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Board Games 1307
Lack of Complexity and Realism Hamstring Pandemic
Disclaimer -- I work with epidemiologists for a living and have some insight into their world. I got the opportunity to play Pandemic at the WBC and shortly afterward the guy that explained the game to me asked, "So Sag, how did you like Pandemic?" At first I tossed off some boilerplate issues, but then things started to flow.

My response:

First of all, I'd like to state that it was nothing like what I thought it would be. Even the board had a different look and feel than I had anticipated, in spite of looking at photos of it online. It has been wildly popular and has gotten some pretty remarkable reviews, even from He-who-must-not-be-named, so my guess was that it was something that I'd want to eventually acquire should they actually print a few more copies.

But it felt flat to me, and I'm trying to decide why. Jeff and I discussed it in the car ride back home and didn't come to any deep insightful conclusion. I think it could use to be a bit longer and have a bit more complication to it (Sag's standard opinion #2 applied to all games regardless of quality) and very much needed something other than cubes and names like "disease red."

Ok -- now the juice is flowing. I know what's wrong with Pandemic. First of all, the teleportation machine that is the dispatcher and research labs needs to go. There should be ways to accelerate movement, but not zoom you across the planet. If you want to leave it in, then the diseases get to take that same ride. That's how they work in the real world.

Secondly, why didn't these guys come up with some disease names and a card for each describing what it is? They could have used existing diseases or created some of their own and provided some description to add some flavor, some intensity, some gravity to the situation. I mean c'mon -- the players are saving people's lives here. They're doing God's work but when you look down at the board it gets summarized to, "we need to remove a blue block from Chicago." No no no. That disease needs to be real.

Blue is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a neuron-tissue-eating protein that results in a slow, steady decay into insanity and infirmity. A nifty chit with an image of the prion on it would be majorly cool.

And on that note, Creutzfeldt-Jakob takes an extended period of time to develop -- years. You attack it by removing the deformed protein from the food supply and developing a cure or treatment for the existing base of the illness. The first is more important than the second, and that means it's a long war. It's something you need to manage, but it's not panic-time yet.

Now Disease Yellow is panic time. Disease Yellow is the Ebola virus which drops its victims within 48 hours. Ebola is highly contagious, but since it kills its victims so quickly it spreads in fits and starts. Vastly different from Creutzfeldt-Jakob, the most important thing to do with Ebola is to contain it. There's no time for treatment and there's exceptionally high risk to doing so -- when it pops up, you stomp on it with quarantine. Quickly. Whoever is closest rushes to the scene regardless of their skills or previous priorities and establishes a ring around the infection. And since Ebola is endemic to the region it can pop-up seemingly out of thin air. It's never eradicated. Creutzfeldt-Jakob can be completely destroyed -- removing it from the environment removes it from the earth -- no cure needed.

That is what Pandemic needs. A different approach for each disease, and cards and resources that lend themselves better to one effort than another, although all could be effective to some degree on each. I have some work experience in this line of business, and I don't think I could present the game to epidemiologists without them being disappointed in the lack of detail. Adding actual diseases likely would be much more captivating to them, especially if each had a different approach.

Oh, and it needs some nifty chits. Nifty chits would ease much of the traffic on the board as well.

The good news is that the existing game serves well as the basic rules for one killer expansion (no pun intended) should the original authors dare to merely call it that. This could be an excellent game.

Whew. Sorry for the vent. You were so polite to ask and I emptied the dump truck on top of you. It appears that Sag's standard opinion #2 does indeed apply to Pandemic for me. At it's core this is a great game, but it needs to be taken up a step or two to make it really shine.

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