Sunday, April 15, 2012

Petri Keen

Having an appreciation for design and theme makes me pretty susceptible to kitsch, even potentially unsettling kitsch.


I've been a fan of the game Pandemic by Z-Man Games since I picked it up about a year ago. It is a collaborative game where the players adopt different roles (Scientist, Dispatcher, Medic, etc) and work together to find the cures to four diseases before they become so widespread they're unstoppable.


Incidents of the four different diseases are represented by different colored wooden blocks, but these innocent looking geometrics take on a sinister aspect when three of them are already resting on Baghdad, and that city's card reappears, meaning the disease will now outbreak in all five neighboring cities. ("All right, take a charter flight to Miami, then get to the CDC in Atlanta so you can catch the shuttle to the research station in Baghdad; we have a chance of stopping it before it breaks out in Algiers..." "Okay Fenya, I'm on it!")


I picked up the expansion pack entitled On the Brink yesterday, which includes new cards, new roles and three new scenarios, including one where one player assumes the role of a bio-terrorist, actually trying to thwart the other players in their mission to save humanity. Ah well, like Alfred says, some men just want to watch the world burn, I suppose.


Adding variety to a game like this is an excellent way to prolong its longevity, but it isn't always needed; after all, I keep coming back to Monopoly and Reversi as much for the familiarity as anything else. But if I am being honest with myself (which I try to do as little as possible), the main reason for my buying On the Brink is for the petri dishes they give you to house the disease blocks.


These containers adds very little organizational structure or efficiency to the game, as the teeny tiny zip-loc bags did an entirely adequate job of keeping the red blocks (which I today referred to as viral haemorrhagic fever) from getting mixed up with the black (which Fenya named supercalifragilisticexpialidociosis). In fact, they wont even fit into the original game box, which the zip-locs did.


No, what they bring is a chilling bit of verisimilitude and set dressing to a challenging game with excellent design, and a level of rising tension I haven't encountered since the edition of Space Hulk with the timed turns. When you find a cure and get the last block of that colour off the board, it cannot come back, and let me tell you, putting the lid on that particular petri dish, knowing you've seen the last of it? Very, very satisfying.

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