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Subject: Get Down with the Sickness rss

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Sheamus Parkes
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Pandemic is an excellent new release by the great guys at ZMan games. I've only gotten the chance to play it a couple times, but I thought that I'd go ahead and push out a review since it's such a new game. Some of my opinions may change with time, but I still think this is a great coop game.


Description


Pandemic is a true cooperative game. All the players are on the same side, squared off against the game system. Luckily, the "system" is so thematically rich it really feels like you're fighting the black plague.



The board is a world map with a series of connected cities. Each player takes control of a pawn that moves around the map treating diseases and researching cures. Disease cubes are initially seeded across the world, and more are added after every turn. The players can loose the game in many ways. They can lose if:

1. The player deck of cards runs out.
2. 8 Chain Reaction Outbreaks Happen (When a disease gets too intense in an area, bad Outbreaks occur.)
3. Any disease gets all of its cubes on the board.

The only way to win is to find the cure for all 4 diseases.



I must mention my absolute favorite mechanic real quick and then I'll leave you to read the rules book itself for the rest. There is an infection deck that players must draw from to spread the diseases across the board. When an epidemic is triggered, you must shuffle the already used infection cards and place them back on *top* of the infection deck. This means you know that the places already in trouble are about to take a pounding. I just love the title of this mechanic: "Intensify the Infection".


1. Analysis Paralysis / Downtime


Well, thus far I haven't really seen much downtime with the game. You do have some choices on your turn, but actually executing your actions is a really quick process. Also, the complexity of the rules is really very low. The cute little summary cards pretty much do a great job of laying out all of your options.



I found that your general decision was more of the "go to Asia and do damage control" or "meet up with Bob to share some knowledge" kind. It really didn't feel like "move over this link, remove this cube, move over this link, give Bob this card". When the decisions could be translated into thematically sound options, the choices were easier to make.


2. Multiplayer Solitaire / Player Interaction / (Competitive / Casual)


Well, it's a cooperative game. If Dave is an alpha male playing with 3 other introverts, you know what is going to happen. Dave is going to play the game and the other 3 are going to nod along. Truthfully, I'm dangerously close to the domineering alpha male variety. I have to make a conscious effort to not broadcast my opinions on every choice. It's very hard too when you know that everything your fellow players do effects your own chances of winning. I think this is the biggest pitfall of any cooperative game, and it's still very present in this game. Sure, you're not supposed to show your cards to each other, but that only goes so far preventing Dave from moving your pawn for you.

Now, the casual crowd should get a real kick out of this game. The moans & groans of watching the diseases spread is just a whole heck of a lot of fun. For the competitive crowd, you can actually scale the difficulty of the game pretty well. If you are the "Dave", you can even play it solitaire pretty well.


3. Skill / Luck / (Competitive / Casual)


I think this game has a *great* balance of skill and luck. There's always going to be luck involved when you're drawing random cards. At the same time, there is plenty of room for skill in this game. At the beginning of each game, each player will receive a random role selection that gives them a set of special abilities. Figuring out how to best utilize each special ability is really something that will take some time and experience. If that's not room enough for some skillful expansion, I don't know what is.



Still, I think you better at least have some casual gaming appreciation to really enjoy this game. There's room for skillful maneuvers, but it does appear that the game is just going to decide you die sometimes.


4. Runaway Leader / Effective Elimination / Catch-Up Mechanics / Score Obfuscation


Well, this category is a little odd in a cooperative environment. Let's just consider the competition to be between the players and the game. Does it provide a tense play environment where you feel like you are walking the tightrope between winning and losing? YES! I think it does a great job of having you hang on by a thread. Now, some games the players are just going to get plastered in 10-15 minutes. In another game that might be "Effective Elimination", but it pandemic, it just means you get to set the board up again.


5. Fiddliness / Elegance (Rules & Bits)


Wow. There are very few other games that more deserve the term "elegant" in description of both their rules and their bits. The rules are clear and concise. The only ambiguity might come up with the application of the special roles. You always walk the fine line of replayability versus approachability when you add rules breaking roles. I think Pandemic did a great job of staying firmly on the side of replayability.

The only complaint with the bits might be the scale of the board compared to the scale of the pawns. Those pawns are *HUGE*! It looks like "Monsters Menace America" when you set the board up. The "research stations" are also very large compared to the city spots.



Really though, the ease of explaining the game and the smoothness of moving the bits around during your turn is just awesome.


6. Theme / Enjoyment


Talk about the marriage of theme and mechanics. Pandemic did everything right here. You are the Center for Disease Control. The world really is coming to an end. It just does so many things right.

I already talked about the great "Intensify the Infection" mechanic. That one would be enough to firmly entrench the theme on it's own. On top of that though, there are many other smaller things. For one, you can only share knowledge (Exchange Cards) if you are both in the city listed on the card. Someone needs a set of 5 like colored cards to cure a disease. The color of the city matches the color of the corresponding card. This means you really need to get to the source of the disease on the board to be able to conduct research and share knowledge about the disease.

Also, if a disease is running rampant, the cards for the appropriate cities suddenly become vitally important. Those same cards need to be used to:

Fly to the infected cities.
Set up research centers there.
Cure the disease.

And you can only use each card once, so something is going to have to give. A lot of the special abilities let you get around the above restrictions, and the ability to use them appropriately is a lot of the skill of the game.

Overall, it's just a very fun game.


7. Tactical / Strategic


Well, most people may point out that there can't be much long term planning in a 30-45 minute game. For what it's worth, there does seem to be a good balance still. The long term plan *has* to be about curing 4 diseases. The short term plan could be a balance between containing the spread or furthering research or setting up transportation infrastructures.

Each turn can have it's own small plan, but you need to keep your eye on curing the diseases. Still, it is a 30-45 minute game.


8. Story Line / Multiple Paths to Victory


Well, it has Story Line a plenty. At the beginning the germs are just beginning to roil. By the end, you have up to 4 seething infections spreading across the globe. I don't think there's anyway you could mistake the early game for the end game.

Now, ironically, it doesn't have "Multiple Paths to Victory", but it sure has "Multiple Paths to Defeat", which almost works to the same goals. There are three distinct ways to lose the game, and they do all feel at least a little different. Depending how the diseases spread, they might threaten to defeat you in a different way each game.

At the same time, I've only played the game a handful of times, so I can't promise anything about long term replayability. In fact, I doubt anyone can at this point.


9. Approachability and Player Ranges


I feel the game is very approachable. The rules aren't complex and they make great thematic sense. You'll generally want to get multiple games in during a sitting, and I can promise everyone should have a solid understanding by the second game.

I've only player with the full compliment of 4 players, but I would imagine it would scale from 2-4 pretty well. The infection spreads at the same pace no matter the # of players. There could be less people to spread across the map, but each player sees a larger % of the player cards with less people. I imagine the solo game of controlling 2-3 players would be quite enjoyable as well. Just be careful about soloing it too much or you might become "Dominant Dave" when you go to play in a group again.


Conclusion



I think Pandemic is a most enjoyable marriage of theme and mechanics. It has a very short play time that screams "one more time". I've enjoyed all my plays so far, win or lose.

The only real downsides would be the "Dominant Dave" syndrome that can be a problem with any cooperative game. Additionally, replayability could be a question, but I don't think anyone can answer that any time soon.

If you get a chance to try Pandemic, I whole heartily recommend doing so.

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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk

Good review nonetheless.
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Sheamus Parkes
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stormseeker75 wrote:
You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk


Sorry! Here's some GG change to make up for it!
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Tim K.
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stormseeker75 wrote:
You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk

U snore U cry
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Mr. Frothingslosh
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I have to admit, I clicked on this session report FOR the title only.

Now I'm gonna have that song stuck in my head all afternoon (but that's a good thing!)

stormseeker75 wrote:
You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk

Good review nonetheless.
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John Fionte
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Great review! (And just when I thought my "game greed" had gotten to a manageable plateau.) shake

Oh, and a small tip for:
Best. Review. Title. EVAR.
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Houserule Jay
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Isamoor wrote:
At the same time, there is plenty of room for skill in this game. At the beginning of each game, each player will receive a random role selection that gives them a set of special abilities. Figuring out how to best utilize each special ability is really something that will take some time and experience. If that's not room enough for some skillful expansion, I don't know what is.


Hello and nice review. I would disagree with the above however, I found the strength of each role to be quite obvious and the timing of when to utilize them as well. Decisions are a little obvious in the game but there usually is more than one way to do things as well which generates good discussion and keeps it interesting for now. While replay might remain intact I suspect freshness factor to wear off early.

Still a good game and I think one that will make an outstanding Gateway game, a great game to hook non-gamers, easy to teach, fun to play, nice quick play time.

J
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John Fionte
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stormseeker75 wrote:
You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk

Good review nonetheless.


Steve, Fran Lebowitz once wrote:

"Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met."



But in the spirit of Sheamus's generosity, here's a small GG consolation prize!
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Sheamus Parkes
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cybrshaman wrote:
But in the spirit of Sheamus's generosity, here's a small GG consolation prize!


Weee!!! GG Circle Trade!
 
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Sheamus Parkes
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jayjonbeach wrote:
Hello and nice review. I would disagree with the above however, I found the strength of each role to be quite obvious and the timing of when to utilize them as well. Decisions are a little obvious in the game but there usually is more than one way to do things as well which generates good discussion and keeps it interesting for now. While replay might remain intact I suspect freshness factor to wear off early.

Still a good game and I think one that will make an outstanding Gateway game, a great game to hook non-gamers, easy to teach, fun to play, nice quick play time.

J


Fair enough. I could understand many of the roles being obvious to some players. I do suppose the medic and the scientist are pretty straight forward. I would imagine more of the replay value might come from the various combinations of roles. Either way, I imagine it's still far too soon to make anything other than speculations about it's longevity.

None the less, I do agree that it would make a great gateway game!
 
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Just call me Erik
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stormseeker75 wrote:
You suck! You stole my Pandemic review title! yuk

Good review nonetheless.


It's OK, I've considered designing games purely around a title.
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John Earles
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thumbsupthumbsup

 
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Karl Schwols
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Richard Cheese has a MUCH better version on U-Tube using Sylar from Heros.
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