Can you survive the end of the world? – Pandemic

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to another instalment of A Roll of the Dice, I am your reviewer, Adam. Today we will be reviewing one of the most popular games over recent years, Pandemic. Now Pandemic was The Comic Hunters number one seller from 2013, and was still in the top ten of 2014, which does show that there is a lot of staying power. People seem to have taken well to an amazing game, and to be honest it is not a surprise.

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Today we will of course go over the design of the game, the replay value, and the fun factor that this game contains. So strap yourself in, and prepare to be taken to a world where life can end with the flip of a card. What will you do when the walls are caving in, and you have to make that last second decision that could mean death for the entire planet? Let’s find out!

Now, with every review I do want to go over some of the rules. I do not want to bore you with going over every tiny detail, especially since you will be going to The Comic Hunter and buying the game, right? Of course you will! There are some basic rules you should know before making the purchase, and hopefully it will make things a bit easier to decide on.

The first big thing that should be known is that there is more than one way to lose this game, but there is only one way to win it. The first way to lose the game is by getting too many outbreaks, which happens if a city has three disease blocks on it and you draw the card to put another. This will not only increase the outbreak counter, but it will spread the disease to every one of the connecting cities. Thus making the game harder to win. So getting eight infections means that the game ends as the disease is uncontrollable. The second way to lose is by running out of one of the diseases coloured blocks. The blocks come in four colours, blue, red, black, and yellow. If you place all of one of the colours on the board, you lose the game. So the game really stacks the odds against you, but you’d have to imagine it would be like really battling four diseases at once. Pretty darn terrible odds.

Now I know what you’re thinking at this point, at least things can’t get any worse. Well in fact they can, and they will. The best part of the game for difficulties sake, but worst for the stress level it can bring, is the Epidemic! cards. This card makes you immediately explode the next city you draw, which gives it three blocks, and causes you to draw more cards progressively as you get more Epidemic! cards. Now, depending on your comfort level, you can start with only two, three or four Epidemic! cards, but for hardcore mode, you want to put all six into the deck. It is sheer madness by the time you hit six, and can bring a grown man to his knees.

At this point I feel we should go over how to win, so that you know it is a possibility. The ways to win? All you have to do is to cure, and clear, all of the diseases on the board. How is this possible in a game that ravages you so bad sometimes? One word, teamwork. If you want to survive, you have to rely on your team just as much as yourself, because each character you can pick has special abilities. These include being able to fly any other player to any spot on the map, or curing a disease with only four cards of that colour instead of five. These abilities allow you to make plans for how to defeat the disease, and when used properly, can get you that hard fought win.

So as mentioned, to cure a disease normally, you need to collect five cards of one colour. This would mean five city cards which belong in the area that specific disease is attacking. Once you have the needed cards, you need to travel to a research facility and cure the disease. Now each person gets four action points a turn, and that can do a lot or a little, depending on how your team has set up the map. Moving one space, curing one block, curing a disease, placing a research facility, and making a trade (when on the same city) all count as one of your action points. So you need to plan wisely, so not to blow an opportunity to survive.

This should give you a lot of information needed to look into the game, so lets jump into the actual review of the dynamics!

Design : 8

Now, I do not want people to see this and think it is bad, or that I am being harsh on the design of this game. I honestly like the board design, and the card design for the most part. I just feel for a game of this magnitude, there should have been a bit more effort in the small things, such as the disease blocks storage. A simple idea I found on-line showed a player storing each block set in a Petri dish, which I think is an amazing idea based on what the item is supposed to represent. It does come in a baggy, and they are just plain coloured blocks, which doesn’t so much bother me. It takes the simplistic ideal much too far when you look at the rest of the board though.

The board is pretty intricate, and looks just like a map of course, but the line work and city icons keep the simple style of the game, but make the game fairly straight forward. I love the look of the board, and the size is perfect for what it is. The cards have a lot of details, while maintaining a non cluttered feel. I can say pretty much everything is simplistic, but it works for this game. They wanted the focus to be on game play and not on the specific design of any one component.

Overall the design is a good one. They managed to hit all the marks they were aiming for, all while giving you the feeling of dread for what will be coming next.

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Replay Value : 9

I am happy to be able to say that the main factor I love about this game is its constantly evolving game style. People definitely think they have a strategy to win every time, but I have yet to see one that works. There is a lot of strategy involved in this game, but also a lot of luck which can make things just as surprising the first time as it will be the tenth. Making sure that you plan five steps ahead, but doing so while making sure that you will not lose the game in the mean time because of it, are key factors. The diseases growing in all different ways, and the fact that there is a few different playable characters, which means you can create so many combinations of characters that it adds it own dynamic to the game play. Lastly the ability to add or subtract Epidemic! cards to the game also adds a huge dynamic. So why don’t we see what each factor really does to change the game each time.

Let’s start with the diseases, which really feel like they are their own character, since they grow so rapidly, and move along with the end of each persons turn. The disease spreads by drawing cards at the start of each turn, the amount of which will go up as more Epidemic! cards  are drawn. This causes each city drawn to add another block. Once it hits four, BOOM! This will raise your outbreak counter, which only goes to eight. Sounds high, but it most definitely is not. So this is constantly evolving all on its own.

Next is the mixture of characters you get to choose from. This really adds to the level of comfort, but also adds to the frustration. I say this because there is so many good talents, that leaving any of them out really hurts the team. You have to make sure to have the right mixture based on the group who are playing. You do not want to miss out on the perks of instant travel, or clearing an entire city of all disease in just one action point. Each character adds a lot to the game, and you will quickly find your favourite person to control. Everyone has one, and usually it ends in a hardcore game of rock, paper, scissors or a coin flip to decide who gets them.

The final piece of the replay value puzzle, is the Epidemic! cards that you add to the draw deck. You split the deck into equal parts in the beginning of the game, based on how many Epidemic! cards you want to put into play. If you want an easier game to possibly win, then just put in three, as you will not get destroyed so often with exploding diseases. If you think you are the greatest doctor in the world, and no disease can stand in your way, then you should put in the full six cards. Now in a normal game, the difference between three horrible cards and six horrible cards is not that significant, but in Pandemic, it can cause you to lose friends. So many friends… I would recommend starting with three, and working your way up to six.

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Fun Factor : 9

There is so many things about this game that are fun, but the one I have to start with is the ability to name the diseases. Have you ever wished you had the power to create your own disease? Me either, until I played this game and knew that creation of the name was one of the top concerns. We would actually debate which names worked better, because a killer disease named Rob didn’t seem to work for everyone at the table. The one thing I will say, is that one of your diseases will almost always be a Zombie Virus or the T-Virus. The rest are up to the imagination. We’ve had everything from kitten pox, to Scandinavian Smallpox. The joy of seeing what people come up with is a lot of the fun in the start up portion of the game.

The next aspect of pandemic is the constantly evolving game play. There is no one strategy that will work every time you play the game, and it will make you come up with strategies on the fly. Each time you play the game, the deck will start in a different order, which will cause the world to grow the diseases differently. This is turn will cause the players to change their moves based on it. So, as you are all thinking, it is a basic strategy game. The main difference between this game and most other strategy games, is that there is no planning for all outcomes. When you think you know what is going on or what is coming, everything blows up in your face. Team work is needed in this game, as in-group arguing can cost you the game.

The only negative part I feel this game brings is that there always seems to be one person who thinks so far ahead, they start to try and control the movements of all of the other players. Team work is needed, and honestly it can ruin a game when one person dominates the others, dictating their moves. Now I do not blame the game for this, because it is that one person who does it every time, and the group needs to make the choice to make their own moves. So if I could just ask every one of you to do me one favour. Do not be that guy/girl who becomes the Pandemic dictator, be the team player who helps save the world. None of us want to watch Kim Jong Un save the world, I would rather be turned into a zombie with a bite to the face.


Final Thoughts

Pandemic is an amazing strategy game, which is really fun to play with a small group of people. It is a must own for any group that loves working together to accomplish a common goal, and you should hop into your local Comic Hunter to pick up a copy today. If they don’t have one, order one. It is one of the better games I’ve purchased in recent years, and I have never regretted the money spent. It has far been outweighed by the amount of sheer fun I have had playing, and mostly losing, this game.

Tune in next time, when I will be reviewing Gloom. A card based game which involves a lot of storytelling, imagination, and a group who loves being very creative. This has been A Roll of the Dice, may your dice roll true!

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