Pandemic: Rising Tide review
Pandemic is one of the tabletop industry’s perennial bestsellers, and over the years it’s seen a host of spin-offs and expansions including the campaign-driven Legacy series and a version set in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. One of the most intriguing new directions for the co-op franchise has been the Survival Series, a set of historically-themed games where guest designers put their own spin on the original’s well-loved formula.
The series got off to a strong start with 2016’s Pandemic Iberia, which introduced some interesting new approaches to the game’s web of interconnected cities. Now Pandemic creator Matt Leacock has teamed up with Jeroen Doumen, half of the Dutch design duo behind acclaimed Euro Food Chain Magnate, to release Pandemic: Rising Tide, which casts players as engineers, architects and planners battling to save the Netherlands from catastrophic flooding.
It’s a departure from the original game’s virus-battling premise but, mechanically, there’s a lot that will be familiar to experienced Pandemic players. Instead of disease tokens, you’ll fight to stop the spread of water cubes that threaten to engulf the board. In place of outbreaks, there’s the constant risk that heavily flooded areas will leak into neighbouring regions. Where vanilla Pandemic tortured players with unpredictable epidemic cards, this new version features storms, which do essentially the same job.
At its heart, Rising Tide presents the familiar Pandemic puzzle, challenging you to identify trouble spots on the map and deal with them using a collection of special player abilities. This time around, though, you’ll have some new tools at your disposal. Dikes between neighbouring regions hold back floodwaters, while windmill-powered pumping stations let you remove water cubes from the board on every turn. What’s interesting, though, is that you can only use them on regions connected by uninterrupted stretches of flooding. It means that you’ll want to actively avoid clearing cubes or shoring up your defences in certain parts of the board – a process that involves some tricky risk management.
It adds a dash of ongoing analysis to the game, and leads to some complex discussions as players attempt to work out the best course of action. It makes for a chewier, more complex experience, but it also makes the publisher’s suggested play time of 45 minutes to an hour seem wildly optimistic. While long-time Pandemic players might appreciate some more involved decision-making, it comes at the cost of a lot of the base game’s free-flowing elegance.
On each player’s turn you’ll have to check to see whether the floodwaters on the board spread, and it’s a process that takes some time to get your head around. Heavily flooded regions spill over into less saturated ones, but working out which areas are affected can be a convoluted task, and the map’s muted tones, small regions and squiggly borders can make it easy to miss a step – which causes even more confusion if you have to go back later and attempt to fix any mistakes.
The game adds some diversity with variable objectives, offering unpredictable challenges for advanced players. But ultimately its increased mechanical clunkiness and incongruously grimdark graphic design make it a bit of a damp squib.
Full disclosure: This game’s co-creator Matt Leacock once paid for the use of some of the author’s photography.
Pandemic: Rising Tide is a twist on the original Pandemic blueprint, but it adds a layer of bookkeeping to every turn and doesn’t offer enough of a new challenge to justify the extra admin. 2016’s Pandemic Iberia is a more satisfying spin on the formula.
Designer: Matt Leacock, Jeroen Doumen
Artist: Atha Kanaan
Time: 45-60 minutes