Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Losing Has Never Been So Much Fun!

My sister and brother-in-law have purchased the game Pandemic and all the expansion sets to go with it.  I have played it with them 4 or 5 times so far and we have not won yet., and I can't wait to play it again*. Pandemic, is a cooperative game of containing outbreaks and curing viruses/diseases.  Players are given their roles randomly and then have to coordinate their efforts with the other players to beat the game together.  The odds of winning are stacked against the players, and the gameplay can get quite tense as players try to manage outbreaks and get the research done needed to cure four different viruses.

For people like me, who enjoy role playing games and the cooperative nature of most fantasy/D&D styled games this is an instant win.  It is especially nice as it is not too complicated to follow; which is one of the biggest complaints I get from my friends when wanting to introduce them to my 'geek' games.  They often feel that the gameplay is too difficult to follow and that there is too much to remember.  (However, I actually believe that it is more of a problem with understanding the of semiotic domain of D&D, than the complexity of the rules and conditions.)  I have not played this game with my 'non-geek' friends yet, but I think this might be a good crossover game.  The premise is realistic with no spells, curses or Ogres to be seen anywhere, but has some of the flavour of a raiding party.  I'll let you know how that turns out

The reason I love this game is the same reason I enjoy so many of the games I play: the challenge.  I have not won yet, and I will not give up playing until I do!  And should I (we) actually beat the game, we can 'level up' by dialing up the intensity of the basic game, or add the expansions.  No one strategy that you tried the game before will necessarily help you win the next game, because the game is always changing.  There are a lot of elements you cannot control that will change they way you play.  For example, how many players you have changes what you can do, and not being able to pick your role, but getting it randomly handed to you changes the strategy you use too.  I have only ever played the same character twice, which was great, except all the other characters on the board were different.  The most random aspect of the game is where and when outbreaks happen.  You can only predict outbreaks to a certain degree, so you have to be flexible in your planning; two cards turned over could mean that you have to completely rethink the next 4 moves.  It takes a lot of game play (or some research) to really beat the game.

For my teacher peeps out there:  I think it would be interesting to play this game with my grade 5 students during our human body unit.  I wonder if losing would make them want to try again or give up.  I hope they try again.  But there are problems to overcome if I were to bring this to class like: where would I find the time for my students to play a game that could take up to an hour to play? What would the rest of my class be doing?  what if it is too complicated for them to follow?  I think I would be able to get some interesting reflections on how it feels to fail, and perhaps some -loose- connections to how stressful and challenging it must be to work in the various fields that deal with medical outbreaks.  I could even connect it with social justice issues in regards to access of medication and health education in developing countries (and perhaps developed countries too).  Who knows, I may be able to talk a few students into playing the game during a holiday party as a test run. (My class parties tend to be game based).

*The last couple of games nights have been devoted to Lords of Waterdeep and Drizzt.

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