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Pandemic: The Cure

Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser

(Z-Man Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes, $49.99)

pandemiccurePandemic by designer Matt Leacock was first published back in 2007 and it was a huge hit. The cooperative game challenged players to find cures for four deadly diseases that were threatening humanity. Pandemic eventually made its way to the shelves of such mainstream stores as Target and Barnes & Noble. For awhile, it even was sold at the Center for Disease Control gift shop…which troubles me that the CDC even has a gift shop! The system Leacock devised to replicate an outbreak was brilliant and has been used in games by other designers, most notably Defenders of the Realm by Richard Launius. Numerous expansions for Pandemic have been released, the latest being a stand-alone dice game version: Pandemic: The Cure.

Pandemic: The Cure has the same theme and goal: find a cure for four deadly diseases before all of mankind is infected. Players each assume a unique role—scientist, containment specialist, researcher, medic, etc—each with their own special ability that aids in this difficult task. The four diseases are represented by dice, which appear and reappear in six regions around the globe. Players roll their own set of unique dice and use these dice to move around the globe to treat and sample the diseases in hopes of acquiring enough samples to effect a cure. Time is against the team, as the diseases expand constantly and are always threatening to erupt in epidemics and outbreaks.

Each player receives a role and corresponding set of dice. Rather than one central board, there are several, including six regions, the CDC, and the cured disease placard. A circular plastic board serves to track the infection rate and outbreaks, with the open center being the “Treatment Center” wherein dice will be placed once successfully treated. 48 infection dice (12 each of 4 colors) are placed into the cloth bag, with 12 being randomly drawn and rolled. The dice are placed into the appropriate regions to seed the board. It is important to note that the four sets of colors each have their own values. For example, the red dice only depict 1, 4 & 6, while the yellow dice depict 2, 4 and 5. This distribution is printed on the regions and can be helpful for the players when battling the diseases.

While cooperative, each player does take an individual turn, following specific phases.

Roll Dice and Do Actions. The active player rolls his dice and sets aside any dice depicting the biohazard symbol. He may reroll any or all of the remaining dice as often as desired, hoping to get the desired symbols. The danger is that any further biohazard symbols rolled must be set aside. Each biohazard symbol advances the infection rate one space. The infection rate determines the number of new infection dice that will be rolled at the end of each player’s turn, and will trigger epidemics as it reaches certain spaces on the chart.

Once the player has finished rolling, he then uses the symbols, translating those into the corresponding actions. While each player’s set of dice is unique, most contain variations of the core symbols:

Plane: Allows traveling to any region.

Ship: Allows traveling to an adjacent region.

Syringe: Allows the player to move a die from the region where he is present to the Treatment Center. Alternatively, the player may move a die from the treatment center back into the bag. This is important as the supply of dice can diminish quickly. If this occurs, too many people have become infected and the game is lost.

pandemiccure2Sample Jar: The player takes a die from the treatment center, matches it with one of his dice, and places it on his role card. A sufficient number of samples of a particular disease must be collected in order to attempt to achieve a cure.

There are a few other symbols and corresponding actions that are unique to various roles. For example, the Dispatcher has a helicopter symbol which allows the player to transport player pawns from one region to another, while the medic has symbols that allow him to treat two or three disease cubes at once. While these are beneficial, their presence generally means that the player’s die is missing one of the other useful symbols.

Give Samples. A player may give any collected samples to any other player present in the same region. This is important when attempting to find a cure, as explained below.

Try to Find a Cure. After using as many of his dice as desired and transferring samples, the player can attempt to cure a disease. To do this, the player rolls one die for each sample he alone possesses of the disease he is attempting to cure. The result must be 13 or higher. Thus, it is impossible to achieve a cure with two or fewer samples. There is no overt penalty, but having to wait several more player turns before that player’s turn arrives again so another attempt can be made can prove damaging, if not fatal. Further, samples tie-up players’ dice, as they are unavailable for rolling during a player’s turn. Thus, players have fewer actions on their turn. So, it is important to successfully enact a cure quickly, making it extremely important to transfer as many samples as possible to one player so there is a reasonable chance of success.

If successful, the disease can still appear, but any future treatment of that disease will move all dice of that color from a region to the treatment center or from the treatment center into the bag. This can prove quite handy in getting dice back into a rapidly depleting bag. An empty bag means too much of humanity is infected, resulting in defeat for the players.

Infect Regions. At the end of each player’s turn, a number of dice equal to the current infection rate are drawn randomly from the bag, rolled and placed in the corresponding regions. If this results in a fourth dice of a color being placed in a region, an outbreak occurs. This works similar to the outbreak process in Pandemic, with the fourth die being placed in the clockwise neighboring region. If this would result in a fourth like-colored die in that region, yet another outbreaks occurs. This cascading effect could continue, but it is not a common occurrence unless Lady Luck is in a particularly nasty mood.

Each time an outbreak occurs—which can be multiple times on one turn—the outbreak marker (which is shaped like a small syringe) is moved one space on its track. If an eighth outbreak occurs, all is lost and the players lose the game. Outbreaks tend to be scarce early, but escalate dangerously as the game progresses.

Each infection die has one cross symbol. When this symbol is rolled, the die is placed in the CDC. These dice can be used to purchase event cards, three of which are available at all times. These cards give the players various abilities that can prove quite useful. For example, the Mobile Hospital (which costs two dice) allows the player to remove one infection die when entering a region, while the expensive “One Quiet Night” event (three dice) allows the player to skip the Infect Regions step that turn. Rolling the cross symbol can be a cause for celebration, as it reduces the number of dice placed into the regions and provides currency to purchase those handy event cards. However, it is best to use the dice regularly, otherwise it is more dice that are outside of the bag.

The player goal is to cure all four diseases, whereupon victory is achieved. Defeat occurs if the infection rate reaches the end of the track (which can occur faster than expected), if the eighth outbreak occurs, or if the bag is emptied of all infection dice. Usually one of these occurs in about 30 or so minutes, with the tension escalating precipitously as the game progresses.

Over the past few years there has been a somewhat disturbing trend to create dice versions of popular games. I’m not exactly sure why gamers are attracted to these spinoffs, but they certainly seem rather popular. Many times, however, these dice versions pale in comparison to the original game. Fortunately, that is not the case with Pandemic: The Cure. This dice version does an admirable job of recreating the theme, atmosphere and tension of the original, but the dice and mechanisms give the game a distinctly different feel. You don’t feel you are simply playing a close cousin of the original.

A word of caution, however: this is a dice game. As such, luck plays a major role, which can be good or bad. Some games are brutal, with the luck-of-the-roll causing the infection and outbreak rates to escalate faster than a rocket, giving players scant hope of success. Conversely, I’ve experienced some games wherein fate was kinder than Santa Claus, allowing players to quickly and seemingly effortlessly cure all four diseases with virtually no threat of defeat. Fortunately, the norm is somewhere in the middle, which results in games that are usually tense and exciting, with the constant threat of doom just across the threshold.

Is Pandemic: The Cure as good or better than the original? Well, no. The lack of a geographically correct map as a board fails to provide a realistic atmosphere, giving the game somewhat an abstract feel. The swings of fortune are more pronounced, which can result in widely varying game experiences. Still, it has its strengths. There are more actions players can perform, giving players more options. Usually, the game is quite tense, with defeat persistently knocking at the door. Plus, the game plays to completion in about 30 minutes, which is always a big plus and gives it an edge to make it to the table more frequently than the original.

Designer Matt Leacock deserves tremendous accolades for bringing Pandemic—a tremendous cooperative game—to the masses. It is an admirable achievement to design a game that is groundbreaking and appeals to both the general public and gamers. With the success of the game, it is no surprise that numerous expansions have followed. Now we have Pandemic: The Cure, which is one of the few dice versions of a game that captures the atmosphere of the original yet provides a decidedly different feel and game experience. Playing the game can be infectious—but in a good sort of way!


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