When I first got back into board gaming in early 2015 I came with the notion that I hated dice - I guess it probably came from history of playing games where any in-game effects were based solely on the random luck of a dice roll. I also had no idea that there was such thing as a co-operative game, where all players competed together against the game itself.
Upon discovering the existence of co-operative board games I found Pandemic – a game where you are a part of a team of medical experts who travel around the world curing and stemming the spread of numerous diseases. It is a very epic card-driven game where you must work together or you will almost certainly lose.
In getting more and more into board gaming, games such as Elder Sign made me realise that dice rolling had moved on in recent years and clever people had invented ways to mitigate the randomness. So when I found out there was a specific dice game re-implementation with tons of custom-made dice, called Pandemic: The Cure, I had to check it out.
In Pandemic: The Cure each player has their own coloured set of personal dice, customised so that they’re different from everyone else’s. The infection cubes of regular Pandemic had been replaced by infection dice, which instead of being numbered one to six, had different numbers of pips each side, often repeating, to represent which region they’re most likely to infect! Now I was very interested!
Saving the World, with Dice
Pandemic: The Cure sets up in just a few minutes. It looks slightly bizarre and very unique, with no board to speak of – instead there’s the plastic treatment centre ring in the middle of the table with two syringes protruding from it. And then there are six region tiles arranged in a circle around the treatment centre in a numerically clockwise manner, with another round CDC (“Centre for Disease Control”) tile nearby. Three event cards are always visible with a cured diseases card for keeping track of which diseases you’ve cured.
You can choose your character either by preference, randomly, or deal two player cards to each player and let them choose between the two they were dealt. As well as a custom set of dice each player has a special ability (or abilities) that fits their role well.
On a typical turn you will begin by rolling (and possibly re-rolling) your custom player dice and then doing actions related to what you roll, then possibly give samples to another player or maybe try to find a cure yourself if you have enough samples of a certain disease, which is done by rolling all of your samples and trying to get a score of 13 or more. Next, you will infect regions as the diseases spread, rolling the required number of infection dice taken from the bag and placing them in their corresponding region (or the CDC if you were lucky enough to roll a cross sign).
The four standard actions on the dice allow you to sail to adjacent regions, fly to any region, treat diseases (which involves removing them from your region into the treatment centre or from the treatment centre back into the bag) and collect sample (where you pair you dice with a disease sample from the treatment centre, “bottling it up”). Some roles have a choice of actions or special actions on some die sides. The rules for the special actions are on the player’s role card.
Isn’t this just Pandemic Yahtzee?...
Perhaps the big question is "Should I buy Pandemic: The Cure if I already have Pandemic?" My answer is absolutely yes! The Cure has the exact same theme as regular Pandemic, uses a selection of the same roles, similarly titled events, the same graphic design style, the same four coloured diseases... All of these things might make someone ask "Why would I want more of the same?" - but the way Pandemic: The Cure plays is so different, somewhat simplified and (obviously) dice based.
Things are familiar but play so differently - the dice allow for a real sense of push-your-luck, as you can re-roll your player dice as many times as you like in order to be able to do what you desire, but on one side of each player dice is the dreaded biohazard symbol, which cannot be re-rolled and ups the infection rate - causing unwanted epidemics. Balancing your need for a certain action versus the possibility of rolling a biohazard is sometimes an agonising decision to make.
I also appreciate the fact that even when you draw infection dice from the bag there's a chance they'll land on the cross side, where instead of infecting a region they get placed in the CDC and become a sort of currency that you can spend to activate special events, three of which are always available - a lovely touch, showing that these diseases aren't all bad! Hmmm…
Pandemic: The Cure plays in less than half the time of regular Pandemic. It might not be as sweepingly epic as regular Pandemic but you really come away feeling you've had the "Pandemic experience", just in a more condensed and concentrated dose. And if you’ve played the original Pandemic a thousand times and feel you have “worked-out” the puzzle, the beauty of Pandemic: The Cure is that due to the unpredictably of the dice, you won’t ever feel like you’ve fully solved this.
We can be Heroes (just for one game)
Of the three difficulty levels I've had the most fun on “Heroic” (the most difficult), which is so hard that on the few occasions I've beaten it I've shouted it from the rooftops! My current record on Heroic level is three wins and 17 losses. I have lost a couple of times by having "too many people infected" (running out of infection dice) and once by "running out of time" (the infection rate syringe reaches the end of the infection track), but by far the most common way of losing is enduring eight outbreaks (when regions become too overloaded the disease spills to the next region and can cause chain reaction outbreaks).
Final Thoughts on Pandemic: The Cure
I love everything about Pandemic: The Cure; the medical theme, the fact that each player has their own set of custom dice, the coloured translucent infection dice, the weird abstract "board", and its clever differences from regular Pandemic.
Even at 25 minutes play-time the experience is not one of a filler game – you always feel like you’ve had an real gaming experience containing lots of excitement whether you win or lose.
I must say I also adore Pandemic: The Cure as a solo experience (playing with a selection of roles) and also playing it at breakfast time with my middle daughter. I can safely say I will never tire of this game.
I think the base game itself is so complete that I hesitated on getting the Experimental Meds expansion... But succumbed in the end…