First published in 2008, co-operative board game Pandemic has proven so popular that it has spawned numerous expansions, spin-offs and licensed adaptations (including a fantastic Star Wars game based on the Pandemic System, called simply Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we’ve had to deal with a genuinely terrifying – and ongoing – pandemic in the real world, the appetite for playing Pandemic the game in various forms doesn’t seem to have slowed down.

Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe is another spin off of the main game. It’s standalone, so you don’t need any other games in order to play it – but it can be combined with Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, which is a very similar, though not entirely identical, title that was published the year before this European themed edition.

So what’s the deal with the Hot Zone games?

They’re essentially simplified, smaller versions of the main Pandemic game, designed to be played in half an hour or so.

If you aren’t familiar with Pandemic, a brief overview would probably be helpful: players take on the roles of medical specialists (each with a special ability) who race around the world dealing with outbreaks of different diseases, trying to find the cure for each one in order to win.

Each player has a number of actions on each turn – these can be used to move, remove disease cubes from cities, share cards with other players, use said cards to travel to cities further than normal movement would allow and also use sets of coloured cards to cure diseases.

It’s an elegant, easy to learn and easy to teach system; in my opinion, it doesn’t need a great deal of time or effort to teach and play, so it might seem odd or unnecessary to have a smaller, cut down version of the main game.

Yet stripping the system down to its essentials and reducing the size of the map does make this a great game when time is short, especially if you need to teach the game to multiple people whose eyes tend to glaze over at being taught anything more complex than Monopoly.

The gameplay feels exactly like classic Pandemic, but it moves at a very fast pace and tends to be over pretty quickly indeed.

Extra cards are included in the box to add a tiny bit of extra challenge and the merest hint of more complexity; given how easily the game is usually beaten by players who may not even be familiar with classic Pandemic, these are a welcome addition to the overall package.

Combining the game with Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America should also provide some variety (especially as you can use the characters from that set with Europe or vice versa), but if you’re looking to make your Hot Zone game bigger or longer, you may as well just play the normal Pandemic game!

This is a very good, very welcoming introduction to both Pandemic and co-operative gaming that’s generally priced at a really low point. So it’s great for people who may be curious about the whole board game thing, but not so much that they want to sink loads of money into a game, just on the off chance that they’ll enjoy it.

Given the cheap price, it’s actually a real bargain; the components are sturdy, well designed and really thematic, with plenty in common with the much more expensive, bigger version of Pandemic.

If you already own Pandemic, Hot Zone – Europe is a difficult game to recommend; unless of course you’re looking for a quicker experience that’s no less satisfying than its bigger, older, more well known brother.

You can buy Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe from Amazon here.

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