Pandemic Rapid Response is the latest Pandemic themed game from publisher Z-Man Games. Designed by Kane Klenko, the game is still fully cooperative like the rest of the franchise, though this time around features real time dice rolling. During the game 2 – 4 players will attempt to airdrop aid and more to cities around the world, all in around 20 minutes. However, is now the best time to be rolling dice? Let’s find out!
Aboard a plane the characters in Pandemic Rapid Response need to produce different types of resources, fly the plane to cities in need and deliver the life saving goods. The long plane board is placed in the center of the table, with coloured resource cubes added to their respective rooms. Choosing a colour players take a character pawn and dice of one colour. Each player is then randomly assigned a character – indicating their special ability and their starting room on the plane.
Shuffling the city deck, the top card is revealed to show where the plane starts. The top five cards are then to be used in play, with the rest returned to the box. The first two cities are put straight into play, being the first two cities the players know need saving. These city cards are placed around the edge of the board, at the denoted location, each featuring the resources it needs. The other three are placed face down in the HQ zone of the board. The final stage of setup is how players will track the passage of time, the sand timer and time tokens.
Despite being real time there are still turns in Pandemic Rapid Response. When it is a player’s turn they start by rolling all of their available dice. The dice have the 6 symbols needed to save the world: Vaccine, Food, Power, First Aid, Water and Flight. Each room on the plane is used for a different job. During their turn a player can spend dice to move rooms, activate rooms, fly the plane and assign dice from their pool with the correct symbol to the room they are in. For example, a player may spend dice of any type to move to the power room and then assign dice with the lightning bolt power symbol to the room.
Each room needs a different number of dice to be locked in. The power room for example needs at least 3 dice to be assigned, else they cannot be left there or used. The amount is nicely denoted on the board in each room making this clear. When a room reaches enough assigned dice a player in that specific room can spend a die on their turn to activate the room. Depending on the amount of dice assigned 1 – 3 cubes of that resource type is created – automatically being added to the cargo hold if possible. If a player has added enough dice to a room to lock in but not produce cubes, or the team wants to aim to assign more dice, they can be left assigned. These are therefore unavailable for that player, as they are not being returned until the room is activated.
To help players they have two re-rolls. When players use these is up to them. Often players will have a plan in their head at the start of a turn, so will instantly re-roll dice that don’t help them. Still, they can be used after spending other dice and one special power even allows for additional re-rolls. To save a city players will need to spend Flight symbols to move the plane around the edge of the board. It doesn’t have to move clockwise, but to help a city it needs to be there. When the team has all the resources a city needs and is at the city they can spend a Flight symbol die in the cargo bay to airdrop the resources. Fulfilling the needs of a city sees the objective removed from play and a time token earnt.
While the game is being played the time is ticking away. Whenever the sand timer is depleted the game gets temporarily paused. A time token the players have is discarded and the next city in need is revealed. While the game is paused the team cannot discuss what to do, nor can they continue to take actions – the sand timer must be flipped first. If a new city card is to be put in play but there aren’t any this aspect is skipped. If a time token is to be spent but the players don’t have one the team is out of time, and the game is lost.
Running out of time isn’t the only way to lose. Every time a room produces resource cubes there is a change for waste to build up. Before the dice used to create resources are handed back to their respective owners they get rolled. Some of the symbols are circled and some are not. For each circle rolled the waste token is moved up the track 1 space. If this ever reaches 11 the game is lost due to waste. Slightly different from the other rooms, dice with different symbols can be assigned to reduce the waste.
There are multiple ways to increase the difficulty of the experience. Players can simply increase the number of cards in the city deck. This ramps up the number of cities that come out and that start in play. While time tokens are earnt via completing cities, having to move the plane more means having to plan for an even longer game – allowing for more problems to occur. The second way is to introduce crisis cards into the mix. This is a shuffled deck that comes into play each time the sand timer is flipped. These can be immediate things, such as losing a die, or ongoing effects, such as increasing the cost of moving the plane by a Flight symbol. Either way they last until the next crisis card is revealed
It is important for a coop game to feel like a challenge. While the pressure is certainly there from the sand timer the basic experience is fairly easy to win – at least after new players have understood how the gameplay works. This is where the crisis cards really come into their own, making the experience. Rather than making the game more convoluted, a pitiful some games fall into, they just tweak things to make them harder in different ways. It would have been nice to have more unique crisis cards included, though they still manage to be challenging.
As a dice based game it is important that they are of high quality. Coming with a lovely marbled like visual finish to them, that matches the player pawns, these are a pleasure to roll. The symbols are all distinct shapes and colours allowing them to be recognisable at a mere glance – ideal for the fast nature of turns. The board is unusually long but it fits the plane setting, making sure none of the rooms are squished in. Z-Man has done well with the production of the game.
The first game for new players – if others are experienced – can be a little off putting. As with many real time games players get sucked in and overly invested in the experience. As turns need to be fast, as to not waste time, the pressure often boils over into players shouting at each other what to do. When new players are involved, asking what is best to do, they can often get multiple ideas being shouted at them simultaneously. Therefore, making it not the best environment to learn. This can be avoided if players are happy to learn by losing, though most are too competitive for this to happen.
The Pandemic theme is somewhat here for customer brand recognition rather than enhancing the experience. Players are trying to save parts of the world by spending actions of sorts. However, this is performed by rapidly airdropping batches of resources and not carefully planning out action points. Rapid Response is very much a real time dice game first and a Pandemic experience second. The naming has certainly left some perplexed, with there being very little that is similar gameplay wise.
Pandemic Rapid Response is not a game to play if looking to relax. The time pressure, when crisis cards are involved, builds up. At the end of the game, win or lose, there is a moment where everyone breaths out a sigh of relief. Some have loved this pressure that the dice chucking and sand timer provides, while others have disliked it. As a cooperative game it works well, though currently I’m not looking for that level of pressure from a board game. If you are though this can certainly get your blood pressure up and be a game to enjoy, despite not being a Pandemic game at heart.
(Editor’s Note: Pandemic Rapid Response was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here.)