Pandemic – Strategy Tips

Playing this game is about solving the puzzle – so if you haven’t started winning yet, then keep at it and come back to this as you want to try a higher number of epidemic cards.

However, assuming that you have won the game a few times over and you want to try other strategies, here are a few I would suggest:

Control the disease; It’s a simple point, but you can quickly focus on building your hand towards curing the disease. However a cure is useless if the other diseases grow out of control by that point. To win on harder difficulties you will need to manage the balance between using cards to fly and using cards to cure. Specifically, I would suggest that each player focuses on one cure of a different colour – trading where necessary to make this happen. If you have the scientist in play, they may cure two or even three leaving one player able to roam and cover the gaps in controlling the disease

Build research centres; Early game research centres help you move and you will need to get to a research centre to develop the cure. However, consuming cards to do this can seem wasteful. Balancing the benefits and costs, will typically lead to building one research centre in each continent but no more – this is enough for travel and for quick cures, without too much cost (time and cards)

Always use the scientist; The scientist makes curing diseases much easier and allows the medic to roam (see below). However, if you are looking to up the difficulty without increasing the epidemic cards then take this player card out.

Mobile Medic; Again, it’s a trick you will already be using but really making sure your medic can focus on travelling and fighting the worst areas / the biggest outbreak risks will be core to winning. In particular, relieve the medic from searching for a cure as they will need the cards to travel and control the disease. This may also allow them to trade for others to cure.

Remember the cards; The biggest difference to winning and losing at the higher levels though is managing the epidemic cards. In particular when the epidemic occurs you shuffle back in the used disease cards on to the top. These disease cards are more likely to come back up. Focusing your efforts on these cities about to relapse and particularly those with the most disease cubes, will help you avoid a series of outbreaks in close succession. Sometimes it will be a tough choice and luck will go against you, but not remembering which cities are in that pile will make it impossible to balance your decisions.

Pandemic – Review

Type: Co-Operative

Time to play: < 45 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Pandemic is the quintessential co-operative board game; its legacy version holds the number 1 spot on Board Game Geek and there are about as many versions as you can imagine – yes including Cthulu! Here I will only cover the very basic core version of the game – no expansions, no Cthulu and definitely no legacy!

The game’s basic mechanics are simple – move your individual player tokens across a map and remove disease cubes. Each player has special abilities to help with this. Then at the end of the round you draw new cards to help with your actions and then draw new disease cards to spread the disease cubes.

On your turn, you have a limited number of action points to spend which you can use on moving (under different rules) and on removing disease cubes. All players combine to control the spread of the four diseases on the map. If at any time one player can meet the condition of holding 4 cards of one colour and being in a research centre then they can cure that disease. Once all four disease are cured the game is won. If they are not cured, and you run out of cards or 8 outbreaks occur (more than three disease cubes in one location) then you lose.

This is a really simple set of rules, made fractionally more complex by one disease card called an epidemic. This card has special rules that you read out and enact when it comes up and makes you more likely to fail. There are 4 in the easy setting, 5 in the moderate setting and 6 in the heroic setting for the game.

Taking that simple construct you end up with a game which is fun, variable and challenging at a level that suits the group, experience and desired difficulty. The positives of this games are many including simple and intuitive mechanics which help you learn the game quickly. A short play time also offers you the chance to replay and learn quickly withing a group. The individual characters that have unique abilities allows you to switch roles and try new tactics. All in all, it has a lot of replay-ability without huge complexity or an overly high amount of luck.

That said, a clear drawback to this game is the output luck – you move and act, only to then discover which cards are drawn / where is ineffected. This output luck vs input luck (e.g. rolling dice and then choosing how to use the results) is generally less preferable but at a reasonable level and with a short game can be enjoyable nonetheless.

The biggest drawback of pandemic is that it does not take that long to master – once the puzzle is solved it is still fun, but it won’t give you as much of a challenge. However, this is true of most co-operative games. The other major drawback though of this is that it can lead to one player taking on the “alpha player” role and making this more like a solo game that others watch. The most helpful moves are often obvious, but when one player starts to tell others the optimal moves to end the game quickly this can descend into a solo player game with little to enjoy on your on turn.

Last notes:

  • If you like an introduction to co-operative gaming, you couldn’t do better than to get this!
  • If you have (or maybe are) that “alpha” player, it’s going to take a more complex co-op to enjoy!
  • If you win at this game then well…try 6 epidemics – that’s tough!

Inis – Strategy Tips

Starting this game is a basic set up with a number of provinces equal to the players and the placement of two tribes each. I would suggest that you try and corner the least desired province with just one tribe and send the other out to battle. I think this is optimal on the basis that you get one province card to add to your hand and a shot at expanding quickly on the map – it does make you vulnerable to being pushed off the map, but in this game you are given a second chance by reseeding the board with two tribes.

During The Game:

Adding to your hand; The number of cards in your hand is small, and having those couple of extra cards at a key moment – brown cards or province cards are tricky to come by, but well worth it for that final round. It also means that you can afford to discard those green cards for the fights and still be able to take actions on your turn.

Using the pass; In your first few games you will want to play the key actions you want to achieve before other’s do. You can do this early game, but there are key times in this game where it pays to take the last move. However, if everyone passes then you will need to discard those cards and end the turn (if you have just passed tactically!). Timing when to pass (when others will move) and when to move (when others can’t) will be key to winning.

Waiting for other’s to run out of cards; Holding the extra cards is the same as watching for the players who run their hands down – they are vulnerable to a quick fight with no green cards to discard. This fight might be to gain you territory cards in the future or push for the win.

Declaring right at the last minute; You have to watch out for other players playing this strategy – it’s that sneaky last minute declaration that can mean you can’t prevent it. Declaring early just doesn’t make sense – other players will attack you! It’s more than that though, because if someone else declares a win condition you can use the attack on them as a means to getting your own victory condition and declaring it last.

Getting two conditions; If you can’t get the sneaky late declaration (small number of cards in hand), then perhaps it’s not the time to declare. Next turn you could seize a second condition which even when declared early means you will likely be able to hold one. If you can keep both it means you will also likely break any ties.

Managing the Bren; The Bren is not a big feature for the game (the starting player / decider of ties) but it’s important because the turn order is clockwise or anti-clockwise from the Bren. Being next to the Bren can mean a lot of change in the turn position. That said, I would not suggest you to chase the Bren condition (dominating the capital) because it’s likely to be hotly contested. Just watch out, and if you have a choice to hand the Bren between players, the one opposite you may be better than the one next to you (in 4 players!).

Inis – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 1 hr (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Inis is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of area control games around at the moment. Below, I will cover the basics of the mechanics as well as the pro’s and con’s of the game and why this might or might not be one for you!

In short, it’s a game of exploring, attacking and building basic forts. The game adds to this a basic drafting mechanism with a small number of cards each turn. The drafting mechanic used is actually very clever – you can always switch previously drafted cards for new options available – i.e. 1 from 4 of the first options, but then 2 from 4 the second time (as opposed to adding 1 from 3). However, that’s all in the detail and it’s the core of the game that’s really interesting here.

On your turn, you will play one of these cards and follow it’s actions – move & attack, move, build, populate or draw a brown card. Moving – just shifting your units around the board to dominate regions. Moving & attacking – starting a fight (more on that later). Building – either a fort for protection or sanctuary for one of the win conditions. Populate – adding your tribes to the board. Drawing a brown card – expands the options for future rounds but essentially trades one card for another.

Winning in this game can be achieved through one of three different strategies: (a) have a person in 6 different regions, (b) have a people in regions with 6 sanctuaries or (c) have dominance over 6 people (individual units in territories you dominate). These each sound really simple, but actually they are difficult because your are all competing for these basic goals and they are easy to monitor. Secondly, your limited by the action cards you have left in your hand! Oh and if that isn’t hard enough – you need to declare “uno” and say if you have a win condition before the end of the round. There is no disguising it once you have achieved it if you do want to win (failure to declare means you won’t win).

If all of that’s not enough to think about, the game neatly adds a bonus card for each region you control. So managing to control a region that no-one else fought for, might just give you the springboard to win.

The other great mechanism is war! Fighting in this game is challenging (nearly as tough as Blood Rage’s “call in” mechanism). In this war, the first player clockwise from the player starting the fight, may hide a “tribe” in the “fort” if there is one. If there’s more than one fort, then each player going clockwise get’s the opportunity. Those armies / tribes in forts cannot be killed in the combat. That’s one way you can manage to maintain presence in 6 regions or in regions with 6 sanctuaries. Once you are into the fight, then again clockwise (but from the person starting the fight) you attack one player present. The defending player then has a choice – lose a green card or lose an army. The choice actually means that the player with the most armies won’t necessarily win – it’s a combination and in a fight with three or more players – it depends who attacks who!

This is a very simple set of rules (the rule book is very short) but combines quickly to make a very hard to calculate strategy!

The con’s of these mechanisms should be considered: (a) new players can accidentally become king makers, (b) the “uno” declaration before and (c) games can drag on as players deliberately stop the initial leader / new leader from finishing the game. These can be serious issues, as a new player when a fight breaks out can really miscalculate the options and hand the win to the leading player. This can twist the game slightly and be frustrating for experienced players who are often teaching new groups. The “uno” mechanism is surprising – most games of this type allow you to hide winning until the last minute, and that’s typically a feature that players enjoy or use to win.

However, if all of that does not put you off then what you will have is a tense card drafting mechanics with a small number of cards you can learn quickly and then a carefully planned out small map territory control. Average games will take you 45 – 75 minutes. You will also have a different map every time – random choices from a reasonable variety of small provinces.

The game will be different from other area controls due to it’s smart (a) fort system, (b) limited card actions and (c) different types of win conditions. Particularly the addition of the sanctuary win condition which is so different to a normal area control game. It’s these combinations plus the simplicity of the rules that make this the top area control game in my opinion.

Last notes:

  • If you like a simple area control game with a lot of replay-ability then this is the one for you!
  • If you can’t stand the newbie throwing the game or the drafting of cards each round – then sadly this isn’t going to be the one for you!
  • If you win at this game then well…you managed to deceive your opponents and are a deserved winner!

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue – Strategy Tips

Playing the advance game offers you asymmetric characters, above and beyond just picking your player count. However, this is the nuance of playing the game different ways – don’t optimise to the best method here because you simply don’t need to in order to win this game.

However, let’s assume your interested in where to start within the game play, and what type of behaviour might get you to that perfect score of saving all the people!

During The Game:

Lots of small fires; It’s a simple message, but the fire spreads quickest when an explosion happens. Explosions are the way this game drives the fire out from the centre, and combined with “flash over” (smoke+fire = fire) means that the fire can expand rapidly. This means you need to keep the existing fires under control and keep them small. The less likely they are to be hit by the die roll the better. Specifically though, a small fire is easier to address than a big fire which you have to fight your way through as they are continuing to expand.

Chop through; Sometimes you will come to a fork in the road – chop the wall and go through quickly or go find that door. Time is of the essence here and there’s a temptation to always chop. The chop is a useful tool but use it for structurally important routes. If this saves a long route through the middle of the board – go for it. If this is a quick fix to one person, take the chance of going round – it’s not worth the damage!

Regular POI / Firefight; When you leave the building you stop putting out fires; so whilst saving people is great if you don’t stop to put out the fire it will be raging out of control before you get to that victory. If you only fight the fire, then it’s going to be a long game. Take regular spells to challenge yourself about the balance between these two and whether you can take more risk / put our more fires.

Fire Truckin’; In the advanced games you can use the fire truck – that’s a hose that can cause a water explosion effect. You can take out a lot of fire through this, but don’t rush to do it. There’s a good chance you miss and a good chance you only capture part. Let it get really bad first if you are going down this strategy, but don’t forget you can’t have anyone in that quadrant when the truck starts!

Good luck fighting the blaze!

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue – Review

Type: Co-Operative

Time to play: < 0.5 hr (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 3 players

Flashpoint:  Fire Rescue is a simple pick up and deliver co-op game in which you search through a blazing home to find out if that noise was a person, an animal or just a distraction! It does all this with a set of simple mechanics which allows you to start quickly, teach quickly and repeat ad infinitum! In this review I will try to cover the mechanics of the base game, the good points, the bad points and whether this might be one for you!

So what’s in the game? Firstly, this is a review of only the base game. As per other notes to this effect – I think it’s really important to start with the base game and then I will post separately about expansions as I get experience of folding them in. That said, it’s not lost to me that as I write this a new expansion is live on Kickstarter and if you are reading this wondering whether to buy the expansion or the collection of expansions alongside the base, I hope this provides some base level of help on the game! If you didn’t know about the kickstarter…go check it out!

This is a simple game where you play a firefighter (there’s an advanced rule set I will come to!) on one of two boards and you take a turn by using 4 action points to step into a building, put out fires and rescue individuals. Once you have used (or opted to keep these actions for next time) then it’s over to the game – it will spread the fire by you rolling dice. If you roll somewhere new, then it’s just some smoke. If you roll next to a fire, that smoke will light up and become fire. If you roll in the fire, then it’s an explosion. This can spread the fire rapidly or damage the walls.

If you successfully managed to get a person out you will need to roll for a new person arriving. That person might drop in to a nice safe location near you, or right in the middle of the fire!

All sounds ok, but that’s actually not a lot of actions before the fire spreads / new people drop in. If you are running for the door, you can be sure that fire is growing behind you. That’s ultimately what makes this game fun. It’s also why I have said 3 players is best – enough people to mean that a lot of fire spreads between your turns but not so many that your on the sidelines for the whole game.

If you get through all that, and you flipped the board and played the other side, then you can move on to the advanced rules. Special characters in the base box and harder conditions for spreading the fire. You can be a specialist at putting out fires but bad at moving people, or you can be good at using the fire truck but then you probably can’t do well in doors. You could chop through the wall quickly, but perhaps you can’t  deal with the smoke… All these trade offs are really interesting and help make for a varied game.

If it’s good for replay-ability and ease to teach, then it’s bad for being too simple and to random. A tough game stems from those couple of dice rolls that came back to back and caused multiple explosions, or that time when the new person landed right inbetween two fires. It’s a simple game and you can solve it every time unless you are unlucky. Great family game, great intro  game, but if you have a group playing Gloomhaven and are looking for your next challenge, this is just not the solution.

Perhaps your thinking – that’s not a bad thing! It’s true, if you like a short, clean and fun game then this has a lot of character and is enjoyable. Just be ware that this game is solved in the first 10 plays, and everything after that is probably just a semi automated run through. I would say the same for the easy level of Pandemic, and hope that this can help bench your thoughts on it.

Last notes:

  • If you like a simple introductory co-op game, with scope to provide asymmetric decisions then it’s time to break the glass and grab this game!
  • If you want to define a strategy and develop it to perfection, fighting brutal mechanics or a tough puzzle – this is just too light weight
  • If you win at this game then well… that’s probably expected. If you lose, tough luck on those dice and go again. By the way, always try for perfect if you are doing well!