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Subject: What's up with Pandemic?? rss

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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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WHAT IS IT?

Pandemic is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, designed by Matt Leacock, published and distributed by Z-Man Games.


WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?

Each player represents a character among a scientific research team that is trying desperately to treat and cure four powerful diseases that are threatening to eliminate mankind.


WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?

Pandemic comes in a medium-sized box that includes a game board, 4 large (a bit too large, perhaps) player pawns, 4 disease cure markers, infection and outbreak markers, six wooden Research Stations, a nice easy-to-read and follow 8 page glossy rulebook, several cubes in 4 different colors, 2 decks of cards (Player Cards and Infection Cards), as well as 5 role cards and 4 player aid cards.




WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT?

To set up the game, each player is dealt one of the player roles and receives a number of Player Cards (which represent the different cities on the board, and include a few special ability cards). The diseases get a head start where three Infection Cards are drawn and three disease cubes are added to each of those cities, then three more cards are drawn with two cubes added to each city, then three more cards are drawn with one cube added to each city. A number of Epidemic cards are added to the Player Card deck (4 = easy game, 5 = normal game, 6 = very hard game), and all players begin with their pawns in Atlanta, where there is also a Research Station.



Each player's turn follows the same simple order...

1. Take up to 4 actions.
2. Draw 2 Player Cards.
3. Draw Infection Cards equal to the current Infection rate.


Of the 4 actions a player can make on their turn, the options are:

- Move from one city to a connecting city (costs one action per move).
- Discard a particular city card to "fly" to that city (costs one action).
- Discard the city card you are currently in to fly to any other city (costs one action).
- Move from a city with a research station to another city with a research station (costs one action).
- Build a Research Station by discarding the card of the city the player's pawn is located (costs one action).
- Treat a disease by removing cubes from the city where the player's pawn is located (costs one action per cube removed).
- Cure a disease by discarding 5 cards of particular disease's color while the player's pawn is located at a Research Station (costs one action).
- Trade a card with another player as long as both players are in the city of the traded card (costs one action).



The character roles are worth mentioning now, as each of them has a special ability which affects the above actions...

The Dispatcher can move another player's pawn on his turn, and can also move any player's pawn to a city occupied by any other player's pawn.

The Operations Expert can build a Research Station at any city where he is located, without having to discard (or hold) that city's card.

The Scientist only needs 4 of the same color's cards in order to cure a disease.

The Medic may remove all disease cubes in a city for only one action, instead of one action per cube.

The Researcher may give any card to another player (one action per card) when they are in the same location. It does not need to be the card matching the location.



Once a player has taken their 4 actions, they draw 2 Player Cards and add them to their hand (hand limit is 7, so players must discard if the limit is exceeded). Included in the Player Card deck are a few special cards, which can be played at any time during the game and do not cost an action to play. These include the following abilities; Airlift (fly any player to any city on the board); One Quiet Night (skip the Infection phase for one player's turn); Government Grant (add a Research Station to any city); Resilient Population (choose one Infection Card from the discard pile and remove it from the game); Forecast (look at the next six Infection Cards and reorder them however you choose).



So that's all good, but there are also some very, very bad cards in the Player Card deck... the Epidemic Cards. When an Epidemic Card is drawn, you take the Infection Card that is on the bottom of the Infection Card deck (to be sure of introducing a new infected city into the game) and add three cubes to it. The Infection rate also moves up one, and so after a few epidemics you will be drawing 3 and then 4 Infection Cards per turn. Yikes. And a really clever thing also happens here for an epidemic, where the Infection Card discard pile is shuffled and placed on top of the Infection Card deck. This is meant to intensify the game and it certainly works, because it means that all of the cards that are going to be coming right up again for Infection Card draws are cities that have already been infected to some degree. Double yikes.



Speaking of the Infection Cards, that is the last phase of the turn... You draw the number of Infection Cards equal to the current Infection Rate and add one cube to the city on each card.

Outbreak! A city can only hold three cubes of its own color. If a city with three cubes would receive another cube of its color, it causes an outbreak to occur whereby a cube is added to all surrounding cities (a fourth cube is not added to the original city). If any of the cities receiving outbreak cubes already has three cubes of that color, then an outbreak is also caused around that city. This can sometimes snowball with three or four outbreaks occuring at once, so it's important to treat cities with three cubes, especially if there are adjacent cities that also have three cubes. If the eighth outbreak occurs, the game ends in a loss for humanity and a joyous celebratory victory for the diseases.



Winning the Game To win the game, the team must cure all four diseases. Particular diseases can also be eradicated entirely if they have been cured and all of their color cubes have been removed from the game. The advantage of eradicating a disease is that all Infection Cards of that color now have no effect, offering some reprieve during the Infection phase. However, it should be noted that diseases need not be eradicated, only cured, in order to win, and spending too much time trying to eradicate a disease will likely take away from the focus needed to cure all four diseases.


WHAT TIME IS IT?

Pandemic has a built in timer... If the players haven't found all four cures by the time the Player Card deck runs out, they automatically lose. If that happens, the game will probably last about 45-60 minutes. But if you lose by reaching the maximum number of outbreaks, the game could be much shorter, even as quick as 15 minutes. The thing is, though... I can't imagine winning the game in less than 30 minutes, so if the game only takes 15 minutes, that's likely very bad news for humanity.


WHAT DO YOU CARE?

Pandemic is an infectious game, indeed. The fact that it seems very difficult to actually win against it (I'm currently 1-0 on the easy level but 0-5 on the normal level) makes it even more compelling to want to try again, and the short playing time makes it easy to crank out a few games in a row. It does a terrific job of capturing its theme and uses some brilliant mechanisms to illustrate aspects of the game, such as the Epidemic intensification.


WHAT ELSE?

Luck/strategy: This is a game that I think demands a good amount of randomness in order to convey the theme. However, it should be noted that outright luck in terms of how the cards come up will be a factor in at least some games. For one of the 4 player games I played there was a difficult concentration of cubes from the beginning, followed by an Epidemic card as the first Player Card drawn, which also affected that area. It seemed that regardless of what we did, we were doomed, and sure enough we reached 8 outbreaks before finding even one cure. Randomness and even luck can be a great thing in a game as long as you can deal with it or mitigate its effects (and I've often argued for that here on BGG), but there can be a sense of things being somewhat arbitrary with Pandemic in certain games, so no matter what you do, you just might not be able to win if the card draws turn up in a bad order. That being said, even if that happens, the game is still very entertaining. It's cool to see it play out, even when you might feel like you're doomed no matter what. I've read arguments against Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, complaining about the dice rolling and saying that there is little actual strategy involved, but the game's many proponents often describe how well that game plays and gives you the feel of a zombie movie, so even though to some extent you're just going through the motions, it can be very enthralling to see how it turns out and to be involved in the experience. Pandemic has that same kind of appeal in how it depicts its subject.

Mind you, there is a lot of tactical strategy in Pandemic... what areas to treat, how to best use your special abilities, where to meet up to trade cards, when/where to build a Research Station, etc. And for many games those choices will be crucial to whether you have a chance at all to win. But for some games the cards will just be in favor of the diseases and that's just how it will be. Accept that and you'll likely have a really fun time with the game.

Player numbers/roles: I've played Pandemic four times solo (using two and three roles), once with 2 players and three times with 4 players. Someone during one of the 4 player games suggested that the game would probably be easier with 4 characters involved because you can take advantage of 4 different special abilities. But I think it's actually balanced well to not have an advantage with any particular player number, because with a 4 player game, each character's turn will only come up half as often. In a 2 player game which includes the Medic, for example, you can have that Medic treating the heck out of trouble areas every other turn.

Some have complained about the Operations Expert being the weakest of the roles, and I would agree, though he can be put to good use by remembering that Research Stations are essentially like airports which players can travel between. Getting the Ops Expert to some key locations around the board where he builds Research Stations can be very beneficial to the cause. Otherwise, I would say that the other roles are all quite useful and there is the potential for some interesting pair-ups among the different roles.

Packaging/components

There have been some known errors in the components, where people are receiving two of one kind of card and not receiving another. That also happened to me. As expected, Zev from Z-Man was quick to send out the replacement. The pawns and Research Stations do seem a little bit big for the size of the board (or the board is a little too small), but I don't find that to be too much of a problem. I've played several times now and it's not like I was fighting for space at any time. The box design is strange, with an insert that seems meant to hold the cards but doesn't really begin to do that. The board received a slight nick/peal when bent back into shape the first time. And then there's the smell... yuk There can be something appealing about the 'new game smell', but Pandemic is an exception to that. This was a real stinker in that respect, and kind of unfortunate considering the nature of the game... as if there might be some kind of mutant disease packed into the box.



But all that being said, the packaging does little or nothing to detract from the game itself, which is excellent. And at a preorder price of only $22.95, it will really turn out to be an incredible deal considering how often it's likely to get played.

Solitaire or co-op? I am surprised that the game was listed as playable by 2-4 and not 1-4, because it plays terrifically well as a solo game. But the distinct advantage of playing it with more people is exactly that... you're playing it with more people. It's a great shared experience and the added input of other people's thinking can provide for other options and possibilities than one person is likely to consider.

I keep reading about the danger of a dominant player dictating everything to meeker players in co-op games. Of course that's a possibility with any co-op game, and Pandemic is no exception. I guess I'm lucky in that I haven't experienced that with my game group. I think that as long as all players know the game reasonably well (it's quite easy to learn) they can feel comfortable to accept suggestions and then confident enough to do whatever they think is best. And basically, if you're that kind of domineering co-op jerk player... don't be. Part of the challenge and fun of playing co-op games is that the other players' choices are adding to the uncertainty. Let them make their choices and roll with them. If things don't work out and you lose, so what? It's not like it's the end of the- er, well, it's how you play the game... yeah, let's go with that for this one.


Grudunza's rating: 9/10
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Steve Wessels
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Grudunza wrote:


Pandemic is an infectious game, indeed. The fact that it seems very difficult to actually win against it (I'm currently 1-0 on the easy level but 0-5 on the normal level) makes it even more compelling to want to try again, and the short playing time makes it easy to crank out a few games in a row. It does a terrific job of capturing its theme and uses some brilliant mechanisms to illustrate aspects of the game, such as the Epidemic intensification.



Well said and great pun. The game really does have that high repeat play feel. I've only won once so far, but have come very close many times. And yea, we keep playing at the easy level.
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Robert Ehlers
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Great review, thank you for putting it together so nicely. I played this game for the first time today and its definitely one of the best cooperative games overall that I've played. It does seem fairly well balanced, with a nice mechanism for increasing/decreasing the difficulty.
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Robert Rossney
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I know it's possible to win in 15 minutes because we did it in a three-player game just the other night. But we were in a hurry because the store was closing; our race against the clock happened while we were racing against the clock.

You probably know this, but in your Outbreak section you say that each city can have only three cubes, and that's not so: each city can have only three cubes of any given color. If Los Angeles has three yellow cubes in it and the blue plague spreads into it from San Francisco, that doesn't cause an outbreak.
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McDog
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Wow, that's one of the best reviews I've seen. You did miss something though. You stated each player chooses a role...actually they are dealt to each player so they have no choice in what role they recieve.
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John Hilla
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Grudunza wrote:
And then there's the smell... There can be something appealing about the 'new game smell', but Pandemic is the exception to that. This was a real stinker in that respect, and kind of unfortunate considering the nature of the game... as if there might be some kind of mutant disease packed into the box.


lol ... You're totally right! When I slipped the box cover off for the first time, my cat, who had been sitting nearby, ran for the hills! While I unpunched the components and checked everything out, holding my own nose, she sat a healthy distance away, glaring at the box as if it had just punched her in the snout ...

Great review, though. Game looks great, even if it smells bad, and I'm looking forward to my first play soon.
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Yoki Erdtman
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Great review, I'm dying to get my hands on this game. I liked the format of your review quite a bit Eric.
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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Rastak wrote:
Wow, that's one of the best reviews I've seen. You did miss something though. You stated each player chooses a role...actually they are dealt to each player so they have no choice in what role they recieve.


Actually, I said each player chooses a role randomly, but yeah, "chooses" was the wrong word to use there. Then again, you could certainly choose your roles if you wanted to (I've done that already and it hasn't helped me win!), though the rules don't explicitly say that. I'll change that, regardless.

John, my cat is actually fascinated by the smell of Pandemic. He's always been intrigued by board game boxes and their bits, but this one he's really adamant about investigating and getting into when I've got it open to play. I'm using that as an excuse for why I keep losing against the game... I'm too distracted from chasing away my cat.
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Dave Simpson
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Thanks for the review - great job.

It's nice to see the special cards talked about here, as I'd not seen them shown elsewhere - it wasn't clear what they were from the rulebook pdf file. I'm not sure that they'll help humanity too much though, as from the buzz on this game, it seems the game kicks your arse an awful lot!

I'm just hoping my copy arrives before the weekend....
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Garcian Smith
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Just got my copy of Pandemic. That smell really does rank!

One thing I noticed is that the board doesn't unfold completely flat. It sort of props up in the center. Hopefully this will be a hit as Shadows was!
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Revelade wrote:
Just got my copy of Pandemic. That smell really does rank!

One thing I noticed is that the board doesn't unfold completely flat. It sort of props up in the center. Hopefully this will be a hit as Shadows was!


Mine unfolded flat, except when I was packing it up by refolding it part of the paper ripped off the board (less than a centimeter). I wish Zev made the board of a better material considering how important it is to the game(the same material the box is made out of I'd like, that thing is like a tank).

Also, I've had a lot of problems with the cubes. At least 6 of my cubes are deformed in some way, either a small chip, or missing half of the entire block. I'm thinking about contacting Zev for a replacement, as sometimes they don't lay flat and move around because of it.
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Jim McCarty
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Your review is excellent. It describes the game very well. My group played 2 games during our last session.

We lost the first game soblue as we worked out the rules.

We won the second game meeple as our strategy came together. We won on the very last turn before the research deck would be exhausted. Our biggest lesson in the second game was learning to balance containment with research rather than concentrating on removing cube.

One of my concerns was that one or two players would dominate the game, but in our group everyone worked well together and participated.

I think the game duration is perfect. Both of our games were between 45 and 60 minutes. That time is perfect for maintaining excitement and tension.
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Nate Owens
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I enjoyed my first game of Pandemic. The short playing time was especially appreciated.

Having only played once, I was a little annoyed at the nature of the "bad" cards. I probably would have appreciated having more choice as to what bad thing happened. Of course, I might just be comparing it to Shadows Over Camelot, which isn't really fair. I'd like to play Pandemic again to get a better feel for it.
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San Il Defanso wrote:
I enjoyed my first game of Pandemic. The short playing time was especially appreciated.

Having only played once, I was a little annoyed at the nature of the "bad" cards. I probably would have appreciated having more choice as to what bad thing happened. Of course, I might just be comparing it to Shadows Over Camelot, which isn't really fair. I'd like to play Pandemic again to get a better feel for it.


How would you thematically reconcile being able to choose what bad thing happens to you?

-MMM
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Will
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Great review, I think this is going on my wishlist now
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When playing Pandemic you get the feeling that you should beat the game quite easily, but with the disease being able to spread after every single players turn it can very easily get out of hand, I like this fact. Making the best laid plans obselete by the time they get to player 3 or 4. It almost seems victory is in your grasp when either theres an outbreak or time slips away from you. After the first game you will want to play again because you know you can surely beat it this time.
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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Octavian wrote:
San Il Defanso wrote:
I enjoyed my first game of Pandemic. The short playing time was especially appreciated.

Having only played once, I was a little annoyed at the nature of the "bad" cards. I probably would have appreciated having more choice as to what bad thing happened. Of course, I might just be comparing it to Shadows Over Camelot, which isn't really fair. I'd like to play Pandemic again to get a better feel for it.


How would you thematically reconcile being able to choose what bad thing happens to you?

-MMM


People choose to get married, don't they?
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Matt Castro
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Quote:
People choose to get married, don't they?
I find this comment pessimistic and sad; please remove it.
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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nomadseifer wrote:
Quote:
People choose to get married, don't they?
I find this comment pessimistic and sad;


I agree. Meant to be more snarky than nasty, I'm sure, but still... shake
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Accidental Rob
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Annnnnyhow, to get this back on topic.

What's with the smell? It's terrible! I'm guessing it's a varnish or glue used in the packaging and / or game elements. Regardless, it's pretty nasty. gulp

I played my first game last night and except for a slight oversight in the rules that made the game much easier than it should have been, I quite enjoyed it. I have not had any problems (yet) with the board, cards or pieces.
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Ruairi O'Suilleabhain
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Great review.

I picked this game up on Saturday on a whim to be honest, and have played it only twice, but there's something about it that really struck a chord. It's safe to say that I love this game. You can never have enough under-an-hour quick moving games, and this is one of the best! I particularly like the balance in it, and the reshuffling of the already infected cities is a neat mechanism for the epidemic.

Sweet game, glad I got it!
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Gordon Adams
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Fantastic ! Solo ? Even better.
I received my copy today and will start saving the world tomorrow !
 
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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Yup, just control 2-4 of the roles yourself, which is easy enough to do. Enjoy!
 
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Ely Games Day
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I've got the 2nd edition and it didn't smell a bit when I opened it

PS I *think* it's the 2nd ed - I can't work out any way of telling them apart except that the box insert is different to the picture in this review
 
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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elygamesday wrote:
I've got the 2nd edition and it didn't smell a bit when I opened it

PS I *think* it's the 2nd ed - I can't work out any way of telling them apart except that the box insert is different to the picture in this review


Are the research centers long and rectangular, or just little square houses? If they are little square houses, it's the 2nd edition. Also, the pawns are smaller in the 2nd edition.
 
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