In 2016 Z-Man produced the excellent Pandemic: Iberia, a new version of the classic game, linked to Spain, the host of the 2016 Pandemic Survival Championships. In 2017 the Championships moved to the Netherlands and, in celebration we were given the new Pandemic Rising Tide. Not a disease cube in sight, this latest challenge still sees the players working together to defeat the game, but this time you are trying to defend the Netherlands from floodwaters. There are no opportunities to build railways or drive trains, but does this game have something else to offer Pandemic fans old and new? Let’s find out.
Pandemic Rising Tide – what’s in the box?
As you’d expect from a Pandemic game, Rising Tide comes with a board, card decks, player pawns, cubes to fight against, and a few miscellaneous markers. The quality in Rising Tide is good – I particularly liked the translucent cubes which represent water. You also have 50 short wooden sticks to represent the dikes which block the path of water across the country.
The box insert is very similar to the one which came in Pandemic Iberia, and comfortably holds all the pieces in place. The cards are nicely detailed, and generally easy to read. Some people have complained about the slightly muted colour-scheme which separates the 4 regions, but I found that the colours felt very fitting for a game about water, mud and flooding.
The board is a map of the Netherlands, divided into regions according to a semi-archaic set of water authorities. As real-life borders are rarely designed with board games in mind, some of the regions are rather oddly shaped, and it can be easy at first to get confused by what borders what, or else to make the mistake we did of adding double lots of water to the same region from different neighbours at opposite ends. Whilst it requires a bit of additional concentration and probably increases the initial learning curve, I’m glad that they stuck with regions grounded in reality, rather than over-abstracting it to something dull, sanitised and artificial.
So what are we doing?
At the most basic level, Pandemic Rising Tide has a lot in common with existing Pandemic games – you win by completing 4 objectives (collect a matching set of cards, then spend an action in a specific place), and can lose in a number of ways, most commonly by running out of bad cubes, or by timing out when the player deck is exhausted. Beyond that though, there’s a lot of difference to be found.
Instead of disease, players in Pandemic Rising Tide are battling against water. The waters of the North Sea will gradually get higher over the course of the game, through a series of storms (broadly equivalent to Epidemic Cards). Players need to build dikes to keep the water out, and pump out the water that manages to get through. As much of the Netherlands is low-lying land, some of it actually below sea-level, water which enters the coastal regions can quickly spread out, inundating regions further inland.
On your turn you can
- Move: as is standard in Pandemic, you can always move to an adjacent region for free, or spend a card to move to/from the named region. Pandemic Rising Tide also introduces Ports, which are bases you can always travel to for an action from anywhere on the board.
- Pump Water: Remove a single cube from your region
- Build Dikes: reinforce a border between your space and one other. You can only build dikes if there is no water in your space
- Build a Port (by discarding a card matching your region): As noted above, you can return to port from any space on the board, so having a few of these in place really lets you speed around.
- Build a Pumping Station (by discarding a card matching your region): more on these below
- Build one of the 4 Hydraulic Structures
Moving and Pumping are a lot like regular Pandemic, but the other actions really mix things up, and add loads of interesting decisions. Pumping stations are a particularly clever element of Pandemic Rising Tide – tiny wooden windmills, they can remove a cube of water each round, from any region that you can trace a continuous path to through water, without crossing a dike. Used well, they provide a really powerful way of keeping your feet dry, but you can’t just stick them down anywhere, as you’ll find them cut off by dikes you need to build, or in a dried up region whilst the water collects elsewhere.
The dikes are similar – if the border between 2 regions has a dike along it, they are not considered adjacent, and water cannot flow. However, you’re unlikely to have enough pieces of wood, or enough actions to build all the dikes you want, so it’s a question of carefully balancing your decisions.
After action, failure!
When resolving a dike failure in Voorne-Putten you have 2 options. Option 1 you take away the sea-facing dike and the region immediately gets water cubes. Instead you could take option 2 and remove the inland dikes -but if you do, the next time you need to remove a dike there will be much more water!
The Pandemic Rising Tide equivalent of the “Infect” step is “Dikes Fail.” At the end of each player turn you reveal a number of cards equal to the current sea level (starts at 2, goes up to 4), and “degrade” the region drawn. To degrade a region you remove a dike or, if no dikes are present, you add a cube of water.
One thing I really love about Pandemic Rising Tide is the way that decision-making has been introduced into this step – for most Pandemic games, you don’t really have a decision to make at this point: reveal a card, add a cube. A lot of the time in Rising Tide though, you’ll have multiple dikes to select between: do you take the sea-facing dike, leading to an instant flood? or an inland dike, linking 2 regions with no effect now, but the chance of a mega-flood later?
In regular Pandemic the card you draw from the bottom of the deck is only placing 3 cubes- here it’s loads!
After the dikes fail step, water flows – add 3 cubes to each region adjacent to somewhere with 4, then 2 to each place with 3, and finally 1 to everywhere next to 2. In regular Pandemic, an Epidemic puts 3 cubes of disease in a new space, but doesn’t have a wider knock-on, unless you draw that card again and trigger an outbreak. In Rising Tide, the card produced by a Storm instantly looks to flow into its neighbours. This is where the decisions you made earlier come back to haunt you – too many turns of removing inland dikes may mean that when the sea finally breaks through, a tsunami washes straight across the board.
Paths to Victory? Hydraulic Structures!
Whilst it’s a sea, it fills with water and all you can do is hope that you can keep nearby areas fenced off. Once you’ve built the Hydraulic Structure it become a normal region that you can drain
Rather than cures, players in Pandemic Rising Tide are trying to construct Hydraulic Structures, abstracted forms of various feats of Dutch hydro-engineering, which provide you with an instant, tangible benefit, as well as moving you towards ultimate victory.
3 of the 4 works are pretty straightforward, allowing you to bulk-remove water cubes, or place multiple dikes at once. The most exciting however, is the purple work which allows you to convert the Zuiderzee (~south sea) into a low-lying land province. This is huge: the level of the North Sea will rise inexorably over the course of the game, and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from reinforcing the dikes and hoping that the water doesn’t break through. At the start of the game, the Zuiderzee is much the same, leaving a large inland area of the purple region prone to flooding, and in need of constant repair. Converting a sea into a land region and knowing that this region is protected by a permanent dike can make a big difference between success and failure.
Just a slip
There’s always a slight danger in any game like Pandemic of knocking a piece, and not being able to remember exactly where it came from – most commonly this will be a disease cube, and you can often count back to figure out where it really ought to be.
Pandemic Rising Tide magnifies this issue with up to 50 wooden dikes scattered around board at various points in time – it’s a little bit too easy to knock one with your sleeve and not be 100% sure where it came from. I wouldn’t want to overstate this – it certainly hasn’t been a major issue in our games, but it might be one to avoid playing in your dressing gown (or other large-sleeved garment)
Variable objectives? Moving the goalposts.
When you start your first game of Pandemic Rising Tide, you’ll simply be trying to complete 4 objectives, to build the 4 hydraulic structures. However, the game comes with no fewer than 12 objectives overall, allowing you to mix-and-match up to 8 of them for a huge amount of replay value, along with a highly variable scale of difficulty, depending on your preferences.
People or Water? There’s no room for both!
There are enough people to meet this population objective – until the Dike fails! the sudden flood of water drowns 2 cubes, and means you’ll need to do it all again
Some of the new objectives are Population objectives, and these bring a completely new action to the game. Rather than removing cubes as you do with water, you’ll want to add population cubes to the board, in order to complete various objectives (generally “have this many people in these named regions”). However, each region can still only hold 3 cubes of any kind, meaning that water re-entering a populated area can lead to drowned Dutch citizens! Aside from setting you back, too many drowned people triggers instant defeat in the game.
Unlike the hydraulic structures, the special and population objectives can go back and forth between being met and not met, so will generally get left until later. It definitely adds extra layers to the game, but if you lose early on, there’s a good chance you won’t really have started trying to repopulate.
As we saw with Pandemic Iberia, the design team can pack a lot of extra variety into the box with only a small number of components, but Pandemic Rising Tide really pushes the boat out, and it’s a great thing that they did – the sheer range of options in terms of end-goals and difficulty is fantastic for a one-and-done box.
Pandemic Rising Tide: Final Thoughts
The limited edition Survival Series Pandemic games are fast becoming a highlight of the close of the year. Last year’s Pandemic Iberia kept fairly close to the original mechanic, albeit with the marvellous introduction of Trains. Rising Tide departs further from the original model, and brings us another great game.
Pandemic Rising Tide has more variety packed into the base box than any of the other non-legacy Pandemic games we’ve seen so far. The difficulty can be a bit swingy, as befits a game where you confront the forces of nature
There are just so many little touches about this game which I love – the decision making in the dikes-fail stage, or the fact that each region appears twice in the player and flood decks, meaning you can never really be “safe” due to card-counting.
Overall a great game – worth getting for any Pandemic fan, or simply someone who likes the idea of saving the Netherlands from deluge. 8/10
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.