Have you heard of a little game called Pandemic? Probably not, I think it’s only sold around a bazillion copies or something. Snarkiness aside, Pandemic is a perennial best seller that’s even found its way into big box stores like Target.
Z-Man Games, not content with just sitting and watching the Pandemic wagon roll past them, have lately been entertaining gamers with unique offshoots of the Pandemic franchise. We’ve talked about the fantastic Pandemic: Legacy in the past, and have been loving Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. Now we head up to the Netherlands as game designer Jeroen Doumen of Splotter fame teams up with veteran Pandemic designer Matt Leacock to bring us Pandemic: Rising Tide.
The North Sea is angry and threatening to reclaim the Netherlands for itself. Players need to work together and build a series of dikes and wind-powered pumps to help keep the floods at bay. The goal in Pandemic: Rising Tide is construct four modern hydraulic structures before the waters take over the land. In typical Pandemic fashion, each player gets a unique role and a hand full of player cards.
A player’s turn is handled via a series of steps:
1. Take four actions: Options include moving around the board, pumping out water, building dikes, ports, and pumping stations, trading cards, and building hydraulic structures.
2. Operate Pumps: Any pumps on the board automatically remove one water cube from a zone they can reach.
3. Draw Player cards: Draw two cards. If a Storm card is drawn, it must be resolved immediately (bad things happen).
4. Dikes fail: Draw a number of cards equal to the water level. For each card drawn, remove a dike from that zone. If no dikes are present, add a water cube. If a forth cube needs to be added, flooding occurs.
5. Water Flows: Check every region with water, add water cubes to each adjacent region without a cube so that there is one less cube than the starting region. (i.e. a region with 2 water cubes will have 1 water cube in all adjacent regions).
The game ends when players have built all 4 hydraulic structures. Players lose if they run out of water cubes or the player deck runs out.
I am a big fan of the Pandemic series so I’m really glad to see Z-Man Games branching out with these. What makes me especially happy is that none of these are straight up rethemes. Not pointing any fingers, but some publishers will re-theme a game over and over without adding anything new. That’s not the case here. Pandemic: Rising Tide uses familiar Pandemic mechanics as its core, but it still feels like a new game to me.
One thing I liked about this version was how thematic it felt. From the way the seas affect the regions to how the water flows, I definitely felt like I was trying to hold back the floods. While I’m not a hydro-dynamical engineer and have no idea how dikes really work, I do know that in the game, they hold back the flowing water. This feels accurate to me. Water also flows from high concentration areas to low areas, also making sense.
Yet as much as the water flowing mechanic is a great idea, it does tend to make the game a little fiddly. At the end of each turn you need to carefully check each area of water to makes sure it’s flowing where it needs to go. Due to the irregular shape of each region, players can sometimes miss a dike or border that’s no longer holding back water. It also doesn’t help that the board has many rivers drawn through it that only serve an aesthetic purpose and can make finding the region borders a bit more difficult.
Upkeep and bookkeeping aside, Pandemic: Rising Tide is still a fun version of the game and introduces some new concepts that I really enjoyed. Chief among those was the wind-powered pumps. These let players automate the removal of some water cubes and are vital to winning the game. Building one or more pumps in the right region can make all the difference as your actions are limited as usual. You can safely concentrate in other regions of the board while your pumps happily pump the water out.
The hydraulic structures are essentially the “cures” in Pandemic: Rising Tide. They require a specific number of player cards to build, however unique to Rising Tide is that, once built, they provide an immediate bonus to the players. These range from free dikes to actually turning a sea region into a land region.
Finally, for those of you that want Pandemic to be a bit more challenging (those people exist right?); Rising Tide comes with a variable objective option. This will replace the 4 standard hydraulic structure objectives with some more randomized ones. Players will also need to handle the population of the Netherlands, and if too many people perish, the game is lost.
It’s good to see Z-Man Games branching out with new ideas in the Pandemic franchise. It’s definitely more risky that just slapping a new theme on the game, but I think it’s paying off. I’ve enjoyed each new version of Pandemic (except Contagion) and am excited to see where designer Matt Leacock goes from here.
For Pandemic: Rising Tide, while it can be a bit fiddly at times with its upkeep, I still found it to be very enjoyable. The water flowing mechanic was a novel idea, and I like the new things it introduces to the series. However if you’ve always hated the Pandemic games, this one probably isn’t different enough to change your mind. Yet if you are a fan of the series and want to try a new game that builds off of Pandemic’s solid foundation, consider giving Pandemic: Rising Tide a try.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A solid entry into the Pandemic franchise that, once you learn to deal with its book keeping, can provide a unique Pandemic experience.
• Can be fiddly at times
• If you don’t speak Dutch, finding regions is a bit slow