster and the smaller board increases the tension; it is less forgiving than the original game. Where I tend to avoid vanilla Pandemic, I would play Cthulhu without hesitation.

Both Pandemic and Cthulhu are entry level games that can easily be taught to non-gamers. With just a bit more complexity in the rules, Risk - Walking Dead provides a similar experience but provides significantly greater challenge and depth. All three games play in roughly the same amount of time but Walking Dead plays on two levels - it is semi-cooperative. Players must attempt to control areas in order to score while cooperating to hold back the growth of the zombies.

Note: for those who ‘hate’ Risk games, The Walking Dead did not require the ‘Risk’ branding. The feel of the game is not that of a typical Risk game (extreme confrontation) but more like Small World.
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Eric Devir
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disclaimer: I have mad love for Pandemic.

Played this twice at GenCon with 4 players. Both times we lost in 1.5 rounds. .. and Evil had only spread once! I never even got a second turn.

The difficulty is BRUTAL! Just totally unforgiving and relentless.
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Henry Allen
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Thanks for the review!

Zaprobot wrote:
disclaimer: I have mad love for Pandemic.

Played this twice at GenCon with 4 players. Both times we lost in 1.5 rounds. .. and Evil had only spread once! I never even got a second turn.

The difficulty is BRUTAL! Just totally unforgiving and relentless.


Yikes, how did you lose?
Can the difficulty be tweaked like in Pandemic?
In such quick games, does it feel like you could have done anything differently to do better or are you just at the mercy of the game? It doesn't sound very fun if you just have to get extremely lucky to even have a chance.
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Jens Alfke
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To nitpick the first paragraph:

No one was playing Atari in the 1960s; the 2600 didn't come out until 1977 or so. The only video gamers were some MIT students who created Space War on a mainframe in 1962.

And John Conway's game "Life" grew out of speculations by physicist John Von Neumann about self-reproducing machines; I've never heard of Conway being aware of nor influenced by then-obscure American board games.

I've played a fair bit of Pandemic but never connected it to Life or cellular automata. The 'outbreak' mechanism where an infection overflows from one city to its neighbors is a little bit like that, but only in a very limited way...
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Matthew Morocco
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LOL! Atari 2600 is the name of one of the first video game consoles.

I believe the original post was referring to the game console. I still remember staying up until 1:00 am when neighbor kid across street got it for Christmas. Wow! that was a long time ago...
 
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Shannon F-T
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I think that by assuming that the OP is talking about the 60s, you're reading the first paragraph as a timeline. On my second reading, the first sentence fits with your timeline. The second sentence steps back in time a bit earlier to the mathematics and modelling that may have spawned the late 70s board game that was introduced in that first sentence.

The second paragraph details the game that was introduced in the first sentence. It makes a more interesting story, but I understand where the confusion may come from when specific dates are used in a non-sequential story.
 
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John Sowerby
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Zaprobot wrote:
disclaimer: I have mad love for Pandemic.

Played this twice at GenCon with 4 players. Both times we lost in 1.5 rounds. .. and Evil had only spread once! I never even got a second turn.

The difficulty is BRUTAL! Just totally unforgiving and relentless.


How on Earth did you do that? That sounds like you had something wrong somewhere.
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Eric Devir
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Our game was moderated by the demo explainer so I dont think we botched the rules. We just had really incredibly unlucky rolls and card draws
 
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