Sometimes being part of an elite team means splitting up to get the job done. That made sense yesterday, but now you've got an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, Miami, and Montreal, and your team's just as scattered across the continent. Luckily your dispatcher can keep you all in check, your generalist is so good as what she does it doesn't matter where she is, your researcher's hot on the case of another major breakthrough, and you, the medic, are spending each night in a different city, helping people cope with the virulent disease strains threatening to topple North America. Sound fun? Welcome to the world of Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America, a new bite-sized version of the cooperative classic from Z-Man Games.
Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America shares almost all of its DNA with its predecessor, Pandemic. It's a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players (there are also solo-play variant rules on the Z-Man Games' website) where the goal is to work together to travel around a map stemming the flow of deadly diseases while you try to discover cures. Diseases spread across the map in the form of little cubes, and if a city has too many cubes on it, the infection with spill out onto neighboring cities. Players attempt to thwart these diseases by collecting cards in matching sets and traveling to a special location (the CDC in Atlanta) to trade in those cards for the cure to a disease.
Most of the above applies to both Pandemic: Hot Zone and the original Pandemic, but there are a few interesting changes to keep the game moving quickly. That's the real key to Hot Zone speed of play. This game features a much smaller map, focusing solely on (as the title suggests) North America. There are 3 diseases instead of 4. And you can't build a research station wherever you want, there's just the one in Atlanta.
These changes, and other small ones like them, don't fundamentally alter the fabric of the game. This isn't a change in the same way Pandemic Legacy Season 0 changed the game. The differences in Hot Zone are all about trimming the experience even further down to its core and making the components, playtime, and price point as friendly to the masses as possible.
The game isn't necessarily easier (the original Pandemic is known for being a relatively difficult game to beat), but the speed of the game means you can come into it with a plan and set that plan into motion before the diseases can really ramp up and get out of control. That being said, the addition of new crisis cards quickly ramp up the challenge, if you so choose. These cards, when drawn, throw a wrench into the gameplay and are completely optional to include. It's a fun way to adjust the difficulty for your group, and a welcome addition to the Pandemic franchise.
The big question, of course, is: do you want to play a game about a pandemic right now? At the time of this writing, the world's been on lockdown due to our own real-life pandemic for well over 9 months, and I suppose you have to decide for yourself whether playing a game where you race around the country to cure a disease sounds fun. For our (socially isolated) house, there was a bit of catharsis in playing a game where we batted down the outbreaks of a virus across the country. And while we know it's no game for the actual medics and healthcare specialists across the globe who are daily working against the clock to stop the spread of COVID-19, it's nice to see they're playing Pandemic as well. So if you're looking for an easy entry into the Pandemic series, give Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America a try.
The Bottom Line
Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is a near-perfect distillation of what makes playing a game of Pandemic so fun. Though the board is much smaller, and the playtime is cut by about a third, playing the game still feels like a race against the clock and a rush to the finish line. Is it the right game to pick up if you already own the original Pandemic or many of its various off-shoots and Legacy seasons? Probably not. But if you've yet to dive into the germ-filled world of Pandemic, this is absolutely the place to start.
Get This Game If:
- You've always wanted to try Pandemic
- You want to introduce the game to new players
- You want to be able to say the words "I discovered the cure!"
Avoid This Game If:
- You're not looking for a truncated version of the original Pandemic
- It all hits too close to home right now
The copy of Pandemic: Hot Zone - North used in this review was provided by Z-Man Games.