Thursday, 3 July 2008

playing Pandemic with myself

I first played Pandemic in March. It was Han's game. There aren't many cooperative games (the ones that immediately come to mind are Lord of the Rings, Shadows Over Camelot and another one about saving the earth from environmental disaster which I can't recall the name of), but there seems to be a trend lately that more and more cooperative games are being released. Two upcoming releases are Chinese Ghost Story and Red November. I quite liked Pandemic, and later decided to buy a copy myself. It's simpler than Lord of the Rings and will probably be easier to teach to non-gamers. And I quite like the game itself too. Han said it had lost its shine for him, so he sold me his copy. Since then, I have played 7 more games of it.

Having played a total of 10 games, all at normal difficulty (5 epidemic cards mixed into the player cards deck, i.e. what I used to call the good deck), I have only won 2 games. This game is tough to beat! It was a very intriguing game for me. Each time I lost the game, I was keen to figure out what I did wrong and how I could have done better. I have even played four solitaire games, using two random characters each time. Every time I lost, it was because of too many outbreaks, or running out of cubes of a colour (i.e. the disease had spread too much). So I probably hadn't done a very good job in containing the spread of the disease. It the most recent game which I finally managed to win again, I made it a point to treat cities which have 3 cubes in them, i.e. on the verge of an outbreak. When I won the game, I was at 7 outbreaks total. One more outbreak before I find all 4 cures, and I would have lost again. So the short term goal of containing the disease (as opposed to the long term goal of finding the cure) probably should get more weight than I usually give. No doubt my luck was (I think) slightly better than average in that game, but I think some of the decision that I made in that game saved me from losing. There were a few times when infections occurred at cities which used to be just one infection away from an outbreak. If I hadn't treated those cities earlier, I would have had more outbreaks.

Still, it was a race against time. In that game, I needed to quickly find the last cure to end the game, because there were more and more infections and I couldn't treat all the heavily infected cities quickly enough. The infection rate increases as the game progresses, so the tension builds. I have a feeling that the game will play differently with different numbers of players. With 2 players, it is probably more difficult to treat diseases quickly, because you can't be at too many places at the same time.

The end of my second victorious game of Pandemic. The operations expert (green) and the scientist (white) met up in Washington so that the scientist could pass the blue Washington card to the operations expert, and then the operations expert cured the last disease. On the right you can see that 3 epidemics have occurred. The Osaka infection card on the top right was removed by the Resilient Citizens special action card, i.e. there will be no new infections at Osaka unless spread from neighbouring cities. I had used all 6 research lab pieces (the longhouses).

I was at the 7th outbreak, so this was a close one.

When I play Pandemic I prefer to stack up the disease cubes like they are skyscrapers. Saves space. Many players complain that the board is too small / the pieces are too big / there is not enough space. It is not too bad for me, but sometimes it is a bit annoying when the city name you are trying to find is hidden behind or covered by a game piece.

One thing that I wonder about Pandemic is whether for a significant number of games it is simply impossible to win, no matter how well you play. This is just a suspiscion and not an accusation. And even if it is true, it doesn't mean the game becomes pointless or not fun. I have this suspiscion because sometimes it seems I would have lost anyway no matter what I did. But then maybe I have not figured out the right tactics / strategy yet. Even if this is true, I still find the game fun. When it is impossible to win, I would try to see how close I can get to winning. But of course I wouldn't know it is impossible to win beforehand. If I know there is some chance of winning, even if it is just 20% (that's the odds based on my 10 games played), then I'm happy enough to play and to take the challenge. I guess it's a bit like buying lottery. It is exciting and fun, even when the odds are against you, because you know it's not impossible to win either.

I also think Pandemic has good variability. There are the different roles that the players will get. There are 4 different diseases, and there is a spatial element tied to the diseases (the red disease is in Asia, the blue in North America and Europe etc), so the distribution of the infections, the order they come up, and the intensities all make each game different. Sometimes you need to use cards to fly all over the place because the cities threatening to have outbreaks are very far away. Sometimes infected cities are so near that they cause chain reactions. Sometimes the disease that you can quickly cure has not spread much and you can eradicate it easily too (i.e. no more infections of that disease even if you draw cards for it). Sometimes you cannot even spare the effort to eradicate or even treat a cured disease.

So I'm pretty happy with Pandemic, and will definitely play more. Maybe I should play some more games with 3 or 4 characters.


cmun said...

I'm both surprised and intrigued to chance upon your latest frolic, simply because I've been wishing to test drive Pandemic with my group however is not fortunate enough so far to locate a set of the game.

A friend said there's no opened box for play at Mage. Neither has my ordered, on a waiting list box anywhere in sight at Wolf Game Shop.
Do you think I can organise a Game Session to test drive your Pandemic? I usually play at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras (with and occasionally at OTK Yap Kwan Seng (not so noisy here) but rarely at Mage.


Hiew Chok Sien said...

Hi cmun, I'm not in town at the moment, but I do plan to join the OTK Cheras group to play. Not sure yet when I can do that. Probably the earliest is early August. Maybe we coordinate on the forums later.