Pandemic on iOS is a direct adaptation of the board game with the same name. In it, players must work together to contain and cure four deadly viruses before they ravage the world. As daunting as it sounds, this is one of my favourite board games thanks to how tense the action always is and how it requires players to work as a team versus competing against one another.
I know the game has been available on iPad for quite some time. However, I do most of my digital board gaming on my iPhone, so a purchase on iPad wouldn’t be worth it for me. That is, until recently, when the app was finally updated with iPhone support. Now that I have it, is this a worth port of a fantastic board game?
The game is played on a board featuring the world map. Dozens of cities are highlighted, as well as lines that connect adjacent cities. Diseases are represented with cubes that are placed in cities that are affected by it. Over the course of the game, players are trying to limit the spread of these diseases by removing these cubes from the board. At the end of each action phase, players can draw two cards to add to their hand that are primarily used to cure the diseases. Finally, Infection cards are drawn to determine which cities receive an additional disease cube.
There are two things for me that make Pandemic really shine. One, this is a cooperative game, in which each player has an ability that makes them special. For instance, the Medic has the power to remove all disease cubes in a city with one action, whereas everyone else can only take one disease cube per action. In order to win, players must make good use of their unique abilities to give themselves the upper hand. Furthermore, it’s paramount that players coordinate their movements in a way that makes it easier to trade cards should the situation call for it.
The other thing I can’t get enough of is the system that dictates how diseases are spread. The maximum number of cubes that a city can hold of one city is three. If the city ever exceeds that number, an outbreak is triggered, which spreads one disease cube to every city directly connected to it. Worse yet, if one of those satellite cities goes above the max during this outbreak phase, they too outbreak, causing yet another chain reaction. When this happens, the likelihood of losing due to too many outbreaks or running out of one cube type goes up considerably. When you factor in everything going on, this is one of the most exciting and strategic games out there.
Since this version of the game is played on the iPhone or iPad, the cooperative nature of the game changes a little bit. Yes, you play with two-to-four players via local pass-and-play, though you probably play this game alone most of the time. To do that, you’ll simply manage multiple roles, something that isn’t hard to do once you understand how the game works. You can’t play with AI buddies, which is fine, since most people tend to be control freaks in this particular game. However, those looking for online play won’t find it here. Personally, I’ve never had much luck with online board gaming on mobile devices due to people forgetting to make their moves for days on end, so it’s not something I miss.
Even though there’s a lot to keep track of, the game’s interface manages to work exceedingly well in most cases. On my first play, I figured out how to do everything I needed to do and it was almost all easy enough. The only thing of note on the iPhone specifically is that tapping on a city to move can be a bit finicky at times on the normal zoom level because it’s a bit too small for the screen to read consistently. It was a minor annoyance at best, though it works a majority of the time, and there are other ways of performing that same action.
If you’ve never played the game before, you can start out with the full tutorial that’s built-in. I think it does a great job of quickly getting players up-to-speed. You can also play in Info Mode, which will display a few helpful hints without holding your hand through the process.
For grizzled veterans, you can expand the game further with the On The Brink expansion. This gives you six new roles, eight new event cards and the ability to play with up to five players. For $2, it’s a great deal that will breathe new life into this title. It is worth nothing though that if you’re familiar with the physical version of On the Brink, the iOS version does not include the other components that made up that package. That means you won’t get the purple disease cubes, virulent strains or the Bio-Terrorist challenge.
Pandemic on iOS is exactly what I envisioned for it. It’s still a fantastic board game that has been elegantly translated into a digital title. When you’re playing alone, this zips by quickly as a 15-20 minute experience, versus the hour or so that the physical game takes with friends. Fans of the board game that want their fix on-the-go should grab this immediately. If you’re a newbie, I’d highly recommend playing the physical board game first, mainly to get the full experience of how awesome this game can be. But if that isn’t an option, go ahead and grab this immediately as well.