Depending on your point of view, reviewing Pandemic at this point in time is either a really great idea or the worst idea ever. Given that excellent game Plague Inc – in which you control a disease with the ultimate goal of eradicating humankind – has recently been seeing record player numbers, I’m inclined to think it’s not such a bad idea to review Pandemic right now.
In any case, as a fan of the hugely popular tabletop game – designed by Matt Leacock and first published in 2008 – it was only a matter of time before I took a look at the digital adaptation.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the physical board game, Pandemic is a co-operative game in which players work together to cure four diseases before the titular pandemic happens. Each player takes the role of a specialist who has a unique special ability (such as the Medic being able to deal with a city’s disease using fewer actions or the Scientist having the ability to cure a disease using fewer cards, for example).
On each player’s turn, they have four actions which can be used any way they see fit; moving across the board, playing city cards in order to fly directly to another city regardless of how many spaces away it is, sharing cards with other players in the same space as the active player, treating a disease by removing a cube per action from the city the player is currently in, building a research station in a city or curing a disease entirely by playing five cards matching the colour of the disease.
The infection phase takes place when a player has used all of their actions and this results in more disease cubes being placed in cities across the globe. Too many in a single city will lead to an outbreak occurring, which can cause a devastating chain reaction occurring across the board.
Cure all four diseases and players win; losing, however, can occur in several ways – if more than seven disease outbreaks happen, if there are no more disease cubes of the type needed during the infection phase or if there are no more player cards to be drawn when needed.
Those are the basics in a nutshell; though it may seem a little complicated, in practice it’s a really fast moving, streamlined game that is quickly picked up by players of pretty much any level of experience. It’s a hugely satisfying game that always puts up a stiff challenge – and it always builds to a dramatic ending, which doesn’t often see the players triumph. When players do win, however, it’s a massive relief – and always feels earned.
The digital representation – with me having tried the Xbox One version, thanks to Game Pass – has been nicely implemented, but there’s a bit of a stumbling block in that there doesn’t seem to be a very comprehensive tutorial. This does of course give it a bit of a steep learning curve for players not yet familiar with the board game itself, but it’s not a difficult game to get your head around and the beginner level of the game does at least explain most of the basics.
Where it’s successful is in the same ways that digital representations of board games are always ahead of their cardboard counterparts – setup and takedown of the board isn’t something you have to worry about, and the tracking of various diseases, along with the – admittedly minimal – bookkeeping is all handled by the game, making it pretty quick to play through. The interface isn’t great and the view doesn’t show enough of the board, but thankfully the core Pandemic experience is still strong enough to make it a reasonably satisfying game to play.
Though not perfect, it’s also a great way to play Pandemic when you don’t have anyone to physically play with in the real world – a problem which is affecting many of us much more than usual at the moment.
So it’s a cautious recommendation for the digital version of Pandemic; thankfully, it’s part of Game Pass so isn’t one I’ve had to separately shell out for. It’s somewhat overpriced if purchased outside of a sale, certainly given its less-than-perfect implementation. A little disappointing, especially given how strong and perenially popular the board game is, but if you can overcome its flaws, you may still find a lot to like here.
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