PLAYlist 33: Pandemic (Anniversary Edition) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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PLAYlist 33: Pandemic (Anniversary Edition)

Jan 30, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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The term “gateway game” is lobbed about this hobby to describe anything that’s easy to learn and has an interesting hook. These games are usually simple enough not to scare off newcomers, and widely appealing enough (thematically, or aesthetically) that somebody who doesn’t normally play a lot of board games may actually want to give them a try. These are often games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and King of Tokyo. These are usually the games that serve as someone’s first step beyond oldies such as Monopoly and Scrabble and into the modern board gaming scene.  

I had a few gateway games: Dominion, Agricola, and Carcassonne were big ones.  If I had to blame any single one of them for eventually leading my bookshelves to groan under the weight of more than 100 game boxes, I might have to point a finger at Pandemic, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games.

A fully co-operative board game for two to four players, Pandemic pits a crack team of disease specialists against a quartet of rapidly-spreading viruses which threaten to eradicate all life on Earth. How are those for high stakes?

Picture this: it’s your turn, and you’re stationed in Algiers. North of you, there are reports of a contagion that’s spread from Germany all the way to St. Petersburg; to the west, your colleagues are doing all they can to stop a plague that started in Los Angeles from spreading into South America. Meanwhile an altogether different illness is cropping up and threatening to make its way south. Using all of your available resources for the turn, you manage to scramble cross-continent quick enough to suppress an outbreak in Lagos but oh, shoot, now Kinshasa is breaking out. And so is Jakarta. And so is London.

The biggest thing you’ll need to watch is that no disease grows beyond control in a single city. Once three of the same-colored disease cubes accumulate in one place, it’s at risk of spilling over into neighboring cities. In worst case scenarios this might trigger a chain reaction, with sickness spreading over borders and across continents at an even faster rate. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Working together is paramount in Pandemic. A player’s moves are so limited that they’re usually only able to accomplish one or two good things in a turn; at the end of each turn, you’ll draw cards that designate where the disease will spread or intensify. Imagine scrambling around trying to plug holes in a kiddie pool with your thumbs, only to see more holes pop open on the other side – you’re going to need your buddies’ thumbs, too.

You’re continuously hamstrung by logistics, and the main puzzle in Pandemic will be figuring out who is the best person to do what and where. Your decisions will occasionally be made easier by your characters’ abilities. At the beginning of a game you’ll each choose a specialist out of the available seven, allowing you to use an action to which no one else has access, or do something slightly better than your colleagues. The medic, for example, can clean up existing disease cubes at a more effective rate than his or her team-mates. The ever-useful scientist, on the other hand, can cure a disease with only four matching cards instead of five.

Pandemic’s other main puzzle comes in the form of hand management. At the end of your turn, before you draw cards to track the spread of disease, you’ll pull two cards from another deck. Most of these cards come in the four disease colors and match a city on the board. Collecting five cards of the same color allows you to cure the related disease; you’ll need to cure all four to win the game. But, those cards can be used for other useful purposes such as building a research station or flying across the globe. Because you have a hand limit of only seven cards this means hard decisions will need to be made. Do you hold on to the cards you have in desperate hopes that you’ll draw enough of a color to stop a virus, or do you spend it to do more good in the short term? Half the fun in Pandemic is arguing with your friends over which choice is the most wise or effective use of a resource.

Notice we said “most” of that deck is made up of colored city cards. You’ll also draw the occasional event card, which you can exchange for a powerful, one-time ability, such as canceling the spread of infection for a single turn. But on occasion (usually when you’re least prepared for it) you’ll draw a dreaded epidemic card, which drastically intensifies the amount of disease on the board and generally throws all of your well-laid plans into complete chaos. The game ends when you cure all four diseases (and win), or the deck runs out, a color of cubes runs out, or too many outbreaks have occurred (and you lose). In any scenario, Pandemic is a frantic race against a ticking clock.

A normal game of Pandemic takes less than an hour – or significantly less time, if you’re really unlucky. Thanks to the randomness of the shuffled decks, it is possible that sometimes you’ll just be hosed by bad luck. On the other hand, however, it means that every game will play out quite differently, as you’ll never know where disease will crop up next. Pandemic allows you to adjust the difficulty level by adding or subtracting from the number of epidemic cards you shuffle into the deck. On easy levels, an experienced group should usually pull off a win. At the higher difficulties, good luck – even a crack team of Pandemic pros might only win 25% of the time.

Pandemic is one of the most successful board games of the last decade for good reason. The design creates a sense of urgency that really gels with its theme. (You’re on a race to save the world, for crying out loud!) Plus, the cooperative element will often appeal to casual players who don’t enjoy uber-competitive experiences. (Everyone wins, or everyone loses.) It’s one of the rare games that’s stayed in my collection since the very beginning, and I’ve yet to grow tired of it. If we’re playing with someone new to board gaming, it’s going to be one of the first games I pull down off the shelf.

To celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary, Z-Man Games has released the super-deluxe Pandemic Anniversary Edition. Housed in a metal carrying case resembling a medkit, every component in the classic game has been upgraded to a far more luxurious quality than what came in the original box. The artwork has been reimagined, from the cards to the board itself (which itself is significantly larger than before.) The disease cubes have been changed from their old, translucent plastic to colored wood and come with plastic petri dishes to keep them separated. The biggest upgrade, however, is to the player tokens: where the regular edition uses plain, colored pawns, the Anniversary Edition has seven sculptured miniatures pre-stained to show off all of their details. Altogether, it’s a much more posh experience. The carrying case alone is very cool-looking, and even has hangers that allow it to be mounted on the wall, which would actually be a really neat addition to any game room. (True story: when my three-year-old first spotted me playing around with the Anniversary Edition, she fretted that I had a boo-boo – that’s how much it looks like a real first aid kit.)Pandemic Anniversary miniatures vs. their standard counterparts

The Anniversary Edition of Pandemic comes with an MSRP of $99.99, whereas the regular version retails at $39.99. Obviously if you’re new to the game or even board gaming in general, the latter is a great value at its low price and comes with our whole-hearted recommendation. If you’re already a big fan of Pandemic, or want to get a really nice gift for somebody who is, the Anniversary Edition is a major upgrade in almost every regard and lavish as all get-out. (There’s room for expansions in the metal box, in case you’re already invested in those.) Basically, we recommend you pick up the game at whichever price you’re more comfortable with – you can’t go wrong either way.

One more final, exciting thing about Pandemic is that it’s more than just a single game, but an entire board game franchise. The original game has spawned a steady stream of spin-offs, from the Lovecraft-themed Reign of Cthulhu to the newly-released Pandemic: Fall of Rome, each more than just a paint job but its own twist on the tried and true Pandemic gameplay. Our favorite is Pandemic Legacy, a campaign-style game in which each session permanently impacts how you’ll play future sessions. (Along the way you’ll be placing stickers on the map, writing on components and even ripping up cards – when you’re finished with it, the game won’t be playable again.) It adds a wild storyline to your game full of unexpected plot twists and rule changes that will turn the way you play upside-down. We can’t give any spoilers, but playing through Pandemic Legacy has all of the drama and excitement of your favorite TV series, and the experience is one of the most unforgettable you’ll ever have with your regular game group.

There are all sorts of nasty viruses which can (and will) kill people in a game of Pandemic. However, if you were to make assumptions based on pop music lyrics alone you’d probably believe that mankind’s leading cause of death isn’t disease or infection, but love, sweet love. Love is routinely deadly in songs: if the singer isn’t dying because they can’t be with someone, they’re usually dying because they love that person too much. Enjoy this quick playlist of songs about love making someone sick, uncomfortable, or straight up dead during your next game of Pandemic, and be careful out there this Valentine’s Day – clearly, lovin’ ain’t safe.

***

Previous PLAYlist columns: EverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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ninadordev
February 1st 2019
11:46pm

Say Thank You I Searching For Your Facts.Continuous it..!
Amal For Married Soon With Our Love

Raleigh Mechanic
February 6th 2019
6:52pm

Love Pandemic, I’ll definitely be picking up the anniversary edition.
Bill owner of Mobile Auto Repair Raleigh NC

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