Board Game of the Year 2013 Runner-up: Pandemic

By Owen Faraday 17 Dec 2013 0
Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Digital Cube. Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Digital Cube.

My first thought when I learned about F2Z's Pandemic for iOS: are these guys for real? Thanks to the efforts of studios like Coding Monkeys, Nomad Games, and Playdek, we're long past the point where a low-effort cash-in game based on a popular board game can make a splash on the App Store, and I thought that's exactly what Pandemic was.

The first red flag: no online multiplayer. As a fan of the physical Pandemic board game, I'd never had an experience with the game that didn't involve playing with friends, and the shamed and unclaimed wing of the Pocket Tactics morgue is full of board game ports that didn't bother with online multiplayer. And even if we were willing to let that slide, the first batch of Pandemic screenshots (full of tabletop board game cubes) made it look like the most boringly literal translation of the cardboard game we'd ever seen.

I was ready for Pandemic to be a dud. Woulda put money on it. Boy was I wrong.

I started to suspect that my prediction had missed the mark from the first moment I laid hands on the game. F2Z's Pandemic for iOS was slicker and more assured of itself than any company's first game had any right to be. The game was about cooperating with your friends to stop outbreaks of infectious disease, and the iOS version really managed to feel cinematic and engrossing, and the app had a clean, responsive interface that was better than some offerings from devs with much more experience.

Then the multiplayer -- the core of the Pandemic tabletop experience. In his review of the game, Neumann said that "Pandemic is the rare board game that works best without online multiplayer, and I don’t miss it for a second." And he was right. The ideal way to play Pandemic is face-to-face, and F2Z realised that online would never compare. So they left it out, leaving me to discover a game that was ideal for pass-and-play with friends over, or as a challenging single-player game with me playing all four parts.

But ye gods, those cubes. Those awful, terrible cubes. The tiny plastic cubes that represent infections in my tabletop copy of Pandemic are there out of necessity. They're cheap to make, easy to replace. You can't really pack anything fancier into a board game box without boosting the game's price into the stratosphere. But the digital realm has no such limitations. Those cubes could have been anything! Parameciums! Amoebae! Eddie the Heads! But somehow, once they were animated and accompanied by Pandemic's sound effects, my disdain for the cubes fell away, and I started to dread their appearance -- as if they actually carried the diseases they were meant to represent.

A week after the game launched, I broke out the iPad at a friends' board game night and we quickly dove into Pandemic. We played for two or three hours, game after game of pass-and-play, totally absorbed in the experience. And nobody mentioned the cubes.

To see all the games recognized in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2013 Awards, visit the awards index page.
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