Plague inc has developed how to unlock viruses

Board games: Escapism with nasty viruses: even the cube has red pustules

At the beginning, of course, there is a tricky question of philosophy in the room: Is it escapism at all when you try to escape the world in the midst of a real, real pandemic with a game about a fictional, deadly disease? As a working hypothesis for this text, let's say: yes, of course. Because as soon as the first trains are on their way in "Pandemic", you know: It will indeed be damn close. Because the goal is nothing less than to save the world. And that is an extremely difficult strategic task, as we shall see later. On the game board, but also in real life.

The Covid pandemic caught almost everyone off guard. It was known (theoretically) that such a singular event would be possible, but that it would actually occur, nobody (obviously) really expected that. That can only surprise fans of the relevant genre "pandemic simulations". Because there has been a whole series of games that deal with the topic since the mid-2000s. Mostly on a strategic level. The smartphone app "Plague Inc.", for example, was hugely popular and serves a rather macabre purpose: Here, the player has to breed a virus that is so dangerous that it can wipe out all life on earth. Only then did you win. "Refreshing!", One or the other will now think. We will deal with the board game variant of the bio-terrorist classic below.

But first to "Pandemic", which, contrary to its name, is a decidedly cooperative game. After all, one has to protect humanity from being destroyed by four deadly viruses (yellow, red, blue and black). And together - you either win together or you don't. Unfortunately, cooperative games often have a reputation for being somewhat bland. After all, for some, winning is an important motivator, without which it is not worth playing.

Brutal mechanics

With "Pandemic" such thoughts do not even arise. The mechanics of the game are so brutal that you quickly have your hands full trying to contain the outbreaks that are represented by many small cubes on the board. Anyone who does not strike very quickly and with all available means and skills has already lost.

That is a very realistic assumption indeed. Even with a real pandemic, a solution can only be found through cooperation and the use of all talents. Last but not least, a German vaccine from Turkish researchers, produced in Belgium and sold by a US company, has so far had the best cards. Even with "Pandemic" the big solution is only possible through research. A cure must be found for each of the four pathogens. However, it is (probably like in real life) not a panacea: With the remedy, the pathogen can only be fought much better. But you still have to fight it. And only when all four are defeated is the matter over.

As is so often the case, the opponent is time. After eight outbreaks, the thing is lost - and when they come is (actually frowned upon in the strategy genre) associated with a luck factor. You can have more or less time and always have to expect that the guillotine will be loosened and everyone will lose. That's a bit abrupt then.

"Pandemic" (Z-Man Games) was first released in 2008, written by game designer Matt Leacock, whose greatest success it was. Incidentally, Leacock has promised to donate five percent of its royalties to "Doctors Without Borders". Several expansions are already out, including Pandemic: On the Brink, Pandemic: In the Lab, and Pandemic: State of Emergency. There is also a dice game variant and various scenarios, including two called "Pandemic: Legacy".

Playing in lockdown mode

We also tested "Pandemic" for its playability in lockdown. Two groups, connected with the laptop via the online conference software Zoom, should play a game together. The prerequisite is of course that both groups physically have the same game. Of course, all moves have to be made the same on both boards here and there in order to keep the situation on the board up-to-date. Amazingly, that works much better than one would think. Since four players (five in one variant) can play in "Pandemic", two groups of two can actually be linked to one another via a laptop with almost no problems. Only the nachos cannot be passed through the screen, but nothing else stands in the way of a lockdown gaming experience.

"Plague Inc." is a little less cooperative. to, although the game already impresses with its dangerous-looking design in red. Even the cube doesn't really look very healthy anymore, it has little red spots on the surface. As I said, it's about ending the world. You can collect viruses, breed them, improve their DNA and then let them go to the countries on the board. Those who manage to infect the Olympic Games are already well on their way, something that could possibly be subjected to the reality check in Tokyo in 2021.

The board game is the result of the smartphone app that has proven to be a true street sweeper. Manufacturer Ndemic Creations can refer to more than 85 million players worldwide. Since the approach is somewhat destructive, "Plague Inc .: The Cure" was recently developed. Designed in a chic, sterile mask blue, the aim here is also to contain the pandemic with the achievements of science. It remains to be seen whether in the next version of the game as a disruptive factor (or alternatively as a turbo booster) vaccination refusers and virus deniers will be built in, which will destroy the efforts and ultimately plunge the population into disaster. Fortunately, in this case, it's actually just a game.