As I sit in my apartment, quarantined like so many others during this confusing period of time, my eyes drift over to Pandemic on Steam. A few weeks ago, Epic Games had announced that they would be releasing three tabletop games for free on the Epic Store: Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic. When the release date came, Pandemic had mysteriously vanished from the line-up. Around this time, other virus-related games were also disappearing from online stores, so I couldn’t help but wonder if it might have been related. Sure, it’s only $9.99 on Steam, why not? Everywhere we go, there is the constant discussion surrounding the global pandemic, so we might as well lean into it. Needing a little bit of an escape from the work of the day, I queued up Asmodee Digital’s Pandemic.
If you aren’t familiar with Pandemic, it’s actually the PC version of the extremely popular tabletop game. In both versions of the game, there are four volatile pathogens that have broken out at the same time all across the world. The players act as disease specialists who go out into the field to tackle them head-on. You’ll need to work together to contain the pandemic and find cures to stop the outbreak before it spins out of control.
One of the first things I noticed when logging into Pandemic, is that there is an obvious lack of a multiplayer or co-op option. Half of the fun of tabletop games for me is playing with a friend, so I was really intrigued as to how the game would pull off the fun factor minus a player two.
My first run-through didn’t go so well. While the instructions were simple enough, it became very clear to me that Pandemic was much more challenging than I had anticipated. Right on the title screen, there is a fancy training section that you could utilize to learn the basics. I jumped straight into a regular game, only to get pulverized by the pandemic, and realize that I might need a little more guidance. The regular game did give you a bit of a tutorial, but it didn’t really cover the finer details and layers of the game.
We start off in good old Atlanta, Georgia, in our home base research lab. Like the original board game, cards are drawn to dole out random infections across the board. You’re given random player cards, and it seems that you can take four actions per turn. We’ll need to find a balance between treating the disease in the cities, and establishing research bases so we can formulate a cure and eradicate the disease from the board. In addition to this, event cards can be drawn from the player deck to give the researchers a bit of an edge against the diseases.
You operate more than one character in Pandemic. Since you are essentially playing a solo game, you have to figure out how to move your various specialists around the board to better play off of their strengths. For example, the Scientist only needs four cards to discover a cure on a research base. Everyone else needs five. When you can only hold seven cards at a time, this becomes extremely important when figuring out how to manage your city cards.
The ‘epidemic’ card is also drawn from the player deck. When this card is found and played, and it has to be played, infection cards are revealed. One disease cube is placed onto each city whose card is drawn. If a city has three cubes on it already, an Outbreak occurs, and every city that is connected to that one gains another cube. This can create an absolutely catastrophic chain reaction that destroys your game if you don’t manage the infection cubes in your cities.
There are a few ways to lose, and only one way to win:
- More than seven Outbreaks occur
- No more cubes are left to draw of a specific color when an Infection or Epidemic occurs
- No more player cards can be drawn
- Player discovers the cure for all four diseases
Pandemic is definitely a faithful rendition of its tabletop counterpart and it comes complete with all of the frustration and madness as well. My first reaction to Pandemic‘s PC port wasn’t initially very positive. The lack of clear direction and rules were definitely a negative for me. A fan of the original game might have had an easier time making the jump to the PC version, but coming in blindly was kind of miserable.
There’s also the aspect of missing that familiar energy that comes with playing with others. Taking away the multiplayer feature of the game made Pandemic more like a puzzle game than a digital version of the traditional board game. You control all of the characters and are throwing yourself at AI over and over again. After some time, it can get a little stale, but it’s not terrible if you’re looking for a challenge or a quick game. It took some time and a little digging into outside resources, but once I got the hang of the rules I started to enjoy it a bit more. As strange as it sounds, I really enjoy games that demand resource management and require you to think a few steps ahead, and Pandemic definitely requires both.