Pandemic – Cooperative Strategy and Tactics

So a bit more meat around Pandemic in this post.  Basics first.  Co-operative board game, run with cards, peons and disease cubes.  Players are randomly assigned a role that has particular features at the start of the game.  Each turn, players can move, attempt to cure a disease or run an action from their role.  They then pick up 2 more player cards, of which you can only have 7 in the hand at any time (more on this later).  Finally, they infect additional cities based on a separate set of cards.

Game ends with 1 of 4 conditions

  • All diseases cured – players win
  • No more disease cubes to distribute – players lose
  • No more player cards available – players lose
  • 8th outbreak – players lose

Games get more complex/challenging with more “bad” cards inserted into the decks, and with more players.

Roles

The core game has a few simple roles, such as Medic that can remove diseases in a city quickly, or a Quarantine Specialist that prevents further outbreaks.  Each has a particular strength and most are related directly to their location on the game board.  Others, like the Contingency Planner or the Operations Expert, allow for better card management, which is great for the late game.

The best role however is the Scientist.  They only need 4 cards to cure a disease (5 for everyone else) which has a very large impact when you can only have 7 cards in your hand.  Someone who can control the disease outbreaks and someone who can research faster make for a very different game.  This heavily favors 4 player games to get the “better” roles, where a 2 player game can be very challenging if you only get card-management roles.

Curing Diseases

As this is the goal of the game it’s also the simplest and most complex portion.  There are 4 groupings of 12 cities, associated by colors.  You need 5 cards of the same color and be on a research station (starts with 1, can add as you go) to cure a disease.  You only need 4 as a Scientist.  Since you’re limited to 7 cards, that means you can only focus on one color at a time and need to strategically discard.  If too many people discard the same color, you can really get into a bind where it’s impossible (or close) to cure a disease and automatically fail the game due to lack of player cards in the pile.

More to this, if you have multiple players your cards are more dispersed.  Maybe player 4 gets the card that player 2 needs.  In order to do an exchange, both need to be on the city named on the card at the same time (outside of a particular role).  That could be half way across the board, far away from a research station.  And when you exchange that card, the person who receives has to discard immediately to stay within the 7 card cap.

It’s really akin to actual crisis management, where you have to concentrate on key activities and let the smaller fires burn, hoping they don’t become large emergencies.

Epidemics

Randomly inserted into the player card deck are epidemics, which cause a proliferation of a disease in a given city.  If there’s too much disease, then it spreads – called an outbreak.  I’d say this is the case 80% of the time.  Once you place the disease cubes you then reshuffle the infection cards already discarded and put them back on top of the deck.  This compounds issues as you’ve already infected these cities and they get back to top of pile.  If you can remember what’s in the discard pile, you can attempt to prevent further outbreaks.

Easy games have 4 epidemics, hard ones have 6.  They drastically alter the board as if you run out of disease cubes or have too many outbreaks, you lose.  Sometimes things look peachy and one bad draw can have massive ripple effects.

Multiplayer Complexity

This is a fairly interesting point as complexity is often defined by variables needing to fit a static structure of defined limits.  A DPS check is you needing to do X DPS in Y minutes.  More often, you need to do W dance, control X add and use skill Z at the right time.  The more of those variables, the more complex the event.

Pandemic is structured in that it has 48 cities, 8 events, and X (4-6) epidemic cards in the Player pile.  Each player picks 2 per round, so you’re limited in potential total actions.  More players mean that the cards are more dispersed, making it more challenging to actually cure a disease.  With 2 players, it’s a 50% chance that you’ll get your card, only 25% chance in a 4 player game (actually chances are much different but this is napkin math for now).  So the more players you have, the more complex it becomes to win.  Conversely, it becomes easier to play.  More bodies means more people to control the outbreaks and infections.  There are the same amount of events as they are fixed per round but having 4 people on the board means you can control 100% more cities.

And the starting conditions are also based on player count.  With 7 roles in the starter game and only 2 players, you’re unlikely to see a Scientist.  But that’s ok, because the win condition complexity is lower.  With 4 players, odds are you’ll get at least 2 solid roles to assist with the win.  Though if you get a 4 player game without the Scientist or say, the Medic, then you’re in for a rather interesting time.

Strategy

Contrary to other games board, the initial set up is not a fixed point.  Sometimes you are dealt a really good hand, sometimes a really bad one.  You can’t build a deck either, so each card selection is pretty random.  Bad hands + random = worse hands.  This is often a problem with competitive board games, where one player gets a solid card advantage and unless there’s an error in play, or a miracle card is picked, they have the game on lock.  Co-operative is different as everyone wins or loses together, so it behooves the rest of the team to assist a weak hand.

Pandemic works because the element of randomness is offset by your group strategy and tactics.  4 people tackling an outbreak is much different than you alone, and the game turns meta very quickly.  Instead of considering your actions this turn, you need to think of the impact on the next few players and what you need for the next turn.

Quite a lot of fun and certainly recommended.

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