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Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu Review

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09 Jan 2017 00:55 #242137 by Matt Thrower

Regular readers will be aware of the general contempt in which I hold co-operative games. Yet Arkham Horror, Robinson Crusoe and the D&D Adventure System are all games I rate highly. How to square this circle? Well, what those games have in common is that they project the semblance of being alive. Creatures move, events change, players need to actually co-operate due to the complexity and uncertainty. Contrast that to the rash of titles inspired by Pandemic which are far more static and which you can play almost by rote. 

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09 Jan 2017 21:01 - 09 Jan 2017 21:02 #242138 by Egg Shen
Nice review Matt. This paragraph pretty much sums up my feeling on Pandemic Series as a whole:

"Yet for all that it improves on Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu doesn't improve it quite enough. Even with all the extra stuff zipping around the board, it's hard to escape the sense that your destiny was set the moment you shuffled the deck. That however well you play, the ultimate arbiter of success is whether the right cards happen to be in the right order. Plus your ability to play can still dictated by a dictatorial alpha dog at the table: the curse of most co-ops."

No matter what glossy coat of paint or shimmery shade of lipstick they use...the underlying chassis of Pandemic is still about as much fun as getting blood work done. I have no idea why it's as popular as it is.

I think the completely unloved and overlooked Witch of Salem is the Euro-y, Cthulhu tentacled, co-op game I'd reach for instead. You can ignore the lame, "don't tell people if you saw a portal" rule and it's still hard as balls. I think it's a complete gem. Too bad it's long out of print.
Last edit: 09 Jan 2017 21:02 by Egg Shen.
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09 Jan 2017 22:18 #242145 by Cranberries

Even with all the extra stuff zipping around the board, it's hard to escape the sense that your destiny was set the moment you shuffled the deck. That however well you play, the ultimate arbiter of success is whether the right cards happen to be in the right order.


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10 Jan 2017 09:44 #242158 by charlest
Good review Matt.

I'm not a big Pandemic fan (I think it's fine but don't really want to play it), yet I got a kick out of this version. I don't think it's amazing or anything, but the sanity die and Shoggoth's random movement injected some drama into the game that I felt alleviated its puzzly nature somewhat.

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10 Jan 2017 12:05 #242166 by Matt Thrower

charlest wrote: Good review Matt.

I'm not a big Pandemic fan (I think it's fine but don't really want to play it), yet I got a kick out of this version. I don't think it's amazing or anything, but the sanity die and Shoggoth's random movement injected some drama into the game that I felt alleviated its puzzly nature somewhat.


Thanks. I agree absolutely - it's better than regular pandemic for the reasons you describe. But the "somewhat" in your last sentence just isn't quite enough :)

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10 Jan 2017 14:19 #242177 by stoic
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

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10 Jan 2017 21:24 #242203 by SuperflyPete
Good read. As a Pandemic fan I had high hopes. Seems they failed to make it different enough.

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11 Jan 2017 20:07 #242257 by wadenels
I've played Pandemic dozens of times, maybe creeping up close to 100. My wife really digs it. You could say I'm over it. I really only enjoy it with some of the On The Brink stuff like weird Epidemics and Mutation and sometimes the Bioterrorist.

Yet I really enjoy Pandemic Reign of Cthulu. It's more atmospheric, there's interesting bits of randomness that creep in, less walking around, and more ways to feel like you had an effective turn. Unfortunately after quite a few plays I wish: The characters and their balance at different player counts was more even, there were more GOOs to change things up, and maybe some more Relics to change things up too. I still enjoy the game, but I'm thinking I want a little more stuff.

On the "right cards happening in the right order": This is inherent to the Pandemic system. This very thing bothers me in normal Pandemic and it bothered me in Pandemic Legacy too. I've had plenty of games where the player cards get spread out pretty evenly and the whole game is about who can trade what to who and whether it can even be done while keeping the diseases at bay. It bothers me less in Reign of Cthulu because the idea that some games are just doomed no matter what you do kind of fits with the theme. "Nice try, but the world is going to end anyway" seems a little more OK when it ends due to the supernatural.

Base game to base game comparison: Pandemic is an optimization exercise; Reign of Cthulu is an optimization core with more heart and a swig of "sometimes shit happens." That's probably funnier to me than it should be.
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12 Jan 2017 07:34 #242276 by JEM
I only really enjoyed Pandemic with In the Lab (plus OTB roles and events). It made the game tougher but also more or less removed the deck screwage. It also added a good deal of flavour to an otherwise fairly abstract card collection game. I can't see them implementing it for the other games in the series though.

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12 Jan 2017 08:39 #242279 by SuperflyPete

Egg Shen wrote: Nice review Matt. This paragraph pretty much sums up my feeling on Pandemic Series as a whole:

"Yet for all that it improves on Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu doesn't improve it quite enough. Even with all the extra stuff zipping around the board, it's hard to escape the sense that your destiny was set the moment you shuffled the deck. That however well you play, the ultimate arbiter of success is whether the right cards happen to be in the right order. Plus your ability to play can still dictated by a dictatorial alpha dog at the table: the curse of most co-ops."

No matter what glossy coat of paint or shimmery shade of lipstick they use...the underlying chassis of Pandemic is still about as much fun as getting blood work done. I have no idea why it's as popular as it is.

I think the completely unloved and overlooked Witch of Salem is the Euro-y, Cthulhu tentacled, co-op game I'd reach for instead. You can ignore the lame, "don't tell people if you saw a portal" rule and it's still hard as balls. I think it's a complete gem. Too bad it's long out of print.


I really didn't like Witch of Salem. None of the old group did at all, even after 3 plays.

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