Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Perfect for a Summer Vacation:- Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America

Game: Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Designer: Matt Leacock

Year: 2020

Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is a smaller, faster version of Pandemic, designed to be playable in 30 minutes. With the reduction in play time comes a reduction in scale, instead of curing the world, this pandemic is focused entirely on the continent of North America. Instead of four diseases, you only have to handle three and you only have 4 characters to do so with! But this game isn't just a reduced content version of its bigger brother, the addition of crisis card adds a new twist to the gameplay. These optional cards help adjust the difficulty up, and I highly recommend them if you have already played the original Pandemic.

If you have played Pandemic then you will find Hot Zone to be extraordinarily similar. you control a pawn, on your turn you get four actions to perform. This can be moving from one location to another via a line on the board. Or instead you can use one of your cards in hand to fly to, or from, the city printed on that card. You can use an action to remove one disease cube from the city you are in, or all the cubes if you have completed the cure for that disease. You can trade cards with other players matching the city you are in, and you can cure the diseases. To do so you need to head to Atlanta and spend an action to discard 4 cards of the same colour, to cure that colour of disease. Veteran players might have noticed that there is no talk about setting up medical centers, that's because there are none in Hot Zone, you get the CDC in Atlanta and you'll like it!


After taking their four actions you will draw 2 cards from the player deck. This is largely made up of coloured city cards that you need to whizz around and cure diseases. It also contains events, one of card types that help you out, and optionally crisis cards which either cause sudden problems, or ongoing issues that you have to work around until the next crisis comes. After drawing 2 cards you draw a number of cards from the infection deck equal to the current infection rate. Each of these cities gets a new disease cube. If that would be its fourth disease cube, then instead you have an outbreak, infecting every city connected to the target city and moving the outbreak marker down. To make matters worse the player deck hides three epidemic cards, which have three effects. Firstly you add 3 cubes to the city on the bottom of the deck, then you increase the infection rate to the next step, meaning you draw more infection cards every turn. Finally you shuffle every drawn card and place the stack on top of the deck, so the same cities get hit time and time again. The game will end in victory if all 3 diseases are cured, or loss if any disease cube supply runs out, the player deck runs out, or you have a fourth outbreak.

The Crisis cards can take a manageable situation and turn it on it's head, ruining your long term game plan in the draw of a card.
The simple fact is if you like Pandemic, you will probably like Hot Zone. You may find it a tad too simple, you may think it's over before you've started, but that is the point of it. It is Pandemic with the fat trimmed off, slimmed down to a lean-mean gaming machine. For an entry into the Pandemic series for a younger gamer or a non-gamer it's damn near perfect and, as someone who works in a board game cafe, I'm tremendously excited to teach this to people. Or at least I would be if the real-life pandemic would calm down a bit and normal life could resume! Just because it's quick doesn't mean it's easy. The crisis cards vary from mean to downright scary. Prepare to feel a wave of frustration when you desperately need a yellow card and instead draw Logistic Failure and an Epidemic! No card for you, infect a city real bad, increase the infection rate, then draw that many cards twice? If you don't end up with at least one outbreak then you have gotten extremely lucky!

The map may be smaller, but it can still take well over a round to move from one end of the map to the other on foot, knowing when to spend a card on flying is crucial.
With only four character cards available, a full game will actually see each special power in use, which does subtract a little from the replayability. Though it's fair to say that no two games of Pandemic are the same. The special powers do vary in power if you ask me, with the infamous Medic making a return as the character everyone wants to be and the Dispatcher as the team player, which isn't actually that much fun to play, even more so at two players. Hopefully if there are future Hot Zone games released they will include some more characters that you can "mix and match" into the games.

Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America ended up doing exactly what I hoped it would do. It provided a short, portable game of Pandemic, great for when you want to fill a little time, or introduce someone new to the Pandemic series. The production quality is almost identical to modern copies of the same game, with familiar high-quality art and chunky plastic tokens with printing on them where relevant. It's not going to be the game for everyone. If you have completed Season 1 and 2 of Pandemic Legacy, you are going to fund this a touch too simple to get any long-term pleasure for you. But if there is any reason at all in your life to get hold of a short, simple version of Pandemic then spend the damn £20. It's a steal!

8/10


Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £19.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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