During the wonderful weeks of the dreaded Ebola outbreak, my thoughts went back to a board game my gaming group always liked to play as a quick-fix for table-top gaming withdrawls, Pandemic. It is a game about fighting the global disease epidemics that occur on the board till you have eradicated them. It is a brilliant game and was my first experience with a fully realized Co-Operative board game–and one of first games in years to be advertised as such. In it, players take on personalities who work for the Center for Disease Control (CDC); banding together to eradicate the various diseases that have infected the globe. It is a fast paced game with so many ways for the players to to lose thus forcing them to pay attention to each others actions because one mistake could lead to massive epidemics! It’s also a lot of fun.
What? Diseases fun? I think so, and they are a blast to play around with. And if you love chuckin’ dice during your table-top experiences, then you’re gonna love diseases too!
With the popularity of the game Pandemic at an all-time high–never losing a space on the bestseller list–Z-Man Games have designed a dice version of the game, Pandemic: The Cure, which–in my opinion–is far better than the original board game. It’s faster paced too which is saying a lot because I have had sessions of the board game version last only 5 minutes due to too many Outbreaks occurring in the shortest space of time. The world ended in five minutes of the first outbreak of disease–it was a session record for shortest board game time ever! And we were proud–even though we lost! So if the board game can end this quickly, what chance do players have with an even faster paced dice version of it? Actually, the chances of lasting longer are better.
In Pandemic: The Cure players–like the board game–represent members of the CDC who are working together to find cures for the outbreaks of 4 different diseases–represented by colored customized dice–within the six continents of the world. After the initial set-up of the game, 12 dice are randomly taken from the dice pool of diseases and are rolled in order to start the game with a general infection of the world. The Continent Discs are numbered one through six with icons of dice with their pips showing to match the Disease Dice as to where in the world the infection has taken place. Once this is done, the first player is ready to take the first action of the game but with the help and advice of the other players in order to prevent the game from defeating them as a whole. A player–when it is their turn–does not have to heed the other players’ suggestions, or the positions of their pawns on the game table, but to do this could come at a very heavy cost. Pandemic: The Cure and its sister board game do not lend themselves to players who like to “go it alone”. So listen to those sitting around the table who are trying to help prevent a global epidemic of epic proportions because it is the only way you are going to win.
Every player represents a unique person from the CDC. They can be the Scientist, Researcher, Containment Specialist, Dispatcher, Medic, Generalist or the Contingency Planner and with these roles come Special Abilities which need to be used in conjunction in order to cure a disease found on the six Continent Discs. For example: the player using the Researcher can pass Samples of diseases to other players without having their pawn on the same Continent Disc as another player. The Containment Specialist has the ability to move one disease of every color–red, blue, yellow, black–to the Treatment Center if there are 3 or more dice representing a type of disease once the Containment Specialist enters a heavily infected Continent Disc. Furthermore, the players have their actions represented by Action Dice which, once rolled, will give them random actions to use in order to bring cures to the world. But like the CDC Character Cards with Special Abilities, the customized Action Dice are tailored to the CDC Character’s abilities with certain icons on the dice representing Actions only they can make during the game. This design within the game makes the game far more co-operative than most in my eyes because the unique Actions on the dice are exactly that–unique! What one CDC Character can do, others most definitely can not and if they are not involved in the game, you’ll have to use what the CDC Characters you’ve chosen for the game with what they have to offer as Special Abilities and unique Actions provided by their Action Dice pool. Not only does this make every game a different experience every time you play but guarantees a high game replay probability; making players come back for more.
To sum up the object of the game: the way the players can lose is if they move the Infection Rate marker to the end of its track, 8 Outbreaks occur over the course of the game session or if the Disease Dice pool can not provide enough dice for the number needed for an “Infect Regions” phase at the end of a player’s turn. The players win if they discover cures for all 4 diseases. And even though it seems an almost impossible task once you sit down with your gaming group and look at the set up of Pandemic: The Cure, there is one more component of the game to aid you and your CDC team to help you find the cures.
One of the game mechanics drawn from the board game version are the Event Cards which provide needed relief for the players when the situations on the Continent Discs look grim. As players roll the Disease dice for “Infect Regions”, one of the sides of the dice provides a Red Cross symbol which is taken from the pool and placed on the CDC Center Disc to be used to “pay” for Event Cards–triggering their helpful effects on the game. It would be unwise to overlook these cards–which is easy to do due to the fact your focus as a player is almost always on the Disease Dice occupying the Continent Discs. The amount of Disease Dice accumulating in the Treatment Center ring doesn’t help your concentration either because if you hit an Epidemic icon on the Infection Track, every single Disease die hanging out in the Treatment Center ring are re-rolled–along with the required Disease Dice noted on the Infection Track (3 – 5)–and redistributed amongst the Continent Discs. This can lead to multiple Outbreaks which draws you closer to losing your sanity and losing the game.
I love this game more than the board game version which is saying a lot because I love the original game upon which Pandemic: The Cure is based. What makes me go to this game over and over is the fact it lends itself to being a fantastic solitaire game even though it claims to be only for 2 – 5 players. This is understandable because it is designed to be a Co-Operative Dice game–meaning: more than one player. But, ironically, Co-Operative games lend themselves through their game mechanics to be excellent 1 player games and many other Co-Op games claim to be just that (Space Hulk: Death Angels–The Card Game comes to mind). The Disease dice also provide a flawless game of solitaire unlike its sibling board game version which uses colored wooden cubes to represent the diseases within the game and uses diceless game mechanics. Do not think for a second this is somehow Z-Man Games’ “Pandemic Yatzee” and will not be as challenging as the original you already have sitting on your shelf–no way! This is one of my favorite customized dice games to come along in a long time and I wish more gaming companies would use these mechanics in their game designs. From the look of a lot of games that have hit my local gaming store, customized dice games are on the rise and Pandemic: The Cure is one of the better ones.