Pandemic: The Board Game Review

Pandemic: The Board Game, an apocalyptic board game from F2Z Digital Media, is now available from the app store. You and up to three additional players hold mankind’s fate in your hands as you attempt to cure four diseases that threaten our continued existence.

Pandemic: The Board Game Pros:

  • Challenging board game with lots of nuances to learn and strategies to employ
  • Multiple difficulty settings and varying player roles with unique abilities
  • Nice UI with pull-out drawers to access helpful info
  • Tension-enhancing soundtrack adds to the experience
  • Controls are intuitive and Help mode explains important aspects of gameplay as you go

Pandemic: The Board Game Cons:

  • No online multiplayer
  • Can be daunting and frustrating for new players

Each player takes on one of seven specific roles, and each has an ability that offers a distinct advantage in one situation or another. For instance, the Medic can treat all infections in a city in one move, while the Dispatcher can move other players to his location and the Scientist only requires four city cards of one colour to cure a disease instead of five. Each player can take four actions on his turn, such as moving from one city to another across the global landscape, building a research centre, treating an infection, sharing city cards, curing a disease, and more. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a few cards, which can be a mix of City cards or Event cards. No player can have more than seven cards in hand at a time, discarding any additional cards as necessary. To cure a disease, a player must collect five City cards of a matching colour (red, black, blue, or yellow) and find his way to a research station. Fast travelling to a faraway city requires that you possess the matching city card and discard it, leaving one fewer card available to use in finding a cure.  Shuttling back-and-forth between research facilities or taking charters from your current city are also options, as is moving to any connected city. You win the game if you can cure (though not necessarily eradicate) all four diseases before reaching any of the loss situations: sustaining eight outbreaks, running out of cards to draw, or running out of infection cubes in any given colour. It’s quite challenging and there is a nice combination of strategy and luck required to succeed.

At the end of each player’s turn, two city cards are drawn, causing an infection in the corresponding cities on the board. Four infections in a city will cause an outbreak that adds an infection to any adjoined cities, which can, in turn, cause a devastating chain reaction. The Infection Rate meter is increased and more and more cities will be infected between player turns. The occasional Epidemic card will be overturned, adding three disease cubes to a new city. Additionally, all discarded Infection cards are shuffled and returned to the top of the stack, making it more likely that an already infected city will suffer another in short order. The rules are a bit convoluted and you always feel like the odds are stacked against you, but if you can learn all of the little nuances of each player and the best way to conserve moves for effective use, the game is totally beatable. Access to info regarding all of the rules is just a tap away, whether you poke the player avatar to read about his skill or open up the rule book for a more in-depth explanation. An interactive tutorial also does a nice job of introducing you to most concepts, though once the hand-holding ceased, I did not feel prepared in the least.

Graphically, the game looks very nice, with an easy-to-navigate map and pull-out drawers to see the cards held by each player, cards already played, etc. Possible actions are displayed as icons along the screen bottom, with ineligible moves greyed out. Tapping a greyed out icon even offers an explanation for why you cannot make the move. The icons change depending upon the active player, as some players can make certain moves that others cannot. We really enjoyed the ability to play in either landscape or portrait, too. The background music helps to heighten the tension of the game, and the controls are tap-based, with double-taps available as an option to speed up the selection of certain moves.

Replay value is very good, as the game allows you to select the number of players and the difficulty of play. Every game is different, and utilizing different strategies can yield results that vary greatly. Largely a solo experience, you can play with others on the same device, though there is no online multiplayer option. There doesn’t appear to be any quantifiable way to compare one experience to another, so it’s really just an exercise in whether or not you can achieve the winning scenario before succumbing to one of the many methods that will end your efforts. An iPad-only experience for $6.99, Pandemic: The Board Game is a challenging 4-Dimple game.