Board Game Review: Pandemic

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Maria here again! Today’s post is the last of my “Top 5 Games” series. I hemmed and hawed over whether I would do it, too. If you haven’t noticed, the game Pandemic pulled a Jumanji and now we’re living it. But I decided that I would be remiss if I did not include it, as it was the first modern board game and it really reignited my love for board games.

If you’re curious, the other four games in the series are:

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In my first blog post for Brandon, I talked the games that formed my childhood. What I didn’t discuss was the fact that I also played a lot of videogames as a kid.

Sure, I still don’t consider myself a “gamer” in the video realm. But I knew my way around our Nintendo 64 back in the day!

The reason I bring this up is because it was one of the ways that I hung out with my brother. From kids in the basement to “adults” in college – we would always play co-operative video games, regardless of where we lived. Despite the hefty price tag, I forked over $50 a year for Xbox Live so I could play Halo with my brother and even Call of Duty with a friend stationed in South Korea.  I LOVE co-operative games.

To me, Pandemic was the first time I was getting to have that videogame co-op experience without a screen. And that, my friends, is why I decided to still talk about this game.

Sadly, I do not know when I will actually be able to play the game without it feeling “too soon.” Even still, it would have almost been disrespectful to the game creators to not include it in my Top 5 games.

Objective

The same thing we do every game. Try to take over the world! Oh wait, that’s something else. No, the objective is actually to try to SAVE the world by curing 4 diseases. You have to do this before either running out of city player cards, having more 8 or more outbreaks, or running out of disease cubes for a specific color.

Gameplay Overview

I’m going to do my best to describe the game play as succinctly as possible, but if you want to read the 8 page rulebook, you can read it here.

The general idea of the game is that each player has a character role that has a unique skillset. Players work together moving from city to city trying to both clear infection cubes and collect enough city cards of specific colors to cure that color infection. Players get these city cards at the end of each turn where they draw cards. What also happens every turn (well, almost every turn) is the Infection Stage where city cards are drawn that are now considered newly infected.

A city can only hold 3 infection cubes of the same color at the same time, so if another infection of that color occurs in that city, then it causes an outbreak where any surrounding city with a connecting line to the infected one will get the same infection.

This is what we would call a “game over” situation.

Take the above picture as an example. If any one of those cities with 3 cubes of the same color gets drawn again, it will set off a chain reaction of outbreaks. If Karachi gets pulled, then it would cause an outbreak into Tehran, Delhi, Mumbai, Riyadh, and Baghdad. But, as you can see, The first three of those also have 3 black cubes, which means they also would have an outbreak. And it’s then just a vicious never-ending cycle.

While we are looking at the picture, let’s go ahead and look at Jakarta & Bangkok. See how they have black cubes instead of red? That’s because Chennai had an Outbreak which spread the black cubes into a red region. If this wasn’t such a disaster game setup, technically Jakarta and Bangkok could each have up to 3 red cubes as well as the black cube without an outbreak. Because remember – the outbreak only occurs if you have more than 3 of the same colored cube.

Why are outbreaks (and especially chain reaction outbreaks) so bad? Because each outbreak counts against your team, and if you hit 8 outbreaks in a game then you lose. And believe me, 8 can arrive before you even know it.

There is a bit more to the game, including hail mary cards and trading cards with your team members, but that’s why there is the rulebook (and YouTube)!

What I love

Co-Operation

To start off, this was my first co-operative board game which practically gave it an approved stamp in my book from the get go. Then, coupled with a shot of nostalgia and a vial of communication, this game got the MAP stamp of approval! Co-operative games aren’t for everyone (“but how do I win??” -My Dad), but I love the fact that they are a growing segment of the boardgame market.

Well Researched and Represented

If Michael Crichton were to create a board game, it would be this. Holy Tamole, this game is eerily accurate. I’m almost upset as to how accurate the game is because now I can’t play it!

I love the fact that players start in Atlanta, where the actual headquarters of the CDC is located.

The specific cities chosen to include on the board are beyond creepily accurate. I remember Brandon saying a few years ago “well, if there ever was a pandemic, these would be the cities that would get hit, and probably the direction it would travel”. Flash forward to this trash fire of a year and Matt Leacock was right. Probably the first time someone didn’t actually want to be right either. 

I also am digging the diversity represented in the game! It is a game that represents the entire world, and I think that the game developers did a great job in representing that in the role cards. As a woman, I loved seeing the Scientist, Researcher, AND Quarantine Specialist roles are all female characters.

Not to mention that the lead character on the box is a woman! The diversity in cultures represented also was so refreshing while making sense in the context of the game. And can we just talk about how the Medic is an army medic? And dreamy too. Don’t tell Brandon I said that. 

Replayability

My fear of playing the game set aside, this game has incredible replayability. Just like deck-building games, or even Settlers of Catan in a way, the fact that the board game is never the same is the perfect foundation for a multi-dimensional game. 

Another contributing element to the game’s replayability is the range in difficulties. I like that you can choose to have 4-6 epidemic cards in the game depending on the desired difficulty level (not going to lie, I’ve played with 3. Sometimes I just want to feel good about myself.)

Lastly, and somewhat tied to the second point, is the changing team members. There are 7 different roles, but you can only have up to 4 players play. Meaning, if you randomly select your roles then the game has even more changing variables.

Could Use Improvement

Game Setup

This is kind of a dumb thing to say that needs improvement, but I guess call me Custer. The game setup takes a hot minute, and the ability to lose takes way less time, so it is a real buzzkill to set the entire game up, lose within 5 moves, and then have to set the whole thing up again. Not even sure how this could be solved since the setup is part of what makes the game so replayable, but it is what it is. I never said I was rational!

Rulebook

Maybe it is the fact that I’m not a hobby gamer, but while this rulebook is better than the Terraforming Mars one, it still isn’t great. The fact that I was cheating for well over a year of playing the game, and didn’t find out how fully until another year after that (thanks app!) kind of proves that the rulebook needs some retuning.

I will admit, this linked rulebook is better than the one that came in my game. So, well done Z-Man Games, well done.

Preferred Game Mechanics
  • Dynamic character roles
  • Great art or colors
  • Incorporates a clicking noise
  • Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety 

BoardGameGeek: 7.6 out of 10

Victory! All Posts Have Been Made!

Congratulations! You have made it to the end of this post and have now officially read about my top 5 favorite games. I’ve got a few other board games that I really love and enjoy, but they don’t quite make the “favorite” tier.

Again, my name is Maria and this is the last post in a 5 post series where I break down my 5 favorite games as a non-gamer-who-likes-games. The other four games/post in the series are: Marrying Mr. Darcy, Terraforming Mars, Exit: The Game, and  Five Crowns. In this series, I also shared with everyone the games that formed my childhood, which you can read here.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post, and the series as a whole. If you liked it, great! I’ll probably be back again sometime with more post ideas to share in the future.

But for now? I think Brandon wants his blog back 😬


Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the sixth and final post in what was originally a five-part series!





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