Tuesday, March 10, 2009

6 of one, half a dozen epidemics

My wife and I picked up the boardgame Pandemic in early February. It's a cooperative game where you play the CDC, attempting to save the world from several simultaneous outbreaks. We enjoy it quite a bit, though I've wondered (even before we bought it) if perhaps it didn't have enough complexity. Game play is a little repetitive, but it turns out it's fun even on the 27th play.

The game has three levels of difficulty: Introductory, Normal and Heroic. The only real difference is the number of Epidemic cards in the deck. It'll be 4, 5, or 6 depending on the difficulty. Looking at that, you'd expect the jump from Introductory to Normal (a 25% increase in the number of Epidemics) would be bigger than the jump from Normal to Heroic (only a 20% increase in the number of Epidemics).

The game is pretty fast, so we typically get in about 3 plays on the nights we break it out.

The first two nights, we played on Introductory level, and we won. That wasn't nearly challenging enough, and the second night felt like there was no real danger of losing. So we switched to Normal difficulty with a record of 6 for 6.
At Normal, the game was a bit trickier, but we still won 12 games without losing. A few of them were close, but we were 18 for 18, and felt like it was time to step it up again.
Since switching to Heroic, we haven't won a single game. 0 for 9 on Heroic, 18 for 27 overall.

I can't figure out what we're doing wrong, why we can't even get close to beating the Heroic difficulty. We've tried a variety of tactics, and refined our methods with serious analysis between games. The 26th and 27th games, we even cheated a little. We picked the two character roles that we felt were the most powerful (and which combo very nicely as well), instead of assigning them randomly. We even looked at our opening hands and the initial infection placement before choosing which of us would go first.

In the 27th game, we'd not only cured, but actually wiped-out all trace 2 of the 4 pathogens, and had nearly cured the 3rd. It was the closest to a win we'd managed on Heroic. We weren't going to cure the 4th anytime soon, but it was manageable with no more than 2 cubes in any city (and 0 or 1 in most), and the medic was in that area. Half the cards in the deck were now safe, and it looked for sure like we were going to win. Then the 5th Epidemic card was drawn. A new city was drawn, and wouldn't you know it was that 4th color? The discards got shuffled and put atop the deck, and the new city came up again. It "outbroke" into 5 other cities, some of which already had 1 or 2 cubes in them. Drawing the rest of the cards for the turn lead to a total of 4 outbreaks - just exactly enough to make us lose the game via the outbreak meter.

From the verge of victory (with no sense of danger!) to utter loss in less than half a turn. It was awesome to see, just once, but painful to reflect upon.

No comments: