Pandemic has been on my want list since the day the blurb for it was posted. It's one of those games--like Dune, Khronos, or King of Siam--whose concept alone is enough to get me excited. And that excitement continues after 3 plays.
The components are top notch. The box is super sturdy, perhaps the thickness of Mission: Red Planet, but made of the same materials as more standard boardgames. The cards are thick and coated, but not sticky. They aren't cut as perfectly as playing cards, but they shuffle well enough. The board is smooth, almost glossy, but not plastic feeling. The bits are nice, if a little chunky for the playing surface. But other than setup (all players and a research station in Atlanta), there's rarely too much to handle in one location. I didn't get a look at the insert; it had been discarded before I arrived. I'll try my best to salvage it when I get my copy of the game. My only minor gripe is with the role cards. They all have a dark purple background with a small colored pawn making it a little difficult to tell who's who from across the table.
The system for the spread of diseases and Epidemics is inspired. One card per city in the player deck and the Infection deck: My intuition would have been that this wasn't enough. Putting the discard pile on top of the draw deck after each Epidemic: My intuition would have said this was too likely to leave much of the world untouched. But it all works very well, and keeps the tension high all the way through.
I would describe the infection system as semi-random. Cards are drawn from a shuffled deck, each causing a new disease cube to appear. If a 4th cube of a given color is to be placed, then a cube of that color is placed on each adjacent city instead. This is called an Outbreak and can potentially cause a chain reaction of Outbreaks.
However, at any given time, you do know things. There are 9 cards in the discard pile from the setup. As each card appears, it cannot be drawn again until after the next Epidemic. Once an Epidemic occurs, you know you will be drawing all the cards that were in the discard pile before you draw any new cards. Each Epidemic can only occur in a city whose card has never been drawn before (from the bottom of the deck). So it's a constrained kind of random. You can make plans, even beyond dealing with the current situation.
The 5 player roles (Medic, Scientist, Operations Expert, Researcher, Dispatcher) are all fun to play. In my 3rd game, I was the Dispatcher. His special ability is that he can move other players, and can also move any player to another player. My first thought was that it wouldn't be as fun because you are essentially letting other players do the important and/or fun stuff (treating/curing diseases). So very wrong! Being able to continually put people exactly where they need to be in order to use their respective abilities is a very fun part of the game. In fact, the Dispatcher role may be the one with the most cooperative nature since his use requires the most planning and agreement. I would play that role any time.
I would recommend Pandemic to anyone who doesn't vomit at the sight of wooden cubes. The copy I played tonight had already been played 9 times in its first week. In fact, Z-man sold out the first print run in less than a month! How often does that happen?
Pandemic image by clloyd09