Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dicing With Death

Hello, readers! I have returned from my Hawaiian getaway. In the days ahead, as I sort through hundreds of vacation photos, I'll regale you with tales of island fun. (That is: I'll have several days of travel log largely for my own future reference and enjoyment. For those of you uninterested, it'll be like the blog is on hiatus for another stretch, I suppose.)

But I'm too exhausted to start that now. So for the moment, I'll fire a bullet I already had loaded in the blogging chamber -- a board game review!

Pandemic is one of the better cooperative board games I've played -- it has a fun theme in preventing global viral outbreaks, and good gameplay that usually allows every individual player moments in the spotlight as events unfold. Now, designer Matt Leacock has gone back and reimagined his hit game in a new form, Pandemic: The Cure. Unlike the expansions that have been released over the years, The Cure is an entirely new game. Once again, it's a cooperative board game where players unite to battle global disease. But this time, it's a dice game.

A giant bag of six-sided dice represent the infections, with dice in four different colors. Character roles each have their own unique set of five dice, each with their own special abilities. The essence of the original Pandemic board game is preserved intact -- players still hop around the globe, still try to treat diseases before they get out of control, and still collect samples in the hopes of discovering a cure. You're just rolling dice to do these things now.

There's an interesting "Press Your Luck" vibe to the gameplay. On your turn, you're allowed to keep rolling any and all of your dice as often as you like, in search of the perfect roll. But 1 face out of 6 is a "viral" symbol, which locks that die from re-rolling and advances the spread of disease in the world. The fact that you can re-roll does make this dice game rather less fickle than you might expect. You feel like you have some measure of control here, even with dice involved. The virus dice have special faces as well. Each of the four diseases have distinctly configure dice, which means the players know some outcomes to be more likely than others -- another area where the players don't feel at the mercy of total randomness.

Still, the game is reasonably chaotic. And it's not likely that any fan of Pandemic was thinking, "You know what this game really needs? More randomness!" So what edge does The Cure provide? The fact that it's playable in roughly 30 minutes -- and rather easier to explain than the original Pandemic as well.

With these qualities, The Cure manages to carve out a rather distinct niche for itself. Most cooperative games are rather lengthy endeavors. Pandemic was actually on the lighter side of things, taking only 60-90 minutes when there are plenty of cooperative games that can take two to four hours. At the same time, while there are plenty of quick games that pack a reasonable amount of strategy into 30 minutes, I hadn't come across any of those that were cooperative. So Pandemic: The Cure might be a welcome addition to your game library. If you're in the mood for a game like this, there really aren't other games like this that I've encountered.

Put another way, Pandemic: The Cure takes one-third to half the time of the mothership game. And while it is less sophisticated and strategic overall, I wouldn't say it's one-third to a half less so. You could thus see it as gaining more than it's giving up. It's pretty solid for what it is, earning a B grade. It's not the main course in a game night, but a worthy appetizer or dessert.

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