One thing you may or may not know about me is that I love playing board games. And more so, I love cooperative board games, which aren’t the easiest things to come by. Cooperative games are an experience all their own, one that many people haven’t tried and really should; they require a shift in player attitude from “I” to “we.” I would say in the field of such games, narrow as it might be, Arkham Horror is the undisputed king. The games are complex, tense, often long, and there’s normally a genuine feeling of accomplishment when your team of random characters manages to stop the world from being destroyed by a hungry great old one.
That said, I think Pandemic has become a close second in my heart. It has the same suspense, required teamwork, and scope as Arkham Horror – and the same feeling of relieved accomplishment when you save the “world” from being destroyed. However, Pandemic lacks the insane (and sometimes overwhelming to new players) complexity of Arkham Horror, and has one even bigger advantage – most games run 45 minutes at the absolute most. I’ve played many game of Pandemic that clocked out at 20 minutes, making it a very, very fast play. Definitely good for when you want a cooperative game and don’t have three to four hours available to play it.
The concept behind Pandemic is pretty simple; there are four diseases spread over the world map. All of the players are intrepid workers at the CDC, each with a different specialty. As a team, you have to find cures for all four diseases before they overrun the world and kill off a significant percentage of humanity. The turn structure is very simple, the mechanics are extremely easy to learn, and I think this is a game you could probably get kids in on very easily.
What makes the game interesting is the execution of the concept. The diseases spread in two ways; first, there are cards that you draw, which tell you where to place counters for each disease. Secondly, once you hit the maximum counters in a city (three) if you try to add another for any reason, the city “explodes” and adds one counter to all cities geographically connected to it. This can lead to heavily infected cities chaining together and setting each other off – and each time this happens, you move one step closer to losing the game.
As a model for the spread of disease, this is probably one of the more accurate ways for a board game to go. And this means that on one turn, you may feel like you’ve got things under a reasonable amount of control, and two or three turns later you’ve lost the game because you simply could not keep up with the rate of infection.
Another factor in the atmosphere of the game – the race against an implacable enemy – is how powerless as an individual player you often feel. The actions you can take in a turn are severely limited, and your only hope truly is to work with your teammates, emphasizing your specialized skills as much as possible. Since the game allows a maximum of four players and there are five roles that are randomly distributed, that guarantees several things:
The game also comes ready-made for different levels of difficulty. There are six “epidemic” cards that are put in one of the decks. The number of epidemic cards used (minimum four) determines the difficulty of the game. My crowd of usual suspects can normally beat easy (four cards) and can beat medium (five cards) at least half the time. We’ve dared difficult (all cards) once, and I think that was purely on accident. And somehow, we won that round.
This is definitely a game I would recommend. It takes a well-thought-out set up to make you eager to play again after you’ve just lost humiliatingly to an inanimate object. Arkham Horror has that quality, and Pandemic definitely does as well.