Pandemic: Rapid Response it's a quick, simple, and very fun real-time dice-rolling/manipulating game published by Z-Man Games in 2019. The game is designed to reproduce a stressful crisis situation by pushing players to take quick decisions while the sand of the hourglass timer relentlessly runs out. The fact that 2-4 players can work cooperatively to beat the timer offers a great opportunity for fun but it can also result in a noisy chaos and a lot of confusion.
Although the rulebook is quite clear, we though a simplified overview of the rules can help everyone to get faster into the game and to avoid some of the frustration that can come by missing some rules. Later in this article, I will also share a few strategic hints that I found playing the game at large with my family and my friends. So, let's take off and head to the first city!
Warming-Up The Engines: Game Overview & Set-Up
Pandemic: Rapid Response is quite simple to setup. Once the main game board placed in the centre of the table, each player takes a player piece, a set of six dice of the same colour and a role card. The role card details the starting position of the player (top right corner) and a special ability that can be used one or more times during each turn. Once all player markers placed, the cubes representing the supplies that can be produced are also placed in each of the five manufacturing rooms depicted on the plane board. The waste marker is also placed on the waste tracker.
The hourglass timer is then set in the control room of the plane together with three Time Tokens. All the other tokens should be left close to the board to be used later in the game. Both these items are key to monitor game progression and victory condition. In particular, the hourglass ensures that each round of the game lasts for exactly two minutes. Once the sand in the timer runs out, the ongoing round is over and one Time Token is returned to the box from the board. One new Time Token is added to the control room any time all the needed supplies are delivered to a city but if the players ever run out of tokens before all cities have been helped, they will lose the game.
|Finally, a number of city cards are revealed one at a time and the plane miniature is placed on the first of them. Each city card has to be placed on the corresponding slot on the sides of the gaming board. A few more city cards are also placed face down as the city deck in number depending on the complexity chosen for the game. At beginner level, it is recommended to have 2 cards in play and 3 to make the city deck while at Heroic level, these will be 4 and 9 respectively. If you are looking to a more challenging experience at any level, crisis cards can also be added to the game but for the purpose of this walk-through I will assume we are not using them.
Take Off: Start The Clock & Round Structure
A key aspect to understand is that Pandemic: Rapid Response is a real-time dice game where players takes turns one at the time trying to achieve their common goal. The aim of the game is to produce all the supplies needed to the city where the plane miniature is located in order to then move to the next city and repeat the process. Once all cities have been helped, the game is over and the players win.
At the beginning of each round a two-minute timer has to be started and then players takes turns one at the time till the sand runs out. It has to be noted that from the second round onwards, the first player will be the one next to the one that was playing once the timer stopped.
At the start of their turn, a player must roll all their available dice without removing any that have been placed on the board previously. The player may then decide to take any available action exhausting the corresponding dice and placing it apart from all the others dice (for example on the role card) to avoid confusion. At any time during the turn, the active player may also re-roll any or all of their not-exhausted dice up to two times and the new results have to be accepted.
The actions available and the corresponding cost are:
Move (dice with any symbol): player marker can be moved between any two rooms with an open door;
Move Plane (dice with Plane symbol): advance the plane to an adjacent city either clockwise or counter-clockwise;
Assign Dice to a room (dice with room Supply symbol): one or more dice showing the same symbol as the one in a room can be added to the queue in order to create new supplies. The only exception is the Waste room where any dice can be placed in any space as far as it is different from any other symbol already placed there. Assigning a dice can only be done if the active player marker is in that room and if the amount of dice placed fills completely one or more grouped spaces on the production queue. This last requirement is very important and it means that players need to be mindful not only to have the right symbols but also enough dice when planning a production. In addition, once a dice placed on any spaces, it will not be able to be returned to the player until the supply produced.
Activate Room (no cost): any room the active player marker is in can be activated in order to generate the indicated resources. This can only be done if the amount of assigned dice correspond to at least a full group. As a result of the activation, an amount of cubes corresponding to the dice group can be removed from the room and placed in the Cargo Bay in any available space. All the dice assigned to the room is then rolled again and the Waste counter is moved up by one for every dice showing a circle around the symbols. On the other hand, if you activate the Waste Room, the dice are not rolled and the counter is moved down depending on the number of dice previously assigned to the Waste room. All dice are then returned to their players as exhausted.
Deliver Goods (dice with a Plane symbol): Once a player is in the Cargo Bay, a Plane dice can be spent to deliver supplies from the plane to the city the plane is currently on. Plane must be on a city in order to take this action and all goods showing on the city card must be delivered at once. No partial delivery is allowed. Once all supplies delivered, the city card is removed and a new Time Token is added to the HQ room together with all the others and the timer.
It should be noted that all actions can be taken in any order and multiple times. In addition to that a player can decide to not take any action or to complete their turn even if they still have dice or feasible actions.
The Timer Runs Out! End Of The Turn & End Of The Game
When the Timer runs out, the turn is over and the game is paused. A Time token must be discarded and if players cannot discard a token, the game is over. Then, if there are still cards on the City Deck, the top card of the City Deck is flipped face-up and placed below the city marker on the sides of the board. Note that you can only flip one card each time disregarding how many cities are in play or have been completed in the turn.
The hourglass can then be flipped again and a new turn starts till all city cards have been fulfilled or there are no Time Token left. In addition to not having Time Tokens left, the game can also be lost if at any time the Waste counter reaches or exceed the last space on its track. You need to save the cities but you have to be mindful of the environment too!
A Few Strategical Hints
After playing a few games, you would likely work out a few ways to beat Pandemic: Rapid Response and how to make your strategies more efficient. Obviously there is a lot of variability in this game due to city and role cards and this will force players to constantly adjust their plans. It should also be noted that even a perfect strategy may fail due to the high level of chance associated to the dice roll. Personally, I found a few interesting features of this game I would like to point out and I hope that may help everyone to get a nice head start:
- Turn length is not fixed. I know, the Sand Timer will always be two minutes long but what the players may be able to achieve in this time is highly dependent on their focus and their luck with the dice. Sometimes, short turns are still good as you may need to set things in motion to achieve more in the next turn. For example, if the active cities are very far away you may pass the turn producing resources or cleaning the waste tracker hoping the next city card revealed will be half-way through the other cities.
- Always have a plan when using and re-rolling the dice. Once the timer starts, players may be tempted to rush taking actions or re-rolling dice that are not apparently useful to them. Before doing anything you should always have a clear main goal you want to accomplish in your turn and strategize when and how to use your dice and actions. For example, there is no point in spending a dice to move to a room and then re-roll the remaining dice to see if you get all the symbols you need. If your aim is to assign dice to a room, you should first re-roll all your dice and than move once you have all the symbols you need. That's purely because of how statistics works. If you can’t accomplish your main goal, you can still either move the plane, get rid of some waste, or move to a room you are hoping to use next turn. Remember also that quickly passing the turn may sometimes be the best choice.
- More supplies may mean less dice. When you activate a room you always face the dilemma of producing less supplies quickly or to assign more dice to produce them more efficiently. Usually is better not to overproduce as your cargo bay has limited spaces available but at the same time manufacturing some additional supplies will surely save time and efforts. I personally found that having a bit more supplies usually pays off but it is always a gamble.
- Keep an eye on your Waste! Generating too much waste can immediately end the game thus it is important to keep the counter as low as possible. Players should try to spend time in the Recycler every turn as you may be forced to skip producing the supplies you need just because your Waste counter is too high. Spending spare dice to reduce the Waste even by one is also often a very good use of your time.
- Don't forget you are Unique! The player ability associated to your role is critical to success. Players should make sure they understand how to use it and to no forget to exploit it every time they can.
- Keep an eye on the time! Running out of Time Tokens means that the game is over hence it is very important to complete city cards as soon as possible to generate more tokens. This may mean sometimes the less efficient options may be better to complete a city card and keep the game going for another turn.
- Clear communication and teamwork are key to success. The best part of Pandemic: Rapid Response is that it is a cooperative game and, as such, winning is the result of a team effort. Player interaction is highly recommended and it is one of the aspects that make playing this game very pleasant. On the other hand, shouting orders to each other may be counterproductive and can create a lot of confusion potentially not helping to achieve victory.