Playing Pandemic, the Board Game

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Sunday afternoon, some friends and I sat down to play Pandemic, the board game. It seemed appropriate, since we had just been discussing the swine flu outbreak. Pandemic is a cooperative board game in which 2 to 4 people work together to cure four diseases before it’s too late. There is no winner—either you all win or you all lose (i.e., everyone dies).

Each person takes on a role—such as scientist or medic—and on each turn travels the world, treating people, building research centers and finding cures for the four diseases. Through careful planning, players collaborate to decide where they should go and what actions to take to most effectively and quickly find the cures before the diseases spread out of control. At the end of a turn, new cities are infected, and if they reach a certain level of infection, the disease spreads to neighboring cities. Occasionally an epidemic (card) will occur and make the situation even worse.

One oddity of the game is that it ends when the four cures are found, not when all of the cities are wiped clean of disease. It seemed somewhat mean to leave people still sick. Also, we found that the game was too easy for us. There never seemed to be a time when we were at risk of a true pandemic—we seemed to be controlling the outbreaks well enough and finding cures quickly.

Some of the dissatisfaction may derive from the cooperative nature of the game. Perhaps it would have been more challenging if one player had been selected to work against the others. Or there could have been more roadblocks, such as uncooperative governments, rapidly mutating viruses or treatments/vaccines that lost efficacy. But overall Pandemic seems to have a good basis in actual disease treatment, and it was pretty fun, too.

Real life is, of course, both simpler and more complex than the game. Simpler, because we are unlikely to encounter four diseases spreading so quickly at the same time. And we can see the complexity in each day’s news about swine flu (the H1N1 virus).

This morning brought the report of the first swine flu death in the United States—a child in Texas. Anything more I write is likely to be out of date by the time you read it, so here are some good sources for up-to-date information on swine flu:

CDC’s Swine flu page

WHO Swine influenza page

Flu Wiki

Also, the blogs Effect Measure and Aetiology are keeping a close watch on this.

My advice: Don’t panic.

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