August 21st, 2009



My "Origins game" for this year was Pandemic, which I was introduced to by sailormur andyogcmarthoth at the Colorbox's party. (It won the Origins award, so I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for the game.)

The premise of the game from the cover copy:
You and your companions are highly skilled members of a disease-fighting team waging a battle against four deadly diseases. Your team will travel across the globe, stemming the tide of infection and developing the resources you need to discover the cures. You must work together, using your individual strengths to destroy the diseases before they overtake the world. The clocking is ticking as outbreaks and epidemics accelerate the spread of the plague.

Pandemic has a virtue that I don't have a good name for: it feels like it is about its putative topic. (Not all games have this virtue--Ra is my canonical example of a game that lacks it.) This primarily comes from two elegant rules:
- when a city that has three cubes in it corresponding to a particular disease is asked to add more cubes of that disease, it has an outbreak, and instead one cube of that disease is added to all the neighboring cities.
- there are Epidemic cards spaced irregularly through the player draw deck. When an epidemic card is drawn, the the bottom card on the infections deck is drawn and loaded with three cubes of disease, and then the discards deck from that pile is shuffled and placed back on top of the infections deck. This means that there is a locality of infection cards--a city that has been infected once is likely to come up again and again.

The other rules for moving around and treating diseases are clear and simple. They are probably better than what I would have come up with. But I don't have the same "Wow" at how apt those rules are as I do with the outbreak and epidemic rules. A quick summary to make my record of games intelligible:
- it's a cooperative game.
- on each turn, you can spend actions to move, treat affected populations, discover a cure for a disease, and so forth.
- You win by discovering cures for all four diseases. You lose by exhausting the player draw deck, getting eight outbreaks, or by needing more cubes representing a particular disease than the game provides.

Pandemic seems to have a virtue of favoring close games, and because of this, I'm able to remember the games I've played pretty well. My record so far:

June 27, 2009 at Origins:
- The first game I watched seemed well in hand, with a plan for victory, when an unlucky infection phase set off two massive chain reactions of outbreaks that pushed the outbreak count from two to eight in one fell swoop. (Basic difficulty, four players)
- I played in the next game; we won because I constructed a careful plan that involved the final cure being discovered with the final action of the last turn before the player deck was exhausted. (Basic difficulty, four players)

August 1, 2009 at Kevin's:
- One game at basic difficulty, a fairly easy success. (Basic difficulty, four players)

August 10, 2009 at Kevin's: Three games with Kevin and Seth, all solid victories. The first game was at basic difficulty; the next two were at normal difficulty. One of the normal games was such a strong success that we had no outbreaks at all. This night may have lured me into a false sense of security.

August 15, 2009; three games with Dave, Kevin, and Andy.
- the first game was at basic difficulty, and was a solid success.
- the second game seemed in the bag; we had two of the four diseases completely eradicated, and we only had a couple of hot spots. Then we got an epidemic and a maximally unlucky infection phase that led to us running out of black disease cubes. Boom! (Normal difficulty)
- the third game went badly from the start, and we eventually succumbed to too many outbreaks. (Normal difficulty)

August 21, 2009:
- Dave, Kevin, Andy, and I played at normal difficulty. It was an exciting nailbiter of a game. We were on the edge of running out of blue disease cubes for quite some time. We finally got three diseases cured, and had the fourth disease ready to cure in three more turns, and we were starting to breathe a sigh of relief--but an unlucky infection phase gave us two more outbreaks, and we lost.