For several years, Pandemic has existed as an extremely popular board game. Designed for cooperative play, you assume various roles in an attempt to stop a pandemic from infecting the entire globe. As someone who owns the board game, I can vouch for Pandemic. It’s an incredibly fun concept that forces you to work strategically with your friends, and it’s hugely satisfying when you finally manage to win. The video game version is pretty much a carbon copy of the original board game, but instead, you play it on an Xbox. So, does Pandemic translate well to consoles, or is it a failure?
You can play Pandemic either solo or with friends (which I would recommend a bit more), and the concept remains the same every time – A global epidemic is spreading, and it’s up to you and your team to stop it. At the start, you’re able to select between several different roles including medic, scientist and field dispatcher, each of whom have a special ability. Medics are able to remove infection cubes from any of the cities on the board, accumulating as you draw cards which determine the cities that become infected, while the field dispatcher has the capability of moving players around the board at will. Selecting your team roles is vitally important, and it’s fun to figure out the combinations which works best.
Each player gets four actions in a turn, and must also draw three city cards to infect, which, as previously mentioned, adds an infection cube to that city. There are four different diseases you have to wipe out, each exclusive to different regions of the world including Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East and Africa. Special event cards exist to help players out, including the ability to sneak a peek at what cities are queued up for infection along with other abilities. Player actions can involve fairly simple functions including moving between cities and clearing infection cubes. To wipe out an infection, players must possess enough city cards of a certain region, and then visit a research station. One is built by default at the start of the game, and others can be built in different locales if the requirements are met.
However, players are effectively working against the clock. Because what’s a little fun without the danger of imminent destruction? Cities can only endure three infection cubes without any ill effects, and once one reaches a fourth, it triggers an outbreak which sets off a domino effect that affects any cities connected to that site. You are only allowed a certain number of outbreaks before the game ends, with the number dependant on the difficulty. For those that are unfamiliar with the game, it’s probably smart to start on the lowest difficulty to get your bearings, as even as someone who has some experience with the original board game, I struggled on my first few tries. Thankfully though it never feels unfair.
Also adding some danger are epidemic cards hidden in the card pile, which bring infection cubes to potentially dangerous sites. In addition to increasing the number of infection cubes in play, it also increases something called the infection rate marker by one, upping the stakes further. There’s a real sense of chaos that sets in when things start to go wrong, and it can help bring you and your party together in an attempt to stop the crisis. It’s also amusing how quickly a game can end if you run out of luck, but keeping in line with the board game, there’s a balance here between calm and madness.
Now, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I was previously familiar with Pandemic before I played the game, but newcomers may well struggle a bit. This is because the game isn’t particularly intuitive when you begin. While you are guided through what to do, the multitude of rules and different types of cards may confuse and overwhelm someone who isn’t already familiar. The game could definitely do a better job of making the rules clearer from the get go. Yes, there are training sessions that will help induct new players, but even these may seem a bit much for the uninitiated.
In terms of available game modes, you can only play solo or with friends against the CPU. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option for any online multiplayer, which would definitely add a different dimension to the cooperative aspect. The game will largely remain fun because of the brilliant concept and execution, but those who want a bit more variety may struggle playing the same thing over and over after a while.
So all in all, Pandemic is largely a success, with some problems. There’s a good sense of balance here, and the difficulties seem fair. The controls are very simple, with only a few button presses needed to actually play, so it’s accessible and ideal for somebody who doesn’t play many games. The lowest setting is probably best for newcomers who have never played the game to get a sense of things, but Pandemic on Xbox One should probably be a bit more intuitive for those who don’t have any experience with the board game. The lack of variety in different modes is also a problem, but for those looking for a fun translation from board game to video game, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for.