Friday, January 23, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 7: Pandemic: The Cure

Remember how, on my birthday, I brought vegan cupcakes to my Saturday night RPG session for the benefit of a fellow player who's a vegan? Well, apparently, if you cast your cupcakes upon the waters, they shall return to you in unexpected ways. Our vegan cohort surprised us at that game session with a gift: a brand-new copy of the board game Pandemic: The Cure. We're big fans of the original Pandemic game, which we've played with our RPG group and various others, so I guess he knew it was something we would like. Awww!

Pandemic: The Cure is not an expansion to the original Pandemic game, but rather a stand-alone game based on the original. The basic premise is the same: the players are a team of scientists trying to combat four different diseases (represented on the board by cubes of different colors) that are threatening to become pandemics. The way the game plays is also similar in many ways to the original Pandemic. Most of the Roles (special abilities that individual players can take) are the same as in the original game—the Medic, the Scientist, and so on—though there are a couple of new ones added. And some of the game mechanics work the same as well, such as the way you treat diseases (removing one cube at a time until a cure is found, after which you can remove them all at once) and the way outbreaks occur (having more than three disease cubes in a location causes the disease to spread to neighboring regions). So anyone who has played Pandemic will probably find it very easy to learn this new variant.

However, this version is different from original Pandemic in three major ways:
  • First, the game "board" is much simpler: instead of a map of the world with different cities on it, there are just six major regions, each represented by a cardboard circle, in which infections can occur.
  • Second, there's an additional element of chance: each player has a set of dice to roll on every turn. That roll determines which moves the player is allowed to make on that turn (although they can be made in any order). It also determines how fast new infections occur: for each die that turns up with an "Infection" result, you have to add more disease cubes to the board. If you don't like the results of your die roll, you can try rerolling some or all of them, but each time you do you run the risk of getting more Infection results.
  • Third, the infection cubes themselves are also dice, which can be used as "samples" to help the players find a cure. On your turn, if one of your player dice turns up a "collect samples" result, you can us that die to pull a cube from the board and add it to your personal collection. At the end of your turn, you can roll the dice for all the samples you've gathered, and if the roll is high enough, you've found a cure. That means that the more samples you gather, the better your chances of curing the disease. The downside is that collecting samples ties up your player dice, so you can't use them for other actions. So deciding how many of your dice to use for this purpose is a key element of the game, one that doesn't appear in the original Pandemic.
So far, Brian and I have played just one game of Pandemic: The Cure, but that was enough to sell us on it. It's a much shorter game than original Pandemic, which means it could be a good filler game for when you have just an extra hour to spare before or after a longer game session. It also takes less time to set up and take down after play. Since we've only played once, we can't say how much variation there will be between games, but I'm guessing there will be a lot more than in original Pandemic on account of the extra element of chance added by the dice. That could be a good thing for those who like less predictable games, or a bad thing for those who prefer a game that's all strategy and no luck. But it will definitely keep the game from growing old too quickly.

I'm not prepared to say that I actually like Pandemic: The Cure better than original Pandemic. They're both very enjoyable, and I think original Pandemic, despite its complicated setup, may be a more elegant game to play. But since they fill different niches in terms of how long they take and how many players they require, I think there's no need to choose one over the other. They're both well worthy of a place on our game shelf.

So, that brings my thrifty birthday bash to its conclusion (though I still have my free Starbucks drink to cash in at my leisure). I hope it's been enjoyable and instructive for you as well. Next week, back to the regular routine.
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