Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Perplexing Pandemic: Disease-fighting game is co-operative, but frustratingly hard to win

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Pandemic is a Euro-style board game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games. Unlike most board games, it is played co-operatively with a team of two to four players.

The concept of Pandemic may seem somewhat macabre. Four virulent diseases have broken out in the world and your team must struggle to discover cures and eradicate the separate strains before humankind is completely wiped out.

Each player takes on the identity of a disease-fighting specialist such as Scientist, Medic or Operations Expert. Players must strategize together and use their special character strengths to tackle the outbreaks.

For example, the Operations Manager can set up free Research Stations and the Scientist needs one fewer card to discover cures.

There is only one way to win Pandemic -- you must discover a cure for all four diseases. But there are multiple ways to lose Pandemic. If you run out of Player cards -- you lose. If you run out of disease cubes -- you lose. If more than seven outbreaks occur -- you lose. So it's no surprise that Pandemic is an extremely difficult game to win.

In co-operative board games, the sense of challenge is provided not by player-to-player competition, but by ever-increasing obstacles created by random card draws. In Pandemic, each game round creates outbreaks that grow exponentially. Your team will scurry around the world map, rushing to prevent diseases from turning into outbreaks while simultaneously trying to research and distribute cures.

It takes between 30 to 60 minutes to play an average game of Pandemic. The gameplay is fast-paced and a great deal of fun. However, the high difficulty of achieving victory is very frustrating. The first evening that my friends and I played Pandemic, we easily lost 75 per cent of our games.

Co-operative board games are a great idea; they encourage communication and camaraderie. They also prevent those nasty situations where overly competitive friends run amok and hurt feelings result. For that reason, it's tempting to give Pandemic a higher rating. But the gameplay is insanely difficult -- and continuously losing at a game does reduce its enjoyment as party entertainment.

There is one expansion pack available for Pandemic: On the Brink ($29.99). It provides new event cards, new role cards and rules for a five-player game. On the Brink also provides new game rule options, such as the Virulent Strain challenge, to make the game harder. If only there were optional game rules to make Pandemic a bit less challenging.

 

Danishka Esterhazy is a screenwriter, film director and self-confessed video game addict. She prefers games with a story but will settle for a good sword fight.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 c16

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About Danishka Esterhazy

Danishka Esterhazy is a screenwriter, film director and self-confessed video game addict. She prefers games with a story but will settle for a good sword fight.

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