The chair creaks as you settle onto it. The candlelight flickers. All around you the ravenous faces of your so-called friends twist in delight as you slowly open the box laid out on the table. Welcome to Dangerous Games! Each week, we'll feature a horror/thriller/monster tabletop game you should be playing. Don't be scared… roll the dice… what's the worst that could happen?
In California a man coughs. A spatter of blood splashes against his hand. In Tokyo, a swath of the population begins complaining of flu-like symptoms. Somewhere in the Eastern Bloc a man is getting on a plane headed toward South America. That man has been infected with the Ebola virus. This is what you've spent you're whole adult life training for. This is the mother of all epidemics. This is worldwide. This is Pandemic! Originally published in 2008, this inventive, collaborative board game just received a glossy, second edition reprint last month. Scrub up, break out the microscope, and prepare to face a horror more terrifying than any boogeyman in a closet.
In the above introduction I mentioned the word "cooperative," and that's key here. Pandemic is a game for two to four players, and it's a cooperative board game. This isn't some Monopoly clone where it's every player for himself. In Pandemic, the players take on the role of agents for the CDC, desperately trying to stop four viral outbreaks from spreading across the globe and ending humanity.
Each player has a certain role to fill. There are seven "roles" for players to choose from (the reprint features seven, the original game featured five). These roles include: Dispatcher, Medic, Scientist, Researcher, Operations Expert, Contingency Planner, and Quarantine Specialist. Players must use the abilities granted to their role in conjunction with each other, to best deal with the spreading threat.
To map the spread of diseases on the world map players place small colored cubes in various cities. All players start in Atlanta (that's the headquarters of the CDC) and mobilize to neutralize the threat. This is a tough game, and there are more failure conditions than there are win conditions. More outbreaks can begin, the outbreaks already raging can get to a critical point, and the players can run out of resources. These failure conditions seem perfectly plausible for a real-life pandemic, and that's what makes this game so fun/terrifying.
Some games have great replay value because they have interchangeable parts. Some games pump out lots of little expansions to keep their replay value high. Pandemic uses difficulty (and how!) to keep players coming back for more.
This game is a bear to play against. Four players against one, unthinking board game? Should be a cinch, right? Wrong. I've played this game with friends plenty of times, and we've only saved the populace of Earth once. Sorry Earth!
But I keep playing Pandemic because (it's a fantastic game) it's so hard. It's a challenge my friends and I accept. Do you have the guts to save the world?
Aside from the slight barrier to entry this game is perfect. Seriously, I'm not talking in hyperbole here. This is a wonderfully crafted, highly difficult game. And when I say "difficult," I mean challenging, not broken, unfair, or un-fun. This is for all the fans of outbreak movies (like, you know, Outbreak) and any fan of "realistic horror." This is a race agains the clock with the whole population of Earth depending on you and your three teammates. Doesn't get more pulse-pounding than that!