Bring out the Board Games

Since so many of my posts on this blog involve sharing my adventures, it might often come across that I’m out and about a lot more often than I am home. While that may be true for some weekends, especially lately because of summer and all of the things going on in the city, I am still very much a homebody who enjoys a good weekend lounging on the couch, sitting around in pyjamas. While many of these weekends included a good ole Netflix binge or reading for an hour in the bathtub, there are many weekends that also include a bit of table top gaming.

Now, board games are something I’ve always enjoyed but they’ve wavered in and out of favour in my household over the years. As a kid I didn’t have as many opportunities to play board games because I was an only child. I was much more likely to sit down and play a game of cribbage with my grandparents than I was to set up a game of Monopoly (mostly because most of the adults in the house refused to play it). Occasionally games would be pulled out and dusted off for an afternoon but more often than not I relied on my Playstation to keep me entertained. High school brought about party games like Partini, Cranium, and the ever whacky Quelf. In University a friend brought over the Marvel deck building game Legacy and while my one friend Jessica really struggled to grasp the point system it was a great time. Still, these games seemed to only be dragged out whenever we were lacking something to do. They weren’t great constants in my life but they were always a fun time.

When Matt and I moved in together last year we started to find things for the two of us to do that didn’t always involve going out for the evening and dropping $100 like it was nothing. On a whim we picked up a new game from Chapters after reading that it was a cooperative board game. You see, we’ve always been weary about head to head games because I can get quite competitive and while that’s fun in a group one-on-one it can be a little infuriating. Even in a group it can get a bit heated (tip: be careful playing Ticket to Ride, there’s a lot of anger over plastic trains).

The game was Pandemic and it’s really the game that kicked off this obsession I have with board games.

The idea is quite simple: there are four strains of diseases spreading across the globe and it is up to your team (whoever is playing) to stop that from happening. There’s lots of ways to lose in Pandemic but only one way to win: cure all four diseases.

Each player gets a unique character to help your cause. Each character has a different special ability based on their occupation. Now, I definitely have my favourite character to play as (the scientist) but what is interesting about Pandemic is that different games will lend themselves to different characters. Sometimes you’ll lose and realize that you wouldn’t have been so screwed if you had been playing as someone else. Of course, you’ll never really know that until after all the plastic cubes have taken over the board.

As with most board games the set up the first time can take a bit but after two of three games it’s a pretty easy process to remember. I don’t even think it takes five minutes for us at this point and that includes my horrid deck shuffling.

Once you’ve moved through the set up steps of infecting the board it’s time to get to gameplay. Every turn each player gets to do a total of four actions (moving, building research centres, curing disease cubes, etc.) and at the end of their turn they draw two cards from the player deck. Player deck cards are used to help cure diseases; you need five of the same coloured cards to cure a disease. But inside the player deck there are also helpful event cards and the ever dreaded epidemic cards.

When an epidemic card is pulled an outbreak of disease cubes happens and if you’re anything like us there’s a large amount of cursing. Epidemics can completely screw over a perfectly fine game and there’s four of them mixed into the player deck. During an epidemic you infect a new city with three cubes and then you shuffle the cards of infected cities back onto the deck. This can be disastrous of course because often times these cities are the worst of. If an infection card is pulled and the city already has three cubes you then trigger an outbreak which spreads the disease into every connected city.

Now that sounds pretty bad, but it gets worse.

If the outbreak bursts into another infected city then that city outbreaks as well, thereby creating a chain reactions. Too many outbreaks is just one of the ways you can lose the game. There’s a counter on the side that you move down every time an outbreak happens and if you reach the skull you’ve lost.

The other two ways of losing include the following:

  • Running out of cubes of any single colour
  • Running out of cards in the player deck

For us, outbreaks and running out of cubes seems to be the most common. I can only recall one game where we actually got to the bottom of the player deck.

Pandemic generally plays out in 30 minutes to an hour. I find the more players you have the longer it takes because there’s a lot more debating about where to go and what to do. What had surprised me about this game is that it hasn’t becoming boring even though we’ve had it for a year. The relatively simple concept still throws you off your guard sometimes. We’ve had games where we’ve lost in fifteen minutes and we just kind of sat there gaping at the board. We’ve also had games that were going really poorly and ended up turning themselves around.

Our love of the game led to expansion games being thrown onto a Christmas wish list last year, alongside the standalone Pandemic: Legacy, which is essentially the base game on drugs. You change the game as you play over the span of a year, making it incredibly unique. When we’ve finished our year I’ll definitely come back with a review of that. It’s definitely pricier, especially for a game that is more or less a one off but it’s also great. Still, I strongly recommend starting with just the regular old Pandemic.

And now, I’m off to try and save the world, one small plastic cube at a time.

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