“Wait… You mean it’s all of us working together in a board game? I’m not trying to beat you? We’re trying to beat the game?”
This was mine and I’m sure many others’ initial reaction to one of the most popular gateway games out there. Pandemic from Z-Man Games is a co-operative game where players work together to cure four diseases that are spreading rapidly across the world. The game has gone over well with family and friends alike.
If you’ve never played Pandemic before (what on earth is wrong with you?!), players have four actions on their turn where they can move, cure and treat diseases around the world in order to win the game. After each turn of play, cards are drawn from the player deck, which will aid you in your fight against humanity. But also from the infection deck, which could potentially dash your hopes and dreams of saving the world. There are many ways to lose but only one way to win; cure ALL four diseases.
I remember heading to my friendly local game store (FLGS) Rules of Play in Cardiff to get my hands on a copy back in January of 2013 (when my love of this great hobby was growing exponentially). I had actually watched the game being played on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and knew that I just had to have it. This was actually my first visit to the store, which has since turned out to be my first of many! The game was being released later that week so I pre-ordered it with the lovely chap behind the counter and bought a different game to cure the itch for gaming (which will be one of the games I write about in the future I’m sure).
Once I got my hands on it, I got a group together, we played it… And lost… Miserably. We tried again the next time we met up and again lost horribly. This was a trend for around the first 8-10 plays! Everyone was enjoying it and it felt that every pathetic defeat spurred us on to make sure the next time we’d play it we’d eradicate those four diseases. That’s right. No mistake there. I meant to write eradicate there. After losing once again, with our play count well into double figures, I consulted the rules to see if we were doing everything correctly. Turns out we were making the game a lot more difficult than it needed to be. To win; players must CURE the four diseases, they DO NOT need to ERADICATE them to win.
Whoops. Big error on my part there being the games teacher. I took full responsibility for the mistake (of which I paid a big price in terms of verbal abuse don’t you worry lovely reader!) and felt terrible for not noticing it sooner. Now interestingly, amongst the first plays we had under the ‘Eradication Era’ we actually had a win under our belts! It’s because of this that made us believe we were playing it correctly, it’s just one extremely tough game to beat!
We played the game under the correct rules and we won… Easily. This took a lot of intimidation away from the game which we’d built up. Here’s the difficult co-op game that we’d won once in around fifteen plays. But now we’re unbeaten on the correct rules! Is it too easy? This was not a good start for the ‘Cures Era’ (not as catchy that name), we needed a hiatus from the game.
I’ve found this with a couple of games in my collection that having a break of a couple of weeks/months from a game is not necessarily a bad thing. It may sound bad, but it gives the sour feelings one may have toward a game an opportunity to filter out. You just need to promise yourself to give it another go when you’re ready.
What ended the hiatus? Pandemic: On the Brink. The expansion provided a breath of fresh air that was certainly needed. Virulent strains, Mutations, new roles and epidemic cards. The game was back with that little bit of added difficulty and variety with each play that kept us coming back. I would say if you’ve played Pandemic or own the game and haven’t experienced this expansion, this needs to be top of your board gaming agenda. Not too long after the release of On the Brink saw the announcement and arrival of the next expansion Pandemic: In the Lab. The expansion added a whole new board where players needed to manipulate the disease cubes they’ve collected in order to help them find the cure for a particular disease. Sounded thematic, and it was. We bought this upon release and have played it a few times. It’s good. Honest. But it takes away from the charm the original had and changes the core mechanism of curing a disease too much that it bogs down the fluency of the game play. Maybe it’s because of the sheer amount we’d played your basic Pandemic. Perhaps we were used to the fast paced turn taking. Whatever the reason this expansion didn’t hit it with us and sits on the shelf waiting.
I will also quickly mention that I have yet to play Pandemic: State of Emergency (the next expansion), Pandemic: The Cure (The dice version), Pandemic: Contagion (Where you play as the virus competitively) and Pandemic: Cthulu (Cthulu themed). Typing all that out has really emphasised the popularity of this franchise to me, I hope it comes across to you too!
While I haven’t played those implementations of the disease curing mega hit, I have had the pleasure of playing through what is arguably one of the best tabletop gaming experiences available; Pandemic: Legacy. I won’t be saying any spoilers here. I promise.
Pandemic Legacy is your basic Pandemic played out as if it were a movie or TV show. Each decision or mistake you make can have lasting consequences on your future plays of the game. Need I say more for you to go and get this game right now? Each game of it takes place over a month in game time with the whole game taking place over a year. Every game feels different to the last but not to the point where you’re no longer playing Pandemic. The variety sold the first expansion to me, the story sold this version to me. The game is currently sat at the number one ranked game position on Board Game Geek and, in my opinion, rightfully so. It is a single play through, meaning once you’re done with the game it’s complete and can no longer be played. But do not let that deter you from the most satisfying, exciting and memorable gaming sessions you’ll ever have. Plus there’s apparently more on the way. Awesome.
So there you have it. Pandemic has played a massive role in shaping me as a board gamer and it still sits on the shelves at home proudly. This is my girlfriend’s favourite game of all time and she’s played as many fantastic games as I have!