Pandemic: Contagion Review
I have to admit that the thought of role-playing as a disease has never crossed my mind. Be that as it may, I’ll certainly give it a shot if the name Pandemic is involved. Pandemic: Contagion is the most dramatic spin-off of the Pandemic series to-date, as players control the diseases in an attempt to kill the most people. Are things more entertaining on the germy side?
Each player takes control of one of the five diseases. Unlike the original game, where each person had a unique ability, colour, every disease starts out with the same. Also, Contagion differs in the fact that this is a competitive game instead of a cooperative one. This is probably an even bigger shift, as the teamwork dynamic is put aside for a more traditional competition.
The translucent cubes make a return, but the key component in this game are the Contagion cards. Each card features one of the five city colours. On your turn, you can play matching cards to infect one city with the same colour. You can draw more cards to give yourself more options. You can also spend cards to mutate your disease. By doing so, you can increase the amount of cards you can draw on future turns, the amount of cubes you can distribute to cities on your turn, and how resistant your disease cubes will be against the efforts of the World Health Organization.
The goal here is to kill the most people. This is done by spending your cards to spread your germs on the city cards that appear in the middle of the table. Each city can hold a certain amount of germs before it succumbs to the viruses that invade. When a city ultimately falls, points are distributed to those with the most, second most and third most points. Also, the player who places the final cube gets rewarded with a special action.
Of course, mankind won’t just roll over and die. During the course of the game, World Health Organization cards will come into play and wipe out a bunch of disease cubes from the game. This is where your resistance stat comes into play. The stronger your resistance, the fewer cubes you’ll need to remove fromt he game when WHO strikes. After the final WHO card, the player who managed to accumulate the most points wins.
All of this sounds well and good on paper, but it doesn’t ladder up towards a game that delivers any sort of enjoyment. I never felt like a disease spreading across the world. Instead, I felt like I was just playing cards and placing cubes based on what I had handy. Since your options are so limited in terms of actions on any given turn, it really didn’t feel like there was much I could do or that there was much to develop, especially with the WHO wiping out most of everyone’s progress on every fourth turn. Aside from spending cards towards drawing more cards, it didn’t feel like there was much strategy to the whole thing other than to play whatever cards you happen to have pairs of.
While I didn’t expect for Contagion to surpass the greatness of its source material, I am pretty shocked and disappointed in what this game has shaped up to be. You never really feel like you’re working towards a worthy goal. Making progress towards that goal is frustrating due to the limited number of actions you get and cards you have. Even when that pressure is alleviated by mutating your disease, the choices you make throughout are dull and don’t do much to evoke the sense of anarchy that you’re supposed to be creating. Not only is this a game that isn’t worthy of the Pandemic name, it’s not even that good by any measure.