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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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Thursday, 4 June 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America

Game: Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Designer: Matt Leacock

Year: 2020

With the release of Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America, it's hard not to talk about timing. Pandemic jumped up the UK bestselling board game list in March, at the same time as other people took to social media about not wanting to play a game that reminded them of the dire situation of the world facing the Covid-19 pandemic. Personally, the idea of becoming the heroes and working together to fight a pandemic on your tabletop sounds like a pretty fun way to pretend you aren't powerless in this difficult time!

Pandemic Hot Zone - North America is to Pandemic what Ticket to Ride New York is to Ticket to Ride. It's a smaller, faster, simpler version of a very popular modern, family board game. It is absolutely following the same model, with its size and price point, as well as the intention to turn this into a global series, much like Ticket to Ride's London, New York and now Amsterdam versions.

Pandemic is one of the first cooperative board games I ever played. I distinctly remember us borrowing it from a friend (before we started to simply buy every game we want to try!) and playing night after night - fascinated by our new discovery. With the release of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and 2, we've probably played more Pandemic than most other games in our collection. Fortunately though, we've never reviewed base Pandemic. If we had done so, then I might just link that review here and let you know that Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is the same thing. One fewer disease, no research facilities and some crisis cards to spice up your difficulty, rather than the typical addition of more epidemic cards. But, we haven't reviewed Pandemic before, so here's a little of how it plays.

In a game of Pandemic, players work together to rid the board of disease. In Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America, there are three diseases and you must find a cure to all three, before the pandemic gets out of control. A turn consists of four actions, and every player's turn is followed by an infection phase. In addition each player also takes a role card, which gives them a special ability. By moving around the board and curing disease cubes, you can prevent the outbreaks that occur when cards are drawn from the infection deck. Drawing infection cards adds a cube to the city on the card and any location with 3 cubes will outbreak if another cube is added. To cure a disease, you need to collect player cards until you have four in a single colour and then discover the cure by taking those cards back to the research station in Atlanta. When you've discovered the cur for all three diseases, you have won.

Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is a fast game! We were finishing 2-player games in just 10-15 minutes. With the audience of new gamers that this small box Pandemic will hopefully attract, perhaps 30 minutes is the longest it could take. It's also an extremely easy win with the 'first game' experience. Only very bad luck might put a new gamer off with a defeat in their first game. Adding the new crisis cards is a new way to increase the difficulty, which adds some more excitement compared to simply more epidemic cards. With three crisis cards we just about squeezed a victory. With six crisis cards we did win, but only thanks to a lucky early game setup. These crisis cards should be enough to keep experienced gamers interested in playing this version of Pandemic.

Much like the small box Ticket to Ride series, you do have to question who the audience is for the Pandemic: Hot Zone series. Pandemic itself is not complex, and the very fact that it's cooperative means that teaching it to new players is a breeze because you can help out where your help is welcome. I know that I don't need Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America in my collection - I have other Pandemic games that I still enjoy and I introduce them to friends. Where I can see a big opportunity is where a short demo game is wanted, for example a convention or board game cafe, or maybe a school group. I see the small ticket to rides doing well though and perhaps that same audience would like a smaller, inexpensive Pandemic game and it would make a nice gift.

I'm happy to play Pandemic: Hot Zone series again, maybe when I need a quick filler from a convention library or at a board game cafe - I do really like that it's fast and does have a mechanic twist, not seen in any other Pandemic variant. I also expect I'll still want to check out upcoming games in the series to discover their new mechanism. I might buy it for someone as a stocking filler or secret Santa gift in the future. But, if you already know Pandemic, there's probably no good reason to seek out this version of the game. It's not new and shiny enough to command the attention of gamers.

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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