Board Game Review

An impossible task! (Pandemic)


Pandemic is my partner’s favourite game. And to be fair, it’s definitely one I enjoy a lot.. but it isn’t without its faults!

In case you’re not up to date with what Pandemic is…

  • The objective is to cure the world of 4 diseases; blue, red, yellow and black.
  • It is 100% cooperative and relies heavily on that fact. In a multiplayer game, you either all lose or win.
  • You play on a world map which you gradually add more coloured infection cubes to, dependent on what colour the city it.
  • Each turn, cards are drawn from a city deck to make up a players hand and an infection deck to add further cubes to the set cities.
  • As a team, you need to collect 5 city cards of one colour and get to a “Research station” to cure that disease, preventing more additions of cubes for the most part.
  • Cities can only hold 3 infection cubes.. add more and you have an outbreak!
  • Each player plays a different random role with a different ability.
  • Players can trade cards if they meet particular character placement requirements.
  • Players lose when there are not enough cubes to place, if you have 8 outbreaks, or if there are no more city cards available.

Pandemic was the first game I purchased for myself. Prior to this I’d relied on my friends vast collection and a regular meet up. However, when I moved from my home city, pandemic was the only game I owned for a while and was therefore my only method of feeding the gaming addiction.

Pandemic is not an easy game to beat. You can be awful until the last card and lose by the skin of your teeth, or you can play excellently up until you get an outbreak, which causes another outbreak, which causes the entire West coast of the continent of Europe to be caked in blue cubes. What’s more is you can adjust the difficulty based on how many epidemic cards you add into the deck of player cards. More epidemics; more random infections and quicker spread. Although you can still have 4 players playing the easiest difficult and still lose before having your 3rd turn. It can be completely unpredictable.

My first memory of playing Pandemic once myself and my partner understood the rules was a win. We cleared the board systematically, cured blue by trading cards, prevented an epidemic in the blue area because we had eradicated the disease completely, and went on to easily cure the other three. At this point, we thought we were the business. This game was easy! Medium difficulty? Bah! We ate medium difficulty for breakfast! We needed the challenge! We wanted more of a challenge. We upped the ante andwe didn’t win for a long time after that! Our win was down to luck of the draw. I was the scientist, meaning I only needed 4 cards to cure a disease, and my partner was the medic, meaning for one action she could remove all cubes instead of just one. In hind sight, it was practically a guaranteed win from the outset.

Let me tell you about memorable game number two… This was a four player game, meaning more abilities and man power to manage the diseases. Because we were teaching our friends the rules, we started out on the easiest difficulty and kept it simple. Our friends caught on fast and we were able to make good progress, discussing our moves and planning what we would do on our turns. The beautiful thing about Pandemic is that your turn is less yours and more the next collective decision, going rogue doesn’t bode well for the team’s success and can land you in pretty hot water! This game was one of few occasions where no one went solo and every turn was discussed. We’d cured yellow, were tackling blue and had black ready to sort out. Red was managed but steadily refilling. The issue we had was that every time an epidemic card was drawn, all previously drawn cards that infected cities were shuffled and added to the top of the infection deck! And the red cities were abundant and in constant flow…

Now you know we lost, that’s a given. But the way we lost is what shows how quickly this game can turn on you! Thinking we were doing well, a disease cured and two ready to cure, and only 3 outbreaks, we moved a player from the red continent towards the research station to try and go for the end game. After their turn we turned over the first infection card. It was an epidemic, meaning we had to add three cubes to the city at the bottom of the infection deck, then we had to shuffle the cards of the previously infected cities and add them to the top of the infection deck. Not a problem. We added three cubes to Hong Kong and got on with it; we’d maintained the cubes well throughout red and had 2 cubes on only 4 cities. We continued anyway and drew the second necessary city card, and, beggars belief, another epidemic! To say there were only so many of them, the odds should have been in our favour.. but somehow it still happened! We then infected another bottom city; Ho Chi Min city. At this point we began to sweat. Only HCM city was in the previously infected cities, meaning it got added to the top of its respective deck. Then we needed infect 4 cities. The first one was of course HCM. So it was an outbreak. This meant we needed to add a cube to all cities linked to it. Being linked, we needed to also infect Hong king by one… which we couldn’t. Hong Kong had an outbreak too, causing Bangkok to do so, and Manila, and Taipei, and Shanghai. 5 outbreaks. Even if we had continued, against the rules, chances are Hong Kong would have appeared again and taken us out once more! We went from dominating to dominated. It’s fair to say we chose not to play again that evening.

Pros

  1. Completely cooperative, everyone plays their part and no one can sit on the sidelines
  2. Difficult enough to make it fun
  3. Choice of difficulty
  4. Easy to pick up
  5. Lots of variations with the expansions, including 1 vs all

Cons

  1. Unpredictable and unfair at times
  2. A game can last 3 turns or 20 based on the draw of the cards
  3. The easiest difficulty can take you out faster than the hardest if the cards don’t agree with you.
  4. Some player characters are tremendously overpowered and unbalanced, and some combinations of other players are outright useless