|Components & Design
Two of those three things you can experience right now in a Pandemic game. The one we want to look at this week is Pandemic: Rising Tide. With this version of Matt Leacock’s legendary cooperative game you can join one of the world’s biggest engineering project, the Dutch flood control system.
Keep your feet dry – how to play Pandemic: Rising Tide
When you have a solid game engine it can adapt to many different games. The Pandemic engine has proven many times already how versatile it is, and Rising Tides is another example. Pandemic veterans will feel right at home.
Just like other Pandemic games, the basic outline of a turn is: Take four actions, draw two hand cards – a few of which trigger bad things – then draw and resolve another type of cards that do bad things as the game strikes back.
Even many of the player actions are familiar. For one action, you can move into an adjacent region. You can discard a card from your hand and move to the region named on that card. You can discard a card matching the region you are in and move to any other region. Or you can move from anywhere on the board to a region with a port.
Beyond movement, you can use an action to remove a bad stuff cube from the board. In regular Pandemic that means curing a disease cube, in Rising Tide you pump one cube of water out of the region you’re in.
But I promised engineering, so here’s that. If the region you’re in has no water cubes you can build a dike along one of its borders for one action. The other side doesn’t have to be dry to build a dike. For the same one action, plus a card matching your current location, you may build a pumping station. Those stations are very useful, on every player’s turn they remove one cube of water from their region, or any region connected to it by water. Or, again for an action and a matching card, you can build a port so everyone can move to your location quickly.
There are two more actions the Pandemic engine needs to run. One is to share cards with another player. You can give a card matching your current region to another player there, or you can take that card from another player. When you have five cards of the same color you can go and build one of the four cornerstones of Dutch water management. The Ruimte voor de Rivier, the Normaliseringswerken, the Deltawerken and the Afsluitdijk. Each of these constructions, when completed, has an immediate benefit, like building extra dikes or removing some water cubes. There’s also the benefit that completing all four means you win the game.
To complete your turn you draw two cards. Most of those will be nice cards that you’ll be able to play on your next turn. But there are some Storm card in there, taking the place of original Pandemic‘s Epidemic cards. When you draw one of them the sea levels rise – if you don’t understand yet why that’s a bad thing read below – then one region on the board loses three dikes and, usually the worst part, you shuffle the discard pile of dike failure cards and put them back on top of the draw pile. If you’ve never played a Pandemic game you may wonder why exactly that last bit is so bad. Well, as you’ll see in the next paragraph, drawing a dike failure card means bad things happen to the corresponding region. Putting that card back on top of the draw pile means more bad things might happen there before you have a chance to fix the old bad stuff that happened. Cascading failure is a common consequence.
Now, on to the bad things. For the end of your turn you draw as many dike failure cards as the sea level track indicates. Each card shows a region that you now have to degrade, as the game calls it. As long as the region has dikes, to degrade it you remove one. If there are no dikes, then you put a water cube in the region. If there are already three water cubes in a region, it floods. Instead of putting a fourth cube, put a cube in each adjacent region not protected by a dike. If one of those regions already has three cubes, then it floods, too. Did I say cascading failure. I love that term when talking about Pandemic.
There’s one final thing. In Rising Tide you’re dealing with water, and water has one very bad habit. The damn stuff spreads. After you degrade all the regions you had to degrade, that’s exactly what the water will do. For each region that has four water cubes – this can only be the sea regions near the end of the game – add cubes to all adjacent regions not protected by a dike until they have at least three cubes. Then, for each region that now has three cubes, add cubes to adjacent regions until they have at least two. Repeat again with two cubes spreading until neighboring regions have at least one cube.
Water spreads very, very quickly. And did I mention that running out of water cubes is one way to lose the game? It can happen way more quickly than you think. The other way to lose is when you run out of player cards, but at least for us that was never a problem. Either we won, or we turned the Netherlands into the setting of a 1995 Kevin Costner movie.
But does it float? Our Verdict
I’ll just lead with it: there’s never been a Pandemic game that I didn’t love, and Rising Tide continues this proud tradition. It’s yet another great cooperative game joining the family.
What I really love about Rising Tide is that it’s a Pandemic game, but you can’t really play it like you’re probably used to. The rules are so similar that veterans will pick it up instantly. If this is your first Pandemic game – oh boy, what fun lies ahead for you! – then you’ll take ten minutes to grasp the rules, but that’s it. Pandemic games are easy to pick up.
But, and this is only for the veterans, the strategies you probably developed since original Pandemic don’t work so well here. At least for us, the standard strategy is to spread out, control the situation, occasionally meet up with another player to trade cards. In Rising Tide this strategy doesn’t work. You’ll have to meet up more frequently because a single player can’t control the situation once the dikes break. You’ll have to learn how to play Pandemic all over again, and that is awesome. It’s a Pandemic game, but it’s almost like your first Pandemic game again. Fantastic.
Even better, mastering the standard game described above is not the end of it. In the advanced game you’ll draw objective cards with different goals every game, and you have to control the population. When placing water cubes you may have to remove population cubes, and doing so quickly leads to unacceptable losses and losing the game. Not only is this game mode harder than the standard game, with number of storm cards and number of objectives it has two screws to finely tune the level of difficulty.
Finally, Rising Tide has beautiful escalation. When the game starts you think everything is under control, but as the sea level rises you fight harder and harder to hold back the North Sea. Do you remember the first time in Pandemic that you had three neighboring cities with three disease cubes each and then you draw one of their cards and get that triple outbreak? Having the sea level at four and then watching one of your sea facing dikes break and the water spreading all over the now unprotected land is just as impressive, but with more cubes literally flooding the board.
Rising Tide is a great Pandemic game to start the series, and if you’re a Pandemic veteran looking for new challenges I’d place only the Legacies ahead of this one.