When deciding to bring a popular board game such as Pandemic to a new platform one of the first questions you’ve got to be asking yourself is what can this version add to the already existing game to make it worth a purchase; more specifically, what can the move to digital bring to the table? How do you utilise the technology on offer to embellish upon what’s come before and justify the existence of another version of the same game? In the case of a co-operative focused game such as Pandemic - a game that thrives almost entirely on bringing groups of players together - the ability to add online multiplayer has got to be at least near the top of your list of answers, giving players an opportunity to play with other people whenever and wherever they want without the hassle of setting up the game or having to organise a night with their friends. Beyond this, perhaps guiding new players through their first games via friendly and informative interactive tutorials, giving this digital version of the game some added value to newcomers, or how about some unique one-time scenarios or twists on the vanilla formula to keep things interesting and add some longevity? And so, it is both odd and disappointing to see Asmodee Digital’s Pandemic: The Board Game arrive on consoles sans any of these additions.
The basic rules of Pandemic: The Board Game are reasonably simple enough, with you and up to three other people taking control of a selection of characters, including a scientist, medic, operations expert and researcher, each with their own unique abilities and take it in turns to try to stop four different colours of disease spreading across the globe and exterminating mankind. Each player has four movements they can make within a turn; travelling between connected locations on the map, treating infected areas, swapping game cards and using their specific character’s skill in order to contain the spread as much as they can. There are also epidemic and special event cards thrown into the mix and overall it’s a fun, frantic game that plays out over an hour or so, a pretty strategic and tense affair given it’s on a constant countdown to a global meltdown and keeping on top of the snowballing situation through tight teamwork is vital to achieving victory here.
Obviously, in the social setting the physical board game provides, with four humans gathered together to co-operate, this leads to all kinds of fun interactions, which is really the central selling point of Pandemic. In this videogame version, however, it loses a lot of its appeal. Playing single player against the computer sees you take control of all of the characters in the game and, although it works reasonably well enough (with up to five different difficulties to bang your head against), for us it doesn’t have any kind of potential beyond a few hours’ worth of play before you’ve beaten it a few times and are most likely done.
With no online component available, a situation Asmodee acknowledged as far back as last year in relation to the Steam version of the game but has yet to resolve, your only other option is to get friends together to play in local multiplayer mode, and, beyond the prospect of perhaps saving some money on buying the physical version of the game, it’s hard to see why anyone would really prefer to do this. Pandemic: The Board Game has a serviceable but rather clunky and dour interface; it can be finicky at times to move your character between cities without making mistakes, and overall it definitely takes second place to being able to sit down and move big chunky pieces around a nice clear board. That's not to say things are a complete loss here, visually it's a clean and intuitive set-up with all the information you need during a round on-screen and easy to understand, although jumping into the rulebook (which is something you'll certainly need to do in your first few games) should absolutely be an option available during a round rather than requiring you quit out to the main menu.
In terms of learning the rules there is a short training mode which attempts to instill the basics in newcomers through a handful of scenarios, but in all honesty it’s quite confusing if you’ve never played the game before, and you’ll find yourself needing to refer to the game’s rulebook which exists here as bland reams of text with no illustrations, interactivity or videos to help you out. At least when learning the rules with a physical copy of the game you have the pieces and cards and board in front of you to help give meaning to the words you’re reading. It feels like the minimum of effort from Asmodee and we ended up jumping online to watch tutorial videos from other players when it came to getting into the more complex rules and scenarios you encounter further into the game.
Overall there’s nothing particularly wrong this this version of the game, it’s Pandemic: The Board Game on your console, however it just feels like it’s lacking in modes and not fulfilling its potential on this particular medium. The physical edition now has in the region of around twenty playable characters to give things more variety, but none of that has been added here, and it’s little things like this that could have added up to it feeling like a more worthwhile enterprise; it all just seems a little lazy. If you’re already a fan you may very well see value in playing alone against the computer or just having the game to play on the go, or perhaps you’re interested in getting into the game at this much lower price point. Beyond these two scenarios it’s kind of hard to see why anyone would choose this version over the physical one.
Pandemic: The Board Game is a perfectly functional version of the popular board game, now available for you to play on-the-go in solo mode or with some friends in local co-op. If this version had included an online component - bringing the co-operative strength of the game to the fore - and perhaps some more engaging means of getting to grips with its rules it would be a much more worthwhile and easy to recommend package. As it stands just now however it feels like a very basic edition with little in the way of options that coasts on the strength of its central component just a little too much.