On The Table: Pandemic Contagion – First Impressions

Pandemic Contagion

I recently came into contact with a new pandemic that Z-man Games has released upon the world… hmm maybe I should rephrase that. Pandemic: Contagion is a new game in the Pandemic line published by Z-man games. I made the unplanned purchase only a couple weekends ago and have managed to get in a good handful of games. The purpose of this write up is to give my first impressions after about three games.

First of all even if you have heard of Pandemic before you might be a little confused as to why I called it a line of games. Before the release of this game and Pandemic: The Cure there was only one Pandemic game and that was the original (and its expansions) but with these two new additions and the future release of Pandemic: Legacy it really does create a nice little family of disease theme games.

Pandemic: Contagion is a game for two to five players and unlike the original this game is strictly competitive. That isn’t the only difference from the original though; in this one you play as the diseases, trying to wipe out cities across the globe. Now I can already see a decent number of  the co-operative game’s fans turning away just because of these two facts alone. With no special powers or anything beyond turn order and your own options to separate players and strategies the game may seem a little bland at first glance. The game is also much shorter with an average game time of around thirty minutes.

Designed to look clearly Pandemic the game is rather nice to look at.

Designed to look clearly Pandemic the game is certainly visually appealingt.

With all those differences from the original Pandemic game you might be wondering what makes this a Pandemic game and why I for one still really feel like it fits in well. Well first of all the art design and components are ripped directly from the revamped Pandemic including the Petri dishes and plastic translucent cubes.

The similarities don’t end at the look and theme. Set collection which was used to fuel your cures for the diseases in Pandemic and would help you travel is now the basis for you infecting the different cities. Each city card is in a colour which matches one of the colours found on the contagion cards.

The goal of this game comes down to the points. Person with the most points when the game ends is the winner. How do you get those points? Well each city has a max number of infected it can carry before it is wiped off the map and when that happens the top three who have infected (placed the most cubes in) the city get points according to the card. The topmost getting as many points as the card can hold cubes. On top of this the person who placed the last cube and broke the city gets to use a special action/ability listed on the city card (once only). The number of cities is determined by the player count and others may be added through the game.

For those familiar with a variety of games the way tend to describe the core mechanics is like a mixture of Smash Up and the Pandemic-ish set collection and theme. Taking the base breaking from Smash Up replacing the themed cards with tricks and strengths with simpler cubes counting to reach the break point. Then adding characteristics to boost to develop your own play-style.  Ultimately all these elements create a more Euro kind of feel to this game for me in comparison to Smash Up’s Ameritrash theme heavy antics.

Payers have three mutation (stats) that determine the effectiveness of their disease.

  • Incubation Rate – used to increase card draw
  • Transmission rate – used to determine how many cubes you place when infecting a city
  • Resistance – used to prevent negative effects of event cars

Each round of the game the first player flips over the top event card on the event deck. There are twelve of these events in the deck with not all events being used in every game. Each game uses nine of the provided standard events and three of the WHO events.

These two types of events should be prepared for differently with the standard event cards having some positive and some negative effects; while the second kind of events, the WHO events, are always dangerous to the players. The WHO events are the forth, eighth and twelfth cards in the constructed event deck. The game ends when either all city cards are removed (after being scored) or there are no new event cards when the first player takes their turn.

The standard event cards also may have a symbol on them. If you have a card with a city symbol in the corner another city is added off the top of the city deck on top of the power listed on the text. The second symbol is a skull and crossbones. For every second one of these that appear a scoring round is triggered and the player with the most cubes on each city scores points equal to the lowest number list on the card (same points as scoring third when the city breaks).

On your turn you take the action list on the event card (sometimes mandatory) and take two actions from the following three options:

  • Draw contagion cards according to you incubation rate.
  • Spread disease equal to your transmission rate.
    • Using 2 cards matching a city colour to infect a new city
    • Using 1 card matching a city you have already infected
  • Advance one of three mutations to the next level by discarding contagion cards according to price listed on your player card.

As you only get four cards to begin with and then have to drawn any additional ones as you play it seems like the first turn is almost mandated to be discarding two cards to bump up incubation rate and then drawn new cards. This then made it easier to bump up other mutations and get the required cards to start infecting. The only time anything else appeared to be even viable was when the first event allowed us to infect extra (add more cubes) when infecting a new city.

Overall I certainly enjoyed the game in these first few plays and being a game that doesn’t take up a terribly large amount of space or time it is one that I feel will make many more appearances at my regular game group. The range of players allows for it to work as a great filler while waiting for others to finish their games. Not being overly complex mechanisms or decision to make I think it will have a good place as an introductory game for new gamers or to introduce people to new concepts. My only concern is how long it will remain fresh for experienced gamers.

If you have had a chance to play Pandemic: Contagion let me know what you think in the comments or if you have any questions about the game fire away.

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