Game Review | Plague Inc.
Hello World! I’m Nick Hendricksen (colloquially known as Beatnick in the gaming community), and I’m a new contributor to Foolish Panda Games! I’m a full-time Dad, with an overtime love of all things gaming and LARP. I got into board games after playing my first gateway game (Small Worlds) and have expanded my horizons from there. When I'm not doing any of those, I work as an EMT or ECG monitor at a hospital. So thank you so much for taking the time to read a bit about me! I hope my reviews and insights help you in your gaming endeavors!
It starts with one single cell, a kiss, a handshake, an itch in your eye. The greatest plagues have simple upcoming, and today we'll be taking a look at Plague Inc. - The Board Game. Plague Inc. is based on the viral (puns!) digital game of the same name, with the same objective: to kill the world's population.
Let’s start things off with the components. The production value of the game is decent. The box is standard for most board games using a linen finish. The pieces themselves are standard as well with plastic cubes and tokens to represent you on the board. The board has a good feel to it and the minimalist look of the whole thing keeps your eyes focused on the game in play and not on the extra fluff around the edges. The cards that you play are Eurogame size (so a bit on the smaller side). They fit well with the components available and allow for easy adjustments to be made during play. My only complaint is the bacteria cards and country tableau are so thin and flimsy, a cardboard stock would have gone miles there to keep the game feeling solid and consistent.
While the production feels very minimal in the game, where Plague, Inc. shines is the gameplay. Each turn is broken down into five phases. 1) Gain DNA (your resource for victory points and currency for traits.)2) Place a country from the 3 countries currently dealt, or discard one of them to redraw your hand.3) Evolve a trait from your hand using DNA points.4) Place infection counters. (Which show you how much control your virus has in an area and how well it's spread.)5) Death phase (try to kill countries which you have infection blocks in that are filled up)
The way you gain DNA points in this is twofold, controlling and killing countries. Control of a country (meaning you have the most infection blocks on it) Gains 1 DNA per turn. Killing a country gains 1 DNA per infection block. It's striking the balance between control and killing countries that drives the game. The real fun comes after you kill a country and get an event card…
Event cards are the interactive portion of the game and are given if you have an infection block in a country that dies. Anyone familiar with the digital game will remember the events like "Bird Migration" and "The Olympic Games!". These events will help you or hinder your opponents, and some of them can result in some pretty funny "gotcha" moments.
Lastly I'll cover the different types of epidemics. The base game comes with two, Bacteria and Virus. Bacteria are the safe and sure bet. They have bonus abilities which grant you 1 extra DNA per turn and they have an ability which lets you move an infection cube on the board to any other unoccupied space. They are the steady and simple, epidemic.
The virus, on the other hand, is wilder. They have the shared ability to move one block to any other unoccupied space but gain two new abilities. One that lets you draw the top card from the Trait deck and buy it immediately for 3 fewer DNA points (which you are forced to do if you have enough DNA) or add it to your hand (which you do if you don't have enough DNA), also they have the ability to swap a card from their hand to a card on their Tableau, subtracting the cost of the tableau card from the one they will play. So if you have a trait worth 5 DNA and swap it with a trait worth 13, you would only pay 8.
Needless to say that the Virus has some very strong abilities that could allow them to pull ahead early but they're risky. You might get lucky and pull a trait that will help or you might pull one that doesn't help at all. The way they balance it is, you can't use both the discounted buy and swap at the same time. You pick one or the other.
Between the two epidemics, I feel the Virus is far more powerful. The ability to swap traits is huge in this game (in addition that you don't lose the DNA points when doing so), and the early game chance to get free traits can really put your opponents on the back foot.As far as gameplay goes I'd give this a pretty high score, that (I assume) will only get higher as expansions come out. I love the fact there are variable player powers, the asymmetry adds a certain spice to an otherwise straightforward game, and there's enough strategy to offset the luck involved with the card draw. It's a good territory control game mixed with tableau building.
Lastly, I'll dive into the weight (or complexity) of this game. The cards are straightforward, the rules are easy to finish (about 10 minutes), and the gameplay can get intense if people get involved. Another nice thing about the game is that it definitely is a preteen-friendly game as well. The theme does involve death and disease, but they aren't presented in a manner that is doom and gloom. They make death and disease a light-hearted affair for all people to enjoy and learn about. I’d recommend ages 10+ for the game.
This game is perfect for inviting over some people whose breadth of board gaming involves monopoly or scrabble. It introduces ideas such as tableau building, asymmetrical powers, and territory control in a small and easily manageable package. That being said, more experienced tabletop gamers will find there's some good strategy involved (even if it's a bit one dimensional). This one is definitely a good game to add to your collection as it's a good gateway game to get people involved in the hobby. Recommendation: Strongly Recommended
I hope you have a better idea of how contagious this game could be, and I hope if you have some friends who haven’t taken the plunge into our great hobby, this game is a great way for them to “catch the itch!” Now go wash your hands!
Have a game coming out you want a taste of before you dig in? Wonder how your favorite game designer got his inspiration for your favorite game? Drop me a comment below and let me know!