Review: Pandemic 2013 / Designer: Matt Leacock / Publisher: Z-Man Games / Release Date: Out Now
One of the common criticisms of board games (usually by people who don’t know them very well) is that their competitive nature is unsuited for many social circles, especially families. Which is what you get when the only game you’ve ever played is something as bland (in every possible way) as Monopoly. What you need, then, is a nice game that requires cooperation and teamwork, possibly with a theme that everyone can get behind, and is fast paced enough to hold the attention of the dullest of wits. In Pandemic, you work together to prevent horrific diseases from wiping out mankind, which as themes go, is one that pretty much everyone can get into.
The mechanics of the game mean that each player has to make crucial choices every turn. Do they rush to one city in the hopes of slowing down the dread sniffles in one area? Or do they abandon that doomed land in order to team up with another player and perhaps cure the disease for good? Do they concentrate on Europe and hope that they can get to Asia in time to prevent further loss of life? A single poor choice can lose the game, but it’s a herculean task to predict what that choice may be. This also leads to fun discussions around the table; do we have the will to doom Paris in order to save the rest of Europe? Which let’s face it, is the sort of conversation only Hollywood actors and gamers ever have. Only through cooperation do the players have a hope of winning.
Each player picks up a different role, and each role has different useful skills. For example the dispatcher can get people round the board faster, the medic can deal with local outbreaks rapidly and the scientist can find the cure for the illnesses quicker than anyone else. Each turn, cards are drawn to see which city has been hit by which horrible thing. There are multiple diseases, and each one has to researched and cured separately. Cards also drive the research mechanics and other cards can add bonuses to play as well. Players can also build strategic research centres round the board, making it easier to get from one end of the world to the other, but this also costs resources that could be used elsewhere.
The game does survive repeated plays, but is best suited as the appetiser for an evening’s board game playing. At 45-minutes a game it’s a nice warm-up, but it becomes a little bit too routine if played three or four times in a row. It’s also crucial that players swap the various roles round between games otherwise the players can easily find themselves in a rut.
It’s also a solidly built game; the materials are all very durable, the board will last for ages and the box is pretty sturdy. All of which means you can pop it in your bag and take to a friend’s house without worrying that you’re going to break something, and it’ll survive the curiosity of a family pet or toddler. This is a fun game that has been steadily growing in popularity. The latest edition comes with very, very clear rules and a price tag of around £25, which makes it value for money, even if you only get to play it a couple of times. Highly recommended for everyone.