Talking Boardgames: Pandemic
Pandemic is a cooperative boardgame designed by Matt Leacock and published here in Germany by Pegasus Spiele. With three different settings of difficulty and a strict cooperative victory or loss for all players, it separates itself from most other boardgames. Of course there are other cooperative games out there but it is still a niche in game-mechanics.
Each player takes on the role of a member of the CDC, the international agency for the control of diseases, in combating the simultaneous outbreak of four different pandemics on a global scale. This story is supplemented greatly by the games mechanics. Every player has a set number of moves and all randomness in the game is the result of some clever card-drawing mechanics including the re-shuffle of one of the stacks. Players travel around the globe to dampen the diseases’ effects in hot-spots, all the while trying to coordinate themselves towards finding the cure for each type of pandemic.
Interestingly, every player draws a specialized role in the beginning of the game, giving each player a unique special ability that can make or break the team. There are combinations of player classes that are better for victory than others but they are pretty well balanced overall.
Every time a player is done with their turn, they draw cards as to where the next spots of outbreaks are. If they draw an epidemic-card, a counter is raised (eventually leading to a loss of the game) and the cards already drawn in this fashion are re-shuffled and put back on top of the stack. This is a very clever mechanic as it leads to the same places producing new outbreaks frequently (and more than 3 “blocks” of disease in the same city are nearly always disastrous), while also scaling the difficulty directly towards the number of players present. The sickness spreads with each players actions, so in theory, the number of players is not all too relevant. Except it is. The more players you have, the more likely it is that you have roles in the game that are beneficial with each other and the more likely it is that you can get the cards of one color gathered together for one player to find a cure for one of the diseases.
The girlfriend and I have found that, while this game works well with two players, it is more fun with three or four. The difficulty can be adapted, depending on the number of epidemic-cards mixed into the disease-stack, so it is possible to start with new players in a less frustrating difficulty and ramp it up once everyone knows what they’re doing.
The risk with cooperative games is usually that one player becomes the boss and just tells everyone else, what to do, basically making the other players supplements in his or her own single-player game. That is, of course, not a shortcoming of the game, but of the group of players. If you’re the talking-all-the-time loudmouth like I am, you need to hold back a bit and let other people get themselves involved too. If you’re the quietly-passive co-conspirator kind of player, you need to speak up a little. Cooperative games, after all, are like Fight Club: You decide your level of involvement.
There is an expansion that makes one of the players a secret traitor (a bio-terrorist), but as I haven’t played it, I can’t say anything about that. However, I highly recommend Pandemic even as the base-game. Games are quick, rarely lasting more than 45 minutes, while they are fun and rather unpredictable. Plus a hard difficulty, which the game offers if you want it to, is a great thing when experienced with a group as a common antagonist, rather than something that gives one player an advantage. If you have a group of people in the right mindset, this is sure to bring a lot of enjoyment to the table.