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I will very likely contradict myself here, compared to what I’ve said elsewhere on this site.
Others have often said that you shouldn’t automatically assume that the top 100 (or 500, or 1000) games at BGG are the best games out there. Just because others have rated it highly, that doesn’t mean it will be the bee’s knees (archaic rhyming reference meaning really good) for you. For me, Pandemic is a shining example of that line of thought.
What’s Not to Like about Pandemic?
Where do I begin?
Let’s start with the basic premise of the game. There are lots (or at least, four) really bad diseases in the world. If you and your associates don’t get a handle on them soon, everyone will die.
There are 3 ways this game can end badly and only 1 way for you to win. I understand there has to be a challenge, but these odds are really stacked against you from the start.
And again, if you don’t win (i.e. cure all 4 diseases) everyone hypothetically dies! That doesn’t sound like fun. In other games, if I lose, it most likely just means that I didn’t get as many points as the winner because I didn’t place my workers optimally or spend my resources wisely.
No one “dies”.
Then there’s the concept of a cooperative game. This is a game where you and your fellow gamers work together to beat the game itself before time runs out (and everyone dies).
I must admit that I’ve only played Pandemic one time. That’s usually not enough to write a decent review. But I’ve played my fair share and more of other games, so I know I’m right when I come across a game I don’t like (and probably never will), even if it’s after just one play.
Pandemic is not fun when one or two more experienced players on your team run the whole show. It’s true that, as the better players, they have a good handle on what the less experienced players should or should not do. But it’s got to be really hard for them to hold their tongues when they see an obvious blunder about to happen. I don’t fault them for that because, if they don’t speak up, they’ll probably lose the game. Pandemic is very unforgiving.
This is probably one of the reasons that the Pandemic rule book states the following.
Players should freely give each other advice. Let everyone offer opinions and ideas. However, the player whose turn it is decides what to do.
With regard to the “Share Knowledge” action, it says, “The other player must also be in the city with you. Both of you need to agree to do this.” [Emphasis added.]
And when playing Event cards, “The player who plays an Event card decides how it is used.”
If the designers didn’t fear one person taking over the game, they wouldn’t have added all those directives.
There are two ways I can think of to play Pandemic that might make it an okay game.
- All players are of equal skill level.
- No one is allowed to give advice during the game.
Obviously #2 is in direct opposition to what the designers intended. No cooperation would be allowed – verbal or otherwise.
It might be difficult, but not impossible, to find three or four players at the same level. By same level, I mean that each has played Pandemic roughly the same number of times.
For example, a group in which all players have played 0, 1, or 2 times should work okay. Or a group in which all have played between 5 and 10 times could be doable.
As I mentioned above, there are 3 ways you can lose the game.
1. There is an Outbreaks (of disease) Track. If the marker there ever reaches the top end, you lose.
2. Cubes in four colors represent the diseases and are placed in the various cities on the board. There are a limited number of these cubes. If you ever run out of them, meaning the diseases have become too rampant, you lose.
3. There is a Player stack of cards that acts as a game timer. If that deck is exhausted before you cure all four diseases, you lose.
And everyone dies.
That feels like a lot to overcome. It is, but apparently it can be done. There is even a way to make the basic game more difficult.
In the Player stack, you can insert either 4, 5, or 6 Epidemic cards. These cards trigger the spread of disease when revealed. Obviously the more of these cards that are in the deck, the more disease your team will have to combat.
Do You Enjoy Losing?
I’m not all that great a game player. Most games I will lose more often than I win. There are very few games that I feel like I have mastered, games that I can win consistently.
But I have fun in the process even when losing.
And I do win my small, but fair, share of the time.
Pandemic just seems like a game that you’ll lose almost all the time. And when you do, everyone loses, so the feeling is multiplied – usually by a factor of four (though it can feel like even more).
“But you only played one time. How can you deduce all that?” I hear you saying.
Yes, I played once, and we lost. It felt bad enough that I don’t ever want to play it again. Does that answer your question?
We went through all that work, spent maybe an hour or more in the fight, thought we made all the right moves, and the game still beat us.
You know how playing a game of Solitaire with a deck of cards can feel like a waste of time when you discover that your aces were buried making it impossible for you to win? That’s what I think Pandemic is like. There are going to be times when, no matter what you do, you just won’t win.
I often end these reviews with a link to Amazon so you can easily check the price there and purchase it if you like. I’m not even going to do that this time. If you want the link, you’ll have to go back up to the top of the page to click it.