According to a Harvard School of Public Health poll from October of this year, “More than half of [U.S.] adults (52%) are concerned that there will be a large outbreak of Ebola inside the U.S. within the next 12 months.”
This statistic reflects a paranoia that remains unsupported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the CDC, "Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients."
But who am I to try to pull you away from your sweet, sweet hypochondria with science?
While we’re talking epidemics, why don’t we throw in tuberculosis, wild polio virus and the zombie apocalypse? Now that flu season is upon us, we can all indulge in a little pandemic panic as those familiar, yet, newly distressing symptoms set in.
But what to do with all that time sequestered in your hermetically sealed home as you recover from your disease or avoid those presumably spreading it? Netflix and Amazon Prime can certainly take the edge off, but what will you do for mental stimulation and human interaction?
This is where Pandemic, an award-winning board game from Z-Man Games, can help ease you back into society. What better way to conquer your fears of Ebola than a cooperative game that offers players the opportunity to fight not one but four diseases spreading around the world?
The game is designed for two to four players who each take on one of seven roles: contingency planner, dispatcher, medic, operations expert, quarantine specialist, researcher or scientist. Each role has its own special abilities for treating and containing diseases.
“You and your teammates will travel across the globe, treating infections while finding resources for cures. You must work together, using your individual strengths, to succeed. The clock is ticking as outbreaks and epidemics fuel the spreading plagues. Can you find all four cures in time? The fate of humanity is in your hands!”
Players start out in Atlanta, Georgia, which is an homage to the real-life CDC headquarters location. From there, players spread out across a map of the world, which pinpoints populous cities. The cities have corresponding city cards that players collect and move to in order to create research stations, discover a cure and treat infected people represented by colored cubes.
While the official rules of the game state that the person with the highest city population in their hand of city cards goes first, many people prefer deferring to the most recently ill or to the person who has experienced the most severe illness in their lifetime. This is where you can check your health privilege.
As the infection rate increases and spreads to more cities, outbreaks appear in nearby cities. And to keep things interesting, random epidemic cards are spread throughout the player card deck and may be drawn at any time.
With directions to increase, infect and intensify, these cards can only inspire dread and frustration. As such, the number of epidemic cards you choose to put in your deck determines the level of difficulty for the game.
With more ways to lose than to win, Pandemic poses a tough challenge for those prone to doomsday mentalities. “I’ve had more fun losing this game, than I have had winning a lot of others,” said Wil Wheaton, the host of Geek and Sundry’s board game show, Tabletop. There is no more satisfying feeling than removing those pesky cubes from the board or squashing the vaguely medical representations of the game's pathogens with an eradication marker. Watch Wheaton and guests play through an older version of Pandemic in the Tabletop episode below.
And while Pandemic creator Matt Leacock probably did not intend for his game to serve any sort of medical purpose, it may just treat your hypochondria. If your disease is imaginary, why can’t your cure be, too?
Purchase Pandemic on Z-Man Games' website or as an app for your apple device in the app store (if you're really that worried about exposure). Once you have mastered the original Pandemic you can purchase the extension sets Pandemic on the Brink, Pandemic in the Lab, or the recently announced Pandemic Contagion and Pandemic Legacy.