2016 has taught us a few important things about Pandemic: 1 – people will buy almost anything that has the Pandemic brand on it, and 2 – Z-Man aren’t too fussy about the definition of a “Pandemic.”
After the Mythos stylings of Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu back in the summer, the latest offering is Pandemic Iberia, a game which takes the game of cooperative disease control back to the 19th century, and sees players attempting to preserve the health of Spain and Portugal.
At first sight, it looks like a bit of a stretch – can there really be anything left to do with the Pandemic mechanic?
It turns out that there can. Let’s see what new tricks this fantastic new game has to offer.
Pandemic Iberia: What’s in the box?
Pandemic Iberia is a limited, collector’s edition, and the component quality is what you’d expect – the board is sturdy, with nice artwork that doesn’t obscure the game-play elements. The card-stock is durable, and there are plenty of solid wooden components including the player-pawns, the disease cubes, Infection Rate and Outbreak trackers, hospitals, and microscopes for the diseases you’ve researched.
There is a sizeable stack of events too, 15 in total, which reduces the chance of running into the same ones game after game. As is always the way in Pandemic, some will be more useful/powerful than others, but again, they have a nice, consistent aesthetic.
Overall the quality, and general attention to detail in Pandemic Iberia is a step up from the already high standards you’d expect in a Pandemic game. Each player card not only features the location and colour of the city, but also the year it was founded. disease cards give real-world insight into the conditions, as well as their historical links with the Iberian Peninsula. Pandemic Iberia is a game where nothing feels missed out
So how does it play?
Whilst disease covering the Iberian Peninsula only really qualifies as an epidemic rather than a Pandemic, Pandemic Iberia is still, at heart, a Pandemic game. The basics are what you’d expect: take some actions as you try to keep disease in check and build towards long-term research goals, then take some cards, hope it’s not an Epidemic, and infect some locations.
There are differences of course – aside from the fact that the map is of Iberia, not the world, there are some fundamentally altered mechanics around travel and the new action “purify water”
Right now, that railway from Cadiz to Sevilla is doing nothing, but if Blue uses one of her actions to connect it up to Cordoba, then next turn, Green can go all the way to Valencia for a single action!
In 1848, the global transport infrastructure wasn’t what it is today – you could walk, or take a carriage to the next town, but there were no aeroplanes to catch. By discarding a card, you can take a ship from a port city to another port city, which definitely opens up ways to get around more swiftly. My favourite approach though, is to build a railway!
For one action, you can place a railway line from your city to an adjacent city – this can be done more-or-less anywhere on land, aside from around Gibraltar and in the Pyrenees. A single railway token is not much use, but once you get a few of them down, the benefits really stack up – As an action, you can travel any number of spaces along a continuous railway track – do this right early on, and by late-game, you’ll be hopping from coast-to-coast in a single bound. Previous versions of Pandemic have definitely felt like you were just keeping things in check, and waiting for a critical mass of cards of the right colour, with very little “development” aside from building a research station or two – the addition of the railway really changes that, and adds a whole extra aspect that I really enjoyed.
The other significantly new action you can do in Pandemic Iberia, is to Purify Water. This is an interesting one, and took us a little while to get it properly sussed, but once you’ve got it clear in your head, it’s actually very powerful.
Yellow has 2 actions left: if he uses the first to move, should he use the last one to treat disease in Cordoba or Jaen? In Pandemic Iberia, he doesn’t need to guess- he discards a card to place 2 water-purification tokens, protecting the whole region!
Pandemic Iberia concerns itself with regions – essentially the area bordered by a set of paths between cities. Any city around the edge of the “region” is part of it and purifying water is done on a regional basis. As an action, players can discard a card from their hand matching the colour of any city in that region, and place two water tokens there.
Any time you would place a disease cube in a city that has purified water, you remove a water token instead. This effectively allows you to ‘treat’ disease in advance, as well as applying your protective efforts to a whole area, rather than just an individual city.
For example, if you have recently shuffled the infection discard pile back onto the deck, you might have 2 cities with 3 cubes of disease in them, and their card due to appear in the next turn or so – if you only have time to reach and treat 1 of them, regular Pandemic leaves you needing to take a guess and hope for the best. However, if those cities are near enough to each other, Pandemic Iberia lets you purify the water in order to guarantee that whichever city comes up, there will be no disease added.
It’s also worth noting that in Pandemic Iberia there are things you can’t do which you might have come to expect, as well as the new things you can. Aside from a lack of aeroplanes to whizz you around, there is also no way to cure or eradicate a disease in 1848, only to have researched it. Researching is still important: it allows you to place a wooden microscope on the board (getting all 4 is the win condition), and makes it easier for you to purify water, but you still only remove 1 cube per “treat disease” action. This prevents any of the broken combinations like the Medic + Dispatcher from original Pandemic that allowed you to sweep a whole region clean once you had the cure.
The Iberians – who are we?
As you might expect from Pandemic, Pandemic Iberia comes with role-cards for the players to adopt, granting them special powers. For the most part, these are unique to the 19th Century version of the game, although some have a familiar look to them.
Overall, I think the roles are really good – the Railwayman can build railways much faster, and having played as him once, I’m not sure I ever want to go back. The Nurse has a really powerful passive effect, protecting an entire region next to her from disease, whilst the Sailor moves around the ports at will. The rural doctor offers a twist on the standard medic, removing 2 cubes when he treats disease (historically the medic could sometimes remove 3), but being able to take the second cube from an adjacent city, again adding new options. The agronomist is more effective purifying water than other players, and the scientist is able to scry the player-card deck, helping to ensure that the right cards end up with the right players, as well as being able to delay epidemics from time-to-time.
Straight away then, I think it’s clear that Pandemic Iberia has something different to offer from a standard Pandemic game.
Railway building is a lot of fun, and along with water-purification, adds a whole new dimension without losing the Pandemic feel.
It’s also worth noting that this version of Pandemic ups the player-cap from 4 to 5. It’s always been the case that low-player counts put lots of pressure on your hand-size (7 at all times in Pandemic Iberia), whereas high-counts make it harder to draw enough of the right cards before time runs out and put an emphasis on effective sharing of knowledge. In that respect, the 5-player game will be a similar experience, but I know that for some “Pandemic playable with 5” (without requiring team-ups or someone to play as a bio-terrorist) is reason enough to buy the game, regardless of anything else.
They may not look much, but they can make disease cubes move!
All the things described above: Railways, Regions, Water-Purification, are standard features of Pandemic Iberia, included in every game. However, there are also a couple of optional features which you can include, in order to vary the gameplay and the difficulty a bit more.
Hospitals in Pandemic Iberia, are essentially the research-station equivalents, the places you go to research a disease. Normally that’s all they do, but there is an optional way of playing the game which sees patients from rural locations flocking towards the cities and their hospitals, potentially concentrating disease in one area to deadly effect.
The other variant in Pandemic Iberia is one which, to be honest, I’m amazed hasn’t come up before. It’s hard to get all that excited about treating “blue” or “red” – wouldn’t it be better if these different diseases were actually different? Well now they are: Malaria, Cholera, Typhoid and Yellow Fever are now your adversaries, in a twist to the game that adds a little mechanically, and a lot thematically.
The changes aren’t huge, but they do give the diseases a little individual character – harder to treat, outbreaking more violently, or spreading quickly in certain areas. Again, it’s probably not something to try on your first game, when still getting the hang of the railway and water purification rules, but I felt it added a lot to the game overall.
So should I get it? Catch the first train to the game shop!
If you’re new to the world of Pandemic, then Pandemic Iberia might not be the best place to start – it’s a little more complex than the original game straight out of the box. I think I’d only really recommend Pandemic Iberia as a first purchase in this range if you have a particular attachment to Spain or Portugal, or if you want to play regularly with 5.
That said, if you love Pandemic, as many people do and want something different from what’s already out there, then this is well worth a look. Personally, I really love the railway building mechanic, and this suddenly made me realise that I’ve been waiting for a co-op game where I can build railways for years!
Pandemic Iberia offers plenty in the way of new options, both with the default new mechanics, and the optional variants: it’s cheaper than Legacy, and offers a lot more replay value, which is a big positive in my book, and it looks fantastic.
As a limited edition game, I’m assuming that Pandemic Iberia is unlikely to receive an expansion. I certainly hope that’s the case, as I think there’s real value, when dealing with games which spawn a never-ending string of expansions, in just having a stand-alone version which remains “as is.”
A solid game that retains much of what was good about the original, adds some thought-provoking new elements, and looks fantastic. I’d rate Pandemic Iberia 8/10.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.