I’d never played Pandemic, or any of its mutations, but was aware of the game and its popularity and place as a modern classic. As such, I’d always been interested in at least giving it a try.
I then read the review of Pandemic Iberia in Tabletop Gaming Magazine (issue 8 Feb/Mar), and the first thing that caught my eye was the historical theme and the vibrant colours of the box and board.
The theme of a game is an important aspect for me. If I’m not engaged and interested in the setting, then the gaming can become a mechanical exercise and I’ll eventually lose interest. This goes for board games, role playing, miniature wargaming and also video games. I need background, story and ultimately immersion in the games setting.
Although I’ve not played the original Pandemic, I always found the photos I had seen of the game board, and the non-descript diseases to be a bit off-putting. Maybe the brighter artwork of Pandemic Iberia, the limited focus of the game environment, on the Iberian Peninsula, and the named diseases helped pull me in. Whatever the reasons were, I was intrigued enough to track down a copy of the game for a very reasonable price.
Everything about the game is high quality. The board is sturdy and the printing of the map is clear and bright. Placed around the board edges are spaces for the card decks and also the main counters required during play. The square blocks representing the spreading diseases, will be kept off board.
The cards are also brightly printed, with a deck for cities where disease will appear and another with cities for players’ hands and event cards. Everything is clearly laid out and easy to read.
The tokens to represent disease are made from coloured wooden blocks, as are the other player tokens. No dice required for Pandemic as it’s a turn and card driven game.
The game plays with different difficulty settings, achieved by incorporating different numbers of key cards into decks, and other cards affecting the speed at which diseases spread. In fact, even on ‘easy’, the game begins with a level of disease already on the board giving players an immediate situation to deal with.
Pandemic is a co-operative game, where all players are working together against the spread of disease. From what I’ve read, the one big difference from the traditional Pandemic game is that players don’t eradicate diseases, but aim to successfully research all 4 of them to win the game – malaria, typhus, yellow fever and cholera.
Players select a character with a role which will provide certain benefits to the actions a player can take. These different roles will impact the strategy players’ use.
A player turn is split into 3 phases – actions, card draw, and infection.
Players have 4 actions in that first phase – to move, treat disease (remove disease cubes from their location, lay railroad (to increase travel speed between locations), purify water (to prevent the spread of disease), build a hospital, research a disease, and share knowledge. Completing some of these actions require players to have collected the relevant set of city cards.
Drawing city cards is the second step, allowing you to build the sets of cards required to research disease. And the final step involves drawing cards from the infection deck to see where the diseases will spread next.
All of this presents a race against time as the diseases spread, or worse, outbreaks occur…a chain reaction as disease overtakes a city and spread to neighbouring cities.
The players must progress the building of hospitals; one for each colour, matching the colours of the 5 diseases, and use those hospitals to research the diseases. Sounds easy!
Thoughts on play
Our first session of Pandemic Iberia was a disaster – for Iberia. Diseases ran amok across the board, and we failed to get into a position to be able to research the diseases. Even after a couple of games we found that an outbreak would trigger, and very quickly it was game over as a disease took hold and we ran out of the coloured cubes. One particular trouble spot for us was the port cities around Mallorca, where disease can quickly turn into outbreaks if the area is not monitored.
Over a few games we started to realise where we were going wrong. In our early tactics we were focused on collecting the card sets required for research and then frantically running around the Iberian Peninsula treating diseases as they popped up. We weren’t making the best use of the resources we had available – train tracks and water purification.
These 2 actions are key to successfully researching the 5 diseases. It’s still not easy. And to be honest, the game would become boring very quickly if the challenge wasn’t there. But by laying railroad tracks in key locations to enable fast travel across the map, and purifying water in locations that are becoming hotspots, you begin to get a semblance of control.
And control allows you to expend actions on research.
So, how many times have we succeeded? Once…in about 6 or 7 games now. And we’re playing on the easy setting.
We still have to brush up on our co-operative tactics…and then hope that our luck holds out with the card draws!
We can highly recommend Pandemic Iberia. The game is beautifully produced. The game play is engaging and truly collaborative. The game mechanics are easy to explain, but the strategic depth and tactical options make each game session unique. A worthy addition to the game shelf.
I should also point out that the Iberia edition is a limited print run of 50,000, so don’t take too long to decide!