Critical Play: Pandemic

I played Pandemic in-person with Melody, Kavita, and Thomas. We could set our own difficulty, but since this was our first time playing, the instructions recommended that we play at the easiest difficulty. During our game, we unfortunately had to stop early, but I think we got the idea. It also seemed like we were about to lose, so maybe it was for the best… but I would love to play Pandemic again, given the chance! If my team and I are able to win at the easiest difficulty, I’d also like to try a harder difficulty to see what differs in gameplay.

Formal Elements

Pandemic is a game for 2-4 players. Players are invited to play the game by their friends or other players. In Pandemic, players, engage in cooperative play, meaning that all players are on the same team and try to win together. Although players have the same objective, they do not have uniform roles; each player is given a role card at the start of the game with a job such as Medic, Dispatcher, Operations Expert, etc., that determines unique actions that the player can make during their turn.

The objective of Pandemic is to win a race – the race to find cures for all four diseases before one of the losing conditions occur. There is only one way to win, but there are three ways to lose. They are:

  1. If the outbreak marker reaches the last space on the outbreak track.
  2. If you need to place disease cubes but have run out of cubes of a certain color.
  3. If you are unable to draw two cards during your player card draw phase because the player deck is empty.

Every player chooses a role and draws city cards. The game starts with the player who has the city with the highest population, and it progresses by each player taking a turn. Each player’s turn is divided into three phases:

  1. Player actions (4 actions)
  2. Draw player deck cards
  3. Infect cities

There are also two types of special events: epidemics and event cards. Epidemics occur when an epidemic card is drawn in the 2nd phase of the player’s turn. Nothing else can continue until the epidemic card is resolved. Event cards can also be drawn in the 2nd phase, but these cards can be played at any time, even outside of the player’s turn.

The resolving action of the game is discovering cures. One of the actions that a player can do in the 1st phase is discover a cure, and when the cures for all four diseases are discovered, the game is won.

Some rules in Pandemic are defining rules, like the ones that define what a “cure” is, what an “outbreak” is, what each disease cube represents, etc. There are restricting rules that limit players’ actions, like the distance a player can travel and the number of disease cubes they can remove each turn. There are also rules that determine effects, like the ones that determines what happens when an epidemic card is drawn, what happens when an outbreak is triggered, etc.

The main resource is the player cards. There are three types of player cards: city cards, special event cards, and epidemic cards. Epidemic cards are bad and are not really a resource, but they are mixed in the same deck with the actual resources and therefore unavoidable. City cards and special event cards, on the other hand, are useful resources. City cards allow the player to fast-travel to the city on the card, but more importantly, they are the resource needed to develop the disease cures needed to win the game. Special event cards can be used at any point in the game to provide an advantage for the team.

Since this is a cooperative game, there is no conflict from opponents. Instead, the main source of conflict is from dilemmas. Players need to decide which diseases in which cities are the most threatening and need to be removed first in order to avoid outbreaks, but players can only do so much on each turn. It gets especially difficult when there are outbreaks of multiple diseases are imminent.

Pandemic is a board game, and the boundary of the game is the board itself, which displays a map of the world.

The game ends when the winning condition or one of the three losing conditions is met. Pandemic is a non-zero sum game, as all players win or lose together.

How cooperative play changes the dynamics of play

As mentioned in the outline of the formal elements of the game, cooperative play changes the dynamics by removing the conflicts between players, and instead making the conflict come from dilemmas. It’s beneficial for players to discuss actions before doing them, and players are encouraged to share information.

How Pandemic Legacy changes the play

Pandemic Legacy changes the play by creating an overarching story arc that lasts several sessions, with characters persisting between arcs. This version of Pandemic is more engaging. However, this version of Pandemic is also unreplayable, as cards can be permanently damaged by being ripped, being written on, or having permanent stickers placed on them. I might not want to play Pandemic Legacy, as fun as it sounds, since I don’t want to play a game that can only be played once.

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