I recently received Pandemic for my birthday, even though it's not my birthday yet. I need to do a proper birthday post, but that can come later. Anyway, for the last week my project has been to explore Pandemic in a slightly rigorous way. I played the solitaire game on introductory level with all 10 different character combinations.
Yes, I know introductory level is for babies and sissies... but at the moment I'm more interested in seeing how the game works than plonking hundreds of cubes on the board. Anyway, out of 10 plays I had 9 wins. Here's a brief summary:
1. Researcher and Medic - WIN - 1 outbreak - 3 epidemics - 1 eradication
2. Researcher and Dispatcher - WIN - 4 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
3. Ops Expert and Dispatcher - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
4. Ops Expert and Researcher - WIN - 3 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
5. Scientist and Researcher - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 1 epidemic
6. Ops Expert and Medic - LOSE - 8 outbreaks - 4 epidemics
7. Scientist and Dispatcher - WIN - 6 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
8. Scientist and Ops Expert - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 2 epidemics
9. Dispatcher and Medic - WIN - 6 outbreaks - 3 epidemics - 1 eradication
10. Scientist and Medic - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
In the game that I lost the character whose turn was next had a cure ready and was at a research station, so I lost it by one action! I think I'd been a little negligent looking after the yellow disease in South America, but there's a reason for that. Anyway, the first point I'd like to address is:
WHICH IS THE BEST CHARACTER?
There are essentially 3 skills in the game: finding cures, moving, and curing the population. The important thing to realise about that game is that although curing the population is in your face as the obvious and most urgent thing to do, it's actually the least important with regards to winning the game. Not doing it will lose you the game, but doing it won't win for you. Finding cures is most important. Moving is a secondary function which assists you in doing the other two things. I tend to categorise curing the population as a tertiary action which is only there as a minor concern to stop the game ending before you win. With that in mind, the roles of the characters are:
DISPATCHER - helps movement.
OPS EXPERT - helps movement.
MEDIC - helps cure the population.
RESEARCHER - helps find cures.
SCIENTIST - helps find cures.
Yes, the Ops Expert is all about movement! By establishing research centres he lets the other character move around the board freely. In particular, if the other character needs the Beijing card to find a cure and the Ops Expert can get to Beijing, he can establish the research centre and still have the Beijing card when the other character gets there. That's much more difficult for other characters. Not having to go to a research centre can save each character a couple of movement steps, which can possibly add up to a complete turn of actions over the course of one card transfer.
The Dispatcher is obviously about movement, and I think he's more powerful than the Ops Expert. He just needs to get to Beijing and he can drag the other character straight to him. He can then send the other character away again, in many cases. I've realised the Dispatcher can be lots of fun, but more on that below.
The Researcher is a brilliant character because of her ability to transfer cards. Other characters go to such a lot of effort to transfer cards and it's often the rigmarole involved in that which loses them the game. The Scientist is similarly excellent because she just needs to get fewer cards. It's much more often the case that the Scientist will draw a cure from the deck and not require any card transfers at all.
That leaves the Medic as my least favourite character, because he performs only the tertiary function. He's hard to move, he's not much use in finding a cure. While he's doing nothing the diseases keep spreading, and THEN he acts like a hero cleaning them all up. Well, it might be too late! If he'd been more useful earlier in the game ten million people wouldn't have died in Calcutta!
I suppose the strongest character would be the Researcher, though the Scientist is very close. However my favourite for making cunning plans is the Dispatcher, and particularly his ability to move another character as if he was moving himself.
WHY DID I LOSE ONE?
The game I lost was with the Operations Expert and the Medic. As I've mentioned, the Medic is the worst character for finding a cure, and the Ops Expert is not much more help, so this is probably the worst possible combo. That game was also the one where an epidemic came out earliest, so the diseases were hitting us before we'd found any cures. Now here's something I learned from Critical Mass: if you haven't had an outbreak, adding 3 cubes in an epidemic won't cause the first one. Because if you haven't had an outbreak then the cards for all of the cities with cubes on them are on the top of the deck, not on the bottom. However in this game I had an early outbreak and I think the second epidemic caused a further outbreak... and it was all downhill from there. I was amazed we got to 3 cures before the game ended in a couple of nasty chain reactions. It also seemed that we just didn't have the cards we needed to get to anywhere useful, and whatever colour cards I decided to discard would be the ones I drew next. I will play that scenario again a few times to see what my success rate will be like.
WHAT WAS THE EASIEST WIN?
I was completely stunned in one game when the Scientist and the Researcher pulled off a win after only 1 epidemic. However these are the two characters best suited to finding cures, and they just hung around each other near the research stations, and kept transferring cards and finding cures. I had the extra bonus of being dealt the Atlanta card to start with, so I could fly directly to the most dangerous spot to treat the disease. This game took just 8 turns.
As you need to find cures to win the game, I only try to manage the disease cubes, not remove them, and focus on finding cures instead. Yes, it's vital to remove a third cube (leaving 2) from any city, but it's more important to transfer cards than to remove the the second cube (leaving 1).
If you need to remove cubes or transfer cards (other than with the researcher) then you'll need a good transport network to move around in, so establish some research stations as early as you can. I like to start the game, if possible, by flying somewhere, driving to the next city, and establishing a research station there. Often I just don't have appropriate cards and that makes the game difficult. It's ALWAYS worth the effort to use a card to establish a research centre on a city of each colour, because if you need to transfer cards you can use the research station to get to the vicinity quickly.
Transferring cards is *so* difficult without the Researcher that I tend to wait for almost enough cards for a cure to accumulate in one hand before making plans to transfer. When we do get on the trail of a cure I try to get the characters to cooperate to get all of the cards and a research centre in the same place.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
Lots of things. The powers in this game work together pretty sweetly sometimes, and there's scope for clever moves.
1. I tend to not notice when I hold cards for nearby cities and hence could use the "fly anywhere" ability. I need to keep more of an eye on that.
2. It's a very strong position to be holding a card for a city already containing a research centre. This can only happen with the Ops Expert or with a government grant. It allows you to move to any research centre, then to the one you hold the card for, then to anywhere. Maybe the Ops Expert should be looking to set up that sort of move.
3. The Ops Expert is effective as a trailblazer who goes into an area and establishes a research centre so other characters can get in there fast.
4. The Dispatcher can move another character on his own turn. It wasn't until game 9 that I realised that that includes driving. That's so cool! I had found a cure for a disease and desperately needed to remove some of its cubes from the board before it outbroke. So the Dispatcher drove the Medic through that area, and the Medic removed 8 cubes on the Dispatcher's turn - the Medic's presence removes cured diseases. I look forward to figuring out more fun ways to use the Dispatcher now that I've realised that.
I have unfinished business with the Medic and the Ops Expert. I want to see whether I got unlucky, or whether they really are hard to win with. After that, I think I will repeat this experiment on normal level. That'll keep me quiet for a while.