Pandemic: Rising Tide, by Matt Leacock and Jeroen Doumen, is a re-implementation of Pandemic. It is a fully co-operative game for two to five players, where, in true Pandemic style, players work together to avert disaster.
Initial set-up takes between five and 10 minutes. During this time, you will select objectives, difficulty levels and placement of board pieces. Games typically take between 45 and 60 minutes depending on the experience of the players.
Rising Tide Overview
Rising Tide is set in the Netherlands, with a map of the nation acting as the game board. You work together to prevent flooding in low-lying areas and drain tracts of land for expansion. The game takes place in the late Industrial Age/turn of the century. At this time, advances in science led to some great engineering feats being accomplished.
Players familiar with other Pandemic games will be completely at ease with the form and gameplay. Each player’s character has a specific ability that needs to be used to the advantage of the team. One player may remove additional water cubes as the pump operator for example. Meanwhile, the hydraulic engineer could build additional dikes on their turn.
The gameplay takes place on the board. Here, characters manage the flooding crisis, but at the same time each player is also managing a hand of cards. One needs to balance the cards in one's hand to achieve objectives, yet still use the cards wisely to share resources around the team. Water and flooding is symbolised by blue cubes and water can flow between regions depending on the presence (or absence) of man-made dikes, depicted on the board by wooded walls.
Players use up to four actions for their character. These actions allow them to move between regions, remove water, rebuild some of the water-controlling dikes or use some of their cards to achieve the main objectives. Use of the cards also allows players to build pumping stations or ports or to travel between regions. As with Pandemic, there are decisions to be made regarding the need to travel to an area in crisis against removing sufficient water from regions to prevent flooding.
Players add to their hand by drawing two cards. Most of these will represent regions within the Netherlands. Some cards depict additional bonus actions or engineering feats that might assist averting disaster, but randomly within the deck are a number (up to eight) storm cards. In the basic game players aim to collect five cards in their hand of seven to allow them to complete one of four objectives and build the structures needed to manage the water in the Netherlands.
Every turn leads to wear and tear of the normal Dutch water defences. Between two and four regions suffer degradation and the protective dikes are removed. This allows water to ingress to the low-lying regions. These region cards are drawn at random, but as with “standard” Pandemic, when a storm falls one region will suffer severe damage and the earlier region cards are shuffled to be reused again. This leads to great tension in ensuring that everything has been done by the player during their action to mitigate against disaster, but inevitably there is some element of chance that means that even the most prepared will suffer unexpected loss.
Each player’s turn finishes with water flowing between regions across regional boundaries and into low-lying areas that have not been adequately protected by dikes. This might lead to a chain reaction of sequential flooding in several areas and if all of the water cubes are used before completion of the objectives, the game is lost.
After several games where I was aiming to achieve the building of the four structures, I decided to graduate to the alternative objectives. These make Rising Tide a much more fiendish puzzle and battle of wits against the elements. As a result, the game moves to a different level. Contained within the basic game is an expansion of extra alternative objectives and additional gameplay involving the Dutch population (represented by red cubes). This is where decisions are crucial, and this really makes the game more re-playable and challenging.
Depending on which objectives are drawn, players need to develop the regions with populations by discarding region cards. By needing to use cards within one’s hand to increase a population, this can make completion of other objectives more difficult. As flooding occurs across the regions, the increase in water levels will affect the populations already there. This can mean some populations will die.
Another challenge is to ensure that no more than four populations are lost. The loss of five means that the game is over, irrespective of whether the objectives have been achieved. Some of the new objectives bring a level of intensity to the game and mean the Netherland’s flood defences start in a poorer state. As confidence and experience grows players can increase the difficulty of the game by increasing the numbers of objectives to be fulfilled, as well as increasing the frequency and number of storm cards within the deck.
Basic Game Thoughts
As is the case with most Z-Man titles, the Rising Tide board is of good quality. You'll find nicely crafted pieces representing pumping stations, ports or characters. The playing cards are well-made and the game has a robustness about it that will withstand many seasons of activity. However, unlike other Z-Man creations, there is no insert for the box so pieces and cards must remain bagged to be stored securely.
The artwork by Atha Kanaani is extremely good and the colours used are reminiscent of a bygone era. In keeping with the time in-which the game is set (early 20th century), it almost has a sepia tone to it. This gives all of the playing cards, and the board, a staid, almost Victorian feel to it. It certainly is not bright or inviting, and may not appeal to younger players. Whilst the images and diagrams are very good, the colours and tones used on the map, whilst represented in the cards, are also slightly dull and uninspiring.
The initial set-up is fiddly and takes some time. The placement of 50 dikes at locations across the map can be frustrating. The reason being that the wooden dikes can be easily dislodged. Also, by using a geographical map of the Netherlands, the boundaries between regions are rarely straight lines or of uniform length, yet the set-up requires placing a standard straight dike. This can make the board feel rather cluttered. Also, it can make it more difficult to see which regions are adequately protected from flooding.
This makes it difficult to accurately identify which regions are prone to flooding and those that are protected. Depending on the level of difficulty, the number of storm cards is selected and then the dikes begin to fail. This creates a sense of dread or relief depending on the areas to be degraded. It certainly means that plans for protecting regions need amending from initial thoughts. As with all co-operative games there is always of danger that one dominant character might try to dictate play.
There is a lot of tension during the game. This comes from collecting sufficient cards to complete objectives, against using cards to move or build to prevent flooding. Where that balance needs to fall varies between games and even can shift during different phases. This is what can make the game interesting or re-playable. A limit of just seven cards does mean playing or losing some cards strategically. This could be to make sufficient space to receive more important cards from other players.
I find that the basic game is reasonable to play a few times but can quite quickly become stale. However, this is helped considerably by the additional objectives and dimension of trying to protect populations from the effects of flooding. Indeed, without these extra cards and challenges, Rising Tide would struggle to give anything more than the basic Pandemic experience.
Gameplay in the basic game can be challenging and, due to the randomness of the cards drawn, every game is different. With experience, it comes clear that to stand a chance of winning the game, you must not rush objectives. Instead, you must understand the important of water and flood defence management. This is especially true when a population objective is involved.
On balance this is a good game, but not a great game. One can feel slightly disconnected from the theme and certainly the use of geographical regions will lead to frustration on the first few plays until one becomes familiar with the Dutch place names.
Thoughts on the Additional Objectives
In its basic format there is very little to recommend this over Pandemic aside from the water flowing element. However, where the game redeems itself slightly is when the special objectives are used with the increased tension of managing water, flood defences and populations within the low-lying regions of the Netherlands.
The new dynamic of deciding whether to begin populating an area early when you have sufficient cards is tricky. You need to think hard, as that population will need protecting. Doing so would allow you to play cards and make room for other useful ones in your hand. The presence of a population can also divert attention and resources away from other objectives.
You need to ensure the game isn't lost due to population being forced from the region. Therefore, you need to move characters to shore up dikes or remove water nearby.
By using these extra population objectives, I have found that the game wins more often than not. This is the main challenge of the game. Therefore, I would recommend only using the basic set-up for the first few games. This gives you the chance to become acquainted with the Dutch place names and water flowing mechanism.
I have owned Rising Tide for 18 months and not played it as often as many other games. I would only play it with others familiar with its nuances. Even then, we often consider other games before settling for it. This suggests that Rising Tide stretches the co-operative Pandemic theme a little too much.
Basic Pandemic with additional “On the Brink” and “In the Lab” expansions provides as much, if not more enjoyment. This is a clever spin on the Pandemic theme. Honestly, I believe it's best suited to Pandemic lovers who want a slightly different set of challenges.