Game Review: Pandemic

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Pandemic is a new board game for 1-4 players. The players take on the roles of field operatives for the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, as four simultaneous pandemics threaten global life and civilisation. It’s a collaborative game: either you find cures in time and everybody wins — or everybody loses. And it’s really exciting!

I recently learned the term “game fluff” from my old buddy and long-time Aard regular Akhorahil. The fluff is the story that hangs on the abstract framework of a games’ rules. In order to win a game, you need to understand and exploit the game mechanics (“to optimise”, in gamer parlance), not think too much about the fluff. Many classic games have little fluff (like chess) or none at all (like bridge, backgammon, dominoes and parcheesi/ludo/fia). But I have a weakness: I care more about the fluff than the mechanics, and I don’t like abstract games.

Pandemic’s game mechanics are elegant and innovative. But its fluff is full of holes if you start to think about it. Why are four CDC employees the only people in the world who seem interested in finding the cures? Why are at best two of them medical doctors? How come cures are often found by the team’s dispatcher and the guy who sets up their research stations? Why is it so hard to travel? Why are air tickets and crucial bits of scientific data represented by the same cards? Why does each infective agent tend to stay in a certain part of the world, so that an individual city is hardly ever hit by more than one of them?

But it’s a good game, nail-biting really, as you discuss among yourselves who goes where to whack-a-mole infected cities that threaten to break out, as you try to figure out a way to pass a card to a player who needs it, as any one of the several defeat endings starts to loom ahead. A ten-year-old can understand the rules. But even grown-up seasoned gamers will find it hard to win at Pandemic, simply because it’s fine-tuned to be hard. Importantly, when the end comes, it’s pretty abrupt, so you don’t have to suffer through long slow defeat. I grade Pandemic an 8 out of 10.

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Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    July 22, 2008

    can someone get a copy of this to Seed Central before the SciBling meeting/piss-up? I want to see a review by the various doctors and epidemiologists in the stable.

    No, actually I want to watch them play it.

  2. #2 SimonG
    July 22, 2008

    A slightly different take is Pandemic II at Crazy Monkey Games. (www.crazymonkeygames.com.) It’s a flash game where you “play” a pathogen and the objective is to wipe out the human race. :-)
    Not exactly tasteful, but quite entertaining.

  3. #3 megan
    July 22, 2008

    If you like fluff, have you tried Survival of the Witless? It’s all about trying impress the randomly selected tenure committee by publishing, holding great parties, being the right gender and class, etc…

    When my friends and I tried it, we spent far too much time trying to tear everyone else down, so no one ever got good enough to succeed.

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/3547

  4. #4 Martin R
    July 22, 2008

    Woah, sounds a little too realistic and close to my daily life, maybe. (-;

  5. #5 dominoman
    July 23, 2008

    Play domino with the stars

  6. #6 Maria Brumm
    July 23, 2008

    I played Survival of the Witless with a couple other grad school dropouts and a bitter adjunct, and all the fluff was really fun but it totally sucked as a game. Play just dragged on and on…