One of the first reviews I wrote for Major Fun was for Forbidden Island, a cooperative board game in which you are trying to save four treasures from a rapidly sinking island. This review also marked the beginning of the Gamers’ Game—a way we could praise really great games that were just a bit too complicated or too long for the Major Fun Award. Forbidden Island came out in 2010 but its designer, one Matt Leacock, already had another cooperative game that had been a board-gamer favorite since it came out in 2008.
That game is Pandemic, a game of intrepid scientists and specialists trying to cure four diseases before they annihilate the human population.
When we played Forbidden Island I had some experience with Pandemic. It has some mechanics that are very similar to Forbidden Island: characters with special abilities, card collecting, special cards, and a system of making the situation grow more desperate as the game progresses. But Pandemic is certainly more complicated than Forbidden Island which was already too complicated for a traditional Major Fun Award. Thus, Pandemic went by without mention.
So what has changed? Why am I talking about Pandemic now?
No, it’s not the recent epidemic of zombie-zeitgeist.
Two reasons. Z-Man is reprinting the board game. It looks fantastic. They have made a few small changes (basically adding a few special characters) and tweaked the layout of the rules, but the game itself is much the same as it was when I first played it a few years ago. This is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully executed game. But a fresh coat of paint is not enough to elevate a game to Major Fun. The rules still take longer to learn than we usually like and then there is the set-up. There are a lot of pieces and cards. There are special ways to shuffle the cards. There are steps to laying out the pieces. Major Fun likes games to start quickly, and Pandemic has something of a long incubation period. Especially when you are playing it for your first time.
Z-Man has also released the game as an app for your tablet devices. And this app is marvelous. iPads and similar tablets have turned out to be an excellent technology for many board games, and Z-Man has used the touch screen to the game’s full advantage. It helps that Pandemic is cooperative. There is no hiding of cards or secret moves. You can play the app by yourself or with others. Best of all, the app does all the messy set-up for you. This feature allows you to focus on the game play without the time consuming preparation that might turn off a novice.
New players are taken through a tutorial that covers all the game basics in surprisingly short order and as part of a real game. It speaks volumes for the game design that most of the available actions become very clear once they have been demonstrated. The players aren’t puzzling out what moves are available, rather they are puzzling out which moves are best. And because the game is cooperative, everyone is constantly involved. You will not beat this game by hiding your cards and going it alone. Especially not at its heroic difficulty level (I have actually NEVER beaten heroic difficulty. Maybe it is impossible, but I am happy to keep trying. “Why sure Mister Sisyphus, I’d be happy to push that rock for you.”)
Making the transition from the app to the analogue board game would be very easy. You will have seen how the game starts, and you will know all the basic moves so you can start trying to save the world as soon as you get the cards in their correct piles.
So consider this a technologically assisted Major Fun award. Jumping directly into the paper-and-pawns board game might be too complicated for Major Fun, but the app is a fast, thrilling, efficient vector for this game.
So put away your vitamin C infusions (they don’t work anyways) and go get infected.
For 2-4 players, ages 8+
Pandemic was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2012 by Z-Man Games.