Monday, 13 June 2011

Pandemic: helping out with the homework

Sebastian is studying boardgames at school this week - a bit like falling off a log for him - and part of his homework was to choose a couple of boardgames he likes and write essays about them. I don't think his teacher really knows what she's letting herself in for! He nominated Pandemic and Fire & Axe as two of his favourites, prompting us to get them out (as the weather was doing a good impression of a monsoon) and have a play.

Pandemic was first up, and we got the four of us round the board to play. I'm not going to write an in-depth review of the game here, but I wanted to highlight a few aspects of the game that had not jumped out at me previously. It was a very, very close game, and went right down to the wire, with the fourth and final disease being cured in the last turn of the game - literally. It doesn't get much closer than that. Only Battlestar Galactica - which is probably in my top five at the moment - has the scope to regularly trot out a nail biting finish like this.

A few immediate impressions are in order.

1. You don't have to eradicate all four plagues, just find the cure. Eradicating one early in the game - we took out the yellow virus - is a big help, however.

2. Strategic placement of the research labs helps. We started with one in Atlanta, which you get for free in the beginning, but quickly established one in Istanbul to cover Europe and the Middle East, and then added one in Osaka later in the game.

3. If you have the operations guy on your team, he can build a lab as an action without having the requisite city card. This allowed us to build a lab in Paris in the dying round of the game and nail the blue virus. He is a useful person to have around.

4. We seemed to be lucky in that we avoided ANY outbreaks. Given you lose if you get to eight, this was VERY lucky. We came close on a couple of occasions, including in Essen where Sebastian had just removed three blue blocks the previous turn, and the rest of northern Europe was loaded up with triple stacks. That could have been very, very nasty.

5. Once you have the cure, you really need two people chasing the cured disease in a region to really stand a chance of eradicating it. We did this with yellow, including having the Nurse as one of them, and it worked!

6. Also once you have a cure, you can treat all the blocks from that plague in one action. Handy.

7. Keeping your Forecast card until later iin the game is a boon - it lets you rig the top six cards in the virus deck, which is helpful if some of them are viruses you have dealt with already.

I'm pretty sure we were playing it right. It has been a while since I played this, but luckily Sebastian remembered more of the rules than I did. Everyone had a blast playing this, and there was lots of shouting towards the end, which is always a good sign that tension is rising. His Nibs pronounced himself a fan of the co-op game over other types, so will have to bear that in mind for future purchases.

I just hope his teacher is not too shocked with a game about deadly viruses!

Next time: Fire & Axe.

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