SR: 22nd February 2008 (part 1) – Owner’s Choice, Pandemic

This week, I had just picked up two new Z-Man games and so was keen to give them a try. The first, Owner’s Choice designed by Yasutaka Ikeda, is a stock market game of buying low and selling high with prices driven by a series of dice.

Each turn, a player does two things. He must move the game pawn 1 – 3 spaces along the track and implement the action of the space landed upon. He also has the option of buying and/or selling stock at the stock’s current price and this may be done either before or after moving the pawn. After trading stock, a check is made to see who then owns the most shares in each of the four stocks and that person controls the president’s die in that company. The track spaces mainly result in an action to a specific company. The president chooses either to pay money into the “slush fund” and roll the company die, with the aim of winning a dividend or increased stock price, or roll the fund die, hoping to win all the money in the slush fund. Other spaces award money to company presidents, pay out a dividend from the company with the highest stock value, or allow the player to roll the event die. Once the pawn reaches the end of the game track, all players sell their stock and whoever has the most money wins.

I liked Owner’s Choice as a straightforward but not trivial stock market game. It’s not in the same league as Acquire but it’s quick and packs in quite a bit of fun, especially if you manage to force an opponent’s company into bankruptcy. In our game, the red company finally succumbed to this fate at the end of the game. I had started out as President but every time I rolled the dice, it put up the price of another company rather than benefiting my own. Nige started to force the price down and Steve decided the cheapness of stock merited a change of president. New face but same result on the die meant that I soon after bailed out to recoup at least some cash. Nige then took a late punt on red, failed on the die roll and watched as the final event moved all stock prices down and red was doomed. Meanwhile, Mark G was more sensible in rolling for his companies, sold at the right time and took the win quite comfortably. Nige and Mark K, however, ended up with less money than they had started the game with. Good fun.

Pandemic is designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games. It is about the spread of diseases around the globe and the efforts of a disease control team to find a cure and save the world. It is another addition to the small group of interesting co-operative games released in recent years.

Each player takes on a different role, which gives them specific advantages in the choice of actions they take and the group as a whole needs to use these advantages to best effect in tackling the four diseases. On a player’s turn, he has four actions which will involve moving from city to city, treating a disease, building a research station or discovering a cure. He then draws two new cards, which will either aid the discovery of a cure or set off an epidemic in a new city. Finally, city cards are drawn which add to the spread of infection in the cities drawn. If a city ever reaches a fourth infection, an outbreak occurs and the disease spills over to each neighbouring city. Bad news especially as the players lose as soon as an eighth outbreak occurs. Each disease also has a finite number of infection cubes and, if ever these run out, the players are also deemed to have lost. The final way the players fail to beat the game is if the deck of player cards runs out. However, the players collectively win if they discover the cure to all four diseases before any of the losing conditions are met.

Pandemic will not be to everyone’s taste, like Nige who simply does not like co-operative games, but the theme is strong and there is certainly a large amount of tension when you see the infection cubes spilling out across the map. The game is also hard, even though there are three difficulty levels built in, and the combination of different roles adds to the replayability. We played with five players and all the roles were in use  and selected the Normal (middle) level of difficulty. Being our first attempt, we didn’t play as efficiently as we might have done but still managed to find three cures before running out of player cards. However, we played the researcher slightly wrong, judging that the researcher’s ability could only be used as one of his actions, whereas it can be used when anyone chooses the Share Knowledge action. I did like Pandemic quite a bit once I had got into it and I think it would be a really good family game. I’d like to try this again soon with fewer players.