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Pandemic, the game

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I've now played the cooperative boardgame Pandemic five times (all at the beginner level) and won twice.

When I first started talking about the game a few months ago, one person I mentioned it to got excited, and then was disappointed to learn that in this game you don't play diseases trying to destroy the world; instead, you take the role of researchers working to stop a pandemic. (There is a Flash game called Pandemic 2 in which you're a disease. It's kind of interesting, if you don't mind causing billions of deaths in a game, but nowhere near as good a game as the boardgame. And the two have no connection to each other as far as I know.)

For those unfamiliar with the boardgame, the players' cooperative goal is to discover cures for all four of the diseases that are spreading across the world map. It's a neat game, with a bunch of cool mechanics.

The rest of this entry contains some discussion of my experiences playing the game so far, along with some notes on strategies we've been developing. If you haven't played the game and don't want any suggestions about strategy, then you may want to skip the rest of this entry.


The first time I played was a four-player game with co-workers. We spent a lot of time running around trying to eradicate diseases—in this game, discovering a cure for a disease doesn't remove it from the board, and doesn't prevent it from continuing to spread. But if you discover a cure and then treat all existing instances of it, then it's eradicated, and it can't come back; after that, any infection cards featuring that disease are ignored.

But eradicating the diseases isn't the goal of the game; discovering cures is. You can win with all four diseases still widespread, as long as you find cures for them.

We didn't really get that the first time we played. So we tried to eradicate too many diseases, at the expense of not focusing on finding cures, and we lost.

The second and third times were with Kam and Greg L. Because of my previous experience, I emphasized repeatedly that the goal was not to eradicate the diseases but to cure them. So we didn't bother trying to eradicate anything. I also emphasized repeatedly that outbreaks (when the disease spreads from one city to another) were no big deal. And then we had several cascading outbreaks and lost the game, though it was fairly close.

The fourth time was a two-player game, just me and Kam. We happened to cure the blue disease only a few turns into the game, and since there were few blue disease cubes on the board, we went ahead and eradicated blue. And we worked on keeping the number of cubes per city below three, to avoid outbreaks. And we won!

Tonight, it was me and Kam and Rich. We had a huge influx of yellow at the start of the game, and we happened to be able to cure it fairly quickly, and because we knew a lot of it would be coming back, we went ahead and eradicated it. And there was a certain sense of triumph after that when yellow infection card after yellow card came up with no effect.

So . . . I think it does depend to a large degree on initial conditions, but I also think that given the right initial conditions, eradicating one disease early in the game can help tremendously. Also avoiding outbreaks where possible.

Anyway. Neat game. And I like the way that randomly picking "roles" (special powers), out of 5 possible, makes each game a little different, having to balance different capabilities within the general constraints of the same game. Since the game is for 2 to 4 players, you never get to use all 5 roles in a single game.

I think the cooperative strategy-finding could easily result in one or more players feeling left out or pushed around, but so far I've mostly been playing with people who are at least within the same order of magnitude of skill and interest in light strategy games, so it's worked pretty well.

But I think I probably still want to play a couple more games at beginner level (4 epidemics during the course of the game) before moving up to standard level (5 epidemics).

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Yes! We have been addicted to this game for the past few months. Best discovery since Settlers, way back when.


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