When it comes to a deadly, unstoppable outbreak of disease, most people would be on the side of the good doctors, trying to save the world from a slow and painful downfall. The people behind the video game Plague Inc. are not most people. In Plague Inc., your goal is to engineer a disease that will kill everyone on Earth. You give it a name, choose its country of origin, and off it goes to its first day of infection. From there, you’ll slowly accumulate DNA points, which allow you to evolve your disease. You could make it easy to attach itself to birds, or be more resistant to drugs, or cause those infected to begin projectile vomiting.
Ultimately, though, the doctors and scientists of Earth will join together in an effort to destroy your disease. You have to do your best to slow them down, because once a cure is found, it is almost impossible to win. There’s a host of evolutions alongside several disease types, scenarios, and difficulties, so there’s plenty of options to alter your course before the hunt for a cure begins. This is where the strategic depth of the game comes in: When will you buy your next evolution? What will it be? How will adapt and plan for important world events? You will only ever earn a limited number of DNA points, so it is easy to waste your resources on higher difficulties. Careful choices based on where the disease thrives, where it struggles, and how aware the human population is are key.
For those feeling a little less murderous, Pandemic provides a cooperative tabletop experience where you and your friends take the role of CDC doctors trying to control the spread of four major diseases around the world. During your turn, you can take up to four actions, which might include moving yourself or another player, treating disease, or sharing information. After your actions, you’ll draw an Infection card, spreading disease in a number of cities on the game map, like London or Tokyo. Then you’ll draw two Player cards. Most of these will represent a city on the map, and are used for several crucial actions like quick movement or curing a disease. A few are Special Events, which will have a one-time positive effect for the players. There are also Epidemic cards sprinkled within the Player deck, which we’ll come back to later. Ultimately, the goal is to find the cure for all four diseases.
It’s not so easy, however. The players lose if the Outbreak meter reaches the end. They lose if they run out of player cards to draw. They lose if they need to spread disease and there are no “disease cubes” left in the game. In the simplest sense, it’s at least three times as easy to lose as it is to win, and it’s often even tougher your first time out. Whenever a player is forced to spread disease to a city that already has three “disease cubes”, an Outbreak occurs, and every city attached to that city gets a cube instead. And the Oubreak meter goes up. The aforementioned Epidemic cards spread disease, make the players draw more Infection cards every turn, and yes, the Outbreak meter probably goes up for good measure. Pandemic is not for the faint of heart.
Everyone takes one of the seven roles during the game. The Contingency Planner can use Special Event cards that have already been played. The Dispatcher can move other players’ pawns more effectively than the players themselves. The Medic can remove all disease cubes from a city with one action, where other roles can only remove one. The Operations Expert doesn’t have to use Player cards to take certain actions where other roles would. The Quarantine Specialist prevents the city they’re currently in as well as all connected cities from receiving disease cubes. The Researcher can pass other players their Player cards more easily. Finally, the Scientist needs only four Player cards (instead of the normal five) of one color to find the cure to the disease of that color.
Pandemic is one of the most popular cooperative games out there, and not without reason. The most critical aspect of the game is strong teamwork and an ability to think on your feat and prepare for the worst. This is Pandemic after all. The worst will happen, you can guarantee it.
Hypochondriacs will find their true calling here. Whether you prefer saving the world, in Pandemic, or devouring it whole, in Plague Inc., you’ll find your fix on Game the Game. It airs on our Twitch channel tonight from 4-7pm PST, so be sure to tune in! Want to see Pandemic in action? Check out the Pandemic TableTop episode.
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