Doctor Panic is a fast-paced, hands-on, thoroughly silly game: players work together as teams of medics, against the clock, trying to save the life of a patient. Each game of Doctor Panic lasts 12 minutes, during which time there’s very little strategic thinking, but there is a lot of rushing around, a lot of panic (hence the name!), and potentially a lot of fun to be had.
What’s in the box? A typical NHS operating theatre!
We’ve all heard that there have been cut-backs in the NHS recently, but perhaps you hadn’t realised quite how severe these had been? Doctor Panic includes a build-it-yourself MRI scanner, plastic tweezers, a selection of cardboard pills, surgical hair-nets, and a massive needle and thread for stitching patients back together. It also comes with a heart that bears a surprising amount of resemblance to a whoopee cushion…
Good doctors also need patients, and as you play Doctor Panic you can expect to find a selection of figures shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from popular culture being wheeled through your door: faces you might recognise include “Boromir Stark”, “Elsa Blue” and “Ryan Private” – the art and names are for theme only, but the patient’s name, gender and weight will become relevant when you need to start dosing them up with medication (“Willy Free” is 7 metres tall [long?] and weighs several thousand kilos – fortunately, he fits through the MRI machine just fine).
The components are a decent quality, and the art-style is very much in keeping with the slightly farcical nature of the game itself, so I think the physical things you get do a good job of conveying the sort of game-play experience you’ll end up with.
We have the Technology! Or do we?
One thing I had failed to notice before opening this game up, was that the Doctor Panic box doesn’t actually come with everything you need to play – the game is controlled by an electronic soundtrack, available via an app, or as an online audio file. The app is only available on iOS or Android, so the web-alternative is necessary if like me you have a Windows phone.
Unfortunately, the technology involved in this doesn’t seem particularly smooth. We tried a few games of Doctor Panic, using an iPad, and the app is supposed to be movement / vibration sensitive so that when a patient flat-lines you can all bash the table simultaneously to get the patient’s heart going again, but when we played every time a patient started flat-lining, the app chucked us out. Even when we moved it off of the table onto a nearby chair, it was still failing to cope. In theory, you can play Doctor Panic using an online audio file, instead of the app, and that will do the job just as well. The only difference is that it isn’t interactive, so you have to tap a button to re-start the patient’s heart, rather than all bashing the table simultaneously.
On a later attempt, we managed to get all the technology functioning properly on a friend’s fairly new iPhone – my iPad is old and fairly glitch-y. Still, the fact that technology hardware is even an issue marks this out from most games we play, and not in a good way…
You could play Doctor Panic with a simple 12-minute timer, but you’d lose both the heightened tension that you get from the patient’s heart beating away relentlessly in the background and, more to the point, the random element generated by the patient crashing or a phone-call from management.
What do we do Doctor Panic? We run more tests!
Whilst each patient will be delivered to you with a pithy little diagnosis from the app, the major problem you have in Doctor Panic is that you don’t really know what’s wrong with them. In order to successfully save their lives you need to run a series of tests (and presumably uncover the true nature of their affliction) before time runs out.
The bulk of a game of Doctor Panic is the “medical tests” you will carry out – there are 8 different types, and each team of 2-3 players will do each test once in every game (if you have enough players to have multiple teams, then once you have done your one pile of tests you can help out with the other team’s. Each team picks a “head” who takes the lead, and directs their fellow players through the following activities:
- Stitching – weaving thread through a large board containing a colour-coded set of holes. The head has a card which shows them which holes must be used in which direction and order, whilst the other player(s) use plastic tweezers to pass a card-board needle back and forth.
- A medical examination – again the head has a card, this time with parts of the body numbered on it: the other player(s) must move a cardboard magnifying glass around to examine each point, without leaving the body in between.
- X-Rays – Everyone other than the head must get into the (silly) position indicated in the X-ray image on the card. The head is the only one who can see what they are aiming for, and can only instruct verbally, without gesture or pushing.
- The Daily Pill regime – arrange cardboard pills on a 2D-representation of a pill-organiser: the pills are double-sided, with different colours on each, so this can task can generate a fair amount of frantic scrabbling around.
- Injections: there are 3 different medications available in the game, and you will be asked to prepare a dose based on the patient’s gender, along with weight, height, or blood-group – fortunately, whoever designed the reference chart knew that you might be treating a Killer Whale some time soon, so it goes all the way up to 6 tonnes on the weight scale. Interestingly, this is the only test for which any of the information on the patient card is relevant.
- Scans – the players build an MRI scanner which looks suspiciously like a house of cards. They must then pass the patient through the scanner (potentially with tweezers) without knocking it over.
- Pass the surgeon his implements – The head has a card depicting half-a-dozen items they require, and the assisting physicians must find them in a deck of cards, sterilise them (rub between their hands), and pass them across, either by hand or tweezer, as instructed.
- ECG – the head must instruct their team to attach the correct electrodes to the patient in the right order. Fortunately, the various electrodes are shaped like stars, circles and triangles, to make them easy to identify.
The tests you have to do are a bit of a mixed bag: they are all pretty straightforward in concept, and once players have performed them a few times, they really shouldn’t be all that challenging: a deck of cards will randomise which pills/electrodes/etc need to go where, but once you’ve grasped the concept then the only real obstacle is time – and panic!
That said, there are definitely some tasks that feel clever and thematic, whilst others feel like filler. The stitching is done through coloured holes in a bit of cardboard, rather than “skin” but it’s actually a pretty good representation of how you would stitch a patient up. By contrast, the “X-Ray” test is essentially just “stand in a funny position”
Stop everything! Do this!
A major element that stops Doctor Panic from getting very predictable and very easy, very quickly, are the random events which can sweep aside all your best-laid plans.
The first of these is the phonecall from management which requires everyone to stop what they’re doing and answer the phone – if you’re using the app, the random event being handed down will be displayed on-screen, whereas if you play with an audio-track, you’ll pick from a deck of cards. Once again, the events are a bit of a mixed bag – some really capture the sense of crisis, either from the patient developing complications, or the interference of management. Others though, feel very contrived, and if the group aren’t sufficiently into the spirit of things, you could find yourself faced with a sea of blank faces.
If it isn’t the managers, it’s the patients, and during a game of Doctor Panic, your patients will go into Cardiac arrest with alarming frequency. At this point, everyone needs to stop what they are doing: one player performs CPR, pushing on the patient’s “heart” (made from a whoopee cushion), whilst the others arrange cards to provide the required “voltage” to re-start the heart: once this is ready, everyone mush bash the table at once to provide the required jolt back to life (or press the button if not using the app).
The Doctor Panic app / web audio has variable difficulty settings, and these will be determined by the frequency of the phone-calls and crashes, which is a nice way of building in some flexibility to vary the game based on your group.
Who is this for?
One reviewer has described this as the ideal game for 2-9 “children or drunk adults”. Doctor Panic is certainly a very silly game, which is no bad thing, and there are some pleasingly accurate details which capture the flavour of life in a modern hospital (I’ve mostly played this with doctors…) I think the replayability is probably greater with children, who may struggle a little more with some of the dexterity-based manual tasks.
That said, there are definitely things in Doctor Panic which seem like silliness for silliness’ sake: the whoopee-cushion heart is a particular example of this, there is absolutely no reason for the heart to be designed like this, except that someone thought fart noises mid-game would be funny.
Doctor Panic: The Verdict
At 12 minutes for an entire game, Doctor Panic definitely works best as a filler, or as something to play with younger gamers. If you can get the technology issues ironed out, it’s definitely a game with potential for fun, All in all, there are some great ideas involved here, and the concepts are certainly entertaining, but the reality sometimes just falls a little bit flat.
A group of sufficiently immature adults are just as capable of finding Doctor Panic as hilarious as a group of infants, so I wouldn’t write this off as just a children’s game. That said, the fact that there are only 8 tests and you do all 8 every time you play means that there’s a fairly limited amount of variety involved, and the game does rely heavily on the random interruptions and the ensuing panic, in order to stop this getting old and predictable very quickly.
It’s also worth a warning not to think too hard about Doctor Panic: take it at face value and you’ll have fun – scrutinise it too closely, and you’ll quickly see holes and inconsistencies. Technology permitting, this is definitely one I’d be glad to have around as a fun little interlude to drop in now and again, but I think that if you wheel it out too regularly, people will be able to crack it before very long, and start finding things pretty dull.
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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.