Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pandemic: Contagion - An Infectious Review

Hello everybody!

Today I am reviewing one of my "must have" games from Gen Con. It has been awhile since the convention, but last night I finally had the chance to play it. Pandemic: Contagion designed by Carey Grayson is a new take on Matt Leacock's popular cooperative Pandemic game. It focuses on the other side of the "war", you and your opponent's are the various diseases of the Pandemic world competing to be the most deadly virus outbreak across the globe.
Proceed with Caution
Each player begins by picking their disease color, the game comfortably plays from 2 to 5 players, by taking their respective Petri dish, player board, and scoring token. Once every player is setup, a number of city cards are placed face up in the center of the table and every player is dealt 4 contagion cards. The cities are the battlefield for your sickly strikes as you try to infect the populace 1billion people at a time. The contagion cards are just colored to match the cities, as you must discard 2 matching colored cards to infect an area.
Yellow Disease starting the turn.
A player can perform 2 out of 3 actions during their turn - either Incubate (draw contagion cards), Infect (place your disease in a city), or Mutate (discard a number of cards to "level up" your disease). The trick to the game is that there is a dreaded Event deck that does a good job of dictating the flow of play. The Event deck is made up of two kinds of cards, the orange Event cards that are mostly helpful to the diseases and the blue Who cards that try to fight the further spread of infection. The cards add some flavor and help to facilitate the first few rounds of scoring. Some of the orange cards are marked with a skull and crossbones, when two of them have been drawn the players will begin the round by scoring points for their Death Tolls. This is usually only a small handful of points (2 to 4 depending on the city) where the smallest disease at the location scores.
A helpful card for a sick, sad world
There is another chance to score, however, and that is if a city is filled with enough disease to wipe out the entire population. Once that happens the whole city is scored giving the player with the highest amount of diseased citizens the most points. The game goes on until their are only 2 cities left standing or the event deck runs out of cards. With the exception of players with analysis paralysis, the game plays in about 30 minutes with 2 to 4 players, a little longer I would suspect with 5 (haven't had a chance to try 5 players yet).

Cities for the taking
The game is very competitive and gives the players a lot of room to get in each others way. If you can be a thorn in the side of anyone else that is typically a good move to take as it can net you some good points while hopefully knocking them down to second or third place in a city. As far as that goes though, the game is very light with little use of strategy. I said it earlier that the event cards help dictate the turns of the game, it is true. We had one game where I was going to boost my card draw and then draw cards for my opening turn, but the event let players add 1 extra infection cube to a new city. I scraped my original plan in order to place 3 infections at once. The events aren't too powerful, but they have a strong hold on the flow of the game. The game itself plays smoothly with little to no hiccups in rules, the only problem we ran across was the city cards special abilities. The rules say when the final infection cube is placed on a city that player gets to use the ability. Very straightforward. However, we found ourselves in the unique position ( a few times) where due to an event multiple players placed their cubes on the same city causing it to score, but who gets to use the ability? There's no rule of the situation, granted it is rare that it happens, but an errata or a rules exception would be nice. Overall the game is nicely crafted and does justice to Leacock's Pandemic. The one thing that I don't care for is the 2 player game. I play a lot of the games I have as 2 players since it is mostly my fiance and I that play. Pandemic: Contagion uses a dummy player in this case, which I find very annoying to have, and there are specific city cards to use for only 2 people. That is all well and good, but very unnecessary. The game is also a little lackluster with only two, but shines at 4 players. Take that as you will, but for me if you want a 2 player game this one is only middle of the road.

I have one last thing I want to talk about, the components. The game is wonderful to look at.
Everything in the box
The player boards are very well made. They have great spaces to comfortably hold the infection cubes used for leveling your abilities and the disease Petri dish. The cards are all of a nice quality and showcase some nice art for the game. Once again, I only have one exception to this and that is the player scoring tokens. They are ok, just typical plastic discs, I wish they are a little wider and taller. I had some issues, with my big fingers, picking them up and moving them around, other than that the quality of them is fine.

Overall, the game is nice. It is one I would bring to the table in play with almost any group of people, but there are other games I would rather play. The game has a similar feeling to Smash Up, where you are playing cards to take over an area, meet the population (or base's breakpoint in Smash Up), and score the area. Don't get me wrong, the game is fun and easy to play in a short amount of time, but it loses out to some other games and definitely sinks at 2 and 3 players.

I recommend the game for people looking for a shorter game than Smash Up or for big Pandemic fans. Its good and I give it one diseased thumb up.

Thank you for reading another Daemonic Teutonic review. I hope you are enjoying these. Please feel free to comment and discuss.


1 comment:

  1. A bit late, but I only just found this review. In answer to your question:

    As you said above: "The rules say when the final infection cube is placed on a city that player gets to use the ability." That is on pg 6 of the rules.

    However, what you state next perplexes me: "...due to an event, multiple players placed their cubes on the same city causing it to score, but who gets to use the ability?"

    Play is not simultaneous, so if you were playing the events on each player's turn, as the rules state, then the very first person (in turn order) who placed the disease cube and triggered the city eradication, would be the person who got to play the city card action.

    If there is a tie, between the tied players, the person who played in the city first (top most line) wins the tie.

    Sorry it spoiled your experience with the game.

    Carey Grayson