An easy cooperative game called Pandemic. Sounds pretty straight forward. Great title. It pretty much sums it up. All of us play some kind of doctors/scientists trying to save the world from an apocalyptic outbreak. Fun topic! A casual, quick game good for mixed company. We were going to play after dinner. We have a family of 5. The 12 year old girl always tries to weasel out of playing. Pandemic gave her an easy excuse. Only 4 players! What? Is that right? Seems like there should be more possible… Being as how this is such an easy, casual game, it should be easier to get more players lined up. Seems like this should be made playable for 6-8 players. It could be a good after dinner party game if it was. Only 4 players kind of limits its application.
Playing time is listed as 45 min. That sounds about right if you know what you are doing. We opened it up after dinner. Nobody knew anything about how to play. Two of us sorted through the rules while the other two cleaned up the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, we were ready to go. How long did it take us? I think we spent a total of 2 hours. Half of that was spent reading the rules and trying to figure out what to do. I think we could have hit the target if we knew the game. I like games that play in the stated time. Going over didn’t bother me with this because 2 hours is still a good time range for an after dinner game. If we did know the game, we could have played 2 games in a couple of hours. That would have made for a nice evening too.
Box nice but a little on the small side. Seems sturdy. Nice insert. Generic plastic cubes and pawns. I was worried about the clear see through color. It seems to work with the dark colored map. No miniature pieces. The board is nice but a little on the small side too. I guess it has to be fit in the box, right? Several decks of cards.
Full color, full size glossy rules. 8 pages! I was a little worried about that at first. We pulled this out as a casual game after dinner. I thought, “oh no. I hope this isn’t going to take awhile.” Most of the pages are full of graphics, space and examples. Not too bad to figure out on the fly. The graphics look nice but I’m used to underlining and highlighting things in rules. It makes it quicker for me to find the things I always need to look up. Can’t do that with this full color format. I guess they could ‘highlight’ those areas in the book for me in print but how do they know what I always forget? I’m probably being too picky here. Just my pet peeve!
I was very curious to see how the cooperative games work. I love the idea. I haven’t actually played many. This sounds like a well suited topic. Everybody plays to stop disease from destroying the world! What could be better?
Each player gets a special ‘role’ card. That gives you special abilities. My character was a Dispatcher. Most players can only cure 1 disease cube at a time. The Medic can remove ALL cubes in the space. My ability was that I could move other players. That sounds good but it resulted in me sitting around most of the game doing nothing. I ‘moved’ the Medic around during my turn so that he could take out more stuff. It is more efficient for the team but not much fun for me… :/
So where does the conflict come in? If you aren’t ‘fighting’ each other, what do you do? You race to stop the pandemic? That felt more like bean counting to me. Not too exciting. Actually, most of the ‘conflict’ seemed to come from players arguing over what was the better move:
“You should move here.”
“It’s my turn, let me decide!”
“No, we are a team. Don’t do that. It’s not the best move.”
“Yes it is because I can do this.”
“No, you can’t do that. That’s why you should do this move.”
“Yes, I can! The rules say X.”
“No, the rules also say Y.”
…and so on. You get the idea.
Interesting isn’t it. We seek cooperative games so that we aren’t all destroying each other but in the end, it seems mostly boring. The most fun part of this game seemed to be ‘fighting’ each other over the optimal move for each turn. We still want to turn it into a conflict somehow. Is that human nature?
So what is the game? Where is the excitement? Were we worried about the spreading of the various infections? Not really. Pulling the infection cards felt more like getting your bills at the end of the month. Just more cubes we had to clear off next turn as we moved.
Mechanics – Under the Hood
So what do we do to win? To stand out? Maybe we all work together but how do I shine? Do I use my clever expertise to wipe out more of the disease quicker and save the world? Nah. I guess just
- come up with the better plan, then
- convince everybody else that ‘yours’ IS the best plan.
This game kind of reminded me of working in group projects in high school. It’s easy for some players to sit and coast through the game while 1 or 2 fight over who has the more perfect plan.
I was expecting the spread of disease to be exciting. Exponential. Instead it seemed rather linear. I expected this game to be more of a race to quickly stamp out disease when and if it popped up. If you don’t get it stamped out quickly it soon explodes!
This felt like the opposite. Disease starts everywhere! It slowly spreads while you slowly trim it back every turn. Kind of like watching the grass grow and then cutting it once in awhile.
Another mechanic that didn’t ‘feel’ right is how you win. You have to come up with a cure for all 4 diseases. To do this, 1 player needs to collect 5 cards for that disease. Just because you Cure the disease, it doesn’t go away. All the disease cubes are still on the board. They also continue to spread around the map as you pull infection cards. What?? I thought this was a mistake but we checked the rules later. That’s right.
This means it’s actually better to ignore the disease spread and just focus on collecting cards for all 4 cures. Then it’s game over, you win! As long as you don’t run out of disease cubes to place. Then it’s game over, you lose!
So really, you want to just keep the diseases trimmed back to size while you collect all cure cards. It seems more like players should be racing to totally stamp out a disease by getting rid of all the cubes. We may be wrong after just one playing but to us this game seems to boil down to: can you collect all the cards before the time runs out? Not particularly exciting.
What did this game do well? Nice production. Good components. Awesome game tile and idea. I love that it is easy to play, fast to learn. It is easy for casual players to jump in and learn. Not intimidating. Simple concepts to pick up. Kids could play this. I also greatly appreciate that it is a quick play. Refreshing.
I feel the design here could use a little work. I’d really like to see more players. That could really expand its options and therefore market. Pandemic! Sounds like it should be Exciting! I think with a few tweaks it could be. Players cooperate. Fine. Players still need a chance to create and express their own unique contribution to the game. It doesn’t feel like this game provides enough room for players to do that.
This game is a ‘savable’ franchise. With some re-working Z-Man could really knock a Pandemic out of the park. Can They Save This Game? I hope they do. It really has potential to become a classic and a gem of a game!
Summary / Conclusion
To be fair, I’m kind of a demanding old grump. Am I right? You be the judge. What do I know? I think this game sells very well. Lots of people love it. It is an award winning game! Excellent quality. Great company. Is it for you? If you are looking for a laid back, casual game that kids can easily jump in; fine. Are you an adrenaline junkie? You better BYOC. (bring your own coffee)