Pandemic, from New York game publisher Z-Man games, proves that you can make a game out of anything, including viruses that threaten to wipe out the human race.
Players are thrust into the role of disease-fighters racing to stamp out multiple diseases before they balloon into epidemics. It’s you or the viruses, and believe me, the viruses ain’t going down without a fight.
Before the game starts, players (from two to four) randomly choose roles such as scientist, medic, operations expert and traffic dispatcher (oddly enough, probably the most powerful role). Each character has special abilities that allow them to cure disease, help other players cure disease, or move other players move to hotspots around the world.
And you’d better move fast, as the viruses spread from city to city. During each game turn, each player draws two cards. Each card has the name of a major city. Those two cities get a token belonging to one of four diseases (denoted by black, blue, green and yellow tokens) depending on which region of the world the city is located.
One measly virus token? A dose of Tamiflu should cure that! But after a while, the virus tokens accumulate, and then comes the bacterial kicker; once three disease tokens are in a city, then the disease spreads and adds additional tokens to nearby cities. If those adjacent cities suddenly accumulate three tokens, they spread the disease to adjacent cities…and so on…and so on. The Pandemic board looks like on Measles on Parade as an outbreak in Hong Kong spreads to Shanghai, which spreads to Beijiing, which spreads to Seoul…
When the number of outbreaks reaches eight, the viruses win (Pandemic is a cooperative game where all the players win or lose together). So players have to move fast. The problem is, they can either spend time curing a disease by collecting enough city cards of the right disease color (you need five cards for a cure, except for the Scientist, who only needs four), or you can travel to infected cities and remove virus tokens before they reach the dreaded three.
Pandemic isn’t a realistic simulation of disease contagion and cure. But it’s one of the most popular games in my local boardgaming. Perhaps because it’s so damn hard to win. The virus has been the victor in about 80 percent of the games I’ve seen. Let’s hope swine flu – or whatever the next pandemic will be – won’t be as tough.