Sadly, I will be the first to admit that I never played the original Pandemic. When it came out, co-op games were of no interest to me. Later in my gaming life, it was a game you could buy at Target which also turned me off.
Apparently that makes me a monster. The original game by Matt Leacock and Z-Man Games is a beloved board game, played by many, and I never bought into it, nor have I ever played it.
Feel free to leave now as apparently I have no taste in games.
In today’s day, I have a deep appreciation (and love/hate) for co-op games (see podcast 5 for more info on that note). Flashpoint, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Ghost Stories all see constant rotation in my house, all if us working together to complete some world changing event.
Pandemic: The Cure follows suit as you play as a team of specialists working to cure four deadly diseases before they get out of control and wipe out humanity. The difference, however, is that P:TC focuses on rolling dice as it’s main mechanic as the means of saving the day. Sure there are some pawns and circular locations on which to move those pawns around on, but the main focus is rolling dice.
How it works:
In the center of the board is a two piece heavy plastic circular piece which serves as the treatment center. In this central piece are two syringe tokens which track the progress (or downfall) of the game, one syringe tracks your outbreaks and the other tracks the infection rate, which influences how many dice are rolled each turn, and during epidemics. Surrounding this board are six disks which represent sections of the world and also conveniently are number 1-6 which corresponds to the faces of the die. The die themselves are focused to certain numbers by color, so like black die only have 3, 4, and 5 faces, while red has 1, 4, and 6 faces which directs certain disease types towards certain regions of the world. Each die color also has a plus sign side which sends that die to the CDC which is then used to purchase special action cards.
On a players turn they roll their dice and then take actions based on which face of the die is showing, they can choose to keep any die they wish, except Biohazard faces which lock, and re-roll the rest to achieve desired die faces. For example if a boat is showing, a player can move their pawn to an adjacent region, or a syringe which lets a player move a die to the treatment center or from the center back to the bag.
How do you cure the diseases and save the world though? By rolling a bottle symbol, collecting a die from inside the treatment center and then on your turn rolling all the die of one color. If you roll a 13 or higher you have cured that color of disease. Curing all four disease colors wins the game. Each player also has a specialized character which adds special actions (and die faces) to the game, such as the medic who can more easily treat diseases or the scientist who adds two to their cure disease roll.
As with any cooperative game, there’s also a lose condition, well in this case there are three. First, when placing rolled disease die on their respective regions, each region can only hold three die of each color, any more trickle to the next clockwise region and progresses the outbreak syringe on the treatment center circle; eight outbreaks loses the game. Secondly, the players lose if the infection syringe reaches the end of the infection track which progresses one space for each Biohazard die showing when a player rolls their own dice (which should be again noted locks that die from re-rolling). Lastly, the players lose if there are no more dice left in the infection bag when dice need to be drawn to roll.
What we Think
As I stated before, I have a love/hate relationship with cooperative games, and this one is no different. I love the mechanics in their dice form as I lean more towards dice/card games than board movement, I’m also especially fond of the unique dice for each of the player choices in the game. It makes each character feel completely different in their play style and also allows for a lot of replayability as the different classes offer unique combos with each other.
The game scales pretty well at differing player counts, which can get tricky in cooperative games. The end step of a player’s turn is pulling new dice out of the bag, rolling them, and adding them to the board corresponding to the number rolled. At every player count this end step in balanced by the frequency of player turns, there’s no real shortage of events in larger counts and also not the overrun of board control in smaller player counts.
The components are wonderful especially the heavy plastic treatment center and the unique die of the character classes. It’s a solidly packaged game.
The only real gripe I have about the gameplay of P:TC is the coherency of character skills. This is definitely a game where you will have to pick and choose which characters to bring to the table, as certain picks definitely work better with certain others, but characters like the contingency planner must have an exact focus to validate choosing it. Also, the game steamrolls very quickly if dice are left unchecked, or a player has an unfortunate roll (which has happened twice now). Once the chain of infection begins, it’s it quite often to late to try to come back and you can only just sit there and watch the world devolve into chaos around you. Now I’m not saying that coop games should be solvable, and I’m not even saying the steamroll is a problem, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. Conversely, after the game kicking your butt so many times in a row, it’s amazingly gratifying when you have beaten it, together. Everyone standing at the table, high fiving, mocking the game, having an experience.
And the experience of Pandemic: The Cure is worth the price of admission.