Friday, January 3, 2014

Out of the Box: Solo-Role Pandemic

Ah yes, Pandemic, arguably the ultimate in co-op games against a really difficult game board. An insane amount of fun and strategy involved with other players, but what happens when attempted solo?

And I don't mean "solo" as in one person plays multiple roles. I mean solo as in just one role against the board.

Ballsy? Of course.

Crazy? You bet.

Challenging? You have no idea.

And this is what "Out of the Box" aims to do: to take games and turn them on their heads by reworking them so that the player limitations as dictated on the box are no longer limited. Suddenly something that is generally a two-player game could be played with multiple persons... or a co-op game is played strictly solo without the "cheat" of playing multiple roles.

Anyway, enough with the disclaimer, what about the game?


Let's break things down a bit.

Taking a look at the available role cards, right off the bat five of the seven roles could be played as is. The two that would require changes of some sort are:

- You may give a player cards from your hand for 1 action per card.
- Both of your pawns must be in the same city, but it doesn't matter which city you are in.

- Move your fellow players' pawns on your turn as if they were your own.
- Move any pawn to another city containing a pawn for 1 action.

So how to adjust the above roles to reflect solo-role play? After much game play and adjustments:

Solo-Role Researcher
- May use 1 action to swap 1 city card in player's hand for 1 city card in the discard pile

Solo-Role Dispatcher
- Move pawn anywhere on the board once per turn for 1 action.

Game Setup:
- Solo-Role: Player may start with 5 player cards in their hand.

May versus must? Well I figured that since in a 2-player game the players start with 4 cards in their opening hand, might as well move that up to 5 just to keep the trend going. This is a recommendation and not absolutely necessary for gameplay.

Game Play: 
There are no real major changes in game play for the most part after looking at the role changes and setup above. However, the way I have set up this Solo-Role version of Pandemic for major replay value was create an additional "difficulty level" setting for the Solo-Role depending on how the player wishes to attempt to conquer the game.

So what did I do?

Well... In a minimum 2-player game there are at most 14 cards floating between 12 players and 5 cards are needed to find a cure (unless of course the Scientist is in play).

One of the more difficult game mechanics in Pandemic is having players meet up to swap city cards so that one could find a cure in addition to the players being restricted to having only 7 cards in their hand at any one time.

So when I started to play Pandemic using the 7 cards in hand minimum restriction I very quickly realized just how difficult it was to find a cure and keeping my hand down to only 7 cards at a time. Game play goes on very slowly and it kicks the strategic aspect of the game in high gear. Granted if one were playing the Scientist, finding cures are slightly easier, but only slightly.

With that little bit of information in hand it became natural to determine how to adjust the difficulty of the game on top of the number of Epidemic cards that are shuffled into the deck:
- Easy: 10 card limit in player's hand
- Medium: 9 card limit in player's hand
- Hard: 8 card limit in player's hand
- Impossible: 7 card limit in player's hand

Trust me, 7 cards was more than just hard... it was pretty near impossible. Winning a game became a goal when you add the "Heroic" difficulty level from Pandemic.

How did the above work out with the above changes applied?

Well, it definitely up the ante. Definitely pushed my strategic brain into overdrive, but I found myself playing game after game after game for hours on end before I realized it was time to go to bed.

Granted after playing Pandemic with my friends a few times (all very strategic minded) it got a little dull because we already had a rhythm going. Playing anywhere between 2 to 4 players and once we had our roles we knew what to do.

We even played Pandemic as a 5 player game, but that's a review for another time.

Would I recommend this setup for anyone? Well, if you love Pandemic, sure... give this a shot... Do the silly thing like I did and play it "Impossible Heroic" style and then curse me out for it, however, it would just cause you to want to figure out how to beat the game, multiple times... on your own... with different roles... because then it would mean you pwned the game.

But I doubt it'll happen... if it happens at all.

Watch Wil Wheaton play Pandemic on TableTop

Marianya is in the running for a spot in the "jack of all trades" club. By day she is an electrical engineer, by night the sky's the limit. You can find her on Twitter at @marianya or learn more about her at her website: Dancing Through the Universe.