Pandemic is the first board game I’ve played were you are actually not competing against other players but cooperating with them.
The setting of the game is that there is an outbreak of four different diseases, represented in four different colors: red, yellow, blue and black.
You play on a map of the world, where the positions are major cities in the world. These cities are connected by a number of edges forming a graph. The severity of outbreak of a disease is represented by colored plastic cubes. More cubes, means more severe outbreak.
One might perhaps look upon the cubes as a sort of abstraction of the number of people affected. Each player has a single plastic figure they control. They can move into an affected city and cure sick people.
Actions and Time Units
The way this works, reminds me of some turn based computer strategy games I’ve played in the past worked. E.g. in UFO Enemy Unknown, where I was first exposed to this, each character has a certain number of time units which can be spent doing a number of actions. An action could be moving to a spot. Moving further requires spending more time units. Drawing your gun would require some time units and so would firing a gun or taking cover.
Pandemic is similar, except this is a board game so the concept has to be simplified. You essentially have 4 time units each turn, and every action you perform takes 1 time unit. Examples of possible actions are:
- Moving to an adjacent city.
- Curing people in an infected city. This is represented by removing one plastic cube. So if you want to remove 3 blocks, that consumes 3 time units, and you can only perform one more action.
- Flying an airplane to another city. This lets you move far, but typically has constraints on where you go. It would usually require spending a resource.
There are also more specialized actions you can perform such as curing a disease or exchanging cards (resources).
A lot of games have some form of resource or asset. In monopoly you have deeds or money. In Catan you have timber, stone, grain etc which you can use to build towns and roads. In another recent game I’ve played, Cytosis, taking place inside a living cell, your resources are proteins, lipids, glucose etc which you use to build hormones or enzymes. The point is that a lot of games have resources that are quite concrete.
Pandemic resources in contrasts are abstract. You get game cards, which just like other games can be traded and utilized to build stuff. Except these cards don’t represent anything concrete. Each card has a city name on it and a color. The possible colors are the same as for the diseases.
However you use them like a resource in the game. Here are some examples of actions (one time unit) involving resource cards:
- Build a research centre in a city, by discarding/spending a game card with the same city name on it as the city you are located in. E.g. if you want to build a research centre in New York, you need to spend a New York game card, while your character is located in New York.
- Fly to any city on the map, even if it is not adjacent to your current location. To do so you need to spend a game card with the name of the city you are flying to, on it.
- Invent a cure for a disease. You can do that buy moving your character to a research centre and spending 5 cards of the same color. E.g. 5 red cards, invents a cure for the red disease.
How Disease Spreading is Modeled
I quite like how they abstracted the spreading of disease. Every turn you pick infection cards. Each card has the name of a city printed (just like the game cards). You add a disease cube for each card to the city shown on the card.
This simulates how disease can kind of pop up anywhere. Especially in the modern world with air travel.
They also model how disease can get out of control and swamp a place. If an infection card is picked for a city which already has 3 disease cubes, then you add a cube to every adjacent city instead. For any adjacent city with 3 cubes, you have to add one cube to its adjacent cities instead. Thus you can easily get a rippling effect, where disease spreads out from an epicenter and get out of control.
Since 3 disease cubes could cause an outbreak, your early strategy would naturally be to focus on cities with 3 cubes and reduce those to 0–2 cubes.
But to win the game you actually have to find a cure for all 5 diseases. Remember a cure if found by spending 5 cards of the same color as the disease you want to cure at a research centre.
This has an important other benefit you got to utilize. Once you got a cure, it just takes one action (1 time unit) to remove all cubes in one city. Thus you can rapidly rid cities with 3 cubes of their affliction.
It is very smart to focus on taking out all disease cubes of one color, because if you got a cure and manage to remove all cubes of that color, then the disease has become eradicated.
That is very handy, because it means infection cards of that same color can no longer add cubes to the board. Hence you never have to worry about that disease again.
What I’ve found when playing the game, is that you don’t have all that much time. You cannot wait to get 5 cards of one color eventually handed out to you (each round each player gets handed 2 cards). Rather you have to coordinate with other players to meet up and exchange cards.
This actually requires a bit of planning, since a card can only be exchanged in the city printed on the card. Hence for each card, two players wishing to exchange that card, has to make sure they meet in that city.