Pandemic is a co-op based board game in which the group is tasked in treating and eliminating four diseases around the world before they become out of control. This seems simple enough until an Epidemic occurs filling the board with more disease tokens, and risking an outbreak spilling over to the point it looses the game for the players. This review although focuses on its iOS conversion, there are practically no differences in gameplay between board and app.
The game is built for 2-4 players (5 players with expansions) which starts with players picking roles between dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher or operations expert, each with their own abilities to help the team progress through the game. The players then begin in Atlanta, the real life location of the Centers of Disease Control and are given cards from the Player deck depending on how many are playing (2 players get 4 cards, 3 players 3 cards, 4 players 2 cards).
The game then moves to the Infection setup where the Infection deck is then shuffled and 3 cards are flipped over placing 3 disease cubes on each of those cities, 3 more cards are flipped placing 2 cubes in them and finally 3 more have 1 placed to make a total of 18 diseases in play. Each block of cities on the map has a set disease type, London for example has blue and Sydney has red. Depending on the cards you could end up with one disease not present during setup which can change the tempo of the game early on to a more focused play style then each player tackling one disease each.
Finally the Epidemic cards are added to the Infection deck, depending on the difficulty set this will be 4, 5 or 6 cards. If drawn these cards heavily hinder the players by increasing the Infection Rate Track, which controls how many cards the players will draw to infect each city at the end of each of their turns but also automatically adds 3 disease tokens to the city drawn from the bottom of the deck and reshuffle the discarded Infection cards on top of the Infection deck which then two are drawn increasing the chance the same cities are drawn again in the next few turns.
Outbreaks happen when there are 3 diseases in a city already, disease then ‘infects’ the adjoining cities with one disease cube, if that city already has 3 cubes it then chains to its adjoining cities with a chain reaction. Each Outbreak that happens fills the Outbreak Track once filled, the game ends and the players lose, the game also ends if no more disease cubes of that type can be played or a player cannot draw two cards from the player deck at the end of their turn.
Players have 4 actions during their turn which can either be a type of movement, such moving to the adjoining city, discarding a city card to fly to that point or moving between research labs. Other actions are treating one infection of the city they are in by removing one cube, building a research lab by discarding the current city card that player is in, trading the current city card with another player in the same city, or finally after obtaining 5 cities of the same colour and trade them in at a research lab to cure the disease of the same colour. At the end of their turn two player cards are drawn and cards from the infection deck are drawn dependent on the Infection Rate Track adding one disease per city drawn, and hoping not to draw an Epidemic.
Between the Outbreaks and Epidemics it does seem the deck is literally stacked against the players, Pandemic is a hard game to win. The way the players win is working as a team and using player cards effectively at times of need, like Airlift, which moves a player to any city or ‘One Quiet Night’ which skips the next Infection step, at critical times this is a powerful card. The player’s role also can be a great help during the game, for example the Medic removes all disease cubes from a city instead of one at a time, and the Scientist who only needs 4 cards of the same disease type to discover its cure, not the normal 5, this makes team composition at the start very important.
As stated the iOS app is basically a 1:1 conversion of the board game in terms of gameplay, the interface itself works extremely well displaying all information required such as remaining disease counts and both tracks at the top of the screen while having actions and player hands at the bottom. Tucked away in a pop out menu on the right our the players and cards they hold and on the left will show information of the role in play and both discard piles for both decks.
The rule book is complete and informative, plus during the game pop ups will appear explaining what is going on. Another useful feature by pressing on any location or play will automatically highlight itself on the map which can be dragged and zoomed to show as much as the map as you need. The animation quality with card flips and events as well as the music boost a pretty fine product overall.
The core product on the app is great however it lacks a few features, there is no online multiplayer aspect to the game limiting you to either solo play or pass and play, not that isn’t a real negative it’s just a preference, however this game doesn’t have an AI to it so solo play is strictly that. The game only has the first expansion, On the Brink, as an in app purchase however I would not recommend it as it lacks the core reason to buy, the Bio Terrorist and the Mutation card are missing from the pack.
Pandemic itself is a great, if not hard, co-op experience, as an app it’s not that bad as an ‘on the go’ portable version or if you just wish to try it out with friends before committing to the actual tabletop version, I would still recommend the board game as a whole. You can find the app for £4.99 on the iOS store and the board game retailing at £29.99 at any stockist.