Here at The Game Shelf we are huge fans of Pandemic, however we took quite a big break from playing it after finishing Pandemic Legacy Season 1. Playing 15 back-to-back games of Pandemic did, admittedly, give us some burnout.
When Z-Man Games released two variants in 2016 we didn’t take much notice, but eventually we tried Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu at a board game café and then Pandemic Iberia at a convention. Pandemic Iberia is the version we’ve chosen to add to our collection.
Pandemic Iberia is set in 1848, in the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and players take on the roles of nurse, railwayman, rural doctor, sailor, and more. You and up to four friends must cooperatively find the cures to malaria, typhus, the yellow fever and cholera. The game introduces new thematic mechanics, most of which help you to cure disease, for example building a railroad, providing water and sailing round the coastline, but unfortunately there is no way to eradicate disease in this version of the game.
The new variants add even more flavor to the game. The first introduces specific characteristics for each disease which make them harder to control in different ways. The second is a variant where patients (your cubes) flock towards hospitals, making outbreaks an even more pressing concern.
Much like the original game, Pandemic Iberia has you wandering a map trying to prevent disease outbreaks while researching cures. Each turn you get four action points that can be spent moving from place to place, removing disease cubes, setting up hospitals and researching cures. Afterwards you will draw two player-deck cards. These are either event cards that allow you to perform instant powerful actions, epidemics which infect cities and cause you to draw infection cards quicker, or city cards five of which in a colour can be combined to cure a disease, or they can spent for several different standard actions.
After this you will unveil a number of cards from the infection deck, the amount increasing as more epidemics occur, and add disease cubes to the cities revealed. Should a city ever get a fourth disease cube then it will outbreak, infecting every city it has a land route to. This can cause a chain reaction and should you get enough outbreaks or run out of any of the cubes then you lose the game. The game is won by researching a cure to all four diseases before the player-deck runs out of cards
Being set in 1848, there is a great difference in the available infrastructure and medical skills of your team. In the original you could dart across the world in commuter jets to quickly get to disease hotspots, in 1848 the Wright Brothers are yet to be born.
Instead, Pandemic Iberia allows you to set up the first rail networks of Spain. This will take valuable time early in the game to lay down track, but later on you will be able to speedily react to outbreaks in ways that would otherwise be impossible. To compensate for your slow movement, Pandemic Iberia allows you to purify water, by providing regions of the map with clean drinking water you can prevent the spread of disease (and cubes), if only temporarily. This allows you to leave a cured area behind, confident that it’s going to remain so, or simply provide a patch job as you pass through to prevent outbreaks.
Pandemic Iberia Review - Game Components (Credit: Z-Man Games)
Amy’s Final Thoughts on Pandemic Iberia
Original Pandemic is a fantastic game, it’s a great co-operative experience that works well with different player counts, gives each player unique, but useful, abilities and has a good sense of difficulty balance. Pandemic Iberia is a fresh, modern take on the game. It is a little harder than the original, especially when you use the optional patient or named disease rules, but in return you feel much more rewarded for playing well.
Setting up a rail network early in the game encourages you to take risks you wouldn’t have taken in the original, but in return you get huge rewards when you can traverse the entire map for one action!
The inclusion of two extra game modes feels like you have a free expansion for the game, keeping the replay-ability high, and allowing you to further fine-tune the difficulty. If you are playing with new or younger gamers then you can put them aside and play with less epidemics, but if you are playing with seasoned veterans then you can throw everything in and create a game that is really out to get you! Pandemic Iberia is a true upgrade to the original game and well worth a play.
Fiona’s Final Thoughts on Pandemic Iberia
Setting aside Pandemic Legacy, which I count as my best ever gaming experience, Pandemic Iberia is my favourite version of the game. The co-operative game system is still the classic Pandemic experience, but the addition of the railroad and purifying mechanisms really elevate this to more of a gamers game. In addition, whereas in the original game the only way to increase the difficulty was to add more epidemic cards, Pandemic Iberia offers you many more options which not only adds variability to your games, but also brings in some stronger thematic elements.
The other big appeal of Pandemic Iberia for me is the art style. Everything about the game is high quality, from the lined box, to the colour printed insert, the beautiful, unique card backs for each deck, the lovely board and the unique tokens, such as the wooden microscopes for the board. This game is just a pleasure to have on your table.
Pandemic has always been a well respected co-operative experience, which works well at all of the player counts, so long as you don’t have an alpha player around your table who wants to plan the moves on everyone’s behalf. You won’t enjoy Pandemic Iberia if you don’t enjoy the original game, but if you do or if you’re looking for a new co-operative experience then Pandemic Iberia is definitely worth a look.