Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Board Game Review: Pandemic

I haven't had a chance to review a really good board game recently, but since we celebrated Christmas early, I'll probably have a few to review in the next couple of weeks. My D&D crew is pretty hip to board games out there.

Name: Pandemic
Creator: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Z-man Games
Players: 2-4
Game Setup: 5-10 minutes
Game Play: 30-60 minutes

Pandemic is a cooperative game where the players play against the board, much like Shadows over Camelot or Arkham Horror. The goal of the game is to find cures for 4 major diseases while controlling outbreaks around the world.  Characters take different roles that have special abilities and have to play to their strengths in order to succeed. Some very thoughtful mechanics make the game very interesting and each game different.

Wikipedia does a good job explaining the rules, however I do have the complaint that the writer of the article complains how complex the setup is.  If you have ever played games like Axis and Allies or Arkham Horror, then the setup of this game is a walk in the park.

Gameplay: 5/5
Matt Leacock did an amazing job with this game. On the surface, it looks like a complicated game. Below that, it actually is very easy to understand and play. Even below that, you see that Matt made some very intriguing design concepts that make the game difficult yet able to win.

Semi-scheduled Epidemic events shuffle the infection discard pile and put it on top of the infection deck. This mechanic ensures that the same cities keep getting infections throughout the game, with occasional new cities popping up. Unlike brutal games like Shadow over Camelot, the game has different difficult settings based on how many epidemic cards are in the player deck (4-6, 7 in the expansion). It's fun, everyone's useful, and the situation can shift quickly from everything's fine to game over.

This is by far one of the best games I have ever played, as far as mechanics go. It's not clunky and while you can get unlucky, you don't normally get screwed by random elements - you simply prepare for them or lose.

Balance - 5/5
Some games, especially cooperative games, are poorly scaled. Some are very easy to win (Arkham Horror sans expansions) and some are almost impossible to win (Doom, Shadows over Camelot). Pandemic's difficulty is scaled based on how many epidemic cards you use in the deck (4 for easy, 6 for hard). In the easy mode, you can make mistakes and still come out with a win, while in hard mode you will probably need next to perfect play with some luck to beat the game.

Fun - 4/5
This game can have you on the edge of your seat. We had one game where we went from looking good, having three of the four cures (you win when you have all four) to dead when we had a 5 chain outbreak. Even though you'll be working together, different people each have their objectives to keep the board in control based on their role. Each role is really well balanced, so you won't be sad playing an underpowered role.

Overall - 14/15
This game is a ton of fun. It takes very little time to learn and I can see it taking a long time to master. It doesn't take a long time to set up, it's not tedious, and you work together so people won't be walking away during other player's turns. Setup isn't overwhelming and playing multiple games in one sitting is common.

If you like cooperative board games, pick up Pandemic. If you like Pandemic and want more of it, pick up the expansion, "On the Brink."

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