Full disclosure: A review copy of Pandemic: Rapid Response was provided by Z-Man Games.
There are a few games with themes that have been kind of difficult to really get played in the last couple years. Always an ebb and flow with the audience; it happens, truly. Part of the challenge of reviewing is you have all these games you want to review, but you don’t necessarily always have the audience to play them or you can’t always convince your friends to play certain games with you. I was worried this was going to be one of those. I’d make some wry joke about Pandemic during a Pandemic, but it’s already been made and I honestly don’t have the energy for it. So let’s skip it.
Besides, Pandemic: Rapid Response isn’t actually about a pandemic; it’s about responders delivering supplies. In this real-time dice game (Kane Klenko, the go-to for real-time dice games), players are flying around the globe, airdropping supplies as needed as part of an elite crisis response team from … everywhere. The problems are never-ending and time is running out, so will you be able to save the day?
First up, place the board (representing the plane) in the center of the play area:
Then, place the waste marker on the first space of the waste track and set three time tokens on the HQ space at the top of the board. Set the rest aside:
Place the four supply crates of each color in the same rooms as the color of the crates:
Shuffle the City Cards:
Reveal one and place the Plane Token on that space. Deal out a pawn to each player, and remove that card from the game.
You’ll reveal at least two more cards, placing them below their respective cities, depending on the difficulty. You’ll also make a deck of some number of additional cards:
- Easy: Reveal two City Cards and make a deck of three City Cards.
- Normal: Reveal two City Cards and make a deck of five City Cards.
- Veteran: Reveal three City Cards and make a deck of seven City Cards.
- Heroic: Reveal four City Cards and make a deck of nine City Cards.
Shuffle the role cards and deal one to each player, as well:
Each player should also get a set of dice matching their player token, and place their token in the room indicated on their role card to start:
If you’d like to make the game more difficult, shuffle the Crisis Cards and place them near the City Deck:
Either way, you should be ready to start!
A game of Pandemic: Rapid Response is played in real-time, as quickly as possible. I’d recommend reading this before you flip the timer, at least. Each turn, players work to make supply cubes to deliver to cities in crisis.
To start your turn, you must roll your available dice. Some dice may not be in your dice pool, as they’re still on the board, but anything in your supply or on your Role Card can be rolled at this point. You may reroll any or all of your dice up to two additional times, during your turn, but you cannot reroll dice on your Role Card.
Now, actions! Different actions have different effects:
- Move: Move between any two rooms with an open door by placing any die on your Role Card.
- Move Plane: Spend a die with the Plane symbol on it to advance the plane to an adjacent city. Note that you can move clockwise or counterclockwise.
- Assign Dice: You can assign dice to their matching rooms by placing one or more dice of the indicated type on spaces in that room. Keep in mind, though: if there’s a group of the same dice, you must place all of those dice at the same time. You cannot place dice piecemeal on those spaces. Also, dice placed on those spaces are locked until used and cannot be returned to players until then. Dice placed in the Waste Room can be any face, but they must be a face that’s not currently assigned in the Waste Room.
- Activate Room: You can, as a free action, activate any room that you’re in to generate the indicated resources. The resources are placed in the Cargo Bay, and if they cannot fit, you can return either some of those resources or some of the resources already in the Cargo Bay. Once resources are generated, roll all the dice in the room that were activated; any dice that show a circle generate Waste, increasing the Waste Counter by 1. Note that this effect doesn’t occur if you activate the Waste Room; it just decreases your Waste Counter. Return activated dice to players’ Role Cards.
- Deliver Goods: You can spend a Plane die face in the Cargo Bay to Deliver Goods to the city you’re currently on. You must be on a City to take this action, and you must have the goods indicated on the card (and be able to deliver all of them at once). If you do, discard the City Card and add a time token to HQ.
Those are the primary actions! However, you’re on a timer, as I mentioned, so move fast.
What If The Timer Runs Out?
When the Timer runs out (and it will), immediately discard one time token from the game and pause the active turn. If you have no time tokens and you need to discard one, you lose.
Otherwise, flip the top card of the City Deck face-up and place it below the city on the board. If you’re playing with Crisis Cards, flip the top Crisis Card and resolve it, as well. Then, resume the game!
End of Game
The game ends one of three ways:
- Time runs out and you’re out of time tokens: You lose!
- The waste marker reaches or exceeds the last space on the track: You lose!
- You deliver supplies to all cities on the board and in the City Deck: You win!
Play until one of those things happens.
Player Count Differences
Honestly, from a player’s perspective, the number of players you have doesn’t really matter that much. While you save a bit on movement costs if you divide yourselves up between a few areas of the plane, you then have to wait until that person’s next turn for certain items, supplies, or the ability to get rid of waste, which may be unhelpful for your general strategy. The best you could do is somewhat divide the plane into two zones with two of each player in those zones, but at that point you might as well just give players free reign of the plane! There’s only four of you, tops, anyways. While higher player counts kind of make keeping your turns short even more important, short turns are good for lower player counts, as well. It’s not like you get more time for either case, anyways. There’s just one problem: since you’re required to do that mandatory roll for each player, having more players actually makes your game a bit more efficient, which is interesting. Not bad, just interesting. You have access to more abilities and more people in more places, but that efficiency funnel may be the thing that brings you down! I wouldn’t, as a result, necessarily have a strong preference for Pandemic: Rapid Response at any particular player count, though I do quite like it as a two-player game.
- Short turns are good turns. Have a goal in mind before you roll, and quickly reroll. If you can’t accomplish that goal, either move the plane, spot some dice, use your player ability, get rid of waste, or move on. There’s no point agonizing when you’re on the clock. Your goal is just to do the best that you can with the time you have.
- It also may behoove you to let another player roll the dice in your room so that you have those dice back on your next turn. Rather, it’s better to do that than to wait until your next turn to roll those dice. I especially like doing this as the Recycler since I always roll one fewer die for Waste, so that means we’re less at risk when I’m rolling, but yeah, rolling your room on your turn just means you start with fewer dice and they start spent; try to get your dice rolled before it’s your turn, again. Or roll at the end of your turn.
- Your player ability is critical to success. Figure out what its focal point is and lean into it! Are planes wild for you? Have someone else move the plane while you do everything else. Can you clean Waste super quickly? Camp out there and just process waste generation and the occasional cargo drop! All player abilities are things you need to be using a lot if you want to win (especially at the higher difficulties), so keep an eye on them and think about what you want to do.
- There’s something to be said for making a beeline to the city and generating resources, but that can be a bit short-sighted. Generally, I think focusing on resource generation early is good, because once you’ve generated the resources, you can use the other dice to either get more resources or start clearing waste while you attempt to roll planes to get there. Plus, waiting a bit might give you a city in between that you can quickly hit, rather than a city you need to backtrack to later. If you spend your turns rerolling for planes so that you can get to the city and then focus on resource generation, you have nothing to do with the extra planes you get.
- It’s not enough to get to the city; you need to be able to drop the resources as well! You should always make sure you have enough resources by the time you arrive at a city, otherwise you’re just treading water, as I mentioned above. This is fine if you’re playing as the player who can treat planes as wild, but otherwise, it’s kind of wasteful.
- Keep an eye on the time. Running out of time means you lose, so try to get what you need accomplished before time runs out. If you’re playing with Crisis Cards, it’s also worth making sure you’ve done your delivery or cleared the board out before the end of the round, otherwise you might find your gains stripped away by Crisis. If that happens, well, there’s not always something you can do about it, but it still sucks.
- Also keep an eye on your Waste. You don’t want to lose on Waste; it’s a little embarrassing. Have someone go and clean it up if it ever hits 4; that way, you’ll never lose on a terrible roll. You have a 1 in 32 chance of rolling 5 Waste on Waste generation, so you can lose the game on a bad roll a decent amount of the time. Don’t let it happen to you!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I’m pleasantly surprised by how much this feels like Pandemic without really having anything in common with it. I think, for one thing, it’s nice to play this during an actual pandemic because it doesn’t have as much to do with diseases and death and outbreaks and such; it’s just delivering supplies. But it has the same elements of planned movement and multiperson strategy execution that I liked about the original game, just in a faster package.
- I also appreciate how simple setup is. One thing I always hated about Pandemic was how many times I shuffled the deck with all of the Epidemic cards in it (or messed up the deal or any number of ways one can mess up the setup of Pandemic). Here, there’s almost no setup to do, so fewer mistakes. Much appreciated.
- The game looks great. It’s got a nice, modern aesthetic to it, and I just think it’s a nice-looking game. I particularly like the marbled effect on the dice and player tokens.
- The quick pace of gameplay really contrasts with the occasional agonizingly-long turns of base Pandemic as you wait around for players to all agree on a path forward. I like fast games, and this is a very fast game. There’s not as much to think about and it’s significantly less complex, as a result. I could see this being essentially a great starter game before leading to a standard Pandemic game (and then ultimately going for Pandemic Legacy, once you’ve lured them in).
- Lots of great roles available for players. I’m a big fan of the Recycler, but that’s just me. I think the Role Cards do a good job of either boosting ordinary actions or letting you cut some corners. Extra rerolls, making certain faces wild; a lot of different moves are available, and many of them are helpful ways to move your team along. I’m so-so on the Flight Planner, though; getting two plane moves for one die face is nice, but there are other, more useful roles, I think.
- The myriad difficulty options really allow players to find the right level for them. Even if the four difficulty levels aren’t granular enough for you to find a sweet spot, you can add in (or take out) the Crisis Cards to basically modulate the difficulty up or down by a half-step. I like the fine-grain controls for the difficulty.
- I kind of like how all the Pandemic boxes (save Legacy) are the same size. It’s nice. I like box size consistency. Gives you some expectations for your shelf. I try to store related games in the same place, so it’s a bit of a bummer if several related games aren’t anywhere close to the same size.
- I’m intrigued as to why there aren’t really any accommodations for player counts? I mean, I’m impressed that it works, but it’s just odd that there’s no changes to the game in any way, based on player count. I think I’m just used to there being something.
- I really like the Crisis Cards, and I think they’re a great way to introduce some shake-up to the game, but the situational swinginess of them can occasionally add more irritation than challenge. Some of the instant effect Crisis Cards can be really irritating or surprisingly pointless. For instance, in one game we played, we got a Crisis Card that returned all dice on the board to players’ Role Cards, but … we didn’t have any dice on the board. We also got a Crisis Card that returned all player tokens to their starting rooms, but … we were already in our starting rooms. Just so happened that way, twice. These could have been really terrible, but were instead just nothing. So they didn’t meaningfully increase our difficulty, but they could have, if our board state had been different. That’s not challenge so much as it is a swing of randomness, which can be frustrating. I much prefer the cards that require you to deliver a certain resource before you can deliver to the City Card below. That’s interesting.
- If you’re not a big dice-luck person, you should probably not play this one. I know, it’s hardly a con, but for some people, they really hate dice? I don’t know, I meet people, they tell me how much they hate dice, I ask them about it, and this is just … the feedback I get. So now, if a game focuses a lot on dice, I just remind people that … finding out if someone in your group vehemently hates dice games is probably a good idea. Though, to be fair, I don’t really play games with that guy anymore.
- Similarly, real-time games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. This is a specific genre that’s very polarizing, for some reason. I think people find it even more stressful than other types of games, I suppose? So real-time doesn’t get a lot of love in various gaming circles. This may mean that this isn’t the right game for your group, and that happens, but it’s worth knowing their preferences before you bring this kind of game in. Some players just respond very poorly to real-time games.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I quite enjoyed Pandemic: Rapid Response! It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s pretty fun. Honestly, I think that the term “gateway” game has been evolving over the last few years as the hobby develops increasingly widespread appeal (much to my delight, as a fan of lighter games). Where I would have once called Dominion, Pandemic, and 7 Wonders “gateway games”, I now see more games like Abandon All Artichokes, Pandemic: Rapid Response, and Sushi Go Party! meeting those needs. I think that’s awesome, personally, since these games are pretty great (and very welcoming for new players). Not that the others weren’t, but I have had more success teaching the latter three games to new players than I have with the former three. It’s an interesting evolution. But I digress. Pandemic: Rapid Response condenses the hour we used to play Pandemic into a twenty-minute, real-time, cooperative experience that is still hectic and stressful, but it’s also boisterous and frenetic, and I like that kind of gameplay. It’s thrilling, to try and roll what you need before time runs out, and the theme works! Players running through an airplane trying to synthesize supplies and drop them off when, at a moment’s notice, another city calls in with a desperate request. The game’s narrative and gameplay harmonize really well, and that makes the game a lot of fun to try and play. I think a more complex version would be interesting, to me, but I do like the level that this game currently is at, and I’m excited to teach some more people this one (especially since it’s so fast) before seeing if I can get them to try the standard Pandemic, as well. I like these kind of on-ramps, and I like this as a quick alternative for cooperative play. If you’re a fan of that sort of thing, or you’re looking for a solid gateway game, or you just really enjoy the Pandemic game family, you’ll probably like Pandemic: Rapid Response! I’ve had a blast with it.
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