Expansion Buzz – Pandemic: In the Lab

I really did battle with myself about whether or not I was going to talk about this one.  More on that later.  For now, here’s

image by BGG user Happykali
image by BGG user Happykali

In the Lab is Z-Man Games’ long-awaited second expansion to Matt Leacock’s 2008 cooperative game, Pandemic.  Thomas Lehmann gets co-design credit for this one (as he did with the first expansion, On the Brink).  This expansion takes the number of possible players up to six, and also adds an official solo mode.  The game takes 45 minutes to play.

Pandemic took the gaming world by storm when introduced in 2008, defining the cooperative genre as one that was viable.  Scads of other cooperative games were released over the next few years, but Pandemic is still the gold standard to which all others are compared.  The game is about ridding the world of four pesky diseases by finding cures before the human population is annihilated.

The basic gameplay is that, on a turn, a player may take up to four actions.  They can move, treat a disease by removing a cube from their location, cure a disease by turning in five cards of the same color, place a research station where you must be to cure a disease, or give cards to a player in your spot.  Each player will have a role that allow them to break certain rules.  Once a player has completed their actions, they draw two cards, and then infect some cities according to the infection track.  However, if they draw an epidemic card, the infection track increases, a random city from the bottom of the deck gets fully infected, and the cities that have already been infected get reshuffled and placed on top of the deck.

The game ends when one of four things happens: you run out of a certain cube color (you lose), you get up to eight outbreaks (you lose), you run out of cards from the draw deck (you lose), or you cure all four diseases (you win).

The first expansion, On the Brink (2009), added a fifth player, some new special event cards that helped you out, new roles for the player to choose from, a new disease type, some really evil epidemics, and an option to play with a bioterrorist.  The bioterrorist made the game semi-cooperative – one player was trying to foil the rest from curing disease and saving humanity.

Earlier in 2013, Z-Man released the fifth anniversary edition of Pandemic.  It featured all new art, a couple of new roles, and was incompatible with the previous edition.  They also re-released On the Brink, which was compatible with the new edition, but not with the old.  And now there’s In the Lab, which is ONLY compatible with the new edition.

In the Lab comes with four new roles with matching pawns.  These are the Field Director (can treat a disease in a connected city, and may move another character in the same space as you); the Virologist (can use two cards of one color to replace one card of the cure color, and may discard a city card to remove a cube of its color from any city); the Local Liason (can give a card of the color city you are in to any player also in a city of that color, and may characterize a disease or test a cure while at a research lab); and the Pilot (can do normal movement actions or build research stations, but may fly up to three connections away and take another pawn with you).  These roles can be added to the normal roles to choose from.

In addition to the new roles, there are three new events, two revised roles to match up with new rules, two new mutations (to match up with the On the Brink expansion), and two new virulent strain epidemic cards (also to match with OTB).

The big addition of the expansion is a special lab challenge.  You get an extra lab board, 14 sequence cards, and 5 cure vials to replace the previous cardboard markers.  The idea is that cures must be developed in the lab before being discovered – it’s no longer as simple as just turning in five cards.  It now must be sequenced, characterized, and tested in the lab.  The board has spaces for the five petri dishes, and begins the game with one sequence card on the upper sequence space.

On your turn, you take actions as normal.  One difference is that you can put a cube into a sample petri dish in the lab rather than into the supply when treating a disease, and another is that building a research station gives you an immediate, free lab action.  The lab actions always must be done at a research station:

  • Characterize a disease: Play a city card on a characterize space.  The color must match one of the vial symbols on the sequence card, and the corresponding vial is moved to the card.  This sets the color for the research line.
  • Process a sample: Move all cubes from one dish along one arrow to a new dish or sequence card.  You may lose a few along the way.  There are five dishes – two sample dishes, a centrifuge dish, a separator dish, and a growth dish.  From a sample dish, you may put all cubes of one color into the centrifuge dish (with all other cubes returned to the supply) or one cube of each color in the separator dish (with all others to the supply).  Cubes from the centrifuge and separator dishes can be moved to the growth dish, doubling each cube from the supply (be careful not to accidentally lose the game).  You can also move all cubes from one of the centrifuge, separator, or growth dishes to a sequence card that has been characterized – cubes must match the spots on the card, and the others go back to the supply.
  • Test a cure: Play a city card of the cure color on a research line’s test space.  You can only do this if the sequence card has at least one cube.  One cube of that color is removed from any city to the supply.
  • Discover a cure: If the research line is complete – characterized, tested, and the sequence card is full of cubes – then you discard three cards of the cure color to cure the disease.  A new sequence card is drawn to replace the one you just completed.
  • Sequence a disease: Draw a new sequence card, put it in an empty space, swap it for an existing one, or discard it.  You need at least two research stations for two sequence cards.

In the Lab also includes some official solo rules, as well as a team game.  The team game introduces goal cards, and points are compared as long as you beat the game.

First off, I’ll say that new roles and events are a good thing.  That was one of my favorite parts of the On the Brink expansion – I won’t play without the new ones.  Of course, some of the roles here are specific to the expansion, so if you’re not using the lab, you might want to leave them out.  The lab challenge is the big thing in the game, and seems like it adds some extra complexity to what you’re doing – more hurdles to jump through to get what you need.  It helps that you don’t need as many city cards, and people can work together to build up the cures.  I don’t know exactly how well it will work – it might be a few too many moving pieces.  The addition of solo and team rules are intriguing – Pandemic already works well solo, but now there is a specific ruleset.

Now, it’s time for me to rant.  I won’t be buying this expansion.  I’ll play it if someone else has it, but it’s not compatible with my version of Pandemic, and I’m not interested in buying a whole new copy so I can play the expansion.  I don’t play it nearly enough to justify the extra expense.  When they announced the new edition last spring, they mentioned a compatibility kit to help people who already owned the game to be able to play the new version.  After some searching, I found it for $10, plus what I hear is nearly $20 shipping since it’s coming from Canada.  That information could be incorrect, but that’s just for the base cards.

I understand the reasons why to release this new version.  The game is in Target, bookstores, and Z-Man is trying to get it into WalMart.  The old version is not very visually appealing, at least not to the casual or non-gamer.  The new version is flashier, more apt to catch someone’s eye.  But practically nothing else was changed.  Two new roles were added to the base game.  It’s not like Descent 2.0, which completely revamped the system.  There was really no reason, other than trying to squeeze more money out of the public.  I don’t even think the new look is that good.  It’s too blue.  And I like blue.

I see this move as a giant show of disrespect to the fans of the game.  Those of us who adopted the game at the beginning, and have waited FOUR YEARS for the next expansion now have to buy the game again to enjoy it?  Not only that, but the old version of Pandemic was featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop last year.  What about all those new players who bought it because of that?  This is the type of move that may sour them on how board game companies do business.  This is how VIDEO GAME companies do business.

Please understand that I’m not calling for a boycott of Z-Man Games.  If you’ve never played Pandemic, by all means, PLAY IT.  It is a fantastic game, and the new edition is the same as what I and many others first enjoyed.  I’ve just been becoming increasingly unhappy with the practices of Z-Man since they got bought out by Filosofia.  And it’s sad – they used to be one of my favorite publishers.

Anyway.  Rant over.  Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!

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5 comments

  1. Nice write-up. I was so excited about this expansion, but was instantly disappointed when I found out it wasn’t going to be compatible with the first edition. What a letdown.

  2. Completely agree, what a letdown to find out I’d have to re-buy the game in order to use the expansion. Oh well, this is one that won’t get added to the collection.

  3. Well, try Ticket to Ride Markin, cards are smaller in size then the rest of the editions. I believe both the card and train count are smaller, you can not use the Markin edition to play any of the expansions that require a base game. Worst they offer card replacement only for the other editions. I guess the Markin version doesn’t wear out.

    The real stinkers in the game board industry are those that produce the “Big Box” or is that the “Big Salad” expansion for 4-6 games. I never picked up the San Jaun expansion because of that crap.

    I did pickup the 2013 Pandemic, never played the older release. My complaint is the cost of Pandemic and the 2 expansions. The 2013 should have come with In the Lab included, with the extra On the Brink crap thrown in.

    • I didn’t know that about Märklin. Hmm.

      And yes, I think alea did a Treasure Box with small expansions for a bunch of games. I always thought that was a dumb idea – probably made good financial sense, but really not good for those of us that only owned one or two of the games included.

      Thanks for your comments!

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