Open Seat Gaming: Classic Callback: Pandemic
Welcome to Classic Callback, where this month Scott checks out some of the great games of the past so that new gamers can get a fresh look at what we think of them! This month, we're fighting diseases with Pandemic by Z-Man Games!
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Designer: Matt Leacock
Main Game Mechanisms: Hand management, Set collection, Cooperative, Action Points
Number of Players: 2 to 4 (1 to 5 with expansions)
Game Time: 45 minutes
The Game: Four diseases (or 5 with an expansion module) are running rampant through the world and it's up to your team to travel the world treating cities and racing to discover the cure for each disease before they overwhelm you or you run out of time.
Pandemic is a cooperative game played over several rounds. Each player turn consists of the following:
- Perform actions
- Draw cards
- Infect cities
The turn player performs up to 4 actions by default (some Roles provide free actions or additional actions) ranging from moving around the board, via boat, ferry, or by car/ferry, to treating disease, removing cubes from the board, to building research stations, allowing for quicker movement and the only places you can discover cures.
After the player is done with their actions they draw 2 cards from the player deck. These cards are mostly city cards used for traveling and discovering cures. There are also a few event cards mixed into the deck, as well as Epidemic cards. These are bad: when you draw one it increases the difficulty by quite a bit and there are a varying number in the deck based on which difficulty you're playing.
Finally, the payer infects new cities by drawing cards from the infection deck equal to the current infection rate (which moves up the track every time an Epidemic card is drawn). This step only adds 1 cube to each city drawn but can trigger outbreaks which are also bad. After this is done, the next player takes their turn.
Outbreaks happen anytime a city would be infected but the city already has 3 cubes of its disease color. Instead of adding a 4th cube, you add cubes to ALL adjacent cities (which can lead to chain reaction outbreaks if they already had 3 of that color as well). If too many outbreaks are triggered during the game, the players lose.
To win the game you need to discover the cure for all the diseases you're playing with (usually 4). You lose if: the player tries to draw from an empty deck of player cards, any color of cubes runs out and you need to place more of that color, or (as mentioned above) there are too many outbreaks.
Why It's Worth a Classic Callback:
It's Pretty Easy to Learn. The base actions and mechanics of the game are fairly straightforward, and the game is cooperative so the other people can help you out as you learn and play your first game. The complexity comes from the difficulty ramping up (which is usually fairly gradual) or from adding expansion modules (which are entirely optional). Pandemic remains a pretty good gateway game into the hobby.
It's Very Thematic. The theme of being a crack CDC team trying to save the world runs throughout everything you do. From unique roles to having actual city data (such as population) on the cards, it really feels like you're racing against time to save humanity.
Lots of Replayability. There are several expansions out for Pandemic now that have a plethora of modules you can add one of or mix and match to add several to your game, and each expansion also adds new Roles and event cards. Even just the base game has several difficulty levels you can choose from, and lots of Roles, to make games a different experience each time.
Who Won't Like Pandemic?
- If you are more of a competitive gamer and don't like cooperative games, Pandemic may not be for you. There is a module in one expansion that adds 1 vs all asymmetrical play, but otherwise it's a purely cooperative experience.
- If you don't like difficult games you may not like Pandemic. I've played it a LOT and my win rate is still less than 50% (even playing on the easiest difficulty most times).
- Since it's cooperative, the "game" runs all disease-adding functions and it's based on a randomized infection deck and Epidemic cards shuffled into the player deck. If you don't like the variance that random AIs can cause for board games then you may get frustrated with Pandemic.
Who Will Like Pandemic?
- Cooperative enthusiasts will like this game. Table talk and offering suggestions are allowed and welcome, though each player has the final say in what they do on their turn.
- Variable player powers provide somewhat asymmetrical play even when playing cooperatively. If you like not being a carbon copy of everyone else, Pandemic lets you be unique and have your own place in each game!
- Saving the world feels great! If you succeed at discovering cures for all the diseases, you can rejoice in the fact that you've saved mankind (at least until the next game).
Pandemic is one of my all-time favorite games, even though I don't get it to the table as often as I'd like. Have you played Pandemic? Do you have a favorite role or module? Let me know in the comments here or on social media!
Scott - The Solitary Meeple