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Plague Inc.: The Board Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A good area-control game with a fiendishly enjoyable theme rss

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Trevor Schadt
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Glenshaw
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Disclaimers:
* I was a Kickstarter supporter of this game.
* I very much enjoy the mobile game version on which this game is based.

Vitals:
Players: 1-5 (2-5 + solo mode)
Minimum Age: 14 (listed), 12 (realistic) unless topic is sensitive
Time to teach: 15 minutes
Time to play: 60 minutes
Mechanics: area control, variable player powers
Weight:
"Take That" factor:
Randomness factor:
Final verdict:

Theme: If you're reading this, you're probably already familiar with the theme, but in case you aren't, this is Pandemic's evil twin brother. Play competitive diseases trying to evolve and destroy the world. Many years ago, there was a game I used to love called "Black Death," which was a similar but much simpler game set in medieval Europe. I have fond memories of diseases such as "Pox Vopuli" and "The Unreachable Itch" battling for control of Western Europe; this game is the spiritual successor to that one.

Materials: The board is nice thick cardboard. The player mats are regular cardstock and may show wear in the future; lamination might not be a bad idea for those so inclined. The plastic pieces are nicely made with detailing that can unfortunately get lost in poor lighting. The tokens are a bit small for uncoordinated hands, but the victory point markers are nicely made. Cards may merit sleeving for those who will play this game a lot, but the cards do not appear to be a standard size. (Watch this space for updates.) are 50x70mm, which is not a standard size; Mayday's 50x75mm card sleeves are currently your best option. (Thanks to aspiringloser and _Randi_ and confirmation by the developer of something that I'd overlooked in one of the updates for this information.)

Origins: This game is the competitive board-game adaptation of the Plague, Inc. mobile game by the same creator. This is a faithful adaptation while still altering the game from a real-time solo game with abstracted mechanics to a competitive turn-based game with concrete yet simplified ones. If you enjoy one, you'll probably enjoy the other as well.

Gameplay: A player's turn is divided into 5 parts:
1. Score DNA (victory) points for each country in which you have or share a plurality of tokens (termed "control").
2. Place one of the three available countries on the board, or discard one of them to discard and draw a new hand of 5 Trait cards. (This is the only way, other than random Event cards, that players can gain new Traits during the game.)
3. (Optional) Spend DNA points to evolve a new Trait for your disease (maximum 5, 2 of which are pre-printed to start the game).
4. Place a number of your infection tokens (determined by the Infectivity score of your disease) into countries to which you are "connected."
5. For each country you control, roll a d6. If you roll less than or equal to the Lethality score of your disease, each player gains DNA equal to the number of tokens they had in the country, and that country is removed from the game.

Analysis: At its heart, this is a pretty simple area-control game, excepting that the only way to retrieve tokens (other than the occasional Event card, which is awarded to a player when they kill a country) is to remove areas from the map. This can actually work against you if the wrong country is eliminated at the wrong time and you are inadvertently cut off from large sections of the board because you are no longer "connected" to them.

There is also a nice balance element to the VPP mechanic, but it is somewhat vulnerable to random card draw. A player who is dealt a hand of cheap Traits will get a bit of a quicker head-start, which may make a player who received a hand of expensive traits feel frustrated.

Game Weight: On a scale from "Uno" to "Agricola" this one is pretty nicely in the middle. There are definitely some good decisions to be made, between the traits in which to invest your DNA, which countries to infect, when to pivot your traits (if possible) from infectivity to lethality, and when to fill up a country and go for the kill. But there's not a lot of scope for AP here, as each decision point is nicely both limited and isolated while still feeling relevant.

Take That: The level of direct player conflict is actually pretty low. There are a couple of event cards that let you remove other players' tokens, and by claiming control "out from under" an opponent, you deny them the DNA that is pretty critical, especially at the beginning of the game, for establishing your initial traits. I'm sure "friendly" variants are feasible that would even reduce that (e.g., establishing the first N turns of the game as a DMZ where you can't invade an opponent's country if there are other options).

Randomness: Because your starting countries, first available traits, and available countries are all random, there is a decent chance that a player will get "locked" into a small starting area. The basic disease type, Bacteria, offers "Outbreak" as a "get out of jail" power, allowing a player to move one of their existing tokens from one country to another in lieu of playing new ones. Useful at the beginning of the game, where you'd normally only be placing 2 tokens anyway, but not something to be used often.

Lunchability: The game play here runs just about an hour, so if you have a group of people that are familiar with the game, and you have an hour to devote to a game over lunch, this is certainly a solid contender.

Solo Mode: The game does offer a Solo Mode, where you play against an automated "PlagueBot" with a rotating set of traits and pre-set actions for each trait currently active. Not easy. I have only played this once and got my bacteria handed to me. Now that I know the game better, I'm looking forward to exploring that more.

Final verdict: Given my fond memories of Black Death, I was quite excited when I heard that this game was being made, and that excitement did not disappoint when I received the final product. The game's mechanics are basic enough that established gamers should be able to pick them up quickly, while still complex enough to provide some meat. While I would not recommend this as a "gateway game," this is a good "second step" game as long as the person will appreciate the theme.

This game isn't going to change anyone's world. It's a good area control game, at about the same complexity level as Small World but with a higher randomness factor. But I greatly enjoy it and look forward to many more plays.

(EDIT to include information from replies about card and sleeve size.)
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Paul Wise
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Tupelo
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Mayday Sails of Glory sleeves are the recommended ones for this game. They will be a bit long and may need to be trimmed.
 
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Matteo Randi
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Nice review I'm curious to see how the automa solo mode works.
Btw the cards are 50x70mm, so yeah as already stated Mayday 50x75mm sleeves seem the only solution.

*maybe the disease name was "Vox Populi" ("public opinion" in latin)
 
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Trevor Schadt
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Glenshaw
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_Randi_ wrote:
*maybe the disease name was "Vox Populi" ("public opinion" in latin)
It was an intentional pun on "Vox Populi" and the term "pox" to refer to a disease.
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James V
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Plague Inc: The Board Game - can you Infect the World?
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Thanks for taking the time to post such an in depth review.

Interesting idea re DMZ - the plan is to keep an eye out for developed house rules from players and feature popular / cool ones in the Companion App so other people can find them!
 
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