Sunday, 14 January 2018

Pandemic: Iberia

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Pandemic: Iberia is a variant of Pandemic, designed by Jesus Torres Castro together with original designer Matt Leacock. The setting is different. We are now on the Iberian Peninsula in the mid 19th century. The game is 70% Pandemic, so those who are familiar with the original will feel right at home. The remaining 30% creates a different flavour, a new experience.

In the original, your goal is to find cures to the four deadly diseases. In Iberia, you won't be able to find cures. You can only perform researches. These microscopes are used to mark whether you have researched a particular disease. In the original, once you have the cure, you can treat all patients at one location using just one action. You no longer have this ability in Iberia. Treating patients is still painstakingly slow. You get a different benefit instead - a bit more flexibility when purifying water - this is a new action type which I'll explain shortly.

This is the game board. The four diseases are roughly distributed to north, south, east and west. The two tracks at the top right and along the right edge will be immediately familiar to Pandemic players. The one at the top right is the infection track. As the infection level increases, you draw more infection cards at the end of every turn and the cities on the board get infected more quickly. The track along the right edge is the outbreak track. Each time an outbreak happens, i.e. when heavy infection in a city cannot be contained in time and spreads to adjacent cities, the count is increased. Reach 8 outbreaks, and you lose the game.

This is the 19th century, so you have no aeroplanes. You can't fly from one city to another by playing city cards, at least not for every city. You can still travel directly but only between port cities. Traveling between inland cities is more difficult.

The leftmost card is a character card. The others are player cards. Here there are only city cards, the main type of player card. The other type is event cards. At the start of the game, players all start at different cities, and not a fixed HQ like in the original Pandemic which has Atlanta as your start city. You pick your start city based on your starting cards. Every city card shows a founding date. The player starting in the oldest city is the start player. This is mostly just flavour, but it's a nice touch. A bit of flexibility in choosing start city is good too. There is some variability.

Building train tracks is a new mechanism. Building a track from your current city to an adjacent city requires one action. Moving from one city to another which is connected by railroads only takes one action. When you have built an extensive railroad network, traveling between inland cities become much more efficient. Spending actions to build tracks is a necessary investment in the early game.

Another important new mechanism is water purification. In Pandemic, it costs one action to treat a disease cube in a city, removing it from the board. This still exists in Iberia. This action is remedial in nature. The new action - water purification - is preventive in nature. To do this, you spend a card of the appropriate colour, and place two water tokens in an adjacent region. A region is an area enclosed by a group of cities. Water tokens protect adjacent cities by preventing infection. Whenever a city is about to get a new disease cube, if any of the adjacent regions has any water token, one such water token must be consumed to cancel the infection. Purifying water is generally more powerful that simply treating a disease, because water tokens protect all adjacent cities. However it is more costly because you do need to spend a card. Also you have less control over it. You cannot specify which city to save the water tokens for. A region may be adjacent to some heavily infected cities and some lightly infected cities. Normally you would prefer to have the tokens be used on the heavily infected ones. However if the next infection happens at a lightly infected city, you don't have a choice to not negate the infection, saving your precious water tokens for the heavily infected cities.

In this photo there are two heavily infected cities (those with 3 cubes), and two lightly infected cities (1 cube) adjacent to the region with water tokens.

One more difference is hospitals vs research centres. You no longer have research centres. Instead you may build one specialised hospital per disease. Your research for a particular disease must be done at the corresponding hospital. Also, since there is only one hospital piece per colour, you won't be able to ever build a second hospital for the same disease. You can at most move the hospital to a new location.

The ways to lose are the same as the original. If the player card deck runs out, you lose. If the 8th outbreak happens, you lose. If you run out of disease cubes because one of the diseases has spread too much on the board, you lose. There is only one way to win - research all four diseases. Iberia retains the same tension between long-term objective and short-term needs. You must remember to plan ahead to research all four diseases, and at the same time you have to be firefighting to make sure the diseases are kept under control and don't cause you to lose the game before you manage to complete your research work.

The Play

I played with my two daughters. It was the first time for all of us playing this version of Pandemic. It was easy to get into, since most of the rules are similar to the original. Although the goal is no longer finding cures, mechanism-wise, we are still doing the same thing - we need to collect sets of cards of the same colour. The main difference is in the benefit gained after completing the set. We experience the same angst between strategic planning and tactical needs. You need the strategic view to get to your winning condition. At the same time you must not neglect the pressing need of containing the diseases. It is often difficult to prioritise, and this is what makes the game interesting. You need to discipline yourself to work towards your goal. In this aspect you need to take initiative and consciously stay on course. The disease containment aspect is more reactive in nature. Depending on where the brown stuff hits the fan, you need to respond accordingly, and as efficiently as possible. You need to stay on your toes and keenly assess the risks. Can you afford to delay treating some cities while you invest some effort on your research? This is a question you ask all the time.

In Iberia, building train tracks is generally part of your long-term plan, while purifying water is generally part of your short-term firefighting and disease containment.

In the game we played, Shee Yun's character ability was crucial. She was the politician (yellow), and one of her abilities was to swap a card with another from the discard pile. When we struggled to collect enough cards of the right colour, this ability was very handy. Our game went down to the wire. Towards late game, we went up to 7 outbreaks and would lose any time. The player deck was almost exhausted, and we were still one card short of researching the last disease, the yellow one. We counted, and knew there was only one yellow card remaining in the deck. We even had to check all yellow cards in the discard pile to determine which specific yellow card it was that remained to be drawn. We couldn't know who would draw it. If it was not the player collecting yellow cards to draw it, we would need to find a way for the card to be passed to him as soon as possible. We did not have much time left. By knowing which city card it was, we could assemble at the city beforehand, so that once we drew the card, if necessary, it could be passed to the right person with minimal delay. Just like in the original Pandemic, when passing a card from one player to another, both players must be in the city depicted on the card. We had to plan our actions in detail, not wasting any of them, in order to eventually complete the last research before time ran out. We won!

Playing with Shee Yun and Chen Rui. Cooperative games work well as family games. You are all on the same team. You discuss and plan together.

Family meeting at Albacete. All three of us happened to be there.

Yellow was the final disease to be researched.

The Thoughts

Pandemic: Iberia is a cool variant. It's 70% similar to the original Pandemic, so if you like the original, you will like this. If you don't, don't bother. I've always enjoyed the Pandemic series, so this works for me. I like it more than Pandemic: The Cure (the dice game version), but I like Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 more. It is more different than the variants in Pandemic: On the Brink, except for the Bioterrorist variant. One nice thing is Iberia comes with two variants, both based on historical events and diseases. They will make the game more challenging.

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