Will Your Relationship Survive?: Pandemic Series (Co-op Review)
Updated: Mar 15
In this edition of "Will Your Relationship Survive?", we look at Z-Man Games' Pandemic series in celebration of its 10th Anniversary Edition, which was released in late 2018. Don your lab coats, surgical masks and quarantine suits, things are going to get infectious.
It has been eleven years since the first edition of Pandemic was released. In the years following that, humanity IRL battled against swine flue (H1N1), MERS-CoV and bird flu (H5N1), amongst others. If there's one thing the last decade and a little more has taught us, it is how fragile, and resilient, we can be in the face of death and disease.
That struggle between mastery and futility over life and death forms the premise, really, of the series, which spans four expansions and six spin-offs. In most editions, the challenges are centred around disease, while some particularly creative versions run with the thematic struggle of life and death through contexts such as flooding or invasions
With that little introduction out of the way, this review will focus on the 10th Anniversary Edition box and its contents. If you've not played Pandemic before and would like to know more about it as a game, we've left some information further below! (needless to say, we LOVE the game)
Pandemic Turns 10 in Style
If first impressions count, then Pandemic nails it with its turquoise finish on a metallic case. It is a thing to behold on your shelf, or - if you'd like - on your wall. Z-Man Games stakes Pandemic's claim (rightfully) among the pantheon of 'classic' table-top games for its tenth birthday by presenting itself in classic, and classy, fashion from outside-in. This includes the styling of the various Role Reference Sheets, Rulebook, and game Board in colour tones that look like they've popped right into the 21st Century from the late 1900s.
Tokens that ship in the box are made from wood, a call-back to the game's very first edition, by ditching the modern opaque plastic cubes seen in the Legacy seasons. The mixture of paint and wood gives the pieces a tactile feel that just makes it all the more satisfying to move around, though that means you lose a little of that 'high tech' feel.
Cubes come with their own organisers which look like petri dishes, making it simple to set-up and clear while offering an elegant approach to organising the game's parts. One of the most satisfying parts of playing Pandemic has always been how easy it is to set up, and this is no exception.
Z-Man Games also pulled no punches in the character department, opting to restyle all the Role Reference Cards to fit the visual aesthetic of the box-set while also creating detailed miniatures for each of the seven roles. This makes keeping track of your characters' positions on the board a cinch.
For table-top gamers who have spent the last decade running Pandemic, however, the aesthetic appeal could merely be a smokescreen as there may be less cause for celebration in other departments.
One clear area in which this edition is lacking is that it does not ship with any of its aforementioned expansions. While one could argue that this is a 'vanilla' experience for both newcomers and veterans of Pandemic, I can't help but feel like it would have been great to also be given the joy of discovering/re-discovering the expansions and what they have to offer. They are, after all, the legacy of Pandemic as a series.
Perhaps this was motivated by a desire to keep the 10th Anniversary Edition lower accessible, but it still fetched a hefty dollar regardless, making it a somewhat paradoxical decision.
An extension of this issue is that the beauty of the box set became a bane instead of a boon. It is uncomfortable to incorporate already-owned expansions as the aesthetics clash. The box, for all of its beauty, will also not be able to store the expansions elegantly.
Furthermore, more discerning eyes have pointed out a history of inconsistencies in the game's pathing between cities. Some of these paths have been added or removed (reportedly) intentionally, but one clear omission in this edition is the connection between that of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
While these changes (or errors) are not game-breaking, it is a slight taint on the experience because it can make the game feel more or less challenging depending on where they occur.
Additionally, the 'story' of the game heightens the importance of these connections in creating an effective role-playing experience. They mirror real-life by depicting diseases' propensities to cross borders. In this particular case, the connection between Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok made the game feel more true-to-life, and its erroneous omission is a real shame.
Box Set Rating: 3.5 / 5
It's a beautiful, beautiful box, but it is plagued with issues such as misprinting(s) and inconsistencies with other versions of the game (some intended, and others maybe not). Furthermore, it doesn't take the opportunity to give its buyers a chance, or reason, to "own it all". If you're up just for the gaming experience, perhaps the regular edition will suffice (and leave more room/dollars for the expansions). If you like Pandemic, can afford to, AND want a beautiful presence on your shelf, get it. Miniature painting hobbyists will also relish the opportunity to paint the character tokens.
In the base game, the concept is simple: four potentially deadly diseases have emerged in four regions, threatening to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. You are part of a global task-force set up to hold the line against these diseases while finding the cure for them. Along the way, deadly epidemics and outbreaks disrupt or distract you from your efforts to cure all four diseases before they go out of control.
What follows is a cooperative game fit for 2-4 players with mechanics that are so well-crafted to the theme that you can't help but feel immersed in the tension. Players take on a role, each with specific strengths and weaknesses brought about by their role actions, such as being able to treat all instances of a disease in one city at one go, or being able to airlift teammates around the globe.
The limited number of actions that one can take in each turn adds weight to the temporal urgency of fighting infectious diseases, while the difficulty in curing and treating diseases (manifested as limitations in movement and "sharing of knowledge" on the gameboard) reveals the Sisyphean struggle of medical research. This immersion is elevated in the Legacy games, where good things such as progress in treating diseases carry over; as do the bad, such as trauma caused to characters who were unfortunate enough to be in a city during outbreaks and riots.
In particular, a dark - but also slightly amusing - mechanic of Legacy is that of "funding": failing to achieve your goals in one round leads to "increased funding" in the next (you get to have a higher number of positive event cards in the deck), while being successful leads to a drop in said "funding" for the following round. Just like in real-life, being in the healthcare industry comes with constant frustration at pencil-pushers who insist on playing god with research dollars especially when they are unconvinced of the situation's urgency.
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Platform: Table-top Role-Playing Game
Type of Game: World Health Organisation Simulator
Release Date: 2008
Number of Players: 2 - 4 players
Average Time per Round: 40 - 60 minutes
Our Rating: The Five Love Languages (5/5) Saving the world together is tense and satisfying. There's a slightly steep learning curve on 'normal difficulty', yet the game does well at keeping you on your toes while making you feel like a medical boss when you get the hang of it. Expansions add depth and added challenge.