Friday, 13 January 2017

Pandemic: Iberia and Red November

Farewell to Catalonia.
Over the Christmas period, we played a few games. There were Disney's Storytelling Adventures sets, which I'll discuss in another post, as well as Andrews Christmas present, Pandemic: Iberia, and my birthday present, Red November.

Pandemic: Iberia takes the basic principles and gameplay of Pandemic and transplants them to the Iberian peninsula (that's basically Spain and Portugal,) where members of the Second Royal Philanthropic Expedition seek to philanthropically expedite research into the diseases ravaging the region. Unlike regular Pandemic, in which the diseases are non-specific but typically assigned to any two major diseases of recent memory, plus bird flu and the zombie plague, the threats are specific here: malaria, typhoid, cholera and scarlet fever (and not, to many people's surprise, Spanish flu, which was an early 20th century pandemic.) There are new roles, and a few new rules as well, including the unwritten rule: For the sake of us all, someone play the Nurse.

In vanilla Pandemic the Medic is often considered a must-have, but in Iberia the Nurse is essential. The cities on the map are connected by travel lines, as in the regular game, but in this case the lines are deemed to encompass regions, with a number of rules using not the city nodes but the regions to define their effect. The nurse, for example, has a token she can drop in any region adjacent to her current position. No city touching that region can then have disease cubes played into it. This is not quite OP (you can get at most five cities,) but it's still a bit of a game changer. The same is true of the Railway Man, who can build railways at an accelerated rate to make up for the fact that you can't take charter flights in this game. Ordinarily you can move one city or jump from port to port with cards, but once the rails go down you can move any number of cities that are connected by an unbroken railway. The other roles each have their uses, but these two are almost certain to see the most play.

With the lack of modern medicine, diseases in Iberia can not be cured, only researched. You can, however, prevent diseases by purifying water in a region. Purifying puts down tokens which are then removed instead of placing cubes; a potential game saver in a region about to go boom. Purification needs a card that matches one of the cities in a region, or a card of one of the researched colours. You also need to work local: Researching a disease requires a hospital to be built in a city of the appropriate colour.

Other than this, the game is identical to its predecessor, but the small changes make for a surprisingly different paying experience. It's definitely more than just a reskin.

Two gnomes are dead in the water; two have escaped.
Red November is the second edition of the game of peril aboard the eponymous sinking gnomish submarine. The core mechanic of Red November is that your gnomish sailors run around fixing things to keep alive until rescue arrives. The problem is that everything takes time, and as time passes more things go wrong. You track your turn by moving your timekeeper around the track on the outside of the board, and when you've made your move and taken your action, you draw event cards based on how far you've moved, which cause things to break. You can all die because you run out of air, boil alive, get crushed by the merciless pressure of the deep, or when the missiles go off, the reactor melts down, or the Kraken shows up and eats you(1). Individually you can die if trapped in a room that is full of water or fire.

The second edition has slightly bigger cards and a slightly bigger board, and I think there are some rules tweaks which seem to have significantly upped the difficulty. We've had individual deaths in previous games, but the chance of a TPK seems much higher in this version, with a number of instances of the two halves of the sub being completely separated from one another by blocked hatches, floodwaters and/or fire.

Red November is a game that seems extremely fiddly at first, but the timekeeping quickly becomes second nature and the game runs quickly once you get going. It's definitely at its best when things are frantic; the early stages tend to feel a bit too easy, but it's all fun and games once someone loses an eye, a few rooms start catching fire and you need to get into the flooded pump room to stop the fire using up all of the oxygen.

(1) My one sadness about the game is that in multiple playthroughs of both editions, we haven't yet been eaten by the Kraken.