Pandemic: The Race for the Cube Cure
Like my last review, I won’t be going over the rules of the game. Suffice to say that in Pandemic you draw cards and try to make collections among the different players to stave of the outbreak of viruses (multi-colored cubes). It is all about the game plan you and your friends devise as different areas of the board become “infected.”
The game component quality is certainly there but I would say they missed an opportunity to make the Virus blocks a distinct feature. Maybe they could have made the virus tokens be the cardboard chits that are used to increase Outbreak level and Infection rate? Maybe something like these...
I know, the cubes are very distinct, but I think this game could benefit from the more BIOHAZARD feel that I’m not really getting a lot from with the cubes. That, and the fact that the pawns are HUGE compared to the rest of the board (I understand smaller pawns were released in the “On The Brink” expansion) are my only component gripes. Good job, Z-man!
Now, for the meat and potatoes of the game, I’m a little on the fence because some of the things I am probably not okay with are what others love about it.
Being that this is a cooperative game, I expect a level of “we are on the same team and come up with a plan to complete X mission.” Pandemic, however, is all about that plan, sticking to the plan, and not wavering from it for the entire 45-60 minutes you are playing the game. There is no “Well, what if I go over here and heal some random city and see what happens?” Likely, you will be yelled at by whomever you are playing with for making the team lose.
I guess this is my biggest gripe about the game. I feel like there never really IS a choice in anything that you are doing. I suppose that is part of the tension of the game, needing to go over and do an action because you will likely die the next turn if you don’t. However, that makes your choice to do it… not a choice. In co-op games like Battlestar Galactica, I have a decent amount of choices as to whether or not I should shoot at enemy ships, try to find out who the enemies on the ship are, go repair damaged ships; all different choices that are all important to everyone’s survival in the game. I just don’t feel like you have that in Pandemic. The necessity to do a certain action at a certain time is always upon you.
Being that 2 different decks of cards solely drive the game, you are at their mercy much of the time. All of my wins or losses have not really been due to a bad strategy (I feel) or anything, but what ended up being the next cards in the Infection Deck. This deck will have you swearing at it. Much of your success happens due to a favorable card order after an Epidemic strikes (Epidemic is a card that reorders and redistributes all the infection cards that have already been played). You will say “please, God, just don’t let that next card be (insert city you really need to NOT have come up in the deck).” Many times you will be spared, other times you will get screwed over BIG TIME.
It is obvious that I have some qualms with the game, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like Pandemic. It is a fine game and I enjoy trying to contain outbreaks by working with others on solving the problems at hand. If you really enjoy games where you are trying to figure out a changing puzzle with a group of your friends (not that I can think of a whole lot of games that do it like Pandemic), this is definitely the game for you.
Cards and variables change throughout the game and there is a constant tension to make it to the next important move, which can certainly be entertaining.
However, I view it as an action movie with too much action; there just isn’t a good pacing to it. I like a game where I can take a deep breath once in a while instead of HAVING to do a certain thing because I am going to lose and upset everyone else in the game. My “choices” have been deliberated with the other players so they are not so much choices as consensus. Since I own and am best at the game in my group, I basically tell everyone else what to do on their turns because they expect me to know what is the best move; I don’t want to play the game for everyone else.
Nearing the end of the game, when you know you are about to win, there just seems to be this, “oh…. was that it?” type feeling. You might as well not even play that last player’s turn; you know that you won. I just feel like in a game of all this tension and buildup and trying to ward off wave after wave of bad things, it just feels a little unsatisfying at the end. I’m not expecting a stripper to pop out of a cake or anything, I just don’t feel the experience was worth my time nearly enough. Maybe that’s just me.
I’ve hopefully given you a good impression of what you can come to expect from Pandemic. I’m sure some people love some of the things that irk me in the game, so I hope I was descriptive enough to clue you in on if you like certain feelings to pop up during your games. Moreover, I hope you enjoyed reading it.
While I totally agree with the rest of your points, I don't find that success in Pandemic has to do with following any plan. Indeed, I think one of the results of the too-much-action syndrome is that any planning is often spoiled by a need to handle strategic, immediate, concerns before you're wiped out, at the cost of your well-thought-out plan. If you find your teammates are not giving you options, I think it may be in part due to a lack of creativity, unwillingness to work as a team, or recognition of varying needs/options on their part. I find that at any given juncture, 4 times out of 5 on any given turn there are many choices to be made as to deciding which major issue is most necessary to be handled at the moment, and due to the randomness inherent in the game it's totally up in the air as to which decision would be the best.
As such, I've never played a game where there weren't regularly lots of different choices and options for most players. As with many games, perhaps even more so with cooperative games, who you play with makes a big difference. And I think you're spot on with your other issues, but perhaps a different group of players who recognize more of the different ways to be successful might help you with your feeling of lack of individual choices.
That said, this is and will always be one of my favorite games and the randomness and other issues you cite don't really decrease my enjoyment of the game any, as I think many of them are inherent in the design of the game, and any 'fix' would basically be redesigning the game completely. I do appreciate the additional variety of roles and the smaller pawns that come with the expansion.
Thanks for helping me get a handle on why this game doesn't grab me. Arkham Horror is one of my favorite games, but somehow Pandemic doesn't give me that same feeling of individuality within the team. Sure, I have a "special ability", but I don't feel like a person, and those cubes don't feel like diseases. It's just a bit too abstract and impersonal for my taste. It's a well-designed game, but not, I think, destined to be one of my go-to games.