My friends and I finished the game yesterday afternoon. It was a stressful yet satisfying series of games. I feel the need to report my experience. Spoilers ahead:
Month by month write up.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
January - Nothing to it. We used the scientist, the medic, and the researcher winning the first half of the month with ease. Funding level 4.
February - Easy as pie. The quarantine specialist, the medic, and the dispatcher win the first half of the month handily. Funding level 2.
March - Set back. The quarantine specialist, Operations Expert, and the Medic could not stop the spread of disease. Funding level 0. On our second attempt the dispatcher, the scientist, the quarantine specialist (who was later swapped for the medic) could not control the spread of disease. Funding level 2. March is the first month that felt difficult. To some extent we chalked it up to funding level, though our play choices cannot be ignored. The swap character card has seen its last play.
April - A return to form. The medic, researcher, and dispatcher win the first half of the month. Funding level 4.
May - Major Set Back. The colonel, operations expert, and the quarantine specialist play the first and second half of the month loosing both. The colonel dies at the end of the second game and Washington has Fallen. Funding level 2 then 4. Our play choices and some bad luck are all we can blame.
June - Relief. The medic, the operations expert, and the researcher win the first half of the month with ease. Funding level 6.
July - A return to form. The medic, the soldier, and the researcher win the first half of the month with ease. Funding level 4.
August - The bad times. Both games in August are lost. First by the soldier, the researcher, and the medic. And then by the virologist, the soldier, and the dispatcher. Funding level 2 and 4. Too many things to juggle. Too many faded figures. The game felt like a grind at this point and was decidedly unfun.
September - By the skin of our teeth. The first half of the month is lost by the soldier, the researcher, and the dispatcher. Turns out the soldier was a traitor and is destroyed. We are saved from opening box 8 during the second half of the month by the quarantine specialist, the virologist, and the scientist. The nuclear option is used on Paris. While we did not realize it at the time it was in this month that we hit our stride. Funding level 6 and 8.
October - Sweet relief. The quarantine specialist, the scientist, and the operations expert win in the first half of the month. The immunologist and the ability to vaccinate faded cities becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. Funding level 6.
November - Lose then win. The virologist, the operations expert, and the immunologist set the stage for a win in the second half of the month by the dispatcher, the operations expert, and the immunologist.
December - Disaster averted. The dispatcher, immunologist, and the medic vaccinate all remaining faded cities but fail to find the stockpile. During the second half of the month the medic, the dispatcher, and the researcher discover the stock pile and the game is won. Disaster is averted. The world will recover and those responsible for Coda will stand trial for their crimes. Final score 693.
Strategy, upgrades, character choices and optimization.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
We prioritized eradicating diseases and the beneficial mutation upgrade. Character upgrades we also important to us as was making structures permanent. During the later half of the game equipment upgrades became important. We never built any permanent roadblocks and the only unfunded event we employed was the nuclear option.
We never used the generalist but in hindsight I think she could have been the lynch pin of every game had she been developed properly. She can be upgraded four times, a fact we did not realize or pay much attention to until the end of the game. With the right relationships and the right upgrades I believe she could be a power house useful in every game.
Our medic got the most attention. Local connections allowed him to treat disease in neighboring cities and the pilot ability allowed him to travel with ease. He was family with the dispatcher (extra turn when starting in the same city) and friends with the quarantine specialist (look at the top two player deck cards when in the same city).
The friends relationship was the least useful overall. Family was very helpful at times but pawns were not often in the same city. Coworkers and rivals were the most helpful though we did not take full advantage of the coworker/researcher combo. She was coworkers with the soldier who cannot discover cures. Our thinking was that we could have the soldier give his cards to the researcher but this proved less than optimal. Especially once he died.
Our scientist was helpful at times but generally underused. She has no relationships and no upgrades. In hindsight, the researcher and scientist should have been coworkers though character selection in the first couple games made this impossible for us (at least I think it did).
In general, I think character upgrades and relationships should be used to amplify given abilities and make a character a power house instead of mitigating character short comings. Characters should be developed for specific purposes, their given strengths should be amplified, and their limitations worked around.
Roadblocks were woefully underused. A couple of times I voted to roadblock an infected city entirely and then allow it to outbreak. My team voted me down. It occurs to me that once the coda color is selected and certainly by the time the faded figures emerge a group could decide to quarantine the proper continents. For us, coda was blue and while the disease never spread to the east many black and yellow cities became faded. The spread of the faded cities made the mid game very difficult, and the end game very easy as essentially half the board was vaccinated by the end of our first game in December. With twelve roadblocks made permanent we could have isolated the blue territories from the rest of the world. If coda were red the faded could be kept in check with six permanent roadblocks. Every strategy has trade offs of course.
Overall, the experience was very positive. You need a committed group of people to get the most out of the game. I had to work at restraining my "alpha gamer" tendencies as I had trouble resisting the urge to tell my team mates what I thought they should do. And I was often wrong as the decision trees were frequently over whelming and could change so drastically with the flip of a single card. We found ourselves discussing strategy for a half hour after set up but before starting the game. Character selection and objective priority was the source of constant discussion. A couple of times we had to talk over a loss for fifteen minutes or so to learn from our mistakes. It could be difficult to talk about our choices without assigning blame. But it was helpful.
Thanks for reading my write up. I am very interested in your experiences and play strategies and will check back to this thread regularly to see what others have to say. My group and I are going to take a break for a month or so but Season 2 is likely in our future.